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We're extremely proud to include Bram Stoker Award winner Mark McLaughlin's column Four-Letter Word Beginning with `F' as one of the features EXCLUSIVE to HORROR GARAGE!

Mark McLaughlin

Mark McLaughlin's fiction, nonfiction and poetry have appeared in more than 800 magazines, anthologies, newspapers, and websites, including Horror Garage, Doorways, Hungur, Cemetery Dance, Space & Time, The Black Gate, Galaxy, Writer's Digest, FilmFax, Dark Arts, Midnight Premieres, and two volumes each of The Best of the Rest, The Best of HorrorFind, and The Year's Best Horror Stories. Collections of his fiction include Pickman's Motel, Slime After Slime, Motivational Shrieker, At the Foothills of Frenzy (with Shane Ryan Staley and Brian Knight), and All Things Dark and Hideous (with Michael McCarty). Also, he is the co-author, with Rain Graves and David Niall Wilson, of the poetry collection The Gossamer Eye, which won a Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Poetry. His most recent poetry collection, Phantasmapedia, was a finalist for the Stoker Award.

In September 2008, Delirium Books/Corrosion Press released Monster Behind the Wheel, a novel Mark wrote with collaborator Michael McCarty. In that same month, Skull Vines Press released Attack of the Two-Headed Poetry Monster, also co-written with Michael McCarty. These and other books can be ordered at www.horror-mall.com. Be sure to visit Mark online at www.myspace.com/monsterbook and


Most horror movies let you know right away what fear or fears they will address. Remember that old '70s movie Bug, about cockroaches that could start fires? Clearly that was about an unreasonable fear of confined spaces. Nah, just kidding: obviously it addressed the fear of insects ... and if you feared fire, as most living things do, that was just icing on the cake.

Frankenhooker, another good example, addressed fear of (mingled with desire for) sexual contact with strangers, as well as the fear of badly assembled people wearing too much make-up.

Alligator, Anaconda and Hammer Films' The Reptile all addressed the fear of cold, scaly creatures, and Devil Doll effectively visited the inherent creepiness of ventriloquists' dummies.

So with all that in mind, what can be said about anthology horror movies? I'm sure you've seen numerous examples of them over the years. Such movies have an over-all linking framework, which is used to present some shorter, related vignettes--usually three. Two Evil Eyes only gave us two stories, both based on works by Edgar Allan Poe, while the more ambitious The Vault of Horror served up five. But like I said, three is usually the magic number.

You're probably already familiar with horror stories presented anthology-style, since that format has always had its place on TV. Sometimes such a show might present only one story per episode; others may squeeze in a couple. Such shows include The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery, Tales From the Crypt, Alfred Hitchcock Presents , Tales From the Darkside, even Kolchak: The Night Stalker and X-Files, to a certain monster-of-the-week degree, and The Golden Girls. Okay, that last one was a joke... or was it?

But anthology horror movies have always been more of a grandiose affair. They have healthier budgets than their TV cousins and so can work with bigger sets and stars of a higher caliber. By rights they should deliver the goods with greater gusto. But do they? We'll get to that as we consider some examples later.

To explore the four-letter word beginning with 'F' (Fear, of course! What else?) while talking about anthology horror movies, one must realize that these films can vary greatly in quality and thematic vision. In some, the shorter films are closely connected, while in others, the individual segments stand very much apart, and their relationship to each other may seem tenuous at best.

With all that in mind, let us plunge deep into the pulsing heart of the jungle of anthology horror movies, and see what savage terrors lurk therein...

Creepshow and Creepshow 2 are filled with vignettes based on stories by Stephen King, so they address fears associated with his work. No, that doesn't mean a crippling fear of being crushed by an avalanche of extremely thick books filled with brand-name products. Nor does it mean a fear of our planet running out of trees because they're all being pulped to create printed pages. Rather, you'll find a lot of domestic fears, childhood fears and of course, monsters.

The best monster in Creepshow is the crate-bound primordial creature that eats Adrienne Barbeau ÐÊand I'm not giving away too much by telling you all that. The minute we meet Adrienne's character--a shrill, gaudy shrew who delights in telling folks in loud, braying tones, "You can call me Billy!"--we know she's destined to become critter sushi. (I once got to meet Adrienne in person at a convention, and so I can tell you, in real life she is actually soft-spoken and very charming.)

The best monster in Creepshow 2 is the crushed hitchhiker who keeps popping up, over and over, haunting the woman who ran over him. We soon realize that her fate is sealed. These stories are predictable, but still satisfying: bad guys and gals get what's coming to them, and good, wronged folks are appropriately avenged. I do have to file one complaint about Creepshow 2: the animation in the linking story seems oddly sluggish, as though its being shown at too slow a speed. I was raised on Hanna-Barbera cartoons and I expect animation to move at a zippy pace. Fred Flintstone had his faults, but you could never accuse him of being a dawdler or a lollygagger.

Mario Bava's 1963 European epic, Black Sabbath, is less predictable and considerably more stylish. At first blush, the three stories in this anthology seem to address a variety of fears, all presented with lavish Gothic exuberance.

The first story concerns a woman being stalked by a murderous caller, while the second tells the tale of a rural family being attacked, one by one, by a grisly old relative who has become a ravenous, vampire-like entity. In the third segment, a nurse steals a pretty ring from the knobby finger of a dead medium and is haunted with increasing intensity (this is the best, most frightening vignette). As one watches, it soon becomes clear that while numerous fears come into play, the greatest terror to be found in these stories is the fear of being pursued with lethal intent. In all cases, virtuous and venomous characters alike are hunted down by dark forces. The stories pack quite a powerful message: Evil is coming for you, my friend ... and nothing you can do shall stop it. That's probably why there's a funny little scene tacked on at the very end. Director Bava, who must have had a quirky sense of humor (after all, he did direct Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs), wanted to comfort the viewer with a bit of good-natured humor.