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Cave Mark

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


Welcome, once again, to our online cave of creepiness... our cavern of carnivorous creatures... our deep, dark, damp den of deadly destroyers! As you may have guessed from all those underground references, the Fear (the titular four-letter word) du jour of this evening's column is humanity's horror of subterranean realms. And of course, we will explore how this phobia is depicted in the cinema of the macabre.

In researching this column's subject, I made a startling discovery. Because most of any subterranean horror movie takes place in near-total darkness, the writers of many such scripts really don't have to work too hard, so long as their characters are in a high-pitched state of panic.

The following is the sort of conversation one might hear in a contemporary horror movie set underground (and the names below are the sort of names one might find in such films):

Stacy: "It is like, really dark down here!"

Cindy: "I am so scared!"

(Suddenly a weird noise echoes through the tunnels.)

Kevin: "Hey, what was that weird noise?"

Greg: "Oh my God, something's after us! RUN!"

(The weird noise grows louder.)

Stacy: "I can't see where I'm going because it's like, really dark down here!"

Cindy: "We've got to get out of here! I am so scared!"

(The weird noise grows even louder.)

Kevin: "Hey, that weird noise is growing louder!"

Greg: "Oh my God, it's still after us! KEEP RUNNING!"

I think you get the picture. Speaking of which, let's take a look at some motion pictures that take the viewer deep, deep underground.

The Descent

In The Descent (2005), a group of women who enjoy outdoor adventures decide to enter a remote Appalachian cave system. One of our deep-delving damsels had lost her young daughter in a horrific car accident a year earlier, and her friends think that this adventure will be just the thing to get her mind off her tragic loss.

They are quite right. Being chased through dark, wet stone tunnels by cannibalistic humanoid mutants does indeed provide a major distraction for her -- for a while. This one's a real nail-biter. The movie poster compares it to Alien and for once, a horror flick's promotional material provides an accurate assessment of its merits.

The Descent features excellent special effects, realistic cave settings throughout, and great performers -- right down to the individual creepers in the caves.

The Cave (2006) is almost as good as The Descent, though it doesn't pack the same dramatic wallop. Plus, the cave critters aren't as frightening... though they come pretty close.

The Cave

A group of professional cave explorers (in college, did they major in spelunking?) encounter a subterranean world filled with grotesque, mutated, batlike horrors -- but the worst part is, many of these grisly ghouls used to be humans who became infected with a primordial parasite after they entered the caves. The symbiotic parasites transformed their hosts into the afore-mentioned critters so they could survive underground.

The cave settings in this one are also extremely realistic and the twist ending is a real winner.

We now travel from the sublime to the substandard: namely, The Cavern (2006). A group of aspiring cave explorers go into a remote cave and soon lose their way inside. The faux tunnels won't fool you for a second. This one was obviously filmed in a tourist cave or maybe an exhibit at an amusement park.

The Cavern

The characters are all pretty cliche, though I do have to give the actors and actresses points for attacking their roles with gusto. I will admit, the ending is excellent and deserves a better movie in front of it.

I wasn't expecting much of Catacombs (2006) -- probably because one of the lead performers is pop star Pink, and I figured she probably wouldn't be that much of an actress. Well, slap me with a cave-fish -- because I was totally wrong. Pink is excellent, and in fact, I wish they'd given her more screen time.


I really and truly loved Catacombs. It's like Texas Chainsaw Massacre in Paris. You see, gay Paree has hundreds of miles of catacombs under the streets, filled with centuries of dried-up corpses. Who knew? (Well, I guess the filmmakers and everyone in Paris knew, but I didn't.)

A petite American tourist attends a rave in the catacombs and before long, she is being chased by the Goatman -- basically, the French Anti-Christ. According to the movie poster, this artful adventure comes from the same producers as SAW. I found the Goatman to be a much more formidable and intriguing movie presence than old Swirly-Cheeks from the SAW franchise.

The plot has as many twists and turns as the catacombs themselves (great ending, too), so be sure to rent this one. Buy a couple bottles of French wine while you're out and about.

We do need to bear in mind that all subterranean spots on the Earth's surface aren't on land. The oceans abound with dark, truly frightening trenches -- unfortunately, you won't find any of them in Deep Shock (2003).

Deep Shock

A team of scientists and military types stationed in the underwater Hubris base station explore the Arctic's mysterious Polaris trench. Something lurks in that trench -- monstrous, ungodly creatures....

H.P. Lovecraft fans may be hoping that Cthulhu has something to do with all this, but sadly, no. The Polaris trench is filled with... (get ready for this)....

Giant, intelligent, mind-reading, alien electric eels who send signals into outer space (gasp!). The ancient eels used to rule the Earth, and they've come out of hibernation to make the Earth their own again (double gasp!). Now these briny behemoths want to melt the polar ice-caps, flood the Earth and drown humanity like rats on a sinking ship (triple gasp!).

These seedy CGI sea-creatures are so fake, they make the dancing penguins from Mary Poppins look downright realistic. But here's something that's even more unrealistic, if that's possible: the lady scientist in the base station has perfect hair, foundation, eye make-up and lipstick throughout this entire rugged adventure (quadruple gasp!).

So what have we learned from all these underground adventures? We all know that darkness can be scary, and to be cut off from humanity in the dark is scarier still. Therefore, to be stalked by vicious, cold-blooded monsters in such remote darkness should be the ultimate in horror.

But, if the production doesn't have the budget or the talent to realistically portray that ultimate horror... Well, it'll probably just come across as the ultimate in goofiness.

But hey, even that can be entertaining, in its own way. Just ask Batman and Robin from the old TV series, as they're sliding down their Bat-Poles into the Bat-Cave!