Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Pod of Horror #49

I’m a little late on this, but Pod of Horror #49 is on-line and ready for download. You can hear references to the Kelly Laymon/Cemetery Dance non-controversy and hear an interview with Vampire Zero author David Wellington. Check it out here.

Oh, and Mark and Nanci mention on the podcast that Nanci has only one fan. Make that two.

Jake's Wake

Writing tends to be a solitary endeavor, done in seclusion, often in the hours when everyone else is asleep, with little outside input. There are a few exceptions to this, and the most prominent in the horror genre was the pairing of John Skipp and Craig Spector, who combined to produce many of the 80s best horror stories. That collaboration dissolved a long time ago, and now Skipp has found a new partner in fear, rising author Cody Goodfellow. Judging by the evidence of their first mass market publication, Jake’s Wake, out now from Leisure, Skipp and Good fellow may do for the 21st century what Skipp and Spector did for the Reagan era.

I’m not giving away anything to reveal the protagonist of Jake’s Wake, evangelist Jake Connaway, is dead by the end of the epilogue. Jake is the embodiment of the excesses of televangelism, doing blow, drinking, and chasing skirts. This last hobby leads to his dénouement, and the book proper begins with a gathering of the women in his life (and their companions) to sort out the details of his legacy. The party is interrupted by an unexpected guest: Jake has returned from the dead, and is in a bad mood and ready to settle scores.

The story that follows is filled with gonzo violence and gore. Taking place in its entirety on the night of Jake’s resurrection, it rushes forward to a bloody and somewhat unexpected conclusion, when the story behind Jake’s return is partially revealed. Suffice it to say, any Skipp and Spector fans will be very happy with this.

I’ve griped about the length of books today so many times I’m starting to realize it’s my problem instead of the writers, but I do feel Jake’s Wake could have been shortened considerably. There is a Mad Max-esque sequence early in the second half that is entertaining, but does little to advance the story, and mostly serves as a distraction. But that is my only quibble, and I heartily recommend the book. It is an exciting, fast read.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Hive

First of all, I’d like to say I know I have no one to blame but myself for this. I have a strong weakness for cheesy movies, and when you commit to watching something like The Hive, you don’t really expect great cinema. I watched it anyway.

According to the boxcover, the plot was about humans struggling against ants in the forests of Brazil. Ants creep my wife out, so we popped it in. We immediately received our first surprise. Brazil is in Southeast Asia! I really never knew that.

In the tiny, southeast Asian island country of Brazil, we see a bright light fall to earth, and soon the Brazilians are being overrun with ants and eaten, starting with a woman and her infant. Kudos to the makers of the film for showing a baby getting devoured, as most wouldn’t go there. Brazil is in grave danger, so a company is hired to stop the ant hordes. The name of this company is….wait for it…Thorax. Thorax is headed by a guy who used to be a professor studying ants, but discovered they are dangerous, and devoted the rest of his career to fighting them, which he does very effectively, since he’s invented a raygun which fires anti-ant chemicals. Seriously. Thorax has a dashing crew of ant-fighters, the only recognizable one being Tom Wopat, who used to be a Duke on the Dukes of Hazzard. They spring into battle with the valiant cry, “Let’s liquefy some endoskeletons!” Seriously. (Although ants don’t actually have endoskeletons, they have exoskeletons. They don’t swarm, either, though all the experts in the movie claim they do.) Meanwhile the head of the team supplies the romantic subplot, due to his romance with a female scientist who is something of a bug appeaser. The actress playing her also cannot keep her freaking head still, and bobs it until you want to scream.

Anyway, the Thorax crew launches a brilliant counter-assault against the mass of ants, which consists of blasting them with their anti-ant rayguns. This has limited success, and Tom Wopat ends up with an ant in his ear. There are indications the ant is controlling him, but this never makes any sense, since Wopat becomes the most aggressively antagonistic member of the team, which would seem to be against the ants’ best interest. Maybe the ear-ant was a rogue. Whatever. The counter-attack seems to be a success, and the team receives the thanks of the grateful Brazilians, in their thick Thai accents.

Before you can say “darn those crazy ants”, the ants return. And the team leader and his head-bobbing honey go to a small island in the Brazilian archipelago to rescue 50 natives trapped by the ants. Because these island dwellers don’t have any boats of their own. Bobbing head discovers the ants have become more intelligent due to the compound Thorax has been blasting them with, and soon they are negotiating with the collective ants, who want the island for their own. Leaving a Brazilian child behind as hostage, the duo, after some quick love-making, return to the Brazilian Prime Minister and lay out the offer.

“We do not negotiate with ANTS!” The PM blusters.

“How about offering them half the island?”

“OK,” says the PM.

The twosome return to the island, with an increasingly ear-ant deranged Tom Wopat, and quickly hash out a deal. It’s all for nought, as Wopat has a bomb strapped to his chest. The bomb goes off, which kills many, many ants, and reveals the source of all the trouble was a glowing alien ant that organized the earth ants. This completely negates the previous explanation, but hey.

This is a movie for people who like terrible CGI, laughable dialogue, and piss-poor acting.

People like me.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Summoning

Bentley Little, as I’ve said before, is a writer whose books I always enjoy, but has never written anything that knocked me out. To use a sports metaphor, he’s the dependable singles hitter who doesn’t homer (or strikeout) the way the sluggers do.

One of the Little titles I’ve always missed is his debut, The Summoning. It won a Stoker award, but Little switched publishers and the PBO was a little hard to find, and once I had it, since it is the longest of Little’s books I have seen, it got pushed back in the stack. Now that I’ve finally gotten around to it, I have to revise my impression of Little, because I thought this was a home run.

The vampire is the most durable trope of horror fiction, and I’ve always felt that eventually, every horror writer has to take a shot at their own interpretation. This is Little’s version, and he does a much better job than most. The story is set in the fictitious Rio Verde, Arizona, and the isolation and loneliness of the desert setting work very well in developing the sense of dread and fear needed in this type of story. Jaded though I am, a few of the scenes gave me a rare sense of unease.

Rather than the traditional western image of the vampire, in The Summoning, Chinese legend is used. Instead of garlic and crosses, this vampire is warded off by jade and willow, and in addition to feeding off humans, drawn the fluid (all fluids, not just blood) from animals and even plants. There are a number of grisly yet effective scenes, such as when the town sheriff discovers all the bodies at the cemetery have been dug up in order for the vampire to get at their bone marrow. Fortunately for the locals, the Chinese family who owns a local restaurant knows a little about Chinese mythology and is able to offer help.

A subplot involves religious hysteria/vampiric influence that is as big a menace to the town as the vampire itself, which is a familiar motif in Little’s work. It also plays well in this book.

One of the refreshing things about the story was how quickly everyone comes around to the idea their problems are the work of a vampire. Usually, half of one of these novels consists of the main characters coming to grips with the idea of the supernatural, so we’re spared that here.

If you haven’t read anything by Bentley Little, this is a good place to start. If you have read his work but not this one, you should check it out.

99 Coffins

99 Coffins is the middle book in Wellington’s ongoing vampire trilogy, following 13 Bullets. It picks up a few months after the events of the first book.

Laura Caxton, the young State Trooper in the first book, is back on the job with a nice promotion after her actions in the first book. She has also become something of a minor celebrity, since a movie has been made of her previous exploits. Her mentor/partner/antagonist from the first book, Jameson Arkeley, has been forced into retirement due to the injuries he suffered in ending the previous vampire threat. He is still the custodian of the body of the oldest living vampire, Justinia Malvern.

With Arkeley out of commission, Laura is seen as the prime expert on all matters vampiric, so when a college archeological team makes a gruesome discovery at the site of the Civil War Battle of Gettysburg, she is called in. They have discovered 99 coffins with the bones of vampires – and the shattered remains of a 100th coffin. There is an obvious likelihood that there is a new vampire on the loose. Laura has to turn to the manipulative Malvern for assistance – with a price – to stop the outbreak of a new vampire epidemic.

The book is fast-paced, and steadily accelerates until the climax, a pitched battle between outmanned cops and National Guardsmen, and a vampire army. As with the previous novel, Laura is a very appealing character, with strengths and flaws, and you can’t help but feel involved in her quest. There is an unexpected twist near the end that left me eager for the third novel in the trilogy.

Wellington’s version of the vampire legend has soon fascinating variations. His vampires are almost animalistic, and nearly unstoppable if they have fed. In a unique twist, vampires I this universe need progressively more blood to remain mobile, and older vampires become near invalids, confined to their coffins. They can only be killed by the total destruction of their hearts.

If you are interested in this book, you should really read 13 Bullets first. 99 Coffins can be read as a stand-alone, but your enjoyment will be higher if you read them in sequence. I can’t recommend these books highly enough.

The author, David Wellington, has followed an unusual path to success. His earlier books, including the zombie trilogy Monster Island, Monster Nation, and Monster Planet were first offered as serialized free downloads through his website. This is normally seen as a poor way to build a readership (most people regard free things as worth what they paid for them), but it has paid of for him. Visit his website at

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Boogeyman 2

I’ll have to admit, the original Boogeyman was a guilty pleasure of mine. Despite a fairly ridiculous setup (the monster in your closet is rule, and it’s going to get you), it did tap into an atavistic childhood fear, and deserved some credit for not making the mistake of trying to explain where the title creature came from, since anyone explanation would disappoint. Still, it took me a while to get around to the sequel.

None of the actors from the original movie carry over to the sequel (although a newspaper clipping explains the fate of the lead). In the new flick, and eight year old girl and her eleven year old brother witness their parents slaughter at the hands of the Boogeyman. That’ll scar ya. And indeed it does, as ten years later both young adults are still having problems with night terrors. The brother has just completed a three month stint in a “fear clinic” run by Gabrielle from the old Xena series. It seems to work well for him, so sis signs up, too, ignoring the fact that Gabrielle’s boss is Jigsaw (Tobin Bell). Had she watched the Saw movies, she would have thought twice about committing herself. The other patients are young people (the clinic specializes in only the most attractive demographic) with fears of the dark, germs, etc.

The other patients are pretty unsympathetic to the young lady’s fear of the boogeyman (although Tobin Bell gets to deliver the great line “It’s called boogeyphobia” which may me break out laughing. Because I thought boogeyphobia was fear of K. C. & the Sunshine Band.). They soon get theirs when everyone finds themselves locked into the facility, and chased by the boogeyman, who preys on their individual fears. Not a great movie, but entertaining enough in its own way.


I didn’t really understand changing the menace faced to a non-supernatural cause. In that case, why make it a sequel to the supernatural-creature original? Also, if the boogeyman has otherworldly powers, it is easier to accept the things he does to torment the patients. When it turns out he is a fairly scrawny kid, you can’t believe he pulled it off.

How Can The World Go On Without Me?

Posting will be sporadic for a while. The harddrive on my 5 month old super machine is kaput. Since it is under warranty, Best Buy has to send it to the manufacturer for repair. Or for $600, they will fix it themselves in a day. What a racket.

Monday, December 8, 2008


I always knew if the world was going to be destroyed, it would all start in Ann Arbor, Michigan.*

Scott Sigler’s first published novel, Infected, is a horror novel with a bit of techno-thriller thrown in. In and around Ann Arbor, people are suddenly wigging out and going on a killing spree. The government has discovered that a strange sort of infection is responsible for this behavior, although they know little about it other than the victims/killers rave about “triangles” and their bodies undergo remarkably fast decomposition after their deaths. The authorities have kept this from the public, and only a small team is working on the problem, headed by Margaret Montoya, a doctor with the Center for Disease Control, and Dew Phillips, a CIA agent with a violent past.

In Ann Arbor, a former star linebacker for the University of Michigan, “Scary” Perry Dawsey, is the latest to be infected by what we soon learn are alien spores. What starts as a number of itchy spots soon grows into blue triangles, as alien organisms incubate inside him - and begin to communicate with him and try to control him. This is only the first step in an alien plan that will lead to the destruction of the human race.

Through the book, we flip back and forth between the investigating team and Perry’s solo struggle against the small invaders. It’s an interesting mixture, as the broader part of the book reads like a traditional race-against-time thriller, while Perry’s more intimate tale is reminiscent of some of Stephen King’s early short stories.

I found the book to be very entertaining. If there is a weakness to the book, it would be the imbalance between the two parallel storylines, as the portion with the team is somewhat less compelling than Perry’s problems. Still, it was a lot of fun, with a good amount of dark humor (the last of the aliens Perry has to deal with is growing in his scrotum, at once funny and extremely uncomfortable for a male reader). The book was originally a series of podcasts, still available for free at A sequel, Contagious, will be out at the end of the month, and it will be interesting to see where the story goes.

*Obligatory anti-University of Michigan remark.

Mother of Tears

One thing I don’t share with most horror fans is a great love of Dario Argento movies. Although I appreciate him as a visual stylist, I’ve always been left a little cold (or maybe confused is more accurate) by his movies’ adherence to form over substance. Thus, it took me a little while to get to the DVD of his latest movie, Mother of Tears. It didn’t really change my overall opinion of his work, although it did have some things going for it.

Mother of Tears is the third in Argento’s “Mothers” trilogy, after Suspiria and Inferno (I didn’t even realize the first two were connected, which shows I’m not a hard-core fan). It stars the director’s daughter Asia Argento, as well as his ex-wife. Featured in a too-small role is the always entertaining Udo Kier. I wish he’d lasted a little longer in this one.

The plot, such that it is, is about the last of the three “mothers‘, the three great witches who have existed since the dawn of time to bedevil mankind. The other two were destroyed in the two previous movies, and now it’s time for the Mother of Tears to have her turn, which starts when an excavation uncovers a box containing her magic camisole. She returns to bring in a new age of black witches (black in magic, not skin color) who will take over the world. The only person who can stop her is Ms. Argento, who is the daughter of a white witch who fought one of the other mothers, and who has the power to fight the MoT. Let’s hope she knows about the significance of that camisole…

There were some things I learned from the film. To wit:

1. You can always tell a witch by their over-use of eye-shadow
2. Even immortal, powerful witches can be so insecure about their appearance as to need breast implants
3. Bad guys carry around a tool designed to gouge out eyes, even if they don’t really need it.

Most of my previous feelings about Argento hold true here. The film does look very good, with rich colors, and a “deep” design style that almost looked 3-D. For those who like gore, there’s quite a lot here, as well as a great deal of female nudity. The plot is on the very slight side, with quite a few inconsistencies (how is a witch strong enough to kill a large policeman with one hand, but not enough to withstand an attack by a strong woman?). The acting is also on the slim side. I’ve enjoyed some of Ms. Argento’s previous work (such as in La Reine Margot), but she’s pretty much terrible here, and the actress playing the Mother of Tears is worse (although quite hot). Final decision: if you’re an Argento fan, you should love it. If not, you might want to give it a miss.

On a final note, I’m certainly not a prude (I don’t think) and I certainly appreciate gratuitous nudity as much as the next guy, but there is something about directing an unnecessary shower scene featuring your own daughter that seems a bit out there. But maybe that’s just the American in me.

Succulent Prey

Some horror writers subtly build a structure of dread in their work. Others come at you strong from the beginning. Wrath James White smacks you in the head with his work, sending you reeling through his stories. Until recently, White was well-known only among those of us who read small press releases, but he has now burst out to a wider audience, with the publication of his novel Succulent Prey by Leisure Books.

Succulent Prey blends the serial killer genre with werewolf legend, suggesting that being a serial killer is something that can be caught like a disease and passed on to subsequent victims. Joseph Miles, the protagonist of the book, was kidnapped by a serial killer as a boy, and was the only victim to survive the killer. Now grown into a (very large and powerful) adult, he is now losing his struggle to suppress the same sort of urges in himself. When he begins to fail at this, he seizes on the only hope he has to break the chain - to track down and kill the one who gave it to him. Along with one of his female victims to whom he is attracted, he journeys to his home town in search of the one who molested him.

Wrath James White certainly fits into the category of transgressive authors. Succulent Prey is not for the squeamish, filled with sexual assault and as much cannibalism as I’ve ever seen in a book, but for those who can handle it, this is quite a book. White, whose earlier work Orgy of Souls was also reviewed here, is definitely a writer to watch. I also salute Leisure, which in the past seemed a bit reluctant to go too far, for publishing this.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Forrest J. Ackerman Dead

I grew up a fan of monster movies, monster books, and the like. For those of us of a certain age who enjoyed such things, there was only one magazine that approached horror movies the same way we felt. It was Famous Monsters of Filmland, edited by Forrest J. Ackerman, who idolized Boris Karloff, and has been one of the biggest science fiction fans since the 1930s. With its wonderfully lurid Basil Gogos covers, FM made us creepy kids experts on monster flicks good and bad.

Therefore, it was a blow when I read that Ackerman ("Uncle Forry" to the fans) had died last Thursday of a heart attack. You can read about it here. Forry was well known for his generosity and kindness, and his magazine has been cited as inspiration by Stephen King and Robert R. McCammon, among others.

R.I.P., Uncle Forry. You changed our lives, and you will be missed.

Ghost Walk

I've fallen badly behind on reviews of late, but I'm going to make a concentrated effort to catch up by the end of the year. First up is Brian Keene's latest novel, Ghost Walk.

At the end of Keene's previous book, Dark Hollow, the evil that had tried to break through in Lehorn's Hollow had been defeated, at a price. Ghost Walk directly continues the events of Dark Hollow, although it would work just fine as a stand-alone novel. Some spoilers for Dark Hollow are probably inevitable here, so read forewarned.

A couple of years have passed, and most of the characters from Dark Hollow are dead or gone. Adam Senft, the protagonist of the previous book, has been institutionalized in a hospital for the criminally insane. Halloween is approaching, and a local businessman is preparing to open a "ghost walk" (something of an outdoor haunted house) through the Hollow. Nodens, the evil from the first book, uses this opportunity to sieze those who can aid in breaking the spell.

Standing in Nodens' way is a (formerly) Amish wizard named Levi Stoltzfus, and a reporter named Maria Nasr. To help them, they release the haunted Adam Senft from his cell. But Nodens is even stronger this time, and for him to be stopped, a terrible sacrifice must be made...

Brian Keene became famous as a horror writer due to the success of his zombie novels, but I've always preferred the non-zombie horrors he's written, and Ghost Walk is no exception. It is quickly paced, and the characters are well developed, which gives emotional impact to the horrors that befall them. Ghost Walk is a great book to read for Halloween, or anytime.

My Computer Hates Me

Last three days have been spent fighting the slow death of my hard drive, which would freeze progressively sooner after each reboot. Finally, I did a full system restore (losing all files in the process) and its back up. But I believe the drive has a physical problem, and it is just a matter of time before the 4 1/2 month old 750 GB hard drive dies again. I hope everyone at HP involved in the construction of this stubs their toe. Hard.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Rise: Blood Hunter

Against my better instincts, I was looking forward to Rise: Blood Hunter (It is rare that a vampire movie is worth seeing). I should have listened to those instincts.

Rise: Blood Hunter was written and directed by Sebastian Guttierez, who I’ve thought promising in his past work. (I liked The Judas Kiss, although it seems I may be the only one). The cast was also good, with Michael Chiklis, Carla Gugino (Gutierrez real-life significant other, and a favorite of mine) and Lucy Liu. It almost works, but not quite.

First thing of note is the title. It sounds like a video game, although it isn’t based on one. I guess Gutierrez wanted to tap into some of the Uwe Boll fanbase. It is the story of a reporter (Liu) following a story of some disappearances. As you can probably guess, she learns that vampires are behind them, and she is attacked and turned herself. For no good reason, instead of turning into an evil bloodsucker, Liu devotes herself to hunting down the vampires and killing them. In this, she is helped/hindered by Michael Chiklis’ character, a police detective whose daughter was also a victim. She is also helped by another vampire leader, who wants his rival eliminated for reasons never made completely clear.

I knew the movie was in trouble when we met the lead vampire, and he started to expound on the philosophy of being a vampire. I hate a lot of things, but emo vampires are near the top of the list. He is supposed to be tremendously powerful, but we only know he is because he says he is. He actually comes across as a lightweight. If I ever ever get attacked by a vamp, I would hope he would viciously rip out my throat, rather than recite bad poetry. Once the action starts, the other vamps are ridiculously easy to kill. Liu can’t seem to decide if she wants her character to be cold, merciless and capable, or a fragile wreck, and the character veers from one to the other from scene to scene. The story is told in the now-common alternating present/flashback form. Since the flashbacks concern Liu discovering she is a vampire (which we already know), they serve only to kill any momentum the second half of the story builds.

This is worth seeing only if you have a desire to see Lucy Liu naked (and haven't already), or you are really desperate for a vampire movie.

Darkly Dreaming Dexter

Darkly Dreaming Dexter is a 2004 novel by Jeff Lindsey. On first glance, it seems the same tired setup for a mystery series: our protagonist is a blood splatter technician for the Miami Police Department, who uses his wits to track down killers in his spare time. The twist is Dexter is a serial killer himself. As a way to better fit into society, he only murders those who “deserve” it, using inside knowledge of how a killer’s mind works to uncover them, capture them, and kill them (by dismembering them while still alive). He doesn’t due this out of any altruistic feelings, as he is incapable of almost any feelings, but out of obligation to the foster father who trained him to escape detection. He has been doing this for many years when a new serial killer hits Miami. His methods are similar to Dexter’s, and he seems to know who Dexter really is, so Dexter must find him out of self preservation as much as to satisfy the “Dark Passenger” which compels him to kill.Not a bad read. Certainly a new riff on the crimesolver front, having the “detective” as a serial killer (although I always thought this was the hidden plot behind Murder She Wrote. That woman sure turned up around a lot of murders.). There is quite a bit of humor in the book, although it is fairly subtle, and can fly by you if you’re aren’t paying close attention. The characters are fairly well developed, with Dexter being more sympathetic than you might imagine. His foster sister (“If I was capable of caring about anyone, I would care about her.”) provides a good, over-emotional counterpart to Dexter’s clinical detachment from life. The requisite nit-pick comes in the observation that when a crime scene is a hockey rink, there is much discussion as to whether the body is found at the home net or visitors net. Since teams switch nets between periods, few people refer to them that way. At least they don’t in the hockey hotbed of Alabama, maybe they do where there are people who pay attention to hockey other than just me. Overall, I’d give it a 7.0. A fun, quick read if the subject matter doesn’t creep you out too thoroughly. Darkly Dreaming Dexter has inspired two sequels, and a popular television series.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Invisible Fences

About a year ago, my wife bought me a year’s subscription to the Cemetery Dance Book Club. It’s a very good deal; for $199 you receive 13 CD releases, one a month or so. Even though they’re running about six months behind, this remains a good deal. One of the things everyone was excited about upon sign-up was the inclusion of an ARC (Advanced Review Copy) of a forthcoming book. These books, modestly bound, are sent out months in advance of publication so reviewers will be able to publish their reviews at the time of publication. This had people quivering with anticipation. We were going to get a new book from Stephen King or Brian Keene or another mega-famous author before everyone else, and we would be too cool for school. The ARC was one of the first books to be received, and it was by … Norman Prentiss. The initial reaction was intense. We wouldn’t be able to read a Stephen King novel before everyone else. We wouldn’t get rich selling it on ebay.

We didn’t know how lucky we were.

Norman Prentiss isn’t as well known as King or Keene, which means we wouldn’t have rushed to purchase his short novel Invisible Fences. And we would have missed a real gem. I started Invisible Fences one morning when I had a little extra time before work. I intended to read a chapter or so, but if there is a criticism I have of the story, it is there is no stopping point. I was late to work that day.

The story starts in Maryland, in the 1970s. A brother and sister, Nathan and Pam, live with their protective parents. Their father tells them stories of the horrible things that happen to kids who cross busy highways, who go into the woods by themselves, and so on, in order to keep them from doing the same dangerous things. In effect, erecting “invisible fences” like those used for pets around his children (this is one of those metaphors that is so perfect, you feel envious for not having thought of it yourself). But no fence is completely impervious to children, and the kids pass through them, with life-altering results.

The second part of the book takes place in Alabama, where the family moves, and involves a grown-up Nathan coming to grips with his past. I won’t give anything away, except to tell you it is a ghost story (although you could certainly interpret it in non-supernatural terms if you wish).

The story most closely reminded me of the work of the late Charles L. Grant, who was the dean of the school of so-called “quiet horror”, although I liked Invisible Fences better than Grant’s work. Although it is short, Prentiss brings his characters to vivid life, and makes you feel some of their angst and turmoil, like good writers do. This could be the beginning of a great career, and I’m eager to see what Prentiss does next.

The book is scheduled for publication in December of 2008 (now, basically), but has not yet appeared for pre-order on Cemetery Dance’s website. I’ll post an ordering link when it does.

Who And Why I Follow

So, over on my latest time-waster, twitter, David Niall Wilson came up with an idea for everyone to blog about “who and why they follow” on December 2d. Since today is December 2d, and this will save me from coming up with an idea of my own, here comes a selection of a few of the folks I follow. I am am nothing if not a sheep.

jim mcleod – Jim is my Scot brutha from another mutha. I’ve traded jibes with Jim on about three message boards. Plus, he’s the one who invited me to Twitter, and thus responsible for another alarming decline in productivity. Also, when I thought I was dying last year, he was the only one who didn’t seem happy about it.

deepeight Matt Staggs – Matt is a man of very discerning tastes, which you should check out at his Enter the Octopus website. Matt was the proprietor of the old Skullring website, probably the best website for reviews of genre books and films. He also invited me to contribute to said website, and shortly after I began, it shut down. A coincidence? I think not.

KentGowranKent is another message board friend, who I’ve come to reply on for recommendations about books and movies (not counting that disco thing). Kent is also the author of several excellent pieces of short fiction, and we’re all looking forward to a novel from him one day.

David_N_WilsonHe started this. Also, David is a very fine writer. His novel This Is My Blood and novella Roll Them Bones are on my favorites lists. I’ve also had the opportunity to read some of David’s work in advance of publication, and it is a privilege.

johnhornorJohn Hornor Jacobs hasn’t had much of his work published yet, but when he does, he’ll make a splash. His unpublished novel Southern Gods is a great read, and is going to make a lot of top lists one day. Although John has recently agreed to a collaboration that might wreck his career.

Bryan_D_Smith– The previous post contains much of the reasoning for following Bryan Smith, but to briefly recap, Bryan Smith is one of the best writers working in the field today.

The Blog That Dripped Blood

One of the best writers working in the horror business has launched a new blog. You can read Bryan Smith’s The Blog That Dripped Blood by clicking on the title. (Why am I the only one who can’t think of a cool name for a website?). Bryan is the author of House of Blood, Queen of Blood, Freakshow (review to be ported over soon) and Deathbringer. If there is a writer today poised to have a major breakout into the mainstream, I believe it is Bryan Smith. Read the blog, and if you haven’t read his books, do yourself a favor and check ‘em out.

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Last Winter

A key element in much of horror is a sense of isolation for the characters. In the modern world, with cell phones, the internet, and rapid means of travel, this has become difficult to achieve. Among the settings still useful for this are the frozen reaches near the poles. John Carpenter's 1982 masterpiece The Thing used the Antarctic to great effect, and now Larry Fessenden locates his environmental horror The Last Winter in the Arctic, with uneven results.

In northern Alaska, a team of oil company workers are preparing to reopen an abandoned drilling site. There is the standard tension between the oilmen, led by the always great Ron Perlman, and an environmentalist, played by James LeGros. (The cast also includes two actors from Friday Night Lights, Connie Britton and Zach Gilford, which gave me the amusing impression that a really bad season for the Dillon Panthers results in Arctic banishment) As an added concern, some members of the team are starting to experience hallucinations on the barren wastes. Soon, the crew members begin to die, and the survivors realize they are not alone.

SPOILER WARNING: I will reveal the end of the movie next, so stop reading if you don't want to know.

As long as what is going on remains a mystery, the movie works just fine. As is often the case, when the menace is unknown, your imagination fills in the blanks in terrifying fashion, and when the danger is revealed, there is a letdown. And, brother, is the big reveal in The Last Winter a letdown. You see, what has been terrorizing and killing the drillers is...ghost moose.
Apparently, nature has reacted to the danger posed by man by dispatching a crack squad of killer ghost moose (mooses? meece?) to kill, well, everybody at the end of the movie. This strained credulity a bit.

Up until this point, the movie worked well. It would have been a better ending if what was going on had never been explained, but there came the moose. Mooses.

The movie is well shot and well acted, and there is a truly creepy air to the first two-thirds of the movie, so it isn't a complete washout. But the ending misses the mark by too much to be a thumbs up.

This Rage of Echoes

The most recent release of a Simon Clark title from Leisure’s horror imprint is This Rage of Echoes. I’ve previously read Blood Crazy, Darker, and Nailed by the Heart by Clark, and enjoyed them.

The new book has one of the more interesting premises of anything I’ve read recently. The central character, Mason Kantner, is on the run from Echomen, who, if they get close enough to someone, begin to become them. Once they have duplicated them, the new “Echo” turns violent, murders the original, and frequently goes on a rampage. Mason has fallen in with a group dedicated to killing the Echomen, whose existence is unknown to the general population. It is a gripping read, particularly once you start wondering whether the group is really killing Echomen or just ordinary people. Mason himself has his doubts. Some problems I had with the novel, with spoilers contained within, follow:


Mason exhibits some of the traits of a bad horror movie character. Twice, he leaves the group despite knowing better, with disastrous results. This is the equivalent of when movie teens are trapped in an old house with a serial killer, and one decides to wander off to be alone.
It is established later that only certain people can be duplicated, and Mason himself has the strongest ability to convert someone into an Echo. So why is it so easy to make copies of his sister and mother as well?
After being taken to the compound, the group leader tells Mason how vitally important he is, then leaves him alone, with no questioning and only a mentally-impaired man as protection.
The resolution at the end seems a little too contrived, a little too deus ex machina for me.


Despite those complaints, I did enjoy the book immensely, starting and finishing it the same day. I would recommend it, as well as Clark’s other books.

One other observation: There is a jacket blurb from another author saying that Clark may be the next Stephen King. This is the third or fourth book in a row I’ve read with a similar statement somewhere on the cover. I understand why it is done, but come on guys: Everyone can’t be Stephen King.