Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Horror News

No, I don't have any news, that is the name of a new (to me) website, located at Good looking site, check it out.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Under The Dome

For horror readers of my generation, it’s hard to find much fault with Stephen King. He didn’t create horror, but his success certainly was the impetus and inspiration for a lot of the horror published over the last thirty years. Also his books such as Salem’s Lot, The Shining, It, and The Stand are classics of the genre. Some readers feel his writing has fallen off in recent years, but I think his later work such as Duma Key holds up with the best of his output. His latest release is Under The Dome.

The book, which is social commentary with a horror background, is something King has been working on off and on in various forms for over thirty years. It is set in the fictional Maine town of Chester’s Mill (not far from Castle Rock, so you would think the residents would have a certain familiarity with strange events), where an impenetrable, invisible dome suddenly descends, to the immediate misfortune of a woodchuck and a passenger plane, and long term for everyone trapped inside. Those trapped inside include (there is a cast of characters at the front of the book, which is invaluable considering the number of people who are featured in the story) Dale Barbara, a former Army officer who has become an itinerant short-order cook after being involved in something in Iraq which compelled him to leave the Army; Andy Sanders, the town’s First Selectman, dim-witted and amiable, and easily led; Big Jim Rennie, the Machiavellian Second Selectman, who actually runs the town and has some dark secrets, Junior Rennie, Big Jim’s sociopathic son, and Julia Shumway, publisher of the town newspaper.

Although the dome is the central event of the novel, it is something of a MacGuffin for the social commentary that is really at the heart of the book. If the residents can’t get out, their days are numbered due to the steady buildup of pollutants in the atmosphere, an obvious depiction of environmental concerns. The more cohesive thread running through the book involves the reaction of the individuals to the crisis. Big Jim Rennie sees it as an opportunity to seize more power, and to use it for personal gain. A de facto police state is quickly in place, and Rennie uses fear to sway the citizens to his side. Although the U.S. government wants Barbara to take over, they have steadily decreasing influence inside the dome.

King has made no bones about the fact that Sanders and Rennie are small town analogues of George W. Bush and Dick Chaney, and it is both realistic and disturbing to see how easily people fall sway to demagoguery. Crisis does not always bring out the best in us. There are obvious overtones of The Lord of the Flies, albeit it with adults reverting to savagery rather than children.

As is often the case with King’s work, the ending is the weakest part of the book, and, while the dome is explained, that is not terribly compelling either. But both of these things are secondary concerns. The book looks at people trapped in a giant fishbowl, with the pressure turned up, and in that King equals the successes of the past.

As everyone has mentioned, this is a long book, clocking in at 1,074 pages. Is it too long? In my opinion, a good book is rarely too long, and a bad book is never short enough. Under the Dome is good enough to give me a couple of late nights reading the thing, and if you are a Stephen King fan, it shouldn’t disappoint you.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Loch Ness Terror

You’ve got to admire a movie that titles itself Loch Ness Terror and mostly takes place in Lake Superior (the original title was Beyond Loch Ness, and that would be more accurate, since Lake Superior is certainly beyond Scotland). I guess it doesn’t matter, since the lake near Vancouver which serves as bock Loch Ness and Lake Superior for the film doesn’t look like either one of them.

Before we start, if you want to know the truth about what lurks in Loch Ness, click here. Just don’t blame me if the disillusionment is too much to bear.

The SyFy Channel must use a customized script element generator to produce their creature features. Here you have the prologue scene where a boy watches a parent killed by a monster, inspiring him to grow up to be a monster hunter (if the monsters realized how vindictive humans are, they wouldn’t leave any uneaten rugrats behind when they attack), the remote island used as a breeding ground for the creature where a group of dimwitted teens get marooned, and the emo kid who has lost his girlfriend to the rich dirtbag who inevitably turns out to be a loser. I guess if something comes close to being arguably competent, keep doing it.

Brian Krause plays the traumatized kid who grows up to be a fearless Nessie hunter, and the only other recognizable face is the late Don S. Davis, who played General Hammond on Stargate SG-1. The plot goes something like Nessie moves from Loch Ness to Lake Superios by way of underwater tunnels (!) and shows up to eat people and breed. There doesn’t seem to be a Mr. Nessie around, but maybe there doesn’t have to be. There is the requisite, albeit it brief, hesitation of law enforcement to believe people are being eaten by a plesiosaur (“It could be an alligator,” they say, their breath smoking in the frigid air.) and then the surviving cast gets to monster killin’. There is some hokum about the creatures being blind when they are around magnets for some reason, but it all works out well in the end, largely because aquatic dinosaurs are apparently intensely flammable.

The CGI creatures are actually decent by SyFy standards (which means they look like they come from a high-end computer game, rather than a low-end one) although when they switch back and forth between CGI and puppets, the two don’t look remotely like the same creature. The baby dinosaurs actually look pretty cute in their CGI version, except when they are pulling out someone’s entrails.

By all reasonable artistic standards, this is a pretty bad movie, but by SyFy giant critter movie standards, it isn’t that bad, which I suppose is damning with faint praise, or maybe praising with faint damnation. If you are the type of person that enjoys this type of movie, you will probably enjoy this one. We did.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pod of Horror #57

The latest Pod Of Horror, the can't miss podcast of the genre, is now available for listening or download. In addition to Mark Justice and the legendary Call of Kalanta, in this edition Mark talks with Edward Lee, Mike Oliveri, and Michael Vance. A new feature called Moonshine Matinee with Jason Keene debuts. I know Jason a little from the internetz, and he's a standup guy, so that will be well worth checking out. Give it a listen, or be left wondering what everyone is talking about around the water cooler at work tomorrow.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Under The Dome & On The Screen

If you haven't finished reading Stephen King's new 1074-page novel Under The Dome, you might want to hurry up. Empire Online reports that King and little known filmmaker Steven Spielberg are already working to develop a TV adaptation. With Spielberg's involvement in the project it would seem like this would be a done deal, but the two have been working on The Talisman for many years and we haven't seen it yet.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Pointless Remake, But Hey...

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Marti Noxon, formerly a writer/producer on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, has been hired to write the script for an upcoming remake of the 1985 horror comedy Fright Night. I'm not one of those who had an aneurysm every time a movie is remade, but this does seem a little pointless, since there is nothing really wrong with the original. The article implies the main purpose will be to "modernize the effects" but I don't remember that many effects in the original, anyway. I wish them luck (whether you like it or not, when a horror movie is successful, it makes it that much easier to get another horror film made) but, as with the recent remake of The Stepfather, you would do just as well to rent the original.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Independence Day 2: More Independentier

According to Total Film, Roland Emmerich is planning on a sequel to 1996's Independence Day. I'm betting it kicks off when the aliens steal a copy of Norton Anti-Virus.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Other People Make Lists, Too

Rabid Fox over at Wag The Fox has put together a list of his Top Five Comedic Horror Movies. Since I really can't disagree with any of his choices, this saves me from doing my own. It's a good list, so check it out. And just for the record, I do feel Ghostbusters is a horror movie. its got a giant Pilsbury Dough Boy rampaging through a city. What's more horror than that? :-)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Anaconda 3: Offspring

I’m sure some of you have walked down the aisles of your local video store and observed the boxcover for Anaconda III: Offspring. I’m also sure two thoughts popped into your head: “That has got to be a crappy excuse for a movie.” and “I bet that weirdo from Dead in the South watches this.” You are very perceptive people.

The first Anaconda movie was, IMO, a fun B-movie flick, good enough to overlook the casting of The Most Annoying Actor in Show Business (Owen Wilson). The sequel, while lacking the star power of the first cast, was much better than expected, with the scene where the snake approaches the paralyzed guy being pretty shudder-worthy. But both movies were lacking in something, and it becomes obvious after watching the third installment: They were entirely Hasslehoff-free. Anaconda III does not repeat that mistake.

At the conclusion of the second Anaconda, all the giant snakes were dead, and the blood orchids which could cure cancer and Alzheimer’s, end world hunger and give everyone a constant erection were gone also. When Anacondas III opens, an evil pharmaceutical company owner (John Rhys-Davies) has set up a secret plant in some foreign yet unnamed country (it was filmed in Romania, giving hope we may one day see the sure classic Anaconda vs. Dracula) to synthesize the blood orchid extract. The company has been giving the extract to two anacondas, because that is absolutely the stupidest thing you could do, and they have grown to giant size. The snakes are cared for by a herpetologist (Crystal Allen) who warns everyone there is about to be a catastrophe, but of course everyone ignores her.

Naturally, the snakes break out, and head into the countryside to eat as many people as possible and for the pregnant female (of course) to give birth. When asked why they would breed a giant snake and then get it pregnant, the scientist’s reply is more or less Eh, we wanted to see what would happen. And you scoff at the idea the Large Hadron Collider is going to kill us all.

Fortunately, there is a tram of professional snake-hunting mercenaries nearby, and they are immediately called in and quickly eaten. The evil company also hires Hammet (the Hasslehoff) to come and run the operation. Hammet is evil, since we see him selling a rhino horn before he goes after the snakes, and seems to drink a lot. I wanted to give Hasslehoff a break, but Jeebus, this is one poorly acted performance.

Most of the cast is eaten, although the one black guy lasts longer than most black characters do in this kind of movie. Eventually snakes explode and burst into flames and there is an open-ended finale (Anaconda 4: Trail of Blood was shot back-to-back with this one and will take up where this movie leaves off).

I can’t really recommend this one, even to the people who watch this sort of thing. As giant snake movies go, it’s no Boa vs. Python.

There is one awesomely great line in the movie. While tracking the giant snake*, Hasslehoff utters this “Where there is blood…there is…more blood.” I mean, really, whiskey tango foxtrot?

* How hard could it be to track two giant snakes which weigh eleventy million pounds apiece? For Pete’s sake, they knock over trees.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Long Horn, Big Shaggy

Another day I'm too lazy to post anything new, so another reprint. I did change two words, so there is new content. Heh.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a sucker for weird westerns. And one of the newer authors I’m growing to appreciate is the Sage of Nova Scotia, Steve Vernon, whose story was one of the highlights of the excellent collection, A Dark and Deadly Valley. Therefore, when I heard the novella Long Horn, Big Shaggy fit the description of the sub-genre and was about to go out of print, I ordered it immediately.

To say that Long Horn, Big Shaggy is a weird western underestimates what weird means. It is the story of a cowboy, Jonah, who gets ambushed after stealing a horse, shot through the head, and killed. That’s the beginning for him. He is then re-animated by an old prospector, who is himself a re-animated dead man. In fact, almost everyone in the story fits that description. There follows a truly wild tale in which Jonah gets caught in the middle between two rivals, each of whom has killed the other, sometimes more than once.

If there is a flaw to the story, it is that Vernon concentrates too much on the weird and the gore, and not enough on why all this is happening. But Vernon’s sheer exuberance and adept turns of phrase carry you right along. I particularly was fond of the descriptive name of an undead horse, the “carrion stallion.” Recommended.

Friday, November 6, 2009


On a slow day, reprinting something from an earlier blog:

A couple of years back, Ronald Kelly (The Sick Stuff, Midnight Grinding & Other Twilight Terrors, Hell Hollow) began a triumphant return to horror after too long an absence, and Tanglewood was his first new material in some years. It is a short chapbook (about twenty pages) produced by Cemetery Dance, nicely executed, and well worth seeking out. Due to its brevity, I can't go into too much depth about the story without giving away important plot points, but Tanglewood is a nice, creepy little story about a guy who takes the wrong shortcut, and finds mystery and terror, and how he deals with it. One more bit of Kelly's work to whet the appetite while waiting for the forthcoming reprinting of his earlier work.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The 14 Best Horror Short Stories of All Time!

As always, these are actually my favorite short stories of all time rather than the greatest. You don’t climb to the top of the heap of bloggers by observing truth in advertising.

If you are a regular blog reader (and if you are, thank you) you know I like lists, and if you aren’t, look at the sidebar and you’ll see. For some time, I’ve been planning a list of short stories to accompany the other poorly-received lists, but it was too daunting a task, as there are too many to choose from and the list varies from moment to moment. It’s also too important, as short stories have formed the true backbone of the horror genre. Recently friends began bugging me to produce one, so I figured “What do I have to lose?” So here it is.

The ground rules first. These are my own opinions, and you are free (and encouraged) to disagree, and to do so in the comments. Please feel free to give vent to any vitriol you may feel, although once again, “dipshit” has become a way too overused epithet. To keep the list somewhat manageable, and to keep my head from exploding, I limited the stories to one per author, so it wouldn’t be a list of the best Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft stories, or every short piece T.E.D. Klein has written. I also made arbitrary judgments on novellas. Instead of using word length measurements, if a novella “felt” like a short novel rather than a long short story, it was disqualified. Therefore, no appearance by “The Mist”, one of my favorites.

Why 14 stories instead of 10? This was as far down as I could cull it, so I hedged my bets and cheated.

1. “The Colour Out of Space” by H.P. Lovecraft. In my mind, this is one of the few stories that continues to give me chills. I re-read it every year in October.
2. “Sticks” by Karl Edward Wagner. I’ve spoken of my admiration for Wagner before, and this is probably his best.
3. “Who Goes There?” by Don A Stuart (John W. Campbell, Jr.). The basis for the movies The Thing From Another World and The Thing, I read it at a young age, and its central theme of paranoia about the true identity of those around you continues to resonate.
4. “Night They Missed the Horror Show” by Joe Lansdale. Lansdale has written a number of great short stories, but this tale of two young rednecks who should have watched The Night of the Living Dead is his best.
5. “Nightcrawlers” by Robert R. Mccammon. “Something Passed By” was a close second, but I love this story of a man truly haunted by the war in Vietnam, and the unlucky diner patrons who get to share that with him. “Charlie’s in the light!”
6. “The Voice in the Night” by William Hope Hodgson. Hodgson was the great master of sea-swept horror, and this is probably his best short story.
7. “The Girl with the Hungry Eyes” by Fritz Leiber. Leiber is probably best remembered as a science fiction author, but he wrote in a number of genres, and his forays into horror are second to none. This story of an artist’s model who is a psychic vampire is my favorite.
8. “The Road Virus Heads North” by Stephen King. King has written a lot of great stories, and most people would pick one of his early works as his best, But this story of a man doomed by the purchase of an ever-changing painting sticks with me. I’ll always wonder what was in the paintings that were burned.
9. “The Ash-Tree” by M.R. James. A classic story from a nearly forgotten writer.
10. ‘The White People” by Arthur Machen. The dark sage of Wales framed this story as the diary of a young girl. Probably one of the most influential horror stories ever written.
11. “The Willows” by Algernon Blackwood. The world around us as the source of menace. One of H.P. Lovecraft’s favorites.
12. “The Yellow Sign”, by Robert W. Chambers. The centerpiece of Chambers’ great collection of short stories The King in Yellow shows how horror can come from that which is not explained. (The sign itself is never described, and it’s effects are only loosely explained.)
13. “Black Man with a Horn” by T.E.D. Klein. Any of the stories from the far-less-than-prolific Klein that were published in Dark Gods (a must-read) or the story that became his novel The Ceremonies, “The Events at Poroth’s Farm” would qualify, but this is marginally my favorite of them. Beware the Tcho-Tcho.
14. "Pigeons From Hell" by Robert E. Howard. The creator of Conan wrote some fine horror stories, and this is generally seen as his best.

If you haven’t read any of these, and you are a fan of horror, I suggest you seek them out. Then come back and tell me how wrong I am.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Little Sleep

Mark Genevich is a Boston private investigator, who gets a strange case. A young woman, a local celebrity who has been on American Idol, comes to his office to hire him – to find her missing fingers. Apparently, her fingers were taken while she slept and replacements left behind. To prove this, she removed the bandages from around her fingers to show him the stitches holding her substitute fingers to her hands. Shockingly, her story seems to be true.

However, Genevich isn’t an ordinary shamus. An accident years before left him with unrepairable injuries. A heavy beard hides the scars on his face, but more importantly he has brain injuries which have left him narcoleptic. Although people think of narcolepsy as a comical disease, with sufferers falling asleep at the drop of a hat, it causes hypnagogic hallucinations which the sufferer cannot tell from reality. When a strange event occurs, Genevich must figure out how much of it is true, and how much of it was a synaptic misfire in his brain.

In this case, when he comes to he finds a folder with lewd photos of the woman in question on his desk. He concludes she must have hired him to find who is behind the extortion and begins to investigate accordingly.

Some readers of mysteries want the written version of a CLUE game, where a dogged, brilliant investigator unravels clues until everything is revealed. These readers may not find The Little Sleep to their liking. The book is far more about Genevich’s struggle to make it through his disability than about Miss Marple figuring out who killed the vicar in the cloakroom.

Although literature has a long history of unreliable narrators, it is less common in books written in the English language. We don’t want to read books that seem to trick us. The Little Sleep not only has a narrator who is unreliable to readers, but to himself as well. At the end of the book, it is still impossible to tell what was real and what was hallucination.

I’m involved in a local reading book (one book a month) and got The Little Sleep added to the schedule. Reaction was sharply divided. Some people were angry with the false leads Genevich followed due to his problem and the fact that he is not, by traditional standards, a particularly good detective. I respectfully suggest they missed the point. We’ve read/heard/seen hundreds of stories where an intrepid gumshoe tracks down a rich man’s missing daughter. This book takes on a deeper issue, Genevich’s fight to live in a world his own mind can no longer process.

It may not be for everyone, and some may find it a challenging read, but The Little Sleep is a superlative book, due to the undeniable skill of Paul Tremblay. He writes so well the book never falls into the trap of being a gimmick, and makes you feel the frustration of the main character trying to be as normal a human being as possible. There is also a good deal of wry humor that keeps the book from being overly glum. I would recommend The Little Sleep to anyone who enjoys horror (what could be more horrible than being betrayed by your own mind?), mysteries, or just anyone who likes a well written book.

Tremblay has announced there will be further adventures of Genevich. I’m very skeptical whether this can be sustained over multiple books, but Tremblay is so talented I’ll definitely give it a shot. {Edit} If I had not been too lazy to do any research, I would have known the name of the sequel is No Sleep Till Wonderland, and will be out in February 2010.

I have to be honest, and admit that I hate the title of The Little Sleep.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Free Stephen King Story

If you can't wait for Under the Dome to be released, the New Yorker has the King story "Premium Harmony" up on their site. Check it out.

Monday, November 2, 2009


The worst day of David Spires life started with a phone call from daycare: His stepson had attacked another boy and then been killed. That’s bad enough, but this is only the start of the bad news, as the world is engulfed in brutal acts of violence. A chemical/biological agent has been released which causes people to revert to their primitive “Neanderthal” nature, and their instinct is to kill any of the few who are resistant to the change. David has to flee Los Angeles with his wife, daughter, and a motley crew of fellow survivors, to try to find safe harbor from the primitives.

There is an additional complication: It seems ancient man worshipped a demonic creature named Hanbi. With the extinction of the Neanderthals, Hanbi faded from the collective conscience, but with the return of them, in greater numbers than ever before, not only has the worship of Hanbi made a comeback, it has caused a physical reappearance of the demon. Not only will David and his people have to struggle for survival against the primitives, they must find a way to destroy a supernatural creature from the past – one with the power to raise the dead.

J.F. Gonzalez has written good books before (Survivor, Shapeshifter, the wonderful B-movie Clickers and Clickers II), but he takes his writing to new heights here. Primitive is the most compulsorily readable thing he’s done, at least that I’ve read. His characters are written so as to be real to the reader, and you feel the tenseness as they struggle to survive, and the angst that goes with hard moral choices they must make.

Post-apocalyptic fiction has been a staple of the horror genre for a long time. Stephen King’s The Stand is rightly considered a classic, and many people count Robert R. McCammon’s Swan Song among their favorites. Does Primitive rate a place with these immortal books? Yes, with a small caveat.

The other books mentioned were written at a time when horror novels were often of epic length (one version of The Stand is over 1100 pages long). Today’s market is different, and the upper limit for novels has become 300 pages, which is the length of Primitive, give or take a couple of pages. As good as it is, there are tantalizing subplot possibilities that are not explored. There is some mystery about the military officer Wesley, the question of how some people are still reverting months after the original epidemic, and a lot of information about the cause of the catastrophe and just why some people are immune. I have no inside knowledge as to whether Gonzalez would have liked to have written a longer version of Primitive, but I feel there could have been a lot more to it if he had chosen to do so, and I would have like to have read it.

This criticism shouldn’t be construed as taking anything away from the book that was published. Primitive is a compelling book, and shows a continuing progression of Gonzalez’ talents. If quality still matters in the genre, it should be very successful, and I would recommend you give it a try. Primitive is available from Delirium Books.