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Midsommar Movie Review by A. R. Braun

The Following Midsommar movie review was written by dark fiction author, A.R. Braun, to be released on the Ritual Blog for Mind on Fire Books.

I put off watching this film because it seemed artsy-fartsy. Don’t make that mistake. Ari Aster’s second horror movie after Hereditary WILL freak you out. If you’ve seen Hereditary, then you know the kind of scares to expect.

Dani (Florence Pugh), a psychiatry major, mourns—traumatized—after her mentally ill sister kills herself AND her parents with carbon monoxide.

Scene from Midsommar Film. For review on Mind on Fire Books

Her boyfriend, Christian (Jack Reynor)—a cultural anthropology student—holds her tight and helps her grieve, but also wants to dump her because she’s never in the mood. This is an attitude that’s written in stone by his buddies, Mark (Will Poulter) and Josh (William Jackson Harper), who simply don’t like her, except for . . .

. . . Pelle (Vilhelm Blomgren), their Swedish friend, who, it turns out, has invited the boys to Midsommar, a celebration at Pelle’s ancestral commune, the Hårga, in Sweden. The celebration occurs only once every 90 years, and anthropology student Josh desires to write this thesis on it. Dani inadvertently invites herself to Midsommar, then is more than touched when Pelle expresses his sincere condolences about what happened to her family, making her run to the bathroom to weep. In fact, Pelle wins her over, telling her, if it wasn’t for his non-biological new family in Sweden, he wouldn’t know what he’d do (not verbatim).

But the foursome couldn’t fathom what they’re in for.

The group takes a plane to Sweden and drives, then walks to the commune, where they meet Simon and Connie (Archie Madekwe and Ellora Torchia), a British couple from London who were invited by Pelle’s communal brother, Ingemar. Simon offers the group ‘shrooms, and Dani has hallucinations of Terri, her sister, while under the drug’s influence. Mark, however, freaks out, unable to take the trip, telling the others to lay down like him.

Enter what Algernon Blackwood would’ve called a “series of shocks,” or “grotesqueries.”

At the twisted tradition of ättestupa the group learns that the cult kills themselves at seventy-two years of age. This scene is brutality realized.

Things amp-up from there, where a redhead sets her sights on Dani’s boyfriend, and puts—gulp—her pubes in his meal. If you like the band, HammerFall, you’ll love what happens to Josh when he sneaks into the holiest of holies to snap a picture of their sacred book, after being forbidden to do so.

Scene from Midsommar Film. Movie Review by A.R. Braun

The human sacrifices have begun . . . of the Americans . . . and Pelle tells Dani his family is her family (not verbatim). When Dani catches her boyfriend screwing the redhead, she falls apart . . . but the Swedish females fall apart WITH her. (See, her new fam-il-y.)

By the end, she’ll warm-up to it, in a hideous way.

This film and Hereditary are at the top of my Blu-ray rack, and with good reason. Ari Aster is one of the few American writer/directors making genuinely shocking horror movies right now. Don’t miss either of them! And if you do, it’s your own fault.

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A.R. Braun on Mind on Fire Books

Review by Horror Writer, A.R. Braun. Check out his latest short story, “Little Ghoul,” here.

Mad Men

  • Mad Men is a collection of three disturbing horror shorts from authors living in the Midwest. The themes explored in this collection range from man versus self, man versus man, and man versus creature. [caption id="attachment_4742" align="alignleft" width="188"]Mad Men eBook Mad Men eBook at Mind on Fire Books[/caption] Mad Men begins with Matt’s tale, a thought-provoking thriller which causes the reader to question his reality and what he fears within himself. The second tale explores the grotesque juxtaposed with beautiful nature, where the ending unfolds into a horrific dream, waking in even more terrible pain. The third tale is by seasoned horror writer, A.R. Braun – and his diabolical creatures never disappoint!  A.R. Braun’s goal is to be on the banned book list; we think this tale may just be evil enough to be considered. A must read before it does get banned! Mainstream Horror Shorts don’t always satisfy us in the way they should. They don’t open conversations about what it is that we fear or why we fear such things, they focus mainly on pop culture and gore. The writers in the Mad Men anthology understand the need for literate horror, opening discussions of man’s psyche. When these writers set out to tell a story, they are less interested in conveying fear and more interested in wonder, the sublime, and the infinite strangeness that drives all man and woman. Highly recommended for tweens, teens, and adults. The Mad Men anthology published by Mind on Fire Books. Written by Willy Martinez, A.R. Braun and Matt Lavitt. No part of this book shall be copied without permission from the publisher.

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Book Review of Folk Horror Thriller, “The Reddening” by Adam Neville

The following review was written by Horror author, A.R. Braun.

We have not evolved. Old gods and savage murders are still happening in Brickburgh, England. Katrine, a lifestyle journalist, escaped from horrors of the past by moving to a coast. Seaside holidays and the beauty of nature, what could go wrong?

Human remains and prehistoric artifacts are found in said Brickburgh, making Katrina’s life a nightmare.

Single-parent Helene lost her brother, Lincoln, six years ago. And there is a tape, recorded by Lincoln himself, of strange noises, exactly six years ago, in the caves off the water. In said caves, early man butchered each other sixteen thousand years ago. On the cave walls lurk drawings of their nameless deity. The worst part is, people have been disappearing from these remote locations for years.

There must be foul play.

And now there are sightings of drug plantations and the red folk. In this bucolic setting, strangers are not welcome. An insidious power looms underneath the earth, a supernatural being only the desperate invoke.

To save their lives and for Helene to find Lincoln, Katrine and Helene must confront the evil and investigate. The drug fields—also the killing fields—await, along with the murderous red folk, ready to destroy all that invade their coven.

Will Helene find her brother alive, or dead? And will she and Katrine be next? Or will they triumph after a bloody battle with these friends? One thing’s for sure, they’ll be forever scarred, if they survive, by the Reddening.

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Review by Horror Writer, A.R. Braun. Check out his latest short story, “Little Ghoul,” here.

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Hereditary: Film Review by Horror Author, A.R. Braun

This is the film that restored my faith in American cinema. Previously, I felt one had to watch a foreign flick for a good scare. Ari Aster is my favorite writer/director, the only American making shocking films right now. And this film WILL scare you. Also important is Toni Collette, who gives a lights-out performance, as always, just intense as can be. (The lead actress from The United States of Tara.)

Miniature model artist Annie Graham (Collette) has lost her weird, eerie mother, Ellen (Kathleen Chalfant). At the funeral, Annie is surprised by how many people show up, a staggering amount, and she’s never met any of them. When Ellen’s grave is desecrated, Annie sees her ghost.

Wanting her strange-and-creepy thirteen-year-old daughter, Charlie (Milly Shapiro), to enjoy her life, she manipulates her sixteen-year-old son, Peter (Alex Wolff), to take her along to a party he’s going to. Problem is, Charlie’s allergic to certain foods, and when she eats cake with nuts, she goes full-tilt into anaphylactic shock. Peter then rushes her to the hospital, but his driving’s erratic, and Charlie, not being able to breathe, sticks her head out the window for fresh air . . . and her head’s decapitated by a telephone pole.

Scene from Hereditary film for Mind on Fire Blog

Things go downhill from there.

At a grief-support group, Annie meets an older woman named Joan (Ann Dowd), who lost a son. At first, the friendship seems innocuous, but after a beat Joan shows Annie how to conjure up the departed loved one, and when you hear that creepy music and things start moving seemingly by themselves, you know you’re in trouble. In fact, I knew I was in trouble as soon as I saw Charlie, who’s really strange looking, and uses bird’s heads for her action figures.

From then on, you are not safe. If the scenes that follow don’t freak you out, you’re probably dead.

Why is Joan trying to exorcise Peter from his own body? Why does Charlie persist in being alive? Where did all those people at the funeral come from?

The scares amp-up until you think you can’t take it. I mean, ghosts being naked when they’re dead, I don’t need to see that!

And human spirits aren’t the biggest worry. Annie’s mother Ellen was a demon-worshipper, and those people at the funeral are her coven.

I highly recommend this one to those who think they can’t be scared by a film . . . and especially those that can.

A.R. Braun on Mind on Fire Books

Review by Horror Writer, A.R. Braun. Check out his latest Novel, “Only Women in Hell,” here.

A.R. Braun will also be featured on our anthology Mad Men, available for presale now.

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The Manitou by Graham Masterton – Book Review by Horror Writer, A.R. Braun

The Manitou is definitely Graham Masterton’s bread-and-butter, the series being the best books he’s ever written. He went on to write many great novels, a total of 101 in all!

In 1976’s The Manitou, based in San Francisco, something is growing on the back of an attractive woman named Karen Tandy’s neck—perceived as a tumor—which baffles her doctors.

Desperate for help, the good docs bring in a charlatan psychic named Harry Erskine—an unlikely hero who’s the perfect protagonist—as a paranormal investigator. Erskine helps the doctors discover that an ancient Native-American medicine man named Misquamacus, the most powerful Shaman ever, is back to seek revenge against the white man for stealing his country, as well as other atrocities. Reborn from a neck, the Native American is squat, has stunted limbs, but is none the less powerful. Able to call up the most powerful demons in the world who can’t be exercised by Christianity because they were before Christ, the shaman’s chief demon is a squid spirit and, yes, I believe it’s Cthulhu.

This infernal medicine man is feared by all as the body count rises. Everything in the world has a Manitou, a Native-American spirit, and Harry and the good doctors call upon a modern-day Shaman named John Singing Rock for help, definitely less powerful than Misquamacus. They battle and wrack their brains to come up with the best modern Manitou to fight the insidious shaman.

Will they be able to stop the carnage so vehement it’ll be mass-murder? Or will they end up butchered, like the cops in the elevator?

This novel was ten times better than I expected it to be, and I highly recommend this gem, plus the sequels, which are all great. You’d better hope Native-American spirits don’t come looking for revenge!

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Review by Horror Writer, A.R. Braun. You can check out his latest Novel, “Dogman of Illinois, here.

A.R. Braun will also be featured on our anthology Mad Men, available for presale now.

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Cannibalism is Nice: Review of A Modest Proposal by Author Jonathan Swift

Save the world, eat children. A “Modest Proposal” by Jonathan Swift would not be so modest it it were no for the obscene language to make the idea seem less abominable – that is to say – because of the use of obscene language, the tone of the dilemma does seem modest or even a bit comical at times. These reaction or sympathies are created with Jonathan Swift’s use of diction and syntax; he takes two unwanted objects (children and poor people) and confers vulgar language upon them to convince us to side with the lesser of the two ‘evils.’ It is this obscene literature that diverts the attention away from the actual ideas in the proposal and converts the idea of devouring poor children into an economical and viable opportunity.

Red meat. Mind on Fire Books Blog

Swift first proposes the problem with complete anti-veneration towards the poor: “the children of poor people [are] a burden to their parents or county.” His usage of negative language invites us to have the same disdain for these ‘poor children’, or burdens, as he calls them. First he finds a common ground to unite the people and then he charges poor children as the enemy. He has chosen a common enemy and is now attacking them with negative ideas. But attacking children and making them seem useless is kind of hard to do; people have morals and won’t stand for the abuse of children. Swift realizes this and then deploys scatology in order to distract us as readers. From this point on, Swift treats these children as commodities or trade-able objects and realizes that it would be vein to just kill children, so he then justifies this case by stating that grown people need to eat as well. He appeals to our survival instincts, eliciting the “better you than me” mentality which is natural to humans.

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Swift takes the conscious and taboo topic of poverty and presents the arguments that wealthy or working people can agree with. He does this by proposing to turn these children into a ‘livestock’ which is a business and process that all people are familiar with. This serves as a euphemism to disguise the idea of harvesting children and makes the explicit implicit in seasonal foods. Stating that “a good fat child” can serve up to four people with “nutritive meat” is an example of a logical appeal made to us readers. “A good fat thicl” sounds disgusting at first but when contrasted with nutritive meat for you and your family, the argument seems a bit more plausible. Clearly, Swift’s use of vulgar comparisons serves as a platter for serving improper grossness as a permissible delicacy.

Swift counters the negative with a kind of humility when he states, “I do therefore humbly offer it to public consideration…” So Swift is proposing a very immoral idea yet it doesn’t seem so bad, after all, this is a humble offer isn’t it? With words such as humble or modest to counteract the negative charges, the ideas once again don’t seem as horrific. This is why swift repeats himself multiple times by presenting this proposal as humble or modest.

Another counter action in this proposal would be Swift’s references to everyday people (his American friend), French physicians, and famous formosans, George Psalmanazar. With these cases, Swift has us asking of ourselves: if this is common knowledge to the rest of the world and well known to renowned scientists, then why not hear out this modest proposal? He places ideas into perspective; from the common man to the Irish man.

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To defend his argument, Swift invites others to oppose his scatology and still be able “to find food and raimnet for an hundred thousand useless mouths and backs.” Once again, he is using reverse psychology to challenge an individual to defend those “useless mouths and backs.” If anybody does challenge Swift, then they are subject to supporting poverty, useless bodies and contributing to the laziness of those who “wish to deliver the Kingdom to the Pretender.”

When this proposal is not acting humble, it is firing off into the direction of comical dissolution to the victimization of children, or as Swift would put it, the salvation of a country and a people. When studied closely, one can see that it is the art of scatology that makes this proposal plausible, implicit and modest.

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The Legacy of Dr. Caligari: Horror History in Noirvember

By Ariel Fisher

It’s November which, for some film fans, means it’s time for the ultra-hashtaggable month-long celebration of all things Film Noir: #Noirvember. Folks tend to think of the genre as smokey bars, jazz, and dangerous dames, but it’s actually far more complex. With its roots firmly planted in German Expressionism and Horror, Film Noir can be traced back to a microbudget studio film from Weimar Germany that would completely change the face of cinema – The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Featuring Werner Krauss as the titular Caligari, the film follows the not-so-good doctor and his future-telling somnambulist sideshow act, Cesare, as they perform in a small German village. But just as soon as they came to town, the murders started, and no one can tell if it’s Cesare or Caligari that’s to blame.

Referred to by Pauline Kael as “one of the most famous films of all time”, the 1920 silent film is widely considered one of the first feature-length horror films ever made. It also marked the beginning of German Expressionism, a genre born out of an oppressive studio system following the end of the first World War. Its trademarks were expressionistic sets, makeup, and costume design all used as a rejection of Western tropes while depicting a wildly distorted reality for emotional effect.

In one fell swoop, Caligari gave birth to two of the most dramatic and stylistically unique film genres in history. The hyper-stylized sets meant to evoke a sense of madness were partially created out of necessity due to budgetary constraints, with most structures painted on angularly-cut flats. This innovative and industrious technique would become standard practice for both Horror and Noir, where angular lighting and harsh shadows could be used to hide a lack of finances.

Image from Diabolique, 1955

A great many Noir films actively engaged with horror thanks to the influence of Caligari. Titles like Ida Lupino’s The Hitch-Hiker (1953), Cat People (1942), The Lodger (1944), Diabolique (1955), and Night Of The Hunter (1955) straddled both genres, creating visually stunning horror masterpieces. Many of the original Universal Monster films took directly from the visual style of Caligari, such as Dracula (1931), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). But its influences didn’t stop there. Well into the 1960s and beyond, films like Night of the Living Dead (1968), The Exorcist (1973), Jacob’s Ladder (1990), and The Babadook (2014) would pull from Caligari’s legacy for their visual and thematic tropes.

Nearly 100 years after its release, Robert Wiene’s German Expressionist film about the horrors of the mind remains one of the most significant achievements in film history, with Film Noir and Horror to show for it.

Happy #Noirvember!

Image from the Cat People, 1942

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Horror Novels Based on Real Life

have always gravitated toward works of horror, even at a young age. At first, I read whatever Horror novels I could find on my friends bookshelves. John Saul. V.C. Andrews. Stephen King. They lit a fire in me that makes me curious about all the things that might be out there. All the things we cannot prove. Ghosts living among us, creatures in nature, parallel universes, monsters within ourselves, and so on!

As I got older, I began to appreciate a different sort of horror. Horror novels that made me interrogate the greater dangers we encounter in our day-to-day lives. The deeper evils that lie within us. What could be more terrifying?

If there is anything to inspire an even deeper dread within me, it’s stories that take already terrible events from real life and make them even more monstrous using the traditional elements of horror. Perhaps it’s because these stories hew so closely to reality, they almost seem to confirm the potentiality of dark magic and demonic creatures and other supernatural manifestations.

Here are 8 books that manage the balancing act of normalcy and impossibility in a way that is creepily satisfying.
The Terror by Dan Simmons
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Simmons is known for the brand of horror that takes an event in history and twists it so it becomes darker. His most well-known work in this vein is The Terror, which takes the story of a ship on a doomed expedition through the Arctic in the mid-1840s to find the Northwest Passage—a story already filled with disease, starvation, and death—and adds in the possibility of something else unseen, something stalking them across the ice. The Terror is so popular, it was adapted for the small screen.

The Hidden People by Alison Littlewood
8 horror novels by mind on fire books

The myth of the changeling—a fairy child left in place of a stolen human child—ran rampant throughout medieval Europe. Perhaps it was so popular because it was such a convenient scapegoat for the afflictions that often beset children, diseases and disabilities that parents and medical professionals did not understand at the time. In some cases, even adults are accused of being changelings. One of the most well-known cases is Bridget Cleary who was killed in 1895 by a group of people that included her suspicious husband. In The Hidden People (a reference to the fairy folk), a man learns his cousin has been burned alive because her husband thought she was a changeling. When he arrives in town to investigate, he comes to wonder if there’s more than just silly superstition at play.

The Changeling by Victor LaValle
The Changeling by Victor LaValle

Victor LaValle has a knack for taking old folk tales and making them new. I adored his take on the changeling myth, in which he tracks trolls on their journey from Europe to America. In explaining how changelings have come to be in America, he digs into the “why” behind their existence. He also suggests a level of complicity in the humans that had previously been assumed to be victims alone.

Coyote Songs by Gabino Iglesias
Horror Novels based on real life by Willy Martinez

More than anything else, this novel is about la frontera, the U.S.-Mexico border. Rather than focusing in on a single historical moment or figure, this book uses six characters to tell the story of a shared Southwesterdn experience—with a dark twist. Among the six main characters are a child who turns cold-blooded after seeing his father killed; a young woman who progresses from performance art to murder; and a mother who begins to fear that the child in her womb may be something more sinister.

The Hunger by Alma Katsu
The Hunger by Alma Katsu
Horror Novels by Willy Martinez

Alma Katsu’s latest book takes one of the deadliest occurrences in Western history—the catastrophic wagon train journey of the infamous Donner Party—and adds a supernatural twist. Starvation and eventually death causes the body count to rise. Members of the party are pushed to the brink, inevitably turning against each other. But as people begin to disappear, they start to wonder if something even more malevolent is at play.

Black Fire by Hernan Rodriguez
horror novels based on life by Willy Martinez

In this graphic horror novel, Rodriguez places us in the midst of the Napoleonic Wars when, after an unsuccessful attempt to defeat the Russian army, his own military is forced to retreat. One unit is attacked by Cossacks during their journey homeward, but two survivors are able to elude the military warriors by fleeing toward an abandoned Slavic town—a place the Cossacks are unwilling to approach. But why? These men eventually come face to face with the Czernobog, a Slavic demon who proves to be a much more formidable opponent than the bloodthirsty warriors they only just barely escaped.

The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty
Horror novels based on real life by mind on fire books

This classic horror is one of those books I can’t believe my parents let me read. At that point, having made me way through most of the books on their shelves, they’d probably resigned themselves to having a weird and morbid child. What difference would a bit of adult content make? As you likely already know, Blatty’s novel is about the demonic possession of a 12-year-old girl, and the attempted exorcism undertaken by two priests. What you may not know is that the book is based upon the true story of an actual exorcism. Wherever you stand on the legitimacy of demonic possession, by the end of Blatty’s novel, you’re forced to believe.

Perfume by Patrick Süskind
Perfume by Patrick Suskind

Once upon a time (the early- to mid-1800s), a Spanish serial killer known as the Wolfman killed several women and children so he could extract their body fat and use it to make soap. Some postulate that Süskind’s novel—about a perfumer’s apprentice who is obsessed with possessing the particular scent that exudes from virginal young girls—is based upon this monstrous true tale. Whatever the origin, Süskind pushes the story further, imbuing the scents his serial killer acquires with outsized powers.

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On Emily Bronte

Emily Brontë’s work on Wuthering Heights cannot be dated, and she may well have spent a long time on this intense, solidly imagined novel. It is distinguished from other novels of the period by its dramatic and poetic presentation, its abstention from all comment by the author, and its unusual structure. It recounts in the retrospective narrative of an onlooker, which in turn includes shorter narratives.
Emily Bronte, author of “Wuthering Heights” was born in 1818. When I first read her work, I was moved; when I re-read her work, I was inspired. Today, I continue to admire in awe.