13 O’Clock Movie Retrospective: God Told Me To

On this installment of the Retrospective, Tom and Jenny are talking about the weird, underrated cult film from 1976, Larry Cohen’s God Told Me To (a.k.a. Demon), a bizarre mash-up of police procedural and low-key sci-fi.

Audio version:

Video version:

The Faceless Villain: Volume Three is now available for purchase in print and ebook formats! And now the audio book is available too! Get it here!

Click here to sign up for Audible! If you buy my book first, I get a bounty!

Some of you may remember my short story collection The Associated Villainies, which I published way back in 2011. Well, I have recently published a second edition, complete with four extra stories, a new cover design, tweaks and corrections to the stories, and a cooler interior layout. Here are the print and ebook versions, and the audio book version is now available here!

Please support us on Patreon! Don’t forget to follow the 13 O’Clock Podcast blog, subscribe to our YouTube channel, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter. Also, check out our cool merch at our Zazzle store! And check out Giallo Games!

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THANK YOU TO ALL OUR SUPPORTERS! The show is made possible by: Amanda, Anthony, Antonio, Arif, Ashley, Ben, Brandon, Christopher, Cody, Corinthian, creepy crepes, Damian, Dan, Dean, Denise, Duncan, Dwayne, Ed, Elizabeth, Eric, Feeky, Gareth, Ginger, Greg, Hayden, Heather, Holly, Ilse, Ima Shrew, Jake A., Jake S., James, James H., Jamin, Jana & Scott, Jason, Jeanette, Jen, Joanie, John H., John M., Jonathan, Joseph, Justin, Katrina, Keith, Kieron, Knothead Studios, Kool Kitty, Lana, Lars, Liam, Lin & Tod, Lindsey, Lonna, Marcus, Mary Ellen, Matt, Matthew, Maximillian, Melanie, Michael, Mike, Mother of Beasts, Natalia, Nathalie, Oli, Paul, Richard J., Richard & Sheena, Rik, Rob, Robina, Samantha, Sandra, Scarlett, Sean, Sheena, Sophie, Tabitha, Talena, Tara, Thomm, Tiffany, Tina, Travon, Valtrina, Veronica, Via, Victor, Victoria, Victoria E., Virginia, Weaponsandstuff93, and Will S.

Channel art and audio & video editing by Jenny Ashford. Music & sound effects courtesy of freesound.org users jamespotterboy, corsica-s, enjoypa, capturedlv, luffy, kiddpark, and justkiddink. Video clips courtesy of Videezy & Videvo.

“The Five Poisons” is Now on Kindle!

My 2014 novel The Five Poisons is now available on Kindle for $2.99! And this concludes my Kindle project; I’m not doing a Kindle version of The Tenebrist because it’s all graphically designed and shit and you really need to see it in print to appreciate it, so nyah. But other than that, have at it, ebook peeps!

FivePoisons_BlogPic

The Goddess Waxes Nostalgic About More Childhood Horrors

In my previous post about Stories That Scared Even Me, I mentioned how influential horror stories were on me as a kid, and how much I adored seeking them out and reading them, whether they were intended for children or not (my parents were pretty chill that way). Sure, I delved into the very disturbing adult worlds created by Poe and Lovecraft, King and Barker, Matheson and Bradbury. But I was still a kid, and as such, I enjoyed kids’ stories too.

I can’t remember who gave it to me (it could have been my parents or another close relative), but when I was a darkling little sprog I received a delightful black box set containing five slim paperbacks with different colored spines. I recently searched for the entire box set online, but to no avail; it appears that the books are only sold individually now, and used, at that. But it was the more freewheeling 1970s, and I had more scary bang for the buck, yo. While only one of the books was straight-up horror, the others had enough of a dark fantasy or funny fairy-tale vibe to keep me enchanted, and I read those five books until they literally fell to pieces.

ThingBedBooks

The largest and scariest book in the collection was Maria Leach’s The Thing at the Foot of the Bed. It was an illustrated compendium of traditional ghost stories, urban legends, and poems, with some handy ghost tips thrown in at the end (for example, I distinctly remember the book warning me not to touch a hat that had been left in the road with a stick lying across it, since it belonged to a spirit who was presumably coming back to fetch it at some point. Stay away from haunts’ hats, kids; the dead are really touchy about their headwear). It contained many, many well-known tales, such as “The Golden Arm,” “Sweet William’s Ghost,” and that one about the kid who goes into a cemetery on a dare and plunges his knife into a grave and then ends up dying of fright like a dumbass because he thinks the corpse has reached up and grabbed him. I also recall a few funny ones, like the story about the guy with the super long teeth (which is actually kind of creepy now that I think about it), or the one about an old man shooting a bunch of holes in a nightshirt hanging from the line because he thought it was a ghost.

The two stories I remember the best, though, were naturally the ones I thought were the scariest. The first of these was “Sop, Doll,” an unsettling tale about a guy who is eating some sort of gruel in his shack and is inexplicably visited by a series of larger and larger cats. Did I mention that the cats could talk, and they kept saying they were waiting for someone? And also that the guy was so freaked out by this situation that he ended up slicing off one of the bigger cats’ paws? Oh, and also that the next day, his wife was MISSING HER HAND and thus was probably, you know, a shapeshifting witch? Seems like something you should sort out before the wedding bells ring, guy, but who am I to judge, right?

I can’t remember the name of my other favorite story (was it in Spanish?), but I still recall the details fairly vividly because it featured beheading, and beheadings have always been one of my morbid fascinations. A dude was ambling back from the butcher with a calf’s head in a bag. He was going to eat it for dinner, which probably horrified child-me more than the outcome of the actual story did. But as he walked, the bag was dripping blood everywhere, and eventually someone called him on it and asked him to show the calf’s head, because your dinner shouldn’t be bleeding that much when you just bought it from the butcher, right? Hell, everyone knows that. (Note: I did not know that.) So the dude pulls the thing out of the bag, cavalier as you please, and it turns out (DUN DUN DUUUUUUUN) it isn’t a calf’s head at all, but the severed head of a friend of his. Dude was taken into custody and promptly hanged for murder. Even when I was a kid, though, something about this tale didn’t sit right. I mean, I seem to remember that the story mentioned, “Oh yeah, that dude totally cut off his friend’s head,” but if that were so, why in hell would he be carrying the bloody head-bag through the streets where everyone could see him? And why would he whip out the head for the first rando who asked? I guess I just don’t understand crime.

The second book in the set, The Witch’s Egg by Madeleine Edmondson, didn’t make quite as large an impression as the others, though it did feature a crabby old witch, always a plus in any story (take my novel about a couple of crabby old witches, Red Menace, for instance). It was a sort of Grinch-like story, as I recall, about the aforementioned cranky hag having her black, black heart softened when she raises a baby bird that hatches from an egg she finds. Was she planning on eating the egg at first? Did she kill the mama bird? Probably, she was an asshole like that. I really can’t remember. But still, super fucking heartwarming.

Miss Clafooty and the Demon by J. David Townsend will always hold a special place in my heart, because it was this book (along with John Bellairs’s The House With a Clock in Its Walls) that initiated me into the wonderfully grotesque world of Edward Gorey, who did the illustrations. I absolutely loved his fanciful drawings for this book, and I loved the story itself just as much. The prim and miserly Miss Clafooty is simply rolling in loot, but her mansion is all ramshackle and busted up, she wears layers of old, out-of-style duds like a bag lady, she only eats stale bread crusts and expired peas, and she never invites anyone over because that means she’d have to spend some of the oodles of gold and silver coins she keeps stored in an old stocking. Rather like Smaug if he were a doddering middle-aged Victorian hausfrau, Miss Clafooty loves nothing more than sitting in her broken-down house and running her fingers through her coins and congratulating herself on how much money she didn’t have to spend that day. But this douchey one-percenter is soon put in her place by the appearance of a small purple demon (because why not?) with “a mouth like an oven” who shames the woman so much that she finally pulls the greed-plug out of her butthole and buys some actual food and some nice clothes and fixes her house up and invites everyone over for a big-ass shindig. Occupy Clafooty!

And God bless us, every one!

And God bless us, every one!

By far my favorite book of the set was Margaret Storey’s Timothy and Two Witches. I was absolutely enthralled by its darkly fantastical atmosphere and its charming British setting and tone. Timothy is sent to live with his aunt, I believe, after his parents die (probably). His aunt is a white witch, and she’s young and pretty, and all sorts of cool shit happens in her house, like the soap just jumps into your hand when you need it, and stuff cleans up after itself. I also have a clear memory (because even as a child I was a total dessert whore) of the little cakes the aunt would give to Timothy. She didn’t bake them or anything, she just made them magically, but they had his name written on them in icing, and I thought that was pretty fab. Come to think of it, I want to go live with this chick right now. Anyway, there was also a little girl, who was either the aunt’s daughter or a neighbor kid or something, and she befriends Timothy, as well as has cakes with her name written on them. And because it was a dark fantasy with a white witch in it, there also had to be an eeeeeeevil witch. I think Timothy fell under her spell somehow, but the white witch was more powerful and everything worked out okay in the end. I remember being particularly taken with the descriptions of the magical woods where the good witch lived, where the trees and grass all glittered with gold and silver. Damn, I’ve been to England, why can’t I find this woman’s place? I want magical maid service and personalized magic cakes and glittery trees. Goddammit.

Livin' the dream.

Livin’ the dream.

The final book in the set was a wacky fairy tale entitled The Strange Story of the Frog Who Became a Prince, by Elinor L. Horwitz. It was a sort of send-up of the old Frog Prince story, wherein a witch (another one! There were a lot of witches in this box set, dang) who is out doing some freelance witching one day comes across a happy frog and turns him into a prince. Who knew that witches would just do this kind of stuff for free? I learned a lot about witches from these books. Anyway, the twist is that the prince the frog gets turned into looks more like Prince Charles than The Artist Formerly Known As, with big ol’ jug ears and knock knees and buck teeth and so forth. The witch gets points for accuracy, of course, but the frog isn’t too thrilled with the whole transformation jazz and starts telling the witch how much more handsome and kick-ass he was as a frog. Finally he convinces the witch to change him back, but she can’t remember how. So maybe she’s a trainee witch; that’s why she’s going around transforming amphibians into inbred royals willy-nilly. Much zaniness ensues as she tries to remember the spell to return him to his former state. Lots of words said backwards, as I recall. I think the one that ended up doing it was “peanut butter sandwich” said backwards. Which makes total sense.

I want a peanut butter sandwich now. *heads for pantry*

Mmmmm, Jiftastic.

Mmmmm, Jiftastic.

Until next time (burp), Goddess out.

“The Expulsion”

PriestDevil

“Thanks for calling CastOutCo, we’re steamin’ mad at demons. How can I help you?”

“I’m not sure whether I should be calling or not.”

Father Buck rolled his eyes, aiming another pencil at the ceiling tiles. “What seems to be the problem?”

“It’s my son. I don’t know where to turn…”

The woman started talking, and Buck made some peremptory notes, and then began doodling on the edges of his legal pad. The symptoms she was describing were fairly typical; Buck already had all the information he was likely to need, but it made the clients feel better if they were allowed to vent.

When the woman paused to take a breath, Buck jumped in. “We’re awfully swamped, but I think I can squeeze you in this afternoon at two-thirty, if that’s okay.” He glanced up at the wrestling calendar tacked to the wall of his cubicle; there was nothing written there.

“Thank you. Yes, as soon as possible.” Her voice was forceful and harsh through the phone, as though she really wanted to say, You’d better get your ass here yesterday, buster.

“See you then,” Buck said, and almost hung up, but then remembered to tack on, “Thanks for calling CastOutCo.” The woman had already rung off. Buck put the phone back in its cradle, hoping the manager hadn’t been listening in.

With a sigh, he buttoned up the shirt of his uniform, which looked like something a priest would wear if he moonlighted as a motorcycle mechanic; it was black, with a faux white collar and an embroidered name badge with a little orange cross stitched on it. Buck slid his feet off the desk and crammed his black cowboy hat onto his balding pate. He couldn’t hear a peep in the office; the other associates were probably sleeping or cruising the Internet for underage girls. Business had been tanking, and it was all thanks to Big Pharma—parents were generally unwilling to fork over obscene amounts of cash to an exorcist when they could just stuff their kid full of Ritalin.

Buck got up from his chair, causing the chair and his back to squeak in protest. He hoped this tinpot operation could stay afloat until he retired; he was too old to go pounding the pavement for work, and besides, banishing demons wasn’t really an in-demand skill in the job market these days. He sighed again, heavily, and glanced at his watch. If he left now, he’d probably have time to stop and get a beer.

At two-thirty-eight, after three beers and a bowl of nachos, Buck pulled his rickety Ford to the curb in front of the client’s house, which was a typical faceless suburban confection painted in trendy Mediterranean hues. There was a dark green minivan in the driveway, with a sticker on the back proclaiming that their kid was an Honor Student at Insufferable Brat Middle School, or some such crap. Buck scowled.

The woman had the door open before he’d even got all the way out of the car, and she looked exactly as he had expected her to: Pinched, too skinny, with meticulously styled brownish hair and high-waisted jeans. Buck smiled and raised a hand in greeting, but she just looked at him with a steely expression. He muttered under his breath as he retrieved his box of supplies from the back seat.

Once inside, the woman didn’t even offer a drink or so much as a how-do-you-do; she just marched through the maze of cream-colored hallways, leaving Buck to scuttle along behind her. She stopped on the threshold of what looked like a sitting room, and thrust her finger forward.

The boy sat stoutly in a red recliner, his feet dangling an inch or two from the floor. Behind him were the tangled wires and controls of a forgotten video game, and clutched in his hand was a half-eaten Ho-Ho. He considered his mother and the stranger with flat-lidded eyes.

“What’s the kid’s name?” Buck hissed out of the corner of his mouth.

“Logan,” the woman hissed back. Then she moved aside and let Buck into the room.

“What’s up, Logan?” Buck put his box casually on the floor at his feet. The boy glanced down at it, and then looked back at him. “Something going on I should know about?”

The kid burped, and Buck got a cloudy snootful of root beer and Ho-Ho filling and brimstone. “Who are you?” Logan asked.

I’m Spartacus, kid, who do you think? Buck smiled. “Just someone who wants to help you. My name’s Father Buck.” He wasn’t really a father to anyone or anything; he’d never even done that cheapo ordaining deal on the Internet. The titles were company policy.

Logan’s face puffed up like an egg sac and turned a livid shade of green. The exorcist ducked in case the kid was going to spew, but all that came out were words. “He doesn’t need any help, wretched human,” the kid croaked, in a voice rather reminiscent of intestinal gas. “I am in…um…complete control now.”

Buck pulled up a nearby chair and sat facing the boy. It looked like it might be a long afternoon. “And who, pray tell, might you be?”

Logan’s face deflated in an instant, and he was again a normal, contemptuous pre-teen. “You already know my name is Logan. Are you retarded or something?”

Buck sighed inwardly. The beer and nachos seemed to be having a neighborly dispute in his digestive system. “I know you’re Logan. I’m talking to the other person inside of you.”

Logan just looked at him quizzically, but then the swollen green face returned. “You’ll never free the child from our crutches…I mean clutches!” The shining red eyes glanced to the left, as though consulting an invisible someone standing just behind the recliner. Then they fixed on Buck again. “Try anything you want! Dunk me in a tank of holy water! Read me boring bits of the Bible! Stick a silver crucifix up my nose and…uh…call me Sally!” Another small burp escaped the demonic maw. “Oh! And…um…your mother wears army boots?”

On top of the indigestion, Buck’s head had begun to pound. This was exactly what he needed today; this demon was only a damn trainee. He had dealt with a few of them in his time; trainees were usually a bigger pain in the ass to exorcise than fully accredited demons. Buck reckoned it had to do with the trainees’ inexperience, their desperation to succeed at their first big possession. Trying to ignore his throbbing temples, Buck said, “Junior demon third class, I want to talk to your supervisor.”

The green face registered childlike surprise, and then quickly reverted to a grimace that was apparently supposed to be terrifying. “What are you talking about, pitiful human? I’m an all-powerful…what? No, I can do it… Oh, all right!” In an instant the petulant green visage dissolved into a much less human countenance, reddish and reptilian. Yellow eyes with cat-slit pupils regarded Buck with impatience. “Yes?” its deep, gargling-drain voice said.

Buck reached into his supply box and produced the standard-issue silver crucifix, then held it at arm’s length in front of him. “I command you and your acolyte, in the name of all that is holy, to leave the body of this boy in peace, amen, et cetera.”

The supervising demon blinked. “Yeah. Well, look, can you do me a big favor and not bust my chops here? I mean, the trainee’s gotta learn this possession jazz, right? You understand.”

Buck had expected this, so he put down the cross and retrieved a vial of holy water from the box, which he proceeded to open and sprinkle liberally onto Logan’s pudgy shins. The flesh sizzled a little, but remained unblemished. The demon rolled its eyes. “Hey, didn’t the kid just tell you that none of that stuff was going to work? You been watching too many Hammer movies or something?”

Buck pulled his worn Bible from the box and began reading from it, but he’d only got through one paragraph before the demon waved its hands for silence. “Okay, put a sock in it. I’ll make you a deal,” the supervisor growled. “Let the trainee do his possession thing, pass his test, get his certification, and then I promise we’ll leave the kid alone and go possess someone else. Would that make you happy?”

Before Buck could answer he realized that Logan’s mother had breezed into the room and was standing so close behind him that he could feel her breath riffling his hair. “Yes, Mr. Demon! Please leave Logan alone. In fact, why don’t you go possess that Taylor slut down the street? She’d probably enjoy it.”

Buck closed his eyes. The headache was starting to make him see stars. “Ma’am, if you’ll please let me handle this…”

The woman cast a furious glance down at Buck. “The demon offered a deal, and if you’re too pigheaded to take it, then I will.”

Buck was trying to explain to the woman that demons were actually not renowned for their honesty and their stringent keeping of promises, but she had already marched past him and planted herself directly in front of the demon, hands on hips, ass muscles clenched. “I agree to your compromise,” Logan’s mother intoned grandly.

“Well, hallelujah,” said the supervisor, and in a flash Logan’s face lost its lizardly appearance and reverted back to being puffy and green. “Hail Satan!” the trainee demon shouted exuberantly, then opened its froggy mouth wide and released a massive column of fire straight at Logan’s mother.

Buck instinctively shielded his eyes, but he could still feel the searing heat of the infernal flames as they consumed the woman utterly. She hadn’t even had time to scream.

When at last the heat had dissipated, leaving only a thick greasy stench like overdone pork, Buck reluctantly took his hands from his face and stared at the human-shaped tower of ash that teetered before him. When he exhaled, the tower collapsed into a cascade of papery black flakes that came to rest in a neat pile on the ecru carpet.

“Oops,” said the trainee demon.

The lizard face was back again, yellow eyes seeming to blaze like exploding suns. “Oops? Oops? Is that all you have to say for yourself? All you had to do was levitate the chair with the kid in it, maybe do a bit of freaky writing across his pasty midsection, but no! You had to go torch an innocent woman who’ll be going to heaven now, her soul lost to us forever! Junior demon third class, you fail!

The green face returned blubbering. “But sir, it was just an accident…let me try again…”

“Try again? You’ll be lucky if I let you scrape old hoof shavings off the bottom of the Styx. Now come on!” Logan’s face went through one more horrible transformation, from reddish rage-filled lizard to sobbing greenish egg sac, and then he was just a regular boy again, his cheeks pink from exertion. His stomach rumbled and he looked down at it.

Buck was still sitting in his chair, unable to process what had just happened. A strange wind, perhaps caused by the departure of the demons, stirred the pile of ashes and scattered them in a pattern that looked sort of like an angel, if you squinted hard. Buck stuck his toe into the pile. Well, there goes my commission, he thought glumly.

Logan, who had been watching Buck’s actions with an elaborate lack of interest, took one last look at the blackened cinders that had once been his mother. Then he turned his chair toward the television, stuffed the rest of the Ho-Ho into his mouth, and picked up his video game controller.

Excerpt from “The Five Poisons”

 

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Another picture began to form, the inky puddles of black spreading and deepening like cancerous growths, like thick flocks of ravens emerging from a calm sea of milk. The paper made a distinct tap-squish sound as Sabrina pushed it around in the developer with metal tongs that glinted red in the glow from the overhead bulb—red pan, red paper, red world.

She stared at the birthing image, intrigued as always by the way the shadows met and filled in the holes in the picture’s universe, popping the highlights forward into three dimensions, darkness defining the light. After a few more moments, she pulled the dripping photo from the developer with the tongs, holding it over the pan and watching the droplets shatter the surface of the liquid into fragmented ripples, distorting her reflection into a cut-and-paste Picasso of misplaced eyes and lips.

She plunged the picture into the stop bath, letting the chemicals work their spell, and then the fixer, burning the image, binding it to the formerly virgin white paper forever and ever, amen. Then up to the heavy length of twine that served for drying, clip clip onto the two top corners, and the photo hung there with the others, another captured rectangle of reality.

Sabrina strolled to the end of the room, where the first of the pictures hung like a piece of unspeakable laundry, and she stepped back to look at it proper, her hands on her hips. Her head tilted to one side as it often did when she was deep in thought, and her tomato-red braids whispered in the silence. The harbinger of a pleased smile curled at the edges of her mouth. She could already see that the photos were among the best she had ever taken.

The first depicted a monstrous tree, its black bark like the scabrous skin of some hideous reptile, its knots glowing from within, throwing into stark contrast the cat-slit pupils of its many gnarled knot-eyes. But it was the mouth of the thing—cavernous, rotten, and filled with splintery teeth—that made the image come alive. For there in the maw of the beast, a child’s pale face was clearly visible, captured by Sabrina’s camera in mid-scream, eyes and mouth stretched to impossible proportions. The terror in the child’s face was heart-stopping, disturbing, fascinating.

Sabrina’s smile widened as she went down the line, examining each of her new pictures in turn. Here was the glittering surface of a placid lake broken by the scaly humped back of a serpent as large as an aircraft carrier. Next was a forlorn blonde woman slumped in a mud puddle, her arms and legs slapped on her body the wrong way around, her face turned inside out so that the throbbing veins lay criss-crossed amid the gore like roads on a map, the optic nerves hanging down her cheeks like fleshy tears. The photo after that portrayed a mist-shrouded cemetery straight out of Hammer horror, white headstones sticking up at odd angles like clutches of skewered dinosaur bones in an archeologist’s pit; and from the black fogged earth at the base of each grave rose a transparent gossamer hand with long groping fingers.

By the time Sabrina reached her final masterpiece—a ventriloquist’s dummy with deceptively bland eyes crowning a massive rictus of fanged teeth, the doll sitting in the lap of its unfortunate master, whose throat was ripped out, sinew sparkling wetly—her smile was radiant. She nodded to herself, the warmth of accomplishment, of work well done, enfolding her. “Fucking brilliant,” she said, not at all fazed by the echo of her voice in the empty room, in the empty world.