The Legacy of Horror Writer, Lois Duncan

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Featured Horror Books Women in Horror

The Legacy of an author like the late Lois Duncan stretches farther than one might think—having been 82 years old when she died of a stroke, she left behind a long prolific career of writing fiction for young adults. Many people read Duncan’s books in their adolescence, so much so her books can be considered a rite of passage. One thing that can be said of Duncan’s writing is that she captures the essence of what it is to go through puberty—the feelings of alienation and the thirst to be accepted by one’s peers—and also the kind of chilling, oft supernatural situations that made her horror and thriller writing so famous.

I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan

I Know What You Did Last Summer by Lois Duncan

What She’s Known For

I started writing for young adults because I was one.

Lois Duncan in The Sarasota Herald-Tribune 2005

Duncan wanted to create something relatable for readers who were too old for children’s books and too young for adult books–something in between that could bridge the gap between, something that would carry them over and enable them to be lifelong reading enthusiasts. Authors like Lois Duncan are incredibly important, they breed the interest and love for the written word long after our parents stop reading us bedtime stories and well before we lose interest in school-assigned reading. Duncan’s most well-known books to date were written well before young adult fiction had become a popular genre—among these, she had created Down a Dark Hall (1974), Killing Mr. Griffin (1978), and Stranger With My Face (1981). These books were all considerably violent in their own right, but when her 1973 novel I Know What You Did Last Summer was adapted to the big screen, Duncan was “utterly horrified.”

I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) Movie Poster
I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997)

The movie adaptation, which was released in 1997, horribly skewed her suspenseful thriller—a book about a group of teenagers who were desperate to conceal an accidental killing–into a slasher horror film. She recounted going to see the movie for the first time, “the first time I knew it was a slasher movie was when I bought my popcorn and bought my ticket and excitedly walked into the theater … the heads were dropping and the blood was spurting and I was screaming and the audience was screaming.” Truly it was never her intention for it to be as bloody and shocking as it turned out to be on film and it didn’t ring true with the message she tried to embed in her stories, that what you do in life matters and accepting responsibility for your actions is paramount.

Not all of Duncan’s work lies within the realm of the terrifying and dark, some of it is decidedly light—especially the work that followed after her daughter Kaitlyn—and many of her works have been adapted into film. Like most authors who have had their work adapted into screenplays, Duncan didn’t exactly make her name from audiences knowing who came up with the original idea for them. Instead she made her name through the amazing wealth of novels that she contributed to multiple genres and the awards she received for them.

What the Critics Had to Say

Lois Duncan is regularly given credit by critics and journalists alike for pioneering the genre of young adult fiction—she made most of these strides within the teen suspense and horror genres and was even dubbed as the “queen of teen thrillers.” The Washington Post’s Emily Langer stated that Duncan, “plucked her characters from normalcy and placed them in extraordinary, often dark circumstances,” which for a time when Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and Robert Cormier were big names in fiction, was decidedly against the grain of the genre.

What the Fans Have to Say

Even four years after her death, Lois Duncan is still on the minds of the people she inspired to write during their youths—her impact was profound and lasting because she finally gave teens a voice for the dark and dismal forces that play a large part in the imaginations and fantasies of so many of us during a time of chaotic emotions and hormones. She isolated that turmoil and removed it from the internal struggle by creating these dark tales and then illustrated how much worse things could really be beyond our own thoughts, fears, and expectations.

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The Morbid Genius of Clive Barker

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Featured Horror Books Scary Movies and Series

One would not need to delve too far into the horror genre without the legendary name of Clive Barker popping up. Born October 5th 1952, this English author, director, playwright and visual artist is recognized as one of the most unique and imaginative minds to adopt the macabre. In the mid 80’s Barker rose to prominence, carving himself a spot as a leading horror writer with his Books of Blood series that, when released, featured a quote from none other than Stephen King stating: “I have seen the future of horror, and his name is Clive Barker”. Since then a great amount of his work has been translated to film, some of which (arguably the better) he even took it upon himself to write and direct. Barker wrote the screenplays for Underworld (1985) and Rawhead Rex (1986), both directed by George Pavlou. Displeased by how his material was handled, he moved to directing with the first in the extensive Hellraiser series, born from his novella The Hellbound Heart. To this day Barker branches into every area of the horror genre he can, his surreal and fantastically unsettling style inspiring thousands to look at horror just a little differently.

Ever the visionary, Barker has created legions of characters for his books and comic series, often painting them himself. His visual art had been featured in galleries across the United States, as well as featuring heavily in his own books, making his end products far more vivid forms of personal expression. 

Clive Barker and Doug Bradley dressed as pinhead character from Hellraiser horror movie franchise

Barker horror adaptations and spin-offs in comics include the Marvel/Epic Comics series Hellraiser, Nightbreed, Pinhead, The Harrowers, Book of the Damned, and Jihad; Eclipse Books’ series and graphic novels Tapping The Vein, Dread, Son of Celluloid, Revelations, The Life of Death, Rawhead Rex and The Yattering and Jack, and Dark Horse Comics’ Primal, among others. Barker served as a consultant and wrote issues of the Hellraiser anthology comic book.

Barker’s short story The Forbidden (from Books of Blood) was adapted for the screen in Bernard Rose’s 1992 Candyman, and has been adapted again recently into a reboot of the same name. With this new modernisation of the classic 80s tale, it only stands to reason that a fresh new audience of moviegoers will be introduced to Barker’s madness, viewers who will be wondering what else has been crafted by such a unique maestro of morbidity. 

BOOKS

The Damnation Game (1985) 

Clive Barker's The Damnation Game (1985) book cover featuring a screaming face and a tree

Not long after publishing the first trilogy of Books of Blood in 1985, Barker set about writing his novel The Damnation Game, a Faustian story laden with all the dark eroticism and fantastical gothic style that readers have now come to expect from the man. 

Recently released convict and avid gambler Marty Strauss finds himself in the employ of Joseph Whitehead, one of the richest men in the world. As Whitehead’s bodyguard, Strauss encounters an increasing series of unnatural and horrific events involving Whitehead and a demonic man named Mamoulian, who has some connection to a ‘deal with the devil’ made by Whitehead during WW2. With detailed subject matter ranging from cannibalism and incest to raising the dead and self-mutilation, this early vision of Barker’s was no less potent and uncompromising than the works it led to. 

The Hellbound Heart (1986) 

The Hellbound Heart (1986)  book cover with demon drawing featuring a man in an upside down skull

Keeping his gory, visceral style in the spotlight, Barker published his novella The Hellbound Heart in November 1986 though Dark Harvest’s Night Visions Anthology series.

Hedonistic criminal Frank Cotton, a man so enamored with sensory experience that he will harm anyone to achieve it, finds a puzzle box known as the Lemarchand Configuration, a device which when completed can summon a torturous demonic race known as Cenobytes. With no differentiation between pain and pleasure, these entities introduce whoever summons them to eons of horrific torture, sometimes transforming their victims to Cenobytes themselves. 

In 1987 Barker wrote and directed a film adaptation known as Hellraiser, which later snowballed into the long-running franchise featuring Doug Bradley’s infamous Pinhead that we know and love today. After the success of the first Hellraiser flick, The Hellbound Heart was released as a standalone title by HarperPaperbacks in 1991. 

Cabal (1988) 

Cabal book cover with a woman's eye in frame

Cabal is Barker’s third novel and was published in the US in 1988 as part of a collection featuring it and several shorts from the sixth volume of his Books of Blood series. The story centres around Boone, a troubled young man suffering from a vague mental disorder, and his trusted psychiatrist Decker. Decker informs boon that he was responsible for a series of brutal murders in Calgary, though Boone can remember nothing of actually committing the heinous acts. Seeing himself as a monster, Boone begins searching for the legendary city of Midian, where other monsters had apparently found refuge. 

In 1990 Barker wrote and directed a screen adaptation of the novel, entitled Nightbreed after the legion of downtrodden folk who inhabit Midian. Sadly the flick was a commercial and critical flop, Barker pointing out that this was due to the film company trying to sell Nightbreed as a standard slasher without any real knowledge of the lore behind the book. Cabal thankfully remains a classic, featuring tense storytelling, rich worldbuilding around the mythical city of Midian and one truly disturbing arch villain.

The Great and Secret Show (1989) 

The Great and Secret Show (1989) book cover with a spooky mailbox

The first in a trilogy that came to be known as The Art trilogy by fans, The Great and Secret Show is Clive Barker’s fantasy novel which he describes as about “sex, the movies and Armageddon in Hollywood”. He also stated that it was the hardest to write of all of his books. 

The story concerns Quiddity, a mystical dreamscape pictured as an ethereal sea, which two highly evolved men are locked in a decades-long battle for control of. Randolph Jaffe wants to leach power from the realm of Quiddity while Richard Fletcher would like the place untouched and untainted. Their battle seeps from this realm into the real world where reality itself is affected, as well as the fate of the entire human race. 

Of course, in true Barker style, he has also been quoted to say: “”The sexual stuff has always been very strong in my books and this is no exception. There are scenes of profound weirdness that shouldn’t be talked about over a civilized dinner table.”

Imajica (1991) 

Imajica (1991)  book cover with a universe and planets

Steering further into dark fantasy realms and away from his usual horror affair, Barker next released Imajica in 1991, proclaiming that it was his favourite piece of his writing up to that point. At a massive 824 pages on first printing, the epic describes Earth as the Fifth Dominion and chronicles its reconciliation with the other four Dominions, esoteric parallel realities known to none but a few on Earth. A vast and intricate story covering themes such as god, love, sex, gender and death, much of the content of which apparently came to Barker in dream form. Barker was so inspired by these dreams that he wrote Imajica inside of fourteen months, working twelve to fourteen hours a day. 

The Thief of Always (1992) 

The Thief of Always was something of a curveball for Barker, since it contained plenty of his surreal oddities in style and story, though refrained from his usual foray into dark sexuality to create a fable intended for children just as much as adults. 

The Thief of Always (1992)  book cover with colorful house and demon trees

‘The Holiday House’ is a fictional paradise for children where a bored and disenchanted eleven-year-old named Harvey Swick one day finds himself. The house is indeed a paradise, where it is Halloween every evening, Christmas every night and seemingly has four seasons occurring in the space of a day. After spending time at the Holiday House, Harvey begins to uncover secrets about its elusive creator, Mr Hood, and a plot so hideous that he should want to leave the place forever and not look back. 

This was a title in which Barker included his own art, both on the cover and featuring black and white illustrations of his throughout. 

FILMS

Rawhead Rex (1986) 

Rawhead Rex (1986) horror movie poster with a monster

The script for Rawhead Rex was written by Clive Barker himself, though directing fell to George Pavlou, and the end result was a schlocky flop of a B-movie that, aside from later cult attention, garnered little to no worth to anyone involved. Adapted from another short in the Books of Blood series concerning a pagan creature predating Abrahamic religion who is inadvertently awakened by farmers in the Irish countryside. Aside from some of Barker’s classic subtext around ancient evil, sexuality and religion, the film was saturated in many of the expected tropes of 80s monster movies, pushing it more in line with a slew of other similar flicks. 

A lot of the negative reception reportedly came from the design of Rawhead himself. Barker’s original concept for the monster was apparently that of a nine-food phallus with ground meat for a head. When Rawhead came out looking more ogre or gorilla-like, and not unlike a lot of B-movie monsters at the time, Barker felt dissatisfied to the point that he vowed to be much more involved in his later adaptations. This is considered the main reason he chose to write and direct Hellraiser (1987) next. He has even voiced an interest in remaking the film in his own vision, though his reboot of Hellraiser will quite likely be next in line.

Hellraiser (1987) 

Hellraiser (1987) movie poster with Pinhead demon holding a puzzle box

Hellraiser is not only Barker’s most famous and recognizable work but is a milestone for the horror genre to this day. Based on his 1986 novella The Hellbound Heart, Hellraiser’s story centers around young Kirsty Cotton (Ashley Laurence), caught in a hellish struggle between her mother Julia, her criminally hedonistic uncle Frank and a gang of leather-clad, body-modded, extra-dimensional demons called the Cenobites. Frank is torn apart by chains upon failing to solve an ancient puzzle box known as the Lament Configuration, and after escaping the clutches of Hell begins to make his way back to the mortal world. He does so with the help of Julia, who kills men to feed his building form. 

Most notable in this film is the performance of Doug Bradley as Pinhead, or ‘The Hell Priest’, the leader of the cenobites. The character was so expertly and chillingly portrayed as to spawn a series of over nine other films along with extensive series of comics and novels. Pinhead has even appeared as a playable character on multiplayer horror game Dead By Daylight. 

Far more than a simple horror, Hellraiser explored themes of religion, women’s agency, the pleasure-pain dynamic, ambition, hedonism, and of course sexuality as a conduit in the battle between good and evil. 

Nightbreed (1990) 

Nightbreed (1990) Clive Barker Horror movie Poster featuring a group of monster

Operating somewhere in the midst between fantasy and horror, Nightbreed is an adaptation of Barker’s novel Cabal, wherein the disturbed Boone, here played by Craig Schaffer, is convinced of his murderous nature by the psychedelic therapist Decker, here portrayed by none other than David Cronenberg, and travels to find the mysterious city of Midian where he might find refuge. 

After being shot to death by a police squad sent by Decker, and then mysteriously resurrected, Boone is given refuge in Midian and becomes acquainted by its quirky and visually striking populace of undead rejects. Boone must convince Midian’s people to fight back against his pursuers lest their secret be revealed to the entire world. 

The film was a commercial and critical flop in its initial theatrical run, but has since become a cult success, with a director’s cut released in 2014, several tie-in comic books and two video games.

The Midnight Meat Train (2008)

The Midnight Meat Train (2008) horror movie poster with a man holding a meat hammer behind a glass door

Heralded by many as the best Barker adaptation since Hellraiser, The Midnight Meat Train is an adaptation of the 1984 short story of the same title. With a stellar cast featuring Bradley Cooper, Vinnie Jones, Brooke Shields and Ted Raimi, some top-drawer set pieces and an ending that leaves most viewers floored, this is undoubtedly the best modern Clive Barker experience there is on offer. 

Directed by Japanese filmmaker Ryuhei Kitamura (Alive), the story follows photographer Leon (Cooper) who is determined to capture the grit and seedy nature of New York’s subway system. As a character he is on the questionable end of the moral scale, committing such acts as photographing a sexual assault before making any attempt to stop it. He begins an obsessive habit of following serial killer Mahogany (Jones) also known as ‘The Subway Butcher’. While viewers are led to believe this will be a standard slasher affair, certain narrative curveballs ensure this will be a viewing experience you’ll not soon forget. 

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clive_Barker

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/oct/30/how-we-made-hellraiser-horror-film-pinhead-clive-barker

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Witch Novels that Taught Us Not to F#$k With Witches

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Best Horror Books Best Of Featured Horror Books

Stories of witchcraft are as old as time, and the concept of “witches” is one that spans many countries and cultures. Throughout the centuries witches, or simply those suspected of witchcraft, have been hunted and persecuted by mainstream society. There are many different types of witches, including kitchen witches, hedge witches, bruja, and daayan – all with their own beliefs, practices, and conflicted history. However, across categories one fact remains the same: witches are powerful.

Given the diversity in witches and witch folklore, it’s no surprise that stories involving witches are just as varied. We at Puzzle Box Horror want to acknowledge that the term “witch” should not be an inherently negative one, and there are many practicing witches and pagan communities that are a boon to society. Our goal with this article is not to disparage witchcraft in general, but rather to explore the darker side of the coin. With that in mind, we’d like to present some of the scariest witches in literature.

Maggie’s Grave by David Sodergren (2020)

Maggie's Grave book cover with spooky skeleton

MAGGIE WALL BURIED HERE AS A WITCH. So reads the faded inscription on the solitary grave at the top of a mountain. In the shadow of this mountain is Auchenmullan, a small Scottish town that has been left forgotten and lost to the world. Only forty-seven residents remain, plus the grave on the mountain. In a dead town with nothing to do, the residents suddenly find themselves confronted by the chilling fact that sometimes the dead don’t stay buried. Especially when they have unfinished business.

Maggie’s Grave is a shocking, disturbing, and fast-paced thrill ride of witchy horror. The buckets of blood, the flawed characters, the gross-out moments, and the folk horror elements will linger in your mind long after you’ve finished reading.

The Remaking by Clay McLeod Chapman (2020)

The Remaking book cover with snake eating it's own tail

In the 1970s, Amber Pendleton was cast in a horror film titled Witch Girl of Pilot’s Creek, based on a true story of a mother and her daughter who were burned at the stake for witchcraft. Then, in the 1990s, Amber was cast in a remake of the cult classic movie. Now Amber herself has become the target of a witch hunt. In an attempt to free herself from this cycle of horror, she decides to tell her story one last time to a true crime investigator for his popular podcast. But will this retelling bring the closure she needs, or will it unlock a dark and vengeful force from the past?

The book brilliantly engages with four different versions of the same urban legend, while also populating each version with interesting characters and shocking incidents. This unsettling read will be sure to please fans of both horror and true crime!

Devil’s Call by J Danielle Dorn (2017)

Devil's Call book cover with hat and shadow

A western horror with witches? Say no more! Devil’s Call is written in the form of a diary from a pregnant mother to her unborn child. One wintry night in 1859, Li Lian’s husband was shot dead right in front of her. Unfortunately for the men who did this dirty deed, Li is part of the  McPherson clan, a long line of women gifted in the dark arts of witchcraft. In the diary Li recounts how she crosses miles of harsh land and numerous odds to hunt down the monsters who killed her husband.

With her rifle, her wits, and her powers of witchcraft, Li is truly a terrifying force to be reckoned with. It’s a supernatural tale of vengeance and motherhood set in the wild west, and it’s a must-read for lovers of witchy horror.

The Witching House by Brian Moreland (2017)

The Witching House book cover with old stone house

Sarah Donovan is scared of just about everything, from heights, to tight places, to the dark. But when her boyfriend wants to go explore a supposedly haunted house in the woods, she must swallow her insecurities and face her fears. The house in question was the scene of a brutal massacre in the 70s, where twenty-five people were killed and whose perpetrator remains a mystery. But the hauntings in the house are more than just urban legends, and Sarah is about to find out that the evil residing in the basement has simply been waiting for fresh prey.

The Witching House veers away from copious blood and gore, instead delivering a fast-paced tale of suspense and pulse-pounding terror. It’s a lean horror novella, one you can fly through while also reveling in all the twists and turns of the unique storyline. 

Wytches by Scott Snyder (2015)

Wytches book cover with creepy dark forest

The Rooks family, hoping to escape from a haunting trauma, has recently moved to the remote town of Litchfield, New Hampshire. They’re hopeful for a new life and a fresh start, but the ancient evil watching them from the woods has other plans…and it’s hungry.

Wytches posits a world where witches are darker and more terrifying than previously imagined, throwing out cliched tropes in favor of creepier creatures. The story is surprisingly emotional while also unsurprisingly bone-chilling, and is one of the absolute scariest graphic novels about witches we’ve ever seen (thanks in part to the nightmarish imagery from artist Jock). This volume collects issues 1-6 of the miniseries from Image Comics.

The Good House by Tananarive Due (2006)

The Good House book cover with house on a hill

Looking for a sweeping and spooky saga of family, loss, grief, and witches? Then look no further! Angela Toussaint has spent the last few years burying herself in her work, trying to rebuild her law practice after her son Corey committed suicide at a Fourth of July party. Unable to keep her questions at bay any longer, she eventually returns to the house where it all happened and looks for answers. However, the dark forces she discovers are more sinister than she could have imagined.

This epic 500 page book takes its time, allowing you to learn more about the Toussaint family, the surrounding town of Sacajawea, and the Good House itself. But there is a constant building dread, and when the horrors hit, they hit hard. Even seasoned horror readers will find themselves spooked by this tale of ancestral evil and voodoo witchcraft. 

Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon (1973)

Harvest Home book cover with house in a storm

Time has not touched the village of Cornwall Coombe, a small town in New England. The quant colonial homes and white-steepled church seem to exist outside of modern life, and life in the village seems peaceful and easygoing. Newcomers Ned and Beth Constantine fall in love with this remote hamlet, assuming they’ve found the safe haven they’ve always dreamed of. Unfortunately, what they find instead is a disturbing and wicked force that turns Cornwall Coombe into a place of ultimate horror.

This book plays well to its folk horror roots, with its emphasis on rural life, dark pagan secrets, and evil in a small town. It’s definitely a slow-burn horror, but it maintains a high level of tension throughout while also delivering complex characters and a fascinating, if unnerving, storyline. Mysterious omens, brutal violence, and terrifying witchcraft – Harvest Home is one not to be missed!

Other Recommendations

The Devil’s Mistress by David Barclay (2021)

The Year of Witching by Alexis Henderson (2020)

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (2016)

The Lords of Salem by Rob Zombie and BK Evenson (2013)

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi (2009)

The Witching Hour by Anne Rice (2004)

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