The Halloween Children and Odd Adventures with your Other Father, and Norman Prentiss' dark gay art
by Drew Rowsome- Photographs by Lyon Smith and Hannah Price
It was the blurb that made me start to read The Halloween Children - "The Halloween party has been canceled. There will be no decorations or masks, no candied apples or witch's brew. But without treats to divert the Halloween Children, they have no choice but to play some very nasty tricks" - despite cover art that made it look potentially like a young adult, or younger, novel. I was quickly disabused of that erroneous assumption.
The Halloween Children is a gory slow burn that builds to a horrific and wonderful thrill ride of a climax. And the ending, the usually problematic portion of a great horror novel, is disturbing and ambiguous so that it haunts after the book covers are closed and the bed covers are pulled over one's head.
One of the narrators is the superintendent of a small apartment complex where he lives with his wife and two children. A sequence of spooky and creepy incidents begin to plague the complex and this particular narrator has a vengeful annoyance about it. And then his children begin to behave oddly and the tensions within the family begin to boil over. A particularly horrific incident, the disgusting images are still stuck in my head, leads to the cancellation of the Halloween events at the complex.
Cue the Halloween Children who take revenge for the loss of that most holy of all holidays, and climb into the narrators mind to create a haunted house attraction that makes Screemers, Canada's Wonderland's Halloween Haunt and even Universal Studio's Halloween Horror Nights, look like child's play. It is a clever conceit that not only delivers a fine horror novel but also has intriguing things to say about our need to be scared, fantasize and avenged.
Enthused by The Halloween Children's rewarding read, I googled the authors to get some background and perhaps find further perverse pleasures. Brian James Freeman has several novels and many short stories to his credit. He has also edited Halloween horror-themed anthologies and is responsible for two Stephen King trivia books and an anthology Reading Stephen King which is now out of print. Freeman seems to be part of the horror writing establishment, having collaborated with Richard Chizmar and being the general manager of Cemetery Dance Publications which has published many of the greats, or at least well-known, of the genre.
But googling co-author Norman Prentiss is where thing got eerily interesting. Firstly he edited Queer Panic: A Collection of Gay-Themed Horror Stories which I read years ago and now plan to re-read, and secondly he is the author of Odd Adventures with your Other Father. I had been sent a teaser of Odd Adventures with your Other Father but had skimmed the first couple of pages, found it not as interesting as the premise, assumed it was an earnest gay-themed young adult novel, and had filed it in my ever-growing pile of books and screeners to be tackled when I had the chance.
Again it was my mistake: Odd Adventures with your Other Father is occasionally uneven but it is extraordinary. A gay man tells stories to his daughter about his now-deceased partner, the "other father," about their adventures and her other father's unique ability with the supernatural. The first stories are a little too whimsical and moralistic (though I love that fairy tales with a moral in favour of the gay exist) for my taste but it was compelling enough to keep reading.
Midway through the book, Prentiss's dark gay arts kicked in and Odd Adventures with your Other Father became something much more intriguing and irresistible. A story about a gay therapy succubus (and her hot teenage son) is rollicking horrific, and surprisingly erotic, fun but it then ties into the framing story of the daughter's journey and a powerful squirm-inducing encounter with a Rock Hudson/Tom Cruise-like closeted action movie star. Prentiss weaves genre film parody, an intense gay love story, southern Gothic, and a tasty horror narrative into something completely fresh and exciting. And emotional, though the ending could be see coming, I still had tears in my eyes as I read it.
While The Halloween Children has an undertone of queerness - how could it not when Halloween is the gay high holy holiday? - it is the exuberant gayness and engagement with gay issues that makes Odd Adventures with your Other Father so delightful. While horror novels can make us fear the things hiding in the closet, when a novel comes bursting out of the closet, clad in campy, creepy and queer, it elevates the horror genre to something beyond the adrenaline of terror and release.