Horror Business: Craig Oliver

Horror Business is a novel I that wrote. Horror movies play a huge role in the narrative.

“Horror Business” is a sporadic column where I ask influential/invaluable writers and people of interest the following question: What scene from a movie has scared/troubled/shaken you the most?

Craig Oliver has been my go-to person when I need to talk horror. He’s one of the smartest dudes I know when it comes to the technical/historical/contextual significance of movies, but his mutual love of all things dark—and that recognition of what it says about us—provides a base for our close friendship.

For evidence of this darkness, look no farther than his record label, Volar Records. Volar, in my opinion, puts out the best, weirdest music in San Diego, but there is a biting edge to any Volar band. They feel like they’re creeping up on you. They feel dangerous. Weirdo music for weirdo people, and there isn’t enough of that anymore.

(Also, a couple years ago, I went with Craig to SXSW where he was running a bunch of Volar showcases, and we spent a significant amount of the 22-hour drive talking about highway ghosts and aliens.)

What scene from a movie has scared/troubled/shaken you the most?

I can tell you about nightmares as a kid. About being scared of the covers of horror movies at the video store. About indulging myself in those same movies as a young teen. About sleeplessness and a general fear of the dark that lasted well into my twenties. The need for music or for the TV to be on, some sign of life in the quiet of night. I can tell you about all the things I’ve read over the years about the function of horror movies as a means to confront certain fears and come out victorious. About the cycle of watching these movies for twenty-plus years on end, intentionally unsettling any sort of peace I’ve had without them, of the battle throughout that same period of time with insomnia, only to indulge myself further.

Most of all, I can tell you about a small handful of those movies looking back at me.

It’s 2005. you’re at Landmark’s Ken Cinema, our town’s only single-screen theater. You’re here with your girlfriend at the time watching Ju-On: The Grudge, the original Japanese version, the third part in the series that was adapted pretty poorly in the US, and with Ringu (adapted rather well in the US as The Ring), helping to popularize the trope of the black-eyed ghost-child.

In Ju-On, a family has moved into a house and has become terrorized by two vengeful spirits. A character crawls backwards as one of these black-eyed ghost-boys approaches. The slow dread of certain death goes against the normal American counterpart of the maniacal running and screaming from some hulking danger. Here, there is no use trying to escape. Your fate is inevitable. As the ghost child approaches, the screen goes black, leaving you in the theater in complete darkness. Slowly a faint light fills the screen, and your hands are over your face. You are shivering, and your then-girlfriend is next to you chiding you for all of this. Slowly, ever slowly, a pair of eyes thirty feet high, looking directly at you. In the past you worried about waking up to these eyes, you’ve worried about them staring at you from within the darkness of the closet.


A year or so later, you and your best friend spend Friday nights watching horror flicks, mostly 70s exploitation and cheeseball 80s gorefests. Eventually you run out, and you start watching more serious fare, sometimes foreign. Tonight it’s the French classic Eyes Without a Face, a weirdly poetic-yet-absurd story of a plastic surgeon father who kills women to steal their faces in an attempt to replace the disfigured face of his daughter, Christine, who stays at home, a prisoner behind a blank white mask. Partway through the film, she’s a little ways off in a room, without her mask, out of focus. The camera slowly moves in, the focus sharpening. So much dreadful weight is placed on the horror of her real face, staring into the camera, staring at us, and before it is fully revealed, you both shut off the movie and quickly head out for a party. A week later, you’re both back on the couch, cueing the movie back up to just before that moment.

“She’s been staring at me all week,” you both agree.


You are seventeen and finally watching The Exorcist for the first time. You’ve tried doing so at night, which proved to be too much, so now it’s day, sunlight pouring through the windows. The first twenty minutes or so, the movie is well done, claustrophobic. You are not religious, so all the ‘God and the Devil’ doesn’t really hit you, but demons in the dark still nag at you nonetheless. And now the main character, the priest, is dreaming, his mother far off, coming out of a subway, unable to hear his cries. And then a flash, a face:

The rest of the film keeps going with its tale of demonic possession and faith, but it’s the split-second image of that visage, staring back, not just from the dark but another dimension, that stays in your bones. The face never goes away.


That notion of breaking the fourth wall—first addressed in eighteenth-century stage plays and carrying over to movies and film—the metafictional acknowledgement of the audience—is generally used in both comedic works to jokingly clue the audience in to some elevated understanding of the circumstances within, to make them feel as if they’re in on it; in dramatic works, it’s used for empathetic effect: feel what I feel, we are together in this. In the occasion that it’s used in horror films, the effect is something quite different:


And the first time you are aware of this is the silliest in retrospect. It’s 1984. MTV is relatively new, and your parents are young and watch it quite a bit. You are in a small, unsettling house on the outskirts of Yuma, AZ. You are four years old and easily scared. There is a big premiere of a music video, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” and your parents are excited. The video plays, Michael Jackson and his girlfriend stopped in the woods. Michael turns, violently, into a werewolf and chases her through the woods. You are frightened and try leaving the room, but it’s difficult not looking back, MJ as werewolf looking directly into the screen, and then, safety. It’s a movie, it’s not real. MJ and his girlfriend leave the theater, he dances around, and then they are surrounded by zombies; the nightmare isn’t over. MJ turns into one of them, and for a few moments, they all look straight through the television and directly at you.


You try to get further out of the room but you don’t want to be alone, and when you look back, the zombies are all dancing, this has to fun and games, yes? And then it’s over, and MJ is back to normal, everything is safe, but he looks back to you one last time, his eyes yellow, a grin on his face. “There are always monsters underneath,” you’ll always think.


“Animal Control” in Paper Darts


My story “Animal Control,” recently won Paper Darts Short Story Contest. I’m very proud of it, and the artwork (GIF!) that accompanies it—by John Wilinksi—is great.

It’s an honor to win because I have so much love for Paper Darts. I can’t think of a better-looking lit site, and the design of relaunch is something that everyone should aspire to. Mad props for a literary site that takes UX and responsive design into account.

It’s a huge ego boost to win the accolades of Lindsay Hunter, who judged the contest. I’ve been a huge fan of Hunter’s work for a long time (probably an understatement), so to know that she picked mine out of however many blind submissions… I felt very legitimized.

Go read her books.

Thanks to everyone who read(s) “Animal Control.” I’ve been getting a lot of great feedback. I like when people say that it makes them feel weird, “but in a good way.”

Black Candies – Surveillance

I’m proud to present the third issue of the literary horror journal which I edit: Black Candies – Surveillance.

We’re never alone. Paranoia has replaced privacy. Secrets are the new currency. The strangers who watched from the street now watch from within. For this issue of Black Candies, we found 11 smart, terrifying stories that explore the theme of “Surveillance” in explicit, implicit and abstract ways. These stories not only touch on the contradiction of the securities of our modern era, but unearth the deeper terror, paranoia, and anxiety that results.

There are a lot of new things I tried with this issue, including full-bleeds and two-page spreads for the illustrations. This is also the first time that I’ve used Createspace, a decision that I came to after reading Cameron Pierce’s (publisher of Lazy Fascist Press) novella “The Snakes of Boring,”—printed with Createspace—and being very impressed with the quality.

I also feel like I stretched my editorial muscles with this one. In the past, I’ve had the fortune of falling back on co-editors, and that’s probably made me a little less confident in my editing skills. I was lucky enough to have a group of writers who were very patient and willing to build their pieces where I thought they should be developed, or push back when appropriate. The resulting camaraderie among writers in the book (at least from what I can tell on social media) is pretty amazing—unlike anything I’ve experienced with a publication.

There’s also a new Facebook page where we’re gonna post info about upcoming issues, ways to submit, etc.

And here’s a rad thing: You can read Angus McIntyre’s “Someone To Watch Over Me” over at Boing Boing!

Here are Black Candies’ authors: 

Angus McIntyre
Valerie E. Polichar
Julia Evans
Gabriela Santiago
Melissa Gutierrez
Berit Ellingsen
Jake Arky
Matt Lewis
Chris Curtis
Kevin Sampsell
Ron Gutierrez
Wade Pavlick

Here are the artists: 

Adam Vieyra
Carabella Sands
Andrew McGranahan
Laura Gwynne
Carrie Anne Hudson
Thanks y’all. I hope you enjoy it.



This is what happens when your mom designs your book ad

Oh boy.

So, recently, I published a book. It’s called Horror Businessand as the title suggests, it’s a horror novel.

The basic plot involves a horror movie-obsessed kid and the weirdness that begins to happen in the small town where he lives. The reason you need to know that is because the setting is very inspired by my own childhood and adolescence growing up in Park City, Utah.

I grew up reading The Park Record, Park City’s local newspaper, and still love reading it when I visit home. I think that it still holds a certain charm—a charm which has disappeared in most media outlets who’ve tried to make their content globally accessible.

Now, imagine my surprise and joy when I found out my mom bought a digital ad on the Park Record‘s online and mobile sites. (If you don’t see it, you may have to refresh a couple/lot of times).

One thing you have to know about my mom: we share the same sense of humor. Combine that with some decent Photoshop skills and this is what you get.

First off, it’s an animated gif, because of course it is.

(Screenshots from mobile site).


photo 1

First slide

Thought processes: All right, there’s the book cover… good, good… ‘Park City author Ryan Bradford’. Nice local angle… 

Wait. “Scarier than Stephen King”? 

“Who said that?” I asked.

“I said it!”  my mom said. And then after a moment of silence of not knowing how to respond to that, she added: “Scare quotes!… Get it?”

Also, please note her masterful use of the Chiller font.


photo 2Second slide

Thought processes:

· Wow. 

· Three exclamation points! (!!!) 

· My black-dyed, pseudo-goateed senior picture, taken over ten years ago–as if people are running to their PCHS ’03 yearbook to validate it? I dunno.

More Chiller! So much Chiller.

– G-g-g-ghost clip art.

Why is my mom’s dog Sophie, looking possessed, on there? And what’s she saying? “Scarier than Clive B—” Oh. 

Anyway, so much awesome. The book’s pretty good too. Some smart lit people think it’s pretty good. And some very smart people think it’s scarier than Stephen King.

Horror Business blog tour

To support the release of my book Horror BusinessI wrote a lot of guest posts on other people’s blogs. It was a good fun! Many thanks to everyone who let me infest their virtual space.

Here’s a round-up of what went down.

· Here’s an interview on We Do Write. Sample question: Finish this sentence: If I’m not writing, I’m probably
Shivering and scared of the world.

· Mythical Books asked me why we like to read/watch horror. I talked anxiety and Thomas Ligotti, among other things.

· Over at Book Lover’s Life, I listed the top things you need to know about Horror Business. (oh god, I hope people still like to read lists)

· I wrote about writing sexxxx scenes over at Souls Readers.

· Marlene Moss over at On Writing and Riding interviewed me. Subjects we covered were subliminal marketing and Tim Allen.

· Finally, I talked with Mommabears Book Blog about the influence the film The Evil Dead has had on Horror Business.


Horror Business: Jim Ruland

Horror Business is a novel I that wrote. It’s coming out in February 2015. Horror movies play a huge role in the narrative.

“Horror Business” is a sporadic column where I ask influential/invaluable writers and people of interest the following question: What scene from a movie has scared/troubled/shaken you the most?

Never assume anything about Jim Rulandhe’s a man of surprises.

A couple years ago, when I delivered mail, I would try to find the most quiet and secluded streets to take my breaks. It was such a harried and exhausting job that even a 15 minute moment of quiet felt akin to Buddhist enlightenment, and I always had a paperback on hand.

One of those books happened to be Ruland’s short story collection, Big Lonesome. The copy on the back promised me “hard-boiled” stories, which felt entertaining enough, and perfect for the short bursts of serenity.

During this time, I was delivering mail in a neighborhood in San Diego called Point Loma—a rich part of town that also happens to have some of the most peaceful streets in its upper regions.

I parked the mail truck, cracked Big Lonesome open and landed on a story called “Brains for Bengo,” ready for some hard crime or easily-digestible noirish fare.

That story scared the shit out of me. When I was finished, I looked up and the peaceful environment had become isolating and haunted. The soft breeze now felt menacing. I booked it out of there, eager to be around other people.

Point is: Ruland strikes when you’re not expecting it, and he’s damn good at it. His calm demeanor hides a darkness that bleeds out on the page. This year alone (in his effort to make all other writers [i.e. me] look like lazy wasteoids) he put out Giving the Fingera memoir that he co-wrote—AND Forest of Fortune, his debut novel. Forest of Fortune is a hilarious and haunting book that showcases his unparalleled skill in combining surreal and frightening elements with noir, history, and comedy. I loved it.

What scene from a movie has scared/troubled/shaken you the most?


JR: Salem’s Lot.

Salem’s Lot was released as a two-part TV miniseries that scared the piss out of me when I was 11 years old. I know what you’re thinking: You were scared of a made-for-television movie? Trust me. This one was different.

The movie was based on a Stephen King novel about a writer who returns to his hometown in Maine (I know, shocker) and discovers that it’s being taken over by vampires.

Most horror movies shown on TV where chopped-up versions of R-rated movies that had the sex, violence and gore clumsily edited out and dubbed over. They weren’t very fun to watch except that if you sat through a movie on TV, getting to see the unedited version later on a friend’s VCR was a secret thrill.

Salem’s Lot was different. Because it was made for TV, the thrills were expressed not with violence and gore but with atmosphere and mood, and it was directed by Tobe Hooper, the same guy who made The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

In the movie, a young boy named Ralphie Glick goes missing. His family thinks he’s been abducted but the audience knows the truth: he’s been turned into a vampire. His brother Danny finds this out the hard way when Ralphie turns up one night, tapping on his bedroom window. Somehow Danny doesn’t notice that Ralphie is fucking floating in the air and opens the window for him.

Now it’s on and these creepy Glick Brothers are tapping on windows all over town and going on a blood-sucking rampage. Danny sets his sights on his friend, Mark Petrie, a horror movie buff with a Luke Skywalker haircut. Mark knows his monster movies and he repels Danny with a cross. You can watch the scene here.

What Hooper does so well with these scenes is make them heavy rather than scary. There are no special effects. No CGI. No gotcha moments to make you jump. Just the Glick brothers in some make-up and creepy contact lenses. We see Danny as Mark wants to see him: as his friend, but as the vampire emerges from the fog it’s clear what has happened to him. In the scene, Mark is crying not because he’s scared – he’s the only one in Salem’s Lot who isn’t losing his shit – but because he knows what’s happened to his friend: he’s dead. Worse than dead, actually. He’s a fucking vampire.


When I saw Salem’s Lot, I lived in a house in a tree-lined neighborhood in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. My bedroom was in the basement: dark and cold and far from my parents’ room. After watching Salem’s Lot, I slept on the couch in the living room for the night. One night turned into a week. A week into two. I must have slept out there for over a month. My parents talked to me about it a couple of times but I refused to go back down to the basement. Even though I felt safer in the living room, sleeping up there was no less terrifying.

Our living room had these big ass windows that any passing vampire could float right up to. Even worse, right outside the window was an oak tree whose branches would scrape the window at the slightest breeze. The wind would blow, the branches would go skittering across the glass, and I’d expect to see Danny fucking Glick inviting me out for a bite. It’s a miracle I didn’t have a nervous breakdown.


Salem’s Lot is still a heavy movie for me. My cousin, who was also named Mark, was a lot like Mark Petrie: a guy who was obsessed with monster movies. My cousin grew up idolizing the people who made horror movies and when he grew up he made good on his childhood dream by becoming a screenwriter. If you’re still reading this, there’s a good chance you’ve seen his movie Pumpkinhead.

Looking back it’s easy to see how Salem’s Lot might have influenced Mark’s first movie Neon Maniacs, which also features a girl who loves monster movies. (She was a he in the original screenplay, but whatever.) There aren’t any vampires in Mark’s movie and Neon Maniacs isn’t nearly as nuanced as Salem’s Lot (it’s a low-budget ‘80s slasher flick) but I love how the kid’s knowledge of the secret lore of monster movies allows her to put her fears aside and beat back the demons who are making her life hell.

Sadly, my cousin’s career was cut short by mental illness. In the weeks before his death, I remember feeling a lot like Mark Petrie, helplessly watching as my cousin’s illness transformed him into something unrecognizable, something dangerously un-Mark. The knowledge that saved the day in the movies, couldn’t save my cousin in real life.


It’s been 35 years since I first saw Salem’s Lot and I’m still haunted by the Glick Brothers. The damage has been done. It’s part of who I am. The fear has been encoded into my DNA.

But if you come over to my house someday, and you catch me napping on the sofa in the living room, whatever you do, don’t start tapping on the window and calling my name.

One of us might not live to regret it.


Horror Business: Zack Wentz

Horror Business is a novel I that wrote. It’s coming out in February 2015. Horror movies play a huge role in the narrative.

“Horror Business” is a sporadic column where I ask influential/invaluable writers and people of interest the following question: What scene from a movie has scared/troubled/shaken you the most?

The first time I saw Zack Wentz, it was in the basement of a Santa Cruz community center over ten years ago. I was there to see Blood Brothers, who were touring their Burn, Piano Island, Burn album (which, in terms of hardcore/punk music, was as influential as Refused’s Shape of Punk to Come, and probably still the scariest album you can dance to). Wentz’s band Kill Me Tomorrow was the opening band.

I remember being disappointed in the Blood Brothers’ performance. They sped through their already-fast songs to the point of incomprehension, and they weren’t very tight. But Kill Me Tomorrow was a different story—one of those rare occasions were the opener upstaged the  headliner. Wentz sang while pounding away at his stand-up drums like a madman, backlit by a hellish red light. It was a little scary, entirely captivating and seemed ahead of its time.

And that’s pretty much how you could classify everything Wentz does. Aside from his musical projects (currently, he plays drums in the very rad, very haunting Dabbers), he’s a fantastic writer and editor. He’s currently the editor for New Dead Families, a journal that’s as admirable for its dedication to showcasing the newest in weird as it is to its editorial integrity.

(Side note/disclosure: I had a story published in New Dead Families and Wentz really put it through the ringer. It was one of those invaluable instances where he made me know the story better than I imagined I could.)

Also, he wrote The Garbageman and the Prostitute (a companion book to the Kill Me Tomorrow album of the same name).  There’s more grotesque lyricism and seediness packed into that less-than-200-page book than most sprawling novels I’ve read, and it seems to influence a lot of transgressive literature I’ve read recently. It’s challenging and creepy, yet deceptively accessible. If any publisher was smart, they’d snatch up the rights to this and put it back into print.

What scene from a movie has scared/troubled/shaken you the most?


ZW: Return of Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988)

I still have a surprisingly weak stomach and peculiarly vulnerable inner-eye for horror, considering how much horror media I consumed at a fairly young age.

My father had a tremendous collection of old books stored on tall dark wood shelves alongside the stairs that led up to the bedrooms on the second floor of our house. Bookshelves also lined the slim hallway leading to the upstairs bathroom—looming all the way up to the ceiling. Nights, I crept past these.

The most recent books were well-worn paperbacks from the fifties, sixties, and early seventies, at the very latest. Some of those paperbacks were my first exposure to horror: Poe, Bierce, A. Merritt, Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Leiber, Bradbury; those Weird Tales “best of” anthologies Leo Margulies did for Pyramid, as well as other anthologies, such as my childhood favorite: Book of the Werewolf.

There was no shortage of visual imagery. In addition to the vivid covers of those paperbacks, there were a decent number of large-format volumes dedicated to vintage pulp-art. Virgil Finlay was chillingly addictive to flip through, in particular, and tucked between some taller hardcovers were several issues of a copiously illustrated magazine titled Coven 13 that I could never summon up the guts to take to my bedroom and read because I actually believed those magazines might possess genuine “diabolical powers” (and I was an already-skeptical rural Northwest boy, used to the damp and dreary dark, raised Orthodox-Atheist).

None of that early, almost anachronistic, horror exposure really prepared me for “modern” horror movies, which became plentiful at the few video rental places we had in our small Oregon town by the late eighties. The covers of those chunky VHS tapes were even more troubling—often stretched stills from the films, or realistic paintings, almost always of something unspeakably gruesome about to happen to a conventionally attractive, partially-clothed female.

I generally did not experience these films at my house. These things I usually viewed at Carey Voeller’s in his garage, which had been converted into a family room. Over many a weekend we’d set up our sleeping bags in there, supplied with a reasonably ambitious quantity of junk-food provisions, and commence with our horror movie marathons.

We saw a lot of awful things. Some of those movies I still can’t believe we were legally allowed to rent (I’m still not certain if I Spit on Your Grave should even exist). But we also saw a lot of wonderful stuff that was truly mind-expanding and, occasionally, delightful (such as Eraserhead, and a number of the early Troma films).

The most unforgettable scene I ever saw, we weren’t at all ready for, in spite of the fact that we’d watched the previous movie in the series. The film was Return of the Living Dead Part II, the second of these then-recent, somewhat tongue-in-cheek “punk rock” zombie movies, inspired by Romero’s iconic Night of the Living Dead. It was a virtual remake of the first Return of the Living Dead, which we had enjoyed, but the creators did something very sneaky.

I haven’t kept up, but I’m sure it’s now a thoroughly tired and typical zombie-movie cliché to have the zombified boyfriend stalk his still-human girlfriend, and beg her to allow him to zombify her. Being young and relatively innocent, the subtext was pretty much lost on us, but in the first film, when this same scenario took place, the girlfriend had managed to avoid this fate. In the second film, however, the girlfriend was cornered in a church, and the zombie boyfriend pled more convincingly, describing the scent of her brains as irresistibly “spicy.”

We should have turned it off right there, but I still believe, even from decades of distance, that we both thought something would happen at the idiomatic last second, and the girlfriend would be saved. No.

By scrunching her eyes closed and hunching into a semi-fetal seated position, the girlfriend apparently “consented” to the zombie. He went up to her, and gently leaned down over the top of her head with his rotten mouth gaping.

The screen then showed only the expression on the girlfriend’s face: lips parted, her eyes surprised, confused, and just possibly excited. The sound was like having your ear next to a walnut being crushed slowly beneath a boot on rain-wet pavement.

It was terrible. Both of us yelled at the TV, and turned the movie off. We were absolutely furious, and I’m positive mutually overwhelmed with the desire to edit this out of our fresh memories, or rewind and watch it over, but somehow have the scene magically turn out a different way: someone to burst into the church with a shotgun and blast the zombie boyfriend’s head off; the girlfriend to suddenly fall through a trap door into some subterranean tunnel and run away; white winged angels to arrive and carry her off. Something. Anything.

The two of us were miserable. We didn’t know what to do about it. We kept talking. Ranting. We hated the people who made this movie. We hated the people at the store who let us rent it. We hated the world where this sort of imaginary scene could be imagined, and then developed into a part of some awful product people could use for a while to for some fucking reason pretend this sort of horrible totally imaginary bullshit scene that some bunch of sick shithead assholes just thought up together because they are fucking dicks could be real. Our night was ruined. Our weekend was ruined. Our lives were ruined. My life is still ruined. Look at me. Listen. Shit.

We went ahead and finished the movie. I don’t remember any of the rest. I think everybody died at the end, pretty much like in the first one.
return of the living dead