Dean’s pick of the month

January 2023’s Pick

Small Town America as horror’s most disturbing backdrop

Have you noticed that many of horror’s greatest stories take place in a small town? Why is that?

As I’m more than half way through writing the sequel to The Lady Mephistopheles, the own backdrop I’ve been using is the small town of Duncan, Utah. Based on the exact place I live, I believe the answer as to why small towns provide such joy in terror is their intimacy. Living in these settings where everything becomes as familiar as your own demons gives a sense of perfect knowledge of residents and residents’ habits and nuances. For horror this is the perfect opportunity to really drill into the soul of a person’s dark side.

We all have such a mirror. But it’s easier to hide it behind skyscrapers or bury it in million car traffic jams.

I also think it’s the ability to truly study people and places. For example, I can go into the local grocery store in my town, walk around for a few minutes and see people who always come and go. This gives ample opportunity to wonder what they actually do all day, why they buy certain things, and what they do when they return home and close the door…

How many of them are psychos or witches? What kind of deals are they making with the devil? What kinds of plans are they considering if they are filled with rage and insanity? What are they hiding in their basements or attics?

The small town opens the door for huge payoffs when it comes to what’s lurking around the corner. Who might be right behind you ready to suffocate or slash. Could be a Pennywise, Jason, Norman Bates, Leatherface, or Max Cady, just to name a few.

It’s the surprises that also happens. Thinking you really know your neighbor or preacher or school teacher, but find out they sell body parts all across the nation, or even eat them.

If you’re looking to read some fabulous horror in Small Town America, here are a few titles I highly recommend: We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson; Welcome To Nightvale, by Joseph Fink; Let The Right One In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist; Summer of Night, by Dan Simmons, and of course King’s IT. Each book is a journey through hell in towns much like my own.

You can also check out my own novel, The Lady Mephistopheles, which was a bestseller last year at TWB Press. You’ll find Duncan as terrifying a place as you’ll ever hope to visit.

If you love film, here are some real gems: IT (both parts) with Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise; The Wolf of Snow Hollow, starring Jim Cummings; Halloween series with Jamie Lee Curtis; Jennifer’s Body, starring Megan Fox; Sinister, starring Ethan Hawke; and MEN, starring Jessie Buckley and Rory Kinnear; the series, Midnight Mass starring Hamish Linklater.

If you’re planning some road trips this year, beware where you stop on the way to your destination. The diner you find, or convenience store for gas and snacks, or even small church with its innocent and common wooden cross, could find you inside a world that will slit your throat or throw you down a dingy stairwell where you’d spend the rest of your life.

Welcome to Small Town America.


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