Friday, March 30, 2018

ALL IS NOT FORGOTTEN by Wendy Walker

ALL IS NOT FORGOTTEN is a pretty good thriller. There is a lot to like about this one. I loved the premise of this story. I tore through this book in two sittings. Each chapter leaves you hanging, which is a good thing because it keeps you reading. 

Wendy Walker did her research before writing this book. I love psychological thrillers and this book feels original. Wendy Walker uses old tropes, but she makes them her own–it feels new, at least to me anyway. 


Through memories, the past and the present collide in an ending that feels a tad bit clunky and tangled. The execution is solid up until the very end. There are red herrings to keep the reader guessing, which is the fun part. 

ALL IS NOT FORGOTTEN is a smart read that keeps your attention. The characters are believable and the dialogue is smart, which makes it that much more interesting. It's a who-done-it that keeps up with the best of them. 

I will be reading more of Wendy Walker in the future. If you like psychological thrillers, then this is the book for you. It's a great way to spend a couple of hours. 

Recommend!

4/5 stars! ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Synopsis:

In the small, affluent town of Fairview, Connecticut everything seems picture perfect.

Until one night when young Jenny Kramer is attacked at a local party. In the hours immediately after, she is given a controversial drug to medically erase her memory of the violent assault. But, in the weeks and months that follow, as she heals from her physical wounds, and with no factual recall of the attack, Jenny struggles with her raging emotional memory. Her father, Tom, becomes obsessed with his inability to find her attacker and seek justice while her mother, Charlotte, prefers to pretend this horrific event did not touch her perfect country club world.

As they seek help for their daughter, the fault lines within their marriage and their close-knit community emerge from the shadows where they have been hidden for years, and the relentless quest to find the monster who invaded their town - or perhaps lives among them - drive this psychological thriller to a shocking and unexpected conclusion.

IF YOU GO DOWN TO THE WOODS by Seth C. Adams

This is a fun read! I saw a blurb that calls this book: Perfect for fans of It by Stephen King, The Chalk Man by C.J. Tudor and the TV show Stranger Things. This book does contain some elements of IT and Stranger Things, but not all that much. IF YOU GO DOWN TO THE WOODS is a coming-of-age story about a group of friends growing up in a small-town, and that is where the similarities end. I haven't read THE CHALK MAN, so I don't know how similar the two are. With that being said, let's get to this review.

A group of friends (kind of like the Loser's Club) call themselves the Outsider's Club. The teens find a burnt out car in the woods with cash in the front seat and a body in the trunk. The group of teens had to figure out what happened. Then, the Collector comes to town looking for the cash. 
There are a few things that I didn't like about this book. The teens act way older than they are. The ages should have been changed to seventeen or eighteen. One of the club members is nicknamed fat. That just isn't cool. I know kids are cruel, but that is a terrible thing to call someone. 


I cared for some of the characters, but I cared about Bandit the dog more. There is a lot to like about this book, too. The plot is twisty and layered. The author does a great job of managing the plot. 

It is a relatively quick read. This is a debut, but you could hardly tell. The writing is solid. The characters are pretty good. The ending is great. The dialogue is solid. Overall, I enjoyed this book. It's a good way to spend an hour or so.

3.5–4/5 stars!

Thursday, March 29, 2018

THEY FEED by Jason Parent

Jason Parent is at the top of his game! I didn't know what to expect going into this book. I know Jason Parent can write, but I didn't know the premise when I opened this book. I couldn't put it down. I love when authors use clever book titles, such as this one. The cover catches your eye and the title intrigues you. I just had to know who "they" were. I was also curious about the cabin at the top of the hill. I love camping and the outdoors. 

The night uncovers all we wish not to see. 

Tyler has spent the last six years in prison for accidentally killing a boy. He returns to the site of the accident, which is at a campground in Kansas. Tyler is being followed by Dakota, the dead boy's sister. Dakota is out to get revenge, but her plan is thwarted by other campers. The unlikely characters must join forces to face the monstrosities that are surrounding the cabin. 

THEY FEED is one of the best creature features I've read in quite some time. Jason Parent explores a few horror tropes in this blood-soaked book. The creatures are smart and horrifically savage–a deadly combination if you ask me. 

Jason Parent delivers horrendously disturbing scenes that enhance the reading experience. The characters are well developed and interesting. The author does a great job of exploring their backstories while keeping the storyline nice and tight. The character reveals and connections are one of the best parts of the book. 

There is an incompetent authority figure in this book that will make you laugh and yell. I was trying to tell the character to do this and do that, but he just wouldn't listen. 

The scenes are brutally vivid. The dialogue feels real. There aren't any loose ends or hiccups dealing with the storyline. The characters are solid and the grotesque monsters are enough to satisfy any horror fan. 

I think I'll settle for a tent fort and smores in my living room this summer. After reading this book, I don't want to go near the woods for a while. 

Grab some popcorn and a soda because this one reads like a movie! 

Highly Recommended!

5/5 stars! ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐




Synopsis:
·   Print Length: 254 pages
·   Publisher: Sinister Grin Press
·   Publication Date: April 15, 2018

The night uncovers all we wish not to see.
A troubled man enters a dusky park before sunset. A young woman follows, hidden in shadow. Both have returned to the park to take back something the past has stolen from them, to make right six long years of suffering, and to find justice or perhaps redemption—or maybe they'll settle for some old-fashioned revenge.
But something evil is alive and awake in those woods, creatures that care nothing for human motivations. They’re driven by their own insatiable need: a ravenous, bottomless hunger.
The campgrounds are full tonight, and the creatures are starving. Before the night is over, they will feed.
An unrelenting tale of terror from Jason Parent, acclaimed author of People of the Sun and What Hides Within.

Author Bio:
Jason is an author of horror, thrillers, mysteries, science fiction, and dark humor, though his many novels, novellas, and short stories tend to blur the boundaries between these genres. From his award-winning first horror/mystery novel, What Hides Within, to his widely applauded police procedural/supernatural thriller, Seeing Evil, Jason’s work has won him praise from both critics and fans of diverse genres alike. His work has been compared to that of some of his personal favorite authors, such as Chuck Palahniuk, Jack Ketchum, Tess Gerritsen, and Joe Hill.

Jason grew up near Fall River, Massachusetts, the setting for several of his novels. He has lived in New England most his life, currently residing in Rhode Island.

 Praise for Jason Parent:

"Seeing Evil has some very special moments and is a very fast read. There's no denying Parent has talent." - Glenn Rolfe, author of Blood and Rain and Boom Town
"Jason Parent has done it again! He has created a brilliant story that will grip you tight and won't let go! I found myself turning page after page to see what happens next. From start to finish, this book is mind blowing!" - Cedar Hollow Horror Reviews on A Life Removed
"Wonderfully original tales of horror... Wrathbone and Other Stories gets my highest recommendation." - Cemetery Dance
"From the eerie opening tale to the grisly closer, and all of the wonderfully mean-spirited tales in-between, Wrathbone is a winner!" - Jeff Strand, author of Dead Clown Barbecue
Purchase Link
For all your other horror, fantasy, or sci-fi needs, check out Sinister Grin Press!
Media/Reviewers
If interested in featuring They Feed or Jason Parent, contact Erin Al-Mehairi, publicist, at hookofabook@hotmail.com.

Interview With Eddie Generous



CHHR: When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

There are three points I can recall where writing fiction seemed like a good idea.

In the eighth grade I made an illustrated book about one of my classmates and sold it for five bucks a pop. I made on the photocopier where my mother worked overnight once a week as the janitor. It was stupid as shit, but funny.

In the ninth grade I was suspended for a day for writing a story on this other kid’s calculator. It was one of those super fancy deals, something like a tablet before that was possible. He must’ve stolen it, can’t imagine how else he’d have it. It was about Swank Master D and his sexual misadventures with the pervert Mr. J. My art teach Mr. James took the calculator (a known pervert—coached girls’ volleyball, field hockey, and rugby) and caught the parallels between himself and the character in Swank Master D’s adventure. My buddy got suspended for a week because he wouldn’t say who wrote the thing. I got suspended because I was there and always got suspended, probably they were sure I had something to do with it.

Third time was while I was driving across the Canadian prairies and I got an idea about a waiting room for souls recently departed from Earth where they’d complain about all the garbage the bodies they wore did. It became a novel, probably nobody will ever see it.


CHHR: What does your writing schedule look like? 

I get out of bed, I check my email, and then I write about a thousand words. I used to write much more, but I’m not Stephen King or James Patterson, it’s hard enough to find an audience for like fifty thousand words, I mean you can write a million words a year and unless you’re famous, nobody cares. So I now write just a thousand (unless I’m getting right down on a ton of my edits), then I get to other work for about seven hours, then I edit something for a couple hours a night. I stick to this pretty much seven days a week, but take a shortened Friday, usually.
It seems once a year—at minimum—I’ll force a novel out of myself, so for a month I’ll write three to six thousand words a day. Getting a good stockpile from this now.

CHHR: Do you have any interesting writing rituals? If so, what are they?

The only semi-ritual thing might be a bit of superstition, I don’t like talking about an idea unless I’m trying not to write it. If I say something aloud—to someone—it usually absolves me of writing it.

CHHR: Do you like writing short stories or novels?

Both. My brain forces a lot of novelettes on me. Like eight to fifteen thousand words. Can’t really even submit those anywhere, but eventually I can collect the good ones and pack them off, hope for the best with a publisher. Worked the only time I’ve tried it so far, so… maybe they’re okay.

CHHR: How is the horror scene where you live?

Notta. Generally, the only time anything resembling horror becomes anything more than nothing is Halloween. It’s okay though, too much socializing is detrimental to work.

CHHR: Do you use outlines or do you go with the flow?

I haven’t outlined since my second novel, and I threw that windy fuck pile in the trash. I get an idea about a character usually and go with it until it concludes or it runs out of steam.

CHHR: How did publishing your first book or short story change your writing process?

It didn’t, really. For those first few hundred thousand words, I didn’t know how trash I was at writing. Now, I try to get better at different aspects where maybe I’m failing. I also try new things and challenge myself. Anybody can write fifty, one hundred, five hundred stories, but if you’re not bettering yourself and challenging yourself, what’s the point?

CHHR: What do you think makes a good horror story? 

Characters are first and foremost. Knowing the difference between writing scary scenes and describing supposedly scary things. Originality. An ending that isn’t entirely predictable. Reaching beyond the initial thoughts with a finale, asking is this good enough? is a fine way to see that often it isn’t enough.

CHHR: What are you currently working on?

Writing some damned novelette. Editing two novels. Looking for homes for dozens of shorts, a couple novellas, and a couple other novels. Testing out query letters. Trying to keep from banging my head on things. Man, bludgeoning oneself is incredibly tempting pretty much all day every day.



CHHR: When and why did you start Unnerving Magazine?

I figured I could because I knew enough about the indie horror scene and I thought I might meet some cool people. People like it, so I’ll keep doing it until people stop.

CHHR: What have you learned since starting the publication?

A ton about people and their motivations, or just as often, lack of motivation beyond chatter. Much of what I would’ve learned, had I not been floating around horror for years beforehand, I’d already picked up through a continual existence of failures. 

CHHR: Can you tell us a little bit about the upcoming catalogue?

It’s all over the horror spectrum, from weird to thriller to crime to schlock to literary. It’s stuff I liked. I have one more title to announce; a novelette. Overall, I’m very happy with what’s coming up. The hardcovers are a new challenge that have added a new stress level, so that’s fun.
It’s much bigger than last year and it’s about as much as I can do without having to seek outside help, which I don’t want to do. So anyone reading this wondering when they can send over their sub for standalone consideration, take it elsewhere.

CHHR: What is in your TBR pile?

About a dozen requests from authors that come and go.
Now, if you mean what I wish I could read… I’d finish reading the Stephen King stories, I’d tackle the rest of Stephen Graham Jones’ catalog, same with Megan Abbott, I have a bunch of cheesy paperbacks from the eighties I’d like to read someday. For the sake of completion, I have like four or five Atwood novels I haven’t read, same with Clive Barker. I’ve never read a Kathe Koja novel, be cool to do that.
Oh! I just ordered the first two Hap and Leonard books by Joe Lansdale, as well as Michelle McNamara’s book. I’m going to read those in short order after they arrive.
Eventually, I’ll probably stop doing so many reviews and only pre-read for interviews, then I’ll go back to reading without thinking about who I promised or who I want to make happy, et cetera.



CHHR: What is the last book that scared you?

The Shining but that’s cheating because it was a reread. Probably Bone White, maybe Mapping the Interior. Been a slow-ish year so far with scares.

CHHR: What is your favorite horror film?

The Shining. I watch it like five times a year.

CHHR: What is your spirit animal?

Barn cat. I’m definitely like a barn cat in a lot of ways.

CHHR: What is your favorite beer?

Drinkers are stinkers… I used to drink tequila, mostly, or Crown Reserve rye. I never learned to burp, so beer was always difficult to enjoy—still drank it more than was smart.

CHHR: If you could have a beer with one author, who would it be?

I guess I’d sip a Diet Coke with Stephen King, but I guess he’d drink Pepsi like a savage. Then again, maybe I’ve idolized him to a spot he can’t possibly live up to.
I had a dream once that I saw Stephen King on the street and we made eye contact, he mouthed something and then scurried off because another annoying fan was about to harass him.
So yeah, maybe I’d rather not meet him, it’s shitty to be a bother.


Author Bio:

Eddie Generous is a coauthor of the slasher collection Splish, Slash, Takin' a Bloodbath (written with Mark Allan Gunnells and Renee Miller) as well as of Dead is Dead, but Not Always (available this spring from Hellbound Books), he runs Unnerving and Unnerving Magazine, and he lives on the Pacific Coast of British Columbia with his wife and their cat overlords.

@UnnervingMagazine – Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/UnnervingMagazine/)
@UnnervingMag – Twitter (https://twitter.com/UnnervingMag)

@GenerousEd – Twitter (https://twitter.com/GenerousEd)

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

DAWN IN DAMNATION by Clark Casey

This is my first time reading Clark Casey, but it won't be my last. He has created an old purgatorial western town called Damnation. The town is inhabited by lowlives, outlaws, a vampire, and werewolves. Damnation is a gun-slinging ghost town located somewhere between heaven and hell. 

Buddy Baker died by hanging for killing more men than Billy the Kid. There are two simple rules that you must follow in Damnation: If you get shot, you go directly to hell. If you stay alive without shooting anyone for one year, you just might get into heaven. The outlaws play poker at the local saloon and bet on who will be sent to hell next. Buddy Baker gets caught up in the thick of it when he swears to protect a pregnant lady. Everyone is interested in the baby. I will stop there before I say too much. 

DAWN IN DAMNATION is a solid read. The characters are interesting and well developed. The storyline stays tight and the scenes are vivid. I can't wait to read the sequel!

4/5 stars! ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

THE MAGIC WAGON by Joe R. Lansdale

MAGIC WAGON is a solid horror western. It's about a group of men who travel from town to town in a wagon. The wagon converts into a stage for magic shows. There is a coffin built of magical wood that stores a corpse. Rot Toe is a chimpanzee who takes on local wrestlers. At the end of their shows, they sell bottles of their magic elixir, which is said to cure illnesses, but it consists mostly of liquor. The magic show is run by a sharpshooter named Billy Bob who claims to be the son of Wild Bill Hickok. Albert and Buster also accompany Billy Bob. 


This book consists of several stories that are told in the small town of Mud Creek that's on their route. These are stories about the Mule Slayer and a gunslinger named Texas Jack Wentworth who calls out Billy Bob. We also get stories of how the group came to own the corpse and Billy Bob's showdown with Texas Jack. 

This book is fun. If you like westerns and horror, then this book is right up your alley. The characters are great. The dialogue is solid, and the storyline is good, too. It's just an all-around good time! I've only read Lansdale's Bubba Ho-Tep books, but I'm going to make it a point to read his other work. I need to get on that Hap and Leonard series real soon. 

Recommended!

4/5 stars! ⭐⭐⭐⭐

I MET A TRAVELLER IN AN ANTIQUE LAND by Connie Willis

This is the coolest novella that I've read in a long time! It looks at the argument between print books and digital books. Books are written every single day. Throughout history, billions of books have slipped through the cracks, lost forever due to war and disaster. What if books weren't destroyed in wars? What if books weren't destroyed in massive fires or floods? This novella looks at all of those things and more. 

Imagine being able to go to a store where all of the books ever written are sitting on its shelves. Imagine seeing books written by familiar authors that you didn't know existed because they were supposedly lost in tragic events. 

Jim is in New York to shop a book based on his blog–Gone for Good–premised on the fact that being nostalgic for things that have disappeared is ridiculous. Jim misses an interview with a radio personality who defends print books. It starts raining and Jim ducks into an extraordinary bookshop. Once inside he discovers a massive amount of rare books.   

While this novella is short, it packs a most powerful punch. It leaves you thinking about your book collection, and those books you discarded long ago. Where are those books? What happened to the books after you sold or donated them? 

Jim is a solid lead character. The supporting cast keeps the reader interested. The dialogue feels real. I can't get this book out of my head. I will be thinking about it for a long time. It's that good, guys! It's magic! The cover is dope, too!

5/5 stars! ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Monday, March 26, 2018

WRESTLE MANIACS by Adam Howe

WRESTLE MANIACS is a fun anthology! Compared to other anthologies, it's the stylin', profilin', limousine ridin', jet flyin', wheelin' and dealin' son of a gun! This anthology doesn't have any jabronies. I loved everything about wrestling growing up. I used to get up on Saturday mornings and watch WWF and WCW reruns over and over again. I believed wrestling was real. I wanted it to be real. I had the wrestling figures and the toy ring to go with them. My dad and I loved to hate Ric Flair and Sid Vicious. The Ultimate Warrior was my favorite, though. When he came into the building the crowd would come alive. I even liked the villains, especially Razor Ramone. I used to stand in front of the mirror and do the toothpick toss. I had the video games and the wrestling dummies to practice my Figure 4s and Powerbombs. 

WRESTLE MANIACS shows the dark side of wrestling in the best possible ways. Some of the stories feel like they could be on the news. Some of my favorite wrestlers were terrible people and they did terrible things to their loved ones. These short stories shed light on all of that and more. 

There a lot to like about this anthology. WRESTLE MANIACS is brutal, disgusting, frightening, and fun. All of the stories brought something to the table. Some of the stories will make you want to throw up, such as Canadian Donkey Punch and Rassle Hassle. Gabino Iglesias delivers El Neuvo Santo's Last Fight about a luchador and mobsters. James Newman's A Friend In Need is great. Patrick Lacey's Kill To Be You is really good. 

Even if you don't like wrestling, you should give this book a read. You should give it a read because it is good and it runs the gamut of the horror genre. WRESTLE MANIACS is a great way to spend a few hours. Remember not to eat before or while reading this book. 

4/5 Figure 4s! ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones

I can't say enough about this book! Stephen Graham Jones delivers every single time. People have been telling me to read this for about a year now, so I figured I'd give it a go. Once I opened this book there was nothing else I wanted to do, but finish this story. I completely devoured it in no time. MONGRELS is a book that you read numerous times throughout your life. I will make it a habit to read it time and time again. This book should be taught in high school English classes across the country. 

MONGRELS is about a young guy and his aunt and uncle. The three are werewolves. It is a werewolf story on the surface, but underneath it all, it's so much more than that. First, it's one of my top five books of all time. Second, it's one of the best coming-of-age stories I've ever read. Third, MONGRELS is a literary work of art. It is gritty. MONGRELS transcends the genre. Stephen Graham Jones turns the werewolf mythos on its head in grand fashion. 

I want more of grandpa's stories. I quickly grew attached to the young narrator as he learns the rules of being a werewolf while wondering if he will ever transform into one himself. While the trio travels through the South, you learn about the struggle of being a werewolf and why they have to move around so much. 

The trio travels through familiar cities in the South. They even travel through my hometown. How cool is that? The scenes are intense and come to life through SGJ's powerful prose and dialogue. 

MONGRELS is about survival. It's about belonging. It's about finding your identity. The storyline is nice and tight. There's not a bad chapter in this book. 

Stephen Graham Jones can write! You should give MONGRELS a read.

HIGHLY RECOMMEND!

5/5 stars! ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Friday, March 23, 2018

THE WARBLERS by Amber Fallon

THE WARBLERS is a solid read! There is a lot to like about this novella. I've never read Amber Fallon before, so I didn't know what to expect. I'd never heard of Eraserhead Press either. I will definitely be reading more books by both, though. The cover is what caught my eye. The writing kept me turning the page. 


After the sun would go down, I'd hear them out there, back by the shed, shrieking their twisted warbly cries out there in the night, followed by squeals of whatever prey they'd managed to hunt down. 

Dell is a 14-year-old who has lost his dog Ginger. He regrets letting her out at night, and the guilt weighs heavy on him. The warblers are a threat to Dell's family. No one is safe on the family farm. Dell's dad decides to get rid of them once and for all. That's when this coming-of-age story really starts cooking. 

This quick novella is only but a glimpse of a great world that Amber Fallon has created. I hope she explores this little world a bit more in the future. There is much to like about THE WARBLERS. The monsters are terrifying and the ending is top notch. Amber Fallon keeps the prose tight. There's a nice touch of southern dialect, too. 

The WARBLERS is very much a slow burn until it isn't. Fallon does a great job building the dread. The characters are solid, and the ending will satisfy any reader. Overall, it's a solid read.

Recommend!

4/5 stars! ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Hell House by Richard Matheson

William Reinhardt Deutsch is a dying millionaire who pays Dr. Lionel Barrett to assemble a team to look into the haunting of Belasco House in Maine. The rich old man is trying to find out if there's life after death. He gives Dr. Barrett and his team one week to find answers. 

A prior investigation was conducted at the house, but it ended in madness and death. One of the team members is Benjamin Fischer, the only survivor of the previous investigation 30 years ago. He is still terrified and he has kept his psychic powers suppressed ever since. 


Florence Tanner is a mental medium, whereas Benjamin Fischer is a physical medium. I don't know the difference between the two. Florence is the most vulnerable of the team members. The ghost in the house nearly beats and batters her to death. She's attacked numerous times, but she stands her ground. 


I almost stopped reading when Florence was abused because I don't play that. Ghost or no ghost, some things cross a line with me, but I kept reading. Many people like this book, so I wanted to finish it. If I'm being honest, I stopped reading the book for a few months, then I picked it back up again. 

Dr. Barrett and his wife Edith are tortured physically and psychologically. While all of these things are going on, Dr. Barrett insists they stay until his device arrives. It's a machine that disturbs the electromagnetic fields in the house and absorbs them. Dr. Barrett believes that the manifestations are a physical phenomenon that can be disrupted and stopped. Fringe science is where it's at, am I right?


Richard Matheson gives us a great background story on Belasco and his house. From a young age, you learn that Emeric Belasco is evil personified. He grows up and inherits his parents' money. He starts throwing extravagant parties. Those parties turn really weird over time. There was an epidemic and people started dying. The survivors went crazy on each other, eventually turning to mutilation and cannibalism. Several people died, Belasco was never found. 


The book is great, but the ending was very interesting to me. I didn't see the final showdown going the way it did. I was kind of satisfied with the ending, though. 


Stephen King says that Richard Matheson is his biggest influence and for the most part it shows. It's cool that the Belasco House is set in Maine. Both authors love their characters, but they sure know how to put them through hell. 

Richard Matheson writes eloquent prose. The characters are solid. The book is non-stop. Florence has to endure a good bit of abuse, almost too much for my liking. An unease crept over me while reading this one. I felt dirty after reading it. I've read some gross and horrifying books, but this one almost takes the cake. It takes a lot to chill me to my core–this book does it a few times.


Some say the story is similar to Shirley Jackson's THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE. I've never read that book, so I don't know if that is true or not. I will be reading that and watching the film adaptation fo HELL HOUSE. I did watch Scary Movie 2 a while back, which is kind of based on this book. 


I'll have to give this one another read later on down the road.


Recommend!

4/5 stars! ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Synopsis: 

Can any soul survive? 
Regarded as the Mount Everest of haunted houses, Belasco House has witnessed scenes of almost unimaginable horror and depravity. Two previous expeditions to investigate its secrets met with disaster, the participants destroyed by murder, suicide, or insanity. Now a new investigation has been mounted – four strangers, each with his or her own reason for daring the unknown torments and temptations of the mansion...

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Guest Post by D.R. Bartlette


The Satanic Panic: America’s Last Great Mass Hysteria

It all started with a book: Michelle Remembers, a lurid misery-porn “memoir” published in 1980 featuring Michelle Smith’s supposedly recovered memories of ritual abuse at the hands of her mother and a coven of Satanists. According to these memories (helpfully uncovered by her “gentle, compassionate psychiatrist,” Dr. Lawrence Pazder), she had been abused by Satanists when she was 5 years old in some creatively sadistic - and cinematically inspired - ways. Michelle claimed she was raped by snakes, forced to defecate on a Bible, saw other children and animals murdered, had a tail and horns surgically grafted onto her skeleton, and engaged in cannibalism ... but at the end, the Virgin Mary in the Archangel Michael appeared and saved her, miraculously erasing all physical evidence of the crimes.

Some journalists did express skepticism at the time, but they were drowned out by the overwhelming chorus of journalists and other experts who accepted Michelle’s claims (and Pazder’s Recovered-Memory technique) uncritically. This was at the dawn of the age when therapists first begin to recognize childhood sexual abuse, so the default position had become to believe first, ask questions later. But let’s back up a little.

Beelzebub’s Backstory
The widespread belief that Satan was real and working evil in the world did not come out of nowhere. In 1972, the Pope had warned that Satan was indeed real in a speech called “Confronting the Devil’s Power.” In the wider culture, the 1970s had seen a big resurgence in horror novels and movies starring Satan himself. First came Rosemary's Baby in 1967, a taut little tale about an innocent housewife impregnated with the seed of Satan. It was so popular, the film rights sold before the book was even published. Then, The Exorcist, a baroque novel about a modern case of demon possession, made the New York Times Best Seller list in 1971 and stayed on it for 55 weeks. It sold 4 million copies when it was adapted to film in 1973. Those two books alone spawned dozens of imitations. Satan, demons, and devil worshipers packed the bookshelves for years afterwards. Then in 1976, The Omen terrified movie audiences with the story of Satan’s son wreaking havoc here on earth. So by 1980, the American Zeitgeist had been primed for Satan's big comeback.

Authorities on the Anti-Christ
But there were other, darker, factors at work in creating the Satanic Panic. In 1980, the newly formed Moral Majority (which, in reality, was neither), led by televangelist Jerry Falwell, begin flexing their muscles, electing divorced Hollywood actor Ronald Reagan to the presidency. The Satanic Panic was like mana to the religious right (pardon the pun): it “proved” that the devil was real, and therefore propped up their waning cultural authority.

With its lurid claims of dark rituals and sadistic sexual abuse, the Satanic Panic appealed to another relatively new and powerful phenomenon in the 80s: tabloid TV, the pre-internet version of fake news. Tabloid TV thrived on violence and sensationalism, and it was ubiquitous at a time when the majority of American households had a TV. Between 1985 and 1989, TV hosts Geraldo Rivera, Oprah Winfrey, Sally Jessy Raphael, and Larry King aired a total of eight shows about devil worship and witchcraft. But perhaps the most memorable of these was Geraldo's 1988 special, Devil Worship: Exposing Satan's Underground. It was given a special evening time slot only a few days before Halloween, and was the highest-rated two-hour special that NBC ever aired. Of course it was just the kind of level-headed, truthful journalism you'd expect from Geraldo Rivera in the 80s, as he flitted from clergy members to alleged victims to cops, all with a befuddled Ozzy Osbourne looking down from a TV screen.

This feedback loop between the moralizing right and the tabloid media created, and was in turn created by, a number of self-styled experts who made careers for themselves as consultants and speakers. Michelle Smith and Lawrence Pazder, after leaving their respective spouses and marrying each other, became celebrities, going on a cross-country promotional tour and landing on the covers of People magazine and the National Enquirer. Others, such as Bob Larson, Gordon Colter, and numerous others, made their fame the pre-internet way: distributing Xeroxed pamphlets and cheaply-made VHS tapes, hosting AM radio shows, and traveling around the country speaking to church groups, parent-teacher associations, and even law enforcement. Many of these experts claimed to have once been high-ranking witches and Satanic priests, who later became saved. Their message was the same: dire warnings about the dangers of apparently numerous Satanic cults roaming the country, abducting and killing children, using Dungeons & Dragons and heavy metal music to recruit more followers.

The Devil’s in the Daycare
In the 1970s and 80s, more and more mothers were working outside the home and leaving their kids in daycare. Already a source of anxiety for working moms, the Moral Majority and their supporters saw this as, at best, a sad symptom of the breakdown of the traditional family; at worst, an unforgivable act of selfishness that destroyed children’s spirits, all so some ball-crushing feminist could muscle in on men's territory. With the rise of the Satanic Panic, the Moral Majority appeared vindicated: now daycares were seen as potential slaughterhouses full of child-abusing pedophiles. Women who dared use them - whether by choice or necessity - were de facto guilty of the most heinous kind of neglect for their children’s welfare.

The first victims of this wave of the Satanic Panic were the owners of the McMartin preschool in Manhattan Beach, California, in 1983. One parent, Judy Johnson, an alcoholic with a history of mental illness who was going through an ugly divorce, claimed that her son had been sodomized by a teacher there. Investigators, seeking more evidence, sent letters to 200 parents accusing the McMartin family of a number of sexual abuses. Needless to say, the parents went into a panic, and the McMartin family’s guilt was cemented in the public’s minds.

The children were sent to Kee MacFarlane, who was not a licensed psychologist, to be interviewed. MacFarlane used some controversial (and later discredited) methods to get the children to reveal “yucky secrets.” Transcripts and tapes later showed that her questions led the children to tell her what she wanted to hear, and she would not accept their answers when they told her that the teachers had done nothing wrong.

It was the longest and most expensive trial in American history. After three years, the McMartins were eventually acquitted, but not until their business and lives had been destroyed. In the meantime, over 100 more preschools and daycares across the country were accused of similar abuses.

Satan, Laughing, Spreads His Wings
But the Satanic Panic would not be confined to ruining the lives of innocent childcare workers. The religious right saw the devil everywhere, especially in the games and music enjoyed by bookish loners.

In 1981, Rona Jaffe wrote Mazes and Monsters, a ridiculously fictionalized story based very loosely on the disappearance and, later, suicide of James Dallas Egbert. He was a troubled college student who at one point played Dungeons & Dragons; the book claimed D&D somehow drove Egbert insane, unable to differentiate between the game and reality, causing him to kill himself. A year later, it was made into a cheesy made-for-TV movie starring Tom Hanks. A year after that, Patricia Pulling blamed D&D for her son’s suicide and formed Bothered About D&D. Using ridiculous, trumped-up scare tactics (including the Mazes and Monsters movie), BADD successfully lobbied to have D&D kicked out of public schools across the country. Some schools went so far as to punish students for even bringing D&D books or dice onto school grounds.

At the same time Mazes and Monsters hit the bookshelves, Christian DJ Michael Mills began touring America, warning Christians about “backmasking,” or backwards subliminal messages hidden in rock music. The following year, Minister Jacob Aranza wrote Backward Masking Unmasked and sparked a number of community organizations and pastors - most notably Gary Greenwald - to come out against the evils of rock music. One such group was the Parents Music Resource Center, headed by Al’s wife Tipper Gore. While the PMRC avoided directly accusing rock music of being a conduit for Satan, they did object to what they saw as “obscene” or “blasphemous” cover art and lyrics, and successfully lobbied Congress to affix parental warning labels on albums. Many stores, including Wal-Mart, refused to carry albums with the parental warning label.

The charges against D&D and rock music were the same: that they would drive the players/listeners crazy and/or somehow manipulate them into worshipping Satan, inevitably killing themselves and/or other people. In 1986, Ozzy Osbourne was actually brought to court by the mother of John McCollum, who killed himself under the supposed influence of Ozzy’s music. The charges were dropped. Judas Priest found themselves charged with the same thing four years later, and were found not guilty.

And let’s not forget another group targeted by the religious right: Wiccans, Pagans, Druids, and anyone dabbling in New Age or occult practices. Many of these beliefs had gotten pop-culture chic in the 60s and 70s, and the number of actual practitioners continued to rise in the 80s. But according to pastors, priests, and various “occult experts” of the time, anything remotely associated with these beliefs was deemed Satanic. The pentagram (the symbol of Wicca), altars (used by nearly all Neo-Pagan and indigenous religions), candles (again, used by people of a variety of religions, including Catholicism), and books on any of these topics were “proof” of Satanism.

By the end of the decade, Satanic Ritual Abuse was widely accepted as fact. Law enforcement training materials even claimed upwards of 60,000 people were killed every year by Satanists. Note that this is three times the number of all reported homicides in a year.

Perhaps the most egregious case of innocent people victimized by the Satanic Panic was that of the West Memphis Three. Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin, and Jessie Misskelley were accused of the grisly murders of three 8-year-old boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, in 1993. Bear in mind, this was three years after Michelle Remembers had been disproven by reporters, and a year after the Department of Justice had debunked Satanic Ritual Abuse.

Nonetheless, the murders were labeled as Satanic, and the three boys - outcasts who wore black and listened to heavy metal music - were immediately suspects. The police got Misskelley, who is mentally challenged, to falsely confess to the murders. The only “evidence” the prosecution had of the boys’ guilt were the fact that they owned heavy metal posters and albums, and Echols owned books on the occult. That was enough to ensure that they were found guilty.

The West Memphis Three spent 18 years in prison - Echols, on death row. Echols spent that entire time in solitary confinement, and now has permanent vision damage because of it. Thanks to the efforts of celebrities like Johnny Depp, they were finally released in 2011, making Echols the first death row inmate in Arkansas ever to be set free.

To this day, the boys’ real murderer is still unknown.

The Devil’s Downfall
As more and more hysterical claims began piling up, and still no evidence to be found, people began to question the allegations that there was a vast network of Satanists abducting, abusing, and killing hundreds of thousands of children. In 1990, a journalist for the The Mail on Sunday investigated the claims in Michelle Remembers and found not one person who could corroborate anything in the book. In fact, many of Michelle’s “memories” were demonstrably false.

The technique Pazder - and others - had used to “help” victims “recover” their memories of abuse was condemned as unethical and leading by psychologists. Starting in the 90s, victims who had accused family members of abuse based on recovered memories began successfully suing their therapists for implanting these false memories. Now, Recovered-Memory Therapy is not listed in DSM-IV and is not endorsed by mainstream ethical and professional mental health associations.

In 1992, Kenneth Lanning, an Supervisory Special Agent with the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, researched hundreds of cases of alleged Satanic Ritual Abuse. His monograph, published by the Department of Justice, debunked claims of systemic ritualistic occult abuse in America.
As more psychologists, sociologists, and journalists began to question the claims made by dubious occult “experts” and alleged victims, it became clear America had been hoaxed. The Satanic Panic eventually collapsed under the weight of its own ridiculousness.  

But, like any good horror monster, there is the threat that the Satanic Panic might rise again. With the spread of fake news on social media, coupled with the resurgence of the religious right, the conditions are ripe for a resurrection. The Pizzagate incident - which also claimed the existence of an underground child sexual abuse ring, just without the robes and candles - may be the first warning shot. I hope what we learned last time around will be enough to keep this particular monster in its grave for good.

Author Bio:

D.R. Bartlette is a Southern author who writes smart, dark fiction. A nerdy weirdo who hung out in libraries for fun, she discovered horror at an inappropriately early age, and her mind has been twisted ever since. She wrote her first short horror story in eighth grade. Since then, she’s written dozens of short stories, articles, and essays from topics ranging from school lunches to the study of human decomposition.
Her first novel, The Devil in Black Creek, is set in 1986, when 12-year-old Cassie discovers an unspeakable secret in the local preacher’s shed. 
She lives and writes in her hometown of Fayetteville, Arkansas, where she still hangs out at the library for fun.