Sardonic Tales: “The Cult of Headless Men”

A few years ago, I did a thing where I picked a movie that would make a good double-feature with one of the stories in my then-newest collection, Painted Monsters. This year, for the Countdown to Halloween, I thought it might be fun to do the same thing, but with my now-newest collection, Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales.

“The Cult of Headless Men” is another story that has an obvious cinematic antecedent. The whole thing got started because of The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake, a creaky 1959 favorite of mine.

To say how the two tie together would be to delve into spoilers for the weird flick that are perhaps better discovered on your own, if you haven’t already seen it, but suffice it to say that I borrowed the title wholesale from the movie.

Originally, this novelette was nothing more than a fragment that I had written for Michael Bukowski, who approached me and several other authors to contribute our own forms for Nyarlathotep. However, I liked the ideas present in the fragment, and eventually expanded it into an actual story.

To do so, I brought in Kirby Marsh, the film producer grandfather of the protagonist of the title story from Painted Monsters. Once I had a film producer, of course he needed to be working on some films, taking over an English manor house to produce some quick-to-market horror schlock to compete with the likes of Hammer.

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So, while The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake still may be the ideal pairing with “The Cult of Headless Men,” it could also be set alongside just about any British horror film of the era. Except that many of them, the Hammer films especially, might have a little too much class for a Kirby Marsh production. For that vibe, maybe try Norman J. Warren’s 1978 film Terror, in which a film production about witches in an English manor house is plagued by actual witchcraft.

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