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Grady Hendrix

Fiction and Excerpts [2]
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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.

Remembering William Peter Blatty, 1928-2017

Yesterday, author and director William Peter Blatty died. Most people will remember him as the guy who wrote The Exorcist. I’ll remember him as the guy who took the freedom he got from The Exorcist and wrote two complicated, thorny, hopeful horror novels and then adapted them into two complicated, thorny, hopeful horror movies (which he also directed). And I’ll remember him as a novelist who was capable of turning out dialogue that read as sharp and surprising as Elmore Leonard’s, only with a far more philosophical bent.

Born to Lebanese immigrants, Blatty was raised by a single mother whose poverty turned his childhood into a constant flight to stay one step ahead of eviction. Blatty received a deeply Catholic education and was a deeply devout Catholic. He was so religious that the needle that goaded him into writing The Exorcist was watching Rosemary’s Baby with its famously ambiguous ending that, to him, felt like a cop-out. How the hell could a horror movie end with the forces of evil triumphant? A few years later, he pitched a courtroom novel about a kid who kills an adult and uses a claim of demonic possession as her defense to Mark Jaffe of Bantam Books, a paperback company (Bantam would later sell the hardcover rights to Harper & Row). It was a New Year’s party, everyone was drinking, Jaffe bought the book. It wound up getting titled The Exorcist.

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High-Tech Wizardry: C> The Shadow Man

Welcome to Freaky Fridays.
Current date is Fri 12-01-1986
Enter new date:
Current time is: 13:01:24.18
Enter new time:
The IBM Personal Computer DOS
Version 2.0 (C)Copyright IBM Corp 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986

A>dir

Stephen Gresham would one day write the best book about magicians ever conceived (Abracadabra, 1988) but in 1986 his greatest accomplishment was still on the horizon. For now, he had already written novels for Zebra Books that explored haunted lakes (Moon Lake, 1982), elderly transvestite serial killers (Rockabye Baby, 1984), and skeletons playing the banjo (Dew Claws, 1986), so clearly it was time for him to write about the personal computer revolution. And for Gresham, there was a simple question that needed to be asked.

[Q: What tasks can a PC (personal computer) accomplish in your home?]

All Orphans Are Terrifying: Frank Lauria’s The Foundling

2016 could not kill us, and 2017 will not be our undoing either. It’s Freaky Fridays, back from a holiday-shaped grave and still your tiny and adorable paperback sump pump hooked up to your eyes and filling your skull with weirdness on a weekly basis.

As we head into the new year it’s important to remember that everything is dangerous. Temp jobs (The Shining), traveling for work (Dracula), going to university (Frankenstein), sleepovers (The Haunting of Hill House), studying hard (Doctor Faustus), buying a car (Christine), or even just minding your own business (Red Dragon). Once kids are involved you’re in truly terrifying territory because everything about them is scary: having a baby (Rosemary’s Baby), babysitting (The Turn of the Screw), bringing your baby back from the dead (Pet Sematary), going on a school trip (Lord of the Flies). But nothing is generally accepted to be as completely off-the-rails insane as adopting a child. Even a totally rad orphan with mad guitar skills.

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Just Hear Those Slay Bells Jingling

Ho, ho, ho! Don’t be sad, it’s that most wonderful time of the week when we delve into Santa’s bulging sack (of old paperbacks, you pervert) and pull out something ripe and delicious to stick our noses into together (that one was on purpose). It’s time for Freaky Fridays!

“You’d better watch out / You’d better not cry / You’d better not pout / I’m telling you why / Santa Claus is stabbing you in the face over and over and over again until you’re dead!” That’s the beautiful traditional Christmas carol my family sang when I was a child, and I sing it to my children today. And it’s also the wonderful song that runs through Jo Gibson’s Slay Bells, a 1994 Yuletide YA slasher written by Jo Gibson, a pen name for Joanne Fluke, beloved author of the Hannah Swensen baking mystery books—she’s whipped up 21 of these little beauties since 2001 with such scrumptious titles as Fudge Cupcake Murder, Red Velvet Cupcake Murder, and Christmas Caramel Murder. The Winston Salem Journal says, “Mm, mm, Fluke’s fans can’t wait for the next confection in the series to be served up.” Well, since she’s republishing her YA work written as Jo Gibson, there’s no need to wait. Just pick up Slay Bells for some Mm, mm, mmurder, along with mm, mmm, mmmmayhemmmm, and mm, mmm, mmmmmorons. All set in mm, mm, MMMmmmminesota.

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Home for the Holidays: The Sibling

Welcome to Freaky Fridays, that most wonderful time of the week when we curl up in front of a roaring fire with an old horror paperback and wait for it to consume us and reduce us to ashes as we read.

It’s time for that most important holiday of the White Anglo Saxon Protestant year: Christmas! Is there a season more sacred to the cast of St Elmo’s Fire, Ordinary People, Love Story, and anything by Whit Stillman than the Yuletide days when they can wear tweed and corduroy, put on their turtlenecks, sing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”, drunk drive over icy roads as they head home from the country club, and overdose on sedatives in their extravagant bathrooms of Venetian marble while sobbing silently?

Horror paperbacks have risen to the occasion by turning out a fistful of excellent tales of WASP destruction set during the holiday season, from the boarding school pyromania of Tricycle, to the gibbering nervous breakdown of Such Nice People, and the cold-blooded sociopathic antics of Halo. But the most over-the-top of the bunch is The Sibling, a wonderfully-written account of a young man sliding into madness, falling in love with his sister, and picking out and wrapping the worst Christmas present ever (hint: he found it attached to a corpse).

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The Trouble With Yetis: Do You Want to Build a Snowman?

Welcome to Freaky Fridays: War on Christmas edition! From now until Santa has murdered all the naughty children and Krampus is doing a jig in their guts, we’ll be talking about the weird old paperback novels that put the “ow” in snowman.

Normally, I don’t start these columns talking about the cover art, but look at that guy. Just look at him. What you’re seeing is the online dating profile used by the Abominable Snowman when he’s looking for a mate. First, he thoughtfully tells us his age (“thousands of years”) so that we understand he’s a sugar daddy looking for a sugar baby, then he makes sure we know his interests (likes to stalk the earth; is a foodie) ensuring his dietary preferences are front and center because, as we all know, most sugar babies are body conscious and wouldn’t be comfortable feasting at all, let alone on the flesh of humans, since they’re mostly vegan.

OKCupid says men’s profile photos are most effective when they look away from the camera and don’t smile. Yeti’s on it. You should be doing something interesting, preferably with your pet. Yeti is hiking, and he’s his own pet: done. eHarmony advises that your profile photo be flattering, genuine, and accurate. Check, check, and check again. He’s even listed his full name (Norman Bogner) under his username (Snowman). Okay, Yeti is ready to fire his proton torpedoes into your thermal exhaust port, so what’s stopping this hairy snowman? Turns out: everything. YETI IS TERRIBLE AT DATING.

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The Horrors of Healthcare: William Woolfolk’s The Sendai

Congratulations! You survived seven more days on this planet! You deserve a freaky Friday, where I dig into the vault and pull out some weird and forgotten horror book that smells like cat hair.

It’s open enrollment period on the health insurance marketplace so what better time to read The Sendai? If you’re looking for new health insurance, and especially if you’re thinking of having yourself a litter of babies, it can be scary trying to pick the right doctor. Fortunately, The Sendai is here with some tips! First, stay away from any clinic or doctor with a name out of a Cronenberg movie. Second, do not give birth in a delivery room that includes a conveyor belt leading to The Off-Limits Building. Also, maybe don’t have a baby in a clinic that has something referred to as The Off-Limits Building.

Basically, do not have your baby at The Karyll Clinic in The Sendai, unless you want to have your newborn child replaced with a lifeless rubber dummy you’ll weep over while your actual suckling babe is conveyed off to its horrible new life as a genetic mutant.

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The Liquor Locker’s Finest Hour: Satan Sublets

Welcome to Freaky Friday, where your apartment is a Hell hole and Satan signed the lease. Brace yourselves, because your friends Insanity, Gore, and Utter Stupidity all have spare keys.

Hell is New York City real estate, as Peter Harcourt of Pentagram Films learns when he moves his family into a too-good-to-be-true sublet on Manhattan’s West 77th Street. Given that it’s on the 13th floor and his realtor is named Lucifer Devlin, it’s no surprise that they’ve barely had time to get their sofa delivered before his little daughter is sacrificing their cat to Satan (that’s the cat floating a few inches above the floor in Stephen Shub’s surreal cover). Her mom discovers the cat sacrifice, freaks out, but refuses to bother her husband at work. Instead, she pours herself a great big Scotch, and falls into a reverie:

“She had begun to question everything. Was this really what life was? A home, a husband, a child? What do we really know of the universe? We don’t even know who or what we are, or where the blazes we come from. Is living a reality? Judie began to question the whole meaning of life. It was a terrible feeling.”

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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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