Category Archives: horror
by Joseph Garraty
Ragman Press LLC (2011)
If you could, would you strike a deal with the devil to achieve your greatest ambition? Sometimes when you look at a Hollywood A-lister, or a wheelin’ dealin’ politician, or one of those tycoons on Wall St., you have to wonder if maybe, just maybe, some signed their own names on the dotted line. In Joseph Garraty’s debut novel, Voice, is an aspiring rock star named John Tsiboukas who gets his wish … for a price.
Voice isn’t just about John, who after gaining his voice adopts the persona of Johnny Tango, but also looks at what happens through the eyes of his bandmates. In particular, his new lead guitarist, Stephanie Case, whom he lured into the ragtag band after hearing her play her heart out with an even less talented band than John’s. Along with their bass player, Quentin, and John’s brother Danny on drums, they are Ragman. And with Johnny Tango leading the charge, the derelict band soon gains fans, paying gigs, and a rocketship to stardom. All the while, a sinister, seedy looking man named Douglas watches on, and Johnny’s voice starts to do more than just belt out the hits.
Voice is a strong debut that offers an authenticity with its rock-and-roll backdrop, as Garraty is a musician himself. And his characters really jump off the page at times, especially Case with her brassy onstage demeanor and take-no-bullshit attitude offstage. In fact, the book really felt like it was her story more than it did Johnny’s while reading it, thanks to her budding friendship with a coworker to whom Case becomes an informal self-defense instructor, plus the simmering sexual tension between her and John’s brother–John’s married brother. Through some of this subplot though, the pace and direction of the novel loses is lost at times, or at least diverted on tangents from time to time.
The behind the scenes view of a struggling rock band was pulled off quite well by Garraty, but I’ve never immersed myself in music culture, so a lot of the lingo and scenarios were foreign to me. The jargon can be a bit of a stumbling block, but without it, there’d be a lot less to give this story its tangibility.
It’s a good book, and a genuine surprise when I was expecting something more conventional with the timeworn premise of “selling your soul.”
Shock Totem #4
edited by K.Allen Wood
Shock TotemPublications (2011)
Lee Thompson was charitable enough to give away a few copies of ShockTotem’s latest issue and I was lucky enough to snag one. When itcomes to periodicals, I buy the electronic versions exclusivelybecause of shipping costs to Canada, so this was a real treat. Ibought and read a Kindle edition of Shock Totem #1 not toolong ago and was eager to read some more.
This time around there was a very diverse ensemble of authors fromvarying backgrounds, with established names like Weston Ochse, aswell as first publications for authors like Tom Bordonaro. There’salso a couple of interviews, one with Kathe Koja that turns into anopining on the state of publishing today, and a chat with one of thisissue’s contributing authors, Renny Sparks, that includes discussionabout her music career. And one of the missing sections from digitaleditions is the book review portion, with some interesting looks onbooks, films, and albums by John Boden, Robert J. Duperre, and thewitticisms of Ryan Bridger. There’s also a brief essay by headhoncho, K. Allen Wood, that provides a surprising punch to thestomach.
As far as the stories are concerned, this issue begins with a tragicgem by Lee Thompson called “Beneath the Weeping Willow,”about Davey, a young autistic boy’s ordeals within his family as heand his older brother, Jacob, cope with the break-up of theirparents’ marriage. The story is told in the rare second-personperspective, which is a hard nut to crack, but Lee seemed to have theperfect story in which to use it. As for the relationship betweenDavey and Jacob, it’s heartbreaking and all too believable.
From there, we jump into the absurd with the debut story of TomBordonaro, “Full Dental,” about an office worker at hiswit’s end over the demonic coworkers he must work alongside. Tomwanted to approach this story in the same way you might approach asketch comedy routine, and I think he hits just the right note withthe juxtaposition of bloody mayhem and office politics.
I think my favorite story of the bunch came from a very short storyby Michael Penkas called “Dead Baby Day.” Now, before youget your quills up, the title is a tad misleading. It’s really abouttwo brothers. Unlike, Lee Thompson’s Davey and Jacob, Michael’s Lukeand Mark don’t have quite so caustic a relationship. Mark does ribhis little brother about his origins as they lay in their beds. Youknow how big brothers are sometimes: a-holes. Well, Luke’simagination starts running wild when Mark tells him about Dead BabyDay, which happens to fall on Luke’s birthday. Creepy, funny stuff.
There’s plenty more packed into the 130 pages and is a kind ofthree-ring circus for dark fiction. Don’t like the clown car? Thenstick around for the lion tamer. And make sure you read Cafe DoomCompetition winner’s story, “Fade to Black,” by JaelitheIngold. It feels a tad predictable at first, but the ending remediesthat.
starring Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Yvonne Furneaux, and Felix Aylmer
directed by Terence Fisher
Hammer Films (1959)
I have never found the Mummy that horrifying. He’s just not a scary cat, you know, he’s always been the toilet paper zombie to me. Well, Christopher Lee has helped change that.
I was trying to think of a classic monster movie to watch for the Monster Movie Marathon, and when someone on Twitter suggested Hammer Films, I figured it was a good idea. I’ve not seen any of the Hammer films, at least not that I can recall. Chances might be good I saw a couple in college, but watching old movies then involved drinking games, so memory retention ain’t that great. So, I hit up my local library and found The Mummy.
Now, one of the things I always hear about Hammer films is how great the set designs are for the historical backdrops. It’s true, despite being dated by today’s standards. The staging for the Egyptian excavation and the small England town may very well have been filmed on the same sound stage, but each really had that golden age of film feel. The costumes were something else that I found exceptional in the film, but I’ll go into that a bit later.
So, Peter Cushing plays a globetrotting archeologist, bedridden with a broken leg, while his father and uncle lead the dig that uncovers the lost tomb of Princess Ananka. As the old codgers are about to go inside the tomb for the first time, they’re warned to abandon what they’re doing by a dapper stranger in a fez. Of course, old white men of the time aren’t in the habit of heeding the local ethnic community, so they kindly tell him to sod off and carry on with their exploration. Inside, they find an astonishingly tidy crypt ornamented by various artifacts and the tomb of Princess Ananka. It becomes apparent very quickly why Cushing’s character is laid up: so he can’t save his father from an encounter with whatever was waiting for him in the tomb.
Turns out it was the Mummy, a condemned priest entombed with the Princess to protect her for eternity, as punishment for his amorous feelings for her. I was really worried this would be the point where the movie would go right off its own rails, and Christopher Lee would look like a lumbering drunkard who fell into a janitor’s closet and came out swathed in toiletries. Fortunately, the costume design was near perfect. There’s an inexplicable menace to see that thing just standing there. Maybe it’s Lee’s height and physical stature, or perhaps it’s the eyes as close-ups on his face carry the torment and near-instinctual malice to anyone who offends the object of his love.
An interesting factoid about the film surrounds a scene where Cushing’s character fires a gun at the Mummy after it breaks into his home. The Mummy is unphased as it trudges off, getting shot in the chest and back, but Christopher Lee actually suffered burn marks from the squibs used for the effect that left marks for weeks. Ouch! Talk about staying in character. If I got burned like that, I don’t think I could stay in character–more likely I’d lay down a tirade on every stage hand within shouting distance.
The movie ends on a bit of a predictable note, but it’s all built up to the final scenes very well. Lots of drama, lots of suspense, and even a bit of romance for good measure. If the other Hammer films are this good, then I need to track them down.
Those Who Went Remain There Still
by Cherie Priest
Subterranean Press (2008)
After reading so many glowing reviews for Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker, I placed the steampunk novel on my wish list, but when I caught word that she’d previously written a straight-up horror novel or two, I wanted to see that first.
Those Who Went Remain There Still is a suspenseful piece of historical fiction involving a monster and–get this–Daniel Boone as the backstory. The heart of the story revolves around the death of a elderly patriarch at the cusp of the 20th century, and the two sides of his warring family that have come together to learn the contents of his last will and testament–and their fates. The Manders and Coys have plenty of bad blood between them, and it is only brought out into the open even more when it’s revealed that the old man’s will was purposefully hidden in a cave on the property. And, it’s called upon for a handful of the family members to venture into the cave and retrieve the will together, or face repercussions that will adversely affect the futures of all involved.
The cave carries a legend about people going in and never coming out, and while some in the family discount it as unenlightened superstition among an ignorant family, still more harbor an uneasy reverence towards the legend and the patriarch who perpetuated it. As the backstory involving Daniel Boone’s trailblazing expedition and encounter with a predatory monster unfolds, the question of what might truly lurk inside that cave, if anything, becomes all the more tangible.
Cherie Priest does a heck of a job in not only capturing a slice of Kentuckian history with his novel, but provides some genuine horror with both storylines. Tension is palpable and treachery comes in all forms. While the story itself can be boiled down to a band of disparate characters facing off against a killer in the shadows, there’s something about the tone of the story that helps it feel unique. Maybe it’s the historical setting or maybe it’s something else. It’s a pretty short novel, too. Not even two hundred pages, but Priest doesn’t waste any time or space in telling her tale, so probably anything more would feel like padding around the edges. Priest even calls this book a “cheesy little monster story”–or was that “creepy”. Meh, she’s right on both counts.
All I know is that I really liked this story and I’m eager to read Boneshaker even more, along with the rest of Cherie Priest’s works.
Dinocroc Vs. Supergator
starring Corey Landis, Amy Rasimas, and David Carradine
written by Jay Andrews and Mike MacLean
directed by Jay Andrews
Anchor Bay (2010)
Oh, Roger Corman, you do love your killer beasts, don’t you?
In a production of slighter higher caliber than a SyFy Channel schlockfest, this slice of B-movie heaven stars two CGI monstrosities and a squad of actors whose talents are even more frightening than the creatures hunting them.
Do you really need a plot? Okay, fine. There’s a secret research lab situated on a picturesque island oasis, and its two research specimens, a giant alligator and a mutated crocodile that looks like it’s been crossbred with a T-Rex, have escaped to wreak havoc on all the tasty humans on the island. And it’s up to a sexy game warden, her doting sheriff of a father, a supposedly swarthy undercover agent, and a mercenary called the Cajun–don’t you just love that–to stop the beasts before they devour everyone on the island.
If you’ve ever seen a Roger Corman film, you’ll know what to expect: bad acting, blood, and boobs. And this movie has plenty of all three.
Now, I may be spoiling things for you, but the title of the movie says it all: the whole point of the movie is to pit the two giant beasts against one another. But the two creatures don’t actually get to throw down until the final ten minutes. The first eighty minutes are spent having the two monsters pick off random disposable characters in slapdash sequences. The death scenes involving the Supergator are particularly frustrating, because the creature doesn’t really appear on screen like the Dinocroc does. Instead, some meat puppet utters a hammy one-liner before a flash of scales goes across the screen and the actor disappears. Well, there is one scene involving a couple of bikini-clad blondes–easily the two worst actors of the bunch–one of whom gets chomped in two. Other than that, Dinocroc seems to be doing all the dirty work, and doing most of the chasing as it bounds down roads chasing the main cast.
The monsters don’t look terrible, though. I was expecting low resolution garbage akin to those SyFy movies, but the care put into these wound up producing two monsters that were good enough for Jurassic Park’s maybe pile. As for David Carradine, he’s not involved in much of the action, basically sitting poolside and issuing orders with his steely gaze. It wasn’t exactly a movie that did the late legend any favors, but I suppose it paid the bills.
I have been resistant thus far to bother watching Piranha 3D, mainly out of cynical rejection of its appeal to the lowest common denominator, but Dinocroc Vs. Supergator has softened my resolve. Sometimes, it’s okay to watch a terrible movie for the sake of watching of a terrible movie. This movie is proof of that.
Bad Moon Rising
After reading the first two books in Maberry’s Pine Deep trilogy, Ghost Road Blues and Dead Man’s Song, it seemed readily apparent that he’d placed a small armory of proverbial guns on the mantle. In the third and final book, Bad Moon Rising, Maberry spends six hundred pages pulling the trigger on each and every one of them. Now, if you haven’t had a chance to read the first two books yet, there’s probably going to be some spoilers here, so don’t say I didn’t give you fair warning.
The book picks up pretty much where Dead Man’s Song left off. Malcolm Crowe and his newly pregnant fiance Val are beaten and bloody yet again, but they’ve survived a second attack from the insane and impossibly alive Ruger. They thought they’d killed him at the end of Ghost Road Blues, when he was a sadistic street thug lured to Pine Deep as part of a supernatural menace’s grand plans. But, Ruger came back from the dead, transformed and ready to do the bidding of his overlord, Ubel Griswold. In fact, coming back from the dead is the latest trend in Pine Deep. It seems the bad guys just can’t take the hint.
While Crowe frets over Val’s health, since she took the brunt of the punishment–and dealt the killing blow to Ruger–Terry Wolfe is in a coma in the same hospital, after a failed suicide attempt during a violent transformation into a werewolf. Turns out the ghost of his baby sister was onto something when she kept urging him to kill himself, because before he threw himself out of a window, he damned near killed his wife, Sarah.
As for the teenaged outcast, Mike Sweeney, his life gets even worse. The beatings from his pseudo-stepdad, Vic Wingate (the secret righthand man of Griswold), weren’t enough. He’s narrowly escaped death at the hands of a religious madman named Towtruck Eddie, and with Griswold’s and Vic’s help and manipulation, Eddie’s on the hunt for Mike again so the boy can’t reach his full potential and possibly thwart Griswold’s plans for resurrection.
I doubt this book would work as a stand-alone, since the backstory is really only glanced upon as the big showdown builds. I think you’d pretty much have to invest in the first two books if you want to appreciate the context behind all the mayhem in the third–and there is a metric ton of mayhem. The whole story has been building to what Griswold calls the “Red Wave” which is supposed to allow him to rise out of the swamp where the Bone Man killed and buried him. To that end, I was kind of surprised the Bone Man didn’t play a more prominent role in this grand finale. He’d been hanging around the scene like a specter the whole way through and I thought he’d get his hands dirtier when push came to shove. More spectator than specter in my estimation.
With such a dark, violent climax to this novel, Maberry leaves plenty of room to have fun with some of his characters. Tom Savini has a cameo appearance, for crying out loud, when the town’s big Halloween festivities begin, as well as when the Red Wave begins. And Maberry literally pulls out all the punches when crafting the multiple fight scenes that ensue.
It’s a satisfying end to a trilogy that I thought sagged some in the middle. Each prominent character through the entire series gets a spotlight shone on them at the end, giving each a proper ending, even if not all of them are happy endings. If you like small town epics, like Stephen King’s Under the Dome or John Saul’s Blackstone Chronicles, the Pine Deep trilogy is a far more electric and entertaining saga to dive into. And if you can find time to read all three books in a row, they might make for a fun Halloween reading marathon.
written & directed by Andre Ovredal
Alliance Films (2010)
Only on rare occasions does the fake documentary/found footage sty;e of storytelling ever work in movies, even rarer in horror movies. Cloverfield, Quarantine, Diary of the Dead. These are not what I consider particularly good movies, and they’re three of the better films of this genre. So when I heard there was a Norwegian horror film that uses the found footage gimmick to incorporate giant trolls, my expectations weren’t too high. But the idea of a new horror movie with giant trolls was still too tempting to ignore.
The movie starts off by saying the footage was found and examined, but the events shown cannot be verified. Okay, fine. The footage is captured by a trio of student journalists investigating unexplained bear deaths in the forests of Norway. Hunters are up in arms because it’s all apparently the work of a vagabond poacher. The trio eventually track down the poacher, a grizzly middle-aged hunter living in a cramped mobile camper who only hunts at night. They follow him into the woods one night when he leaves the campgrounds, hoping to get footage of him shooting a bear, but what they instead discover are strange lights over the thickly forested horizon, guttural roars that could come from no bear, and the poacher retreating back towards them screaming one word: TROLL!
And with that one line, a mundane mockumentary turns into one of the best monster movies I’ve seen in years. The teens convince the poacher to let them tag along on his hunts, oddly amused and enticed by his assertions there are trolls roaming the countryside at night, and he is the one man in Norway hunting them down. For a while, there’s no sign of actual trolls on camera, much like there was no shark in Jaws beyond allusions to him. The cameraman films treetops swaying wildly as if a giant is pushing its way between them, while the girl with the boom microphone is picking up strange noises that sound less like a wild animal or more like expletives from a Klingon. Then, they see the troll for the first time and all hell breaks loose.
While the CGI effects aren’t perfect, they are more than enough to suck you in, and the three-headed troll that stands three-stories high gives the movie’s first holy shit moment. There’s more than one troll though, as they spends days scouring the countryside hunting them and gathering footage, trying not to get eaten (with various levels of success), evading the government officials trying to confiscate their footage and keep trolls out of the public eye, and learn more about why this trollhunter is so disenfranchised with his lifelong duty to keeping the mythical menace at bay.
There are moments in the movie where the plot strains credulity, but the suspension of disbelief came quite easily for me, and the incredible character designs of some of these trolls, which range from miniscule to gargantuan, were commendable. The subtitles are a pain in the ass at times, but when aren’t they a pain when you’re trying to focus your eyes on the action. At least when the action hits a fever pitch, dialogue becomes inconsequential. I also thought the way aspects of the real world are used to rationalize why trolls aren’t widely known, especially the bigger ones, like high tension power lines on the mountainous landscape are really electric fences to keep them penned in, and the rocky countryside is really a troll graveyard since many trolls turn to stone when they die. It’s a bit cheesy in a way, but I dug the logic employed to explain them.
If you love monsters, you need to see this movie, if for nothing else than to see the trollhunter slap on a suit of homemade armor and duel with a troll literally living under a bridge.