Sardonic Tales: “When a Beast Looks Up at the Stars”

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 final story in Guignol & Other Sardonic Tales acts as a bookend with the first story. Here, another narrator who is a thinly fictionalized version of me goes on a trip that has to do with film. In this case, it’s a trip back to his home town, which is, of course, a thinly fictionalized version of my own home town. The Gorka Theatre was really called the Gregg Theater, and as far as I know it’s still there, though it’s probably less accursed than the one in this story.

Because the narrator of “When a Beast Looks Up at the Stars” is a film writer, he talks a lot about film in the course of the story, and even the title is lifted from a really good 2014 flick called Black Mountain Side, which I highly recommend, even if you don’t pair it with this story.

For all that there are several cinematic references in “When a Beast,” there is one that seems more obvious to pair with it than the others. I make a very specific reference to one particular scene in Hammer’s The Devil Rides Out, which is one of my favorite Hammer flicks.

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But even that’s not the film I’m actually going to suggest for tonight, Halloween night, to go along with the last story in Guignol. Instead, I’m going to suggest a movie that I hadn’t even seen when I wrote this story. Norman J. Warren’s 1976 film Satan’s Slave not only involves the kind of low-rent goat-headed black mass that these kinds of stories demand, but it has the added family Satanism angle to make it all the more apt a companion piece.

If you haven’t seen it or The Devil Rides Out, watch both and make it a double-feature!

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