I had the opportunity to attend the 12th annualTexas Frightmare Weekend on May 5th though the 7th. It was a fun experience, meeting celebrities from past and current films, and chatting with fellow fans of horror. One of the main highlights for me was meeting indie/self-published authors of the genre. It was such a pleasure to speak with some of these hard-working writers. Self-publishing is not an easy gig and I commend them for a job well done.
One of the writers I met at Texas Frightmare Weekend was Dennis McDonald. He is a down-to-earth guy and I really enjoyed speaking with him. What I really liked about Dennis was his sincere appreciation for the reader. He took the time to speak with fans of horror and made sure he snapped a picture with everyone who received one of his books. I purchased his book, 13 Nightmares, a collection of short horror stories.
13 Nightmares was an enjoyable read. Scary and entertaining, the stories jumped out and made the hairs on my neck stand up. In it, you’ll find a dark ominous figure that befriends a little girl, a nasty little clown, an army of roaches, a haunted sex doll, and an unlucky couple in the wrong place at the wrong time. Those are just a few of the stories from McDonald’s imagination. Each story was imbued with deep characters. Their life experiences and situations produced a common theme throughout the book – the iniquitous decisions you make, past and present, have a horrifying consequence. And I mean, very horrifying.
Dennis’ originality really shows through in his work, “The Last Trick or Treater”. An old man tells a ghostly story to his home health nurse. She realizes that sometimes stories are true when she hears an ominous knock on the door, signaling the arrival of the last trick or treater. She becomes intertwined in a fight for survival in this chilling tale. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll let you read it. “The Last Trick or Treater”, should be added to your midnight camp fire tales.
If you love short horror fiction, I recommend this book. 13 Nightmares is available on Amazon. You can visit Dennis McDonald to learn more. Because of the popularity of 13 Nightmares, Dennis is working on his second book of short stories titled 13 More Nightmares.
For me, the top werewolf movie of all time is An American Werewolf in London directed and written by the great John Landis. Released in 1981, it was by far the most terrifying and realistic werewolf transformation ever produced on film. Rick Baker, who was responsible for leading the transformation effects in the famous scene, was hailed as a great talent – winning an Academy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Makeup. He joined the ranks of Christopher Tucker (The Elephant Man – 1980) and Dick Smith (The Exorcist – 1973). This was all done without the aid of computer graphics as you see in films today.
I was just a kid when I watched the film in the theater. I couldn’t look at the screen during the main character’s transformation scene. It was a metamorphosis too ghastly to watch. The main character David Kessler, played by David Naughton, endured great physical pain as he transformed into the vicious Lycan. It was too much for me as he cried in agony. I thought it would never end. When he was finally done, the werewolf looked amazing and horrifying. It was perfect. It certainly left me in shambles for the next month. I hardly slept.
One of the most recognizable effects in the movie, was the werewolf’s howl. It was different from all other werewolf movies up until that time. Even now in 2016, it is still unique. The only other place I heard it was in an old arcade game called Altered Beast by Sega Entertainment. When the warrior transforms into a wolf, the same howl from the movie was heard.
The film begins in the English countryside where two American students are backpacking across the York Moors. David Kessler and his best friend Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne), arrive in a small village where they step into the pub for a drink. When they notice a pentagram (a five pointed upside down star, usually associated with the occult) on the wall, they make the mistake of asking about it. This is the catalyst that sends the young students back into the moors by the uncompassionate locals. Their only warning, not to stray from the road. Ultimately they encounter the werewolf. It’s a graphic scene. Jack is killed and David is fatally wounded. He wakes in a hospital in London and eventually ends up staying with Alex, the nurse who cared for him. This leads to a romantic sub plot that becomes important at the end of the film.
What I find interesting about the story is that we’re dealing with a curse. It’s not an infection as today’s film market tends to lean toward in regards to causality. It brings more than just the obvious werewolf metamorphosis. He’s plagued by visits of his dead victims. They torment him and suggest ways to end his unfortunate circumfstance. They serve as his conscious and moral compass. He is also afflicted with nightmares of disfigured and monstrous Nazi soldiers. In the nightmare scene, they invade his family home killing everyone in it and end up burning his house down. The scene seems strange and random. But it worked for the movie. It added to David’s spiral into madness as the curse consumes him. Landis’ writing is superb in this film. He’s a veteran screenwriter and director, best known for his comedy cult classic, Animal House. He brings comedic elements into the film without losing the horror aspect of the story. It made me feel that David was still fully human. He’s a poor young man in a foreign country. His family is on the other side of the world and he’s dealing with the most unfortunate of events. Talk about being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
An American Werewolf in London is truly a cult classic. If you haven’t seen it, you’re missing a great film.
The Wolfen: by Whitley Strieber (1978)
One of my favorite undertakings at The Fright Chapel is to read older horror novels, especially classic works and books published decades ago. These are golden gems that people may have forgotten over the years. To us at The Fright Chapel, it’s an opportunity to highlight these books for a new generation.
On one of my recent trips to our local Public Library, I browsed the horror section and came across a title that seemed familiar to me, The Wolfen, written by Whitely Strieber and published in 1978. It reminded me of the film I had seen when I was eleven years old. The film, also titled The Wolfen, was directed by Michael Wadleigh, starred Albert Finney, Diane Venora, Edward James Olmos, and the late Gregory Hines. It was released in 1981. I didn’t know it was originally a novel. I checked it out from the library and found I wished I’d read the book first.
Strieber begins his story in a Brooklyn junkyard where two police officers are patrolling the area. He quickly presents the main conflict of the story in the first several pages. A group of unidentified fierce animals have mutilated and killed both officers. This sets off an investigation that introduces our main characters, Detectives George Wilson and Becky Neff. Strieber does a great job on character development. We get to know the protagonists well. It begins as a strained partnership that develops into a closer friendship but it uncomfortably becomes intimate. However, they are both great detectives and an unbeatable team.
Wilson and Neff are facing their biggest challenge. It’s the first time they have been pushed into the unknown to find clues about a group of killers they have never confronted, who have kept themselves in the shadows of mankind for centuries. In these circumstances, Wilson and Neff have succumbed to fear and a desperation to find the truth about their adversary before it is too late. The detectives are constantly on the move, on edge for what may jump out of the shadows to devour them. As our suspecting protagonists gain insight and knowledge about the killers they are facing, the wolfen get closer to killing the detectives.
As the story progresses, a question arose for me as the reader. Are the wolfen truly the foe? It becomes unclear. Although the wolfen are fierce creatures and gruesome in the mutilation of their prey, they love their family and value honor. They are acting in accordance with their traditions and nature. You could argue that the story’s theme is Man versus Nature. But that would be too simplistic. The theme I found Strieber writing about is the protection of tradition, family, and those you love in order to survive. Along with the wolfen, Wilson and Neff act on this theme. The story is not partial to the “heroes”. Strieber writes from the perspective of the wolfen as well. You become familiar with the hunters in the shadows, seeing things through their eyes. The author shows us the strength and weaknesses of both sides.
This hardly seems like a pure horror novel. The story is a mix of both horror and crime mystery. Strieber does a great job bringing these two genres together. He gives a perspective of the werewolf we haven’t experienced. It’s a book worth reading. So head to your local public library and check out the book.
Welcome to the launch of The Fright Chapel. A literary horror review and blog. Here at the Fright Chapel, we focus on horror fiction. We’ll bring you reviews and thoughts on novels, author profiles, up and coming books, and much more. Although our focus is not on movies, we do love a good horror film and we’ll post our thoughts about what we see. For now, we hope you’ll enjoy what we have to offer. Make sure to visit our about page for more detailed information on who we are and why the Fright Chapel exists.
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