Review: Boys in the Valley by Philip Fracassi

cover of Boys in the Valley by Philip FracassiBoys in the Valley by Philip Fracassi
Earthling Publications (Halloween 2021)
$50 limited edition 
Reviewed by Dave Simms

Earthling Publications has set the highest bar for the Halloween season for close to two decades, bringing the best reads for the best of months. Boys in the Valley might very well be the publisher’s crowning achievement. Thank you Paul Miller for finding these diamonds in the dark and allowing horror aficionados to revel in the shadows of the highest quality of horror.

Everyone loves a great, apt comparison when seeking out the next great read, and some have likened this novel to Lord of the Flies. While that does connect, other titles set the stage for the crushing dread that is Philip Fracassi’s stunner. Imagine John Carpenter’s The Thing, John Farris’ Son of the Endless Night, and the hit television show Evil. Fracassi paints a bleak yet electrifying setting in St. Vincent’s Orphanage for Boys during a stifling winter in the turn of the century Pennsylvania wilderness that isolates the denizens of the home even further from civilization.

While Boys in the Valley is true horror, it also achieves what the best novels of the genre achieve: it transcends boundaries and explores the human nature and the heartfelt relationships that embrace readers before pulling them into the depths of their own personal emotions. Fracassi delves into this treatise on faith with a deft hand, choosing to embrace relationships rather than the hardcore restraints of organized religion. The plot delves into friendship, loyalty, coming of age, and peer pressure just as much as the impurity of evil itself, which further embroils the reader in the author’s grasp.

As for the story itself, Peter struggles with his looming decision to enter the priesthood for the most typical of reasons: the brotherhood of belonging that he’s never embraced versus the allure of Grace Hill, the farm girl he has grown up adoring. The relationships between the orphaned boys is also typical, as rivalries grow and fade, the young are taken in by the older, the warm-hearted are pitted against the jaded and numb. Father Andrew serves as the voice of compassion and reason while mentoring Peter amidst the harsher personalities who rule the home while harboring repressed hostilities under cover of religion.

When a group of men arrive at the orphanage, Peter watches his world disintegrate. Everything stable he’s held tight for years crumbles as one of the men is seemingly possessed. That evil is a virus which slowly spreads among the buildings, first attacking the boys psychologically and then disintegrating them from within.

Fracassi takes his time building the dread while keeping an eye on a steadily building pace that is akin to descending lava from a volcano. He uses Peter as a gauge of morality and humanity as the entity(ies) ravage the community, separating the boys akin to William Golding’s tale but with the paranoia of Carpenter’s classic. Boys in the Valley is both vicious and heartfelt, a story of crumbling innocence suffocating the relationships that should be sacred.

It’s a beautiful novel that should be — will likely be — remembered as one of the best of the young decade. A harrowing and unforgettable debut novel from Fracassi that should not be missed.

Video Visions: The Ultimate Movie for Halloween Night

Black background with spooky lettering that says Hunter Shea Video Visions and the Cemetery Dance logo

Look, I know most normal people aren’t like me, setting aside about 50 movies to watch each October. I mean, who has that kind of time and demented dedication? If I think I won’t have time to watch a movie when I get home from work, I’ll set the alarm to wake me up at five in the morning so I can devour Invasion of the Body Snatchers or Hellraiser like a bowl of Count Chocula before heading off to the day job.Continue Reading

The Mask: A Halloween Serial Novel by Kevin Lucia

Cemetery Dance reviews editor/columnist Kevin Lucia is writing a Halloween serial novel one day at a time on his blog. We thought it might be something our readers would enjoy as we count down to our favorite holiday!  Check out Kevin’s essay on the origins of The Mask, and follow the links at the end to read along.

 

The creepy mask that inspired Kevin Lucia's serial novel The Mask.Two weeks ago, I found the weirdest mask in our school’s dirt cellar.

The dirt cellar—which began life as a fallout shelters in the fifties—is where all sorts of things get stored. Things like old desks, cabinets, bookshelves, toilets, tables…you name it. Boxes of old textbooks, old televisions, all the things a school might store over the years instead of throwing out, just because they “might” be needed sometime in the future.

I’m down there all the time. I’m a scrounger by nature, (I learned it from my Dad, who learned it from his father, who was a teen during the Depression), and I’m always looking for something to add to my classroom. In this case, I was looking for Halloween decorations, because seasonal decorations are also stored in the dirt cellar.
And I found this weird rubber mask. With bulging eyes, stringy black hair, and a gaping black mouth. Inspiration struck, and I decided to take the mask (its rubber felt weird between my fingers) and hang it on my classroom door in the center of Halloween wreath as my own “Marley Knocker.”

Continue Reading

Video Visions: Why Slashers?

What’s not to love?

Any horror fan who grew their first pubic hairs during the golden age of the genre in the ’80s has a special place in their cold, dead hearts for slasher movies. How could we not? We were surrounded by game changing flicks like Halloween, Friday the 13th, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (a VHS darling in my neck of the woods), and A Nightmare on Elm Street. And then there were the likes of Maniac, The Burning, Madman, My Bloody Valentine, Prom Night and so many others, good and very, very bad. It seemed like every month there was a new villain hacking his way through scores of pot smoking, beer swilling, hormone raging teens and twenty-somethings. Continue Reading

Horror Drive-In: Seems Like Old Times

 

I readily admit that I spend much of my horror ruminations on days gone by. Many consider the 1980s to be the Golden Age of Horror. It was an unparalleled time of creativity and fun in the genre. Horror fiction was going crazy, with many old masters still crafting great stories, and brash newcomers were shaking the foundations of traditional horror storytelling.Continue Reading

Video Visions: Horrortober Essentials

About six years ago, as my partner Jack and I were waxing poetic about the Halloween season on our Monster Men podcast, I started calling the 31 days of spookiness Terrortober. For some reason, midway through the month, I changed it to Horrortober and it stuck. Now I’m not saying I was the first, but I don’t remember anyone else calling it that back then. Okay, maybe I am saying I was the first.Continue Reading

Michael Myers Death Mask

I was ten years old when Halloween hit theaters. My friends and I trudged the three blocks to the Kent Theater on an October Saturday afternoon and had our tiny minds blown. The good thing about 1978 was no one cared who went in to see a movie, even if it was four ten-year old boys. Continue Reading

A Halloween Thing A Day: ‘Season’s Greetings’

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In 1996, Michael Dougherty released a short animated film called “Season’s Greetings,” which introduced a creepy, child-like character with a burlap mask and a love for Halloween. That character was named Sam, and you can see his introduction to the world below:Continue Reading

A Halloween Thing A Day: ‘Monster Problems’

Halloween Thing A Day

Monsters in the closet….monsters under the bed….I think we all, at some point in life, believed in these things. We also believed that certain things would protect us from such creatures: keeping your feet under the covers…night lights…Continue Reading

A Halloween Thing A Day: Silver Shamrock!

Halloween Thing A Day

Happy, happy Halloween, Halloween, Halloween
Happy, happy Halloween, Silver Shamrock!

If you’re a fan of Halloween III: Season of the Witch, you might be
cursing me right now. That little ditty (from the Halloween countdown
commercials that play a huge part in the movie’s plot) is one of the
hardest-to-ditch earworms in earworm history, and I’ve just infected you.Continue Reading

A Halloween Thing A Day: Giving Credit to ‘Halloween 4’

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1988’s Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers is neither the most beloved nor the most reviled entry in the franchise. It’s a bit on the bland side for me (Michael’s mask, in particular, lacks any personality whatsoever), but man—I do love these opening credits.Continue Reading

A Halloween Thing A Day: Neil Gaiman’s “Witch Work”

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Earlier this month, we featured Neil Gaiman, in a graveyard, talking about All Hallow’s Eve. Now, with Halloween peeking around the corner, we return to Mr. Gaiman, broadcasting from the woods on Halloween 2015, reading a poem called “Witch Work.”Continue Reading

A Halloween Thing A Day: Is Your Halloween Candy Poisoned?

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poisonAmong the top Halloween urban legends that circulate each year is the idea that the candy your child accepts from strangers while trick-or-treating could be poisoned.

It was in wide circulation when I was of trick-or-treating age; I vividly remember my parents inspecting my candy haul piece-by-piece while I stood by impatiently. Of course, this was back in the ’70s, which means we didn’t have the Internet and we didn’t have Snopes.Continue Reading

A Halloween Thing A Day: Froggy Fresh’s ‘Halloween’

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Hip hop music and horror movies go way back. Sometimes the two came together as a promotional gimmick (see Freddy Krueger’s collaborations with Will Smith and The Fat Boys), sometimes it was a case of an artist paying homage to (or making fun of) the horror icons of their time.Continue Reading

5 Ways to Get Your Halloween Spirit Back: Chasing the Black and Orange Dragon

Paper Cuts

Paper (n): material manufactured in thin sheets from the pulp of wood or other fibrous substances, used for writing, drawing, or printing on

 Cut (v): make (a movie) into a coherent whole by removing parts or placing them in a different order.

Guys and gals, we’re less than a week away from Halloween.

I don’t make the news. I just report it. A week! And while I see that all my horror-loving buddies challenging themselves to watch a horror movie a day, or creating lists for All Hallow’s Read, I myself… I’m…

This is hard for me to admit, but: I’m not feeling it this year. At least not yet.Continue Reading