Scanlines by Todd Keisling

Three teenage boys wanted nothing more than to watch a downloaded video of a porn star, but what they received was a lifetime of torture and loss when the video they obtained was of a politician’s public suicide. An urban legend becomes manifest as these boys and other kids from school attempt to achieve some manner of understanding, some way to grasp what they’ve seen and what they’re continuing to see.
Scanlines is a desolate horror story, grim and dark in a way a lot of narratives only barely approach. There’s nostalgia embedded in the chilly tale, there’s a lot of heart in there as well, but–more than any of that–there’s a whole lot of pain and terror. This is not an easy book to read, but it is easily one of the best things I’ve read in a long time.
Imagine Traces of Death mingled with The Ring, and you’ll have a rough idea of what you’ll be getting yourself into when you dive into this all too real story. Is it a supernatural adversary operating behind the awful, horrifying events of Scanlines? Is this a story of shared or mass psychosis? Are we reading a book about a ghost haunting the fateful final moments of a desperate man caught on tape, or is this a commentary on suicide contagion? I guess that’s really up to you. I like to think it’s a little bit of everything, those possible driving factors not being mutually exclusive.
I’m a little bit older than the boys from Scanlines, but I can relate to them altogether too well. It was the late 1980s and early 1990s. I was around ten or 11 years old when I snagged the first three Faces of Death movies from a local video store during one of the weekends I spent with my father. That was part of our routine on Friday evenings after he picked me up. We would head almost immediately to the video store and I would select around five VHS tapes from the Horror section (or the Action or Sci-Fi/Fantasy sections…but Horror was my favorite), sometimes I’d go with personal favorites, but most of the time I was just picking things I hadn’t seen yet. My goal, if there was one, was to gradually make my way through every horror flick on those shelves.
I was a kid and I didn’t know any better–there wasn’t internet available for research or any of that–so I was naive enough to believe the things in Faces of Death were real. It wasn’t until a little bit later, when I rented Traces of Death, that I saw the difference.
I’m plenty familiar with the public suicide that inspired the basis behind Scanlines, it was included in the first Traces of Death VHS. It played on a screen behind Neurosis as they performed during one of the concerts I’d attended as a teenager. It was on all of the websites dedicated to the dark and macabre when I first started venturing into those spaces in the mid-to-late 90s. Reading Keisling’s novella and the introduction provided by the publisher, Max Booth III, I know I’ve found some kindred spirits in a sense. None of us appear to have been traumatized in the way Robby, Danny, Jordan, and the others were…but I suspect, in some sense, we’ve all been haunted by the things we insisted we had to see.
I can’t recommend this book for everyone, because it’s absolutely not a book everyone will be able to read and enjoy. If an unambiguous and unfiltered discussion of suicide is something that might be a trigger for you, you might want to stay away. If you think you can handle it, you have to read this book!
I applaud Todd Keisling for baring his soul and purging himself on the page the way he clearly did with this book. He deserves every bit of love and appreciation this book has garnered within the horror community.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s