Dan Henk is Back At the End of The World

A still of a close-up of a skull with Dan Henk's name in large letters.

The Face of Fiction is Changing

A brightly colored sun sets on a verdant landscape, marred with a single newspaper heralding the end of life as we know it. A skull concealed in clouds laughs down on the world.
Cover art for Dan Henk’s novel, The End of the World. Artwork by Dan Henk.

If you are in the select market for a tear-your-face-off race against the powers that threaten to engulf and destroy us all for their own ends, Dan Henk delivers again with The End of the World.

The days of a select few rich white men in suits banging their desks demanding script-to-screen ready novels that appeal to the lowest common denominator are almost over. Today’s fiction is coming from a section of society whose stories are not the stuff of over-wrought fairy tales. Our stories are coming from working class men, white women and women of color, the gender-bent, the “average” people who are proving themselves to be anything but average.

Like the legends of punk rock and heavy metal that answered the call of the marginalized in the middle and lower classes following the Cold War–and hair metal bands–indie authors and indie publishers are publishing the stories they want to write because they are the stories we consumers want to read. They tell us stories in voices very much like our own. The stages upon which indie authors cast their productions are small, intimate venues where there’s little security, little overhead, and lots of a chaos in a tight space. Dan Henk will be your guide at the end of all things.

The End of the World

Henk picks up where Black Seas of Infinity and Down Highways in the Dark left off with The End of the World, a work of Sci-Fi Horror that hits extremely close to home Criticized as being overly political, Henk takes speculative fiction to new extremes with his bleak extrapolation of a near-post-apocalyptic United States after a failed government elect destroys the last remaining faith of a rapidly dissatisfied populace.

Indeed, the first half of The End of the World is deeply political. The temperament of Henk’s myriad victims of a societal break-down sets the stage for the Deep State horrors that are to come. Henk also brings back the pivotal players from Black Seas and Down Highways, namely Aaron and Dave. Fans from the Black Seas days will remember Dave as the disenfranchised–and then terminated–military scientist who makes off with an insane discovery. Now, Dave is on his way back from the Amazon jungle, a singularly different creature with a new sense of purpose. Aaron is a misunderstood, teen-aged victim of an overly conservative military upbringing. The only thing Aaron wants is another cigarette and for his parents to get off his back as he blunders into powers he cannot even begin to cope with and never asked for.

The Illusion of Agency: Henk’s Signature Style

Henk cleverly traverses the political playing field his characters are mired in. He provides glimpses into facets of uprising and turmoil from all sides and serves up a twisting narrative that will leave the reader unsure which side they should be on. Dave in particular is the focal point of Henk’s exploration of the human condition that brought society to destruction. Dave’s characterization further cements Henk’s reputation as an author of the weird tale with his introspection into the wisdom of mankind’s relentless pursuit of what lays beyond distant horizons.

Frightfully Close to Home

As with Down Highways and Black Seas, Henk continues to explore the divisiveness of the social rank and file and the destructive quality of religious conservationism. Henk takes this a step further with The End of the World. Henk introduces a societal break-down not from the rebellion of a culture fed up with government corruption, but from the implementation of a democratic socialism which heralds the defeat of the free market economy. To the average citizen, it is the straw. Democratic socialism is a spark that ignites an already angry populace, a populace fooled into a false sense of hope that hid the greed and corruption of leaders that claimed to have the best interests of the many at heart.

Henk’s choice of governmental overhaul was no accident. The choice of democratic socialism as the villain of growth is a clue into the rampant decay at the center of government. It is one more lie meant to deflect and obfuscate the truth. No matter what side we stand on, those who seek to enjoy power do so for their own twisted purposes. Those who sell their souls to our enemies will pay the price not in their own blood, but in the blood of those they claim to serve.

This doesn’t strike me as a trope of a horror novel, but it is quickly becoming the battle cry of the working class, who have little time to examine human nature from a the perspective of a metaphorical alien or beautiful celebrity crush. Henk is not interested in high-brow, sweeping epic story-telling. Henk’s signature style lies in his gritty, granular characterization. He spins personalities out of stereotypes, undermining those stereotypes as he goes.

Lovecraft’s Legacy Lives On

There is no denying that Henk carries on H.P. Lovecraft’s legacy of hopelessness that waits just beyond the veil of human perception. Lovecraft’s characters also lamented the illusion of agency fostered in humanity that masked a helpless vulnerability. Henk pushes this legacy by pulling Lovecraft’s cosmic scale down to a granular level. His cast of characters are mere pawns in a societal rat race, unaware of the horrors taking place among their leadership. Henk’s chief strength is his most compelling character, Dave. Dave’s genius lies in his uncertainty. He is a creature wondering if his attempts to transcend a bad deal did not simply make himself a victim of a much larger scam.

Conclusion

At the heart of The End of the World, Henk reveals that the worst people in the world wear suits and sit behind desks. The men and women who can do the most damage to humanity do not have spiky hair and tattoos. The most dangerous criminals in our society offer salvation or condemnation at a whim. For those working and living under them, the government might as well be on another planet. When the infighting tears it apart, the people left to tell the stories will be those clever and tenacious enough to survive the Fall. Henk is himself a survivor, and it shows in his characters. Aaron, Dave, and the rest are determined to see their part in the cosmic joke through to the conclusion.

Pick up Black Seas of Infinity and Down Highways in the Dark. Keep an eye out of The End of the World, coming from Crossroads Press in 2019.

About the Author

Dan Henk sits convivally with a skelleton, throwing horns, his tattoos visible.
Dan Henk, master tattooist, illustrator, and author.

Dan Henk splits his time between Third Dimension Tattoo in Marshalls Creek, Pennsylvania and his new studio, Abyss Art Studio, in Long Beach, New York. Knowing a little bit of his own story, Third Dimension’s theory that he might be a cyborg is sounding pretty plausible at this point. He also teaches Muy Thai. Henk is a horror author and artist of the highest order, and we have not heard the last of him.

The Candy Shop: Short Horror Film Review

Doug Jones in strange makeup adjusts an anachronistic top hat as he steps out of the storefront of his candy shop. The light suggests grayscale, but subtle pastels give him a drab appearance.

The Horrors of Human Trafficking

Many of my friends and family may remember back in April of 2011 when I first came upon the short film, The Candy Shop: A Fairy Tale about the Sexual Exploitation of Children. According to the Whitestone Motion Picture’s Vimeo account description, The Doorpost Film Project (in conjunction with StreetGrace and 12Stone Church) commissioned the film as an initiative to call attention to the statistics surrounding the epidemic of the trafficking of child sex slaves through Atlanta, Georgia. Back in April of 2011, my anger was incensed beyond reason. However, I was powerless to do anything. I vowed to remain vigilant and ensure that the people who made it their business to shut down human traffickers were given every possible tool to work with.  This film is one of the tools now in the hands of advocates committed to ending human trafficking.

The Candy Shop uses film to provide the public with the tools for recognizing and stopping behavior of human traffickers. Film, and other popular media, are the weapons advocates are using in the next phase of the war on human trafficking.

What’s Wrong With That Place?

The Candy Shop is a 30-minute long short film that director Brandon McCormick (Fear Itself, Blood on My Name) uses to tell a frightening tale that is only part fantasy. Young Jimmy works multiple jobs to pay for his sick mother’s care. Jimmy notices a candy shop across from the produce stand he works for. He can’t help notice that it’s frequented only by men, whose discreet purchases include gorgeously wrapped pieces of candy. The fact that the business conducted in the shop is odd, even disgusting, does not stop Jimmy from considering to enter to the trade. His need for money leads him down into the basement of the shop, where the old shop keeper trills:

“Girls go in, and candy comes out. It’s magical!”

Doug Jones stands at Jimmy's right ( ) staring at the boy over his shoulder. The light is again the same dark drabness that colors all of the film until the ending.
Doug Jones as the candy shop owner looms frighteningly over Jimmy’s (Mattie Liptak) shoulder, intimidating, but also offering Jimmy a glimmer of hope to end his problems.

A Different Kind of Monster

The Candy Shop is not just a horror story; the film is an extended metaphor for the way children seemingly disappear. Doug Jones–famous for his role(s) in Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth–plays the Candy Shop owner, a decrepit, lecherous old man who sells “candy” to the lecherous older men of early Twentieth-Century Atlanta.

Doug Jones on set for The Candy Shop. His aging makeup pronounces his nose, hollows his cheeks, and ages his neck. Liver spots pockmark his face and he wears false, decayed teeth.
Doug Jones plays an entirely different kind of monster in The Candy Shop. He is a much younger man portraying a much older man pretending to be much younger. His performance is haunting.

Barely recognizable, again, in aging prosthetics and disguised under grease-paint, this is perhaps his most frightening role. Not even Pale Man could compare. He has no name, but like the human trafficking racket, he has many faces. The human trafficker uses fronts and legal businesses to hide logistics and launder money made from selling human slaves. When one falls, another rises to take his place. We see this in the exposure of the candy shop as it is replaced by the Confectionist at the end of the film. Jones bravely stepped into the role and provided a face and a voice to a villain who is usually very hard to see and even harder to stop.

The Statistics

It is a never ending cycle, daunting to those who consider it their personal crusade the end human trafficking. That does not hinder those devoted to stopping the sexual exploitation of children. Despite the hopelessness of the cause, Nancy pointedly says to Jimmy, “We have to try.” According to Whitestone’s Vimeo account and the statistics quoted at the end of the film, over 500 under-aged girls are trafficked through Atlanta every month. Add that to University of Texas San Antonio’s own InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s statistics in 2009 that 20% of human trafficking from Latin American countries takes place along the I-35 Corridor.  Human traffickers take fully half of the victims sold into domestic slavery under the age of 18 through my hometown of San Antonio (InterVarsity Christian Fellowship “Price of Life” Campaign). As a Texas native living on the I-35 frontage road, this knowledge is both angering and sobering.

Backlash

The Candy Shop received criticism ranging anywhere from avid praise to blatant disgust. Despite a general outcry against the film’s negative portrayal of Atlanta, the initiative saw wide success. Much of that success is attributed to fact that the film medium reaches a wider audience than a documentary film or other traditional media. In our current political climate, it is not hard to inflate statistics or downplay real issues.  The genre film medium at least offers advocates and the film’s initiative a chance to ask viewers to listen first before drawing conclusions.

McCormick takes a different approach. Instead of statistics and police raids, McCormick’s film draws viewers into the dark world where human trafficking exists right under the noses of citizens. The most horrifying aspect of the film is not Doug Jones in makeup. What truly horrifies the viewer is knowing how much of human trafficking takes place in plain sight.

We Must All Do Something

I encourage anyone interested to watch the film and take part in the initiative to stop human trafficking. Those willing to do more will find listening ears at A21 and local advocates devoted to “stopping the Candy Shop”. Like the girls forever trapped as pieces of candy in Nancy’s gentle hands, not everyone can be saved. However, our goals as free citizens must be to work ceaselessly towards a future for these lives, and if we can save just one, we will make a difference.

The road to breaking the cycle ends before it begins when the good people of the world do nothing.

Aside

As our administration under President Trump proceeds to separate children from their parents, we must be vigilant and remain aware of what can happen to young kids who disappear into the system. We are already hearing reports of sexual misconduct in connection with these kids. It not acceptable to ignore the fact that these children will become more vulnerable to human traffickers once they are out of their parents hands. We cannot ignore the fact that the system is not designed to protect these kids, and traffickers will see these acts as openings for them to profit from.  Jeff Sessions unlocked the door when he began detaining children without parental protection, and in the eyes of human traffickers, the candy shop is open for business.

Your support of groups like A21 can provide investigatory action aimed at rooting out and stopping human trafficking rings as well as providing legal assistance for those trapped within the illegal sex trade.

A21's logo from their website.

You can donate to A21 here.

 

 

 

Watch the full version of The Candy Shop and get Doug Jones’ take on the film initiative here.

The Candy Shop: A Fairy Tale of the Sexual Exploitation of Children
The main title screen for The Candy Shop, staring Doug Jones.