Reviews May Contain Minor Spoilers

If you're reading a review you should expect to hear some spoilers. I try to keep them to a minimum though.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

The Wendigo
Night 13
The Wendigo (1910) By: Algernon Blackwood

A hunting party sets off into the Canadian backwoods to hunt moose. Since the moose are particularly rare, they split into smaller hunting groups to become more stealthy. One of them is with their guide and notices that he has become particularly jittery. He wanders away from the fire, becoming more pale and sniffing as he does. He is called back, but neither sleep well. Soon he awakens crying in the night.

After last year's surprise hit, The Willows, it seemed only natural to include more Blackwood this year. The Wendigo presents many of things that made The Willows great with believable characters and an excellent setting. Once more the emotion is palpable allowing the reader to place themselves inside the scenario. Unfortunately, this story ends on a much weaker note than The Willows, which itself could've used a bit more a the end.

Our Hero
Young Simpson is a young student on a hunting trip with his uncle. He experiences the most horror in the tale. He is also not terribly observant, and he misses much of the action.

Rational Observers
Hank Davis is the other member of the team and Dr. Cathcart's guide. He doesn't do too much.

Dr. Cathcart is a psychologist who bring reason to the crazy events. His splash of reasoning provides some psychoanalysis that is interesting, but it destroys the tension of the piece. He is an intelligent character, which is nice in horror.

Punk is the Indian guide who doesn't count as one of the party. Casual racism rears its ugly head. This character is a solid character on his own, but is initial description really puts the time it was written to the forefront.

Hidden Foe?
Joseph Defago starts out as Young Simpson's guide before he begins to slip. It is his strangeness that drives the story and his reactions that create the most suspense.

Sublime Atmosphere
Once again, the Canadian back woods are represented with lush description. From the freezing rivers to the burnt down tress, everything is presented so you can almost see it.

In the End
The build to the end is superb, but the end itself is an incredible let down. Don't delve into this one expecting a scary ending.

While not as great as The Willows,The Wendigo is well-written and creepy. Unfortunately, that's about as far as it gets. Check it out if you enjoy weird fiction.

Get it free on Project Gutenberg and Kindle. Happy Halloween~!
Next October: 13 Days of D!

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The King in Yellow

Night 12
The King in Yellow (1895) By: Robert W. Chambers

The first four tales feature the manuscript, the sign, and the specter of the titular character.

The Repairer of Reputations 7.5/10
America is in a state of peace. Living in the security of a militarized state, it has legalized suicide. However, a manuscript threatens the sanity of Hildred Castainge. Hildred, recently released from a mental institution after a fall from his horse, tries to cope with his life.

A bizarre story, which sets up the universe for the King in Yellow stories. Chamber's alternate history is as curious as it is unsettling. For all its pronouncements of peace, it shows a zealously militaristic and nationalistic U.S. Our unreliable narrator may be to blame as he interacts with the repairer of reputations. A great start to the set.

The Mask 7.5/10
Boris shows his friend Alec his new method of instant fossilization when he creates a stone lily. The friends are sculptors finishing up pieces for a show. Alec recently admitted his love to Genevieve, but was rejected in favor of Boris. The friends made up, but something is still nagging at the trio.

This one had a few twists and turns. It is not a standard love story, nor does Chambers fall into the trap of repeating his initial story. The King in Yellow elements make a very minor but significant appearance in this tale.

The Court of the Dragon 7/10
A man sits in church distracted by the sound of the great organ that is interrupting the lovely service.The narrator has found his mind filled with hateful thoughts since he read The King in Yellow. As the organist leaves the man feels relaxed, but soon he sees the organist leaving, yes again, as the man sinisterly glares at him.

Another profoundly weird tale and the only appearance of the legendary King in Yellow. Though strange, this tale is a simple one. The key points are the atmosphere it builds and the harrowing final line.

The Yellow Sign 6/10
An artist paints his model when he notices an obese man outside. He returns to his painting and finds it tinged with a sickly green tint. The more he tries to remove it, the more it spreads. Finally, he gives up on the painting and his model tells him of a strange dream she had where he lay in a coffin drawn by the fat man.

The yellow sign has some great imagery, but the story is similar to The Repairer of Reputations. The affects of the King in Yellow manuscript and the Yellow sign are both more oblique and more abrupt, leaving the ending more jarring than the previous stories.

The stories after this one aren't really horror stories.

The Demoiselle of d'Ys 7/10
A man falls asleep among some forgotten moors. He awakens to find a woman reacquiring her falcon and its prey. He asks her if there's a way out and she suggests that it takes longer to get out than get in. He decides to return to her estate and meets her anachronistic household.

The description of falconry lends realism to the world and the pride the woman has for it tells a lot about her. This tale is likely not for everyone and the ending is a bit cliche, though it does provide solid characters and a look back to a simpler time.

The Prophet's Paradise 6/10
Several mini-stories that mirror lines and tell a sort-of story. This is why I don't review poems. This is an interesting experiment that succeeds in being weird, but doesn't quite make it to creepy.

The Street of the Four Winds 7/10
A cat wanders into an old man's shop, so he pets her. As he pets her, he notices a garter around her neck and begins thinking about the woman to who must must belong. This one is pleasantly macabre with just the right feeling of tenderness.

The Street of the First Shell 6/10
People struggle with their lives amid war-torn Paris streets. A secret emerges between two lovers that threatens to tear them apart. An okay story that is very Parisian. There is some gorgeous imagery. The last three stories are based on Chambers' experiences in Paris as a young man.

The Street of Our Lady of the Fields 6/10
A Parisian man introduces his American friend to the lovely Valentine. They hit it off, but there remains something barring their relationship. An incredibly French tale of romance and complications.

Rue Barree 6/10
A young American abroad hears about a gorgeous girl  that all the guys are in love with. He forgets about her until he notices a beautiful woman on the street. Another classic tale of love abroad that has been told many times and many ways. This version is good with beautiful description as is typical of these tales.

If you're just looking for something scary, stop at the first three tales. However, if you like the style and want to read something different by Chambers, check out the whole collection. The transition between horror and more grounded fare can be a bit jarring, even with the transition pieces in the middle. Be sure to read at least the King in Yellow stories if you're a horror fan.

Get it free in Project Gutenberg and Kindle!

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

The Phantom of the Opera (classic novel)

Night 11
The Phantom of the Opera (1911) By: Gaston Leroux

M. Leroux is piecing together evidence of the true happenings of behind some deaths, a kidnapping, and a ghost at the Paris Opera House. He recounts the various 'sightings' by the performers, which include the ghost being eyeless, noseless, and with head aflame. He then recounts the singular experience of Raoul and his attraction to the break out singer Christine. After leaving her room, he hears her speaking with someone, so he waits until she goes out. Then he checks again, but finds no one there.

This novel has been popularized through many different forms of media that I haven't seen, so I'm coming at this without many prior conceptions. The story is surprisingly comical. Even near the end there are some strange jokes and oddities to alleviate the tension. The story itself is told in segments, so it begins with rumor and ends with fact. The style makes the beginning a bit chaotic, but allows for more of a build in tension as the reader tries to figure out what's really going on.

Our Heroine
Christine Daae is an opera understudy who finds her big break after being coached by an angel. Despite being the main protagonist, the story is never told from her point of view. She is a young woman with mixed feelings, trying to decide between two suitors. She gets a surprising amount of agency given her position and uses it to test the two of them. Why is she in the heroine spot? Read the novel to find out.

Haunted Observers
Raoul, Vicomte de Chagny is determined to win Christine's hand. He and Christine met as children once and he has been fond of her ever since. He does not approve of her relations with the ghost and seeks to save her. He's kind of a dunce, a hotheaded one at that, but not without genuine affection for Christine. He acts more as a parallel than a foil to the ghost.

The Persian Daroga is the only man who knows the Opera Ghost's past. He appears briefly at the start and becomes prominent at the very end. His story makes up the juiciest bit of the narrative.

M. Moncharmin and M.Richard are the new owners of the Paris Opera House. Their feud with the Opera Ghost relieves the drama of Christine's plight and allows for some humor as they adjust to the Opera Ghost's demands.

Hideous Foe
The Opera Ghost or the Angel of Music sees fit to train Christine to become a great opera singer. He is known as a hideous monster, but some of his actions betray a softer side. He has a definite sense of humor, albeit a morbid one on occasion. The fun of this novel is trying to piece together what exactly the Opera Ghost wants and that is something the tale does not give up lightly.

Parisian Atmosphere
There is a great deal of French manners in this book, so much so that the ghost takes advantage of it. The chaos of the opera house comes through loud and clear, as do the Opera Ghost's manipulations of it. The free versions even end with an extended description of the real Paris Opera House.

In the End
The ghost's secrets are revealed, mostly, and Christine makes her choice. The end of the story brought back some of the hallmarks from the middle of the novel and fixed some issues with the chapters immediately prior. All in all, a fitting end.

An enjoyable read with some patchy sections near the beginning and end. The roughness gets smoothed out fairly quickly though, making the overall experience a great one. Read it if you enjoy horror with a lighter, more romantic tone.

Check it out for free on Project Gutenberg and Kindle!

Monday, 28 October 2013

The Masque of the Red Death

Day 10
The Masque of the Red Death (1842) By: Edgar Allan Poe

A kingdom is ravaged by a disease that leaves the victims convulsing and perspiring blood, not to mention, dead in half an hour. Prince Prospero decides to hole up in his castle. After half a year of hiding, he decides to throw a ball and decorates each room in a different color. The final room he sets in black with a clock so loud it drowns out the musicians and window panes the color of red blood.

Perhaps it's taken a bit too long to get to Poe. A true master of atmosphere and suspense, Poe builds a world of fear and denial, teasing the horrors to come with a description of the plague. This is a classic for all the right reasons, playing on man's fears and causing reflection on that fear. One need look no further than this tale.

Our Coward
Prince Prospero is the lord of a plague ridden land. Though little description of the prince himself is given, we get a feel of him through his actions and decorating decisions. He cares only for himself and his friends; thus, he earns the ire of the Masqued Individual.

Bloody Foe
The Masqued Individual shows up relatively late in the tale and taunts the nobles with a mask that resembles a dead plague victim. He is often seen as a metaphor, though one should actually reading the tale to find out why.

Lavish Atmosphere
The castle's decorations are meticulously described. Even the general happenings at the party are rendered so that one gets a feel for what's going on.

In the End
The Masked Individual leads Prospero on a merry chase through the rooms of the party. In the final one his secret is revealed. A great end to a chilling tale.

If you are reading this and you haven't read this story, read it! I'd forgotten how much I personally enjoy this story. It is one of the best horror fictions out there.

There's no excuse; it's free on Project Gutenberg and Kindle.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Jewel of Seven Stars

Night 9
The Jewel of Seven Stars (1903 & 1912) By: Bram Stoker

Mr. Malcolm Ross receives a letter from Ms. Margaret Trelawny requiring his urgent assistance. Her father has been attacked, and she could his support. He arrives and finds her father's wrist slashed in seven consecutive lines near a steel bangle.  Upon inspection of the room, an officer finds a letter addressed to her. It warns that he must be watched day and especially night for the assailant might return!

This one is a real slog. Everything takes forever with the action consisting of legal precedence superseding a man's health, supposing over pseudoscience and the etiquette of mummy decency. The second attack does provide some good action and pose an intriguing mystery, but then the novel turns back to the slog of daily events. It could have used less turmoil about some servants leaving and more about the mummy herself.

Our Hero
Silvio is Margaret's cat and does more toward solving the mystery than any of the human characters. He has an intense aggression toward a mummified cat in Mr. Trelawny's room. This allows the human characters to start heading in the right direction, sort of.

Idiotic Observers
Mr. Malcolm Ross is a barrister who loves Margaret so much that he'd do anything for her. He drones on so much about his infatuation that it is his prime characteristic. He's so blinded that even after he lists off the things that are clearly pointing to a bad end, he still does nothing. It's no wonder the cat gets heroic billing.

Ms. Margaret Trelawny is Abel's daughter. There is some mystery as to her motives, but she is shown so be a generous and kind woman, though somewhat useless. This is a shame after the portrayal of Mina Murray-Harker in Dracula. Stoker writes one of the most competent women in literature and then follows her up this this. Ugh.

Mr. Abel Trelawny is Margaret's daughter. His desire to revive the mummy nearly gets his killed at the start of the novel. He's a zany professor who enjoys spending his riches on frivolous things like possibly getting him and his daughter killed.

Eugene Corbeck is Professor Trelawny's assistant. He could clear up most of the plot up at the beginning, but he's one of three characters who keep pointless secrets to extend the mystery of the novel. Mr. Trelawny does at first, but he soon cracks. The other is Mr. Trelawny's lawyer who wastes a short time with his appearnce in the book. However, Mr. Corbeck remains tight lipped for far so long under the guise of 'secrecy' that it becomes stupid. It's secret because he swore an oath.

Lucky Foe
Queen Tera is an Egyptian Queen who ruled Egypt like Cleopatra. She was a powerful sorceress and made plans for her resurrection. Fortunately for her, the inept team of Mr. Trelawny and Mr. Corbeck stuble upon her. She is a foe more romanticized than dreaded by the characters, which is a shame, since she does make an interesting villain.

Romantic Atmosphere
Everything is so tinged by Malcolm's feelings for Margaret that the book is almost painful to read. There are some beautiful passages and clever suppositions, but it's so cloaked in mush that they're easy to miss. Also, everyone speaks in speeches that go on for at least a paragraph, so much so that short blurbs become noticeably more powerful than the long expressive speeches.

In the Ends
There are two versions of the story: one with a grim ending and one with a happy ending. They are both let downs, though the grim ending is at least intriguing whereas the happy one is just stereotypical.

Stupid characters, a snail paced romantic plot and two 'meh' endings would usually leave this one a bit lower on the scale, but there were some interesting ideas. While the thoughts on pseudoscience and the imagined technological feats of the Egyptians are drawn out, there are also some cool ideas for the steampunk fans out there. Many ideas come from Tera's own sorcerous plan, though some sections remain confusing all the way to the end. However, gone are the interesting plot twists, the truly clever foe and the diverse, necessary characters of Dracula. Ultimately, The Jewel of Seven Stars should be left only to the die hard Bram Stoker fans.

The 1912 happy ending version can be found on Project Gutenberg and Kindle, but if you want the original 1903 version, check out The only differences are a missing chapter and the very end of the novel.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

The House on the Borderland

Night 8
The House on the Borderland (1908) By: William Hope Hodgson

Two men head to Kraighten in rural Ireland for some fishing. On a day off they head to the south and discover a manuscript in a ruined house overlooking a pit. The manuscript details the former occupant's experiences in the house. The occupant first passes out and travels through the cosmos before landing in a circular valley surrounded by mountains: the arena. He encounters man's old gods of death and many others, including a massive Swine-Thing, before being whisked back and awakening on the floor of his home. However, his experience becomes more real when he and his dog are attacked by lesser swine-things in his garden.

The House on the Borderlands achieves a level of cosmic horror that H.P. Lovecraft reached for with his Mi-go, but did not attain. By tying his creatures to mankind's old gods, he gives his 'lost manuscript' a surprising level of validity. He also uses his four characters to great affect, making them both likeable and sensible. He also touches on the temporary affect that each man has and even humanity itself has on the universe.

Our Hero
The Recluse is a stubborn man who purchases the house and, even after witnessing its horrors, falls to its temptations. While it is difficult to tell, at times what forces are acting on him; they weave a pattern both subtle and sinister.

Loyal Observers
Pepper is his faithful pet dog who accompanies him on his missions into the unknown. Pepper has more personality than many well-written characters, and the love and loyalty between the Recluse and his pet is truly heart warming.

The Sister is an old spinster who either cannot see or ignores the strange things occurring around her. Another typical woman of her time, she cooks and cleans and can't handle anything. Yes, that's only three characters, read the novel for the fourth.

Infectious Foe
The Swine-things and their master are trying to take over the Recluse's house. Their purpose and their ties to the house, the arena, and the pit are a mystery. They are abominably frightening detail and serve as creepy antagonists.

Maddening Atmosphere
Cosmic horror is a genre that doesn't have a lot of examples, but this is a fine one. Hodgson renders the Recluse's trip through the universe as both chilling and fascinating. Like 2001: A Space Odyssey, the novel, this story takes the reader on a trip to the unknown depths of the universe.

In the End
The end is the worst part of the novel unless you enjoy making up your own ending. It ends much in the vein of bad found footage films or bad apocalyptic novels of the 1900s, e.g. it doesn't end.

The ending does diminish some of the joy of reading it all the way through. It might be more fulfilling to stop in chapter 22 or 24 then skip to chapter 27. This is worth reading if you enjoy surreal cosmic horror, though if you like good endings stay away from this one.
7/10 (ignoring the ending it would have been an 8/10)

Check it out for free on Project Gutenberg and Kindle.

Friday, 25 October 2013

The Damned Thing

Night 7
The Damned Thing (1898) By: Ambrose Bierce

Eight men stand around a body and await the arrival of the witness. William Harker enters and relates the tale of how his friend, Hugh Morgan, died. He watched him savagely mauled by an unseen horror.

This story does a lot with very little. Whereas The Great God Pan left everything to the reader's imagination, this tale gives us a description of the attack and its grisly aftermath, but leaves the creature out of sight.

Our Protagonist
William Harker is a writer and a friend of Hugh's. He witnessed his death and cannot explain the shadowy force that was barely visible between them. 

Wild Observer
Hugh Morgan is a grizzled mountain man who encounters the thing when he notices his dog barking and sees a shadow in the distance.

Damned Foe
The Damned Thing is a creature that exists as a terror to those who live near nature. The creature is more metaphor than terror, but it is a thought provoking antagonist.

Wilderness Atmosphere
The isolation in Hugh Morgan's section gives the feeling of being stranded in the mountains.

In the End
Excerpts from Hugh's journal end the tale as he describes his mounting fear. At the very end, he makes some suppositions on what the thing might be and the nature of its existence.

A solid tale that provides interesting food for thought. It serves more as a parable than a horror story with some cool imagery and ideas. Read it if you like fantastic concepts.

Read it for free on Project Gutenberg and Kindle!

Thursday, 24 October 2013

The Monkey's Paw

Night 6
The Monkey's Paw (1902) By: W.W. Jacobs

Sergeant-Major Morris visits the White family and regales them with his tales of India. The topic shifts to a curious item Morris mentioned: the monkey's paw. He quickly tries to change the subject, but is forced to reveal a bit about it. It grants three wishes to three owners. He's had his and wont talk about them. The first owner's first two wishes aren't important since his third one was for his death.

Wishing Observers
Sergeant-Major Morris is a friend of the family warns them against using the cursed object. His downtrodden nature and reticence to use the monkey's paw lend foreboding to the object before we even hear much about it.

Mr. White is rather against messing with the paw, though he finally gives in. He doesn't quite believe in the paw until his first wish comes true in the most horrible way. He's not a stupid protagonist and remains skeptical enough to not be stupid. Modern horror writers take note.

Mrs. White half believes in the monkey's paw and pushes Mr. White to make the wishes he does. She's written like most women at the time: nosy and pushy. It is unfortunate that her desires drive the tale so much.

Inanimate Foe
The Monkey's Paw is a dried mummy's hand with a curse upon it. It doesn't force the user to do anything, but it will punish anyone who tries to use its powers. This is one of the most clever and enduring cursed objects in all of fiction and the strength of this tale shows why.

Household Atmosphere
Another horror tale told completely within a house, though with a glimpse of the road outside. The limited setting helps with the trapped and claustrophobic feeling that fuels the terror and urgency at the end of the story.

In the End
The final wish brings solace to one and grief to the other. It is also left somewhat ambiguous as to whether the monkey's paw does anything at all, but that's the boring way to look at things.

The Monkey's Paw is an effective horror short story that doesn't waste time. It's short story that effectively uses inference and atmosphere to build terror; the Monkey's Paw is a tale of the dangers of human curiosity. Check it out!

Availiable free at Project Gutenberg and on Kindle.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The Metamorphosis

Night 5
The Metamorphosis [Die Verwandlung](1915) By: Franz Kafka, Translated by: David Wyllie

A man awakens to find himself transformed into a giant insect. He is late for work and his father, mother and sister all try to get him to come from the room. After losing the ability to speak and having someone from his work come by; he finally lets them in. Soon his family must care for him as he deals with his dwindling humanity.

This is a dark tale made all the more difficult to read by the realistic atmosphere. The idea of a man transforming into a bug is horrifying enough, but the situation it creates with his family is the most interesting and disturbing part. The more they cling to the hope of his being returned to normal, the worse their lives get.

Our Insect
Gregor Samsa is a traveling salesman turned monstrous bug. He must deal with his fall from breadwinner to rotten bread eater. His decline is alarming, punctuated perfectly with incidents to make him realize how far he has fallen. He comforts himself with how much he used to do, but must come to grips with how his condition has undone all that he's worked for.

Familial Observers
Grete Samsa is Gregor's sister. Her hopes are the highest for Gregor to return to normal. Sadly, the bigger things are, the harder they fall.

Mrs. Samsa is Gregor's mother. She has the most even reaction to Gregor's transformation. He's her baby and that create a strange dynamic as Grete must protect Mrs. Samsa from herself.

Mr. Samsa is Gregor's father. He is the most shaken by his transformation and nearly kills gregor in a fit of rage during their second encounter.

Four-walled Atmosphere
The Samsa house is the entire setting with its decline paralleling the family's. Gregor's room especially shows how his family feels about him over the course of the novella. There is also an excellent scene where Gregor notices how much difficulty he has seeing things from his bedroom window. This story makes tremedous use of a limited setting.

In the End
A happy ending, kind of? The ending is certainly bittersweet and a great relief after the depressing atmosphere that pervades the novella. Though the more one begins to think on it, the sadder it becomes.

This novella is not usually considered horror, but it speaks to one of the things that really gets to me. Transformation, especially into something disgusting or pathetic, is behind many of horror's greatest creatures; from vampires to zombies, the idea of changing into something that will destroy everything you love is among mankind's most deeply rooted fears. Read this one.

There's no excuse: Project Gutenberg has it!

*Thank you, Merica Teng for pointing out that I mistakenly called it a novel rather than a novella thrice in my review. This error has been fixed.

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

More Ghost Stories

Night 4
More Ghost Stories [of an Antiquary] (1911) By: M.R. James

After last year's mostly pleasant Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, it is time for M.R. James' second set.

"A School Story" 7/10
A teacher asks his students to write down a Latin phrase. When he collects them he finds that one of the students has written down something disturbing.

Even though this one has a bit of a standard horror progression, provides solid thrills and ruminates on how ghost stories are spread. The story is told mostly in Gatsby-esque style by the best friend of the creepy student. Unlike The Lost Stradivarius, the point of view and frame story allow just enough to be seen to not spoil elements of the story.

"The Rose Garden" 4/10
A woman is having trouble when a post is discovered in her garden. She soon finds that it has lead to people having visions of being put on trial for their lives.

This story is the first of this set to mistake trials for being scary. Mastigophobiacs beware, I guess. That's the fear of being punished, which is the closest I could come to finding someone to be afraid of this, perhaps it was more common back then. This one achieves strange, but doesn't make it even close to scary.

"The Tractate Middoth" 7.5/10
A man stumbles into a library searching for a book. The clerk apologies and says an old man checked it out earlier, but it should be back the next day. The following day, when the young man goes to check for the book, sees the old man close up and faints of fright.

Half horror and half drama, this story manages both well. The young clerk is drawn into a feud between siblings and that plot builds to a race to the finish with a horrific end to the tale.

"Casting the Runes" 7/10
A man rejects the paper proposal of an old alchemist. He thinks nothing of it until he learns of the death of another man. Soon the man notices some strange things happening around him.

A dash of horror and a bit of adventure combine to make this tale rather entertaining. Most horror stories involve unstobable forces as this one does, but it proves just how fickle they can be.

"The Stalls of Barchester Cathedral" 6/10
A man runs across the obituary of an old Archdeacon, which strikes him as odd. Later, at his job, he finds of the diary of the Archdeacon and learns of the strange occurrences surrounding some engravings he recieves.

While there are some great moments, the atmosphere of this tale just doesn't hold up. The archdeacon's death is 'spooky' in all the wrong ways.

"Martin's Close" 4/10
A section of land is brought to the attention of a man. He goes around asking about its namesake and hears the tale of the trial of George Martin, the murderer who's buried there.

Another one for the mastigophobiacs. The trial is too formal to provide any atmosphere and the scares on their own are middling at best. This is the tale of a douche who got what was coming to him.

"Mr. Humphries and his Inheritance" 5.5/10
Mr. Humphires inherits an estate from his dead uncle. He soon finds an old maze on the property that his uncle had locked up. Is there more to the maze than it seems?

Close, but not quite enough. After an eternity of uninteresting build up and an almost good turnaround, this story just end on what probably should have been the middle. Mazes are awesome and, unlike trials, are actually scary; however, this story is left with only a few good ideas and a lot of dull characters and action.

More Ghost Stories continues in the style of the first, though the successes are due more to clever genre mixing than straight horror. In fact, most of these stories have only elements of horror. Read the best of them if you enjoyed the first set.

Read it for free on Project Gutenberg and on Kindle!

Monday, 21 October 2013

The Lost Stradivarius

Night 3
The Lost Stradivarius (1895) By: J. Meade Falkner

Sophie Maltravers relates the tale of her brother to her nephew. At Oxford, John Maltravers and Mr. Gaskell discover a piece of music called the Areopagita Gagliarda. Each night when they play it they hear someone sit down in a wicker chair in the room. This presence also gets up when they finish. Soon they cannot resist and play the piece whenever they are together. After a frenzied night and a ghostly encounter, John discovers a hidden cubby in his room with the finest violin he's ever seen.

The build up during the first half of the novel is superb. The climb from small noises to full manifestation is awesome. Unfortunately, John's slide off the deep end during the second half takes up far too much of the novel. The frame story flows nicely during the first half and then becomes bogged down by Sophie's lack of information on the happenings in the second half. If it had switched to Gaskell, who finishes the story, earlier, it would have had a tighter narrative.

Our Narrator
Sophie Maltravers is a lady who watches her brother and best friend fall to the deadly curse of the lost Stradivarius. She is sympathetic and speaks passionately of her brother, even  excusing some of his possessed behavior. Her downfall is that she's limited by what her brother told her, a lot in teh beginning, not so much about the end.

Aristocratic Observers
Lord John Maltravers becomes obsessed with the violin and its owner Adrian Temple. This obsession leads him down a road of self destruction.

Mr. Gaskell is a friend of John's from Oxford. He first introduces the piece to John and is skeptical of the ghostly happenings surrounding the Stradivarius. He section of the tale is most enlightening and provides a long overdue payoff and a beautiful end to the story.

Constance is John's girlfriend and future wife. She, much like women of her time, lives through her husband. She is worse affected than her husband by his possession.

Ghostly Foe
Adrian Temple is a sinister man whose wanton decadence leads to the deaths of many. Unfortunately, we never find out exactly what he was up to, but in the larger sense of the narrative, it doesn't matter.

Spooky Atmosphere
From the Oxford halls to the house of Worth Maltravers, the environment is beautifully rendered. I especially enjoyed the visions of the apparition. The porse during John's time in Europe is less so as we're dictated vague letters.

In the End
Much like Carmilla, the end of the story proper isn't that great, but the end of the novel is awesome.

The Lost Stradivarius is a mixed bag with half of it being great and half being filler. However, the strength of the first half and the very end of the novel make it a worthwhile read with especially creepy atmosphere and some great ideas about music's affect on the psyche. It has been compared to the work of M.R. James, so check out the better of his short stories to see if you'll like this. 7/10

Read it on Project Gutenberg and Kindle.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

The Great God Pan

Night 2
The Great God Pan (1894) By: Arthur Machen

Two men perform a brain surgery that is supposed to enable a girl to see the world between the physical and the spiritual, also called the domain of the great god Pan. Their experiment ails and she ends up mentally traumatized. Next we hear of a strange girl who's seen dancing in the woods with a naked man; this traumatizes a young neighbor boy before she disappears. Soon after, one of London's elite meets a friend who has fallen destitute. He claims it is because he married a beautiful and terrifying woman named Helen Vaughn.

Misogyny and creepiness in equal measure: No wonder Lovecraft was a fan. We're meant to be afraid of large rooms, drawings of women, people's eyes & faces, and people getting sick, but this reactionary form of terror only goes so far. Many great writers of horror have found Machen fascinating, but unless you're good at inventing terrors for yourself, you won't find any here.

Our Heroes, Well One of Them Is
The Gentlemen by Gaslight are all so similar and numerous that it is difficult to tell them apart. We switch  point of view between Villiers, Clark and Dr. Raymond, but they're all so indistinct. Villiers is the one to finally confront Helen, Dr. Raymond creates her and Clark is there throughout.

Indistinct Foe
Helen Vaughn is a woman who commits such nameless infamies that she drives men to suicide. Unfortunately, all we see are the aftermaths of her rampages. The characters come across a list of her crimes near the end of the novella, but they're "too terrifying to mention." The idea that the reader will think up more terrifying things than the writer can write has always been a crappy idea to base a story on; this is no exception.

Reactive Atmosphere
All the horror in the novel relies on the reader feeling the reactions of the protagonists. Given their indistinctness and almost interchangeable nature, this is near impossible.

In the End
Okay, there is a section that describes the death of Helen that is the best in the book, but the end just kind of veers off after that with one final 'twist' and it's a lame one. Helen's death is in chapter VIII: Fragments and is the only passage that's really worth rooting out.

Much like Lovecraft, Machen does have some sense of horror, but he manages not to focus on the elements of his work that might actually be terrifying. It is understandable why horror writers like Lovecraft and King flock to him when their own ghoulish ideas can so nicely fill the gaps left by Machen. However, if you prefer a less mad-lib approach to horror, steer clear of Machen.

You can read it on Project Gutenberg and on Kindle for free.

Saturday, 19 October 2013


Well, it's that time again! As I mentioned when I reviewed Hammer's Karnstein Trilogy, first up is Carmilla, which came out 53 years after Polidori's The Vampyre and 25 years prior to Stoker's Dracula.

Night 1
 Carmilla (1872) By: Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

A lonely girl lives in an old castle amongst the Hungarian mountains with her father. As a child, dreamt that she was older and someone slipped into her bed. It was a beautiful girl who gently kissed her breast, then bit her. After this traumatic experience, she has grown up peacefully for several years, until she is the age from her dream. She is expecting a visit from a nearby general and his daughter, when the general's daughter suddenly dies, and the trip is cancelled. However, she is soon visited by an old woman who leaves her daughter to stay: Carmilla: the beautiful girl from her childhood dream.

Twenty-five years before Dracula, Irishman J.S. Le Fanu penned this classic tale of lesbian vampires. The sexuality is never overt, and allows the reader to focus on the more psychological aspects of Laura and Carmilla's relationship. The build up of tension is great; although, much like Jekyll and Hyde from last year, this story is somewhat ruined by its reputation. Though excellently written, the story does languish on some superfluous passages.

Our Victim
Laura is a young woman descended from the noble Karnstein line on her mother's side. Much like the film, she is a noble girl who is boring aside from her interactions with Carmilla.

Foolish Bystanders
The General Spielsdorf is the first person who takes in  Carmilla. By the time he takes action, it is far too late: his daughter is dead. Though he does charge in with sword drawn, so he's at least prepared for the follow through.

Laura's father is even more of a fool than the General though he cares for his daughter. He only suspects Carmilla after encountering the general.

Shifty Foe
Carmilla is a great foe, whose succubus like desires are only confused by the fact that she might actually feel something for the girls she is slowly killing. Much like Dracula, Carmilla survives through cleverness and relies on her cleverness to feed. Unlike the count, Carmilla isn't as awesomely powerful.

Gothic Atmosphere
The passages describing the rustic castles and the sylvan crags surrounding them are fantastic. The life in the the area is also well presented, with the funeral scene being particularly great. You really get a feel for the life back then in this text, as mundane as certain sections might be.

In the End
The end of the story proper is incredibly dissatisfying, but the end of the novella itself really redeems it.

Carmilla shines with the atmosphere chills of its age. Despite digressing into some tediousness, it bounces back quickly with consistent eery moments. With a superbly chilling villainess and interesting psychological angles, this book is sure to satisfy fans of vampire fiction and Gothic horror.

Read it free from Project Gutenberg and Kindle!

Friday, 18 October 2013

The Borderlands

It's time for more British horror, but this time let's get modern!

The Borderlands (2013) is a found footage British horror film.

The film opens in Brazil with shouts of things going wrong before cutting to the title. Later, in England, Gray sets up cameras in a house before mounting a head cam. Soon Deacon arrives and he's fitted with a head cam. His screw up in Brazil has caused the need for closer scrutiny. Deacon convinces Gray to head up to the church where they meet Father Calvino. They have come to the tiny village church to investigate his claim of a miracle which was caught on film, mostly.

The found footage acts more like a first person element than anything, making it much more tolerable than most of the genre. There wasn't exactly need to set up cameras in the house, but it certainly wasn't distracting. There were also some jump scares that were distracting but not overly so. This is a film with solid characters, an interesting premise and even a solid end.

Our Heroes
Deacon is an alcoholic priest who investigates miracle claims for the Vatican. He is losing faith due to all the crap he's seen the church cover up. He's the most fascinating character in the film as his alcoholism, rage issues, and desire to uncover the truth drive the film.

Gray is the techie who sets up the cameras. He is the audience eyes and ears. Astonishingly, he is the one who is most willing to believe Father Calvino's claims. The most amazing thing is that both are leads are likeable and develop a friendship.

Religious Observers
Father Calvino is the local priest. He seems to want desperately to believe in a miracle. However, Deacon believes Calvino wants a miracle so badly that he'd manufacture one.

Brother Mark is the by the book observer from the Vatican. He tries to keep Deacon on track and make sure there's not another Brazil. Even as the 'jerk' character he manages not to be too annoying.

Elusive Foe
The demon is something I'd rather not give away. It provides some usual haunts before getting more creative.

Isolated Atmosphere
The church is cool and quite creepy. Very few effects were used which makes the scares much more impressive. The feels of the characters are where this film derives most of its scares from, and the fact that it has likeable leads is crucial. Just a warning, I could find almost no photos of this film, it's that new, so the few here aren't even from the film. I'll update as soon as possible.

In the End
Lots of tunnels. The ending of this film is enough to catch anyone off guard. If you hate vague horror endings, this film is for you.

This film plays out like some classic ghost story with more complex characters and a nonstandard finish. The beginning and the end have a few sections that drag, but Gray and Deacon's humorous friendship makes at least the early sections enjoyable. I recommend it to any fan of horror.

Next Time: 13 Frightening Fictions!