Saturday, October 31, 2009

The V Word

A lot of people were critical of the two year run of Showtime’s series Masters of Horror, but for the most part, I enjoyed it. Like all anthology series, the lack of a permanent cast or writing stable leads to a lot of inconsistency, and some of the one hour episodes were amazingly bad. But overall I would give the series a pass. I purchased the complete run in individual releases, since the producers of the series guaranteed it would never be released as season sets. Those sets look nice, too.

Ultimately, a horror anthology series, no matter how original it wants to be perceived, takes a shot at that most popular of dark creatures, the vampire, and for Masters of Horror, that shot came in the middle of the second series with the episode The V Word, written by series creator Mick Garris and directed by Ernest Dickerson. I assume the title is a play on the Showtime lesbian drama The L Word.

Kerry (Arjay Smith) and Justin (Brandon Nadon) are two high school friends, more of the rabid gamer type than belonging to the cool crowd. They decide to seek excitement by sneaking into a funeral home at night to see the body of one of their dead classmates. If you are a horror movie watcher, you know what a terrible idea this is. Once they make it into the mortuary, they find they are not alone, although strictly speaking they are the only living things in the building. Apparently of former teacher of theirs, Mr. Chaney (Michael Ironside), fired for inappropriate relations with students is there in a state of un-death. This not only poses terminal consequences for Arjay and Justin, but it brings danger to their families, as well.

The first half of the show is the two boys sneaking into the funeral home, and it is the best part. As they creep through the darkened building (“Wasn’t that coffin lid closed the first time?”) it is very spooky. Once the vampire is revealed, it becomes less frightening, more run-of –the-mill. Still the overall grade for the episode is positive. The cast is very good, particularly Arjay Smith, and Michael Ironside seems to be having a great time with the role. For some reason, I love the scene where he is walking under the moonlight holding open a tattered umbrella.* Some people may gripe the episode never explains how Mr. Chaney became a vampire (One of the boys asks him “What happened, did you bite on the wrong dick?” “Something like that” he replies.) but we know the basics, and the origin story would have just slowed things down.

There’s a fair amount of gore. These vampires don’t have fangs, so they have to tear out the throats of their victims to feed. Despite its flaws, if you are looking to watch a horror story and only have an hour to spare, you could do a lot worse than The V Word.

* I know I’ve said this before, but if vampires burst into flame at the touch of sunlight (unless they are sparkly girly vampires), how can they bear moonlight? It is reflected sunlight, after all. At least, they should get some nasty blisters.

Happy Halloween!

Hope you all have a great day on the best holiday of the year. Just remember, today the barrier between this world and the next will be at its thinnest, so beware. Bwa-ha-ha-ha!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Night of the Creeps

A lot of bad horror flicks have been released through the years – you can find a lot of them by scrolling through this site – but one of the more notable films not to be released on DVD has been the 1986 cult classic Night of the Creeps. Horror fans will have to find another movie to bitch about being unavailable, because Night of the Creeps was released last week, just in time for Halloween. In recent years, the success of Shaun of the Dead has inspired a number of films in the zombie-comedy – “zombedy” – sub-genre, such as Hide and Creep, Trailer Park of Terror and Undead or Alive. But Night of the Creeps got there first, and is one of the best.

In outer space, some small, naked aliens are chasing one of their kind through a spaceship. The fleeing E.T. is carrying a metal container, which he manages to jettison through space. This does not look good, but what is the chance of this canister making it all the way to Earth? Hell, Superman’s space pod made it all the way from Krypton. We’re doomed.

Down on Earth, it’s 1959. Kids at the local college are having parties and making out, a coed has dumped her high school sweetheart Ray because he became a cop, and we can tell it’s the 50s because everything is in black & white. The alien canister is heading right for them, but that isn’t even the biggest of their worries, because, as so often happens in college towns, an axe murderer has escaped from the local asylum. Ray’s sweetheart finds the axe murderer in a tragic way, while her date locates the canister, and has an alien slug jump into his mouth. Some people are unlucky, this couple constituted a black hole of misfortune.

Now it’s the present (1986) and everything is in color again. Ray is a bitter police detective (now played by the great Tom Atkins, in what might be his best role), still mourning the loss of his true love, and the bobby-soxers of 1959 have given way to Revenge of the Nerds-style hijinks. A couple of dorks are looking to impress a girl by joining a fraternity, and are given a task of stealing a corpse. The fraternity has no intention of letting them in, because in the movies, fraternities are evil, just like in real life.

(An aside. The truly horrifying thing about this movie is the exposure to how awful fashion and music were in this decade. How did we ever let it get that bad? Culturally, we would have been better off to go straight from 1979 to 1990.)

The corpse stealing caper goes wrong, as they often do, and the two dorks manage to revive the corpse of the slug-swallower, frozen since 1959. Apparently the slugs enter human hosts, feed on the brain while they breed, controlling the dead host while this happens, then the hosts head explodes, releasing a horde of new slugs. This all seems like a bad thing. Soon the dorks have teamed with Detective Ray and the Hot Chick, and are all that stand in the way of the Earth becoming a zombified alien slug breeding ground.

This is definitely a campy B movie, but it is a very well done B movie. It’s good enough to function as a comedy or a low budget horror film, so you can enjoy either or both. With the exception of Atkins and a couple of famous faces in small roles (David Payner and Dick Miller), none of the cast went on to lasting success in acting, but they acquit themselves well. Atkin’s catch phrase in the movie, “Thrill me”, said whenever he answers the phone or arrives at the scene of a crime, is one of the most memorable in horror history, and you’ll probably find yourself answering the phone that way for a while.

The movie features the director’s preferred ending, although the ending most of us saw back in the 80s is available as a special feature. There are also deleted scenes, two commentary tracks, featurettes and trailers, so if you are a huge fan of the movie, this should be heaven for you. The transfer is surprisingly sharp. I was expecting a lot of grain, but it cleaned up quite well. My biggest complaint is the releasing company seems to have gone out of its way to pick the worst possible DVD cover, but you can always turn it to face the wall.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wrong Turn 3: Left For Dead

A film series that was probably not endorsed by the West Virginia Department of Tourism, the Wrong Turn movies have been reasonably well done, in relation to other films in the Inbred Cannibal Mutant genre. Extremely gory, I thought the original, with Eliza Dushku and Jeremy Sisto, was surprisingly good, and Wrong Turn 2, with Henry Rollins, a solid sequel which handled its reality show subplot competently. It would be bucking the odds for the third film in the series to hold up, but past efforts were enough to warrant giving Wrong Turn 3: Left for Dead a try.

The movie opens with some rafters pitching camp at the edge of a river. What could have been a nice getaway collapses in a hail of arrows. Yep, the Inbred Cannibal Mutants (ICMs) from the first two movies are back. Some of them, anyway, as the events of the previous films have trimmed their numbers to just two. Oh well, they make up for their scarcity by being almost unkillable, as the main remaining ICM will be shot once, stabbed twice, chopped twice with an axe, and run through with a spear, all to little effect.

Meanwhile, the local department of corrections is preparing for a prisoner transfer featuring a dangerous gang leader named Chavez. To prevent a rescue attempt, they decide to do the transfer at night through a deeply forested section of the state. Don’t they know rural West Virginia is pure cannibal country? Apparently not, or maybe they just think this will be cheaper than keeping the prisoners.

Sure enough, as they are passing through a particularly deserted stretch of road, they are forced off and wrecked by the ICM in a tow truck. After everyone gets out of the overturned bus, the prisoners easily take the weapons from the slow-witted cop hero, and for the rest of the movie, it’s the prisoners trying to find an escape route while fending off the attempts by the locals to make Convict Chow out of them.

There’s a lot wrong with the movie. We know that one of the “prisoners” is an undercover marshal, but twice he is handed the shotgun and doesn’t use it to help subdue the prisoners, awaiting the opportunity to trip Chavez with a chain instead, which seems inefficient. There are a series of Rube Goldberg type traps in the woods set by the ICMs, which are a little too unbelievable, as strange as that might seem in a movie about killer mutants. The special effects are as gory as ever, but not quite up to snuff. When it comes time to saw through the legs of one of the inmates (told you it was gory), it’s obvious the “legs” are nothing more than thin pipe, which parts way too easily with a knife.

Still, you get what you pay for, and it’s obvious the budget was much lower for this installment in the series than its predecessors. Although it is supposed to take place in the United States, it was actually filmed in Eastern Europe, and most of the actors with speaking parts are British, although they do a reasonable job with their fake accents.

At the end of the day, if you liked the first two Wrong Turn movies, you’ll probably like this one, too, although it’s not quite as good.

More Halloween Move Recommendations

If you've already exhausted my list of recommendations for Halloween flicks, you can head over to Bloody Good Horror, for Casey's list, with which I wholeheartedly concur.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

New Norman Prentiss Interview

If you are on Cemetery Dance's mailing list, the most recent newsletter features an interview I did with Norman Prentiss (yes, that's my real name) to promote his upcoming release Invisible Fences. Norman was gracious enough to allow me to do it, and hopefully I was able to come up with a couple of questions that were worthy. If you didn't get the newsletter, you can read the interview at Cemetery Dance's website by clicking here.

The Nightwalker

Leisure Books promoted 2008 as the “Year of the Werewolf” in horror fiction (giving rise to the slogan, “Werewolf is the new zombie), with three titles involving lycanthropy in the first half of the year. The first was J.F. Gonzalez’ Shapeshifter, and the third was Ray Garton’s Ravenous (Garton has also published a sequel to Ravenous called Bestial), coming in a couple of months. Thie middle title in the triumvirate is a reprint of Thomas Tessier’s classic novel from 1979, The Nightwalker. Looking back, the werewolf craze never really caught hold, but the three are all fine stories in their own right.

The Nightwalker
is the story of Bobby Ives, a Vietnam veteran living in London who is apparently recovering from psychological trauma suffered during the war. Bobby begins suffering strange symptoms, a recurrent catatonia and odd feelings in his extremities. Eventually, his behavior deteriorates to the point of murder, as he is overcome by irresistible impulses. Personally, he becomes more callous and narcissistic. Bobby comes to the belief that he has lived before, as the owner of a Caribbean plantation, and that he has been cursed into becoming a werewolf. Tessier’s prose is masterful, and the central intrigue of the novel is whether Bobby is really becoming a werewolf, or if he is just a psychotic with canine delusions.

Because the original novel is about 200 pages long, and Leisure tries to make all their publications just a little more than 300 pages, a bonus novella is included, as with previous Leisure releases. This sort of bonus is one I appreciate, and offers interesting bonuses to fans. The included novella here is The Dreams of Dr. Ladybank, a 100 page story written by Tessier in 1991. It’s about a psychologist who learns he can mentally control the actions of two of his patients. As always with Tessier, it is well written, but it is just too long, as the concept can’t sustain a 100 page story. You know where it’s going, and you just become impatient for it to get there so you can be through.

So, my judgment is: Thumbs up for The Nightwalker, thumbs down for The Dreams of Dr. Ladybank. The book includes an introduction by Jack Ketchum and an afterword by the author himself.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Seldom Seen in August

Although novels get most of the attention, the heart and soul of the horror genre has always been the short story, and one of the modern masters of the short story is the Irish-born Kealan Patrick Burke, whose short story collection the 121 to Pennsylvania and Other Stories ranks among the best collections ever published.

In "Seldom Seen in August", Wade Crawford is a man on the run. A bank robbery has gone wrong with three people killed, and he is fleeing in one direction while his partner goes in the other (with the money). Wade is an unrepentant killer, so the death of innocents doesn’t concern him, but eluding the police does. His flight takes him to a residential subdivision, and a road strangely named Seldom Seen. There he seeks refuge in a seemingly deserted house.

Wade made a bad choice, as he is confronted by a boy with a straight razor, a horribly burned woman and others, all of whom appear and disappear at will. The police are also closing in on him, but given what he has gotten himself into, Wade would have been better off going down in a hail of bullets than facing what waits in the house on Seldom Seen road.

Burke does a good job of creating a sense of dread despite the intentionally unappealing protagonist, and he takes the story in directions that are unanticipated. (From reading the description, you probably think you know where the story is headed. You’re wrong.) It’s always difficult to flesh out a character in the brief pages of a short story, but Burke does it well, which is why he is a master of the form.

The chapbook was published by White Noise Press, with artwork by White Noise Press founder Keith Minnion. It is an attractive package to complement a good story, so I would recommend you order it. Except it is out of print, so good luck. I got mine from a certain gurkling.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Sticks - Free Download

A lot of people believe “Sticks” by Karl Edward Wagner is the greatest horror story ever written. If you have never read it and want to check it out, or have read it but want it in a new format, the ZBS Foundation is offering the audiobook of this great story as a free download through Halloween. You can access it at their website here. The audiobook is recorded in Kuntskopf binaural sound, which produces a 3D effect for the listener. If you’ve ever heard the excellent adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Mist”, this is the same process. Give it a listen.

Cold Prey

After watching Norwegians being responsible for nearly wiping out the human race in The Thing, it was time to see what they could do with more conventional horror, so I watched the Norwegian movie Cold Prey (Fritt Vilt). It’s a slasher movie, heavily influenced by classic American slasher flicks, but better done than most American approaches to the sub-genre.

Five attractive young people (two couples and the comic relief) are on a ski vacation when one breaks a leg. Because they had chosen a remote mountain to ski to avoid crowds, they are far from any help, so they take refuge in a nearby abandoned hotel. They find out the hotel isn’t as isolated as they thought, and the madman with a pickaxe who lives there begins stalking and killing them. Can the Final Girl survive?

There’s not much more to the basic plot line than that, and it follows the typical formula for the type of movie it is. There are some aspects, however, that elevate it a bit above what we have come to expect from a Halloween-inspired movie.

First of all, though none of the five victims-in-process are perfect, neither are any of them so unlikeable you want them to die, as is the case in most slasher movies. This means that you are rooting for them to survive the attacks of the psycho, which makes their death or near-death much more visceral. I assume when the inevitable American remake is filmed, an actress from Gossip Girl will be cast to play the Complete Bitch, and an actor from The Hills will play the Self-absorbed Asshole, which will help make it just like every other movie. The characters also seem to be actual friends, and try their best to help each other. They also show relative level of resourcefulness once they realize what is going on.

The movie is well shot, with interiors in the old hotel suitably claustrophobic, while the outdoor photography is beautiful. I’m sure shooting exteriors in snow-covered mountains helps with that. The acting is good, particularly in the case of the Final Girl.

If you are a fan of slasher movies, I suggest you check out Cold Prey, it is a cut above the average fare. If you are a fan of Cold Prey, get ready, because the sequel is already showing in Europe.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Dark Hollow

Brian Keene (Darkness on the Edge of Town, Castaways, Ghost Walk, Ghoul) has been called the "king of the mid-list horror writers", and with good reason. It's hard to imagine a writer other than Stephen King working in horror who has as dedicated a following, evidenced by the fact that, in a time when re-sale prices for "collectible" limited edition books are plummeting, Keene's are beginning to appreciate. One of these days, he will break through the invisible barrier that separates the mid-list from those few whose books first see publication in more readily available hardbacks. Dark Hollow is actually the first mass market publication of an earlier Keene novel, The Rutting Season (a superior, if less marketable, title). Keene has been so consistently good readers must be wondering when he will turn out a dud, but it doesn’t happen here. After finishing it, I can say that Dark Hollow is my second favorite Keene novel, after Ghoul.

The protagonist of Dark Hollow is a midlist writer named Adam Senft, who is a fairly obvious doppelganger for Keene himself (the novel is told in first person from Senft’s point of view, and reads very much like Keene’s blog). Senft is living a comfortable life in southwestern Pennsylvania, with a good wife and a loving, if cowardly, dog. He is friends with his neighbors, and the only serpent in his personal Garden of Eden is the inability of his wife to carry a child to term, something that has created a distance between them, but they are trying to work through. This all comes to an end when Adam, on a walk with his dog, sees one of his neighbors performing fellatio on a statue (who hasn’t run across that?).

This would be only kinky, but the statue comes to life. It turns out the statue was an imprisoned satyr, who begins abducting women from the area in order to procreate with them. Adam and his friends fight the creature, and suffer grave losses along the way.

I liked the way Keene uses a creature rarely seen in horror of late, the satyr, which was a staple of early and pre 20th century horror stories. It is also welcome to see Keene, who is a student of the genre as well as a writer, pay tribute to earlier writers, naming an archaeologist after Welsh writer Arthur Machen, who explored similar themes, and to Manly Wade Wellman’s character Silver John. Machen's literary creation, Nodens, also appears in the mythology constituting the novel's backstory. The action flows well, as we have come to expect from Keene, but the characters are possibly more sympathetic than in any other of his work. There is also a sly element of humor in the book, which, in keeping with Stephen King’s observation that humor and horror are closely related, adds a lot of enjoyment to the reading.

Keene has said that all of his work is connected in one great cycle known as The Labyrinth. When I first heard this, I wasn’t too sure about it. Many authors, trying to make their stories fit into the same continuity, do so at the expense of the individual story at hand. With Ghoul and Dark Hollow, I am beginning to appreciate the larger view. The events in Dark Hollow contain both explicit and implicit references to other Keene work (for example, the powwow farmer Nelson LeHorn is mentioned in Ghoul, and one of the characters from Terminal pops up here), and it is beginning to whet my appetite to see more of The Labyrinth.

Friday, October 23, 2009

True Blood

Despite my affection for all things creepy and spooky, I didn’t really expect much from the HBO series True Blood. It is based on the paranormal romance series by Charlaine Harris, and the romantic part of the paranormal just isn’t for me. A few years ago, someone I know who was into that sort of thing suggested I give them a try, since they weren’t like the rest of the genre. So I started Dead Before Dark, the first book I the series, but quit about 50 pages in. No reflection on the books or Ms. Harris’ ability, it just wasn’t my cup of tea. Still, I decided to check out the show when the first season was released on DVD, in part because the producer was Alan Ball, who had written the script for American Beauty and produced the HBO series Six Feet Under.

The series is set in Bon Temps, Louisiana, in an alternate universe where vampires (and other manner of supernatural creatures) exist. Vampires have just come out into the open with the invention of Tru Blood, a synthetic blood substitute which allows them to forego the usual murder-for-survival. Some of the vampires are trying to assimilate into human life, which is met with resistance by many breathing humans. The obvious over-riding metaphor for the series is the gay rights movement, although no one has marketed a de-gaying soft drink yet.

The town of Bon Temps has a friendly neighborhood bar and grill called Merlotte’s, where a young waitress named Sookie Stackhouse works. Sookie is special in her own right, as she can read minds, something she finds to be more of a curse than an asset. Her life changes when a customer comes in whose mind is inaccessible to her – a vampire named Bill (Stephen Moyer). They embark on a romance that causes friction in both vampire and human communities, and get involved in the overarching story line for the season, uncovering a serial killer stalking Bon Temps. There is a major sub-plot involving the fact that a vampire’s blood acts as a drug on humans, leading to addiction problems and a reverse predator situation where some humans drain vampires for profit.

Other notable character include Merlotte’s owner Sam (Sam Trammell), who has secrets of his own, Tara (Rutina Wesley), Sookie’s best friend, Jason (Ryan Kwanten), Sookie’s moronic brother who careens from one catastrophe to another, and the charismatic Eric (Alexander Skarsgård, son of the great Skellan Skarsgård), who serves as the vampire “sheriff” for the region.

[Some Spoilers Follow]

The series didn’t start off well for me. The first episode or two seemed predictable and dull. Bill and Sookie fell for each other too fast, and since it was necessary for the plot for Sookie to save Bill, he is subdued far too easily by a human man and woman. The opening pre-credits sequence featured a brief scene in which the character you think is a vampire turns out not to be, while the character least likely is, which is trite and is pretty much the same as the opening of the Buffy The Vampire Slayer series.

But a few episodes in, things started to work. The characters acquired more than expected depth, with Sookie, rather than being a typical super-hero type, being very human, showing signs of jealousy, anger and petulance which made her seem much more real to me. Bill was not quite the typical mopey vampire sworn never to do harm to a human being, but rather a creature whose first thought when someone he cares about is threatened is to chow down. The series was also willing to have bad things happen to the characters, including killing some off when needed, injecting an element of danger. Pretty soon, I was hooked.

The story line for the season is brought to a satisfactory conclusion, and the whole thing is told with much humor. By the time we reached the end of the final episode of the first season, I was looking forward to the next one. So, if you have been thinking about giving True Blood a try but were afraid it would be too cute, go ahead. You might be surprised.

A trivial note: Stephen Moyer, who plays the main vampire in this series, was also a (rarely-seen) vampire on the great British TV series Ultraviolet.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

John Carpenter's The Thing

Man is the warmest place to hide.

Back in 1982, I was dating my future wife when, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, we took in the strangest double feature pairing at a local theater I have ever seen, the musical Annie and John Carpenter’s horror movie The Thing. Both of us fell in love with the violent, gory The Thing, and since the advent of home video, it has become a pre-Halloween tradition to re-watch it in October.

One of the key elements in a lot of good horror is isolation of the protagonists. When you have no backup and there’s no possibility of being rescued, the fear is intensified, and The Thing handles this well by placing the movie at a scientific research station in Antarctica during the relatively inaccessible winter months. There the boredom of the station’s staff is interrupting by a fleeing dog, with men shooting at it from a helicopter. It turns out the men are from a Norwegian base nearby, and a visit to the base finds devastation. The entire Norwegian contingent has been wiped out in some desperate battle. The Americans also learn the Norwegians found something buried in the ice.

It is slowly learned the thing found in the ice is an alien organism, with the ability to consume and replicate any living thing. Unfortunately, by the time this realization is reached, the staff knows that at least one of them has already been replaced, and if they don’t stop it here, the thing will escape and menace all life on Earth.

The story began as a novella called “Who Goes There?”, written by Don A. Stuart, a pseudonym for legendary science fiction editor John W. Campbell, Jr. Campbell had grown up in a home with a mother who loved him and his aunt, his mother’s identical twin, who despised him, which seems to have led to the themes in the story. I first read a reprint of the novella when I was nine. The nightmares had mostly subsided by the time I was fourteen, and if you’re a fan of the movie but have never read the novella, I encourage you to do so. The novella was filmed under the production of Carpenter’s hero Howard Hawkes in 1951 as The Thing From Another World. It, too, is a classic, but due to the limitations of special effects at the time, as well as the mores of the day, it bears only a superficial resemblance to the source material.

Although The Thing is now recognized as a horror classic, the best horror movie ever in many people’s minds (including mine), it was a box office disappointment upon its release, which came shortly after the release of the very different alien movie, E.T. Most of the reviews of the day were amazingly hostile, with one prominent science fiction magazine dubbing it the worst movie of all time.

Regardless, this movie is the great John Carpenter at the peak of his talent, and it has gone on to be recognized as a classic of filmmaking. I have never seen anything else that communicated paranoia and looming menace as effectively as this film. Debates still rage among fans as to which of the characters in the movie (including the lead character Macready, well played by Kurt Russell) had been taken over by the entity. And talks of a sequel/prequel still arise now and then.

The tight script was written by Bill Lancaster, son of legendary actor Burt Lancaster, whose only other produced screenplay was the decidedly different Bad News Bears. There were plans at the time for Carpenter and Lancaster to continue with their collaboration, and Lancaster had written a couple of scripts, including a reportedly excellent re-working of The Creature From the Black Lagoon, but the failure of The Thing at the box office scuttled all those plans.

If you own the DVD, I would also recommend you check out the audio commentary with Carpenter and Russell. Their banter is informative and humorous, among the better commentaries I’ve ever heard. If you want a drinking game, take a shot every time you hear one of these apparent chain smokers flick the wheel of his cigarette lighter. You should be dead of alcohol poisoning by the time the first creature appears.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

London Under Midnight


This is the mysterious graffiti that is appearing all over town in Simon Clark’s (Vampyrrhic, Vampyrrhic Rites, Blood Crazy, This Rage of Echoes) book London Under Midnight (a play on the title of the classic Lon Chaney movie, I suppose). Ben Ashton is a magazine writer assigned to uncover who is doing the graffiti and why. He gets more than he bargains for as he discovers London is undergoing a plague of vampires, who reach the city underwater from a small island in the Thames. The assignment turns personal for Ben when his unrequited love, April Connor, is attacked by a vampire and disappears.

In Vampyrrhic and Vampyrrhic Rites, Clark gave the vampire story a new twist by incorporating elements of Norse mythology. Here he tries to do the same using the Nigerian trickster god Edshu as the driving force behind the vampires. Edshu, as is explained in endless exposition by an old Nigerian man named Elmo, is doing this to test the city, or someone in it.

I’ve been a fan of Simon Clark for a long time, as you can tell if you read my earlier posts about his books, but this one just didn’t work for me. Although it is a short novel, just over 200 pages, it drags in places, as there are long sequences of conversation or characters thinking about things that don’t really have anything to do with the main story.

There are also plot points that go nowhere, as for example the point that is mentioned over and over that these vampires have sticky hair. You expect that to have something important to do with the story, but it doesn’t, and is never really explained. Most of the characters are also unlikeable. Some things strain credulity, like the fact that hundreds of vampires are making berserker attacks in London each night, but no one but our heroes seems very concerned. I guess London is so deserted, these things pass without notice. I would have expected martial law to be declared.

[SPOILER] The biggest problem is the ending, which is beyond silly. Apparently, all the lead has to do is imagine the problem being resolved and it happens, with all the vampires dissolving, except for the ones he cares about, who are cured. So for vampires, all you need is positive thinking. [END SPOILER]

If you haven’t read Simon Clark, I urge you to do so. He truly is one of the best horror writers working today. But, please, don’t start with London Under Midnight.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mystery Walk

Back in the 80s, at the onset of the horror boom, publishers were looking for the next Stephen King, a horror writer who could grab the public’s imagination (and deliver the sales) as King had. No one really succeeded in matching the King, but the author who came the closest was Robert R. McCammon. I always read horror novels in October to ramp up for Halloween, and this year, decided to include a couple of “sure things”, classic novels I had read before and liked. One of the choices this year was McCammon’s Mystery Walk, which I first read on its original paperback publication, but haven’t re-visited since.

There are a couple of reasons that I am predisposed to like this book, other than McCammon being one of my favorite authors. First of all, I was living in Birmingham, where McCammon also lives, during the time he wrote his best work. (I met him on several occasions at signings and the like, and he was always gracious.) The other is that the book is set in Fayette, Alabama, which happens to be my hometown. To my knowledge, this is the only work of fiction using Fayette as a location.

Billy Creekmore, a half-Choctaw boy living in Fayette County, received an unusual inheritance from his mother: The ability to see the restless dead. Even more important, he has the ability to help the spirits leave their pain behind and pass on to the next world. This talent has made the Creekmores needed in their rural area, but has also made them shunned and feared. It has also given them a fierce opponent, a demonic Shape Shifter which uses the tormented dead for its own evil purposes, and therefore doesn’t want to let them go.

The Creekmores also have some human enemies. A prominent evangelist, J. J. Falconer, hails from Fayette, and has a son, Wayne, the same age as Billy, who has the power to heal. The Falconers view the Creekmores as competition, and want to put a stop to them.

Billy’s journey through life – his “mystery walk” – takes him from Fayette to a traveling carnival, to Chicago, and back home. As he grows into a man, he learns to accept and deal with his power, and to see his enemies for what they are. The road leads to an ultimate confrontation, both with his ancient spiritual enemy, and the more earthly Falconers.

Objectively, Mystery Walk is not McCammon’s strongest book. It reads somewhat like a trial run for his masterpiece, Boy’s Life, sharing that book’s time period and rural Alabama setting. I felt the impact of the book was somewhat diluted when Billy hits the road, as he never seemed as real a character in Chicago as he did in Fayette, and wish the book’s focus had remained there. Mccammon does use the book to make some social commentary about life in the South back then, mostly as regards to racism and religion, but I wish he'd done a little more.

But second-tier McCammon is still head and shoulders above most writers’ best work, and this is a very good novel. I wouldn’t recommend it as the starting point for someone new to McCammon’s work, but I would advise readers not to miss it.

A couple of nit-picky notes, of interest to no one else: I don’t know if McCammon did much research on Fayette when he wrote the book (there was no real need) but he got a detail or two wrong. First of all, the description of Fayette County High (my alma mater) is all wrong. Secondly, reference is made to the “Fayette County High Bulldogs”. At the time of the novel, we were known as the “Fighting Tigers” (I think they’ve dropped the “Fighting” part of the name now, since it is considered wrong these days to fight for anything). Again, these are things anyone who wasn’t from Fayette wouldn’t care about, but I guess I have to be true to my school.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Tokyo Gore Police

When you compare cultures, you find a lot of small differences. For example, in the U.S., it is considered a sign of affection to pat a child on the head, while it is considered a significant insult in much of Asia. In the Japanese film Tokyo Gore Police, there are no small differences. Instead, there are huge, honking differences, so over-the-top I didn’t understand half the movie. I’ve seen a lot of foreign films, but this one is truly foreign.

In Japan in the near future, the police have been privatized, and the greatest threat to public safety is the Engineers, criminals who have been genetically altered by means of a key-shaped tumor so that whenever they are wounded, a weapon grows from the site of the injury, such as a chainsaw, a crocodile head, and so on. The Engineers also can’t be killed unless the key-tumor is destroyed. This is a menace beyond the capabilities of the ordinary police, so they turn to what the Japanese always turn to in times of crisis: A samurai sword-wielding girl in a mini-skirt.

Ruka (Eihi Shiina, Audition) is a cop with the title Engineer-Hunter. When an Engineer goes on a murderous rampage and kills the automatic weapon carrying police squad sent after him, she steps in and dices the mutant into little pieces. She is on a quest to find the key-master, the guy behind the whole thing, and also to solve the murder of her cop father years before. Along the way, we meet a girl with a crocodile in place of her vagina, a living chair made from a human being that urinates on a crowd on command, a girl with a penis for a nose, and a guy with a penis gun that fires tumors. And enough spurting blood that the characters (literally) carry umbrellas to keep from getting drenched.

The film is presented in a satirical Starship Troopers way, with mock commercials for the privatized police force and customized wrist cutters for teenage girls. There is occasionally a narrator for the action, in the person of a Betty Boop-ish police dispatcher.

The movie is quite beautifully photographed and the body horror depicted appropriately revolting. It doesn’t have the most coherent of plots, however, but that is a general failing of the genre. I guess I’d say if the description of the movie doesn’t dissuade you from watching it, it would probably work pretty well for you.

Another Ill-Conceived Move

I have been tricked by friends into establishing a page on Facebook. If the prospect of watching me wrestle with technology I don't understand appeals to you, send me a "friend" request*. If I knew how any of this works, I would have already sent one to you, and I do care for you very much.

*If you only want someone to play "Mafia Wars" you can disregard this. It took me a week to figure out how to post something on my "wall", I don't need anything else to fail at.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Sometimes It's The Little Things

Recently I’ve been kind of depressed about the state of the written horror genre. Not the economic aspects of it, that’s more of a problem for those who have to eke out a living from it, but prevailing attitudes of many of those who constitute the bulk of its community. The small presses, for a long time a vital part, seem to be imploding under bad business practices, and a common delusion that the packaging of a book is more important than its content. Incestuous little groups of amateurs who have achieved success by shrinking the world to their own group and becoming the principle consumers of each other’s work. “Professional” authors with only a small credit or two who feel compelled to share with the world the secrets of their writing habits or how to attract their “muse”, even if the world doesn’t care. A seemingly endless stream of bad zombie novels, imitative of the few good ones at best, borderline illiterate at worst.

I’ve loved horror fiction all of my reading life, but the willingness to devote time to anything but good writing has pushed me near the point of chucking it in.

Tuesday, as I posted here, was the fifteenth anniversary of the death of Karl Edward Wagner, a great writer, editor and enthusiast in the genre, who does not have the appreciation he deserves. This intensified my feelings of dissociation from horror, as it seemed to represent the decline and decay of the field. In addition to my post here, I started a remembrance thread at Brian Keene’s message board, The Keenedom. I really didn’t expect much of it. I thought it would be mostly ignored except for a couple of friends of mine who I knew were also his fans, or that people would ask who he was. A thread a while back on another message board had elicited the infuriating comment “He was nothing but a drunk.”

A funny thing happened, though. Some people who I respect, including some who rarely post, came out of the woodwork to express their thoughts, including some very good writers like Keene himself, Ed Gorman, Norman Partridge, and J.F. Gonzalez. Many of them had known Wagner and talked of their personal experiences. The thread became a small virtual community, which is what message boards aspire to, but rarely achieve.

It may sound strange, but the response to the memorial thread has gone a long way to improve my state of mind in regards to this horror thing of ours. Yes, there are many writers, readers and publishers who are complete nabobs. But in the hidden heart of horror, there are still those who appreciate those talented people who sweat blood to wring out that one soaring turn of phrase after another to elevate their stories into something that can affect you in profound ways, and do so for an hourly wage that would make a grocery store cashier blanch. And as long as this heart remains healthy, I feel a new confidence the genre will remain as un-dying as many of the creatures who live in it.


Based on a fairly literal reading of the horror novel by Jack Ketchum, Offspring is something unusual in film: It is the sequel to another movie that hasn’t yet been made. Even more amazing, this doesn’t work against it.
Offspring the novel was a sequel to Ketchum’s acclaimed book Off Season. The filmmakers were unable to secure rights to the first book, so they shot the second instead (Off Season is now reportedly in development). This leads to a lot of comments about events which occurred “eleven years ago”, but the story is so straightforward, it doesn’t really matter, although there may be some viewers unaware of the film’s backstory who will be looking for the first, nonexistent movie.

For years, the northern east coast, from Maine up into Canada, had been plagued by a tribe of primitive cannibals who lived in the caves along the coast. Since they moved sporadically, and the area in which they lived is fairly isolated, it too a long time for people to realize the disappearances along the coast were the work of the tribe’s hunting party. Eventually, some cops and locals who figured out what was happening managed to blow up the caves in which they were sheltered, wiping them out.

But there were survivors (not really, but it was needed for the sequel), and, over the course of time, they have built the group back up, using infants kidnapped from massacred families. In this film, they return to the site of their near extermination and stage bloody raids against the locals. Fortunately, one of the cops who stopped them the first time (now retired) is still in the area, and he is recruited by local law enforcement on an expedition to stop them again.

There is an interwoven subplot about an abusive husband, which serves to contrast the “naturalistic” evil of the tribe to the more “civilized” evil of the husband. I thought it was mostly filler, though.

Although a lot of people will be turned off by the excessive amount of gore and violence from start to finish in the movie (when an early scene shows someone holding a plastic bag of baby parts, you know there will be few limits), but I thought it was pretty effective. It’s a short film, which works in its favor, and although Art Hindle playing the retired cop is the only recognizable face in the cast, the acting is solid, particularly Tommy Nelson, who plays the juvenile lead without making him annoying.

There were a couple of touches I especially liked. First of all, most of the murderous savage cannibals are children, but once the outsiders confront them, there is little hesitation to use lethal force. I don’t know about you, but if I were attacked by a screaming primitive, knife-wielding child who I had just interrupted eating one of my friends, I would pull the trigger. Also, the police quickly accept what they are facing. This spares us the oft-repeated stereotype of the Amazingly Stupid Cops who ignore the One Guy Who Is Right. You know the type, where standing over the dismembered victims of the cannibal/zombie/werewolf, the One Guy Who Is Right says it must be the work of cannibals/zombies/werewolves, and the Amazingly Stupid Cops reply, no, it was probably the flu.

In places, it isn’t an easy movie to watch at times due to the violence, but I thought Offspring was an entertaining little gorefest, and if you like this sort of stuff, you probably will, too. Look for author Jack Ketchum (acting under his real name, Dallas Mayr) in a cameo as a paramedic.

Another Halloween Party Suggestion

It's always hard to decide just what to do for the happiest night of the year, Halloween, with so many options. If you live in or near Canton North Carolina, Amazing Grace Baptist Church has the answer for you:

They are burning the radical trash, and you are invited!

Under the Dome, Way Under the MSRP

As much as I usually avoid giving a plug to giant, humanity-hating corporations, I had to pass this on. Stephen King's about-to-be-released novel Under the Dome, is available for pre-order at Amazon for the amazingly low price of $9.00. I guess they are selling it below cost, hoping to make up the difference by selling in quantity. The book's suggested retail price is $35.00, so this is a bargain. Since the tome clocks in at 1,088 pages, even if you don't want to read it, you might want it to bludgeon your enemies.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hammer Films Book Line?

In a time of shrinking publishing markets, there is about to be a new face in the market. According to Variety, the legendary Hammer Films has plans to publish books based on its movie properties. The article doesn’t say whether these will all be movie tie-ins or not, but I wish them success, since at the very least it would provide a market for horror writers to make a living. A hat tip to Bloody Good Horror for the link.

The most surprising thing in the article is that Hammer currently has 15 films in production, a huge number from a studio that hasn’t had a theatrical release since the 1970s, as far as I know.

Trick 'r Treat

Here’s a movie that has been long awaited, so long it is almost impossible to live up to its hype. Trick ‘r Treat was originally scheduled to be released in October 2007, then October 2008, finally came out on DVD in October 2009. As I said, nothing could live up to the hype, but this is a pretty good movie for Halloween.

The film occurs on a Halloween night in a small town that takes Halloween very seriously, with a street party, lots of decorations, and almost everyone joining in. This eliminates the South from location consideration. It is an anthology film, consisting of four related stories, although it eschews the traditional let-me-tell-you-a-story chronological order approach. Instead, the four stories interlock, relating to each other in ways big or small, and characters from one thread will pop up in another, either as background or minor players in another storyline. Occasionally, you see the same incident from a different point of view. The stories do not maintain a strict chronological order, so sometimes you see a character pop up after you’ve already seen their death.

There is a really nasty undertone to the town, as apparently, decades before, parents had paid a bus driver to kill all the mentally handicapped children in town out at the old quarry. This sin is the main motivation for two of the stories, and overshadows them all. There are also all the old horror tropes, with a vampire apparently roaming the crowds, werewolves, ghosts/zombies risen from the dead, and Little Red Riding Hood. Interlaced throughout is a small pumpkin-headed figure that grows more malevolent as the movie progresses.

The cast includes Anna Paquin (the X-Men movies, True Blood), Brian Cox (X-Men 2, Manhunter) and Dylan Baker. Known and unknown the cast does a good job with their roles. The direction by Michael Dougherty, who also wrote the screenplay, is also well done.

Probably the best feature of the film is its look. It is beautifully photographed, and really looks like Halloween, from the fog filled quarry to the carved pumpkin strewn streets. It’s not really scary, or wouldn’t be to most, but what is, these days? I think it is sure to please anyone who is a fan of the holiday, and I recommend it to you.

Invisible Fences Available For Pre-Order

The highlight of the 2008 Cemetery Dance book club was receiving an ARC of Norman Prentiss' book Invisible Fences. Read what I said about it here, but a short summary is I was exposed to a wonderful book that I would probably have passed by otherwise. Invisible Fences is now up for pre-order at Cemetery Dance, and I urge you to give it a try. This is a milestone story, and I think it has a chance to break out of the horror category into more mainstream acceptance. This is a book you’ll want to read whether your favorite book is The Shining or To Kill A Mockingbird.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Jack Chick Doesn't Like Vampires

Thanks to Matt Staggs, who posted this link to the Jack Chick website, featuring one of their "comics" in which they take on an old nemesis, Halloween, and a new one: Vampires.

Halloween Contest!

Ronald Kelly has his annual Halloween contest up at his site This year, there are three prizes, all connected to Ron's great new novel Hell Hollow. Signing up is easy and the prizes are cool, so click on the link and head over there.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Edward Lee (Creekers, City Infernal, Triage) has obtained quite a bit of fame as an outstanding horror author whose specialty is pushing the envelope of what is acceptable in terms of sex and violence in a story. The first great manifestation of this was in the 1991 novel Coven, reviewed here in its incarnation in 2005 as reprinted by Necro Publications.

Exham College is one of those schools everyone hates. It is the destination college for rich guys who are too lazy, stupid, or delinquent to go anywhere else. The book’s “hero” (more or less) is Wade, a rich kid who has managed to avoid acquiring credits during his six years of college, and whose father has given the ultimate punishment: Not only will he have to attend summer school instead of partying with his friends, he will have to work in the school’s science lab – cleaning toilets. Wade doesn’t know it, but worse is in store for him.

It seems the school is about to be the site of a Harvest – where extraterrestials (it’s much more horror than sci-fi, though) are grabbing victims for breeding experiments. Wade and his shallow friends are in the crosshairs of this out-of-this-world plot, and if they don’t find a way to stop the aliens, they will face a lifetime of sex with ugly space creatures.

All of the elements that mark Lee’s writing are here – gore, violence, queasy sex, and a sense of humor that has been too absent in some of his recent work. For example, before females can mate with the various Bug-Eyed Monsters, their physiology must be altered to accommodate them, which means their bones must be dissolved, leaving them living sacks of gooey flesh. The character of Wade and some of his friends may be initially off-putting to some, as he is not a very sympathetic character, but to my surprise, he grows on you. Some of the antics may be too strong for those of refined tastes, but this is a great book. A lot of people I respect have told me it’s their favorite of Lee’s work, and now it’s mine, too.

My only two complaints have nothing to do with the content of the book. First of all the title, Coven, has little to do with the actual story. You think it does for a little while, but no. (Lee’s working title for the book was The Women In Black, which would have been better) Also the cover (seen here) is pretty bland. I had someone ask me if I was reading a supernatural romance when they saw me with it,

Lee has expressed an occasional interest in writing a sequel to Coven, and I hope he does so.

Karl Edward Wagner

15 years ago today, the great Karl Edward Wagner passed from us. His legacy, which includes the horror story "Sticks" (possibly the greatest horror story ever written) lives on, even if he is underappreciated today. KEW was also very successful in fantasy, creating one of the few epic heroes that could compete with those of Robert E. Howard, the roving swordsman Kane, who no man could look in the eye. In addition to Kane, he wrote some very good stories using Howard's creations. He was also a prolific editor, editing DAW's The Year's Best Horror series for many years.

Outside of his own writing, Wagner, who was a psychiatrist by training although he loathed it, made valuable contributions to the genres behind the scenes that are not as well known. He was one of the founders of Carcosa Press, an imprint dedicating to keeping alive the work of the pulp writers he loved. He is also legendary for his kindness to up-and-coming authors, and the constructive criticism he offered them. His hand did a lot to shape the horror genre in a positive way.

Much of his work is out of print today, and hard to find, but if you are not familiar with his work, you should seek them out. I would particularly recommend his first two short story collections, In A Lonely Place and Why Not You and I?, especially for his horror stories.

Occasionally today, you run into someone in the business, particularly on the fantasy side, that wants to spit on KEW's memory. It's good when that happens, because then you learn not to take anything they say seriously.

Simon Says

Occasionally, you run across a movie that is so bad, you wonder if it is supposed to be a satire, and the filmmakers forgot to include the funny. Although the movie stars Crispin Glover (The Wizard of Gore remake), an interesting actor who is worth watching in almost anything, this was a painful 84 minutes to sit through.

Five dim-witted teenagers go camping while on spring break, in order to prospect for gold. No, it doesn’t make sense. Their destination seems to be the West, since that’s where the gold is, mostly, and because they have a scene at a (very inaccurate) tombstone of Billy the Kid. You keep waiting for Billy the Kid to have some relevance to the movie, but forget it. While at the cemetery, a ghostly woman on horseback materializes and points at the kids, then vanishes. Again, you would think this had something to do with the movie, but, although it recurs at the end, nope.

The locals also speak with the worst fake Southern accents in movie history, making even John Travolta’s accent in The General’s Wife sound good. No kidding, the word “bad has seven or eight syllables when they pronounce it. Anyway, Glover plays twins Stanley and Simon. Simon is supposed to be mentally retarded, but Stanley isn’t exactly a brainiac, so it’s hard to tell them apart. One of them may or may not be dead. This is played as an important plot point, but trust me, you won’t care. One of the twins murdered the rest of his family years ago, but was released because he was crazy, which is just nuts.

The insipid, irritating, forgettable teens make it to the woods, where Simon/Stanley starts killing them with a series of impossible Rube Goldberg gadgets, all made using pickaxes (because it’s a mining area, I guess). My favorite is a giant contraption that looks like an artillery piece, in which Glover sits and aims through an artillery sight before firing a barrage of pickaxes at a running moron. Glover supposedly kills people for not saying "Simon Says" although mostly it doesn't have anything to do with it.

With the exception of Glover, there is no one in the cast I’ve ever heard of, and no one else stands out. About half the cast has the last name “Lively” and so does the producer, so I assume it is some sort of family employment program. The director is best known for Harry and the Hendersons, so maybe not the best choice for a slasher film. There is also a graphic and unfortunate death of a dog, whose character seemed smarter than it’s human counterparts.

So you should watch this movie if…hell, I don’t know. Maybe if you’re a relative of someone involved in it? It does have some beautiful nature photography, so there’s that.

The End of Zombies

Well, not completely. Brian Keene has announced a new project, an epic comic book series through Antarctic Press called The Last Zombie. Keene, who is largely responsible for kick-starting the current zombie craze with his books The Rising and City of the Dead, says this is his last word on zombies, and the title seems to indicate this is true. You can read more of the details at Keene's website. Keene's previous comics work was Marvel's Dead of Night: Devil Slayer.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Halloween Cartoon for the Day


Just Because Science Is Part Of The Name...

Genre writer F. Paul Wilson, who is also a practicing medical doctor, has written an interesting response to claims his latest novel is unfair to Scientology (the response is called "The Shame of Scientology", so I doubt they'll be made happy by the reply). In other news, it appears doubtful Tom Cruise will ever play Repairman Jack in a feature film.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Alien Trespass

Here’s an unusual film. Back in the 1950s, there were a number of movies released in the “bug-eyed monsters” sub-genre. Starting with It Came From Outer Space (a strong influence here), the plot was generally something along the lines of creepy alien crash lands near a small town, then goes on a killing rampage before local scientists/teens find the BEM’s weakness and put an end to it. Alien Trespass is a loving homage to those films.

Noted astronomer Ted Lewis (Eric McCormack, TV’s Will and Grace) is a prominent astronomer living in quiet Mojave, California. While watching a meteor shower, he sees something come down that definitely isn’t a meteor. It turns out it was a spaceship carrying Urp, an intergalactic Marshal of sorts (Marshal Urp, get it?), who was transporting a dangerous creature called a Ghota as his prisoner (the movie’s running gag is a variation on “You’re looking for a goat?” which wears thin). The Ghota escapes, and Urp takes the body of astronomer Lewis and goes after him.

It seems the Ghota uses its tentacle to devour living things, leaving only a small puddle of goo behind. The Ghota will also begin dividing once it has consumed enough food, which will lead to the ultimate end of all life on earth. It’s up to Urp-in-Lewis’-body, along with a local waitress named Tammy, to spot it before that happens.

The people who made this movie did a great job making it look like a movie from the 50s. (It is supposed to be a “lost” film, recently rediscovered) They used a color saturation process, inspired by the 1953 version of The War of the Worlds, to give it the proper look, very vibrant, with the reds just slightly off. Although the only recognizable face in the cast other than McCormack is Robert Patrick (Terminator 2, The X-Files), it is well acted. The cast also looks like they are in the 50s, as opposed to some films where it looks like modern actors pretending to be sock-hoppers.

The movie’s one big failure is that it is too accurate. In trying to make a movie seem like it was produced in 1955, the concentration on that aspect came at the expense of needed story elements. The Ghota is a bit too ridiculous to be truly scary to modern audiences, so the humor needs to carry the film, and it seems the film-makers were unwilling to make the characters or events ridiculous enough for comedy, since that would have been inappropriate for the era in which it was supposed to take place.

Although it falls a little flat, Alien Trespass is still a likeable movie, although it is best suited for viewers who enjoy a little nostalgia.

Cthulhu's Reign Begins

Someone sent me this picture file which is all kinds of awesome. I imagine it is a parody, but I don't know of what, but no matter. If anyone knows the creator/source of this, let me know and I will give appropriate credit. Or take it down if the rightsholder doesn't want the work associated with such a skeevy website. Click on the image for a larger view, and to appreciate all the details.


Today We Have Declared War On The Moon

Mark my words, this will not end well. Right now, the leader of the lunar empire is giving his version of "a date that will live in infamy" speech. Remember as we trade shots, due to gravitation, they get to shoot downhill.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A Halloween Comic

I've always enjoyed Chick Tracts, those small religious tracts that get foisted on you in public places or left in restrooms. Not for the reason the publishers of them intended, of course, I find their strident lunacy to be funny. In keeping with the season, here is part of a Chick Tract on one of his hated enemies, Halloween:

That's right, be sure to give trick-or-treaters a humorless religious tract this Halloween! The eggs will wash right off your house.

The Thaw

A disclaimer before we begin: I had a very minor surgical procedure yesterday, and watched this movie after taking Vicodin. There exists the possibility that I had an unusually good time watching the The Thaw due to the powerful medication. Yesterday, I took Vicodin from 3PM to midnight, and the world seemed happy and bright. Today, I’ve had two aspirin and would gladly blow up the planet and everyone on it. Have a great day!

A group of ecologists led by the prominent Dr. David Kruipen (Val Kilmer) are studying the effects of global warming on polar bears in the Canadian Arctic, when they make a sensational find. They drug a bear chewing on something exposed by melting ice, and discover an intact specimen of a wooly mammoth. Things go awry, however, since the late mammoth is infested with a prehistoric parasite, bug-like creatures (the original title of the movie was Bed Bugs, which is a terrible title) that lay eggs in other animals (including us), and sicken and kill the host. Pretty soon the numbers of the original party are seriously depleted. Fortunately, body count reinforcement arrives in the form of a group of students who walk blindly into the situation. Soon, they are struggling not to become infested, and grappling with a dilemma: Should they try to get rescued and risk spreading the contagion, or die to keep it contained? They are not unanimous on this subject.

The biggest problem with the movie is that, with the exception of Atom Galen (Aaron Ashmore), none of the characters are remotely likeable, and one, Federico Fulce (Kyle Schmid), is so annoying you want to strangle him. When things start to go south, we learn that Fulce has a phobia about bugs (meaning he is in exactly the wrong place at the wrong time) and goes to pieces under any stress. At the outset, he grabs the only gun and proclaims himself in charge. Despite demonstrating his willingness to shoot the others at the slightest bit of stress, no one ever seizes any of the easy opportunities to disarm him. It seems a given that you wouldn’t want the guy who is cracking up to be the only one armed. Kruipen’s daughter Evelyn (Martha MacIsaac) isn’t that bad, although she spends the first half of the movie being petulant.

Despite the disagreeable characters, and the tendency to get a little preachy at times, this isn’t a bad movie at all. The northern tundra makes a nice backdrop for the action, and there is no one who is a completely obvious survivor, so it keeps you guessing.

This is one of the four new releases from Ghost House Underground, the production company founded by Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert. Based on appearances the new releases seem to be promising, and I’ll soon know for myself, as I picked up the whole set.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Locke & Key

There has always been a strong connection between horror and comic books. Many of today’s writers were strongly influenced by horror comics, particularly the EC line which was popular in the 1950s, before being shut down by Congressional investigation and public outcry over alleged damage being done to children by its subject matter`. In recent times, though, horror comics have been somewhat listless, partly due to writers who understand comics better than how a horror story works.

That is not the case with the first collection of the series Locke & Key, titled Welcome to Lovecraft. The author is Joe Hill, writer of the excellent first novel Heart-Shaped Box and the great short story collection 20th Century Ghosts, and he has a good grasp on the subject matter.

The story opens with violence, when the Locke family is attacked by a pair of hooligans who murder the patriarch of the family, attack the mother, and traumatize the three children. In the aftermath of the incident, the family moves from California to live with the father’s brother in Lovecraft, Massachusetts, in the old family home, called Key House.

There, they begin to learn of the strange properties of the house, the doorway which turns you into a (temporary) ghost when you walk through it, the well which holds a strange entity calling herself echo, and others. There are also clues that the death of Mr. Locke may not have been as random as previously thought…

I am normally annoyed by stories with children as central characters, as this usually injects a saccharine sweetness to the story, but the Locke children seem to be well-drawn enough characters that this isn’t a problem, although the youngest child does something that is completely stupid during the story. I recommend this to any fans of horror or comics. Lock & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft will serve as a prologue to a planned thee act story, which will be told through four limited series. The next arc, Locke & Key: Head Games, has just been released in collected form.

A New Stephen King TV Series Adaptation

According to a news story on the website, a new TV series is in the works. It will be called “Stephen King’s Haven” and will reportedly be based on his novella, published by Leisure’s Hard Case Crime imprint, The Colorado Kid. The series will initially last 13 episodes. I am all in favor of as much as possible of King’s work making it to TV/movies, and I was one of those who liked the somewhat controversial (in the context of the HCC line) book, but it will be interesting to see how a short novel that mostly consists of two old-timers sitting talking to a young reporter can be adapted. We’ll see.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Chuckle

Stolen from Bev Vincent on Shocklines:

Perkins 14

There are a few DVDs from last year’s 8 Films To Die For /After Dark set still in my To Be Watched pile. I attribute this to the generally low quality of the previous releases under the imprint, but maybe I shouldn’t have judged these by past results, as Perkins 14 isn’t a bad little movie at all. Although the other thing they kept it down, fairly meh cover art is still pretty much meh, although you can look at it in this post and judge for yourself.

Stone Cove, Maine is a fairly somber little town. Ten years earlier, 14 children were kidnapped, and no trace of them was ever found, and the only clue authorities had was the final abductee bit off the finger of the kidnapper during his kidnapping. The disappearances have haunted the surviving parents of the children, including Deputy Sheriff Dwayne Hopper (Patrick O’Kane), whose son Kyle was the last victim. His obsession with finding his son nearly wrecked his life, and left him with a wife who is cheating on him and a daughter who is a walking talking ad for birth control. But after a decade, he has done his best to put it all behind him and go on. That is, until one fateful night when he’s working the graveyard shift at the jail.

It seems a local pharmacist named Ronald Perkins (Richard Brake) is being held overnight after being arrested for being belligerent during a traffic stop. This doesn’t seem to be important – until Hopper notices Perkins is missing a finger. Hopper is convinced that Perkins is the one who abducted his son, and the first half of the movie is a cat-and-mouse game between Hopper and Perkins, with Hopper trying to prove Perkins is the kidnapper before he must be released, and everyone else thinking Hopper has become obsessed again.

[SPOILER] It turns out Perkins was indeed the kidnapper. And rather than kill the children, he has kept them in cages in his home, torturing them and dosing them with drugs (Mostly PCP, it seems) to turn them into mindless killing machines. The movie abruptly changes tone when the now-grown children escape and go on a murderous rampage. Deputy Hopper has to find and protect his wife and daughter, and at the same time, figure out a way to free his son from insanity.

It isn’t a perfect movie. The first half, which is a quieter, psychological struggle, is much more effective than the more action-oriented second half, which seems very zombie-ish, and the transition between the two paces is a bit jarring. And, though the actors are all good in their roles, the character of the deputy’s daughter is written with a common irritating flaw: She is a kid so stupid she can’t get killed early enough to suit you. You know the type. If she is told to wait in safety and be quiet, you can be sure she will secretly tag along and scream “What’s happening?” at the worst possible time.

Still, a couple of minor flaws aren’t enough to keep Perkins 14 to be a scarily effective low-budget film. The acting and production values seem much better than most of its brethren, and the second half should please the zombie-loving crowd.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Python 2

Watching a load of cheesy movies and having a wife who enjoys rampaging giant critter movies has given me the equivalent of a PhD in giant snake movies. True, it’s not the future Mom dreamed for me, but any idiot can grow up to be an astronaut, how many can say they have the depth of knowledge to compare and contrast Python, Boa and Boa vs. Python? You are reading the wisdom of one such.

Somehow, we had missed the 2002 sequel to Python, imaginatively named Python 2. It was obvious that it was, like many remakes, going to have a hard time living up to the original. After all, the characters played by Robert Englund, Wil Wheaton, and Casper van Dien didn’t return, due to a severe amount of squishing they endured (or didn’t, really) in the first one.

In Russia, there is a giant snake loose which is a military experiment or something. The Russian army, led by an American colonel/sergeant, traps the 85 foot 12 ton beast, and then has it flown out of the country. Here’s a rule for you: never transport a giant snake by air. The first movie involved a plane crashing with a giant python, and here the filmmakers figured why mess around with success? The plane is shot down by Chechen insurgents, after flying around slowly at a low altitude so they could get a good shot at it. Everyone is killed. Then the Chechens are ambushed by Russians, who execute everyone, even the women, even though there weren’t any women until they needed some to make execution seem bad. The container that holds the snake was undamaged in the crash, and it is taken to a Russian military base, where it gets out of control. The giant python also spits acid, which seems illogical since real pythons aren't venomous, they are constrictors. the giant snake also roars like a bear, which seems uncommon behavior for our slithering friends, too.

A brief digression: absolutely the most ridiculous thing about this ridiculous movie was the carrying case for the snake. It’s the size of a large suitcase, considerably smaller than the head of the snake inside. When the case is opened, it takes forever to flow out of the little thing.

Meanwhile, a former professional baseball pitcher who hit a batter in the head in a game and had to flee the United States is working in Russia as an independent truck driver. He is approached by a blonde American guy who offers him $100,000 to drive something to Germany. Now, if you are offered that much money to transport something a short distance, here are a couple of assumptions:

1. It is illegal, because you wouldn’t get paid that much if it wasn’t. If you accept, don’t bitch later on when you find out about it.
2. You shouldn’t ask any questions, or indulge in any other curiosity. The less you know, the less likely your employers will kill you to keep you quiet, and the more likelihood you have of getting a reduced sentence if it all goes south.

Naturally, our pitcher ignores both these things.

The trucker and Blondie’s crew travel to the military base, where the snake has gone on a rampage and killed everyone. After many more deaths, as you might guess, the pitcher’s ability to throw something at someone/thing’s head comes into play.

Even by the low standards of giant snake movies, this is pretty bad. The main character is annoying as hell, and it’s difficult to watch knowing the guy you want to be eaten by the snake won’t be. The CGI is mediocre, but about on a par with others of its ilk.

In conclusion, if you are going to see only one giant snake movie, don’t let it be Python 2.
I'm embarrassed on behalf of my species.

Friday, October 2, 2009

New Nightmare On Elm Street Trailer

Here's the new trailer for the Nightmare on Elm Street remake:

A Nightmare on Elm Street in HD

Although everyone will scream about soulless Hollywood remaking a classic, it looks pretty cool, and while I like the first one, not enough to feel that it can't be topped, due to a few flaws. Robert Englund will be missed, though.