Ghost Town Writer’s Retreat

[ photo: Gwen Clayton ]

Think I’m gonna have to make this an annual thing. Great time this long weekend, starting with me getting to my first panel late:

It was “Haunts & Nachos,” but really it was Travis Heerman and me just answering any and all horror questions we could for an hour, whilst it rained and stormed outside—this is Colorado in July/August; that’s the way all the days are, pretty much. But it cleared up enough for burgers and exploring Georgetown. Of which I have the usual zero pics—I’ve never once thought, “Man, I should take a picture of this”—but I can steal this video, from Jeffrey Reddick:

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Past Couple of Weeks

have been full of events. Feels like I haven’t been wheels-down since Denver Comic Con, about. Had three deadline stories to jam down along the way, and trying to finish a novel besides. But, of course: wouldn’t have it any other way.

Anyway, at Tattered Cover Lodo . . . last week, I think it was, I got to talk to Andy Davidson about his excellent Texas/serial killer/vampire novel In the Valley of the Sun:

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Lake Access Only

Which is a slasher I wrote  . . . two years ago? I’d just reread The Virgin Suicides, and thought, Man, that was cool, sure—along with American Psycho, maybe the book of the nineties—but, wouldn’t it be cooler if that royal first-person delivery could be used to deliver something with a lot of people dying in gruesome ways? So: Lake Access Only. Which turned out cool. At least, I verymuch dig it. Yet to sub it anywhere, though, as it’s a weird one. Also? I may dig into it this summer, see if I can make it work as a screenplay instead. Which’ll require just completely ripping its innards out, and putting completely different innards in. But that’s how adapting goes. Anyway, LAO, its kind of central . . . I want to say ‘secret,’ but it’s more of a reveal, which of course the slasher is special-made to deliver right at the end. That reveal in LAO, I just found it on the shelf at Goodwill. Which is to say, had I found this sunglasses case before writing LAO, I probably wouldn’t have written it, as it was already in the world, and things that are already in the world aren’t really worth writing about.

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Slasher TV

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And lo it came to pass, that the slasher did migrate to the small screen. Well, what we used to call the small screen. But the home viewing experience isn’t what it was in 1988. Nowadays, the image-quality and sound are practically theater, right? But that’s not the reason for the move, I don’t think. My first suspicion as to why the slasher would find a home in our living rooms, it’s that everybody keeps saying we’re in a golden age of television. So, the slasher, needing eyes as it does, goes to where those eyes already are. Except that’s too easy an explanation. Could it be that the networks and their prudishness aren’t controlling the game anymore? The Walking Dead has made gore a family-friendly experience, and Hannibal’s seeded some real darkness all through the nightly schedule, to say nothing of all the Dexters out there on the harder cable. But I don’t quite accept that as the prime reason the slasher’s gone tv. Relaxed standards might be a part of it, but not the main part. What I really think it might be, it’s just that the nature of the slasher has always been ready-made for television adaptation—for serial viewing. The beats of the slasher are pretty much “body/body/body/body/body . . . reveal-then-twist,” right? With a lot of suspense sequences stringing it all together. Lots of stalking, lots of slasher-cam, lots of red herrings, and maybe an ill-advised party or three, to get everyone in the same room, mix things up all over again. The slasher’s a lot like an episode of Columbo, just, with an axe and a higher bodycount.

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Some Kind of Hate

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This is the best horror I’ve seen since—since Deathgasm, I guess. But Deathgasm was playing it for laughs. This one, it’s out for blood. And there’s gallons of it. What I dig about it the most? It’s not the Holes setting, it’s not that the main guy could be the fire-kid from Sky High (really, he’s Michael Pare in his Eddie and the Cruisers days), and it’s not that this feels like “Danny Zuko” goes to reform school, and Sandy’s already there,” though any of those would be more than enough reason for me to be falling over myself to say good things about this movie. No, what works the best, I think, it’s that Some Kind of Hate manages to take the same social commentary/hot topic issue as Unfriended did (bullying), but then build it right onto the backbone of the first Friday the 13th. Seriously. Watch this movie, tell me it’s not an update on ‘counselors getting their just desserts.’ And, like that wouldn’t be enough, then Some Kind of Hate has the nerve to come up with the flat-out coolest mechanism for killing I’ve seen since—maybe since Freddy? This is ghost-fingers crawling out of Sarah Michelle Gellar’s head-cool. Really, halfway through this one I had to stop, check who wrote it, because everything about it feels Jeffrey Reddick. Remember that bathroom-kill in Tamara, at the party? That’s the closest I can come to explaining Some Kind of Hate. I couldn’t have been more impressed. By far—and I think I’ve seen most of the big and small horror so far (save The Boy)—this is my favorite horror of the year. It’s my Starry Eyes for 2016. And, coming on the heels of the last surprise slasher, It Follows, man, I don’t know: after Cabin in the Woods, we were all wondering how can the slasher still show it face, right? (to be clear, for me, there’s Scream, then there’s Cabin) But then here came You’re Next, and It Follows, and Cub. And now here we are at Some Kind of Hate. It’s got that All the Boys Love Mandy Lane throwback feel somehow, that cues up instant nostalgia, but it’s completely new at the same time. I can’t think of any way it could have been better. It’s so well-written, and well-shot, and well-acted—everything is clicking here. This is one I’ll be watching again and again. I hope all the other slasher fans out there do as well, as we need to support quality stuff, if we want more of it to keep happening. Check the trailer, then get to streaming:

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The Final Girls

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It’s a good time to be a slasher. Nearly twenty years ago, Scream revitalized the genre, kicked off a series of clones and also-rans—some of them quite excellent—that finally landed us at Leslie Vernon, at Tucker and Dale, at Cabin in the Woods, at You’re Next and It Follows, even accomplishing the unheard-of feat of crossing over into television land: Harper’s Island was the first, but now we’ve got Scream and Scream Queens.

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The Slasher in the Machine

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The analogue to ‘found footage’ in fiction would be the shoebox novel: somebody drags a box out from under the bed, there’s all these clippings, let’s lay them out one after the other and thread a narrative through them. Which is to say, as Man Bites Dog and The Blair Witch Project and the rest established in no uncertain terms, these stories are artifacts. But when Chronicle uses what would seem to be that technique—for long sequences, we’re only looking through a (telekinetically levitating) videocamera—it’s a lot less about “Hey, look, I found this old videotape, let’s plug it in, see what’s on it” and more about our point-of-view being locked in that camera (which no way can survive the crazy events), as a way not so much to document the moment as to limit our frame, ratchet the tension even higher.

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The Town that Dreaded Sundown

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Is a serial- or spree-killer who wears a mask and kills ‘misbehaving’ teens a slasher? If not, then what of Ghostface and fifty other killers, right? But, the slashers we know and love, they usually have a signature weapon, don’t they? Michael’s got his knife, Jason’s got his machete, Leatherface rips that chainsaw to life every chance he gets. But there’s weapons of opportunity, too. Jason’s hardly above getting the job done with a speargun, and Freddy, while he actually wears his signature weapon, as often as not his victims die in ‘dreamy’ ways (barbells, television set, etc). Which is to say, this killer in the new The Town that Dreaded Sundown, he doesn’t limit himself just to that boring old knife. No, this guy, he even goes so far as to break Batman’s cardinal rule: guns. Which his why I’m asking about serial killers vs. slashers, trying to tease apart which is what: shooting lovers parked in their cars out in the woods is a bad story we know from headlines, right? And aren’t slashers a lot more made-up?

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