content by

Grady Hendrix

Fiction and Excerpts [2]

Fiction and Excerpts [2]

My Best Friend’s Exorcism

|| A heartwarming story of friendship and demonic possession. High school sophomores Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since fourth grade, but is their friendship powerful enough to beat the devil?

Horrorstör (Excerpt)

|| Something strange is happening at the Orsk furniture superstore in Cleveland, Ohio. Every morning, employees arrive to find broken Kjerring bookshelves, shattered Glans water goblets, and smashed Liripip wardrobes. Sales are down, security cameras reveal nothing, and store managers are panicking. To unravel the mystery, three employees volunteer to work a nine-hour dusk-till-dawn shift. In the dead of the night, they'll patrol the empty showroom floor, investigate strange sights and sounds, and encounter horrors that defy the imagination.

Dark Angel: Suck it, Succubus!

Welcome to Freaky Friday, that day of the week when we all eat fish and have a good think about the sexy demons from Hell who are, right this minute, plotting ways to have sex with us and corrupt our immortal souls, according to paperback horror novels written in 1982.

Early Eighties horror loved succubi and incubi and horny ghosts, who filled the pages of Bedroom Intruder novels like Incubus (1976, Ray Russell), The Entity (1978, Frank De Felitta), The Night Visitor (1979, Laura Wylie), Succubus (1980, Kenneth Rayner Johnson), Queen of Hell (1981, J.N. Williamson), and Satyr (1981, Linda Crockett Gray). There was also a massive fascination with the Catholic church and horror novels like The Guardian (1979, Jeffrey Konvitz), The Piercing (1979, John Coyne), Virgin (1980, James Patterson), and In the Name of the Father (1980, John Zodrow) capitalized on the ascension of A New Pope.

Dark Angel was where the hunger for succubi collided with the fascination for Catholicism in an overheated hothouse of a novel that tells the story of how Pope John Paul II was stalked by a flesh-hungry succubus who wanted his baby, and how one lone wolf Irish-American priest risked everything to slake her insatiable thirst for man flesh and save the Pope’s sperm.

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You Don’t Have to Understand the Moonchild To Kill It

Welcome to Freaky Friday, that day of the week when a beautiful coffin arrives at your front door and you don’t remember ordering anything from Amazon but then you open it anyway and a monster arm comes out and strangles you.

When I was a child, I appeared in a lot of community theater and I was often dressed like that small child on the cover of Kenneth McKenney’s The Moonchild, minus the glowing. Like that small child, I was forced to wear little Lord Fauntleroy suits and stage make-up and, glancing into the mirror backstage, I did not feel like a powerful thespian capable of commanding attention and inspiring awe. I felt like an emasculated gerbil who would be lucky not to get stomped to death by a startled housewife. But McKenney wants us to fear this Moonchild on the cover of his book, and if you stare at it long enough you will fear him. You will fear that maybe one day one of your own children will start dressing like him and then you will have to drive them far off into the country and put them out of the car, and drive away.

But if you can get past that instinctual fear we all have when confronted with a small child wearing lip gloss and knickerbockers, you will find within these covers what is basically a Hammer horror film in prose form. And that’s a good thing because winter is coming and that’s the time for a mug of hot cocoa, a roaring fire, and blubbering but loyal servants, old crones muttering dire warnings, and coach chases through snowy Bavaria landscapes. And also class warfare.

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Survival at a Price: Welcome to Bari Wood’s The Tribe

Freaky Friday is here! That day of the week where we examine the beautiful traditions of the Jewish people by reading books about golems tearing off the legs of underaged gangbangers.

Jewish horror is a very small subset of the massive paperback horror boom of the 1970s and ’80s. In fact, if you take out Nazi horror it becomes positively tiny, especially compared to Native American horror novels which are not horror novels written by members of North America’s First Nations but are, in fact, books where ancient Indian (a) monsters, (b) real estate, (c) curses kill white people. But even without Nazis, Jewish horror exists. And it is quite silly.

There’s The Gilgul (’90) with its famous cover and possessed Jewish bride finger-banging a nurse after she’s locked up in a hospital, a sight so shocking it sends her fiance’ fleeing to Miami where he tries to kill himself by having sex with the skeeviest prostitutes he can find, hoping to contract AIDS. There’s Red Devil (’89), in which KGB agents armed with super-powered shofars take on demonically possessed spies during an inter-agency war after Satan ditches the dying Nazis at the end of WW II and becomes a Soviet intelligence officer for the duration of the Cold War. And while both books have their charms, they don’t hold out a lot of hope for the general reader. In fact, I was at a low point when I picked up Bari Wood’s The Tribe and flipped open the frankly underwhelming stepback cover. I knew it was a book about a golem and I knew it was written in 1981. But I wasn’t expecting much.

I was so wrong.

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The Abyss: Welcome to Hell, Tennessee Coal Miner’s Association!

It’s time for Freaky Friday, that day when we hop in the cage and take the express elevator right down the M-19 shaft…straight to Hell!

Jere Cunningham was a novelist with two books under his belt when he took up his pen and wrote The Abyss in 1981. After Simon & Schuster reneged on the size of the print run and the promised promotion budget he said “Screw this” and moved from his home of Memphis Tennessee to Hollywood, California where he made a living working on screenplays for film and TV. He became one of those jobbing screenwriters who makes a good living selling projects and working on optioned scripts that make money but often never get made, which is how most screenwriters earn a living. However, he also worked on the Emilio Estevez-Cuba Gooding Jr. project Judgment Night (’93), the Brian Dennehy crime thriller The Last of the Finest (’90), as well as some TV movies for Chazz Palminteri, Donald Sutherland, and Mike Ditka.

But what of The Abyss? Basically The Coal Miner’s Daughter meets Event Horizon, it features a completely qualified cover blurb from Stephen King (“I loved this book. The Abyss is very close to being great.”) and an army of Amazon reviews apparently written by our Pilgrim forefathers (“I am not a prude by any means, but when I finished this book I threw it in the trash.” and “The protagonists drink to excess, are promiscuous, curse, and constantly demean each other,”) so it sounded like it could be a blast. And it is. If I was pitching the movie, I’d say it’s John Sayles’s Matewan meets Dante’s Inferno, with Bruce Springsteen doing the soundtrack. I mean, how else can you pitch a book about a Tennessee coal mine so deep that it accidentally drills into Hell?

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Friday’s Child is Satan’s Child

Welcome to Freaky Friday, where we’re mining the deepest caverns of paperback horror fiction then dragging what we find to the surface, where it screams and cries tears of blood, begging to be returned to the darkness.

Before British Folk Horror blossomed up out of obscurity again with Michael Reeves’s 1968 Witchfinder General—starring Vincent Price as that deeply unpleasant detector and burner of witches, Matthew Hopkins—there was Satan’s Child. Written in 1968 by Peter Saxon, it kicks off with a suspected witch, Elspet Malcolm, being burned at the stake in a Scottish village sometime back in the early 18th century. Her two children are understandably alarmed and decide it’s unwise to stick around. After almost decapitating their stepfather with a pike, young Iain, her son, and Morag, her daughter, head for the hills. Morag gets sold into service but Iain heads for Tibet (maybe? could also be any vague Eastern locale with occult monks?) and learns to be an actual witch, which his mother wasn’t, then he comes back to the village of Kimskerchan and kills everyone who sent her to the stake. This is what’s known as irony.

Death Wish meets The Witchfinder General—this is cheapjack, lo-fi, grotty potboiler pulp entertainment from start to finish, but that doesn’t mean it’s not good. After all, the national food of Scotland is sheep guts stuffed inside stomach lining with a bunch of oatmeal, and yet that low class cuisine hasn’t stopped Scotland from producing Sean Connery.

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The Omen Novelizations: It All Comes Out in the End

Welcome to Freaky Fridays, when you’re lulled you into reading about some forgotten horror novel from the past so that your guard is lowered right before I stab you in the back with the Seventh Sacred Dagger of Megiddo.

Novelizations were an essential part of the mediascape until home video and people forgetting how to read pretty much killed them off, or at least reduced them to the status of giant pandas. But back in the day, novelizations were bestsellers in their own right, and none sold better than 1976’s The Omen which spewed 3.5 million copies of itself all over an unsuspecting public who, as a result, started giving their children sidelong looks, wondering if their barely-tolerated, ankle biters were, in fact, the Anthichrist. In which case they could kill him.

Venture into almost any used bookstore and a copy of this slim (202 pages, including 8 photo pages of Gregory Peck looking concerned) will probably bonk you in the head. But The Omen didn’t just spawn Damien, the Antichrist. It also spawned two sequels and four novelizations. Work out the math in your head, I’ll wait. brief pause Get it? There are two books that have nothing to do with the movie. And they take place in the future. And in one of them, the Antichrist get—SHOCKING! DARING! TRUE!—born out of a butt.

They don’t call him “The Abomination” for nothing.

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Erotic Paperback Horror: Let’s Get it On

Welcome to Freaky Friday, the one day of the week when you can turn the lights down low, and get freaky with a forgotten horror novel from the past that knows how you like to have your flowers rearranged.

Paperbacks from the Seventies and Eighties have a smell — an overpowering stink of rotting wood pulp and cheap cardboard that makes your eyes water and your tongue go dry. It’s the stink of wet library, used bookstores, and Goodwill. But these books also have another smell beyond that smell. It’s a rich, deep musk that smells like hairy chest, chiseled chin, and blow dryers. It’s the smell of Queen Anne’s Lace, pink wine, and orange sunsets. It’s the smell of denim stretched over hot packages, bearskin rugs by roaring fireplaces, Japanese whiskey on the rocks, leather driving gloves, and mounted longhorn horns. It’s the smell they bottled to make Mandom. It’s the smell of Tipalet cigarettes. The smell of Weyenberg Massagic shoes. It’s the smell of sex, Seventies style.

Seventies sex lasted into the early Eighties, but died around 1985 as AIDS and the rise of the moral majority took the fun out of boffing total strangers. But for almost fifteen years, Seventies Sexy was tops: manly men, surrendering women, belly bracelets, and lots and lots of hair. Not only was it in movies, pop songs, and television, but it infiltrated horror novels, too. Which brings us to today’s Freaky Friday and our discussion of two of the gears on the transmission of Seventies Sexy: Swinging and Hemingway.

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Freaky Friday: Phantom of the Soap Opera

Welcome to Freaky Friday, the only place on the internet where you can relax and forget your troubles to the soothing sounds of forgotten horror fiction.

You didn’t get between my grandmother and her stories. That was the first relationship I learned to respect as a child: when The Guiding Light came on, I could be on fire, floundering in a pool of my own boiling blood, screaming for someone to put a bullet in my head so the pain would stop, and she wouldn’t notice until her story was over. Soap Operas? Respect.

But today, even though soap operas are dying (with only 4 left on the air, as opposed to 15 in 1981), the idea of a slasher taking place in the world of daytime dramas is still a strange one. After all, despite Dark Shadows, horror really doesn’t have a place in the brightly-lit, soft focus fantasyland of the soap opera. The world of soaps is a place of weddings and baptisms, where long lost twins are reunited, and people are buried alive, where characters are possessed by demons, get abducted by UFOs, discover lost underground cities, take over the Earth with weather machines, get stalked by serial killers, murdered by carnation-dropping serial killers, turn into werewolves, mauled by tigers, get massacred at coronations… okay, okay, soap operas are basically horror movies. And all Judi Miller’s 1988 horror novel, Phantom of the Soap Opera does is take that very literally.

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John Halkin and Mark Sonders Agree: Insects Want our Booty

Welcome to Freaky Friday, that one moment in the week when the truth about insects is revealed and you feel justified for having hated and feared them since childhood.

Insects—vital part of the ecosystem, or disgusting horrors bent on our destruction? Are they small miracles designed by God, or the vomit-inducing creeps who got tangled up in Kate Capshaw’s hair in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom? Could they be a vital part of tomorrow’s food chain, a high-protein, low-cost appetite buster? Or could they be horny monsters from Hell who want to gobble our junk? After reading a bunch of insect attack novels, I’m leaning towards the latter.

Whether it’s beetles and worms in John Halkin’s Blood Worm, caterpillars in his Squelch, or moths in Mark Sonders’s Blight, insects in horror fiction seem united in their plan to wipe humanity from the face of the Earth. Whenever I complain about how creepy spiders* are, it’s only a matter of time before some yoga dork carrying a copy of Zen Surfboards tells me that they aren’t eight-legged horror shows with too many eyes and no social skills but are instead a vital link in the food chain that maintains the integrity of Gaia. Maybe, but I wish that whenever a caterpillar started ranting about wiping mankind from the planet there was another caterpillar with a gluten allergy and a blue mat rolled up on its back to say the same about humans.

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Skeleton Doctors are the Worst Doctors: The Children’s Ward and Alison’s Baby

Welcome to Freaky Fridays, where we read books from the past in an attempt to understand man’s ancient enemy: the skeleton.

Skeletons are the worst. They lurk inside our skin, waiting to jump out and use our computers, dance obscenely in graveyards, and conduct unauthorized medical procedures on our young. But even worse than a skeleton is a skeleton doctor. First off, I’m not even sure their licenses to practice medicine are legit. Second off, I think every parent’s nightmare is that your kid goes away to college then calls to say he’s gotten married to a doctor, but when he brings his fiance home for Hanukah she’s a skeleton doctor.

“Your father and I wanted you to marry a real doctor!”

“Mom! A Gina is a real doctor, she just also happens to be a skeleton!”

“You’re killing your father!”

And another mother’s heart is broken.

Freaky Fridays has always prided itself on not blindly discriminating against anyone based on the quantity of their skin, so it was educational to read The Children’s Ward by Patricia Wallace and Allison’s Baby by Mike Stone and realize that, yes, in fact all skeleton doctors are fabulously incompetent and should immediately be turned into xylophones.

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The Mary Sue of Serial Killers: Slob

Welcome to Freaky Fridays, that magical time when you touch the forbidden shampoo bottle and the Wishing Buffalo appears to read you a book from the musty and ancient land of 1987.

Collectors of fine art. Avengers of the weak. Men of taste and refinement. No, I’m not talking about Harvard graduates, I’m talking about serial killers (although there’s probably some overlap). In real life, serial killers are usually poorly educated rapists with substance abuse problems who are prone to bed wetting and setting fires. Yet Dexter, Hannibal, and Bates Motel will convince you that any mother would be proud if little Johnny grew up to murder her, stash her corpse in the basement, and make a vest out of her skin. Many of the most critically acclaimed cultural moments of the past decade (True Detective, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, No Country for Old Men) and previous decades (M, Psycho, Arsenic and Old Lace) would be incomplete without these compulsive masturbators and necrophiliacs.

Of course, if Hollywood told the truth about serial killers no one would watch because the number one rule of screenwriting is that you can never kill an animal and pretty much every single serial killer started out offing animals. But never mind! They know their wines! So now, meet Slob, the serial killer novel that Stephen King called “almost too crudely terrifying to read.” Well, he’s right about the crude part.

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Toy Cemetery: The Worst Cemetery of Them All

Welcome to Freaky Friday, the only time during the entire week when you can relax and read about books that can’t hurt you anymore because they were written long ago on strips of bark.

“As the years go by, our friendship will never die. You’re gonna see it’s our destiny. You’ve got a friend in me.” So sang Randy Newman in his theme song for the hit 1995 Pixar film, Toy Story, about a young boy imprisoned by his talking toys who try to foil his every step on the road to adulthood. It’s harrowing to watch this young man attempt to reach adulthood while surrounded by yammering, clacking, animated toys, many of them backed by major corporations, who view Andy’s maturity and subsequent freedom as an existential threat to their existence. People around the world identified with Andy’s struggle against these tiny tyrants and the movie spawned two traumatic sequels, Toy Story 2 and Toy Story 3, which made the threat clear: if you were unable to destroy your childhood toys, or at least pawn them off on a smaller, weaker child, then they would do everything in their power to keep you enslaved to their own desires, and if you tried to escape they would pursue you to the ends of the earth—relentless, untiring, unstoppable. They will not rest, they will not sleep, no matter where you go they will follow, even “To infinity…and beyond!”

Is it any surprise then that worst cemetery of them all—worse even than the pet cemetery or the Neil Gaiman cemetery—is the Toy Cemetery?

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Abracadabra: The Only Good Magician is a Dead Magician

Welcome to Freaky Friday, the only weekly celebration of forgotten pulp fiction that comes fully approved by Magnus Trench.

Hating clowns is a waste of time because you’ll never loathe a clown as much as he loathes himself, but a magician? Magicians think they’re wise and witty, full of patter and panache, walking around like they didn’t deserve to be shot in the back of the head and dumped in a lake. For all the grandeur of its self-regard, magic consists of nothing more than making a total stranger feel stupid. Worse, the magician usually dresses like a jackass, sending the message loud and clear, “I may be a balding hippie wearing rainbow suspenders, but you can’t even stop me from stealing your watch and pretending to find it behind your ear.” We’re supposed to ooh and aah over their feats, which mostly consist of hiding things in their waxy orifices when we’re not looking, producing body temperature quarters and handkerchiefs from their nooks and crannies with a flourish, standing motionless until we’re guilted into applause, at which point they beam and wink as if they’ve just performed surgery on the President rather than befuddled a mouth-breathing child.

Abracadabra is a horror novel about magic and magicians. It is warm and wise and full of love.

Kill me now.

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We’re All Going to Die Screaming in Phoenix: Dark Messiah

It’s Freaky Friday again, and that means it’s time to put down the tools of your oppressors and rest your weary enslaved head for a moment as we ponder the eyeball-frying fiction of yesteryear.

When I was a kid, we were all going to die. Making it to legal drinking age was a toss-up. Making plans for the future was speculative. Like most sons, I blame my dad. He told me that our hometown was one of the Soviet Union’s top ten first strike targets. Today, I’m not sure the Soviet Union even knew Charleston, SC existed, but at the time I believed him with every inch of my tiny body. We would be the first to die screaming in a nuclear holocaust.

I consumed everything I could find about nuclear armageddon: The Day After, When the Wind Blows, Amerika, Special Bulletin. The End couldn’t come fast enough because I had homework due on Monday. It would be bad, but I knew I would survive. World War III wasn’t going to be a like Threads where women stumbled around in the rubble birthing mutant babies and trading dead rats for sex. It would be like Red Dawn where I’d lead a motorcycle gang of commandos fighting back against Commie invaders with booby traps, causing the Soviet high command to shake their fists in frustration. “He is only one man!” they would scream at their henchmen. “Where is this Charleston, South Carolina and why is it causing the Soviet war machine to stumble?” David Alexander knew this feeling, too. It’s why he wrote Phoenix: Dark Messiah.

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The Sentinel: Throwing Birthday Parties for Cats!

It’s Freaky Friday again! That magical day of the week when all your cares fall away and you sink down, down, down into a deep, dark lake full of musty old paperbacks where the screaming never stops.

After William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist materialized in 1971 and defied the reviewers (“a pretentious, tasteless, abominably written, redundant pastiche of superficial theology, comic-book psychology, Grade C movie dialogue and Grade Z scatology,” raved Newsweek) to become a bestseller, and then the movie appeared in 1973 and defied the critics again (“a chunk of elegant occultist claptrap…a practically impossible film to sit through..establishes a new low for grotesque special effects,” cheered The New York Times) to become an Oscar-winning blockbuster, the paperback racks filled up fast with occult cash-ins.

There was Burnt Offerings, and Audrey Rose, and The Manitou, The Search for Joseph Tully, and… The Sentinel. Barely concealing its plan to cash in on The Exorcist’s success (it even sports a dollar sign for the “S” on the cover), it’s a Gothic melodrama about Catholic guilt, a battle between good and evil centered on one hapless woman, and it’s jam-packed with priests hiding secrets, sexual hysteria, and birthday parties for kitty cats… JUST LIKE THE EXORCIST. But author Jeffrey Konvitz wasn’t stopping there. He throws in predatory lesbians, gruesome murders, and New York models. Of course it got made into a movie — a movie featuring one of the most insanity-inducing endings of all time. Because in the world of The $entinel, too much is never enough. Especially when it comes to the polka.

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