GUEST POST: Joseph Sale

The Slasher Genre Finally Gets a Sequel

The Slasher is a unique artifact in literature and cinema. In my view, there is no horror experience quite like it. It is a formula that on the surface of things seems almost ludicrously simple, yet this simplicity is precisely its power.

Many critics have written about the mythological origins of the Slasher. Arguably, one could trace the roots back to Beowulf, an epic penned circa 900 A.D. in Old English (which more closely resembles German, in many respects, than Modern English). In this legendary tale, the monster Grendel attacks the mead-hall of King Hrothgar, each night killing two of his servants and warriors. When Grendel is finally defeated, the hero Beowulf then has to contend with the monster’s mother, who proves a far worse foe. Giving Beowulf even a cursory analysis already reveals some fascinating insights. For a start, Grendel emerges from the swamps and fens, which seem to represent the roiling unconscious with their serpentine, reptilian forms. He attacks the bright hall of Heorot, which is illuminated by blazing fires, and seems to represent the conscious mind. Whilst Grendel could well represent a very real-world fear of the killer brute who comes for us at night, there is another fear, perhaps a deeper one, one what dwells in the depths of our quagmire-like minds.

One can also immediately see how Beowulf has informed Slashers. Grendel is a monster, a killer who emerges from a dismal swamp and picks off a group of victims one by one in increasingly gruesome and disturbing ways. He is inhuman – trollish, giant, hideous – but also disturbingly pathetic at the same time. Grendel even has a strange relationship with his uncanny mother. If your mind immediately leapt to Jason Vorhees, or even Norman Bates from Hitchcock’s Psycho (which is often consider a cinematic “proto-Slasher”), then you can easily be forgiven. Vorhees is certainly a Grendel in more ways than one. The fact he haunts a lake is not simply a reference to this classical source, but also another psychological dynamic. Water often symbolises sex, for reasons too numerous to list here. Suffice to say, the human mind naturally associates the two. Vorhees has a particularly distaste for sex, and one of the tropes of the Slasher genre is that only the pure or virginal survive. As I said before, what seems a simple formula is layered with meaning, and it is this layered meaning that makes Slashers so powerful.

In Grady Hendrix’s recent novel, The Final Girls Support Group, which utlises clever meta-narrative devices to deconstruct and analyse the genre, Hendrix also draws parallels between Slashers and the ancient Greek myth of Theseus and the minotaur. The minotaur is the bestial killer, haunting a labyrinth. The hero Theseus can only overcome the killer with the help of Ariadne, the plucky “final girl” who helps him navigate and escape the labyrinth. Again, labyrinths are often psychological: they represent the human mind. Notice how the runnels of a brain seem like the paths in a maze. So, the killers are not only embodiments of things we fear—monsters and things that go bump in the night—they are also fear itself, the things dwelling in our mind that we do not consciously acknowledge, waiting deep at the heart of the labyrinth.

What we are dealing with is an archetype, something that speaks to the very depths of the human condition. A frightening monster on one hand, and some form of heroine who is capable of surviving the monster, or even overcoming them at times, on the other. It could be argued that the “final girls” who are so vital to the genre represent the better part of ourselves, the part that is able to face the id of our own mind. Whatever the truth, these images are seemingly hardwired into us, which explains why the Slashers of the ‘80s and ‘90s remain so iconic.

However, Slashers fell away during the Noughties and early 2010s. Perhaps the market was oversaturated? Perhaps the law of diminishing returns finally kicked in? A few failed reboots and sequels kicked the reputation of the genre into the dust. The creative spark was lost. All of these are possible, but I think these reasons are only part of why Slashers went away. The other part has to do with how our tastes and interests reflect what is really going on in our cultural psyche.

In the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, a certain type of horror was in. But, at the turn of the millennium, we saw the rise of the Psychological Thriller and the decline of Horror in general. Thrillers dominated the Noughties and 2010s, both in cinema and in the literary world. Titles such as Before I Go To Sleep, The Girl On The Train, and Gone Girl (all of which are books and movies), in which the real enemy is often memory or perspective, replaced the crazed killers of an earlier epoch. There are a number of reasons why our tastes could have shifted so drastically. One is perhaps that the escalation of mass-shootings in the US, and the terrorist attack of 9/11, which made the killers of old-school Slashers seem, relatively speaking, quaint. With the rise of Psychological Thrillers also came a rise in Spy and Crime Thrillers, in which Jason Bourne, Jack Bauer, or another hero with the initials J. B. has to stop a terrorist attack: a bomb, a WMD, a catastrophe of nuclear proportions. One might argue that James Bond existed long before any of these and contemporaneously with the Slashers of the ‘70s and ‘80s, but note how Bond has changed from a suave spy into an action hero, how the plots he must foil are increasingly global in scale. This shift from fearing sickos with knives to fearing bombs going off in the middle of populated cities reflects a (very understandable) cultural anxiety that has dominated for 20 years.

However, whilst this shift was inevitable and certainly had just cause, it moved prevailing cinema and literature away from archetypal and mythological roots that imbue it with deeper meaning. Bombs are scary but they are impersonal. We can represent explosions on the screen, but often it devolves into spectacle over emotional resonance. There is a reason that, with this shift towards modern fears, came a pining for ‘80s and ‘90s memorabilia like never before. And furthermore, much criticism levelled at the “emptiness” of modern cinema. Whilst it would be easy to dismiss these kind of remarks as simply one generation’s nostalgia, or comments by people who are out of touch with today’s society, there is clearly a disconcerting ring of truth to it. It isn’t just one generation saying it, either: many younger creators and critics I know remark often that “they don’t make them like they used to”. Whilst I don’t fall strictly into either camp—there are plenty of recent films I adore, though they tend to be independently produced—it’s worth reflecting on what this means, because a society’s artistic output reflects its fears, hopes, and psychological abherrances. Horror in particular exemplifies this. What are we really scared of? Once it was clowns and dream-rapists and swamp-things. Now, it is something else. We’ve shifted from highly personalised demons such as Freddy Krueger to the impersonal fear of societal destruction and catastrophe. Or, we had. Things are changing.

The world moves in seasons and cycles, and we’re currently experiencing something of a revival of Slashers. The Halloween reboot exploded onto the cinema screen in 2018, and the sequel, Halloween Kills, which came out October of this year. Stephen Graham JonesThe Only Good Indians won not only the Bram Stoker but also the Shirley Jackson award. Grady Hendrix’s The Final Girl Support Group is a love-letter to the genre that has smashed the bestseller lists. Whilst there is a healthy dose of trepidation for Scream 5, given that it will lack the brilliance of Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson, there is also a great deal of excitement. Love them or hate them (I am personally in the former camp), the Fear Street movies on Netflix have been voraciously devoured across the world. This resurrection of the genre indicates yet another cultural shift, and perhaps a welcome one.

The intimacy of the Slasher genre seems more appropriate to us, given that most of our worlds shrank drastically as a result of Covid-19 and lockdown. Sadly, domestic violence rose dramatically during this period, and it is likely that many of us had to confront demons, be they people we live with, skeletons in our families’ past, or even more profoundly: within our own minds. The modern world, with its rapid pace and relentless insistence of busyness, has a tendency to drown out reflection. Lockdown forced many of us to turn our attention inward for the first time, and perhaps not all of us liked what we saw in this interior and neglected world. The swamp of the unconscious is a perfect home, after all, for the Grendel-terror to come forth from. I am only guessing, of course, and there is no single, true answer to “why”. But certainly, the personal nature of Slashers, where people are not just blown up en masse but almost lovingly killed (and yes, often psycho-sexually as well), does seem to correlate with our current psychological temperament and the altered cultural norm.

We’re not quite there yet, however. The new Slasher revival has some teething problems, the main one being that we still seem to be either regurgitating the same franchises, or else deconstructing the genre with modern twists to such an extent that it no longer has the mythological feel and scope of the haunting originals. I cannot help but think we are due a true, original Slasher, something condensed from the psychic cultch of the western world, fermented in the fear of Covid and the pressures of lockdown, and imbued with a mania born out of 20 years of repression. We are due not just the sequel and reboot of the Slasher, but the glorious claw-out-of-the-grave resurrection.

And I want to be in the front row seat when it airs.


Boo-graphy:
Joseph Sale is a novelist and writing coach. His first novel, The Darkest Touch, was published by Dark Hall Press in 2014. He currently writes and is published with The Writing Collective. He has authored more than ten novels, including his Black Gate trilogy, and his fantasy epic Dark Hilarity. He grew up in he Lovecraftian seaside town of Bournemouth.

His short fiction has appeared in Tales from the Shadow Booth, edited by Dan Coxon, as well as in Idle Ink, Silver Blade, Fiction Vortex, Nonbinary Review, Edgar Allan Poet and Storgy Magazine. His stories have also appeared in anthologies such as You Are Not Alone (Storgy), Lost Voices (The Writing Collective), Technological Horror (Dark Hall Press), Burnt Fur (Blood Bound Books) and Exit Earth (Storgy). In 2017 he was nominated for The Guardian’s Not the Booker prize.

Patreon
Website
Twitter

Dark Hilarity
Tara Dufrain and Nicola Morgan are eleven year old girls growing up in the ‘90s, obsessed by Valentine Killshot, a metal screamo band. In particular, they’re enamoured by the lead singer, the mysterious yet charismatic Jed Maine who bears the epithet “The Cretin”. In Jed’s lyrics, he describes a world beyond the Dark Stars that he hopes one day to reach. The girls think it’s all just make-believe they share together, until a freak, traumatic incident makes this world very real. As adults, Tara and Nicola try to come to terms with the devastating catastrophe that changed their lives growing up, but to do so they will have to step once more into Jed Maine’s world, and confront the man who took everything from them. Dark Hilarity is My Best Friend’s Exorcism meets The Never-Ending Story, a fantasy that explores addiction, depression, and the healing power of friendship.

Amazon US
Amazon UK

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Gayle Trent

Meghan: Hi, Gayle. Welcome to this year’s Halloween Extravaganza. Thanks for joining us. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Gayle: Please don’t make me pick just one! I love the candy, of course (seriously, who doesn’t?), the costumes, the cartoons, and the movies.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Gayle: It used to be trick-or-treating. When I was a little girl, that’s something we looked forward to every year. There was a woman in our neighborhood who would even make homemade cookies or popcorn balls.

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

Gayle: I love Halloween because it brings out the kid in all of us. Dressing up as superheroes or monsters, eating too much candy, getting scared just for the fun of it.

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Gayle: The number 666. If I’m at a store, and my total rings up $6.66, I’ll buy something else. I recently read Greenlights and learned that Matthew McConaughey is superstitious about that number too. LOL

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

Gayle: I love Dracula. I once played Lucy in an off, off-Broadway (my high school was about as far from Broadway as you can get!) production of Dracula.

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Gayle: JonBenet Ramsey

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Gayle: Although I hate to say ”favorite,” I find Ted Bundy really interesting. I read The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule, and it was fascinating how he maintained such a strong friendship with her despite being a murderer. At one point in the book, she said that when she’d have to leave work at 2 a.m., he’d walk her to her car. She said the policemen in the building might watch her from the window, but he’d walk her out because “you never know who might be out there.” If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it.

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

Gayle: I saw Psycho when I was about thirteen. Even though I thought the movie was great, and have watched it again, at the time it scared the daylights out of me. I always made sure someone else was home and that the bathroom door was locked when I showered. But I did have reservations about someone in my family going crazy and killing me, so… LOL I can’t remember the title of the first horror book, but it was something about demons. I have apparently blocked it from my memory. LOL

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Gayle: The one about the demons whose title I can’t remember. LOL

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Gayle: The Birds. Every time I see large flocks of birds gathering in the fall, it makes me want to get in the house and cover my head.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?

Gayle: A flapper.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Gayle: Scary – Legend of Wooly Swamp; Funny – Monster Mash

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

Gayle: Fave: Anything chocolate (Reese’s, Snickers, M&Ms, Peppermint Patties) Most disappointing? Sour gummies

Meghan: It’s always a pleasure getting to talk to you, Gayle. Before you go, what are your three go-to Halloween movies?

Gayle: 1) Tucker and Dale Versus Evil – it isn’t a Halloween movie, per se, but I love it. It’s a comedic horror movie that is fantastic. 2) Hocus Pocus 3) Practical Magic – not sure it’s a “Halloween movie” either, but I really liked it.


Boo-graphy:
Gayle is a Southwest Virginia based author who is working on the Daphne Martin Cake Decorating Mystery series. The first book in the series, MURDER TAKES THE CAKE tells the story of Daphne Martin, a forty-year-old divorcee who returns to her fictional hometown of Brea Ridge, Virginia to start her life over. She has left behind an ex-husband who is in prison for an attempt on Daphne’s life, a dingy apartment and a stale career. She has started fresh in a new home with a new career, Daphne’s Delectable Cakes, a cake-decorating company Daphne runs out of her home. She is thrilled to be living closer to her beloved niece and nephew, although being close to other family members brings up lifelong resentments and more than a couple complications. Daphne is also reunited with childhood friend, Ben Jacobs, a full-fledged HAG (hot, available guy). Daphne’s business hits a snag when her first client turns up dead.”

Ghostly Fashionista 1: Designs on Murder
Amanda Tucker is excited about opening her fashion design studio in Shops On Main, a charming old building in historic Abingdon, Virginia. She didn’t realize a ghost came with the property! But soon Maxine “Max” Englebright, a young woman who died in 1930, isn’t the only dead person at the retail complex. Mark Tinsley, a web designer with a know-it-all attitude who also rented space at Shops On Main, is shot in his office.

Amanda is afraid that one of her new “friends” and fellow small business owners is his killer, and Max is encouraging her to solve Mark’s murder a la Nancy Drew. Easy for Max to want to investigate–the ghostly fashionista can’t end up the killer’s next victim!

Ghostly Fashionista 2: Perils & Lace
A murderer outwitting a quirky flapper ghost? Seams unlikely!

Budding retro fashion designer and entrepreneur Amanda Tucker is thrilled about making costumes for Winter Garden High School’s production of Beauty and the Beast. But when the play’s director Sandra Kelly is poisoned, Amanda realizes there’s a murderer in their midst. She’s determined to keep herself and the students safe, so when her ghostly fashionista friend Max suggests they investigate, Amanda rolls up her sleeves and prepares to follow the deadly pattern…

Ghostly Fashionista 3: Christmas Cloches & Corpses
Bodies are dropping like gumdrops off a gingerbread house!

Max’s nephew, Dwight, is in a nursing home; but instead of the holiday season being a time of goodwill, several of Dwight’s friends have died under mysterious circumstances.  Is the facility merely suffering a run of bad luck, or is there something sinister going on?

Either way, Max, the Ghostly Fashionista, is determined not to let her beloved nephew be the next victim and enlists Amanda to help keep an eye on him. But someone drugs the cake that Amanda gives Dwight, and Amanda is banned from visiting him again. It’s going to take a Christmas miracle for Amanda to clear her name and stay out of the killer’s line of fire…

Ghostly Fashionista 4: Buttons & Bows
FIND OUT WHO KILLED VIOLET. I WON’T REST UNTIL I KNOW…AND NEITHER WILL YOU.

The note, typed on a manual typewriter, is Amanda Tucker’s first introduction to the second ghost she’s ever met.

When retro fashion designer Amanda learns that Violet, the sweet little old lady from whom she bought antique buttons, has been murdered, she’s dismayed—especially when she realizes the murder occurred the evening after Amanda had visited Violet’s shop. Now the ghost who was enamored of the victim is demanding that Amanda help him bring the woman’s killer to justice.

It certainly isn’t an ideal time for Amanda’s parents to be visiting her from Florida for the first time. In addition to Max, the ghostly fashionista, Amanda now has another sassy specter to deal with. Will this one haunt her for the rest of her life?

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Ramsey Campbell

For those of y’all who don’t know, Ramsey is one of my most favorite authors. And I’m not just saying that because he will be looking at this post when it goes live. When I began The Gal in the Blue Mask all those years ago, there were two big time authors that I wanted to have on my blog – Kevin J. Anderson and Ramsey. Kevin has been on the blog twice, and as of today, so has Ramsey. If I never post ever again it won’t matter because I have connected with the two people that I have always thought were the most amazing authors ever. Cloud 9. Every time. And I thought y’all should know.


Meghan: Hey, Ramsey! Welcome back to our annual Halloween Extravaganza. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Ramsey: I have to say it has no great significance as a festival in Britain. There were attempts a few years back to situate it as an alternative Autumn event to Guy Fawkes Night, since it was felt there were too many accidents at private firework displays on 5 November. When I was a child it wasn’t celebrated locally at all, and so my only sense of it was through fiction—specifically, some of the great tales of Ray Bradbury. Ray made October uniquely his, both capturing its flavours and adding individual ones of his own. While you can read them at any time, they have a particular relevance to Halloween, and so I’ll name them as my favourite aspect thereof.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Ramsey: Alas, for reasons outlined above, I have none. Oddly enough, I’ve often been at World Fantasy Conventions in America over the season, but I don’t believe I’ve ever seen signs of the celebrations. Ah, hang on—in Baltimore in 1980 all the check-in staff at the Park Plaza were dressed as witches and pumpkins and the like. I think it was a pumpkin who proved loath to let Steve King have his room because he presented not a credit card (he had none in those days) but cash.

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

Ramsey: It isn’t, sorry. It still hardly exists here. Christmas and Guy Fawkes have always been mine.

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Ramsey: Not much. My mother was both a Roman Catholic and highly superstitious—salt over the shoulder, don’t walk under ladders, look for luck if a black cat crosses your path (although an exactly opposite superstition also exists) and much more—all of which biases me towards rationality. However, for more years than I can remember I’ve found myself glancing at clocks to see that they’re showing 7.47, so often that the digits have acquired an ominous significance. Could they refer to an aeroplane, or a time of the morning, or both? Perhaps both will coincide one day, and I’ll know their significance at last. Let’s hope they prove to have been worth waiting for.

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

Ramsey: Monster—the greatest of them all, the original King Kong. Surely no artificial creature has more personality or unites horror and pathos more fully, even Karloff’s creature in the James Whale films. Villain—Niall McGinnis’s Karswell in Night of the Demon, among the most fully characterised adversaries in my experience of cinema, especially in the longer edit of the film (which, despite a still persistent legend, was never released theatrically in Britain—we had the shortened and reshaped version just as you did). He’s among the many reasons why the Tourneur is my favourite horror film.

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Ramsey: None. It’s not a fascination I’d indulge. The nearest I’d come is a presumably vain desire to learn why an old friend of ours was murdered years ago—John Roles, the fanzine editor and Liverpool bookseller. He was strangled to death by a postcard collector who wanted cards John wouldn’t part with. The killer—Andrew John Swift, apparently a charity worker—then set the premises on fire. When Swift was brought to trial, the defence maintained that John had been a recluse with few if any friends. If I’d been there I would have done my best to put the record straight, but I only read a transcript afterwards. During the trial it was said that it was likely nobody would know why Swift had committed his atrocity. The rest of us who care deserve to know.

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

Ramsey: That vaccination gives you a contagious vaccine disease. That wearing a mask doesn’t help protect anyone but makes you ill. That the pandemic has been produced by conspirators.

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Ramsey: I have none. They’re a contemptible and pathetic bunch. Those I’ve portrayed in fiction tend to be inadequates who commit murder in order to impose their own view of themselves on the world. If your question covers fictitious figures, I hope it would let in Louis D’Ascoyne Mazzini, irresistibly charming and yet utterly sociopathic, incomparably played by Dennis Price.

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

Ramsey: Psycho when I was fourteen, and it was quite a baptism. I should explain that in those days almost all horror films had an X certificate in Britain, which barred anyone apparently under sixteen from watching them. I found the cellar sequence in particular breathlessly nightmarish. Now that I knew I could bluff my way into X showings, I devoted years to catching up all over Merseyside.

The book was 50 Years of Ghost Stories, borrowed from the local library when I was six. Various tales from it haunted my nights. Edith Wharton’s “Afterward” did, but the greatest source of dread was M. R. James’s “The Residence at Whitminster”—the hand that gropes out of the drawer, the gigantic insect in the dark. When the terror faded a little I wanted to repeat the experience or find more tales that had a like effect. I’d say that’s what separates the horror aficionado from other folk.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Ramsey: I’ll invoke my capacious definition of horror and name Samuel Beckett’s L’Innomable, as terrifying at novel length as his monologue for Billie Whitelaw, Not I (accept no substitutes). Outside the field, as a teenager—the season when a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of suicide—I was profoundly disturbed by The Heart of the Matter, one of many reasons why Graham Greene remains a firm favourite. I was younger when several short stories hit me hard—Villy Sørensen’s “Child’s Play”, Angus Wilson’s “Raspberry Jam”, Charles Beaumont’s “Miss Gentilbelle”. It occurs to me that all three deal with the mutilation of the helpless.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Ramsey: None, but I think the one that dug deepest into me—to the extent that at several points I considered leaving the cinema if the scene went on much longer—was Fire Walk With Me. Lynch is the only director whose work I frequently find terrifying on a level I’d call visceral.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Ramsey: This is Halloween from The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Meghan: Thanks again for stopping by. It is ALWAYS a pleasure and you are welcome back any time. Before you go, what are your go-to Halloween movies and books?

Ramsey: I’m fond of John Carpenter’s Halloween—a slasher film that feels as if it could have been produced by Val Lewton. In prose, I have a special affection for Mildred Clingerman’s short story The Word, partly because (since Halloween was virtually unknown in Britain in the fifties, when I read it) decades passed before its point caught up with me. As with W. F. Harvey’s August Heat and Nabokov’s The Vane Sisters, that’s a particular kind of retrospective pleasure. It has only just occurred to me that both the latter tales feature an unaware (not unreliable in the conventional sense) narrator, the kind I tried to portray in “The Words That Count”.


Boo-graphy:
Ramsey Campbell is a British writer considered by a number of critics to be one of the great masters of horror fiction. T.E.D. Klein has written that “Campbell reigns supreme in the field today,” while S.T. Joshi has said that “future generations will regard him as the leading horror writer of our generation, every bit the equal of Lovecraft or Blackwood.”

The Wise Men
Patrick Semple’s aunt Thelma Turnbill was a successful artist whose late work turned towards the occult. While staying with her in his teens he found evidence that she used to visit magical sites. As an adult he discovers her journal of her explorations, and his teenage son Roy becomes fascinated too. His experiences at the sites scare Patrick away from them, but Roy carries on the search, together with his new girlfriend. Can Patrick convince his son that his increasingly terrible suspicions are real, or will what they’ve helped to rouse take a new hold on the world?

The Three Birds of Daoloth 1: The Searching Dead
Dominic Sheldrake has never forgotten his childhood in fifties Liverpool or the talk an old boy of his grammar school gave about the First World War. When his history teacher took the class on a field trip to France it promised to be an adventure, not the first of a series of glimpses of what lay in wait for the world. Soon Dominic would learn that a neighbour was involved in practices far older and darker than spiritualism, and stumble on a secret journal that hinted at the occult nature of the universe. How could he and his friends Roberta and Jim stop what was growing under a church in the midst of the results of the blitz? Dominic used to write tales of their exploits, but what they face now could reduce any adult to less than a child…

Ramsey Campbell recently returned to the Brichester Mythos for his novella The Last Revelation of Gla’aki. His new trilogy The Three Birds of Daoloth further develops the cosmic horrors he invented in his first published book, The Inhabitant of the Lake. The Searching Dead is the first volume, to be followed by Born to the Dark.

The Three Birds of Daoloth 2: Born to the Dark
“There’s a place past all the stars that’s so dark you have to make your eyes light up to see,” Toby said. “There’s a creature that lives in the dark, only maybe the dark’s what he is. Or maybe the dark is his mouth that’s like a black hole or what black holes are trying to be. Maybe they’re just thoughts he has, bits of the universe he’s thinking about. And he’s so big and hungry, if you even think about him too much he’ll get hold of you with one of them and carry you off into the dark . . .”

More than thirty years have passed since the events of The Searching Dead. Now married with a young son, Dominic Sheldrake believes that he and his family are free of the occult influence of Christian Noble. Although Toby is experiencing nocturnal seizures and strange dreams, Dominic and Claudine have found a facility that deals with children suffering from his condition, which appears to be growing widespread. Are their visions simply dreams, or truths few people dare envisage? How may Christian Noble be affecting the world now, and how has his daughter grown up? Soon Dominic will have to confront the figures from his past once more and call on his old friends for aid against forces that may overwhelm them all. As he learns the truth behind Toby’s experiences, not just his family is threatened but his assumptions about the world . . .

The Three Birds of Daoloth 3: The Way of the Worm
More than thirty years have passed since the events of Born to the Dark. Christian Noble is almost a century old, but his and his family’s influence over the world is stronger than ever. The latest version of their occult church counts Dominic Sheldrake’s son and the young man’s wife among its members, and their little daughter too. Dominic will do anything he can to break its influence over them, and his old friends Jim and Bobby come to his aid. None of them realise what they will be up against – the Nobles transformed into the monstrousness they have invoked, and the inhuman future they may have made inevitable . . .

Somebody’s Voice
Alex Grand is a successful crime novelist until his latest book is condemned for appropriating the experience of victims of abuse. In a bid to rescue his reputation he ghostwrites a memoir of abuse on behalf of a survivor, Carl Batchelor. Carl’s account proves to be less than entirely reliable; someone is alive who shouldn’t be. As Alex investigates the background of Carl’s accusations his grasp of the truth of the book and of his own involvement begins to crumble. When he has to testify in a court case brought about by Carl’s memoir, this may be one step too far for his insecure mind…

Ramsey Campbell, Certainly
Ramsey Campbell, Certainly collects the crop of the author’s columns and essays from the last twenty years. Censorship is confronted, whether in Charles Platt’s notorious novel or a disciplinary memoir. Standards of horror are upheld, and the uncanny is acclaimed. Fun is had with uproarious films, and the mating of comedy and horror is celebrated. A novel favoured by discussion groups is skewered, and a supposed satire of horror is satirised. M.R. James is defended against accusations of plagiarism, and the importance of his style is demonstrated. Lovecraft’s prose is appreciated at length, as are several of his greatest tales. Other builders of the great tradition are discussed – Machen, Blackwood, Hodgson – and inspired toilers in the pulps are given their considerable due – Leiber, Wellman, St Clair. Nor are living talents left out: you’ll find Niveau, Lansdale, Atkins, Bestwick and many another. Horror comics are examined and enjoyed, and so is the macabre in music. The most substantial pieces let the author’s late parents speak for themselves through their correspondence, in which August Derleth plays a part, and present a history of the Liverpool Science Fiction Group with copious excerpts from the minutes of their fannish meetings. Does this book have something for everyone? Look for yourself!

Limericks of the Alarming & Phantasmal
Ever mischievous, Ramsey Campbell has delighted his fans—and certainly the team here at PS Towers—by regaling them with a staggering ability to limmer (or whatever the verb might be for producing small five-line rhymes designed to amuse and promote groans). Able to create these mini poem-ettes at the drop of a hat (or even a cleaver), it didn’t take much to persuade him to fill an entire book and, furthermore, for us to approach the equally prolific Pete Von Sholly to come up with some illustrations to boot.

The Village Killings & Other Novellas
The Village Killings and Other Novellas is a companion to the two-volume Ramsey Campbell retrospective Phantasmagorical Stories, also published by PS. Needing Ghosts is one of Campbell’s most nightmarish comedies of paranoia, a journey through a world where nothing can be trusted to be what it seems. In The Pretence an ordinary family comes to realise that a profound unnoticed change has overtaken the world—perhaps a kind of apocalypse. The Booking takes us to a bookshop that may extend to the limits of imagination, but why do books and the booksellers never leave the shop for long? The Enigma of the Flat Policeman uses one of the author’s early stories as a lens to examine his life at the time it was produced—his haunted adolescence and his determination to write. Written specially for this volume, The Village Killings sends a detective novelist to investigate a situation you might find in a whodunit and challenges the reader to get there first. It’s a highly personal take on the Agatha Christie tradition, which it finds less cosy than it’s often said to be. Spanning more than thirty years, the collection displays Campbell’s range, from the uncanny to the psychological, the disturbing to the comical.

  • Introduction: The Third Form
  • Needing Ghosts
  • The Pretence
  • The Booking
  • The Enigma of the Flat Policeman
  • The Village Killings

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Ben Eads

Meghan: Hi Ben! Welcome to Meghan’s (Haunted) House of Horrors. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Ben: The weather and the colors of Autumn. I love that crisp cinnamon smell in the air. Most of my fiction is written during the winter. I love taking walks in the woods and just taking it all in. I always looked forward to visiting my relatives in Tennessee. My uncle would take me for walks into the hollow behind his house. My imagination was operating on all 8 cylinders then, and it does now. I was able to bring that same hollow into my latest horror novella, Hollow Heart. Of course, my uncle called it a “holler.”

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Ben: It was handing out candy to the trick-or-treaters but, sadly, that’s come to an end. Now it’s re-reading my favorite horror novels. Also, I love dressing up as one of my favorite horror creatures. I plan to dress up as The Hell Priest this year, and I have a friend who does special effects. I can’t wait to see what he’s capable of. Hopefully, a few buddies of mine and I can get together and read short horror stories to one another.

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

Ben: Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. As a child, we could dress up and go to school as our favorite monsters. I always tried to scare the hell out of my classmates. You can’t do that on any other holiday or regular day, for that matter. It’s also a time of renewal—out with the old, in with the new.

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Ben: Talking about fiction I’m currently writing. That’s the only thing. I’m sure this is disappointing. LOL

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

Ben: There’s a lot! I think it would be a tie between Pennywise, The Hell Priest, Charlie Manx, and Frankenstein. Freddy isn’t—and hasn’t been—scary, at least to me, for many years. Ditto Jason Vorhees and the other slashers. I love some of the other Universal movie monsters, too. But Dracula, at least for me, isn’t very scary anymore.

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Ben: The murders of Jack the Ripper. Why? Because we’ll never, ever, ever, know who committed those murders. It’s left up to the imagination. I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I think Alan Moore was on to something with his amazing graphic novel, From Hell. Big fan of Alan Moore.

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

Ben: I don’t believe in the supernatural, so none. However… people try to mimic urban legends as well as perform hoaxes. I had a friend in middle school that almost convinced the school the Jersey Devil was roaming the halls. Ha! I guess this comes close: I had a friend in high school that pulled one hell of a prank on me. He even got some of my friends in on it too. He took my Lovecraft books out of my drawer, burned my drawer, and placed a bible in their place. I literally believed that… for about a day. Then a friend called with a guilty conscious and told me about it. With friends like that…

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Ben: Jack the Ripper. Again, we’ll never know who did it. It leaves the imagination wide open, and there’s tons of conspiracy theories based on him/her. Who knows?

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

Ben: I was six-years-old when Hellraiser was playing one night on cable. I only made it ten or fifteen minutes in before shutting the TV off. I couldn’t sleep for two days after that. Thankfully, I didn’t need therapy. But it was the taboo of it, as well as me needing to face my fears that got me through the film. After finishing it, I was still scared to death, but my imagination was operating on a whole new level. Barker is a genius.

I was ten-years-old when I read The Dark Half by Stephen King. I remember not really getting it and realizing I wasn’t old enough yet. I took the book to my mother and asked her a ton of questions. She helped me out a bit but said that one twin absorbing the other fetus in the womb was impossible and, therefore, the book was silly. A month later, a co-worker told my mother that she had the same thing happen to her when she was in the womb. She came home very scared, and said that whoever Stephen King was, he’s a weirdo, sick, twisted, and demented. It was love at first sight! I have him to thank for getting me hooked on horror.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Ben: That would be tie between Stephen King’s IT, The Shining, and Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door. The former due to it being one of the best horror novels ever written, at least in my very humble opinion. The concept, the characters, the world, and how IT could be anything. The Shining had me actually believing in ghosts for a few years. That’s how well that book is written. The movie is good, but the book is so much better. The Girl Next Door has amazing characters, an amazing world, but, oh, man… that poor girl. It’s based on a true story, which shows what human beings are truly capable of. I had a very, very hard time reading the book towards the end, for obvious reasons. But you can’t put it down. You’re there, like the other kids, bearing witness to true horror.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Ben: That would be a tie between Hellraiser and Alien. With Alien, Ridley Scott’s vision, as well as Giger’s art and creature scarred me. The life-cycle of the xenomorph hits us on a sub-conscious level, too, which, when you think about it, you can’t get more disturbing than that. The sequels just didn’t hold up to the original.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?

Ben: The Hell Priest because it’s so damn hard to do! Ha! That’s why I’ve enlisted a friend who does special effects for a living. He told me it will take about four to five hours just to get my face and head finished. It’s going to be hard to pull off, but I love a challenge!

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Ben: I dislike gothic music, but every Halloween I love cranking up Type O Negative. My favorite song would be Black No. 1 (Little Miss Scare-all). I have no idea why, but when Halloween hits, it’s gothic music time for Ben!

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

Ben: Favorite treat would be a Snickers bar. I hate candy-corn. Whoever invented the latter should be drug out into the street and shot. I’m biased because I bit into one once and cracked a tooth. The pain was instant and immense. Not a good Halloween that year!

Meghan: Thanks for stopping by Ben. Before you go, what Halloween reads do you think we should snuggle up with?

Ben:

  1. IT, Stephen King; The Shining, Stephen King; Frankenstein, Mary Shelley.
  2. The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson; The October Country, Ray Bradbury; The Books of Blood, Clive Barker; The Cipher, Kathe Koja; Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury.
  3. The Bottoms, Joe R. Lansdale; Heart Shaped Box, Joe Hill; NOS4A2, Joe Hill; Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?, Joyce Carol Oates.
  4. The Vegetarian, Han Kang; The Woman in Black, Susan Hill; Sineater, Elizabeth Massie; The Scarlet Gospels, Clive Barker.
  5. The Great and Secret Show, Clive Barker.
  6. The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde; The Great God Pan, Arthur Machen; The Call of Cthulhu, H.P. Lovecraft.
  7. Broken Monsters, Lauren Buekes; The Turn of the Screw, Henry James.
  8. Pet Semetary, Stephen King; Misery, Stephen King.
  9. The King in Yellow, Robert W. Chambers.
  10. I Am Legend, Richard Matheson.
  11. Minion, L.A. Banks; Bird Box, Josh Malerman.
  12. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier.
  13. Psycho, Robert Bloch.
  14. The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova; The Road, Cormac McCarthy.
  15. Bubba Ho-Tep, Joe R. Lansdale.

#1 and #2: The October Country, Ray Bradbury; Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury. Both are some of the best Halloween reading one can find.


Boo-graphy:
Ben Eads lives within the semi-tropical suburbs of Central Florida. A true horror writer by heart, he wrote his first story at the tender age of ten. The look on the teacher’s face when she read it was priceless. However, his classmates loved it! Ben has had short stories published in various magazines and anthologies. When he isn’t writing, he dabbles in martial arts, philosophy and specializes in I.T. security. He’s always looking to find new ways to infect reader’s imaginations. Ben blames Arthur Machen, H.P. Lovecraft, Jorge Luis Borges, J.G. Ballard, Philip K. Dick, and Stephen King for his addiction, and his need to push the envelope of fiction.

Hollow Heart
Welcome to Shady Hills, Florida, where death is the beginning and pain is the only true Art…

Harold Stoe was a proud Marine until an insurgent’s bullet relegated him to a wheelchair. Now the only things he’s proud of are quitting alcohol and raising his sixteen-year-old son, Dale.

But there is an infernal rhythm, beating like a diseased heart from the hollow behind his home. An aberration known as The Architect has finished his masterpiece: A god which slumbers beneath the hollow, hell-bent on changing the world into its own image.

As the body count rises and the neighborhood residents change into mindless, shambling horrors, Harold and his former lover, Mary, begin their harrowing journey into the world within the hollow. If they fail, the hollow will expand to infinity. Every living being will be stripped of flesh and muscle, their nerves wrapped tightly around ribcages, so The Architect can play his sick music through them loud enough to swallow what gives them life: The last vestiges of a dying star.

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Lucy Leitner

Meghan: Hi Lucy! Welcome to this year’s Halloween Extravaganza. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Lucy: Right now, it’s baking. Every Sunday, my mom and I bake together over FaceTime. From mid-September to the end of October, we’re baking exclusively Halloween-themed treats. I get a lot of inspiration from the baking shows on the Food Network.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Lucy: When I was a kid, we’d have huge Halloween parties. It would start in September when the Oriental Trading Company catalog arrived. My brother and two sisters and I would sit down with our mom and create an order for party favors and decorations. Weeks in advance, we’d start planning all the attractions. Putting macabre labels on spice mixes for the witches brew in the shed. Collecting supplies for fortune-telling in my sister’s room. I remember scouring DC-area magic stores one year trying to find an appropriate crystal ball. We never did, and my dad wound up mounting a glass orb onto a stocky cylinder. My mom had new ideas for the party every year, but some of the staples were the kids wrapping each other in toilet paper as mummies and eating small, powdered donuts hanging from a tree branch without using our hands. My dad hooked up a trailer to his lawn tractor, filled it with hay, and towed us around the backyard. The trailer would frequently detach, leaving kids at an odd angle in the yard, and my dad would just keep driving as he couldn’t hear the screams over the sound of the lawn mower.

But the best part was the haunted house. Since I’m the oldest, I was in charge of transforming the garage into a room of terrors and leading age-appropriate tours for the younger kids. My parents used the garage for storage, so we used whatever we found in there. A recurring character was Harold, my dad’s jeans and flannel shirt stuffed with pillows and newspaper that sat in an old rocking chair. Two female salsa dancer pinatas, a relic from my third birthday party, hung from the ceiling by their necks. Someone would always be waiting outside, sticking a foot through the cat door, then brandishing a leaf blower to terrify the kids who thought the nightmare was over when they had left the garage.

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

Lucy: The memories. Halloween was a big deal to my family when I was growing up. We’d take long drives through the changing leaves to far-off farms in search of pumpkins. We never had packaged costumes, always ones that we’d construct from seemingly disparate items around the house. When I was in kindergarten, my mom turned dining room chair cushions into turtle shells so my brother and I could dress as our favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. One year, we put stuffing in long underwear to turn my little sister into the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

Two years ago, my mom and I went up to Salem for the weekend a couple weeks before Halloween. We did a ghost tour, an interactive Rocky Horror, and a bunch of of witch stuff. It was so much fun. We keep talking about how we need to go back. It’s my most recent wonderful Halloween memory.

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Lucy: Five years ago, I broke my face after flying off a set of gymnastics rings at the gym. I will not use that particular set of rings again. Unfortunately, the owners just rearranged the gym so I don’t know where that set is. I have to accept that it was not the rings’ fault…

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

Lucy: Jack Torrance. Several years ago, I was the only copywriter at a busy ad agency and was assigned about 17 hours of work in each eight-hour day. In a meeting with the agency president and the project managers who were constantly haranguing me about status updates, I told them how every time they interrupted me, they broke my concentration. It’s like at the gym. I was cooled down and needed to warm back up again to get back in the creative zone. So, their constant interruptions were slowing me down. Nearly a year after I was fired, I was watching The Shining (as I do every Halloween) and realized Jack gave almost the identical speech/rant to Wendy — with a lot more profanity. The Shining has always been my favorite horror movie, but I got a whole new appreciation for the horror of stress-induced psychosis.

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Lucy: Jack the Ripper. I like all the theories and find it interesting how many Ripperologists seem convinced that it has to be a notable person who committed the murders when the vast majority of known serial killers were losers.

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

Lucy: The ones with the spiders and bugs burrowing under skin. That sounds like it could actually happen.

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Lucy: SPOILER ALERT. Leland Palmer. The singing, the crying, the dancing, and the emergence of BOB when he gets locked in the cell. And the scene where it’s revealed that Leland is the killer — one of the best things ever on TV. I was too young to watch Twin Peaks when it aired, but I can’t imagine many people saw that one coming.

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

Lucy: I remember reading Lois Duncan’s Stranger with My Face when I was 10 or 11. I loved it and was hooked on her books after that. My first horror movie was Psycho, but I can’t remember how old I was. I saw Scream as soon as it came out on VHS when I was 13. That was my first modern slasher flick. I memorized it. A few years later I won a tickets to a premiere screening of Scary Movie for calling into a local rock radio station and completing a line from it.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Lucy: The Painted Bird is more disturbing than any horror book I’ve ever read.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Lucy: For some reason in 6th grade band class we watched the Twilight Zone movie. I remember getting all freaked out by the sister with no mouth. That gave me nightmares for a couple days. We also watched the original It in that class. That one left no impression…

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?

Lucy: Sharon Tate. Halloween 2007 when I was 24. I wore a blood-soaked nightgown over a fake pregnant belly though which I stuck a plastic knife.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Lucy: “Song of Joy” by Nick Cave. Spooky, dark, and uses one of my favorite literary devices, the unreliable narrator.

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

Lucy: I’m one of those crazy people who love candy corn and mellowcreme pumpkins. But Indian corn is disappointing. Something about that fake chocolate flavor just does not do it for me.


Boo-graphy:
Lucy Leitner is the author of horror-comedy novels Working Stiffs (2012) and Outrage: Level 10 (2021). From Arlington, VA (where the joke says people are dying to go), she lives in Pittsburgh, PA (where the movies say the dead live). She’s been making up scary stories since frightening her little sister out of sharing a room at age 10. In 2010, she earned a master’s in journalism, won an award for a piece in Justice Magazine, and promptly retired from journalism. Now she’s the writer, spokesperson, and sometimes hand model for a global vitamin company that tends to post more zombie content on social media than all its competitors… When not scaring customers into taking their vitamins, she’s working on her next horror novel.

Outrage: Level 10 was originally released through Necro, but sadly Dave Barnett died right after the book was released. It will be re-released through Blood Bound Books on November 26th.

Get Me Out of This Shimmering Oasis is a short story.


Outrage: Level 10
Alex Malone is brain damaged from a career as a legendary goon in the outlawed sport of hockey. Now he’s a cop because that’s the only job that’ll take him. His presence is enough to raise a citizen’s outrage level, putting him at constant risk of being banished—or worse, sent to the mysterious Maze.

His headaches bring the type of pain that makes plunging off one of Pittsburgh’s bridges a viable option. The bouts of unfettered rage interfere with his ability to complete even the simplest task of rounding up the centenarians with the dying brains and bionic bodies who terrorize other citizens.

Since The People assumed control of the Republic of America, death before 130 has become a thing of the pre-Revolutionary past. Cancer, heart disease, spinal cord injury—all eradicated thanks to tax dollars funding medical research instead of wars and unjust justice. If only they could figure out the brain…

So an experimental treatment sounds good to Malone. It feels good, too. The blackouts that would end with bleeding knuckles and a citizen unconscious on a sidewalk are replaced by vivid memories. The only problem is that the memories aren’t his. They’re filled with torture and more violence than even the undefeated champion of ice boxing could imagine.

With a sense of purpose not felt since his days as hockey’s premier fighter, Malone is determined to find out what’s going on in his head, even if it makes him a target of the outraged mob and the powerful sadists that manipulate it, and leads him to horrifying truths that should have remained lies.

Outrage: Level 10 is an anti-hero’s journey through the inner workings of a violent, near-future dystopia.

Get Me Out of This Shimmering Oasis
OMG this place is amazing. I can feel all the remnants of my leaky gut clearing right up. A few more days and I may even be able to tolerate dairy again. These innovative treatments are truly elevating my wellness. They are literally scaring me to death, but doing good for yourself never feels good, right? Right?