Odds and DEAD Ends: Claustrophobic Killing

The Horror Legacy of Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None’

Agatha Christie probably isn’t a name you’d associate with horror. She was a crime author; the writer you snuggled up in the armchair with on a rainy afternoon for a good thriller with twists and turns. For the first two decades of her career, the famous detective with the little grey cells, Hercule Poirot, was her livelihood. And yet, in 1939, she unleashes And Then There Were None. This single novel redefined strategic, rhythmic, multiple murders in fiction and would come to change horror itself.

On the documentary The Thing: Terror Takes Shape, John Carpenter cites Christie’s novel as an influence on his adaptation of Campbell’s novella Who Goes There?. In the novella, dozens of scientists find an alien imitator in their midst which is ultimately defeated with only a few deaths. Carpenter’s The Thing is much bleaker, with just sixteen men left to fight and kill, and ultimately are left with two survivors and an uncertain future, desolate and alone.

Strangely, though a larger crowd might sound initially scarier, as they could be so many people, it is when there are fewer characters that the tension mounts. The walls have closed in. There aren’t seven rooms that a killer could be in; there’s only one. And, standing in the right place, you can be sure to see them. Carpenter reduces a few dozen characters to his sixteen, and Dame Christie had already done it with just ten.

Everything about the novel has the purpose of constricting the ten, subjecting them to as much pressure as possible, crushing them. The house is cut off from the rest of the world and those on the mainland have been told not to rescue them. We’re confined to the hallways of Soldier Island’s house, chasing shadows.

Added to this the dripping theme of guilt that Christie presents us with, permeating every sentence, every word of the novel, and we see that she is pressurizing the characters emotionally. The past catching up with them; they can’t escape the killer or their conscience.

But I’m not here to discuss the novel as a whole. What I want to bring to your attention is the legacy of its setup. Just look to The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Though light-hearted, there are two episodes of the first series in which the S.O.S brigade are trapped on an island with a single house, in a storm, when a murder takes place. Suddenly everyone begins casting suspicions, doors are kept locked, shadows are seen outside. Though there is only a single murder, as opposed to the many in Christie’s novel, the setup is so similar it borders on parody.

To go even further, die-hard fans of horror-thrillers will remember the series Umineko no naku koro ni, or When The Seagulls Cry. Twenty people on an island in a storm being killed off systematically to appease an old legend. This direct homage is done not just because it’s a nice reference, but because the formula is so easy, simple, and effective. No communication to the outside world, trapped in one place, being killed off by a psychopath in the midst.

This claustrophobic killing rhythm has been replicated so many times now that it’s hard to think that it had an origin of some kind. And there were stories that used aspects of it before And Then There Were None, but none of them had the same impact.

Could you conceive of the modern slasher flick without some of the points mentioned? Could you imagine Alien if it was in a city with a nuke nearby? If the bridge in The Evil Dead were intact? Perhaps Saw II would be better if only two people died in that house? Maybe if the police didn’t keep them caged in the apartment, REC would have been vastly improved?

If you want maximum terror, you keep people confined. This isn’t just a claustrophobia thing; it’s the idea of escape. Freedom. You find what a character wants, and then take it away from them; it’s storytelling 101. In Scream, Sidney says that horror movies are just girls that ‘run up the stairs when they should be running out the front door, it’s insulting.’ But when the front door opens up to a cliff-face or the vacuum of space, there’s no option. We’re trapped. We are creatures constantly in need of control, and when we don’t have control of escape possibilities, we panic. We get scared.

Christie got the formula and nailed it. It hasn’t been beaten since. It’s the reason why The Mousetrap is the longest continuously-showing production of all time. It’s why Waters of Mars was one of the most terrifying episodes of Doctor Who in recent memory. It’s because it taps into our basic instincts and then removes them. We can’t fight and we can’t run. We can only try to survive and hope and pray. And anyway, as Leslie Vernon says, letting people escape ‘is really embarrassing.’ These killers aren’t going to let us off the island.

And Then There Were None is the perfect slasher prototype and should be revered and remembered as such. Agatha Christie wrote the essential horror blueprint. Fact.

 

Article by Kieran Judge

 

Bibliography

Alien. 1979. [Film] Directed by Ridley Scott. United States of America: Brandywine Productions.

Behind the mask: The rise of Leslie Vernon. 2006. [Film] Directed by Scott Glosserman. USA: Anchor Bay Entertainment.

Campbell, J. W., 2011. Who Goes There?. 1st ed. London: Gollancz.

Christie, A., 1952 – present. The Mousetrap. London: St. Martin’s Theatre.

Christie, A., 2015. And Then There Were None. London: HarperCollins.

Doctor Who – Waters Of Mars. 2009. [Film] Directed by Graeme Harper. United Kingdom: BBC.

John Carpenter’s The Thing. 1982. [Film] Directed by John Carpenter. United States of America: Universal Studios.

REC. 2007. [Film] Directed by Jaume Balaguero, Paco Plaza. Spain: Filmax International.

Saw II. 2005. [Film] Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman. USA: Twisted Pictures.

Scream. 1996. [Film] Directed by Wes Craven. United States: Dimension Films.

The Evil Dead. 1981. [Film] Directed by Sam Raimi. USA: Renaissance Pictures.

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. 2006. [Film] Directed by Tatsuya Ishihara. Japan: Kyoto Animation.

The Thing: Terror Takes Shape. 1998. [Film] Directed by Michael Mattesino. United States Of America: Universal.

Umineko No Naku Koro Ni. 2009. [Film] Directed by Chiaki Kon. Japan: Studio Deen.

 

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Book Review: The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donahue

Guest Blog Review by Bernadette (A.K.A Spine Cracker) 

The Boy Who Drew Monsters

Summary:

Ever since he nearly drowned in the ocean three years earlier, ten-year-old Jack Peter Keenan has been deathly afraid to venture outdoors. Refusing to leave his home in a small coastal town in Maine, Jack Peter spends his time drawing monsters. When those drawings take on a life of their own, no one is safe from the terror they inspire. His mother, Holly, begins to hear strange sounds in the night coming from the ocean, and she seeks answers from the local Catholic priest and his Japanese housekeeper, who fill her head with stories of shipwrecks and ghosts. His father, Tim, wanders the beach, frantically searching for a strange apparition running wild in the dunes. And the boy’s only friend, Nick, becomes helplessly entangled in the eerie power of the drawings. While those around Jack Peter are haunted by what they think they see, only he knows the truth behind the frightful occurrences as the outside world encroaches upon them all.

Review:

Spectacularly dark and spooky, The Boy Who Drew Monsters is a wild horror ride wrapped up in only 200+ pages.

I picked up this book on a whim. I needed something short to read and was drawn to this novel’s creepy, simplistic cover, and I was not disappointed. I can honestly say that this is probably one of the best horror novels that I have read in a long time. The best thing about it was the pacing. It had the pacing of a horror film with frightening things popping up every chapter or two and every scene added to the story.

Another interesting element to this novel is that the main character suffers from autism so you get to see into the life of an autistic child with agoraphobia and the effects his condition has on his family and friends. The other characters in the book are your pretty basic family tropes you see in most horror things; the dad who just wants things to be normal and doesn’t believe in anything and the mum who sets out to find all of the answers. But even though they are character tropes that you see in everything they work for a reason. Though I would like to see the roles reversed in a book just for fun.

Horror wise this novel was perfectly chilling. Anything involving children is automatically 10 times scarier than a horror novel about adults. The monsters are very creative and not like anything I had seen before, especially the baby army. But I will say no more about that because I don’t want to spoil anything.

If you want a straight to the point horror novel with lots of creepy monsters this is the book for you.

There are also whispers of a film potentially being made so if you like to jump on bandwagons  before they get rolling, this is your chance.


GUEST BLOGGER BIO: 

Bernadette (A.K.A Spine Cracker) is an Irish book blogger & professional content creator with a love of all things horror and macabre. When she isn’t blogging she is usually indulging in her love of 80s goth music, DnD and all things nerdy. She is also a published short story writer and poet.

Odds and DEAD Ends: Resurrecting The Queen

Resurrecting The Queen: Queen Tera in Bram Stoker’s The Jewel of Seven Stars,

When people think of Bram Stoker, they invariably think of Dracula. His novel, The Jewel of Seven Stars, is perhaps overshadowed simply by the importance of the vampire, but it is by no means an inferior novel. Detailing the attempt to resurrect an ancient Egyptian Queen, the novel went on to inspire movies such as Hammer’s Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb, and in some ways the Universal adaptation of The Mummy with Tom Cruise. In this article, I will discuss Queen Tera, and the way she is portrayed as a constant threat to patriarchal society.

To note, I’m using a copy of the novel which includes the original ending and the second, revised ending. I’m basing my discussion on the original ending because it’s darker and, presumably, the direction Stoker originally intended. Also, selfishly, because I much prefer it.

Let us first note that, aside from Margaret Trelawny (and a brief mention of her mother), Queen Tera is the only female character in the novel, and she never utters a word. Her characterization is presented through the male characters of the novel; the documentation of Van Huyn’s book, or the recounting of Corbeck and Trelawny. The power that she exhumes, therefore, may or may not be interpreted to be being played up by the male characters to increase the sense of a threat that she poses. Note that before we are given a name, we have the warning that “‘The “Nameless One” has insulted them and is forever alone. Go not nigh, lest their vengeance wither you away.’” (P.84)

With all that in mind, what is initially deciphered from the sarcophagus reveals Tera to have challenged the male-dominated society of the priests, “‘who had by then achieved immense power’” (p.87). “‘In the statement, it was plainly set forth that the hatred of the priests was, she knew, stored up for her, and that they would after her death try to suppress her name.’” (p.88). Their motivation is her strength in being able to combat their overthrowing of the monarchy, “‘They were then secretly ready to make an effort… that of transferring the governing power from a Kingship to a Hierarchy.’” (p.87) The priests, to their own gain, attempt to get rid of her, “‘make out that the real Princess Tera had died in the experiment, and that another girl had been substituted, but she conclusively proved their error.’” (P.88)

Tera, however, shows incredible resilience thanks to her own determination and learning from her father, “‘He had also had her taught statecraft, and had even made her learned in the lore of the very priests themselves.’” (p.87). She even breaks the tradition of a male ruler, though others try to align her to it. “‘In the following picture she was in female dress, but still wearing the crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt, while the discarded male raiment lay at her feet.’” (P.88). She is very much her own woman, not afraid to show her sex, going against the patriarchy set up for the Kingship, and against the priesthood. “‘She seems to have seen through the weakness of her own religion.’” (p.113)

Her intelligence is noted by the present-day protagonists, who even say that the mummy’s gender may affect their knowledge of the situation, that “Men may find that what seemed empiric deductions were, in reality, the results of a loftier intelligence and a learning greater than our own.” (P.164) Mr. Trelawny also states that:

“We might have known that the maker of such a tomb – a woman, who had shown in other ways such a sense of beauty and completeness, and who had finished every detail with such a feminine richness of elaboration – would not have neglected such an architectural feature.” (P.95)

However, Queen Tera possesses a knowledge which the others do not, which ensures their eventual demise and her assumed resurrection. As is noted by Carol A. Senf, “What makes Tera so overwhelming is her violence and ability to over-power the assembled experts.” (p.107). The science and understanding of all the men in the room cannot save them from Tera’s avenging evil, just as the priests could not stop her eventual revival.

It is this knowledge of another world, knowledge beyond that of the priests and the protagonists, that they fear. Women’s rights movements are slowly gaining momentum at the time, and just a few years before the novel’s publication, in 1898, Stoker’s native Ireland had the Irish Women’s Suffrage and Local Government Association arise from the Dublin Women’s Suffrage Association. Gender politics is on the rise, and the female threats to patriarchal power could not have been far from Stoker’s mind.

This fear of female invasion to the modern patriarchal society is what makes Tera so terrifying. Killing dozens of people throughout the recorded events, based on a combination of ambition and supernatural power, fuelled by a wrath based on gender politics very closely linked to the rising gender politics of Stoker’s time, Queen Tera is an overshadowed classic villain of gothic horror. With gender politics still very much in the public consciousness in today’s world, perhaps revisiting this pushed-aside novel by one of modern horror’s founding fathers, is worth the time for all of us.

Article by Kieran Judge

Bibliography

Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb. 1971. [Film] Directed by Seth Holt. United Kingdom: Hammer.

Senf, C. A., 2010. Bram Stoker. Wales: University of Wales Press.

Stoker, B., 2009. The Jewel of Seven Stars. United States of America: Seven Treasures Publications.

The Mummy. 2017. [Film] Directed by Alex Kurtzman. United States of America: Universal.

 

 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Penny Dreadful Season 3

Penny Dreadful Season Three a Disappointing Finale

by Kristin Battestella

I loved me some Penny Dreadful. Previously, I watched the First Two seasons twice or more before writing my reviews a few months after I had simmered in the immersion of all things sophisticated Victorian macabre. I re-watched the entire series again when finishing this obviously late review, but Season Three’s still blindsiding finale and haphazard resolution of the series undermines the glorious potential that was yet to be found in Penny Dreadful.

Year Three hits the ground running with some delightful circumstances in “The Day Tennyson Died.” Our quirky little family of evil fighters – Vanessa Ives (Eva Green), Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton), Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett), Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), and His Monster (Rory Kinnear) – is scattered about the globe from London to the Old West and Africa to the frozen north. Their townhouse base is shabby with covered furniture and piled mail before the titular solemn and lovely poetic references reconnect old friends with tenderness and sympathy. After all they’ve been through, those in London are allowed to stew and cry – unlike the unforgiving railroad and lawless land of the New Mexico Territory. Though blindingly bright compared to the British bleak, there’s an underlying ominous to the witches and werewolves among the lawmen. Letters from Africa with burials made right also find Chiricahua Indians in the most unlikely Zanzibar alley while faraway frozen trawlers debate cannibalism and melodies remind monsters of when they were men. Famous names face racism at Bedlam as pale minions with anemia excuses lurk. Penny Dreadful has a lot to do but does it with superb conversations, new allies, and bloody vignettes. “Predators Far and Near” adds vintage photography, jurisdiction technicalities, a modified barber’s chair for experimenting on patients, and fear of the gramophone cylinders recording one’s sin. Therapy confessions recount prior indiscretions, but the prescription for godless loneliness is doing something innocent and happy no matter how small. Women debate on light and dark souls while men bond over their love of daughters and a son not birthed to them but bound with their suffering. Talbot family history, ritual chanting, and colorful vision quests counter the sophisticated Victorian science lectures and whimsical memories of adventures the likes of 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. Unfortunately, our dreadfuls are more familiar with lunatics and monsters rather than childhood heroes, with Jekyll and Hyde-esque transformations on crazed victims, deceptively charming courtships, a wise Apache woman reminiscent of the fortune teller in The Wolf Man, and a desert full moon to aide one’s bone cracking escape.

Unholy alliances between witches and the Wolf of God continue in “Good and Evil Braided Be.” Is it the beast or angel, good or evil that’s the real persona? Does the mind create phantoms and demons to explain the darkness and pain? Do you bury the animal inside or unleash it? Between the werewolf curse, divided locales, tug and pull father figures, and hints of Hyde, Penny Dreadful creates superb dual themes alongside several racial moments and of the time derogatory Native American comments. Sophisticated light and dark visuals and good and evil motifs are interwoven against crudeness, triumphing over those who define what’s black and white or right and wrong solely based upon skin tone rather than soul. The audience isn’t hit on the head with the social commentary, but one scene beautifully addresses the sadly still lingering attitudes upfront. New, risky hypnosis techniques further retrace past darkness and despair in Episode Four “A Blade of Grass.” Memories and present offices blur in a dreamy act with current doctors and familiar faces in unexpected places uncovering new revelations of a forgotten padded white room. In camera foregrounds and backgrounds accent the confined or expanded four walls as needed with overhead views, zooms, face to face close ups, and wide angle warped. Finite descriptions of precious few details, amplified sounds, and demon shadows match the kindness of an orderly or the evils that await. Precious blankets are taken away amid growling, crying, straight jackets, and water torture. Can God find you in a place like this or are you alone? Our patient fears the evil within and wants to die over the betrayals and sins committed, yet the tender bonding with her jailer turned poetic advocate provides an unlikely compassion. Whether you can face yourself in the mirror or not, these fugue state manifestations overcome evil with the truth at Christmas in one excellent parable. The least amount of effects, minimal characters, and few locales leave nothing but the emotion and anguish upon their faces. It’s divine, just everything television should be and perhaps the best episode of the entire series.

And then, somehow, Penny Dreadful went to shit.

Series writer and creator John Logan hands Penny Dreadful over to new writers mid season – a maneuver suggesting a viable transition rather than leaving unknowns to resolve your planned finale with rushed characters and compressed stories. Andrew Hinderaker (Pure Genius) pens “This World Is Our Hell” with The West as a barren purgatory full of symbolic multi-layered pursuits on who the righteous should save or whom the evil would kill. Water is scarce among the grave sins and shame worn as redemption; forgiveness versus temptation comes in revealing fireside chats recounting past ambushes and the difficulty of serving multiple masters – fathers, duty, Lucifer. Unfortunately, these lofty topics are undone by nonsensical mysticism. Witches can summon snakes to conveniently wipe out pursuers but cannot heal injured mounts or conjure water and dying people somehow have enough energy for awkward evil sex after days of thirst. The Victorian mad science and desert shootouts jar in an anchor-less back and forth when the confrontations between our converging father figures are more interesting. Lengthy exposition on past horrors feels odd in a series that often shows rather than tells. Why not have an entire Talbot past hour the way “Closer than Sisters” showed us how Penny Dreadful really began? Otherwise the audience is left confused over who’s really at fault for the faithful turning evil. It was Ethan’s dad’s fault for making it the army’s fault who made the Apaches to blame??? Penny Dreadful always had pacing issues and uneven characters, but this Old West excursion could have ditched the dead weight characters and been back to London in half the time. I don’t think it is necessarily Hinderaker and newcomer Krysty Wilson-Cairns’ fault, but “No Beast So Fierce” throws even more at the screen with too many threads regarding who’s evil or who’s the law amid busy shootouts, vampire minions, Bedlam serums, how to kill a man tutorials, Egyptian wonders unrealized, and new steampunk introductions. What’s supposed to be important – monsters being kind to sick children or sassy sword wielding new characters? If the key to defeating evil is holding fast to loved ones, why has our family been apart all season? Perhaps one writer should have been responsible for one set of characters the entire year, as Dracula’s apparently content to wait out the cowboy adventure while other isolated and aimless immortal plans go round and round and pull Penny Dreadful apart at the seams.

Penny Dreadful has an innate melancholy – cemeteries, grave digging, mourning shrouds – but the dark romance is used for unnecessary preachy in “Ebb Tide.” Separated characters finally meet, but one knock on the door and a brief scene reconciling the past and present is not enough. Friends that could fill this empty manor and fight the bloodshed are pushed away while our team in the West doesn’t heed ancestral warnings. Despite insisting London is home, characters remain obstinate just for the sake of creating drama, leading to contrived betrayals and more speeches begging for the fast forward button. Touching conversations on who will bury whom are interwoven with weaker plots, straying from the core and repeating exposition we already know. Visions unite players who have been apart but such mystic conversations and wisdom on rescuing one another from darkness should have happened much sooner – two episodes ago, nobody cared. Krysty Wilson-Cairns writes the quick at forty-three minutes “Perpetual Night,” and it’s the shortest episode of Penny Dreadful when the series desperately needed more time. The boys rush back to Londontown amid foggy cityscapes, morbid voiceovers, tasty frogs multiplying, and rats amok. Dead wolves and toothy minions everywhere require swift blade work and fireplace pokers to stave off vampire infections – but no one thought to call Dr. Frankenstein away from Bedlam’s dungeon when people are said to be dying by the thousands? Penny Dreadful bites off more than it can chew, takes too long to achieve what matters, and spits out the excess when there’s no time left. Ironically, the “The Blessed Dark” finale also delays, saving choice moments with its stars rather than going full tilt with the dream hazy, bodies on hooks, and bats as sad lullabies over the special credits recap the sad state of our separate characters. It’s very exciting to see the reunions and werewolves fighting vampires in true monster mash up fashion as it should be – Dr. Jekyll passes by as Dr. Seward hypnotizes Renfield! As a season finale, this hour provides closing moments on some toiling plots. However, as a series finale, it barely resolves anything. Brief mentions on her destiny, his destiny, and previous prophecies don’t make sense anymore, and Victor literally bumps into the gang at Bedlam. The team is together again by accident! Major moments with his monsters earn one scene each, and none of those super strong immortals join the End of the DaysTM battle. Instead, bad ass walking down the street filler and a few ridiculously outnumbered pistols struggle with conveniently confusing action choreography. Bitter ties to the First Season become unrealized tangents, and new characters are inexplicably more steadfast than our original crew. Four episodes ago, life was worth fighting for but now isolated characters give up because the script says they should in a one hundred and eighty degree turn that’s painful to see end this way.

Vanessa Ives begins alone, a recluse living in squalor before rising thanks to words and wits with her therapist. Eva Green’s heroine cleans up and humbly restores the manor. Despite losing her faith, Vanessa is inspired by Joan of Arc’s confidence and says she will remain resolute. Oddly, she doesn’t seem as psychic or intuitive anymore and fails to recognize evil tendencies she previously pegged so astutely. It’s sad to see Vanessa open herself, revisiting innocent things that make her happy or having a man’s company once again end in terror. She’s willingly hypnotized to face her repressed psychiatry treatment, addressing her past doubts, regrets, and battles with Lucifer. “A Blade of Grass” shows her at rock bottom before a ray of hope and renewed prayers – if you believe in evil, then you must believe God is there to defeat it. Unfortunately, Penny Dreadful squanders the Lucifer issues, fast tracks Dracula, and circumvents Vanessa’s body and soul versus the fallen brothers with a past event cheating viewers out of a current victory. Vanessa can sense and see Kaetenay when the plot says so, but her lack of psychosexual possession and failed insights inexplicably have her give up despite knowing overdue help is on the way. Green saves this sloppy writing and deserved more hardware for Penny Dreadful. I don’t blame her if she recognized the tone had changed and was ready to depart. The series could have continued in searching for an evil Vanessa as an absent lead a la Blake’s 7 rather than two scenes with bad girl red eye shadow trying to make up for rushing to resolve Vanessa’s story. Josh Hartnett’s Ethan “Lawrence Talbot” Chandler is also not only reluctant to see his real father, but he’s angry at being adopted as Kaetenay’s Apache son. Ethan knows there is blood on his teeth and his soul deserving of punishment and wears his guilt on his sleeve. Unfortunately, his history comes from three different sources – so for all this New Mexico excursion, we don’t get a clear picture. The Wolf of God also spends about fifteen minutes being evil, standing up for Hecate over Malcolm because he won’t repent and belongs in hell. Ethan speaks evil prayers at the dinner table, but isn’t this the guy who’s Latin single-handedly exorcised Vanessa? His reciting of the Lord’s Prayer in the finale feels hollow thanks to his satanic reversal just a few episodes earlier. Was Ethan’s western escapade and Vanessa’s evil each meant to be it’s own season storyline? They both have a scene or two of darkness, and one moment in the finale doesn’t make up for Ethan’s back and forth. Meanwhile, Sarah Greene as Hecate travels in white, an unassuming Gibson girl who loves horses and animals but loathes people. She wants to be evil beside Ethan, but her powers are both handy or nonsense as needed. Hecate kills unnecessary to teach him a lesson and lingers too long in this uneven capacity – crowding an already busy Penny Dreadful while not being a character in her own right. The English Sean Glider (Hornblower) may be an unusual choice as a U.S. Marshall, but his crusty ways balance the British tidiness of Douglas Hodge as Inspector Rusk as they pursue Our Mr. Talbot. Rusk may ask for tea in the bar car and insist Scotland Yard Inspectors do not carry firearms, but he doesn’t underestimate the ruthless West. He begins to believe the Occult upon his case and does take up more violence as the blood on their path increases – before a thankless end, of course.

The beard is back for Timothy Dalton as Sir Malcolm, and even if he doesn’t know all the details, he’s ready to respect Wes Studi’s (Geronimo: An American Legend) Chiricahua Kaetenay if it will help save Ethan. Like an oasis in white in the mostly unlikely place, it’s wonderful when Malcolm and Ethan finally meet up for some shootout action. However, Malcolm really doesn’t have a whole lot to do this season beyond listening to Kaetenay. Most of his dialogue is responsive filler, and even before the surprise series finale, I suspected Dalton would not be returning for Season Four. You don’t keep a talented name without giving him quality writing, and Malcolm ends up repeating the same plot. Chasing after lost lamb Ethan, fighting a vampire to rescue Vanessa – he’s again saving his family even as his travels keep him from his home and any relationship with Victor. Malcolm could have returned to London post-Africa, maybe to meet Catriona sooner or dislike Dr. Sweet, as it’s a disservice to reduce him to little more than Kaetenay’s sidekick. That said, yes please to more of Studi’s set in his ways Apache. He still scalps because old habits die hard, but he doesn’t drink and believes one can’t die until his purpose is served. Granted, Penny Dreadful is trading the mystical negro trope for the mystical Apache stereotype, but the moonlight visions and enigmatic destiny talk tie the blood, suffering, and wolves together. Kaetenay pushes on after Ethan no matter what – he and his people have endured much but he’s prepared to face this darkness over London. There should have been more time for his revelations, and Penny Dreadful only makes use of Kaetenay when needed. It takes seven episodes for Ethan to heed his warnings about what is to come, and he should have mystically connected with Vanessa from the start. As Ethan’s father, Brian Cox (Coriolanus) also has some great one on one’s with Malcolm. They are wonderfully alike, right down to the conquest map on Jared Talbot’s wall, the mountains named after him, and an empty home as the cost. However, a boat load of family history that Ethan already knows is repeatedly told rather than seen, leaving Talbot Senior unevenly written with sorrowful or crazed exposition amid one gunshot and stand off after another. Had we seen the first terrible shootout that has him so angry, then this second battle in his ranch chapel would have had much more meaning. Kaetenay provided connecting visions when necessary, so why not have some kind of mystic Talbot dream that showed the betrayals and horrors causing all this pain?

Fortunately, Rory Kinnear’s Creature aka Caliban aka John Clare has some superb redemption on Penny Dreadful. He won’t harm a dying cabin boy, recalls more about who he was, and realizes who he may yet be after touching moments in the Fourth and Fifth episodes showing his life before his death and resurrection. He is again at the window or in the eaves, on the outside peering in on those that think he is dead. The Creature risks rejection and reaches out despite the pain, blossoming from being an angry violent child to almost the man he used to be. His resurrection allows Caliban to find his family – only to loose it again thanks to innocence versus the unnatural. This season, Clare is almost totally separate from everyone else, alone on this sympathetic journey beyond too brief moments with Vanessa, erroneously on the fringe without even seeing Dr. Frankenstein. He may piece together his past, but not enough was done with the connection between Vanessa and the Creature. She recognizes him, but not him her, and Penny Dreadful cops out by resolving their past in a flashback. Again, just because we the audience saw it does not mean the characters themselves received any current resolution. Why didn’t Caliban ever knock on Malcolm’s door? He would have been welcome in this misfit family dang nabbit! Reeve Carney’s Dorian Gray and Billie Piper’s Brona cum Lily Frankenstein, however, should have stayed home. By his very nature, Dorian is a supporting character that never changes. They aren’t missed when absent but Penny Dreadful uses him and Lily to shoehorn in some kind of modern feminism vengeance that goes nowhere fast with repetitive, ad nauseam speeches. Whether it is justified man hate or not, the appearance of Jessica Barden (The End of the F***ing World) as Justine perhaps a la the de Sade wastes time with back alley torture, nudity, and bloody threesomes. The warped justice is all over the place with even less to do Dorian getting stabbed for funsies before he gets bored from having seen such depravity already. Episodes grind to a halt with their round and round male behavior psychoanalysis, briefly tossing in suffragettes and violence that makes them just as bad as the abusers from who they claim to rescue women. Penny Dreadful has done better psychosexual themes, and compared to Caliban’s soul searching, Lily realizes her humanity too late in one great soliloquy that should happened the moment she was reborn, and Ethan never finds out Brona has been resurrected!!!!

Harry Treadaway’s junkie Victor Frankenstein becomes a mopey little piss ant bent on proving his superior science can conquer death, and he arrogantly thinks he can perfect on Jekyll’s methods. Maybe there’s a parallel between his wanting to create angels instead of monsters and Lily’s superior woman army, but their uneven storylines barely intersect beyond a few redundant stalker scenes and never factor into other plots. Victor goes about getting Lily back in the worst way possible, becoming like his originally angry Creature in a fitting poetic justice. He’s deluded in thinking Lily owes him anything, and it should be a great destructive character arc. However, rather than having him freaking call on Vanessa while they are both in London twiddling their thumbs, Penny Dreadful treats Frankenstein as an afterthought before one last lesson on how to be a human rather than the monster. One poetic voiceover from Victor such as, “Sir Malcolm, I hesitate to confess it now, but I must inform you I have a singular talent for defeating death as we know it…” could have ended Penny Dreadful in a uniquely twisted vein. Sadder still is that Shazad Latif (Mi-5) as Dr. Jekyll somehow turns into a handing Victor the scalpel lackey. He has history with Dr. F. – roommates and dare I say something more – and faces much “half breed” Victorian racism. Jekyll despises his white father but wants his acclaim and title to help prove his serum on anger and duality. Simply put, there is no way he was intended as a throwaway character and we deserved to know him more. Although scheduling conflicts necessitated the departure of Simon Russell Beale as Mr. Lyle, his being written off as going on assignment to Egypt just begs to be told! Did everyone forget all the prophecies on Amunet and Lucifer or the hieroglyphics carved onto the vampire bodies? Of all the friends still about London who never bother to visit, it’s Lyle who draws Vanessa out and into therapy because thanks to his closeted sexuality, he understands what it is like to be unique and alone. Of course, he might have mentioned Perdita Weeks’ (The Tudors) thanatologist Catriona Hartdegen when they were studying all that Fallen Angel and Mother of Evil stuff. She’s a woman of occult science fencing and wearing pants who doesn’t blink at the thought of Dracula being in London. Her one on one scenes with Vanessa are well done with possible replacement or lover vibes, “It’s ‘Cat’ for you, as in cat o’ nine tails.’” Wink! She calls Malcolm “Sir M” and I would have liked to see more of them together, but Catriona’s style provides a steampunk cum The Time Machine and albeit meaningless potential. Her cool fighting skills are ultimately convenient and inexplicable – if we weren’t going to learn more then all these superfluous characters should have never been introduced.

We are however given some divine new characters with Patti LuPone returning to Penny Dreadful as Dr. Florence Seward – an alienist said to have distant Clayton ancestry due to her resemblance to LuPone’s previous cut-wife role. Though rigid and progressive, Seward is there to heal the ill, who aren’t bad or unworthy, just ill. She calls out every politeness or mannerism, pegging Vanessa’s loss, isolation, and depression in delicious two-hander scenes with award worthy dialogue and delivery. A moving session recounting Vanessa’s tale, however, makes the doctor strike up a cigarette. She refuses to believe the paranormal causes or that vampires are after her patient, but she does understand pain and has some murderous history of her own. Samuel Barnett’s (Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency) seemingly innocent Renfield is Dr. Seward’s secretary, but his red light district cruising leads to bloody encounters and insect snacks. Where Penny Dreadful initially had to dance around the Stoker limitations, these superb character interpretations deserved more than this season’s rushed attention. Christian Camargo (Dexter) as zoologist and charming widower Alexander Sweet is a man smitten using rapid fire science references to woo Vanessa, but his reveal as Dracula is too darn early. This romance seemed so happy and Sweet is almost empathetic, but evil lurks in the House of Mirrors of all places! He doesn’t want Vanessa’s submission, just to be seduced by she, the Mother of Evil and serve her. Sadly, unraveling toppers instead go unresolved. After admitting he was directly responsible for Mina’s demise and all of Season One, Penny Dreadful lets Dracula exit stage right and we aren’t supposed to notice? What is worth noticing are the trains, dime western action, and steampunky flair alongside our usual penny blood, gore, buzzing flies, broken necks, and bat silhouettes. The cobwebbed and boarded manor opens the windows and clears the dust as the camera focuses on the period touches – vintage motion picture cameras, spectacles, brandy decanters, nibs, and ledgers contrast the hay, canteens, wagons, saw dust, and Native American motifs. The fashions are a little more modern, but the museums, taxidermy, skeletons, and specimens in jars invoke Victorian sciences amid the carriages, cobblestone, and tolling bells. Although some CGI backgrounds are apparent with a foreground actor and fakery behind, the desert vistas, mountains, and ranch compounds create bright lighting schemes to contrast the British grays, developing a unique style like nothing else on television.

Unfortunately, with NBC’s Dracula long gone, Crimson Peak’s less than stellar box office, and Penny lost too soon, the promise of more Victorian horror and a new dark romanticism appears short-lived. Whether the cast or Logan wanted to depart or Showtime disliked the production expenses, something behind the scenes was the final nail in Penny Dreadful‘s coffin. The two hour finale burned off the last episodes yet advertising promoting the event as a season finale later backtracked with the series’ fate. More merchandising opportunities never seemed capitalized upon, and there was little award campaigning. Having had Season One available on other streaming platforms might have helped the show find more audiences, however Penny Dreadful wasn’t available on Netflix until after its cancellation in a tidy Three Season binge package. The series’ props have been auctioned off, so it appears no one shopped Penny Dreadful to any other networks. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but in late 2015 while this Third Year was filming was also when Tom Cruise swept in to take over The Mummy and start Universal’s highly anticipated but ultimately D.O.A. Dark Universe monster revival. Did somebody squash the competition? Maybe it isn’t as simple as that, but I will always be skeptical of Logan and Showtime’s he said/she said claiming that this was always how Penny Dreadful was supposed to end. With new locales and more colorful literary characters among our beloved team, why couldn’t Penny Dreadful sustain itself? Previously, one could overlook any small inconsistencies because the sophisticated scares and morose design far outweighed any negatives. This season, however, becomes a chore to continue and is best left at Episode Four. After finishing Dexter and losing interest in Homeland and Ray Donovan, we’ve canceled our Showtime subscription since Penny is no more. There were other ways to do Penny Dreadful justice than this, well, what seems like internal sabotage, but gothic viewers shouldn’t let this rushed Season Three dampen what has otherwise been a stellar and macabre program.

Book Review: Freaks edited by Toneye Eyenot and Michael Noe

Are you looking for stories that stick in your dreams? Ones about people twisted both inside and out? You might regret what you wish for.

Freaks, a collection of stories and poetry edited by Toneye Eyenot and Michael Noe, contains 19 chilling tales of monsters, murderers, and madmen.

This anthology is not for the faint of heart. The stories inside may vary in style and subject matter, but the collection holds nothing back. Each is gruesome and stretches the limits of what you as a horror addict can stomach. The authors explore the depths of human depravity, then dig down a few more feet just for good measure.

Each author put their own spin on the anthology’s theme of horror in the realm of circuses and carnivals. The stories are a good mix of the supernatural, the speculative, and the frighteningly realistic. There are killer clowns, sure, but what about a man with a killer appetite, or a roadshow zombie attraction, or a carnival ride that is actually alive? Not all freaks are easy to identify and the worst ones are really the ones that are monsters on the inside.

My personal favorite entries are “Two for the Show” by Tina Piney and “Clownbear’s Last Performance” by Brian Glossup. Both authors created compelling characters within a short span, a difficult task when also including spine-tingling imagery and suspense.

If you’re brave enough to chance reading this, I can guarantee that you’ll be looking over your shoulder and sleeping with the lights on. And no way in hell are you going anywhere near a circus. If you feel a little squeamish, I think that’s the point.

Freaks appeals to a certain variety of horror addict. If you love to stretch the limits of what is appropriate to publish, take a look. If you want stories that will make your skin crawl and stomach churn, check this out. If you want to question your sanity and that of the authors and maybe of humanity in general… read Freaks. And don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Classic Horror Summer Reading – A Video Recommendation

 

Hello, Horror Addicts! Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz here again on video, braving the sunshine poolside to chat about why you should be revisiting some Classic Horror Reads this Summer!

 

Press play for some thoughts on Dracula, Anne Rice, Shakespeare, Stephen King, The Bronte Sisters, and more!

Don’t forget you can be part of the conversation – By Horror Addicts, for Horror Addicts! – on our Facebook Group. Tell us what kind of videos, media, and Horror coverage you’d like to see and what scary stories you’re reading!

Chilling Chat Episode 156 Christine Verstraete

Christine (C.A.) Verstraete enjoys putting a little “scare” in her writing. She follows the murder trial and offers a twist on the infamous 1892 Borden murders in her book, Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter. She also looks at the murders from the viewpoint of Lizzie’s doctorC.A. Verstraete in her latest, The Haunting of Dr. Bowen. Other books include a young adult novel, GIRL Z: My Life as a Teenage Zombie, and books on dollhouse collecting and crafting. Christine’s short stories have appeared in various anthologies including: Descent Into Darkness, Happy Homicides 3: Summertime Crime, Mystery Weekly, and Timeshares, Steampunk’d, and Hot & Steamy: Tales of Steampunk Romance, DAW Books. She is an award-winning journalist published in daily to weekly newspapers, and in various magazines. Her stories have received awards from local and national newspaper associations, and the Dog Writer’s Association of America.

Christine is a smart and accomplished lady. We discussed historical horror, her writing style, and Lizzie Borden.

 

NTK: Welcome to Chilling Chat, Christine. Thank you for chatting with me today.

CV: My pleasure and thanks for taking the time to talk.

NTK: You have a background in journalism. How has this influenced your writing?

CV: It makes me more detail-oriented, I think. I’m used to looking things up and doing research.

NTK: Did this help you when writing Lizzie Borden: Zombie Hunter?

CV: I did do a lot of reading and finding research of the period. The real autopsy reports and crime scene photos actually inspired the book idea.

NTK: Wow! The autopsy photos inspired the plot?Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter by [Verstraete, C.A.]

CV: If you read the autopsy reports detailing the injuries and look at the photos, it’s plausible (in the horror sense) to think why else were they hit in the head? It was an awful, brutal crime, so I guess this gives a better reason than the standard hate/greed/family dysfunction/dissatisfaction.

NTK: What made you portray Lizzie as a hero?

CV: Using that [zombie] premise, I thought Lizzie had to have a good reason to kill, other than being a monster herself. What if she was trying to protect her town and her sister from this unbelievable evil?

NTK: Were you influenced by some of the historical horror novels like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter?

CV: I hadn’t read ALVH until later, but loved it! I really enjoyed the movie.

NTK: You have an interesting take on the case and an interesting “What if?” Stephen King has spoken of how he uses “What if?” when thinking of an idea. Is that how you write? Do you look at a situation and say, “What if this happened?”

CV: I wish I was as prolific-thinking as him! My ideas seem to come out of nowhere, then I stew on them a bit and see what they develop into. I have to get excited about the idea to stick with it.

I guess I’m so structured in news-writing that fiction is looser—in the idea stage, anyway.

NTK: Your style is very crisp and direct. What writers have influenced you?

CV: It’s probably the news background. I know I don’t like reading or writing, long, meandering sentences. I loved reading Royko in The Chicago Tribune. Grew up on King who, of course, can be rather wordy at times. (Laughs) I went through different periods of loving different authors, classic and contemporary—Dean Koontz, Heinlein, loved Saul Bellow too.

NTK: I have to ask. Who do you prefer? King or Koontz?

CV: Probably King, as I’ve probably read more from him. I loved that he did a sequel to The Shining (and it did well.) The recent It movie was fun too.

NTK: Did King get you into horror?

CV: Well, I grew up on Creature Features on TV, the Crypt Keeper, Night Gallery, and reading King. (Laughs) Salem’s Lot is a favorite I still like to reread now and then. I just picked up a copy of Carrie to read again after many, many years.

NTK: Are these your favorite horror novels? What are your favorite Horror TV shows and movies?

CV: The TVs shows, I just mentioned are favorites.

NTK: Do you watch The Walking Dead?

CV: Yes—when I can. It’s addicting! [As to books] I also really liked reading I Am Legend and plan on reading Matheson’s other books. It’s writing that makes you savor the sentences. I love old creepy movies, even the corny ones—and, anything with Vincent Price!

NTK: Vincent Price starred in many historical pieces. Is that what got you interested in that type of horror?

CV: Most likely. He had that mesmerizing voice. I also liked Edgar Allan Poe. I still remember seeing The Tell-Tale Heart at the theater. One scary movie!

The older movies really got me hooked, classics like Dracula, Frankenstein, and Bride of Frankenstein. And, The Wolfman of course.

I guess after all that; it made sense that I finally turned to writing creepy stuff!

NTK: What’s your favorite Edgar Allan Poe story or poem?

CV: The Tell-Tale Heart. I recently re-read The Black Cat, also very eerie and still packs a punch. Maybe, that’s why I like putting a little twist in stories, like I did in Lizzie Borden: Zombie Hunter and, the sequel, Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter 2: The Axe Will Fall.Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter 2: The Axe Will Fall by [Verstraete, C.A.]

NTK: You write creepy things. Do you also create creepy things? You make miniatures. Have you ever built a haunted dollhouse?

CV: (Laughs) Yes, I’m that twisted. I do enjoy creating Halloween miniatures. I had fun doing my first Halloween dollhouse and thinking how creepy I could get. Far as I know, nothing has moved of its own accord in there…yet. I am planning another haunted house but less gory this time.

NTK: Cool! You spoke of Lizzie Borden and the sequel. Do you have other work concerning Lizzie and her time period?

CV: There’s also a companion novella, The Haunting of Dr. Bowen, told from the viewpoint of Lizzie’s doctor and neighbor. He was the first official on the murder scene, and I wondered how could that, and the city’s bloody past, have affected him? It’s kind of a ghostly love story as well. I wanted to try something different and had fun writing it.

NTK: What does the future hold for you? Do you have plans for new work?

CV: Oh, the mind never rests, you know. (Laughs) I have a longer short story that I may re-edit and put out again. I was toying with some ideas for book 3 for Lizzie. I love writing about the characters.

The first book, Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter, follows the trial and real-life events with the addition of zombies, of course. I had to follow more fictional events in the sequel to continue the story, but I liked coming up with a new weird angle to the story.

A big thrill was [when] the newspaper in Lizzie’s hometown did a story on the book when it first came out. That was fun.

NTK: Do you think the Lizzie in your universe is cursed?

CV: She’s fighting evil and learning that her father may have been part of that evil…you can’t get more cursed than that. That could be why she feels obligated to do what she can, even when everyone blames her for the horrors. Much like in real life, she was acquitted but still treated as a pariah and considered guilty.

NTK: As you know, Season 13 of HorrorAddicts is CURSED! Do you have a favorite curse? If so, what is it?

CV: I do love the old gypsy curse in the classic Wolfman movie…Larry Talbot’s a monster, but you can’t help but feel his pain and feel sorry for him until the curse is broken…

NTK: That’s a terrific curse. Thank you, Christine. I’ve really enjoyed chatting with you.

CV: I’ve enjoyed chatting with you. Thank you.

Addicts, you can follow Christine on Twitter at @caverstraete