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mark mclaughlin


Dark 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


By the way, the four-letter word beginning with 'F' is Fear. Bet ya thought it was Fork.

And tonight's Fear is ... Darkness.

Why are people afraid of the dark?

Each of us spends about one-third of every 24-hour day in the dark, sleeping. Our eyes are closed, the lights are off--darkness reigns supreme.

You'd think we'd be used to it by now.

Blind folks certainly get used to the darkness. Otherwise, they'd spend most of their waking hours screaming, "Oh no, the darkness--the endless darkness! Why, God, why?" And we know they don't do that. One usually isn't frightened of an everyday thing. The owners of funeral parlors don't shriek every time they find a corpse in the place. Heck, they probably shriek when they can't find a corpse--that means business is slow and profits are down.

But as for sleep--we aren't conscious while we're asleep, and if we're dreaming, we're probably living out some well-lit scenarios, like the one where the dreamer shows up for class late, or naked, or both. All that distracts us from the darkness. And certainly, folks are occasionally frightened while awake in their bedrooms at night--usually by unfamiliar noises. That sound, that ungodly scraping noise! Is a zombie dragging its feet down the midnight hall? Nah, the cat's just covering up some stinky nuggets in the litter-box.

But what's so scary about darkness, anyway?

Well, it's easier to bump into sharp coffee table corners in the dark.

You might mistake a Susan B. Anthony silver dollar for a quarter in the dark.

That cute guy or lady who you met while drunk in that dark bar might not be so cute in the combined light of morning and sobriety.

Plus, cockroaches, spiders, ugly deep-sea fish and hairy forest beasts with big teeth are all known to lurk beyond the light. Cannibalistic killers and bug-eyed alien monsters like hiding in the dark, waiting for tasty victims to stroll by. Darkness is a veritable petri dish of vicious, hungry horrors.

Hell may feature a lot of light-giving flames and lava, but let's face it--it's underground, plenty of caves and tunnels, lots of darkness there. And Hell is the ultimate realm of evil--of sadistic, frenzied, demonic torment. It doesn't get any worse than that. Though the mall before Christmas can get pretty ugly.

Film-makers love darkness because it automatically adds tons of atmosphere, and it's a cheap effect. Thousands of low-budget horror movies have featured a cast of unknowns, parading around in a haunted house--or hospital, or warehouse, or big building in general--getting picked off one by one, courtesy of a faceless killer wielding a knife--or axe, or machete, or big pointy thing in general.

Halloween is a classic example of that sort of thing--mega-cheap movie with loads of atmosphere. Halloween was filmed on a shoestring budget and made veritable wheelbarrows of money at the box office. And that started a bumper crop of holiday horror movies. My Bloody Valentine. Mother's Day . Loads of Yuletide terrors. All the Halloween follow-ups. I once saw a really cheap British horror movie, concerning time travel and zombies, set on New Year's Eve. And of course Friday the 13th , which has also spawned a far-slung array of sequels, including the latest, in which Jason fights Freddy from the Nightmare On Elm Street series.

Darkness is always a big tip-off of menace afoot. Think of all those old Corman movies based on Poe stories. Hmmm, here we have a big castle filled with lavish furniture and suits of armor, and yet it's mostly dark. The walls are all damp and moldy, too. The guy who runs the joint must be rich, so why doesn't he open a few windows, light a few torches? He must prefer the darkness. He must be... evil.

Darkness can give an otherwise awful movie a few nice, creepy moments. Think back to the 1978 Aaron Spelling production, Cruise Into Terror, starring Stella Stevens, Ray Milland, Lynda Day George and John Forsythe. A bunch of folks with Farrah hair and/or aviator-style glasses head into the Caribbean on a cruise ship for fun and sun. They soon learn that there's an ancient Egyptian temple on the ocean floor! Huh?

Strange but true. They dive down and after just a little bit of rummaging around amidst the sea weed, find and bring up a solid-gold sarcophagus containing--gasp!--the corpse of the baby Anti-Christ, who used to be a member of the Egyptian royal family! Double-huh?

This movie contains what may be the most ridiculous special effect in horror history: the tiny sarcophagus, which is about four feet long, sometimes breathes, its little metal chest moving up and down! Triple-huh?