Drawn To The Dark


Authors have gone to great length over the years to discuss horror and how it is used as a means of catharsis – a way to confront the horrors of the world real or imagined and to see them faced and conquered. Horror is our way to lean out over the edge of the chasm to feel its cold breath knowing we can always lean back when we’ve had our fill. This is why so many of us love horror and more hate it – it revels in the dark side of things and some fear what that dark side may bring out of us. And I am sure, like everything else, horror and every other thing can have an adverse effect on the psyche of someone with preexisting issues, but any blame that horror – or other things like video games – takes for the horrors that Man commits against Man is just a form of scapegoating. If we won’t blame the guns for killing people then we can’t blame the movies for killing people either. No, horror is not meant to be a cultural guidepost towards bettering ourselves, no, it is meant to be a barometer as to where we are in society, where we have been, and where we may yet be heading. If comedy is a release from the pressures of the world – comedy never being blamed for teens getting up to sexual high jinx, naturally – then horror is our confrontation of the world’s horrors.

The problem with modern horror is that it has started to wallow in its own gruesomeness. Horror has become decadent in its gloom and what were once bold choices to have a downbeat ending has become the flavor of the month. Young filmmakers are aping the terror of the seventies, the realism of it, without the context or meaning. We are no longer surprised when the ‘hero’ or ‘heroine’ gets it in the end, we expect it. Yes, the world is dark, yes, ‘monsters’ win, and not every evil is banished but if no one survives and there is never any hope then there is no release, there is only wallowing. Believe me, I like downbeat endings, and I appreciate that horror is willing to tell us that sometimes the darkness wins…but I also think that there has to be a reason it wins and it has to mean something.

I can think of two modern horror film franchises that went multiple sequels deep only to end with downbeat conclusions leaving you series for masochists or gloom-mongers. As I said, I like downbeat endings but I don’t want to watch hours and hours of film and get invested into the overarching story only to be told there is no hope and everyone dies. Well, if that’s the case then I can just turn on the TV news. There has to be a reason for the things to happen. There has to be meaning to it. In one film you can say ‘well, bad things happen to bad people’ and get away with it but in a series you have to have something more to say. Sadly, most franchises are built film by film, rarely having a fully developed arc and so when they realize that the ever decreasing box office returns dictate that the series has to end or be shown the door they paste together something that approximates a summary of the other films. THAT is where Marvel has it all over everyone else – they plot things out. Imagine a Jason film or Freddy film with a plotted course of several films. Imagine if they made one movie that could stand alone but that if they wanted to make more they could all tie together into an arc. Not a series where every film is inter-related but an arc that told one story over several films. Horror doesn’t do that. Part of that is economics – horror films are made to make money and little else – but there is also a lack of vision. Sure, studios and filmmakers envision sequels and a SERIES for their movies but they never plot out an arc. And without an arc you get a hastily crafted wrap-up from people who were never involved with the first film and are just making it up as they go along.

This is a problem.

Horror has to mean something.

It’s mean-spirited to create a film or series of films solely for spreading darkness. Sure, people do it, and that’s fine, but if you are going to create a series of films that are inter-connected you owe it to your fans to give them more than that. Yes, there will be loss, there will be sacrifice, there will be pain and there can even be doom but you have to make these earned things, and have to make them mean something. Nihilism is swell but very few people want to invest hours and hours into something to be told that life sucks, the bad guys win, have a nice day. There’s an unwritten compact between cultural artist and consumer and it’s that you should give the people not necessarily what they want but what they have earned. Yeah, it’s different than what a fine artist or even a run of the mill artist has to do – they can make points and take risks – but the cultural artist works for and with the consumer and as such you have to take them into consideration. Don’t soften the blow to appease them but don’t be cruel as a sort of artists’ statement well after you have cashed all your checks. No one wants to go to the Fast & Furious series and watch all the characters die at the end of the series. Sure, there can be loss, and pain, and sorrow, but you have to earn that and it has to mean something. That was why people hated what happened to Hicks in Alien3 – he had done so many heroic and amazing things in Aliens and then in the next film he was just dead. Sure, it was a way to get a character out of the film who didn’t fit it, and it was maybe a reflection of real life but that wasn’t what people wanted. They wanted fairness and it wasn’t fair. I actually loved that a horror film I saw this year, a sequel to a film with a downbeat ending, did the opposite and had a dark ending but one which gave you a happier ending. It surprised me. That is what I want, I want to be surprised, or at least to feel that the ending we got was earned. There’s a very dark film out there about the ‘dark web’ and a young woman stumbling upon it and it’s a mean movie, a nasty movie, and it has a grim ending but when the camera fully pulls back you see a bigger picture and the ending takes on more meaning. It worked because the context and message worked. That is what I want to see, not just everyone dying and the killer traipsing off with no repercussions in any way. Even a film like The Poughkeepsie Tapes, which was dark as heck, gave you an ending that it earned, as grim as it was. That is what I want.

But these are movies people cry out – or books too, to be honest, since you can have a book series do the same thing. And yeah, this is popular culture stuff, not life or death, but we still invest our time, our money, and our emotions. Humans are emotional beings and when we invest in a thing, get attached to it, we are all in and that means that when the creators of a project don’t play fair it bothers us. I wrote a fantasy book series and when it came time to wrap things up what I had intended to do and what I did do were not the same. The story organically went one way and my intentions the other but part of it too was that you have to be fair, to the characters, to the reader, and to yourself. This doesn’t mean you pull punches and had I gone with my original intent I would have made that ending mean something, because you have to or you betray the trust people who invested in your work had in you and the work itself. If you choose to work in cultural art, especially popular cultural art then you have to be fair. You don’t have to be nice but you have to be fair. And honestly, the genre has gotten predictable of late with the consistent downbeat endings. Sure, they fit horror better than any other genre save sci-fi maybe but if that ending doesn’t mean anything, and offers no hope, then what are you saying? And if you are trying to make some bold artistic statement then maybe you are in the wrong trade. The audiences don’t have to leave happy but they have to leave feeling something more than outrage and disappointment.

Like all other arts movies need to be crafted. They need to be created. Movies, unlike other arts are generally made by committee. There are a lot of voices heard and many times this takes the impact a director has away and mutes the films power but sometimes that committee is needed to remind everyone why the film is being made and that it is still a product to be consumed. Again, this isn’t about happy endings and placating the audience. Horror needs to take risks, be edgy, and push boundaries, if it doesn’t then it loses its power and impact. I like Serbian Film – as much as you can like it – because it dares to say things that other films don’t and say them in a way other films won’t. But all that being said an ending must be earned and must make sense to what you have created. Since the days of slasher films and before we have gotten stuck on the jump scare false ending and the genre has suffered for that. We also suffered for the ‘women as perpetual victims’ shtick that was popular for so long. And we are suffering now for the persistent gloom of downbeat endings and it has to stop. If you are compelled to kill everyone at the end then make it mean something. Make it say something. Otherwise you’re just playing games with the audience and thinking yourself far cleverer than you really are. It takes no art to kill people off in art, no, the art is in making it mean something.

  • C




There’s a difficult time when we are young and are just discovering what boundaries are, those invisible lines that each of us has and never wants crossed. The easy thing is learning that there are boundaries, the hard part is knowing where they are with each situation and each person. Each circumstance dictates different behavior and each person demands different boundaries. Learning and respecting these boundaries is part of growing up and is something none of us can fully master. All of us have those awkward moments where we go to hug someone who doesn’t want to be touched, or don’t hug someone who does. We have those moments where we make a joke that wasn’t appropriate for the time or audience. All of us goes through these growing pains.

Welcome to the fun of humanity.

We are at a crossroads, in society, with a lot of issues and ideas and the idea of boundaries is one of those that, while not noticed, is at the base of what is shifting. How far is too far is something we have always struggled with but the shift in gender and sexuality that has been happening has set off a lot of boundary debates. As things shift in society this is bound to happen but we are definitely at a very emotional crossroads that is going to take a lot of work and a lot of time to see through.

This past weekend I attended a ‘horror campout’ where you would camp out overnight and be scared over the course of many hours. Think of it as like a haunted house but with camping. The event promised its patrons ‘extreme scares’ and warned there would be dragging. I can’t tell you how extreme the scares were but I did see some dragging, people being tied up, and a young woman being put on her belly with her arms behind her back and someone sitting astride her. All of it unnerved me and made me really start to think about personal and cultural boundaries, especially in relation to haunted attractions.

As I said, all of us have our boundaries, or limits if you prefer and while it takes time to learn all of them once you know them you KNOW them. Sure, we sometimes allow people to push our limits and once in a while it can help us open and grow but most times these moments serve only as bitter reminders of why we have our limits in the first place. Pushing boundaries is about power as much as it is anything else and power can be easily abused.

The thing about haunted attractions is that it lets people live within the horror movie for a short time. They get to face the boogiemen, the ghosts, the demons, the monsters and survive. They get to venture into the darkness and come out in the light at the end. They let us tap into that primal part of us that is so deeply connected to our childhood and for a short time we can get an adrenaline rush with no harmful consequences. The thing is though that the art of the haunt seems to be dying as more and more move to the ‘extreme’ scares. Once upon a time a haunted attraction was about you being put into scenarios or scenes where something or someone would scare you, or at least try. There was a lot of play with darkness, with confusion, with misdirection, and with shock. Slowly the people began being replaced by animatronics, which has been the big trend for the last decade or so. Sure, there are humans in the attractions but most of the scares come from something popping out of you, screaming at you, or flailing in the background of a scene. The animatronic scares work best as backgrounds or when used sparingly but it’s been my experience that the more you lean on them the smaller the scares. The animatronics cannot adapt to the guests and they are so stiff in movement that beyond a slight shock you don’t get genuinely scared. From animatronics the attractions got I gorier and gorier so that people became so accustomed to outrageous scenes of blood and grue that they stopped being effective in unsettling people. Now we are in an era of the ‘extreme’ scare.

What is an ‘extreme’ scare? An ‘extreme’ scare is where the performers can yell at you, scream at you, swear at you, push you, pull you, drag you, and get overall physical with you so you feel threatened and scared. I don’t doubt it is effective for many people. Having someone break through your boundaries can scare you to your core. It can frighten you. People have become so jaded, so indifferent to imagined terror that I can absolutely see the allure of the ‘extreme’ scare. If you can’t scare the guests then your business is shot. The problem is that once you commit to the ‘extreme’ scare…there is nowhere left to go. When people get jaded to being yelled at and pushed around, even having gross things done to them, what then? There’s nothing left. You can’t HARM the people. You can’t KILL the people. So what do you do? Once you break all the boundaries, the boundaries you CAN break, where do you go?


You go broke.

Boundaries exist for many reasons but one of them is so that we can know how much is too much, how far is too far, and when we have had enough. Take the boundaries away, or push them too far then you either break the person or you break the experience. Sure, there are people who love the extremes in life, they wanna be not just pushed but shoved when they do things. Those people have always existed and always will. The thing though is that they are not the ‘rule’, they are the ‘exception’. Most people want to test themselves, see WHAT their limits are but they don’t want to push well past them. Those limits exist for a reason and most people respect that. So we drive a LITTLE too fast, and go a LITTLE too far when we do things that scare us but most of us don’t have an interest in seeing how far we can go because we don’t want to lose control. There is safety in control. Ah, but scares are all about losing control and that’s where the trouble comes in.

To me, the ‘extreme’ haunts are lazy. It’s easy to scare someone, at least for a moment, if you threaten them or put them in situations where they could genuinely be in some danger of harm. It’s an easy scare because there is no skill needed, no art to it, and it’s honestly shooting for the lowest common denominator. If being screamed at and pushed and shoved don’t freak you out then a haunt is not what you are looking for at all. You want something much, much darker. And fine. Swell. Truly, each to their own. But here’s the thing – a haunted attraction is ABOUT the art. It IS the art. There is a roughness to a haunt but there’s also refinement and care and when you take that away you are losing the heart of what makes a haunt so special.

A really good haunted attraction tells a story. It weaves a world where anything can happen and does. It tricks you, if just for a moment, into thinking something could be going on that shouldn’t. I remember when I was 18 and going through a haunt at a haunted hotel and remember them telling us that the place really was haunted and that the ghosts had appeared during the haunt itself from time to time and it amped the experience up because I was LOOKING for ghosts. There was another that I went to a few years back that wove a great story and kept to it. They didn’t mix clowns and killbillies. They didn’t mix aliens and mad bombers. They kept to the story and the things in the story are what came after you. They also used set design to create set pieces that put you on edge. Sure, no one REALLY believes that a boogeyman is going to get you but you want to believe one COULD get you. You have to have a story, something so people have a base to build from. Tell them a place is haunted and their mind fills in blanks. You let the guest do the work for you. Once you have the story you build sets that take advantage of that story and that exploit people’s fears. Rooms that are off kilter, that are dark, that are damp, that have hidden areas, that trick you, or rooms that just seem…off. Next you need the soundtrack, something that isn’t overpowering but which keeps people on edge. Subtlety is best. You don’t want driving music, raging heavy metal, no, you want sounds, nuances that tickle at the back of someone’s spine. The most important piece is the staff. It’s great to have animatronics to fill in and to give an occasional jolt but you want a staff that is dedicated to scaring, can adapt, and knows the boundaries and will keep to them. And again, subtlety is everything. If everyone is screaming or laughing or yelling it kills the mood. You want some to be ‘aggressive’ and others to be ‘passive’, that way the guests don’t know what to expect. You want them to understand that some folks won’t be scared but to still try. When a haunter quits on a group it kills the entire haunt and takes you out of the moment. With a good staff you can do a lot with very, very little.

And that’s it.

None of it has to be really expensive or high tech. Fear isn’t high tech. Fear is low down and dirty and primal but a haunt has to have boundaries. It has to have a line. The thing is, the patron KNOWS there is a line but deep down, deeeeeeep down they don’t know. They worry. They ask ‘what if’. That’s where you can use dummie guests that you CAN grab and ‘kill’ and ‘torture’. If they see it but it doesn’t happen to them then it lets them think ‘what if?’. What if this is real? THAT is the power of a good haunt. It’s meant to be fun, not traumatic. It’s meant to send shivers and give you chills, not give you emotional trauma. That’s what we’ve lost sight of these past few years as the horror arms race has escalated – the fun. I LOVE horror films and attractions that genuinely unnerve me but just as much I like them that have fun and are dedicated to the fun side of horror. The playful scare that wants to give you goosebumps but doesn’t want to harm you. Horror has gotten too mean spirited of late and the haunts reflect that. It’s good to look into the well of darkness but once in a while it’s nice to know that you can look away. Humor has been cut from haunts and it’s a huge mistake. You need the laughter, nervous, uneasy laughter, to set up the next scare. If you push too hard for the entirety of the haunt then it all blurs together and loses its impact. It’s a dull gray roar or fear and not a vibrant rainbow of terror.

The fact is that some people will always want their horror more extreme. That’s fine. It’s awesome. But with a haunt attraction there’s got to be way more craft, way more art for it to be memorable. Why are people going for the extreme? Because there’s nothing else new. No one is innovating. No one is breaking ground. No one is taking from the past and improving it. All we have are mimics of one another. It’s an arms race with mirrors and smoke. There’s a lot to be done with the way haunts are created and run, a lot to be learned, and a lot of fun to be had without going ‘extreme’, it just takes an innovative and creative mind to make it happen.

Me, I am always looking for the unique haunts. I can get ‘extreme’ in any number of ways in real life and for me, I prefer the fun escape of the unreal and not the despairing horror of reality. I’d like to think there are others out there with the same feelings.

Happy Haunting.




First it was one, then two, then three and by the end of the night there were thirteen little bodies washed ashore, their pale peace a startling reminder that brutal life existed outside of leisure in this paradise. The day was overcast and there was no one to witness the landing of the children. No one to welcome them. No one to mourn them. The winds were moderate, the air was cool, and the sky was filled with clouds that while not foretelling a storm did warn that the sun would not be making an appearance. With no sun the tourists stayed away and with no tourists the food vendors stayed away and with no food vendors even the gulls stayed away. The children were alone, together and alone.

They had come dressed for war. Their clothes torn and burned, faded and small. The oldest was ten, the youngest four. They came bearing no luggage. They had no identification. The only other survivor of whatever tragedy that had befallen them was a teddy bear with no head that lay near the feet of a little girl with dark hair and a deep bruise around her throat. The sun rose on the bodies and no one came. The sun reached its height and no one came. The sun began to fall and no one came. There were none to bear witness. None to give forgiveness. None but the water.

But the water did not leave the children.

The water kissed their wounds.

The water caressed their prone bodies.

The water held their hands and whispered that everything would be all right.


Everything would be all right.

By midnight the water had had enough. The children were but three hundred feet from a major roadway and no one, not one person had noticed the horror that lay on the beach. Not one person took their mind away from themselves long enough to give tears to the tragedy that lay in the sand. The water that had risen around the children and had begun to bubble and slowly the mouths of each child opened and in rushed the water, filling each of them with the whisper of the sea.



Come back to me.

Come back to Mother.

Come back to your first Mother.

Your only Mother.

Come back.

The children stirred.

The children rose.

Thirteen children stood silently on a moonless beach, their bodies bent, broken, and bloated from the ocean’s kisses. The ocean roared behind them and the children began to move, slowly, deliberately, holding hands as they walked slowly towards the roadway and the cities beyond them. When the children reached the rocks they helped one another up them until they were on solid ground again beside the road. The street lights showed thirteen children with cold, gray eyes and white skin, hands held, moving slowly towards the world.

They were no longer human.

They were of the sea.

They were loved.

They were angry.

Behind them the brothers and sisters of the children began to make the beach, their bodies far less human, the work of the ocean far stronger, and their purposes far darker. One by one the children of the sea made land and began marching on humanity and the thirteen that had come first all smiled as they went to tell the world of the coming flood.



www.meepsheep.com for my books.

The Man Behind The Screams


The Man Behind The Screams

As I write this the horror world is reeling from the loss of one of its modern legends – director Wes Craven. The loss of Mr. Craven is a bleak reminder that many of the great horror talents from the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s are entering their twilight years. I certainly don’t want to belabor the point because with the loss of Mr. Craven we should celebrate what he gave to the genre and film in general.

Horror has never had a really great reputation. Most actors seem to think they are slumming if they do a horror film. Critics lambaste the genre as trash. Studios treat horror as if it’s a sort of lottery that you play when you need some quick cash – throwing tropes in with pretty young people and some casual nudity once in a while and BAM you may have another franchise to lean on for some extra bucks. Saying all that, horror does have its advocates and its stewards and Wes Craven was most certainly one of those. Looking through his career he was a man that looked deeper than the blood to find what really frightened people. He was interested in the hidden sins of the family, the savage that lurks just beneath our exteriors, and the frailty of suburban bliss. He was a filmmaker that was just as interested in the psyche as he was the visceral scare. Craven molded horror for three decades with Last House On The Left, A Nightmare On Elm St., and Scream and influenced an ocean of imitators and wanna-bes. Last House captured the utter terror of the death of what we told ourselves were the ‘good old days. It was a reflection of the death of free love. It was the horrors of the world, whether it be an ongoing war or monstrous criminals, coming for us in our beds. Nightmare was truly the sins of the past coming back. It was the idea of the old mentality of taking the law into your own hands and rooting out ‘evil’ in a community yourselves. Nightmare was all about how unsafe we really were in the suburbs and how taking revenge has its consequences. It was truly the rot within the American dream. And with Scream you had a reflection of a generation that was too clever for its own good. A generation that didn’t want to be the hero anymore but wanted to be the villain. That wanted fame at any cost and a world that would grant it, if just for a moment.

You see similar themes in his other films as well, his interest in the Middle American suburban nightmare casting a long shadow over his work because it was right in broad daylight that he knew some of the worst monsters chose to live. Man, he understood, was often the worst monster of all. The savage within, waiting to be coaxed out of hiding.

What is fascinating to me is that Craven created two horror franchises that spoke to essentially two generations of teenagers. While he left the Nightmare franchise until the last film it was the first of those movies that set template for what scared kids of the ‘80’s and the Scream franchise rejuvenated the slasher genre and turn it in on itself. I am not sure there are any other filmmakers in horror history that can lay claim to such a feat. It’s not easy making entertainment that speaks to young people but to do it with two franchises and in two different decades is a heck of an achievement. The effects of both franchises are still felt today as they keep trying to revive Freddy from the Nightmare films and there is currently a Scream television series on MTV.

For me, what made him more important to horror than anything though was his thoughtful, intelligent views on horror as a genre and as a natural part of the human experience. There are a lot of very intelligent people working in horror but not many are as articulate and well-spoken as Craven was. He was a gentleman of horror and he portrayed the genre in a much kinder and smarter light than many seem to see it. He was someone who knew his place in pop culture and embraced it.

You have to give him credit too that he got a chance to do films outside of horror – something few directors that make a successful horror film are able to do. And when he did those films he was not one to act as if he had finally ‘made it’ and was always better than horror. No, he returned to the genre to finish out the Scream series, the hope being to end those movies on a high note as he had been able to do with the Nightmare franchise. We fans don’t like to share our creators, especially ones like Craven who have brought so much to the genre, but it’s nice that he got to stretch himself, even if it wasn’t for many films.

Truly, the loss of Wes Craven is something that horror will feel deeply. His influence is one that will be written about, talked about, but more than anything felt. He was a filmmaker that was able to elevate the genre and yet still entertain and most importantly scare. All we fans can hope for is that he understood how much he meant to us and the genre we love and that future filmmakers will look to him for inspiration and not for someone to ape. That is what Mr. Craven deserves, not just the accolades, but to have inspired other fear creators to not imitate but to innovate and to re-invent horror as he did, and it’s my hope that that is what we’ll see.

Thanks for everything, Mr. Craven.