Archive for Halloween

The Pumpkin King with His Skeleton Grin

My children, tomorrow is the best day of the year, and I still have time to review another horror tale. Let’s look at one of the best Halloween stories out there, Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge.

Well, here we are — it’s Halloween night, 1963, in the little podunk Midwestern town you call home, and it’s time for the biggest event of the year. But it’s not trick-or-treating. It’s not the Halloween parade. It’s the time when the October Boy, Sawtooth Jack himself, that pumpkin-headed, candy-stuffed, butcher knife-wielding scarecrow, hauls himself out of the cornfield and makes his way toward town. And if he makes it to the church before midnight, there’s going to be big trouble.

Luckily, every teenaged boy in town is in the way, armed with clubs and machetes and kitchen knives and pump handles and more. Why just the kids? Because the only way anyone gets to leave this little podunk Midwestern town you call home is to kill the October Boy before midnight. Seriously. The lucky kid gets permission to go live his life outside of this little hellhole, and the rest of you are stuck here forever. So get after it, kid. You don’t wanna be on the wrong end of the knife when you’re staring down Sawtooth Jack’s crooked grin.

Much of our story focuses on 16-year-old Pete McCormick, on his first year going after the October Boy. He’s a smart kid, smarter than most — he knows he can’t rely on brute strength and bravado to take down a nightmare with a pumpkin’s face — but like almost every other kid in town, he’s stuffed full of resentment and anger. He’s been stuck in this town his whole life, watching his drunkard father get beat down and knowing that’s the best he has to look forward to — unless he can make his escape.

But the October Boy isn’t the only obstacle Pete has to contend with. There’s every other teenaged boy in town, many of them stronger and more violent than he is. There’s Jerry Ricks, the brutal, thuggish cop who’s run the town as long as anyone can remember. And there’s Kelly Haines, the only girl participating in the competition, the person who knows all the secret scandals Pete hasn’t learned about yet.

Will Pete get his free trip out of town? Or will the October Boy drag the town to Hell with him?

Verdict: Thumbs up. This is a thoroughly fun book, though I hesitate to classify it as straight horror. Yeah, it’s got a pumpkin-headed scarecrow, multiple murders, a conspiracy stretching back generations, and evil both supernatural and mundane, but it feels more like a hardboiled crime novel than anything else.

A lot of Norman Patridge’s writing is in detective fiction, and his writing style in this book is picture-perfect crime noir. Almost everyone in the book is at least a little bit sleazy — the first thing the hero does on Halloween night is break into a cop’s house to steal his gun, after all. And the book is stuffed to the gills with performative machismo. I don’t even consider that a bad thing! Desperate, violent men doing desperate, violent things to other desperate, violent men is one of the best ways to write hardboiled crime fiction. And yes, Kelly Haines, essentially the only female character in the book, does manage to clock her share of dudes upside the head with a brakeman’s club, but as much fun as she is, as much as she moves the story along, she won’t be mistaken for the main character.

And the main character, by the way? It’s actually a pumpkin. Because we do spend about half the story’s length inside the October Boy’s blazing brain as he’s constructed in a cornfield, his wooden chest cavity stuffed full of candy, as he plots his way through the night, as he remembers his past, as he decides what kind of creature he’s going to be. It’s his desire for revenge that drives the story forward, it’s his decisions and planning that change the town’s fate, and it’s his ability to show mercy that brings the tale to its proper conclusion.

“Dark Harvest” was nominated for a World Fantasy Award and an International Horror Guild Award in 2007, and it won the Bram Stoker Award for Best Long Fiction in 2006. Publishers Weekly picked it as one of their 100 Best Books of 2006. So it’s not just my opinion, y’all — it’s a great Halloween story, and you should go look for it, read it, and remember what it’s like to run the streets of your hometown with a baseball bat, looking for your showdown with the October Boy.

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Treats and Tricks

I wasn’t expecting this book to come out ’til mid-October, but it showed up early! So after a fast read-through, here’s our Halloween season review of Halloween Season by Lucy A. Snyder

Snyder loves Halloween, and it’s surprising to think it took this long to get a specifically Halloween-themed collection of short stories put together. Some of them have only slight connections to the Best Holiday of the Year — in other words, they may just be set near Halloween — and a couple are really Christmas stories, but still, there’s a nice big honkin’ dose of Halloween goodness here for anyone who loves October 31.

So what kind of stories do we have here?

  • Beggars’ Night – Probably the best Halloween poem in existence.
  • Hazelnuts and Yummy Mummies – An accidental taste of drugged cookies sends a woman on a trip to the Halloweens of her past.
  • Cosmic Cola – A Halloween-loving teenager moves to a new town with dark secrets and must escape from dangers she can’t even imagine.
  • What Dwells Within – Chaos spellcaster Jessie Shimmer and her familiar Pal, stars of Snyder’s “Spellbent” series, track down a kidnap victim with a supernatural twist.
  • In the Family – When food allergies make life impossible, you must turn to your family for support.
  • Wake Up Naked Monkey You’re Going to Die – The final fight in the War on Christmas Monsters is not going well…
  • The Tingling Madness – Facing danger from cultists with their own public-access TV channels? Buckaroos and Ladybucks can change the channel to the only Chuck Tingle network, the Tingler!

Verdict: Thumbs up. Y’all know I’ve been a longtime fan of Snyder’s brand of twisted, knife-edge horror, and she brings her A-game here, particularly with tales like “Visions of the Dream Witch,” “In the Family,” and “The Kind Detective.” She has the ability to get her stories under your skin, to take familiar tales in directions you didn’t expect, and to surprise you with insights you never expected.

She also shows some excellent skills for YA fiction — “Cosmic Cola” has some very strong horror vibes, but its young protagonist is wonderfully appealing and fun — plus there are some possible connections to other upcoming YA Snyder fiction, too.

And Halloween is a fun holiday, too, not just a day for blood and guts, and this collection probably has more light-hearted tales than have been in a single collection by Snyder since her earlier days. Almost every other story has some strong humor elements, and about half could be classified as punch-your-mouth funny. So yes, it’s more than possible to get your laughs and your scares at the same time — just like any good Halloween.

And also, we’ve gotta put our hands together for that beautiful cover art by Lynne Hansen! It sets the mood wonderfully, and much like whoever’s about to open that bright orange door, it’s eager to invite you inside…

So yes, kids, go pick it up! Get it before Halloween if you can, but it’s the kind of book that lets you enjoy spooky season all year ’round.

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Friday Night Fights: Superna-Chair-Al!

Ladies and gentlemen, boils and ghouls, monsters and mischief makers, it’s the best night of the year, and we’re only going to make it more glorious with… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

Tonight’s battle comes to us from July 1942’s Feature Comics #58 by Noel Fowler and other unknown creators. Our hero is Zero, Ghost Detective, and he’s trying to stop a ghost from killing a girl at the local college.




But the ghost has figured out that, despite Betty’s sorority sisters running her off from her prey, Zero is actually the guy standing in the way of her spectral reign of terror.


So she decides to use her impossibly eerie powers — abilities possessed only by the unquiet spirits of the grave — to put an end to Zero’s meddling.


Everyone have a safe, fun, and spooky Halloween!

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Halloween Horrors and Hijinks

It’s my favorite day of the year.

Most years, I take today off work so I’ll be able to maximize my time watching horror movies, reading horror stories, or even just walking around town and enjoying the simple, glorious fact that, no matter how commercialized and neutralized it may seem to be, it’s still Halloween, and Halloween is still the best day of the year.

Unfortunately, taking my usual day off is not an option this year. But I still intend to listen to a lot of horror-themed music while I work. That’ll help a lot, I guarantee.

Anyway. You guys in the mood for some Halloween comic book covers? Heck yeah, Halloween comic book covers.














There we go, my children. Go forth into this wonderful Halloween — and make sure you’re back here this evening for a Halloween edition of Friday Night Fights!

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The Best Day of the Year!

It’s finally Halloween! Break out the costumes, dim the lights, fire up the horror movies. It’s the best day of the year.

You ever noticed that everyone seems to think that old movies and old stories aren’t scary, or at least aren’t as scary as more recent movies and stories? It’s not true, of course, as anyone who’s watched old movies or read old books can tell you.

But what really seems odd is the fact that, though everyone thinks old movies aren’t scary, everyone agrees that old costumes are the scariest.









Well, okay, they’re not all old pictures. And come to think of it, they’re not all costumes either…

A very merry, very scary Halloween to everyone!

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Damn Everything but the Circus


Hellboy: The Midnight Circus

If it’s Halloween, it must be time for a new Hellboy graphic novel. This one is written, as always, by Mike Mignola, with illustrations by Duncan Fegredo and lovely coloring by Dave Stewart.

Our story is set in 1948, when Hellboy was just a little kid. He’s stuck in the BPRD’s headquarters all the time, and everyone treats him like a baby — and he’s decided he wants to get out, for just one night, and do his own thing.

And then Hellboy runs across a circus — A.T. Roth‘s Circus Spectacular! “From the clock strikes midnight — to the fearful crack of dawn!” A whole big circus, operating only at night, with almost no publicity, out in the middle of nowhere. Sounds wholesome, doesn’t it?

It’s pretty obvious that this isn’t a normal circus, as the clown who starts the festivities does so by causing the demonic performers to appear out of thin air in the middle of the big top. He’s enticed by a sultry succubus, but rescued by the ringmaster. Hellboy tells the ringmaster about reading the story of Pinocchio — the artificial boy who wants to be real, turns into a donkey, and is then restored when he’s eaten by a fish.

While Professor Bruttenholm and the rest of the BPRD look for him, Hellboy is shown nightmarish visions by the ringmaster. He flees the circus, pursued by demonic animals — and then gets cornered by evil spectral hobos. Can Hellboy survive the night? Will the forces of Hell turn him to their side?

Verdict: Thumbs up. A great multi-layered story by Mignola. The bit about Pinocchio seems like a throw-off bit, but the theme keeps reappearing in ways both obvious and subtle that make great sense for the story.

And Fegredo’s art is just absolutely monumental. The center ring of the circus, with the flame and lightning and demonic elephants, is stunningly beautiful. The undersea voyage, the hobo camp, the attack of the animals — all simply gorgeous. You’ll want to read this over and over just so you can glory in the artwork.

And it’s Kid Hellboy. In a circus of fear.

That’s what Halloween is all about.

Go bug your local comic shop ’til they order you a copy. You won’t regret it, children.

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Happy Halloween!

Ladies and gentlemen, boils and ghouls, it’s the best day of the year.

Everyone have an outstanding, thrilling, spooky, horrifying, treat-filled Halloween.

Tomorrow, I guess we’ll start the countdown to the next Halloween…

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Tricks, Treats, and Scares

Trick ‘r Treat

Just a day left ’til the best day of the year, so let’s get one more review done — namely for this, the best horror movie about Halloween ever made.

“Trick ‘r Treat” is a movie that many of you have never seen and many have never even heard of. Thank the studio for that — it was finished and in the can, but got held back for two whole years ’til it was finally released direct-to-DVD. What can you say — sometimes, the studios are dumber’n stumps.

The film was written and directed by Michael Dougherty and produced by Bryan Singer. The stars included Anna Paquin, Brian Cox, Dylan Baker, and scads of others.

So what’ve we got here? It’s a good old-fashioned horror anthology — four different stories, all taking place in the same town on the same Halloween night. All of the stories are based around various important Halloween traditions — don’t blow out a jack-o-lantern before midnight, wear a costume, give candy to trick-or-treaters, and check your candy before you eat it — and about the dangers that can befall you if you break those traditions.

We get stories about a young couple — one a Halloween fan, the other a Halloween hater. We get a school principal who has some unusual holiday traditions to share with students. We get a bunch of kids playing a prank on an awkward friend and what they learn about the urban legend of the Halloween School Bus Massacre. We get a young woman hoping to lose her virginity on Halloween. We get the cantankerous old man who hates Halloween and how he deals with a persistent trick-or-treater. And wrapped in and around these stories is one recurring character — Sam, a little kid wearing a tacky orange clown suit and an ugly, ominous burlap sack over his head.

Verdict: Thumbs up. This isn’t the scariest movie in the world — in fact, it’s really fairly tame, as horror movies go. Not to say it doesn’t have its share of scary moments — but this movie doesn’t aspire to be “The Exorcist.” This one is basically a nice little love letter to Halloween.

It’s probably more accurate to call this a horror-comedy, as it has a lot of funny or at least morbidly funny moments. Probably the funniest episode is the one focusing on the principal, though that one has some really outstanding tension. All the rest have some great humor in them, just enough to give you a short break from the scares. Probably the most purely terrifying episode is the one featuring the Halloween School Bus Massacre, which mostly sets the humor aside in favor of giving you nightmares.

And the setting and mood help make this one a winner, too. This is set in a small Ohio town that manages to have the best dang Halloween celebrations I’ve ever seen, complete with huge, anarchic street festivals, costumed marching bands, people who decorate their yards with scarecrows and hordes of jack-o-lanterns, and more kids out trick-or-treating than I’ve seen in at least a decade. This is what I wish every Halloween could be like (minus the supernatural murders, of course), and watching it really hits you in the nostalgia-bone.

It’s a fantastic movie. Rent it, stream it, buy it, whatever you gotta do.

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House of Hellboy

Hellboy: House of the Living Dead

This came out last year, and somehow I missed it entirely ’til just a couple months ago. It’s yet another installment in the always-enjoyable collaborations between writer and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola and horror-art legend Richard Corben. Even better, it’s a direct sequel to their glorious “Hellboy in Mexico” one-shot from a couple of years back.

Let’s look at some of the backstory here: in the 1950s, Hellboy spent time in Mexico, drinking and fighting vampires with three brothers who were luchadores — masked Mexican wrestlers. But one of the brothers was turned into a vampire, and Hellboy was forced to destroy him in a wrestling bout in an ancient Aztec temple surrounded by zombies — and the guilt sent him into the bottle for several years. This is a story from that era of Hellboy’s history.

So Hellboy is now supporting himself and his drinking habit by wrestling as a luchadore himself. He’s visited by a man who offers him the chance to wrestle his employer’s champion — and if Hellboy refuses, he’ll kill an innocent girl. And Hellboy soon finds himself dealing with a genuine mad scientist, his genuine crazed hunchbacked assistant, and a genuine Frankenstein monster — who Hellboy must defeat to save the girl. And even if he can stop the monster — which isn’t guaranteed — he’ll also have to deal with a werewolf, vampires, and demons before the night is through.

Verdict: Thumbs up. An excellent story, action-packed, funny, melancholy, and crammed to the gills with everything you’d want in a Halloween comic. Mignola claims to have never watched any of the classic Mexican luchadore-vs.-monster movies, but what he’s created here is at least as good — you’ve got spooky stuff from all the monsters and ghosts, but you’ve also got a massive dose of atmosphere by setting it back in 1950s Mexico — earthy, poverty-stricken, traditional, and largely focused on luchadores.

Corben’s art is, as always, phenomenal — beautiful as the innocent Sonia, depraved as the mad Tupo, gruesome as the stitched-together brute, menacing as the revitalized vampire and his brides — he even manages pure simple blandness in the dimly obedient Raul. It’s at turns gorgeous and brutal, and you couldn’t look away if you wanted to.

It’s a grand comic, perfect for Halloween or any time you need awesome monsters and luchadores to get through your day. It’s definitely worth picking up — go bug your local shop for it.

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Friday Night Fights: Eye Scream!

Well, we got ourselves a situation here. It’s the last Friday before Halloween — the best holiday of the year! — and I always prefer to feature something appropriately spooky for Friday Night Fights at this time of year. But holy circus peanuts, Halloween is still five days away! Is it going to be possible to pull up a battle so epic and terrifying that its effects will still be felt that far away? I don’t know, but I owe it to everyone to try — not just for my sake, not just for yours, but for… FRIDAY NIGHT FIGHTS!

So today’s battle comes to us from the horror manga series Uzumaki, Volume 1, released in October 1998, by creator Junji Ito. As I mentioned when I reviewed it a couple of years ago, this series focuses on a small town cursed by ominous, ever-present spirals that inevitably bring doom, death, mutations, terror, and madness. So we come to “The Scar,” the third chapter of the first volume, where we meet a girl named Azami Kurotani, who has a small crescent-shaped scar on her forehead.

But soon, the scar grows, curves around, and becomes… a spiral.

And things get worse from there.

Yeah, Azami, that’s one heck of a scar there. You’ll have to get plastic surgery to correct that so —

Ooh. That’s… not at all good, is it?

And as you might expect at this point… Things get worse.

Wait for it…

Wait for it…

**twitch**  **twitch**

**faints dead away**

Well, that’s all thoroughly horrifying, but where’s the bit where people are doing violence to each other? That comes a bit later that night…

There you go — that’s at least a week’s worth of horror and screaming and holy-flippin’-flapjacks-did-I-really-see-that to tide you over from now ’til Halloween.

Now head over to Spacebooger’s place and vote for your favorite battle. I’m sure you can spiral in on the right choice…

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