Thursday, October 11, 2018

"BARN DANCE" — AN OCTOBER VIGNETTE




Barn Dance


Blood geysers from the stump where Mitchell Grovers' masked head once connected to his torso.  Thump, thump, thump rolls the noggin until thudding, upended sideways and clotted with hay, against a tractor tire.  Mitchell watches his malformed bulk stumble about, still struggling to impale the lovebirds with a pitchfork, until it crashes twitching and oozing to the grimy barn floor.

Mitchell tries to sigh, but lacking lungs, can’t.  He rolls his eyes in disgust.

“Careless.  Humiliating,” he muses.  “The Male got solid chop.  Impressive.  Least now The Female will stop shrieking.”

Mitchell’s head idles in the shadows, counting down the minutes until rebirth.  This part almost bores him back to the grave, because by now it’s so rote:  first the teenagers embrace in adrenalized joy (at least he thinks it’s joy—that emotion baffles, then infuriates, him), then they mash faces in a sloppy mixture of tears and sweat and saliva and mucus and blood (whose never seems to matter), then they drop their weapons (The Male’s machete vibrates as it impales the dirt), then they turn away and limp back to the car, or towards the highway to flag down a ride (since Mitchell previously destroyed their engine, they’ll definitely need to hitchhike).

He wonders how many times the ritual’s played out in his unlifetime.  Forty?  Fifty?  Mitchell reminds himself to tally the trophies in the secret shack; last thing he needs is Voicemother berating him for losing track of the tributes.

Enough time passes.  With no gaze upon the corpse to disrupt the healing, Mitchell wills his body to release the farm implement and crawl the fifteen, twenty feet to his head.  Huge, calloused hands grab the lumpen orb and press it to jagged wound, and a satisfying pop fills the barn.

Mitchell pulls himself upright.  He cracks his neck a few times to ensure proper attachment.

“Urghhhh,” he gurgles.  Re-found breath fogs the mask’s lenses.

He strides to the pitchfork, stomping the tines and launching it into his grip.  It feels good, so natural.  Mitchell is almost outside when he stops short.  He shakes his head in admonishment.

“Almost forgot machete.”  A quick backtrack rectifies the mistake.

He exits the barn, driven to continue his crusade.  The moon sinks ever faster to make way for the accursed sun, but with a steady gait, he will beat them to the roadway.

Despite the absence of a lower jaw, Mitchell Grovers smiles as he tromps through the underbrush.

 Justin S. Davis, Age 45

Friday, June 15, 2018

SLEAZE FEATURE: 'KILL RIVER' (2015)




Stop me if you've heard this one:

Some assholes go to summer camp, get lost in the woods, and end up butchered by a masked psycho.

Or this one:

Some assholes go to an amusement park, get locked in, and end up butchered by a masked psycho.

Tales as old as that top-loading VCR gathering dust in the back of your folks' closet, right?

You Know The One


But what if... what if...


What if some assholes go to summer camp, get lost in the woods, THEN go to an amusement park, get locked in, and end up butchered by a masked psycho?!!!

Now you're cooking with propane, baby!  And what's on the grill is Cameron Roubique's ode to Ye Olden Slasher Flyckes, Kill River!!!


A Cover So Nice SLICE, Had To Post It Twice DICE!!!


Kill River is an unabashed love letter to early-'80s costumed murderer fare that's also a self-published debut (with all the pitfalls that suggests), so your tolerance of the end product hangs on how affectionate, bemused, and / or forgiving you are towards those aspects.

The tale starts with three spoiled 1983-era idiots—The Jock Jerk (Jork?), The Pretty Blonde, The Sidekick Doofus—and their pet Final Girl running away from the mean ol' authority figures at Camp Kikawa (located in forested Somewheresville, USA) so they can hitchhike home to comfort and sloth.  The foolhardy foursome follows the nearby river to the highway, but takes the wrong bend and ends up in an immaculately pristine, fully functional waterpark that's utterly deserted.  

Except it isn't.

What follows is a retread of every slasher cliche: supervision-free fun is had until interrupted by the disappearances and the entrapments and the carnage, all building to a showdown between Innocence and Evil.  Final Girl triumphs.  Last page sets up requisite sequel.

Still awake...?


The Masters Of "Resting Contempt Face"


Good.  Because this is where I tell you how Roubique makes it interesting.

The incredible thing about Kill River is that the protagonists are kids.  No, not the thirty-somethings-pretending-to-be-high-schoolers in Every 1980s Movie (Horror Or Otherwise), but literal children:  the doomed trio are all of fourteen, while the heroine is thirteen.

That's a dynamic never seen in a slaughter film [the only summer camp movies with actual younglings I can think of are Sleepaway Camp and Friday The 13th, Part VI:  Jason Lives, but those waifs are never in any danger], and it changes EVERYTHING.  Here's how:

)  Other than just the briefest mention of an off-panel make-out and one line about an innocently accidental glimpse down F.G.'s bikini top, there's zero T&A.  This is A Big Honkin' Deal, as it takes mucho moxie for a writer to completely hobble themselves by removing one of the major, urm, selling points of the genre.

)  There's also no drug use, or alcohol consumption, or even drags off a discarded cigarette butt; no, the only thing these kids do "wrong" is defy adults and bellow "Fuck!" as much as your average teen has since The Dawn Of Time.  That means the traditional (staunchly conservative, when not outright regressive) morality play of the slasher milieu is completely upended.  These characters don't "deserve" to die like the thousands of horny / stoned / drunken / some-combination-thereof teens maimed via power tools before them.

She Knows What She Did.


)  When you're screaming at the page because the characters are morons and doing stupid things [sweet zombie Jason, STOP SPLITTING THE GROUP!!!], your disgust turns to sympathy because real-life kids are moronic and stupid.  The reader is forced, in the most organic of ways, to be "more charitable" towards the entire enterprise.  Manipulating the hardwired emotions of a jaded gorehound is no easy feat, itellyuhwhut.

)  The stakes are redlined, making the deaths all the more brutal, gruesome, and tragic. It's one thing when a douchebag jork who's old enough to apply for a mortgage gets a pitchfork in the sternum, but doing that to a nowhere-close-to-barely-legal teen who can't even get a learner's permit?  That's freakin' awful.

And now for the bad parts.

And By That, I Mean "Legitimately Bad", Like
How He Went To Hell, Not "HOLY SHITBALLS!!!'
Bad, Like How He Went Into Outer Space

)  The entire setting is fucking preposterous.

Even if you accept the existence of this operational playland paradise in the middle of nowhere, there's still other considerations that make the wheels fly off when thinking about it for more than three seconds.

First, there's the locale.  Though the park is smack in the thick of untamed wilderness in full summer bloom, the property is still landscaped and pristine and gorgeous like a Disney resort; there's nary an overgrown blade of grass on the lawn, nor a dead frog bobbing in the wave pool, nor a fallen twig or leaf or pinecone on the picnic tables... yet the site's been unstaffed for weeks thanks to plenty of pre-protagonist-arrival mayhem.  I get the author was shooting for a unique atmosphere playing off the schism between sparklingly modern and (the overdone, cliched) decrepitly derelict, but the overall effect is less "unnervingly otherworldly" and more "stone-cold goofy".

It's wack, yo.

Then there's accessibility.  The kids are trapped in this park because they drift from the wrong fork into a tunnel that's, like, a lazy river egress with giant metal doors that lock behind them.  Conveniently, the grounds are also completely surrounded by a high (and surreptitiously electrified!) iron fence.

So, uh, where are the entrances and exits for the patrons and staff?  The turnstiles?  The parking lots?  The access roads?

I mean, the kids even stumble upon the leavings—in the "gear", "heavy equipment", and "bodies" senses of the term—of construction / caretaker crews, but how by all that's unholy did those people come and go?

Seriously, y'all.  The only way that park got there was by being dropped, fully built, from On High.

ALERT:  Wackness Level Upgraded To "Wiggedy"

And what's up with the amenities?  There are rides a'plenty, as one should expect, and even bathrooms and showers.  But there isn't a single sit-down restaurant or snack kiosk or sno-cone cart or dinky water fountain in the joint.  This would be a trivial nitpick if not for how often the kids' mention their ever-increasing hunger and thirst.  It's a conspicuously weird omission, and one easily fixed by the barest of descriptors.

)  I've thus far addressed the whos, whats, whens, wheres, and hows, so that just leaves the whys...

...and there fucking aren't any!!!

There is no explanation for the existence of The Waterpark In The Woods.  No clue why it's there, or who bankrolled it.  It'd have been more cogent if the place was made of candy and full of witches.

I concede there's a teensy blink-and-you'll-miss-it implication that the fully functional site is simply a test model for a real park built in civilization, but that is a seriously egregious waste of time and resources.

The "Jurassic Method" Is No Way To Implement A Tourist Attraction

The greatest sin—and it's a doozy—is a complete lack of Big Secret Reveal about the maniac himself.

Yes, he's a titanic, mute, lumbering hulk with a propensity for violence and the requisite superpowers of hyper-stealth and pseudo-teleportation.  Yes, he wears a mask (which is a droopy, rubber skull with long, stringy hair that resembles the park's cartoon mascot, Kaptain Smiley), as was the style of the time.

But there's not the slightest hint as to his motivations for the slaughter.  Is he furious about construction on his sacred Native lands?  Is he a fired architect or electrician or janitor back for workplace revenge?  A deformed reject from the summer camp?  A random loon on an Outward Bound holiday?

And did he build the park?  If so, he'd have to be wealthy beyond Patrick Bateman's wildest dreams, but why live like a grimy savage in the outback, apparently surviving only on woodland critters caught with bare hands and consumed raw?

We don't learn a danged thing about this killer.  His mask isn't even pulled off by Final Girl to get a glimpse of his true face!

Sure, that there is the briefest exchange about a "totally true tragic incident" in Camp Kikawa's past, but it's so insignificant and infer-wrong-and-you'll-miss-it-able that it may not even have anything to do with the maniac in the first place.  Even Michael Myers, the most cryptic and elusive of the iconic slashers, got a name and a cursory backstory in his initial outing.  The aquatic murder-tourist of Kill River, though?  Bupkiss.

The last page maybe suggests that all answers will be revealed in the presaged sequel, but that's straight-up cheating.  I guarantee that if this book was a movie, popcorn buckets and quarter-full cups of melted Icee® would be launched at the screen the instant the credits rolled.

)  My final (whew!) gripe is the now-standard Curse Of The Vanity Press, aka The Savaging Of The Mother Tongue.  Roubique drops comma splices like a maniac does body slices; hell, there are so many, it seems like an intentional stylistic choice.  [Note:  It's not.]  He also writes in short, choppy sentences to simulate action and suspense, but immediately undercuts them with passive voice constructions.  Hundreds upon hundreds of passive voice constructions, y'all; it's exhausting.  And there's several handfuls (and we're talking a humongous maniac's handful here, not your standard) of text blocks choked with clunky word repetition, like, say, a half-dozen instances of "bodies" in about as many sentences.

I have to give credit where credit is due, though, because I only noticed one spelling error (a who's instead of a whose), and that was in the afterword.  In my experience, nowadays one can't even get through a single short story in a collection from a Major Publishing House without finding glaring typos, so kudos to the author.

Oh, for the glory days of OG editors!

Remember, 2018 Graduates:  EVERY Career Path Leads To Murder!

)  Oh, crap—I almost forgot about the soundtrack!  Yes, there's a soundtrack, as Final Girl's accessory of choice (hereby christened "Chekhov's Walkman") always blares jams that conveniently sync up with the action.  The Go-Go's [yeesh, do I hate that apostrophe], Frida, and Cyndi Lauper song titles are sooooo on the nose, it's irritating.  Twee, and irritating.

Fer Fuck's Sake, Final Girl:  It's A Crime Against Mix-Tapes
For 99% Of The Songs To Be From The Same Band.  Christ.

I'm sure many readers will find the musical aspect adorable.  Maybe I'm just a crank.



So, there's my dissection of Kill River, with its innards laid bare and dripping.

Was it a good book?   Fuck no.  But was it a fun, zippy homage to its celluloid forbears?  Abso-freakin'-lutely, and fun tromps over good for every single one of this consumer's entertainments.

Would I keep it to re-read?  No, probably not.  It'll get dumped in that box of stuff I never get around to selling to Half-Price.  (Which means I guess I am keeping it, after all?  Sigh.)

But would I seek out Roubique's other works?  Count on it.  I'm dying to know if all my gripes are answered in—yes, really—Kill River 2.

Come On, Man.  Kill River 2:  Dive Harder Was RIGHT THERE!!!

And, peep this!

Roubique's penned what is arguably The Most The Haunted Spookshow Of Channel X-ish Thing Ever.

BEHOLD ITS MAJESTY!!!

He Gets Me!!!  He TOTALLY Gets Me!!!


You bet your ticket stubs that one's going in the Amazon cart with a quickness.

I'm blessing Kill River with a solid three Original Party Animals out of 5.  I'm probably—no, definitely—being too generous in consideration of the book's copious ills, but good intentions and novelty win the day.  After all, I can honestly say I've never before experienced a slasher flick with a flume ride that dumps into a frothy, greasy, disgusting soup of waterlogged cadavers.


Friday, February 23, 2018

"Gonzo Crawl Classics"... Meh, Needs Work


Here's another from the deep cesspit of derelict projects, a Dungeon Crawl Classics-esque background list for 0-level morts.

I have some scribblings for a goofy corresponding adventure.  Maybe make it a zine?  You kids today are into zines, right?


Sample Preview!


Monday, September 19, 2016

DEADER HOMES AND GOREDENS™ — THE PLANET MOTHERFUCKER DECORATING GUIDE!!!

You viewers of The Haunted Spookshow Of Channel X are well aware of Ye Olde Author's unabashed affection for those chintzy boxed costumes of Halloweens past.  The garish imagery of the garb, the chemical scents that choked store aisles, and the incessant susurruses of children's vinyl-clad bodies informed the Octobers of my childhood.

I love those old Ben Cooper and Collegeville and Kusan duds.  Absolutely love them.  (I was even a Jaws 2 in kindergarten!!!)

So it is with great fanfare and jubilation that I present THE GREATEST THINGS I HAVE EVER SEEN:





THEY'RE AMAZING!!! 



THEY'RE HUGE!!!  



THEY'RE BOXED!!!




THEY COME SEVEN STYLES,
ALL BASED ON CLASSIC DESIGNS!!!




Retro-A-Go-Go is taking pre-orders now, for late September delivery.  And at $34.99 apiece, I think they're a total bargain, because trying to find original masks / costumes in decent condition will set you back much more scratch.

Oh!  These are just Series 1—more waves are gonna be on the way!!!

So go pre-order some masks.  They'll look great on the walls of your manic-caves!!!