Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Cry Of The Banshee


Because of the era in which I grew up, I have a lasting fondness for the films of England’s Hammer Studios, and their lesser American rivals, American International Pictures. Since I watched most of these (in cut versions) on the late show growing up, even those that aren’t that great entertain me. And one of those is 1970’s Cry Of The Banshee.
Cry Of The Banshee stars AIP’s mainstay Vincent Price, who seemed to appear in all their movies, the American counterpart to Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. He plays a magistrate in a generic European country in an uncertain time (the soldiers were Spanish helmets and carry blunderbusses from the 16th century, but Price’s family name is Whitman. The locals speak in a variety of accents. The legend of the banshee comes from Ireland and Scotland). He has a great deal of power over the lower class residents of his territory, but not enough to do to keep him busy. Therefore, a la The Witchfinder General, he randomly accuses locals of witchcraft and tortures them to death, whiling away an evening watching a busty wench get burned alive. He has two sons, who share their father’s hobby, but also, as young men, mix it up a little with the odd rape.
After a particularly fruitful raid on local sorcery practitioners, he allows the lead witch to live in order to advance the plot. She thanks him with the curse of the banshee, and the magistrate’s groom begins transforming into a werewolf-of-sorts and killing the Whitman family. Many killings and bare breasts later, the movie ends.
My first nitpick is this is a poor depiction of the legend of the banshee. The bean sidhe (pronounced banshee, approximately) was a female fairy-type, who howled whenever someone was about to die, more a harbinger of death than a cause thereof. Here, the banshee is pretty much Larry Talbot. The plot is also cluttered and disorganized, with characters like the priest and the second son seeming to be important, but not actually having anything to do with the plot. And little is done to explain their version of the banshee. Also, the movie's relationship to the work of Edgar Allen Poe is strained even by AIP's standards.
Still, Vincent Price is always a joy, and I got a kick out of it. If this sort of movie appeals to you, you will find it an entertaining evening-waster.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Midsummer


One of my favorite movies, and a favorite of many horror fans, is John Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece The Thing. In that movie, an alien life form gets loose at a research facility in the Antarctic, one with the ability to assimilate and replicate other life forms. It turns into a battle between the still-human occupants of the station and the replicants to keep the infectious alien from reaching civilization and consuming the world. It ends with ambiguity, with two survivors freezing in the ice, while we are unsure if either is harboring the infection.
Although Matthew J. Costello’s 1990 novel Midsummer is not an official sequel to the movie, it uses a very similar setup to explore what would have happened had an infected person gone home to the United States.
Alan Ward is a naval officer stationed at an Antarctic research station, when one of the scientists apparently goes berserk and kills everyone else, leaving Ward as the only survivor. Or is he? When Ward returns home, he is shadowed by a naval investigator to the upstate New York town of Stoneyridge, where it quickly becomes apparent that Ward didn’t come back the same, and very quickly, there is a desperate race to contain the outbreak and save humanity.
Back in 1990, Costello was considered a rising star in the horror field, and Midsummer shows why. The book moves at a fast pace, and is reminiscent of classic Stephen King. Sadly, Costello has moved away from horror fiction as the publishing genre declined. Midsummer and Costello’s other 1990s horror output is now out of print, but if you can track down a used copy, it will be well worth your time. Please ignore the cover of the book, which has to be one of the worse and most misleading covers ever.
Ironically, I was reading it on June 20th, which, for those who go by a scientific definition of the season, is exactly…Midsummer.

City Infernal


City Infernal, the first book in a trilogy by horror writer Edward Lee, is something of a mashup of horror and fantasy. The setting and description of places and things place it as horror, but the journey the characters follow is straight out of classic fantasy.
Cassie is a young woman immersed in the Goth culture. After the suicide of her twin sister (for which she blames herself), she and her father move to a quiet Southern town to put things behind them. It isn’t too quiet however, as Cassie discovers the house in which she lives was used by a previous occupant for Satanic sacrifices, and the locals believe the house is haunted. This seems plausible when Cassie meets Via, Hush and Xeke, three teens who are quite dead, but the reality is even stranger. It seems the house exists on a Deadpass, where the inhabitants of Hell can occasionally escape, for a brief time. Most people can’t see them, but Cassie is an Etheress, who possesses power both on Earth and in Hell.
Since suicides go to hell, Cassie’s sister was surely condemned, so with her dead friends, Cassie passes through to Hell to find and rescue her. There, she faces creatures that eat your feet while you’re sleeping, demonic rats and insects, torture unimaginable, and a major problem: If Lucifer ever got hold of an Etheress, he could incorporate into the living world. So, while Cassie searches for her sister, Satan launches an all-out campaign to capture her.
A lot of people have described City Infernal as being somewhat extreme, but I found it less so than most of Lee’s work. It is somewhat inconclusive, but that’s understandable since there are two books to follow. Recommended.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Thoroughbred


I’ve never been a big reader in the sword ‘n sorcery genre. Although I read Robert E. Howard’s (Conan, Kull) work when I was younger, as well as Fritz Leiber’s Fafrhd and the Grey Mouser stories, as an adult, the only writer in the genre I enjoyed was the late Karl Edward Wagner. Most of the material of this type I’ve encountered since has been derivative adolescent wish-fulfillments, closer to fan fiction than professional work. But I have now found an exception to that sort of thing with a book of short stories by Steven L. Shrewsbury, Thoroughbred.

Shrewsbury works in a similar barbarian mileu as Howard, but does so with wit and originality lacking in most of Howard’s acolytes. Shrewsbury’s best creation is the barbarian Rogan, who is featured in two of the six stories in this collection. In the main piece, also named “Thoroughbred”, Rogan is hired to rid a mountainous village of some troublesome satyrs, who turn out not to be satyrs at all, and even more trouble than Rogan expected. Rogan also appears as a boy in the excellent short story “Poison of the Elder”, probably my favorite of the bunch.
Other stories include one written from the point of view of the biblical Goliath’s companion. A story presenting an adventure from Goliath’s point of view is fascinating, and seems obvious, although I had never thought of it, and I don’t know of any other writer who has either.

Shrewsbury presents a view of the barbarians that is consistent and filled with sly wit. There isn’t a weak story in the bunch, and I would recommend this title. I’ll be looking for Shrewsbury’s other work myself.

My big criticism is not of the author but the publisher, Carnifax Press. There are several typos left uncorrected in the text, some pages are cut at an angle, and, at least in my copy, one page is out of sequence , which caused some momentary confusion. It’s an attractive book, the publisher just needs to work on some quality control issues.

Stir Of Echoes 2: The Homecoming


Last October on another site, I put together a list of ten overlooked horror movies. Near the top of the list was the 1999 Kevin Bacon film Stir of Echoes. The movie, which concerned a man who could see the dead, suffered at the box office due to the impression that it was imitative of the hit The Sixth Sense, which had been released a month earlier with a similar theme. Production on Stir of Echoes actually predated The Sixth Sense, and I felt then and now that it was a superior movie, relying less on a gimmick than the more popular film. Despite what I thought, Stir of Echoes has remained relatively obscure. So I was surprised/dismayed to see that a sequel, Stir of Echoes 2: Homecoming had been produced.

First things first: The only similarity between the two movies is that someone sees dead people in each. There is no continuity, no characters recur, and even the supernatural “rules” of the two differ. So the movie uses the name of a generally unsuccessful predecessor for no reason other than publicity. Weird. They should have called it Gone With The Wind 2: Even Windier.

It opens reasonably well. Rob Lowe is a National Guard officer in Iraq, commanding a checkpoint in the middle of nowhere. A van fails to stop at the checkpoint, gets shot up by Lowe and his men, then blown apart by a tank round, which stops it cold. A ten-year old girl gets out of the van, which then explodes mysteriously (A pet peeve: it is very difficult to blow up a car or get it to catch on fire, but it happens all the time in movies and television). The girl gets badly burned, and an inspection of the van reveals it was filled with an apparently innocent Iraqi family. The girl doesn’t have long to suffer, as she is killed by an RPG fired from the undefended hills. Lowe also gets blowed up real good, and the next thing we know, he is waking up from a coma (continuity problem: When he wakes up, he asks how long he’s been out, and is told two weeks. For the rest of the movie, everyone refers to his two-month coma.). He has also gained the unwanted ability to see the dead. Returning to his family, this continues to plague him.

Eventually he runs into our old friend Exposition Guy, who tells him he has to find out what the dead want, or they’ll kill his family, a departure from the first film. He has to do this while coping with post-traumatic stress disorder, and adjusting back to civilian life.

It’s probably not as terrible as you would think. Lowe has been criticized for his performance, but his character is supposed to be having trouble connecting with the world, so I think he’s doing a decent job. The odd thing is I think if they had jettison the supernatural aspect, they might have made a decent flick about the problems of veterans returning from a war most Americans want to pretend isn’t happening.

The ultimate judgment is, if you are looking for a rental, and can’t find anything you’re truly enthusiastic about, this will get you through the night. But don’t expect much.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem


When Alien Vs. Predator came out in 2006, after years of anticipation, it was a big let-down to the sci-fi/horror fans who had been begging to see it, and there were calls for a second chance. Be careful what you wish for. In comparison to the follow-up Alien Vs. Predator: Requiem, the first movie looks like Citizen Kane.

AvP: R kicks off immediately after the end of the first movie. The ship carrying the dead and infected Predator away from Earth doesn’t get very far when an alien erupts from the corpse. The ensuing on-board battle damages the ship, and it crashes near Gunnison, Colorado, which, according to this movie, is full of stupid and dull people. The Predator, which is supposed to be a Predalien, a hybrid between Predator and Alien, although I couldn’t tell (more on that later), escapes with a large number of face-huggers. They attack the simple-minded locals, a few of whom we follow around as our point of view characters (they are entirely stiff and lifeless, so you never care about them one way or another).

Back on the Predator homeworld, they receive word of the crash, and for some reason decide to send a Predator ninja to clean up the Aliens. He lands, fights with the Aliens, and eventually stuff blows up and the movie ends.

This sort of movie isn’t a deep concept. People watching an Alien Vs. Predator movie just want to see the two bad guys fight, and a marginally competent script it hang it on. You don’t get that here, in large part because you can’t see a damn thing. The movie, directed by the Strauss Brothers (Visual effects guys who directed a Nickelback video, which explains a lot), is a series of fast cuts in almost total darkness, so dark you can’t tell what’s going on. There were times when I couldn’t tell if the Predator was fighting an Alien, many Aliens, or some of the humans who got in the way, much less who was winning. There’s no way to enjoy a movie fight if you can’t see it, and this movie is so poorly lit it is almost a radio play. Even scenes in daylight are so dim you can’t see them. This is the second movie I’ve seen recently (see Unearthed) that was too dark, and this is a trend that must stop.

The tagline for the first AvP was “No matter who wins, we lose.” This one should be: “You won’t be able to tell who wins, but you’ll still lose.”

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Crazy Eights


The final film that I watched in this year’s Eight Films To Die For series, Crazy Eights is accurately described on the packaging as a horror version of The Big Chill. In a flashback, we see that eight children were submitted by their parents to an institution to undergo experimentation of some sort (We know this at the outset, but it takes the characters most of the movie to figure it out). Years later, one of the original eight dies, and the surviving six (this is not evidence of my poor math skills) gather to see him off, a la The Big Chill. But in this case, instead of promoting Motown’s Greatest Hits, they find a treasure map of sorts that leads to a box left by the dearly departed. The six of them , which includes Traci Lords, the lovely Dina Meyer, Frank Whalley, Gabrielle Anwar, and George Newburn, set off to find the box, not realizing they are going to the site of their childhood institution, which they don’t remember anyway. When they find the box, they discover toys from their childhood – and the skeleton of the girl who was the eighth of the Crazy Eights. They are soon locked in the old asylum, where they are stalked by the ghost of the dead girl, who apparently resents being left to die. Or something. Bloodshed ensues.

This movie has a cast that belies its b-movie origins, and it is quite well acted. But that’s where my praise ends. It’s hard to imagine a movie could be only 80 minutes long, and in which practically everybody dies horribly, and still be dull and slowly paced, but this movie pulls it off. The direction never manages to convey any urgency or suspense, and it becomes lethally boring long before it ends. We never really develop any empathy for any of the characters. It’s a shame, because the idea had some possibilities, and the actors acquit themselves well.

One Rainy Night


One of the tragedies of the horror field was the untimely death of Richard Laymon. The one bright spot is he was so prolific, all but the most fervent fans can still discover unread books. One of those, to me, was One Rainy Night.

Laymon was one of those authors that never got his just recognition. Although extremely popular in the rest of the English-speaking world, only about half of his forty novels had been published in the U.S. before his untimely death of a heart attack at 53, and most if not all of those were paperback originals. Still, if you like horror novels and haven’t tried Laymon. You are in for a treat. His books have been called “Stephen King without a conscience”. Leisure’s horror line seems to be in the process of bringing most if not all of his books into print in the U.S.

One Rainy Night is not one of his best, but is a solidly entertaining book. Think of it as a written version of a B movie. In a small town, a young black man is abducted by three white thugs for the crime of dating a white girl. He is tortured, then tied to the goalposts on the football field and burned to death. The next night, an inexplicable black rain begins to fall on the town. Everyone who is caught into it is transformed into a homicidal maniac. The bulk of the book is three parallel stories of people trying to survive and figure out what’s going on. It is a not-stop action ride.

The chief flaws, in my opinion, of the book are the ending, where a sudden answer is presented and Boom! it’s over, and a change in the effect of the rain at the end (when the heroes get infected, they are able to control themselves for no good reason). Still, I enjoyed the book. Laymon rarely disappoints.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Bloodsucking Fiends


Christopher Moore is the author of a number of humorous novels, mostly with some sort of horror-related theme. I am not a huge fan, but I always enjoy his books. My favorite is The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove, not so much for the title creature, but for the concept of a guilt-ridden small-town psychiatrist switching all her patients at once from their anti-depressants to placebos, resulting in a huge boom at the local blues bar.

Bloodsucking Fiends is the story of a San Francisco woman attacked by a vampire and transformed into a creature of the night, and her struggles to adapt to her new lifestyle (she needs new makeup more suited for the pale look) and maintain a new relationship with an unemployed writer. Not a great book, but enjoyable mind-candy. There is a later sequel to the novel, titled You Suck. Moore has drawn quite a bit of attention lately for his book Biff: The Story of Christ's Childhood Pal.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Unholy Mess


I couldn’t resist the title. I’ll be brief, because Unholy isn’t worth the time.

Unholy stars two genre veterans, Adrienne Barbeau (The Fog, Escape From New York) and Nicholas Brendon (Xander on Buffy the Vampire Slayer), who have had better parts. Barbeau plays a mother who comes home from shopping at the local creepy florist to find her daughter in the locked cellar, suicidal and with a shotgun. A weak attempt to coax her out fails, and daughter pulls the trigger. Actually, she pulls it twice, as she only receives a flesh wound from the first blast (I don’t want to be overly critical, but if you can’t hit yourself on the first try when you’re holding a shotgun an inch from your face, you really need to work on your marksmanship. Although I guess the second shot rendered that moot.) Just before the second shot, daughter tells mother “Beware the experiment.” (This is another case where a hell of a lot of grief could be avoided if a character took the time to tell another character what they wanted them to know)

Barbeau isn’t going to let this go, so she enlists her son (Brendon) in getting to the bottom of things. As son has been lying on a coach hitting a bong, he has time, if not motivation. There is an exchange that indicates the writer may have been going for humor in the script. An army recruiter, behind on his quota of mid-30s potheads, calls Brendon to recruit him. Brendon tells the recruiter he’s gay, and hangs up the phone. It rings again. Brendon picks it up and says, “I fuck guys.” Then “Hi, Mom.” What subtle and original humor.

The mother-son team soon uncover/leap to wild conclusions that daughter’s death was due to secret government experiments run by Nazis to unlock the secrets of the trinity: Time travel, invisibility, and mind control. They also find that everyone with speaking parts is involved in the plot, including themselves. Everything ranges from implausible to incomprehensible. My favorite part is where Barbeau demonstrates the “third trinity”, mind control, by controlling…herself. Isn’t that the easy one?

I think the movie was going the Donnie Darko mindfuck route, but without flair or talent. The only reason not to avoid this one is if you are controlling your own mind and force yourself to do so.

The Incredible Hulk


After the amazing success of Iron Man, Marvel is back, with a re-boot of The Incredible Hulk. Although Ang Lee’s movie Hulk was profitable, the general feeling was that it underperformed. So the new movie does not pick up where the last ended and features an all-new cast.

After a flashback sequence that explains the Hulk’s origin runs behind the credits, we see Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) in Brazil, where he is on the run from General “Thunderbolt” Ross (William Hurt), banner’s nemesis and the father of his true love, Betty Ross (Liv Tyler). Banner has been over six months without a Hulk “incident”, thanks to practicing meditation techniques. An accident in the bottling plant where Banner works reveals his existence to Ross, and a military team is sent to capture him, with the predictable result of being destroyed by the Hulk. The leader of the military team is a British marine (Tim Roth) who becomes obsessed with gaining the power of the Hulk.

Although the movie isn’t as good as Iron Man, it is a lot of fun, and there’s a lot to like. Although the CGI isn’t perfect, the look is much better than the first movie, where the Hulk looked like an angry Shrek. The director makes a wise decision to keep the Hulk in the shadows for most of the first part of the movie, teasing the audience, and building up to the full reveal. The cast is also much better. Roth and Hurt are always great, and Edward Norton captures the angst of the frail-seeming Banner than Eric Bana, who came of as somewhat bland in the first one.

All in all, a great popcorn movie, and a good addition to the comic book movie canon.

Fall Of Cthulhu: The Fugue


Here’s a first (for me): a look at a graphic novel, although its theme fits in well with this site.

Fall of Cthulhu: The Fugue collects the first six issues of the ongoing comic series Fall of Cthulhu. Set in the present day, it uses concepts developed in the writing of H. P. Lovecraft.

As the story opens, a young man meets with an eccentric uncle who has obviously gone around the bend. After a bit of babbling, the uncle commits suicide. When his nephew investigates, he learns that his uncle was involved with summoning Cthulhu, the demi-god from Lovecraft’s tales, and had tried and failed to stop it. It now falls to the nephew to take on the task.

The story is witty and sharp, and a good addition to the Cthulhu Mythos. It benefits from using two artists with distinctively different styles, dark and ominous for the real world, bright and abstract for when the protagonist enters the dream world.

I’ll be on the lookout for further volumes in the series.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Queen Of Blood


WARNING: For anyone who has not read House of Blood, the following review of Queen of Blood will give away most of the ending. If you are planning to read HoB (and you should), you should skip this.

One of the things you look for in a writer, at least during his early career, is how his technique grows and develops over his first few books. Few writers spring fully-formed from the brow of their muse. This sort of growth was something I was curious about when I began Queen of Blood. House of Blood, Bryan Smith’s first published novel, was so good, I wasn’t sure he could improve that much. I’m happy to report that Smith does seem to have improved, and Queen of Blood, his fourth novel, is even better than the excellent House of Blood.

The story takes up a few months after the events in HoB. The Master is dead, his kingdom destroyed. The few survivors of his reign of terror are trying, in various ways, to put their lives back together. Ms. Wickman, The Master’s sadistic apprentice, escaped the destruction, and is using what she learned to construct a new kingdom. One of her goals is to track down and punish those involved in the overthrow of The Master. Dream Weaver, Chad, Giselle and “Lazarus” will all be drawn back into the fight. A major new organization will also emerge, the mysterious Order of the Dragon. Once again, sacrifices will be made, and lives will be destroyed, in the struggle against evil. As with the first book, it is a non-stop thrill ride.

One of the things I most appreciated about Smith’s approach to this book is how each of the returning characters has been changed by the events they have endured, some of them for the worst. This seems very realistic, as traumatic experiences do tend to have lasting psychological effect, although many authors ignore this. Smith also refuses to play favorites among his characters. It is a cliché of horror that you can tell who will live and who will die from a cast of characters at the beginning of the story, but in Bryan Smith’s world, no one is safe, as any character, no matter how well-liked, can meet their doom at any moment. Or, even more surprisingly, can be induced to switch sides.

As for as stylistic changes, they are all for the better. I thought Smith showed a more confident hand in dealing with the story, and did a better job of focusing the plotlines toward a common end in this than in the first volume (although I didn’t think HoB had any major problems). It is always difficult to extract sales numbers from publishers, but the scuttlebutt is Queen of Blood is flying off the shelves. Bryan Smith seems poised for a major career explosion, and if you want to be trendy, read him now, before he becomes a household name.

Incidentally, although Queen of Blood has a definite conclusion, there is plenty of room for a third volume in the same series. You can count me as someone who is eager to read it.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Nightmare Man


Nightmare Man is the Eight Films To Die For flick aimed most squarely at a specific target audience – 13-year-old boys with raging libidos. It is a collection of breast shots with the occasional grisly murder thrown in for pacing.

A young couple (Bill and Ellen) is having trouble conceiving, so the wife does what every woman does in this situation – Ellen buys a possessed African fertility mask. That always goes well. Before she can get in the family way, she starts having nightmares about being attacked by a man wearing the mask, who kills her. She calls this man from her nightmares – Nightmare Man. Ellen isn’t big on creativity. These dreams go on a while, and Ellen begins to crack under the strain. Bill does what any concerned, loving young husband would do – he makes arrangements to have her institutionalized. Ellen seems okay with this. They are driving late at night on the way to the happy farm when there car breaks down, and Bill leaves Ellen to go for help. Before you know it, Ellen is under attack from the Nightmare Man (NM), now made flesh, possibly because Ellen hasn’t been taking enough of her meds. Ellen flees into the woods.

Nearby, five friends are spending the night at an old, isolated house. One couple is about to be married. Considerable effort is spent trying to keep a secret from the soon-to-be husband: His prospective bride once made out with one of the other hot chicks. Presumably, if he learned this, he would be so repulsed he would call the wedding off (Just an aside from real life: the only way the prospective groom would be turned off if she was marrying Fred Phelps (of Westover Baptist Church), which would mean much worse problems anyway. More likely, he would ask the other girl if she wanted to go on the honeymoon with them). Right in the middle of a variety of activities that require the actresses to take off their tops, Ellen bursts in, and soon the NM is after everyone.

A good part of the suspense of the movie is trying to figure out what is going on. Is the NM real or has Ellen just wigged out to the point where she’s turned homicidal? Or is someone else up to no good? Anyway, everyone is soon battling for their lives, including Tiffany Shepis, the last of the B-movie Queens, who does battle with the creature with a crossbow while wearing lingerie. It’s that kind of a movie.

It’s difficult to recommend this one, but it does have a certain low-rent charm. It doesn’t pretend to be anything it isn’t, and it doesn’t take itself very seriously. Shepis also has a good deal of personality, and it’s a pity most of her movies are drek. If this appeals to you, and you need to occupy yourself for a night, give it a try, but most would be better off missing it.

Low Red Moon


This was the first novel I read by Caitlin R. Kiernan, although I have read some of her shorter work. I picked up Low Red Moon a while back, chiefly because it is mostly set in Birmingham, where I lived for seven years, then stuck it on my shelf and avoided reading it for quite a long time. I finally picked it up and read it in a day, enjoying it so much I wanted to start over when I reached the end. Ms. Kiernan has moved from off my radar to the status of a favorite writer.


The book is about a serial killer named Narcissa Snow, who may be a werewolf, or may simply believe she is a werewolf. She believes she was mistakenly rejected as a child by a dark power that bridges our world and another one, and the only way to get membership in this society is to present the dark forces with a sacrificial child, born of someone who has thwarted them in the past. Enter our reluctant hero, Deacon Silvey, an alcoholic psychic who stopped a similar killer years before, and whose wife is now expecting. Narcissa plans to kill Silvey, and take the child as her offering. Silvey is an appealing hero because he is flawed. He struggles to stay away from the bottle, and resents his powers. He is joined in his struggle to stop Narcissa by two ”changelings” who may or may not be acting in his interest.

This is an exciting book, and one that is filled with far more interesting ideas than you would imagine from its length. It is also one of the few modern books I have read that deserve the sobriquet “Lovecraftian”. H.P. Lovecraft was one of the most important and influential writers in the horror genre, and has often been imitated, usually badly. Most authors’ idea of a Lovecraft-derived story is to write a tale sprinkled with the odd “Cthulhu!” and “N’yarlthotep!”, and a chant of “Ia, Ia”, and then have the protagonist eaten by a squid-creature on the last page. Although Low Red Moon offers mostly subtle references to Lovecraft’s work, Ms. Kiernan captures the spirit and intent perfectly. Highly recommended, and I will be seeking out her other books in the future.*

One final note, Ms. Kiernan apparently dislikes to be called a “horror writer”. I won’t argue with that for three reasons: (1) Its her work, she can call it whatever she wants, (2) She’s way smarter than I (she has published some very impressive papers in her field of vertebrate paleontology) and would destroy my weak mind in an argument, and (3) I don’t actually know her, and if you argue with someone who isn’t there, people think you’re nuts. Still I can’t resist saying this is one of the best new horror novels I’ve read.

*After reading the book, I found that Low Red Moon is a sequel to Threshold, which I also own, and I’m pissed at myself for reading them out of order.

Live Girls


Ray Garton’s 1987 novel Live Girls is one of the better known vampire novels, although I am just getting around to reading it. It concerns a Manhattan stripjoint/sex club with the homonymous (usually erroneously referred to as eponymous) name of Live Girls. (Just as an aside, I’ve seen strip clubs advertising “Live Girls” before and it always makes me laugh. I mean, what is the alternative?). What sets this club apart from others is all the employees are vampires who prey on the clientele. The story concerns some patrons who fall into the clutches of the vamps, and the struggles of a few to destroy them.

Live Girls is a gonzo, over-the-top ride. Many literary deconstructionists have analyzed Bram Stoker’s classic Dracula as an extended metaphor for oral sex (think about it), although I never really bought into that theory, and Live Girls extends this metaphor to its logical conclusion as the means for the stripper/hooker vamps to obtain their sustenance. Not badly done, but anyone who blushes at sex scenes probably would want to avoid this, lest their head explodes. Recommended with the caveat the novel is long on sex and gore. There is also a 2005 sequel, Night Life.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Press Release

From Matt Staggs:

Tachyon Publications Goes to the Dogs!

Photo contest winners to receive newest Nancy Kress novel and more

Tachyon Publications wants to see your dog. The "Dogs" photo contest has begun and readers worldwide are sending in pictures of their beloved pets. The contest celebrates the July 1st release of "Dogs," the thrilling new novel of bioterrorism and international intrigue by award-winning science fiction author Nancy Kress ("Beggars in Spain").

Skinny dogs, fat dogs, big dogs, little dogs, email your favorite pictures of them to dogs@tachyonpublications.com between now and July 31st . The team at Tachyon Publications will pick three very lucky dogs and their owners to win a special gift pack, including a signed copy of "Dogs" and some delectable doggy treats. In addition, dog pictures submitted to Tachyon Publications will be featured in an online gallery: http://flickr.com/photos/27659337@N08/sets/72157605575776688/

For more information about "Dogs" visit Tachyon Publications online at http://www.tachyonpublications.com/book/Dogs.html, or email publicist Matt Staggs: matt@tachyonpublications.com.

Based in San Francisco, California, Tachyon Publications has been a leading publisher of quality science fiction and fantasy literature for over a decade.

Deeper


One of the signature stories of H.P. Lovecraft’s career (although he reportedly thought little of it) was The Shadow Over Innsmouth. It is the story of a man who visits a coastal New England town, where he discovers the residents worship a being called Dagon, and have intermarried with strange creatures from the sea, which look like part-man, part-fish, and part-frog. The story ends with a government raid, and the destruction of the small town. In the time since its publication, a number of authors have tried their hand at exploring the Innsmouth story, including two anthologies edited by Stephen Jones, and it has been loosely adapted to film as the movie Dagon.

James A. Moore’s latest book, Deeper, also offers a continuation of the Innsmouth story. Ship’s Captain Joe Bierden is offered a lucrative charter to transport a group of scientific researchers and parapsychologists to Golden Cove, where the scientists will probe a series of underground caves, while the parapsychologists investigate rumors of ghost ships in the harbor. It is gradually revealed that Golden cove was built on the site of the destroyed Innsmouth, and whatever creatures were in the sea, remain there. The divers soon encounter these vicious denizens of the deep, and conflict arises between the captain (the book is told from the captain’s point of view), who wants to ensure the safety of those on the ship, and the scientists, bent on making a great discovery. In the end, great sacrifices will be made.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a sucker for tales of horror at sea, and Moore does a great job with this one. It moved quickly, and you really cared for the characters who were in danger of becoming dinner for the sea creatures. I found the story to be very cinematic, much more so than most novels, and think it would make a great horror movie if placed in capable hands.

Two minor quibbles, neither really affecting my feelings toward the book: I thought the revelation about Joe’s father-in-law came out of the blue, and it would have been good to have been introduced earlier, and I thought part of the climax (involving the ghosts) was a bit of the old deus ex machina. Still, highly recommended.

The Brief History Of The Dead


was lent The Brief History Of The Dead by a friend, who had recommended it. It is an interesting book, and the first I have read by its author, Kevin Brockmeier.

The premise is intriguing: There is a City where people live after they die. They pass into the city, where they live a healthy life, remaining unchanged at the age they were when they died. There they dwell – until the last person on earth who remembers them dies, at which point they disappear, to some unknown destination. This is the earth of the indeterminate near future, which has become something of a dystopia, with wars, ecological crises, and the constant threat of biological attack. As the story in the book begins, a new virus has been unleashed on earth, which causes a lethal pandemic. The population of the City begins to shrink rapidly, triggering a mild panic. Soon, they realize that everyone who is still there knew the same woman, who must be the last survivor.

The even numbered chapters tell the story of this woman, Laura Byrd. She was on a research project in Antarctica, and missed the plague. The book follows her struggle to make her way across the ice to reach civilization – not knowing that she will die of the virus when she gets there.

The book raises some interesting points, but leaves far too many unanswered questions. What happens when someone dies in the City? Everyone continues to do the same jobs as in their previous life, but where do the products they sell come from? Since there are no animals other than birds, where do they get their hamburgers? How does a memo that explains some of the origin of the plague exist in the City when it was created on Earth?

The book is marketed as science fiction, but is actually a fantasy, since the author has as much grasp of science as I do (my high school science teacher was the basketball coach, so to this day I have no idea if the earth revolves around the sun, or vice versa). Laura’s vehicle is powered by a nearly inexhaustible fuel cell, yet she has to fret over the stove running out of fuel, and many other illogical devices.

It is also hampered by the fact that the book doesn’t end so much as stops, without clearing up anything.

An interesting concept, well written, but ultimately, I was disappointed.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

New Life For The Dead


At the end of the horror boom, one of the names being touted for “the next big thing” was the talented Alan Rodgers, who had edited the horror digest Night Cry in the 80s, and turned to writing his own fiction after Night Cry folded. Perhaps because of the implosion of the horror markets, or perhaps disinterest, Rodgers has drifted away from horror, but he is still fondly remembered.

New Life For The Dead was his first collection of short fiction, published by Wildside Press. It is a thin novel, containing five stories and six poems. The stories tend to have a certain whimsy that is rarely found in the genre, but Rodgers can go for the gross-out with the best of them. The highlight of the volume is the 1987 Stoker Award winning story “The Boy Who Came Back From The Dead.” The book is listed as out of print, but it isn’t difficult to find used copies of either the hardcover or trade paperback floating around.

Storm Warning


Some time after the torture porn wave has passed, along comes the Australian film Storm Warning to join in. The movie was directed by Jamie Blanks, whose previous credits include Urban Legend and Valentine. Judging from these three, his career arc is a ski slope.

A couple (Nadia Fares, Robert Taylor) go out for a day’s fishing in a small boat, even though the man doesn’t seem to know anything about fishing and the woman doesn’t seem to want to. They get lost, and end up on French Island, an isolated scrap of land that looks like the Antipodean version of rural Mississippi. There they stumble upon a house filled with the Aussie equivalent of rednecks, who are running a marijuana farming operation. There’s a father and two sons, all some sort of half-wit. After some sparring, the rednecks inform them they know too much, and they will be subjected to sexual abuse and then killed (although fortunately for the couple, they take their time getting to the sexual assault). It’s up to the intrepid couple to figure out how to escape these madmen.

The movie has a number of problems; I’ll just touch on the highlights. First of all, you want the viewer to have some sympathy for the victims in something like this, and, other than the basic wish not to see anyone mistreated, you don’t. The couple is whiny, incompetent, and unlikeable. As an example, if you don’t want the scary rednecks to know you know about their illegal crops, it’s not a good idea to have a loud argument about the information where they can hear you. Also, for most of the movie, the couple is left by themselves, untied, in a barn. For those of you city folk out there, barns are filled with things that can be used as edged weapons or clubs. This never crosses the couples’ minds. When the couple briefly escapes, they run into the night, right down the middle of the only road. A helpful hint: If you are trying to elude someone at night, go into the woods, find a place to hide, and stay still. You’ll be hard to find.

All this non-action slowly drags along. For torture fans (you know who you are) the couple is subjected to mostly verbal abuse, until the husband’s leg is broken. Not exactly Hostel-level deviltry. The couple remains passive until the point in the script where the writer and director must have said, “It’s time to turn the table.” At that point the woman becomes Tony Stark, building Rube Goldberg type traps, and constructing an anti-rape Penis Flytrap, which is horrific, but most have been almost as uncomfortable for the lady as the rapist. This happens even though there is no reason for her to have these abilities (a dropped subplot would have shown her as an artist working with metal) and there’s no need for the elaborate gadgets. The rednecks come to the barn one at a time, just wait behind the door with a club. But I suppose the gruesome deaths of the bozos were the reasons for the movie.

Although it is fairly gory, the most disturbing thing to me was the killing of a baby wallaby. If googling hadn’t revealed it to be animatronic, this review would be much harsher. Still, I’d give this one a pass.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

House Of Blood


House of Blood was the debut novel from Bryan Smith. It has been out for a while, but I have held off reading it until the recent publication of the sequel, Queen of Blood, so I could read them back-to-back.

It’s a cliché in horror to call any relatively new writer the “next big thing”, but Smith may be the real deal. He already seems to have staked a substantial place for himself in the realm of what used to be called “splatterpunk” horror, and I guess now is called “extreme”. Or something.

A long time ago, I was told a key to selling a story or gaining a reader was to have an opening that grabbed the attention. Here’s the opening from House of Blood:

Later they would all agree they should have stayed on that dark stretch of Tennessee highway. One or two of those left alive at that point would remark on the futility of the desire to change that which could not be changed…

Nice bit of foreshadowing, without giving anything away. It grabbed my attention.

Five friends are returning from an ill-fated vacation in Key West, when they take the wrong interstate exit in Eastern Tennessee. Without any realization, they pass out of the normal plane of existence and into the realm of The Master, a mysterious figure who has used supernatural power to create a realm of torture and human sacrifice. The steadily diminishing group struggles to escape the clutches of The Master and his chief assistant, the sadistic Ms. Wickman, while in The Master’s fiefdom of Below, revolution is fomenting.

If there is a weakness to House of Blood, it is that it throws almost too many ideas at the reader, which is probably the result of being a first novel. This is a very minor observation, however, since House of Blood grabs the reader and sweeps him/her along its bloody path. Having earlier enjoyed Smith’s even more gonzo Freakshow, count me among his fans. Details on Queen of Blood coming soon.

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Deaths Of Ian Stone


The Deaths of Ian Stone is not quite a successful movie, falling flat at the end, but does have some interesting ideas, and the first half is not bad at all. Ian (Mike Vogel, last seen running from Cthulhu Jr. in Cloverfield) is a student at university in Great Britain, and the movie opens with him playing for the college hockey team in a heated match. (This is a quibble, but do they even have university ice hockey teams in Britain? If anyone knows the answer to this, I’m curious.) After he blows the game by hogging the puck, he drives home, but stops when he sees someone lying motionless in the middle of the road. Getting out to help, he learns to regret the Good Samaritan impulse when the guy in the road turns into a monster, grabs him, and throws him in front of an oncoming train, killing him. (There is something cruelly Darwinish about horror movies. Characters who show compassion usually bite it.)

Wow, what a short movie. Still it was kinda cool…Oh, yeah, wait, the title says Deaths not Death. Ian wakes up in a strange apartment, remembering his abrupt intro to fuel-efficient transportation only as a dream. This starts a cycle, in which Ian is repeatedly killed, and then goes to a steadily drearier new existence, remembering only bits and pieces of what happened. What the heck is happening? Fortunately, our old friend Exposition Guy shows up to tell Ian (and us). Sadly for Ian, Exposition Guy follows movie convention, and instead of explaining to poor Ian everything at once as he should, he gives him a bit at a time before disappearing. “You must protect the girl!” EG yells, vanishing before Ian can ask “What girl?” and then Ian is crushed by a falling anvil.

This continues until gradually Ian, whose character was obviously stolen from Kenny in South Park, gets the whole story. The creatures that kakk him over and over are pretty neat. They can look like ordinary humans, but their appendages turn insect-like when they need to skewer someone. They can also appear as a dark, ghostly presence when they’re in the mood. Since monster-maker Stan Winston produced this, it’s no surprise they look pretty good.

The early part of the movie is good entertainment as we try to figure out why Ian is so spectacularly screwed. It does have problems. First of all, the viewer figures things out about fifteen minutes before Ian, and you get pretty impatient with him for not thinking faster. Secondly, every existence Ian experiences gets worse, so for about twenty minutes he is immobilized in a hospital bed, which throws things down considerably. (During his final incarnation, the creatures resort to dressing like Sprockets, but maybe that’s only a problem to me.) It also has major third act problems, and the ending is pretty flat.

Still, not the worst time waster I’ve seen, and miles ahead of most of the other Eight Films To Die For offerings.

Lost Echoes


First of all, I should tell you I am a huge fan of Joe R. Lansdale. This goes all the way back to the 80s, with novels like The Nightrunners and Savage Season, and even better short stories along the lines of “Night They Missed the Horror Show” and “Tight Little Stitches In A Dead Man’s Back”. He is one of the few writers who has never disappointed me, and he certainly doesn’t let me down with Lost Echoes, his latest, published in February by Vintage.

It’s the story of Harry Wilkes, a young man whose bout with the mumps as a child left him with an unusual talent. When ever a sound is struck on an inanimate object, such as the slamming of a car door, he relives any traumatic experiences in the area tied to the object. Vicious murders, back-seat rapes, suicides – he relives each of them. If the chair his father sat in when he died of a heart attack is scraped on the floor, he watches his father die all over again. Rather than this power making him important, it has turned him into an alcoholic recluse in his early twenties.

The bulk of a novel concerns his meeting a fellow traveler, another man who began drinking when he inadvertently caused the death of his wife and son. Together, they start to pull their lives together. Then, the girl he loved shows up with a request: Help me find who murdered my father – and he has to face his greatest fears.

Lansdale’s early work was extreme, and he was considered a transgressive author. Time has mellowed him, however, and this book, while not flinching from violence and containing heavy profanity, is much lighter than his early work. For those of you not familiar with him, he writes dialogue as well or better than any living writer, and the humor in the conversations always makes me laugh out loud. Highly recommended.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The 13 Best Author Collections of All Time!

Following on the heels of my list of the best horror anthologies of all time, here are the thirteen best single-author collections. Putting this together proved to be a pleasant surprise, as there were far more good ones than I had imagined. In the method I use, I first make a list of all the eligible books that I would feel justified in putting on such a list. My first pass at doing this for The Ten Best Vampire Novels only yielded five. The first pass here gave me more than 60, a good problem to have. My first step in winnowing down the herd was to arbitrarily decree each author could place only once on the list. The final concession was to expand the number from the usual 10 to 13, because I’m too gutless to make any more cuts. There are a number of others that I already feel bad about omitting. The usual disclaimers: these reflect my own opinion, and if I haven’t read it, it’s not on the list. You could also jumble the order of these randomly, and I would be satisfied.

1. Night Shift, by Stephen King – This barely edged Skeleton Crew. A very powerful representation of the early King, when the ideas seemed to flow at the speed of light. Most of these stories have been adapted for the screen

2. By Bizarre Hands, by Joe R. Lansdale – Any of Lansdale’s collections would fit here, as he never seems to write anything that isn’t outstanding. I chose this one because it was the first of his collections.

3. Blue World, by Robert R. McCammon – McCammon didn’t write a lot of short stories, but what he did write was amazing. Check out “Nightcrawlers” and “Something Passed By” from this collection.

4. Dark Gods, by T.E.D. Klein – Another less-than-prolific writer. The four novellas included here can hold their own against anyone.

5. The Book of Blood, by Clive Barker – The first of the six volume Books of Blood (any one of them would do) shows an unprecedented depth of imagination.

6. The Dunwich Horror and Others, by H. P. Lovecraft – Lovecraft was almost exclusively a short fiction writer, and I think this Arkham House collection is the best summation of his work.

7. The Jaguar Hunter, by Lucius Shepard – The short story writer of the eighties. Most of these are not specifically horror, but they are well worth reading.

8. Scared Stiff, by Ramsey Campbell – The English grandmaster produced the first great collection mixing sex and horror.

9. Why Not You and I?, by Karl Edward Wagner – Another horror writer who died far too soon, the psychiatrist-turned-author wrote some of the great Southern horror fiction.

10. Songs of a Dead Dreamer, by Thomas Ligotti – The best collection from one of the foremost of the “quiet horror” group of writers. A classic.

11. 20th Century Ghosts, by Joe Hill – The most recently published work on the list, this collection heralded the arrival of a great new talent.

12. Black Butterflies, by John Shirley – One of the founding members of the splatterpunks, this is an outstanding and widely varied collection.

13. The Howling Man, by Charles Beaumont – A good collection of work by the prolific, short-lived author who wrote a lot of the best Twilight Zone TV episodes.

I’m sure there are plenty I’ve left off.

They Thirst


In 1981, Robert R. McCammon, a young writer from Birmingham, Alabama who had published three solid three very solid but undistinguished horror novels, produced the vampire novel They Thirst, his breakthrough novel. It would propel him to great heights of popularity, finally landing McCammon second only to Stephen King among horror writers. Sadly, he quit writing in 1992, only recently returning with historical novels

I read it when the first paperback edition was released, and I’ve just finished reading it again. It holds up well. The book is something of a companion to King’s great Salem’s Lot, taking the central premise of Salem’s Lot – that if every vampire fed every night, and every victim also became a vampire, their numbers would increase geometrically, and humans would soon be overrun – and transferred it from a rural setting to urban Los Angeles. While not as strong as King’s book, it has the same sustained dread, as the human characters try to figure out what is going on against the backdrop of a rapidly ticking clock.

If the book has one problem it is the deus ex machina quality of its finale. Still, if horror novels are your thing, you need to read They Thirst

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Rot


Although I’ve long been familiar with the name of horror author Gary Brandner, Rot is the first thing I’ve read by him. Brandner is the author of the horror classic The Howling, which I should have read but haven’t, which spawned a good movie and many bad sequels.

Rot is the story of Kyle Brubaker, a California kid who goes to rural Wisconsin to help run his ailing uncle’s farm. A potential romance with his cousin’s fiancé ends abruptly when the Kyle and the girl are attacked by three local thugs. In the aftermath of the incident, the girl dies. Fortunately, there’s a Gypsy at the scene who owes Kyle a favor. The young lady is re-animated, and the rest of the story is about her revenge on the rapists, and Kyle’s efforts to distance himself from the vicious and disintegrating walking corpse.

The chief flaw of the book is its predictability. Take a little Pet Sematary, add a little Thinner, and you have Rot. Horror readers can pretty much see where the story is going. Still, it was well written and enjoyable. Working in its favor is its brevity (sans illustrations, it would be about 150 pages), which means it gets right to the punch. The cover is by Vince Natale, while interior illustrations are by Keith Minnion.

Vampyrrhic Rites


(Since Vampyrrhic Rites is a sequel to Vampyrrhic, the post below will necessarily contain spoilers. If you plan to read Vampyrrhic, it is advised you skip this one)

At the end of Vampyrrhic, the army of vampires had been defeated, although at a cost. Jack Black was dead, and the remainder of the four who banded together to stop the undead were scattered around England. When the new book opens, David Leppington is practicing medicine in London, while Electra Charnwood is still running the hotel in Yorkshire.

Although all the vampires were presumably destroyed, it turns out there was another group of them, sleeping at the bottom of a deep lake. Years later, they, too, are waking up, and the jaded crew from the first book have to return to the scene to stop them again. And people keep telling them they’ve seen their dead-and-dismembered comrade, Jack Black, walking around town.

Simon Clark is a very good writer, maybe the best British horror writer working today, and this isn’t a bad book. But where the first book made my all-time vampire novel list, this is merely okay. The pacing seems to be off. Once the book starts, readers are waiting for the surviving cast of the first book to return to Leppington, but this doesn’t happen until half way through, and there are other scenes that drag more than they need to. The subplot of the return of David’s schizophrenic girlfriend Katrina serves little purpose but to make the story longer. The returning character of Bernice isn’t given much to do (until the very end), and could have been omitted. And the ending involves a literal deus ex machina.

Despite these flaws, it was a pleasurable read. Clark is a gifted writer, and when things do happen in the book, the scenes are quite gripping. It just seems it was written more because a sequel was profitable, rather than inspired.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Sinister Purposes


Sinister Purposes is the first novel I’ve read by Gary Raisor. It is not a conventional novel, but rather what is called a mosaic novel, meaning it is composed of a number of short stories altered to fit into one narrative. Some authors have done this well (Ray Bradbury), but the principle weakness of the format is an unevenness of quality among chapters that were written over the course of a long period of time and have to be twisted to fit into this hybrid format.

Raisor has talent as a writer, but I wasn’t that impressed with the book itself. As with most horror novels, terrible fates befall most of the characters, but the characters created here are so repugnant, you are happy when they meet their ends. There isn’t a single sympathetic character. The novel is also somewhat over the top in mean-spiritedness. If a puppy or kitten is introduced, there s no chance it will go three pages without being tortured to death. (I’m not sure how Raisor feels about pets. Sinister Purposes is a virtual Armageddon for animals, with thirty or so being killed in gruesome ways). Even the characters who are supposed to be somewhat appealing regularly drown puppies or kittens, usually after removing their eyes. Readers of horror expect a certain amount of gore and shocks, but this was so over-the-top and repetitive it repelled me. (A caveat here: I’m one of those weirdos who can read or watch any manner of gore or atrocity against people, but can’t stand cruelty to animals. It’s just the way I am)

I look forward to giving Raisor another chance, but Sinister Purposes gets a thumbs down from me.

It has been brought to my attention that my comments on the book imply that Mr. Raisor is himself a hater of animals. This was not my attention, and I recognize that Sinister Purposes is fiction, not fact. I should have worded this less flippantly, and I'm sory if there was any confusion on that.

Pirates of Ghost Island


As I’ve said before, being a horror fan, you end up watching a lot of poorly made films. This isn’t too big a problem, since those of us who watch a lot of horror movies develop affection for flicks made on the cheap, and we tend to overlook certain limitations in production budget without being too judgmental. But then along comes a movie like Pirates of Ghost Island that stretch the limitations of what one can stand.

I don’t want anyone to think I watched a movie like this with an actual expectation that it would be good. I recently purchased a small bulk lot of horror DVDs, and this was the obviously worse of the bunch. I chose it out of the lot to watch last night because (a) it was short at 80 minutes, and (b) I figured I might as well get it out of the way sooner rather than later. Also, I said to myself the phrase that has wrapped me in a lot of grief in the past, “How bad could it possibly be?”

The answer is, worse than you could imagine. The script, acting and production values would shame even a company making pornos. The special effects would have been inadequate in 1931. The acting is so bad, if it were a school play, and one of the actors was your child, you’d throw bricks at them in anger.

The plot, so to speak, is as follows: in the late 17th century, pirates hid their treasure on an island in the Caribbean. The pirate captain was double-crossed by part of the crew, and they were attacked by a demon that lived on the island, which illuminated them with a blue light. That was the extent of the attack, but no actor looks good in blue lighting, so it was enough. The cast was also mightily consumed with the task of maintaining their ludicrous pirate accents (Argh! Me maties!), which they mostly failed at. Although this had no apparent effect, we jumped forward to…the present day.

Six dim-witted young bad actors wake up on the beach of the same island. How they got there is never explained, but one of them is either the reincarnation of the old pirate captain’s wife, her descendent, or actually her. At least, by using the same actress in two roles, they saved a couple of bucks. Other than the fact that half the group is male and the other female, they are indistinguishingly annoying. The only one that stands out is the guy who starts every sentence with “The fact is..” but soon they’re all doing it, so no matter.

They are then attacked by pirates, who are ghosts, which we know due to scenes of one of them walking in front of the camera every now and then and vanishing in a crude jump cut. It also seems that anyone who dies on the island stays there as a ghost, evidenced by a Japanese soldier who died there in World War Two (Fun fact 1: Japan never invaded the Caribbean in WWII. Fun fact 2: Japan is in the Pacific Ocean!). There is also a scene where a blonde in a bikini is attacked by some ferns, which she grabs and whips around herself. Despite the general lack of deadliness to ferns, this kills her. Oh, and one of the ancient pirates wears modern glasses throughout the movie.

Eventually the movie ends somehow, although my attention had wandered by that point.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Carrion Comfort


From the old site...

Before he made his biggest splash in science fiction (Hyperion, Endymion), Dan Simmons made his mark writing horror, which was at the end of its boom when he began publishing. His first novel, Song of Kali, won the World Fantasy Award, and he followed it in 1989 with the ambitious Carrion Comfort. It, too, was a success, and started moving Simmons into King/Straub territory, before he left the field for a few years after Summer of Night.

Carrion Comfort is an epic scale novel (the paperback version is 900 pages long, while the oversized hardback I read was 650 pages). Set in 1980, it is Simmons’ unusual take on the vampire legend. In the novel, his vampires don’t feed on blood, but rather control the minds of others, reducing them to catspaws. The plot begins with three old “mind vampires” who for years have been playing a type of game, forcing their thralls to commit murders and awarding points based on the notoriety and shock value of the killing. They are utterly immoral, and view others as tools to be used and discarded at a whim.

One of the three is a former SS Oberst, who is recognized by a Jewish survivor of the concentration camp he used as a playground during World War II. Determined to put an end to him, the survivor and his allies become caught in the middle of a bloody struggle involving the three older Users and a group of upstarts that ultimately threatens the fate of the world.

With its length and convoluted plot, this isn’t the world’s easiest read, but it is well worth it. Simmons’ mind vampires are truly chilling, and the book is well worth the effort for anyone willing to take the time. My only quibble would be some of the minor characters, mostly stooges of the bad guys, are too difficult to keep separated in my mind. Highly recommended.

Maelstrom

(The following review is based on a pre-publication copy, and the final version may be drastically different.)

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the reasons I like one of my favorite writers, David Niall Wilson, is his ability to dramatically vary his subject matter and tone. This Is My Blood isn’t like Roll Them Bones, which isn’t like Ancient Eyes. Since a lot of authors basically re-write the same book over and over, I find this refreshing. (It is pure speculation on my part, but I wonder if that contributes to Wilson not yet being a household name? The marketing people are the ones who would like cookie-cutter product, because it’s easy to categorize and promote). His next novel to be published, Maelstrom, is another departure in his work.

Maelstrom reminded me a lot of old-school horror. A group of teens attend a concert by their favorite rock band (the titular Maelstrom). On the way home, they stop by a cemetery for a “ghost hunt” and accidentally witness a sinister, murderous rite. Nick, one of the boys, drops his knife (with the Maelstrom logo to identify it) at the site of a ritual murder. This makes him the chief suspect in the murder in the eyes of the cops, and a witness that needs to be eliminated by the cultists.

No matter what he writes, Wilson has a great mastery of language. His books are truly a pleasure to read, and he does a nice job of building suspense. I would recommend this book, and any of Wilson’s work, to anyone who likes to read. Although his work has been found mostly in the small press so far, here's hoping he will break through to much wider recognition.

Maelstrom is scheduled to be published June 15th, and can be pre-ordered by clicking on the photo. It features a beautiful cover by Alex McVey, and in an unusual promotion, anyone who pre-orders the book is entered in a contest to win a guitar – autographed by the band Maelstrom.

Buy this book at Horror Mall!

Monday, June 2, 2008

Pod of Horror #44

Almost overlooked it, but Mark Justice has the latest episode of the most excellent Podcast of Horror (#44) up for download here. It's not to be missed, especially if you're reading Gary Braunbeck's Coffin County, as I am.

The Tripper


The Tripper is a movie that doesn’t seem to know quite what it wants to be. At times, rookie director David Arquette piles on the political satire, and at other times, seems to be making a straight-forward slasher film. It isn’t easy for anyone (other than George Romero) to make a horror film that is also social commentary, and Arquette just doesn’t have the chops to pull it off.

The movie starts off in the sixties (I guess) when activists try to block loggers from cutting down a stand of old trees. We know from the introduction to the movie that one of the loggers needs to work to buy medicine for his sick wife. He flips out, threatens the tree-huggers, and is arrested. Fear not, however, since he brought his small boy with him. Junior grabs a chainsaw, and cuts down the activist.

Flash forward to the present day, although it doesn’t look like the present day. A group of hippies are journeying to the same woods for a festival of Peace, Love and Music. They are poorly received by the hippie-hating locals, and the chief of police, Thomas Jane (Arquette’s brother-in-law). Amongst the non-actors in the hippie contingent are Marsha Thomason (TV’s Las Vegas) and Lukas Haas.

The hippies don’t get to enjoy the festival, since they are soon stalked by an axe-wielding psycho wearing a Reagan mask. Most of them are far too baked to avoid the peril, and soon end up as chopped pork.

The movie just isn’t funny enough when it tries to be funny, or suspenseful enough when it needs to be suspenseful. Arquette forgot to develop the characters enough for us to identify with them, always necessary in a slasher flick. Instead, the viewer mostly roots for the stoned morons to get what’s coming to them.

The movie doesn’t have a bad look, and there are occasional glimpses at something better, so Arquette may very well one day make a good movie. But The Tripper isn’t it.

Blood Crazy


Blood Crazy was written by Simon Clark and originally published in 2001. It follows the adventures of Nick Aten (is it a coincidence he has the name of one of the Egyptian gods?), a self described slacker in England, after an apocalyptic event. One morning, all the adults go insane and begin to kill everyone under 19. Nick escapes the massacre, and soon joins with the other few survivors. The event is world-wide, and the young people unaffected must attempt to rebuild some semblance of society while protecting themselves from the adults, still mindless, but acting somehow in concert. The biggest parallel to the book is Lord of the Flies, with a generous helping of George Romero, and some of The Stand by Stephen King. There is also a great deal of discourse on Jungian theory, and an interesting though unlikely approach to evolution. Clark does a good job of making you feel the suspense as his characters struggle for survival.

Overall, not a bad book. Clark has gotten better in his more recent work, but there are flashes of true skill here.

Fires Rising


Having read Michael Laimo’s Atmosphere (his first novel) and The Demonologist, I was looking forward to his most recent book, Fires Rising. According to the buzz on message boards, it was supposed to be a major step for Laimo, and highly important to his career. Since I enjoyed his earlier work, I felt sure I would be impressed by this one. Although the novel has received mostly praise in reviews, I’m afraid my experience with it was somewhat more unsatisfactory.

Fires Rising is the story of a church in New York, the site of ancient unspeakable rituals. Workmen demolishing the church discover a buried artifact, and unleash an ancient evil. All of this is fairly familiar territory for a horror novel. A group of homeless men who shelter in the abandoned church ban together to fight the evil, and apparently they have been called by the opposing force. The evil apparition has largely possessed the workmen tasked to tear down the church. The forces of good are led by Father Pilazzo, an older priest who has managed to retain his faith.

The book just doesn’t work for me, and I don’t understand why. It has received largely favorable reviews from most people, but I had to read it off and on for three weeks to get through it. It’s strange that it took so long, since the whole thing is one extended action sequence, with little time wasted in character development. Oh, and do you remember the Poop Monster from Kevin Smith’s movie Dogma? Laimo uses exactly the same creation in this book to menace the good guys, but it comes off as more humorous than intense. Another irritating point is the teenage boy on the good guys side seems to go in and out of adult dialogue whenever the story needs a little exposition.

Like I’ve said, I’ve enjoyed the earlier work I’ve read by Michael Laimo, and I seem to be one of the few reviewers that didn’t care for Fires Rising. I hope it does well for Laimo’s sake, and I’ll give him another try with his next book.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Tooth & Nail