Saturday, July 31, 2010

Hell Hollow Now Shipping

Hell Hollow, the eagerly-awaited novel from Southern horror author Ronald Kelly is now shipping from Cemetery Dance. Click on the title of the book to see what I thought of it, and on the CD link to order your own copy. This is a highly recommended novel from one of the master horror writers.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Speed Dating with the Dead

As a Southerner myself (as you may have guessed from the title of this blog, which everyone keeps telling me is beyond stupid) I have a particular weakness for horror writers who also hail from the Old South, and one of the best working today is Scott Nicholson, author of The Red Church and Burial To Follow, among many other fine works. His latest, available in e-book format, is called Speed Dating with the Dead.

A team of paranormal researchers, led by Digger Wilson, investigate a “haunted hotel”, The White Horse Inn, to see if they can find evidence of supernatural phenomena. They come equipped with all sorts of scientific equipment to perform various measurements. Digger also has another motive as his recently deceased wife has promised to contact him (shades of Harry Houdini!). He is much less than positive this will happen (refreshingly he is very skeptical of the paranormal, despite his position with the team), but he gives it a go anyway.

As those of us who read horror stories and watch horror movies are well aware, you should not Meddle with Things Best Left Unknown. The researchers in the book ignore this basic rule, and their efforts awaken an ancient evil. Soon, the numbers of the people in the hotel are on the wane, and it is up to Digger and his daughter Kendra to put an end to what they started.

Nicholson always writes a fast paced story, and this one is no exception. I am a doubter of all things supernatural myself, but Nicholson has actually been involved in “Ghost Hunter” type paranormal research, and his familiarity with the methodology employed lends a sense of verisimilitude to the story. Like with any well-written tale, you begin to believe you are there.

You will never go wrong when you read anything by Scott Nicholson, and this is another good one. To learn how to order the e-book, visit Scott’s site, The Haunted Computer.

Joy Ride 2: Dead Ahead

2001’s thriller Joy Ride, about a sadistic truck driver who went by the handle of Rusty Nail (who notably killed people while pulling their lower jaw completely off) was a competently put together picture directed by John Dahl, and I suppose it was inevitable a sequel would be made. The only problem was, Rusty Nail died at the end of the movie, so it was impossible to continue the story. Who am I kidding? The sequel, Joy Ride 2: Dead Ahead, just ignores the end of the first and puts Rusty Nail back on the highway, terrorizing anyone in his path, without regard for the original.

Melissa (Nikki Aycox), Bobby (Nick Zano) and Kayla (Laura Jordan) are driving across the country to Las Vegas for Melissa and Nick’s bachelor/bachelorette party. Along the way, they pick up Laura’s date, Emo Kid Nik (Kyle Schmid) whose function in the movie is to be the most annoying and stupid person in the world. He handles that well. When their car breaks down on an isolated road, Nik breaks into a nearby empty house and they steal a car. The group has the best intentions of returning it and paying for damages, but wouldn’t you know it, the house belongs to ‘ol Rusty Nail. Pretty soon, he’s chasing the kids, Bobby is taken captive, the rest of the group are forced to do dreadful things to try and get him back, and we are into some good old ho-hum torture porn.

This is one of those movies that rely on the characters to possess no common sense whatsoever. RN forces the group to destroy their cell phones and tells them not to contact the police, which they don’t do even though they know where he lives and the cops can find out who he is. Admittedly, if they behaved rationally, the movie would have ended immediately but still.

All in all, though, it’s reasonably well done for what it is. The cast does a good job with their limited roles, and the direction is solid. If you have a yen for the torture porn aspect of the genre, and you can ignore the illogical aspects of the story, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to enjoy this as a popcorn movie. Don’t expect too much, and you won’t be disappointed.

New On-Line Story by Gary Raisor

Hurry on over to The Horror Drive-In and read a new story by Gary Raisor called “Better Watch Out”, featuring Uncle Sam, Santa and a few other fictional creations. It’s a story that’s funny right up until you realize there’s a hard edge in there, a statement about our modern world. The story features an illustration by Doug Draper, and afterwards there’s an interview with Mr. Raisor that is well worth reading. Possibly more disturbing than his stories is the realization his classic vampire novel Less Than Human has been out of print for a long, long time. If you haven’t read it, track down a copy, and hopefully it will see a more accessible reprint soon.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Book of Blood

Everybody is a book of blood; Wherever we’re opened, we’re red.

With those words, Clive Barker in 1984 opened his landmark six volume Books of Blood, collections of short stories that changed the face of horror. Wild flights of imagination, an unflinching look at the dark corners of sexuality, and a never before seen focus on body horror burned like fire through the field, a fire that still hasn’t gone out. Over the years, many of the stories from the books have been the basis for films, the best known being the Hellraiser and Candyman series, but also the films Rawhead Rex, Nightbreed, and the recent The Midnight Meat Train. In 2009, with Barker acting as producer, a movie was made from the title story (combined with the additional story “On Jerusalem Street”) “The Book of Blood”.

Mary Florescu (Sophie Ward), a paranormal investigator, along with her cameraman Reg (Paul Blair) and a psychic named Simon McNeal (Jonas Armstrong) move into an old house with a tortured history, to look for supernatural phenomena. They ultimately find the house is an intersection on the highways of the dead, a place where the dead can tell their stories. This knowledge brings death for one of the three, wealth and fame for one, and a life of unimaginable torture for the third.

The story owes a lot, or at least has certain surface similarities to Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, itself filmed twice, once successfully. Its biggest problem is the work it is based on is among Barker’s slightest (the original story was just a little more than an introduction to the original work), and there’s just not enough on which to hang 100 minutes of movie. The beginning and ending are satisfying enough, but the middle tends to meander along. There are one too many scenes where the characters have to react to unexplained thumps and crashes, and much of the time the plot is just keeping time until the climax can start.

All in all, not a terrible movie, but one which would probably have worked better at half the length. There are ongoing plans to film other stories from Barker’s collection, and many of them should offer a more substantial basis for a movie.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Interview With Tim Lebbon

My interview with the great author Tim Lebbon is now up at Cemetery Dance. Read it, to wonder why they keep letting me do these.

Savage Season

A bit busy today, so here's a reprint from a now-defunct blog I once wrote for, reviews of the Joe R. Lansdale series featuring the characters Hap and Leonard. eventually, I'm sure I'll repeat them all, but if you want to avoid the rush, they're all good.

The first novel in the series is the 1990 release Savage Season, which introduced the characters, and began Lansdale’s transition from an edgy, extreme horror writer into a somewhat more mainstream author of crime novels. It is one of the high points of popular literature of the last quarter-century.

The main characters of the books are best friends Hap Collins and Leonard Pine. Hap is a forty-something white guy, who is something of a disillusioned idealist. Standing on his principles in the late 60s landed him a stint in prison for resisting the draft. Leonard is also in his forties, is a gay black man, and a Vietnam veteran. As much as anything, the series is about the bonds of male friendship, and the frequent debates between the pair (Leonard, a country music fan, is by far the more conservative of the two) are side-splitting displays of political incorrectness. The book is set in and around the East Texas town of LaBorde.

When the story opens, Hap and Leonard are working in the rose fields, back-breaking menial work. They have an opportunity to make some money and escape their monotonous existence when a face from Hap’s past appears, his ex-wife Trudy. Trudy was a firebrand radical, who divorced Hap when he was in prison, and now works at the Dairy Queen. She has a proposition: Her current boyfriend, Howard, was in prison with a bank robber who told him of a huge score on his last job that had been lost in a Texas river. Trudy and Howard have put together a team to recover the money, and use it to fund revolutionary causes. Hap and Leonard, who are needed for their diving abilities, join in the scheme strictly for the money.

Trudy is a classic femme fatale. Although Hap resists the judgment, Leonard knows from the outset that Tudy brings disaster to Hap, and disaster is what they find. One double-cross follows another, and eventually Hap and Leonard are trying to escape with their lives. The book works as a gritty crime novel, or as an outright comedy. Highly, highly recommended.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus

Every now and then, you watch a movie which manages to transcend its medium, one that illustrates dimly understood facets of the human condition and makes you feel a richer person for having seen it. Most of the time, though, you end up watching something like Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus.

Oceanographer Emma (Debbie Gibson) borrows a mini-sub from her employer in California to watch a pod of whales off the coast of Alaska. That mini-sub has a heckuva range. While there, she witnesses a relatively worthless military experiment testing new sonar equipment. This causes a glacier to calve, and frees two creatures frozen there for millions of years. If you were paying attention to the title of the movie, you already know the creatures are a Mega Shark (Megalodon Carcharodon) and a Giant Octopus (Completelyus Madeupus). They wander off in search of mischief. Apparently, in dinosaur times, freezing didn’t hurt seafood as much.

The two big critters engage in a variety of hijinks. The shark leaps out of the water to eat a jet liner flying over the ocean, I assume at 30,000 feet. What a jumper! The shark also eats a battleship the movie calls a destroyer despite the destroyer/battleship valiantly firing in the wrong direction. The octopus eats an oil platform, hopefully with the head of BP on board. Pretty soon, the government decides they’ve had enough of this and a task force led by Allan (Lorenzo Lamas, looking a little embarrassed by the movie) is composed to stop the creatures. They decide they can’t do the job without Emma, even though Emma doesn’t seem knowledgeable enough to tell a squid from a fish stick. A lot of time is spent on multiple scenes of Ms. Gibson looking wistfully out to sea, trying to spot where her career has drifted, I suppose.

It takes them a long time to figure out the answer to their problems is in a law of entertainment first formulated, I believe, by the great William Shakespeare: If you have two monsters in the same movie, they will fight each other. Eventually, they figure it out and the movie ends.

The CGI for this movie is about on par with a computer game circa 1995, and the script is far below the SyFy Channel’s dubious standards. The acting rarely rises to adequate. Watch this one to mock, and for no other purpose.

There is one great moment, when Lorenzo Lamas asks Debbie Gibson “How will it feel to have a career and then be washed up?” I think Debbie knows the answer to that one.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Seventh Moon

I’ve recently decided to make an effort to try to whittle down the stack of DVDs I’ve purchased over the years but never watched, just because it seems ridiculous to own so many unwatched flicks. Today, I picked Seventh Moon, a Ghost House production from 2008. I guess I learned there are reasons I don’t watch some movies.

Yul and Melissa (Tony Chiou and Amy Smart) are newlyweds honeymooning in China, partly so that Melissa can meet Yul’s relatives. He is a very American Chinese-American, to the point where he barely speaks Cantonese. Their visit coincides with the Seventh Moon festival, celebrating when the hungry dead rise on the seventh full moon of the year and kill anything living. An interesting holiday, to say the least. The couple has a great time, until their tour guide abandons them in the middle of night in a rural area. It seems the locals sacrifice outsiders to the dead so they won’t take any of their own people, and Yul and Melissa are this year’s guests of honor, and pretty soon the duo are on the run from pale, hairless creatures with hostile intentions.

This is essentially a zombie movie, at least in structure, with the living running from the hungry dead. There are several major flaws that fatally damage this effort, starting with the characters. With only two people trying to escape the walking corpses instead of the usual group, it is important the audience have some sort of rooting interest in their survival. However, Yul and Melissa’s dominant character trait seems to be going to be pieces in times of stress. They invariably panic and do the wrong thing at every opportunity, and show little initiative or common sense. Probably the height of their dimness is when a group of creepy black-clad people show up and give them something to drink. Everyone else on Earth would instantly realize the drinks were drugged, but not Yul and Melissa. They drink up, and are shocked when it turns out they’ve been roofied. Additionally, Melissa is written as one of those people who just can’t shut up, no matter what. They are several occasions where the two are trying to hide, but since she has to talk, the dead are able to find them easily.

The film’s biggest problem is a technical one. It fits in with several other recent films (Unearthed, Alien vs. Predator: Requiem, etc.) where the cameraman believes the almost complete absence of light makes a movie more spooky, when it really makes it confusing. This is a very dimly lit movie, with two key sequences occurring in complete blackness. Throw in the shaky handheld used to film the movie and a tendency for quick cuts, it is nearly impossible to tell what is going on. Remember this simple rule: FILM IS A VISUAL MEDIUM. If you aren’t going to show the audience anything, you might as well do mit as a radio play.

Although it clocks in at just 87 minutes, the movie felt at least 20 minutes too long. Basically, it was a good idea for a short film, stretched out by repetition. It was directed by Eduardo Sanchez, best known for The Blair Witch Project, which may explain his affection for handheld cinematography. He’s capable of better work than this, and I hope he’ll move on to it. Watch this one only if you like pale naked Chinese guys running through the night.

Friday, July 23, 2010

New Horror Blog - Little Miss Zombie

A new horror-related blog (New to me, anyway. I don't get around much) for your reading pleasure - Little Miss Zombie. As a compulsive listmaker myself, I'd like to draw your attention especially to her list of 20 Great Canadian Horror Films. Who would have thought, since they seem so nice up there. There's obviously some darkness in Tim Horton-land. Major credit also for listing the criminally underrated Ginger Snaps as her favorite on the list.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Johannes Cabal the Detective

One of the many, many problems with current genre fiction is a lack of a sense of humor, as everyone today seems to take themselves very seriously, beyond the demands of what they are writing. It’s refreshing, therefore, to come across a playful, humorous novel such as Johannes Cabal the Detective, written by Jonathan L. Howard.

Set in a steampunk milieu and an imaginary 19th century Europe, this is the second book featuring the title character Johannes Cabal. He is a somewhat disreputable necromancer, a man of science capable of bringing the dead back to life, at least briefly. This work often goes awry, which is why cabal carries a heavy cane, with which to bludgeon failed experiments back to death. He is at best indifferent to mankind, and at worst actively misanthropic.

When the story opens, Cabal is imprisoned in a dungeon in the fictional country of Mirkavia, awaiting execution for attempting to steal a rare book on necromancy. He is resigned to his fate, but gets an eleventh hour reprieve when Count Marechal offers him his freedom. It seems that the Emperor of Mirkavia has just expired, and Marechal needs him brought back in order to give a speech which will incite the people of Mirkavia into a war Marechal desires. Marechal plans to double-cross Cabal, of course, but then again, Cabal plans to double-cross Marechal, too.

The escaped Cabal flees Mirkavia in a dirigible, where his curiosity about an on-board homicide makes him a target for murder as well. Together with his companion/foil Leonie Barrow, Cabal must uncover the murderers identity and ultimately thwart the Mirkavian plot in order to be free to carry on his diabolical experiments.

Cabal is a great character. Self-centered and blithely unconcerned about the well-being of others, he has few likeable traits, but nevertheless captivates the reader and forces you to root for him. The humor is sometimes subtle but effective – there is a gag near the beginning of the book involving cat shaving that made me laugh out loud – and it was an altogether enjoyable read.

This is the second in a planned series of books about Johannes Cabal, the first being Johannes Cabal the Necromancer, which I will be sure to seek out.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

I Write Like William Gibson

There's a website called I Write Like which will analyze a writing sample and tell you which famous author your writing most resembles. Obviously, I had to try it, and lo and behold:

I write like
William Gibson

I Write Like by Mémoires, Mac journal software. Analyze your writing!

This might just be the worst day of William Gibson's life.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

My Interview With Greg F. Gifune

Another of the short interviews I have been doing for Cemetery Dance is now on-line. This time, it is with author Greg F. Gifune. Click on his name to read the interview, and while you are there, feel free to order his latest book, Chasing Hell.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

I Lower the Standards of Other Websites, Too

You can check out my review of The Butcher of Box Hill/Monster Town by Logan Saville at the Horror World website.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Innswich Horror

It’s a dangerous proposition when a writer decides to pay homage to one of his influences by writing a story in the style of the other writer. Too often, personal style is lost in the mimicry, and the result is a bad imitation of the original.

Fortunately, Edward Lee handles this well in his new novel The Innswich Horror, and homage to H. P. Lovecraft. Lee manages to capture the Lovecraft atmosphere without abandoning what makes Lee one of the more original authors working today. The book is a tribute/semi-sequel to the Lovecraft classic “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.”

Two years after the death of Lovecraft, Foster Morley is his biggest fan. Living in Lovecraft’s hometown of Providence, Morley has collected Lovecraft’s published work, and devotes himself to exploring the venues that influenced the stories. Morley is something of a Lovecraft protagonist, a refined gentleman of independent means, somewhat prim and prudish. On a bus trip, Morley stops at the hitherto unknown town of Olmstead (according to Lovecraft’s notes, the unnamed central character of “Shadow” was named Olmstead). He stops for a visit, and becomes intrigued by the parallels between the town, originally called Innswich, and the Innsmouth of the story. He also notices there are few young men in the village and that almost all of the women are pregnant. His investigations lead him to the realization that Lovecraft may not have had such an active imagination after all.

As I said before, Lee does a good job of balancing his own style with that of Lovecraft. The tone reads like the Master, but with a fair amount of the sex and violence found in Lee’s own work, certainly more sex and violence than is found in all of Lovecraft’s work combined. Meanwhile, some of the excesses of Lee’s work have been blunted, the need to conform to the Lovecraft model tempering the need to top previous work in order to please fans. This is the best Edward Lee book I’ve read in some time, although his recent work is quite good. While Morley has the background of a Lovecraft character, he is bolder and more resourceful, carrying a gun and willing to fight the monstrosities he encounters (Lovecraft’s heroes were noted for fainting when confronted with horror).

All in all, if you like Edward Lee or H. P. Lovecraft, you will enjoy The Innswich Horror. There is a catch, however. Other than a small run of lettered editions, the only copies went to the 652 subscribers to the 2008 Cemetery Dance book club, so it will be hard to find. I think it is worth the effort, if the price isn’t too exorbitant.

A word on that book club. I paid $199 (which included shipping and handling) to receive 13 books from Cemetery Dance. While some of them took a little longer than originally hoped, this was a very good deal. I received books from Ray Bradbury, Simon Clark, Ronald Kelly, Al Sarrantonio and others, discovered Norman Prentiss who has become a favorite new author, and received exclusive books from Edward Lee and Douglas Clegg. This was money very well spent.

Edit: A tip of the fedora to my friend Kent Gowran: A more affordable trade paperback will be available from Deadite Books sometime in the near future, which is good news.