Saturday, July 14, 2018


Available July 27th, 2018
Shadow Work Publishing

For generations, the Sanford family have lived on the rural outskirts of Elders Keep. But now, Lucas Brock and his pregnant wife, Jude, have chosen to make their home among them as the first outsiders to settle onto Wednesday Ridge in a century. With the arrival of new blood, the horrific secrets the Sanfords have been hiding are coming to light. There's something on the ridge, something that should not exist. It is ancient. It is ravenous. And on the ridge, everything is prey.

It takes a lot to unsettle me these days. I have my buttons. I have particular stories I still choose to avoid. But to actually give me that sick feeling in the pit of my stomach I used to get as a kid and could see Jason Vorhees sneaking up on a camp counsellor and she's totally unaware-that dread, as a horror noobie, for what is about to befall this person if he/she doesn't turn around and run-it's so rare to feel that these days.

Well, my buddy Jeffery X Martin once again gave that feeling back to me. He did it previously with Black Friday and Hunting Witches. His newest book, The Ridge, (which drops on July 27th) had me sick with dread less than a quarter way through, and it wasn't just the Southern folk horror aspects, that are a hallmark of his work. What got me first was the story of a couple about to have their first baby. In a sense, it's a bit of a fish out of water story. Two people from the city, the husband a college professor, moving out to the country-which is about as familiar to them as the plains of Mars, and the wife being left alone with the weirdo neighbors and all the strangeness that goes along with living in the hills. Lucas and Jude love each other, they are happy together, but I can tell you from first hand experience, moving into a new area, far from friends and family, while pregnant will cause tempers to flare, will bring on stress and anxiety, and if it's only the two of you there with no one else to really talk to-all of that will come out and be directed at one another. Regardless of whether or not the love is still there, you feel trapped in an emotional bubble and the threat of it popping is ever present. That's the heart, the engine, that drives The Ridge. 

I have heard it said by many people, any good horror story must still be a good drama if you take the horror elements away. So, in the case of The Ridge, done. Five stars. Two thumbs up. What about the horror elements though? X knows how to scare you. He knows how to dig in, make your skin crawl, make you hold the book away from you just a little more...He can paint a vivid landscape of despair in your brain that's hard to wash away. Violence that rolls by slowly, so you don't mis an ounce of the pain. You feel that bone shatter and you sit with it for as long as the character has to. I think of Dennis Etchison, Stephen King in his prime, maybe a little HP Lovecraft (minus all the "cyclopean towers"), Books of Blood era Clive Barker. X is building a body of work with his Elders Keep stories that can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the giants rather than just stand on their shoulders.

I tell ya, X has been inspiring me to work harder, do better, and be more since our bar days back in Knoxville, Tennessee more than twenty years ago. To see the artist he is today is nothing short of awe-inspiring. If you don't know him, I feel bad for you, but you can remedy that by following him on Twitter @JefferyXMartin  and like his Facebook page. And order The Ridge today!

Sunday, February 25, 2018


So it is official, fiends, the news is true; FANGORIA returns this October in a new quarterly format. And it's about time! Getting into horror back in the sad, old pre-internet days of the mid to late 1980s when I first started getting into horror, Fangoria was my source of information for wading into the carnage infested waters of horrordom. The magazine launched in 1979 and I remember being a chicken shit little kid picking up issues at the gas station, flipping through the pages with shaking hands, before slamming it back on the rack and running to the relative safety of The Amazing Spider-Man or Cracked.

The first issue I ever bought, was number #79, December 1988. The cover story was for Halloween 4; The Return of Michael Myers. I was twelve and been spending the last couple of years testing the waters, sneaking to watch The Thing or Friday the 13th on late night TV, taking notes about David Cronenberg's The Fly and Joel Schumacher's The Lost Boys from episodes of Siskel and Ebert, and obsessing about Dario Argento and Clive Barker from episodes of Stephen King's World of Horror. Unlike these TV shows/movies, though, Fangoria was consistently on the shelves every month and once I had one in my hand, I could re-read it over and over again. It armed me for trips to one of the local video shops. It was a valuable source of research and inspiration for me as a young wanna-be horror writer, it introduced to filmmakers, writers, special effect artists, and actors that I came to think of as 'friends' growing up.

I believe it was issue 119, with Bram Stoker's Dracula on the cover that changed my life as a wanna-be comic writer. I had been writing comics for my friend to draw for a few years. We were doing super hero comics, while being influenced by films like Dawn of the Dead and Evil Dead 2, but we weren't seeing comics that matched where our hearts and imaginations were leading us. I went down to the grocery store to pick up the new Fango and flipping through the pages on my way to the register, I came across a big article on Rebel Studios and their fucked comic Faust; Love of the Damned. A book that featured graphic violence, graphic sex, and graphic violent sex. I called my friend and told him, we've found our comic! The very next comic-con, we were a couple of demented 14 year olds prowling the floor, asking every vendor if they had the book and no one wanted to deal with us, even calling us demon children and ordering us away from their booths. (One cool guy helped us out though, but told us not to tell who we bought the four issues from.) Who knows when I would have heard of this deep underground title without Fango.

The whole reason I started Stranger With Friction, was because I wanted to recapture the feeling I used to get from reading Fangoria back when I was weird, lonely, horror nerd that didn't feel so lonely after reading a feature from David Schow or an interview with Don Coscarelli. So it means a lot that Fangoria is coming back and I can't wait to have that first issue in my hands.

Fango forever!

To stay up to date on all the latest Fango news and to get a subscription, hit!

Wednesday, February 7, 2018


Shards of Stained Glass on Wet Pavement, written by Tim Murr, copyright Tim Murr/St Rooster Books 2018. No parts of this story may be reproduced with the sole permission of the author.

There was no use screaming for help, no one would hear. Every house was dark and abandoned. The yards were overgrown and weedy for as far as Ashley could see. For sale and foreclosure signs were nearly hidden from view. Half the streetlights no longer worked and the lights from down town were a good ten blocks away. She couldn’t duck between houses, because her pursuers were traveling through the backyards. She knew they were faster than her and could have easily gotten in front of her by now-they were playing a game. She crossed Dover, where the valley flattened out.

This used to an upper middle- class neighborhood. Most of the houses could be described as McMansions, but now they looked ravaged by war. Years of disrepair and vandalism marred the whole Feliz Valley neighborhood. The water supply had been poisoned back in the early 2000s by a massive chemical spill from Benson Research up in the hills. It made three square miles of prime real estate uninhabitable. The town of Millerton was beaten to half it’s size in the space of a year. The down town had two lives; the day time businesses that all, including the lone grocery store, all closed by 5 PM, and the night time businesses of bars, adult book stores, greasy diners, and strip clubs that were the only things that really kept the local economy going. Millerton had become a haven for a criminal element. It was where you went when you’d pushed your luck in your own town. The drug and prostitution trade flourished under the broken back of an understaffed and overworked police force. It was a good place to find people who wouldn’t be missed, if you were a serial killer.

There was only a sliver of a moon above her, but the stars were amazing. She couldn’t help but glance up from time to time as she ran, it helped her reach her happy place, which was she needed to not lose her head in the moment. She could hear them, rushing through the weeds in the blackness behind the houses. Sometimes she’d catch a loud whisper or a chuckle. They were certainly ahead of her, she’d hear them take off as she passed their vantage points. She heard footsteps on the pavement behind her, but when she looked back, there was no one there. She’d been running straight down the middle of the street since getting separated from her car almost five blocks back at Edison Park. They were in no hurry. The night was young.

Set far off the road, but running at a sharp angle from the houses, was the property of a Methodist church. It was a fairly new building, finished just before the accident. The church had a large main building with two wings; offices and a rec center. It was a modern design with classic flourishes, like gray stone accents, a beautiful ornate steeple, and a round stained-glass window, eight feet in diameter, depicting Christ’s ascent to Heaven. Through the weeds, she could see orange and black no trespassing signs on either side of the main drive that opened into the black top parking lot. Weeds were growing though the cracks in the pavement. As she hit the parking lot, she figured she had almost the length of a football field to clear with no cover. They were closing in around her but remaining out of sight. Her lungs were burning by the time she reached the steps leading into the vestibule. Never mind the locked doors, all the glass in the front of the building had long since been smashed out.

She only slowed down to step sideways between two steel frames on to the moist carpet with pebbles of glass crunching under foot. Straight ahead were the big double doors leading into the sanctuary, to either side were wide carpeted staircases leading up to classrooms and the upper deck seating. There was graffiti everywhere.  She paused long enough to look back and try to gauge her pursuers’ ability to see her. They were still invisible out there and she hadn’t been able to see inside from the parking lot. She took the stairs to the right and paused again at the top to watch the doors for a second before gently pushing open one of the double doors leading into the sanctuary.

The door opened into the highest point of the balcony. There were four rows of seats that made a U shape over the seating below. The stage had been stripped bare and was now littered with the evidence of people camping out in there. The vestibule had smelled moldy from where years of weather had ruined the plush carpeting, but the sanctuary smelled like death. A chill ran down her spine. She felt like she’d just stepped into the spider’s web.

Ashley stayed low and tried to calm her breathing as she worked her way to the right of the stage. There was just enough light from the narrow windows, that lined the upper walls, to give her some view of the floor below. Once her eyes had fully adjusted, she could see some bodies scattered about in the seats. The church had put in theater seating, rather than pews. Someone was softly snoring down there, which for some reason, made her situation scarier. Anyone could be down there, but she was sure it would be no one willing to help her. She sank down to the floor, in the corner where the wall and barrier met and drew her knees to her chest. She closed her eyes for just a few seconds at a time, but it was enough.

She listened to someone waking up, stumble among the chairs, and take a long piss below her. He coughed several times, which echoed through the chamber. Others stirred below, one a woman who started quietly protesting. The pisser mumbled something gruffly under his breath and the struggle got louder. Ashley was about to look over the edge to see what was going on, when the doors downstairs burst open.

Shadowy figures filed in, back lit from the streetlights shining through the stained glass. They spread out down the aisles, checking the sleepers. The pisser had left the woman and had retreated on to the stage. The upstairs doors opened, and two flash light beams swept the seats. Ashley held her breath, pushing herself to the side of the row, making herself as small as possible. She almost peed a little when she heard two of them run down the steps, but they ran to the opposite side of the room and ripped a blanket off a woman over there, shining a light in her face. She pleaded with them not to hurt her. They didn’t speak, just swept the room with their flashlights again and left the balcony.

Ashley let out a long sigh of relief and relaxed her legs a bit. She could hear the office and classroom doors being opened and slammed. After a while, she could hear them making their way beyond the stage and into the back halls that lead to the administration and recreation wings. Odds were good that they’d assume she escaped out the back. She wondered if she should try doubling back to her car or just try to reach down town. Of course, staying put until the sun came up didn’t seem like such a bad idea either. She decided to rest a while.

Ashley had grown up in Wheeler, only an hour away. She was old enough to remember when Millerton was just a blip on the map. Benson had made it a thriving mini-metropolis in the space of a decade. She was a senior in high school when the accident occurred. Wheeler being the closest town, saw an influx of a Millerton’s refugees coming to start fresh after losing everything. Wheeler didn’t have much in the way of job options, outside of the railyard, some warehouses, and trucking. The trailer parks and low rent apartments filled up and Wheeler’s unemployment skyrocketed. Seemed like everyone from Millerton eventually got sick. You always knew who they were, because they’d be pale in the summer, with a raspy wet cough and sunken eyes. There were lawsuits brought against Benson, but the owners had abandoned the lab and ran to Mexico with all the company’s funds. The employees were left broke and unemployed like everyone else.

Ashley’s dad was a freelance private investigator that worked for the railroad and two of the trucking firms. He investigated insurance fraud and theft, mostly, but occasionally missing persons. Ashley’s mother had committed suicide when she was five, so Ashley became her father’s shadow, and after two years of community college, she joined the family business. It was just the two of them and a revolving door of secretaries.

A week earlier a woman had come to their office with a wad of cash and laid it on his desk with a picture of her teenage daughter, a high school junior, half white, half Hispanic, big hazel eyes, a sad smile, and a veil of black hair. Her name was Christa Jay, or CJ. The mother’s husband had worked for the railroad and had been murdered a year earlier in a mugging. Ashley and her father remembered him. They’d helped the police find his killer, that’s why she came to them. Ashley’s father had taken the case and told her to hold on to her money. After checking around Wheeler for a few days, he decided to head over to Millerton. Local girls had wound up there in the past, usually stripping or hooking. Some in shallow graves along the highway between the towns. He hadn’t been gone four hours when Ashley got a phone call as she was about to lock up the office. Her father had been shot dead in the middle of Main Street in downtown Millerton. No one saw anything.

When she arrived in Millerton to identify his body, she was shocked to see the crime scene blocking the street in front of the police station. She parked on the edge of the tape, across from the station, by the Catholic church, which was also cordoned off as part of the crime scene. The stained-glass windows had been shot out from the inside, and the shards were all over the sidewalk and street. It was raining hard and no one was around.

Ashley ducked under the police tape and went inside the church. That church was probably as old as the town. It was ornate and beautiful, but very small. From the front door you stepped right into the sanctuary. There was a small area off to the right with a bowl of holy water on a white pillar and a single door on the left side of the alter. The only person in the place was a woman wearing ridiculously high heels, way too much make up and a dress so short it kept riding up her ass. She was tearfully sweeping up glass and splinters in the middle aisle. She didn’t notice Ashley until she stopped to pull her dress back down, after bending over to sweep debris into a dustpan.

“I’ve never seen a nun dressed like you.”

The woman stared blankly at Ashley.

Ashley shrugged her shoulders and looked around. There were bullet holes in the walls and pews.

“What happened here?”


“Oh, ok. I guess I’ll be going then.”

She turned to leave and spun back around.

“Wait, fuck that. My dad got killed in this fucking dump this afternoon and I was told there were no witnesses, but then I walk in here and it looks like the aftermath of a John fucking Woo movie and there’s a fucking stripper sweeping up the place, so when you say nothing happened, uhhhh, I’m not going to be fucking satisfied with that.”

“Sorry about your dad, but he should have known better than to come throwing his weight around here. Take this as a hint and fuck off.”

“He came here looking for a teenage girl we believe was abducted and brought here…”

“Oh, that narrows it down. What makes her special?”

The door opened behind her and a scrawny deputy with a scar under his left eye stepped inside.
“Mam, this is a crime scene, you can’t be in here.”

“I’m afraid she’s potentially sweeping up evidence…”

“I was talking to you. You here for your daddy?”

“Wh-wait, yea, but…”

“Follow me. I’m Deputy North.”

The woman went back to sweeping as Ashley followed North across the street. Inside the station, the desk sergeant was staring at his phone, while a detective snored loudly at his desk. No one else was around.

“My heart is full seeing how important finding my dad’s killer is.”

North didn’t look back.

“Shit happens. Especially here. Detective Thorn is looking into a couple of leads. He’ll call you when he has something.”

“That’s not him taking a nap is it?”

“That’s detective James. He’s a little hungover.”

“Hungover? It’s dinner time.”

“Breakfast time for him.”

They walked down a long hallway and down two flights of stairs to the morgue. Her father was still lying in a body bag. The coroner was sitting on his desk, laughing at something on the phone. He held one finger up when North and Ashley walked in and made some joke about sweet and sour cat and hung up. He slid his bony frame off the desk and approached Ashley with a broad smile and outstretched hand. She stared at his hand until he dropped it, then at his face until the smile faded.

“You must be the daughter. We have your father right over here.”

Without sympathy or a prompt to prepare herself, he unzipped the bag and held it open. The bullet wounds were still wet. He had a chunk of his neck blown off and three slugs in his chest.

“Jee-sus!” She spun away and choked down vomit as tears sprang to her eyes.

“Yea,” the coroner said, “it ain’t pretty.”

Ashley got a hold of herself but didn’t turn back to the body.

“Any leads at all?”

“I’m not at liberty to discuss the matter one way or another.”

“You can’t even tell me if you suspect a specific person?”

“Not my case, sweetheart. I just-“

She was already heading out the door, no time for bull shit. At the next floor up, with the holding cells, Ashley spotted a young girl unconscious on a cot, her head badly bruised. Down the corridor, a cop and a bald man in a powder blue polo shirt were leaning against the cells chatting casually.

“…and I came up there and she was talking with the PI,” powder blue polo man said.

The cop shook his head. “Dumb bitch. What’d she tell him?”

“I’m not sure. Doesn’t matter now.”

“Uh, yea, it does. If she’s talking to him, who else she gonna talk to?”

“What do you want to do?”

“Take’em both up to Edison Park and feed’em to the freaks.”

“Shit, it’s already getting late, man.”

“I don’t give a fuck. No one gives a fuck. Clean up your fucking mess.”

“Ok, ok. Help me get this one back in my car.”

Ashley heard footsteps behind her and she rushed up another flight of stairs to the main floor and headed out the front door. She put her car in reverse, made a hard U-turn and then a right turn and another right, which put her on a bridge overlooking the back of the police station. She saw the two men drag the girl out and toss her into the back of a sedan. The cop went back in and the car sped up the alley, whipping around the corner on to the bridge past Ashley. She waited a beat and followed.

The car took a hard left up a driveway to a split ranch that looked abandoned. Ashley parked the car four houses down, behind a pick-up truck. A few minutes later, two men were dragging CJ out. Her hands and feet were bound twine and she was wearing a ball gag. Ashley got her .38 out of the glove box and took the safety off. As soon as the back door closed on CJ, the sedan screamed backwards into the street and then fish tailed as it peeled out. Ashley felt more confident that blue polo was on his own.

She followed him through the abandoned neighborhood, keeping a two-block buffer, but all he’d have to do is look in the rearview mirror to see her, as there were no other cars around. As soon as she saw the top of the playground, she took a right and a left and stopped in a cul de sac. She ran through the overgrown yard and jumped the small picket fence in the back and found herself in the far end of the park from the entrance, under a weeping willow. She could see blue polo walking the girls in, holding a pistol on them. ‘Feed them to the freaks,’ the cop had said. It gave Ashley butterflies. She looked around, seeing nothing and heard only the whimpers from the girls and the buzz of the orange streetlights.

She wondered if blue polo had been the one to kill her father or if it had been the cop. How many could she be up against?

She waited, as she didn’t have a clear shot at blue polo and had too much distance to clear. She heard rustling nearby and whispers that she couldn’t make out. Blue polo marched the girls to a pavilion and ordered them to sit at one of the picnic tables. He looked nervous, waving the gun back and forth at their faces, and peering into the darkness.  

Ashley crouched down and slowly started to move out from under the tree. She wanted to get at least halfway to the pavilion before she tried to shoot blue polo. Where she was she might miss, and he might panic and shoot one of the girls. As she neared the edge of the streetlight’s glow, three people walked past her, not ten feet away. She froze and then slowly lowered herself to the ground and laid on her belly. As the men stepped onto the pavilion, the girls began to openly sob.

The lead man wore a dark colored long coat and a cardboard crown from a fast food restaurant. The other two were in jeans and long sleeve button up shirts. They looked grimy, like they’d been sleeping rough. The lead man bent down and sniffed the girls’ necks and hair, then turned to blue polo, who had backed away several feet.

“Ok, your highness. Brought you two. I’m gonna go now, ok?”

The king grinned, took off his crown, and bent deeply at the waist with a flourishing hand gesture. The other two men separated the girls and laid them on different tables. It was a numbers game then. Ashley felt sure she could find blue polo again, so she’d let him go, before moving in on these assholes. Blue polo’s car was speeding away when the king turned to the girls and plopped that stupid crown back on his head. The girls were too afraid to move-they just lay on the table without struggle staring into the king’s face.

“I’m so happy to have you both for dinner,” he grinned. “I promise, this won’t hurt for long and that your flesh will serve a higher purpose now than it did out there.”

CJ closed her eyes as all the life seemed to drain out of her.

“What did I ever do to you people...?”

“What did the deer or the fish ever do to the hunter? The cow to the farmer? It’s not about what you did, baby doll, it’s about what you are; meat.”

The tears streamed down her face and she sobbed openly. Ashley slowly stood up, leveled the gun and stepped forward.

“On the fucking ground, pricks.”

All eyes turned to the figure emerging from the darkness.

“Get up, girls, and come to me.”

The king looked around like he just realized he was on some TV prank show. He made a gun with his finger and pretended to shoot her. Ashley already had the hammer back on the .38. He dropped into a crouch, taking a deep breath and then let out an ungodly howl. It sent a chill through Ashley and made her weak at the knees. Then it got worse.

Throughout the park, the neighborhood, came answering howls. They sounded inhuman. Ashley’s hands shook uncontrollably, and she gripped the pistol with both hands. From all around her, she heard a stampede of footsteps rushing at her. Figures began to appear in the dark. She popped off a shot at the king, but it went too far left and clipped one of his men, then she turned and fired into the darkness. The noose was tightening, the only way out was the park entrance. She took another shot at the king as she ran for the street, firing wildly behind her until the gun went ‘click click click,’ and realized to her horror that she’d left the speed loader in the glove box.  

The king was shouting behind, “tonight we feast like gods!”

Ashley woke with a start, still covered in shadow, herself, but sunlight streaming in around her. The derelicts sleeping below had cleared out, but there was a bloody figure laying on the stage. By the angle of her neck, whoever she was, she was dead. Ashley covered her mouth to stifle a sob and quickly headed for the entrance. The upstairs and the lobby were abandoned, as was the parking lot. It was deathly quiet at first, before she heard a train far off in the distance. She took a second to stretch and then jogged/ran/walked/jogged back towards the park, turning off where she had last night to collect her car.

“Thank you, Jesus,” she exclaimed breathlessly, when she found her car untouched. She got in, turned the key and locked the doors. She reloaded the .38 and drove around to the park entrance. There was no one in sight and not a sound to be heard, not even from insects or birds.

She got out with gun in hand and moved swiftly to the pavilion, where she found two bloody skeletons lying puddles of gore. Her shoulders drooped, and she turned around and around, scanning the trees and the hills for any sign of the psychos, but she was alone.

She drove slowly through Feliz Valley, searching for signs of life, but didn’t spot a soul until a garbage truck passed her from a cross street once she reached down town. She pulled up to a diner and picked up her phone, that she’d left under a stack of files. It was dead, and she had to plug it in. She had four new messages from Detective Thorn and one from the coroner, who wanted to know what she wanted him to do with her father’s body. Thorn’s messages simply said, ‘call me back.’

She hit the call back button on Thorn’s number and waited four rings before a soft voice said ‘hello?’

“Detective Thorn?”

“Yes, Ashley. How are you?”

“Pretty fucking bad. Do you have something for me?”

“What’s wrong?”

“What do you have, detective?”

“Uh, well, not much, I’m afraid. We had a witness, but she’s skipped town.”

“No, she didn’t.”

“How’s that?”

“I know what happened to her. And the girl my father came here looking for.”

“Where are you?”

“None of your fucking business. Tell me what’s going on here!”

“Calm down, Ashley. We can’t talk about this over the phone.”

“Too bad, because that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

“You don’t know what’s going on around here…”

“No, but I saw a big chunk of it.”

“You’re in danger.”

“Who are those guys in the park?”


“If you don’t talk to me, I can only assume you’re in on it.”

“Let’s meet and talk about this. We can help each other.”

“I can’t and won’t trust you.”

“Then you’ll never understand what’s happening around here. Good luck. The county coroner is driving your father’s body to Wheeler today. Call me when you grow a pair.”

He hung up.

She put the car in drive and took off out of town. She called 911 and requested the highway patrol. Captain Holden got on the line and she ran down everything that happened up to that point and then blue lights flashed in her rearview mirror.

“Captain Holden, one of the local cops is trying to pull me over…”

“Ok, pull over and put the officer on the phone.”

“What if they kill me?”

“Young lady, you’re sounding a little paranoid here.”

“You would be too.”

“Pull over, I’ve got one of my men heading over to meet you right now.”


She pulled to the side of the road just outside of the city limits. The patrol car pulled up close and North got out, looking around.

“Here he comes,” she said, rolling down her window.

“Morning. Heading home?”

“Yea, listen Captain Holden from the highway patrol is on the phone and wants to talk to you.”

North took the phone from her with a smile.

“Hey, queer bait, what’s going on?...Uh huh…When?...Oh yea, yea…”

North peered in at her, looking her up and down. Ashley’s heart sank.

“Eh, she looks all right. Little thick in the hips, you know, kinda wide ass…I would, yea…”

She saw the highway patrolman pulling up in the oncoming lane. The officer had a big smile on his face. Then an unmarked patrol car pulled up behind North’s car and a detective in a short sleeve white button up shirt, with his badge on a chain around his neck got out. The three officer’s met in the middle of the street, handshakes all around. Ashley had the .38 between her knees. The detective, presumably Thorn, took the phone and spoke to Holden briefly before hanging up and walking the phone over to Ashley, holding it out with a big grin.

“Detective Thorn, Ashley. Let’s have that talk.”

“Step out of the vehicle please,” the highway patrolman said.

“Why? What’s going on?”

“Step out Ashley.”

North slowly pulled his gun from its holster and then the patrolman did the same.

“Easy or hard, Ashley?”

Her answer was a slug between Thorn’s eyes. His brains exploded out the back of his head before he crumpled to the ground. North and the patrolman brought their weapons up, but Ashley was already punching holes in them, back in forth, until both hit the ground. She got out and grabbed her phone from the ground before speeding away. She used GPS to find a back way to Wheeler and avoided all major roads until she got to her own down town. She pulled up behind the county coroner van in front of the police station and peeled herself off the seat.

As she passed around the front of her car, the back of the van opened, and the king hopped out with a few subjects, all armed. She fell against the hood and tried to roll away, but he had a grip on her shirt and threw himself on top of her. He was all over her, working to pin her hands down as she fought and kicked to get away. His face was so close and stained with blood all around the mouth. His breath was a terror. One of his followers tried to help him get Ashley under control, but he nodded towards the door.

“Go cover our escape. Make sure you take care of any security footage.”

Then he headbutted her and the back of her head smacked into the hood of her car hard enough to leave a dent. She saw stars and he took the opportunity to jam his elbow into her stomach. Then the shooting started. The king flung her onto the sidewalk as glass shattered.

For a moment, Ashley considered just giving up. There were so many, how could she fight them all? Then blue polo walked around from the front of the van, looking nervous. Then the anger took over.

“This is fucked, man. Let’s load her up and get outta here!”

“The time to do that was back home, but our piggy pals fucked that up.”

“This is a lot of dead uniforms, man…”

“We commit these murders to the glory of our goddess Death.”

“Whatever, weirdo, help me get her up.”

As blue polo stepped into range, Ashley kicked him in the right knee with everything she had, knocking the kneecap out of place, and making the joint bend backwards, ripping the cartilage and ligaments. Blue polo hit the ground shrieking as she whipped her .38 from her waistband and pumped a slug into the king’s hip. He spun wildly against the van door. She took her time and blew his jaw off. He landed on her hood, then slid off, spraying across it, before crumpling under the bumper.

Inside, the gunfire was becoming sporadic, they’d probably be heading out any second. She got to her feet and yanked the back door of the van open and found an AR-15 lying on her father’s body bag.

It became quiet inside and seconds later the king’s followers filed out, stopping when they saw blue polo trying to crawl away and then the king, bled out and dead on the street. Before they could react, Ashley stepped out from the van and shot them down. Mostly good shots that wouldn’t kill them right away but would hurt like a bitch until they finally gave up the ghost. Two though, got their heads blown apart. Then it was blue polo’s turn.

Ashley walked around and got in front of him. He put his forehead against the pavement and tried to raise his hands.

“Lady, I-“

She stomped the back of his head. Then again. And again. A blood puddle started to form under his head as his body twitched. She stepped back and then stomped harder until she heard the bones cracking and popping. She stood back, and thought about those poor girls in the park, and stomped him one more time and his brains sprayed out under her foot.

The front door swung open and Deputy Thorpe staggered out bleeding from the shoulder.

“Holy fuck…Ashley…you got’em all..?”

“We’re not done, Cam. We’ve got a shit load of people left to kill over in Millerton.”


Like what you read? Consider checking out my books City Long Suffering or Motel On Fire, available HERE. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018


Dear Gore Hounds, where will you be January 31, 2018, at 1pm? Watching Fear Haus with your favorite devilish hostess Blair Bathory, of course! Miss Bathory and producer Drew Sawyer have spent the last year working on the return of their Fear Haus series, which updates the grand old tradition of the anthology series and the horror host/hostess. The show presents short films, both domestic and international, which Bathory curates and hosts.

Directors Molly Coffee and Gigi Saul Guerrero, with Luchagore Productions(!), have created six episodes each as part of the 'fearmaker' program, where guest directors conceptualize wrap-arounds for the series. (In addition to her own short films, Coffee has been the production designer on Stan Against Evil and the V/H/S Viral segment "Dante the Great," among many others and Guerrero has, among other things, directed El Gigante and "Dia De Los Muertos," the closing segment of Mexico Barbaro.)

So on the January 31st premier, Scottish director Andy Stewart will lead the charge of the first episode of the new year with his short film "Ink." Make sure you eat a BIG lunch before watching this cool film about a man and his...collection. Don't want to spoil anything, but I really dug "Ink." A little body horror, a little splatter punk, a little character drama-shot with the right balance of grit and professionalism, with some truly beautiful moments.

Find Fear Haus at to watch the latest episodes and follow Fear Haus on Twitter to never miss an update!

To tide you over, let me take you back to episode 6 with the short film "Picket," directed by the power house Izzy Lee and starring the great Diana Porter...

Sunday, January 28, 2018

THE WOMAN (2011)

"...But I reserve the right to be angry at bullies of all sorts-wife-beaters, dog kickers, bosses, politicians, murderers-and try to expose them for the small minded shits they are. That's the anger part. But I've also been lucky in love. I've loved and been loved by some fine, generous people and not a few four-legged beasts to boot, and they provide the contrast-the vast contrast-the solace and the peace."

Jack Ketchum said that in an interview with Florence Kremmel in the sole issue of Famous Monsters Underground in 2011. It followed an interview with director Lucky McKee and producer Andrew Van Den Houten, conducted by Kristy Jett. What the interviews had in common was the film The Woman. It was a sequel to Van Den Houten's The Offspring, and both were based on books by Ketchum (McKee co-wrote The Woman.) When I read these interviews back in the summer of '11, I was only aware of McKee's May. I was surprised to learn of a horror writer, that was certainly not knew, and had several books out, and I had never heard of him. Back in small town, as a kid, working my way through my libraries horror section, I certainly don't remember coming across his name and even now, my local book stores never have any of his titles. Not that it would have mattered, I guess. As impressed as I was with what all three men had to say about their project(s), my biggest sticking point was the fact that The Woman was a rape revenge story. Ever since I watched I Spit on Your Grave and Last House on the Left in high school, I haven't been able to watch any film in the rape revenge genre, and usually have to look away when a rape occurs in other movies. Death Wish didn't initially set me off when I saw it in 7th grade, but it took me up to this week to return to it, and I didn't fucking enjoy a second of it.

I didn't think the filmmakers had made an exploitation film or that their motivations for telling such a story were not noble, but I felt like I already know rape is evil, so I don't need to sit through a movie with that message. Then I happened upon Ketchum and McKee's The Girl Next Door, in the middle of the night on Chiller and it was so upsetting I was almost in tears and didn't finish watching it. I threw my hands up and said, ya know what fellas...your stuff ain't for me. I'm glad you're out there and I respect you, but...I'm good. But The Woman followed me. Every time I went into my streaming queue, it came up as a suggestion and always seemed available. And I never forgot how much I liked Ketchum in that interview, but I knew if I was ever going to watch it (and I was imaging it to be some brutal torture porn that would put me through an emotional wringer), I would need to be alone. My wife is willing to watch an awful lot of things with me, even though she's not as obsessed with horror films as I am, so I never want to cross certain lines with the more fucked up titles.

Then Ketchum passed away this past week, and I saw a number of my friends posting about what an amazing writer he was and what a nice guy. They posted pictures with him and talked about his influence. I thought, shit, that sucks. We keep losing the good guys. So, last night, after my family had all gone off to bed, I put on The Woman. It was time.

As I said, The Woman is a sequel to The Offspring, which I haven't seen, but I found that didn't effect my understanding of this film. It opens with 'The Woman,' played by Pollyanna McIntosh (Hap and Leonard, The Walking Dead), seeking shelter and tending a wound on her belly. The film becomes dreamlike with her running through the forest, stalking prey, and circling a baby with a seemingly domesticated wolf. Next we meet the Cleek family, the father Chris (Sean Bridges, Jug Face), the mother Belle (Angela Bettis, May), the oldest daughter Peggy (Lauren Ashley Carter, Jug Face, Darling), the son Brian (Zach Rand, Nurse Jackie), and the youngest daughter Darlin' (Shyla Molhusen). The Cleeks are an affluent white family living in a small town. Chris is a lawyer and a hunter while Belle is a housewife. Peggy and Brian are both having trouble at school, but Brian is doing a better job of covering it up, while engaging in some increasingly disturbing behavior there and at home. Peggy seems ill and terrified all the time and her geometry teacher, Miss Raton (Carlee Baker, Wicked Lake), seems to be the only one who notices enough to care. While hunting, Chris finds The Woman and returns home, clears out his cellar, and installs restraints, before going back out to capture her and bring her home. He presents The Woman to his whole family as if it were the most normal thing in the world, telling them that they are going to take care of her and tame her, because they can't have some wild woman running around in their woods. Belle and Peggy seemed mortified, maybe even shattered by Chris's big reveal, but Brian is disturbingly into it, while young Darlin' just goes along with a sunny smile, too young to understand the implications of what her father has done.

I don't want to give anything else away, not because of some unpredictable twist, but because the characters' story arcs are so interesting, I think going in with the barest amount of information is best. I will say that there is a rape scene, committed by Chris and a torture scene committed by Brian. Neither are particularly graphic, but they're upsetting nonetheless. I actually fast forwarded through the rape. Fortunately, the film is no where near as brutal as I expected, instead it's an amazing character study in abuse and control. McIntosh, Bettis, and Carter-and to slightly lesser extent, Baker- all play roles that represent varying types of abuse; physical, mental, emotional, and sexual. It's not sexually graphic or exploitative, like Last House, and it's not even very gory, although the climax is very harrowing and bloody. The Woman is a psychological deep dive with a great cast. I'm sorry I waited so long to finally watch it, but I'd still cautiously recommend it, especially for what it may trigger in some viewers.

In that interview above, Ketchum commented, "Lucky and I are asking, who's worse? Cannibal or lawyer? Cannibal or complicit wife? We're pointing our fingers at the nuclear family and what sometimes goes on there...We're asking kids not to hide what goes on between mom and dad or dad and little sister. We're asking people to not tolerate victimization, to get free, get out into the big scary world, rather than live under someone else's thumb." Considering the flood of sexual assault accusations we've seen come to light in the last year in Hollywood and Washington DC, I think that message has come to fruition in a big way and the real life Chris Cleeks of the world, the Harvey Weinsteins, the Steve Wynns, the Kevin Spaceys, are finally getting their black hearts ripped out and there are more coming, and Donald Trump will have his day, as bullet proof as he believes he is. When The Woman has her moment, she isn't just getting revenge against one rich redneck family, she's dealing a blow to the patriarchy in a small way, as does the film, which I think is even more relevant seven years after its release.

RIP, Jack. I wish I'd known you.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

TORSO (1973) reviewed

Italian director Sergio Martino's work has been a major blind spot for me. One of the great things about streaming services and DVD/Blu Ray companies like Arrow and Scream Factory has been remedying a lot of my blind spots. My in road to Martino was the re-release of 1972's Your Vice Is A Locked Room And Only I Have The Key. It was loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat" (Arrow paired the film in a box set with Lucio Fulci's The Black Cat) and starred Edwige Fenech, Anita Strindberg, and Luigi Pistilli. It's a spectacularly sleazy romp, but also artfully directed and well worth tracking down.

Martino's 1973 film Torso is almost better in my opinion, but has some major issues that really bog it down in the second half. As a Giallo it hits all the major points; you have a mysterious killer, lots of suspects and red herrings, beautifully shot, with lots of bloody violence and eroticism. Torso is somewhat less stylish than Blood And Black Lace (1964, Mario Bava) or Deep Red (1975, Dario Argento), but has a grittier feel, closer to an American slasher film. The killer, which we fully see earlier than in some Giallos, wears a mask that's somewhat remeniscent to the proto-slasher The Town That Dreaded Sundown. 

Martino's shooting style is fantastic. The camera is always busy, but never distracting, giving many of the scenes a delirious momentum. I have to admit, I never had Torso very high on my watch list, assuming it was just an exploitation, lady-killer flick. Which it is, but artfully done. It stars Suzy Kendall (The Bird With The Crystal Plumage), Tina Aumont (Two Orphan Vampires), Luc Merenda (Le Mans), and John Richardson (Black Sunday) and was written by Martino and Ernesto Gastaldi (The Case Of The Bloody Iris).

The story centers on a series of brutal strangulations and mutilations, that are sexual in nature, around the University of Perugia. The story moves to a country villa, with four friends getting away for a holiday, but they're followed by the killer. Along the way we get lots of sex and nudity, brutal kills, and occasional doll imagery. The film, really, is all aesthetic with little substance, a charge that could be often leveled at Argento.

There is a cringe-factor with the level of misogyny present in the murders though, but nothing approaching Fulci's New York Ripper, which for me was a film that actually bordered on being anti-woman (I'm not calling Fulci a misogynist, based on what I've read about him, I don't think he was, however New York Ripper is fucking repugnant and represents the absolute worst that slashers and Giallo have to offer), for instance in the first kill of the film, after strangling a woman, who just finished having sex in a car, the killer takes his knife and carves off her breast, after feeling her up. He does this later, when he follows a woman in danger of being gang raped by two other men.

Honestly, these issues can't be waved off or simply ignored just because a film is thirty, forty, or fifty years old. A film like Torso is more than just sordid entertainment, it's the product of a culture of misogyny, as the later slashers were products of repression and conservative lock down. Unlike the slasher film, we don't have a "final girl," though Jane (Kendall) appears to be one, she's actually just the one that survived long enough for a man to show up and save her.

Jane is robbed of agency and justice. Compare her to Nancy in A Nightmare On Elm Street. Laurie in Halloween, or Jenny in Friday The 13th Part 2-Jane doesn't confront the killer and stop him, she's trapped and toyed with until a man from the village arrives and interrupts her murder. He's the one that pursues the killer, he's the one that ends the terror, while Jane stands by in shock being rescued. On the other hand, the women in the film are independent and sexually free. They don't go off on holiday with boyfriends, but alone and are confident in their own skin, but are they? The film is written by a men, directed by a man, and appeals to the male gaze in spades. We might excuse films that are less than sensitive when it comes to dealing with sexual politics, race, and/or homosexuality, but with Torso we're talking 1973 and within a year we get both Black Christmas and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, both of which feature well written, believable female protagonists, that do have agency, that fight back.    

Though it predates the American slasher by either one year (Black Christmas) or five years (Halloween) depending on where you believe the slasher film really starts, it has a lot similarities to it's American cousin with the psychology of the killer. His murders are tied to sex, loss, and guilt, which would be the primary instigations in one combination or another for the entire sub-genre. Like Michael Myers and Jason Vorhees, Torso's masked killer shows up to dispatch women and occasionally men after they've had sex, or in the case of a shoe maker, who gets killed for voyeurism. The killer's sexual repression doesn't matter at all up to the point of the reveal, because the movie chugs along freely with little more than a thin murder mystery as it's engine. The raison d'etre is mostly after thought.

I honestly don't know what to do with the casual misogyny in many horror films. For years I shrugged it off, like I'm sure many fans have, and tried to focus my attention on films that had more to offer. I wish I could wrap up on a positive note, as I enjoyed the film while I watched it, but in the end I just can't not be blase about the fact that this is a misogynistic film and shouldn't be let off the hook just because it's old.

Monday, October 30, 2017


Halloween, as we all well know, is a holy day for fans of horror. Young and old alike revel in the holiday, either by creating new memories or drifting away in old ones, wrapping up tight in a safety blanket of enjoyable frights, candy, and all the darkly colorful accoutrements of the season. Jack O'Lanterns, ghosts, witches, monsters, black cats, and the like: these are our banners, our sigils, all our very souls on this most special day.

So what's better than celebrating it with one's favorite horror movies? Not much, if you ask me. Certain people go for their absolute top of the chart Best Of lists, some choose flicks that best represent the day to them, and yet others go straight to the nostalgia pile and watch the ones that made them feel as they did as a child. However you may choose to get down, I am here to tell you that there's no incorrect way to do it -- to commemorate Halloween RIGHT, all you have to do is love it. It's just that simple, cut and dried, end of story, period.

The different lists people come up with to watch Halloween always fascinate and please me, as do the reasons they have for choosing them. "This scared the piss out of me when I was 10, I had nightmares for weeks!" is a great one. "My (insert family member or friend here) showed it to me one year and I've been over the harvest moon for it ever since" is another. Just hearing all these personal testimonials is like filling myself up with Halloween love and it's a remarkable sensation that I'll never get tired of. Speaking of what will never get old, I'd like to share the three films that, over the years, have become my very own Must Watch Films on my most favorite holiday, and the order in which I've perfected the way I best enjoy viewing them.

First up: Tim Burton's 1999 film SLEEPY HOLLOW. I was lucky enough to catch this in the theater and you could never have prepared me for how deeply I would fall for with this love letter to the Hammer films of yore. In fact, it immediately shot to the top of my own list of favorite Burton flicks (pushing previous No.1 title holder
BEETLEJUICE aside with an ancient, gnarled hand) -- I had no inkling at the time that it would become a yearly staple of my Halloween viewing but I for damn sure had a blast watching it. I start off with this one because it's not only funny and gory and sports some top notch performances from a game cast (which is LOADED with heavy hitters and character actor legends, by the way), but due to the atmosphere it's literally dripping with. The way everything LOOKS -- dig that exquisite photography by legendary DP Emmanuel Lubezki -- is a sheer delight for my senses and gets me in a Halloween mood before the opening scene has concluded. You can all but feel the chilled mist floating in the air on your skin, hear the crackling of dead leaves under your feet, and smell the wafting smoke and scents of spice...maybe even a hint of coppery blood. It's like the flick inhales cinema and exhales Halloween, and that more than anything is why I now kick off every year's holiday in such style. (Plus, I am a total sucker for the too-bright stage blood used in the flick -- again, shades of old 70's horror pictures -- that reminds me of so much melted candle wax. It's fucking lovely.)

Second up: the new horror classic TRICK R' TREAT from writer/director Michael Dougherty. Between this and the Christmas themed winner KRAMPUS, this dude has staked a claim as being the reigning champion of genre holiday films, as he is 2-for-2 thus far. Now I'm wondering if he'll ever make one about a monstrous Easter Bunny (would watch, HARD) -- but I digress. Since its release 10 (!) years ago, this movie has become rightly beloved by the horror community, and you'll find it on many, many lists of people deciding to observe Samhain like the best kind of savages. Coincidentally, that's precisely why I choose this as the second flick to watch; while SLEEPY HOLLOW is all about immersing myself in the mood of the day, TRICK R' TREAT is how I truly memorialize it. My personal favorite flick set ON the day (and pretty much everybody's, at that) is coming up, but this is the movie that I'd say is the very best at being ABOUT Halloween ever made. The customs, the lore, the history, the fears -- it's everything we love all wrapped up in four interweaving tales, told with a terrific sense of humor and stellar eye (and if you need help with those just say the word, Billy Wilkins) for what makes the season so iconic. I'm talking about everything from the costumes to the decorations to all the things that go bump in the night, just outside your view...or perhaps right outside your front door, or maybe even your bedroom window. Why don't you go take a look? I'm sure it's just the wind.

Third and last up: I mean, come on now. It's GOTTA be John Carpenter's seminal 1978 slasher HALLOWEEN. This is a perfect movie; any and all arguments end there for me. What the greatest living director of horror films (and the greatest of all time, in this writer's opinion) did with this flick flat-out changed the game. There's definitely a case to be made that he was building upon the work that other films before him had laid out previously, almost as a roadmap leading Carpenter to creating this masterpiece (films such as PEEPING TOM, PSYCHO, and BLACK CHRISTMAS come immediately to mind) -- but it's HOW he did it that makes this movie remain ridiculously effective almost 40 goddamned years later. The simple yet insistently chilling score from Carpenter himself. The iconic Shape and his mask. The original Final Girl we all fell in love with, the one we rooted and were terrified for, Laurie Strode (played so memorably by soon-to-be-Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis). The way Michael Myers seemed to be fucking EVERYWHERE, ready to step out of any shadow, stand up from behind any object, and the steady, unstoppable intent of his approach when he was coming directly for you. This film is John Carpenter declaring "Pay attention -- there's a new sheriff in town, everyone." And all of us did. The master is just that phenomenal.

Even though this article may be about the three movies I've loyally watched as a concrete group for roughly a decade now, I would like to include as an honorable mention one newer flick that very recently has become one I've decided to end the evening with every year on out, and that's the WNUF HALLOWEEN SPECIAL from 2013. This loving recreation of vintage 1980's Halloween night television is note-perfect, right down to the fake commercials that I would SWEAR I've seen before, and simply damn well done. It's like stepping into a time machine for those of us lucky to grow up and/or be of a specific age in that decade. Watching this actually feels like the exact thing that would be playing on my local station after I got home from trick or treating, sat down in the center of my living room floor in front of the TV, dumped my pillowcase full of candy onto the floor, and dug into a feast for my eyes, ears, and stomach. It's ALL treat.

There's probably somewhere in the neighborhood of one hundred or more killer flicks to watch on Halloween, but those are the ones I make sure I NEVER miss on that holiest of days -- after all, I'm a fan of horror and have been since I was probably 6 or 7, and as such I have my own Must Watch list. Every year I throw different ones in and around them, but even if I only have time for a few they're the ones that just HAVE to be seen, and they have yet to fail me. Loyalty born out of consistency can't be overrated, in my book.

So, in conclusion: may you all have your own special fright flicks to view and enjoy this and every year, and may you all have the very greatest of days and joyfully darkest of nights -- HAPPY HALLOWEEN!