Van Pelt’s Halloween Problem

Oh rats, it’s Halloween again.

I fucking hate Halloween. When I was a kid all I got was rocks in my Trick-or-Treating bag. Did any of my “friends” share their candy? Hell no. In high school and college I went from rocks in my sack to being the designated driver whose car was the designated vomitorium. Every November I’d freeze my ass off because I’d have to drive with all of the windows rolled down. These days at least I have the luxury of sitting in my dark house binge-watching Breaking Bad until Peppermint gets home from her shift at the hospital.

I don’t give out candy, fuck that.

I’ve thought about getting another dog, a Rottweiler this time, to chase off the few little bastards who stray up to my door. Apparently this is against the law.


I hate Halloween because this Van Pelt is on me to join him in the pumpkin patch – again. Not the old one from our childhood, that land is now home to a mall with a half-way decent Chili’s. No, this new patch is somewhere way the fuck out in banjo-playing, toothless redneck country. Like an hour drive. I really don’t want to go, it’s only going to be colder, and more boring. The problem is that Van Pelt doesn’t have any friends outside of the clinic where he gets his meds and sees his counselor.

He’d lost his shit after my sister got tired of playing easy-to-get and started banging guys on the football team. After she married that investment banker he drove his car out to one of those old covered bridges one Halloween night and set it on fire. The Sheriff found him naked with orange paint all over his body with a red chem-light sticking out of his ass screaming that he’d been forsaken by the Great Pumpkin. After ten years at the state hospital he was deemed manageable enough to return home where he lives in a small apartment next to the railyard. His sister doesn’t want him anywhere near her five kids (pulling out at the last second is hilarious when trying to kick a field goal, but it is lousy birth-control). He lives on disability and makes extra money stuffing envelopes for the city and county three days a week.

So here I am driving way the fuck out into the hills to humor the guy.

I pull off the main road onto a narrow country lane where the trees on each side form a tunnel. I have to give it to Van Pelt on this one, if the Great Pumpkin doesn’t show up it’s the kind of place where the Headless Horseman will. I drive another three miles until I come to an abandoned farmhouse. Van Pelt is just standing there in the dark with a fucking creepy grin as my headlights wash over him. I stop the car, grab my coat, and get out.

I pull on my coat as I walk up to him, and tell him I’m sorry I’m late.

“Oh no, you’re right on time,” he says.

Something’s off about him but I don’t figure it out until we’re walking among the pumpkins. He doesn’t have his blanket. The guy always carries his fucking blanket everywhere. I ask him about it.

“The Great Pumpkin told me I don’t need it anymore.”

Oh he did, did he? I say, and keep walking, but start to think I’ve made a mistake coming here.

I want to ask him if he’s taken his meds but decide not to. The pumpkin patch is narrow but long. The full moon glides over the ridge-line just enough to light our way. We’re headed to a scarecrow in the middle if the field.

Van Pelt dashes off ahead of me running to the scarecrow.

He pulls out a lighter and a ring of fire erupts around the effigy.

I’m thinking I should go, but someone should be here when the Sheriff’s show up so they don’t shoot him. Van Pelt is now stripping off his clothes again, and I really should just get the fuck out of here, but when have I ever made the smart choice? Certainly not now. I get closer and I feel the heat. He’s dancing around full-on balls-out naked chanting in what sounds like Latin. I stop about twenty feet away. I’m not getting any closer, people will talk.

I look at the scarecrow and piss my pants.

It’s Marcie, or what’s left of her. She’s been disemboweled and crucified complete with her wrists and feet nailed into the wood. I try to yell but I puke instead.

Van Pelt laughs and says, “Figured it out, I had it all wrong.”

I ask him what the hell he means.

“It wasn’t enough to believe in the Great Pumpkin, I needed to show my devotion with a sacrifice.”

I ask why he killed Marcy.

“She was your sister’s best friend. You’re sister lives on the coast, so she was the next best thing.”

I tell him he’s fucking crazy, that he’s always been fucking crazy.

“Perhaps this was once true, but right now I have never felt better.”

I ask him how spending the rest of his life in a psyche ward is better, that is if the D.A. doesn’t nail him on First Degree Murder, and he ends up with a needle in his arm.

“Everything has changed tonight. The police will never know what happened here, and when the world finds out it will be too late. The Great Pumpkin has arrived to rule mankind.”

I ask him why the fuck I’m here.

“The Great Pumpkin needs to feed.”

I tell him there is no fucking Great Pumpkin.

He grins and points  over my head, “Look behind you.”



T-4 Two


Max had fallen asleep while resting his eyes. Tom didn’t mind too much, he understood how looking through a spotter’s scope wore a guy out. From their concealed perch up in the clock tower he could see above the forest all the way to the Polish border fifty miles away. The leaves were changing color under the October afternoon sky but the cold wasn’t enough to defeat his thermals and his sage colored fleece jacket. His right cheek was red from the butt of his SR-25 sniper rifle. He couldn’t grow a beard thick enough ease the friction from lying in place for hours at a time. They had been in position for 32 hours.

Laughing voices echoed from somewhere in the building. Max and Tom were in the administration building of the Dornier Sanitarium. The place had been abandoned since 1981 when the Soviets abruptly boarded up every window and bricked up the entrances to all of the doors. Tom listened holding his breath, and counted the number of voices he was hearing, he estimated that there were between six and eight children were playing a game somewhere below in one of the larger rooms, perhaps the dining hall. They began to sing a German nursery rhyme. This woke Max.

“Christ, can’t a guy get some shut eye around here?” he said, and looked at Tom and saw the concern on his face. “Are they getting to you?”

“It just bugs me, that’s all,” Tom said, lowering his head to look through the 16X Leopold scope on his rifle.

“Because they’re kids?”

“Yeah, it’s not fair. You know, being stuck here, it’s a fucking raw deal.” Dornier Sanitarium had been built in 1915 to house mentally ill children, mostly the mentally retarded, and severely autistic. The German government had used the place for research and performed experiments on the kids in hopes of finding cures. The ones that didn’t die on the table were left off in worse shape. In 1939, Hitler signed Action T-4, a plan to euthanize the mentally ill because, as he put it, they were “life not worthy of life”. The children were first to die,

“They sound like they’re having fun to me. I mean this huge building is theirs now,” Max said, getting to his knees and waiting for the blood to flow to his head before he got up.

“You telling me this is better than Heaven?” Tom said. He still peered through his scope.

“Never been there, dude, but I doubt it.” Max stood and went down one level to piss in the far corner. The machinery of the old clock had been removed in 1941 to be melted down and reused for the war. A few of the bricked up doors had been broken open by vandals and copper thieves over the years, but Max and Tom had found that the buildings were largely undisturbed. Whoever had broken in didn’t stay long. In 1941 the place was briefly used as a convalescent hospital for soldiers recovering from wounds from the Russian campaign. The Nazis abandoned it again in mid-1942 when they realized none of the wounded ever got better. Dornier had a 100% death rate. Max hadn’t bothered to tell Tom this fact. Navajos could be twitchy about cursed places.

Returning to the top platform he laid back down on his dark green foam mat.

“Wanna take a break?” he said.

“I’m good,” Tom said. He jumped when he heard the first door slam. A few seconds another door slammed hard enough that it made dust snow from the rafters over their heads. Soon is seemed every door in the building was slamming. Tom pointed to the building across the quad. “They’re doing it over there too.”

“Yeah, I hear that, weird,” Max said.

“So what the fuck is going on? Should we haul ass?”

“I don’t feel threatened, do you?”

Tom inhaled while he thought that over, and said, “No, I feel fear, but it’s not directed at us.”

“Same here, stay frosty,” Max said. He was comfortable with ghosts, and that’s why Tom had requested that he come along on this mission. He knew that if Max started to freak out then it was time to go. His friend’s calm helped him keep it together.

“Shit, someone’s at the gate, show time,” Tom said. Max popped the lens covers from his Steiner binoculars and looked to the left toward the tree-line where the fifteen foot-tall iron fences parted for the facility’s sole gate. An expensive black Mercedes sedan was pulling though and stopped. A man wearing a weathered white Fedora, and a blue and white plaid sport coat got out to lock the gate behind him.

“Why the fuck is he doing that?” Max said.

“One of three reasons, Bro, he’s careful, or the people following him have their own key, or the person he’s meeting is already here and we missed them on our recon.”

“Fuck. Do you think?” Max said. Dornier consisted of 9 three-story buildings covering twelve acres. They had arrived the night before scaling the fence from the forest in the rear of the sanitarium, and using their night vision goggles they searched all of the buildings finding nothing. The German government had intel that a man named Erman Klopf was using the place to make chemical and biological weapons to sell to Islamic extremists in the middle east. The Germans were afraid of blow-back should the WMDs be traced back to them, and they called the British government, who in turn called Washington D.C. The CIA was stretched too thin by the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and east Africa to send anyone. Killing a German on German soil would have repercussions that none of the governments wanted to deal with if things went wrong, so they contracted out and called Drummel, who called Tom.

The Mercedes traveled the 300 yards from the gate and parked in front of the building directly across from the clock tower. The man got out of the car. Max recognized him immediately from the black eye-patch under his wide-rimmed glasses.

“Holy shit,” Max said in a whisper that made Tom turn away from his scope.

“What?” Tom said.

“Wait one.” The man walked from his car to the large mahogany doors that had not been bricked up like the rest, and used a key to open them. When the door was closed Max put his binoculars down. “That’s Heinrich-fucking-Steitz, he was the number two asshole in the T-4 program.”

“Wait, what? They didn’t hang his ass after Nuremburg?”

“No, he got nine years and went back to work for I.G. Farvin,” Max said, putting his binoculars away.

“No way,” Tom said, “The guy got a pass?”

“The British and U.S. needed him. He’d done a lot of work on genetics and biological weapons.”

“That’s bullshit.”

“Fuckin’ A, Bubba,” Max said, and sat up. “Look at the bright side, we get to fix that mistake today.” He picked up his silenced UMP-45 and winked.

Tom got to his knees and stretched and said, “Aren’t we going to wait for Klopf?”

“He’s already here, you said so yourself.”

“I said that was an option,” Tom said, his elbows were stiff.

“Here’s where we fucked up: we’re both from warm states. I’m from Hillsburough in California, and you’re from Shiprock in New Mexico,” Max said, getting to his feet.

“It snows in New Mexico, dipshit.”

“Yeah, it the higher elevations, but not like it does here. How far to that building?”

Tom said, “Twenty-five yards.”

“If you worked here in January, how excited would you be to trudge over there and back six or seven times a day?” Max said. He was stuffing his gear into his pack.

“That would blow.”

“Exactly, and most places like this, like the old mental hospitals in New England, they all have tunnels connecting the buildings.”

Tom got to his feet and thought about this for a second, and said, “Oh shit, why didn’t we think of that before?”

“Evidently we’re morons,” Max said, flashing two thumbs up.

“So what else do you think might be down there?”

“Well, in places like Danvers and the West Allegheny Lunatic Asylum they had isolation wards, padded cells for the violent patients, and most had private operating rooms for their questionable work.”

“So there could be a fucking underground city that we missed,” Tom said, folding the bipod into the barrel of his rifle.

“Not exactly a city,” Max said, slinging his pack over his shoulders.

Tom flipped his rifle onto his back and chambered a round into his MP-7 submachine gun, and said, “There’s just the two of us, it might as well be a city.”

“True, but that works to our advantage. More guys would risk the op,” Max said. He was fiddling with the chin-strap to his black Protec helmet.

Tom smiled when he saw it and said, “When are you going to get a new brain-bucket?”

“This works just fine.”

“It won’t stop a bullet.”

“No, that means I have duck and stay alert, you know, cool commando shit,” Max said, clipping his NODs to the mount on the front of his helmet. “Besides, I don’t feel like spending a grand for your nifty high-speed Jedi beanie.”

“I picked this up for seven hundred bucks, fuck you very much,” Tom said, tightening the strap on his black Air Frame helmet. Both men double checked to make sure they’d left nothing behind and began to descend the stairs to the ground floor. Their NODs gave everything a lime-green tint as they moved quietly down the wall entry hall. “So where would the door be?”

“Near the kitchen, they would have loaded meals onto trays to distribute to the different wings,” Max said. They moved to the kitchen following the German signs overhead. Tom squeezed Max’s shoulder making him stop, and pointed to a trail of child-sized footprints in the dust-covered floor.

“Those weren’t there when we came through here yesterday. Why no shoes?” Tom said in a barely audible whisper. Max shrugged and continued into the large, industrial kitchen. Moving to a point in the center between two large cutting tables they paused to listen and scan the room. Tom began rapidly tapping Max’s shoulder. Max turned and he pointed to the far end of the room. A little girl Max guessed to be no older than eight stood looking at them. Her eyes glowed in their NODs allowing them to see she had Down Syndrome. She smiled and stuck her thumb into her mouth.

Max took a knee and said, “Where’s the door to downstairs?” His rusty German was pretty good after a week in country. Her smile grew bigger and she swayed side-to-side on her feet with her other hand clutching the side of her hospital gown. “I bet you don’t know where it is.” She took her thumb from her mouth and put both hands on her hips, and then spun around and skipped the short distance to the wood-paneled wall to vanish mid stride. Max moved to the wall and began feeling the wall for a leaver or release mechanism. Tom stepped forward and gave the panel a sharp push and it popped open. He stopped it when he heard the hinges squeal.

“How’d you know to do that?” Max said.

“Cheetahs had a door like this,” Tom said, referring to the strip club where he worked as a bouncer during his days at Bragg. He took point and opened the door carefully. Inside was a small landing, to the left was a dumbwaiter, and straight ahead was a rot iron spiral staircase leading down. Both of them turned on their targeting lasers and began the slow descent. It was a two-story drop to the bottom where they found a larger room filled with stainless steel meal carts. Tom went to the door and listened for a second before pushing it open. Max dropped an infrared chemlight on the floor in the hall so they could find it on their way out.

Unlike the ornate decor of the upper building, the underground was un-scenic concrete. Ancient gurneys and wheelchairs lined the south wall to their left, dozens of each. The years had been less kind here. Water had found its way through the cracks in the cement ceiling staining the floor where the pools would dry. Black mold climbed the wall an eighth of an inch thick. Max followed Tom along the hallway, his head swept right to left to right searching for threats. They passed many rooms, some with bedframes with leather straps, and others with moldy padding on the walls. On room had a dentist’s chair, Max grimaced when he saw it. Some patients were biters, and the hospital dealt with them by pulling out all of their teeth.

Something banged onto the floor somewhere ahead of them snapping Max back into focus. They waited a full minute before resuming their search. Tom came to a set of swinging doors and slowly pushed one open. I glow came from the far end of the hall 25 yards away. He estimated this was under the building where they’d seen Steitz enter. He resumed the stalking now moving heel to toe keeping silent. They reached a T-intersection where the floor went from bare cement to a black & white checkerboard tile.

Movement came from their right and they could see light seeping from under the ninth door down. Tom turned his head and nodded to Max. This was it; they would kick the door in (if they had to) and kill Steitz and Klopf, or whoever else was inside. Whatever pain they had in their joints was erased by the flood of adrenaline now surging through their systems. Tom began moving again but froze after three steps. The little girl from the kitchen was standing in the hall in front of the door where the light was coming from.

More children emerged from thin air, some in surgical gowns, some in shorts and with shirts, and others in white nightgowns. They ranged in age from five to fifteen. Unlike the little girl, their eyes were black holes set deep into their skulls. The little girl held out her hand with her palm out signaling for Tom and Max to stop. She smiled and put her index finger to her lips, and the others imitated her. One by one the children began to file into the lighted room passing through the closed door like smoke. The little girl remained in the hallway now sucking her thumb and swaying in the dark.

The sound of breaking glass filled the hall, and Max and Tom pulled their helmets off, and began fumbling around for their gas-masks. Once tight on their faces their helmets went back on. The whole time two men were shouting inside the room. Their shouts turned to yells, changing to screams. These screams went on for ten minutes, the final two of which the pitch of their cries rose four octaves. The doorknob began rattling and someone pounded on the other side begging God for help. The silence that followed was abrupt and thick enough to cause Max and Tom to hold their breath, until the first of the children reappeared walkinf through the door. Their black eyes now glowed brightly, the kids formed into a line and walked toward Max and Tom with smiles on their face. Some said hello with tiny voices, and other waved, and a few just went past looking straight ahead.

Finally the little girl came down the hall and stopped in front of Tom. She beckoned with her hand for him to kneel down.

She kissed him on his cheek and said, “Thank you for caring about us. Do not worry, we can go home now.”

“Save me a dance,” Tom said. She kissed him again and moved past him skipping down the hallway fading out of view with each joyful leap. Tom sniffed.

“You gonna need a minute?” Max said.

“Fuck you,” Tom said, sliding a gloved finger under his NODs to wipe his eyes. He stood and started moving to the door. The knob was locked when he tried it, and he took a step back, and kicked the door open splintering the frame at the strike plate. The lights forced them to flip their NODs up and turn them off as they went in.

“Well that explains how the Germans knew they were here,” Max said.

“Yeah, the power-drain, they most have traced it. Nice of them to tell us,” Tom said. His brain registered what his eyes were viewing. “Smack my ass and call me Sally.” Intestines were draped over the hanging lights like bunting. Small bloody handprints decorated all four walls and the sides of the laboratory tables.

“Jesus, they quartered them,” Max said. An empty, armless chest hung from a coat rack near the door with the flesh pulled back to reveal the ribs. Four severed hands were neatly lined on a counter next to a wall sink next to extensive lab equipment, much of it now smashed. “There’s Klopf.” Max removed his iPhone to photograph the severed head on the floor next to an old refrigerator.

“Looks like Steitz is over here,” Tom said, pointing to the other head lying on its crown. The wind-pipe and neck vertebrae showed signs of being pulled from the body. Max came over and kicked the head onto its side for a slightly less gory picture.

“Laptop,” Tom said, pointing to a desk in the corner. He went over to it and pulled out a USB leech-drive and began copying the contents. The Germans wanted all intel discovered here, but there was no reason not to copy it for the CIA and the Brits, both would pay generously for what was on this computer.

Max slipped on the large lake of blood in the center of the lab. “Whoops, Christ almighty,”

“Careful, twinkle toes,” Tom said.

“Eat me.” Max continued to take pictures while they both looked for anything that would be of value to the high priests of the intelligence world. Tom found six thumb-drives that he copied. Something hanging from the still ceiling fan caught his eye.

“Bro, what the hell am I looking at here?” he said, point it out.

Max frowned and said, “Those would be testicles.”

“Nifty, can we get the fuck out of here now? Tell me we’re done.”

“We’re done. I don’t see anything else we could use.” Max put away his phone and began to follow Tom to the door when something on the last table caught his eye. “Hold on, dude.” He grabbed Steitz’s car keys and continued to the door. Neither man spoke until they were outside.

“Do you feel it?” Tom said.

“Yeah, the kids are all gone,” Max said.

“Did we have something to do with that?”

“Probably, I mean I think that Steitz being here had a lot to do with it, but the fact is they must have known why we were here.”

“So they killed them instead?” Tom said, he took his helmet off.

“I think they did it so it wouldn’t be on us,” Max said.

“Bro, I think they did it because shooting those assholes wasn’t going to be enough for them.”

Max removed his helmet and thought about that for a second, and said, “You’re probably right.”

“They used their heads as soccer balls,” Tom said, slipping his NODs into their case.

“Well the good news is that we don’t have hike back to our car, we can take this.” Max gestured to the Mercedes.

Tom went over and Max unlocked the passenger door with the remote on the keychain.

“This is a nice car,” Tom said.

“Not for long,” Max said. He got in and started the engine. Abba’s music filled the interior.

“Fuck, the guy really was a monster,” Tom said, ejecting the CD from the dashboard stereo. He lowered his window and threw it like a Frisbee.

“How thick do you think that chain is on the gate?” Max said, revving the engine.

Tom grinned and said, “Not that thick, Bro. Not that thick at all.” He flipped up the latch on the dashboard and turned off the airbags. The computerized voice of the car protested in a stern female German voice.

“Warp speed, Mr. Sulu!” Tom said.

“Roads? Where we’re going we don’t need roads,” Max said, and floored the gas. A rooster tail of dirt and gravel spread out from behind the car as it launched down the driveway. The speedometer read 50mph by the time they reached the gate. The impact knocked the gate from its hinges smashing the rear windshield into a spiderwebbed pattern. The hood was creased into a tent-shape but the engine sounded good. Max fish-tailed the Mercedes as he made the sharp turn onto the county road. Tom hooted loudly while he set the radio to a rock station in Berlin. Max wondered how the Germans were going to take it when they found the bodies, or what was left of them. He would file a detailed report, but Max knew from experience that few people believed anything he wrote.

He smiled, this wasn’t his problem.


Bad Horror

I wandered into Best Buy the other day, and I ended up buying a collection of horror films titled “30 Films – Horror Collection”. Far as I can tell the only reason this collection exists is because someone lost a bet. However I was able to use my new writer skills to salvage my dignity, and get my $10 out of the deal. Out of the 30 movies, five were entertaining, but only one managed to creep me out. I’ll tell you about it later. This leaves 25 movies which never should have been made. Yeah, I said it, there is no way someone read the script for these movies, and then thought they were a good idea. Half of them are clear rip-offs of other, more popular and profitable horror movies (most of those suck too, by the way), and the other half are either stories that meant well then fell apart, or someone green-lit a project as a favor for a brain damaged friend. I learned a few things from my afternoon of horrible horror movies…

  1. Don’t be predictable – Four of the thirty movies center around a group of young people who travel to a remote cabin for a long weekend of booze, sex, and drugs only to be picked off one –by-one. One movie does get style credit for at least being original enough to have these people be filming a porno movie at their lonely cabin. All of the movies follow the same cookie-cutter pattern established in John Carpenter’s “Halloween”, and the first “Friday the 13th” movies.

So what’s the fix here? Why the fuck does it need to be out in the woods? Why not a backyard party in Fresno, or a high-rise Chicago apartment?  One of the driving horror elements of “Rosemarie’s Baby” is its location in New York City. When a familiar, safe location becomes a dangerous place it is a shorter trip for the reader or viewer to make to be imported into the story. The woods can be scary at night, but everyone would freak out if they hear something moving in their closet at four in the afternoon.

“But what about ‘The Blair Witch Project’?” What about it? Blair Witch was original from its concept (found footage), to its execution, (we never see the thing chasing them leaving us to experience their fear, wicked ending). Have you noticed nobody has followed that movie into the woods in the same way to attempt to build on the concept yet? I did.

  1. Characters are EVERYTHING. – Jesus, why do I need to even say this? I need to say this because 28 of those 30 movies featured cardboard cut-outs instead of real people: The knowledgeable doctor, the gay guy, the reluctant hero, the hero who turns evil, the slut, the good girl, the tortured slut who wants to be a good girl but dies anyway, the kind-hearted vampire, the friendly werewolf, evil midget, the weird handy-man, diabolical rednecks.

I won’t name these movies, but I’m betting you have thought of a dozen movies where these characters live. Get the picture? What’s the fix? DON’T SUCK AT WRITING. Elmore Leonard never plotted his stories, instead he let characters drive the narrative. A good character will inform the plot at every step of the way. For horror the big problem is formula writing, I know who dies last, and who will get away. Invest in you characters and your readers and viewers will too. Look, I know certain storylines will require similar characters. You know, cops, rural sheriff’s deputies, doctors, scientists, and the old guy who lives alone (in the woods, or in the apartment down the hall), but make them your own. Have fun with them. Best example of this is “Lake Placid”, where every character was standard issue, but David Kelly made them fully functional people. The result is some of the best dialog in any horror movie you will ever see.

  1. Don’t play it safe.  – The majority of these movies are perfectly lit, perfectly blocked, every shot is in frame, and every reaction is telegraphed well before it happens. Nobody gets their balls cut off, nobody accidently has sex with their sister in the dark while their stoned, nobody cares why the killer is killing people, and the killer is slow and methodical.

Let’s start with the killer. We live in a world with real killers, mass murders, and spree-killers. The knife-wielding, axe-swinging killer just doesn’t hold water, and truthfully never did. The Sandhook Massacre is an example of a real horror story where lots of children were murdered, and it was all over in less than fifteen minutes. [Just adding that Sandyhook Elementary School was a well-lit, safe place where a horrible thing happened. See example #1] The horror of 9/11 wasn’t just the people jumping to their deaths, it was us imagining what was happening to the people still trapped inside of the towers before they fell. What went through their minds in the hour before their building took them to their deaths? What decisions did they make? What decisions did they fail to make in time? These questions based on real-world horror will transfer into your zombie, vampire, or thing-in-the-lake story too, so mine them to make your tale stand out.

  1. It’s not style over substance, it’s style AND substance. –  Stephen King is the master of horror fiction because he has earned the title. He has original stories populated with real characters, and he can be counted on to zag when you expected him to zig. He keeps his readers on their toes to the end. One of the 30 movies spends a lot of time with shots of a lonely lake, and the woods around the cabin (while nothing is happening), more than a few of the movies have great locations (castles, old buildings, and even a huge ship), but use them as a crutch instead of giving us a good story.

Riddley Scott’s “Alien” is an example of a good story full of solid characters with a setting full of atmosphere. All three elements feed off of each other. “Downton Abbey” is shot in a big mansion, but it’s not a scary place within the context of the show. What would  Stephen King, or Riddley Scott do with the same building? Many of the 30 movies are designed to feel and look like the movies they are ripping off, so they fall flat due to the lack of substance ( good characters, good story) in the director’s quest to achieve a look and style. I suspect this stems from these directors not having respect for the horror genre, and certainly no respect for the script. Many young directors get their start in horror flicks, but too often they view it as a stepping stone to more serious work – and that’s the problem. Every job deserves to be taken seriously. You’re a young director, SciFy hires you out of film school, and hands you an awful script. Guess what? You can still make it work, there is no excuse not to. The greatest horror movie classics were made on shoe-string budgets, you just have to get your ass in gear and commit to your story. If you make shit it was always be on your résumé from here in out, so don’t make shit.

  1. Make your story frightening, and as disturbing in every way possible. – All but one of the 30 movies holds back on the horror, looks away at the last moment, makes the moral choice over the immoral one, and otherwise chickens out at the brink of actually scaring you.

Every horror writer should aspire to create something so terrifying it ends up being banned in certain countries, and requires a warning label on the cover telling buyers of the risks to their mental health should they read your story. What is the true purpose behind a good campfire story? To keep everyone on edge at night, because the woods are a dangerous place. During the day everyone laughs the story off, but when it gets dark every cracking branch becomes an approaching axe-murderer (axe murderers are scary when you’re 10). The movie “Jaws” scared millions of people out of the water in 1975, and not just at the beach, even the big lakes were void of swimmers that summer. “Jaws” is an example of our primal fears of nature, the unknown, and loss of control of our immediate world. “Jaws” also happened for the most part on a sunny beach, or under blue skies, and when it was dark the fear and shock factors went through the roof. “Jaws” should be every horror writer’s bench mark.

Now let me tell you about the one movie I did like.

“Silent Night, Bloody Night” is a movie directed by Theodore Gershuny (I’ve never heard of him either). It is low budget, and probably designed for the drive-in movie market of the early 1970s. This movie has John Caradine in a throw away role, and he is the only recognizable name in the cast. The movie has many flaws, some are plot holes, and the rest stem from its age. These flaws are overcome by a good story, decent acting, and applied style of film making to add an extra dimension to the story.

The plot involves an old house at the edge of town [yup, you’ve seen this one before, but…] which the city fathers wish to buy so they can demolish it. The house attracts squatters and teenagers, but its dark past is what the town folk hope to erase. I don’t know the story behind this movie, however it looks like Gershuny took an okay script, and made the most out of his opportunity. The house, like in any good horror story, is treated as a character with creaking doors, dark wood paneling, and by using good camera angles the windows become vacant eye sockets. The story takes place in winter, and the snow adds to the atmosphere of the house with ambient pale light coming through the windows. Gershuny uses a long lens for most of the movie, maybe because it’s all he had, but it seems more like a choice. What you have are a lot of wide-shots countered by stillness while the characters interact. There is not a lot of running in this movie at all.

The stillness creates tension, and the simple plot builds nicely while the bodies pile up. The movie was shot on 35mm, and has not been restored making the film creepier. The ending is rushed, and this is the only real let down. The movie for its time refused to play it safe. The violence is perfectly calibrated, and at one point goes over the top even by today’s standards.  Just graphic enough, and more than intense for what was needed.  Gershuny took the time to seek out the best camera angles for his action making the house at times seem vast, yet claustrophobic when the killer stalks his victims.

There is not a lot to fix in this movie, and could even be remade using the same script. If this movie pops up on your radar I recommend it. While I don’t recommend this 30 Horror Film collection as a good source of quality horror, I do recommend it for writers who want 29 examples of what not to do. Some of these movies are good for parties where everyone sits around making fun of the action. The one thing I hope to leave you with is curiosity, I’m always on the lookout for ways to improve my story telling, and this collection came through in that department. When you find that scary story or movie you should first enjoy the shit out of it, and then you need to dissect it to find out why its scary going from element to element until you understand the story’s success. The same applies to failure. In fact the better you understand failure the more success you will have.

It’s really that easy, now get busy writing.