When you’re a child of Stephen King, it’s perfectly understandable if your mind is a little…twisted. Luckily for the world at large, Joe Hill and his canon are just that, as well as deliciously subversive, cleverly outlandish, and universally spooky. All of those qualities are on display in his subtle, complex, wry
, oaky-flavored Horns, which is coming to a theater near you this Halloween (along with Daniel Radcliffe and his American accent). And just in time, too, because mild-mannered Iggy Perrish (Radcliffe) is having the worst time of his short life. His girlfriend’s been murdered, he—though cleared of charges—remains the only suspect, and he’s just sprouted devilish horns on the top of his head. Also people keep blabbing uncontrollably to him about all the dark, awful things they want to do to him, to each other, to themselves, and to the world. What begins as a pseudo-Christopher Moore premise, however, soon shows its truer, blacker colors in a whodunit-turned-revenge narrative that will leave you gasping when, sizzling and smoking, it comes to its strange end.
That’s the beauty of Hill’s body of work: it’s never predictable and rarely easy. Populated with out-of-the-mold characters and an enticing streak of morbidity, Horns and its companions are stories that can’t be tied up with a nice bright bow. Or if it was, the bow would be composed of something less appealing than ribbon. Possibly intestines? Probably intestines. Hill uses the fantastical, the supernatural, and the horrific as vehicles to explore much more run-of-the-mill issues. In Horns, those include confronting life amid shattered expectations, twisted morality, and the elusiveness of truth. If you want to be challenged, disturbed, entertained, and ravished by a story, take some time to catch up on Hill’s catalog, including Horns, in honor of the movie release. You might be surprised what awaits you. To lift yet another line from Horns, “maybe all the schemes of the devil were nothing compared to what man could think up.”
Hill’s debut novel features, funnily enough, an enthusiast of the macabre: aging rock star Judas Coyne, who has a growing morbid menagerie of skulls, nooses, sketches from serial killers, and more. He thinks he’s hit the jackpot when he buys a a real dead ghost at an online auction site. If this sounds like a grownup Goosebumps summary so far, reader beware, you’re in for a scare, because it gets so much better (and more terrifying). Once the titular box arrives, Coyne finds it contains not only the suit of the stiff, but also his vengeance-craving spirit. Because guess what? In life he had a bone to pick with Coyne. And in death, he’s just a plain ol’ nightmare.
If you thought Hill’s father had the market cornered on Terrible Things Happening to Children That Leave Them Supernaturally Inclined, then all I have to say is: HAH. Here, Hill makes Christmas creepy. Adorable, bratty Victoria McQueen has a really neat bike. Said bike takes her not only where she wants to go, but where she needs to go, via your friendly neighborhood portal bridge. In a giant Feliz Navidon’t, one day she winds up in Christmasland (jolly population: zero), where she confronts No. 1 Naughty Lister Charlie Manx, who has been snatching kids back to his lair for years. Victoria, however, unlike the other victims of Charlie’s cheer, manages to escape, which sets up a confrontation for the ages (and the season.
In case you were wondering, Hill can also scare the pants off of you in far fewer words, as evidenced by this collection of haunting short stories. There isn’t a weak link in the bunch, which includes a beautiful take on the old haunted-movie-theater trope (“20th Century Ghost”), a story that gives you Van Helsing: The Dad Years (“Abraham’s Boys”), and one of the best first lines of any story, period: “My best friend when I was 12 was inflatable” (“Pop Art”).
And he can do it all with pictures, too! This unsettling graphic novel pairs Hill’s horror chops with the splendid and equally scary artwork of Gabriel Rodriguez. The story features not just a simple haunted house—that would be far too easy. Instead, it’s a portal to another dimension, whose big, bad demons have been Shrinky Dinked into magical keys. In the midst of all this there’s a murder, a possession, and ruined lives as far as the eye can see. Bon appétit.
Horns is on sale now, and hits theaters this Friday.