A friend of mine brought a Kickstarter campaign to my attention months ago. Upon checking it out, I absolutely had to get on board. It was to be a graphic novel showcasing a variety of Texas-based comic and literary talents in an anthology setting. Since a lot of my favorite indie authors and small presses are based out of Texas there was no way I wasn’t going to support this campaign. My digital edition of Texas Horror arrived just a few days ago, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. We begin this anthology with Kitchen Witches: Origin of the Ramen Witch, brought to us by Halo Toons. A late-night visit to a convenience store becomes something unexpected as a cup of ramen in the microwave behaves in a way that defies any conceivable safety precautions. Aerobicide: Blockbuster night, written by David Doub with art by Terry Parr, takes on a harrowing adventure that arises from a simple attempt to return some videotapes. You’ll find references to horror video rental royalty throughout this brief but entertaining escapade. Demons In the Darkness: Part 1, written by David Doub, with letters by Daniel Chan and art by Dominic Racho, tells the story of a group of outcasts getting together for a night of tabletop role-playing after a rough day in school. As the story unfolds, an in-game ritual to purge some of the negativity from the real lives of the players might turn out to have some real-life consequences. The Texas Horror Writers Showcase brings us flash fiction from some of my favorite writers in the industry today. John Balitsberger shares a tale of the famed Goatman’s Bridge and the sacrifices people will make to unlock secret knowledge. Lucas Mangum tells us the story of a camping trip gone terribly wrong in a story of beautiful flowers and mental illness. Wile E. Young brings us back to the world of Salem Covington (of The Magpie Coffin) from a different perspective. And finally, Max Booth III brings us a strange tale of gardening and family that will leave you wondering “What the fuck,” just as much as the father in his story. Luna Vino, written by Mike Howlett and drawn by Howard Kelley, takes us to a manor where, no matter how unexpected the night might turn out, losing one’s favorite wine might be the worst thing that could happen. Finally, Mask It or Casket, written by David Doub with art by Miguel Angel Hernandez, shares a poignant tale of the current pandemic. In this violent clash of ideological perspectives taken to extremes, it’s difficult to consider even one’s own side correct, though it’s hard not to sympathize with the antagonist’s frustration. All in all, this is a great sampler of the fantastic horror-themed art coming out of Texas. It’s certainly added some names to the list of creators I’ll want to keep an eye on.
Though the campaign for this project has been over for a while, readers might be interested in some additional details. I’ll include the link to the Kickstarter below:
If you’re unfamiliar with We Need To Do Something, I recommend that you sift through my earlier blog posts for my review of the novella by Max Booth III. Published in spring of 2020, Max’s We Need To Do Something set an unexpectedly appropriate tone for a year that frequently included the term “shelter in place.” Deeply disturbing and claustrophobic, the novella got under the skin of almost everyone who read it. It was no surprise that the screenplay Max adapted from his novella managed to capture attention. Now we have the opportunity to watch the result of more than a year of hard work from Max and the cast and crew involved in the production. We Need To Do Something is a tale of a dysfunctional, broken family taking shelter in a bathroom as a tornado warning precedes a massive and destructive cataclysmic event taking place in the world outside of their confinement. Trapped by a fallen tree, the family bonds dissolve as panic sets in. Revealed in flashbacks, we learn that the daughter, Melissa, might have something to do with what begins to feel more like the end of the world than merely a storm. To say that Sean King O’Grady captured the foreboding atmosphere and quirky humor of the story is an understatement. I sincerely believe he’ll have a lot of attention after this particular movie makes the waves it surely will. I don’t doubt Max had plenty of input on set as an Executive Producer, and the screenwriter of the project, but it required a quality director with vision and attention to detail no matter how much consultation the writer provided. Largely a single-location shoot, the set was an important character in and of itself. The bathroom where the family found themselves trapped as a storm–and whatever else–raged beyond the walls needed to be perfect in its way. The art department nailed the bathroom design. Pat Healy’s performance as the angry, alcoholic father, Robert, is eerily well done. Vinessa Shaw captures the humor and sympathetic nature of Diane, the mother who, desperate to hold everything together, had been planning to leave her awful husband until the storm forced them into captivity. The true stars are Sierra McCormick and John James Cronin, Melissa and Bobby, respectively. The two of them portrayed siblings so well as to make one feel as if they’d been living together for years. Melissa was brought to life as a confused, terrified teenager wracked with guilt over the witchcraft she’d performed with her girlfriend, Amy, and the belief that they’d been responsible for everything happening. Bobby was believable as the equally adorable and annoying younger brother, so much so that the events are no less heartbreaking and painful than they were when reading the novella. While the production wasn’t at all what I’d pictured in my imagination, it triumphantly came to replace the things I’d seen in my mind’s eye while reading the book more than a year ago. I can only imagine how proud Max Booth III must be, having seen his vision brought to life in this new way, with such spectacular quality. It’s especially gratifying, I suspect, to have seen the “good boy” scene played out on screen. Anyone who has read the novella will know precisely what I’m talking about. It’s truly the turning point of the story, where the reader/viewer realizes there’s something horrifying taking place. We all need to do something, indeed. We Need To See This Movie!
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.
This review was originally written in the summer of 2015.As you can probably tell from the picture above–as well as other, more recent reviews–I’m a bit of a fan of this particular author.
I went into The Mind Is a Razor Blade by Max Booth III without any expectations and no knowledge of the plot beyond what the back cover provided. It starts off sporadic and disorienting, perfectly conveying the state of mind of our protagonist, the very definition of an unreliable narrator. A man wakes up naked in a river with a corpse nearby and no idea who he is, who the corpse is, or how either of them got there. In the first few minutes of reading the book our protagonist has stolen a coat from a corpse, shot a man numerous times, and made a stumbling but successful escape from the police. Believe it or not, the story gets crazier from there on out. As our protagonist begins getting a marginally better grasp on who he is and what is going on the narrative simply becomes more bizarre and disturbing along the way, keeping the narrator on his toes (and, by extension, the reader as well). Through the protagonist, we become unwilling tourists through a city driven mad by drug use, organized crime that crosses into the supernatural while exhibiting the hallmarks of a cult, and inhuman creatures that hunt for organs from the populace…also, there are spiders, lots of spiders. In the midst of all of this, there is also redemption and at the core a sense that love can transcend even the most horrific experiences. This book contained all of the best elements of noir, horror, a sort of perverse humor, and surrealism. If you’re a fan of the movie Dark City or the book John Dies At the End, this is definitely something you might want to check out.