Archive for the ‘Halloween’ Category

horrorA couple of years ago, I found some truly terrifying two-sentence horror stories on the Internet. I decided to try writing a few of my own. Now, for Halloween, I present another batch. And once again, you may want to avoid reading them if you have a heart condition.

The meeting starts in five minutes. The office copier says “CALIBRATE COLLATION DENSITY PARAMETERS.”

I accept my father-in-law’s friend request. Five minutes later, he posts his first racist joke on my timeline.

“You thought this was a date?” she says. “Oh gosh.”

“I like to think of my poetry as ‘anarcho-conceptualist,'” he said. “Let me explain.”

“You have a choice,” the wedding reception bartender says. “Coors or Coors Light.”

Your new supervisor likes playing music at work. He’s into rap metal.

You accidentally make eye contact with the loud, drunk guy at the bar. He smiles and begins approaching you.

You turn on the light in the Motel 6 bathroom. There are short, curly hairs in the sink.

“Let me tell you about our rewards program,” the cashier says. You take a frantic look at your watch and try to tell her you aren’t interested, but she presses on anyway.

I look across the restaurant and spot a fat, older guy. I realize it’s a mirror.

You complete the 20-page online form and hit “SEND.” Your screen locks up.

“First of all, I apologize that we’re running so much longer than we anticipated,” the guy at the front of the room says. “Now we have a Powerpoint presentation for you.”

 

My apologies. The blog’s been dormant for a while. A bunch of stuff came up — primarily a new job — and I was obliged to put it on the back burner. But I’d like to start it back up. So how about I begin with a new, original novelette, presented to you for free?

Here’s the deal. I have a young, talented friend named Frank who portrays a character known as “Cuddles McSpanky” at haunted attractions. He knows I’m a writer. At a recent party, we got into a discussion about our mutual love of horror and noir. And we agreed that it might be fun if I tried writing a story featuring his character. I found myself really getting into it. To my surprise, the short story I initially intended to write somehow expanded into a novelette.

I tried including it in my short story collection, “The Devil’s Kazoo Band Don’t Take No Requests,” due out from Codorus Press early in 2016. But my publisher told me we’re a bit late in the process for that.

So I figured, what the heck. I wrote it mainly as a fun project anyway. And I’d like Frank to be able to share it with his friends and followers. So here it is, presented as a freebie. Enjoy. Share it, if you’re so inclined. And if you like it, keep an eye out for “The Devil’s Kazoo Band Don’t Take No Requests.” Or check out my Pushcart-Prize-nominated debut novel, “The Freak Foundation Operative’s Report.” You can find Cuddles McSpanky’s page here. And if you’re REALLY brave and/or crazy, you can go see him in person here.

For the record, this is a work of fiction and is not intended maliciously. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any other resemblance to actual events, groups or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

So here goes:

 

THE LEGEND OF CUDDLES MCSPANKY

By Tom Joyce

Based on a character created by Frank Paul Staff IV

 

 

Somewhere in the night-darkened pines to Kevin’s left, chainsaws buzzed like mechanical hornets. Followed by screaming.

Startled, a cluster of girls in Kevin’s group let out screams of their own, giggling at themselves immediately afterward. The Trail of Terror at the BloodShed Farms haunted attraction in Pierce Township, N.J., followed a snaking trajectory, frequently turning back on itself. Intermittent cries from the densely encroaching pines on either side signaling that the group ahead had encountered whatever as-yet-unseen horror would ambush Kevin’s group next, be it zombie, vampire or psychopath.

An unnerving effect, Kevin had to admit, jangling his already jangled nerves.

Kevin trailed behind a dozen or so teens and adults venturing through October darkness punctuated by pale lights on poles set at infrequent intervals along the paved path. Wishing that the night’s errand was already over. He yanked the brim of his baseball cap down lower on his forehead and pulled the hood of his sweatshirt tighter about his face.

(more…)

clownHappy Halloween, everyone! Seems an appropriate day to address this subject.

By “horror,” I’m talking about the fiction genre. This isn’t going to be some kind of Nietzsche-ian rant about embracing the inherent horror of existence. If you want that, you’ll have to look elsewhere. (You also might want to consider lightening the hell up.)

This is strictly about how books and movies with monsters in them tend to be pretty freakin awesome.

I could talk about the roller coaster adrenaline rush of horror fiction. But for now, I’d rather talk about the artistry.

Now, I know that some serious literature types would snort into their cognac at the preposterousness of using the word “artistry” to describe horror fiction. As I’d be the first to admit, I’m a man of simple tastes. I like my genre fiction.

Let’s leave the subject of literature for a second and talk about visual art, as in paintings. Personally, I’m not a big fan of abstract art. The whole idea of a painting a light blue stripe on a dark blue background and saying it represents the existential despair of life in the post-industrial age seems too easy somehow. Representational art may be the domain of bourgeois Philistines like myself. But it at least sets a baseline for craftsmanship, for competence, that the artist has to reach before accomplishing anything else.

The representational artist can still make her painting into a statement about existential despair in the post-industrial age if she’s so inclined. But she first has to achieve enough competence in her craft to make buildings look like buildings and people look like people.

That’s why I’m a fan of vaudeville-style entertainment such as juggling and stage magic. There’s also that element of a baseline level of craftsmanship before you can achieve anything else. Want to incorporate some social commentary into your juggling routine? Go ahead. But make sure those balls stay in the air. Want to turn your magic act into avant garde theater meant to illustrate profound truths about the human condition? Fine, as long as the audience doesn’t see that card go up your sleeve.

So it is with two genres of writing in particular — humor and horror. (And for the purposes of this post, I’ll expand “writing” to include movie screenplays.)

When I was on a writers panel at the Western Md. Independent Lit Festival at Frostburg State University earlier this month, I mentioned a quote by the great writer Joe Hill to the effect that humor and horror operate by essentially the same mechanism.That made sense to me. Humor and horror must both have two components to work — transgression and surprise.

But another similarity between humor and horror is that both require that baseline level of craftsmanship I was discussing. As with literary fiction, you can use them to explore whatever topic or theme you want. That’s not enough. In the case of humor, you have to provoke amusement in your audience or readership. And in the case of horror, you have to generate fear.

Nowhere near as easy as you might think, in the case of horror. Just throw in a monster, a killer or a ghost, right? Add a few jump scares. The monster jumping out of the closet or whatever. Then call it a day.

It’s a lot more complicated than that, especially if you’re writing for horror fans. They know all the conventions. Adhere to those conventions too closely, and the story becomes predictable to a point where it’s no longer scary, or even interesting. Ditch all the conventions entirely, and the story’s probably not going to work. The reason those conventions exist in the first place is because they’re effective.

A good horror author, or director, walks a fine line. He has to rely on certain conventions and techniques to get effects, yet wield them with enough creativity and innovation that he achieves the element of surprise so crucial to his chosen genre.

It doesn’t have to be anything really elaborate, either. Simplicity often yields the best results.

Prime example? During the panel, I mentioned the 1982 movie “Poltergeist.” (Written by Steven Spielberg, and directed by the great Tobe Hooper of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” fame.) Specifically, I brought up the scene with the toy clown, and knew I’d hit a nerve.  You could practically feel a shudder run around the room as people relived the first moment they saw that scene.

Bit of a spoiler coming up here, so be forewarned if you haven’t seen “Poltergeist.”

Anyway, sure it’s scary as hell when the animated toy clown reappears to attack the kid. But the REALLY scary part comes before that. The kid looks at the toy clown, sitting in the chair and staring at him with that creepy rictus grin. The kid makes a visible effort not to think about it as he pulls up the sheets and attempts to sleep. He can’t stop thinking about it, of course. He pulls down the sheets to check on that clown one more time. And the chair … is empty.

Man!

Think of the movies with hugely expensive setpieces and CGI effects that don’t achieve one tenth of one percent of the soul-chilling terror that “Poltergeist” pulled off by the mere act of removing a toy clown from a chair.

THAT, my friends, is artistry!

 

 

cuddlesWhat makes for a good haunted attraction? Effective props. Scary costumes. Evil clowns with chainsaws, of course.

But how about this? Subtlety.

It may seem weird, using the term “subtlety” in association with entertainment that involves the aforementioned clowns with chainsaws. But when I visited Bloodshed Farms Haunted Fear Fest in Columbus, N.J., I discovered that a little bit of subtlety can go a long way in driving home the scares.

Too many haunted attractions rely almost exclusively on “jump scares.” Actors trying to startle you with some variation of jumping out and yelling “Boo!” Sure, jump scares are important. But when you have too many in succession, they get repetitive and lose their effectiveness — becoming more annoying than scary.

Bloodshed Farms isn’t the biggest or most elaborate haunted attraction I’ve ever been too, but it’s easily one of the best. A lot of that comes down to excellent acting and staging. And the relatively subtle touches that get under your skin.

Prime example. You have to walk through a short trail in a cornfield to get to the main site. I saw a guy in a mask lurking around in there, and figured he was going to jump out and try to startle me. He didn’t. He quietly stepped out and started following me, saying nothing. Much more disturbing. Another example. A deranged clown walking around and interacting with visitors, who goes by the name “Cuddles McSpanky.” Consider how disturbing that name is on so many levels.

In all likelihood, one of the reasons Bloodshed Farms is so good is that it isn’t really a business, so much as a collective of people who just love this shit.

Managers Clark Bish, Jim Reed and Kenny O’Ranger were kind enough to sit down and talk to me.

This is the first year for Bloodshed Farms, but the crew had been running the Haunted Prison attraction at the Burlington County Prison Museum in Mount Holly, N.J., for the past nine years.

Clark said they outgrew the Prison Museum. People started showing up by the thousands, resulting in two-hour waits.

According to Clark, the group that puts it on consists largely of “home haunters.” Those are the people who go all out with the Halloween decorations, turning their houses into mini attractions. Many of the props at Bloodshed Farms came from such home displays. The participants approach Bloodshed Farms as a labor of love, and most of the profits will go into buying more stuff for next year.

“We just want the money to play with it more,” Jim said.

The attraction now consists of an open, central area with a DJ and concessions. Visitors have a choice of the Funhouse of Fear, Hellsgate Prison, Necropolis Cemetery and the Trail of Terror.

Unique to Bloodshed Farms is an attraction actually called “The Blood Shed.” But expect variations on the concept to crop up soon at other haunted attractions, because it’s a winner.

Clark said the idea came from movies like “Saw” and “Hostel.” What happens is that you pay money to enter the shed, and get strapped into a chair. They give you a buzzer to hit when you can’t take any more. Then a demented ghoul enters and menaces you with a number of torture implements. As an added bonus, your friends get to watch on a TV outside, and laugh at your torment.

Sound sick and twisted? It is. Hey, if you’re a horror fan, “sick” and “twisted” aren’t necessarily pejorative terms. It’s also a blast. I’d highly recommend it.

Clark said their ultimate goal is for annual visitors to feel just as invested in Bloodshed  Farms as the organizers and actors.

“We want it to be like a tradition to come here,” Clark said.

Bloodshed Farms Fear Fest is located at Columbus Farmer’s Market, 2919 U.S. 206, Columbus, N.J. Tickets are available from 6:30 to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays through Halloween. See more here.

 

I really wanted to do more with the Halloween season for this blog, but I just didn’t get the chance. I’ve been busy with volunteering for a political campaign, and some other (mostly good) stuff has been going on in my personal life. Finally, Hurricane Sandy pretty much put the kibosh on a lot of last-minute festivities. (Made it through OK. No worries here. Others weren’t so lucky, so please make a donation to the Red Cross for them.)

Still, since I love Halloween so much, I’d like to post something about it. So here’s a video from Halloween 2009, when I hosted a party at my apartment. One of the best Halloweens ever. My friends Pat and Molly came dressed as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and April O’Neil. We made this video in the street outside. I’m the thug. And yes, those are a pair of foam rubber practice nunchukus that Pat hits me with. No people or animals were harmed in the making of this video. Enjoy.

Has the existential terror of an unknowable universe that’s fundamentally inimical to the interests of humanity got YOU down this Halloween? Then reanimate your party with these Shadow Over Innsmouth-watering H.P. Lovecraft-inspired snacks! Old Ones and Young Ones alike will love ’em!

Spud Niggurath
– One Russet potato sliced paper thin
– Salt (optional)
– Parchment paper
Cut a sheet of parchment paper to fit a plate. Lay discs of potato on top in a flat layer, none touching. Sprinkle layer with salt, if desired. Cover with another sheet of parchment paper. Microwave for 5-6 minutes. Discs will have become lightly browned potato chips.

The Black Goat With a Thousand Young has plenty of little mouths to feed! She knows this one will keep ‘em smiling!

Cthuloops
-3 tablespoons butter or margarine
– 1 package (10 oz., about 40) regular marshmallows
– 6 cups Froot Loops cereal
1. In large saucepan melt butter over low heat. Add marshmallows and stir until completely melted. Remove from heat.
2. Add Froot Loops cereal. Stir until well coated.
3. Using buttered spatula or wax paper evenly press mixture into 13 x 9 x 2-inch pan coated with cooking spray. Cool. Cut into 2-inch squares. Best if served the same day.

“Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn” – that means “Yummy!”

Fetid ichor
– ½ cup vanilla pudding (homemade or store bought)
– 3 Oreo cookies
– Gummy worms
In a parfait glass or clear cup, fill the bottom with half of the vanilla pudding. Crumble the Oreo cookies into small pieces and place about half of the cookie crumbs over the pudding and add a few gummy worms. Repeat using the rest of your ingredients.

The Arab Abdul Alhazred is just MAD about these tasty treats! Try them with some chocolate Yog So-sauce!

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…)