Featuring all your favorite Twitter and Instagram friends!
We are so excited to announce our Halloween Showcase in celebration of the Writing & Horror Communities across social media. We are calling for YOUR Halloween tales – to be posted every Friday in October. Shorts, poems, songs, etc. are all welcome!
Whether you’re a brand new writer or a seasoned professional, we want to showcase YOU! Submit the piece you’d like us to post, a short bio, and any social accounts/book links/ blog links, etc. that you’d like to have linked in your piece to: email@example.com
There are already several AMAZING writers that we are so excited to show off! Visual art is also welcome. Deadlines are flexible, submit whenever your piece is ready. Email/DM with any questions. And, as always; Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or, not. Trick-or-treat, after all.
Well, I didn’t know they were based on books, anyway.
I hate articles that start like “YOU DIDN’T KNOW THIS THING! LET ME EXPLAIN IT TO YOU!” Because, when the reader does know, the title and information come across as so condescending. That being said, I thought it would be fun to write one of those articles but be really honest about it. I found 10 horror movies that I really didn’t know were based off books that maybe, just maybe, you didn’t know, either.
There aren’t any Stephen King books on here, because we already know the chokehold his stories have on horror film.
1. In The Tall Grass (2019)
Okay, I lied. This one is based on Stephen King and Joe Hill’s 2012 novella of the same name. To be fair, I didn’t know this was a King-related production when I watched it on Netflix. It honestly didn’t even feel like one. It was beautifully filmed, twisted and mysterious, and criminally underrated. It stars Harrison Gilbertson, Laysla De Oliveira, and Patrick Wilson (you know, the guy from all The Conjuring movies).
The film does have some criticism, most being that it had limited source material that felt stretched a bit too thin. I don’t necessarily agree, but that could just be because I didn’t know it was a novella and just thought it was a rad horror movie with weird pacing. It was nominated for Best Streaming Premier at the 2020 Fangoria Chainsaw Awards but lost to a film called The Perfection. I’d recommend checking it out if you like time-warping, bloody, cult and alien-related horror. Oh yeah, and cursed fields of really tall grass.
2. The Ritual (2017)
This one is a British horror film based on Adam Nevill’s 2011 novel of the same name. It follows a group of four friends taking a short-cut (never a good idea) through the forests of northern Sweden. They’re hiking in the memory of their friend who was killed in a tragic attack. If you love forest horror, creepy abandoned cabins, and cults that worship the ancient beasts of the woods, then this one might be for you. It’s a love story to atmospheric horror, low on jump scares but high on stunning cinematography, honest and moving acting, and the terror of being totally lost and off the grid. I get anxious when my cell phone has less than 50% battery, so needless to say this would not be a horror film I would survive.
The film stars Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Robert James-Collier, and Sam Troughton. It premiered at the Toronto Film Festival but was sold to Netflix for streaming shortly thereafter. The novel won the 2012 August Derleth Award for Best Horror Novel. Definitely worth a watch, and a read.
3. The Wicker Man (1973)
I could write an entire article on the horror that was the 2006 Nicholas Cage version of this movie, but I am choosing not to for my sanity and for yours. The 1973 version was inspired by David Pinner’s 1967 novel Ritual. A policeman travels to an isolated island in search of a missing girl, only to find a colony of former Christians practicing a form of Celtic paganism involving sacrifices and other horrors. Film magazine Cinefantastique described this film as “The Citizen Kane of horror movies”. If that’s true, then the Nicholas Cage version is any Adam Sandler movie made after 1999.
There’s a sequel to the novel called The Wicca Woman that was published in 2014. Not sure why the books were published nearly fifty years apart, but I think they’re both worth a read if you’re interested in the origins of this famous (and infamous) film.
4. Jaws (1975)
I have seen Jaws probably 25 times, and I had no idea it was based on a book until researching for this article. We’re all familiar with the horror-thriller film directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss. . It was the highest-grossing film until the release of Star Wars in 1977. It tells the story of a small Massachusetts beach town that is terrorized by a man-eating great white shark.
Peter Benchley’s 1974 novel of the same name was on the bestseller list for 44 weeks and sold millions of copies worldwide. The movie focused solely on the shark and the three men hunting it and omitted the majority of Benchley’s subplots. That didn’t hurt the film’s success, however. The sequels are a horror story for another day… Of course, the literary elite will explain that it’s not about the shark, it’s about the greed of capitalism and how the rich will sacrifice the lives of the poor in order to make a quick buck.
5.The Exorcist (1973)
I guess I did know this one was based on a book, but I didn’t know until embarrassingly late in life. William Peter Blatty wrote the novel in 1971 of the same name detailing the demonic possession of a little girl named Regan and the priests who are charged with performing her exorcism. You already know I love exorcisms and possession. This film is actually one of the first horror films I ever watched. Regan and I were the same age, which both terrified and fascinated me as a budding horror fan. How could my parents forbid me to watch a movie if myself and the main character were the same age??
Blatty also wrote the screenplay for the film, earning him an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Aspects of the novel were actually inspired by a real life exorcism performed in 1949 of a young boy in Maryland. I guess it’s true that the most terrifying stories are based in reality.
6. The Amityville Horror (1979)
Speaking of stories based in reality, this is one of the first wildly successful horror franchises based on a “true story”. Of course, this claim has led to decades of controversy and lawsuits debating how “true” it really is. Still, it’s terrifying nonetheless. The novel of the same name was written by Jay Anson in 1977 and was reported to be based on the paranormal experiences of the Lutz family of Amityville, New York. According to the book, the Lutz family moved into a haunted house and claimed to be terrorized by evil left behind after a murder took place in the home one year prior.
The first Amityville film was released in 1979, and there have been dozens released since. The most famous remake of the 1979 original might be the 2005 version starring Ryan Reynolds and Melissa George. None of the films since then have been particularly exciting, as they all pretty much chronicle the same series of events in pretty much the same exact way. It would be interesting to have a film more about the controversy surrounding the book – like how the book falsely claimed the home was built on a spiritual site of the local Shinnecock Indians, or how everyone who’s owned the house after the Lutz family have reported no problems at all (other than morbidly curious horror fans stopping to take photos).
7. Candyman (1992)
Another novel adaptation that I had absolutely no idea about. I don’t blame myself. This film is based on Clive Barker’s short story The Forbidden from his horror anthology collection Books of Blood (1984), about a grad school student studying urban legends and folklore. And the movie was only made because the director Bernard Rose had a chance run-in with Barker, where Barker eventually agreed to license the rights. The original film starred Virginia Madsen, Tony Todd, and Xander Berkeley. There were two sequels, released in 1995 and 1999 which were not met with the same critical acclaim as the first.
Never fear, for an actually good direct sequel was released just this year, in August of 2021! It’s written by Jordan Peele (a true pioneer of evolving modern horror) and directed by Nia DaCosta. Though it’s the fourth film in the series, it’s a direct sequel to the 1992 oroginal. It stars Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Teyonah Parris. If you’re looking to get into the Candyman franchise, start with Barker’s short and work your way through the films (yes, even the crappy sequels. That’s part of the fun.)
8. I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)
Did you know this cult classic was based on Lois Duncan’s 1973 novel of the same name? Well, loosely based. It’s actually a Young Adult novel that was regarded at the time of publication as well written and cleverly mysterious. Criticism included calling the novel’s plotting basic, which (in my opinion) is pretty standard in the Young Adult genre. It follows a group of high school friends who are being tormented by an anonymous person who, you guessed it, knows what they did last summer.
The film starred Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Ryan Phillipe, and Freddie Prinze Jr. I mean, come on. Talk about a stacked cast. The film was a departure from much of the inspirational material, as the novel isn’t really a slasher and doesn’t feature the graphic deaths of several characters. Duncan herself was pretty critical of the film, stating that she was actually “appalled” that her story was turned into a slasher film. Despite the author’s poor reviews, the film went on to have two sequels, one in 1998 and one in 2006. Not too shabby.
9. Hellraiser (1987)
And I was worried about too much Stephen King – turns out, I should have been worried about Clive Barker all along. I’m not a huge fan of the Hellraiser franchise in general, but I was fascinated to know that it, too, was inspired by a Clive Barker novella (The Hellbound Heart, 1986). The film serves as Barker’s directorial debut. The plot is basically about this group of beings called Cenobites who cannot tell the difference between pain and pleasure. You might know the leader of the Cenobites, played by Doug Bradley, as “Pinhead”. The original film was met with mixed criticism, but was followed by NINE sequels, so… I guess criticism doesn’t really matter.
The film was initially given an X rating, so Barker had to cut multiple scenes to get it down to an R. Cut scenes included a hammer murder, a naked murder, exposed entrails, and a closeup of an exploded head. Gnarly. Apparently the source material is just as gory and visceral, as is much of Barker’s work. The novella also has two sequels and several spinoffs to check out, if you’re interested. Barker uses a lot of the same horrors throughout his different tales, so you might spot a Cenobite or two across his massive bibliography.
10. American Psycho (2000)
Here’s another one I’m a little embarrassed about. Bret Easton Ellis published the novel of the same name in 1991, telling the story of Patrick Bateman, a serial killer by night and investment banker by day. The novel was wildly successful when it released, though controversial. Ellis himself claimed everyone thought the book was going to end his career. And if the morbidly curious reader didn’t go absolutely nuts over it when it came out, it just might have. American Psycho is the 53rd most banned and challenged book in the U.S. between 1990 and 1999, and sales were restricted in Germany and Australia due to potentially harmful subject matter. Feminist activist Gloria Steinem vehemently opposed the book due to its portrayal of violence against women. Coincidentally, Steinem is the stepmother of actor Christian Bale.
The same Christian Bale who portrayed Patrick Bateman in the 2000 film adaptation! The film was marketed as a dark but comedic film. It starred Christian Bale, Willem Dafoe and Reese Witherspoon. It premiered at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival where it was alleged to be “the next Fight Club” (that came out in 1999, also based on a novel). Upon its theatrical release, the film was met with positive reviews by most major outlets. There was even a straight-to-video spin-off made (aptly titled American Psycho 2) that no one watched. The novel is certainly worth the read, if only to figure out what all the fuss was about when it came out.
Well, there you have it. Ten horror films I didn’t know were based on books. Did you already know any of these? Good for you.
Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or, not. Trick-or-treat, after all.
Drowned. A homely girl with little talent, sure to be an eternal burden.
I was ugly, that’s what the boys would mock. Usefulness escaped me. I could clean, whether it be our hovel, or the fish papa caught at the lake.
Papa drowned me. Violently, for spoiling the day’s catch. Accidents happen, but not by ugly girls.
He should’ve known it wasn’t wise to fish the lake he drowned me in. Now he will be my company in this watery grave and help to keep this malevolence in check.
Good thing. Else this ugly water witch would drown you, too.
Would it be wrong of me to skin you,
to fillet the flesh from your ivory bones
Pain spurts from your crooked mouth,
serenading me with your pitiful groans
The warmth of your blood bathes me,
as you cry frantic to your God and atone
Matters none cause your death is at hand,
and it is your soul that I will own
More About Spyder
Spyder Collins is a man of many faces. He haunts the caves of Colorado, where he weaves disturbing tales of horror and destruction. When he’s not agitating the minds of unsuspecting readers, he pens soul-shattering poetry.
A priest, a skeptic, and a forensic psychologist walk into an exorcism…
If you haven’t seen Evil, you’re missing out. It’s perfect for fans of the following; religious trauma, police procedurals, night terrors, demonic possession, and a batshit crazy battle between “good” and, well, evil. It should come as no surprise to Little Book Blog locals that I’m so into this show – the demonic possession trope truly has me in a chokehold. And, with this one, bonus points for debunking it. Well… sort of. But we’ll get into that.
Evil premiered on CBS in September of 2019, which feels like a decade ago after the Hell that was 2020. This year, it was added to Netflix, and I got my grubby little hands on it and fell in love. Unfortunately, as of 10/1/21, it’s no longer available on Netflix, but you can watch Season 1 and Season 2 (new episode every Sunday) on Paramount+. I recommend getting the free trial and binging over a long weekend because there’s not much else on there worth watching. And I must have some good karma, because it got renewed for a third season.
The show follows a great ensemble of characters investigating supernatural occurrences for the Catholic Church. Basically, they’re attempting to determine if these supernatural happenings are genuine demonic possessions, miracles sent from Heaven, or just your run-of-the-mill psychosis or physical abnormality. It’s a mix of the classic “monster of the week” format with intricate, ongoing subplots.
David Acosta (played by Mike Colter) is a former journalist studying to be a Catholic priest. While undergoing his priesthood training, he’s working as an assessor for his superiors. He takes drugs to see God, but he’s still not sure if it’s the Man Upstairs or just his own, drug-induced visions of Hell.
Dr. Kristen Bouchard (played by Katja Herbers) is a forensic psychologist who is hired by David to be a part of the assessment team. She doesn’t believe in religion or demonic possession, but there are things she sees that push her perception of science and reality to the breaking point.
Ben Shakir (played by Aasif Mandvi) is the comic relief and technical expert. He’s Hell-bent on providing scientific explanations for every supernatural situation they assess.
The team’s main adversary is Dr. Leland Townsend (played by Michael Merson). He’s a forensic psychologist too – a direct rival of Kristen – and a self-professed expert in the occult. He influences others to commit evil acts and takes pride in hurting all members of the team but particularly David, as he wishes to derail his path to priesthood.
SPOILERS AHEAD! READ AT YOUR OWN PERIL!
Let’s do an episode by episode recap, so we can all be up to speed on what the Hell we just watched. If you haven’t watched yet and are just into reading spoilers… I guess that’s okay too.
EPISODE ONE: “Genesis 1”
In the first ever episode, we meet Dr. Kristen Bouchard while she’s working as a forensic psychologist for the DA’s office and testifying in the murder trial of a man named Orson LeRoux. Orson claims to have been demonically possessed during the time of his heinous crimes and, therefore, not at fault. Then, Kristen is rather dramatically fired by the DA’s office and takes a temporary position with David Acosta, aspiring priest, in order to determine whether or not Orson is *actually* possessed by a demon.
During an interview, LeRoux taunts Kristen with personal information about her life that she has shared with no one but her therapist. She investigates how LeRoux got this information, only to discover that her therapy notes were stolen by none other than – DUN DUN DUN – Leland Townsend. Kristen deduces that Leland is the one telling LeRoux to act possessed in an attempt to get away with murder. In the end, Kristen decides to permanently join David’s team of assessors.
The first episode falls into a trap I think a lot of first episodes fall into – so many subplots, so little time! Kristen has a bad relationship with her carefree mother (not to mention four young daughters and a husband who is gone for six months out of the year climbing Everest!) and is plagued by a sleep paralysis demon named George (who is actually hilarious). David is tempted by lustful feelings despite his desire to become a priest (aka, celibate) AND he is desperately trying to see visions of God, as he has in the past. We don’t learn a lot about Ben right away but you can tell from the beginning that he’s going to be the best character on the show. The cool thing about this trap, however, is that Evil kind of pulls it off. All the little pieces moving around each other in this demonic (or not??) circle just waiting to come together for an eventual reveal feels intricate, but not confusing, right from the jump.
That being said, the first episode is also the most boring. It paints the picture as a courtroom procedural that it’s totally not. Sure, it’s spooky with George the sleep paralysis demon and Leland’s…. everything, but it’s nothing compared to what comes next. And maybe that’s for the best. So it won’t scare anyone away before you can get fully sucked in.
EPISODE TWO: “177 Minutes”
A girl named Naomi miraculously comes back to life after her autopsy begins. Yep, right after the scalpel starts slicing, she’s suddenly awake. David and friends are called in to determine if she was revived under miraculous circumstances. There’s video of the autopsy room that shows an image of a woman’s face – a woman who died in the hospital at the same time as Naomi’s revival. Ben (yay, Ben!) debunks the image as possible digital manipulation. This is never confirmed, however, and we’re left to wonder if it was digital or divine intervention. In terms of the actual revival of Naomi after death, David eventually discovers that she was never actually dead. Racist practices among hospital staff resulted in Naomi being pronounced dead thirty minutes too early (thirty minutes less time spent saving her life, as opposed to a white patient). Meanwhile, one of Kristen’s four daughters starts seeing George in her dreams, too. Together, Kristen and her daughter determine that George is a character from a scary movie, and therefore not real, and he can’t hurt them. Or… can he?
We also learn in this episode that Kristen’s old job at the DA’s office has been taken by none other than – DUN DUN DUN – Leland Townsend.
I personally love the “monster of the week” format. Episode one was Orson LeRoux, episode two is Naomi. The show doesn’t spoon-feed you any time of divine message, either. In fact, two-thirds of the Catholic Church’s assessment team don’t even believe in God, miracles, or demons. With the ambiguity of the image of the dead patient in the autopsy room, you’re left to wonder if, perhaps, the spirit did have a hand at reviving Naomi, or if David’s discovery of a wrongful pronunciation of death is to blame.
The racial messaging in the show isn’t spoon-fed, either. It’s blatant right away that the show will pull no punches, and not shy away from the fact that David is a minority, both in real life and in the Catholic Church (especially in the priesthood). It’s woven right into the story and diverse cast of characters as another level of horror.
I was partially invested by the end of the second episode. The main three – Kristen, David, and Ben – work so well together. And it HAS to be noted just how creepy Leland Townsend is. Every time he’s in a scene I get the creeps. Michael Merson also played the creepiest character in Lost, so, I’m not surprised. But the biggest creeps are yet to come.
EPISODE THREE: “3 Stars”
The monster of the week this time is… a Broadway producer? Sounds random, but stay with me on this. It is alleged that the producer sold his soul to a demon named Joe (what a lame name for a demon) so he would win a Tony Award. Ben and Kristen immediately attempt to debunk it, and think they have succeeded when they reveal the producer’s personal assistant (like an Alexa or Google Home) was hacked by an anonymous tormentor. The assessor team is eventually able to track down the disgruntled IT Tech that hacked the device to torment the producer… but are unable to figure out how “Joe” the demon hacked into Ben’s personal assistant at home. After turning a corner from his mental breakdown and seemingly getting back to normal, the Broadway producer gets an email stating “Hell is only half full…” and subsequently commits suicide by jumping out of his NYC office window.
On the Leland front (which is only getting more bizarre), Kristen finds out he is overturning her ruling on an old case, which could send an innocent young boy to prison for life. She secretly records him admitting all these heinous things about himself, how he’s evil and wants the boy to go to prison, but the recording is corrupted. Ben (yay, Ben!) uses deepfake technology to remake the recording, nailing Leland and getting him fired from the case.
Okay. By episode three, things are really heating up. The subplots are rolling forward, the monster of the week was increasingly bizarre – like why was Ben being pulled into it? Who emailed the producer about Hell? Why did he kill himself when he seemed to be getting better?? And David started taking drugs to see God again, and he’s now convinced God is pointing him toward a random neighborhood in Queens. Also, I was like 100% sure by this point that Leland is a demon. I mean, come on. He’s totally creepy, admitted to wanting to watch the world burn, and the recording of his voice was all screwed up because of his demonic weirdness. Ben said he might have had some type of scrambling device on him at the time of the recording… but I blame the demon.
Also by this point it’s pretty clear that there’s some type of bigger picture at play. Sure, each “monster of the week” is either demonic or miraculous, but the undercurrent of the show is that EVERYTHING could be demonic or miraculous. And, if that’s true, then EVERYTHING is connected. We just don’t know how… yet.
EPISODE FOUR: “Rose390“
The assessors are assigned to help the McCrystal family determine if their young son Eric is possessed by a demon. Kristen, being a forensic psychologist still, officially declares Eric a budding psychopath. Eric bonds with David, and despite Kristen’s evaluation of psychopathy, David tells Eric to pray to God, and ask God for the things he wants most in life. Eric shows improvement, but upon David’s next visit, Eric has attempted to drown his infant sister. David saves the infant just in time. The Church orders an emergency exorcism (is that a real thing?) but, when the assessors arrive, Eric is “missing”. It’s heavily implied that his parents killed him, having had enough of his demonic ways.
Meanwhile (see what I mean about subplots?), Kristen’s mom Sheryl bought Kristen’s kids VR headsets. There’s a game already downloaded into them about a possessed little girl. In the game, they meet an online player named Rose390. Ben (whom the girls call Ben the Magnificent, which is adorable) tries to remove the game, but is unable to do so. Kristen throws the VR headsets away as a result.
FINALLY, a scary episode! Something about the VR game was totally terrifying to me. Especially that creepy little girl calling herself Rose390, trying to get Kristen’s kids to open up some portal in a Ouija Board. Even Ben the tech genius couldn’t figure out why he couldn’t un-download the creepy game (and the game was CREEPY – spiders and demonic images and monsters). And he couldn’t figure out who Rose390 was, though he assumed it was a predator (real or demonic, who can say?).
And don’t even get me started on the McCrystals. Sure, it’s *technically* an ambiguous ending, and you don’t know for certain if they killed Eric or not… but it’s implied. In the background of the scene when David and Kristen and the exorcist arrive at the home, you can hear Mr. McCrystal arguing with a cop about there being blood on the floor, and they didn’t hurt Eric, he’s just missing. Mrs. McCrystal tearfully tells Kristen that she had to do what she had to do to protect her family and infant daughter, and Kristen would do the same. Would she though?
This was the first episode to truly marry the terrifying and the heartbreaking, bringing an ounce of humanity into the weirdness of demonic possession. Ben and Kristen’s skepticism is in stark contrast to David’s belief that Eric needed to seek guidance from God, and it’s really tragic that they’re saddled with the guilt of being unable to save Eric from whatever fate he suffered – whether through God or otherwise.
EPISODE FIVE: “October 31st”
The assessment team is called to investigate and perform an exorcism on a possessed (or schizophrenic) woman named Caroline. David and Kristen butt heads because David believes Caroline can be cured via God’s love and an exorcism, while Kristen believes Caroline is being tortured and needs medical care (aka not an exorcism but a real doctor). David’s exorcism eventually cures Caroline and she expels the demon from her body (or does she?). Meanwhile, Ben is a guest star on a Ghost Adventures type show and it’s absolutely hilarious to watch him debunk every scary thing that happens.
Kristen’s daughters are celebrating Halloween with a sleepover party. A girl named Brenda is invited, despite no one at the sleepover liking her. Brenda is wearing a mask and doesn’t take it off during the duration of the sleepover. Brenda coaxes the girls to the nearby graveyard, where they begin to bury Kristen’s youngest daughter alive. Kristen arrives before anyone is hurt, and it is revealed that the real Brenda stayed home – and no one knows the identity of the little girl in the mask who disappears into the night.
And last but not least (subplots, oh my!) Leland seduces Kristen’s mom!
Another scary episode! This one was bursting with Halloween creeps – especially in the scenes involving Kristen’s daughters and that spooky little freak, Brenda. The kids hold up flashlights and tell scary stories and it’s endlessly charming – and endlessly creepy. Especially because in the end, we never find out who “Brenda” really was. It was such a campy ghost story for the kids that left me scared and wanting more. I’d watch a Brenda spinoff.
Ben’s appearance on the ghost hunting show was absolutely hilarious. Much needed between the scenes of Caroline’s gruesome exorcism and David and Kristen arguing about the dangers of demons and schizophrenia. This is the first episode where David’s faith and Kristen’s lack thereof have come to a head, and it was actually quiet disturbing to watch them argue after several episodes of being great teammates despite their differences in beliefs. And Leland seducing Sheryl left my jaw hanging open. Does he know who she is? She doesn’t know who he is, and she certainly doesn’t know that he’s evil (and in my opinion, demonic).
EPISODE SIX: “Let x = 9”
A Chinese daycare worker named Grace is allegedly a prophet, speaking of things only outlined by a 500 year old codex describing the end of the world. The Church pressures David into pronouncing Grace a false prophet, because it the codex and her predictions are correct, the world will come to a burning end. Grace is eventually deported by ICE, but not before giving David a final drawing of the missing piece of the codex.
Sheryl invites Leland over for dinner at Kristen’s house. Kristen takes him into the backyard and slices into his throat, demanding he leave and never return. She tries to convince her mother that Leland is evil, but Sheryl writes Kristen’s warning off as anger and jealousy.
It’s weird, because this episode is critical and pivotal to multiple plots, but it was probably my least favorite of them all. The thing about the codex is cool, and it’s revealing more of that major conspiracy/underlying demons that I mentioned before. But it was rather anti-climactic with Grace being deported and David and team wondering what the codex actually represents – besides the end of the world, that is. It’s a giant map of shapes and illustrations in connected circles, and apparently no one has ever been able to decode it. So, we’ll see. Overall, it was pretty boring compared to the insanity of last week. Kristen slicing Leland’s throat was totally badass, though.
And the whole Sheryl and Leland thing is so crazy! Sheryl is definitely a loose cannon, but I found it so ridiculous that she didn’t listen to her daughter’s warnings. Even when Kristen played Sheryl the deepfaked recording of Leland saying horrible things about being evil, Sheryl didn’t care. I think Leland’s demonic energy is drawing her in.
EPISODE SEVEN: “Vatican III”
Leland is mentoring a young man named Sebastian, an incel (involuntary celibate) that’s angry at women and the world in general. Leland is convincing Sebastian to take physical and violent action against women, and women-centered organizations. Meanwhile, a woman named Bridget confesses to multiple murders of young men during her exorcism. David and Kristen are at odds once more as they try to determine whether Bridget is a possessed killer or a victim of a mental illness.
It is eventually revealed that Bridget is not the killer – her doting husband is. The exorcism and possession were an elaborate ruse conducted by the pair to cover up for the fact that the husband has been on a killing spree, collecting trophies from each of his young victims and hiding them within the home. David discovers the trophies and apprehends the husband.
The team is granted access by the Vatican to view the entire 500 year old codex. They sneak pictures with Kristen’s cell phone and discover it is a hierarchy if demons on Earth, each with their own sigil. David recognizes one as an artistic signature used by his father.
More politics. Honestly, the portrayal of the incel culture on the internet was one of the most terrifying aspects of this episode. As always, the exorcism was gruesome (think vomit, demonic voices, bodily harm, broken bones, etc.) and the tension between David and Kristen was palpable.
But, you’re telling me that this codex has been around for 500 years and only just now, a wannabe priest, a skeptic, and a psychologist randomly solve it? I mean, I’m glad they did, and I’m not surprised it was something to do with demons (where’s Leland’s picture on there??) but I just think it’s convenient that it took them all of 15 minutes to discover something 500 years of study couldn’t do. There’s a total atmospheric dread though – dread of what Leland is grooming Sebastian into, dread about the codex and end of the world, and dread about this new hierarchy of demons… and if that means demons *are* real, after all.
EPISODE EIGHT: “2 Fathers”
David and Kristen visit David’s father’s farm/art studio/compound in upstate New York, only to find that he’s remarried a young bride and has a baby on the way. David confronts his father, Leon, about using the demon sigil in his artwork and his father claims it grants him clarity. While at a party at Leon’s home, David and Kristen both drink punch laced with hallucinogenics, giving them visions. Kristen watches Leon’s young wife give birth to a ghoul in a cornfield, while David meets the ghost of a slave. The sigil Leon uses in his artwork is the brand of a slave owner. This enrages David, but he makes peace with the fact that he and his father must endure the pain of their family’s history in their own ways.
DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED ON THE GHOUL IN THE CORNFIELD! I was shocked, I was disgusted, I was dismayed. I was horrified. And I was totally into it. The absolute absurdity of a woman giving birth to this being (way bigger than a baby, mind you) that looks like a mix of Benjamin Button and Predator right before Kristen’s eyes, then Kristen goes home and laughs it off because she was “hallucinating” is just so disturbing and hilarious. And it’s ambiguous – was it a ghoul? Did it actually happen? What the actual Hell?
And once again, the show gracefully includes racial discussions and the pain of David’s family heritage. Likening a slave owner’s brand to a demonic sigil is fitting and poignant. Sometimes, demons are right before our eyes. It’s also a welcome shift in pace to watch David go through something so profoundly emotional and personal. Week after week, he and the team watch people go through the worst time in their life (I mean, demonic possession would probably be close to my worst day ever) and we don’t get constant insight into their own battles with good and evil. My favorite episode, by far. Not just because the show has officially begun it’s bizarre descent into demonic madness, but because we’re learning more about the characters and their own personal Hell.
EPISODE NINE: “Exorcism Part 2”
David and the Church are being sued by Caroline (remember her from episode Five?) for botching her exorcism. A Church lawyer, sister of David’s deceased girlfriend, defends David as the prosecution reveals his history of drug-related legal offenses and arrests. Kristen convinces both parties that the medical care Caroline received after her exorcism is the real reason for her failing health, not the exorcism itself.
Meanwhile, Leland continues to coach Sebastian and introduce him to other members of the incel community. They are planning to execute an act of gun violence upon an all-women’s gym, and then a prayer group at a local church – the church where David leads a prayer group on that very night. Sebastian accidentally shoots himself while posing in the mirror with the guns Leland provided him with.
Kind of a boring recap, but not a boring episode. It’s a fascinating legal and moral argument about the negative effects an exorcism can have on the body – even if it worked at expelling the “demon”. The exorcisms have always been portrayed as gruesome, bloody affairs for all involved, taxing both physically and mentally. I wasn’t surprised when Caroline wanted to sue the church for the exorcism. Kristen setting aside her differences to make good with David and blame the medicine Caroline received afterward for the woman’s failing mental health was an interesting take. It’s clear that Kristen and David’s relationship is more important to both of them than their individual beliefs. It does, however, make me wonder how far Kristen is willing to blur the lines between truth and a lie.
Sebastian shooting himself in the head accidentally was another jaw-dropping moment. Right at the end of the episode, and the credits play in silence as his blood spreads across the floor. It’s gut-wrenching, because he was becoming the worst of the worst – a violent man, hateful of women, and easily manipulated by others (like Leland) who shared his disgusting beliefs. To watch him get his brains blown out by his own hand was… almost satisfying, if only to know that he wouldn’t be able to shoot up the gym or the church. That being said, the horror only continues when the camera cuts to Leland, at first upset at the loss of his protege, then comforted by the influx of incel videos he was able to watch afterward. An unnerving, sinking feeling that there will always be another mind for Leland to manipulate. There will always be evil.
EPISODE TEN: “7 Swans A Singin'”
A group of girls at a Catholic school can’t stop singing or humming a particular melody. Ben and Kristen discover the song is originally from an internet cartoon about Santa being high on marijuana, and was later used in the background of a popular influencer’s viral video. Ben determines the song transmits a secret message to those under the age of 16, telling them to commit suicide. The team confronts the influencer and she blames her producer. She later goes to her producer for help, who is none other than – DUN DUN DUN – Leland Townsend!
Meanwhile, Sheryl tells one of Kristen’s daughter’s to deal with a school bully with violence, perpetuating Leland’s beliefs. David goes to confession at church and is stabbed in the chest on his way out, his phone just out of reach.
This show really finds such interesting ways to interject the current world – and current evils – into this realm of demons and miracles. I never would have thought they would be uncovering demonic messaging in an influencer’s viral makeup tutorial, but they did (actually, Ben the Magnificent did). On top of the demonic messaging is the general horror of influencers in general, and how negatively they impact the minds and body image of young people (young women and girls in particular).
This episode in particular confirms my idea that Leland is behind all of this! I don’t know how, but I think I know why – serving the Devil, obviously. He’s using every tactic he can to watch the world burn… even it it’s including subliminal messaging in a random video jingle. And I can’t imagine waiting for next week to see what happens to David. I mean, obviously the show wasn’t going to kill him off, but what happens? Does he go to Heaven? Does he finally see God again? Or… does he go to Hell?
Luckily, I watched this on Netflix, so I didn’t have to wait.
EPISODE ELEVEN: “Room 320”
David is in the hospital following his attack. He learns from his roommate that the attending nurse, Nurse Bloch, is an angel of death that targets black patients and collects their hospital wristbands as trophies. David tries several times to escape, but fails. He sees horrifying visions of patients being killed and dragged away through the halls of the hospital. In a dream (or was it?) he receives a warning from the prophet Grace (from episode six) to remember Matthew 13:25 (“But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and left”).
Meanwhile, Kristen and Ben work together to find out who stabbed David. They come to the conclusion that it is a man named Ghana, who David once performed an exorcism on. Ghana also happens to be Rose390 from the VR headset game. Ben creates an avatar in the game and goes head-to-head with Ghana (or, Rose390) until they can triangulate his location and send the police to apprehend him.
Kristen visits David in the hospital and outsmarts Nurse Bloch to save him. They are not able to catch Nurse Bloch in time and she disappears, leaving behind a locker full of hospital wristbands.
Holy crap. This episode is so terrifying, especially if you’re into medical horror/hospital horror, etc. I’m actually not a fan of medical horror, like when patients are drugged and at the mercy of evil hospital personnel, but this episode scared me to my core. Watching David be tortured physically and mentally by this Nurse Ratched wannabe was absolutely jarring – he’s the large, tall, strong and sensible man that we’ve seen throughout the season, reduced to dragging his beaten and bloody body across the hospital floor in a desperate attempt to survive.
What’s the significance of Matthew 13:25? Well, I think Grace said this to David to get him to realize that while he was drugged and unconscious, Nurse Bloch was torturing and killing other black patients. And, in general, don’t sleep on evil and the Devil, because they’re everywhere. Even when you should feel most safe.
The reveal of Rose390 being a former exorcism client of David’s is fascinating, and yet again makes me think Leland is involved in this, somehow. He’s connected to everyone who’s getting exorcised or exhibiting demonic behavior… I just don’t know HOW yet, but I know it’s true.
EPISODE TWELVE: “Justice x 2”
The DA calls Kristen back to court in an attempt to stop Leland from overturning LeRoux’s conviction, freeing the killer back into society. When Kristen is called to the stand, she is forced to admit that she taunted LeRoux during her psychological assessment of him, and his conviction is then overturned. When Leland approaches Kristen to gloat, she confronts him with all the research she has done about him – he is not the Devil, he is a loser who moved from his small town and changed his name and left behind an unsatisfied ex-wife and nothing else. He is nothing but a loser, and he will never be stronger than she is.
Meanwhile, David responds to a call from a woman pleading for spiritual guidance, only to be taken prisoner by her. She is also holding an African comedian captive, claiming he had something to do with the brutal slaughter of her friends and family back in Africa. The woman kills the comedian but lets David go after she turns herself in to the police, claiming she did it for justice, and she’d do it again.
At the end of the episode, Leland is meeting with his demon therapist, discussing their plans on how to deal with Kristen.
The episode features David and the comedian being held captive pretty heavily, as that’s this episode’s “monster of the week”, so to speak. I wish there was more about LeRoux’s case, and the reality of his conviction being overturned and what that means for his wife and Kristen and everyone else who helped put him behind bars. I do have to say, though, Kristen’s confrontation of Leland was absolutely badass. It was so satisfying to watch him flounder as she ripped into him, calling him a loser (though it did give me flashbacks to the kids in It defeating Pennywise. “You’re just a clown!”).
That being said, David’s captivity is brutal and terrifying. The woman is at the brink of a full psychotic break as she’s convinced herself the comedian was involved in the slaughter of her friends and family. Eventually, the comedian admits to what the woman is accusing him of – but we don’t know if he really did it, or he’s just admitting to it to try and get away. The woman kills him anyway, and that’s the most terrifying part of all. She begged him to admit it, and when he did, she shot him in the head.
It definitely feels like we’re winding up to the end of the season with this episode, especially in regard to Kristen and Leland’s showdown. Something big is looming on the horizon as all of these demons are being unearthed along with the hierarchy of the codex. And I was just DYING to find out what.
EPISODE THIRTEEN: “Book 27”
LeRoux uses his freedom to harass Kristen and threaten her daughters. Leland proposes to Sheryl. When Sheryl announces the new to Kristen, Kristen forbids her mother from being in her house, or around the kids, until she breaks it off with Leland and realizes he is no good.
David and the assessors are called to review a pregnant woman’s fear that one of her babies is possessed in utero. When the second twin mysteriously vanishes in the womb, David suggests an exorcism be performed, but the surviving baby is born before they have the chance. The children were conceived at RSM Fertility. David and the team dig into the fertility clinic and discover links to families they worked with previously (remember Eric? Yeah, he was an RSM baby). They also discover that the clinic is a front for the demonic hierarchy, and whoever is involved is corrupting the fetuses to create a generation of humans easily influenced by the Devil. One of Kristen’s daughters was conceived with the help of the fertility clinic.
At the end of the episode, Kristen holds a crucifix in her hand. It burns her. Oh, yeah, and she gets a call that LeRoux was bludgeoned to death.
Season finales are hard. You want the loose ends to be tied up, but you also want new loose ends to be created so there’s something to look forward to in Season 2. This finale didn’t tie up ANYTHING. It created a whole slew of mysteries for the assessors to tackle: what’s going on at the fertility clinic? Why is Leland trying to corrupt a generation of people? And is Kristen a demon, now? What the actual Hell? You can tell there was already a Season 2 approved, because if there wasn’t, this would be the worst cliffhanger a show has ever ended on, ever. Did Kristen kill LeRoux??
The idea of the fertility clinic being used to create a generation of humans extra-susceptible to sin and evil is actually terrifying. To use eugenics for such a nefarious purpose (eugenics is already nefarious, but you know what I mean) is such a genius plan on the part of Leland and the people (or demons?) he’s working for. So what does that mean for Kristen’s daughter? I wonder how she’ll be influenced by demons, and evil in general.
Overall, I think the finale was a beautiful culmination of the evil we have seen across the whole of the series. It’s pretty clear that the demons and mysteries have had effects on all three of the assessors, but profoundly Kristen – she’s become more tough, headstrong, and she’s being burned by the crucifix. I think she caught Leland’s demon… or, something like that. I don’t know if possession is contagious.
Well, if you stuck around until the end of this article… thanks. I’m hoping to have my recap and review of Season 2 up next week! So, stick around for that, too.
Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or, not. Trick-or-treat, after all.
Images are used Pursuant to 17 U.S. Code § 107 under the “fair use” defense. All images are copyrighted by show creators Robert King & Michael King and CBS Studios.
Craig shoveled the last of the snow off the driveway and ran a hand across his forehead. Despite the bitter cold, the effort to clear the twenty yards between the garage and the street was enough to make him sweat. He looked back at the house and reflected on his work. Perfect, he thought, we’ll be able to get out easily when she goes into labor.
He picked up the snow shovel and started back up the driveway when he noticed a peculiar trail of footprints leading through the snow from the woods to the front of the house. He rolled his eyes. Guess the local teens are playing a prank on the new neighbors, he thought.
They’d been warned by a dozen locals about the Weeping Widow. Twenty years ago, a lunatic had broken into this very house and attacked a pregnant woman who was home by herself. The attacker apparently cut the woman’s baby out of her womb in the kitchen and ran off into the night. The woman dragged her bleeding body out of the house after her assailant and died in the woods not far from the house. The house had been vacant ever since. Supposedly she still haunted the woods to this very day, crying and wailing in the dead of night for her stolen child.
“Haunted woods” aside, the property was a steal. Four bedrooms, three bathrooms, with an acre of land to spread out on. Perfect for their growing family. Now if the kids around here would just leave us alone, Craig thought. The footprints led all the way to the front porch. They better be long gone by the time I get there. For their sake.
Then there was a scream.
The snow shovel clattered to the ground as he ran up the slippery driveway, stumbling onto the porch and through the front door. He failed to notice the watery footprints leading up the stairs as he scrambled to the second floor.
He threw open the bedroom door. He fell to his knees, the end of a severed umbilical cord reaching toward the open doorway. A shriek rang out from the woods.
The Weeping Widow had taken a child for herself.
More About Conner
Conner Lee is a Colorado native who has always had a passion for storytelling of any medium. While he’s written stories his entire life, it wasn’t until his final year of college studying Music Education that he realized his love of crafting meaningful stories. Since then, he’s spent countless hours and any spare energy creating dynamic characters and writing stories with purpose. When he isn’t working full-time in the craft beer industry, Conner spends his time writing, playing video games, and spending time with his wife and four children.
For more Conner Lee content, check out his socials!
It was the same hunting trip Robert took each October. The leased nine acres looked the same as every year: tree branches knotted together across a cold Kentucky sky, faded yellow, brown, and orange leaves drying on the ground, wind gusts caught along the ravines, and forgotten rock walls. It was the first time Robert had taken this trip alone. Where there had always been three rifle scopes, and three orange caps, and three homemade lunches were now only one. Robert’s older brother had stopped coming several years ago after his wife claimed him, and this was their father’s first absence since the cancer claimed him that summer.
Robert followed the trail deeper into the woods. He thought he knew it better than the deer by now. He knew once it banked east, he’d come across an open field seated just under sunset. The “sweet spot” his father had called it. If he could make it, then his hunger and the kill would be worth it.
That was easier now. The hunger and the killing. Robert packed an extra power bar for a snack and, well, he’d lost count of how many deer he’d shot and missed since he was eight. Each winter he’d fill his deep freezer with meat and donate what he couldn’t use to the butcher who dried the hide to make hats and dog chews.
The field burned with the fading colors of sunset. It was beautiful. Every year Robert had forgotten just how beautiful this spot could be. He turned to his left, about to comment on the view to his father, but stopped. There was nothing on his left. No matter how strong the memory of his father- orange cap askew over graying hair, middle finger over the rifle trigger since his pointer was missing from a crossbow accident, wrinkles over a kind smile- the spot beside Robert would remain empty. He swallowed down the sadness before it could clutch his heart and settled into a seat in the brush.
It wouldn’t be long before they came out of the woods.
The sun dipped below the ridgeline. The milky stars appeared in the twilight. The power bar gurgled in Robert’s stomach. The field remained empty. This couldn’t be right. This spot always worked. This was the spot they felled their deer every year. Despite the weather reports, despite the migration reports, despite the trail cam footage, this was the sweet spot. Unless Robert’s father took the magic with him.
Robert refused to believe that. He had to. Of all the trips to return empty-handed, this one would not be it. It couldn’t be. Robert raised his scope and scanned the tree line across the field. He discerned the tree trunks, the size of pencils from this distance, from one another and searched for a deer hidden between them.
The scope passed over two large furry legs. Robert remained calmed, knowing something with legs the size of flag poles in a pencil forest would have plenty of meat for winter, and raised the rifle slightly to view the animal. Its pupils stared right back through the lens.
It was a deer, but it was also not.
The eyes were too forward. They found Robert’s eyes behind the scope and held them with an eerie intelligence. The deer’s legs contained too many joints, as if the animal possessed extra knees. Its neck was too long and added to its size. According to the scope, the neck was two feet long, and the entire animal stood six feet tall.
As tall as Robert.
Through the scope, Robert watched the deer walk out of the tree line. It wobbled with each step as if it was just learning to walk. The legs strained under the mass of it. After several steps, Robert was certain the deer was going to collapse, but it kept moving. It kept crossing the field. Robert lowered his rifle, and his breath caught seeing how quickly it covered the distance. He swore the deer had only taken a couple of steps, but it was already halfway across the field.
Halfway toward him.
A hard rock formed in Robert’s stomach, and the hairs on his arms raised. The animal was coming right for him. Its eyes glued onto him like a predator. With each clunky step, Robert forgot to breathe. With each clunky step, Robert’s limbs tightened. With each clunky step, Robert heard something clicking. He thought it was the deer’s too-many joints popping until he saw its elongated muzzle snapping together. Its mouth opened too long, expanding up to its molded ears housing long, pointed teeth.
Drool dripped from the deer’s jaw, and Robert scrambled backward, grabbing at the undergrowth until he found enough purchase to pull himself to his feet. His orange cap fell in his haste, his rifle smacked his shoulder as he ran. The trail he thought he knew so well snarled around him and, without the sunlight to help guide him to the road, panic gripped his throat.
The clicking sound was everywhere. He felt hot breath on his neck. The smell of rotten earth clogged his senses. Branches tried to hold Robert back as he ran faster. A brier bush tore open his pant leg. The top of his sock was sticky with blood when Robert finally broke through the trees. He couldn’t rest; the clicking was growing louder. Robert heard another set of noises: a response?
He pushed forward through the waist-high grasses trying to trip him. He evaded the tangling weeds, but not one of the rocks hidden below. Falling headlong into the field, Robert threw out his arms to protect his face. The rotting smell was stronger here. Scrambling back to his feet, Robert saw the lanky deer thing was now closer than he thought possible.
No. A second deer thing. The one approaching had antlers. In the near-absent light, Robert swore the bone resembled human hands. Seven of them reaching for him.
Robert tore through the last of the grasses and slammed himself into his truck just on the other side of the field. He fumbled with his keys, and they fell to the ground. He bent down to pick them up and, as he rose, he saw it. The Not-Deer. It stood on its hind legs at the front of the truck, its front hooves denting the hood. The hands forming from its antlers twisted and grasped at the air, at the radio antenna, at Robert through the windshield. One of the hands, tinged in red, was missing its pointer finger. The Not-Deer unhinged its jaw full of canines and unleashed a piercing scream.
Robert shoved the keys into the ignition and threw the gear into reverse, the truck making its own hideous sound. His hasty three-point-turn kicked up a cloud of dirt, and the truck sped down the highway. The speedometer lurching past 100 MPH, but Robert still heard the clicking of the Not-Deer.
Seven human hands and two sets of golden eyes gleamed in the rearview.
More About Jordan
Jordan S. Keller is a Cincinnati based author who writes fantasy and science fiction. Her first novel, Wildfire: The Rise of a Hero, is currently on submission.
For more Jordan S. Keller content, check out her socials!
Hello, friends and foes! Today we’re reviewing Paul Tremblay’s 2015 novel A Head Full of Ghosts. And this should come as no surprise. If you’ve been kicking around the blog for a while, you know I love exorcism horror. Movies, books, television – anything about the Devil himself. (You can read my review of Grady Hendrix’s My Best Friend’s Exorcism here: http://www.littlebookblogofhorrors.com/2021/08/book-review-my-best-friends-exorcism/). Plus, the reviews for this book are killer. “A Head Full of Ghosts scared the living hell out of me, and I’m pretty hard to scare.” – Stephen King. “… A Head Full of Ghosts generates a haze of an altogether more serious kind: the pleasurable fog of calculated, perfectly balanced ambiguity.” – New York Times Book Review. ‘Ambiguous’ is the perfect word for this book. Confusing, foggy ambiguity. And it’s absolutely amazing.
I’d heard the name Paul Tremblay around the horror literature world for a while before I picked this book up. And, turns out, that was for good reason. He’s won a Bram Stoker Award, British Fantasy Award, and a Massachusetts Book Award. His bibliography boasts seven novels and numerous anthologies, essays, and published short fiction. Fun fact! He has a master’s degree in mathematics. Now there’s a horror story. His first published novel was The Little Sleep in 2009. Right now, his 2018 book The Cabin at the End of the World is all over horror lit social media; it won the 2019 Locus Award for Best Horror Novel. I’d love to see this guy’s trophy case. And, both A Head Full of Ghosts and The Cabin at the End of the World are in film production.
Trigger warning for potential readers: this book is rife with discussion of mental illness and self harm. Now, let’s dive in.
First we meet a grown-up Meredith (who goes by Merry) as she’s being interviewed by a writer in her abandoned childhood home. You know something catastrophic happened there – but you don’t know what. Then, we meet Karen and her pop culture blog. She’s making commentary on a documentary TV show, The Possession, that was made about Merry’s family; particularly her older sister, Marjorie. Finally, we meet eight year old Merry, living through her sister’s… sickness, and the eventual filming of the TV show in real time.
These three intertwining narrators tie the story together as they tell it, each with their own personal anecdotes and additions. I think the addition of the blog-style commentary is one of many things that sets this book apart. To watch the events unfold through the eyes of eight year old Merry, then to be given an unabashed and seemingly impartial recap of the TV show episode recreating those events does an exceptional job of casting doubt upon the narrators – all three of them. And it does my favorite thing when it comes to exorcisms – it debunks them. Well, not entirely. Some things just can’t be explained.
Karen does an exceptional job of addressing the hypocrisy of a monetized exorcism and the exploitation of “possessed” (or mentally ill) persons for capital gain. To get that take smack dab in the middle of a story about the horrors of possession and exorcism is unequivocally self aware. And, in my opinion, necessary.
Marjorie is 14 when she starts acting strangely. She’s withdrawn, moody, and seeing and hearing terrifying things. The bedtime stories she creates with Merry grow increasingly bloody as the visions and voices overwhelm her. Her father jumps to possession before her mother does, but eventually a priest is involved, and then an entire camera and production crew. I mean, how does that happen? How is a young girl tortured and exploited on television? That, reader, is the worst horror of all.
Even the “possessed” Marjorie knows that exorcisms shouldn’t be a spectacle (literally – the Pope said so), and the priest ignores her. Her father ignores her. Everyone ignores her, as men have ignored young women for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. And they all pay dearly for it.
You don’t know what to believe between young Merry, grown Merry, and the blog posts. Even Merry admits that it gets fuzzy and embellishments slowly turn to truths, even though she lived through it all herself. It’s a disorienting account that leaves a pit in your stomach as you’re desperately trying to decide what happened, what was real, and why dozens of adults sacrificed a child for greed.
A Head Full of Ghosts is as heartbreaking as it is horrifying. It speaks to the confusion and mystery of mental illness, and the lengths one might go to in order to appear sane – or the opposite. It’s a hate-filled homage to the media’s obsession with exploiting people in need and while they’re at their lowest. A psychological thriller and religious think piece, at times bloody and at others downright gruesome. It’s not the Devil that leaves you scared – it’s the exorcist. The “good guys”. If you ask me, they’re damn near evil.
5/5 stars overall, 4/5 on the scare scale.
Am I biased because I love exorcism stories? Who cares! It’s my blog, and I can do what I want.
Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or, not. Trick-or-treat, after all.
“There lived a certain man, in Russia long ago – He was big and strong, in his eyes a flaming glow!”
Hello, friends and foes! You voted on Twitter and Instagram, and this month’s strange history subject is none other than Grigori Rasputin. The man, the myth, the legend. And what a bizarre legend it is. It’s nearly impossible to discern the truth from the fantastical myth surrounding the infamous mystic to the royal family. But I did my best, so let’s get into it.
Grigori Rasputin was born on January 22, 1869 in Siberia as Grigori Yefimovich Novykh. He earned the surname Rasputin (which is Russian for “debauched one”) due to his reputation for, well, debauchery. He had no morals, no restraint, and a great disregard for the rules of correctness at the time.
He went to study at a Khlysty monastery at 18 years old but was ultimately unable to become a monk due to his belief that, to reach God, you must experience total sexual exhaustion through prolonged debauchery. Groovy.
At 19, he married Proskovya Fyodorovna Dubrovina, who gave him four children. Unfortunately, only three survived; Maria, Dmitri, and Varvara. Despite his marriage and family, Rasputin wandered across Greece and Jerusalem as a starets (self-proclaimed holy man), alleging to heal the sick and see the future.
In 1903, his wandering landed him in St. Petersburg, where he was welcomed into the courts. This was a time of great entertainment and fascination in mysticism and the occult. Those of high-society were enamored by the strangeness of Rasputin and his (alleged) healing and prophetic abilities.
In 1908, the royal family invited Rasputin to the palace to heal their son’s bleeding episodes. Czar Nicholas Romanov II and Czarina Alexandra had one son, Alexei, who was diagnosed with hemophilia; a disease in which blood does not clot properly, resulting in spontaneous bleeding. After his initial success in curing Alexei of his ailment, Rasputin left the Romanovs with an ominous warning; the fate of their son – and the dynasty – were linked to him in ways beyond mortal control. And they must have believed him, because Rasputin was an integral part of the royal family for the next decade.
Did he really heal Alexei of his hemophilia, though? And if he did… how? Magic? It’s widely debated, but historian Douglas Smith says, “[he] calmed the anxious, fretful mother and filled her with unshakeable confidence, and she, in turn, transferred this confidence to her ailing son, literally willing him back to health.” So, maybe he just willed it to be so. Other historians cite the fact that Rasputin demanded all doctor prescribed medicines for Alexei to be thrown into the fire and destroyed. These medicines probably included aspirin – a blood thinner that would have exacerbated Alexei’s hemophilia. This change in medication probably appeared as a miraculous recovery to the royal family.
By 1911, Rasputin was a total scandal. He had countless mistresses under the guise that his touch had a healing and purifying effect. And, apparently, his wife was totally cool with it. Proskovya was quoted as saying, “he has enough for all”. Russia’s greatest love machine, indeed. Despite this, Czar Nicholas II and Czarina Alexandra were enamored with him. So much so that any members of the court that spoke out against Rasputin were transferred to remote regions of the empire, or outright fired from their positions.
During World War I, when Nicholas II went to the troops on the front lines, Rasputin served as Alexandra’s personal advisor, appointing his own selection of church and court officials. It is from this time one of Rasputin’s greatest myths emerged; his alleged affair with the Czarina. However, historians say there’s no substance to this myth and it was an exaggerated rumor spread by Rasputin’s political enemies.
Rasputin was blamed for much of the calamity of the Russian government during his time in the imperial palace, and many attempts were made on his life in an effort to eliminate his influence. Hell, people were trying to kill him years before his actual death. In 1914, a peasant woman stabbed him in the stomach for seducing too many young women. Not groovy.
In 1916, a group of extreme conservatives invited Rasputin to a private dinner. Legend states he was fed a plate of poisoned tea cakes but did not die, so his enemies then shot him no less than three times. When the gunshots did not kill him, they bound him and threw his body in the freezing Neva River, where he finally drowned. It was this recounting of events that gave Rasputin the reputation of being unkillable. One of his assassins, Felix Yussupov, wrote about the murder in his 1928 memoir. He said, “This devil who was dying of poison, who had a bullet in his heart, must have been raised from the dead by the powers of evil. There was something appalling and monstrous in his diabolical refusal to die.”
Rasputin’s daughter Maria (who fled Russia after the revolution and became a lion tamer in the circus, by the way) renounced these claims in her own 1929 book. Maria stated that her father didn’t even like sweets and wouldn’t have eaten a plate of tea cakes, poisoned or not. The actual autopsy lists shooting as cause of death, with no signs of poison even found in Rasputin’s system. There was allegedly a small amount of water in his lungs, which led to the theory of his drowning after surviving the poison and multiple gunshots.
One of the most prominent myths surrounding Rasputin’s strange life is that he actually rose from the dead. It was reported that after he was thrown in the river, he was fished out by a group of passersby who found that he was still alive! The truth is that his (very much dead) body was discovered by police several days after his death because the water of the river was frozen.
Rasputin’s assassins thought his murder would lead to a change in the Czar’s politics. Instead, it symbolized the corruption of the imperial court and was recognized as a desperate attempt by Russian nobility to disallow any common person to become influential in the government. Mere weeks after Rasputin’s death, the Romanovs were overthrown in the Bolshevik Revolution and, eventually, murdered.
It seems perhaps Rasputin was right, and the fate of the dynasty was tied to his own, after all. Spooky.
Want more Rasputin? Here are some versions of his story worth checking out:
Anastasia, Dreamworks film (1997)
This film is really about the lost princess Anastasia who miraculously escaped during the Bolshevik Revolution and is trying to reclaim her position on Russia’s throne… but the real star of the show is Rasputin. He and his albino bat sidekick Bartok are on a mission for revenge, hunting down Anastasia in an attempt to kill her. Rasputin is voiced by the incomparable Christopher Lloyd, songs sung by Jim Cummings (who also sang as Scar in Disney’s The Lion King. Fun fact.) You can listen to Jonathan Young’s cover of In the Dark of the Night here: https://open.spotify.com/track/2sXChp7RKB6AOWBCO9f0X9?si=98d7cbd613e74ae9
Rasputin’s Daughter by Robert Alexander (2006)
This is an historical fiction account narrated by Rasputin’s daughter Maria, recalling her father’s final days in the wake of the Russian Revolution. Intrigue and conspiracy abound, revealing a shocking “truth” about the identity of her father’s killers, and those who conspired to have him killed. It has mixed reviews, most citing that you never really get a sense for Maria’s character, or who she is. But if you’re looking for Rasputin-centered historical fiction, this is a good place to start. Alexander has another novel set in revolutionary Russia called The Kitchen Boy.
Enchantments by Kathryn Harrison (2012)
Here’s an almost completely fictionalized tale about Rasputin’s daughter, with most historically accurate names changed but the setting of the Russian Revolution remaining. After the murder of her father, Masha is sent to live with the Czar’s family in the imperial palace. The Czarina hopes Masha has inherited her father’s healing abilities, so she can continue to heal the prince’s ailment. During the course of the Bolshevik Revolution, Masha and the Czar’s son take solace in each other, and telling stories about Rasputin and other fantastical characters of Russian history – embellished or not.
The Rasputin File by Edvard Radzinsky (2001)
This one’s steeped in actual truth. In 1995, a lost file from the State Archives of Russia mysteriously turned up, containing the testimony of both Rasputin’s inner circle and those who kept him under close surveillance. Radzinsky reconstructs Rasputin’s life (say that five times fast), dispelling myths in a true story just as fascinating as the legend.
Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter and Instagram so you can have a hand at choosing next month’s strange history subject. And, as always; Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or, not. Trick-or-treat, after all.
Hello, friends and foes! Today we’re diving into the world of Young Adult fiction. We all cut our teeth on Young Adult after graduating from Middle Grade spooks (I’ll never forget you, Goosebumps). We’ll take a look at the differences between Young Adult and Adult fiction, the emerging genre of New Adult fiction, and check out a list of ten Young Adult horrors that I can’t wait to read (or have already read).
What is “Young Adult Fiction”, anyway? Technically, YA is a category of fiction for readers aged 12-18. However, it’s widely enjoyed by readers of all ages, including myself. I have another article about Middle Grade books for readers aged 8-12 (you can check out that article here: http://www.littlebookblogofhorrors.com/2021/08/10-spooky-middle-grade-books/ ). The age category of fiction above YA would be plain old “Adult”, for readers aged 18+.
What’s the difference between Young Adult and Adult? There are several key factors distinguishing the two, including character ages, general subject matter, and language used. A teen protagonist generally hints at a YA book. YA subject matter can certainly veer far into the dark side (think Ellen Hopkins and Gayle Forman), but for the most part avoids graphic descriptions of heinous crimes and horrors. Young Adult themes tend to center around growing up, friendships and relationships, and the general priorities and characteristics of teenagers (oh, the drama!). Further, Young Adult tends to rely on a fast-moving plot with limited flowery prose and, often times, limited use of profanities.
The line between Young Adult and Adult can get blurry, because sometimes teens face adult challenges, or fit into an Adult fiction storytelling style. Some authors refer to their work that falls between the two categories as “New Adult”. New Adult is for readers between YA and Adult, and includes some of the best of both worlds. Darker stories and themes with characters still figuring life out – but they’re in their early twenties, not their teens. While the NA category isn’t widely recognized – and outright denied existence by some publishers – some of the books on the following list may fall closer to NA than YA. For the record, I am a proponent for New Adult and I think we should expand the category, giving more stories to those who aren’t teens but aren’t really adults. Not yet.
Without further ado, let’s run down the list of some of the best YA horror books on the market.
The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey (2010)
The first installment of a four book series marketed as H.P. Lovecraft x Rick Riorden, this book follows orphaned Will (remember what I said about dead parents?) who works as an assistant to a monster-hunting doctor. A new monster is discovered – the Anthropophagus, a headless creature that feeds through the gaping mouth in its chest. Unfortunately for Will and the doctor, this discovery means there are more Anthropophagi loose in the world. A mad hunt ensues to stop the creatures from eating the whole world – and to figure out where they’re coming from in the first place.
Clown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare (2020)
This Bram Stoker Award winning slasher horror is Cesare’s YA debut, having found success in Adult fiction with Video Night (2013) and The Summer Job (2014). If the title alone doesn’t get you interested, the summary will – there’s a clown in the cornfield! Quinn is the new girl in the small factory town of Kettle Springs, a place divided into two halves; kids and adults, progress and stifled tradition. When a clown mascot goes homicidal and starts killing off the teens, a new tradition threatens to begin – unless the teens can stop him. It sounds very Children of the Corn x It, and I’m buying it on my next trip to my local bookstore (not sponsored, I just love clowns).
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (2011)
A New York Times bestseller that expanded into a 6 book series, this tale follows Jacob Portman on a quest to uncover a mystery that his late grandfather left behind. He discovers the time-bending world of Miss Peregrine and her home of misfits – peculiars – children with powers of all sorts. Some can wield fire, control plants, and levitate, while others have more outlandish abilities, like reanimating the dead or feeding through an extra mouth on the back of their head full of sharp, gnashing teeth. The peculiars are being hunted by invisible monsters called Hollowghasts, and Jacob is the key to defeating them… but no one knows why. There’s a full series review coming to the blog, soon!
The Mary Shelley Club by Goldy Moldovsky (2021)
Here’s a thriller about a horror fan club that might be too into horror… The new girl in town, Rachel Chavez, is an avid horror movie fan with a tumultuous past. When she is inducted into the Mary Shelley Club at her new school, she is subjected to Fear Tests – terrifying pranks inspired by urban legends and -you guessed it- horror movies. When teens start dying, the pranks aren’t so fun anymore, and Rachel realizes that it’s not just a movie trope – it’s real life. It reminds me of an older Are You Afraid of the Dark. Book review coming soon!
How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather (2016)
This is the first book in a duology by an actual descendant of Cotton Mather (you know, the minister involved in those witch trials back in Salem?). The book follows Samantha Mather, also a descendant of Cotton, which makes her public enemy #1 on her first day at her new school in Salem, Massachusetts. The girls who rule the school are descendants of witches, and they make it their mission to bully Sam out of the school – and out of Salem. But there’s more at stake high school street-cred when a centuries-old curse unfolds, putting all descendants of the Salem Witch Trials in deadly jeopardy. Oh, yeah, and a love triangle between Sam, the boy next door, and a ghost.
The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones (2019)
Marketed toward fans of Holly Black and V.E. Schwab, this historical horror follows the story of Ryn, the seventeen year old gravedigger. She works on her dead parents’ graveyard (there’s always at least one dead parent in Young Adult) but is struggling to keep her siblings happy and fed. Oh, yeah, and sometimes the dead (called “bone houses”) come back to life. Mysterious newcomer Ellis draws the bone houses to attack with a newfound hunger. Together, Ryn and Ellis must get to the bottom of the fae curse that makes the dead alive – and angry.
House of Furies by Madeleine Roux (2017)
The first installment of a trilogy (which I regrettably keep reading as “house of furries”) follows seventeen year old Louisa Ditton, a mad in a mysterious boarding house. Through her accidental investigation, Louisa discovers the house’s master is actually the head of a cruel organization that judges (and subsequently punishes) those who visit the boarding house whom he deems too far gone in their sinning to save. It’s a mysterious thriller about how easily men can become monsters when they think they are greater than other men. Roux also wrote the Asylum series, another YA series worth checking out if you’re into haunted asylums and murder mysteries.
The Girl from the Well by Rin Chupeco (2015)
The first book in a duology based on Japanese folklore that we talked about in my article here: http://www.littlebookblogofhorrors.com/2021/08/japans-vengeful-ghosts-nihon-sandai-kaidan/. Okiku, a young girl who was tragically murdered in a well, now haunts the world, taking the lives of evil killers. When she stumbles across the misunderstood (and demon-possessed) Tark, Okiku knows she must free the malevolent spirit that is using the boy’s body as a host – without killing the only friend Okiku has ever known. Chupeco is now most well known for her Bone Witch series.
Blood and Salt by Kim Liggett (2015)
Young Ash is following the mysterious disappearance of her mother. Her quest brings her to a small town in Kansas – and the strange commune from which her mother had previously escaped. At the center of the creepy little town is a string of deaths and bizarre traditions revolving around murder, immortality, and alchemy (oh, my!). The tale culminates with a ceremony 500 years in the making which could spell the end for Ash, her mother, and her new love interest (there’s always a new love interest).
Tenby Gretchen McNeil (2013)
A horrific twist on Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, a group of 10 teens are gathered for what was supposed to be a party weekend on Henry Island. A storm cuts off the power and cuts the teens off from the rest of the world. One by one, the teens are killed in increasingly violent ways, and it’s up to the protagonist Meg to find out who the killer is, even as her friends are dying – and turning on each other.
Well, there you have it. Some of the best YA horrors and thrillers. What’s your favorite YA horror – or favorite YA book in general? Do you think a New Adult Fiction category is a good idea?
Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or not. Trick-or-treat, after all.
Hello, friends and foes! Today I’m reviewing Jac Jemc’s 2017 horror novel, The Grip of It. The grip of what, exactly? Well, I read the book in a day (literally one day – I could not put it down) and I’m still not quite sure. This little book took me on an anxiety-ridden roller coaster ride that I’m still recovering from, days later. An unassuming young couple, the perfect house, a quiet town… until all Hell breaks loose. Let’s talk about it.
There’s not much to find online about Jac Jemc. She seems to be as mysterious as this little book. Her website is streamlined and offers some updates and bits of info (linked below). Her works follow everyday people experiencing everyday horrors, most with terrifying, breath-stealing twists. Her first novel, My Only Wife, was published in 2012 and won the Paula Anderson Book Award. She has also released two haunting story collections; A Different Bed Every Time in 2014 and False Bingo in 2019, both critically appraised. She’s also the author of an abundance of short stories published in various magazines. Currently, she teaches creative writing at UC San Diego.
Refreshingly, Jemc has a page on her website for her story rejections – short stories she’s submitted to publishers that were turned down for whatever reason. She has received four as of her latest post in July, 2021. As a querying author, I’m familiar with the sting of rejection and find it endlessly charming that Jemc is transparent with what it means to be an “author”. It’s not all easy once you have a successful book out (or, in her case, four – and one more slated for 2022).
In The Grip of It, we meet young couple Julie and James. They flee their old life in the city for a quiet home in a small, peaceful town. James’s gambling addiction and lack of impulse control seemed to spur the move, and Julie is trying her best to forgive him and rebuild the trust in their relationship. They find a house near the forest and a lake on a quaint street, with a mysterious and grouchy elderly man in the home next door. As their fractured relationship begins to heal, the very home they are living in insists on tearing it apart.
It starts off small; a leak here, a strange noise there, a black mark on the wall that definitely wasn’t there when they moved in. Then Julie starts getting strange bruises, mirroring the black, graffiti-like marks along the freshly painted walls. The house becomes unfamiliar, shifting and re-shaping itself, doors leading suddenly to nowhere and staircases missing from where they once stood. The noises turn from whispers to groans to shrieks. And then, in the most terrifying moments, there is nothing at all- leading Julie, James, and the reader to wonder if it ever happened in the first place. Julie and James experience different phenomenons within the house and sometimes struggle with understanding and believing each other. Often, this leads to lying. Gaslighting each other while the house is gaslighting them both.
When Julie and James turn to neighbors and townspeople, asking for information about who lived in the house before them, they get no straight answers – more often, no answers at all. Julie’s bruises draw attention and judgement from those outside the house, and there are only so many lies you can tell before people begin to suspect something awful is going on at home (and their minds don’t go straight to haunted house).
The lingering distrust from their fractured relationship, coupled with lying to each other about what they’ve seen or found or experienced in their ever-changing home, begins a slow and diabolical descent into madness for the once lovely young couple. Their once so beautiful relationship is crumbling due to factors they can’t control, and this is arguably one of the most terrifying aspects of the whole book.
On top of the horrors within their haunted house, Julie and James are sucked into a strange family mystery involving their perpetually grouchy neighbor and a disappearance that was never solved. They try to work together to solve the mystery while simultaneously lying to each other about everything… because they don’t even know what’s real.
I definitely shouldn’t have read this book while house hunting. The Grip of It had me on the edge of my seat, waiting impatiently until I could turn the page to find out what happened next. It left me wondering about the strength of a loving marriage and what lengths one is willing to go to to believe the other, or to be believed themselves. Overall, it was a tantalizing and terrifying read, though I wasn’t a big fan of the ending. Despite that one blip (that’s entirely subjective, anyway), I would absolutely recommend this book to anyone that loves haunted houses and gripping, psychological terror.
Was it scary? Yeah, I think we’ve been over that. It’s stomach-twisting, anxiety-inducing, waiting-on-the-edge-of-your-seat scary. You’re side by side with Julie and James, angry when they find no answers and disturbed and disgusted when they do. It’s a disorienting ride through a haunted house with no haunting – there’s no murderer, no vengeful ghost. Just pure evil. It’s chaotic and confusing (in a good way). A true whirlwind of haunts, gripping fear, and a strange, moldy mystery…
4/5 stars overall, 4/5 on the scare scale.
Reader beware, you’re in for a scare! Or not. Trick-or-treat, after all.