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Book Recommendation “Girl on Fire”

Puzzle Box Horror’s book recommendation of the week is Gemma Amor’s “Girl on Fire.” Gemma Amor is a Bram Stoker Award nominated horror fiction author, podcaster and voice actor based in the UK. Her books include Cruel Works of NatureDear Laura, White PinesGirl on Fire, and These Wounds We Make. She’s also co-creator, writer and voice actor for horror-comedy podcast Calling Darkness, starring Kate Siegel. Her stories are feature on the NoSleep PodcastShadows at the Door, Creepy and the Grey Rooms podcast.

Author Gemma Amor headshot

SYNOPSIS: Ruby Miller is free at last. Free from her past, her tormentor, her shitty family and the even shittier odds she was given at birth. But freedom has a price, and when the young girl hell-bent on starting a new life crashes her cherry red 1989 Pontiac Bonneville on America’s loneliest road, she finds out just how dear that price is. From the Bram Stoker Award nominated author of Dear Laura and White Pines comes a new novella, a searing tale of fire, revenge and redemption, a coming-of-age tale with a bite, because, let’s face it… happy endings are for children, and some girls just want to watch the world burn.

Review by Ben Vicariously 4/5 stars.

This story starts with a bang (literally) and is paced like wildfire, zipping through a tale of a young girl’s burning fury being unleashed upon the world. Ruby’s traumatic past haunts her still, and all she wants to do is see the world burn. She is the girl on fire, and her killing rage is both righteous and overwhelmingly destructive. Unfortunately for those around her it is only going to escalate.

To read the full review, click here!

Girl on Fire by Gemma Amor is available now.

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Exploring the Roots of Folk Horror

Defining the term “folk horror” and tracing its trajectory throughout history is somewhat of a Herculean task. For a term that sounds so simplistic, it is an incredibly complex and ever-expanding genre. Entire books have been written on the subject (such as Adam Scovell’s 2017 film criticism Folk Horror: Hours Dreadful and Things Strange), and there’s even a three hour long documentary about it titled Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched: A History of Folk Horror, which itself features over one hundred examples from film.

Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched cover

And while much of the emphasis surrounding the conversation is placed on British movies, there are plenty of overlapping examples in film, TV, and literature from around the world. Not to mention the actual elements that make up the genre are diverse, and range from folklore to the occult to witchcraft. 

Simply put, it’s complicated.

To that end, this article is not going to be an exhaustive look at the genre (that’s what the books and documentaries are for), but rather a brief overview of the term, its tropes, and popular examples. Think of it as a primer; a starting place in the shallows of the vast ocean that is folk horror. Ready to wade in?

Origins of the Term

The British music scene experienced something of a folk revival in the 1960s, and that, coupled with the rise in Neopaganism, led to a general infatuation with and exploration of older belief systems. Bands like Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin explored occult themes in their songs, and the writings of famous occultist Aleister Crowley gained popularity. It wasn’t long before the fascination with folk and occult themes found its way into the world of cinema. And that’s not to say that music was the only vehicle for introducing folk horror, as disillusionment with modernism and outrage at governing bodies engendered in many a desire to return to nature and the simpler, older ways of life. At the same time, our post-industrial life has made us unused to rural life and uncomfortable with isolation.

When cult classic The Blood on Satan’s Claws came out in 1971, the Kine Weekly referred to the film as “a study in folk horror”. The movie’s director Piers Haggard also used this term when describing his film. Later the term received renewed attention in 2010 when writer/actor Mark Gatiss interviewed Haggard during a section of the BBC documentary A History of Horror. These two moments, 1971 and 2010, appear to mark the emergence and then subsequent revitalization of the expression “folk horror”.

The Blood on Satan's Claws cover

Elements of Folk Horror

Though it can be difficult to pin down the exact definition of folk horror, there is a general agreement that it is more of a mood, an atmosphere, than anything else. You know it when you see it, though it may be hard to explain why. Even common tropes can vary widely depending on geographic region and time period, and movies with very dissimilar plots can still fall under the folk horror umbrella. But for the purpose of simplicity, we will highlight what writer and filmmaker Adam Scovell (owner of the Celluloid Wicker Man blog) describes as the “Folk Horror Chain”, or the four basic thematic/aesthetic tenets of folk horror: Rural Location, Isolated Groups, Skewed Moral and Belief Systems, and Supernatural or Violent Happenings.

Rural Location: This was a big one for movies in the 60s and 70s because it saw a move away from filming in studios and out into the natural world. This element typically involves a fascination with pastoral landscapes and locations outside of urban life. Often there is an outsider who stumbles upon or is forced into a rural community, and who usually becomes some sort of scapegoat or sacrifice to traditional/pagan beliefs. Some argue that this element also encompasses ideas of psychography and location being a “state of mind” in more urban communities, such as in Roman Polanski’s film Rosemary’s Baby (1968).

Isolated Groups: This element typically takes one one of two meanings – either an individual is isolated from their normal physical environment or they’re isolated from those who share their same moral beliefs. For example, the characters in David Bruckner’s The Ritual (2017) find themselves stranded in the forest but also in discord with people who worship much different gods than they. This element is a link between the previous one and the next because isolation usually happens in rural environments, and it’s made even more upsetting because the antagonistic forces don’t act or think the same as the protagonist.

Skewed Moral and Belief Systems: In Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973), Sergeant Howie finds himself in a community whose religious beliefs and practices are at odds with his own. Across other examples there is a common thread of “modern” or “Christian” beliefs finding themselves in direct conflict with occult or pagan beliefs. This collision of morality and religious belief leads into or is specifically connected to the final element of the chain.

folk horror ritual

Supernatural or Violent Happenings: Folk horror stories are often steeped in, or at least influenced by, folklore of the particular region they’re set in, and this final piece of the chain usually involves either supernatural beings or some form of ritualistic violence (or both) related to that folklore. Invocations of demonic entities, horrific sacrifices, occult practices, and pagan idolatry are all par for the course. 

British Folk Horror

The current popularity of folk horror, at least what our primary audience would be familiar with, owes a lot to British cinema, and in particular the Hammer Films production company. A group of films from the 60s and 70s, known affectionately as the “Unholy Trinity,” is what many point to as the birth of the genre. These movies are Witchfinder General (1968), the aforementioned Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971), and The Wicker Man (1973). These three films helped distinguish some common characteristics of folk horror, namely the picturesque landscapes, the isolated communities, and the emphasis on sacrifices and supernatural summonings. And yet, showing how intangible the genre is, these are also three very different movies in terms of plot.

BBC's Ghost Stories for Christmas cover

Strong examples of the genre can also be found in British television from the same time period. There was the BBC’s Ghost Stories for Christmas series, which adapted several of M.R. James’s short stories with folk horror elements, such as Whistle and I’ll Come to You (1968), A Warning to the Curious (1972), and The Ash Tree (1975). There was a drama series from the BBC, titled Plays for Today, with standout hits like Robin Redbreast (1970) and Penda’s Fen (1974). And there were still other enduring examples of the genre like Children of the Stones (1977), a miniseries made for children but still incredibly terrifying.

Though the British rise in folk horror began in the 1960s and 1970s, there was something of a resurgence in the genre in the 2010s. Some of these newer British films (and in the UK more widely) took the tropes and themes from decades previous and put their own modern spin on them, while others sought to return to folk horror’s roots, so to speak, with their emphasis on ritual, folklore, and mankind’s connection to nature. While there are many examples to pull from – folk horror appears to be trending right now – several standout movies include David Keating’s Wake Wood (2009), Paul Wright’s For Those in Peril (2013), Elliot Goldner’s The Borderlands (2013), and Corin Hardy’s The Hallow (2015). Another prolific filmmaker in the genre is Ben Wheatley, whose canon of folk horror movies includes Kill List (2011), Sightseers (2012), A Field in England (2013), and In the Earth (2021).

Kill List cover
Sightseers cover
A Field in England cover

Most of the common examples in British folk horror are from film, however there are many books from Britain that include plots and tropes from the genre. In fact, as it goes, some of the oldest examples of the genre are found in literature, from authors such as Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, and M.R. James. Some shining examples in more modern literature include Adam Nevill’s The Ritual (2011) and The Reddening (2019), Andrew Michael Hurley’s The Loney (2014) and Devil’s Day (2017), Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s Hex (2016), and Stephanie Ellis’s The Five Turns of the Wheel (2020) – as well as numerous comics, such as Simon Davis’s Thistlebone (2020) from 2000AD. 

American Folk Horror

Though the term originated in the British imagination, the evolving genre of folk horror has set roots in American cinema and literature as well. In some cases this involves American filmmakers creating movies very much influenced by the British tradition, such as Avery Crounse’s Eyes of Fire (1983), Robert Eggers’s The Witch (2015), Gareth Evans’s Apostle (2018), and Ari Aster’s Midsommar (2019). These films have strong similarities to their British cousins in regards to their emphasis on British landscapes and lore. The Blair Witch Project (1999) is another movie that could be included in this group, though it doesn’t fit the mold quite as well.

There are also many crossover elements between the genres of southern gothic and folk horror, and these commonalities can be seen in films such as Charles Laughton’s Night of the Hunter (1955). There is also a sub-genre of film called “hicksploitation” or “hillbilly horror” which spawns from the southern gothic tradition and which, upon first glance, may not seem to have much to do with folk horror. Yet, when one applies Scovell’s folk horror chain theory, the similarities begin to arise. Films that would fit in this category include movies like John Boorman’s Deliverance (1972), Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), and Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes (1977).

Old rusty tools in a toolshed

In American literature, elements of folk horror can be seen as early as the works of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Washington Irving. Other popular novels and short stories in the genre include Thomas Tryon’s Harvest Home (1973), Stephen King’s “Children Of The Corn” (1977), Shirley Jackson’s “The Summer People” (1984), Raymond E. Feist’s Faerie Tale (1988), Elizabeth Hand’s Wylding Hall (2015), John Langan’s The Fisherman (2016), and Victor Lavalle’s The Changeling (2017).

A Genre Diverse and Divergent

As we continue to reevaluate and redefine what folk horror is, we begin to notice a few common truths: the genre has existed in some form or fashion long before the 60s and 70s, and some version of it can be found in almost every country around the world. Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, early forms of mystical poetry, and even some of Shakespeare’s plays all have folk horror elements. The earliest example in film comes from the Danish-Swedish fictionalized documentary Häxan: Witchcraft Through The Ages (1922). Sweden has Ingmar Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf (1968). Australia has Peter Weir’s The Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975). Japan has Kaneto Shindo’s Onibaba (1964) and Kuroneko (1968). And on and on it goes.

Scene from Haxan movie

Also the more we explore the foundations and tenets of folk horror, the more we find examples which lie outside of the commonly accepted cannon, but which end up fitting the mold in diverse and interesting ways. Some titles here would include Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971), Bernard Rose’s Candyman (1992), Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Edgar Wright’s Hot Fuzz (2007), Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017), Ari Aster’s Hereditary (2018), and even the Paranormal Activity franchise. 

As it should be clear by now, attempting to box the folk horror genre into an easy-to-digest definition is simply not possible. We didn’t even get into the various histories of folklore and dark fairy tales around the world and their individual influences and appearances in the genre. We also didn’t get into the overlapping traits in genres such as science fiction and cosmic horror. What we did accomplish, hopefully, is to give you a taste of the world that you will carry with you into your own exploration of this wonderfully diverse genre known as folk horror.

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On the Verge: Sci-Fi Horror Authors You Need to be Reading

In the world of sci-fi horror literature there are some common names that spring to mind first: Mary Shelley, Harlan Ellison, Philip K Dick, and Jeff Vandermeer. However, there are plenty of lesser known authors, or authors still early on in their careers, who are writing stories just as full of technology and terror as the genre classics. At Puzzle Box Horror we’re all about finding and promoting the best in horror, so we thought we would help shine a light on some of the newer or less known writers who need to be on your radar! When it comes to finding the best sci-fi horror books, you’re going to be glad you broadened your search and gave these authors a chance.

Sci-Fi Horror Authors

Joseph Sale

Sci-fi horror author Joseph Sale

Joseph Sale is a prolific novelist and editor. His first novel, The Darkest Touch, was published by Dark Hall Press in 2014. He is published with The Writing Collective and has authored more than ten novels, including his Black Gate trilogy, and his love-letter to fantasy: Save Game. He grew up in the Lovecraftian seaside town of Bournemouth. His short fiction has also appeared in Tales from the Shadow Booth, Idle Ink, Silver Blade, Fiction Vortex, Nonbinary Review, Edgar Allan Poet, Storgy Magazine, and numerous anthologies.

1. Tell me a bit about yourself and what got you started in horror writing?

My name is Joseph Sale, but many call me the Mindflayer. I am a writer of horror, fantasy, science fiction, and many things in-between, as well as an editor; two titles I edited last year went on to the Bram Stoker preliminary ballot, and one is on the Nomination list! I love helping writers achieve their vision. As I say frequently, “The aim of an editor is not to point out what is wrong, but to see what the writers intended, and help them achieve that.”

In terms of horror writing, it came slightly later on for me. When I was initially starting out as a writer, I was mainly trying to write sword & sorcery fantasy. They were very hackneyed and derivative, and ultimately, they didn’t really read like “me”. They were Tolkien clones, aping the archaic style (but falling far short of it). But one day, I encountered a little known writer called Stephen King! The first book I ever read by him was The Stand. It blew my mind. I think I felt like King had found a way to translate that fantasy epic feeling into a modern setting. From then on, I became a horror junkie, and I started to write horror. I quickly realized that horror facilitated an exploration of darker themes; it allowed me to take off the shackles of decency and normality and delve into the roiling darkness of my own psyche in a way my previous attempts at swashbuckling fantasy had not allowed. This was a very therapeutic and healing process. Ultimately, in exploring the darkness, which only horror allowed me to fully do, I came to the light, so to speak.

Black Gate book cover
Beyond the Black Gate book cover
return to the black gate book cover

2. 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?

Wow, this is a hard question. I think my first tip would be less is more. I had a tendency to over-write to the nth degree when I started out. I still think that maximalism trumps minimalism in writing, and I prefer over-written to the “stark” and soulless prose of many popular writers today, but too much is very clumsy and ultimately detracts from the very emotional power one is trying to generate. 

My other piece of advice would be to listen. By this, I mean to the inner voice. Sometimes, the intellect cannot solve a problem, only intuition and the deeper Muse can. It might sound flighty and poetic, but it is the truth in my experience. We all have this reservoir of knowledge. Our subconscious makes the right decision before we know it consciously. I too rarely listened to my creative intuition back then. Now, I am always waiting for that quiet voice to speak. 

Next, structure, structure, structure. Many writers seem to believe they can find their way without understanding the internal structures of narrative (and I certainly used to be one of them). However, now I’ve learned (and teach) the 5-Act structure, it has totally transformed my fiction. I would highly recommend the 5-Act structure for its simplicity, versatility, and clarity (for more information, check out my blog here). However, we all have to find the one that works for us! 

Lastly, I highly recommend joining a mastermind group / writer’s sharing group (again, something I never did until recently). The feedback and energy of a group is invaluable. That sense of community, being able to puzzle out problems with others, and also having access to workshops – all of these are so empowering. I am a member of Let’s Get Published run by amazing writer Christa Wojciechowski. It’s been a transformative experience.

The Meaning of the dark book cover
Seven Dark Stairs book cover
Orifice book cover

3. What is your favorite aspect of the sci-fi horror genre?

Horror and sci-fi have been linked for a long time, Mark Shelley’s Frankenstein being a prime example. I often conceive of science fiction arising from a place of anxiety. In the case of Frankenstein, this is certainly true – it’s clear that Shelley was disturbed by the idea of men playing God with galvanization, and, by virtue of doing so, supplanting the woman as the natural mother and giver of life. One need only look to the atomic bomb for further evidence that technology should be viewed with healthy suspicion. 

Another way to look at it is that in some ways, sci-fi horror is an oxymoron, and I am always interested in contrasts! Horror is sometimes said to be the only genre defined by an emotion. The aim of horror is to make us feel something: horror, revulsion, disgust, paranoia, perhaps even terror, the list goes on. That is a very raw, potent thing. Science Fiction, on the other hand, is in general more intellectual. It appeals to the left side of the brain. It is imaginative – hugely so – but it comes from a place of trying to logically envision a future, be it dystopian or otherwise. When we blend the two together, we have a recipe for success: the rational science – the logic of humankind – pitted against the irrational horror. In many ways, this is mythopoeic and psychological, it almost seems to describe the battle between our conscious minds with our unconscious fears. It is a marriage made in heaven. And, of course, we all know that logic will never truly triumph over emotion, which makes the presence of horror in a sci-fi universe all the more powerful. 

Biomelt sci-fi horror comic book cover
Nameless horror comic book cover
Frankenstein book cover

4. What are your top three favorite sci-fi horror books?

Three?! Only three? You are cruel. 

Biomelt by Carlton Mellick III has got to be up there. The book is a work of genius. The science fiction is perfectly blended with horror. In this crazy, crazy novel, the overpopulation problem has been solved by people being “combined” in a bizarre scientific procedure that merges their physical matter, experience, and personality. I can’t say much more than that or it will give the game away – suffice to say something goes horribly wrong. This book is overflowing with incredible ideas and characters, including my personal favorite, a serial killer known as Porn Eyes, because he has watched so much holographic pornography it’s been seared onto his eyeballs. Amazing stuff. 

To cheat a little, and branch out into the realm of graphic novels, I would also say Grant Morrison’s Nameless. Essentially, an asteroid named Xibala is heading towards Earth, and it’s going to be an extinction event. A group of astronauts is dispatched to destroy the asteroid, Armageddonstyle. However, it soon becomes apparent that Xibala is no mere asteroid, it’s a remnant of a cosmic war, fought by Lovecraftian beings, a gateway to a dimension best left unfound. It is a truly harrowing read that effortlessly moves between science fiction, terrifying cosmic horror, and finally, into a universe of dream-language. It is mesmeric and profound. Don’t expect answers to come easy, though!  

The last I’d have to recommend would be the great Frankenstein. Shelley’s prose is so potent. Every time I re-read Frankenstein, I see new things in it, new depths. Its relevance has only increased as time has gone on. Now, we have the capability to “improve” children by “removing” genetic defects – we are, more than ever, a society playing God, and if nothing else that has serious consequences for the psyche. 

There have been many attempts to artificially modernize Frankenstein but invariably – at least in my view – they fail because they remove the best part of it: the language. Shelley’s style, and her sense of “what lies beneath”, is what makes the novel the powerhouse it is. The only remotely successful attempt in my view is Junji Ito’s manga-isation, which is a masterpiece (and which also remains extremely faithful to the original). I think the key thing is that for all Victor Frankenstein’s wordy monologuing on science, life, despair, creation, much is left unsaid in Frankenstein, and that is its true power, and a lesson to all horror writers.

If you’re interested in learning more about Joseph Sale, check out his website at www.themindflayer.com. You can also follow the author on Twitter (@josephwordsmith) and Goodreads (@Joseph_Sale). Finally, to purchase books check out the author on Amazon.


Caitlin Starling

Sci-fi horror author Caitlin Starling

Caitlin Starling is an award-winning writer of horror-tinged speculative fiction. Her novel The Luminous Dead won the LOHF Best Debut award, and was nominated for both a Locus and a Bram Stoker award. Her other works include Yellow Jessamine and a novella in Vampire: The Masquerade: Walk Among Us. Her nonfiction has appeared in Nightmare and Uncanny. Caitlin also works in narrative design, and has been paid to invent body parts.

1. Tell me a bit about yourself and what got you started in horror writing?

I started writing really young and never really stopped, though my interests and goals have of course shifted over time. In particular, there was a period after high school until my mid 20s where I convinced myself that professional writing was far too hard and unrewarding a field to pursue. It sounds very cynical, but it was actually extremely freeing. It let me just write what I wanted to, without needing to stress too much about what it was “for”. I wrote a lot of fanfiction and did a lot of text roleplaying back then.

The whole time, I was undeniably drawn to tell darker stories (though not, notably, tragedies – those are way too sad!), but for a long time I didn’t think I liked horror. Really, I thought I was too much of an anxious weenie for it! And yet there I was, sending my characters through hell, always reaching for the most unsettling, fucked up option whenever I needed some details. I wrote so many words about death curses, obsessive research that led to ecstatic oblivion, seances gone horribly wrong, the terror of your identity being changed without your permission… Eventually, around the time I started what became The Luminous Dead, I figured out that I’d been writing horror of some kind all along, and decided to lean into it and start doing my homework so I could make it scarier for everybody.

(There are still times where I wonder if I’m “really” writing horror, and then a reader will offhandedly mention that I’ve made low battery notifications traumatic, and it’s like, yes, okay, I might not be scared of what I write, but everybody else sure is!)

Luminous Dead Book Cover
Photo credit: www.ericarobynreads.com

2. 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?

Have fun whenever you can. It gets way harder the more pressure is on you, but no matter what point of your career you’re in (at least up to where I am now!). Stepping back and writing something because it’s fun is always some combination of relief, freedom to experiment, and opportunity to learn without necessarily realizing you’re doing it. Like I already mentioned, I spent so many years writing fanfiction or doing text-based roleplaying with friends, and I banged out more words and tried more approaches with the “fun” writing than I ever managed to with my “serious” projects. Plus it was just enjoyable, and kept me focused on the truth that, no matter how hard it gets (and seriously, it gets hard, it just does) I still just fundamentally enjoy writing.

3. What is your favorite aspect of the sci-fi horror genre?

Technology doesn’t care if it’s good for us (neither do the people who create it, in a lot of cases). Every helpful facet of every tech advance seems to come with either a tradeoff or an unexpected consequence. It’s just really fun to play with, honestly: how can I take this neat invention I’ve created because it’s cool or to solve a plot issue and use it to cause even more plot issues. With The Luminous Dead, Gyre has a suit that keeps her fed and warm and protected from the cave. It carries her gear. It connects her to the surface so she isn’t alone. Great! Now what horrible things also come along with that? How does she get plugged into that suit, and what does it feel like a week on, a month? What happens if the communications feature doesn’t so much stop working as work in a way Gyre doesn’t understand? What’s it like, to be cared for and constrained by the same indispensable object that has no feelings about you either way?

So not only does tech change the landscape of what your characters can do or explore, and not only can it be a weird and surprising new threat, but those two things can be completely linked. It’s elegant and honestly really upsetting sometimes!

Annihilation book cover
The Last Astronaut by David Wellington book cover
The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson sci-fi horror book cover

4. What are your top three favorite sci-fi horror books?

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer, which is a completely intoxicating mindfuck. I feel like it’s what would happen if The Thing and House of Leaves had a really environmentally-conscious baby.

The Last Astronaut by David Wellington does some extremely cool stuff with expectations of physical scale in space that I really, really loved. Not to mention some great psychodrama.

The Murders of Molly Southbourne by Tade Thompson is just a wild ride, start to finish. The sequel just cranks it up even higher. Clones! Secret government programs! Constant, relentless violence against yourself! It really has everything.

(Also, as a bonus: Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey – first of The Expanse novels, you may have heard of them – isn’t a horror novel per-se, but the horror elements in it? Incredible.)

If you’re interested in learning more about Caitlin Starling, check out her website at www.caitlinstarling.com. You can also follow the author on Twitter (@see_starling), Instagram (@authorcstarling), and Goodreads (@Caitlin_Starling). Finally, to purchase books check out the author on Amazon.


Scott Jones

Photo of sci-fi horror author Scott R Jones

Scott R. Jones is a Canadian writer living in Victoria BC with his wife and two frighteningly intelligent spawn. He is the author of When The Stars Are Right: Towards An Authentic R’lyehian Spirituality (Martian Migraine Press) and the weird fiction story collection Shout Kill Revel Repeat (Journalstone/Trepidatio). His debut novel Stonefish was published by Word Horde in 2020. He was once kicked out of England for some very good reasons.

1. Tell me a bit about yourself and what got you started in horror writing?

I’m a Canadian fella from the west coast of British Columbia, so I’ve been steeped since childhood in that weird PNW vibe. Also, grew up in an apocalypse cult, so combine the two influences and you’ve got me and my work: paranoia, things in the woods, ultraterrestrial entities offering bad deals, crumbling “real” realities, compelling false realities, and so on.

2. 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?

I’m pushing 50 now and I know I lost a certain momentum by taking a long break from writing at the turn of the century, which I absolutely should not have done. I’d tell myself to not take that break, basically. Consistency in output is key; it doesn’t have to be good output, even, just make sure you keep at it regular-like. I’m not a “write every day” guy because c’mon, that’s impossible for most, but yeah, be consistent with putting your butt in the seat and your fingers on the keyboard.

Stonefish book cover
Shout Kill Revel Repeat book cover
Cthulhusattva book cover

3. What is your favorite aspect of the sci-fi horror genre?

I think it speaks to a truth we are increasingly feeling to be relevant to our existence in the 21st Century. Lovecraft warned us of the “black seas of infinity” that surround our species and true to form, we are exploring that void of unknowing and correlating our contents! Will we go mad from the revelation? Seems we’re halfway there already. Sci-fi horror and weird horror are the genres in which we can explore these ideas most effectively, to my mind.

4. What are your top three favorite sci-fi horror books?

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem

Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

Communion by Whitley Striber

If you’re interested in learning more about Scott Jones, check out his website at www.scottrjoneswriter.com. You can also follow the author on Twitter (@PimpMyShoggoth) and Goodreads (@Scott_R_Jones). Finally, to purchase books check out the author on Amazon.


JZ Foster and Justin Woodward

Sci-fi horror author JZ Foster

Born and raised in Ohio, JZ Foster moved to South Korea after college and lived there for 8 years, running a small English school, marrying a Korean woman and having a baby. In his time in South Korea, he’s become well versed in Korean politics and has done multiple radio interviews on South Korean and North politics. Since returning to the U.S., he’s launched his writing career and three series.

sci-fi horror author Justin M. Woodward

Justin M. Woodward lives in Headland, Alabama with his wife and two small boys, Nathan and Lucas. He is the author of three novels and dozens of short stories. You can follow him on all social media to reach out to him.

On a space station on Mars, a terrible mistake opens a gate to an alternate reality — and something comes through from the other side. After the station cuts off communication, a crew is sent to investigate, but they’re unprepared for the nightmare that awaits them…

Enter the world of Reality Bleed, a sci-fi thriller series by best selling authors J.Z. Foster and Justin M. Woodward (published under their press Winter Gate Publishing). Fans of Doom and Aliens will love this!

Reality Bleeds sci-fi thriller cover art with robot.

1. Tell me a bit about yourself and what got you started in horror writing?

J.Z. Foster: Like most horror writers, I’ve been watching horror movies and reading horror books since I was a kid. I still have a deep love for the Resident Evil games/books, and the movie Aliens has honestly had an impact on my life. I started writing because I had a hard time trying to find the types of books that I wanted to read. That and I love telling stories. I ran roleplaying games for my friends for years before I ever started writing, so I was telling stories then too.

Justin Woodward: I was interested in horror at a young age. I vividly remember begging my parents for the latest Goosebumps book every time we went to the store. I always wanted to create my own stories, even wrangling my babysitter into helping me “write a horror book”. To this day, I’m not sure what happened to that. Unfortunately, I didn’t start actually writing long fiction until I got the idea for my first novel, The Variant, which was more of a sci-fi thriller than horror. It wasn’t until the idea for Tamer Animals came about that I took the plunge to delve deeper into my dark side.

2. 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?

J.Z.: I only started outlining stories recently, and I found out that it helps a lot. I’d definitely recommend new writers do that! Other than that, I’d tell others (and myself) not to be too hard on their own work. Sometimes it’s difficult for writers to judge if their own work is ‘good’ or not, and all it ends up doing is slowing down the writing process.

Justin: Don’t waste time. Don’t second guess yourself. Put the content out there and be true to yourself. Don’t worry about following trends or the market, and don’t depend on anyone but yourself.

Hell on Mars book cover
Call of the void book cover
Crash Burn Die book cover

3. What is your favorite aspect of the sci-fi horror genre?

J.Z.: Certainly world building. I like creating a unique world for the characters to live in. I feel that in sci-fi, the world and environment needs to be a character itself.

Justin: I think I’m drawn to the fact that most things depicted in sci-fi horror are things that are actual possibilities in the real world, all we need to do is give it enough time.

4. What are your top three favorite sci-fi horror books?

J.Z.: That’s a good question, I’m not sure! Certainly a lot of Lovecraft and the Alien books, along with a myriad of comic books I’ve read in the genre. I can give you three movies though: Aliens, Pandorum, and The Thing.

Justin: Believe it or not, I haven’t read a ton of sci-fi horror. I was always into the genre as far as films go, but I never really got deep into the literature side of it. A few I’ve enjoyed are I Am Legend, John Dies At The End, and 1984.

If you’re interested in learning more about JZ Foster check out his website at www.jzfoster.com You can also follow the author on Twitter (@jzfosterauthor), Instagram (@jzfosterauthor), and Goodreads (@J_Z_Foster). Finally, to purchase books check out the author on Amazon.

If you’re interested in learning more about Justin Woodward, check out his website at www.justinmwoodward.com. You can also follow the author on Twitter (@justinmwoodward), Instagram (@justinmwoodward), and Goodreads (@Justin_M_Woodward). Finally, to purchase books check out the author on Amazon.

Categories
Best Of Best of Comics Comics and Graphic Novels Featured Horror Books

Puzzle Box Horror’s Best Sci-Fi Horror Comics

Comic books in the science fiction and horror genres have long sat adjacent to one another, but occasionally they cross paths and the results are spectacularly frightening. The best sci-fi horror comics have stories full of suspense and heavy with dread, as well as artwork that shocks and unnerves. In fact, comics and graphic novels are a great medium for the horror genre. The narrative format often keeps the dialogue and description to a minimum, increasing the suspense and allowing the images to speak for themselves. And, likewise, the artwork expertly compliments the prose, whether it’s using muted shades and darkened corridors to augment the mood or vivid colors and heaps of blood to highlight the horror. The writers at Puzzle Box Horror are obsessed with comics, and we’re very excited to share some of the best sci-fi horror comics on the market!

The Best Sci-Fi Horror Comics

Plunge (2020)

Plunge sci-fi horror comic cover

First on our list of best sci-fi horror comics is Plunge. A drilling vessel, the Derleth, that disappeared forty years ago in the Arctic Circle suddenly begins sending out distress signals from the Bering Strait. Wanting to investigate further, an oil company hires a salvage team and a marine biologist to go explore the ghost ship. Their mission is to recover the bodies and find out exactly what happened to the ship. The expedition quickly goes awry when they discover the crew isn’t exactly dead, though they aren’t exactly alive either. This six-issue miniseries is gory, surreal, and a wonderful homage to eighties horror.

Plunge (Image Comics) is written by Joe Hill with art by Stuart Immonen.

Come Into Me (2019)

Come into me horror comic cover

The story opens on a failed demonstration of InBeing, the process by which ropy entrails connect two different people by ports in the back of their heads and allows their minds to form a “synaptic connection”. Sebastian, the creator and scientist behind the technology, is quickly running out of money and desperate to find an investor. Enter Becky, a mysterious and seemingly desperate young lady who convinces Sebastian to bond their minds with InBeing, using his body as host. It’s strange for Becky, seeing the world through someone else’s body and forming a telepathic-like connection with another. If only she had been upfront with Sebastian about her past. As their minds are conjoined and their memories/experiences blend together, the host realizes he failed to anticipate just exactly what could go wrong…and that, like in our online lives, shared data is open to manipulation and exploitation.

Come Into Me (Black Mask Comics) is written by Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler, illustrated by Piotr Kowalski, and colored by Niko Guardia.

Destroyer (2018)

Destroyer horror comic cover

Though lighter on the horror than the other entries in this list, Destroyer is still an intriguing take on the creature at the center of Mary Shelley’s classic sci-fi story Frankenstein. In this story the monster has survived into present day America, but he has lost his emotional side and empathic nature. Instead he has become the Destroyer, bent on wiping mankind from the face of the earth. In his quest for vengeance he ends up partnering with Dr. Baker, the last descendent of the Frankenstein family who has recently lost her son at the hands of the police. Also caught up in all of this are two scientists, Byron and Percy, who find themselves desperately trying to protect humanity. It’s a story that is raw, powerful, and not afraid to shine a light on heavy socio-political topics. Sometimes the line between thriller and horror is slim but this one still made our list of best sci-fi horror comics as it fits the bill.

Destroyer (Boom Studios) is written by Victor Lavalle and illustrated by Dietrich Smith, with colors by Joana Lafuente and letters by Jim Campbell.

Nameless (2016)

Nameless horror comic cover

A group of billionaires have hired occult hustler “Nameless” in a desperate bid to save the planet. An enormous asteroid they’re calling Xibalba is hurtling on a direct course for earth, bearing a strange symbol on its side and a vengeful extra-dimensional god in its core. While trying to stop the death rock, Nameless and his team accidentally set loose the wrathful being and things go from bad to inconceivably worse. That’s the brief synopsis, but this six-part miniseries deals with so much more. Secret experiments, the downfall of civilization, lost planets, epic cosmic wars, a doomsday asteroid, and soul-destroying truths are all par for the course here. This sci-fi horror comic also has a strong cosmic horror vein running through it, featuring terrifying Lovecraftian beings and an overwhelming atmosphere of dread. What could be better in sci-fi horror than a touch of existential dread?

Nameless (Image Comics) is written by Grant Morrison and illustrated by Chris Burnham.

The Disciples (2016)

The Disciples horror comic cover

This sci-fi horror comic is Set in a bleak dystopian future where the solar system has been colonized by the rich upper class, The Disciples is about a girl who has gone missing and the bounty hunters who have been hired to find her. These hunters follow the trail to Jupiter’s largest moon Ganymede, where they discover a group of cultists who have awakened a horrifying force. Turns out the girl is the daughter of a Senator who has joined the cult, and things are about to get a whole lot worse for these well-intentioned investigators. Taunt and terrifying, the comic is reminiscent of the video game Dead Space but with more extraterrestrial ghosts. 

The Disciples (Black Mask Studios) is written by Steve Niles and illustrated by Chris Mitten, with colors by Jay Fotos and letters by Thomas Mauer.

Spread (2015)

Spread horror comic cover

In this post-apocalyptic sci-fi horror comic, a strange viral infection called “the Spread” has devastated the land and devoured its inhabitants. While most of the world lies in ruin, there are pockets of humanity struggling to survive in quarantine zones. In one of these zones a man named No happens upon a baby named Hope who can undo the virus with a touch of her hand. Insane creature designs and an interesting cast of characters help flesh out this dark and suspenseful tale of survival. The unholy baby of The Thing and Mad Max bathed in buckets of blood, Spread is full of extreme gore, tentacles, and body horror fun.

Spread (Image Comics) is written by Justin Jordan with art by Kyle Strahm.

Caliban (2015)

Caliban horror comic cover

In the future hyperspace travel has been invented, allowing humans to explore the furthest reaches of outer space. For all their searching no signs of life have been uncovered, but they have begun to harvest all the valuable resources the universe has to offer. At first it’s just a regular mission out in deep space for the crew of the mining ship Caliban. Everything is going according to plan, until they happen upon a strange alien ship. It would appear the unusual vessel was waiting for them, and what was once a routine trip quickly turns to nightmare. A vicious, hulking something is stalking the corridors, separating the crew and taking them one by one. It’s a tense and chilling thriller reminiscent of Alien, full of shocking moments and terrific artwork.

Caliban (Avatar Press) is written by Garth Ennis with art by Facundo Percio.

The Wake (2014)

The Wake horror comic cover

The Department of Homeland Security has identified an unnerving new threat, and so they reach out to Lee Archer, a marine biologist, for help. Though she initially declines, the government overrides her decision and sends her deep beneath the sea in the Arctic Circle. There’s an underwater oil rig in that part of the ocean where a group of scientists have made an unbelievable discovery. Part multi-generational thriller and part creature feature, The Wake is a ten-issue miniseries that manages to combine tense horror, beautifully bold artwork, and scientific questions on life and the human condition.

The Wake (DC Comics) is written by Scott Snyder with art by Sean Murphy.

Revival (2012)

Revival aci-fi horror comic cover

The dead have come back to life in rural Wisconsin. In the particular town where our story is set, the CDC has quarantined the area and sent in experts to help out. Revival, labeled as “farm noir,” is interesting because of its unique take on the genre. Yes, it’s a zombie tale full of scares, violence, religious zealots, and government busybodies. But a lot of the series also focuses on a brutal murder and the detective who is trying to solve the crime. Officer Dana Cypress has her hands full dealing with the media, the government, and a full-scale zombie invasion while also investigating a case where anyone, dead or alive, could be a suspect.

Revival is a staff favorite for best sci fi horror comics.

Revival (Image Comics) is written by Tim Seeley, illustrated by Mike Norton, and colored by Mark Englert.

Categories
Best Horror Books Best Of Best of Movies Featured Horror Books Scary Movies and Series

Puzzle Box Winter Horror Guide

Winter is a wonderful time with falling snow, crackling fireplaces, and precious family moments. However, like all beautiful things, this season also has a dark side – and Puzzle Box Horror is bringing you the ultimate guide to winter horror seasonal scares. From real-world terrors like almost dying from frostbite to holiday folklore creatures that pull you into the depths of Hell, here are the top winter horror stories you need this season.

Movies

30 Days of Night 

Released: 2007

30 days of night winter horror movie poster

Before there was Twilight, there was 30 Days of Night… a truly brilliant horror film that tells the story of bloodsuckers, captivity, and bone-chilling terror in Alaska. The town of Barrow is preparing for the annual “30 Days of Night,” a period during the winter when there is a polar night for an entire month. Or in simpler terms, 24-hour a day darkness. As the community is snowed in and confined to their homes, a band of bloodthirsty vampires arrives and begins to pick off the townspeople one-by-one. With monstrous killers on the loose, and no communication to the outside world, the main characters must find a way to stay alive and overcome the darkness. Both literally and figuratively. If you’re a real vampire enthusiast with a side of winter horror obsession, this is the perfect film for you! Stream on Amazon here.

Krampus 

Released: 2015

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Who doesn’t love a good holiday horror movie? Especially when it’s about a demonic creature from European folklore that guarantees you’ll sleep with one eye open on Christmas Eve. Krampus has everything you could typically expect from a Christmas film – a dysfunctional family, a blizzard snowing people in, a child doubting his holiday spirit – but instead of Santa, you have Krampus. This horned, demonic creature originates from German folklore, and descends each winter to punish those who have lost their Christmas spirit and drag them straight to Hell. Which seems a little harsh, if you ask us… but you’ll get a kick out of this winter comedy horror film that’s scarily good. Stream on Amazon here.

Frozen 

Released: 2010

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Sometimes your winter vacation can turn into a nightmare, and it definitely did for the three college students in Frozen. It’s a simple premise, but truly terrifying. One second, you’re in a chairlift getting ready to ski and snowboard at a high-end resort – and the next, you’re trapped in freezing cold temperatures 100 feet above the ground. When the three friends get stranded in the chairlift with no help in sight, they go to extreme measures to stay alive and avoid freezing to death. There’s no ghosts or demons, just three people fighting against nature to protect themselves from the woes of winter… and it’s incredibly frightening. Stream on Amazon here.

The Thing

Released: 1982

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When a group of researchers in Antarctica encounter “The Thing,” it’s not just the bitter cold that they need to protect themselves from. This alien orgasm is a parasite that can imitate people to perfection, giving them all paranoia that they can’t trust each other. And to be honest, they probably can’t. Like many winter horror films, this is a story of survival amongst both evil forces and the steep snow… and it’s simply chilling to watch. After you’ve finished watching the 1982 version of The Thing, you can also watch the 2011 remake that many horror fans believe is as brilliant as the original! Purchase the DVD here.

The Invisible Man

Released: 1933

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If you’re in the mood for a black-and-white holiday movie that’s a bit less cheery than It’s A Wonderful Life, this eerie winter horror film will definitely do the trick. As the name suggests, it tells the story of a man who checks into a hotel on a snowy night with this face fully wrapped in bandages and topped off with goggles. After a series of events, it’s uncovered that this man has discovered the science of invisibility, and he’s even more dangerous than you think. An invisible man who can sneak up on his victims before their brutal murders, in the middle of the snowy winter? What could possibly go wrong? Stream on Amazon here.

Books

The Shining

Author: Steven King

Published: 1977

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The Shining isn’t just one of the best haunted books of all time, it’s also a winter horror masterpiece. While it’s the supernatural forces that cause Jack Torrance to lose himself and become a danger to himself and his family – it’s safe to say that any of us would go crazy after being trapped in a haunted hotel during a winter snowstorm. Jack begins working there as a caretaker as he recovers from alcoholism, and his inner demons combined with actual evil spirits begin to take over his body. As the snow falls around this Colorado hotel, he goes on a quest to kill his son Danny (who posseses psychic powers called “the shining”), wife Wendy, and anybody else who stands in his way. Even if you’ve seen the cult favorite 1980 film starring Jack Nicholson, this Steven King novel is a classic that you should definitely read from your creepy hotel room. Available on Amazon here.

The Winter People 

Author: Jennifer McMahon

Published: 2014

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Living “off the grid” in a Vermont farmhouse to survive the winter cold may seem like a dream at first. Netflix, blankets, and hot cocoa… oh my! But things take a turn when 19-year-old Ruthie moves into the home with her mother and sister, only for her mother to mysteriously vanish one day. Trapped in the middle of nowhere with no answers, she uncovers an old diary that pulls her into a town mystery that may or may not decide her mother’s fate. Along with provide answers for the other townspeople who have disappeared throughout the decades. Available on Amazon here.

Ghost Story

Author: Peter Straub

Published: 1971

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You know you’ve written a killer book when even Stephen King compliments it. The famed horror author has nothing but great things to say about Ghost Story, as does Puzzle Box Horror. It tells the tale of four old men who gather around one winter night to tell the many stories of their past. Some are simple, others are frightening, but there’s one that’s purely horrifying. A terrible mistake that shows that your past can always come back to haunt you, and no sin is truly forgiven. Available on Amazon here.

Snowblind

Author: Christopher Golden

Published: 2014

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The snow is the true villain in this novel by Christopher Golden, as the town of Coventry still struggles to recover from a devastating blizzard that happened over a decade ago. And it wasn’t just your typical natural disaster. Many people died, others mysteriously vanished, and strange things began to happen as icy figures danced in the snow and gazed inside children’s windows. With another blizzard set to hit the town, the people of Coventry must put away their painful memories and prepare to save themselves from the supernatural forces of the snow. Available on Amazon here.

Misery

Author: Stephen King

Published: 1987

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Snow and Stephan King novels are always a scarily good combination, and Misery is no exception. When acclaimed author Paul Sheldon gets caught in a snowstorm and crashes his car, he awakens to find that he has been captured by Annie Wilkes, a superfan of his work who will go to great lengths to get her definition of a happy ending. This includes holding him hostage, manipulating him by withholding food and painkillers, and even cutting off his foot. It becomes clear that Annie is unstable and Paul’s life is in danger, and he must escape her before his own life story comes to an end. This novel was also made into a highly successful movie starring James Caan and Kathy Bates! Available on Amazon here.