Winter Reading – Horror

winter reading

Winter Reading Recommendations

for the horror fan…

Winter is a great time to read. There’s more down time in your life because the weather limits you from outdoor activities. The isolated feel of the weather and the early sundown also set the ideal mood for a good horror tale. Here are some great horror fiction stories and books to read during the winter months. They all have winter themes running through them, cold, snow, holidays, and isolation.

Winter Reading List

Short stories:

The Windego – Algernon Blackwood
Christmas Eve at Aunt Elsie’s – Thomas Ligotti
The Chimney – Ramsey Campbell
The Vending Machine – Mark Lukens
The Glamour of the Snow – Algernon Blackwood
At the Mountains of Madness – HP Lovecraft
The Yattering and Jack – Clive Barker


Who Goes There – John W. Campbell
Storm of the Century – Stephen King
The Shining- Stephen King
Winter Wake – Rick Hatula
A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
Frankenstein – Mary Shelley
Dead of Winter – Brian Moreland
Snow – Ronald Malfi 
NOS4A2 – Joe Hill

winter pic

If you have any more suggestions, leave them in the comments.
I would love to know your favorite winter theme horror stories…and I’ll add them to the list.


What are your favorite winter reads?

Hellraiser (1987) – movie review

Hellraiser pic 18

Hellraiser (1987) – 20th Anniversary Edition

Directed by: Clive Barker

Doug Bradleymy top 10 1980s horror
Andrew Robinson
Clare Higgins
Sean Chapman
Ashley Laurence
Nicholas Vince

Hellraiser was both shocking and terrifying when it hit theaters some twenty-seven years ago. I had watched this film on VHS dozens of times since its release and watched the many sequels dilute the impact of the Hellraiser franchise. I was curious to see if the original film still held its own over two decades later.

When first released, this movie felt like you were seeing something completely new, expanding on the imagination much like The Matrix did in the 90’s. Not bad for a considerably low-budget movie void of CGI or modern digi-fx techniques. Upon watching it for the first time in well over a Hellraiser posterdecade I noticed some aspects of the film look dated and reveal the films budget limitations. Electric sparks that are produced from the puzzle box and when the cenobites are dissolved seem layered on rather than in the setting. The wall-walker creature looks somewhat lifeless and rubbery. That being said, the aura and atmosphere of Hellraiser still portrays a dark netherworld of fantastical creatures and concepts.

Watching Uncle Frank regenerate himself from some kind of primordial green goop is a stunning FX sequence. Following that, Frank is a grotesque skinless biology study of exposed muscle, cartilage and sinew for most of the movie. Although difficult to look at for its goriness, I also find it hard not to stare at him with morbid curiosity.

The scene where Kirsty solves the puzzle box and we get our first real good look at the cenobites is truly bizarre. The lipless cenobite, Chatterer, restrains Kirsty by shoving two fingers into her mouth as the eyeless Butterball, watches with enthusiasm. The lone female cenobite speaks with seductive elegance that could be mistaken for an angel’s whisper. Doug Bradley as Pinhead commands the scene with few words but delivered with such a powerful voice it could make one cringe.

The scene where Frank, disguised as Kirtsy’s father, is being pulled apart by dozens of hooks stretching the skin of his face to its limit is disturbing. “Jesus Wept”, he says before exploding into a bloody pile of meat.

MSDHELL EC007One aspect that makes this movie so intriguing is that many little concepts make up the whole. We have the horror of Uncle Frank needing fresh flesh to regenerate himself – We have psycho step mom, Julia, dispatching would-be lovers with a hammer strike to the cranium – we have the cenobite and puzzle box concept – and we have the vagabond threaded throughout the movie, only to find, in the end, that he is actually a winged demon guarding his prime asset, the puzzle box.

This special edition comes with several interviews that bring us behind the scenes of the Hellraiser legend. One comical comment comes from Doug Bradley himself. He says he had the choice between playing the cenobite, Pinhead, or the bit part of a moving man helping to move a bed upstairs in the house. Because he was a striving actor he thought it may be better to actually see his face on the film and he had originally decided to take the bit part! Aren’t we glad he changed his mind? His performance is synonymous with Pinhead.

Much has happened since the release of Hellraiser. The notion of the cenobites became a cult mythos of its own, much the way H.P.Lovecraft stories sparked the Cthulhu mythos. Pinhead became a great icon in horror motion pictures taking his place in infinite stardom with the likes of Freddy, Jason, and Michael Myers. But, Hellraiser offered even more. Behind the vile deeds, gore, guts, and grotesque sights lies a world of wonder, the unbridled awe of a nightmare world that exists within our darkest visions.

Hellraiser: Revelations (2011) – movie review


above photo is not from the film

Hellraiser: Revelations (2011)

Who’s bad idea was this? If it’s the same guy who decided, we can do Pinhead without Doug Bradley, he should be FIRED! Okay, I realize that the studio had to do this film to keep the rights of Hellraiser. We wouldn’t want the rights to revert back to its creator, Clive Barker, because, what does he know? (I’m being sarcastic here!) So they put out a film that is so bad, no one could resurrect the franchise.hellraiser revelations dvd

How bad is it? First, this film doesn’t know if it wants to be a found footage film or not. It takes about 45 minutes for the director to decide. Second, the two main characters are such bottom-of-the-barrel, low-life scum, how could I possibly care if they lived or died. They’re abusive to women and eventually work together to kill them. I’m supposed to be interested in their plight? Nervous for them? 3rd  – It is quite clear that the cenobites are a bunch of actors in-costume. I mean, make some attempt at making it seem real. Whether that be, more subtle make-up, or veiling the designs in darkness, smoke or filters, it should seem less prosthetic. You can see where layers were glued on, liquid-rubber latex was pulled and sections were painted. I’m surprised I didn’t see zippers and Velcro holding it all together.

Hellraiser had 8 sequels since the original film came out in 1987. Some of them barely even have Pinhead in them. But every one of them were better than this. Just a bad film all around. Even the big scene at the end is just rehashed ideas. Stay away. Of course this is just my opinion.

hellraiser revelations pic 3

Tied with The Exorcist II for worst horror sequel ever!

I give it a 1.0 on the crusty crap scale of sucky sequels!

The First Horror Books I ever read – what’s yours?

The First Horror Books I ever read – what’s yours?

I traced my memory back to the first ghost story/horror book I had ever purchased and read by myself. I got it at my grammar school’s Scholastic Book Fair in 4th grade.

Arrow Book of Ghost Stories Arrow book of ghost stories back cover

I recently repurchased this book, found it used on Amazon and I just had to have it.

I bought another one in 5th grade:

Arrow Book of Spooky Stories

Shortly after, I went on to more serious reading (age 11) with this gem, 50 Great Ghost Stories – edited by John Canning. It was my Mom’s book but I took it and read it front to back. It was not standard fiction, it was more like a recounting of urban legends and rumored ‘true’ ghost tales. I followed that with 50 Great Horror Stories.

50 great ghost stories 50great

The next book I read was also my Mom’s. ‘Interrupted Journey’ was ‘a real life acount’ about Bettie and Barney Hill who were abducted by aliens during a long road trip.

inerrupedjourney1 the hobbit 1

When I was in High School, The Hobbit was very popular. They had just released the 1978 English edition. I remember buying it but don’t think I finished reading it.

By the time I was 14, I had discovered Stephen King and read all the books he had published up until that date but one, starting with these three. The Shining was first, followed by Night Shift and The Stand. I didn’t read Carrie (his 1st published book) until many years later.

the shining Stephen-King-Night-Shift stand-cover

The next wave of books included Barker, Anson, and several others.

Clive Barker books of blood in the flesh amityville horror - jay anson
Jay Anson - 666 the_keep Wheatly

So, what were the first few horror books you had purchased and read?

Christmas Horror – Christmas entertainment for the horror fan

Christmas Horror – Christmas entertainment for the horror fan
This Year’s Recommendations:

Tales from the crypt coverTales From The Crypt (1972) ‘…And All Through the House’
As far as I can tell, this was the first time a killer donned a Santa outfit to commit murders in film. In the first of five short stories, adapted from the EC Comics to make this anthology, Joanne (Joan Collins) kills her husband on Christmas Eve.  When she herself is stalked by a deranged killer who escaped from a nearby mental institution, she can’t call the police. It’s a race against time to clean up the mess she has made while trying to avoid becoming a mess herself. This was remade in the Tales From The Crypt series (HBO) but I still like this film version better.

black christmas 1974 coverBlack Christmas (1974)
Make sure you get the 1974 version directed by Bob Clark, (yes, the same guy that directed ‘A Christmas Story’). When half the campus students go home for the holidays, the remaining students are picked off, one by one, in this disturbing horror-thriller. Creepy phone calls, one eye peeking at the girls from doorways, nasty whispers in the dark, and a lot of killing; perfect for the holiday! Avoid the remake like last year’s fruit-cake – it will not only bore you to tears, but it will ruin all the good scenes that are done so well in the original.

ginger dead man coverThe Gingerdead Man (2005)
Gary Busey is a killer who comes back as a gingerbread man to exact his revenge against his accusers. He cusses and swears and slashes his way through the cast of terrible actors in this film like a redneck, Pillsbury Dough Boy, gone wild. A bunch of obvious one-liners from Busey’s gingerdead man pepper this flick with comedic joy. You’ll either laugh or be angered at this worse-than-bad, cheesy flick! Did I mention Gary Busey plays the Gingerbread man? Nuff said!

Dont open till christmas coverDon’t Open Till Christmas (1984)
If you need something to counter the never ending month of merriment, this will do the trick. Instead of a guy dressed as Santa going around and killing people, this guy goes around killing anyone who is dressed up like Santa. He stalks seedy neighborhoods through London, slashing Santas, and making a bloody mess of the holiday. And, yes, this is the infamous “Santa castrated at the urinal” movie! Not a great flick, but amusing for the number of ways the red-suits are knocked off.

Read or watch:
tales - yattering The Yattering and Jack – Tales From the Dark Side (season 4, episode 7)
Although TFTDS does a decent job with this Clive Barker tale, the Yattering is portrayed by a ‘little people’ with horns – not the imagery I had in mind when I had originally read the story in ‘Books of Blood’. I would recommend the original story or the graphic novel over this episode, but either way, this is a definitive Christmas horror story.


Tales from the crypt 3 Tales from the crypt pic 4Tales from the crypt pic 2

black christmas 1974 pic 3 black christmas 1974 pic 2 black christmas 1974 pic 1

gingerdead man pic 4 gingerdead man pic 2 gingerdead man pic 3

dont-open-till-christmas pic 1 dont-open-till-christmas pic 3 dont-open-till-christmas pic 2

Yattering - Graphic Novel Cover yattering & jack

Rawhead Rex – (1986) – movie review

Rawhead Rex (1986) – movie review

This film is one of my guilty pleasures. Sure, the makeup-fx are not the greatest (the monster looks a bit rubbery in close-ups), the plot is the basic good vs. evil standard, and characters are introduced for the sole purpose of being ripped apart, but still, I like it. Howard Hollenbeck is a historian/archeologist writing a book about Neolithic religious sites in Ireland. He drags his family in tow, under the guise of a vacation, to see a church built upon a pre-Christian site of worship. The stained glass images in the church tell a tale of how to quell the rage of some ancient demon beast.  Meanwhile, on a nearby farm an ancient stone pillar stands in the way of clearing a new field for planting season. The farmer digs up the Stonehenge-like monolith, unwittingly releasing the demon from its eons old resting place.

The beast then goes on a killing spree, a no rhyme or reason rampage of unrelenting, blood-soaked violence, ripping and tearing its way through the countryside. The beast semi-possesses folks to do its bidding and block the efforts of police trying to find the murderous culprit. When Hollenbeck’s own son is taken by the beast, known as Rawhead Rex, it is up to him and his wife to figure out the puzzle of the stained-glass windows and fight the demon head-on.

This film is actually hard to find on DVD and is not on Blu-ray. It took me over a year to find it at a decent price. This was one of Clive Barker’s early film adaptations and would be a great starting point for anyone’s Barker collection. Although I hear that Barker condemns this film and the director for leaving out the more cerebral parts of the script and turning it into a standard monster movie, it is a good monster movie. It’s a plethora of killing and carnage from the hairy cross-eyed monster that is worthy of better acknowledgement. How could you not like a movie with the title, Rawhead Rex.



Get Them Reading and Keep Them Reading

Secrets to Successful Fiction Writing – a reader’s point of view


Great fiction authors have a knack for getting us, the readers, quickly interested in the story, invested in the characters, and keeping us ready to turn each page and continue upon a journey they have set up for us. I spent some time taking a closer look at how they do this, methods for immediate involvement in the tale, and have found a few helpful devices and techniques to use in my own story-telling. Some aspects seemed incidental, until I noticed these same parameters used in almost every book and story the particular author had written.

Dean Koontz
– When I began reading What the Night Knows, I noticed on my first night of reading I had easily progressed to the 5th chapter. Once I am that far in, there is no turning back – I will read the whole book and not stop until I am finished with it. But it did make me curious. How had I advanced so far into the book with, what seemed like, so little effort? I will tell you how: In the first chapter of the book, there was barely a paragraph over three sentences. In fact, a majority of the paragraphs in the whole book are short, 3-10 sentences. That is streamline – that is succinct. It makes for easy reading. Secondly: Many of the chapters are between three and eight pages, with many being only four or five pages long. Before you know it, you’re at chapter ten and well engaged with the story.

Michael Crichton
– Crichton keeps his chapters short, also. One thing I noticed about Crichton when reading Jurassic Park, which differs from Koontz, every chapter ends in a cliff-hanger. I mean real cliffhangers; a girl dangling from the ceiling as raptors jump at her feet, or, a worker saying, “What are those alarms?” and John Hammond turning to him with alarm in his face and saying “This can not be good.” Now, you are compelled to turn the page and start the next chapter to see what those alarms are, or, if the girl is going to have her foot chomped off by a hungry raptor. This is probably the exact opposite of what you or I would tend to do at the end of a chapter. We like to close our thoughts to a segment, make it well rounded and resolved before starting a new chapter.

Dan Brown
– Dan Brown uses these same two methods, short chapters and cliffhangers to keep the reader turning pages.

Stephen King
– King always works on immediate empathy. He will start a story with a character doing something very common, some mundane task for which we can all relate; the morning jog, trying to get reception on a cell phone, getting chewed out by the boss, waiting for a bus, walking the dog, or just watching a thunderstorm forming on the horizon as the character sips a cup of tea – things we have all done in our lives’ that make us feel instantly associated with the character. This puts us in the character’s shoes, ready to feel and experience what they do.

Clive Barker
– Mr. Barker will often start his stories with a character on a quest. Quite often they will be on the verge of finding the prized item, perhaps in the next few pages. Whether it’s a quest for a puzzle box, a quest for the perfect photo, a quest for a fabled creature or hidden land of wonder, your curiosity is peaked, usually in the very first chapter. You want to know if the character will find this treasured item, don’t you? Keep reading and you will find out.


These are some of my observations. These are some of the devices, techniques and styles that have kept me reading. All of these methods will lure the reader deeper into the story and into the depths of danger. Use these ideas in your own writing.

Perhaps you have noticed some other methods that keep readers turning pages in a book. Or perhaps you use an approach or two in your own writing to captivate your readers. If you would like to share these ideas, post them here in the comments and point us to a story of yours that uses the idea. (***please do not post a whole story in the comments). I would like to hear your thoughts, feedback and ideas.


Thomas Ligotti – Teatro Grottesco – book review

Thomas Ligotti – Teatro Grottesco
Virgin Books, ltd.

I am late in discovering the talent of Thomas Ligotti considering his first collection had been published in 1986. However, I am glad Teatro Grottesco  is the first of his books that I read because it is the best collection to date and the most accessible to horror fans. Ligotti is mostly considered an author of strange fiction and weird tales but the end result is always horror no matter what path had been taken to get there. Upon reading the first story in this collection, Purity, I sat in my chair unmoving for several minutes. Then, I turned back to page one and re-read the whole story. Reading this story was like watching a magician perform an exceptional illusion. It was simultaneously bizarre and commonplace, eccentric and familiar, fantastic but low-key. This was not a fluke applicable to this one story. Indeed, I found myself re-reading several of the stories repeatedly as I tackled the book including, The Clown Puppet and Gas Station Carnivals.

Another quality of Ligotti’s style is that he seems to be the exception to every rule. Everything that my teachers and mentors have ever told me about becoming a published fiction writer, about my work, Ligotti embraces in his style. I was told, don’t write in first person if you want to get published; all of his stories are in first person. I am told I have too much exposition; some of his stories are loaded to the gills with exposition. I am told to be succinct, something Ligotti definitely is not. I am told to be careful of block writing; some of Ligotti’s stories have the first paragraph and subsequent paragraphs weighing in at a full page each. Just flip through the book and you will see page after page of text with few paragraph indents. I am told my writing is unduly formal; at times Ligotti seems to be writing a reference book rather than a fictional story. But it all works for him as he weaves interesting, strange, and fantastic tales that are as sincere as they are bizarre and stories that captivate the reader and drag them off to a place they have never been.

If you enjoy reading Lovecraft and Poe, you will most likely embrace Ligotti. If you prefer the streamline style of Dean Koontz, you may find Ligotti a bit overbearing. But try it out for yourself and make your own decision. Teatro Grottesco is a good place to start.