Six contestants. One haunted house. And a whole lot of bloody murder.
B-grade horror masters the Gowan brothers have devised a new reality TV show with a killer hook. Six contestants compete for the chance to star in an upcoming slasher movie. All they have to do is survive one night in a "haunted" house and be voted Scream Queen.
The setting is perfect: a crumbling Victorian mansion with a gruesome history and a former owner who turned out to be a serial killer. Throw in a few buckets of fake blood, a bunch of rubber body parts, and a cast of aspiring actors who'll do anything for a close-up. An expert parapsychologist even warns the production team against disturbing the house's dormant spirits. Fantastic publicity. Sure, the budget's low, but the ratings are going to soar.
Then the sun goes down. The cameras start rolling. And all hell really breaks loose… Edo van Belkom, winner of the Bram Stoker and Aurora Awards, is at his brilliantly twisted best in a novel that's dark, witty, and utterly terrifying.
This horror novel about a horrific TV show feels like it has its DNA woven into some of the more recent crop of horror TV, yet predates them all by some years. One from the vaults! – Lavie Tidhar
"Great creepy fun! A post-modern edge-of-your-seat thriller, with enough smarts to know when to scare you and when to make you laugh. Having survived a decade in television, I thought I'd seen it all, but this book is actually SCARIER than meeting a Hollywood Network Executive!!"– Ron Oliver, writer/director of PROM NIGHT 3 & more
"An ominous rollercoaster ride of a ghost story that is at once surprisingly simple and deceptively complex, a novel which exemplifies both the author's penchant for comic horror and intense terror – not to mention a genuine love of horror movies … SCREAM QUEEN rocks."– Rue Morgue
"A beach book for the horror crowd. Fun and fast-paced, the book is a terrific read."– Creative Corner
She knew a bit about scary movies, but she wasn't a rabid fan or anything like that.
Most horror films were pretty lame, and after seeing her cousin's arm torn from his shoulder in a combine accident, it was hard to think of anything to do with blood and gore as a form of entertainment.
And she had no real aspirations of becoming a movie star.
She'd thought about it, of course—what young woman in southern California didn't?—but she was only pretty in a small-town sort of way, not really Hollywood beautiful. Her body was hard from years of helping out on the farm, not thin and curvy like so many of the female leads were today. And while she'd acted in a few high school plays, no one had ever taken her aside and told her she had talent.
But she did have some experience with ghosts.
The family farm had been haunted by the spirit of her great-grandfather, who could sometimes be seen walking the cornfields around harvest time, checking the stalks—same as he'd been doing on the day that he died.
And so, when she saw the ad in Variety calling for women between the ages of twenty and thirty who loved horror movies and had some experience and/or belief in the occult, she thought, Why the hell not?
The next day she went to the casting call with few expectations, figuring she had nothing to lose but a few hours of her time. Well, that had been over a month ago and now she'd been called back for her third, and she hoped, final interview. Or maybe this time it would be an actual screen test. That's what was supposed to happen when you auditioned for a part; you read some lines, or acted out a scene with somebody who was already in the movie, and the casting directors and producers decided if you were right for the role. But the producers of this show hadn't asked her to act, or to read any lines, or do anything like that. All they'd done was ask her a lot of questions, and then told her to tell them a little bit about herself. That had been easy enough, but she wasn't sure how that was going to get her a part on a television show. What was so interesting about a farm girl named Jody Watts who came from a part of the country where cows outnumbered people four to one?
She stopped for a moment at the corner and read the street name on the lamppost. Then she checked that with the directions she'd been given over the phone.
One more block to go.
Her first meeting with the Gowan brothers had been in a ground-floor room in the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard across from Mann's Chinese. There had been a line of young girls that had gone out the door and around the block, and dozens of newspaper and television reporters taking pictures and asking dumb questions like "Are you afraid of the dark?" and "What's your number?" The second meeting had also been at the Roosevelt, but there had been fewer girls and no reporters. The producers had taken pictures of her, and asked her more questions about herself, but she'd done no acting. This time out, they'd asked her to come to an address near Little Tokyo, more specifically to the studio and warehouse the brothers had on Traction Street.
Looking around, it seemed like an odd place to meet a pair of television producers for a network show, but then again the Gowan brothers weren't exactly television producers. Since her first interview, Jody had done a bit of research at the local library, and had read all about "the Boo Brothers" as they were sometimes referred to in the trades. The Gowan brothers were basically B-grade horror filmmakers whose makeup and special effects were just a few steps above homemade. They made one or two features in their downtown studios each year, going direct-to-video in the United States and sometimes releasing theatrically in other parts of the world, mostly Asia and eastern Europe.
So maybe this would be a screen test after all, she thought. Or at the very least, on the level. Maybe they'd do her up in some ghoulie makeup and ask her to scream for them. That would be fun. And even if she didn't get the part, she'd at least have a Polaroid or two of herself as a zombie to send to the folks back home.
They'd sure get a kick out of that…
She stopped at the next corner and read the street sign over her head—TRACTION STREET.
Nice name, Jody thought. Wonder where it leads to. Coma Avenue, maybe. Or, knowing the Gowan brothers, it probably just comes to a Dead End.
Jody smiled at that, then turned down Traction Street looking for the Gowan Brothers studio.
She didn't have to look far. Halfway down the block she noticed a hand-painted sign over an old steel door that read GOWAN BROTHERS ENTERTAINMENT. Jody put her hands on her hips and took a long look at the building that stretched down the block away from the door. It was an old, old warehouse, with reddish brown bricks that had long ago turned black and dirty with age. There were blacked-out windows lining the wall on the second floor, many of them broken and patched on both sides with plastic and glue. The building looked like crap and reminded her of a few of the barns back home.
Maybe they put all their money up on the screen, she thought hopefully, then recalled the one Gowan Brothers movie she'd rented, Night of the Sorority Vampires, and knew that that couldn't possibly be true.
"Oh, this is just great," she muttered under her breath. No wonder they first met the girls at the Roosevelt. One look at this studio and people would think they were auditioning for a porno.
Well, Jody had no interest in that.
She thought about turning around and heading back home, but it had already taken her over an hour just to get down here… she might as well check it out now that she was here. She could always say, "No, thanks," if she didn't like what they had in mind. And then of course, there was always a chance that these guys were for real.
Jody laughed and shook her head.
She knew she was just nervous and looking for any excuse to back out of this thing and go home. Judging the Gowan brothers by the look of their studio was like judging a book by its cover. And that was just wrong. As much as she hated to admit it, she'd enjoyed Night of the Sorority Vampires, and had watched it a second time before returning it to the video store.
So, stop stalling and let's get this over with.
After taking a moment to smooth out her dress, she took a deep breath, let out a long sigh, and tried the door.
"Hello?" came the response, sounding more like a question than an answer.
She'd expected to find some sort of office, but it was little more than a dimly lit room full of shadows. Jody moved cautiously forward, unable to see the floor and what might lie at her feet.
"I'm looking for the Gowan brothers," she said, still not knowing to whom she was speaking.
"You're in the right place." It was a female voice. Perhaps that of a secretary.
The lights in the room suddenly came on, and she was indeed inside an office, although a rather shabbily decorated one. The desks and chairs were old and worn and the only things on the walls were movie posters from Gowan Brothers productions
TEENAGE BRAIN-EATING ZOMBIES
ATTACK OF THE BLOOD FREAKS
TERROR DOLLS OF CASTLE PAIN
THE DEVIL IN HIS BONES
DEATH RITES OF THE SHE-DEMON
REVENGE OF THE MANIAC 2
A woman stepped into the light, but rather than being a sharply dressed secretary, she wore a form-fitting Raiders T-shirt and a pair of tight, faded jeans. Somehow, Jody wasn't surprised.
"I'm Jody Watts."
The woman nodded, sipped her Evian, and gestured with her thumb at the door behind her.
"They're waiting for you in back."
"What's in back?"
"The studio, prop storage, and the brothers' office." She paused, perhaps reading Jody's face. "They don't like having an office up front. Every once in a while someone comes in looking for them… and they'd rather not be around when that happens, if you know what I mean."
Jody nodded politely.
"Follow the hallway on the left." She took another sip from the bottle. "It'll take you all the way around the studio to their office."
The woman smiled politely, then sat down at her desk, immediately looking as if she'd been working hard all morning.
Jody went through the doorway and found a long hallway that ran the length of the building, with doors on the right every twenty feet or so. The hallway was dimly lit, but she could just see well enough not to lose her way or trip over anything on the floor. The hallway turned right at the far end, following the outside of the building all the way to the back. At the end of that hallway, Jody came upon a door with a sign on it that read BOO!
This must be it, she thought.
She knocked on the door and it slowly swung open, creaking loudly on its hinges for what seemed like an eternity.
The space on the other side of the door was also dimly lit, but unlike everywhere else, this room seemed more spooky and foreboding. She could see things on the floor and hanging from the walls: severed heads and broken limbs, things that looked like wolves and monsters… and the bodies of children, strung up by their legs.
"C'mon in," said a voice. "We won't bite."