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Scary “The Revenant Road” is a Supernatural “Men in Black”   Leave a comment

Evil creatures take up residence in our world in The Revenant Road.

By C. Michael Forsyth

The novel The Revenant Road takes readers on a thrilling roller-coaster ride through the supernatural realm.

It’s the story of Obadiah Grudge, a snooty writer of gruesome novels who finds himself shanghaied into following his father’s footsteps in the family business — hunting monsters.

I read the book after running into the author Michael Boatman at the Horror Writers Association convention earlier this summer. At first, when I spotted his familiar face across the ballroom where we were signing books, I thought he might be a relative or maybe someone I went to school with. But turned out he’s also an actor, best known for his role as gay mayoral aide Carter Heywood on TV’S “Spin City.” (The brother garnered five NAACP Image Award nominations for that gig.)

FAMILIAR FACE: Actor/writer Michael Boatman is best known to viewers from TV's Spin City.

Well, we might not be relatives, but we share certain sensibilities when it comes to horror. I can see that the same stuff that I loved as a kid influenced him. Remember “The Night Stalker,” that ’70’s show featuring unlikely monster hunter Carl Kolchak, a wily wire-service reporter? How the creature of the week would always toss cops around like rag dolls? You’ll find a terrifying scene like that in The Revenant Road.

MONSTER HUNTER Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) battled evil while filing news reports no one would ever believe in TV's The Night Stalker.

Obadiah is reluctantly drawn into the monster hunting game by his late dad’s former partner Neville Kowalski, a crusty old coot. He discovers that he’s been recruited into a secret organization that tracks down and evicts “Squatters,” evil creatures that have snuck into our world and taken up residence. The story is also reminiscent of one of my favorite flicks, “Men in Black”, in which cocky young Will Smith and grizzled veteran Tommy Lee Jones hunt illegal aliens who really ARE aliens.

ANOTHER HUNTING DUO: Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith chased illegal "aliens" in "Men in Black."

What I always like in a horror novel is that there’s a coherent and original explanation for the paranormal events. Boatman delivers this. It turns out that there’s a parallel universe next to ours, called the Wraithing, filled to the brim with nasty things. Sometimes they slip past the guardians of the universe into our world. The Squatters make contact with a human who, whether through thirst for power or weakness of character, is vulnerable and willingly accepts possession. The symbiotic result is a werewolf, vampire or even worse thing that goes bump in the night.

The book unfolds like a mystery, as the author slowly reveals to us just what is going on. I like Obadiah’s character arc. He believably transitions from a whiny, over-intellectual, pompous, self-centered jerk so annoying you want to pop him in the jaw, to a selfless, two-fisted hero willing to go toe-to-toe with the world’s most dangerous monsters.

Obadiah and Kowalski’s chief quarry is formidable: a giant, indestructible, Bigfoot-like shape-shifter. In the warm-up to their confrontation with the Yeren, as it’s called, the duo do battle with a slew of other monsters, including a Shaq-sized minotaur and, most memorably, a blood-slurping Oprah from Hell.

But that’s not the worst of it. Obadiah finally comes face to face with his personal boogeyman. That would be Carlos Volpe, a werewolf so evil that he had metal bonded to his teeth and filed to points so he could kill more people when the moon WASN’T full! He was hanged decades ago, but death only made him more dangerous. Like Freddy Krueger, the child-killer who evolves into something far more monstrous post mortem, in “Nightmare on Elm Street,” Volpe is a demonic entity powerful and clever enough to claim Obadiah’s soul.

I love that when Volpe makes his appearance, he doesn’t speak in that arch tone we’re used to from Bond supervillains. He’s hip and funny. When scared-stiff Obadiah asks what he really wants, Volpe wisecracks, “a lap dance from Condoleezza Rice with full release.”

There are such touches of humor throughout, including plenty of one-liners from brainy, sarcastic Obadiah. And it’s blackly funny when a series of literary critics under demonic influence come to do a hatchet job on him — literally.

The ending sets us up for a sequel, which I’d sorely love to see. More importantly the fast-paced, highly visual tale would make a darned good movie. And I know just the guy to play a smart-ass black writer!

HOUR OF THE BEAST, by C. Michael Forsyth is "easy to read, hard to put down," according to a Reader Favorites reviewer. And the eBook is a STEAL at just $5!

To check out HOUR OF THE BEAST, click HERE.

On the HOUR OF THE BEAST front…

I’ve busted my cherry! I attended my very first horror convention, Flashback Weekend in Chicago, August 12 through 14, to hawk my horror novel Hour of the Beast.

It was a blast hanging out with horror fans and hobnobbing with fellow genre writers, comic book creators and movie makers.

My wife Kaye and I made new acquaintances brought along by castmembers of hit TV show The Walking Dead.

HOUR OF THE BEAST author C. Michael Forsyth at Flashback Weekend.

FANS like these made Flashback Weekend unforgetable.

And I was afraid CRITICS would slash my book!

THE SILENT TREATMENT: This fan, as a zombie Charlie Chaplin, has nothing bad to say about Hour of the Beast.

My very first horror-convention book buyer!

YOUNG and old, horror fans were drawn to strange prop on my table.

Following the suggestion of a pal, Pirates of Savannah author Tarrin Lupo, I brought along a prop: a severed werewolf hand floating in a jar. Now I thought the thing would hardly raise an eyebrow in a dealers’ room packed with horror memorabilia and props crafted by Hollywood special effects experts and haunted house designers. But it worked like a charm, drawing curious attendees to my table like flies. These hardcore horror fans who live for special effects AND creators of those effects thought it was incredibly cool and wanted to know its history. I think what sold it was the yellowed paper describing it as having been “displayed by the Revlos Bros. Traveling Circus circa 1928. “ That and the REAL BONE at the stump — although one skeptical 8-year-old girl suggested the hand “should be scientifically tested.”

LABEL on my werewolf hand jar proved intriguing.

A REAL PICKLE: The former owner of this hand apparently had a run-in with a silver bullet.

ROBERT ENGLUND, everyone's favorite child killer turned dream demon in "Nightmare on Elm Street" introduced a screening of his latest opus, 'The Molemen of Belmont Avenue."

MALCOM MCDOWELL was the only alien tough enough to kill Captain Kirk in Star Trek: Generations.


LANCE HENRIKSON was android Bishop in Aliens.

At the convention were movie legends Robert Englund of “Nightmare of Elm Street” fame, “Aliens” star Lance Henrikson, scream queen Linnea Quigley from “Return of the Living Dead,” Michael Booker of “The Walking Dead,” and “Hellraiser” stars Doug Bradley (Pinhead) and Ashley Lawrence — who now does really great and majorly creepy art.

LOVELY ladies like these graced Flashback Weekend.

VA-VA-VA DOOM! Winners of the Zombie Pinup Pageant

I got to catch a sneak preview of the “Fright Night” remake and I’ll post my review in next week’s blog. Also stay tuned for the video from the Zombie Pinup Pageant. You haven’t lived until you see two dozen exhibitionists in full zombie makeup strutting their stuff.

Speaking of which, the biggest surprise for me was the high proportion of female attendees — and how young and hot they were! An extraordinary number of them were in the company of geeky C.H.U.D.-like boyfriends. I mentioned to my wife how amazing it is that so many beautiful, brainy women are attracted to these nerdy, creative-type oddballs. Kaye, a physician who looks like a supermodel, responded, “Yeah, Mike. Really amazing.”

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A Brain-eating Bonanza! “The Mammoth Book of Zombie Comics.”   Leave a comment

Zombies of every shape and size shamble through this anthology.

By C. Michael Forsyth

In my scariest childhood nightmare ever, a man hears a weird whistle that draws him like a siren into a ruined mansion — where he’s cut into mincemeat by an unseen, supernatural entity. In the scariest play I’ve ever seen, “The Woman in Black,” a vengeful undead wraith preys on whoever sets foot in her decaying home. In the last movie to genuinely frighten me, “The Grudge”, a hideous harpy with wild, ragged hair hides out in a haunted house and murders every unlucky visitor (even tracking down and dispatching folks who heed the obvious warnings to get out).

So it was quite an unusual, sum-of-all-fears reading experience to find those elements combined in a single bone-chilling, atmospheric comic titled “Pigeons from Hell.”

The ultra-creepy comic is based on a 1932 short story by Robert E. Howard. (Yep, Conan’s creator did more than just churn out yarns about pumped up he-men with Viking hats. A buddy of H.P. Lovecraft, he too was a master of the horror genre and the pair engaged in a robust correspondence about the supernatural.)

The chiller is just one of 30 great zombie tales in The Mammoth Book of Zombie Comics, edited by David Kendall.

An eerie whistle lures a victim to the lair of this zombie she-devil in "Pigeons from Hell."

You might expect that a 453-page anthology packed with nothing but zombie stories would get old in a hurry. But nothing could be further from the truth. What I love about this book is the astonishing variety of plots, themes, and visual styles.

In the blackly humorous “Dead Eyes Open,” the theme of discrimination is explored when millions of people return from the dead with their minds fully intact. The first celebrity “returner” is Wil Wheaton of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame. The undead former child actor pleads for acceptance of the new minority group and an end to the “re-murder” of his kind by trigger-happy vigilantes.

Based on an old folktale, “The Zombie“ takes place in Africa, where voodoo has its roots and zombies are the tragic victims of sorcerers.

In “Necrotic: Dead Flesh on a Living Body,” an Egyptologist discovers that mummification provides the key to immortality — with a terrible price.

An Egyptologist's bid to cheat death has a few glitches in "Necrotic: Dead Flesh on a Living Body."

The book offers a visual buffet, featuring styles ranging from the three-dimensional realism of the space-zombie story “Flight from Earth,” illustrated by Roman Surzhenko, to the minimalist avante guarde approach taken by artist Iain Laurie in “Pariah.”

Previously, I’d never found zombies either interesting or all that scary (after the shock of my first viewing of “Night of the Living Dead” as a kid). Unlike vampires and werewolves, who have an inner life and are often tortured by guilt, zombies are almost always presented on film as mindless, flesh-eating killing machines. And usually pretty easy to kill, once you figure out to shoot ’em in the head. (Often they can be taken out of commission by a baseball bat or solid uppercut).

But the stories in this collection pose some deep philosophical questions. “Zombies,” for example, explores that old trick of mimicking the infected to slip by them — dating back at least as far as “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and parodied to hilarious effect in “Shaun of the Dead.” The shocking ending raises the question, “How far would you be willing to go to survive?”

This interview with a zombified Star Trek C-list celeb Wil Wheaton would have been the perfect finale for Oprah's TV show.

Varying rules and explanations for zombism abound; the creators are not restricted by the mythology established in Hollywood by Romero. Some zombies are created the old fashioned way by wicked voodoo practitioners, while in “Amy,” disembodied alien invaders travel light-years to animate the corpses of earthlings.

You know, when “28 Days Later” came out, many reviewers praised director Danny Boyle for “reinventing the zombie genre.” Bull. While deserving of kudos for its grim, digital-video look, artistic flourishes and thought-provoking climax, the zombies themselves were the same brainless, cannibalistic monsters of “Night of the Living Dead” and its sequels — just a whole lot quicker.

And while the character-driven “Walking Dead” graphic novel and the TV series based on it boast some intriguing situations and relationships, these truly ARE your father’s zombies. Comic book writer Robert Kirkman makes no claim to have re-invented the genre. He doesn’t believe it needs re-invention. In his intro to Volume One, he extols the virtues of well-scripted zombie flicks like the “Dawn of the Dead” remake, acknowledging his debt to them. Really, the mess hero Rick Grimes and his fellow survivors find themselves in could have been ANY end-of-the world scenario; those shambling, “classic” zombies are just a plot device.

But in “The Mammoth book of Zombie Comics,” you WILL find the genre re-invented again and again in delightful, deliciously scary ways.

MEANWHILE ON THE HOUR OF THE BEAST FRONT…

A COUPLE OF MANLY MEN: I pose with Tarrin Lupo, author of Pirates of Savannah, toting his Swedish boarding ax pistol.

In promoting my new horror novel Hour of the Beast (http://freedomshammer.com) I attended the S.C. Book Festival. One of the many fascinating characters I encountered was fellow author Tarrin Lupo, who was hawking books in the booth next to me. Tarrin’s latest work is a historical adventure novel entitled Pirates of Savannah. And to draw visitors to the booth he actually dressed as a pirate. What’s more, he displayed an intriguing prop: a Swedish boarding ax pistol, a gun with a lethal-looking ax attached like a bayonet. Needless to say, in South Carolina where every guy with an ounce of testosterone is a card-carrying member of the NRA, quite a few male visitors couldn’t resist picking up the weapon.

Tarrin’s approach has inspired me to come up with a prop of my own. My idea: a mummified werewolf hand floating in a jar of formaldehyde. I’ll tell visitors I ain’t sure it’s the genuine article…then again, I ain’t sure that it’s NOT. I bought it from a curiosity shop that was going out of business and the owner thinks it had traveled with a carnival in the 20s and 30s. Scrawled in black marker on the rusty-lidded old jar are the words “Do not open jar. NEVER rub hand against open wound.” And here’s the kicker: a card in front of the jar will bear the price tag: $35,000! A special effects artist and fellow lycanthrope enthusiast from the Werewolf Café forum has promised to create the hand — let’s see what she comes up with.

I’m keeping a video diary of my book touring adventures. Click below to hear the pirate guy.

And here’s a bit including a lady who writes mysteries in which the crimes are solved by dogs!