In The Babysitter Lives, Stephen Graham Jones tackles the haunted house theme with the same unique style and flair readers have come to expect. When Charlotte arrives at the Wilbanks’ house to babysit their twin six-year-olds, she has no idea she’s walking into a place more dangerous and horrifying than anywhere else she’s been. In what could be described as House of Leaves meets Stranger Things, Jones weaves a disorienting tale that leaves the reader questioning what’s real just as much as the narrative forces the same confusion on Charlotte. Charlotte, Ron, and Desi are not alone in the house, and there’s a depth to the shadows and dark corners that threatens to swallow anyone who ventures into the dark spaces without caution. Ultimately, the story succeeds in being a unique and tense haunted house story, capturing the highest stakes on a small scale. The natures of reality and identity are questioned in a big way, but Jones isn’t satisfied simply leaving us with questions. He wants to delve into the how and why of it all. Jones forces us to think about everything happening through the lens of Charlotte’s analysis and the horrors of the past she’s forced to witness. This might be my second favorite story from the author, following the masterpiece that was The Only Good Indians, and with good reason. The narration provided by Isabella Star LaBlanc combines with Jones’s writing to make Charlotte feel like a real girl. She’s smart, funny, and thoroughly out of her depths but too stubborn to give up. The supplemental material from Jones himself adds a nice touch, touching on his inspirations and what he hoped to accomplish with The Babysitter Lives. I’d say he was more than successful.
When the Haskins family moves halfway across the country from their previous lives in Columbus, Ohio, no one would’ve expected the dramatic changes that accompanied their move into the new home. It begins almost immediately, as little things change and strange messages appear, but it gets weirder from there. As the atmosphere becomes increasingly surreal and unsettling, it’s the strained and peculiar relationship dynamics within the Haskins family that accelerate everything. The odd occurrences grow more sinister as the story progresses. In large part, thanks to Damien’s need to torment his mother out of bitterness that she’s always suspected him of being a monster. Hal’s thinking his wife’s losing her mind doesn’t help, either. Sabrina is not a particularly bright woman–in addition to being both scatterbrained and indecisive–but the bizarre apparitions and wish-fulfillment manifestations are not symptoms of insanity. Unfortunately, it’ll probably be too late by the time the rest of the family figures that out. Asman has crafted a wholly unique haunted house story, turning the whole thing on its head and steering readers toward a climax no sane reader would see coming. It’s both amusing and perplexing along the way, and–as one should expect from Asman–the characters are so thoroughly captivating that they draw the reader in just as effectively as the narrative itself. If you want to avoid spoilers, you should probably stop here because I can’t avoid saying things that will ruin some of the surprises. This is indeed a haunted house story–in a whole different sense. A house that’s haunted by the neglect and mistreatment of its former resident in the same way a person can be haunted by their earlier life experiences. Much like a person troubled by trauma, the house seems to go a bit overboard, overcompensating when it thinks it might have found someone who can love it for what it is. With a single-minded, short-sighted fixation on Sabrina and her well-being, the house itself might be acting with questionable judgment. That questionable judgment becomes readily apparent as the house uproots itself and storms through town like the most unlikely kaiju ever, heedless of the damage it causes along the way. The moral of the story is that houses need love too.
Private eye, Sam Merchant’s luck might be about to change if he can stomach the request of the beautiful potential client with a startling and peculiar job offer. All Sam needs to do is kill her husband. Can Sam make the transition from private detective to killer-for-hire? Will the surreal and unbelievable tale spun by the estranged wife be sufficient to nudge him in that direction? What will Sam discover at the palatial manor where a sinister doctor performs unspeakable experiments on his voluntary subjects? If he accepts the job, will he be able to trust his senses long enough to complete the task at hand? Caught between The Doc and The Dame might be the worst place Sam Merchant has found himself. Chris Miller takes readers back to the days of hardboiled detective fiction with a delightfully gritty and horror-themed twist. Blending perverse nightmares with period storytelling, Miller nails the amalgam he’s crafting.
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Concerned that their neighborhood might be going downhill, Julian and Claire Perry decide to look at some available properties in their small town of Jardine, New Mexico. Drawn to a house in the historic district near downtown, they’ll soon discover that some neighborhoods are worse than others, and some homes can be worse than they’d ever imagined. Bentley Little is a master of the haunted house story, somehow managing never to retread his other material, keeping the tales fresh and filled with new horrors each time. The Haunted is no exception. The Haunted isn’t a story of gradually building unease and uncertainty, as we encounter from many tales of haunted houses. As with most hauntings, it begins with the children, but it isn’t long before everyone in the family recognizes the danger in their home on Rainey Street. It soon becomes clear that everyone in the neighborhood knows what the Perry family will discover. There is no subtlety to the monstrous presence lurking in the Perry family’s new home, and its reach is greater than any of them could have known. As is often the case with Little’s writing, there’s a massive history he’s built up leading to the events of the novel itself, and he provides readers with tantalizing glimpses of the detailed past as the story approaches its climax. The presence in their home is no mere ghost, and the house is only the most recent structure built on that place. Dan Butler’s narration is excellent, leaving nothing to be desired. The best narrators do one of two things, they either bring the story and its characters to life, or they manage to make the listener feel almost as though they’re reading the book themselves. Butler is of the latter variety, and one of the better narrators I’ve come across in that respect.
If you’ve already braved the horrors of Lucifer’s Mansion, the earlier prequel to Hellsworld Hotel, you might just have an idea of what awaits you in Mephistopheles Den. That doesn’t stop Matthew Vaughn from crafting a whole new and exciting house of horrors for us to explore. We follow two groups into an abandoned factory that’s been converted, for one night only, into a most graphic and distasteful series of rooms. Meant to elicit terror and disgust from those unfortunate enough to purchase tickets, each new display is more unsettling than the next. We follow along as helpless witnesses, slipping through black curtains into a nightmare from which there is no escape. Or is there? Vaughn brings to life two vastly different groups of people, for the sole purpose of stealing that life away in callously violent fashion. Of course, one of those groups includes Donald and Tony, and any reader is likely to want those two dead before we really get started with the story. This one takes a slightly different direction as we reach the end, presumably leading us into the much larger work that is Hellsworld Hotel. I suspect you, like me, will be eager to dive into that title after reaching the conclusion of this prequel.
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If one were to take the movies Haunt and The Houses October Built, place them into a blender along with some Texas Chainsaw Massacre and a splash of Satanism…well, you’d probably have a totally ruined blender…but you might also have the recipe for Matthew Vaughn’s Lucifer’s Mansion. When the abandoned old school building was purchased and converted into a haunted house by a mysterious family, the teenagers around town thought it would be a blast. In place of rubber masks, painted plywood, and smoke machines, what awaits visitors to Lucifer’s Mansion is an endless barrage of gore and sadism on display wherever one might look. Tasteless and cruel, the effects appear all too real for some of the visitors as they search for an exit, but not everyone who enters Lucifer’s Mansion is allowed to leave. The haunted house described by Vaughn is the sort of place I’d happily venture into, thus validating yet again that I am the first person to die in a horror movie. As a prequel to Hellsworld Hotel, this tantalizing glimpse of the world the author’s creating definitely encourages the reader to dive deeper into the darkness and depravity that surely awaits them.
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