Charly says always tell…

I

It has been 6 years since Charlie went missing. I don’t think many people miss him.

I was interviewed by the police endlessly at the time, but when police busted in his dormitory door, and discovered two Glock 34s and a manifesto detailing his desire to end “all the bitches, whores, sluts and undesirables” who had made his life so difficult the day after he vanished was enough to mute any sympathy for the missing 21 year old.

I had had a hard time convincing the police that I knew nothing of the potential crimes, or of his disappearance, but as a search of my own room had turned up nothing in either case, and the weeks stretched to months with no sign of Charlie, I was let go, although I felt a particular sense of being watched for the next two years or so.

Maybe this document will vindicate those tireless, irritating cops who knew that I knew something else; that I had more to tell. Because of course I did. I couldn’t say with absolute certainty what had happened to him, but I knew enough to keep me awake and sweating at nights, and enough for the more perceptive investigators to sense it and shadow me.

Something else shadowed me through those long months. Readers may come away from this story thinking it little more than my own guilty dread, but I have seen the woman again, standing on the corner of Robie and Quinpool, and I know that she sees me too.

My hands sweat as I type this. Let me return for a moment to Charlie, and more mundane horrors.

I had known Charlie since I was six years old. We like to pretend that we choose our friends, and that certainly becomes easier as we age, but for children accidents of proximity take precedence over almost anything else.

He wasn’t repulsive then, not yet. Certainly as he grew into a teenager there was an arrogance there, born out of the fact that he was very clever, at least academically, but many would have said the same thing about me at the time – many still do – but the true ugliness emerged among the ravages of puberty.

There are obvious exceptions of course, but the poisonous chalice of hormones that ravage a small boy’s (and girl’s!) body do have some unpleasant side-effects. Myself, I could not stop squeaking for a solid two years, and frequent eruptions on my nose and chin plagued me well into my twenties. Charlie, however, was something else. There’s a kind of acne that looks almost diseased, turning the skin a darkish purple and mottled. I thank the stars every day that I was not affected as badly, but Charlie was not so lucky.

It was then we had our first rude awakening to how the world works. Every piece of media aimed towards children emphasises that it’s “what’s on the inside that counts”, but in the cruel, closed world of High School, that noble lie is trampled into the dust. We weren’t bullied, as such – there was no single perpetrators, but those who have been through a similar experience will know of that miasma of unfocused hate that teenagers direct towards their social inferiors. If you explained it to them, the caste system of pre-modern India would seem a perfectly reasonable analogue.

I have never thought of myself as a realist, but all of this seemed perfectly obvious to me, even at the time. Charlie, someone who approached the world as he thought it should be, lived in the semi-delusional belief that rather than being at the bottom, we were at the top. We certainly were academically, but by any other bar we ranked somewhere near the kids with learning disabilities. He even convinced himself that romantically there was no one at the school “worth bothering with”. The fact that this was a reaction to none of them bothering with him seemed to have been swept under the rug.

I had grown apart from him in my later school years, and by the time I graduated I seemed, by luck rather than by design, to have stripped most of the unnameable, undesirable qualities that I had apparently possessed. I even had a girlfriend, a sweet, timid girl who I loved spending time with.

Charlie, however, still seemed to be stuck in a holding pattern. Whatever had allowed me to break from the loop had not broken him, and I found him an increasingly bitter individual to be around. He had begun to rail, in a way that was to become familiar, against the women around him – abandoning his former position of aloof non-interest to an angry, cynical view of those he went to High School with. I wondered what had changed him, and eventually a girl we had both known for some time admitted that she had had to gently rebuff him and this hadn’t gone well.

I suppose, in our own ways, we had wanted university to be a fresh start. I had broken up with my girlfriend amicably, and was eager and excited to meet new people at Acadia. I had learned that I had to share a sink with another person in the next room, but was delighted to discover that I had my own space.

Charlie had jealously guarded his applications from me, despite the fact I didn’t care, and on the day I moved in I found out why. He was in the room next to me, and we had to share a sink. I friendship had fallen a long way – I felt a twinge of revulsion at the idea.

He acted like nothing had changed, and while he was a good guy to game with at other times he was extremely difficult to be around. He held forth long winded rants on any and every subject, ridiculing those of us who dared disagree with him. His ego grew to gigantic heights, as he declared himself a genius and started calling those of us who disagreed “poor, deluded fools”. He was a rampant conspiracy theorist.

Obviously this alienated anyone I brought back, and new guy friends I coached carefully or went and hung out at their place. With girls, there was no question of bringing them back. At best, he was a figure of fun among my friends and course mates, but for me there was less and less humour with every passing day. He was an active nuisance.

As his ego grew, his attention to his appearance and cleanliness fell away. He had never been a skinny kid, as opposed to me who had always looked like a recovering heroin addict, but a poor diet of kebabs and fried chicken swelled him to an enormous size over the course of a few months.

Worse though was the smell. An adolescence spent in a crowded school had taught me the value of deodorant and regular bathing, but the lesson had been lost on Charlie. A stale, rank odour hung in the air between our rooms, solidifying into a tangible taste in his room itself. After a few months I stopped going in there, and stopped inviting people around altogether. The ones who knew, understood.

People often wonder at my strange hobby of burning incense, assuming it’s an affectation with a whiff of cultural appropriation, but in truth I now work best with something burning nearby simply because there was no other way to work in my tiny dorm room.

He sometimes came out with us. Those occasions I dreaded the most, because he inevitably invited himself and covered himself in some foul-smelling cologne. The trouble was, this was the time that social media had only just taken off, so hiding events and parties from him was tricky.

He was rude, difficult, whiny, abrasive, offensive and unpleasant.

It was on one of these occasions, buoyed up by one too many beers, that I finally told Charlie to fuck off. I had endured him for over a decade and I was done with him.

He moved out a week after that.

I didn’t see Charlie for eighteen months.

II

It was the middle of finals week in my second year that I saw Charlie again. I almost didn’t recognize him. He was sharply dressed, and had shaved his head and beard. He had lost a ton of weight, and then seemed to have put some of it back on as muscle. He looked almost, well, normal. At least until he opened his mouth.

“Good morning! And how are you?”

He had caught me by surprise, and now held one of my hands in a death grip. He talked like a politician. I responded that I was fine. Something seemed off.

“Excellent, Excellent. Still skinny I see!”

With that he grabbed at my forearm, and I instinctively pulled away. What was going on here? There had been a harsh glimmer in his eyes as he’d spoken, followed by another faceless grin. As he’d said it his line of sight had momentarily flickered to a group of girls stood nearby. I had a sneaking suspicion that this conversation was for their benefit.

“Listen.” he put an arm around me, and there was that cologne again. “We’re friends. I want to help you out.”

I was still too shell-shocked from his barrage that I didn’t come out with some snarky comeback. I just nodded, wondering what he could help me with.

“I’ve got to run, but there’s a book you should read. I’ll drop it around your dorm tomorrow.”

With that he let go, and sauntered off. Absurdly, he had a cane that he twirled. I didn’t know how I hadn’t noticed it.

Later that evening, I returned to my dorm to find a book propped up against the door. There was no note, but I had no doubts as to who it was from. I picked it up, and it took a few seconds to work out what it was.

A few weeks before, one of my less romantically successful friends had been talking to us about something he called ‘game’. He’d been reading some stuff online, and thought that these guides on ‘picking up’ would help him out. We’d laughed at him then, and Bear had first tousled his hair and then set him up on a date with a girl from one of his labs. They had got on like a house on fire and John hadn’t mentioned it again.

This however, looked similar. I read it over the next three days. It was a strange mixture of sound advice about personal hygiene and appearance, solid confidence boosters, truly bizarre ‘pick up’ techniques and a couple of things that in retrospect sounded suspiciously close to date rape.

He called me a week later, almost breathless with excitement.

“Did you read it?”

I confirmed that I had, and was about to voice some concerns when he interrupted.

“Well then, let’s hit the town! I’ll be round about eight.”

I went that night, more out of a sense of genuine curiosity than anything else. We hit a bar first, and as we went in Charlie silently indicated a group of girls at the bar. I hung back at first, just watching. He went up and, to my astonishment, pulled a bunch of fake flowers from his wrist. The girls laughed, delighted, and before long I had joined them around a large table. There was one girl in particular I really liked the look of, and she returned my shy smile with one of her own. Meanwhile Charlie was regaling the table with stories of our school days, most of which never happened.

The shift was subtle, but I could feel it when he started to lose the room. Under the nice clothes and the muscles there remained a tiresome blowhard, and he interrupted the other girls when they tried to speak. Eventually, I went to pee, and when I came back they were filing out of the door. I did run into the shy girl again some time later, though. We had a little boy last June.

Charlie didn’t understand what had happened. He had followed the rules proscribed, and yet still wasn’t getting anywhere. He sat down heavily, and to my astonishment, started crying right there and then. It all came tumbling out. He was still a virgin. The book hadn’t helped. He was going to die a virgin, and he had been a perfect gentlemen and they only wanted assholes, so fuck them and he would have his revenge.

I put it down to drunken rambling, but that last phrase still haunts me to this day.

III

I didn’t see him again for another six months. I didn’t think he was dangerous, not then, but I didn’t want to be around him. Chloe had got the full story out of me on our third official date, and felt sorry for him, but my pity and my patience was through. He had put up a facade, and that facade had cracked and revealed the ugliness beneath. Maybe one day he would grow up, but for now, I was done.

The same as before, he got in contact with me. He cornered me when he saw me going into a shop. He asked me if I was still dating ‘that bitch from the bar’, and it took an incredible amount of restraint for me to not hit him. There was something off about him, an anger covered with placidity that frightened me. I said yes.

He told me with a sickly smile that he still wanted revenge on those girls, and all the other girls at the university. I didn’t know what this meant at the time, but now I do I still shiver when I think about it. He had met someone online, he told me, an older woman, who agreed with his plans. He had apparently let his heart out to this stranger, and been responded to in kind.

The day after he met up with her for the first time was even stranger. He knocked on my door almost absent-mindedly, and seemed vaguely distant the whole time. He even seemed this way when I asked about his date.

“She’s … wonderful.” he said, in a singsong voice. “I’m seeing her tonight.” His head turned slowly to the window.“I should be going.”

He left, and as far as I told the police, that was the last time I saw him. I was apparently one of the last – there are a few witnesses who saw him get on the bus and get off on Quinpool, but other than that, nothing.

I lied to the police. The true story of what happened that night, insofar as I know it, is as follows.

Something was seriously wrong with Charlie. That much was obvious, but at the same time I had no idea how he would react to me following him on his date.

It was cold outside, so I bundled myself up and pulled the hood on my jacket as far forward as it would go. I lurked in the shadows near the bus stop, and slipped on just before it pulled away. Charlie had gone upstairs. I followed him.

The stairs came out around a third of the way down the bus, and to my relief I spotted Charlie in front of them, facing forward. My cover wasn’t blown yet. I stared at the back of his head the whole way, and he didn’t move once. Eventually, when the bus lurched to a stop, he stood and, still with that dreamy look on his face, headed down the stairs. I waited a few seconds, and then followed.

By the time I got off he was some distance down the street, talking to a woman. She caressed his face, and to my surprise, wasn’t wearing gloves or anything on her sleeves. She was very pale, and very tall. She put a hand on his back, and as they turned to walk away, she looked down the street straight at me. Instantly I knew that while Charlie might still be oblivious, she knew what I had done. The look, a terrifying, penetrating look from two black pools, was one of almost idle curiosity. And then, they swept off, and were around a corner before I recovered.

I ran, and slipped, and ran again, reaching the corner to see Charlie being ushered into a boarded up house. The woman had her back to me, and she followed him in.

It was by now almost completely dark. Street lamps buzzed and came on as a crept up to the house. I stepped over a waist high fence and looked through the cracks in the shutters.

A single streetlamp behind me served to illuminate the gloom. I saw Charlie standing, facing the window, and the woman sultrily stepped behind him. There was a strange, shifting quality to her now, and as she left the light she seemed to be taller still.

A few seconds passed, and then something large and bulky got between Charlie and the window. The street light still shone, and it illuminated something black and scaly at my eye level. I could hear the woman talking now, a low level hissing sound that froze my blood. She was angry, and the bulk in front of my eyes swayed slowly from side to side.

It was only when it moved completely that the truth dawned on me. The black scaly thing blocking my eyes and the woman were one and the same. I fell at that, and only through youthful stupidity (masquerading as willpower) did I force myself back to the window.

Charlie was stood, alone in the room. He still had that dreamy expression his face, lolled to one side, but the strange purple lips and bloody drool suggested he was dead.

The woman, or whatever it was, was nowhere to be seen, at least at first. A pair of hands with white insectile fingers appeared out of the gloom and placed themselves on Charlie’s shoulders. He collapsed slowly, as if whatever had killed him had made him rigid and immobile. The creature bent over him, and cooed softly, a long black tail curling around his body.

Oh my dear. My poor dear. You will feed my sisters who cannot yet stray from the nest. But, my love, what shall we do about the one outside? Time, my dear, time. We must give it time to mature.

 

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Cynthie

When I received the telegram from Sir Walter Hawthorne, I must confess I was surprised. We had had some short acquaintance in during the Great War, both serving on the staff of General, now Viscount, Byng, and as far as I had remembered we had shared little in common, despite our roles as medical professionals in a war that made a mockery of such.

There was one thing, however. Both of us had expressed an interest in so-called spiritualism – although as I recalled, his studies had taken a far more occult bent than my own more casual dabbling. It was to this his telegram alluded:

My dear Julian (our acquaintance had obviously meant more to him!)

I have reached a critical point in my studies and require some help to make the next stage a success. Please attend as soon as able.

Walter.

 

I considered his request carefully, but having no patients in the immediate future, at least none that could not be put off. I packed my suitcases, left instructions for the housekeeper, and headed up into the wilder reaches of the Annapolis Valley.

As the motor car rattled northwards, I tried to remember what little I knew of Sir Walter. He was married, certainly, and I remember distinctly the impression that she was a foreigner of some kind, due to vague references he had made. More definite was his daughter – his face had lit up when he talked about her and he had even had shown me a wrinkled browning photograph of a stern looking girl in a floral dress.

The girl stuck in my memory because of a peculiarity of her features. She was not an ugly child, but a certain elongation of her face leant her eyes a strange look. I would have put it down to her foreign parentage if I had not seen mixed race children on my travels. If her mother was some form of foreigner, I had no idea from where she came.

The other oddity was the picture itself. It was the fashion in those days for the picture of a child to be fully in the picture, or else a close-up of the face. This was neither, and instead there was the upper half of the child in the lower half of the picture and an eternity of brown space above her head. This was more easily explained, however. Sir Walter had clearly taken the picture himself, and as an inexperienced amateur, had not framed her in it correctly.

Eventually the road gave way to a rutted track, and then a sharp right turn up a steep driveway brought me to Sir Walter’s abode. It was a handsome house of Georgian vintage, with high windows and a certain solidity of structure houses of that era possess. After passing dozens of farmsteads that could be described as little more than shacks, the house was a reassuring sight, and I at once pictured a roaring fireplace and a hearty meal.

When Sir Walter answered the door himself, something felt amiss. He was a man of considerable means, and therefore answering his own door must have been an eccentricity rather than a necessity. There didn’t appear to be any other staff around either.

As I stepped over the threshold, I was immediately hit by a wave of heat. Instead of the relief I expected, I almost staggered and gagged. This was not the heat of a fire – it was a wet, almost tangible thing, that stifled the air and filled it with a smell not unlike rotting fruit. As I stepped into the kitchen there seemed to be no source for this miasma. It was foul.

It even seemed to bother Sir Walter a little, and he mopped his brow as he led me towards an armchair. When we sat, I properly examined my old wartime companion for the first time.

He was a stooped, quiet man, who owed his title more to ancestral fortune than to any merit on his part. A shock of grey hair shot out from each temple, and to my astonishment I noticed he was wearing rubber boots. He was nervous, and avoided eye contact with me. Instead he removed his spectacles, repeatedly rubbing at them and putting them back. After a few minutes of this – he standing, I sitting, to add to the awkward atmosphere – he seemed to focus on me properly for the first time.

“Well, Julian, shall we begin?”

At this a certain degree of anger hit me. He had dragged me up to his house with little to no explanation, and now was expecting me to proceed in a matter I knew nothing about!

“Look, Sir Walter (he waved his hand at this as if the title meant little), I have driven a long way with little to no rest, and I believe the very least I am owed is an explanation for why I am here.”

He crumpled at that. He suddenly looked very old, and very tired. He indicated towards the mantle.

“I…” He stopped and composed himself. “I wish to see Cynthie again.”

On the mantle was a copy of the same photograph I had seen years before, beautifully framed and lined with black velvet.

I regretted my anger immediately. My own spiritualism had withered in the face of too many frauds, but obviously his had not, He had contacted me in the hopes of conversing with the dead.

“I’m terribly sorry, Walter. I had no idea.”

“She’s with her mother now.” he said, and there was a strange hint of malice in his voice as well as grief. “But with your help, I hope that tonight I will see her again.”

He had become distant again, so I stood and indicated that he should lead on.

He led me down into a cavernous basement. It was from here that I realised the smell was coming from, as some glutinous mixture of enzymes covered the entire floor. He indicated that I should put on another pair of rubber boots he had at the top of the stairs.

Down at the bottom the smell was almost intolerable. I had spoken to a handful of people who had the misfortune to inhale mustard gas and this was similar to how they described the sensation. It seemed to cling to my very clothes, and penetrated into the furthest reaches of my sinuses. There was something else to it now, something worse than rotting fruit. Something … burnt.

In the centre of the room a small platform was raised, and on it, arcane symbols had been carefully drawn out in chalk. I had seen some of them before, in books I dare not mention, but others were unfamiliar to me. I examined them for a few minutes, before Sir Walter busied me away from it.

“No, no, no. You stand here.”

He indicated a spot on the far side of the cellar. Here I was far from both the platform and the curious array of equipment that Sir Walter went back to adjusting. He switched on an electric spotlight above the platform, and plunged the rest of the basement into pitch black.

“In a moment,” he cried out, “I will run a current through the substrate on the floor. Whatever you do, don’t touch it.”

I affirmed that I understood, and he flipped the switch. There was a buzzing of an enormously powerful generator, and around the platform a sickly glow, lit by flashes and sparks, spread from the liquid. It glowed, to the extent that I could see Sir Walter’s grim face by his machinery, concentrating intently on the centre of the room. This went on for what seemed like several minutes, and I was just about to yell that Sir Walter had better power down or risk burning out his equipment, movement caught my eye at the edge of the illumination.

Into the spotlight stepped Sir Walter’s daughter. Cynthie had grown into a young woman, with thick black hair cascading down her front. Her eyes were closed, and I thanked god in that moment that they were, for as she stepped forward again, the rest of her body came into view.

From the waist up she was normal, or at the very least, human. She was naked, and her long hair preserved her modesty. Her hands were clasped in front of her in a mockery of prayer. From the waist down, there was something … else. She had not come fully onto the platform yet, and I could only see a hint of a scaly blackness below her waist.

Two giant arachnid forelegs came out in front of her, and pulled her snake-like rear fully onto the platform. I shrieked in that moment, and she opened her eyes and stared at me curiously with fully human eyes. Below her waist her limbs moved again, and four insectile legs clasped the edges of the platform, supporting the bulk of what was behind. Dear God! No wonder he had taken the photograph in such a way!

She turned from me and looked at Sir Walter.

“Father.” she said, silky smooth and without a hint of affection.

“Cynthie!” he said, stepping forward.

The final horror came as a shadow detached itself from the wall behind me, and moved around the edge of the room with inhuman speed. I never saw it clearly, but as Sir Walter reached towards his daughter, something foul and insectile reached around and lifted him clear off the floor and spun him around.

A dozen eyes glittered in the darkness. Thus far I was rooted to the spot, but the final thing that sent me careening from that house of horrors was when the second creature spoke. It was a raspy, cooing noise, and infinitely horrible and alien, yet also undeniably female. Sir Walter screamed at what she said, and as I ran up the stairs there was a ragged, tearing noise and the screams died.

However, it was the words themselves that would keep me from sleep for countless nights to come. I would play them over and over again, and marvel at the nightmare I had narrowly escaped:

Foolish Lover. Did you really think that someone else could pay the price for you?

Maglocunus

There has been much speculation on the nature of my experiences in Northern Wales. I have been reluctant to speak for fear of ridicule and professional ruin, but now I feel the time has come. My anxieties have been overcome by a greater dread following the announcement of the proposed expedition to the dark and forbidden valley in which my partner Sir Henry Grayle and I made the initial discovery amongst the barrows. His subsequent disappearance and my lengthy hospitalisation are a matter of public record, but there has been little else for the gossip columns on Fleet Street to go on.

Seeing as the few facts known don’t seem to have disturbed the minds of the men behind the current proposal,  I will state this as clearly as possible: the barrows must not be opened.

———–

Perhaps I had better start at the beginning. My schooling was laid out from an early age, through King’s College School through to the University of the same name. I was tempted to take up theology, but ultimately washed up on the shores of the Faculty of History.

There were, at this time, several lines of study open to me. At the time, Egyptology was in vogue, and this seemed to be the most intellectually profitable direction I could take. However, one season in the baking Arab sun cured me of my misconception, as I had no desire to be a mere relic hunter and the relentless heat drove down my spirits.

It was with some surprise, then, that I quickly discovered another line of enquiry closer to home. The semi-legendary Kings of Britain’s Dark Age past reached out to me from the pages of Gildas and Geoffrey of Monmouth to grip and fascinate me. Shadows of vanished kingdoms danced in front of me, haunting my dreams.

However, outside of these excellent sources, the evidence was less than substantial. In fact, it was non-existent. Instead of the later, clear narratives of the Anglo-Saxon chronicle, there was a deafening void, filled by puerile tales of King Arthur.

Nevertheless, I was content, and much to my surprise in this time I somehow acquired a protege. Sir Henry Grayle was a tall, wiry man whose eyes were so pale blue that people mistook him for being blind. He was a good man, and fine company, and given the scarcity of material he was soon up to a similar level of comprehension and we collaborated on many papers.

However, his historiographical methods differed somewhat from mine. While I was content mostly with academic work (my sojourn in Egypt having cured me of my delusions of adventure), Sir Henry felt the pull of the natural outdoorsman. In some ways I feel as if he lacked imagination – he could not conjure the lost realms of Ancient Britannia without sensory input.

It was at this time I noticed another worrying trend. His desire to work in the field, so to speak, and his obsession with recovering artifacts of that era, began to resemble the rapacious treasure hunters of Egypt I had so despised. In Sir Henry’s case, I believe he was innocent of their baser desires, the Grayles being an exceptionally wealthy family, but I fear he searched for something greater. Prestige, perhaps.

He also gave much more credence to local legend than I felt appropriate. His first instinct upon entering a town or village was to frequent the local pub, conversing with the locals and asking about the traditions of that particular part of the world. The fact that he was able to do so was due in no small part to his effortless charm, a skill I envied him, and that may have influenced my attitude.

It was late last August, when I received word from Sir Henry from just outside Beaumaris. The telegram was opaque, and unfortunately the original is lost, but one word stood out to me among the confusing talk of great discoveries. The word was Maglocunus.

A shiver went up my spine. I am not sure if it was excitement or fear. The word means a great deal to scholars of Brythonic Kings, but for the benefit of lay readers I will briefly outline the reason.

Maglocunus was the name of a Brythonic King from around the middle of the 6th Century. Unlike many of the semi-legendary kings of this era, he is known from a contemporary source, indeed the only contemporary source – De excidio et conquestu Britanniae by the British monk Gildas.

The document, a polemic of brutal condemnation, targets the contemporary clergy and ruling class of Britain, identifying the moral failings of the British people for their slow conquest at the hands of the Saxons. He saves his most bitter recriminations for the ruler of Anglesey, a king he refers to as the ‘Dragon of the Island’. To this person he ascribes many foul deeds, including the murder of his nephew and wife, claiming he had sunk to ‘the lowest depths of sacrilege’. His name, as given, is Maglocunus.

For years, the overwhelming condemnation heaped on the subjects of Gildas’ sermon has been assumed to have a political, as well as spiritual edge. The clergy, nearly untouchable to the Britons even in the face of Saxon apocalypse, were not aloof from the world, and the world has known men of god scheme and plot as well as the ungodly.

 

There is, however, something more serious present in these passages. The bitter recriminations heaped with scorn on other kings here take on a hysterical edge, and as such the shadow of a tyrannical king looms large behind the whole document. It was with some trepidation, then, that I had essentially received word that Sir Henry had found some evidence of him.

As I resolved to leave my comfortable quarters to journey to meet him at the expedition site, I received another telegram. This one I have to hand:

Have found it stop there are at least twenty mounds stop this may be the british valley of

the kings stop come immediately end

 

Clearly Sir Henry was having some sort of mental collapse. A British Valley of the Kings was on the surface preposterous, not least because Britain had been a fractured state of many competing ones and there was nothing contemporary to suggest such a place existed. I now felt I needed to travel all the more quickly, to make sure my friend was all right.

The train pulled into the tiny station which was proclaimed by a grubby sign to be Rhosneigr. On the platform, an excited Sir Henry bobbed up and down, and as soon as he was in range he grabbed my hand at shook it violently.

“So glad you’ve come, so glad.” he said cheerfully, but under his pale eyes there were heavy bags. He also kept glancing over his shoulder in a way that suggested there was someone following him.

He could barely contain himself, however, and even as I began to unpack he burst into my room bringing with him a large cardboard box.

“I’ve been inside one of them, Charles.” he said. “One of the barrows. I will take you up there tomorrow. But for now, look at this.”

With a flourish, he removed the lid of the box. Within there was a rusted sword hilt. His smile faded slightly when I looked nonplussed. “There.” he said, jabbing impatiently at the hilt. I leaned in, then looked at him in sudden shock.

Carved in the hilt was Maglo-us.

“It’s his, isn’t it.” he said, sudden desperation in his voice.

“I – I believe so.” I replied. I came to my senses. “You really should have left it where it was.”

Sir Henry dismissed that with a wave of his hand. “I documented its location. It will be returned.” He seemed to say the second sentence to the room at large, rather than just to me.

After these stunning revelations, he returned to his room, leaving the hilt for me to examine. It was certainly of the right design. If it was fake, it was a very clever forgery. My earlier dread was gone. In its place was a sense of nervous excitement.

Eventually, after what seemed like hours, my candle guttered. I looked up, and realised that it was brightening outside. Somehow I had studied the handle all night.

I also noticed something else. Outside at the edge of the lawn of the hotel, stood a figure. He was very tall (for I am almost certain it was a man) and he seemed to stand unnaturally still. He appeared to have some kind of heavy cloak draped around his shoulders. It was still far too dark to see his face, but I got the distinct impression that he was looking straight at my window. He seemed ethereal, as if he would fade if I went outside to approach him.

I retired to bed, deciding that I was imagining things, and that the groundworkers probably started early so as not to be seen by the guests. I had been asleep for half an hour, when I awoke with a start. It took me a few seconds to realise it, but the door had been opened, and it was the noise of that opening which had awakened me.

I lay facing the wall, overcome with a sudden sense of dread, I resisted turning over, even when I heard the creak of the floor as someone entered. Eventually however, I plucked up enough courage to turn and face my intruder.

The door was indeed open. Outside, in the hall, stood the figure I had seen on the lawn minutes earlier. Again, the eyes bored into mine from beneath a hood, even though they were not visible. The cloak, for at this point I confirmed that was what it was, was tattered and dirty. And he now had it circled around him, seemingly to hide what was underneath. The apparition didn’t move, not once in the time it stood there.

However, it, was the creature that had entered the room that caught most of my attention. It was a grotesque, twisted thing, seemingly shrivelled and dried out and yet still somehow, horribly alive. It was looming over the box containing the hilt. It looked back at the apparition beyond the door, as if for instructions, and then bent and picked the box up. It limped back to the door, hobbling strangely on its shrunken legs. At that moment, it looked back at me.

If I had ever been able to die of fright, that moment would have been it. I shrieked, even as it turned away and the door shut behind them. I was still shrieking when the landlady burst in, demanding to know what the noise was. I somehow passed it off as some sort of nightmare, jabbering at her until she left me alone.

I then packed, and immediately left. Somewhere in the journey back to London, I fainted on a platform, and it was in this state that I was rushed to hospital where I remained for some considerable time.

You may be wondering why I was so precipitous in the abandonment of Sir Henry, given his disappearance on the same night. Of the apparition in the doorway I can say little, but of his hideous familiar, I can say only this: it had the palest blue eyes I have ever seen.

I say again: The barrows must not be opened!

An Old House on Raglan Street

Every town thinks they have a house like the one at the end of Raglan Street. They all have some run-down shack with an overgrown garden, or a maisonette collapsing into ignominious decay: a place that can attract the local town legends and mysteries, a mythology in which children pass on fearful tales of murder and mayhem, each more lurid than the last.

In reality, these houses rarely radiate more than a sense of forlorn melancholy. The house on Raglan Street was different. It had no gate, no collapsing front deck and no weeds. It was barely talked about, and was instead avoided instinctively, as if the brooding building squatting at the point the road became track barely existed.

Unusually, there was more than one empty building on Raglan Street. The church stood empty, the white planks peeling paint and a faded sign proclaiming “-esus -igh- of the worl-” was disquieting, but paled in comparison to its baleful neighbour.

I was maybe ten when my mother sat down to tell me why I shouldn’t enter the house on Raglan Street. As a sensitive child the idea that I would go anywhere near the place scared the hell out of me, but apparently some boys in my class had thrown rocks through one of the windows and my mother wanted to make sure I wouldn’t take part in a similar expedition.

“You know about not letting people…touch you, right?” said my Mum. She was nervous, and anxiously searched my face.

“We had a policeman come into school and talk to us about it.”

“Good.” The relief was obvious. “And you know not to go near the house on Raglan Street? Or the old church?”

“Yes, Mum.”

“Good.” She looked into her mug of tea for a second before continuing.

“A long time ago, there was a bad man at the church. He was supposedly a Man of God. He did…he did what that police man said was wrong to some boys and girls from around here. He did…other things as well. Violent things.”

I didn’t really understand her, but she went on.

“The priest would take them to that old house.” she said, her voice wavering. “One of them didn’t ever come out again. A boy called Tommy. They searched the house.”

“What happened to the priest, Mum?”

“He…he was supposed to get reassigned. But he disappeared before then.” Venom I had never heard before entered her voice. “Bastard skipped town.”

———-

When I returned to the town as a property developer, the strange, horrible conversation with my mother twenty years before returned fully formed to my memory. The church had been demolished, but the house was still there, a little more run down and a little more filthy, a few more broken windows, but substantially the same. Somehow, the garden was still free of weeds. Nobody had ventured inside it for years.

Seeing the land was for sale, curiosity got the better of me, and I headed to the door. Old, childish fear rose up inside me, but I pushed open the door and went inside.

A sickly sweet smell assaulted my nostrils. The house was extremely dusty, and cockroaches clicked across the floor as I walked in. The kitchen was at the end of the hall, and I headed in that direction.

Rotten herbs and weeds hung from a rack and old pans sat in the sink covered in cotton-like mold. Moths flapped lazily in the airborne dust. The kitchen smelt of mulch and soil, and it was almost fresh, compared to the mustiness in the entrance hall. The awful sweet-smell was stronger too, and it was coming from a door in the corner.

Steps led down into a cellar. As well as the first smell, there was a vague hint of ash in the air, as if a fire had been burning below. It was pitch black, and as I bumped into the bottom step, I pulled my phone out to see what I was doing.

I swept my tiny rectangle of light over the cellar, and my heart stopped, and I left rapidly to re-enter a saner world.

By the time the police had cleared out the cellar they had discovered the remains of a fire pit and a primitive altar. The desiccated remains of a man’s body, still clad in vestments, was slumped behind it, and hadn’t been moved for some time. Another body had been found, a malnourished, naked, fifty year old with rotted teeth lying sprawled near the cellar steps. The time of death of the wretch had been impossible to determine due to his disease-ridden state, although he appeared to have suffered some sort of cardiac arrest relatively recently. He had clearly been living down there for years.

All of this I could have coped with. But the nightmares come for one simple reason, and one reason alone. In the sweep of that tiny rectangle of light, something near the steps had moved, and reached its pitiful arms towards me.

The Strange Mrs Dandridge

I
Mrs Dandridge had been one of a dozen old ladies living in the row of terraced houses known to the post office as Honeybee Avenue but to everybody else, it was known as the Hive.  She was presumably a widow, although Mr Dandridge had been dead such a long time that nobody could ever remember seeing him.
At one time, she had been friendly with the other older ladies living on the street, but her reluctance to invite any of them inside her own home and her extreme reticence about standard subjects, (such as the degenerate youth of the rest of the town with the notable exception of some grandson or other, or the influx of a small Polish community that threatened to overthrow the natural order of things), meant that she had experienced a gradual ostracism from the rest of the street. A year before she died, in the manner of outsiders the world over, she had instead become the subject of lurid gossip.
The nosy Mrs Beasley said she had seen Mrs Dandridge wandering around her back garden at an ungodly hour in some kind of haze, muttering strange things to herself (what Mrs Beasley was doing looking into someone else’s garden at this time was not discussed).
The magnificent Mrs Cole said she had heard strange noises from one of the upstairs windows; in the manner of an actress who really knew her audience, she refused to elaborate further – she simply raised an eyebrow and repeated ‘strange’.
The excitable Mrs Allen had confirmed Mrs Cole’s story, and added that at one time she had seen a green light blaze suddenly from the spare bedroom for a few seconds at the crescendo, but Mrs Allen was known to be a tad imaginative.
II
The final nail in terms of approval came a week before – a large package had arrived for Mrs Dandridge, and when there was no answer, the postman had delivered it to Mrs Allen next door and pushed a note through the letterbox. Mrs Allen, whose active imagination had been running riot after every discussion of Mrs Dandridge, couldn’t resist the opportunity to find out more, and opened the heavy box to “have a looksee”.
Inside was an extremely large, extremely ancient book with a set of symbols unlike anything Mrs Allen had seen before. The lettering and patterns seemed to weave together and shift on the cover and, after a few seconds, Mrs Allen’s head began to hurt. She couldn’t take her eyes off it.
A furious hammering at the door interrupted her trance. A full quarter hour had passed.
A wild eyed and wild haired Mrs Dandridge stood on the doorstep.
“You didn’t open it!”
Mrs Allen’s eyes widened in indignation “Certainly not!” Mrs Allen did not expect to be accused of such things on her own doorstep. The fact that she had was beside the point.
“Give it to me.”
It wouldn’t hurt to say please, thought Mrs Allen as she hastily shut up the lid and awkwardly carried it to the front door. Mrs Dandridge interrogative tone had vanished, and been replaced with a vague, dreamy look.
“Thank you, m’dear.”
And she was gone.
III
A week later a heat wave had struck. Mrs Cole’s dutiful grandson Paul had been visiting his grandmother and her friends in the way all good grandsons should – telling slightly risqué stories, pouring the tea, and flattering Mrs Allen. He was on his way home when he caught the edge of a very strange smell. Paul had never been around a body before, so he had little idea that, left in the heat, the smell becomes overpowering in a confined space and leaks out of windows and doors to pollute the street. He approached the house that seemed to be the source.
Unable to get any response from knocking, and remembering that this was Mrs Dandridge’s house – a woman he had found odd, but not known well enough to form the concrete opinions of his grandmother – he went around the back and found the back door ajar. Curiosity and concern overcoming trepidation, he pushed it open and went in.
The smell was overpowering, invading his nostrils and seemed to coat him in a layer of grease. Acutely aware that he was potentially trespassing, he called out.
“Mrs Dandridge?”
She wasn’t downstairs. He began to ascend.
“Mrs Dandridge?”
The smell was worse on the landing. He pushed open the door to the spare bedroom.
“Mrs Dan-“
The tableau before him was in many ways simple, but it took his eyes several seconds to process it. The simplicity itself underlined the stark, revelatory sense of horror he experienced.
A mirror was at one end of the room. On it had been scrawled a series of symbols and patterns in what was now a brown, flaky substance.
In front of the mirror was an emaciated corpse, a mummy that had been carefully dried out and preserved – this was later identified as the late Mr Dandridge.
In the far corner, a pizza delivery boy sat upright with a surprised expression and a cut throat.
In the middle of the room, a large book was opened at a page showing a horrific image of a demon that seemed to shift on the page. The two dimensional drawing seemed to have its own depth, and the mocking expression of the creature itself seemed to stare straight into Paul’s soul.
Finally there was Mrs Dandridge. The medics would later state that the expression of exquisite horror frozen on her face suggested that she had died immediately of fright. Paul could only hope that was the case, because whatever the strange Mrs Dandridge had seen that had taken her life had taken her eyes along with it.

The Hum

I

Good morning, Doctor.

Yes, I am feeling much better. How are you?

Good. What would you like to talk about today?

Ah.

If you insist.

The problem began, I suppose, when my motorbike hit the side of an articulated lorry. At least, that’s what they told me happened afterwards. I don’t remember, of course. I broke three ribs, both my legs, collapsed a lung and badly fractured my skull. They told me I was lucky. So did Mary.

No, she doesn’t visit any more.

I was in hospital for a few weeks before they discharged me, claiming me to be largely recovered. I was still in a wheelchair, of course, but they assured me the metal plate in my head had solved the most pressing threat to my continued wellbeing.  I was to have a nurse visit me twice a week to get me walking again, and a doctor’s visit every month to make sure I didn’t present any, how shall I put it, neurological oddities.

Of course, you already know all this. I am merely providing context. Narrative, if you will. It makes the whole thing seem tidier, don’t you think?

It didn’t start until about a month later. On the day I came home, Mary had gone out and bought me several DVD box-sets of TV shows she knew I liked. It was while I was watching one of these – honestly I don’t remember what. To a man with my condition, television seems like such an abstract now. Anyway, I first noticed it beneath the dialogue. It seemed to be present in moments of quiet, in between what the actors on screen were saying. A low, vibrating hum.

II
Naturally, I assumed there was something wrong with the cables at the back. When Mary got home, I asked her to check them for me. There didn’t seem to be a problem at all, so when she went out next, she bought a replacement cable for the link between the DVD player and the television.

It was still there the next day.

The television set and player were both fairly new – less than a year old. I thought it might just be me, so I did my best to ignore it from then on. It got worse, however, and by the end of the week, I could barely hear what was being said above the drone. Eventually Mary (to whom television is mostly a noisy distraction anway) sat down to watch something with me. After a few minutes, she declared she couldn’t hear anything at all. By this point the noise was starting to give me the headaches you have undoubtedly read about in my file.  I responded rather sharply that she must be deaf.

The next day, both the TV and the DVD player were unplugged and put into the garage. It had become a point of contention for her and more than a niggling problem for me. It was probably the right thing to do, because unbeknownst to her, I had even begun to hear the hum when the television was switched off.

The neurologist didn’t help at all. He said that the plate in my head was settling in and that there was bound to be a few odd occurrences here and there. If I waited a couple of months, I would probably be able to watch it again.

I asked him about people picking up radio signals on their fillings. He said that that was an urban myth.

III
A few days later, when I was more mobile, I wheeled myself into the kitchen to get a drink. There it was again. Below the slow natural hum of the refrigerator was a sharper buzzing. My hum.  I couldn’t believe it. I wheeled back into the lounge.

I think that was the first time I really panicked. The first thought that crossed my mind was if I was unable to go into the kitchen, I was unable to feed myself during the day when Mary was at work.  The second, far more terrifying thought was that the Hum was spreading to other appliances.  What if it spread to every electrical device? What if it didn’t stop? Many people talk of going back to nature or a simpler, more agrarian lifestyle. That was one thing. To be bodily forced into the 19th Century against my will was quite another.

Mary was very understanding when she came in. Her soothing tone and use of phrases like “crossing that bridge when we come to it” lulled me into a sense that perhaps everything would resolve itself. This sense was only surface deep, however, and beneath that black thoughts still danced.

The Hum got worse. Soon I was afflicted with it wherever I was in the house. By this time I had started walking again, thanks to my nurse, but the digital blood pressure machine she insisted on using sparked inside my head.

Phones were now useless to me. All entertainment that was anything other than a book or a pen and paper was also now out. I couldn’t even visit museums, once a simple pleasure, as a car ride was torture and the automated security systems clawed at my retinas. I was an outcast.

IV
In the end, Mary and I had to make that literally true. Mary found a cottage out in the depths of Wales that was perfect for this. It wasn’t hooked up to the mains; it had a gas-burning stove and an open fire. At the other end of the garden was a small shed, which Mary hooked up to a phone line and generator. She’d organised it to work out of there from now on, so she could keep her job and I wouldn’t be disturbed.  For the first time in nearly a year, I could relax.

There is little else to tell. One week, while Mary was at a set of important meetings in London, she hired a housekeeper to come in on the Wednesday to give the house a once over.

I don’t remember her name.

I had been reading steadily through The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes when The Hum hit me full force as it had never done before. It burned, it rasped, it gripped my spinal column like a vice. I was tormented, almost writhing in agony. Ah! It was all I could do to stand and reach for the poker by the fire.

I still don’t understand the screams of the woman, or Mary’s when she came in.

Don’t you see, doctor?

I had to stop that damned woman’s pacemaker somehow.

 

Hellraiser; or The Music Video for Tainted Love is Way More Intense Than We Remember

Hello and Hallo-welcome to How Have We Not Reviewed This Wednesday, where we pick up our own slack and review those big name films we know you were dying to hear our opinions on all these many years of Hallowfest! You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, two writers in the further regions of experience who are demons to some and angels to others.

Today’s Film Offering: Hellraiser

Lilly: Whoa.

Andy: You OK?

Lilly: Yeah just … give me a minute.

Andy: Get a glass of water or something. Or have a mint out of the box. NO NOT THAT BOah damn.

Cenobite: YOU RANG.

Andy: Yeah, sorry mate, we did the thing with the mints again.

Cenobite: YOU NEED TO STOP STORING INTERDIMENSIONAL PORTALS ON YOUR COFFEE TA-

Andy: Yeah, yeah I know.

51StiQZskKLAnyway. Hellraiser is one of the largest franchises we haven’t covered in any way, shape or form. Based on a novella by Clive Barker called The Hellbound Heart (way to spoil the ending, dude) there are no less than 9 movies in the series, with a 10th due sometime this year.

Lilly: Wait, what! I’m in. I’ve seen none of the other eight, will that be a problem? Whatever, I got time!

Cenobite: ACTUALLY THEY DECLINE IN QUALITY AFTER THE SECOND INSTALLMENT.

Lilly: That is surprisingly self-critical and meta of you, Cenobite.

Andy: WHY ARE YOU STILL HERE?

It’s also fairly unusual as far as horror franchises go. It’s British, for a start, as is Barker, and he directed and wrote the screenplay for the first movie. It’s a long running horror franchise that ISN’T a slasher, and it also began in 1987, at a time when most other franchises were merrily beginning to plow themselves into the ground. The worst offender, Friday the 13th, was between Part VI and VII. In a market well past its late-70s prime, this is shockingly original.

The plot involves a man called Frank, a jaded man seeking new extremes of sensation. Purchasing a puzzle box in a Marrakech (or somewhere like it) he solves it – opening a portal to a dimension of ultimate pleasure and pain: indeed a place where the distinction between the two is essentially meaningless. And in the opening move of what promises to be a deeply unpleasant experience, he is torn apart by rusty hooks. Exit Frank.

Lilly: Oh, PS, this movie is super graphic.

Andy: Some time later (months? years?) his brother Larry moves into his house with his British (read: uptight) wife, Julia. As we here at Hallowfest know all too well, moving house is a pain in the ass; and in Larry’s case thanks to a rusty nail, the hand. A few drops of blood on the attic floor later, and Frank is back minus a few essentials. Like his skin.

Frank has some kind of hold over Julia through the power of boning, and convinces her to bring her more blood to help restore his body. Meanwhile, Kristy, Larry’s daughter, realises her stepmother is up to no good and investigates. And of course, the Cenobites, nightmarish denizens of the other realm, are not too happy about Frank escaping their clutches…

Lilly: So this film was a thing.

First things first–holy wow, this was an exploration of how far people go for pleasure. Hellraiser is at the core a nasty, gorey journey towards sexual fulfillment that sees pain as being part of the experience. Acceptable and consensual adult s&m relationships are turned up to eleven by Frank’s ever growing need for more dangerous stimuli. Unfortunately for him, the Cenobites go all the way up to twenty seven (see: rusty hooks). It does give a whole new meaning to ‘aftercare’, though.

I need to talk about the Cenobites. Seriously. I want to talk about them at length, and try and figure out what the heck I was seeing. I loved them. They were confusing ins-and-outs of orifices and piercings and oh all that leather–a symbol of extreme that transcends Heaven and Hell, clearly. I love how they were visibly walking the walk of their gospel. One of them is so hardcore, he doesn’t even have a face! I mean. That’s dedication. Or mutation? Who knows!

Cenobite: WE’RE NOT MUTATIONS. MORE MUTILATIONS.

Andy: Was that a PUN? NOBODY OUTPUNS ME IN MY OWN HOME I’LL KI-

Lilly: Whoa now! First off, don’t bother threatening him, he’ll just like it. Second off, I’m not cleaning up your bits they nail to a spinning display. I’m just not.

For creatures that have no basis in…anything? Any mythology known to my simple mind, the Cenobites march out on screen in the first few minutes of the film and take command of the space like true proud dom/mes. I wanted to see more, wanted to know more, and honestly am now pressuring poor Andy to watch more of the series so I can watch these loveable creeps in action.

The best part is that these terrifying beings aren’t even really evil. They operate on a whole different level than humanity, so it can appear as such, but they are just pushing the limits of what is pleasure and what we understand as pleasure to the extremes that the human flesh can withstand (and then just past that). They only appear when summoned, the ultimate submission needed. You need to request that they do what they do so well. Oh, and figure out a weird rubix cube for horny people. You have to do that, too.

Andy: There are very, very few works that get to the core ideas of H. P. Lovecraft as well as this. His elder gods are not evil, per se – they are simply vast, unknowable and operate without our concepts of what is right and fair. Ash’s “perfect organism” without “delusions of morality” in Alien is one, but it can’t talk. The Cenobites can, and every sentence out of their mouths is coherent, consistent, and utterly indifferent to the unfortunate mortals who stumble into their path.

Instead, the film asks us to consider who the real monsters are – the Cenobites, alien, unknowable and outside our own limited senses and perceptions? Or is it Julia and Frank, the sordid, down-to-earth, flawed humans who make terrible choices?

Lilly: Or is it the weird upside monster thing that defies gravity? Who knows!

Andy: Yeah, what is that thing?

Cenobite: NO IDEA.

Lilly: I really don’t find that comforting at all.

Hellraiser is the sort of film you hear about for years, followed by groans of remembrance of ‘that scene’ (which is different for everyone) and sniggers due to it being about sex. But it’s not just that. It’s about the morality of pleasure and the limits that can be stretched and, a bit troublingly, about how once you say yes to that world, there is no going back.

Andy: It’s also not perfect – Clive Barker is a writer first, and clearly a director a distant second, the result being that it’s shot like a really gory TV movie. But the ideas it has, the broader implications of its story, mean that I did not regret one bit jumping in on this franchise, er, 30 years late.

Lilly: So do we recommend this film? A hearty ‘yes please!’ from me.

Andy: And me!

Cenobite:

Andy: What now?

Cenobite: I PREFER CLIVE BARKER’S LORD OF ILLUSIONS.

Andy: …Trust us to get one from the Hipster Dimension. How do we close this box again?

Jaws 2; or Why is Anyone Still Swimming in the Ocean?

jaws 2b.jpg

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another edition of Sequel Sundays, where the story continues when sometimes, it ought to have ended! You join your reviewers, Andy and Lilly, as they put on their water wings and wade out into the peaceful, blood-soaked waters of Amity Island.

Today’s film offering: Jaws 2

Lilly: Welcome back to Amity Island, Jaws lovers! Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water because you forgot the grisly shark deaths from a few years ago–nope, this island is a magnet for big murder sharks so just stop swimming at the beach already! Jaws 2 takes place a few years after the events of Jaws, and the Amity Island tourist bureau clearly had been working hard, because everyone seemed to have forgotten about the messy shark deaths, including that of a little boy. I mean, sure, there had never been deaths of that multitude at Amity beaches before, but whatever, stop being so ridiculous about it, Brody!

And oh yes, we are joined by Jaws survivor/final guy (though not really since Hooper makes it), Police Chief Martin Brody! After the traumatising events of the first film, the poor man stuck around to attempt once more to get that peace and quiet he had hoped for in this post in the middle of nowhere tourist country. Not that he enjoys the water any more than before, and in fact, seems to openly despise it. If Jaws was the story of a shark menacing an island of people, Jaws 2 is the story of the ghost of that shark tormenting one of the residents while a real shark gets up to murdery mischief, the town council thinking it all a case of the Brody who cried shark.

Andy: Except of course there is an actual shark running around out there, with the gimmick that this time it’s had half its face burned off due to an incident early in the film involving a woman basically setting herself on fire with a gas can. This is worth watching in a so-bad-it’s-good kind of way – gone are the measured cadences of Spielberg’s attacks. Instead we have … this.

Lilly: The film is taken a step further when Brody’s son, now grown up into the teenage rebellion stage where we all went out into waters where a shark had attacked us and killed a man in front of us to spite our father, right? Parents just don’t understand! Mike decides to take some friends (and his little brother) out on boats to hang out, because why not! It’s not like there is a recent case of a murder shark around these parts, right? Wait. Opposite.

Andy: Yeah, there’s a definite skew towards the younger folks here. Gone are the three middle-aged men out re-enacting Moby Dick; instead we have a group of teenagers trapped on a sort-of floating raft of their boats. It seems kinda harsh to say the latter group is less well-characterised than the former – Quint, Hooper and Brody being three of the most fully realised characters in, well, anything – but they aren’t really characterised at all, so when some of them inevitably get sharked, it’s more like the shark is a slasher villain than the strange, existential threat of the first.

Lilly: Jaws 2 is a film which not only continues the story of Amity Island, but explores what happens to characters after the horror film is over. Another shark is introduced, but this shark seems so much worse due to not just the upped ante of a sequel but also because Brody’s clear PTSD ramps up the tension, so scenes where even the audience knows it isn’t a shark but in Brody’s imagination are proven to be scary because we see Brody suffering in a way that is almost too real. Brody is a very real character in this film.

Andy: He is. He’s probably the only one, though. Even returning characters, like his wife and sons or the town mayor (wait, how did he get re-elected?) don’t really move past their characterisations in the first movie.

Lilly: Then we also see the horror of a town that lives off tourism. What do you do in the position of the town council of Amity Island, where you’ve clearly got a shark problem but you also don’t want to drive away money that will help your people survive through a long winter? Well, in Jaws 2, maybe the council goes too far with their denial and treatment of the shark issue as nothing, but seriously, it’s a scary thought. How do you risk the town’s tourist money without definite proof that it will save lives? A blurry photo of a shark from a site of a known shark attack of the past doesn’t really cut it when livelihoods are at risk. Shark attack politics! I love it!

Andy: Despite what you might have heard it’s not horrible, but it’s not very good either. It’s not that it doesn’t measure up to the first one – almost nothing does – it’s like it’s on a completely different scale. And this is coming from the guy who defended Alien 3 at length a few weeks ago – if my love for that and my ambivalence for this is any kind of scale to judge whether you should see this by, then use it.

Lilly: I definitely recommend it if you like monster shark films–if you are watching Sharknado, you should definitely give this a try. While you get all the fun of a monster shark, attacking sexy teens and doing general menacing, you also get a little peek into the mind of someone who survived such a thing, and see how sometimes, no matter what you do to save your town, it still doesn’t beat out small town politics for levels of horror. Go, watch, enjoy!

Friday the 13th; or Camp Asking For It

cry

Hello and Hallo-welcome to yet another year of Hallowfest Octobfilm, a series of daily blogs reviewing horror films throughout the month of October! You join your reviewers, Andy and Lilly, as they sharpen their ‘His’ and ‘Hers’ machetes in preparation for this year’s Saturday theme–Slasher Saturdays!

Today’s film offering: Friday the 13th

Andy: I suppose a proper horror fan should feel some animosity towards this movie. Halloween may have codified many of the tropes of the horror genre, but it was the Friday the 13th franchise that showed you could essentially make the same movie again and again and again and still make money.

Lilly: Contrary to the old saying, it’s not a good man you can’t keep down, but rather a psychopathic bad man. Go figure!

Andy: And for all the slashed up teens, the only thing that the slasher glut really killed was anybody taking horror movies seriously for the next two decades. Dang.

Lilly: I mean, I disagree on this, because it wasn’t like horror films were really pulling in the prestige prior to the slasher wave. I think slashers did what any semi-entertaining sub-genre should do, which is bring in the money–I’m looking at you, Transformers films and the Marvel universe. Sure, it means that you are going to get loads of films that are sub-par at best, but at least people are watching, and you are developing a following that might not have stumbled into the horror arena at all if not for a cheesy slasher they saw some date night.

But I digress. Surprise! That happens a lot.

Andy: Now the plot concerns a group of camp counsellors reopening an old, abandoned camp at Crystal Lake, getting it ready for the kids who will presumably arrive later in the summer. Of course, this preparation mainly consists of having conversations with a crazy old man, sex, and getting axed in the face by a mysterious assailant. If this sounds familiar you may recognise it as the plot of EVERYTHING EVER.

Lilly: Meanwhile, this camp has not been abandoned that long, in truth, like it is almost insensitively not long. Twenty years is not long enough to say ‘Hey, the killer is probably not around anymore! Fluke!’ No, the killer, if he started young, could be only 38! Which is prime killing age. I mean, you’re not young and careless, but you also aren’t past your prime. Stupid. The people who thought to reopen the camp are stupid. How much wilderness is there in America? Find some other wilderness, build some cheap cabins, boom. No killer, no deaths hanging over the property. It sounds ideal. But maybe I don’t know enough about building children’s summer camps.

Andy: Anyway, this is the film that gets taken off in literally everything, from its own sequels, to The Simpsons, to The Final Girls, to friggin Lumberjanes. There is a real danger watching this film now, that any sense of originality and threat this film had back in 1980 has long since shrivelled up in the sun. It doesn’t help that Scream spoiled the ending way back in 1996.

Lilly: Something we are reviewing later in the month! Tune in!

Andy: Of course, it probably doesn’t help that this is not actually particularly well made. Michael Myers has been put through the same cultural exposure, but Halloween still maintains a sense of genuine threat. This, however, borders on, well, campy (I’M SORRY I’M NOT SORRY).

Lilly: For those of you just joining Hallowfest Octobfilm, it is best you know that sometimes, I love shitty films. I love them deeply and without apology. In fact, when something is described as ‘campy’, my black little heart flutters with enthusiasm. And in the case of Friday the 13th, doubly so. And I’ll tell you for why.

Friday the 13th is a perfect example of social horror. It’s got an easy to follow plot–murder happens at camp, camp closes, camp reopens, murders happen again, TWIST the murders are REVENGE–that is accessible to literally anyone who watches it, it has Kevin Bacon (swoon), and it is a film that you can make popcorn during and not be lost for the rest of the story because you missed a bit. And there is (listen carefully here) Nothing. Wrong. With. That. Also, since I haven’t seen Scream (later on in the month, tune in for when I have!), I didn’t even see the ending coming. I thought I had it pretty worked out, what with the hockey mask wearing fiend of the films being literally everywhere, as Andy mentioned, but it turns out he doesn’t even have the mask in the first film, AND SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER STOP LOOKING IF YOU DON’T WANT IT SPOILED…

…it wasn’t even him in the first place. How can I not be amused by the fact that the film depicts a man getting all the credit for the hard work of a woman? I love it.

OKAY YOU CAN CHECK BACK IN NOW, I’M DONE SPOILING, PROMISE.

Andy: To be clear, I do like this movie (maybe not love, like SOME people, but still). If it’s on TV and you feel like turning your brain off for 90 minutes, it’s probably OK. But there are also definitely better horror movies to watch in that time.

Lilly: Like Friday the 13th Part 2, which has the hilariously insensitive moment where they are looking for the charming, wheelchair bound Mark, and the first place they look is upstairs. Brilliant!

A Christmas Horror Story; or YAAAAS CHRISTMAS ANTHOLOGY HORROR YAAAS

Hello and Hallo-welcome to another holiday edition of Hallowfest Octobfilm! You join your bloggers, Andy and Lilly, who are trying their best to keep the Christmas spirit in their heart, because if it is let loose, it might be the death of you.

This week’s film offering: A Christmas Horror Story

Achristmashorrorstory
Happy Holidays is ‘too PC’ for some, so does this work? 

Lilly: Hi, my name is Lilly,

Support  Group: Hi Lilly.

Lilly: And I’m a horror anthology-aholic. Seriously, I love horror anthologies–it’s like a horror buffet where you get to try everything and sometimes you get delicious shrimp puffs that are soooo good or you end up with dry pigs in blankets that should have stayed in bed, but you get variety. Love it. So, when I heard there was going to be a new horror anthology film coming out for Christmas (that was Canadian to boot!), well. It was like Christmas had come early.

A Christmas Horror Story is the story of one awful Christmas eve in a small town that has had big tragedies. Held together by the random updates from radio DJ WILLIAM SHATNER, it features Krampus, a family that gets more than a tree from a trip to the forest, zombie elves, and menaced teens.

Andy: If the presence of Captain Kirk didn’t tip you off, this one hails from Canada. There’s a very loose overarching plot connected by the radio snippets, but mostly, the movie’s stories are very independent from each other – there’s little to no character crossover. One in particular, an outbreak of zombie virus among Santa’s elves at the North Pole, seems to have almost no connection to the rest of the film. Or does it?

Lilly: Actually,having grown up in a small town, the connections in this film are subtle but legit–the teenagers know the teenage daughter from the family being menaced by Krampus (one is her boyfriend), one of the family with a problem with their Christmas tree retrieval is a cop who is featured in the sexy teens being menaced line at the beginning, and DJ Kirk is actually the grandparent of the Krampus family–Loveit. Just. Love it.

Andy: Apart from Shatner, who is excellent as the bored DJ on the long shift, there’s only one standout, and that’s George Buza as Santa having a very bad day. Everyone else is mightily forgettable, but then they’re basically meat on the hoof for whatever horrible stuff is going to happen to them.

The weakest story is probably the one involving the teenagers getting menaced. They break into their school, which used to be a convent filled with Evil Nuns, to investigate murders that happened there last year. It’s the kind of thing that’s been done a million times before and a lot better, and it’s also the one with the most tenuous link to Christmas.

Lilly: Like, it isn’t even a virgin conception, which they were sort of trying to imply? I guess? I don’t know? I didn’t really understand any of the evil spirit’s motivation in this one, admittedly.

Andy: The other two are OK, with the stronger being about a family attempting to get a ‘discount’ on a Christmas tree before discovering they’ve paid a much higher price when their son goes missing in the woods, and the weaker being about a family menaced by Krampus, whose prosthetic face and design is probably the single best element in the film.

Lilly: Yeah, he looked amazingly creepy. I also liked the take on Krampus in this film, the mythology a bit different than you’d expect–I don’t want to spoil (I DO BUT WON’T) but it was definitely a bit darker even yet than the Krampus of Krampus. Not nearly as well realized, of course, but it was only one part of a multi-storied film. I really enjoyed the Krampus scenes in this, though, where you discover just how bad the family has been–and it’s pretty bad, spoiler alert (not a spoiler, you know they had to be bad to be menaced by Krampus).

Andy: Overall, like most horror anthologies, this one is a tad uneven, but loads of fun. Even if you don’t agree with us and like the other stories better or worse than us, the whole thing moves along at a lovely clip and you never linger in one place for long. Even the occasional lapses are forgivable, because this film does not take itself seriously in the slightest. Hopefully parts of it will make you smile a big stupid grin, and as far as I’m concerned, when that happens, it’s done its job.

Lilly: It’s a jolly good time, this film, and definitely worth picking up some popcorn and enjoying this holiday horror season! If you are hankering for festive frights, you’re in luck–A Christmas Horror Story delivers just that.