Tag Archives: Psycho

Ed Gein Part II: The Man Who Inspired Monsters

The devil is out there. Always stalking, ever-lurking, somewhere between the gossamer glow of the waking world inside our minds and just behind the walls of sleep. A genius wolf watching dreary sheep. I’m not asking if you’re religious or not, and, if we’re being perfectly honest, he doesn’t much care. He shows up and there’s Hell to pay. 

artist Gustave Dore, ‘Paradise Lost – Satan in Council’

Back in the 1950s, every god-fearing American had their butts warming a church pew come Sunday morning. The reverend would stand up and preach from the Good Book and, every so often, if he felt a particular agitation, the grand horrors of Hell would be the topic of the day. Turns out that Satan and his infernal realm of pain and suffering made for crowd-gathering material … just like it did in the Dark Ages.

Ma and Pa saintly do-wells, salt of the earth types who would never be caught dead at a motion picture show, especially one showing a scary movie, sure did eat up that Sunday-Funday grizzly stuff though. Why as a matter of fact, the nastier the Hell the sweeter the Heaven I guess you could say.

Haxan: Witchcraft Through The Ages

Reverend Wonderful had free reign to be as graphic as his imagination allowed when describing the stygian agony awaiting sinners gripped by the Devil’s talons. Horns and pitchforks, rusty chains, and Hell’s unquenching flames, it got the folks all riled up.

People liked the gory bits. They’d shout their support, yell an ‘Amen’ or two sometimes, and if the spirit took ’em, you’d see ol’ Miss Maryweather go a’running up and down the aisles. It was worshipful. It was saintly. It was a fucking circus ruled over by the good Reverend while rivets of sweat streamed like salty beads down his reddened face. The hotter the Hell the better the reaction.

“Preach it, brother!”

artist Gustave Dore, ‘Paradise Lost – Rebel Angels’

It was pure exploitation and fuck if church-goers didn’t take to it like flies to a turd. For many people, it felt right to think Satan was out there punishing unrepented sinners stewing in their own iniquities.

Did the Devil exist? Hell to the fuckin’ A you bet your ass the Devil existed. And people loved it about as much as they liked sipping their sweet lemon ice tea. He was the atavistic threat reigning over the writing agonies of Outer Darkness. His was the Inferno and all of its black miracles. The burning pits of Hell are where you’d find him and– pardon the pun – it was a burning hot topic. It was also a safe place, somewhere far away from the daily affairs of salt-of-the-earth types. 

They could take comfort knowing they would never have to deal with him. They were also goddamn wrong because one day the Devil showed up and turned out to be everyone’s meek and quiet neighbor.

He was someone they drank with, someone who babysat their kids. People were stunned stupid by the grizzly revelation as to what kind of Evil was living among them. Guess you don’t ever really know a person. Or at least what’s going on inside their heads.

And sure, it’s way easier to present Ed Gein as some evil demon or devil. Something elemental and almost fictional. He wasn’t though. He was one of us. Flesh, blood, and bone. Put his pants on just like we all do. But to his neighbors, he was pure evil. A Devil who built his house out of sin and sat on furnishings stitched together by human body parts.

You can’t make this shit up.

He surrounded himself with death and dwelt in gloom like a troll from some warped fairytale. He adorned himself in human flesh and stitches. And, if rumors are to be believed, he ate who he killed. 

Ed Gein was the stuff nightmares are made of.

inside Ed Gein’s house

But their Devil had been arrested and locked away like a community’s dirty little secret. His reign of terror was over. The ghoul who kept shrunken heads under his bed was now gone and the dead could finally rest in peace.

cop standing outside the Gein estate

Now that old charnel house of his was left to its grey solitude, a molding threshold into the domain of demons. A genuine house of horrors if ever there was one. It stood out like a festering tumor on the pristine façade of the kindly community, reminding everyone of the evils the human mind is capable of. 

A planned auction of the estate was scheduled and you could say a fungal interest blossomed about that macabre place and it was bound to draw in a crowd locals weren’t too keen on. The weird types, outsiders, people with ill intentions for sure. Freaks with a flair for the grotesque oddities of life.

the old Gein house

So when the good citizens of Plainfield woke up one morning to find Gein’s house of death and corpses had mysteriously burned down in the night – just mere days before the auction funny enough – there was a collective sigh of relief. That pretty orange glow radiating brightly in the early dawn hours meant the whole affair had to be over and done with. Call it an act of God (thank ye, Jesus) or comeuppance there weren’t any tears shed over the smoking ashes of the estate once the blazing inferno quieted down. The fire claimed everything. The grounds were burnt black as if nature rejected the earth the foundations were laid on. All that remained were the seared underpinning jutting out like decayed ribs. 

20 Mar 1958, Plainfield, Wisconsin, USA — Smoldering ruins is all that remains of the House of Horrors after a fire of undetermined cause destroyed the two story frame building on March 20, 1958. Once the home of confessed killer ghoul Ed Gein, who shocked the nation when human remains were found in it, the house was to be auctioned. Police suspected arson. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

That’s the end of that, or so it was assumed. Let lying corpses lie (ha, ha), just go on like nothing happened and this whole messy thing’ll just blow over. Thing is though, devils like Gein don’t just go away. They haunt the mind and tickle deeply repressed fantasies in us all. 

Gein had not only just reshaped American culture (not to mention kick-started an international interest in serial killers) but he became the blueprint of horrors to come. In fact, Gein was now the foundation of who the American Boogeyman was to become. Both in real life and on the silver screen.

In the years to follow the genius of horror could not ignore Gein’s playful side and as result, much of culture’s most beloved guilty pleasures sprung up out of the mire of the madman’s crimes against life and death. Had it not been for Gein picking up a shovel and heading out to a cemetery one night would we now have some of horror’s most respected and praised titles? Not likely. That’ll boil your noodles if you let it. 

Boogeyman of Boogeymen

Robert Bloch would make a name for himself – and write one of the most influential horror stories of the century – all due to his little book Psycho. Bloch was living in WI at the time and was shocked by every heinous detail pouring in from the papers about Ed Gein. The concepts of grave robbing and an overbearing mother lording her toxic influence over one lonely young man just couldn’t get out of Bloch’s head. They became the foundations upon which a budding sub-genre of horror would be fortified upon – that being the slasher genre. 

Norman Bates, the titular madman himself, is the focus of the book, something I’ve mentioned before. The book is also even more disturbing than the classic film. The book was enough to scare the Master of Suspense himself, Alfred Hitchock who earnestly recognized the indisputable talent of this story. And knowing the book was based on the Ed Gein crimes made the project all the more appealing. 

Norman Bates, kind-natured, quiet, and a bit simple, the humble face of the Bates Motel where, if you catch Norman’s eye and he gets that (uh-oh) funny feeling down his pants, chances are when you check in you won’t be checking out. Berated by his mother (who can be seen sitting menacingly in the upper window of the house atop the hill) Bates lives a lonely life. One you can easily pity. But he lives a double life too. 

As we all now know Norman keeps his dead mother at home where her dried corpse can still torment his broken mind. I think Ed was proud of that little touch. Taking it one step further Norman lets mother have her fun by dressing up and channeling the harsh woman. Hitchcock’s Psycho shocked people and with a little of Gein’s ghoulish fun reshaped the nature of horror movies. Norman Bates was the archetype for future slasher icons such as Michael Myers, Jason, and Leatherface to come.

A decade later the quiet outback of Texas became a slaughter field when young innocents were met with a chainsaw-wielding madman. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is renowned as one of the top five best horror films ever made and its most macabre moments can all be linked back to the grotesque habits of Eddie boy.

It’s interesting that each member of the deranged family of cannibals embodies an attribute of Gein. It’s as if the ghoul’s essence stains each scene from opening to final credits. 

Most people identify the skin-wearing traits of Leatherface back to Eddie, but there’s the Hitchhiker who digs up the dead and brings home the really good stuff to furnish the living room. There’s also the cook whose quiet nature lures in unsuspecting victims. He’s such a nice guy until he can catch you off your guard. Then it’s straight to the icebox with you.

You know, the more I think of it the more I’m convinced the original film is an absolute masterpiece. Every time I watch it I’m that much more impressed. It’s a simple formula but – as is proven most often in horror – it’s the simple stuff that works the best. 

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre became a grindhouse staple and was ultimately banned in certain countries. The UK saw fit to slap the movie on the infamous Video Nasties list. And to this day there are some countries where horror fans cannot watch the full movie. It fucked with people’s heads that much. TCM is simply metal to the bone. 

Another writer (Thomas Harris) would make a career for himself when his novel of grizzly crime and mystery took the world by storm and made Anthony Hopkins a name to be feared and celebrated once the story was adapted to film. 

The Silence of the Lambs is punch-to-the-throat thrill ride to stop a serial killer who is mutilating women. Our killer here, nicknamed Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), not only channels Ed Gein but goes the extra mile by utilizing a few of Ted Bundy’s nefarious tricks to great effect. Bill goes about his transition by capturing women and turning their skins into his new and improved body. 

Though considered more of a psychological thriller than a scary movie I see it as an early example of elevated horror and the movie scared the pink fucking shit out of audiences upon its release. I was a kid when it came out and I remember being reprimanded for just talking about it. I wasn’t allowed to say the name for fucks fucking sake! As if it would conjure up something malignant and stygian. But that’s how badly this movie scared people. It snuck its way into people’s psyche and festered there.

Adding to the grizzly tension is Anthony Hopkin’s searing portrayal of cannibal psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter. Though incarcerated Lecter’s unique qualities make him a key element to discovering the shrouded identity of Buffalo Bill and putting an end to his reign of terror.

It’s interesting that each of these movies greatly differ from one another in tone and presentation. They each reflect on the social angst and attitude of their times and went on to further influence and redefine horror in the years to come. Hell, most people attribute Psycho as the start of the slasher genre, my favorite! And The Texas Chainsaw Massacre inspired Rob Zombie’s entire film career. Then there’s Silence of the Lambs which led to a massive boom of interest in grizzly crime films that led to future films like Se7enThe Bone CollectorDexter, and every single fucking NCIS you can imagine. Not to mention the phenomenal Hannibal show which is one of my favorite shows of all time.

It’s clear Ed Gein’s legacy could not be burned away. The Ghoul could not be spunged out of our minds. Horror endures. It always does.

As honorable mentions and in case you’ve watched these all a hundred times and need a little more Gein fix I’d recommend the following. 

Ed Gein, a movie that loosely follows the life and crimes of Ed Gein and starring none other than Kane Hodder (Jason and Hatchet) himself in the titular role. It’s not going for accuracy here and is more for shock value so you gotta take it with a grain of salt.

But if you’re in need for a serial killer kind of movie this one has you covered. It also features Michael Berryman of The Hills Have Eyes fame in it. 

Deranged, is a movie that doesn’t get a lot of attention but one I absolutely love. It’s a purer depiction of the Ed Gein story and is filmed like a semi-documentary or news special.

Yeah I know, it’s weird. But I love the tone and atmosphere of the movie. It has a retro atmosphere to it that sorta resembles A Christmas Story just slightly less satanic. 

Hitchcock, a biopic about the making of the movie Psycho. Anthony Hopkins plays the titular character and is guided by Ed Gein himself through means of inner dialogue. This move is just a little delight and fits in well if you’re in the mood for a Psycho marathon.  

Manic out!

Ed Gein Part I: The Ghoul’s Madhouse of Death and Corpses

Ed Gein, Ed Gein, Ed Gein what a naughty boy you’ve been! 

The crimes of Ed Gein shattered a generation’s predispositions of innocence and morality. I don’t claim to be an expert on the matter but it’s pretty clear that our Eddie boy here gave birth to a whole lot of nightmares.

It was the quiet decade of the 1950s, a time for down to Earth pride and joy. The comatose Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet was not only the number one show on TV – and believe you me every happy family sat themselves down to take in that little American dream playing out from the soft crackling glow of the television screen – it was the epitome of what every single goddamn little god-fearing family strove to be like. 

Dad went to work and the loving wife stayed home (and bloody well-liked it) busying her little self by maintaining the image of domestic perfection. The sons played sports and the daughters learned how to grow up and master the kitchen for her own hubby someday. And by the good Lord dad could look forward to a hot meal waiting for his smug ass on the table, a meal made with love and care, just as soon as he got home. Not saying it’s right and not saying it’s what I believe in. It’s just how things were back in those days and you can’t erase history no matter how hard you scrub.

It was the season of mom’s apple pie and everyone wanted a big, juicy slice. Yeah, the 1950s were a good and godly time and everyone just expected things to keep getting better, taking absolutely no heed to the possibilities of monsters lurking among them. Problem is monsters still hide under the bed, even a pristinely made bed, shying not a single wrinkle. Monsters don’t give a fuck how nice the bed is, they’ll still lurk underneath waiting to snatch you no matter what. 

Ed Gein, soft-spoken, slow-witted, book worming little mama’s boy Eddie one morning showed up in the papers and suddenly everyone knew it: monsters could not be swept away, folded up and neatly drawered, or shooed off by church attendance. No amount of morality or self-righteousness can exorcise evil completely from the human condition. Monsters exist and that’s just all there is to it. 

Society Woke Up To A Nightmare 

The revelation of Ed Gein – whose heinous crimes reigned between 1954 and 1957 – shook everyone’s picture-perfect little dream down to its core and revealed the macabre reality rotting underneath. Sure, everyone would have agreed that evil did exist, but hadn’t we kicked all their Nazi asses in WWII? Hitler was the Boogeyman and he was dead. Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio broadcast sure scared the living pink fuck outta everybody, made them all think the sky was falling and Martians were on the warpath with us. But that had all been just fantasy. Given the era, people assumed bad guys were either overseas or just made up. 

How could a good American boy – like Eddie here – turn into a monster who ate his Corn Flakes out of a bleached human skull? Perhaps, as is too often the case, dreams, even the best kind, are just one blink away from nightmares. And the reports coming in from Plainfield, Wisconsin were inducing a whole lot of really nasty ones.  

Freshly rifled graves were only something that happened in monster movies when mad scientists hired grave robbers to bring them new parts. Ed Gein proved such things can also happen at your local cemetery and no one’s dearly departed was safe from ghouls like him who had a fetish for wearing human skins. 

It’s now infamous how police, based on a receipt and a hunch, showed up at the old Gein home, a house of pain and sadness where a ruthless matriarch once ruled over the family with a sadist’s touch. Ed’s mom was someone who could train demons on ruthlessness as she poured paranoia and religious venom into the family. And now, though his mom had been dead for a while now, she never had a chance in Hell of resting in peace. Her ghost lingered in Ed’s mind and viciously haunted the fragile psyche of an already deranged individual. Augusta Gein cannot be solely held responsible for her son’s misbehavior, Lord knows she tried to beat into him the straight and narrah, but nobody’s denying the direct influence she held over him even long after she was buried the first time.

Augusta Gein

However, years of sexual repression and his mother’s demented opinion of all women (dirty whores of Babylon) certainly left their impression on Ed if the belt made of nipples was any indication. Finding himself on his own for the first time after mommy dearest went on to meet Jesus, Ed learned a quick way around loneliness by visiting graveyards after nightfall and bringing home corpses to keep him company. His disgusting necrophilic habits could not be kept secret for long, and by the time cops showed up Ed’s home-making skills had grown so macabre that police fled from his madhouse of death and corpses to woof up their donuts all over the driveway. 

Now Ed Gein was pretty sneaky and his flair for fashion and home decorating had been going on for years before he was caught. Call it obsession or fetish (and really what’s the real difference between them?) Ed ruled the nether-realm of graveyards, turned it into an art, and Ed’s grotesque gallery was displayed all over his home, his very own museum of the macabre. Chairs were upholstered with human skin, a couch was constructed of human bones, and human faces decorated the walls. And that was just for starters.

Problem is Ed got a taste for death, and sometimes a fresh kill serves better purposes that husks fail to provide. 

1954, local saloonkeeper Mary Hogan, unfortunately, met the business end of Ed’s gun and her disappearance shook the community. Something about the loud-mouthed and (according to locals) vulgar Hogans just rubbed Ed the wrong way. She could cuss like a sailor, that’s what regulars had to say in Hogan’s memory, and she was not shy about coughing out sexual jokes. In many ways, she was the exact opposite of Ed’s mommy dearest. She was in fact the very kind of woman Augusta warned Ed about. Or so he justified his crimes.

Maybe Ed felt it was his duty to punish the woman. Or maybe it was a full moon and the opportunity for murder presented itself and Ed just couldn’t resist. Whatever the reason Hogan wound up as one more decoration in his house of horrors.

For years the town was haunted by her sudden disappearance. Ed, as is the case with other psychos, was mighty proud of himself and would often joke about keeping poor Mary back at home with mother. No one took him seriously and just assumed it was Ed’s sick sense of humor. Ed kept up the joking and the fact that no one laughed made his smile broader. 

1957, Bernice Worden would join Gein’s gathering back home, but Ed got sloppy this time around. Left a bit of blood and a receipt behind at the hardware store Worden owned. With her going missing and him being the last person known to be in her company, all they had to do was put two-and-two together to make a murder. Sure Ed had a taste for death and when needed he fed, but you could say Gein shat a little too close to where he slept and it didn’t take long for the pigs to come sniffing. 

Plainfield’s finest stumbled upon the threshold of a very real Hell built on God’s good Earth. The Gein home would go on to inspire gothic culture and haunted house enthusiasts across the globe. Furniture built out of human body parts, human bones used as display decorations, and human faces made to be lamp shades. Not to mention skulls lined the kitchen counter, skulls used as bowls and cups. These are just a few tangents from Gein’s trollheim, a ghoulish vision of what the human mind can dig up out of a deep and dark place of the soul. Dead bodies were set up like dolls arranged aesthetically for a grotesque tea party. I mean let’s be real since Ed brought mommy dearest home from the grave all those years back it only made sense for her friends to be brought home as well to keep her company. 

Seeing the horrific extent – and number – of cadavers, and in various stages of decay, made it disturbingly clear to anyone who knew the man why Ed took such interest in scouring the obituary section of the papers. His was an open house to the recently deceased. It was also crystal clear that Eddie boy’d been up to his naughty habit for a very, very long time. 

Ed, for all his shortcomings in the brains department, proved to be very skilled and creative. For example, he made himself a fine pair of gloves and a leather dress from his assortment of cadavers and would frolic outside play-pretending to be Augusta herself. Ed also had made for himself, what experts came to call, the mammery suit (given its name you can imagine for yourself why) that he’d wear around the house pretending to be a woman in.

And when Ed wasn’t dressing up in his Sunday’s best he busied himself with reading. I bet he settled down on one of those cadaver couches he built and read a bit of Dickens while sipping coffee out of someone’s head. Best part of waking up if you ask me. 

Aforementioned cops first stumbled upon what they initially thought to be a gutted deer. I mean the carcass they stumbled upon had all the making of one. Except for the human anatomy stuff. Once their eyes adjusted to the dark it didn’t take long before they realized they were looking into the open cavity of their missing VIP Bernice Worden.

She’d been hollowed out like a wild animal. Rumor has it Ed intended her to be dinner, maybe he’d already had the stove warming too. Cops had other plans for supper though (or whenever they got their appetites back) and made their arrest. Ed never showed the first hint that he suspected what he had been up to was in any way wrong either. 

As more details of the Gein house were released the less safe people across the country felt. People who knew Ed were the most perplexed. This was a man who babysat their children. People said he might have been a little bit of an oddball but no one would have figured him to be a monster.

Ed Gein confessed to his crimes, had been all along if his jokes were to be taken seriously. And the more he talked the more listeners he got. A macabre fascination was building around the meek little ghoul and he liked it.

Ed Gein would spend the rest of his life in a mental institution for the criminally insane. In true ghoul fashion, Eddie would get a little weirder whenever the moon was full, or so the doctors would say. The house of horrors he’d built would not be long for this world though as, due to very mysterious circumstances, just out of the blue the Gein house, all alone by itself on the outside of town, caught fire and burned to the ground. 

Town’s folk chalked it up to one of those acts of God and tried their damnedest to just let things go back to normal. But, as the Joker said in Dark Knight, there’s no going back. Not after this kind of a mess. Remember, you can’t erase history, especially a stain like this one left on time. And you can’t kill a demon like this with fire either. They may have all pretended like nothing ever happened, and burned that fucking house to the ground to make sure no sickos like me would ever drive up and pay it a visit, but the legacy of the Gein Ghoul has endured and has haunted every single generation to come since.

You can’t fuck with nature and disturb the Reaper’s garden as much as Ed did and it not leave a mark on the world. It’s simply not natural.

It wouldn’t take long either before culture tried making sense out of this senseless horror and cinema-goers would bear witness to a whole new breed of monsters and madmen. All thanks to Ed’s creativity.

Gunnar Hansen, also known as Leatherface from “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” makes his first appearance in Connecticut at CT HorrorFest in Danbury.

Stay tuned because in Part II we’ll be talking about the impact our boy Ed here has had on horror as a whole and how one man’s legacy gave birth to generations of monsters

Manic out! 

Terrifying Reads For A Scary Halloween! Book Recommendations Part I 

It’s the best time of the year! The days grow darker, nights are longer, and there’s a crispness in the air that all point to the spooky season we’ve waited for all year long. We all know we’ll busy ourselves with planned horror movie marathons to keep us glued to the screen long into the wee hours of early morning, but there’s just something special about a good scary book to enhance the eerie needs around this time of year. 

Perfect time to pick out that blood-curdling spine-chiller to curl up with under a warm blanket . So warm your apple cider, grab a goody to go along with it, and join us over here at the Nightmare as we go over some terrifying choices to haunt your dreams for weeks to come. 

Frankenstein by Mary Shelly

The gothic classic that’s ravaged the psyche of generations ever since its grim release. The infamous story of grave robbing and the perpetual pursuit of mankind’s need to tamper with things only God is meant to wield. Arrogantly death itself is challenged by the book’s titular character as he slips further away from the lighted world of his friends and loved ones and entraps himself in a world of darkness and isolation as the insidious work of his own hands rises from the slab to hunt down and pay revenge upon all Victor Frankenstein holds dear. No one is safe from the monster’s relentless grasp. 

I read this back when I was 17 and instantly fell in love with the narrative and cinematic scope its writer, Mary Shelley, seized in words and tone. It remains one of my top 5 absolute favorite books and is a true loss to any horror reader who has yet to discover its black magic. The movies this single book has inspired is in the hundreds so why not come into the dark with Victor and me to see true mastery of the written craft at work. You may not leave the same though. 

Not only is it one of the earliest among gothic horror but it’s heavily influenced genres such as body horror and science fiction alike. Highly influential and violently poetic.

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty

This book is chilling and it’s no wonder the movie adaptation scared the devil out of the world and earned the title of ‘scariest movie ever made.’

The devil is real, at least between the covers of Blatty’s book. Upon its publication, people were not ready for the sorcery presented herein. Surely the Devil could not exist in a world of science and education. These aren’t the Dark Ages after all. But Blatty reintroduced Satan – and all his foul little ways – back to the human psyche.

Certainly the Devil was not a new concept and this wasn’t the first book to give Satan the spotlight, but there was simply something authentic, yes, indeed very real about Blatty’s presentation of evil. One that poked a cold and bony finger into the lower spine of society. 

One of my professors at seminary went to question Blatty about this book and challenge him for falsely handling the topic of exorcism. The very opposite thing happened though as my professor left (after meeting with the writer) entirely convinced the man was well aware of the occult and the supernatural dangers surrounding it. 

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage. Mandatory Credit: Photo by Warner Bros/Hoya Prods./Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5885474g) The Exorcist (1973) The Exorcist – 1973 Director: William Friedkin Warner Bros/Hoya Productions USA Scene Still Horror L’Exorciste

The Exorcist took Satan out of the boiling pits of Hell, a vivid image everyone had in mind since the release of Dante’s Inferno, and also away from robed and darkly cloaked covens, a thing typically associated with the Prince of Darkness, and dropped him right inside the everyday home of any family. The Devil’s target is not the rich and powerful, but the young, the innocent, and, most importantly, the pure in heart. This was a Devil you couldn’t kill with a stake through the heart, holy water, or prayer. The message was Satan is far greater than we are ready to deal with. And it doesn’t matter if you believe in him or not. If he’s invited in – no matter how innocently – he will not turn down the invitation. 

Upon its publication, the whole tone of horror books changed for the following two decades to come. 

Doubtless, you’ve watched the movie. It may be time to pick up the book and let its haunting merits enter your mind. 

The Rats by James Herbert

It’s nothing short of a travesty that James Herbert is not talked about more among horror bookworms. When’s the last time you saw a book boasting his name? Can you believe this guy was all the rage back in the ‘70s? This guy was taking the world by storm with his macabre visions and graphic details. 

They say the devil’s in the details and they’re right! Especially when it comes to the grotesque mastery of this one man’s writing skills. He just knows the perfect spot – the one that that’ll hurt the most – to stab and get under your skin. Not only that, but he will gleefully start scraping a nerve before you can beg for the whole nasty ordeal to stop. And he’ll do so with a pleasant smile – one only the English can muster – on his face. He’s a lovely chap but a true sadist with a typewriter. 

In The Rats, we are given exactly what we’re expecting from a title like this. That is if you’re expecting to read a book about legions (I mean legions too) of greasy overgrown rats set upon tearing the citizens of London to weeping bloody shreds. No one is safe from these violent, blood-thirsty terrors either. 

Think a sweet old woman is gonna make it just because, well, she’s an old woman? Well, that’s rich. She gets it pretty bad. And, if memory serves me correctly, she gets taken down and torn apart because she had the audacity to rush over and help some other poor soul being attacked. That’ll teach ya for being nice! 

How grizzly is this book? Well by the time you get to chapter three a baby has already been flooded by a living flow of red eyes, yellow teeth, and no mercy. And just for good measure, as if a fine fuck you especially from the writer, in the same instance the rats kill a puppy as they chew the bones away from the baby. That’s the kind of book you’re getting yourself into.

It’s brilliant stuff for the gorehounds out there. It’s messy and it’s almost smelly like you can sense the filthy sewers these giant feral things swarm out of.  And this book has nothing in common with the Bruno Mattei film, Rats: Night of Terror. In case you were wondering.

Just imagine yourself sitting at a red light when suddenly – and for no good reason – your car is gnawed through by rats. You are trapped. Your instinct is to get out but when you look out the window the whole road is alive with flesh-hungry rats. You cannot escape and can only sit and wait for the pain the stop as you slip into the embrace of the Abyss. That’s the genius of The Rats. I guess it bears similarity with a zombie plague, that overwhelming sense of ‘escapelessness.’ Something about knowing we, human beings, are victims to nature really has a way of chewing us up. 

Not for the faint of heart but is perfect for a great creepy feeling as the world hides in shadows… what else might be hiding out there with the night? Be wary of things that can scurry across the floor and climb up into your bed and glide like phantoms under the sheets. 

James Herbert needs to be more recognized by us horror fans. The man was brilliant. 

Off Season by Jack Ketchum

Let’s keep it nasty, shall we? Many fans might be surprised I didn’t go with his The Girl Next Door and I do recommend it. But Off Season fits the fall mood more, kind of like the title suggests. 

It’s the perfect time to go relax at that cabin by the lake. Or so our cast of characters think. What awaits them though is a painful and agonizing fate wrought by a feral family who lives in secret out in the woods and who hungrily stalk any poor soul who has the shit fortune to pass by. 

The book opens with a Good Samaritan (the Hell is it with these stories punishing folks for being nice?) stopping her car to help a seemingly injured young girl. It’s all a sickening ruse as the kind woman soon finds herself in a ring of dirty, smelling, inbred teenagers who see her as less than human. They came to play and she’s the toy. The ruthlessness depicted at the story’s beginning lets the reader know that the main cast of unsuspecting characters (to come) is in for Hell. 

Jack Ketchum was my mentor and I miss him dearly. The man is the reason why I’m writing today and it all began with me picking up this book from (get this) Wal-Mart of all places! I like to think some soccer mom also picked up a copy and threw it away in disgust once she realized just what the fuck she purchased. 

This is splatterpunk kind of stuff and proves that pain is scary and the human body has very little worth in the eyes of psychopaths. 

Psycho by Robert Bloch

I feel it fitting to end this first part with the book that creeped out the master of suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock. The man could not put this book down and it drove him to make the one horror film that would dare change the tone and attitude for horror movies for ever. Much like, I might add, The Exorcist did. 

We’ve all seen the movie (I mean assumedly) and know the story very well. However, and very interestingly, unlike the movie’s adaptation that follows Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane, the book makes us follow Norman Bates. It gets uncomfortable too as poor dumpy Norman casually talks with Mother come morning to night. It had to have been fun for early readers not to know (SPOILERS!!!!!!!) Mother is in fact dead and he’s interacting with dried-out husk. 

Like I said we have to tag along with Norman Bates. If you read this book there’s simply no choice. We become unwilling voyeurs into the daily routines of a man who is not at all right in the head. And there is no reflection of Anthony Perkins in this Norman Bates. None of that handsome and clean-shaven man of mystery.

The book did inspire sequels, just like the movie did, but I’ve not had the chance to read those yet. Although I’ve heard that they greatly differ from the cinematic continuation. Speaking of which I do strongly recommend the film sequels. They have no business being as good as they are and I think horror fans get cheated for not giving the movies a chance. I snubbed my nose at them because, well, how dare they make a sequel to Psycho? But to my surprise, the films really hold up. Ok tangent over… I guess I should get copies of the book sequels too.