Poem – “Devil of the Solstice”

Devil of the Solstice

Here the unholy tones of your footsteps whisper,
Ingesting death in baubles of bone and opal
Devil of the solstice, never threaten your song
A billow of razors and dead willow vines
Do you hear it reaping the ice from the mountains?
A sound so somber would ring the cries
From the unborn and necropolitan alike,
Devil of the solstice, never wander by my window

Copyright ©2019 S. M. Shuford
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Worst Horror Games #2 – Siren

worsthorrorlogohalloweensiren

★★ 2.5 Stars

Genre: Survival Horror
Platform: PlayStation 2
Publisher: Sony
Published: 2003

Summary – Siren follows a large cast of characters who find themselves trapped in the remote, strange village of Hanuda, Japan, which has come under a mysterious curse causing it to be enveloped in darkness. The villagers, mutated and corrupted by the curse, have all become hostile zombies.

Overall Thoughts
Again, I want to point out that this list is not objective, but sorted by my personal preference. (It’s also leaked far past Halloween, sorry about that!) Some members of the team behind Silent Hill created Siren, so for that reason alone I hate to place it near the top of the “Worst”, but I really hated this game. It’s like they took the worst qualities that Silent Hill had and amplified them – weird controls, a hard-to-follow plot, invincible and incredibly annoying enemies, etc. If I had to summarize this game in two words, I would call it “mercilessly confusing”.

Siren feels hostile, and not in a good way like horror is supposed to, but more like it’s actively punishing you for not being psychic and already having figured out what to do. I got a similar feeling with The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, if you’ve ever played that. Unlike this game, though, Majora’s Mask made up for its frustrating parts by being otherwise engaging and rewarding. You don’t feel like you’ve accomplished anything playing Siren, but dug yourself deeper into frustration. There’s not any one part that I can use as an example, because it’s a lot of moments spread throughout.

The one thing I truly did like is Siren‘s concept and design, which uses themes of Japanese occultism and seems to be inspired by the works of Junji Ito, notably “Village of the Sirens”, one of his best short stories. The shibito, a village of cursed humans that serve as the main enemies, are incredibly creepy looking, and the fact that they relentlessly chase you down can be scary, at least until it becomes annoying. A unique mechanic is used to where you can peek through the eyes of the shibito in order to avoid them, which I thought was creative and bizarre. It’s not often you get to see through the eyes of the zombie that’s after you in games like these!

As good and creative as the design is, especially in regards to body horror, I hate to say that the game itself remains unfair, cruel and often incomprehensible. Silent Hill had its obscure moments, but there was a sense of logic and a natural path to its dreaminess that doesn’t exist here. Siren does have a fanbase who insist there’s something special about it, and maybe there is, but I don’t appreciate having my patience threshold constantly tested to find it. Will I give it another chance? Someday, maybe, but truthfully it is more interesting to read about than play.

Would It Make a Good Novel?
I honestly want to say “no”, but I suppose there’s potential. The themes of the story can be quite fascinating when dissected outside of the game, and do remind me a lot of Junji Ito or H.P. Lovecraft.

Final Rubric
Story and Characters – 2.5
Art and Design – 4
Gameplay and Entertainment Factor – 1
Fear Factor – 2.5
Music and Sound – 3
General Score – 2.5 out of 5

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Best Horror Games #5 – Haunting Ground

besthorrorlogohalloweenhground

★★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Genre: Dark Fantasy / Survival Horror
Platform: Playstation 2
Publisher: Capcom
Published: 2006

SummaryHaunting Ground follows Fiona Belli, a young woman who finds herself locked in a sprawling castle after a car wreck which kills both of her parents. The castle has very few inhabitants, but they all seem to know her already. She soon learns that they are the last of her father’s estranged and deranged family members. Worse yet, they seem to have their own sinister intentions for her. With the help of the White Shepherd, Hewie, whom she rescues from the abuse of the groundskeeper, Fiona sets out to escape the castle.

Overall Thoughts
Haunting Ground deserved better than it got. There was essentially no publicity or critical love for this beauty of a game when it came out, leading to copies of it being rather rare. Oh, sure, you can get reproductions if you want to play it, but a real copy is hard to come by, despite there being a pretty big cult fandom for it (or perhaps because there is a fandom…)

I like that Fiona’s outcome becomes karmic by how well you treat her dog, Hewie. If you choose to be mean to him, you’re likely to receive a horrible ending, but if you treat him nicely, he’ll help you out. But like a real dog, Hewie is often stubborn and easily distracted, so it’s better not to rely on him too much. The gameplay is similar to Clock Tower, its spiritual successor, in which you are trying to avoid a series of “stalkers” who pursue you as you navigate a huge castle. It’s pretty simple and functional, so let’s talk about the design and characters, which is where Haunting Ground really shines.

https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/clocktower/images/d/dc/FioHew1.gif/revision/latest?cb=20150828133511

The design is intricate and savory to the eye all around. Though it does show the graphical flukes common of PS2 games, you won’t notice them unless they’re pointed out. The disconcerting soundtrack by Seiko Kobuchi adds a lot of tension to the atmosphere. I don’t know what genre you would label Haunting Ground’s soundtrack, as it’s like no music I’ve ever heard, exactly. The soundtrack is an unsettling hybrid of classical music, electronic dissonance and hellish horror noises, such as guttural groaning and inhuman voices. It is on YouTube, if you want to take a listen for yourself.

I want to talk about the story in detailed analysis at some point, because who doesn’t love a good analysis? But I’ll make it brief for now. If anyone ever questions whether video games in the traditional action-and-goal style can be considered “art”, you should show them Haunting Ground. Actually, you could show them any of the good ones I’ve discussed, but this one in particular is breathtaking, and the story is outright disturbing.

I feel like Haunting Ground is one of the few video games that requires a trigger warning for its take on sexuality. It’s not explicit, per se, or even a very violent game, but the themes of abuse, birth, stalking and image issues could be really unsettling, and there’s a creepy, erotic vibe to most of the characters. This is not a “scary” horror game, but it does its damnedest to make you uncomfortable. Depending on your personal sensitivities, this could actually make it scarier than your average horror game. Continue reading “Best Horror Games #5 – Haunting Ground”

Poem – “The Mercury Drops”

The Mercury Drops

And the fever refuses to subside

I have engulfed the tundra,
An iceberg of blood and plasma
Enormous bones lost beneath the water,
Too small for the palm of the angel

Ten minutes on the seafloor
Are a hundred repetitions of the cycle
Where the world ends as it is born
The nightmare of a burgeoning apocalypse

Copyright ©2019 S. M. Shuford
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Worst Horror Games #4 – Alone in the Dark 2008

worsthorrorlogohalloweenaitd

★★★ 2.5 Stars

Genre: Survival Horror / Action
Platform: Playstation 2, Xbox, Wii, PC
Publisher: Atari
Published: 2008

SummaryAlone in the Dark (2008) follows paranormal investigator Edward Carnby, who awakens suffering from amnesia in a building that is gradually collapsing. After escaping the building, he finds that the entire city is in a destroyed, apocalyptic state due to strange, supernatural fissures forming through it.

Overall Thoughts
I’m going to make this brief, because to be honest, Alone in the Dark 2008 isn’t a godawful game. It has a significant fanbase, and I understand why, but I don’t personally enjoy it even remotely. This list is pretty subjective, so it only made the “Worst” list, like Silent Hill Homecoming, because it’s one of my least favourite horror games. I specifically only put mainstream console games on this list, because if I hadn’t, 99% of the “Worst” would be Steam or PC horror games, which are often made by tiny teams with no budget. I don’t feel it’s fair to count those.

Love it or hate it, Alone in the Dark 2008 was always destined to be plagued. It was a loose tie-in with a film that’s often called one of the worst movies ever, with a whopping 2.4 out of 10 on IMDB, which in turn was a loose adaptation of an early 90s cult classic horror game.
Now, I don’t have a vicious opinion of either the movie or this game. I don’t especially like either, but I don’t think they’re deserving of the sheer, seething, foaming-at-the-mouth hatred that’s thrown at both of them. At their worst, I think they hit at just below the threshold of “tolerable”.

Alone in the Dark 2008 did see an improved re-release, but as far as the original, I found it extraordinarily frustrating. For positives, the graphical design, soundtrack and puzzles are quite well-made and there are some great anxious, scary moments. I like the Lovecraftian themes and apocalyptic settings. Oh, and the monsters! The monsters are supremely creepy!

https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/aloneinthedark/images/e/e0/Subway_Monster.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20180108035747

There’s a real sense of mass destruction and impending danger that could’ve made for a great experience, but the story wasn’t enough of a draw for me to force myself through the rapidly shifting, disorienting, and sometimes glitchy gameplay though. There was a function to skip chapters, which I found myself doing often enough that I completely lost track of what the plot was supposed to be.
In short, I wouldn’t call Alone in the Dark unbearable, but it is difficult and annoying to the point of not being fun. What differentiates a video game from a film or a book (and apparently this shouldn’t have been a film, either) is the interactivity, and if that’s no good, the positive qualities it might have all fall apart.

Would It Make a Good Novel?
Maybe..? The Alone in the Dark series was inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu mythos, so I suppose it could.

Final Rubric
Story and Characters – 2.5
Art and Design – 3.5
Gameplay and Entertainment Factor – 1.5
Fear Factor – 3.5
Music and Sound – 4
General Score – 2.5 out of 5

Poem – Comatose Awake

Comatose Awake

Comatose awake, dead alive
Retreating into the clouds that bore us,
The windswept plain of a childhood
Passed like water through the palm’s grooves

A signal delayed, a synapse broken
Forgetting how to function on a day
If you suppose it’s sorrowful, consider
That maybe bliss of the fog is better

Copyright ©2019 S. M. Shuford
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Best Horror Games #7 – Luigi’s Mansion

besthorrorlogohalloweenluigi

★★★★ 4.5 Stars

Genre: Horror / Adventure
Platform: Gamecube, Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Nintendo
Published: 2001 / 2018 (Re-Release)

Summary Luigi, of Super Mario Bros. fame, receives a mysterious letter telling him that he’s won a mansion. In reality, the mansion is not the beautiful one depicted in the letter, but a haunted, dilapidated mansion in the remote woods. According to a scientist who lives nearby, the mansion appeared there on its own several days ago, and the ghosts who inhabit it have kidnapped Luigi’s brother, Mario.

Overall Thoughts
Luigi’s Mansion is a perfect example of horror that could appeal to anyone. It’s not gory, so it’s alright for the kids, but is entertaining and offers enough challenge for adults as well. This game is nearly twenty years old, believe it or not, but it’s aged astoundingly well. The unusual, creative blend of cartoonish characters and elaborate, almost Victorian settings is still pleasing to the eye. I’ve played Luigi’s Mansion about a hundred times and never had any technical problems or glitches, either.

The aesthetic and gameplay reminds me an awful lot of a softer, more colourful version of the first Resident Evil, which also takes place in a massive, sprawling mansion full of hidden rooms and traps. There are no weapons at your disposal, though. It’s not like they’d work on a ghost anyhow, so it’s just Luigi and his Ghostbusters-style vacuum cleaner.

The story is kind of basic, like a lot of Super Mario Bros. games, but the fun comes from exploration and defeating ghosts rather than plot. One thing I love in particular is the bosses. Every now and then Luigi will encounter the ghost of a human, who are much tougher and smarter than the Boos and smaller, blobby ghosts that show up around the mansion. These ghosts have to be tricked somehow into revealing their weak point so they can be captured. Usually, it’s something that has to do with their personality, which you’re left to figure out for yourself through clues in the ghost’s room, as well as notes and even on occasion, a conversation with the ghost.

File:Henry and Orville Hide and Seek.png

As a kid, I always loved Big Boo’s Haunt on Super Mario 64 and thought it was the creepiest thing, so of course it’s great to have a full-length game based on that design. I would also consider the sequel, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon to be pretty great, but I don’t have enough experience with the sequel to make a separate post about it. Both are extremely fun games with a light survival horror feel to them.

Would It Make a Good Novel?
I don’t think so, actually. Some horror games would, but there’s not enough linear plot to work with here. I feel like Luigi’s Mansion would get pretty repetitive if you tried to translate it into a book. A graphic novel might be serviceable.

Final Rubric
Story and Characters – 4
Art and Design – 5
Gameplay and Entertainment Factor – 4.5
Fear Factor – 3.5
Music and Sound – 4
General Score – 4.5 out of 5

Top 5 Best Original Goosebumps

The Ghost Next Door  (Goosebumps, #10)Welcome to Dead House (Goosebumps, #1)The Haunted Mask (Goosebumps, #11)

R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps is a series of children’s horror novellas that’s recently seen a revival in popularity, along with its more young adult counterpart, Fear Street. I kind of stopped keeping track of Goosebumps after the original 90s run and some of the early 2000s books, because well, I grew beyond the demographic. I still read Fear Street fairly often, and of course I have a huge appreciation for Goosebumps, and all the subtle phobias it instilled in young children.

The original Goosebumps series ran from 1992 to 1997 and consists of about 62 books, most of which I’ve read at some point, though there are several I’ve forgotten about or have never seen. It’s been reprinted a couple of times with new covers, but the classic covers will always be the iconic ones. These are, in my opinion, the five BEST books of the series up to 1997.

5. I Live in Your Basement (#61) – Published 1997
The original Goosebumps series ended on a pretty weak note with #62, arguably the worst in the series. However, the penultimate book before it is spine-chilling. I Live in Your Basement is about more of an adult fear – stalking, with some themes of hallucinations and mental illness, if you want to read into it that way. It pulls out all the stops on the grotesque factor, as well. I suppose this would be a pretty good precursor to surreal horror for kids who would later be into that sort of thing.

4. The Haunted Mask (#11) – Published 1993
Why the long face? It’s not like it’s going to get… melded to a demonic mask, threatening to rip your skin off, right? Well, that’s what this book is about! A girl goes in search of a Halloween mask, and ends up in a very dubious novelty shop, where she steals a disgusting, horrifying mask that grows rather attached to her face. Eventually, she isn’t able to take it off, once she’s left it on so long. The thought of something parasitic latching and welding itself to your face, suffocating you and taking control of your thoughts, I would say is still pretty disturbing.

3. One Day at Horrorland (#16) – Published 1994
Amusement parks have a sort of ominous vibe to them anyway, and it really doesn’t help if it’s run by cannibalistic, sadistic monsters who pit the human fair-goers against each other in an attempt to kill them all. Sheesh. Continue reading “Top 5 Best Original Goosebumps”

Best Horror Games #8 – Shadow Man

besthorrorlogohalloweenshad

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Horror / Dark Fantasy
Platform: Nintendo 64, Playstation, PC
Publisher: Acclaim / Night Dive Studios
Published: 1999 / 2013 (Re-Release)

Summary Shadow Man follows Michael LeRoi, a man who has been chosen as the next “Shadow Man”, a warrior and voodoo priest who protects the living from the chaos and violence of the restless dead. The prophetic dream of a priestess, Mama Nettie, warns Michael of a demon, manifesting itself through the reanimated corpses of serial killers, who plans to create an army from the dead that Michael has to stop before it can begin.

Overall Thoughts
So, there are probably much better horror games I could’ve placed in this spot. I considered something like Yomawari or The Evil Within for this place, but Shadow Man is rather special to me. It’s terribly underrated and glossed over, and I have yet to meet another with the unique atmosphere of this game: a mashup of Western gothic, Faustian and Lovecraftian demonology. There’s a sinister, mythological vibe of black magic and irredeemable curses that’s kind of hard to describe, but Shadow Man doesn’t take itself too seriously either. Dark comedy abounds as well.

The characters and settings are by far the best part of this game. Believe it or not, Shadow Man was a partial inspiration for one of the shorts from my upcoming book, because I loved the over-the-top insanity of some of the villains. The settings use a lot of canyon scenery and abstract, otherworldly lighting, and the design in general reminds me heavily of Silent Hill. It looked pretty good for its time, anyway.

https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/shadowman/images/2/2b/Trueform_attacks_10.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20131019061954

Shadow Man is based off of the series of graphic novels by the same name (not to be confused with the Cody McFadyen novel, Shadow Man), though the game has taken some liberties, mostly positive. To date, it’s one of the extremely few mainline horror video games I’ve seen with black protagonists. Michael LeRoi and Nettie are fun and badass characters, too.
The villains are very memorable and bizarre, and hit this weird area between hilarious and disturbing. The main antagonist is Jack the Ripper, of all people, or at least Jack the Ripper as possessed by the demon Legion, who revives a number of serial killers (some ridiculous, some legitimately creepy) to serve as his minions.

You may have noticed this as a trend with horror games, but the actual part that distinguishes it as a game, the interactivity, is kind of wonky. The physics are prone to glitches, even in the better versions, and there is a hell of a lot of backtracking. I don’t know about you, but backtracking always makes me feel like a mule. Overall, I do enjoy the mix of action and adventure. There’s a lot to explore. Just… don’t get the PlayStation version, if you decide to try this game. The port was a special sort of disaster, littered with bugs and technical issues, so go for the N64 or the PC. Shadow Man was recently re-released for PC and Steam.

The soundtrack is creepy as death and amazing. It’s actually kind of a jam, to be honest, and it’s rather sad not more people recognize this game for its music. There are some beautiful, ethereal pieces like “King’s Hymn” or a rendition of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata”, but also some terrifying pieces, like one song that uses the sounds of music boxes and drills going through bone to create this horrible, nightmarish atmosphere.

Would it Make a Good Novel?

Shadow Man is based on a pretty good comic series, so yes, it’s not much of a stretch to think it would translate to a good novel. American Gods and its sequel Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman have some similar shades, if you’ve read those, as does The Gunslinger series by Stephen King.

Final Rubric
Story and Characters – 4.5
Art and Design – 4
Gameplay and Entertainment Factor – 3.5
Fear Factor – 4
Music and Sound – 5
General Score – 4 out of 5

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Poem – “Tied Up”

Tied Up

Cannot be counted on the devil’s palm
The arrows embedded in your chest
A sacrifice on the eve of child warlocks
Boy premonition, blood slave to a sorceress
All tied up on the skin of a juniper man
Weeping, gleaning the eyes of faerie youth
Spinning blood into his web of ropes
Keeping you hostage, a blasphemous bondage
Configured in riddles of the cell, without answer

Copyright ©2019 S. M. Shuford
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Best Horror Games #9 – Little Nightmares

besthorrorlogohalloweenlittle

★★★★ 4 Stars

Genre: Horror / Dark Fantasy
Platform: Playstation 4, PC
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Published: 2017

Summary – Little Nightmares follows a little girl named Six, who wakes up trapped in a massive citadel called the Maw which floats on the sea. The Maw is inhabited by giant, grotesque, cannibalistic adults who have been imprisoning human children (and whoever else they can get their hands on) in order to eat them. Six sets out to escape the Maw before she starves to death or gets eaten by one of them.

Overall Thoughts
It’s like somebody made this game with me in mind. I flipping adore these dark themes of childhood, fairytale cannibalism, and the horrors of decadence. Artistically, it’s pretty much the best I’ve seen in recent years. It hits that sweet spot between delightful and disgusting. The villain characters range from vulgar, gluttonous beasts to giant things that don’t entirely seem human.

Obviously, they were going for a cinematic feel with this, and it succeeds. Little Nightmares is almost more of a movie than it is a game. The gameplay is interesting enough, but that part does seem lacking in something. The experience overall is quite short and simple, but the design is so creepy and Burton-esque that you likely won’t care. If you care about active gameplay or an intricate story only, you might not like it, but if you want something dark and ambient and closer to a silent animation, you will love it. (Most horror games are like that, though, really. If we’re being honest.)

https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/littlenightmares/images/9/98/01-The-Maw.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20170517142348

The story itself is pretty vague, and leaves a lot up to your own personal interpretation. The only things that are set in stone are that there’s a little girl and some other tiny creatures getting chased by giant cannibals in a ship (of sorts), and their leader is possibly a witch? Nobody really has a strong “personality”, per se, but the way the characters and conveyed without words is executed extremely well.
Like I said, it feels like a cross between a Studio Ghibli animation and one of the classic Tim Burton films. The Nightmare Before Christmas, especially. The puppet-like chefs (pictured above) strongly resemble characters from that movie, as do other villains in this game.

Would It Make a Good Novel?
Certainly. In fact, there exists a graphic novel adaptation that was published as a tie-in, though I’ve never read it and unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have great reviews. (Maybe it wouldn’t make a good novel, after all…)
In any case, Little Nightmares reminds me of aspects of my own work. I did mention it seemed specifically designed to cater to me. I do love and frequent toying with these tropes – cannibalism, mistrust of authority, and so on.

Final Rubric
Story and Characters – 4
Art and Design – 5
Gameplay and Entertainment Factor – 4
Fear Factor – 4
Music and Sound – 3.5
General Score – 4 out of 5

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My Favourite Horror Collections

Teatro GrottescoNothing Is StrangeSmashed: Junji Ito Story Collection

I’ve always considered horror one of the best and worst genres for short stories. When short horror works, it can breed one of the most haunting, terrifying things you’ve ever experienced. However, making it work is no easy feat. For every disturbing, unsettling piece you’ll find, there will be ten out there that just won’t do it for you. There is nothing that will disturb every reader, though it’s possible to come close, and if you don’t succeed in scaring them, there are still ways to entertain them.

These are my top ten, for the time being, favourite collections of horror stories. I love variety, so there’s a bit of each kind of horror here – dark fantasy, visual horror, bizarro, classic horror – you name it, you’ll find it somewhere on this list. Some aren’t necessarily meant to be straight horror, but have a significant horror flavour to them that I felt qualified them enough to make the list. These are in no particular order. As there were quite a few books, I might include some honorable mentions in a later post.

Teatro Grottesco by Thomas Ligotti
Genre: Horror / Dark Fantasy
I would feel confident calling Teatro Grottesco the best compilation of horror shorts I’ve ever read. It remains, several years after I first read it, one of the few books of the genre to legitimately unnerve me. Ligotti’s prose is sinister and elaborate, like a spiderweb with the remains of cocoons dangling through it, yet this book reads very easily. I’d honestly recommend any Ligotti collection, but this one in particular is truly flawless.

Smashed by Junji Ito
Genre: Horror / Science Fiction
I covered this one in-depth not too long ago, so check out my review if you want. Smashed did not get as good reviews as his other recent collections, but I personally like the surreal, cosmic tone of these stories, especially the title story. Who knew a fruit tree could be so terrifying?

Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link
Genre: Dark Fantasy / Horror
Arguably, Pretty Monsters is the most somber book on this list. The overall tone of this book is depressive and gothic, as if it’s being told by a series of ghosts who find the whole thing darkly amusing. You really don’t see enough young adult horror anyway, but especially not of this caliber. This is a book that will bury itself in your skull.

Nothing is Strange by Mike Russell
Genre: Dark Fantasy
Nothing is Strange I don’t think was actually intended to be frightening, but well… strange. It’s in the title. I did a review on this and its sequel collection, Strange Secrets, but both reviews need an upgrade. Nothing is Strange can be breezed through in a day or two, but you won’t want it to end. Russell’s ideas are so original and inventive, and the imagery is so perfectly bizarre that it’s difficult to step away from the world he’s created.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark Trilogy by Alvin Schwartz and Stephen Gammell
Genre: Horror
An old childhood favourite that I’m still fond of. The illustrations are what it’s known for, I mean, just look them up if you don’t know what I’m talking about. Gammell’s drawings still have power and are unsettling to look at as an adult. The stories are fun, too, especially for the folklore aspect. Schwartz was a collector of traditional stories, folklore, and American myths, so his notes on the writing of the trilogy are also pretty fascinating.

Fragments of Horror by Junji Ito
Genre: Horror / Dark Comedy
I’ll probably do a full review on this one later in the month. It would be fitting for the season, yeah? Something I love about Ito is that he can take anything, no matter how small and innocuous, and turn it into something to fear. A phobia. A paranoia. Continue reading “My Favourite Horror Collections”

Poem – “Hanging From the Juniper Tree”

Hanging From the Juniper Tree

A noose for a basket full of aspirations,
Wicked dreams that sliver through the hooves
Of horses decomposing in the plains of night

A weeping tragedy, ten headless kings
Hanging from the juniper tree
On the path of the prisoners’ walk

The crying red moon is bleeding tender
Over the forbidden waters of the dead
And not one drop penetrates a severed soul

Copyright ©2019 S. M. Shuford
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Worst Horror Games #6 – Rule of Rose

worsthorrorlogohalloweenror

★★★ 3.5 Stars

Genre: Psychological Horror
Platform: Playstation 2
Publisher: Atlus
Published: 2006

SummaryRule of Rose, set in the remote countryside of 1930s England, follows a teenager named Jennifer, who becomes trapped in an orphanage, ruled by a cruel and ruthless group of young girls who call themselves the “Red Crayon Aristocrats”. She must appease them in order to escape, all the while forced to confront her own childhood at the orphanage.

Overall Thoughts
It physically pains me to start off the “Worst” list with Rule of Rose. The story and cast are so, so well-written. The setting, which even though it’s set in the 30s, still retains a sort of late Edwardian, melancholic feel to it, is phenomenal, and it borrows heavily from the dark tones of Grimm’s Fairytales. Story-wise, it is tragic, haunting and beautiful, and reminds me heavily of Lord of the Flies, but with mostly female characters.

I wish that this had been a movie or a book instead of a game, because the medium, in this case, does not do Rule of Rose any favours. The gameplay part just sucks. There’s no way around it. The developers weren’t given nearly enough time to perfect it, and it ends up ruining what is otherwise a great experience.

https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/ruleofrose/images/6/60/Wenjen.png/revision/latest?cb=20110927101628

From a technical standpoint, the graphics and design are nice. The soundtrack is spectacular – a romantic, gothic blend of 1930s swing and classical music of the Victorian era that’s addictive to listen to. You’d be better off listening to the soundtrack and watching the story segments on YouTube than you would be trying to find a copy of this game. Seriously. Take a listen to this.
Rule of Rose is exceedingly rare due to poor marketing, bad press and poor sales, and now goes for a whopping… $80-$200 USD, at the least, and that’s for a garbage used copy. You can buy reproductions, though, if you’re that curious, but the gameplay portion is honestly, very bad and unfinished. The difficulty is unfair, the controls are clunky, and there are long sections of hunting items with Jennifer’s dog that quickly become tedious.

Rule of Rose was met with controversy in Italy and England due to a false rumor that the game was about “murdering children”, part of the reason why it did not sell. Spoiler – it isn’t. Rule of Rose is a psychological exploration of childhood trauma, the differing and sometimes troubled relationships between girls and bullying. The entire plot occurs in Jennifer’s mind, and is her twisted memories of being forced to stand up to her peers, at the cost of more than one best friend. Like I said, it would be a stunningly beautiful experience if it had been anything other than a video game.
In short, if those idiots in Hollywood want to make an all-girl Lord of the Flies, they ought to just adapt Rule of Rose, and actually do this plot some justice.

Would It Make a Good Novel?
Hell yes, it would! This could possibly be the best novel of the psychological horror genre. It also makes me think of the novel John Dollar by Marianne Wiggins, which has a vaguely similar premise.

Final Rubric
Story and Characters – 5
Art and Design – 4.5
Gameplay and Entertainment Factor – 2
Fear Factor – 3.5
Music and Sound – 5
General Score – 3.5 out of 5

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Haunt Me to Sleep Preview!

“Float far out into the Pacific. Follow its surface in any direction you want, whenever the anxiety gets to be overwhelming, whenever there is no treatment left for the black clot that forms a body-wide cancer. Adrift in the crystalline sea, you will come upon a cavern, whether you intend to or not.”

One of the prose pieces from the upcoming horror-dark fantasy collection Haunt Me to Sleep, “Grotto Siren”, was published in Radium Piano Band. You can read it for free at the link below. Haunt Me to Sleep is a mix of horror “atmospheres”, ranging from dark humor, to fairytale, to existential horror, to grotesque. It was difficult to place a specific sub-genre to its name.
I had originally intended for this book to come out around October 7th, but due to the massive rush on horror during that time, I’ve decided to move it closer to Halloween itself, when, believe it or not, fewer horror books are published. The final date for all versions, at least, will be between October 21st and November 9th, the ePub version coming out slightly later than the paperback and Kindle ones.

Radium Piano Band – Issue #17

Poem – “Thirteen”

Thirteen

Pleading with time to halt,
The hours only spin by faster –
Yarn unraveled in a crumbling house
Thirteen rooms, a palm full of dreams
Scattered on the bloodstained carpet
Minutes that can’t have passed the spectrum,
A paranoia that leads to superstition –
Salt in the eye of a monstrous black cat,
And cremains on the roses of a witch’s crown

Copyright ©2019 S. M. Shuford
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Book Review – IC in a Sunflower by Mitsukazu Mihara

★★★ 3.5 Stars

Genre: Science Fiction / Short Stories
Publication Date: January 9th, 2007
Publisher: TokyoPop

Integrated Circuit in a Sunflower is an interesting title, in more than a linguistic sense. Mihara’s art is lovely, and the delicate sense of innocence it has purposefully works at odds with the cynical, morbid themes the stories explore – the ethics of cloning, dehumanization and abuse, quirks that develop into diseases. There’s not quite enough time given to any of the questions this manga tries to propose for it to brand itself in my mind, though. The stories operate like haiku, poetic yet sinister hints of a larger picture.

I liked most of the stories, particularly the title story and “Alive”, which is about human children being cloned to use as organ donors. Still, I had a similar issue as I did with Mihara’s Doll series, in that I appreciate the importance of what it’s trying to say, in regards to man’s relationship with technology, and how some aspects of scientific progress could easily benefit or corrupt human relationships, depending on the route taken to test them out, but it felt inexplicably dark-hearted and unclear.

This is not as bad for that as Doll was, but that disjointedness is still there and kind of mars my enjoyment of some honestly clever concepts. It’s difficult to explain and probably kind of petty, but it’s like the feeling of a sinking gut – uncomfortable, but in a sense that can’t be pinpointed. I suppose that means it succeeds at horror as well as it does sci-fi, but I’m not sure.

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A Commentary on Cosmic Love

ChapbookCoverCL(Ebook)

+Cosmic Love is free to download on Amazon, B&N, Kobo, and Smashwords. Get a copy worldwide in any format here. Add Cosmic Love on Goodreads here. A paperback is also available.+

Genre: Poetry / Dark Fantasy / Romance

Commentary: Cosmic Love was unceremoniously plopped out as a miniature chapbook of haiku in early 2018. Its second half, Parasite of the Sun, was also supposed to be its own separate book, but the two were so thematically similar and short that I conjoined them to save time.
The project began namely as an experiment to test myself, to see if I could handle the rigors of publishing a piece of writing. Spoiler: I couldn’t! The initial “beta” version was not that good, and it still brings shame to me just how many people read it! I suppose it shouldn’t. I mean, there must have been something salvageable about it that I didn’t see, or there wouldn’t have been nearly over a hundred downloads by the time I took it out of print that fall.
I feel like, no matter what I write later on, Cosmic Love will always be my most popular poetry book. At least now, I can be somewhat proud of it! In both cases, I was determined for the cover to be pink. And it is certainly pink.

The new version was developed from February to April 2019, off and on and in snippets. The haiku are still present in the final, or what I like to call the “real” version, but cleaned-up and strung with the freestyle poems in a more coherent way, to form working themes of tragic love, cosmic horror and cosmic beauty. The oldest poems are “In the Land of Rust”, “System Time” and “Patchwork Tower”, which are all out of a notebook I kept in high school. They have been cleaned up heavily from the source poem, don’t worry! They aren’t that old, but it’s amazing to see how your writing changes and, hopefully, improves in just a few years.

Some of the inspirations for this collection were the science fiction novels Double Star by Robert Heinlein and Dune by Frank Herbert, and various sci-fi horror films like Sunshine and Fantastic Planet. Retro sci-fi in general, with a blend of Eastern philosophies served as kind of the building point that Cosmic Love grew from. One poem that might be intriguing is “Wandering Melon”. The title, and obviously the poem itself, were inspired by the nara melon, a mysterious fruit that somehow survives and thrives in the hottest, most arid parts of the world, in Namibia.

What ended up being probably my personal favourite poem, “Hidden in a False Sun”, was written on a day, on a whim to enter into a contest. It didn’t win but it did appear in an issue of Radium Piano Band, along with my second-favourite, “In the Land of Rust”.

The passion of sound flares my final dream
I evaporate in the corals of Neptune
Into the parhelia of a hidden sun –
No one else will know what I found there

-from “Hidden in a False Sun”

Personal Fave Poems: “In the Land of Rust”, “Hidden in a False Sun”, “Promenade of the Palm”

“Biotica” Featured in Radium Piano Band

My poem, “Biotica”, was recently featured in Radium Piano Band, along with some extraordinary poems by other indie poets. This poem is the sausage ground up from several different incarnations, was supposed to be in multiple books that it never appeared in, and went by several different titles, including the rather peculiar titles “Biotic Black Hole” and “Dreams of Human Sacrifice”, before landing on simply “Biotica”. The final result is… kind of an insane poem, not going to lie.
“Biotica” will be featured as well in my upcoming multi-medium horror compilation, Haunt Me to Sleep, which I talked (read: aimlessly blathered) about yesterday. That book will likely be published in late September or October.
You can read or download the August issue of RPB here:

Radium Piano Band – Issue #16

Poem – “Heart in the Catacombs”

Heart in the Catacombs

Heart in the catacombs, in the valve
A facsimile of the orchard, necrotic
Digital memory of a lifetime, corrupted
Suspended in its nightmare, evolving
In the dark fog, in the core of a plastic apple
Heart in the catacombs, in the valve
In the wishing well of the blue-eyed devil

Copyright ©2019 S. M. Shuford
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