Josh Malerman’s Tricks Are Treats: ‘Ghastle And Yule’ (“Best Read In The Evening”)


‘We Were…Making a Horror Movie’

No, there’s no film called Curate Your Own Death (1960).


But there is one called Choose Your Own Death: The Babysitter (2009).

And no, there’s no Bicameral Island (1961).


But there are Shutter Island (2010), Gilligan’s Island (1964) and more IslandsDinosaur (2014), Spike (2012), Fantasy (1977), Harper’s (2009), The (1980), a newer The (2005) and just plain Island (2011).

In a canny Halloween (2014) offering, the author Josh Malerman comes to the door this year and drops Ghastle and Yule into your treats bag.

“After all, you did knock.” As Malerman’s protagonist-narrator might say.

You know my name because you know the name of every pivotal crewmember hired by Fountainhead and Panacea.

You know the studio heads themselves. Photos of them, touting Ghastle and Yule, might be found somewhere in your bedroom.

You might even know the casting agents, the wardrobe department, the caterers….

You either consider Wigs or The Market to be the greatest horror movie ever made. But not both.

Josh Malerman is the Detroit-based author whose masterfully controlled debut Bird Box  from HarperCollins’ Ecco Books has drawn adamant praise from so many readers this year. One of the high-profile clients of literary agent Kristin Nelson, he is traditionally published and prodigiously talented … and smart enough to have written more than 20 books before letting one see the light of publication. Our Thought Catalog coverage of that significantly auspicious book is here, Blindsided By ‘Bird Box’: Josh Malerman’s Debut May Surprise You.

Ghastle and Yule is the first thing Malerman has released since Bird Box’s springtime flight. The new work is quick, a Kindle Single. You’ll easily get through it before the terrors of Halloween’s midnight catch up with you — though it may intensify them when they arrive, fair warning.

And its fast uptake, as steep as the Hollywood sign’s hillside, might have to do with the fact that Malerman’s Bird Box is in play there in Tinseltown — optioned by Universal with screenplay work and director search reportedly in progress. He tells of meeting with his team there in Lucille Ball’s original dressing room at the studios. And somehow, in Malerman’s hands, even that anecdote becomes a little ghostly.

The Bird Box tale of what he called in our Los Angeles conversations a “think tank” of horrifying danger — an evocation of the “infinite” that causes you to kill and then take your own life — makes the novel almost irresistible to a filmmaker’s imagination.

And when that thing comes out, don’t forget what you learn now in Ghastle and Yule:

It bothers you when people laugh in scary movies. It makes you want to scream in their comedies.

Ever spent much time around film crews? Some on a good film set do talk this way. They can be among the most erudite, eloquent people you’ll meet.

It bothers you when people say they’re more scared by something “real.” As if a man with a knife is more frightening to them than a breathing mass of tanned flesh crouched in the corner of their kitchen.

Malerman’s narrator is a cinematographer for both filmmakers. Gordon Ghastle, he tells us, was “as punch-drunk on the genre as the viewers who would soon flock to his films.” And Allan Yule wore “a pair of glasses so big you’d think his cheeks were blind.”

The two men were, he tells us, “obsessed with one another…stealing…cheating…warring.”

Want to know Malerman’s scariest line in this novella? Here you go. The emphasis is his:

You love horror because you believe it’s possible.

 ‘The New School of ‘Meaningful Macabre'”

Something as wonderful as that phrase, “meaningful macabre,” could describe not only Malerman’s own Bird Box but also his fundamental approach to his work. Whatever makes it meaningful tends to get up in your neck fast, a hand you didn’t see coming, suddenly gripping you at the jugular of your mind’s mistaken idea that this would all be mere entertainment.

When I interviewed him onstage at Writer’s Digest’s Novel Writing Conference in Los Angeles in August, Malerman conceded to our audience that many industry observers have said that his work doesn’t seem as close to horror as to literary suspense.

And yet, for his part, this prolific writer and longtime front man for a band — the aptly named High Strung — is dedicated to the horror idiom.

You get to decide for yourself who and what he is — and this time, in an exceedingly tight novella. He can intrigue you with a brief taunt this way:

The rumors , once regarding two men, were starting to sound like a description of only one.

And he can make you feel you’ve seen something you haven’t, popcorn extra, in a paragraph:

Obscurity is without question the most controversial film in the history of the genre. It’s uncredited, impossible to decipher a congruent cast or crew , and even its name was given to it by fans, or a newspaper article , nobody remembers where it came from for sure. Never properly released, the film is shown over and over again at small art houses, parties with locked doors, usually at low volume. There is no sound, no music. No dialogue, no credits, no titles. To call it a story is to call a nightmare a completed work of art. Yet, a story does exist.

And having courted your attention with such exacting mystique, he then turns the tables, going almost Pinteresque but with barely a pause before diving into something so seriously disturbing that you know this trick is the treat of a maestro:

Half of horror fans consider Gordon Ghastle’s Wigs to be the greatest film ever made. The other half say it’s Allan Yule’s The Market. Yet there’s a third half, invisible to the mainstream , unseen and angry, who, like the shadows cast by the light of a moving picture, shift behind the public, always with the knowledge that there is a film that’s better, born of undiluted emotion, actual fear, and a philosophy that would rather brutalize than suggest.

“Undiluted,” “actual.”

What tends to make Malerman both delightful company in person and an unforgettable voice on the page is that his storytelling does not mess around. I’m very afraid that he means it, you see.

I’m telling you, the man will haunt you mercilessly. Even in the tweeterie:

The way he gets to your throat is through your mind.

Even in how he puts across the simplest idea.

As when he tells us that the two filmmakers in his new story were inextricably tied “together forever.”

Ghastle and Yule.
In knots.