A Halloween Tale To Bug You!

As we’re about to celebrate the glorious tradition of Halloween, I’d like to offer our dedicated readers a rare gem – a horror tale with a somewhat unusual subject matter…insects; namely, cockroaches.

Chris Leppek and I have always enjoyed digging up (pun intended) hard-to-find stories with equally obscure writers.  Such is the case with “Roaches” – a delicious work that we can’t recommend enough.

First published in 1965, the story was written by Thomas Michael Disch who had quite the following as both a science fiction author and poet.  In fact, he earned a total of two Hugo Award and nine Nebula Award nominations during his prolific career.

However, his rare excursions into horror are worthy of all who love to read about things that go bump in the night, or (in the case of “Roaches”) things that skitter and crawl in the night.

skitter. . . skitter. . . skitter

“Roaches” ( which appears in the 1987 Dark Descent anthology, edited by David G. Hartwell and published by Tom Doherty Assoc.) introduces us to Marcia Kenwell, a young lady who moves to New York in order to restart her rather dull and unfulfilling existence.  Her only warning delivered by her doting grandmother is to beware of cockroaches – insects she has never come across before.

Now in the big city, Marcia finds herself holding a proverbial dead-end job, living an even more unfulfilling existence in a squalid apartment building.  And she soon comes face-to-face with what she was warned about – thousands of darting, antennaed cockroaches; disgusting creatures that fester, feed and give birth in darkness, only to scatter to distant corners, cracks and crevices when exposed to light.

But her revulsion to cockroaches suddenly evolves to something else when she discovers that she is somehow able to communicate with these creatures and to actually command them to do her bidding, i.e. infesting the bed of her filthy, Eastern European neighbors that live beyond the wall of her tiny apartment.

In a touching, ironic stroke, Marcia becomes a perverse Queen of the Cockroaches at the shocking conclusion of the tale.

Like any good piece of horror fiction, the disturbing images of “Roaches” remains with the reader long afterwards.

So curl up this Halloween with a good story and pray that the furtive movements just beyond your periphery are absolutely nothing to be concerned about.

The scariest thing that ever happened . . . to Clive Barker

Whew!  Chris Leppek and I are still recovering from the recent book signing of our newest novel Abattoir (see pix on the ‘Abattoir’ page).  We held the event at our favorite book store, Tattered Cover in Denver.  And we appreciate each and every one of the 200 or so people who, despite having been packed into a small space, were gracious enough to attend, shell out the $15.00 for the book, and enjoyed the total experience.  We were blown away by the outpouring of support and the overall vibe was amazing.

It all got me thinking.

A few years ago, Chris and I were lucky enough to have drinks with Clive Barker after one of his signings in Denver.  This was arranged at the last minute by his host, the awesome horror writer Ed Bryant.   We’d like to think that we were invited in recognition of our talent, but it was probably more due to being in the proverbial right place at the right time.

Settled into a comfortable booth in the bar of the historic Oxford Hotel, we watched Barker (a writer we greatly admired and the creator of such classics as Hellraiser, Books of Blood, Damnation Game and many more)) enjoying a good cigar and a hearty drink.  During the conversation one of us (I can’t for the life of me remember if it was Chris or me) asked the question:  What’s the scariest thing that ever happened to you?


Clive Barker

Barker took a long puff of his cigar, lifted his head toward the ceiling and gently exhaled.  He recanted a story of a book signing that he was conducting in some town during the 80’s.  At the height of his popularity, Barker was known to attract an extremely diverse fan base.  We’re talking about Goths, young people, biker types, old people, tattooed people, pierced people and so-called normal people.

At this one particular signing, Barker got a strange feeling – a tugging in his stomach that alerted him to something wrong.  Looking up, he regarded the long line of people that were waiting to have his book signed.  But there was something unsettling with a man at the end of the line.  He was huge (wearing a heavy leather coat), menacing and looked like a cross between a Hell’s Angel and an ex-con on steroids.

With each book he signed, Barker would look back to regard this man getting closer and closer in line.

When Barker pulled a book off a pile and opened it to the appropriate page, he looked up to see this sinister character.  The two exchanged stares for a moment, then something truly horrific happened.   The man removed his coat in one move, revealing thick, hairy arms.  At the same moment, he produced a small blade, leaned over and set about slicing his arm.  Blood began to drip, forming a crimson puddle on the open page.

Barker didn’t know what to do.  For a brief moment he thought about calling security and fought both panic and fear.  He was frozen, but his instincts won out.  He raised his hand and placed it directly onto the blood-covered page.  The result was a perfectly formed, bloody  handprint.  At that point, he handed the book to this strange man who eventually disappeared into the store

When we asked about the response the man gave him in exchange, Barker simply smiled and spoke in his wonderful Liverpool accent:  “I never saw such a shit-eating grin in me life!”

JAWS — Taking a Bite Out of History

Hard to believe that we’ve just celebrated the 35th anniversary of “Jaws”, one of my all-time favorite horror movies.  Yes, horror movie.  I don’t want to enter into the debate that “Jaws” was more of a suspense/adventure picture but, to me, it was full of classic horror ingredients:  spooky atmosphere, engaging characters and a villain who was dark and extraordinarily dangerous.

Robert Shaw becomes fish food -- painfully, no doubt

I can only compare it to my favorite horror film of all time “Psycho”.  So my question is why did both films succeed so well in scaring the bleeping pants off us?

Easy answer.  Both films deal with primal fear; In “Psycho”, the fear of a deranged killer arbitrarily knifing an unsuspecting victim.  In “Jaws”, the fear of being ripped to shreds and eaten alive by an undersea monster.  Moreover, both films share the element of water – an unconscious source of pleasure and comfort.  In “Psycho” we have the infamous shower scene and the horrific swamp behind the Bates Motel.  In “Jaws”, the vast ocean.

Both films created instant hysteria witnessed by long lines and the uttering of loud gasps from thousands of young audience members.  And both films brought in huge box office earnings.

 Looking back, I would suggest that “Jaws” worked because it was “Psycho” for the next generation.  In both pictures it wasn’t a matter of evil characters getting what they deserved – it was more being in the proverbial wrong place at the wrong time.

Even the music represents kindred spirits – all strings – alerting the audience that something truly awful was about to happen.

I’ll leave the comparison between Hitchcock and Spielberg to film historians.  Though their styles were distinctively different, both are equally effective in delivering true chills.  In “Psycho” the horror (by design) is mostly filled in by our imagination.  In “Jaws” we can credit faulty mechanics that results in Spielberg giving us only fleeting glimpses of the menacing shark.

So which picture has the most terrifying monster?  I’ll stick with Norman Bates.  Why?  It wasn’t his fault; his mother made him do it.

Both “Jaws” and “Psycho” deserve a well-earned place in the horror film hall of fame and we salute them both for their accomplishment in movie history.    Simply put, I love them both.