GUEST POST: Paul Flewitt

Horror Writers, Halloween, & Why We Do It

Happy Halloween, folks! This is our time of year, right?

Well, unless we live Halloween all year round. I guess many of us do, and just welcome people to the party when the festive period rolls around. It’s a thing. We’re the weirdos, right?

Halloween is the period when blogs everywhere want to talk to the horror writers, whether they generally cover horror or not. I guess they have to wheel out the macabre ones when the nights get dark and the ghosts come out to play. Most of them ask similar questions, and there are two that are asked most often.

Why do you write horror?

Where do the ideas come from?

So, I thought I’d address them in somewhat longer form here. Why not?

I suppose the reasons for writing horror are similar ones to why we read horror. It excites us, awakens some primal part of ourselves. There’s a frisson of delight we get from being made uneasy in books, and the great thing is that we can always close the book if we want some relief. It’s like a rollercoaster; we’re exhilarated for the duration of the ride, but we know we’re getting off in a minute. It’s tapping into something that gets the pulse racing, the endorphins pumping and the adrenaline flowing. Oh, and the stories are entertaining too.

Writers are no different, and we seek that same exhilaration when we create our stories. You know that pulse racing? Yeah, we get that when we write too.

There are some scenes in stories that take us unawares; they just seem to creep out of the pen unbidden. We sit back when we’re done writing them and think “what the hell is wrong with me,” closely followed by: “Its damned cool though.”

Those are the moments we’re looking for, and they’re not always planned.

That’s one reason we write horror; to fulfill something in our primal selves and pour it out into the world.

Of course, there’s an element of catharsis there too. If we’ve had a bad day, then we know we can sit down and write a brutal death scene. Releasing that negative emotion is a good, healthy thing.

I don’t think there’s a psychological marker for horror writers. I know, when I was young, I pictured horror writers to be a certain way. I kind of imagined them all to be somewhat gothic, long hair and black clothes.

Then, I saw Stephen King for the first time.

We can be anyone, and that’s a cool thing. Horror speaks to all people, if they feel the need to embrace it. Horror writers aren’t all devil-worshipping, vestal virgin sacrificing freaks, or I just didn’t get invited to those parties yet. Pretty much all the horror writers I know are the funniest, kindest and most sensitive people I know, and I think that’s why they’re able to write horror. Most of us feel very keenly, and are very in touch with our emotions. If we understand how we feel, then we know how to convey emotions … and fears. That’s also a very cool thing.

So, where do the ideas come from?

Something funny happened when I released my first novel; my mum read it … and asked if it was her fault. Was it something she’d done? She was utterly serious, and I found the question completely hilarious. Actually, the idea behind that first novel was born out of a joke between me, my editor and a beta reader. But, I digress.

I don’t think this is a question limited just to horror. Every writer is asked where the ideas come from, and if they dry up. I think the answer is pretty simple; we always ask, “what if?”

We can be walking by a piece of architecture, an interesting quirk in the landscape, or pretty much anything and ask, “what if?” To me, it’s one of the most important questions in the world, and one we seek to answer. I think the most pertinent question is this though: “why do the answers have a spooky outcome with horror writers?”

Well, because that’s what we like. We see the spooky because spooky is cool. My wife will look at a beautiful view in the countryside and comment on its beauty, whereas I will look at it and say, “what if there’s a monster in those hills? What if that village is home to a demon-worshipping cult? What if?”

And the reaction is always satisfying. And that’s it, in a nutshell.

Yes, people of the page; we’re looking for a reaction. Whether that’s delight, disgust, fear, dismay, or the plethora of other reactions we can expect from a horror story, we’re just looking for that reaction.

Silence is fucking scary, after all.


Boo-graphy:
Paul Flewitt was born and raised in Sheffield, Yorkshire where he still lives with his family. He is the father of two children and keeper of several beta reading demons

Paul is a writer of horror and dark fantasy, and a former steel worker. His debut novel, Poor Jeffrey, was launched in April 2016. His latest short story, Defeating the Black Worm, is part of the Short Sharp Shocks series from Demain Publishing.

Paul spends his time caring for his children and devotes much of his free time to writing his next works. He writes only for the thrill of scaring his readers in new and inventive ways.

Short Sharp Shocks 62:
Defeating the Black Worm

Matthew had fallen so far, so quickly. The anxiety and panic had overcome him suddenly, and he couldn’t find a way back. In desperation, he sought solace in doctors and psychiatrists, but no-one could (or would!) help him. He loses everything to the hunger and appetites of the Black Worm.

But then, at his lowest point, and with nothing left, Matthew finds aid in the most unexpected of places…

But can the Black Worm be defeated?

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Paul Flewitt

Meghan: Hey Paul. Welcome to this year’s Halloween Extravaganza. Thanks so much for coming back again this year. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Paul: I love the atmosphere around Halloween. The misty nights, the weather getting cooler and the leaves falling … it’s the stuff horror movies and books are made from. Here in the UK, it’s the beginning of a pretty fun couple of weeks: we have Halloween, then we have Bonfire Night (celebrating Guy Fawkes) the week after. It really is great time of year.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Paul: I really enjoy dressing up, and friends of ours tend to have costume parties for Halloween. I’m not really big on Halloweening, but the dressing up and having fun with character is just so much fun. It’s a time when I can really let my inner-cosplayer emerge.

Meghan: If Halloween is your favorite holiday (or even second favorite holiday), why?

Paul: Why would it not be? It’s much more fun than Christmas or Easter, and can be done without spending much money. It’s a great way of having fun with family and friends, and you really get to know your neighbours around Halloween. If they don’t embrace the dark season, then are they really worth your time?

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Paul: Nothing really. For a horror writer, I don’t really go in for the mystical. It’s really boring, and really rational, but I just never got people who were scared of black cats, refuse to walk under ladders or saw bad luck omens in every quirk or accident. That really comes from my Dad, who was always pretty rational too.

Meghan: What/who is your favorite horror monster or villain?

Paul: Pinhead, from the Hellraiser universe. He is the most articulate, eloquent character in the whole of horror. I like it when he doesn’t say much in a movie, but when he does speak it has real substance and gravitas. He’s almost regal, almost sympathetic to his victims. He explains exactly why he’s there, and exactly what he’s going to do to you. It’s your fault, you invited this, and this is the consequence. What gets any better than that?

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Paul: Oh, there are many. I suppose a lot of horror writers are fascinated by murderers who got away with their crimes; how they did it, where they went, who they were … it’s really an intriguing area to research. I mean, Jack the Ripper’s murders are probably most people’s favourite, simply because he’s never been identified, but there are so many possibilities. There’s endless scope for speculation, and it all happened at a really emotive time in British history too. Victorian London will always be a time we remember in many different ways, as portrayed by Dickens, Conan Doyle and Shelley. We can easily identify with his victims too, when you look at their stories and discover who they were. Those times and places are evoked and encapsulated in many of the early works of horror, so Jack definitely fits right in there.

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

Paul: None of them scare me per se, but some of them do fascinate me. I love the foundations of these kinds of legends, finding out where they came from and how they evolved over time. Essentially, they are the modern version of the tales told in mediaeval times around the campfire, which eventually were collected in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. They really are a great call back to former times, and I’m all there for it.

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Paul: As above, it would be Jack the Ripper for the reasons I set out there. I mean, the serial killers we know about, we know about. We know their psychology, their motivations and what drove them. We know nothing about Jack the Ripper, but we can track him down and seek to find some closure on those deaths.

Meghan: How old were you when you saw your first horror movie? How old were you when you read your first horror book?

Paul: I’m not even sure about that. I guess it would be one of the old Hammer Horrors, or maybe one of the classic horrors. When I was a kid, black and white equaled boring, but there is definitely something primal about the images of Bela Lugosi or Boris Karloff as Dracula and Frankenstein. Those characters really stuck in my mind.

I loved the Hammers, because they seemed to be played with tongue firmly in cheek. They were making low budget movies, the scripts were sometimes terrible, but they knew it. Some of them were so terrible that they went straight back around to being genius again, and they gave us Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Bernard Cribbins. What’s not to love?

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Paul: I don’t think any horror novel has truly unsettled me. Some have engaged me deeply, and I’ve enjoyed the imagery evoked by them, but none have really triggered any extreme reaction. Why? Because you can put them down. That’s the beauty of horror.

Now, if you asked me about a book that unsettled me, I would cite A Child Called It, which is a true story of the author’s abuse at the hands of his mother. Now, that story is truly affecting, and you need to read it cover to cover, in the hope that there is closure at the end. In the fiction world, I found We Need To Talk About Kevin to be similar in the emotions that book evoked.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Paul: Not a horror movie exactly, but Pink Floyd’s The Wall movie screwed me up. The imagery and symbolism in the film was really affecting; from the visions of riots, to schools making clones of us all, to kids being put through a giant mincer … it was just one thing after another in that thing. It never let up, from beginning to end. Yeah, that thing still gets me after all this time.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?

Paul: I told you about friends who have costume parties at Halloween, and one year we really hit it out of the park. The theme was an evil twist on fairy tales, and so my wife decided to do Alice in Wonderland. Oh, it was great. My wife was Alice, my son was the Cheshire Cat, my daughter was the Red Queen (I think??) and I was the Bad, Mad Hatter. My wife really went to town making that costume, and I even had miniature bottles of liquor that were labelled up with “Bigger,” “Smaller,” “Wiser,” etc. That was an awesome one, and it must be reprised sometime.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Paul: Pfft, tough one. I mean, I really like horror movie soundtracks around Halloween, and I generally have them playing in the background when kids come to call around on the night. It’s great, slowly answering the door in the darkness, with the Hellraiser soundtrack playing behind me.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween candy or treat? What is your most disappointing?

Paul: I’m not a big fan of sweets, so I leave that to the kids. It also saves disappointment, so it’s a win-win for me.


Boo-graphy:
Paul Flewitt was born and raised in Sheffield, Yorkshire where he still lives with his family. He is the father of two children and keeper of several beta reading demons

Paul is a writer of horror and dark fantasy, and a former steel worker. His debut novel, Poor Jeffrey, was launched in April 2016. His latest short story, Defeating the Black Worm, is part of the Short Sharp Shocks series from Demain Publishing.

Paul spends his time caring for his children and devotes much of his free time to writing his next works. He writes only for the thrill of scaring his readers in new and inventive ways.

Short Sharp Shocks 62:
Defeating the Black Worm

Matthew had fallen so far, so quickly. The anxiety and panic had overcome him suddenly, and he couldn’t find a way back. In desperation, he sought solace in doctors and psychiatrists, but no-one could (or would!) help him. He loses everything to the hunger and appetites of the Black Worm.

But then, at his lowest point, and with nothing left, Matthew finds aid in the most unexpected of places…

But can the Black Worm be defeated?

GUEST MOVIE REVIEW: Paul M. Feeney

When it comes to deciding what horror movie I am going to watch next (and even when I’m looking for book choices), Paul is my go-to guy. And he has been spot-on every single time. He has given us quite a few below… and I can’t wait to watch the ones I have not seen yet.

Halloween Horror Gems

Halloween is, of course, the spookiest of days and the month of October the spookiest of ‘seasons’ (though there is a valid argument for the Christmas period as an appropriate time for ghost stories, but this is a Halloween article, so…), and as such, it’s absolutely appropriate for the horror fan – or, indeed, anyone – to sit down to any number of horror films (and books) and give themselves a delightful fright. Now, it’s a known fact to those who know it that the horror fan will watch scary and horrific films all year round. But there’s just something extra special about viewing them around Halloween. An added frisson, a more delicious atmosphere.

What I want to do here, is highlight a few films that might have slipped under some people’s radar. They’re not specifically Halloween, and they won’t be completely unknown – especially to the hardened scare seeker – but I think, perhaps, they maybe don’t pop up on other people’s lists as much as I think they should. I also want to look at films that are wholly appropriate for the ‘season’, not just horror films but ones with that Halloween atmosphere; again, not specific to the holiday, just ones that have that certain shiver-inducing tone.

So, let’s dive in…

The Stylist – 2020, Dir: Jill Gevargizian.

I watched this recently – and it’s a recent film – and absolutely loved it. Claire, a talented and highly regarded hair stylist is socially awkward, insecure, alone and lonely, and unsure of her place in the world. She’s also a killer, taking the scalps of her victims to try on whilst quoting them as though trying to take on their personalities, too. When Olivia, a client she’s dealt with many times before asks for an emergency wedding hairdo, Claire reluctantly agrees.

What starts a tentative, budding friendship, inspiring Claire to try and give up her murderous ways, devolves into obsession, rage, and more killings. This film oozes atmosphere and class. Despite showing some rather brutal murders, it’s deeply sympathetic towards Claire’s plight. The horror here is mainly of the human variety, showing how painful and difficult it can be for some to move through spaces others do with ease. It’s sensuous, shocking, and an absolute delight of tension and dread.

Ghost Stories – 2017, Dir: Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson.

Despite being lauded on its release, this British anthology frightener seems to have largely passed many by. A shame because it’s utterly chilling. A debunker of mediums and spiritualists meets his childhood hero, a man who’s been missing, presumed dead, for many years. He challenges Phillip to examine three cases he himself couldn’t explain, cases which made him come to believe in the existence of the supernatural…

With a framing story that becomes more relevant as it goes on, the three tales here are all, in their own ways, completely terrifying. Even if some of the trappings of the original stage play are still evident, it doesn’t matter because this film is dripping with chills, infused with terror. The opening story detailing a night watchman’s last shift in an old, abandoned mental asylum is a masterclass in ratcheting tension and expectation. It’s worth the price alone. But don’t worry – the other two tales are just as affecting. A truly skin-crawling experience for those cosy, dark nights.

The Changeling – 1980, Dir: Peter Mendak.

Now to a classic from 1980, one which many younger horror fans may not be aware of. George C. Scott plays a man grieving the tragic loss of his wife and daughter. He moves to a secluded mansion hoping to find inspiration to compose again and process his bereavement at the same time. Whilst there, he comes to believe the house is haunted, and his investigations open up long buried, dark secrets.

Though made over 40 years ago, this movie is easily the equal of modern chillers such as The Conjuring or Sinister. It oozes dread and atmosphere, and some of the set-pieces are years ahead of their time in execution, creating tension and foreboding. It looks beautiful, makes full use of its setting, and adds an element of the occult detective through Scott’s determination to find the truth. A deserved classic and one that should be perfect for Halloween.

Come True – 2020, Dir: Anthony Scott Burns.

Another recent film and another that seems to have gone mostly unnoticed. Sarah, a teenager – an incredible performance by Julia Sarah Stone – prefers to sleep in local parks, on the street, or on rare occasions at a friend’s, rather than at home. She suffers from awful dreams, and her disturbed rest prompts her to take part in a sleep study that should give her weeks of uninterrupted slumber. But she and the other participants begin to share nightmares of a similar architecture, and of the same figure.

This is a fantastic, low-budget effort from Canada. It manages to make excellent use of its small-scale production, looking like a far more expensive picture. The designs are pleasingly retro at times, recalling some of the interiors of the spaceship from Alien, and both David Cronenberg and George A. Romero are referenced, the former through thematic elements, the latter with names. The dream imagery is stunning, monochrome and darkly beautiful, like an Andrei Tarkovsky SF feature, and the whole thing mounts steady dread till the nerve-shredding end. Slow-burning, artistic, experimental, with no easy answers, but absolutely worth your time.

Kairo (Pulse) – 2001, Dir: Kiyoshi Kurosawa.

Ah, now for something truly dread inducing. Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation to Akira) takes on the then booming, so-called ‘J-Horror’ phenomenon and both deconstructs and enhances that loose ‘genre’. Various people are dying in strange circumstances, apparent suicides, mysterious disappearances, and these deaths seem to be connected to strange phenomena on the internet or on recorded devices. A theory arises that spirits are returning to the world to be with the living and bringing with them unparalleled despair.

Like much of Kurosawa’s work, this film is baffling on first viewing. It doesn’t follow traditional or established narrative structure, it doesn’t spell out its plot; instead it unfolds in various seemingly unconnected scenes. The tone is also one of almost passivity, much like the characters themselves. Yet this serves to add to the atmosphere rather than distract. From the opening moments to the very end, Kairo is infused with dread, both existential and supernatural. It permeates every moment, making the viewer believe the events unfolding might actually manifest through their own screens, like Sadako in Ringu. No-one does this kind of thing quite like Kurosawa, and the sheer terror of this confounding film is something to behold. Check out Cure and Creepy by the same director for more mind-bending chills.

El Cuerpo (The Body) – 2012, Dir: Oriol Paulo.

Something a little bit different now, and here we have a horror/thriller from Spain, a country which has produced many an exceptional horror film over the years. A police inspector investigates the disappearance of a woman’s body from a morgue after the nightwatchman is found unconscious. Through the course of the investigation, many strange events occur at the morgue that suggest the possible supernatural, but the inspector is bound to pursue his all-too human investigation despite the mounting dread.

This was another film that seemed to fly under the radar for many. Moody, atmospheric, and full of twists and turns, this is a movie worthy of Hitchcock. Though it’s very much in the vein of a police thriller/procedural, there’s more than enough creepiness to push it into the realms of the supernatural – strange noises, unexplained goings-on, the missing corpse giving rise to some thinking the dead woman has come back from the dead or is a ghost. And when it resolves itself at the end, it does so in the most satisfying way. Definitely up there with the best of Spanish horror, such as The Orphanage, Julia’s Eyes, or Sleep Tight.

So there you have it. A bunch of spooky, dread-filled horror films to watch over a few nights in October, or binge on All Saint’s Eve itself. These movies are more about atmosphere and tone rather than out and out blood-fests, though a couple do have their violent moments. They are diverse, original, and dedicated in their intent, which is to unsettle, to scare, to terrify. But one thing binds them together – they are perfect Halloween fodder. Happy watching.


Boo-graphy:
Paul M. Feeney was born in Scotland, has moved all around the UK, and currently lies in Aberdeen. An avid and passionate fiction reader – his first love being horror and all things dark – he started writing in 2011, was first published in 2014, and has a number of short stories in publications or forthcoming. He has also released two novellas so far – The Last Bus (Crowded Quarantine Publications, 2015) and Kids (Dark Minds Press, 2016). In 2020, his novelette, Cursed, was released by Demain Publishing, the second published story featuring his shape-shifting PI Garrison Wake. Under the name Paul Michaels, he writes the occasional review or horror website This Is Horror, as well as writing less genre-oriented stories. He is currently working on his first novel, as well as numerous other short stories and novellas.

The Last Bus
We’ve all been there – the dreaded early morning commute.

The surly driver; the obnoxious teenagers; the guy who just has to invade your personal space; the awkwardness as everyone avoids any kind of social interaction with anyone else; the frustrations of snarled-up traffic and tail-backs.

For most of us, the trip on public transport is about as bad as it gets.

For these passengers, it’s about to get a lot worse.

Jonathon, Justine and Hanna don’t know each other but they’re about to be thrown together as a simple journey to work turns into a race for survival when a mysterious object falls from the sky, initiating an alien invasion. Mutated monsters, trigger-happy soldiers and personality clashes abound on:

The Last Bus.

Kids
Matt and Julie head to her parents’ big, remote house in the country, with their children Kayleigh, Carol and Robert, for a day out with friends and family. They intend spending the warm, summer’s day doing nothing more strenuous than engaging in light, casual conversation, eating lunch and drinking tea, while the kids play in the background.

At least, that’s the plan…

The kids disappear, only to return utterly, fundamentally changed. Something bad has happened to them, something very bad.

The day becomes a pitched battle between the adults and the violent psychopaths their children have become. How can the adults survive against such an enemy, how can they even fight back, when the very thing they have to fight against is their own flesh and blood?

Cursed
Garrison Wake, a shape-shifting PI, exists in a world where all the supernatural and paranormal stuff is real, albeit mostly hidden from humanity. He investigates a case where a woman believes she’s been cursed through a DVD (a la The Ring), but not all is as it seems…

Writing about Garrison Wake, author Paul M. Feeney said: “He lives and works in Detroit, with feet in the worlds of the supernatural, the criminal, and the human, but swearing loyalty to none. He’s kind of an anti-hero, vigilante, who hates injustice but operates outside the law most of the time. He believes himself to be ‘lost’, to be already damned, so doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty…I like his cynical, sardonic approach to things, but also share his sense of justice (though perhaps not the methods, something I touch on in this story and want to explore more in further tales). He’s big, six-and-a-half-foot tall, and looks like a cross between Keanu Reeves and Brandon Lee in The Crow; he also tends to dress like the latter character, though without the clown makeup. He’s older than he looks by a few decades, and has a shady, petty-criminal past (though I’ve yet to fully investigate that myself). And he’s a loner, though people have become almost friends with him over the years, and he has a good circle of close acquaintances…”