A Common Crime – Psychological Thriller

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A Common Crime (2021) is the new Argentinian psychological thriller with supernatural elements from director Francisco Márquez. Having not seen his directorial debut The Long Night of Francisco Sanctis (2016), I went into this piece relatively blind, albeit interested in the Argentine perspective of what a grounded horror/thriller should be. What I didn’t expect was that the film might reignite memories of one of my favorite, though sadly most neglected, directors.

From its opening scenes A Common Crime permeates a sparse realism that, while inducing a mild anxiety, also for me echoes the subtle and meticulous stylings of Austrian virtuoso Michael Haneke. With majority diegetic sound and very little music, viewers are made to feel a part of the world they are watching, that is if they can get past the apparent ‘slowness’ that it shares with Haneke’s work. Long, rigorous camera takes allow each scene and the performances within them to breathe, and the result is absolutely hypnotic. 

The plot is simple enough; sociology teacher Cecilia (Elisa Carricajo) has a maid whose son is constantly harassed by the police. One night Cecilia awakens to the boy knocking frantically at her door. Fear takes over and she merely hides in the shadows as some vague struggle seems to occur. When the boy shows up dead the next day Cecilia is plunged into a personal hell of paranoia and self-blame. Clear and definite themes of guilt and grief are explored within the tight, oddly-claustrophobic framing of Márquez’s world. Subtlety and detail are offered in bucketloads, along with a surprising amount of atmosphere from such a dark and restrained story.

That being said, this is no by-the-numbers thriller. Borderline experimental in presentation, you’d honestly be forgiven for growing tired of the repetitive psychological episodes A Common Crime descends into, or at least for hoping for some kind of payoff at the end of it all. That expectation came to me from repeated past viewings of Haneke’s beautifully bland stylings which almost always involved some kind of heavy shock punishment for letting his work seep into you. While trying to navigate the minefield of spoiler-free reviewing I can only say I was left with a confused, perhaps a little concerned, expression as the credits began to roll on this one. It took until the ending for me to realise that A Common Crime was nothing like I had expected. This is, on the one hand, a testament to its mesmerising nature, though that nature was primarily the thing which left me feeling lost on more than one occasion. 

A Common Crime movie poster featuring a woman screaming

Rather than make a full-blown psychological horror, Márquez shows a lot of discipline and moderation. A Common Crime sticks to it’s drama-fuelled thriller territory while using classic horror tools to enrich the presentation of its story. While most scares are longer-running and based around reactions, any up-front chills attack within enough space to enhance their effect. Even the score felt more dreamy than dread-inducing. That being said, the parts come together quite effectively as a whole. The unease I felt during its run time did reach that of films such as Hagazussa (2017) and Krisha (2015), as it relies more on its commitment to an uncanny feeling of irregularity that admirably holds up to the very end. 

A Common Crime is an honest, bold and intellectual drama which teeters on thriller territory in plot alone. Keeping enough to its chest to allow its mystery to envelop the viewer, it thrives in its own quiet world with barely an enhancement from clever editing or sound tricks, which in itself is an accomplishment. It may not be quite what you’re looking for, but give it time to sink in and you’ll be wanting more like it in a heartbeat.

A Gothic, Cosmic, and Psychological Lifetime of Horror: The 16 Greatest Short Stories from Robert Bloch

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Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore

Robert Bloch wrote literature that ranged from the psychologically terrifying to the downright “weird” horror; his inspiration stemmed both from watching his first scary film on his own as a child—and his subsequent nightmares—and his admiration for the stylistic horror of H.P. Lovecraft. His stories, however, are and always will be uniquely Robert Bloch, a genius in psychological horror with a splash of the supernatural. His deep interest in serial killers brought back anti-heroes like Norman Bates and Jack the Ripper.

“The Shambler From The Stars” (1935)

This particular short story first appeared in the September issue of Weird Tales, in 1935—later on, it was included as a part of his first published book, The Opener of the Way (1945). It was one of the many works that bore the influence of H.P. Lovecraft and can be considered part of the genre of cosmic horror. More than just another author following the footsteps of Lovecraft, Bloch still included elements of Lovecraftian influence, such as the inclusion of The Necronomicon, and The Book of Eibon. Deliciously self-indulgent, Bloch’s story is about a writer of weird fiction obsessed with learning all things occult when he looks to find the aforementioned esoteric tomes of forbidden knowledge. As we all know when it comes to Eldritch cosmic horror, this writer inevitably summons something disastrous.

“The Secret in the Tomb” (1935)

Another instance of cosmic horror in the early days of Bloch’s writing career, it has been compared directly to the stylistic literature of the father of cosmic horror himself—to the point that, if the author of this had been unknown, it would have been assumed to have been a product of Lovecraft. This dark, dank tale of eldritch horror and dread is lurking, just beyond sight, and awaiting the arrival of the last descendant of a long line of sorcerers.

“The Mannikin” (1937)

Another Weird Tales original, published in the April edition in 1937, we get a tale of a strange reclusive and a disfigured, hunchbacked man named Simon, whom the locals all despise. As a short story, of course, it doesn’t take long to find that this cosmic horror is based all around the diabolical hump on Simon’s back—just wait until you find out what the hump really is.

“The Sorcerer’s Jewel” (1939)

This is a story that Bloch originally published under the pen name Tarleton Fiske in Strange Stories Magazine, in 1939; in this story we see a similarity to “A Shambler in the Stars” when we follow a photographer who takes incredibly bizarre photos as his life’s passion. While he doesn’t believe in the occult, his assistant happens to be a devotee of a peculiar occult practice and everything changes when the photographer is brought an ancient jewel.

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“Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper” (1943)

Over the years, Robert Bloch’s short story “Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper” has been adapted to various mediums following its publication—the story is about a man from Chicago who is approached by a gentleman from England who tells him that he’s looking for Jack the Ripper. This, of course, is strange on its own as the infamous serial killer should have died years before. The Englishman believes that Jack the Ripper has become immortal through occult means and that his serial murders are actually ritual sacrifices that restore his youth. The man from Chicago is enlisted to help to bring the Ripper to light.

“Satan’s Phonograph” (1946)

A slow burn for a short story, this haunting tale follows the narrator down memory lane as he tells the reader about the ingenious, but wildly mad piano teacher that helped him to reach Carnegie Hall—but when the pupil returns from his tours across Europe with his new wife in tow, he finds that his old teacher had been institutionalized—when his insane old teacher shows up in his house with a seemingly innocent phonograph and his wild theories, the narrator believes his teacher is simply delusional.

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“Sweets To The Sweet” (1947)

Bloch spins the thread of a sinister six-year-old girl, following the narrative of the housekeeper as she speaks to her former boss’s brother, who happens to be a lawyer. The housekeeper encourages the lawyer to look into what she believes to be a brutally abusive situation between father and daughter. She tells the brother about all of the signs of alcoholism and beatings, while the child is accused of witchcraft. When the lawyer finally goes to investigate what is happening in his brother’s home, he finds out that the truth may be more disturbing than he expects.

“Floral Tribute” (1949)

An eerie tale of a young boy being raised by his grandmother brings her fresh flowers home every day—it’s not until the inhabitants of the local cemetery come to speak with the grandmother that she finds out that he has been taking them from the graves of the nearby graveyard, where he plays among the tombstones.

“The Shadow From The Steeple” (1950)

Yet another story based in the Lovecraft universe, Bloch starts the story off with the friend of a character Lovecraft had killed in his short story “The Haunter in the Dark” whom Lovecraft had modeled after Bloch himself. A convoluted and dark fictional tale based on Lovecraft and his circle of writers, we get to see the authors appearing as characters of their own making. As another story within the Cthulhu Mythos, we see how involved Bloch was still within the Lovefcraft style even at this point in his career.

“Head Man” (1950)

An interesting spin on Nazi Germany’s obsession with the occult and paranormal, a SS executioner puts everything on the line to keep possession of the heads of a man and woman who had been charged with witchcraft and executed as a result.

“The Hungry House” (1951)

A tale that will once again make you fear your own reflection in a mirror; “The Hungry House” takes place after a couple moves into their new home. As they try to get comfortable in their new house they begin to see spooky inexplicable reflections around the house and dismiss it as being an overactive imagination. It’s not until the husband finds the locked closet in the attic that they realize something is incredibly wrong with their house—in it are all of the mirrors that the previous owners had removed from the walls of the house.

“Notebook Found in an Abandoned House” (1951)

This story is told from a notebook found in an abandoned house, which was written by a twelve-year-old boy by the name of Willy Osborne who is trapped within the house by the sinister beasts, or “them ones,” that stalk him from within the woods and swamps that surround the house. “Them ones,” that Willy is scared might come and get him are monstrous, Lovecraftian elder creatures who used to be take sacrifices to be appeased.

“The Light-House” (1953)

This particular short story took special influence from a story that Edgar Allan Poe began before his death in 1849, but was never able to finish; in 1953 Bloch took this unfinished short story, finished it, polished it up, and then had it published. As such, it is considered a posthumous collaboration. It follows the pursuits of a nobleman who takes a job as a lighthouse keeper, so he may write in solitude. His loneliness gets the better of him in this weird and satisfyingly dark tale, when he tries to psychically summon a companion.

“House of the Hatchet” (1955)

A couple with a relationship on the rocks decides to take their a second honeymoon on the road—on their trip they end up stopping at a haunted tourist attraction, where the story goes that a husband had killed his wife with a hatchet in one of the rooms. When they decided to take a tour of this haunted house, the husband begins to feel a heavy dark presence in the room where the murder was said to have occurred…

“Terror In Cut Throat Cove” (1958)

Considered a horror adventure tale, “Terror In Cut Throat Cove” follows the tale of an American writer who is approached by a treasure-hunting duo; they end up recruiting him to help them locate this long-lost legendary ship that sunk with a massive fortune aboard because the writer has an undeniable fondness for the girlfriend of the treasure hunter. A crazy adventure ensues until they find the ship and one of the divers returns from the ship’s wreckage without his head.

“The Animal Fair” (1971)

This story of a drifter who ends up in the small town of Medley, Oklahoma while the carnival is in town—where he enters the a tent that houses a gorilla who happens to be the main attraction—not to mention seriously abused by his trainer. This horrifying weird tale ends in a shocking twist and is well worth the read.

Works Cited:

Cowan, Matt. “FIFTEEN HORROR TALES BY ROBERT BLOCH.” Horror Delve, 4 Apr. 2016, horrordelve.com/2016/04/04/robert-bloch/.

HorrorBabble. “The Shambler from the Stars” by Robert Bloch. Youtube/”The Shambler from the Stars” by Robert Bloch, HorrorBabble, 12 Mar. 2018, youtu.be/0Q6xA0f9SNk.

HorrorBabble. “The Secret in the Tomb” by Robert Bloch. Youtube/”The Secret in the Tomb” by Robert Bloch, HorrorBabble, 20 Aug. 2018, youtu.be/vodqchPxgCoyoutu.be/vodqchPxgCo.

Thomas, G. W. “The Early Robert Bloch.” Dark Worlds Quarterly, 6 Aug. 2020, darkworldsquarterly.gwthomas.org/the-early-robert-bloch/.

Book Recommendation – Labyrinth of the Dolls

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Puzzle Box Horror’s book recommendation of the week is Labyrinth of the Dolls by Craig Wallwork.

Craig Wallwork is the author of the novels Labyrinth of the Dolls, Bad People, and The Sound of Loneliness, as well as the short story collections, Quintessence of Dust, and Gory Hole. His stories have been nominated three times for the Pushcart Prize, many of which feature in various anthologies and magazines both in the U.K. and U.S. He currently lives in England.

Craig Wallwork author photo

Synopsis

It’s been one year since the horrific murders of Stormer Hill, and the events of that time continue to resonate with Detective Constable Tom Nolan. In an attempt to find the second killer, known only as the Ragman, Nolan joins West Yorkshire’s Murder Investigation Team. Partnered with Jennifer Morrison, a straight-talking detective with her eye on promotion, the two officers are assigned to track down a new killer whose victims are all found dressed like human dolls. As the investigation progresses, Nolan becomes an intricate piece in the killer’s grand vision that puts his life in danger.

Reviews

“Wallwork is a talented crime-thriller storyteller. He delivers what genre buffs want: An investigator we care about, grisly murder scenes, unexpected plot developments, and hideously wicked ‘bad people’. LABYRINTH is everything. Wallwork develops our stalwart constable Tom Nolan even further for his readers; emotional investment is at a new level of intensity that I was not expecting.”

Sadie Hartmann, Mother Horror

“I’m happy to report that this sequel retains everything I loved about the first book, while adding new twists, more insight into Nolan’s character, and a creepy new killer. Without spoiling too much I’ll just say that I loved this sequel! The blend of crime thriller and psychological horror, the police procedural elements, the impeccable pacing, the strong writing voice and vivid detail, the gruesome moments and surprising turns – all of it is great!”

Ben Long, reviewer at @reading.vicariously

To read the full review, click here!

Labyrinth of the Dolls by Craig Wallwork is available now at Horror Hub Marketplace

From Traumatized to Terror Creator, the Life of Robert Bloch

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Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore
Robert Bloch (1979)
Robert Bloch (1979)

His Youth and Education

Robert Albert Bloch was born in Chicago, Illinois on April 5 in 1917, to two German Jews, Raphael Bloch and Stella Loeb who, despite their Jewish heritage, had the family attend a Methodist Church. When Bloch was only eight years of age, he attended a screening of Lon Chaney Sr.’s The Phantom of the Opera (1925) on his own, where he was traumatized by his first horror scene—where Chaney removes his mask to reveal the Phantom’s horrific face. According to Bloch, “it scared the hell out of [him] and [he] ran all the way home to enjoy the first of about two years of recurrent nightmares.” Like many fans of horror who see their first horror flick too young, this trauma and subsequent nighttime hauntings sparked his interest in horror. He became an avid reader at eight, reading books well above his own level of schooling, as well as experimenting with pencil sketches and watercolor art. While he very much had a love for artwork, but he was diagnosed with myopia in his youth and it deterred him from pursuing it professionally.

At the age of twelve, Robert’s father lost his job at the bank and the family moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he grew up throughout the Great Depression. During his youth, he delighted in the Golden Age of horror films that played in the picture houses, and the magazine Weird Tales, which he scrimped and saved for each month from his allowance so as to purchase a copy of this pulp magazine. Bloch’s favorite childhood short story was one of Lovecraft’s first-person narratives about an artist whose disturbing creations lead to his disappearance, entitled “Pickman’s Model,” and he would also end up doing flattering imitations of his mentor’s style later on. When Bloch was just seventeen years old he wrote to his highly regarded idol, H.P. Lovecraft, to proclaim his admiration for the writer’s short stories. It is said that he greatly preferred Lovecraft’s particular flavor of genre—cosmic or as it’s often regarded, Lovecraftian horror—over what he was being taught in his own high school English classes.

To the unending joy of Bloch, Lovecraft wrote him back and sent him copies of earlier stories he had written and asked Robert if he himself had written any weird fiction. This is when he would be admitted into The Lovecraft Circle as well as when he began writing some of his first (of many) short stories that would be published in Weird Tales. He would be the youngest member of The Lovecraft Circle, which were a group of writers who followed H.P. Lovecraft and published their short fiction in Weird Tales—a pulp horror magazine that circulated during the Great Depression.

Career

With the early influence of Lovecraft and his cosmic horror, Bloch’s earliest short stories took place in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos fictional universe. Not too long later, Bloch would begin to associate with the Milwaukee Fictioneers, a group of writer’s dedicated to pulp fiction where he began to deviate and develop his own style, instead of relying upon the Lovecraft influence. When Lovecraft died in 1937, Robert was deeply affected by the loss of his mentor, but used it as a reason to keep writing.

Despite my ghoulish reputation, I really have the heart of a small boy. I keep it in a jar on my desk.”

Robert Bloch

Novels

Bloch’s first novel to be published was The Scarf (1947) and was very reminiscent of the style he had developed when he was involved with the Lovecraft circle, but also marked the beginning the development of a style he would explore later that would be considered pulp fiction. Like most other horror writers, Bloch had a certain kind of story that inspired him—for some writers it’s urban legends, supernatural monsters, or wicked folklore; but Robert’s inspiration didn’t come from folklore so much as it did true-crime serial killers from all throughout history. Jack the Ripper, Marquis de Sade, and Lizzie Borden were amongst those whom Robert created stories based on their legacies, which included short stories such as “A Toy for Juliette” and “Lizzie Borden Took an Ax….”

When Ed Gein was arrested in his home in Plainsfield, Wisconsin for the murders of two women in 1957, authorities discovered that Gein had been stealing corpses from fresh graves of local women and then using their flesh to create furniture, silverware, and clothing. Bloch only lived about thirty-five miles away from where Gein had lived, so after the discovery of this serial so close to home, he became obsessed. The idea of his next door neighbor being a monster, but going undetected even in such a small town is what he considered his largest inspiration for Norman Bates, the anti-hero of Psycho (1959). The story of Ed Gein was sensational at the time, but what really translated Bloch’s Psycho into an instant classic both in text and Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation for the big screen, was due to the psychological not-so-undertones of the story.

While Bloch had enjoyed some critical and commercial success before he produced Psycho, it wasn’t until the novel was published that his life changed forever. With Psycho and its instant success, he was approached by a Hollywood production company with an offer to purchase the rights to the film. He made a whopping $9,500 which through inflation would equate to $84,472 and some change.

The world of horror would be forever changed by Norman Bates, the sensitive mama’s boy, whose domineering mother corrupted him—which brought an interesting air to the 1960s as the field of psychoanalysis and the research of the Oedipus Complex which coincided with a crisis in contemporary American masculinity which followed the women’s movement of liberation. When Norman psychologically becomes his mother at the end of the novel it was representative of Freudian horror in the utmost of extreme cases. Psycho wasn’t Bloch’s only success and he continued on with his creative writing, winning awards and accolades for his talent.

Death

Bloch was seventy-seven when he passed away on September 23, 1994—he had long battled with cancer and it finally took him at his home in Los Angeles. Before he passed, however, he wrote what was considered an unauthorized autobiography, which was titled Once Around the Bloch (1993) and while he didn’t speak of his illness, it was clear that it was written with the realization that he was not long for this world.

Index of Sources

History of the Ouija Board: From the Civil War to The Exorcist

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Horror Mystery and Lore Lifestyle

Horror Culture

Terrifying hands coming over a hill
Photo by Daniel Jensen

Most of popular horror culture will convince the easily misled that talking boards, specifically Ouija boards, are tools of evil. Movies like The Exorcist (1973) and Witchboard (1986) have painted a fairly devious portrait of talking boards, which previously held a sociable reputation. Prior to its debut in such classic horror movies, it was regarded as a game that could be played whilst on a date with a lady companion as an excuse to touch hands, in an era where it was otherwise forbidden for courting couples to touch. With much of the history of the Ouija board still unknown, due to a he-said-she-said origin of who the creator of the official board really was, what is known is quite a bit more vanilla that what might be expected.

Horrifying History of the Ouija Board

There are so many different theories of when they came to be such a popular object, one of the most well-regarded of which is that the Ouija board made a huge splash in the market directly following the Civil War. There was a large movement of spiritualism, with so many lives having been lost there were a lot of unmarked graves and soldiers who merely never returned home. Their loved ones wanted a way to get the answers they so desperately desired, even if it was just to know once and for all that their soldier was not coming home to them.

There really is no tangible proof of when the first talking board was created or for what purpose it was ultimately created, so it continues to be a tool that is shrouded in mystery. Still, with all of the information that is available today about the innocent origins of the Ouija board, there are more convinced of its sordid nature than those who believe it to be a neutral tool. Those involved in occult practices, who either consider themselves mediums or spiritual readers enjoy using talking boards to either communicate with spirits of passed loved ones or to channel their own, often regarded as supernatural, gifts. When things are misunderstood, there is typically a sense of mistrust that follows along, skepticism is a normal reaction to things that defy logic and avoidance is an understandable reaction to things that create a sense of dread.

So—with all of that in mind, what is it about Ouija boards that continues to scare the uninformed into rebuking those who use them? Likely it’s the images that are conjured from the horror movies we enjoy so much; the idea of demonic possession and evil spirits can scare even the most skeptical mind into uncertainty when all of the lights are out.

Horror movies that have inspired our fear of Ouija boards:

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