Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Vampire Circus

A formative part of my horror movie watching experience was growing up with movies from England’s Hammer Studios playing on the late show. Watching Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and others do their stuff in dark castles and creepy laboratories helped make me what I am today. Unfortunately, due to the statute of limitations, I am unable to sue them over it. Hammer’s blend of blood (a bright red so striking it came to be known as “Hammer Red”), monsters and generally good English acting struck a strongly favorable note with the horror film watch. Oh, yes, you can throw “breasts” into the mix, as by the early 1970s, Hammer pictures featured quite a series of topless actresses, which I, uh, may have noticed. The general opinion is the sex was amped up due to a decline in favor of Hammer’s historical Gothic films in favor of more realistic modern films such as Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist.

Though Hammer has been gone for over thirty years (there are periodic rumors of a revival, but it hasn’t happened yet), my love for their films has not diminished with time. Despite this, there are a few movies that are difficult to come by, and that I have only seen for the first time recently. One such film is Vampire Circus, a movie I had looked for since seeing stills from it in the equally missed Famous Monsters of Filmland.

Vampire Circus is set in Hammer’s stock MittelEuropa, a location in the indeterminate past where everyone speaks English with a British accent, but everyone uses German titles and names. In a typical small village, the local count is preying on the children of the village, but he isn’t your run of the mill pedophile. Rather, Count Mitterhaus is a vampire, feeding off the children while carrying on a very human affair with the wife of the local school teacher. Eventually, he goes a Child Too Far, and the mostly cowardly townsfolk rise up and stake him.

Fifteen years later, the town is quarantined due to a plague, when a traveling circus rolls into town. The circus itself is pretty lame, but this is before television was invented, so the diseased villagers turn out to watch the show. Bad idea. It seems the main attraction, a guy who can turn back and forth into a panther, and two acrobats are also vampires. In fact, the main guy is the cousin of the late Count Mitterhaus, and has come to get revenge on the townsfolk and to raise his kinsman from the dead, which seems pretty easy to do if said dead person is a vampire.

Finally, the townspeople get hip to the fiendish plan and battle the undead carnies and the risen count. There is one of the more obvious identity twists in the history of film. Oh, and the plague subplot is quickly resolved when the doctor returns from the big city to tell them don’t worry, it’s just an unknown, extra-powerful form of rabies. That would worry me big time, but hell, they only had 84 minutes for the story, they had to wrap things up.

So how does Vampire Circus compare with Hammer’s better known efforts? Not that well, I’m afraid. It’s not a terrible film, but it’s missing many of the touches that elevated others from the studio. The art direction and visual style, usually a Hammer strong point, is dull and generic here. Most of the cast is quite competent, but the movie misses the star quality of Lee or Cushing. The most recognizable faces/names in the cast are David Prowse as the strongman, who was the guy inside Darth Vader’s suit, and Robin Sachs as one of the acrobats, who is best known for playing lovable villain Ethan Rayne on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I don’t mean to come down too hard on Robert Tayman, who played Count Mitterhaus, but when he was in vamp mode, he looked more ridiculous than menacing:

See what I mean?

At the end of the day, the blood is still bright red and the bosoms are still heaving (don’t bosoms always heave?). This is a decent enough flick, but it is a far cry from Hammer’s best.

Friday, September 25, 2009


Ever since Alien set the bar for science fiction/horror films, movies have tried to cop the same terror in space feel, mostly falling well short of the mark, a few coming close. The latest contestant to step into the ring is today’s release Pandorum, starring Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster.

One hundred and fifty years in the future, Earth’s over-population and dwindling resources have left the planet a living hell. As wars rage over scarce resources and the sustainability of life collapses, a deep space probe discovers an Earth-like planet, which they name Tanis, far away. A large ship is constructed, which will bear 16,000 humans on a journey of more than a century. All will sleep in suspended animation except for members of the ship’s crew, who will wake up for a rotation of two years at a time.

The movie begins with one of the crew-members, Corporal Bower (Ben Foster) waking up from his cryogenic sleep. He is dazed and confused (one of the side effects of cryogenesis is a temporary memory loss, and the only way Bower knows his own name is it is printed on his sleep capsule. One other person awakes soon after, Lieutenant Payton (Dennis Quaid). While Payton remains in the engineering module, trapped behind a locked door, Bower crawls out through the ventilation ducts to find out what is going on, and to free Payton. Once outside, he finds many of the capsules are mysteriously empty, and worse, strange, violent creatures are roaming the ship. Only a few humans are alive and awake, and they live on the run from the creatures.

Bower and Payton face other challenges. The ship’s reactor is about to go critical, and unless Bower can reach it to reset it, the ship will be destroyed. Also, Payton and Bower must grapple with the possibility one or both of them may be suffering from Pandorum, a psychological breakdown caused by low space flights, which results in paranoia, hallucinations, and ultimately murder.

Although Quaid is the top billed actor in the film, this is Ben Foster’s show. The character well portrayed by this excellent young actor (30 Days of Night, X-Men: The Last Stand) serves as the audiences’ point of view character. He is confused and trying desperately to grasp what is happening on the ship. We learn as he does, which makes this almost an interactive film. The movie also does a good job of capturing the claustrophobia that played such a large part in the success of Alien, as the characters are trapped in tight, dimly lit spaces.

I was a little disappointed in the zombie-ish creatures, but I suspect most people will be more satisfied. The twists at the end are a little predictable, but the ending is a much better resolution than say Event Horizon, which was two-thirds of a great movie spoiled somewhat by a weak ending.

A lot of people felt that Pandorum had a chance to be the best horror film of 2009. My opinion? It remains a definite contender, and I would advise you to see it for yourself.

Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep

I would say there’s trouble when there are three nouns in a movie’s title and two of them are inaccurate. The giant critter in this movie isn’t a kraken (it’s a squid, which is some interpretations of the word, but not most) and the water isn’t at all deep. There are tentacles, though, so give credit where credit is due.

The boxcover also promises “high seas adventure”, but there isn’t a shot in the movie where you can’t see the shore, so that seems a loose interpretation of “high seas” as well.

It starts with a prologue in which a small boy named Ray watches his parents killed by a sea monster. That sort of thing can scar a person, and in this case, it causes him to grow up to be Jerry O’Connell’s brother Charlie, playing a character. Thirty years later, he’s still searching for the beast that killed Mom and Dad when he crosses paths with an archaeologist named Nicole (Victoria Pratt, from the terrible series Mutant X) who is searching for a giant Opal famed in Greek history. For some reason, this opal has been lost somewhere off the Pacific Northwest, so we assume some ancient Greek sailor was none too swift with the navigation.

In an amazing coincidence, the kraken and the opal are in exactly the same stretch of water. Apparently, the kraken is the opal’s protector, and kills anyone who touches it and sinks their boat, which really raises the question of how the hell it managed to get all the way from Greece. There follows many shots of divers swimming with video of squids of various sizes superimposed on them. There is also a gangster who is desperate to get his hands on the opal, since it once belonged to his family, and if he can recover it, it will make him an Official Original Greek Gangster. You know he’s gonna end up squid chow.

Terrible acting, horrible special effects, and a dumb plot. If you still want to see it, be my guest. I probably wouldn’t let these things stop me.

H. P. Lovecraft and...Ron Howard ?!

In the strange bedfellows category, TV’s beloved Opie (Ron Howard) is strongly contemplating directing a movie adaptation of the comic book The Strange Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft. The comic, which I haven’t read but sounds interesting, apparently places Lovecraft into the world he created in his writing. This movie is good news for us Lovecraft fans….but Ron Howard? Doesn’t seem like a good fit. I’ve been somewhat meh on Howard’s films in the past, finding them for the most part workmanlike but flat, but I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

In other Lovecraft news, Guillermo del Toro’s long talked-about dream of adapting Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness for the big screen is still a possibility. Del Toro plans to do it, but only after he does Hellboy 3 (yay!) and a two-movie adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit (ugh!). I don’t know if I’ll live long enough to see Mountains, but it sounds good.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Comic Book Movies

Empire Online has news that a couple of the Marvel characters are returning. Nicholas Cage will apparently be back in Ghost Rider 2, while Daredevil will get a complete re-boot. Daredevil was always one of my favorite comic book characters, so I'll be in for that one, and I think the Director's Cut version of the first Daredevil is severely underrated (the studio basically raped the first one in its theatrical version). The first Ghost Rider, meanwhile, reminded me of the comic: great visuals with a weak story. We'll see how it plays out.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Resident Evil: Extinction

The critically maligned Resident Evil movies are a guilty pleasure of mine. Although I never played the game, I enjoyed the heck out of the first movie, and had a good time with the second, although I thought it was a step down. (BW had the opposite opinion, liking the second better than the first.)

The movie takes place about three years after the end of the second. The T virus has spread all across the globe, and only scattered bands of humans are holding out. Those humans have to keep moving, since as soon as they stop, the infected begin vectoring in on them. Alice (Mila Jovovich), the heroine of the first two, is on her own due to her belief that she is a danger magnet to those around her (she is). She has also developed new powers, and now can perform telekinesis. The Umbrella Corporation, which has retreated to underground compounds, is busy trying to train the zombies for use as slave labor, and are searching for Alice, believing her blood holds the secret they seek. Meanwhile, Carlos (Oded Fehr), from the second movie, has joined a caravan of survivors led by Claire Redfield (Ali Larter).

Alice, the Umbrella Corporation, and the other survivors intersect in a pitched battle as the survivors try to escape to Alaska, where supposedly the virus never caught hold, and Umbrella tries to capture/kill Alice. The battle is suitably gory, with a high casualty rate. This takes place in the desert.

Although I thought it was an okay movie, the third installment of the franchise just didn’t work as well for me. For one thing, Oded Fehr and Ali Larter, actors I like, are largely wasted. Fehr appears just to give continuity from the last film, and, while it is obvious Redfield is supposed to be an important character, it is never really shown what is so great about her. I think the setting also works against the movie. Horror works best when there is a sense of isolation and claustrophobia (see John Carpenter’s The Thing). The desert locale here just seems too roomy to create the necessary tension. It would just be too easy for the characters to run away.

Overall, worth a rental, but not much more.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Lesbian Vampire Killers

If that post header doesn’t drive the hit count up, then I don’t know what will.

First of all, to clear up some confusion I had with the title, which might be shared by some of you, if you are as slow as I am: The movie is not about Lesbians who Kill Vampires, but instead about the Killers of Lesbian Vampires. It’s all in how you read it, but it does make a big difference. An elite team of military-trained lesbians staking vampires would be pretty cool, too.

A few hundred years back a remote area in the eastern part of England (the boxcover says it is in Wales, which is an interesting geographical interpretation – there is a map) was plagued by Carmilla, Queen of the Lesbian Vampires, who turned women into , well, Lesbian Vampires. Eventually, the local royalty Baron McLaren, was able to use magic to forge the Sword of Dieldo (think about it), the only thing that could kill her. But before he lops off her head, she places a curse on him and the area: from then on, every girl will turn into a lesbian vampire when she turns 18 (you’d think the parents would move in advance) and one day they would end McLaren’s line, which would cause Carmilla to be reborn, even more powerful. Also, only a McLaren would be able to kill her, which is a confusing codicil to put into a curse. (I also have to wonder why the Baron paused his sword to let her say all this. A little more urgency in the decapitating, and a lot of trouble would be avoided.

In the modern day, two losers (Matthew Horne, James Corden) plan a hiking holiday right in Carmilla’s old feeding ground unaware that Jimmy (Horne) is the last of the McLarens. They run into Carmilla’s demon spawn, naturally, and together with four babes they meet on the way, must find a way to put down the vampire queen once and for all.

In case you couldn’t tell, this is a horror-comedy, and I thought it worked pretty well. The jokes are crass, and much of the humor is mammary-directed, but if you watch a movie titled Lesbian Vampire Killers and expect George Bernard Shaw-level humor, I feel for you.

The movie was inspired by a challenge to come up with a ridiculous yet marketable title, and write a script around it. The budget was supposedly 50,000 pounds, but it looks pretty good for all that. There is a conscious desire to ape the 1970s Hammer Films “blood and boobs” formula (although most of the blood is white, instead of “Hammer Red”), and it succeeds reasonably well. (According to on-line reports, it was supposed to be the first film from the reborn Hammer Studios, but the plan fell through.) Even the credits and other titles are done either in “dripping blood” font, or in some form of Comic-book font. Some of the scenes have quite the moody look, and it might have also been a decent B-movie if it had been played straight instead of for laughs.

You get what you pay for, and if a horror comedy called Lesbian Vampire Killers strikes your fancy, I think you will enjoy it, too.

One note on the Anglo-U.S. difference: “fanny” does not mean the same thing in American slang as it does in British slang. Just so’s you’d know.

**Addendum: Sometimes you worry about writing things that are too crass for your readers. This is not the time. So in response to a question (Thanks, John!), Lesbian Vampire Killers features a great number of very attractive women, many of whom appear topless. Not soft-core porn or anything, but well in line with the 1970s-era Hammer "lesbian vampire" movies it imitates.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The New Name In Horror: Clint Eastwood

According to EmpireOnline, Clint Eastwood's next directorial effort will head into supernatural territory. His next film will be The Hereafter, which will star Matt Damon and is described as a "supernatural thriller." This isn't really new territory for Eastwood, as his movies Pale Rider and High Plains Drifter had touches of the supernatural, and his first directed movie, Play Misty For Me, is an underrated thriller that was way ahead of it's time (in my opinion, much better than the more famous Fatal Attraction).

Eastwood's acting has overshadowed his work as a director, but if he had only produced what he did behind the camera, he'd be known as one of the greatest directors, so I'll be interested to see what he does with this.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Daybreakers: Cautiously Optimistic

Most vampire movies suck, no pun intended (well, maybe). But after reading a review from Hitflix of the forthcoming Daybreakers, I'm filled with a rare case of optimism. It sounds like a cool take on the genre, sort of what the Midnight Mass movie might have been if it had been more professionally handled. The movie comes from the Spierig brothers, who last gave us the zombies-with-a-twist flick Undead, which I liked well enough. At least the vampires here shouldn't sparkle.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Burrowers

If you’ve been wasting part of your life reading this blog, you know I have a weakness for “weird westerns”, the blending of traditional western themes with horror. Therefore, I was really looking forward to The Burrowers, and I’m happy to say, was generally not disappointed.

In the American West of 1879, a family is surprised at night to hear shots and screams from outside. The women and children are told to go down in the cellar and wait until it’s all clear. The next day, Fergus Coffey (Karl Geary) shows up to resume his courtship of one of the women in the cellar to find most of the people have disappeared, with only a couple of bodies left behind. Logically, he believes an Indian raiding party musty have attacked and stolen the women. He rounds up some men from the area to go in pursuit, including John Clay (Clancy Brown) and William Parcher (Tom Cruise’s cousin William Mapother, very good in his role). They join with an ineffectual and incompetently-led Army unit for part of the way.

The only strange thing about the scene of the attack is a number of holes in the ground, with the grass around them pressed down in a counter-clockwise motion. This (as well as the title) is a foreshadowing of things to come, for it was not Indians who raided the farm, but a race of underground creatures. According to the Indians, the creatures emerge from the ground every third generation to feed, paralyzing their victims with venom, then burying them alive until they get soft and juicy. Supposedly, the Burrowers used to eat buffalo, but since the white man ravaged the bison population, they’ve developed more of a taste for human meat.

(On a side note, in order to show a social conscience, it seems every western has an Indian griping about the loss of the buffalo. I understand the use of metaphor, but it seems they’d use the complaining time to mention the arrival of the white man meant the death of about 95 percent of the Indians themselves. I mean, I feel for the buffalo, but genocide seems bad, too.)

I enjoyed the movie a great deal, but a lot of viewers seem turned off by the relatively slow pacing of the first half of the film, judging by imdb.com reviews. I thought it worked well to develop characters before killing them, but some modern viewers may disagree. It may also get to some that while in most cases a western/horror hybrid is a horror movie first and a western second, here the western elements dominate. So if you don’t like westerns, you might want to skip this one.

I thought it was a well-written, well-acted movie with a nice visual touch. I like the way the sense of dread slowly builds, and the matter-of-fact way the culture of violence in the Old West (particularly the attitude of the Army toward Indians) is presented. If any of this sounds appealing to you, I think it’s definitely worth a look.

30 Days of Night Sequel

Not everyone liked the vampires in the Arctic flick 30 Days of Night, but I did, so I was happy to see the sequel has been given the go-ahead, according to Bloody Disgusting. It will apparently be direct to DVD, and follow Melissa George’s character as she goes to Los Angeles to join a group of vampire hunters to get revenge on the vamps who iced her husband. I guess they’ll have to name it Sucking in the SoCal Sun, or something else more appropriate to the new location. Unfortunately, Ms. George’s role will be recast, which is regrettable, since using the same cast members when possible helps create a sense of continuity between films.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Mutant Chronicles

There are some actors and actresses you just instinctively like, not necessarily on a talent basis, but more on the “I could sit in a bar and drink a beer with him” scale. One of those actors, for me, is Thomas Jane. Unfortunately, as fond of him as I am, I’m starting to believe he just can’t quite carry a movie as its star. Case in point: Last year’s Mutant Chronicles.

The movie opens with some lengthy exposition, largely through title cards. It seems hundreds of years ago, an alien device was sent to Earth which would transform humans into murderous mutants. Why? Hey, if you can build a giant mutant-making machine, you don’t need a why, you just do it. The mutants were an obvious threat, but the armies of Europe united, kicked some mutie ass, and buried the machine deep in the ground behind an impenetrable shield. Good work, but it would have been thoughtful to erect a giant sign that read “Don’t Dig Here” on the spot as well.

Seven hundred years in our future, the world has been divided up among four giant corporations, who are continually at war over scarce resources. In Europe, conflict between two of them has resulted in World War I-type trench warfare. As hellish as this seems, it gets worse when one of the big artillery guns fires a burst which hits the ground, and, you guessed it, breaks the seal. Mutants begin pouring out (where did the machine get the human stock to make them? Has their inventory held up for a few thousand years?), and soon the troops on both sides are slaughtered. Apparently, in ancient times, soldiers with swords and spears could kick the hell out of these mutants, but futuristic soldier with explosives, automatic weapons and BFGs are no match for them.

Soon the Earth is being overrun by the muties, and things look grim. The Powers That Be react with a plan called Run The Hell Away, and select people get passes to leave for another planet. There is a monastery, however, that has preserved the secrets of the Mutant-O-Matic down through the years, and one of the head monks (Ron Perlman) goes to one of the bigshots (John Malkovich) with a plan to take a small team to destroy the thing. It seems a device removed from the machine has been passed down through the years, and the monks “think” it’s a bomb, begging the question of why they didn’t blow it up in the first place.

A team is soon assembled, including the brooding Hunter (Thomas Jane), our hero. They launch a poorly planned mission to get to the machine and use the device which might be a bomb. Of course, they have to fight their way through an army of mutants to do so, and most of the characters you would think would die, do.

The movie does have a striking visual style. The future world it shows is something of a steampunk future, where aircraft are powered by someone shoveling coal into a boiler. (This is due to the scarcity of petroleum, but wouldn’t coal be scarce, too.) Despite its looks, the viewer never really connects with the mission of Jane’s character, which is a pity. For a movie of this type, the cast and production values are top-notch.

There is also a bit of inconsistency. Most of the mutants are portrayed as mindless killing machines, but one is shown flying an aircraft on a complicated intercepting trajectory, and the final mutant of the movie retains the ability to carry on a conversation.

This is probably an adequate way to waste an evening, but it seems it could have been so much more.

Rambo V Update

Again according to FearZone, the plot for the next Rambo movie has been clarified. Rambo will be sent to hunt down a pack of genetically engineered werewolf/human supersoldiers who have slaughtered some Special Forces teams. I hate myself a little for how much I'm looking forward to this. It's either going to be one of the greatest things ever, or one of the more spectacular failures in film history. Either way, I'm there for it, and I'm buying the DVD.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Say What?

According to Greg Lamberson over at Fearzone, Sylvester Stallone's next installment in his Rambo series will be...a horror movie?!? That's right, Rambo will battle some sort of creature in the Northwestern forests. All I can say is, if it is a giant anaconda, he's seriously encroaching on Hasslehoff territory. Read the story here.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Government Ratings For E-Books?

Lately, there has been a lot of blather in some portions of the small press about how print is on its way out, the future is going to be digital e-books, etc., etc. While I disagree with this, it does seem likely that e-books will become much more common, with readers such as the Kindle and others catching on more than other attempts in the past, and it probably will be a mechanism for generating some quick cash for a few authors.

With that in mind, here's a cautionary note: Congress is now contemplating establishing a rating system that would govern all forms of electronic media (and possibly some non-electronic forms), with the usual justification of "protecting the children." Given that a large portion of the genre output of today tends toward the extreme in sex and/or violence, this has the potential to be a fairly chilling device toward the expansion of e-books.

Perhaps I'm just being paranoid about the government trying to grab a little more control. For a more balanced and intelligent analysis, click here.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Last Rakosh

WARNING: Spoilers to follow for the end of Rakoshi/The Tomb, so you are forewarned.

At the end of Rakoshi (known in an earlier version as The Tomb), Repairman Jack had torched the ship carrying all the rakoshi in the world – except one. The Rakosh he called Scarlip was seen heading out to sea, apparently to die with the rest of its kind. However, as we know, only iron and fire can hurt a rakosh, and water just doesn’t do the trick. I imagine most readers expected to see him turn up again.

As the story begins, Jack takes his girlfriend Gia, and her daughter Vicky to see a decrepit yet sinister travelling circus. There, Vicky is frightened by something kept in a cage, and when Jack investigates it, he sees that it is his old enemy, Scarlip, now a featured attraction of the circus. Jack realizes top ensure Vicky’s safety he must destroy the Rakosh. But his attempt to do so is thwarted by the mysterious proprietor of the circus and his other “freaks”. Before he can try again, the rakosh escapes into the wilderness of the New Jersey Pine Barrens, and Jack is forced to track the rakosh through the dense forest. Soon, it becomes somewhat uncertain who is the hunter and who the hunted.

This story makes a nice little follow-up to Rakoshi, but potential purchasers should be aware of a couple of facts. First of all, you will pay hardback prices for an extremely short story, possibly too short to be called a novella. Secondly, most of the story appears in a different form as part of Wilson’s novel All The Rage, so if you’ve read that, it will seem very familiar.

Still, it is a handsome little volume, courtesy of Overlook Press, and an interesting tale. This is probably a must-have for avid Wilson/Repairman Jack fans, although the brevity at this price will disappoint many.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Eye Of The Guardian

This is a chapbook from 2005 by the never-disappointing Ray Garton (Live Girls, The Folks). In it, the protagonist, Nathan Fiske, leads a quiet life until his young daughter gives him an amulet from a yard sale to wear for protection. Unfortunately for Nathan, the amulet allows him to see what the rest of us cannot: that our world is under constant assault by Lovecraftian creatures, looking to break through to ravage our world. Only our cats, keep them at bay, as they can see the creatures, and their fangs and claws are poisonous to them. You know those occasions when your cat suddenly runs from the room? It’s really leaping into battle to defend your house from a multi-tentacled monster. Again unfortunately for poor Nathan, now that he can see the creatures, they now know he can see them.

As always, Garton does a fine job with the material, and, while you are left with a feeling that you wished there was more of the story (it is a novella), I found Eye of the Guardian very entertaining. However, although I enjoyed the interior illustrations, I thought the cover by the same artist was lacking. You can judge that for yourself with the accompanying photograph.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Hell Hollow

Coming of age stories have always been big in the horror genre. Stephen King’s It, Robert R. McCammon’s Boy’s Life, and Dan Simmons’ Summer of Night are just a few of the classics that have explored this theme. Ronald Kelly’s next book, Hell Hollow, fits into this sub-category, and it holds its own quite nicely against the aforementioned books.

Ninety years ago, terrible things happened in rural Hawkshaw County, Tennessee, near the Town of Harmony. An evil man named Augustus Leech came to the community, selling quack medicine that purported to cure ills, but instead, poisoned twelve small children. The adults of Harmony took their revenge on Leech, and since, his bones have lain in the supposedly haunted area called Hell Hollow. But evil doesn’t die easily, and a killer on the run from the law will intersect with those remains to bring old horror anew to Harmony.

The book focuses on four kids, Keith McLeod from Atlanta, forced to spend the summer with his (in his mind) bumpkin grandfather (who had his own encounter with Leech when he was a child), his cousin Rusty, Maggie, and their wheelchair-bound friend Chuck. In a summer of discovery, they, and a rape victim named Alison set on revenge, will be the only ones who can stop Leech and save Harmony.

Since the horror boom of the eighties, a lot of writers have forgotten a basic rule: If you don’t develop your characters and bring them to life, readers won’t care what happens to them. Too many authors have gone for gore over substance, and as a result, a lot of modern books seem inconsequential. If you don’t care whether a character lives or dies, it doesn’t matter how gory his death scene is written.

Ronald Kelly (The Sick Stuff, Midnight Grinding, Fleshwelder) is old school, and I mean that with the highest possible praise. Although his writing does deliver the shocks, as seen in his popular collection The Sick Stuff as well as this novel, he takes the time to let us get to know Alison, the four kids, Keith’s grandfather, and others, so by the time we get to the climax of the story, their struggles have meaning for us. Kelly also does a great job capturing the rhythms of rural Southern life.

Coming in at around 500 pages, this is a long novel, but it doesn’t read like one. When I became too busy to read after I received this, I took a day’s annual leave to finish it up. Hell Hollow is slated for an October or November release from Cemetery Dance Publications, and I can’t recommend it enough. You can pre-order it by clicking here. I’m looking forward to receiving the official release from Cemetery Dance to read it again. The beautiful cover artwork is by Alex McVey.

A note to readers from a more urban setting, or maybe just for those from outside the South: It may seem strange that a rural Bible-Belt Southern town would have an area called Hell Hollow, but it’s not. I grew up in an extremely rural part of Alabama, and we had local sections called Hellacious Acres (a cool name, I think) and our own Creepy Hollow, where an old bridge spanned a narrow creek in a place where heavy forest growth cut out all light, and strange noises were heard in the dark. It was traditional for us to take dates to Creepy Hollow, park on the bridge (it got no traffic to speak of), then “discover” our cars would mysteriously refuse to start once our date reached the point where she demanded we leave the scary place. Hey, if you’re not good looking enough to make them cling to you, scaring them can work in a pinch.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

10 Great Movies For Halloween!

Halloween season is upon us (it starts today in the Allard household). Since it falls on a weekend this year, you’ve rented an old dark house way back in the woods for you and your friends to hold a weekend retreat. You’ve gone to the trouble of lugging in that enormous 180 inch plasma screen TV, now you need some fright flicks to show your guests. That’s why you are here. Here are ten recommendations for that spooky weekend which will get even with those who have tormented you entertain your loved ones.

Usual disclaimers: This is not a ten best, they are presented in no particular order, the opinions are my own, gimme a break. Spoilers may appear, so you’ve been warned. You know it’s one of my stupid lists because there’s an exclamation point in the title.

1. The Thing (1982) – John Carpenter’s ice-bound gory paranoia masterpiece is perfect to watch with a large crowd of friends, particularly on a cold night. For added fun, once the tension mounts, excuse yourself briefly, and come back with a glassy expression and project a sense that there is something wrong. Your friends won’t know whether to sit next to you or hose you down with a flamethrower. If it is the second option, you don’t need the rest of the list.
2. The Blair Witch Project (1999) – Hype drove the movie to an amazing box office, and is also responsible for a considerable backlash. Putting all that aside, it remains a creepy, effective little low budget film that works well with a small group of friends watching with the lights out. For an added bonus, you’ll get conversation afterwards, as you try to figure out what the ending meant.
3. Night of the Living Dead (1968) – The one that started the zombie craze, it is constantly imitated, never surpassed. You’ll have to ask those friends that won’t watch a black & white movie to wait outside.
4. The Mist (2007) – You’re isolated with those so-called friends of yours, so this movie about people isolated by hideous creatures should hit home. You don’t have to wait until the weatherman reports heavy fog rolling in, but it would be a nice touch. Be prepared for a lot of bitching about the ending, though.
5. R-Point (2004) – You probably have at least one cineaste in your circle of friends, and they always insist that movies with subtitles are better, so show them this Korean ghost story set in the Vietnam War.
6. Re-Animator (1985) – It’s nice to include at least one romantic film for the ladies.
7. 30 Days of Night (2007) – There’s also going to be at least one Twilight fan in the group. Show them this one so they will know what Edward looks like when he’s not primping for the cameras.
8. Evil Dead 2 (1987) – For a little comedy mixed with the horror, this innovative film is essentially the first Evil Dead remade with a bigger budget.
9. The Call of Cthulhu (2005) – Remember those friends who pitched a fit and stood in the hallway during #3 because it was in black & white? Gig them again with this one, in black & white and silent to boot.
10. Halloween (1978) – You didn’t think I was going to skip this one, did you? John Carpenter’s second film on the list set the template for a thousand inferior imitations to follow. It goes without saying, watch this one on Halloween night.