Interview with Horror Author John McFarland

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Featured Horror Books Indie Horror Creation Indie horror writers
Horror Author John McFarland

PB – Tell me a bit about yourself and what got you started in horror writing.
JM: I have always been a fan of horror. As a young kid, I loved the old Universal classic movies, Frankenstein and Dracula and the whole crew, as well as the giant monsters of the 1950s, the postwar dread of the new atomic age. I also loved the Roger Corman Poe films of the 1960s. I mention movies because like a lot of young people, the movies moved me toward reading the stories, and discovering that the original literary versions of many of my favorite tales were much more complex than the film versions. In my teens, I discovered a volume called The Modern Library Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural. This book was pivotal for me. In addition to Poe, with whom I was well acquainted by then,  it gave me an introduction to and love for the great horror stories of the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was my first introduction to M. R, James, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert Hitchens, Arthur Machen, Joseph Sheridan LeFanu, and many others.


PB – What kind of research and background did you use to create the town of Ste. Odile or is it based on your own experience?
JM: Ste. Odile is based on the real old French colonial Mississippi River town of Ste. Genevieve, founded in 1732, which is about 60 miles south of St. Louis. My fifth great-grandfather, orphaned in an Indian raid as a toddler in 1750’s Pennsylvania, was bought from the raiding party by the parish priest of nearby Fort De Chartres for 5 barrels of whiskey, and as an adult became one of the patriarchs of Ste. Genevieve. Having discovered the regionalism of William Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor, I wanted to do the same for horror and make my fictional town sort of the Yoknapatawpha County of Hell. Coming up with a name for my town was a challenge. I liked names that started with an ‘O’ and the name Odile appeared on many a gravestone in the town’s ancient cemetery, so that’s the name I chose. The first expression of my horrific regionalism came in my 2010 novel The Black Garden, in which the region as well as many characters I still reference, first appeared. Two years ago, traveling in France and Alsace, my wife and I were stunned to find there is a REAL Ste. Odile: a mountaintop retreat dating from the 8th century.

PB – It seems your writing spans time periods. What inspires you to pick a certain time period to write in?
JM: My love of the aforementioned 19th-century classics is my biggest inspiration. Emulating the classics has been one of my goals. Also, many of my stories are set just before or after World War l. That period has left an indelible mark on me, in considering what a shock to civilization that war was. Victorian mindset and tactics met horrific, destructive 20th-century technology and the human wreckage that it left behind was a shock to the sensibilities of culture and civilization. There’s also this: one thing I learned from studying Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot and others of that era, is that there is something incantatory about words and language. They can convey moods and vistas of imagination beyond mere meanings, just through sound. the sounds of the words have import as well as their definitions. I find more opportunity and justification for that when writing about some past time. Its removal from a time and place I am not entirely at home in.

PB – What has been the greatest challenge to writing in a fictitious town? How do you keep track of the details with so many stories?
JM: Keeping track IS the biggest challenge. When I started to write The Black Garden, I drew a detailed map of the fictitious town with all street and place names in evidence so I could keep the geography straight. I also write short biographical sketches of the characters I am introducing so I can keep them consistent. The stories are very interrelated and it does take a lot of double-checking to make sure dates and relationships make sense and are consistent.

PB – Do the stories in Ste. Odile overlap or have shared themes?
JM: Yes, very much so. I wanted to create a mythology. Characters first mentioned in The Black Garden, often figure in new stories and will in future ones, too. I want that connectedness. Thematically, starting with one of my first Ste. Odile short stories, The Little Dead Thing, I wanted to create a horror of isolation, otherness and self-contempt into which an added horrific element is introduced.  My characters often live very ordinarily, if pariah-like lives, which are intruded upon by some new unsettling fear.

The-Dark-Walk-Forward-Front-Cover-With-Quote

PB – We talk a lot of new authors. If you could go back in time and give your young author self advice, what would it be?
JM: Find kindred spirits, other writers with similar passions and play ideas and works in progress off each other. Read even more than you did. Write every day.

PB – Of the 19 stories which is your favorite?
JM: That’s a tough one. My very first published fiction was One Happy Family which was taken by T. E. D. Klein for The Twilight Zone Magazine. That tale was also taken by Martin Greenberg for his anthology A Treasury of American Horror Stories, so that, since 1985 I have been able to say I have been anthologized with the likes of Stephen King, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson and Isaac Asimov. So I have a great affection for that one, but I think my work evolved somewhat after that. I guess I would say the book’s namesake, The Dark Walk Forward, has the impact, the emotion and the tragic conflict of human needs I most value in expressing.

PB – Whats on your reading list right now?
JM: Well, I love a good ghost story. I am preparing one I am calling Phrygia House, and have done lots of research on what works best in these. I have recently read all of Susan Hill’s classic tales, which I purchased directly from Susan herself, a very gracious lady, and Michelle Paver’s Dark Matter. I can’t recommend that one enough. Have also read Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger, Nicole Cushing’s The Half-Freaks, some Thomas Ligotti, whom I had never read before, Philip Fracassi’s Behold the Void. Also re-reading some classic’s like Crawford’s The Upper Berth and Oliver Onions‘ The Beckoning Fair One and LeFanu’s Squire Toby’s Will.

PB – Anything else you’d care to share with our paranormal horror fans here at Puzzle Box Horror?
JM: There’s a possibility that my new publisher Dark Owl Publishing, who has been a dream to work with, may be interested in re-issuing The Black Garden, as well as its sequel which is in the works, Azmiel’s Daughter. They may also venture into young reader territory in the future, and my series about Bigfoot, Annette: A Big, Hairy Mom and Annette: A Big, Hairy Grandma. Both of these are out of print in English, but popular in Croatian and Slovenian. We’ll see what happens!10) Where and when can we get the new book? The Dark Walk Forward will be released on December 1 from Dark Owl Publishing.

About the Author

John S. McFarland’s short stories have appeared in numerous journals, in both the mainstream and horror genres. His tales have been collected with stories by Stephen King, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert Bloch, and Richard Matheson. His work has been praised by such writers as T.E.D. Klein and Philip Fracassi, and he has been called “A great, undiscovered voice in horror fiction.” McFarland’s horror novel, The Black Garden, was published in 2010 to universal praise, and his young reader series about Bigfoot, Annette: A Big Hairy Mom, is in print in three languages. This story collection is his first.

You can follow the release of “The Dark Walk Forward” here at Dark Owl Publishing.

Interview with Horror Author Laird Barron

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Best Horror Books Best Of Featured Horror Books Short Horror Stories

Recently, Puzzle Box Horror had the privilege of speaking with horror author Laird Barron about his life, his work, and his influences. Laird, an expat Alaskan, is the author of several books, including The Imago Sequence and Other Stories; Swift to Chase; and Blood Standard. Currently, Barron lives in the Rondout Valley of New York State and is at work on tales about the evil that men do.

Tell us a bit about yourself and what got you started in horror writing?

Picture of author Laird Barron
Photo Credit: Ardi Alspach

I started writing as a kid. I was into science fiction and fantasy–Star Trek, Star Wars, the Lord of the Rings. The typical pop culture stuff in the 1970s. When my family relocated from the suburbs to the wilderness, things took a darker turn. I enjoyed telling stories to my younger brothers. We spent many a winter night alone with snow and wind pressing against the cabin and our parents off to town. My siblings were particularly riveted by the spookier tales. Eventually, that translated to my writing horror. I experimented with high fantasy and various kinds of science fiction. Ultimately, it became clear that my affinity for the macabre outstripped everything else.

Has growing up in Alaska influenced your writing at all?

She left a mark. With rare exceptions, I didn’t write about Alaska until more recently. I’d gained distance but needed time. The geography and climate have always strongly influenced my work. Alaska was all about rough edges and extremes. The weather, the people, the swing between months of light and darkness…

I haven’t been back since ’96, but I dream of it often. It’s a lot of psychic pressure heaving against the bulwark of a dam. Past few years, I’ve vented more of it into my stories. Still haven’t decided how I feel about that turn of events except to acknowledge what’s done is done.

The Imago Sequence by Laird Barron book cover
The Light is the Darkness by Laird Barron book cover
Occultation by Laird Barron book cover

You’ve written a wealth of short stories. Do you have any favorites?

Over time, a writer’s career reveals a sort of fossil record of their obsessions. Twenty years on, I’ve published enough stories to see them as delineating several different modes. The crime/noir mode; the contemporary weird mode; the science fiction/fantasy mode. First person posthumous… Most of it horror-inflected. Which is a roundabout way of saying, it’s tough to objectively determine a favorite or most “successful” piece of work because there’s a real apples and oranges element. But…

Personal favorite: “Andy Kaufman Creeping through the Trees.”

Best: “Parallax.”

Creepiest: (and for me, creepy is paramount) A forthcoming story I sold to Ellen Datlow called “Tiptoe” for her Shirley Jackson tribute anthology—When Things Get Dark.

Are there any anthologies or magazines that you are particularly excited to have been published in?

I’m grateful to every last editor who has made a place for me in their magazines and anthologies.

The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction set the tone for my career. It was, and might still be, the Holy Grail for writers tilling the science fiction/fantasy/horror fields. The heavyweights were featured there since 1949. King’s Dark Tower was serialized in those pages. Zelazny and Bradbury wrote stories for the mag. I’ve only become more aware of the importance of selling my first handful of pro stories to Gordon Van Gelder—two of which were cover novellas. There are world-renowned bestselling novelists who moan and groan to this day because they were never able to crack the ToC. So, yeah, a big, big deal.

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction June cover
The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction May cover

Penning introductions and afterwords for collectors’ editions of Ray Russell’s The Case Against Satan; Jim Thompson’s Pop 1280; Peter Straub’s KOKO; and Michael Shea’s The Autopsy & Other Tales.

I’m also proud to have work reprinted in Ellen Datlow’s anthologies. You’re doing all right when Ellen takes an interest in your writing.

What scares you the most?

The declining state of the world should be enough to scare anyone.

What/who are some of your major influences?

Now, there’s a topic. My blood type is labeled “the ecstasy of influence.” I break down this incomplete list into three stages of life.

Adolescent: DM’s Guide, especially Appendix N; Edgar Rice Burroughs; Robert E. Howard; Roger Zelazny; Stephen King; Clive Barker; Edgar Allan Poe; Robert Service; Louis L’Amour; etc, etc.

Adult: Shirley Jackson; Jack Vance; Karl Edward Wagner; Robert Parker; John D MacDonald; Anne Sexton; Peter Straub; Michael Shea; Charles Simic; Mark Strand; etc, etc.

Old Man Winter: Livia Llewellyn; Stephen Graham Jones; John Langan; Paul Tremblay; S.P. Miskowski; Kelly Link; Aimee Bender; etc, etc.

Blood Standard by Laird Barron book cover
Black Mountain by Laird Barron book cover
Worse Angels by Laird Barron book cover

We talk to a fair amount of new writers. What tips would you give yourself if you could go back to when you started based on what you know now?

Like plenty of other people, I’ve my share of regrets. Career missteps aren’t among them, happily. By the time I started publishing, I’d spent twenty-odd years preparing for the day. I’d done my research and had a clear vision of the writer I wanted to be. That and some career advice from Gordon Van Gelder put me in a decent position.

A sentiment I carry from childhood? If you want to make art, make art. If your family and friends are supportive, wonderful. If not, fuck ‘em. The world pays lip service to pursuing your dreams, but the cold reality is that lots of people will act as living roadblocks to your dreams. The worst of the worst will profess to hold your best interests at heart. Don’t let them steal your fire.

Can you tell us anything about what you’re currently working on?

I’m working on a dark fantasy/horror novel and a handful of stories for upcoming anthologies. If all goes well, I’ll also hand my agent the next horror collection late this year, or early 2022.

If you’re interested in learning more about Laird Barron, check out his website at www.lairdbarron.wordpress.com. You can also follow the author on Twitter (@LairdBarron) and Goodreads (@Laird_Barron). Finally, to purchase books check out the author on Amazon.

Interview with Horror Author Marie Batiste

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Featured Horror Books Indie Horror Lifestyle Women in Horror

Tell me a bit about yourself and what got you into writing supernatural detective horror? 

Well, I have loved all things supernatural since I was in elementary school. I remember checking out R.L. Stine books from the library every week, first Goosebumps and then Fear Street.  Reading has always been an escape for me and the creepier the story the better.  This is why I write what I write. People say you write what you love to read. I love mysteries, I love the supernatural and I love horror. So naturally when I sit down to write that’s what my mind steers towards. 

You have detectives, undead, necromancer, spirits, and a living sculpture all tied together. What inspired that and did it take a lot of research to get all the pieces to come together? 

I would love to say that this was all planned from the beginning, but it wasn’t.  Honestly, I just added the things that I like, and what I thought would be cool and make sense. Introducing magic and the supernatural into the real world can be tricky.  I didn’t want it to be too cliché and I didn’t want it to be too out there.  I wanted the magical creatures to have a role in this world that fits their nature. Vampires need blood so them being a blood analyst in the Medical Examiner’s office makes sense. Necromancers deal with death magic so working in the Medical Examiner’s office makes sense. When possible, they resurrect victims so the detectives can interview them.  Using water dragons as ferries make sense.

What I had to research were serial killers and different types of magical and mythical creatures. While my serial killer has some magic, he doesn’t use it when he murders his victims. He does this by torturing them and then removing their eyes while they are still alive and then their organs. I researched different serial killers and tried to understand why they did what they did. Or what could make a person decide that the only true joy in life is killing people. I still don’t have any kind of understanding of what would make a person do it but this research did give me some insight into my character and his friends. I am not a budding serial killer, I just wanted to point that out. 

I also had to research poaching. I figured if some people find joy in poaching rhinos and elephants then those same people would probably find the same joy in poaching unicorns, firebirds, and other mythical creatures. I wanted to show that just because our world has magic now doesn’t mean that everything is magical.

Is the second book the finale or do we have more in store here?

The second book, which is much darker than the first, is not the end.  I have ideas for several more in the series and it is only going to get darker.

Last Thing You See Book Cover - Horror Author Marie Batiste

What has been the biggest challenge in writing this story?

I would say the biggest challenge was writing from the killer’s point of view. He also has serial killer friends.  Being in their heads was particularly draining but it was also a little fun. I don’t know what that says about me, but it was.  I think writing dark characters can be both challenging and interesting. Their attitudes towards what they do were by far the creepiest part of the book for me.

You’ve published a few books now, any advice for new horror writers? 

I have two different series. One (Rachel Dixon series) is new and the other (Moon Investigations) I am republishing.  I find it hard to advise anyone on `writing because writing is one of those things that changes with every book. Also, what works for one person may not work for another. My one piece of advice is to finish. Whatever you are writing finish it. It might be crap and if it is the first draft it will be crap, but you need to finish it. You can fix it when you’re done.  Also, if you want to write in the horror genre then you should read in that genre and not just the popular horror. Read popular horror, obscure horror, good horror, and bad.  If you don’t read in the genre you want to write, then you aren’t going to be very good at it and you probably won’t finish it. Also, don’t be so hard on yourself.

You must be a horror fan? What are some of your recommended readings and movies? 

In horror, there is something for everyone depending on what you like. If you like comedy, Ash vs The Evil Dead and Shaun of the Dead is something you’ll like. The Haunting of Hill House is amazing and the book by Shirley Jackson is something every horror writer should read.  I loved every movie based on the case files of the Warrens which include: Insidious, The Conjuring, and Annabelle. If you love zombies, iZombie is funny, and the zombies eat brains in interesting ways. Dawn of the Dead is a good one along with my favorite 28 Days Later.  American Horror Story, Supernatural, and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina have a really good story and character arcs that may inspire you to write something new.

-Where can we get the first book and where and when can we get this second in the series? 

The first book, The Last Thing You See is available on Amazon. It will be available on other platforms in July. The second book One by One is basically about a murder circus and a house infused with magic and blood lust. More of the serial killers are introduced and it is much darker than the first book. It will be available on October 30th, 2020.

Finally, where can we find and follow you? 

I can be found on Instagram @mariebatisteauthor or my website mariebatiste.com.

Thank you for doing this. I have gotten a few ideas from going through your site so thank you.

Inuit Spirit of Death: The Keelut

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Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore Scary Movies and Series

What is the Keelut?

Aggressive Keelut, Inuit Spirit of Death
Photography by Nick Bolton

This creature is an Inuit legend, one who hunts people during the winter, but it’s not actually a predator in the strictest sense–it’s a spirit of the Netherworld. The Keelut (key-loot), also known as the Qiqirn (key-kern) is sometimes referenced as a spirit of death or an evil earth spirit. While it is actually a spirit, it takes the form of what some believe to be a true cryptid. To be honest, it’s hard to say which is a more frightening aspect of this creature, that it’s an immense, malevolent, black, hairless dog with the sole purpose of preying upon humans, or that it’s also a spirit so it doesn’t necessarily abide by the laws of physics. The Keelut’s mythological cousin is the Church Grim or Barguest of Great Britain, who stalks those traveling in the night which results in an untimely death.

The major difference between the Church Grim and the Keelut is the fact that the Keelut doesn’t have any hair, except for on its feet. They say that this makes their tracks in the snow disappear easily, which gives the advantage of stalking prey without being noticed. Aside from their predatory nature, these creatures have other similarities that transcend the separation of culture—both are known to act as a harbinger of death, and otherwise feast upon the dead. In Inuit folklore, the Keelut is known to attack lone travelers, the sight of one would cause disorientation, then eventually hypothermia and death.

Hold the Dark (2018): Bringing Alaskan Horror Legends to Life in a New Way

Hold the Dark Horror book featuring Keelut

This Alaskan creature of terror was made to take the sidelines in William Giraldi’s book Hold the Dark: A Novel (2014) and now a Netflix original film Hold the Dark (2018) when the residents of Keelut, a remote (fictional) Alaskan village, have been the unfortunate targets for a dangerous pack of wolves. These wolves have successfully taken three children before the main story takes place.  It’s certainly a spin to the original tale of the Keelut, but it pays special homage to the Inuit folklore wherein it was born.

While it certainly didn’t get rave reviews from this critic, I have a personal bias when it comes to films that include Alaska and the surrounding culture, even if it’s not terribly accurate.

Investigating the Origins of the Necronomicon

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Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore

You’ve come across an ancient book, not just some dust-covered antique that you found at your local bookstore; no, this was gifted to you with the confidence that you would heed the warning on the attached note and stash the book in a lock-box far away from prying eyes that may fall upon the archaic and mysterious pages of this increasingly enticing tome. Its pages call out to you, begging you to gaze upon them and to unleash the horrors that reside within. What would you do? Well, if you’ve seen any horror movie ever, you’d know that the ancient and creepy compendium of nightmares you’re holding is, in fact, what you can single-handedly bring about the apocalypse with–however, just like every horror movie you’ve ever seen, you’re probably going to open that damn book.

Stop it, Pandora. Don’t you dare open that goddamn book.

Necronomicon Prop
Photography by Staffan Vilcans

You opened the book, didn’t you? This is why we can’t have nice things.

Don’t worry, you’re not the first one. That’s part of what makes movies like Evil Dead (1981) so much fun, the horny group of teenagers fall victim to curiosity and another one–or three, or four–bite the collective dust. The curiosity may be unbearable but when it comes to the Necronomicon, a mythical book of demonic power, you should probably leave well enough alone.

What exactly is the Necronomicon?

Depending on where you know the Necronomicon from there may be different lore attached, but legend tells us that the original Necronomicon was written by the mad Arabian poet Abdul Alhazred. After spending a decade roaming the ruined cities of Babylon and Memphis he completed his tome before he descended further into madness and by A.D. 738 was devoured by an invisible monster according to Lovecraft. The actual name Necronomicon is, according to Lovecraft translated to, “the book of the customs (or laws) of the dead,” but other translations include, “the book of dead names.”

It is said that his manuscript was translated into Greek by scholars in the 10th century then burned in the middle ages, which only a few copies were said to survive; which of course allows us all to enjoy the delightfully awful antics that follow the contents being read aloud. Despite being a product of H.P. Lovecraft’s strange and mystifying imagination, it was inspired by real historic texts such as the Egyptian Book of the Dead. It has been said in certain sources that Lovecraft confessed the original idea for the Necronomicon came to him in a dream and he first showcased his idea in the short story The Hound (1924).

What’s Actually in the Book?

In the first appearance of the Necronomicon, it is referred to in passing as two grave robbers steal a jade amulet, which was, “the thing hinted of in the forbidden Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred.” While Lovecraft may not have been happy with The Hound, it along with The Nameless City (1921) began the universe that would become the center of the Cthulhu mythos.

What else is really in the book though? From what Lovecraft divulges within his stories, Alhazred spoke mostly of the Old Ones and it makes sense that a book like the Necronomicon could only exist in a universe where ancient, god-like beings would bring their wrath by those who sought to wake them. In fact, the book was even said to contain the very passages that would wake the Old Ones and inspire madness just from viewing its pages. In Dunwich Horror, Lovecraft gives us a quite lengthy excerpt from the Necronomicon, speaking specifically about Yog-Sothoth. A much more popular creature, Cthulhu, is also mentioned as a monster who lies at the bottom of the ocean.

In fact, many fans tend to think about the Necronomicon as a sort of bible for Lovecraft’s pantheon of the immensely powerful extraterrestrial beings. The book appears within eighteen of his own stories, more often than any other real or fictional ancient tome that he was known to reference. Later on, with the adaptations of other authors, the book gained more of a reputation as a book of spells and rituals, but Lovecraft’s original intention for the book lay mostly in mythology and origin stories for the creatures that were the foundation of his universe.

Within the context of horror Lovecraft’s portrayal of the history of our world, in the times before man, as a universe controlled by beings so terrifying that just reading about them had to potential to drive a person completely insane. This was the birth of cosmic horror, as many of the stories Lovecraft developed ended with at least one of the characters descending into the depths of madness after flipping through the Necronomicon because these creatures were so beyond human comprehension that even thinking about them could be mentally devastating. It would be interesting to see how Lovecraft might feel to know that eighty-two years later there would actually be people convinced that his Necronomicon was an authentic and evil book of spells.

Is the Necronomicon Real?

The short answer is no, the Necronomicon is a purely fictional book that was brought to life through the creative genius of H.P. Lovecraft. To be fair though, Lovecraft did a pretty great job creating a comprehensive universe with its own history, deities, and forbidden lore, which added the element of cosmic horror to his tales. While in reality, the Necronomicon doesn’t exist, there are more than half a dozen books with the same title that you can find at bookstores–these books are all works inspired by, or containing Lovecraft’s book.

The practice of developing such a rich background in fictional literature would inspire other writers to do the same; renowned author J.R.R. Tolkien would follow suit when he brought Middle Earth to life. Lovecraft’s immersive method caught fire with other writers, such as August Derleth and Clark Ashton Smith, who regularly had exchanges with him and even expanded upon the universe by using the Necronomicon and all of the related Chtulhu mythos in their own work. Lovecraft also included his peer’s creations in his own tales as well, as an example, Smith came up with the idea of The Book of Eibon, which was mentioned within his own body of work. Lovecraft even included Robert Bloch’s De Vermis Mysteriis, a book which was said to have the power to summon demons from alternate dimensions, in his stories The Haunter of the Dark and The Shadow Out of Time.

As an avid letter-writer, Lovecraft quite frequently mentioned the Necronomicon in his correspondences to his colleagues where he suggested that his inspiration was also derived from Gothic writing; Gothic writing often made use of the idea of ancient texts and forbidden literature. There was a tendency among authors of the time to do their best to blur the lines between fiction and reality. An author that Lovecraft quite openly admired, Edgard Allan Poe, would go to extremes in an attempt to convince his audience that his stories were true–he even published his 1844 story The Balloon-Hoax as a legitimate article in the New York’s The Sun. As can be seen, by radio performances likeWar of the Worlds by H.G. Wells in 1938, as well as found-footage movies like The Blair Witch Project (1999), the V/H/S series, and the [REC], it is something that modern horror culture still strives to do.

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