Filming Headline News

On a summer day in 2011, I met director Willy Adkins and his cast and crew at an office building in DeKalb, Illinois. We were there to film Headline News, a horror short based on a story I wrote for my book Six Tales of Terror. Jason Sullivan adapted my story into a script. All the cast and crew, especially Michael Schmid, Michael Wexler, James Pusztay, and Kelsey Zukowski, really brought the characters to life. It was a surreal experience, to say the least, to see characters come to life I had previously only imagined! I even got to play a small walk on role, as a crime scene photographer. Here are some pictures from the filming. Tragically, Michael Wexler died after being hit by a car in December 2015. I only met him a few times, but he was a talented actor and seemed like a great guy. I was very sorry to hear about his loss.

Coed Terror in the Ivory Tower of Doom

Please enjoy the following short story, excerpted from my book Six Tales of Terror. Originally published in 2005 as a chapbook, it’s now available only on Kindle. When I sat down to write these stories, little did I know one, “Coed Terror in the Ivory Tower of Doom,” would in 2011 become the basis for the indie horror film Headline News. I intended them to be short, campy tales in the spirit of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series, and used the card game Grave Robbers from Outer Space to randomly generate the titles, characters, settings, and creatures.

Coed Terror in the Ivory Tower of Doom

six_tales_of_terror_cover3With the exception of a Channel 57 news van and three other cars, Brenham Community College’s parking lot was as empty as it usually was on any particular Friday night. A row of security floodlights illuminated the entrance to the science building, where a reporter named Gerald Waller and his cameraman stood impatiently. A golf cart with “security” stenciled on the door puttered toward them.

They had been waiting over ten minutes before the golf cart slid to a halt next to a row of Juniper bushes that marked the edge of the parking lot. A paunchy security guard with blonde hair and an equally blonde mustache threw open his vehicle’s wire door and strode arrogantly over to the waiting visitors.

“It’s about time,” Waller hissed to himself, unconcerned if anyone overheard him. He marched up to the security guard and thrust his index finger in the air. “I’m here to interview professor Hanft,” he said. “But these doors were locked when I got here.”

The security guard, with a nametag that read “Roy” stitched onto his tan uniform, casually detached a set of keys from a clip on his belt. “Yall just be patient,” he said with a strong Appalachian accent. “I’ll take you to the professor.” He strode over to the glass doors and unlocked them with the speed of a government employee.

Waller motioned for his cameraman to come with as he followed the guard into the well-lit hallway and towards the student laboratories. He had been sent to the community college to cover Professor Robt Hanft’s latest research into using local cave fungus to cure Maripose syndrome, a rare but serious illness of the renal vein. It wasn’t as exciting as covering the miner’s strike a few miles away, but it wasn’t mopping the floor of the men’s bathroom at the TV station either.

Continue reading “Coed Terror in the Ivory Tower of Doom”

Lair in the Mouth of Evil

Please enjoy the following short story, excerpted from my book Six Tales of Terror. Originally published in 2005 as a chapbook, it’s now available only on Kindle. When I sat down to write these stories, little did I know one, “Coed Terror in the Ivory Tower of Doom,” would in 2011 become the basis for the indie horror film Headline News. I intended them to be short, campy tales in the spirit of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series, and used the card game Grave Robbers from Outer Space to randomly generate the titles, characters, settings, and creatures.

Lair in the Mouth of Evil

six_tales_of_terror_cover3Wayne Blagg worked diligently in the bowels of the Lawrence B. Hamlin Medical Research Center, which was located across from the New Dawn Christian Bookstore on the third floor of the Cheapside Mall. He had been hired for an internship there to assist in a cutting edge of biotechnology: reanimating deceased pets, which attracted millions of dollars in grants every year.

He was currently fixing a Golden Retriever some state senator’s daughter lost to a pool-related accident. The process was long and complicated. The dog had been frozen, shipped to the research center, and Wayne was in the midst of replacing its old blood with new, super-oxygenated blood. If he was interrupted for any reason, the consequences could be disastrous not only for the project, but also for his career prospects.

It was then that a whine pierced the air and interrupted his thoughts. “What do ya mean I can’t go in there?” the high-pitched voice yelled. “I can go anywhere I want!”

Wayne growled and tried to focus on the work at hand. The temperature had to remain constant or the animal would start to decay, and it couldn’t be resuscitated if there was any cellular degeneration.

“Ma’am, I can’t let you in,” a man’s voice shouted in the other room. His statement was followed by a series of alternating light and heavy footsteps that came closer and closer.

“I want to watch!” the girl yelled as the door to the lab burst open.

Wayne lost his concentration and bumped the temperature gauge. “Damn it!” he cursed before quickly correcting the mistake.

Continue reading “Lair in the Mouth of Evil”

Devil Trail Reloaded

Please enjoy the following short story, excerpted from my book Six Tales of Terror. Originally published in 2005 as a chapbook, it’s now available only on Kindle. When I sat down to write these stories, little did I know one, “Coed Terror in the Ivory Tower of Doom,” would in 2011 become the basis for the indie horror film Headline News. I intended them to be short, campy tales in the spirit of the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series, and used the card game Grave Robbers from Outer Space to randomly generate the titles, characters, settings, and creatures.

Devil Trail Reloaded

six_tales_of_terror_cover3If there had ever been a stranger sight at Camp Lake Totagatic, it was rivaled by the appearance of a black limousine that rolled over the gravel road and under the sign that arched over the main entrance as the sun sat low on the horizon. Birds chirped as the limo pulled up to an aging bunkhouse and idled for a moment, just before a bony woman wearing a black mini dress stepped out. Her stiletto heels sunk into the mud, and she checked the address on the card in her hand for the tenth time.

The bunkhouse door opened before the woman could raise her hand to knock, revealing a young man who was lean, but not muscular. Sunglasses hid his otherwise dusky eyes, and he leaned confidently against the doorframe.

“My name is Karina,” the woman announced. “Is this Camp Lake Totasomething?”

“Yeah,” the young man said in reply. “You can tell your driver that you’re at the right place.”

The woman turned and waved. The limo slowly pulled away in reverse and returned down the same road.

“Come in,” the man said. “My name is Dean. Dean Schuman.”

“You live alone at an old camp?” the woman asked. “I should have charged you more. This place creeps me out.” She swatted away a fly as she slipped past the young man and walked into the bunkhouse. Her heels clicked loudly on the cement floor.

“Actually, I work here,” Dean explained. “I know it’s lame, but it’ll look good on my resume, and my dad said it’ll build character. Anyway, the camp doesn’t open for another week. The only people here are me and the crazy camp counselor, Kincaid. I hope she didn’t see you on your way in, she’s a real stickler for the rules.”

Karina raised her penciled eyebrows and adjusted her swarthy hair as she looked around. Rows of bunks lined the walls, leading back to what looked like a smaller room. “Is that your room?” she asked, motioning towards it.

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What’s Wrong with the Suburbs? American Beauty and Desperate Housewives As Gothic Tales

There is a duality in American popular culture. On one hand, we idealize modern domestic life as safe, comfortable, and technologically advanced. On the other, we are aware that we’ve been unable to fully conquer our baser instincts. Writers and filmmakers often express this duality by criticizing a symbol of postwar American progress: the suburb. Carefully manicured lawns, safe neighborhoods, state of the art technology (for both security and cleanliness), and a car in every garage hold the promise of uninterrupted domestic bliss.

Yet the morning newspaper carries daily reminders that all is not right with the world. Despite ideal physical surroundings, dark human impulses remain. Murder, lust, betrayal, jealousy, and madness rear their ugly heads. Both the film American Beauty (1999) and the television series Desperate Housewives (2004-2012) tapped into this sentiment and portrayed the Janice-faced suburbs as a deceptively dangerous place.

american_beauty_posterWhile suburbs have technically existed for hundreds of years, the dramatic growth in modern suburbs began in the late nineteenth century as a consequence of rural residents moving to urban centers. As cities become overcrowded and began to experience high crime rates, congestion, and unsanitary conditions, the middle class sought refuge in nearby planned communities. These housing developments were meant to alleviate crowding, crime, and other inner city problems through strict zoning laws and community standards. Economic growth after World War 2  made it possible for millions of people to buy homes and seek out the “American dream” in the suburbs.

TV shows like Leave it to Beaver (1957-1963), The Brady Bunch (1969-1974), and Family Ties (1982-1989) portrayed the suburbs as largely idyllic and ideal for domestic family life. Pretty moms and wise, handsome dads taught lessons and safely guided their children to adulthood. Not everyone agreed with this portrayal, however. Ira Levin’s 1972 novel The Stepford Wives suggested suburban tranquility and conformity had a dark underside. Both the film American Beauty and the television series Desperate Housewives further capitalized on this sentiment.

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My Favorite Haunted Places Along the Gulf Coast

As many of my friends and readers know, I spent the summer and fall of 2014 along the Gulf Coast. Not only did I find the weather beautiful, but I also found rich history and folklore. During that time, I was able to visit some pretty interesting places in cities like Naples, Florida; Pensacola, Florida; Biloxi, Mississippi; Mobile, Alabama; and New Orleans, Louisiana. Here are some of my favorites.

Pensacola Lighthouse in Pensacola, Florida. Photo by Michael Kleen

Pensacola Lighthouse and Museum

2081 Radford Blvd. Pensacola, FL 32508
www.pensacolalighthouse.org (850) 393-1561

Pensacola Bay has long been a strategic harbor, and even today, it is used for military purposes. The Pensacola Lighthouse sits on the grounds of the Naval Air Station, home of the Blue Angels. The current lighthouse, located at the north side of the bay, was built in 1858 and lit in 1859. It is made of brick and stands 150-feet tall. In 1861, an artillery duel between Union and Confederate forces lightly damaged the tower. Today, some visitors claim to hear footsteps, heavy breathing, and their name being whispered. Others have had objects “thrown” at them in the keeper’s quarters. [Read More…]

Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library in Biloxi, Mississippi. Photo by Michael Kleen

Jefferson Davis Home and Presidential Library

2244 Beach Blvd. Biloxi, MS 39531
www.beauvoir.org (228) 388-4400

Otherwise known as Beauvoir, the Jefferson Davis Home has an interesting history. It was built in 1852 by a wealthy plantation owner named James Brown. Jefferson Davis did not reside in the house until 1877, twelve years before he died. His daughter Winnie continued to live there until her death in 1898. The Jefferson Davis Soldiers Home opened on the grounds in 1903 and operated until the 1950s. It was home to around 1,800 Civil War veterans and widows of Confederate soldiers. Roughly 780 of them are buried in the cemetery located on the property. Several visitors have reported encountering someone who they assume is an actor playing Jefferson Davis in the gardens. [Read More…]

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Murder & Mayhem in Rockford a Macabre Look at Local History

Murder and Mayhem in RockfordMurder & Mayhem in Rockford by Kathi Kresol was published by the History Press (Arcadia Publishing) in November 2015. As a librarian and proprietor of Haunted Rockford Tours, Kresol is intimately familiar with the darker side of her city’s history. Now she has compiled some of those stories, both infamous and lesser-known, into a beautifully designed book sure to be enjoyed by readers interested in both history and true crime.

Murder & Mayhem in Rockford is divided into two parts, aptly named Murder and Mayhem. In part 1, Kresol examines nine murder cases, ranging from the death of a county sheriff to a man who murdered his own sisters. In part 2, she recounts five disasters, accidents, and fires, and ends with three chapters on Prohibition and the Mafia in Rockford from 1920 to 1933.

The events in the book take place in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with a few from the 1960s and ’70s. Kresol shows that Rockford has always been an immigrant melting pot, and despite its early industrial prosperity, has always been a violent place. The participants, victims and perpetrators alike, come to life on the pages.

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