In the modern world of cinema, we can have a variety of movies that use a computer-generated imagery (CSI) special effects; yet, we consider the old-school cinematic universe to be so much better in terms of the effort of the actors. So, which one do we prefer more? Let’s analyse a few examples and facts to determine the ideal answer to our dilemma.
The CGI approach in modern horror cinema
The reason people lose interest in purchasing an expensive ticket to the cinema and watch a CGI-based horror movie is very simple. Why would we pay £10-15 to see actors not even trying to deliver their best performance by being hidden behind a CGI program? One of the examples is the unsuccessful Steppenwolf character in the highly anticipated Justice League movie. The antagonist just didn’t spread fear into the audience due to its poorly-adapted CGI effects. Surely, we could argue that Thanos in Infinity War masterpiece was embraced by everyone, but that was mostly to his sinister ideas that are sadly supported by many politicians today. Therefore, Steppenwolf did not only fail to portray a villain that would have a reasonable idea to kill and destroy, but he also had a poor CGI effect that visualised him. On the other hand, Thanos was a lot different, despite a great plot, the CGI effects were outstanding.
Reasons to choose a classic horror approach
Yet, why do people choose the former approach to horror movies? Let’s analyse Kubrick’s The Shining. There is a lot to put when you are adopting a Stephen King’s novel, but Kubrick did just what the audience wanted. The adaptation is considered to be one of the best-ever book-based movies in the last and current century. The reason is simple, the times of 1970-80 had little to do with computer-generated special effects, so the directors had to improvise with their own savvy and effects. For what we see in The Shining, is not the brilliance of objects placement and right camera angles, but also the professionalism of Jack Nicholson. The is the start of the movie, but even if he had all the special effects assistance, he would still do an amazing performance as he did in The Shining.
The adaptations of certain classics to CGI-inflicted effects certainly do a great job. But do we really want to see a computerised picture of what we already know that is only a digital program performing the act? Well, in order to answer that we might need some assistance from some of the movie critics. Some of them say opposites of each other. For example, blogger IanSpur criticizes that we know as the modern CGI horror movies. The blogger states that “we must not forget what the greats of the past horror movies are.” He adds that despite the great effort of the modern approach to special effects, we distance ourselves from how classic masterpieces were made.
Surely, the modern CGI special effects require a big effort, as the programs are not fully-automated for the programmer to click few digits. The CGI effects require a great amount of programming experience and expensive technologies that not everyone can afford. Hollywood is investing a great amount in making all the directors use and develop the movie technologies that we see today in movies and if you don’t have the budget for the top-of-the line effects, your CGI will end up looking cheap and easy to spot.
The brilliance of the Saw franchise is one of the examples worth mentioning. All the gore and blood is accompanied by the sharp intellectual philosophy of how you start to truly appreciate your life only when you are on the edge of losing it. The first Saw movie did not involve a great amount of CGI special effects, but it truly re-establishes the horror approach in the modern times of cinematography.
Overall, the dilemma of whether people prefer the classic or modern approach to horror movies can never get old. We see classics like The Shining or Psycho with their brilliance of how cinema was made before, but we also enjoy movies like the Paranormal Activity and The Ring which have an average amount of CGI but still deliver the spook we do not expect. So the preference will incline to one way or another as far as the directors keep delivering works of art.
I'm a Colchester based Web Writer and a movie fanatic. I write here and there about new and developing things like film and tech industries. I've traveled around the world and became very interested in how different cultures and people change with the modern time. And I might spend double a movie's runtime just sitting and thinking about all the small thing and implications that were in it.
By 2018 standards, I was quite late to the videogame party as a child. I was eight or nine before we got our first videogame console, which was the SuperNintendo (or SNES to use its nerdier name). These days I think kids are handed an Xbox controller the moment after the umbilical cord is cut, but I had quite a few game-free years before I discovered the joy they could bring. Jumpers for goalposts….
The first game we actually bought (‘we’ meaning my family, as my sister, and my Dad, were both immediate gamers too following the arrival of the SNES) was Super Castlevania IV, which my memory tells me we got in that little period between Christmas and New Year where everything seems a bit dreamlike and not quite real. Super Mario World had been packaged with the console, so I don’t real count that as being the first one that we bought. So why Castlevania? The simple answer to that is I don’t know. My Dad, who bought the game, was very aware that his growing son was obsessed with monsters and the supernatural and that my grandad (my Dad’s father) would regularly show me films like Predator that were far too old for me. So perhaps it was because of that? But then this purchase wasn’t purely for me, and my sister had never really shown much fondness for monsters and the supernatural, and my Dad can take or leave it if it isn’t written by Stephen King (or myself, these days), so perhaps it was just a random purchase.
Whatever the origins of our buying it, I fell in love with the game immediately. Before we even got it home to play, in fact. The box art was beautiful, showcasing various monsters that you’d come across in the game itself. The booklet that came with it explained the story, and also gave little bios for many of the monsters (not all of them because to accommodate that, you’d have needed a full novel.) I knew I was onto something special before I’d even blown on the cartridge and switched on the console. And when I got home and did that, I was not disappointed.
The music was, and still is, just beautiful. Atmospheric, dark and sombre and then building to a faster action pace, using an actual organ. It’s proper music, not the usual tinny/beepy sounds you’d expect from a 16-Bit videogame. The graphics astound me to this day. What they accomplished for a game of that time must surely have pushed the developers to the limits of what their generation of technology would allow. The way it’s 3D without being 3D, the way the backgrounds have moving things in them, the sheer level of detail where you notice a new thing each time you play it, the colour scheme. In fact, the design of my favourite level in the game, the haunted mansion that’s full of zombie hounds and dancing ghosts, would later inspire the décor for my own house when I moved away from home. It still does, in fact.
The level designs for the whole game are fantastic, alternating between left and right, up and down navigation just enough to break up the 2D side-scrolling flow without confusing you about where it is you’re meant to go. That’s never an issue in this game. Even if the last stage was left to right, and this next one is up to down, it’s always clear where you need to be heading. Some games from this era find it hard to strike a balance with this, but Super Castlevania IV manages it perfectly. The difficulty is all over the place, I will say that. Some of the earlier stages are much more difficult than some of the later ones, but I feel that’s probably due to my lack of ability with platforming rather than anything else. I’m a combat gamer, so give my character the weakest weapon and a room full of monsters and I’ll be a fine. But expect me to navigate a river by jumping from one massive rock to another, and you can bet that my bloated corpse will be floating along the shore before long.
The control system is wonderfully fluid. Much more so than the previous Castlevania entries, and strangely, more so than the next couple aswell. The ability to control the direction of Simon’s whip, and even crouch with it hanging below you to catch unsuspecting enemies as they walk into it, are features that didn’t even survive to future entries of the game. Which, when you play them, has the effect of making it feel as though you’ve taken a step back in the series. That’s unfortunate, but it also adds to the effect of Super Castlevania IV standing out so much as an entry in the classic era of the series.
The monsters are a wonderful mix of classical mythology such as Gorgons and Golems and Mermen, and also iconic characters such as The Mummy, Frankenstein monster, and of course Dracula himself. No werewolves in this entry, strangely. Speaking of Frankenstein’s monster, that’s a point of contention for me with regard to this game. There’s a level where you fall into an icy cavern and fight a flat-headed blue-skinned slow-moving monster in a laboratory, who throws potions at you. Given the look of him and the icy cavern setting, I’d always assumed this was Frankenstein’s monster. But other official sources say it is, in fact, Mr Hyde. But he looks like the classic Karloff monster, doesn’t transform at any point, and why is he in an icy cave? I find as many sources saying one as the other, but I still think it’s more likely to be the monster.
I’ve come back to playing this game again recently, as one of my Christmas gifts last year was the SNES classic mini games system, which includes Super Castlevania IV amongst the pre-loaded games. It’s been a joy to go back to, both in terms of nostalgia but also in how well it honestly holds up as a game. It’s not clunky to control, the graphics still look great if you are mindful of the era it was made (don’t try and compare it to a game that came out this year for the PS4, for instance) and it’s still really fun to play. It’s also not “too” punishing in terms of what happens if you mess up, either. Many games from that era will see you starting the entire game again if you run out of lives, but Castlevania at worst starts you back at the beginning of your current level. With the bonus of having a large HD television these days, I’ve also noticed things that I never spotted all those years ago. In the background on the early levels, for instance, before you reach the interior of the Castle structure, you can see the monstrous Hounds feasting on the carcass of some fallen prey out on the moors. The same hounds that you’ll later encounter in the haunted mansion. I never noticed that until I played through the game again last week.
The story of the game still holds up fairly well, whilst it’s not particularly layered. Basically your character Simon Belmont is the latest in a bloodline of monster hunters, tasked with stopping Dracula whenever he awakes. It’s always clear when he has stirred because it seems to give license to all the other monsters to come out into the open. When I was a child playing this game, I always assumed that all these monsters were Dracula’s personal servants, but when I play it now I’m not convinced that’s the case. He has an army, sure, but I don’t think every monster you encounter falls into that category. Some are just going about their business in their territory which you unfortunately need to pass through to be on your way. Others….like the ghosts…..don’t even seem aware of your presence at all unless you get too close. The dancing ghosts are still my favourite, as I mentioned. An entire mansion full of well-dressed ghosts, many of whom are still caught in the loop of dancing with their beloved. The hounds which guard the house still doing so even though they themselves are also long dead. What happened at this mansion, I still wonder? Was there a fire, were they all poisoned? It must have been something awful to have killed so many at the same time, and evidently in the midst of a grand ball of some sort.
If you’re able to get hold of SNES Classic Mini console, I’d say it’s worth it as a horror fan for Super Castlevania IV alone. The console also has Ghouls N Ghosts on it, which is like Castlevania’s insanely difficult cousin where you often run around in your pants. But that’s another nostalgic horror game lookback for another time.
Lex Jones was born and raised in Sheffield, north England, in 1985. A keen writer from a young age, he was always fascinated with the supernatural and is obsessed with stories. He loves films, books, theatre, videogames, graphic novels, anything with a good story that captures the imagination. His books tend to have a supernatural (or at least 'unusual') undercurrent, as this moves them away from the more boring aspects of real life.
Check out Lex's books on Amazon by clicking here
Frankly, this entire series could consist of moments from Bloodborne. Where do we even begin? The opening animatic, in which a demonic, partially-flayed werewolf rises from a pool of blood at the player character's hospital bedside? Or how about when they encounter the titanic monstrosity of The Cleric Beast atop the central Yharnam bridge after hearing it shriek and roar throughout their journey thus far? Or maybe when we first find The Blood Starved Beast, waiting in the burned and desolate chapel in Old Yharnam?
Bloodborne is a game of escalating what-the-fuckery, of the most hideous body horror that eventually transcends even those parameters to become a thing of Lovecraftian cosmic lunacy. Every encounter, every new area opened, provides more instances and varieties of horror than can be contained within a series such as this.
Just as in its sibling franchise, Dark Souls, Bloodborne paints a picture of humanity at its very worst, in its most wretched and abominable condition, after aspiring to the stars, grasping for some transcendence, having toppled so very far, failed so utterly in that ambition as to make less than monsters of itself.
Here, humanity and its institutions have committed acts and communed with entities beyond belief or description in order to court some measure of spiritual evolution: the city of Yharnam, the Healing Church that dominates it, the related but long since divorced college of Byrgenwerth...all powers that sought to usher in some new condition of humanity, in their own particular ways, to elevate the status of the species through various occult arts and rites, but which have all failed in the most lurid and spectacular ways:
The Healing Church's “blood ministration” has led to insanity and abomination, the college of Byrgenwerth's occult practises have revealed secrets that have tainted its scholars and driven them insane. Worse, both powers have drawn the attentions of entities that it would probably have been better to let be, that echo the Great Ones of H.P. Lovecraft's mythos not only in form and nature, but the metaphysical nihilism they imply by their very existence.
This is the situation the player is hurled into: a city on the brink of collapse, infested with the mad, the mutated and the lycanthropic, every step revealing some new depth of atrocity, some new human evil that has become decidedly much more and much less than that. Eventually, the player even encounters those vast and unseen powers that might have orchestrated the entire affair or merely been drawn by it from states of being beyond waking perception.
Perhaps one of the strangest, certainly one of the most distressing and bizarre, occurs towards the latter portions of the game, when the player finally makes their way to the long sealed and derelict college of Byrgenwerth, in search of the secrets that the Healing Church would rather they didn't discover.
Having fought their way through the college, finding its scholars mad and mutated, the college itself infested with the extra-dimensional vermin their studies have summoned, they find themselves out on a stone balcony overlooking a great lake. There, the twisted, bloated master of the college, Master Willem, gestures feebly to the edge of the balcony. Following his direction, the player finds themselves staring down into what seems to be a suicidal drop into the water, in which the moon is perfectly reflected.
Having no other choice, they take the plunge, descending into the depths...only to find themselves standing in some bizarre “mirror dimension” reflection of the lake, which now extends to the horizon, to the very limits of perception, the player able to walk on the surface of the water as though it were solid land.
In the distance, a heap or hillock of something rises from the lake, the only disernible feature, and therefore one that the player makes for.
Upon closing the distance, they find themselves face to face with an immense creature, a bizarre fusion of spider and pill-bug whose back erupts with luminous fungus, whose head resembles a distorted stone mask festooned with mismatched eyes. From the sky descends a swarm of lesser-spiders that defend the entity with homicidal fervour, the creature itself assaulting the player not with its body but blasts of arcane energy, rains of magical matter.
This is Rom, the Vacuous Spider, which was presaged earlier in the game by a random missive found in the Yharnam library, which talks of the “Byrgenwerth Spider” and the secrets it conceals.
Like all of the monstrosities in Bloodborne, Rom is framed in such a manner that we are to infer her background from framing, symbolism and the subtle cues that the game provides rather than having reams of text to wade through:
The implication is that Rom is somehow one of the students or scholars of Byrgenwerth who achieved their ultimate aim: transcending to the condition of a genuine Great One by magically and surgically grafting the eyes of various other-worldly entities to herself.
As a result, she now stands as a supreme wielder of arcane magics, using them to halt or suspend the rituals underway within Yharnam itself, which seek to bring down -maybe even create- other Great Ones that will mean only an escalation of madness within the city.
By eventually defeating Rom, we usher in the next phase of the night, the next cycle of the game: all she held back -or maybe concealed- is now revealed when we “wake” from her peculiar dreaming realm. This is perhaps the most sincere horror of Rom and of Bloodborne itself: in defeating her, the player unlocks the most hideous revelations, the darkest secrets: now, we see what the various cults in operation within the city were attempting, the creatures that they have either called down or that have descended like extra-dimensional locusts to observe their insanity.
Traversing Yharnam in the wake of Rom's death, we find it infested by a swarm of Great Ones collectively called The Amygdala, creatures -or maybe one creature spread across various points in space, time and probability- attracted to insanity and metaphysical decay, that seem to facilitate and exacerbate those very phenomena for their own amusement (or perhaps even nourishment).
That these entities were present the whole time and that the player simply wasn't aware of them or able to perceive them up until this point is a moment of profound disturbance, especially given that, by our actions, the world is brought one step closer to a species of dissolution no religious text or scientific projection could possibly presage.
There are so many books that I could list here, from James Herbert’s The Fog, Clive Barker’s Books Of Blood or Weaveworld, to Jonathon Carroll’s Outside The Dog Museum, Joe Lansdale’s The Drive In or Stephen Gallagher’s Valley Of Lights to name just a few. However, I wouldn’t have read any of them or in fact be a reader at all, without this one.
Stephen King – Christine
Well, what a surprise: a horror writer claims that the book that changed him is written by Stephen King! If you can stand cliché for a little while, stick with me and I’ll try and explain why this particular book by King is the one that changed my life. Of course, this being an alarmingly long time ago, so I might be misremembering some of the detail, but, well, let’s not let a little thing like facts get in the way of the story.
It’s 1984. I’m a teenager living at home in South Wales at the height of the Miners’ Strike, where Maggie is ripping the heart and soul out of communities built around industry. This isn’t meant to be a political rant, but, Jesus, what a bitch.
Anyway, I’m about fourteen (maybe thirteen) - that age of trying to figure out how you fit into life. I’m not popular, but I do have friends. I’m utterly useless at sports but I’m really good at Maths, which goes a long way to explaining the small group of friends. Girls are like some kind of mythical creature that is rarely seen, but never approached. I like roleplaying and computer games, so my social pariah status is pretty secure.
As a younger boy, I had read loads: the Hardy Boys, some Biggles, Just William, all the Doctor Who books our library stocked and The Hobbit. At the start of my teenage years I was struggling to maintain the interest – this is 1984, after all, so the current overflowing YA market was non-existent. My twin brother was an avid fantasy fan, especially David Gemmell and, of course, Tolkien. Remembering the joy The Hobbit gave me, I eagerly started The Lord Of The Rings, especially as it had a hearty endorsement from my brother.
What a load of shit. Obviously, it’s a classic, but does it have to be such hard work? It was all going swimmingly with the running away from the Black Riders – or is it Nazgûl? – and the introduction of Strider – or is it Aragorn? – and then we hit the Elves and all those bloody songs. I am sad to say that I have never managed to read the entire book, but maybe someday. Tolkien did, however, get the last laugh though: my wife is called Tinuviel and is named after one of the elves in those….bloody…. songs.
So, I was struggling to find things to read. My dad read a lot of Robert Ludlum so I tried that but I was too young: I was expecting James Bond but got loads of political intrigue. To this day, I have no idea why I didn’t just read the Bond books.
My father came home from work one day with one of those leaflets you used to see loads of. Join our book club. Look, have these books. Only £1 for five. We all got to pick one each: me, my brother, sister, Mum and Dad. It was very exciting, but I couldn’t see anything I liked, until:
King’s name in huge letters, all red. Black the predominant colour and then the car coming out of the garage with the skull and crossbones number plate. Yep, that was the one for me, deciding at an early age that covers are important for books. You might be a fool to judge a book by its cover, but damn, if it makes the reader pick it up then it’s done its job.
The book itself arrived several weeks later and I devoured it. I think it took me two or three days to read. I was utterly blown away by it. Truth be told, I don’t remember that much about the actual story but I do remember being surprised that it wasn’t actually about a car at all: it was really about friends growing up and growing apart. Dennis and Arnie have the kind of relationship that only really exists in books and films: they’re so yin and yang that it’s almost comical. Dennis is everything I aspired to be: he was cool, handsome, popular and good at sports. Arnie is what I actually was, but there is a moment of geek heaven when he gets the girl. Okay, so he has to be possessed by the soul of an evil psychopath to do so, but to a fourteen (thirteen?) year old boy, that seemed a pretty reasonable trade off.
I debated re-reading the book before writing this, but life is too short to reread books – there are so many undiscovered ones out there. I was also wary of a re-read: it is almost certainly not as good as I remember, and I don’t want to sully the memory. That book turned me into an avid reader. Following Christine, I read everything by King, collected his books and to this day it annoys me that the publishers changed the style of the spine so they don’t look as good on the shelf. I also read loads of other horror authors, some of which are just plain bad and explain why the horror boom of the 80s collapsed to the point that ‘Horror’ seems a dirty word even now.
Books serve many purposes: wonder, fear, excitement, empathy, contempt, disgust, elation, joy, education, outright entertainment or beard-stroking pretentiousness. I would be oblivious to this without Christine.
David Watkins lives in Devon in the UK with his wife, two sons, dog, cat and two turtles. He is unsure of his place in the pecking order: probably somewhere between the cat and the turtles.
There are two novels in The Originals' series: The Original's Return concerns an ordinary family man becoming the God of Werewolves and the follow up, The Original's Retribution, covers the immediate aftermath and consequences of Jack's actions in the first book. Both novels are highly rated on Amazon.
David's latest novel is The Devil's Inn: a chilling tale set on Dartmoor during a fierce snowstorm. Has the Devil really come to Devon?
He is now working on a new stand-alone novel, set in Exeter. He hates referring to himself in the third person, but no-one else is going to write this for him.
David can be found on Twitter so please drop by and say hello @joshfishkins, where you'll find him ranting about horror, the British education system and Welsh rugby, but not usually at the same time.
CHECK OUT DAVIDS AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE BY CLICKING HERE
In this series, I will be reading every Brian Keene book that has been published (and is still available in print) in order of original publication, and then producing an essay on it. With the exception of Girl On The Glider, these essays will be based upon a first read of the books concerned. The article will assume you’ve read the book, and you should expect MASSIVE spoilers.
I hope you enjoy my voyage of discovery.
6. White Fire
So I have a bit of a confession to make about this series - I’ve been bending the rules just a little. Not substantially; each essay does represent my first encounter with the book in question. However, there is a matter of timing. By which I mean, I read a title ahead.
The reason is simple: I find for these longer form pieces, I need a bit of time for the book to ‘bed in’ with me. I find a gap of 6 - 8 weeks is ideal. It gives the novel(la)time to mulch down in my mind, leaving me with firmer memories of what the big parts of the story were; simply put, if I sat down to write these essays directly after reading the book in question, I’d end up with a series of unreadable 15,000 word messes that basically retold the story beat for beat in worse prose. This way, I get to give myself time to figure out what it’s all about (or what it was about for me) and you get something actually readable. Win win.
And that gap also gives me time to read the next book.
So, I’d read The Rising before I started writing about Clickers, and I’ve been a book ahead ever since. Which means when I wrote the essay on Dark Hollow, I’d already read Ghoul, which I’d assumed would be the subject of my next essay. And so I’d opened up a theme about the writing technique/approach of bleeding on the page, and part of my motivation for doing that was because Ghoul was coming next, which, spoilers, fairly drips blood. So, you know, cheating, technique, whatever. The point is, I was fixed and ready for a smooth segway, and feeling just a little smug about my essay series writing chops - not too shabby, Power, you may get a book out of this yet.
And then Brian fucking Keene goes and fucks it up.
He re-releases White Fire.
White Fire has been out of print for years, and was never published as a stand alone novella. Deadite Press released this latest version - as with their other reissues, as the Author’s Preferred Text - at the end of October.
And it was written around the same time as Dark Hollow, according to Keene himself. So, cheers, man - you totally screwed up my awesome segway. So selfish.
Anyway. So here’s White Fire, with apologies for the lack of usual mulching. We’ll be back on track with Ghoul soon. And I am not kidding about the spoiler warning - if you’ve yet to read this and don’t want the ending (and much of the beginning and middle) spoiled, turn back now.
White Fire is the story of Captain Tom Collins, US Army, who is working with a colleague in the Center for Disease Control (CDC), transporting something very nasty across country via an unmarked cargo van. You’ll be shocked to learn that it all goes horribly wrong, and the vehicle is hit by a tornado, resulting in the release of a super-lethal, highly infectious engineered strain of meningitis.
Given that set up, and Keene’s predilection for apocalypse, I figured I was in for The Stand but novella length. And it certainly starts that way, with Collins and CDC colleague McLeod getting a lift from a civilian to the nearest town (infecting him in the process), before contacting HQ to set up a quarantine area - shades of The Crazies there too, as I think about it. But the narrative doesn’t go that way at all, despite initial suggestions that it will - like when the infected civilian refuses to be held in the fire department and goes home instead. Instead, vaccinated personnel are brought in from CDC central, and while many people do lose their lives, the disease is ultimately brought under control.
It’s an interesting counterpoint to The Stand, which is exacerbated by the decision to have the virus in White fire be a Russian strain, rather than US bred disease - though it’s the decision of the US to keep enough to study that ultimately leads to it’s release. It’s also, for Keene, an unusually optimistic tale - not only does the military have a plan for how to deal with an outbreak, but the plan basically works, with the final civilian body count in the low hundreds. Hell, they even let the media know what’s going on, in broad terms, which basically never happens in this kind of story. Throw in a jump forward final chapter/epilogue where Collins gains access to the full research lab and burns up all the remaining samples, and we’re left with a tale that by Keene standards is practically a happy ending.
I do like the decision to go this way, and I was also impressed with how well the vast majority of the characters respond to the situation. One of the big lies of most disaster fiction (and yes, The Walking Dead, I am looking at you, though you’re far from the only culprit) is that the second the shit hits the fan, humans revert to Lord Of the Flies levels of selfish violence and lunacy. You can see why - the constraints of dramatic fiction practically demand it.
The only problem with that is that it’s basically bollocks. The truth is, when things get really tough, most people respond with kindness, with help, by doing what they can.
And so it is in White Fire, which makes it that rarest of disaster fiction narratives; one where people act in a realistic fashion, and do what needs to be done to contain things. Making it hands down the most optimistic of Keene’s books so far, which is an odd thing to say about a book with a triple digit civilian death toll, but there we are. The book played on my expectation that I was going to see the end of the world, but ultimately delivered something both more realistic and more uplifting, which is not a sentence I’d have expected to type in this series.
It does also provide a pretty big chunk of Keene’s labyrinth mythos, so we should probably talk about that.
I’ve deliberately not gone into this much in previous essays, and beyond noting references, I don’t plan to much going forward either. It’s simply beyond the scope of the series, which is more about engaging with each book as I read it, but also, it doesn’t feel like something I’ll be able to do justice to. That said, there’s a confrontation at the heart of this book, where Collins meets a mysterious figure who has haunted the narrative from the opening chapter, which gives a huge chunk of information about Keene’s overarching mythos, and his fictional multiverse.
The man’s name is Pestilence. And yeah, he’s that Pestilence - the one from Revelation. And he hits Collins with some tough home truths before causing him to become infected with White Fire, in spite of his previous inoculation. For starters, it turns out to have been down to Collins that the virus survived in the first place, allebit at his insistence that they use it to make vaccines. More interestingly from the point of view of the wider project though, we are informed that The Squizzm come from The Void, outside of our reality, and are part of a group called The Thirteen, who have nothing to do with God, The Devil, or angels. We’re further told that the reason Pestilence is keen to see White Fire spread is because it’s likely The Thirteen will target this reality at some point soon, and such an end will not ‘serve God’, the way an angel led apocalypse will.
Oh, and God is absent his throne. Has been since the crucifixion, according to Pestilence (who is an angel and therefore probably not lying). So, there’s that.
It’s a huge amount of mythos that lands in a very small number of pages, and I found it really thrilling - after various hints around the edges of the big apocalypse novels, we’re finally treated to this big reveal that blows open a lot of the mysteries around the edges of Keene’s work - though I have, like a million questions, and we’ll see how many of them get answered over the next 50 odd titles. It also has the effect of transforming what I thought the narrative of the book was about, as well as sending Collins off in a very different direction for the books closing chapter. It’s interesting to note that this mythos heavy story has been out of print for some time, and I do find myself wondering how much reading it now, in line with when it was written, will affect the narrative going forward.
The novella also contains more of the stuff I’m beginning to think of as Keenisms - blue collar guys with note perfect dialogue, cinematic actions sequences (in this case a brilliantly described tornado-induced car accident) and a creeping sense of elevating threat. There’s also a sequence that tracks a tornado’s path of destruction across a small town that reminded me of vintage King - like the destruction of Derry during the final part of IT. Like that sequence, Keene employs an uncharacteristic omniscient voice to superb effect, hitting the perfect balance of telling detail and broader description. It’s an absolutely superb single chapter lesson in storytelling.
For the things I’ve spoken about, the biggest surprise in the story for me remains the way it completely cuts against typical disaster story tropes. The army responds with calm professionalism to the outbreak - aided by the fact that they had prepared enough vaccine to have troops with immunity that they could deploy. The quarantine zone they set up is effective. Hell, they even decide to tell the press what’s going to, and the press basically rolls with it. Sure, the old guy who gave the ground zero patients a lift back to the town skips out on his detention - but even there, the twist is that he goes home to his dog and dies in his bed without spreading the infection further. Although Keene plays with the expected tropes in the early chapters, ultimately, and uniquely in a Keene book so far, the system basically works, and the outbreak is contained. Hell, with the ending, we even get a sense that future outbreaks will be that much harder.
It’s a fascinating narrative choice. If I had to pick one characteristic of a Keene story to this point, I’d have said that ‘no happy endings’ was as safe a bet as any - though interestingly this was written at the same time as Dark Hollow, where ultimately the dark forces are vanquished. Faced with a novella about a viral outbreak, and knowing Keene’s love of the (fictional) end of the world in general, and The Stand in particular, by far the biggest and most spectacular twist, for me, was that it was basically a happy ending. It’s a bold choice, and one that certainly wrong footed me, but at the time of writing, I’m still not 100% sure how I feel about it. Sure, Collins pays a price for his mistakes, and it’s not like there isn’t a body count, but as a twist, everything basically works out feels… strange.
That said, the flipside of that coin is that I was deeply impressed with the counter to the disaster story trope of everybody going all Lord of the Flies once the shit hits the fan. Despite what fiction, and especially cinema, would have you believe, when things get really bad people, with amazing consistency, respond positively, with help, support, and a sense of shared humanity. The central problem for a writer of genre fiction is that this reality doesn’t generate drama - and so, most of us ignore the facts and have everyone just go feral.
But not Keene. Keene plays a straight bat in terms of the human reaction to the crisis, and in the process, proves that you can still get a compelling narrative, and even a substantive twist ending, without selling out human motivation.
So maybe my issue with the book is simple jealousy, at his ability to pull off something so daring.
Or maybe I’m still pissed off that he screwed up my segway into talking about Ghoul.
Next up, Ghoul.
Werewolf stories have always interested and appealed to me, the horror of them especially. Something about them always spooks me and gives me goosebumps. I think it has to do with the primal, savage animals that they are and of what brutal harm they can inflict. Werewolves seem like our dark inner selves and I guess that makes them scary to me.
Remember that scene in “Underworld” where the werewolves are chained to the ground and threatening to break free of their restraints with all their might?
Like it did for a lot of other viewers, the werewolf transformation scene in “An American Werewolf in London” still rattles and unsettles me when I watch it now. You can feel the sheer agony and pain he’s going through when the metamorphosis is happening. This is what makes it an emotional and powerful scene for me.
Not to mention the chilling climax of “The Howling.” Who can forget that? Those eyes freaked me out!
I guess it’s obvious that I’m a fan of the sub-genre. My upcoming horror double novelette release, due for release on December 3, from Unnerving will feature two stories: “Private Number” and “Claws.” “Claws” is the one-half of the book that sinks some werewolf fangs and rips people to shreds. My werewolf love shines through, with a paranormal detective lean.
The book will be in the style of the old double novels from the 1960s. I love that old-school concept. I love anything old-school basically, books, movies, magazines, music. The inspiration for this new release was based on going back to basic, fundamental grass roots horror. Stripped down, straightforward, go-for-the-throat horror. Imagine yourself at a drive-in theater in the 1970s catching a horror double feature, a double shot of horror, and that sums up my new book. Major kudos and shout outs to Eddie at Unnerving, thanks for believing.
What’s in a Clue?
Detectives in horror. We’ve all seen the shows. Remember when The X-Files went dark? Or when the Winchester brothers in “Supernatural” experienced heavy, life-changing stuff? Recall when Dean became a demon in season 9?
Remember all the times when Sam and Dean have died? Some people have lost count. Some of my favorite detective/horror films/TV series are “Se7en,” “The Game,” “The Legend of Hell House,” “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” and the TV show, “Supernatural.”
“Se7en” is the perfect modern day combination of mystery/suspense and horror. Who can forget the climax of that movie? I still get the chills thinking about it. “What’s in the box? What’s in the box?”
And the climax for “The Game?” When I first saw that movie I was floored and didn’t see that coming. Love that movie.
Detective stories are puzzles. That’s what I like about them. As a reader or viewer you’re trying to put the pieces together. When I first watched “The Legend of Hell House” and “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” I was forever changed, for those two masterpieces from the detective/horror genre stamped quite an impression in my mind and have influenced and inspired me to write about a detective/investigator now. I enjoyed the blend of horror and mystery in both (“Legend of Hell House” is also a great ghost story) and also liked the investigator protagonists who are trying to solve a puzzle. Detective fiction is also a great study of the human condition and of human behavior in general in all its complexities and extremes.
My love for these kinds of stories is why I created Albert Taylor, and have used him as a vessel to explore the underworlds and the paranormal in my fiction. My upcoming horror double novelette release, due for release on December 3, from Unnerving will feature two stories: “Private Number” and “Claws.” Both feature Albert Taylor exploring the impossible, risking life and limb.
Derek Muk is a writer and social worker from California. His short stories have appeared in various online and small press magazines, including: “The Dead Walk” (anthology), “Fear and Trembling Magazine,” “13 Magazine.” “Diabolic Tales 3” (an anthology of horror), “Both Barrels of Legends of the Monster Hunter I and II” (anthology), “The Trigger Reflex: Legends of the Monster Hunter II” (anthology), “Suffer the Little Children” (anthology), “Splatter: An Anthology of Horror,” “Death Rattle,” “Dark Things II” (Anthology), “Anthology of Ichor: Hearts of Darkness,” “Twisted Tongue Magazine,” “Static Movement,” “Sex and Murder Magazine,” “Sinister Tales,” “Night to Dawn,” “M-Brane SF,” “Sonar4 E-Zine,” “The Ethereal Gazette,” “7th Dimension Magazine,” “Switchblade Magazine,” “ESC! Magazine,” “Scorched Wings Magazine,” “Hardboiled,” “Masque Noir,” “Detective Mystery Stories,” “Dawnsky,” “The Pinehurst Journal,” “Mystery Forum Magazine,” “The Green Queen,” “Kracked Mirror Mysteries,” “Golden Visions Magazine,” “Crossroads Magic,” “The Street Corner Magazine,” “Calliope Magazine,” “Unspoken Water,” “Space and Time Magazine,” “Infernal Ink Magazine,” “Tales of the Talisman Magazine,” “Dark Eclipse,” “Whispers From The Past: Fright and Fear” (anthology), “ParABnormal Digest,” “The Haunted Academy” (Novella-Midnight Frost Books), “Fiction On The Web,” “Bards and Sages Quarterly,” “NeaDNAthal” (anthology), “Aurora Wolf,” “The Horror Zine Magazine,” “Nebula Rift,” “9 Tales,” “Story of the Month Club,” “Cranial Leakage,” “New Realm,” “Ink Stains Anthology,” “Cheapjack Pulp” and “Disturbed Digest.”
He has three chapbooks published: “Three Parts,” “The Sacrifice and Other Stories,” and “Sin after Sin.” In addition to writing, he enjoys reading, traveling, museums, art, dining out, and meeting new people. He has a bachelors and masters degree in social work.
His author website is: