Meghan: Hey Chad!! Welcome back to Meghan’s HAUNTED House of Books. Thank you for joining in our Halloween shenanigans once again. What is your favorite part of Halloween?
Chad: Probably that for a short time, my tribe widens, meaning that even those outside the tribe acknowledge horror by way of the décor in every store, front lawns, films released in theaters, and even TV episodes dedicated to spooky, making us monster kids feel a little more at home.
Meghan: Do you get scared easily?
Chad: Not from movies or books, no. From the possibilities of experiencing legitimate trauma that comes with living on this planet? Yes.
Meghan: What is the scariest movie you’ve ever seen and why?
Chad: The Exorcist. I’ve seen it several times, and it still makes me feel uneasy.
Meghan: Which horror movie murder did you find the most disturbing?
Chad: When they all stab the kid to death in Bully. That got to me. Another one would be the guy’s wife in the shower at the beginning of Terrified.
Meghan: Is there a horror movie you refused to watch because the commercials scared you too much?
Chad: No, though there are some I won’t watch because I’ve heard a lot about them. One of those being A Serbian Film. I have no interest in watching stuff like that.
Meghan: If you got trapped in one scary movie, which would you choose?
Meghan: What is the creepiest thing that’s ever happened while you were alone?
Chad: Technically, I wasn’t alone, but my wife was asleep. About 25 years ago we were renting a place that had the bedroom windows facing a little one-lane alley that never had any traffic. It was a hot summer night and those windows (which were directly behind the head of the bed) were open. Just as I was falling asleep, I could hear footsteps in the alley, then I smelled cigarette smoke. The footsteps stopped right behind my head, and my dog looked out and started growling with his eyes on the bushes under the window. I was too afraid to look behind me, so I slid off the bed as quietly as I could and called 911, whispering in the phone. After the footsteps stopped right at the windows, I never heard them again. I was terrified.
Meghan: Which unsolved mystery fascinates you the most?
Chad: I can’t think of anything crime wise, but I get a kick out of Bigfoot and alien stuff.
Meghan: What is the spookiest ghost story that you have ever heard?
Chad: My son’s girlfriend showed me security camera footage of a woman in their house wearing a nightgown, walking off camera to the corner of their room for an hour, then coming back into view and leaving the room. They have no idea who it was, but it happened while they were sleeping.
Meghan: In a zombie apocalypse, what is your weapon of choice?
Chad: Samurai sword for sure
Meghan: Okay, let’s have some fun… Would you rather get bitten by a vampire or a werewolf? Chad: Vampire Meghan: Would you rather fight a zombie apocalypse or an alien invasion? Chad: Zombies… far less threatening. Meghan: Would you rather drink zombie juice or eat dead bodies from the graveyard? Chad: Won’t zombie juice turn me undead? If so, give me the body smothered in nacho cheese. Meghan: Would you rather stay at the Poltergeist house or the Amityville house for a week? Chad: 112 Ocean Avenue, here I come. Meghan: Would you rather chew on a bitter melon with chilies or maggot-infested cheese? Chad: You almost had me with the cheese, but I’ll take the melon. Meghan: Would you rather drink from a witch’s cauldron or lick cotton candy made of spider webs? Chad: Depends on what’s in the cauldron. I love frog legs, so I’m cool with that.
Slow Burn on Riverside When 18-year-old Jex moves into a new apartment, his roommate’s descent into drugs paves the way for mental illness, while Jex deals with their sexually assertive landlady. But when her teenage son shows up, things take a very dark turn.
The Neon Owl 1: When the Shit Hits the Van Jinx is a record-collecting, middle-aged minimalist whose dreams of becoming a detective are waylaid by love and laziness. But when he inherits his late aunt’s rundown motel, The Neon Owl, his passion for investigative work reignites while he searches for answers as to who keeps shitting in the bushes. His findings lead to a full-blown murder mystery where he and new-found friend, Roddy, the elderly, one-legged handyman, set out to find the killer.
A crime noir-ish whodunnit rife with humor, grit, and ranch dressing.
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 Jones’ The 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.
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.
Meghan: Hey, Karissa! Welcome to Meghan’s HAUNTED House of Books! What is your favorite part of Halloween?
Karissa: I like that Halloween makes it culturally acceptable to indulge the darker side of our human natures. We can explore our feelings about monstrous and evil things without explicitly approving of them. The world is both light and dark, and most of the times we’re not supposed to acknowledge the dark stuff, but on Halloween, it’s acceptable.
I also love the aesthetics of Halloween—skeletons and bats and spiders and gothic clothing. I love costumes and how, for one night, you can be something or someone completely different. I love the idea of trick-or-treating, that we let down our guards and open our homes, even temporarily, to the community. It’s one activity that will never work as a virtual, on-line event. You only get the candy if you’re willing to go door to door and actually meet your neighbors. Some people hate that part of it, but I always liked the human interaction aspect of trick-or-treating.
Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?
Karissa: In my day job, I work in an office in a historical home in the downtown area of my city. My office/house is adjacent to one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, and that neighborhood goes ALL OUT at Halloween. They put up very elaborate decorations. The city shuts down one of the main streets in the neighborhood to keep cars out, and there’s a huge street party and tons and tons of trick-or-treating. Ever since I started working near that neighborhood about six years ago, I’ve been taking my family there on Halloween night. My kid is too old to trick-or-treat any more, but we enjoy going to see the decorations and the costumes. There’s also a Krispy Kreme nearby and we always stop in and grab some of the Halloween themed donuts.
Meghan: If Halloween is your favorite holiday (or even second favorite holiday), why?
Karissa: I don’t know that I have a favorite holiday because there’s something I like about most of them. I guess, if I had to choose, I like Thanksgiving most of all because it’s all the best stuff about Christmas but without all the commerciality and pressure to spend money and give gifts. I love to eat, I love spending time with my family, and there are fewer expectations. But Halloween might be my second favorite (even though we don’t get any days off from work for it. Why not? Who do I send a petition to about that?) because of all the things mentioned previously. So many holidays are similar, but there’s nothing else quite like Halloween, culturally speaking. It’s all about having fun, letting loose, indulging in fantasies.
Meghan: What are you superstitious about?
Karissa: I am not really a superstitious person, although I do sometimes feel afraid to acknowledge out loud when something is going well or when I’ve had a streak of good fortune. Some part of me seems to think that acknowledging good luck is the fastest way of making sure that good luck comes to an end. But I’m not afraid of anything like broken mirrors, walking under ladders, or black cats.
Meghan: What/who is your favorite horror monster or villain?
Karissa: This is a hard one, mainly because there are so many good ones. I conferred with my kid (who is 19 y.o. and not much of a kid anymore) and he chose the demon from the Jeepers Creepers franchise, and I agree he’s a good choice. He only shows up every so often, but once he does, he’s impossible to kill. No matter what you do (like run him over with the car until he’s pulp in the road), he just keeps coming back. And he has the scariest face ever. That is some quality special effects make-up right there.
But while the Creeper is high on my list, I think Tim Curry’s performance as the demon clown in Stephen King’s It is probably top of my list. He was utterly terrifying in the most subtle way. He could just stand there in his clown make-up and pointy yellow teeth and scare the bejeezus out of me.
Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?
Karissa: I do watch quite a lot of true crime shows and listen to podcasts, but I can’t say there’s one that really fascinates me more than another. I was intrigued by the story of Hae Min Lee’s death, and whether or not Adnan Syed, convicted for killing her, really did it. Check out Season one of the Serial podcast for the whole story. I have to say, based on what I’ve heard and what we know in the years since…I think there’s a really good chance Adnan didn’t do it.
Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?
Karissa: Not so much an urban legend but when I was little, I had a book of local, North Carolina ghost stories that fascinated me. Ever since then, I’ve had a special place in my heart for local stories like the Devil’s Tramping Ground and The Maco Light.
The Devil’s Tramping Ground is a camping spot located in a forest near the Harper’s Crossroads area in Bear Creek, North Carolina. Lore says that the Devil “tramps” and haunts a barren circle of ground in which nothing is supposed to grow. Things left there will disappear overnight. Of course, there are some scientific explanations for why this place is so strange, but speculating about the devil is more forum
As for the Maco Light, according to the most common version of the legend, Joe Baldwin was in the rear car of a Wilmington, NC-bound train on a rainy night in 1867. As the train neared Maco, Baldwin realized the car had become detached from the rest of the train. He knew another train was following, so he ran to the rear platform and frantically waved a lantern to signal the oncoming train. The engineer failed to see the stranded railroad car in time, and Baldwin was decapitated in the collision. Some say the head was never found
Shortly after the accident, residents of Maco and railroad employees reported sightings of a white light along a section of railroad track through swamps west of Maco station, and word spread that Joe Baldwin had returned to search for his missing head. The light was said to appear in the distance, before approaching along the tracks facing East, bobbing at a height of about 5 feet, and either flying to the side of the track in an arc or receding from the viewer. Other reports spoke of green or red lights, or other patterns of movement
Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?
Karissa: Although I like true crime a lot, I don’t tend to care for serial killer stories. It’s one thing to get a thrill from a fictional murderer like Mike Myers, but I don’t like anything that smacks of glorification of real-life killers in any sort of way. I tend to shy away from serial killer mythology.
Meghan: How old were you when you saw your first horror movie? How old were you when you read your first horror book?
Karissa: I probably had seen movies that were considered horror at an earlier age, but don’t remember anything specific. However, I do remember having a Halloween sleepover with some girlfriends when I was in middle school, I was probably about 12 years-old, and my mom let us rent The Lost Boys. I was absolutely enthralled. I don’t know if that can actually be considered a horror movie, but Kiefer Sutherland and his band of vampire misfits were certainly no vegetarian, sparkly Twilight vampires. I still love that movie to this day.
I can’t specifically remember when I picked up my first horror novel, but I do remember that The Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree was one of my most favorite books as a little kid—I was always drawn to spooky things and didn’t scare easily. I read way ahead of my grade level, and I grew up reading Stephen King, Christopher Pike, V.C. Andrews, and Dean Koontz. My mom was very open minded about reading, and I have no memory of her discouraging me from reading anything.
Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?
As a kid, I remember reading The Tommyknockers by Stephen King and being so freaked out that I had to go outside in the daylight to finish reading it. But the most recent thing I’ve read that made me feel deeply unsettled is The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones. The whole book is full of moments that took my outside of myself in a frightening, disturbing way, but there is a climactic chase scene near the end that is one of the most downright horrifying things I’ve read in a long, long time. Jones establishes a prolonged period of heightened tension that is torturous, but in a really good way, and it’s never boring or tedious. If you love horror and haven’t read that book yet, you must.
I also have to shout out to I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. It’s nothing like the Will Smith movie, by the way. It’s one of the most gorgeously written books I’ve ever read and filled me with so much existential dread. It’s also extremely timely and relatable to the current pandemic culture we’re all experiencing.
Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?
Karissa: Horror, like comedy, is highly subjective, right? What scares one person won’t scare the next. I’ve watched tons of horror over the years and little of it has actually scared me. However, I can’t stand movies that are classified as horror but are actually just torture porn, such as House of 1000 Corpses. My husband, when we first started dating years ago, asked me to watch that movie with him and his friends. I ended up putting a blanket over my head and going to sleep instead of watching it. It didn’t scare me so much as sicken me. I still won’t go anywhere near that franchise, and I’m reluctant to watch any Rob Zombie productions because of that movie.
I wouldn’t say it scarred me, but George A. Romero’s ’68 Night of the Living Dead scared the crap out of my when I saw it years ago. It still gives me chills, and it’s still my favorite zombie movie, ever. With little in the way of special effects and nothing like CGI even remotely possible, Romero had to be clever. He used music and sound effects, lighting, and careful pacing to create a highly atmospheric movie that is thick with dread and horror. The opening scene, with that slow shambling zombie in the background, out of focus, slowly coming closer and closer… That was pure cinematic genius. I still prefer it over newer zombie movies that rely too much on CGI.
Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?
Karissa: As a kid, I was kind of spoiled and precocious about costumes. My mom was crafty and could sew. I always insisted that she make me one-of-a-kind costumes, and she indulged me. The biggest hit of my childhood costume career was when I went as a whole bag of M&Ms. My mom sewed me a costume that looked like a classic bag of regular M&Ms complete with the logo and barcode—it was kind of like a giant, brown, rectangular dress. I painted my face to look like a green M&M poking out of the top and put M&Ms made from balloons on my shoulders. I won a costume contest, and my mom sent pictures of me to the Mars chocolate company that owns M&Ms. They sent back stickers, coupons, and a personalized thank you letter.
I don’t sew like my mom can, but I like making things, so I’ve managed to make some pretty good costumes for my kid over the years. He’s been Popeye (that was a big hit with the old folks in my neighborhood), a Ghost Buster, the Ghost Rider, Gene Simmons from Kiss, and many more. When I used to work in a bigger office, I once made fancy witch hats for all the ladies in my section to wear on Halloween.
Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?
Karissa: Easily the answer to that is Thriller. I am Gen-X and was a little kid when that album came out. I loved everything Michael Jackson in those days. I didn’t see the video until I was a little older, maybe around seven or eight years old, and I remember being absolutely captivated by it. I still love the song and the video after all these years, even when it’s not Halloween.
Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween candy or treat? What is your most disappointing?
Karissa: When my son was still trick-or-treating, I always looked forward to taking his Mounds or Almond Joys. I love coconut, but he didn’t, so it worked out well for me to take those and leave the rest for him. I especially like Mounds because I prefer dark chocolate. I absolutely cannot stand Twizzlers. They taste like wax to me. Ugh.
Meghan: Karissa, this was fantastic! Thanks for stopping by. Before you go, can you leave us with your go-to Halloween movies and books?
Boo-graphy: Karissa Laurel lives in North Carolina with her kid, her husband, the occasional in-law, and a very hairy husky named Bonnie. Some of her favorite things are coffee, dark chocolate, superheroes, and Star Wars. She can quote Princess Bride verbatim. In the summer, she’s camping, kayaking, and boating at the lake, and in the winter, she’s skiing or curled up with a good book. She is the author of the Urban Fantasy trilogy, The Norse Chronicles; Touch of Smoke, a stand-alone paranormal romance; and The Stormbourne Chronicles, a YA second-world fantasy trilogy.
Serendipity at the End of the World — Serendipity Blite and her sister, Bloom, use their unique talents to survive the apocalyptic aftermath of the Dead Disease. When Bloom is kidnapped, Sera is determined to get her back. Attempting a rescue mission in an undead-infested city would be suicidal, so Sera forms a specialized team to help retrieve her sister. But unfortunate accident sets Sera teetering on the edge of death. She must fight to save her own life, because surviving could mean finding family, love, and possibly a cure.
You can find it on Kindle Vella New episodes come out every Saturday