Archive for August 23, 2014

Tips from the Rosebush

A collection of the LEAPING AT THORNS teasers I’ve been Facebooking…
Coming Sept. 19!

Coming Sept. 19!

August 15

The figures’ bodies were rigid, as if sitting at a bus stop without an intention to board a bus were normal, as if sitting anywhere in their condition made sense, when by the look of them they needed to be in a hospital or at least in bed, recovering from whatever had happened—


The man in the suit sat like a regular person on a regular day even though the top of his face, from nose to forehead, was completely obscured by white bandages. Two discolored dots, vaguely yellow, marked the depressions of the eye sockets. The woman in the frilly shirt had bandages on the sides of her head, where her ears should have been.
— “Complicity,” LEAPING AT THORNS

August 16

Amir lay on top of the bed wearing nothing but polka-dotted boxer shorts. His handsome build and burnt-gold complexion sprawled listlessly, and until his eyes met hers, she braced herself for an obnoxious line. Then, as his dark, harried expression recognized her own, her brain registered details of his body it had not at first allowed: wasted musculature, subtle trembling, and in neat columns on his limbs and torso, parallel scars like unlinked railroad ties stretched across exposed flesh. They had even found their way to his cheeks and forehead, something she’d been dreading since finding that the lines had spread from her own arms and legs to her stomach.

When the lines get to your face, that’s when you stop coming to work. That’s right before you disappear.

August 22

Now came the trick, the coup, the defining stroke—the wriggling of fingers, the wrestling of bone. Quick and precise hands had to plumb the spot-lit depth of the cave carved with care in the bare cavity of Frankie’s chest. They had to slip through slick suppurating incisions and follow the diagrammed path. They had to grasp—gently clasp!—the movement-thick muscle and pull. Screaming, shouting, gurgling, sick, Frankie had to douse his agony, delve directly or die. Pierced, penetrated, rough-hewn bone knocked at his knuckles as, true and unyielding, his hands brought forth the heart, beating, bleeding, and beaten, and impaled it—verily!—on the sharp point of a dirty and dauntless, deft and defiant stick.
— “Heart on a Stick,” LEAPING AT THORNS

August 23

The platyhelminth does not reproduce by budding. Herman had read about it online. It reproduces both sexually and asexually. Each proglottid had male and female sex organs and could be filled with hundreds of embryos. The worm might reproduce by fission, breaking off one proglottid, which could then grow into its own worm. Some believed that if you ground up a flatworm and sprinkled it, like parmesan cheese, on a living host, the embryos might enter the body and become new life. Worms could reproduce with other worms, but they didn’t have to. Which sort of procreation the worm preferred was a matter of speculation.

The worm slithered out of Herman’s wrist and blended into his plate of pasta.


Playing (Witch)Doctor with Horror: Meet Devon Mikolas

Opening scene: stalk-and-kill, slasher with a bag on his head, victim unusually male but just as doomed, his dashing through the woods well-choreographed but familiar, his death a suitable intro for a scenario involving a group of attractive graduate students weekending at an isolated estate a year later to mourn him. But wait–this movie is called House of the Witchdoctor (2013/2014). That title has two genre cues, “House of” and “Witchdoctor,” and neither one signals a typical slasher.

HouseoftheWitchdoctorPosterNobody in the audience with me at Days of the Dead Indianapolis in June 2014 was likely surprised that Devon Mikolas’s debut feature takes twists. The title and opening sequence more or less promise twists by mixing genre cues. Furthermore, as Mr. Mikolas and I discuss in our spotlighted interview, the title echoes Ti West’s vaunted House of the Devil (2009), which plays a similar game of slasher nostalgia and genre misdirection. While I like West’s film and was rather impressed by the support he showed the horror community during a personal appearance at the Chicago International Film Festival in 2013, I often think his film gets too much credit for innovative genre-mixing (credit I would more likely give to Rodriguez/Tarantino’s Grindhouse, 2007, or Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever, 2002, or just go back to the grindhouse master Lucio Fulci, The Beyond, 1981, and the game is off).

EMILYBENNETTI indulge in this little historical detour because I’ve read at least one review that claims House of the Witchdoctor suffers in comparison to West’s film, and I disagree. Mikolas has given us a horrific Frankenstein-monster of a movie, combining not a compendium of genre elements in a postmodern grab-bag of references, as was the way of 90s horror, but producing a new creature by selecting carefully from bodies that have come before. The bodies Mikolas selects are more numerous and, in the end, rather different from the bodies in West’s film. Together with a slasher closest initially to Friday the 13th Part 2  (1982, as opposed to West’s preference for Halloween, 1978,and When a Stranger Calls, 1979), it stitches a home invasion plot–getting a little more contemporary, hinting at The Strangers (2008) and Funny Games (1997 / 2007), but really harkening back to Last HOUSE on the Left (1972), which itself has roots in the mysticism of The Virgin Spring (1960). Mikolas’s home invasion body part, then, is deceptive in its connections to the various houses of haunting and hunting throughout history, and it threads together more readily with the supernatural hints of the title’s final word than would initially appear.

I won’t give away the other, potentially supernatural body parts (doesn’t that opening run through the woods look a little like Suspiria, 1977, or am I imagining things?), but needless to say, the rest of the title is WITCHDOCTOR. That has to mean something, doesn’t it? It certainly means opportunities for some extra-creepy imagery.

LESLIEEASTERBROOKCALLIESTEPHENSTelling you what happens in the film isn’t all that important, because predictability versus unpredictability isn’t the way to approach viewing House of the Witchdoctor. To be perfectly honest, I pretty much had it figured out from the beginning–so some of you won’t like it if you expect a twisty movie to outsmart you–but I really didn’t care. In fact, having a strong sense of where the film would take me made it much more interesting, as by providing strong hints of its endpoint, House of the Witchdoctor made me play a silent game: “Okay, Mr. Movie, so how are you going to get me there?”

I found Mr. Movie’s, and since he’s both writer and director, it’s mostly Mr. Mikolas’s, answer highly satisfying, both visually and narratively. The appearances of horror veterans Leslie Easterbrook and Allan Kayser are special perks, and the comic turn by Bill Moseley is delicious. House of the Witchdoctor is a September 16, 2014 release from Breaking Glass Pictures on DVD (wherever you can get good ones) and VOD (iTunes, Comcast, Vubiquity). If you like imaginative blends of favorite horror motifs, you should definitely check it out.


The erotic attraction of self-destruction. The beauty of horror. 15 experimental stories in three interrelated sections: complicity, entrapment, and conspiracy. The most out there thing I’ve published to date. You’ve been warned. Coming in September–previewing at Dragon Con (Labor Day weekend) and launching at Imaginarium (Sept. 19 – 21). Reviewers and active HWA members interested in free digital copies, get in touch!

LeapingAtThornsCoverHiResLeaping at Thorns arranges 15 of L. Andrew Cooper’s unpublished, experimental short horror stories into a “triptych” of themes–complicity, entrapment, and conspiracy–elements that run throughout the collection. The stories span from the emotionally-centered and violence-mild “Last Move,” about a mother and son whose cross-country move might be complicated by a haunted U-Move truck, to the almost unthinkably horrific “Charlie Mirren and His Mother,” also about a mother and son, but their lives take a turn that might be traumatic for readers as well. While “Worm Would” offers a psychosexual fantasia on the sheer grossness that is a flatworm, “Tapestry” uses absurd, sometimes comic violence to take Jessica, the young professional protagonist, into a political nightmare. The absurd reaches dark extremes in “Lachrymosa,” a story of almost pure hallucination, and stretches back toward the comic in the brain-and-tongue-twister “Heart on a Stick.” The “conspiracy” panel of the triptych, from “The Fate of Doctor Fincher” to “The Special One,” is a series of standalone stories that each adds important details to the fictional world and grand scheme of Dr. Allen Fincher, who also lurks in the background of Cooper’s novels Burning the Middle Ground and Descending Lines.