Book Review: Buffy, Return to Chaos by Craig Shaw Gardner

Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Return to Chaos
Reviewed by Sebastian Grimm

Buffy fans out there who are craving more Buffy, this will be a fair read. Not a masterpiece, but a good tale that flowed okay.

In Buffy universe context: No Spike, no Angel. Oz and Willow are together, as are Zander and Cordelia. Willow is the nerdy, giggly Willow we remember, so that is fun. Giles is Giles.

It seems like a normal time in Sunnydale when Willow and Giles come up with some weird computer program that can spit out possible dangers based upon what I’m not sure. It seems like they feed in past situations and magic book content and get a printout of what evil is coming. Sort of a much-less cooler Weird Science scenario. No Barbie, no missile. A printout. But the printout seems to confuse matters more than help. Meanwhile, an old Druid and his three young nephews, also Druids, come into town.

The three young guys are interesting and provide the Scooby gang with some playmates. Oz is interested in them because they may be able to cure or at least tame his werewolf nature. Zander likes them because they treat him like one of the cool guys he always wants to be. Buffy even gets to experience a little romantic chemistry with one of them. However, I tend to think of all of the guys as one entity. None of them really stood out as his own person. They came as a package deal. Three for the price of one sort of thing. 

The Druids coming to town was an interesting concept. There was never really anything like this in the show. The new vampire “Eric” was interesting but we didn’t see him too much. I wished there was more of him. I found the older Druid uninteresting. He was trying to do this top-secret mission and captures Willow and all, but his whole concept seemed out-dated and rudimentary. 

A side plot where Cordelia is under a vampire’s spell was weird and maybe not needed. Her ex-boyfriend, an undead quarterback who she affectionately refers to as a “muck monster” was odd and had no real resolution. An annoying cheerleader-turned-vamp was so annoying, I almost put the book down a few times. The vampire controlling the vampire (yes, it’s that confusing) could have been also combined with the annoying cheer girl because they were so similar.

There were a few interesting parts when the gang was together, doing what they do and making plans. I also enjoyed a particular spell occurring in the graveyard where Buffy is attacked by growing vines.

Overall, I missed Spike in this book because he could’ve added some much-needed comedy and coolness to the book. 

This is a 3 ☆☆☆ on the scale. For hungry Buffy fans, it will be a watered-down snack between the rewatching of the series. 

Sebastian Grimm signing off.

 

HA Movie Review: Crawl

Jaws meets Gatoroid in Alligator Eco-Terror Film Crawl

By Sumiko Saulson

Beautiful cinematography, over-the-top acting, and bad writing make the action-packed alligator horror-thriller Crawl seem like the bastard love-child of Steven Spielberg and Roger Corman.  Cormaneseque is an adjective coined to describe movies like the campy 2011 SyFy Made-For-TV Movie classic Mega Python vs. GatoroidCrawl manages to successfully blend the high-budget, high tension, fast-paced, action-packed jump scare a minute drama of eco-terror classics of the seventies like the 1975 Steven Spielberg classic Jaws with a decidedly Cormanesque plot.

Lush cinematographic values and convincing creature effects sell this frightening Florida monster masterpiece about giant, bloodthirsty, frighteningly coordinated packs of hungry gators hunting down college athlete Haley (Kaya Scodelario) and her backstage parent and semi-absentee father, Dave (Barry Pepper). While the special effects and camerawork are all on-point, they don’t completely make up for what the movie lacks in storyline and dialogue.

Dave tells his daughter, competitive swimmer Haley, she is an “apex predator, all the way.” The personal tagline resurfaces several times as she dives in and out of increasingly risky situations. Like her father, Haley is an impulsive risk-taker. That is why, when she finds out that Daddy has gone missing in the middle of a Category 5 hurricane, against all reason and sisterly advice, she runs right out there to save dear old Dad.

Haley finds Dad trapped in a flood-devastated basement with giant alligators circling. The basement area is called a crawlspace, and that, along with the creepy crawly critters that are snapping and biting at Dad, serves as inspiration for the title Crawl.

For about the first half an hour, this seems like a regular eco-terror film with normal alligators and everyday heroes. It’s just then that Haley, Dave, and the gators get progressively surreal and badass. At first, it’s just sort of Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock in Speed badassery, with Haley being Reeves and dear old miraculously still not dead Dad Dave as the Sandra Bullock damsel in distress badass. 

At this point, Sugar, an adorable fluffy family dog played by Cso-Cso, joins the cast.  From here on out, the film becomes a tense contest to see if Haley, the clear star, can escape with Dave and Sugar. We also cringe and wait to see if this adorable pup Sugar or badass, yet Refrigerator-Girl-Vibe-Dad Dave will die in a bold sacrificial act. Unlike the adorable dog, Dave is picking up injuries like Carl on the Walking Dead. The addition of the family dog slightly reduces the Dad-is-doomed cadence of the whole production.

Spoiler Alert… there is a gas station/liquor store robbery occurring during the trapped in the basement crawlspace scene. Without getting into the fate of America’s Dumbest Criminals, let’s just say, there is a speed boat involved in the heist. During the scene where Haley literally outruns alligators to capture the boat, the film escalates into territory so improbable and badass it’s bad, like Jaws 3D. The Jaws 3D level jump-scare to insanely unlikely outrunning of apex predators ration increases exponentially.

 Then, at some point, cinematic magic occurs. The film achieves an off-the-wall, roller coaster ride of improbability for the remainder of the film of such epic proportions that it seems more like the Evil Dead franchise or House in the Woods than a serious horror film. And guess what? Crawl really works as a parody of every eco-terror action-adventure horror ever. At this point, it’s achieved true greatness, where even the preposterous parts are so bad they’re good.  It gets more and more over the top until the Starship Troopers like ending, where you will swear that Haley is a superhero of some kind who stands for apex predator superiority, American ingenuity, truth, justice, and the American Way. Is it pandering? Or is it brilliant satire?

I give it Four of Five Stars 

(If it’s pandering and Five out of Five, if it’s the brilliant satire it at times, appears to be)

 

Guest Blog: Review of The Witch by Ronald Hutton

The Witch Reviewed by John C Adams

This non-fiction book is subtitled ‘A History of Fear from Ancient Times to the Present’.

I first came across the author and historian Ronald Hutton fourteen years ago when he appeared as a guest in ‘Tales from the Green Valley’, a BBC TV show featuring a year-long project to re-establish a working Elizabethan farm in Wales using genuine techniques. He provided good-natured expert analysis of the Christmas traditions of the time, and it was apparent that he really knew his stuff.

Last year, I was delighted to receive a copy of this book as a birthday present from my teenage daughter (make of that what you will). I was intrigued when I realised that the author was the same expert on pagan custom and history I’d enjoyed watching a decade and a half earlier. The starting point in reading my daughter’s gift was therefore that Hutton would demonstrate the same thoroughness of expertise and knowledge here, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The book is divided into three sections – deep perspectives (on global, ancient and shamanic contexts in the history of witchcraft), continental perspectives (including the legacy of the Egyptians, the reception of witches in the Middle Ages and the early modern patchwork including the Shakespearean age) and, finally, a section on British perspectives on witches and their relationship with fairies, Celticity and animals.

It would probably be helpful for me to point out that Hutton’s book is a history of how witches (including shamans and service magicians, so the term here is used for both male and female practitioners) are perceived by the wider societies in which they reside, rather than a history of witchcraft itself. To that end, excellently researched and thoughtfully presented though it is, readers seeking a practical history of how witchcraft has been practised or even a how-to manual would be best advised to seek out other titles. On the other hand, as histories of witches and their treatment go, it is impeccably argued and detailed.

I’m a great believer in academics presenting their findings impartially and being careful to explain objectively the limitations of their sources, be honest about the extent of our current knowledge, and highlight areas where further research would help. This, as well as the diligence of decades of in-depth research, is where Hutton’s strength lies. He gets right down into the detail, lays it out and provides a justified conclusion, all in very cool, precise language which doesn’t force on the reader a particular point of view based on preconceived notions. Not all histories are created equal! Instead, Hutton goes where the facts take him and gives the reader space to reach their own conclusions as they make that journey with him.

For all the research and detail, this was far from being a dry read. It was fascinating and informative, and I enjoyed it immensely.

Enjoy!

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John C Adams is a reviewer and writer of horror fiction. Souls for the Master is available for free on Smashwords and for 99p on Kindle.

http://johncadams.wix.com/johnadamssf

Book Review: The Place of Broken Things by Linda D. Addison and Alessandro Manzetti

Reviewed by Voodoo Lynn

The Place of Broken Things is a new book of poetry penned by Linda Addison and Alessandro Manzetti. They take the reader through a fascinating labyrinth of pain, remembrance, and longing.  Though the book may be short, the verses are filled with haunting imagery that burrows into your very being. It carries you to places like Angkor Wat, Provence, and imaginary Harlem. With each poem, you are transported to a new broken place where you learn about the suffering of each subject. The use of language is flowing and free, nothing about it seems forced. I even learned a couple of new words.

Throughout the book, the contrast between a cold and harsh modern reality and the deep, rich inner life of the characters is enthralling. Perhaps it’s not escapism so much as a philosophical lease on life. There are several references to religion. One of my favorites is in the poem “Cathedral Lane.” In it we are taken through the morning life of a homeless Native American in a large city. Many of the poems in this collection are set in busy cities which we tend to think of as dark and grey but here they take on a new and colorful life through the character’s eyes.  The homeless man is Navajo as the poem makes reference to a sun deity-Nandzgai and a night deity-Chahalgel. Although the man is destitute, he still manages to see the world in a beautiful, serene and timeless way, which is in stark contrast to his cacophonous and grimy surroundings. My favorite line is: 

“Somewhere in the distance the sun returns, sliding up from the horizon, as night retires he opens his eyes to greet the passing of Now from one sky god to another…”

One poem that stuck with me is ‘Animation’. It caught my attention right away because of the format of the poem itself was visually interesting. The poem’s setting is in an office and talks about, what reminds me of a Borg invasion in the Star Trek universe. The office is thrown into chaos as all the metal and wiring coalesces into a humanoid being saying “join us.” What follows is a futile attempt to escape, ultimately leading to assimilation. When the poem first starts out, it formed into two moderately sized diamond shapes. Then, as the escape ensues, the sentences expand outward, and then become smaller, like a triangle. It does it again. And then, finally, as the worker is captured and is being taken over by the metal and wires, the sentences become smaller until it ends in one word, “join.” Because of the physical shape of the poem, I felt like I was experiencing what the office worker felt. The actual description of the process of assimilation is succinct and very effective. The end description will always stay with me:

“Flesh body knitted with steel, eyes empty, weeping blood floats in front of me. Wire caresses my face, enters my ears, metal loops bind me to the walls…”  

It just sends shivers down my spine. With the current rise in A.I. and predictive programming technology in our everyday life, this poem takes on a whole life of its own and forces the reader to wonder, what if? 

The last poem I want to talk about is “She, on Sunday.” This one fascinates me. It talks about an older woman remembering her past, and her obsessive need to repeat certain memories and how she’s become trapped in a small room, perhaps in real life, perhaps in her own mind- I’m not sure. This poem is tied together by the author’s musical references throughout. They mention Yann Tiersen, I know this name. As it turns out he was responsible for the soundtrack to the whimsical film Amelie, one of my favorites. If you are not familiar with the film, there are a few piano instrumentals in it that express a deep sense of longing, which is a perfect companion to the poem. I strongly encourage you to YouTube this music and listen to it while reading to get the full effect. There is a strong connection to the character’s obsession with her memories and her obsession with certain music. The imagery throughout the poem is amazing. You get to see something so unassuming and ubiquitous and have it transformed into a surreal Escher-esque image. For example, take someone playing the piano and have it described to you as follows: 

“…moving cold fingers, pressing blurry fingerprints on the ivory keys, bleeding curves, lines and black and white mazes which vibrate following the coils of a music theme…” 

This poem also has one of my favorite lines in it: 

“…like women’s scents in the days when the incense of spring begins to burn…”

So lovely.

The Place of Broken Things is filled with such magnificent imagery and sadness, it is sure to satisfy many. There are over thirty selections to choose from, some written individually, and others are a collaborative effort between the poets- all are worth checking out. If you are in the mood to indulge yourself in darkness and pain, then I suggest reading this book and know that you are not alone. The Buddha said, “all life is suffering.” As it turns out in the end, that is something we all have in common.

Guest Blog: 25 of the Most Metal Films (That Aren’t About Metal)

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The world’s first heavy metal band, Black Sabbath, took their name from Mario Bava’s classic 1963 horror film. In the years since, horror and metal have continued to have an ongoing conversation, from horror-themed metal bands (such as Cradle of Filth, The Great Old Ones, or Carach Angren) to metal-themed horror films.

My short story Requiem in Frost continues this tradition, telling the story of a Norwegian girl who moves into a house haunted by the ghost of a black metal musician.

To coincide with its release, I’ve decided to make a list of movies that, to me, feel “metal.” However, I’m not going to limit this list to horror, and I’m going to avoid films that are specifically about metal. This is because every other list of “Most Metal films of all time” take it literally, all of them focusing exclusively on the same 10 or so movies to have explicit references to the genre. The internet can only withstand so many posts containing Deathgasm, The Gate, The Devil’s Candy, and Lords of Chaos. So instead, I’m going to focus on movies that feel like they capture the essence of metal.

Here’s my criteria: do the images in the movie feel like they could be metal album covers? Could you put metal on the soundtrack and have it feel right? Does the story feel like it could also be that of a metal concept album? Does it feel powerful and meticulously constructed in the way that good metal does?

Obviously, everyone will have their own view on what does and doesn’t belong on this list. These are my choices, and I’m sure that your own are perfectly valid. That’s why these are 25 of the most metal films that aren’t about metal—not the 25 most.

Black SabbathHere we go. Organized by year:

  1. BLACK SABBATH (1963): Let’s just get this shoo-in out of the way. It honestly doesn’t feel that metal to me, but the fact that it inspired what many consider to be the first metal band ever makes it retroactively metal.
  2. WIZARDS (1977): Ralph Bakshi’s animated feature establishes a world in which, following a nuclear apocalypse, humans have all died or become mutants, and fantasy races have taken over in the meantime. An evil wizard uses Nazi propaganda footage to inspire his troops; a robot finds redemption, and fairy tits jiggle. It’s a strange, over-ambitious film, but the subject matter and imagery would feel right at home in a strange, over-ambitious metal concept album. Bakshi’s Fire and Ice might also be a suitable pick, but I haven’t seen it so I can’t put it here.
  3. HEAVY METAL (1981): A token inclusion, this adult animated anthology feature contains aliens on drugs, women with big swords, and copious amounts of sex and violence. It’s rather dated, particularly in the treatment of its female characters, but there’s no denying it is as metal as its name.
  4. CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1982): Look, the poster for Conan the Barbarian looks just like a Manowar album. It opens with the forging of a sword. It’s full of Vikings. It has to be on this list.
  5. LEGEND (1985): When you get down to it, a lot of metal is quite geeky, full of fantasy tropes and looming apocalypses—much like Legend. Plus, Tim Curry’s Darkness is such a perfectly iconic heavy metal demon that it would be sinful not to include it.
  6. HELLRAISER (1987): Clive Barker’s squirmfest is undeniably metal, if only for the aesthetic of the cenobites and for the film’s obsession with pain, pleasure, and Hell. Hellraiser was also a huge influence on the band Cradle of Filth, with Pinhead’s actor Doug Bradley making regular appearances on their albums.
  7. EVIL DEAD 2 (1987): The Necronomicon. Ash’s chainsaw hand. The bleeding walls. The soul-swallowing, flesh-possessing demons. Evil Dead 2 is as metal as it gets.
  8. THE CROW (1994): While it’s arguably more of a goth film than a metal film, The Crow is nonetheless filled with such metal-appropriate themes as coming back from the dead to avenge your frigid lover. It’s also one of the rare movies where both the protagonist and antagonist have longer-than-average hair. Kaw, kaw.
  9. DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE (1994): Also known as Cemetery Man, this underrated dark comedy stars Rupert Everett as the keeper of a cemetery where the dead come back to life after burial. It features a romance with a severed head, a zombie on a motorbike, and Death himself, as well as amusingly cynical quotes like “I’d give my life to be dead” and “At a certain point in life, you realize you know more dead people than living.”
  10. VAMPIRE HUNTER D: BLOODLUST (2000): One of the most beautiful animated films of all time, and also one of the darkest. There’s vampires, giant flying manta rays, strange monsters, dark magic, zombies, and more. The first Vampire Hunter D film is good, but Bloodlust just gives the audience one incredibly metal scene after another, and it’s filled with shots that look like they could be metal album covers.
  11. LORD OF THE RINGS (2001 – 2003): Just look at this meme. I think that demonstrates pretty clearly just how metal these films are.
  12. HELLBOY (2004) & HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY (2008): Guillermo del Toro’s fantastic Hellboy films follow a demon who fights Nazis, tentacled Eldritch abominations, faeries, and more. The fact that we have a demon as the hero of the story is pretty significant, but the films’ hellishly lush imagery also demand their inclusion. Particularly metal is the Angel of Death we meet in Hellboy II: The Golden Army.
  13. 300 (2006): I’m including Zach Snyder’s divisive “300” here because the whole movie just feels like a mosh pit to me, with its fetishization of big men with big swords fighting in big groups. It has stunning, brutal, beautiful violence, and plenty of images that feel like metal album covers. Lest you think metal can only be from Scandinavia, check out the amazing Greek metal bands Rotting Christ or Septicflesh, and the Mesopotamian metal band Melecesh. All three bands would feel right at home on the 300 soundtrack.
  14. PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006): Another beautiful Guillermo del Toro picture, Pan’s Labyrinth is both a grisly fairy tale and a story of rebellion. The Faun and the Pale Man, both played by the incomparable Doug Jones, are stunningly dark creations, and this list would be incomplete without them.
  15. SILENT HILL (2006): Pyramid Head’s scenes. ‘Nuff said.
  16. MARTYRS (2008): Extreme metal is like extreme horror: enjoyment often requires a process of conditioning and desensitization. Just as you can recommend some extreme metal only to people with the ear for it, you can only really recommend Martyrs to people with the stomach for it. Somewhere out there, a goregrind band is writing lyrics about a woman’s skin being removed in honor of this grueling film.
  17. VALHALLA RISING (2009): Nicolas Refn’s surreal Viking picture stars Mads Mikkelsen as One Eye, a man who resembles Odin and goes on a transcendent journey. It’s bloody, somber, drenched in pagan spirituality and black metal as Hell.
  18. HELLDRIVER (2010): This bonkers Japanese splatterfest contains a car made out of body parts, an eight-armed zombie holding eight assault rifles, a plane made out of zombies, and…look, it’s just nuts, okay? I might have also included similar Japanese bonkers films like Tokyo Gore Police, The Machine Girl, or Robogeisha, but I feel like Helldriver belongs here the most.
  19. DRIVE ANGRY 3D (2011): Nicholas Cage escapes from Hell to take revenge on someMandy evil cultists by driving…angrily…in 3D. While being pursued by a demon accountant…who is also, yes, in 3D. There’s also a sex scene gunfight…which is, you guessed it, also in 3D.
  20. BERSERK: THE GOLDEN AGE ARC (2012 – 2013): While it isn’t nearly as good as the manga it’s based on, this anime film trilogy is nonetheless quite metal. Set in a medieval fantasy world, Berserk has big swords, big battles, and big demons, culminating with the infamously hellish “Eclipse” sequence. But really, read the manga instead.
  21. KUNG FURY (2015): This 30-minute long Swedish crowd-funded film manages to pack more metal stuff in it than most films can manage in a feature-length. In Kung Fury, a Kung-Fu Cop must fight Hitler, but accidentally goes too far back in time and ends up in the Viking Age, where Viking women ride dinosaurs and fight laser raptors. In other words, it’s amazing. You can watch it for free on YouTube.
  22. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD (2015): This movie contains a man playing a fire-spewing guitar on top of a stage that’s on a moving big rig, and if that’s not metal, then I don’t know what is.
  23. THE WITCH (2015): The Witch kicks off with the ritualistic sacrifice of an infant, and from there only continues to bombard us with Satanic imagery. Of particular note is Black Philip, the sinister goat who apparently terrorized the actors as much as he does the characters in the film.
  24. MANDY (2018): Nicolas Cage makes a bat’leth and fights a shitty cult in this surreal film that’s destined to be a cult favorite. Like some great metal albums, I can think of, Mandy starts off slow and atmospheric, lulling you with hypnotic beauty before exploding into an orgy of batshit violence. Also, like many great metal albums I can think of, it feels like it was conceived while on drugs.
  25. AQUAMAN (2018): Okay, hear me out. James Wan’s Aquaman makes Jason Mamoa’s Aquaman look as metal as possible, and he makes the rest of the film as metal as possible too. The scene where Aquaman bursts from the ground while riding a giant crab? Metal. The Lovecraft references? Metal. The Trench sequence with its creepy fishmen? Metal. Amber Heard’s jellyfish dress? Metal. The fact that Aquaman fights a giant tentacle monster that’s voiced by Mary Poppins herself, Julie Andrews? Oh, so metal. There’s even a cute scene with the cuddly metalheads at a bar. This movie is a treasure.

 

JonathanFortinAuthorPhoto_SepiaJonathan Fortin is the author of Lilitu: The Memoirs of a Succubus (coming December 2019 from Crystal Lake Publishing) and Nightmarescape (Mocha Memoirs Press). An unashamed lover of spooky Gothic stories, Jonathan was named the “Next Great Horror Writer” in 2017 by HorrorAddicts.net. He attended the Clarion Writing Program in 2012, one year after graduating summa cum laude from San Francisco State University’s Creative Writing program. When not writing, Jonathan enjoys voice acting, dressing like a Victorian gentleman, and indulging in all things odd and macabre in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can follow him online at www.jonathanfortin.com or on Twitter @Jonathan_Fortin.

 

Vile Vacations: USS Hornet by Kay Tracy

Originally posted on Jan 3, 2017


Kay sent this story of a personal vacation experience. Hope you enjoy this story as much as I have.

I have a short tale of my “night” aboard the USS Hornet, the retired aircraft carrier, and now, floating museum in Alameda California.I know a few folks who used to volunteer at the museum there and almost to a person, they have tales of seeing unusual “things” aboard that ship.

Thanks to my contacts, I was invited to do a science/aerospace lesson series for a youth overnight event a number of years back.   I gave my presentations, and activities had a light dinner with the youth group and settled in. We were regaled with tales of ghosts and unusual occurrences by some of the staff, but as a self-avowed “Science Nerd”  I was more than a little skeptical. The night itself was uneventful.

File:USS Hornet enlisted bunks.jpgThe next morning, was another story. I had finished the educational program, but we could not bring the vehicle to remove the equipment until the end of the museum hours.   Being a bit tired from two days and a night aboard, I settled into a bunk in the forward quarters overlooking the anchor chains for a short nap. I awoke to the feeling of my head at an odd angle as if I was wedged up against a wall. I reached my arm up to push myself down to a more comfortable position, only to find I was nowhere near the bulkhead or cabinet! I attempted to sit up in the bunk, with no luck,  It felt now as if someone were sitting on my shoulders! I took a breath, and, keeping my eyes closed, “calmly” said; “If I am in your bunk, I apologize. If you will get up a moment, I will get up and leave it to you!” The weight lifted, and I quickly opened my eyes and got up. I moved to a small table nearby and sat where I could see the bunk I had been in. I never saw anything move, or appear in that space, though when my co-presenter returned from fetching a soda, she looked at me and remarked “Are you alright? You look as if you have seen a ghost!” I never did “see” anything, but I can say what transpired is nothing that I can explain with science. I have since become a founding member of the Society for Unusual Manifestations.