Three Underrated Horror Films

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
I felt this way when I took the Greyhound to Pendleton once
John Carpenter made this little gem in the golden years of the horror boom. Sam Neill gives one of his typically strong turns here as an investigator exploring the impacts that a horror writer's books have on their audience. There are a number of genuinely unsettling moments in this film, but the greatest is that nighttime bicycle ride of that elderly woman. Shoot, friends. You'll get some chills there. I really love the sequence in the opening credits, with the huge printing press running off thousands of copies of Cane's books. That's a great example of using those integral first moments for audience orientation. 

That'll cut a toughness groove in the ol' gray matter...
Ravenous (1999)
I love Antonia Bird's film. The pacing, mise-en-scene, sound, and the acting are all fantastic. The setting, California's alpine country, is creepy as hell.

Oh, and this is a Wendigo story. A great Wendigo story.

Guy Pearce's turn as a late-to-the-party convert is precious, and his direct opposition with Robert Carlyle is super compelling. It's a slow build toward a terrifying third act, and I think it's not just a great horror film, but one of the best movies of the last two decades.

The Jacket (2005)
There's a sorrow that permeates this film that truly cuts to the core of what horror is: the loss of personal identity. I don't care if it's dementia in The Notebook or paranoia in Jacob's Ladder, but losing track of one's sense of self scares the crap out of me. 
No thanks...

Keira Knightly and Adrien Brody give phenomenal turns. We forget how talented Brody is sometimes, but he puts his full range of talents on display here as a Gulf War Veteran trying to deal with terrible post-war psychiatric abuse (this film shares a kinship with Jacob's Ladder, to be sure). 

The slow, deliberate blurring of reality and hallucination, coupled with our protagonist's descent into madness is moving. This isn't a film for the faint of heart or the distracted. It takes concentration and investment, but it's wholly worth the effort.


Cold on the Mountain

All they wanted was a vacation to the Grand Canyon. Instead, they found themselves on a collision course with a terrible, timeless darkness.

Welcome to Adrienne, home to history’s worst serial killers and mass murderers. Nestled in an isolated meadow high in the Sierra Nevada, Adrienne is sort of like a cosmic lint trap. It collects the universe’s negative energy—all of our blackest human impulses—before purging that darkness back into the world in a yearly lottery. From Hitler to Bin Laden…Bundy to Gacy, Adrienne is the way station for dark energy that doesn’t just pass on—it passes through.

When Phil Benson decides to take an unmarked detour over the mountain, he drives his family into the mouth of madness, where they are forced to join a captive labor pool with little hope for freedom. Escape is pointless and time stretches out into eternity, with every new day the same as the last.

Sometimes, it’s better just to skip the shortcut.

With echoes of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery,” Stephen King’s Needful Things, and Blake Crouch’s Pines series, Cold on the Mountain treads the boundary between horror and supernatural suspense.


I like Amazon. I know there is a ton of controversy in the world of publishing on whether Amazon is healthy for the ecosystem, but I think they've been innovators in creating technology (the Kindle changed reading forever, in my view), offering an unparalleled customer experience, and pushing the envelope when it comes to innovative new programs for readers and writers.

I finished Cold on the Mountain this summer. It's a good book, I think--scary and creative and fun, all in one and right in time for Halloween. 

When I started thinking about the appropriate path to publication for this one, I thought I'd take a shot at the new Kindle Scout program. Why do that, as opposed to sending it out on submission and waiting eight months?

Love that marketing push, man. I think Amazon is doing writers a great service in making rights reversion an easy process. I think they are innovating, once again, with their approach to crowd feedback. But, more than any other single factor, I want their marketing prowess behind my book. Their algorithms push books to the top, and they target audiences like no other. 

Cold on the Mountain is now up for review. I'd be honored if you'd give it a read and, if appropriate, perhaps a nomination.  As always, thanks for reading, and for your support.


Creative Career Speaker Series at UCF: Digital Horror

Watch this. 

Seriously, we're about a week out from Halloween and you owe it to yourself. Watch it now, with the lights off.

Are you back? Good stuff...

Come meet Zach and listen to our panelists discuss their work at the Creative Career Speaker Series at the University of Central Florida THIS Friday. We will be meeting in VAB 132 from 2:00 to 4:00. We'll be discussing a variety of topics, including financing, producing, and marketing films, writing in the digital era, and narrative theory and horror fiction.

Send me an email if you have any questions. 


Creative Career Speaker Series at UCF: Digital Horror

Make plans to attend our panel discussion on technology, horror, and creative production this Friday at the University of Central Florida. We will be meeting in VAB 132 (Visual Arts) from 2:00 to 4:00. Topics for discussion include financing and marketing a film, screenwriting, narrative nonfiction, fiction, and theories on the future of horror in the digital era.

UCF's Barry Sandler will be discussing his work, his upcoming release Knock 'em Dead (2014), and the future of creative production in a changing technological environment. 


Long Live the American Reader

This is an awesome book. I love Postman's writing style and rhetorical savvy. But, at least in this humble theorist's views, much of the hand-wringing here hasn't come to pass. 

Alexis de Tocqueville: ...the invention of firearms equalized the vassal and the noble on the field of battle; the art of printing opened the same resources to the minds of all classes; the post brought knowledge alike to the door of the cottage and to the gate of the palace. (Postman 38)
And, as we move through the first years of the twenty-first century, we remain a highly literate culture. I know it's a little bit of selection bias on my part, but my students are reading some great stuff, and it's showing in their writing and thinking. 

Creative Career Speaker Series at UCF: Digital Horror

The Vander Kaays will be joining our panel next week at the University of Central Florida, where we will discuss technology's impact on the contemporary horror narrative. Please join us in VAB 132 on Friday, October 24, from 2:00-4:00 p.m. for a lively discussion!

Topics will include narrative theory, film making, sound production and editing, marketing, and writing. 

With Halloween just a few weeks away, it's a good time to discuss all those things that go bump in the night...


Creative Career Speaker Series at UCF: Digital Horror

I'm moderating a panel on technology's influence on the modern horror narrative down at UCF next Friday afternoon. Join us in VAB 132 to hear from Rob Cowie, who worked on The Blair Witch Project and whose film Exists (2014) will be released just in time for Halloween!

Shoot me an e-mail if you'd like more information...


Monday Matinee...

Showed this one to Lyla recently. Bad parenting move, but at least she's been spending more time with us at night...

"Gramma" is based on a Stephen King short story--a punchy little number about demonic possession and generational necromancy. Good stuff, and perfectly appropriate for the season.


Monday Matinee...

Tales From the Darkside was such a delicious thrill for me when I was a kid. Emily and I used to wait all weekend for Sunday nights, when WGN ran a couple of episodes back to back. My folks didn't care much for the program, so we always watched them on the back television--in the dark. Great times, and resonant stories.

I attended an Oktoberfest party out at the beaches with the girls this weekend, and Lyla hopped into the host's pool with a couple of other kids. It was a potluck, and the kids asked for carrots, so I brought them a paper plate filled with them and they chomped down. There were little bits of carrots floating around in that pool, and I suddenly remembered the Darkside episode "Anniversary Dinner." 

Did I tell 'em about the plot? You bet I did! It's October, after all...

I'll embed some of these great episodes here every Monday. Yeah, I know I'm posting this on a Tuesday. It's been a crazy busy time at the college. Meetings, committee work, grading, teaching, writing, UCF work, and family time have drawn me in ten directions. 

Take a look at the story above. It's just my kind of horror (strange, mundane, tiny bit plausible), and it always made me think twice about that quaint little cottage in the woods...



sun climbs at low tide
oyster pops and muddy flats
Earth sighs, day begins

You Know When It's Good

If you spend any real time at the word processor, you understand that sometimes the writing flows and you just know in your heart and in you...