by Todd Rigney
This is a little gem of a horror book.
With the beautifully simple and chilling opening line, “My brother keeps a human head in his closet,” you’re hooked from the start. At a lean 127 pages, Rigney’s story follows Marty, a shy fifth grader who does well in school and has only one real friend. But things begin to change after a bullying incident at school and Marty finds himself alone and alienated. His parents don’t really understand how to help him. His mother allows him to stay home for a few days following the incident, but that doesn’t really seem to help Marty’s lingering problem at school or with his classmates. When his one friend finally agrees to a sleepover, Marty does everything he can to please his friend, who seems disinterested in Marty’s horror movie fascination. There’s a sadness in knowing that the bullying incident has created a rift in even the one friendship Marty has. And as if all of this is not enough, Marty is burdened with a particularly dark secret that hovers his family – his older brother, Steve, happens to be a serial killer (as revealed in the opening line).
Written with straightforward and simple prose, Rigney wrote the novella in about two weeks and self-published it. He handles and addresses rather sensitive and mature themes, especially regarding Steve’s motivation to kill. These themes and issues are similar to issues that Rigney mentions in interviews that he dealt with while growing up in Kentucky. Some fans have questioned if the story goes too far with some of the themes, but we should be mindful that this is still a horror story and there is often a greater flexibility and forgiveness handed to a horror writer. It’s certainly not for everyone, but horror story fans will appreciate Rigney’s approach. He builds the suspense nicely and gives us an honest and human narrator in Marty. The story falters only slightly when Marty’s father suddenly resorts to mild violence which sets off a major showdown later. Yes, the ending is graphic and disturbing and you know even from the beginning of the story that things probably won’t end well. But what happens in the end almost seems too abrupt in the brief time we’ve shared with Marty and his dysfunctional family. In retrospect, it probably works in the context of the story but might have been embraced more if fine tuned and expanded on a little bit.
Rigney also leaves a huge desire to explore more with Steve and his killing nature. The suspense is strongest in the moments when Steve appears. The way he stands silently at the bedroom door and watches Marty or when he comes home in the middle of the day and Marty hears him downstairs, then his footsteps coming up the stairs and disappearing into his bedroom. There’s a terrific sense of foreboding each time and you hold your breath wondering what has Steve done or what will he do. Perhaps Rigney is clever in leaving out the gory details of Steve’s kills, letting the horror of the unknown fester in your imagination. It’s creepy to experience all of this from Marty’s point of view, his terror in knowing that a serial killer lives and breathes in the same house. Through all of it, you root for Marty and you hope nothing happens to him. You feel for him, sensing his longing to share a normal relationship with his older brother, while understanding his maturity in the realization this will never happen. We certainly have Rigney to thank for giving us something new and exciting in the horror genre.
The buzz surrounding the film, which has been circulating the independent horror film festivals worldwide, has garnered quite a bit of attention for both Rigney and director, Scott Schirmer, who co-wrote the script together. The film is available on iTunes and will be released on DVD in late September. Fans and critics are giving the film excellent reviews and the word is that it’s equally, if not more terrifying, thrilling and shocking than its inspiration. Do yourself a favor, though. Read Rigney’s novella. If you’re brave, read it late one night, with only one light on, and let yourself be terrified.