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Today I offer you a spooky short story, perfect for one-sitting reading or listening: "The Four-Fifteen Express" (1867) by Amelia B. Edwards.

- You can find a free audio version of the story for download from Librivox here.

- You can read the complete story online here.


Here is an excerpt:

It was a large station, and Mr. Dwerrihouse had by this time got more than half-way to the farther end.

I, however, saw him distinctly, moving slowly with the stream. Then, as I drew nearer, I saw that he had met some friend, that they were talking as they walked, that they presently fell back somewhat from the crowd and stood aside in earnest conversation. I made straight for the spot where they were waiting. There was a vivid gas-jet just above their heads, and the light fell upon their faces. I saw both distinctly--the face of Mr. Dwerrihouse and the face of his companion. Running, breathless, eager as I was, getting in the way of porters and passengers, and fearful every instant lest I should see the train going on without me, I yet observed that the newcomer was considerably younger and shorter than the director, that he was sandy-haired, moustachioed, small-featured, and dressed in a close-cut suit of Scotch tweed. I was now within a few yards of them. I ran against a stout gentleman, I was nearly knocked down by a luggage-truck, I stumbled over a carpet-bag; I gained the spot just as the driver's whistle warned me to return.

To my utter stupefaction, they were no longer there. I had seen them but two seconds before--and they were gone! I stood still; I looked to right and left; I saw no sign of them in any direction. It was as if the platform had gaped and swallowed them.

"There were two gentlemen standing here a moment ago," I said to a porter at my elbow; "which way can they have gone?"

"I saw no gentlemen, sir," replied the man.

The whistle shrilled out again. The guard, far up the platform, held up his arm, and shouted to me to "come on!"

"If you're going on by this train, sir," said the porter, "you must run for it."

I did run for it, just gained the carriage as the train began to move, was shoved in by the guard, and left, breathless and bewildered, with Mr. Dwerrihouse's cigar-case still in my hand.

It was the strangest disappearance in the world; it was like a transformation trick in a pantomime. They were there one moment--palpably there, talking, with the gaslight full upon their faces--and the next moment they were gone. There was no door near, no window, no staircase; it was a mere slip of barren platform, tapestried with big advertisements. Could anything be more mysterious?


It's film time! Every year about this time I think about good Halloween films (not necessarily horror movies, and definitely not lame slasher pictures, but suspenseful, atmospheric films that put a chill up the spine) that are "off the beaten path" -- that is, films that are independent, foreign, direct to DVD or VOD, or somehow under promoted, and thus might easily slip under the proverbial radar. Not the classics. Not the usual suspects.

I've already made a separate post this season with recommendations of Anton Yelchin's Halloween-friendly films, so I won't repeat those here.

Also, I'm not including Stranger Things (2016), as it was hardly under the radar and it's not a film, but if you haven't seen this wonderful series, you should put it at the top of your "To Do" list this Halloween. Consider it required viewing, people!

Now I have a few new recommendations to add to my list, based on this past year's viewing. (We accessed nearly all of these via Netflix or Amazon streaming.) Here they are in chronological order.

Last Night (1998): (Thanks to penfold_x for the rec!) In Toronto, a group of friends and family prepares for the fast-approaching end of the world. This apocalyptic film starts out like a dark comedy but ends much more like a serious drama. It won three Genie Awards, including a Best Actress for Sandra Oh, and I see why. She really shines here, and her last scene is stuck in my head. If you like to ponder how you would spend your very last -- and the world's very last -- night, try this.

Color Out of Space (2010): This is an absolutely brilliant adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's "The Colour Out of Space" set in Germany. We thought this was amazing. Beautiful visual storytelling. Even if you're not one for subtitled films, do give this a try, especially if you know and appreciate the source material.

Extraordinary Tales (2013): Several of my students recommended this to me, and I'm grateful that they did! This is an anthology film comprised of five different animated adaptations of Poe's stories, namely "The Fall of the House of Usher" narrated by Christopher Lee, "The Tell-Tale Heart" narrated by Bela Lugosi, "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" narrated by Julian Sands, "The Pit and the Pendulum" narrated by Guillermo del Toro, and "The Masque of the Red Death" -- my favorite -- which is eerily and beautifully silent. Despite uneven narration quality, due to the age of some of the audio recordings, this is terrific fun for Poe fans.

These Final Hours (2013): Wow, this one unexpectedly blew us away. A meteor has collided with Earth in the North Atlantic, and that leaves about twelve hours before the final global firestorm reaches Western Australia. In Perth, bad boy James leaves his pregnant girlfriend to try to drown his fear at "the party to end all parties," but his life abruptly changes when he comes across a young girl being attacked. This is a delicate and powerful story of character growth and redemption in the face of the biggest horror of all: the end of all things. Highly recommended.

Cruel and Unusual (2014): This was another film that surprised us. It focuses on a man condemned for killing his wife. He finds himself in a mysterious institution where he is sentenced to relive her death for eternity, along with others similarly sentenced. It's a dark and affecting work of psychological horror.

Killer Legends (2014): This documentary traces four urban legends (or are they?) back to their origins: The Hookman, The Candyman, The BabySitter and the Man Upstairs, and The Killer Clown. I found it to be fascinating, both in the real crimes it examines and the *lack* of crimes it exposes (such as the prevalent but unfounded rumors of Halloween candy poisoned or tampered with that I remember from my youth). A few sequences aren't for the squeamish.

Amnesiac (2015): This tells the story of a man who wakes up in bed suffering from memory loss after being in an accident, only to begin to suspect that his caretaker, who claims to be his wife, may not be his real wife and may not have his best interests at heart. Wes Bentley won me over as the bewildered protagonist, and good heavens, Kate Bosworth as the "wife" really brought the chills. Stylish, understated, and slow-burn spooky.

10 Cloverfield Lane (2015): Between you and me, this is the scariest film I've seen in ages. I'm sure the twists are common knowledge by now, but just in case they aren't, I won't say anything except this is absolutely ideal for the Halloween season -- or anytime you want your brain turned inside out and goosebumps on your skin. Hats off to John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and John Gallagher Jr. for bringing the tense, claustrophobic script to vivid life. You need to see this!

Estranged (2015): January is forced to return home after six years traveling abroad, because a near-fatal accident has left her temporarily wheelchair bound and depleted of her long-term memory. At the mercy of those who claim to be her loved ones, isolated from outside help, she tries to discover the truth about her past and her present. This is smarter and more complex than we expected it to be, very Gothic in tone and execution.

Krampus (2015): This irreverent horror film, in which a boy who is having a bad Christmas accidentally summons an old-world Christmas demon to wreak havoc, is not for everyone, but if you're like me, and you'd trade Christmas for Halloween any day of the week, it's a lot of fun. Think of it as the evil Mirror Universe version of It's A Wonderful Life.

The Reconstruction of William Zero (2015): A geneticist who wakes up from an accident with only fragments of his memory must relearn who he is from his twin brother. But the deeper he digs, the more he realizes that he may be wrong about who he thinks he is -- and who he thinks his twin is. Variety review compared this sad tale of human cloning and human frailty to a story by H.G. Wells, and that sounds about right. It's not a perfect film, but it's a good example of thoughtful indie science fiction.

They Look Like People (2015): The longer we watched this indie psychological thriller, the more we liked it. It builds and builds and builds. It stars MacLeod Andrews as a man who believes that humanity is being secretly taken over by evil creatures (think of a slow and simmering episode of The X-Files in which Mulder or Scully never manage to arrive on the scene), and it won a special jury award at the Slamdance Film Festival.

The Visit (2015): This is a found footage horror film written, produced, and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. I know that Shyamalan can be hit or miss, but this was much more of a hit. A brother and sister are sent for their vacation to visit their grandparents, which is a gesture of reconciliation, as the family has been estranged. While there, the siblings become increasingly frightened by their grandparents' disturbing behavior. The kids are compelling, and their isolation is palpable. The twist, when it comes, it terrific.

The Witch (2015): This film is like watching a colonial American nightmare come to life (which is not for everyone, but definitely was for me). The production team worked extensively with English and American texts and museums, and they consulted with experts on seventeenth-century English agriculture as well to bring early reports and imaginative depictions of witchcraft alive in a gritty, realistic setting. I've read some of the texts that inspired the film, such as those referenced in and created by the witch trials, and I was transported and enthralled by this dark and disturbing work. It rations its moments of gruesomeness for absolute impact and relies heavily on suggestion, underscoring the choking paranoia and claustrophobia of the Puritan existence. Not for those faint of heart or short of attention span.

The Boy (2016): Although it has its moments of predictability, on the whole this one satisfies. Greta is a young American woman who escapes an abusive relationship by getting a temporary job as a nanny for a British family. When she arrives at the parents' home, they introduce her to their son, Brahms. Brahms is a porcelain doll who is treated like the living child he replaced after the real Brahms' childhood tragedy. Things get really weird from there in a mostly satisfying "this is how you go crazy" kind of way. Not perfect, but worth seeing.

The Forest (2016): Natalie Dormer stars as twins in this supernatural thriller about one sister searching for the other, who is presumably lost in Japan's Aokigahara Forest. My husband and I are on the same page about films about 95% of the time, but this is the one on which our opinions diverged this year. He found this to be trite and mostly short on substance. I was looking mostly for the chilling atmosphere of the so-called Suicide Forest and the acute sense of vulnerability that comes with being alone in an emergency in a foreign country, so I didn't mind the movie's (over)reliance on this, and I found the ending twist related to the twins' backstory to be effective. Your mileage may vary.

Sacrifice (2016): If Rupert Graves is in it, then I watch it, no exceptions. That's just how I roll. He stars opposite Radha Mitchell here in an adaptation of the novel Sacrifice by Sharon Bolton. Set in the Shetland Islands, this horror film fits in the Wicker Man category of ancient rites surviving intact in remote locales, and it effectively captures a nightmarish scenario: men using women to have sons and then, according to their old traditions, yielding them up as a kind of human sacrifice. Mitchell and Graves relocate to the Shetlands, where Mitchell's character unearths a "bog body" of a woman who had recently given birth and then been murdered in a ritualistic fashion. Mitchell and Joanne Crawford, portraying a local police sergeant, drive the investigation to bring justice to this woman, and in the process find their own lives at risk. The film has its flaws, but it's refreshing to see a genuinely spooky film with a genuinely feminist bent, and all of the leads are compelling in their roles. The scenic locations provide atmospheric settings for the eerie goings-on.

The Veil (2016): Twenty-five years after members of Heaven's Veil, a religious cult, commit suicide, a documentary filmmaker contacts the sole survivor to film a work about what really happened. A Fangoria review describes the premise as the idea "that Jim Jones could have been right," and that pretty much sums it up. The film doesn't quite live up to such an ambitious premise, but the whole "investigating the cult after the fact" aspect, on site and with found footage, is so downright disturbing that this supernatural thriller still works well enough in the goosebumps department. Or to put it another way, the film radiates a sense of wrongness -- in part, no doubt, because it skirts so closely around tragic real-life events -- that it sticks with you.

They're Watching (2016): This is a film in the blood-soaked horror comedy oeuvre, which is not usually the way I roll, but I found this more palatable than most. The crew of an American home improvement TV show goes to Moldova to film a segment about an American woman who is transforming a run-down, isolated dwelling into an artist's haven, only to discover that the locals consider her (not without reason!) to be a witch. This isn't going to win any awards, but it doesn't take itself too seriously, and its parody aspects are on point.

Here are some of my other Halloween-related film recommendations from recent years.Collapse )

Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Okay, you're turn: what under-the-radar, off-the-beaten-path, Halloween-friendly films do you recommend?


Congratulations to Ashley, who won the second book giveaway! Now on to the countdown...

The Witch of Edmonton is a celebrated and critically acclaimed English Jacobean play from 1621, written by William Rowley, Thomas Dekker and John Ford, and still performed today. Supposedly based on real-life events that took place earlier that year in Edmonton (outside London), the play tells the story of an old woman, Elizabeth Sawyer, who is shunned by her fellow villagers. She seeks revenge on her neighbors by selling her soul to the Devil, who appears to her in the form of a black dog.

- Librivox recently released a full-cast reading of the play in audio form, available for free download here.

- The play is available for free reading in this collection online at Project Gutenberg.

- You can read a synopsis and see wonderful photos from the Royal Shakespeare Company's performance of The Witch of Edmonton in the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, two years ago here.


The whole argument of the play is this distich.

Forced marriage, murder; murder blood requires:
Reproach, revenge; revenge hell’s help desires.

- from the Prologue to The Witch of Edmonton

I love this atmospheric poster.



Let's get some vintage science fiction in this countdown!

Here is the teaser for The Men in the Walls by William Tenn published in the October 1963 issue of Galaxy:

"The world was divided between the Men and the Monsters — but which were Monsters and which were Men?"

Download the free audio reading of The Men in the Walls from Librivox here.
(The description is as follows: "There are giant, technologically superior aliens who have conquered Earth. People live like vermin in holes in the insulation material of the walls of the homes the monsters have built, sneaking out to steal food and other items from the aliens. A complex social and religious order has evolved, with women preserving knowledge and working as healers, while men serve as warriors and thieves. For the aliens, men and women are just a nuisance, neither civilized nor intelligent, and are generally regarded as vermin to be exterminated. This story begins, 'Mankind consisted of 128 people. The sheer population pressure of so vast a horde had long ago filled over a dozen burrows.'")

Read the online text of the story from Project Gutenberg here.

Here's an excerpt:

He was on the other side. He was in Monster territory. He was surrounded by the strange Monster light, the incredible Monster world. The burrows, Mankind, everything familiar, lay behind him.

Panic rose from his stomach and into his throat like vomit.

Don't look up. Eyes down, eyes down or you're likely to freeze right where you are. Stay close to the wall, keep your eyes on the wall and move along it. Turn right and move along the wall. Move fast.

Eric turned. He felt the wall brush his right shoulder. He began to run, keeping his eyes down, touching the wall with his shoulder at regular intervals. He ran as fast as he possibly could, urging his muscles fiercely on. As he ran, he counted the steps to himself.

Twenty paces. Where did the light come from? It was everywhere; it glowed so; it was white, white. Twenty-five paces. Touch the wall with your shoulder. Don't — above everything — don't wander away from the wall. Thirty paces. In light like this you had no need of the glow lamp. It was almost too bright to see in. Thirty-five paces. The floor was not like a burrow floor. It was flat and very hard. So was the wall. Flat and hard and straight. Forty paces. Run and keep your eyes down. Run. Keep touching the wall with your shoulder. Move fast. But keep your eyes down. Don't look up. Forty-five paces.

He almost smashed into the structure he had been told about, but his reflexes and the warnings he had received swung him to the left and along it just in time. It was a different color than the wall, he noted, and a different-textured material. Keep your eyes down. Don't look up. He came to an entrance, like the beginning of a small burrow.

Don't go in that first entrance, Eric; you pass it by. He began to count again as he ran. Twenty-three paces more, and there was another entrance, a much higher, wider one. He darted inside. It'll be darker, at first. The walls will soak up light from your glow lamp.

Eric paused, gasping. He was grateful for the sucking darkness.


Last call for entering this week's new book giveaway!

Now it's list time again! Here are my picks for the spooky podcasts you don't want to miss this Halloween.

I've already discussed Welcome to Night Vale in this prior post, so I won't revisit it here. On to new recommendations! Unless noted otherwise, all of these are free.


In no particular order...

* Astonishing Legends: One of my new 2016 addictions, this podcast's mission is to take a look at legendary, strange, and unusual events from history and interview people who’ve had close encounters with the unexplained. Hosts Scott and Forrest strive to bring you everything that’s entertaining about those stories and remind you that it’s okay to laugh at scary stories -- and, respectfully, even the people that tell them. That said, this is a serious and skeptical podcast. Put your headphones on, settle in for your commute, and get ready to experience a show like nothing you’ve ever heard before. I discovered this podcast while looking for more analyses of the Dyatlov Pass mystery, and I was hooked. My favorite series of episodes thus far focuses on the Somerton Mann mystery. If you could have drinks with the Lone Gunmen, I'd expect the discussion would sound a bit like this podcast. (That's a compliment, if you were wondering.)

* The H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast: In each weekly podcast, Chris Lackey and Chad Fifer discuss a specific H.P. Lovecraft story – what it’s about, how it reads, why it may have been written and what other works of art it’s influenced. Since concluding Lovecraft’s stories, they’ve been covering other weird fiction that inspired the author, mostly those referenced in his essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature." They regularly have talented guest readers and contributing composers for their music sections. The majority of the Lovecraft episodes are free. Three of the four monthly episodes are now subscription-only, but they are well, well worth the modest cost. They recently completed a full reading of Wuthering Heights!

* Saturday Frights: The nerdtastic gods_lil_rocker put this on my radar, and I'm grateful! Each week the co-hosts discuss a particular horror movie or horror-themed TV episode from the Retroist Vault for your listening enjoyment. This will put you in the Halloween mood for certain.

* Interference by Eric Luke: Another of my brilliant former graduate students, April, suggested this to me, and it's sublime. Don't miss this! The podiobook unfolds in twenty-four episodes, and then it's done. Described as "an experiment in audio horror" (oh yeah!), here's the tantalizing blurb: "SOMETHING wants in. To your head. Through this audiobook. Ethan, a digital sound engineer in Los Angeles, becomes aware that his life is unraveling when the audiobook he's listening to reveals his deepest, darkest secrets, escalating until the narrator addresses him directly, threatening to destroy him from within. Vivian, a single mother running an antique store in San Francisco, listens to her audiobook to distract herself from missing her young daughter, but is shaken when the narrative is interrupted by her daughter's voice, faintly calling for help. Ethan and Vivian are drawn together as they fight to solve a generation-spanning conspiracy that begins with a boy listening to the Orson Welles broadcast of War of the Worlds in 1938 and evolves through the latest innovations in digital technology..." I love how the individual weird tales link together into a spooky, intense, and deeply humane conclusion.

* Rippercast: The Whitechapel Murders Podcast: This is a treat for those of you who are interested in the history of forensics, true crime, Victorian England/London, etc. A roundtable of author/academic presenters, co-hosts, and special guests discuss topics related to the Whitechapel Murders, Jack the Ripper, Victorian British history, and whatever else suits their fancy. Lately the podcast has been sharing the monthly scholarly talks recorded at the London meetings of the Whitechapel Society 1888 and at various international conferences focused on related themes. If you want to hear the latest in research from those who literally wrote the books on their respective topics related to Jack the Ripper's times and context, you'll want to listen.

* Kat & Curt's TV Re-View: In this weekly podcast, brilliant bloggers Curtis Weyant and Katherine Sas introduce Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Angel and Doctor Who to each other, watching one episode of each per week, sharing fannish delight and critical analysis. Curt, a long-time Whedon devotee and scholar, introduces the show to Kat, and analytical Whovian Kat acquaints Curt with the Doctor. Join them for a journey through time, space, and Sunnydale as they battle demons, aliens, and the inscrutable process of creating quality narrative television.

* Tales to Terrify: This weekly audio magazine is one of StarShipSofa's siblings in the District of Wonders. I'm terribly saddened to say that we lost our friend and comrade, author and host Larry Santoro ("the Vincent Price of podcasts!"). He is greatly missed. But the podcast continues to soldier (lurch? stagger? insert your scary verb here) on in his memory. It includes the best of contemporary horror fiction and nonfiction. It was my distinct honor to represent TTT this year at the Hugo Awards Ceremony, where it was a finalist for the Best Fancast Award. (In addition, have narrated three haunting stories for this podcast. Follow the links to hear my reading of “After the Ape” by Stephen Volk, my reading of “Jewels in the Dust” by Peter Crowther, and my reading of “Payback” by P.D. Cacek.)

* Lovecraft eZine Podcast: This is the podcast version of the wonderful and weekly live show produced by the incomparable Lovecraft eZine. Listen as stellar guests discuss cosmic horror, weird fiction, Lovecraftian horror, the Cthulhu Mythos, and related topics.

* MonsterTalk: This is the science show about monsters — a free audio podcast that critically examines the science behind cryptozoological (and legendary) creatures, such as Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and werewolves. Hosted by Blake Smith, Ben Radford, and Dr. Karen Stollznow, MonsterTalk interviews the scientists and investigators who shine a spotlight on the things that go bump in the night. The episode airing dates average out to mean a new show once a month, sometimes more. (Thanks to ankh_hpl for introducing me to this great show.)

* Classic Tales: Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Wilkie Collins, Arthur Conan Doyle, Mary Shelley: what's not to love? This is a fantastic weekly podcast featuring B.J. Harrison's unabridged readings of great — and often haunting and Halloween-friendly — fiction.

* Atlanta Radio Theatre Company: Founded in 1984, ARTC is a staple at venues such as Dragon*Con and has a standing program year-round, performing adaptations of works by authors such as H.P. Lovecraft and H.G. Wells live. ARTC podcasts its fantastic productions.

* Pseudopod: One of the oldest horror podcasts and still one of the best, Pseudopod presents fine short horror in audio form weekly.

* Skeptoid: This podcast shines the lights of logic and reason into the dark shadows. Each weekly episode focuses on a single phenomenon — an urban legend, a paranormal claim, etc. — that you may have heard of, and it explains the factual scientific reality. To put it another way, we the listeners are Fox Mulder, and Skeptoid kindly serves as our Dana Scully.

Now it's your turn. What other spooky podcasts do you recommend?
Here's a great list from Culturess: "Scary Women: 13 Female Horror Writers You Should Read."

Today I'd like to share another book recommendation. I fell in love with author Craig Johnson's Longmire stories through the outstanding television series Longmire, and then (with the encouragement of ankh_hpl) I followed those stories back to their inspiration, the award-winning Longmire series of novels. They are part contemporary Westerns, part mysteries, part police procedurals, and part other genres, depending on the specific book. Due to the long character and plot arcs, I usually recommend that readers encounter the novels in their published order.

This year, however, we received a special treat: a stand-alone Gothic ghost story. No prior knowledge of the Longmire series is necessary. The Highwayman is a haunting, atmospheric little novella that is made for the Halloween season.

Here's the premise: when Wyoming Highway Patrolman Rosey Wayman is transferred to the Wind River Canyon territory, she begins receiving repeated radio calls from her colleague Bobby Womack, each at the same time in the dead of night, reporting an officer needing assistance. But how exactly can she assist him, when Bobby died decades earlier? Or is he calling Rosey to say that she is the one in need of help? This tale is about legend and history and memory, the stories we tell ourselves and the truths that haunt us.

I'll leave you with a short excerpt. In this scene, Sheriff Walt Longmire has asked a retired state trooper if he has heard any unusual stories about his fellow trooper, the late Bobby Womack.

"Then there was this hitchhiker, hippie kid out of Benicia, California, who was heading north and got picked up by a trooper in the canyon really early one morning and said he gave him a ride all the way up to Canyon Hills Road and dropped him off. The kid wanted to buy him a meal to thank him, but the trooper said there was something he had to take care of but if the kid wanted to buy him lunch, he knew a place and would meet him at the end of the road in about an hour."


"The kid does what the trooper tells him to do and goes out to the end of Canyon Hills."


"There's nothing out there but Monument Hill Cemetery."

I didn't say anything.

"Where Bobby is buried."

I rested the Red Ryder in my lap for lack of targets. "You ever have anything strange happen to you?"

He thought about it for a while... "Back in 2000, WYDOT was painting the center strips, and we had to ride along in front of them, straddling the line so some idiot didn't come around a corner and run into their trucks. Well, I'm pulling the duty, and we stop at the Tipi Camp about halfway for lunch, and one of the crew comes up and asks me to say something to the trooper who's running behind us. According to this guy, he's got his windows down and has been playing the same song over and over and would I please do something about it."

I sipped my beer. "And?"

"Well, I tell this idiot that there isn't any other trooper, that I'm the only one on duty in the canyon, but he keeps complaining, so we walk back there and of course there's no patrol car. Now, normally I would've just let it drop, but I was curious, so I asked him what song it was."


"Said it was that old Rolling Stones tune 'It's All Over Now,' and that he must've heard it about forty-seven times."


"You know who wrote that song?"


"Bobby's namesake -- Bobby Womack."

Halloween Countdown Day 17: Midnight Mary

If you missed the book giveaway yesterday, you still have time to enter!

Today's spooky text and images come from the folklore collection Legendary Connecticut: Traditional Tales from the Nutmeg State (1984) by David E. Philips of Eastern Connecticut State University.

"Just inside the entrance to the sprawling Evergreen Cemetery in downtown New Haven, a massive, modern-looking, pink granite tombstone stands in marked contrast to its smaller, grayer, Victorian neighbors.... Upon a polished, elongated oval covering most of the otherwise rough-hewn marker is carved this cryptic story: AT HIGH NOON/ JUST FROM, AND ABOUT TO RENEW/ HER DAILY WORK, IN HER FULL STRENGTH OF/ BODY AND MIND/ MARY E. HART/ HAVING FALLEN PROSTRATE:/ REMAINED UNCONSCIOUS, UNTIL SHE DIED AT MIDNIGHT,/ OCTOBER 15, 1872/ BORN DECEMBER 16, 1824. In larger letters, cut in bold, black relief, curving over the top half of the oval, appears the haunting proposition that THE PEOPLE SHALL BE TROUBLED AT MIDNIGHT AND PASS AWAY."

"Of all the legends about Midnight Mary which circulate today in oral tradition, probably the one most widely-known recounts a tale of live burial. It has been reported that not only New Haven youngsters and area college students -- the most numerous bearers of the Midnight Mary tradition -- have kept the story alive, but also that older residents of the Winthrop Avenue neighborhood where Mary Hart lived have been active in perpetuating the legend. According to those who know 'the facts,' Mary E. Hart did not have a 'shock' on that October day in 1872, but was struck down by a rare disease, undiagnosed back in those times, which gave its ultimate victims only the appearance of death. Blinded by grief and apparently convinced by midnight of the same day that Mary had indeed departed, the family called the undertaker in and he hastily went about his funereal work, including burying her body at Evergreen Cemetery.

"During the night following her internment, however, Mary's aunt had a terrible dream in which she saw her late niece writhing about in her coffin, clawing at the satin liner and moaning piteously for help. Could a terrible mistake have been made? Was her beloved Mary, in fact, still alive? It did not take long for the family to check on the validity of the vision. They ordered the grave reopened and the coffin removed for inspection. When the heavy lid was finally raised, a ghastly sight met their eyes. Mary was now unquestionably dead, but it was also plainly evident from the grotesque position of the body cramped in the agony of struggle, that her death had been hard -- and very recent. To cover their mistake and ease their anguish, the story concludes, the family erected the magnificent monument with the weird warning and plausible but false death story inscribed on it."


Congratulations to Theodric, who won the first Halloween-friendly book giveaway. Now it's time for another one!

To enter, you need to be 1) over the age of eighteen, 2) not me (or my doppleganger, Mirror Universe self, alternate universe self, evil twin, or future ghost), and 3) living somewhere on the planet Earth (because shipping costs to the International Space Station are outrageous).

The winner gets to choose one of these vintage paperbacks (both in great condition, tight binding and clean text, from a smoke-free home), and I will ship it immediately.

Option 1: Fear Itself edited by Jeff Gelb (1995)

Official Description: "America's masters of horror confess their most secret terrors in 21 blood-chilling stories. This collection concerns the fears that prey on ordinary people every day: plane crashes, intruders, spiders, snakes, etc. Fear Itself features works by Nancy A. Collins, Rex Miller, Thomas F. Monteleone, Joyce Carol Oates, Rick Hautala, Graham Masterson, Max Allan Collins, and others."

Option 2: Young Blood edited by Mike Baker (1994)

Official Description: "Youthful vision is the theme of this chilling anthology in which every story was written before the author's thirty-first birthday...

* A decaying bayou mansion hides a gruesome secret
* The dead rise from their tombs to form their own street gang
* A bookstore deals in rare and dangerous books
* You've heard of the tooth fairy - now meet the eye fairy

"Enter these darkly imaginative realms of terror. Whether the classic youthful gems of master writers, or the original tales of talented newcomers, they may just scare you into an early grave. This collection includes stories by Edgar Allan Poe, Robert E. Howard, Robert Bloch, and more."

The giveaway is open now and ends on Friday, October 21.

Here it is!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Here's a Discussion Question for you: What's the scariest tale you've ever read? (Intentionally scary, that is: I'm not counting badly written/poorly edited stuff.) In other words, what's your most creeptastic book or story recommendation?

"It was a cold, desolate night, the kind that wouldn't just turn its back on terrible goings-on, but would stand by and watch."
- A Taste for Monsters by Matthew J. Kirby
I'm still broken up about the loss of Anton Yelchin. Art, when it's done well, transcends its time and the artificial boundaries we place between each other, and it helps us reflect on our humanity in the long term. Yelchin was one of those rare artists whose restraint, subtlety, and fierce intelligence made his performances stand apart and speak volumes. (Remember that at the age of twelve he not only held his own opposite but also stole many scenes away from Anthony Hopkins in the adaptation of Stephen King's Hearts in Atlantis in 2001.) He died just weeks before he was scheduled to direct his first film (which he also wrote), and beyond feeling very badly for his family and friends in their loss (which I certainly do), I feel sorry for all of us, because I can't help thinking that the world might have had the pleasure of enjoying another fifty years or more of his talent if tragedy hadn't struck.

But this post is meant to be a celebration, so let's get on with it.

If I had to recommend a starting place for a Yelchin movie marathon, I'd have to go with Rudderless (2014), which may in fact be as close to a perfect film as I've seen in the last decade or more. This marks William H. Macy's directorial debut, and it showcases Yelchin's acting, singing, and skill with several musical instruments. But while it's a dark drama in many ways, I wouldn't exactly call it Halloween viewing. Ditto for the dark-but-not-Halloween-dark Fierce People (2005), which is a "must see" for Yelchin's performance. And regardless of one's opinion of the reboot idea as a concept (I know this is up for debate in certain circles), I don't see how anyone could fail to be won over by his interpretation of Ensign Pavel Chekov in the Star Trek reboot films (2009-2016), but that series is not exactly Halloween viewing, either. Yelchin also shines in several thrillers, perhaps the most intense of which -- yes, even more intense than Green Room (2015) to me -- is Broken Horses (2015). Not quite Halloween-esque, but getting much warmer.

(Note: His voice work in Guillermo del Toro's Trollhunters promises to be list-worthy, so be watching for that this December.)


So here is my list of the most Halloween-friendly Anton Yelchin films, ranked in ascending order of recommendation. I hope you watch, enjoy, and celebrate.

#5 Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)
This moody, impressionistic, highly visual film (what else do you expect from Jim Jarmusch?) follows Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton, vampires and lovers who share a long history but now live half a world apart. Really it's a study of entropy, as everything eventually falls apart, and the spookiest character by far is the crumbling ruin-in-progress of Detroit, which serves as the backdrop for much of the film. Shakespeare aficionados may or may not like the film's argument about the Bard's identity. Yelchin portrays practically the only human character in the movie and connects with viewers in a poignant and subtle way the other characters do not, and he shares some crucial scenes with Hiddleston, in particular. I couldn't take parts of it too terribly seriously -- especially because Hiddleston's character is like a vampiric Forrest Gump who apparently knew everyone who was ever interesting anywhere and anytime throughout history -- but certain scenes were dark magic, and I'm glad I watched it.

#4 Burying the Ex (2014)
This is a tongue-in-cheek send-up of the horror genre. Yelchin's character works at a horror shop called Bloody Mary's, and his new love interest works at a Halloween-themed ice cream parlor called I Scream, and if only his deceased ex-girlfriend weren't undead and more than a little territorial, the hero and heroine could share real romance. The movie makes nods to everything from the original The Twilight Zone series to Shaun of the Dead, and if you're going to have a make-out scene in a film, this is how to do it: that is, in a graveyard at an open-air showing of Night of the Living Dead. Yes, that's my aesthetic exactly. It's crass and bawdy and the easily offended will be, but it's also exuberantly self-indulgent in its embrace of genre. If you watch it, be sure to note all the details of each set: the posters on the wall, the items on the shelves, etc. Jolly Halloween goodness.

#3 Fright Night (2011)
This is a horror-heavy reinterpretation of a humor-heavy camp film, and if you take its origins into account, you can have quite a good time with this movie. In many ways it is much smarter and more stylish than the original. Colin Farrell is Jerry Dandridge, the vampire who just moved into the neighborhood; David Tennant is Peter Vincent, the over-the-top Vegas showman and self-styled vampire expert; and Yelchin is Charley Brewster, the teenager who has to step up, step in, and save his town from evil almost single-handedly. Some very good actors (including Toni Collette as Charley's mother) had some very good fun making this movie, and the cat-and-mouse back-and-forth between Farrell and Yelchin, in particular, is simply delicious to watch.

#2 Odd Thomas (2013)
No warnings or caveats here: I recommend this to everyone. I thoroughly enjoyed this charming film about Odd Thomas (an absolutely perfectly cast Yelchin), an unimposing and self-effacing young Everyman who just happens to be psychic. ("I see dead people, but then, by God, I do something about it.") It's based on the Dean Koontz novel of the same name, which I readily admit I haven't read (please don't throw rotten tomatoes... or, you know, anything else), but I understand from those who have that the movie stays quite true to the dry wit and unexpected poignancy of the book. Odd Thomas heroically helps both the living and the lingering dead, and this film has it all: horror, mystery, action, romance, humor, heartbreak, and hope. I don't see how you can go wrong with this kind-hearted gem.

#1 The Driftless Area (2015)
Wow. Just wow. This film is based on the "neo-noir" novel of the same name by Tom Drury (which I have read, thank you very much), and it's dreamlike and haunting and very powerful. Yelchin and Zooey Deschanel lead a remarkable, pitch-perfect cast (including John Hawkes, Alia Shawkat, Aubrey Plaza, Frank Langella, and Ciarán Hinds) in unfolding a narrative that's part coming-of-age tale, part love story, part mystery and revenge saga and murder drama, and part study of life in a small town. The real heart of The Driftless Area is the question of whether we simply drift along and let life happen to us (as it often seems) or if there is meaning and quite possibly destiny involved in our stories and choices, as well. I put it on this list because it's also a ghost story of the most literal (and also the most figurative) kind. True confession: I found both the film and the book to be gutting, personally, but in the best possible way. This is the sort of art I was talking about above, and Yelchin's quietly intense and invested performance is one of its highlights and revelations. This isn't a jump-in-your-seat kind of Halloween spine-tingler; instead it's the kind of film that insists you connect the dots and work on it (during and after the viewing), but if you're looking for haunting, well, this is it.

Here is the trailer.

(Note: The above is also the subject of my latest "Looking Back into Genre History" segment on the StarShipSofa podcast, which is available here.)

I love the music of Samantha Gillogly. If you ever have the opportunity to see her perform live, do it! She's brilliant. You can find her music on iTunes.

For this Halloween season, she has a brand new (and very holiday-friendly) music video of her violin cover mashup of "Sally's Song" (from The Nightmare Before Christmas) and "Sarah's Theme" (from Hocus Pocus). Watch, listen, and enjoy!

Here's another beautiful listen: Samantha's atmospheric rendering of "Danse Macabre."

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