Over Halloween this year, I listened to an excellent audiobook version of The Exorcist read by the book’s author William Peter Blatty. I recommend it if you can find a copy. I’m from the UK and the home video version of The Exorcist was banned there for years. (According to Wikipedia it was withdrawn from sale in 1988 and not re-released until 1999.) I remember going to watch a midnight showing at my local cinema when they finally lifted the ban. I was in my early twenties and I can still recall the genuinely creepy atmosphere and sense of dread of the movie. And those brilliant practical effects. Yes, it scared me.
‘Actress and divorced mother Chris MacNeil starts to experience ‘difficulties’ with her usually sweet-natured eleven-year-old daughter Regan. The child becomes afflicted by spasms, convulsions and unsettling amnesiac episodes; these abruptly worsen into violent fits of appalling foul-mouthed curses, accompanied by physical mutation. Medical science is baffled by Regan’s plight and, in her increasing despair, Chris turns to troubled priest and psychiatrist Damien Karras.’
Published back in 1971, The Exorcist was a controversial book at its time of release and quickly became a bestseller. In interviews over the years, author William Peter Blatty has declared that he didn’t intend to make it so scary. He wanted to “write a novel that would not only excite and entertain, but would also make a positive statement about God, the human condition and the relationship between the two.”
This story is taken from a collection of Japanese fairy tales translated by Yei Theodora Ozaki and published in America in 1908. In the book’s introduction, Ozaki writes:
“These stories are not literal translations, and though the Japanese story and all quaint Japanese expressions have been faithfully preserved, they have been told more with the view to interest young readers of the West than the technical student of folk-lore.”
Here is the opening paragraph of the story:
Long, long ago there was a large plain called Adachigahara, in the province of Mutsu in Japan. This place was said to be haunted by a cannibal goblin who took the form of an old woman. From time to time many travelers disappeared and were never heard of more, and the old women round the charcoal braziers in the evenings, and the girls washing the household rice at the wells in the mornings, whispered dreadful stories of how the missing folk had been lured to the goblin’s cottage and devoured, for the goblin lived only on human flesh. No one dared to venture near the haunted spot after sunset, and all those who could, avoided it in the daytime, and travelers were warned of the dreaded place.
The Goblin of Adachigahara
Source: Ozaki, Y.T. (1908). Japanese Fairy Tales. New York: A.L.Burt Company.
‘So intent was Frank on solving the puzzle of Lemarchand’s box that he didn’t hear the great bell begin to ring. The device had been constructed by a master craftsman, and the riddle was this–that though he’d been told the box contained wonders, there simply seemed to be no way into it, no clue on any of its six black lacquered faces as to the whereabouts of the pressure points that would disengage one piece of this three-dimensional jigsaw from another.’
I watched the original Hellraiser movie (1987) back in the late 1980s. I thought it was such a unique idea for a horror movie and can still remember being freaked out by the Cenobites, especially the teeth-gnashing one. What are Cenobites? They are demonic beings that will “tear your soul apart” if you summon them. The hell priest who became known as “Pinhead” didn’t scare me, I just thought he was cool. What a fantastic character design!
Its voice, unlike that of its companion, was light and breathy—the voice of an excited girl. Every inch of its head had been tattooed with an intricate grid, and at every intersection of horizontal and vertical axes a jeweled pin driven through to the bone. Its tongue was similarly decorated. “Do you even know who we are?” it asked.”
After learning that writer/director Clive Barker based the film on his novella The Hellbound Heart, I saught it out. I didn’t know Barker was already a published writer when he made Hellraiser. I quickly went on to read his excellent Books of Blood stories and his 1987 dark fantasy novel Weaveworld. I recommend the Books of Blood but Weaveworld left me cold. There are some good ideas in the book, but I found it to be too meandering and it kind of lost me in its weaving narrative. As far as I remember, many of the stories in Books of Blood are very good examples of the genre; I must get around to re-reading them.
It’s that time of year again, the time for some Halloween Reads. Who can resist a dose or two of HORROR?
In the woods are six dead trees. The Killing Trees. That’s where they take them. Innocent travellers on the road in California. Seized and bound, stripped of their valuables and shackled to the Trees. To wait. In the woods. In the dark…
**Make sure you read the Restored & Uncut version**
There is a fascinating story behind this book. It was originally published in 1981 but the publishing company heavily and clumsily edited it. Author Richard Laymon agreed to the cuts because he was young, it was only his second novel, and he just wanted it to be released. However, when he read the edited version he was shocked to discover just how much had been cut and also rewritten by the editor. He believed his story had been ruined and now came across as fragmented and unsatisfying.
The good news is that Laymon’s original version of The Woods Are Dark was finally published in July 2008 after being reconstructed from the original manuscript by his daughter, Kelly. In a short introduction, she writes briefly about the process of piecing the original work back together. Sadly, Laymon was no longer alive to see his restored novel. He died of a heart attack in 2001.
“…that country where it is always turning late in the year. That country where the hills are fog and the rivers are mist; where noons go quickly, dusks and twilights linger, and mid-nights stay. That country composed in the main of cellars, sub-cellars, coal-bins, closets, attics, and pantries faced away from the sun. That country whose people are autumn people, thinking only autumn thoughts. Whose people passing at night on the empty walks sound like rain…”
A very fine collection of Ray Bradbury’s earliest short stories. Many of these stories first appeared in the author’s little-known 1947 short-story collection, Dark Carnival. Bradbury is said to have reworked the stories for this collection published by Ballantine Books eight years later. He also added four new stories. It is now considered to be a classic showcase of American Gothic rather than out and out horror. Every single story is worth reading. Just allow yourself to get lost in Bradbury’s wonderful prose and memorable characters.
The stand-outs for me are The Jar, Uncle Einar, Homecoming, The Lake, The Scythe, and The Emissary. But readers will find much to enjoy in all of the stories. The October Country is meant to be read in autumn; it also makes perfect Halloween reading.
“The house was built in unhappiness, has been lived in with unhappiness, there has been blood spilt on its floors, there has been disappearance and accident.”
-JERUSALEM’S LOT by Stephen King
I’ve written about Stephen King before on this blog. In my review of IT back in May 2020, I complained about King’s penchant for ‘overlong’ writing in some of his doorstoppers. I have always thought one of the pieces of advice in his excellent memoir On Writing was ironic. In it, King refers to the classic American writing guide, The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr., and highlights the guideline to “omit needless words.” Of course, it’s all subjective but just imagine if King had applied it more forcibly to his own writing. How about omitting needless pages and pages of backstory, Stephen? No? Well, who am I to argue with one of THE bestselling authors of the last 50 years.
I realize that I’m waffling a bit myself, but I just wanted to say how much I’ve come to prefer King’s shorter works. Which leads us to Night Shift, King’s first collection of short stories.
‘Night Shift: Excursions into Horror is the fifth book published by Stephen King, and his first collection of short stories. The book was released by Doubleday in February of 1978. Night Shift received the Balrog Award for Best Collection, and in 1979 it was nominated as best collection for the Locus Award and the World Fantasy Award. Many of King’s most famous short stories were included in the collection.’
I’m currently working on a longer review of Stephen King’s Night Shift, but I wanted to post a review of a horror story today, Halloween 2020. So here is a brief review of King’s A Good Marriage. It was published in 2010 as part of the novella collection: Full Dark, No Stars. The story was adapted for the big screen in 2014.
What happens when, on a perfectly ordinary evening, all the things you believed in and took for granted are turned upside down?
When her husband of more than 20 years is away on one of his business trips, Darcy Anderson looks for batteries in the garage. Her toe knocks up against a box under a worktable and she discovers the stranger inside her husband.
How well do you really know someone? Could a close member of your family be hiding an incredible secret? In “A Good Marriage”, Stephen King explores these ideas with the skill of a truly gifted writer.
My horror-themed month continues with one of the best John Constantine, Hellblazer stories: Dangerous Habits. For this, we have to go back in time to 1991 when Garth Ennis became the regular writer of DC Comics’ horror title Hellblazer. This was in the days before the Vertigo imprint existed. (Alas, it is no more!) Hellblazer was “suggested for mature readers,” and was one of a group of “mature” titles being published at that time. These included Swamp Thing, Sandman, Animal Man, Doom Patrol, and Shade the Changing Man.
John Constantine has faced all manner of ghosts, demons, and even serial killers before. But this time it’s serious! Years of smoking 30 cigarettes a day has left John with terminal lung cancer. That’s right, he’s going to die, and there aren’t any magic spells he knows to make it go away. In fact, he’s even contemplating giving up and ending it all. Who would’ve thought it? “Conjob” Constantine not even trying to talk or trick his way out of something? Unbelievable! But hang on a minute. Perhaps there are a couple of possibilities still open to him. Now you think about it, if anyone can actually pull this off, it has to be John Constantine, right?
“Gray Matter” first appeared in the magazine Cavalier in October 1973. It’s taken from Stephen King’s first collection, Night Shift (1978), which contains twenty of his earliest short stories. These stories were originally published between 1970 and 1977. This collection includes Children of the Corn, Quitters Inc., The Lawnmower Man, Trucks, The Ledge, Jerusalem’s Lot, and more.
My Summary & Thoughtson “Gray Matter”
A young boy runs into a 24-hour convenience store during a heavy snowstorm. He looks terrified and asks the owner, Henry, to sell him a case of beer for his father. Henry and the two locals in the store know the boy well. He is Richie Grenadine’s son Timmy, and his father often sends him to buy his beer, making sure it’s the cheapest beer in the store. Richie used to come and buy it himself until fairly recently.
It has finally cooled down over here in Yonago, Japan, after a late and hot end to the summer. The leaves are starting to fall and we can feel autumn in the air. This time of the year is one of my favourite times for reading and I like to bring in a Halloween theme to my selections for October.
I don’t read as much horror as I used to. As I get older, I find that I enjoy weird fiction more than the gore-soaked horror of my teenage years. So, what exactly is weird fiction? Instead of consulting wikipedia, here is a brief definition from Penguin Random House:
“It’s a literary style that can blend speculative fiction with elements of horror, fantasy, magical realism, Lovecraftian Cosmicism, and others to create a genre that is surreal and deeply unnerving.”