My Little Monster: A Review of ETERNAL FRANKENSTEIN

Eternal Frankenstein
Edited by Ross E. Lockhart
Published by Word Horde
Available Here
Review by Jonathan Raab

From the dedication:

“To Mary. And her Monster. With thanks.”

Indeed! Shelley’s Monster needs no introduction, although its many reinterpretations and reincarnations over the past (almost!) 200 years might leave people with competing ideas over who and what it is and represents. But anyone with a passing familiarity to film and horror knows the basic premise of man-creates-monster, and surely would recognize some form the Monster has taken over the years, whether in the iconic and stoic visage of Karloff, the misshapen face of Lee, the re-animated ghouls of a certain Stuart Gordon film, or even a seasonal breakfast cereal. Continue reading “My Little Monster: A Review of ETERNAL FRANKENSTEIN”

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Interview with Orrin Grey, author of Painted Monsters … and an exclusive announcement about his next book!

Painted Monsters by Orrin Grey was one of the best books I read in 2015. Grey agreed to answer a few questions about the book and horror cinema—and his next project!

Painted Monsters is a book very much about horror cinema. Your work is highly referential and reverential, but still feels fresh. Did you set out to write stories that reflected your cinematic influences, or was this a happy accident?

OG: A little from column A, a little from column B … By the time I started putting together the table of contents for Painted Monsters, I’d already written several pieces that were highly influenced by film for one reason or another. From there, I stumbled upon the quote from Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets (1968) that serves as the epigraph for the book, and I felt like I could use that as a jumping-off point to construct a collection that was both a survey of my fiction and also kind of a crash course in the history of horror cinema. While most of the other stories were already completed by then and had been published in other places, the title novelette was written explicitly to tie all those threads together and give the collection some thematic unity.

What makes horror movies so alluring, considering their often grisly subject matter? Why do you think horror has such an impact on young people?

OG: That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? I’m not really sure I know the answer. I recently wrote an essay for the March issue of Nightmare Magazine, about writing and consuming horror that isn’t intended to be scary, because I feel like that’s mostly what I do. A lot of my favorite horror movies aren’t particularly grisly or scary; they’re the creaky old black-and-white Gothic chillers from the 30s and 40s, the Hammer horror movies, Vincent Price and Roger Corman doing Poe in vivid Technicolor. Ultimately, for me, I think I just love ghosts and monsters and spooky graveyards and all that stuff, and horror is where the monsters live.

As for why it has such an impact on young people, horror is capable of feeling transgressive—or at least of having that sheen of transgression—in a way that a lot of other genres struggle to manage. It can give you the sense that you’re doing something forbidden, that you’re seeing something you ought not see, and I think that’s a thrill a lot of us are looking for, especially as we’re growing up.

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Sometimes your characters are conscious of how their circumstances are similar to horror fiction and cinema. How did you manage to balance the direct and indirect references in ways that were natural to the stories?

OG: It would be great to have a pithy response here that made me look smart, but I think “instinctively” is the real answer. The stories that are particularly self-aware are written in a voice that sounds a lot like the voice inside my own head. I tend to see everything in terms of connections to other things, especially when it comes to movies and fiction, and so I am constantly making comparisons, allusions, and associations.

That said, I did really try to make sure that I wasn’t falling into the trap of just leaving Easter eggs for the reader to find and feel clever about. I try to use allusions and references to horror fiction and cinema as a shorthand, a way to add weight and other dimensions to the story without bogging it down. When I’m writing, I like to lay out a whole bunch of possible explanations or causes or implications for whatever is going on, and then let the reader decide for themselves, and often my allusions let me add those implications without having to commit to them.

The titular “Painted Monsters,” which concludes the collection, is somewhat symbolic in that it burns down the old horror tropes, creatures, and styles and makes way for the undefined new. What trends do you see horror cinema and fiction taking, for better or worse?

OG: Man, who knows? It’s easy to look backward and see trends, it’s much more difficult to look forward and predict them. I think one of the great things that’s happening right now in both horror fiction and film is that the ubiquity of the Internet is giving rise to an increasingly fragmented field, where lots of different people are doing really exciting work taking the genre in all kinds of different directions, and they’re able to find an audience that responds to what they’re doing.

What trends do you see your fiction taking? What ideas, concepts, or even other genres would you like to explore as a writer?

OG: Again, it’s hard to say. I love writing the kinds of stories that went into Painted Monsters, and if audiences keep reacting well to them, I’ll probably keep writing stories that play with film and cinematic influences for as long as I can. But I’d also really like to go back to doing more stuff in the tradition of the great old English ghost stories by guys like M.R. James, E.F. Benson, Robert Westall, etc. I’m already a good chunk of the way toward my third collection—which is shaping up to be more varied and experimental than my previous two—but I’d love to see my fourth be dedicated to those guys, and full of those kinds of stories.

What are you reading now? What are you reading next?

OG: Right now I’m taking a break from contemporary stuff to read a couple of titles from Valancourt Books, who do these wonderful reissues of out-of-print volumes both classic and obscure. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to have a small part in helping them usher J.B. Priestley’s novel Benighted—which is one of my favorite books, and the basis for one of my favorite movies, James Whale’s The Old Dark House—back into print, and I’ve since written a couple of other introductions for them, most recently for The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral by Robert Westall. I just finished reading Wax by Ethel Lina White, which was a pretty delightful little mystery novel with a wax museum setting, and now I’m getting into Fingers of Fear by J.U. Nicholson.

After that is probably Ted E. Grau’s 2015 debut collection, The Nameless Dark, which promises to be utterly fantastic. I’ve read several of the stories where they were originally published, and they’ve all been phenomenal. I’m not sure what’s next after that; my to-read pile is precarious and unpredictable.

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What authors, contemporary or otherwise, do you find having an influence on you? Who is challenging you to be better?

OG: Well, of course Mike Mignola, first and always. Those aforementioned English ghost story guys. William Hope Hodgson, Manly Wade Wellman, Fritz Leiber, T.E.D. Klein, Roger Zelazny, Junji Ito, Clive Barker, a lot of the usual suspects. I could make a list of classic weird authors all damn day and still leave somebody out. But I’m also a big fan of writers like Holly Black and M.T. Anderson, which might be less obvious.

There are so many great people working in the horror and weird fiction fields right now that it feels futile to name names, but I think a few of the ones who most consistently make me go, “Shit, I’d better up my game” are probably John Langan, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Stephen Graham Jones, Amanda Downum, and Gemma Files.

Who are a couple of up-and-coming authors that we should be keeping an eye on?

OG: I always hate this question, because I could list dozens of people and still miss some great ones. I already mentioned Ted E. Grau up above. Jon Padgett has a collection coming out from Dunham’s Manor in 2016, and I’ve loved everything that I’ve read by him so far, so I’m really looking forward to that, and to checking out more stuff by Matthew M. Bartlett and Christopher Slatsky sooner rather than later …

What are you writing now?

OG: The answer to this question is almost always “more short stories.” Most writers I know are perpetually plugging away at their next novel, but, while I’m sure I’ll write a novel one of these days, I’m in love with the short form and not in any hurry to leave it. Right now I’ve got a few solicitations in the works for some upcoming anthologies that I can’t yet name, as well as a chapbook for Dunham’s Manor Press that ties in with both the title novelette of Painted Monsters and a project I did with artist Michael Bukowski a while ago…

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Where should we be looking for more of your work in the future?

OG: Aside from the aforementioned, I’ve got stories on their way in Swords v Cthulhu from Stone Skin Press and Children of Gla’aki from Dark Regions. I’m also always thinking in terms of the next collection, and I’ve got a lot of material already together for it, so I doubt if it’ll be three years between them this time.

Besides all that, I got the go-ahead from my publisher to give you a scoop on an upcoming project that I haven’t announced anywhere else yet: 2016 will see the publication of a book-length collection of the Vault of Secrets columns on vintage horror cinema that I’ve been writing for Innsmouth Free Press for the past few years. It’ll be called Monsters from the Vault, and it’ll also have some original material, and a cover from an artist I can’t announce just yet, but am very excited to be working with.

You can follow Orrin Grey on Twitter, and keep up with him at his blog.

We’re the ones who shape their nightmares: A review of Orrin Grey’s Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts

Painted Monsters & Other Strange Beasts by Orrin Grey
Published by Word Horde
Available here

Do you like monsters, horror movies, old dark houses/haunted mansions, skeletons, kaiju, giallo films, Vincent Price, F.W. Murnau, spooks, specters, or ghosts?

Of course you do. And so does Orrin Grey. He likes them. He likes them a lot, so much so, that he’s built an impressive body of short stories that function not only as thrilling, entertaining reads, but also as masterfully-crafted love letters to the great (and countless not-so-great) celluloid monsters and horror film actors and filmmakers of the past and present.

While some might not appreciate cinematic storytelling in horror literature (as baffling as that is to me), I wholeheartedly embrace it as a reader of the form. Grey goes further than merely mimicking or taking inspiration from horror films—he directly and indirectly references a great number of them in these stories. But he incorporates both inspiration and reference in a way that doesn’t feel contrived, wink-laden, or forced. Sometimes, the characters are aware of the intersection of their present circumstances with those that exist in specific cultural artifacts and the broader horror zeitgeist. Combine this horror geek sentimentality with a voice that can deliver action, detail, pathos, and atmosphere in equal measures, and you’ve got one hell of a fun ride.

Yes, this book is fun to read. Grey’s storytelling is liberating and utterly unpretentious—a fresh breath of midnight air.

It’s difficult to pick just a few stories to highlight, as there’s not a single clunker in the book.

In “The Worm That Gnaws,” resurrection men pay a high price in their final dealing. Back-to-back vampire tales “The White Prince” and “Night’s Foul Bird” play with different concepts of the vampire in different classical settings. “Walpurgisnacht” is likely my favorite story of the collection, a simple occult-inspired tale of an elite’s goodbye party gone wrong, chock full of haunting imagery right out of a Roman Polanski or Kubrick film. “Red Church” drives us into slasher territory, but with nods to Lovecraft’s “Pickman’s Model” and Kathe Koja’s The Cipher.

“Persistence of Vision” gets a mention for a PaintedMonsters_cover_001_FC_small-663x1024positive Ghostbusters 2 reference (it’s great, dammit!). Although heavily inspired by Pulse (a film that tried my patience [does my preference for Ghostbusters 2 over Pulse publicly confirm that I’m a philistine?]), this one stands on its own as a tale about despair amidst a ghostly apocalypse. “Strange Beast” is an example of how the found footage motif can be used to great effect, even in literature. It’s a tribute to both the best of the subgenre and to Japanese kaiju films.

“Painted Monsters” is the main feature here, more of a novella than a short, and functions both as a great final ride through Grey’s spook-filled imagination and as a coda for the rest of the book. It’s a tribute, among other things, to foreign horror films (in this case, specifically Mexican mid-century horror cinema), and contains elements from many other stories within this collection. It’s powerful in its symbolic burning of auteur ego and classic conventions to make way for the new, while simultaneously celebrating the very legacy it sets to the flame.

This is a writer having a good time, and his love for the tropes, characters, and settings here is infectious. Grey’s work is a wonderful counterpoint to the genre’s drift toward more vague, cerebral weird fiction. That’s not to say his stories lack intellectual reward or stylistic value. Far from it! But Grey is channeling pop-horror, niche-horror, and classic-horror in fun and exciting ways. Painted Monsters is one of the best books of the year, and Orrin Grey has cemented himself as one of my favorite contemporary writers.

Painted Monsters is a thoughtful, fun, and spooky ride through the horror culture of films and literature of the last hundred-plus years, filtered through the imagination of a man who sees the most ridiculous of rubber-suited monsters, the creakiest of old dark houses, the brightest of Technicolor bloods, the vampiest of horror cinema icons, and the foggiest of midnight graveyards—and smiles.

If skeletons could smile, that is.

Book Review: Giallo Fantastique

Edited by Ross E. Lockhart

Published by Word Horde

Review by Mer Whinery

Picture it:

1984.

Three thirteen year-old boys in a shadowed living room, huddled around a flickering television set gorging themselves on block-cheese nachos, all hopped up on a case of Mountain Dew. On the screen, a beautiful young woman is admiring herself in a mirror. Suddenly, a wall of dissonant music overpowers the scene; a pair of demonic eyes appear outside her window. The stage is set for ultimate terror.

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This was my first exposure to the genre of film known as giallo. The movie was Dario Argento’s Suspiria. It was broadcast into my best friend’s living room courtesy of a hacked satellite dish.  For the uninitiated, “giallo” is the Italian word for yellow, and is a genre of film trapped somewhere between murder mystery and slasher horror, often served with a side helping of supernatural gravy and kinky sex. It eschews coherence and logical plot in favor of style and shock, leaning far into the realm of the surreal. Giallo often features storytelling through melodramatic music and overwrought imagery. After Suspiria came others. Argento’s Deep Red, Mario Bava’s Twitch of the Death Nerve, Lucio Fulci’s Don’t Torture a Duckling, and even films shot outside of Italy such as England’s Don’t Look Now, directed by Nicholas Roeg. These movies had a profound impact on me both as a writer and a lover of cinema.

Giallo Fantastique, the new collection of short fiction compiled and edited by Ross E. Lockhart, attempts to capture the feel and tone of those films and transfer them to the written word. However, this collection also seeks to marry the giallo with a French genre of fiction called fantastique. Fantastique is a variety of fiction with blatant supernatural overtones, more closely related to weird fiction than any other categorization. The results are mixed, but ultimately satisfying, with a few tales that skirt tantalizingly close to brilliance.

Most of the tales entombed within Giallo Fantastique lean more toward the fantastique than giallo. Mixing the two is not as easy as it sounds. Many of the stories get bogged down in shock for the sake of shock, and an over-reliance on the surreal, which is not uncommon for a giallo. However, since the goal of the collection is an attempt to merge the two genres together, a stronger balance needs to be struck. The majority of the stories are well written and a few are very clever, but only a handful really set themselves apart from the dark flock. But oh, what a handful of darkly delicious doozies are they!

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My favorite selection would have to be the enigmatic, and oh-so-gialloesquely named “The Strange Vice of ZLA-313” by MP Johnson. Johnson totally nails the spirit of the giallo but adds his own twist, setting the mayhem in the future. It’s fantastique, sci-fi, and horror all rolled into one delightful, sexy, and creepy chimichanga. Here is a writer who understands the genre and elevates it to new and exciting heights. I would have loved it to be longer.

“Sensoria” by Anya Martin is a little less far-reaching, but no less compelling. A cocktail of weird fiction ala Lovecraft and Argento-ish psychedelia, it sits with the reader long after the final page has turned. Out of all of the tales within Giallo Fantastique, “Sensoria” is the most cinematic, practically begging to be lensed by David Lynch.

High marks go to Michael Kazepis’s “Minerva,” a straight-up balls-to-the-wall giallo, and Orrin Grey’s “The Red Church,” a creepy little number which digs deep into the hallowed territory of Robert W. Chambers. Brian Keene’s “Exit Strategies” rounds out the collection as a chilling exposé of the secret occult history of the U.S. Transportation system that, honestly, doesn’t really lock into either the giallo or fantastique genre yet, somehow, fits perfectly into the collection. It’s a wonderful closing number.

Enough cannot be said about the excellent introduction by editor Ross E. Lockhart. The man knows his stuff, and his thoughtful and thankfully entertaining explanation of the entangled genres at play here makes sense of what is presented. Lockhart’s introduction makes the book much easier to digest and appreciate, especially for readers who may not be as familiar with Italian cinema.

4/5 Geysers of Fake-Looking Blood

Mer Whinery is the author of The Little Dixie Horror Show and  Phantasmagoria Blues, which is available for pre-order here. His short story “The Projectionist” also appears in our latest anthology, High Strange Horror, available now.