Archive for September, 2012

As I’ve written here before, I have no problem with horror writers falling back on the well-worn tropes. Zombies? Vampires? Whatever. As long as the books are a good read, I’m cool with it.

It’s kind of like when I watch “Rio Bravo.” I don’t care that it’s one of approximately 500 gazillion studio westerns produced in the 1950s. All I care about is that it’s a damn good movie.

Still, it’s refreshing and gratifying to see a writer come up with a unique concept, and knock it out of the park. Which is what Damien Walters Grintalis does with her book “Ink,” from Samhain Publishing.

The story is about a guy who gets a haunted tattoo.

Offhand, the only haunted tattoo stories I can think of are “The Tattooer” by Junichiro Tanizaki, and the “Never Again” episode of the X-Files. (Classics, both.) And both took extremely different approaches to their respective narratives.

Originality alone isn’t going to carry it, of course. Fortunately, “Ink” is also suspenseful, well-crafted and REALLY freakin eerie. (more…)

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m something of an amateur musician. That “something of” modifier alludes to the fact that I’ll have to get a lot better before I can properly describe myself as “amateur.” For now, I’m just the annoying guy walking around at parties, doing the “Hey look! You’ve got a coin in your ear!” routine that makes people suddenly pretend they have to go to the bathroom as an excuse to get away from me.
I think the main reason I stick with it is because it gives me the opportunity to attend magicians’ gatherings, and see the people who really do know what they’re doing perform.

Last weekend, I attended the Magicians’ Alliance of Eastern States Convention in Cherry Hill, N.J., and had a blast. On both Friday and Saturday night, the convention staged magic shows for attendees. Wow! The word “amazing” barely covers it.

Every performer was great. As an added bonus, you could go up and talk to them afterward.

One of my favorite acts of the weekend was “The Crescent Circus” from New Orleans, featuring Nathan Kepner and Morgan Tsu-Raun. They combined stage magic, juggling and acrobatics. Their whole act was like pure, distilled entertainment value.

I’ve included a Youtube clip so you can see what I’m talking about. Nathan agreed to answer a few questions about the act, and about his journey from Central Pennsylvania to New Orleans. (more…)

From today’s L.A. Times: “Three new studies … find that heavy pacifier use leads to stunted emotional development among males.” Funny. I always thought that being male leads to stunted emotional development among males

Pardon me. Sometimes I like pretending that I’m important and sexually active enough to issue statements like this.


I wish to express my most sincere regret for recent events. While I regret having brought dishonor to a position of public trust, I regret even more deeply the pain that this situation has caused my family.

My behavior was inexcusable. Particularly unconscionable was my use of taxpayer funds for expenses such as jewelry, fur coats, hotel rooms, manacles, an Olympic-size trampoline, 10 gallons of banana pudding, and a case of Viagra from a Mexican pharmacy.

I have let down the good people of my district, as well as my beloved wife and children. It was only in the interests of protecting them that I issued those earlier denials.

But now that the infamous “lederhosen photos” are making the rounds of all the major news outlets, I suppose there’s no point in keeping up the pretense. (As a personal aside to the hotel maid who’s apparently also something of an amateur photographer – I guess you can add whatever money that fishwrapper of a tabloid paid you to the sizable tip I left on the dresser. You’re welcome. Bitch.)

For what it’s worth, I hope that my constituents will keep in mind my years of dedicated public service, and take consolation in the fact that at least she wasn’t ugly.

I mean, let’s be frank here. If you’re going to pull something like this, you might as well make it count, right? So if those public funds were going to be misappropriated anyway, they might as well go for some high-quality tail.

And boy, was it ever high quality. Better than anything those jocks who used to make fun of me for being in student government could ever dream of. Especially Joe Russo, who used to call me “dorkwad.”

Joe, should you happen to see this, I’m curious about something. Why’d you bring a manatee in a dress to our 20-year reunion? Oh. My mistake. That was your wife! HAH!

Have you seen those photos of my mistress, Joe? Pretty smokin’, huh? And she didn’t call me “dorkwad.” No sir. She called me “Badass Biker Daddy.” See, we had this game where we’d pretend she was a sexy but bored truckstop waitress. Then one day I pull up on my Harley and … Anyway, think about that when you curl up next to Manatee Woman. Then cry yourself to sleep, jackass.

What was I saying? Oh yes. Regret. Deep, deep regret.

God bless America.


Tom Joyce

There’s a certain type of horror movie – let’s call it the postmodern horror film – that transcends genre trappings to achieve something closer to art. Such movies use the conventions of horror films not for cheap thrills and scares, but rather as a metatextual exploration of subjects such as loss and existential despair.

Director and screenplay writer Nap Bishop has assured me that “HogMaul” will NOT be one of those movies. Thank freakin God. Those movies are boring.

“HogMaul,” currently filming in Central Pennsylvania, is a movie about a psychopathic pig man who smashes people’s heads in with a hammer. Why? Because that’s what psychopathic pig men do. Duh!

At the recent “Horrorfind” convention in Gettysburg, where I met Nap and some of the HogMaul crew, we got to talking about motivation. I said “What’s his motivation? He’s got a hammer and you’ve got a skull.” Nap told me that could well function as the film’s tagline.

I for one cannot wait to see this film when it comes out. And Nap graciously took some time out from his busy schedule to answer a few questions about it. So here goes: (more…)

Werewolves are enjoying a resurgence in horror fiction these days. If it produces more novels like “Autumn Moon” by Slade Grayson, I’m all for it.

More on Grayson’s novel in a second. But let’s talk about werewolves.

They never went away entirely. (Remember the 1994 film “Wolf,” starring Jack Nicholson? Perhaps you’ve tried hard to forget it.) But it’s been a while since vast packs of furry-faced anthromorphs roamed the pop culture landscape.

I’ve got a theory for why that is.

This is hardly a unique idea, but I believe certain horror tropes persist because they address some deep-seated fear in our collective psyche. Zombies and vampires tap into a universal fear of death. Lovecraft’s monsters – and their descendants, such as the creatures from the “Alien” series – touch on a more existential terror of an unknowable universe that isn’t particularly concerned with our well-being.

So what are werewolves? The malevolent face of nature.

The fear of some toothy predator crouching beyond our circle of campfire light is encoded in our DNA, or course. And it wasn’t so long ago that wolves were a very real danger for anyone who strayed beyond the perimeter of whatever human settlement he or she inhabited. I previously explored that idea here.

But werewolf stories – which have existed for millennia — take it to another level. They suggest that getting together with your fellow human beings and establishing perimeters to keep out the forest predators is no guarantee of safety. Because a human being can turn into one of those forest predators. And that human being might even be you. (more…)

You may notice a lack of thematic consistency for Chamber of the Bizarre. I hope you can live with that. As I mentioned in a recent post, the subject of this blog is basically whatever the hell I happen to be interested in at the moment.

One subject I’ve been interested in ever since the Ultimate Fighting Championship started airing in the U.S. is mixed martial arts. A few years back, I used to follow it pretty closely. I don’t really have time to follow it anymore, but I still enjoy it whenever I have time to catch a match .

For my money, there isn’t a more exciting or fascinating sport on the planet. (And yes, it IS a sport. You haters out there are going to have to get used to that sooner or later.)

So I’d like to put in a plug for my friend Ted Czech’s video channel and blog: “MMA Explosion.” It’s a great source for MMA news in general. And if you’re interested in MMA news specific to the northeastern U.S., it’s literally the best information source out there.

Here, Ted weighs in on the upcoming UFC 152. It should be exciting. But then again, aren’t they all?

And here’s a link to his blog:

I recently read a DVD review on “The Onion AV Club” that contained the line: “Popular culture passed the zombie saturation point long ago.”

The Onion A.V. Club is among my favorite sources for DVD reviews, but I’m not ready to concede the writer’s point. I mean, yeah, no arguing with the fact that there’s A LOT of zombie-related entertainment out there these days.

But is that a bad thing? That’s kind of like complaining that there were just too many hard-boiled detectives in the 1940s. Too many Westerns in the 1950s, or martial arts films in the 1970s. All of which is tantamount to complaining that there are entirely too many beers in the fridge.

To sum up the point that I’m currently beating into the ground – why complain about an embarrassment of riches? As long as the zombie stories are entertaining and of good quality, keep ‘em coming.

If you want to read a novel that justifies the continuing persistence of the zombie sub-genre, pick up “Patient Zero” by Jonathan Maberry – a very effective melding of the action thriller and horror story.

Yeah, the whole “plague of zombies” milieu has contained action thriller elements from the beginning. They kick in anytime a bedraggled band of survivors hoists shotguns and starts administering lead-assisted decapitations.

But we’re talking serious military thriller material here. In the form of Joe Ledger – tough cop with some dark secrets in his past, a knack for martial arts (he’s capable of taking out zombies by HAND for cryin’ out loud) and enough of a regular-guy vulnerable streak that he’s fun to root for.

NOTE: I should mention that “Patient Zero” came out in 2009. According to Wikipedia (I am nothing if not painstaking in my research efforts), there are four in the Joe Ledger series already out and two more on the way. But I just read “Patient Zero” for the first time. And as I tell people, this blog is devoted to the highly precise subject of whatever the hell I happen to be interested in at the moment. What can I say? The concepts “self-indulgent” and “blog” have never been what you’d call mutually exclusive.

After helping to take down a bunch of terrorists, one of whom proves curiously unwilling to die, Joe finds himself recruited by a mysterious intelligence operation tasked with protecting the world from an encroaching bioterrorism threat. (Spoiler: The encroaching bioterrorism threat is a zombie plague. But come on. That wasn’t REALLY a spoiler, was it?)

Yes, it delivers plenty of what you want and expect from zombie-related entertainment, in the form of hunkered-down defenders holding off wave after shambling wave of carnivorous corpses.

It also offers something sorely lacking in most other zombie fiction – the metaphorical chess game with a ruthless opponent. Scary as zombies can be, let’s face it. They don’t make for the most cerebral of adversaries.

In “Patient Zero,” a crew of devious and cold-blooded international terrorists is deploying the zombie plague for tactical reasons, with the assistance of some entertainingly slimy corporate types who have a sinister agenda of their own.

So it’s got a little bit of everything. International intrigue. A diverse crew of elite special operatives and scientists working against the clock to stave off a threat to humanity. A saboteur hidden somewhere in the ranks who must be discovered and stopped before it’s too late. And, of course, lots of zombies getting their heads blown off.

Will Jonathan Maberry’s “Patient Zero” redefine your concept of narrative storytelling? Doubtful. Will it keep you turning pages at a furious pace? Absolutely.

I often experience a weird kind of cognitive disconnect when interviewing people who work in haunted attractions.

I mean, these are people who draw a salary by putting on ghoulish makeup and masks, enacting scenes of murder and mutilation, and chasing people around with chainsaws. They take an honest-to-God professional pride in terrifying customers to a point where they lose control of their excretory functions.

And yet, they tend to be the nicest people. Case in point – a very charming married couple from Menges Mills, Pa., named Adam and Ashley Burgess. But when they’re on the job at the Haunted Mill Scream Park in Spring Grove, Pa., they go by “Clown No. 47” and “Ms. Bloody Butcher.” (more…)

Once again, I join the talented and charming Carlette Norwood Ritter for her “Lette’s Chat” broadcast. Here we interview Scott Pruden, author of the satirical science fiction novel “Immaculate Deception.” How is being a book lover these days like being an indie music fan back in the day? Can men really write erotica? Is junior high more survivable for the young science fiction geeks of today? And what are some creative uses for grapes? Listen and find out.