FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: A Christmas Carol (2019)

Thought Provoking and Mature A Christmas Carol (2019)

by Kristin Battestella

To allow himself rest in the afterlife, the deceased Jacob Marley (Stephen Graham) aides The Ghosts of Christmas Past (Andy Serkis), Present (Charlotte Reily), and Future (Jason Flemyng) in orchestrated a change for good in his soulless, corrupt business partner Ebenezer Scrooge (Guy Pearce). Scrooge’s bitter ways effect the health, happiness, and welfare of his clerk Bob Cratchit (Joe Alwyn) and his wife Mary (Vinette Robinson), but confronting Scrooge’s horrible life may not be enough to redeem the miser…

The 2019 BBC miniseries A Christmas Carol produced by Ridley Scott (Prometheus) and Tom Hardy (Venom) is a darker imagining of the perennial Charles Dickens tale with episodic chapters originally called “The Human Beast,” “The Human Heart,” and “A Bag of Gravel” airing stateside on FX as one three hour event. Director Nick Murphy (The Last Kingdom) and writer Stephen Knight (Peaky Blinders) obviously have more time to fill than the more traditional, idyllic, paired-down tellings. Rather than the same old saccharin “God bless us, everyone!” these days viewers expect television to bring on the relatable Victorian bitterness. We often glorify the past, but this A Christmas Carol doesn’t underestimate an audience intimately familiar with weighing every action by gain mentalities and who you know and how much money you have getting you anywhere in life uphill struggles, abuses, and humiliation. Urination, grave desecration, bastards, and F-bombs immediately set this adult tone before ominous winds, crows, eerie graveyards, and a frosty ethereal London 1843. Church bells, purgatory supernatural, and almost Shakespearean asides accent the six feet under coins on the eyes, and no rest in peace as hellish forges, chains, and swinging coffins invoke a much more grim penance. Phantom sleighs dragging the chained behind lead to echoes between the counting-house and the spirit realm. Rattling in the fireplace and cutaways to the point of view from an empty chair realistically lay the forthcoming between worlds – embracing the Victorian off-kilter faerie parallel rather than just a sudden, mere holiday intervention as is often portrayed. Time is taken in A Christmas Carol with handwashing a la Lady Macbeth and ghostly versus guilt-ticking clocks. Hypocritical analysis digs deeper than humbug archetypes, and great horror imagery sets off the familiar but transposed text delivered deftly and naturally without any try-hard ye oldeth. Villainous silhouettes grow darker when we get the famous workhouses, prisons, and let them die disturbing. Shadows and black horses take the place of the locomotive on the stairs as other animal kindnesses born out of cruelty and hopeful lantern flashes contrast the creaking gate and ghostly door knocker. While most adaptations have a quick start or only run eighty minutes themselves, here it takes an hour before we even get to the Scrooge and Marley encounter. This A Christmas Carol simmers and broods, for these apparitions have been a long time coming with thumps in the night, groaning houses, clicking locks, and guilty consequences. Chilling reasons for that scarf usually around Marley’s jaw become macabre shocks as A Christmas Carol takes the hallmarks of a story that’s tough to do wrong and runs with the one-on-one encounters, twofer deliveries, and fiery flashbacks. Faulty subcontracts and bribing officials led to bloody workhouse disasters, gas explosions, and coal mine collapses while Scrooge passed the blame and forged those symbolic chains.

The refreshing script simplifies the Dickensian wordiness yet we do get some of the sardonic undigested beef quips amid self-aware glances at the camera and eternity spent in a forest of abandoned Christmas trees and forgotten childhood memories. An act of kindness said to be given to someone in pain is rejected as the abused perpetuate abuse, dealing in greed and people as commodities. Those scarred mentally and physically by the cruel, cost-cutting overseers rightfully call upon revenge like a reverse It’s A Wonderful Life orchestrating this spiritual comeuppance. Snowfall and ash in the air mix as other realms and childhood fears merge with violent canes, creepy singsongs, and pets caught in the chilling crossfire in a house that can’t afford another mouth to feed. Hiding behind the bed curtains is used to frightful effect as A Christmas Carol shows what the book implies yet leaves nasty suggestions to the shadows. Hope, however, can be found small as a mouse, big as a camel, or even in fanciful book illustrations come to life to save a boy’s mind from his torturous reality. Unfortunately, people are only worried about themselves. Gifts are just unwritten debts and unprofitable affections. These spirits force us to relive the darkest moments of the picture we paint so we may unlearn the ills that have shaped who we are. Here A Christmas Carol feels timely and modern, layering the past with disturbing familiar faces and real-world terrors that harden a boy’s heart and break our Christmas spirit. Magical deflections, pleas to go home, and facing the horrors combine for superb duality and visualizations as children may or may not see spirits and two of the same character appear in the same place at once. Loom factories become massive calculators in an industrial fantasy hitting home the cold hard numbers. Tragedy for many is opportunity for the few, and that’s just good business to see pounds instead of people and exploit their weaknesses accordingly. Shameful humiliations done on Christmas Day are born not out of desire, but agonizing experiments testing the solemn limits of what good people will do for money. Viewers contemplate how far A Christmas Carol will go in examining the the value of human virtue, and Merry Christmas greetings are said for all the wrong reasons – justifying the prayers, warnings, and curses that one day the truth will look us in the mirror. Mining survivors unite in memorial choirs, and the poor make up the difference with happiness and love instead of itemizing priceless intangibles. Halos at the altar suggest salvation, but admitting regret or that love came too late to stop hatred isn’t enough against chilling figures in the dark, haunting drownings, cracking ice, and death shrouds. Tolling bells and heartbeats announce the fatal consequences as we accept our deserved fate. For all the spirited meddling, it is up to us to change and act for the benefit of others without expectation of reward as A Christmas Carol concludes in full Dickensian compassion.

The First Chapter of A Christmas Carol is excellent as is the second. However, when expanding such a short novella, the balance is bound to be uneven. Here Christmas Past is featured for almost an hour and a half – leaving twenty minutes for The Ghost of Christmas Present and only ten minutes for The Future. After such depth with The Past, viewers wonder why Andy Serkis just didn’t play one composite spirit? Upon moving on from him with only forty-five minutes left, suddenly this A Christmas Carol is rushed, running out of time, and on the same pace as any other adaptation. Onscreen Christmas Eve 1843 openings don’t match Marley’s 1842 grave marker and the supposed seven years since his passing, but nor do the 1851 death dates. The melancholy focus will tiresome audiences, yet the quick finale feels like this should have been longer – a four-hour, two-night event. All that Past just opened Scrooge up so The Present can show warmth by making him wear a scarf and tinge his heart in a third of the time? The often excised Ali Babi brings a dash of childhood wonder into such grim, but making The Ghost of Christmas Present a woman to soften up Scrooge negates the progressive gender change and defeats the purpose of ditching young Scrooge’s for love or money choice. While losing the seemingly essential festive Fezziwig works wonders, the exclusion of eavesdropping on Nephew Fred’s is a missed opportunity when you’ve made his mother The Ghost of Christmas Present. The Past repeatedly tells Scrooge this is not a game – long after Scrooge stops making passive-aggressive asides – but Fred’s mocking his uncle and Scrooge’s family resentment would have fit in well with this bitter A Christmas Carol. Viewers begin to notice famous wording and elements missing. Did we skip an episode? Did the editor lose a reel? My favorite moment with Ignorance and Want is also excised when the decrepit child motifs would have fit these acerbic themes, and the casting lots on the bedclothes bargaining is another profiting on death horror that is surprisingly absent as if the writers simply didn’t finish adapting the fourth stave of the book or the production plum ran out of time and money. At times A Christmas Carol doesn’t seem to trust what it has in these exceptional performances and the timeless source material, adding in extra dialogue when looking at the camera directly implies the fourth wall is already broken and the spiritual work is coming for us next. Some truly good or innocent and in tune characters are said to see the usually invisible Scrooge and company – a haunting provocation wonderfully bringing this seeming radical A Christmas Carol right back to Dickens, for “I am standing in the spirit at your elbow.”

Occasionally Guy Pearce (Brimstone) looks top hat debonair as Ebenezer Scrooge, but the greased hair, liver spots, curled lip, and scratchy voice are looking foul decrepit to match the black ink said to run through his veins. According to Scrooge, gifts are falsely sought and dressed in ribbons to create artificial happiness and fake grins. No one really means their tidings of joy, and the December 25 dates, wise men, and snow in Palestine “facts” are just more perpetuated lies revealing who we presume to be and who we really are on Christmas or any other day. If such yule transformations were true, then why aren’t we such lambs every day with one day of misery to say what we really mean? Scrooge remains isolated in his office, looking out his window on the noisy world as time is taken for his extrapolated soliloquies on pretense and humbug. However, even the camera pulls back when he approaches, recoiling at his despicable holiday honesty. Scrooge is obsessed with counting, an OCD itemizing when he’s frustrated by poor fools and pesky specters. After talking to himself and almost missing Marley, Scrooge is angry at the deceased’s appearance, defiant, and regrets nothing. Although put in his place early with scary past confrontations, he uses his history to justify why he is this way but not that he needs to change. Shrewd Scrooge buys liquidating businesses under price before selling them at true value and smiles at the wheeling and dealing done in his prime. He even tells The Ghost of Christmas Past to write off a new coat as a business expense if subjects keep clawing and crying on his robe. Repeatedly rationalizing every profit over human cost and exploiting all opportunities despite any anguish, Scrooge revels in dangling the keys to his safe before the desperate. Once defensive and refusing to look, he grows ashamed of his actively cruel behavior in an excellent dual performance contrasting past and presents Scrooge side by side. Scrooge practices positive greetings in the mirror but looks more creepy doing so. He doesn’t know how to change even if he admits he may do things differently if given the chance, for it was his own innocence sold that spurred this solidarity with money. Scrooge regrets and apologizes, trying to break the spirit rules and interfere yet he refuses redemption. He accepts he was wrong and deserves to not be forgiven as softer hair and nicer skin suggest his revitalization. Scrooge runs through the street like George Bailey, closing his business and giving away money. Payoffs won’t make everything right but he has to start being a better person somewhere. Don’t we all? Although I wish we heard some of the traditional wording from him – and I want to make his long dress coat – once again I ask where the awards are for Guy Pearce. Sometimes, he also looks like Sean Bean here. I hadn’t noticed this before and now I demand they play brothers in future yearly gothic holiday adaptations. Van Helsing, Jekyll and Hyde, yes please. Please please please please!

Instead of just saying he sat beside Scrooge and tried to reach him, Stephen Graham’s (This is England) restless Jacob Marley has much more to do. Marley anchors the transitions between counting-house and underworld as the realms bleed through like a double negative. He wants his own absolution and needs Scrooge to get him such Clarence-esque wings, deepening the potential penance via his own encounters with the Ghost of Christmas Past. Anguished Marley thinks he’ll be stuck in purgatory forever if his redemption hinges on Scrooge. He believes their reality was a choice, also appearing after the spirits to admit how wrong they were in life, and it’s fascinating to see his realization as the culmination rather than the impetus of A Christmas Carol. Andy Serkis (Lord of the Rings) looks like an undead, ancient Santa as the Ghost of Christmas Past – a cranky minder of souls perpetually burning forgotten holiday hopes. The character also appears as the evil Scrooge Senior in pure horror torment as well as the literary friend Ali Baba in bittersweet moments. His eerie hood is not the sentimental sprite we expect, and the dried wreath on his head carries a crown of thorns, Christ-like innocence lost. Instead of the distinguishing cap, a zoetrope hat casts past shadows on the wall in an excellent visualization of the then-new to see the old. Weary over Scrooge’s excuses, The Past sends progressive Ghost of Christmas Present Charlotte Riley (The Take) in the guise of sister Lottie Scrooge in a lovely change again deserving of much more than repetitive family exposition and narrating already seen actions from characters that could have said everything themselves. Logical Lottie understands Scrooge’s past pain, combining the scientific and sensitive to confront Scrooge before the mouth sewn shut, grave digger-esque Jason Flemyng (X-Men: First Class) as The Ghost of Christmas Future enters tolling a broken bell. He’s said to be the most terrifying of the spirits and the one who ultimately decides Scrooge’s fate, but unfortunately, he doesn’t really appear to do anything but provide the disturbing Tiny Tim fate. The Past had equally frightening moments, and The Future merely disappears as Scrooge ultimately amends on his own.


Joe Alwyn (also in Mary Queen of Scots with Pearce) doesn’t really stand out for me among the numerous lookalike blonde boy band-type actors abound these days. His Bob Cratchit seems somewhat young, weak, and ineffectual, but that is fitting for an overworked father trying to keep his meager family together. Scrooge thinks four lumps of coal is more than reasonable despite his clerk’s frozen ink and continues to rag on him for a word misspelled once five years ago. Exasperated Bob insists he doesn’t get angry and does his work perfectly to spite Scrooge. He doesn’t hate his employer and remains kinds to Scrooge, asking if he is himself when they have such surprisingly frank conversations on this peculiar Christmas Eve. Bob has to toe the line between passive-aggressive asides and really talking back or standing up to his boss. He tells Scrooge he knows indeed how precarious his situation is, making us wonder why “situation” as synonymous with “job” fell out of terminology when the family to feed or ill health reasons that one toils should be paramount. Vinette Robinson’s (Sherlock) Mary Cratchit is frazzled and snippy, making excuses to her husband and sketching stories for Tiny Tim because they have no money for books. Only having two little Cratchits and a relative aptly named Martha tightens the familial focus, and Mary resorts to terrible secrets and forgoes her pride in a desperate need to save her son. She prays to be forgiven for what she has to do and asks Jesus to turn his head over such blackmail and lies. The holiday means Mary has to revisit one terrible Christmas every year, repeatedly going outdoors rather than face the congested weight and manifested guilt as the spiritual influences come full circle. Rather than the usual poor but happy brevity, A Christmas Carol develops The Cratchits as conflicted people, embodying how the one who has to power to alleviate their suffering can cause more oppression without having to lay a creepy hand on anyone.

The titular icicle script ekes out the ghostly etching with a cold nib to match the frosted windows and meager candle flame frigid. Snow abounds alongside carriages, street lamps, sleighs, ice skating, and crowded streets. However, there are precious little signs of Christmas in A Christmas Carol. No holly, few wreaths or plain garlands, no old fashioned merry, and the only jolly comes in brief carol notes and fiddle melodies cut short. While the night time blue tint is easier to see, the over-saturation may be intentionally noticeable and otherworldly. There are also some unnecessary swooping pans over the cobblestone streets but fortunately, these are only used early on to set the Londontown bustle versus the paranormal underbelly. Stage-like blocking, lighting schemes, and careful attention to detail visualize characterizations with gleams of light shining through the windows as natural, hopeful rays or framing dark silhouettes as needed. The counting-house office is divided between a brighter front and a darker back office with a wall of ledgers between rooms that the clerk must repeatedly go around to talk to Scrooge. Intercut foreshadowing between worlds leaves onscreen space for characters on another plane, subtly establishing Scrooge and Marley’s partnership even if the men are technically not together in the same scene. Echoing footsteps, bells, chimes, and creaking invoke period as well as horror amid hellish red fireplaces and disturbing imagery. Pox marks and sullen pallors match the tattered gloves and shabby bonnets on the poor while slightly more refined styles set the wealthy apart with top hats, ascots, waistcoats, pocket watches, and frock coats. A Christmas Carol looks at the early Victorian part without relying on the expected women’s silhouette thanks to fantastical cloaks, steampunk touches, and choose special effects. Dark upon dark schemes set off the horror visuals and cave-ins as the fog and frigid grow inside as well as out in the largely empty interiors. Groaning walls and a growing bed are ominous without being overbearing. The optical tricks are simple with slow zooms or camera cuts to where a spirit might be, leaving the chill up the spine carried by one’s looking over his shoulder and frightful reaction shots – as the scares should be.

Certainly, there are more genteel family-friendly adaptations of A Christmas Carol, and this decidedly darker spin won’t be for those seeking any lighthearted Dickensian comforts. It also takes planning to settle in for the whole three-hour block stateside. Although the chapter title cards are retained and once we’re on this retrospective journey it’s tough to stop, having had the original UK episodic format would solve the dreary, dragging complaints. I watched this multiple times to pause and take notes, and there are more insights the more you watch. Despite an uneven weakness rushed in the latter half, the redemption arc fits this darker tone. Here there’s no overnight exuberance, and it makes the viewer consider how fast and superficial other interpretations now seem when the longer television format allows for such grim, thought-provoking extrapolation. It leaves one wanting more of this A Christmas Carol, and its unabashed look in the mirror is watchable beyond the holiday season – paralleling the words herein to be the best person we can be daily rather than just faking it at Christmas.

Read on for more Holiday Horror:

Tales from the Darkside 1 2 3 4

Bell Book and Candle

Krampus (2015)

Kbatz Kraft: How *Not* to Make Mystical Orbs!

Cast a spell and make some magic any time of year with your very own mystical orbs! Except when you attempt a Pinterest method that results in disaster that is. Read on for both how to paint and how not to glitter your own crystal ball DIY.

The ingredients to make your own affordable, family friendly orbs are surprisingly pedestrian – clear plastic ball ornaments from the dollar store, broken lamp bases for suave pedestals, and two of each to test two different mystical how-tos. One lamp turned orb stand had already been Painted Black and separated into smaller candle holders but now the reunited pieces are dry brushed with yellow ochre for a bronzed look while the second solid lamp base is painted with yellow and brown for an aged vintage. A glittery orange ball to go with the brown was the Pinterest attempt, however, the seemingly simple food dye for orange water, plenty of glitter, and cotton balls combined inside the ball were a complete failure. Although the shine and the color were great, there was either not enough cotton balls or too much water, maybe both because everything just sat there in one ugly clump. Once the soaked gunk was drained out again, I tried painting the outside of the ornament with a mix of yellow paint and coppery glitter, but this too was unsightly and unsuccessful.

Frustrated, I temporarily abandoned this orb in favor of the much more pleasant second attempt. This time blue, white, and purple acrylics were mixed together, varying the colors and brush strokes for a textured, marble effect followed by a glow in the dark paint topcoat. Once dry, the ornament was glued in place on its base – splendidly contrasting the dark bronze pedestal and vindicating my painting method. I went back to the disastrous ball and likewise painted it with a varied yellow and orange. This orange is not opaque like the Dark Shadows Candle Sconces, but a shiny vintage top with the dark brown base. Twine wrapped around the glue seams set everything off, and although it’s tough to photograph them glowing in the dark, they do!

While craft experimenting can be good wholesome fun, it can also lead to time, supply, and cost consumption that isn’t always a day well spent in tough times. Here, my first instinct was correct compared to a dreaded Pinterest fail – one in which discouraged kids, liquids, glitter, and supplies can end up a messy ruin. Fortunately, by reusing found objects and dollar store finds, anyone can paint their own colorful crystal ball orbs.

Visit Kbatz Krafts on Facebook for more photos!

Revisit More Krafts: 

Mini Coffin Tray

How Not to Make a Spell Book

Cardboard Tombstones Video How-To


Too Many Glaring Marks Hamper Gods of Egypt (not just the White Washing)

by Kristin Battestella

Thief Bek (Brenton Thwaites) helps the exiled god Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) reclaim his Eye from the evil God of the Desert Set (Gerard Butler) in order to save his girlfriend Zaya (Courtney Eaton) from the underworld. Along the way, both mortals and gods face several fantastical obstacles and adventures as they seek the help of Ra (Geoffrey Rush). Unfortunately, thanks to an abundance of poor pacing and inferior special effects that can’t compensate for the muddled storytelling, pondering mythology, and misguided point of view; the whitewashing controversy from director Alex Proyas’ (The Crow) 2016 Gods of Egypt is just one of many problems.

An opening prologue and panoramic special effects are nothing but empty show when Gods of Egypt needed to start its story with either the gods themselves or the mortal quest. Instead, the omnipresent narration from our thief knows more about the gods then they do, leaving the tale padded with messy embellishments, unreliability excuses, superfluous scenes, and epic fakery. Assassination coups in front of the gasping crowd seem more like a play the gods put on for mere mortals – CGI gold birds and black jackals parkour in a reason-less fight because Gods of Egypt didn’t begin at the right point in the story and then compounds the timeline further by restarting a year later. Transparent graphics and always on the move cameras call attention to themselves – every scene is panning and sweeping with people coming or going but the visual distractions don’t disguise the muddled storytelling or the jarring, unrealistic, embarrassing, and noticeably pale casting. Poor writing from Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless (of Dracula Untold and The Last Witch Hunter infamy) likewise dumbs down the mythical and over-relies on effects rather than explaining its world or developing any characters – leaving Gods of Egypt a loosely strung together montage of random cool scenes featuring a magic carpet ride spaceship, underworld deserts, serpents chases, temple gauntlets, and talking rock monsters. It takes an hour for the mortal to round up the gods for some risky mission…because they couldn’t unite and do it themselves? What should be a straightforward quest treads tires thanks to a lot of walking here or there with no idea where the inept heroes are going or why. Viewers can’t take the fantastic risks seriously amid the quips, cliches, and convenient in the nick of time actions leaving no weight or consequences. Serious deaths are short or quickly forgotten unless there’s a need for underworld special effects, which kind of copy Lord of the Rings. Are they trying to get back Horus’ Eye? Are they trying to save the gal who’s actually doing alright in the underworld? Are they trying to stop Set from being badass? Whatever the messy crusade, a literal deus ex machina from Ra leaves no point to it any of it.

Apparently, personal vengeance isn’t enough motivation for Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s Horus. After he’s usurped, he drinks over it until our thief comes along to inspire him to make jokes while running away from CGI serpents. There’s no room to breathe life into the character, and despite this apparent star vehicle, there’s more for Nikolaj fans on Game of Thrones. Gerard Butler (300) has a great introduction as Set, but when he opens his mouth that lovely Scottish lilt becomes laughably out of place. His scenes seem like they are from a different movie, and Set only interacts with everyone else in a few scenes. For supposedly being the villain who rules over all in fear, most of Set’s speeches are sarcastic quips on said badassery, and he doesn’t actually do a whole lot beyond changing what he wants and why from scene to scene. Brenton Thwaites (Oculus) is a thief but also a lover – a blasé cool cat who thinks he’s better than the gods. Bek’s narrative frame and speaking out loud when he’s alone is purely to hit the audience on the head, and it’s the wrong perspective on the story for us to follow him. Bek’s stealing the Eye of Horus for his dead babe is a more important story than the vengeful gods? Really? This entire storyline could have been red penciled to strengthen the core, for rather than any god realizing his humanity redemption arc, the story unbelievably bends to suit Bek’s good at everything Mary Sue. Sadly, Chadwick Boseman (Black Panther) as Thoth – the God of Wisdom who’s more camp like Vanity Smurf rather than clever – appears once an hour in Gods of Egypt to kneel to the white people and joke about liking big butts and he cannot lie. Yes, seriously. Horus’ lover Hathor is played by Elodie Young (Daredevil), and she looks too young indeed as she easily passes between the gods to help or hinder when convenient. Courtney Eaton (Mad Max: Fury Road) likewise wears inaccurate but skin bearing costumes as the sacrificial girlfriend used for man pain, and Bek isn’t even that broken up over her because he can talk to her in the underworld and really just wants to trick the gods into bringing her back. Rufus Sewell (Tristan and Isolde) is here too as Set’s creeper architect, and Geoffrey Rush’s (Elizabeth: The Golden Age) Ra is some kind of Lear meets Gandalf because the all seeing, all knowing ruler of all Egypt above and below is an old, bald, white guy. Gods of Egypt has a large and big name ensemble that deserved more but unfortunately, everyone here is hopelessly out of place.

Gods of Egypt has epic music, fiery motifs, giant gods, and traditional Egyptian iconography. The picture is bright and colorful with golden palaces and steamy reds. Unfortunately, all the sweeping comes in wide pans and distance shots. The chariot escapes, fatal arrows, fake jungles, and slow motion is downright laughable, and Gods of Egypt will look very, very bad within five years thanks to the poor graphics. It’s obvious these visuals, regal dangers, and any sexiness are toned down for mainstream appeal, but the overdone CGI close-ups make it seem as if all the people were filmed at different times and then inserted into the frame together. Slowed panoramas show one good action move, but then the rest of the fight choreography is a whole lot of nothing leaps or parry embellishments. People fly through the air or slam against the walls as the camera follows their swoops up, down, or sideways, and it all makes Gods of Egypt look too fake and fantastic – doubly so when again considering how the point of view unevenly or conveniently goes back and forth between mortals experiencing the fantastic and gods coming down from high. The eponymous folks die pretty darn easy and the Mary Sue nobodies achieve some really unbelievable feats! If every slow motion moment spectacle was cut from Gods of Egypt, you’d save fifteen minutes, no lie, as the continued over-reliance on special effects borders on a partially animated feature culminating in big battles and more slow motion falling without the people or gods having learned a thing. I want to skip over all the weak incidental CGI transitions, which can’t build a world better than the simplicity of courtly strife nor compensate for the poor storytelling.

Had Gods of Egypt been firm in its own myth and magic and took a stance on whether this was going to be about gods or men, it might have been really cool. Instead, the picture is presented from the wrong perspective at the wrong point in the story and doesn’t put on the right point of view thanks to graphics being more important than the personal quest making it impossible to suspend viewer belief. Gods of Egypt’s two hours plus never develops the world into one deserving of that time and remains ridiculously overlong for a thrill ride action adventure. Embarrassingly white, modern, and out of place people contribute to the glaring storytelling problems. Rather than any rewrite clarification on its mythology or a more multi-ethnic cast, Gods of Egypt underestimates our knowledge of omnipresent Egyptian lore with its superficial spectacle bang for its blockbuster buck, expecting viewers to go along with the poor slight of hand when 300 (which Hollywood is apparently still trying to recreate) and Stargate did it better. Unfortunately, Gods of Egypt is painfully unaware that the audience won’t sit still for frustratingly bad visuals, jarring whitewashing, noticeable movie machinations, and no clear story.

Fiction and Genre Panel – 3rd Indie Author Day Event

Moderator and horror author Brian McKinley is joined by science fiction writer William Gold, humorist Loretta Wish, mystery and thriller author J. Lauryl Jennings, dark fantasy author Kristin Battestella (yes that’s me! Your trusty Kbatz!), and urban fantasy storyteller Laura Kaighn for the Fiction and Genre Panel at the 3rd Indie Author Day hosted at the Heggan Library in Sewell, NJ.

You can see the entire 7 part video below or also view the Childrens and Non-Fiction Panel from the Indie Author Day.  For more photos and author events, visit the South Jersey Writers Conference, Facebook Page.




Author Interviews at The Mount Holly Book Fair Part 1

Vampires, Magic, and Steampunk!


Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz was on the windy scene April 29, 2018 at the Mount Holly Book Fair to interview several Local Horror Authors…


Author Brian McKinley chats about his Ancient Blood series, vampires past and present, psychological horror, thrillers, Hitchcock, and zombies. For more visit



Author Char Webster talks about her Gifted Series and The Runes Universe, paranormal, magic powers, and marketing. For more visit



Author Christine Norris talks about her Athena series, Middle Grade Fantasy, mythology, Young Adult versus New Adult, Magic, and Steampunk. For more visit


Special Thanks to the Mill Race Arts & Preservation for hosting The Mount Holly Book Fair.


Stayed tuned to for more Author Interviews and let us know what kind of video/media content you would like to see!



More Kids and Family Frights!

By Kristin Battestella


Because there are just so many tales of twisted teens, killer kids, and paranormal abnormalities!


Alice, Sweet AliceFrantic Hail Marys, church bells, rectories, and crosses in nearly every scene steep this 1976 slasher in layers of iconography alongside matching yellow jackets, similarly named long hair lookalikes, sisterly favoritism, and saint versus sinner parallels. Little Brooke Shields (Suddenly Susan) is fond of her priest, goes to confession, and is gifted with a crucifix necklace while twelve-year-old Paula Sheppard (Liquid Sky) wears a mask to scare the cook. The ceremonial crown, veil, and white dress feel medieval bridal amid the Latin sanctity and old fashioned Sunday best formality – composed women in hats, gloves, pearls, and Jackie O suits are soon hysterical once murder blasphemes the sacred within its very walls. Creepy hints of the strangling attack, feet dragging beneath the pews, and a charred fate intercut the kneeling at the altar and passing wafer, turning the white confirmation into a black funeral. The uptight roosts point fingers, cast blame, and belittle husbands, but the parents are also too busy to notice the gluttonous downstairs neighbor obsessed with cats promising not to bite Alice if she visits him. Out of wedlock, divorced, and remarried taboos squabble while hidden periods and no longer playing with dolls maturity layer the well-done shocks and mask scare. Intense lie detector tests, cold yes or no questions, and scary needle movements add atmosphere along with thunderstorms, bugs, and basement hideaways. This murder acerbates a preexisting family strain, and such repressed attitudes would almost rather there be a grief approved death than admit to potential schizophrenia problems. Retro cameras, typewriters, big phone booths, classic cars, old school police, and formal psychiatrist interviews reiterate the mid-century rigid while prank calls, cramped stairs, and penetrating stabs invoke a frenzied response with violent twists. Do some of the victims get what they deserve? Confessions, warped revelations, mother Madonna saintly and Magdalene whore shaming cloud the case, and the children pay for the sins of the father indeed. This is a taut little thriller with fine scars, mystery, and parables made horror.

The Cabin in the WoodsBradley Whitford (The West Wing), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), and more recognizable faces anchor this 2012 horror satire written and produced by Joss Whedon. Droll corporations and mysterious technological surveillance parallels the intentionally cliché coeds off to a lakeside weekend – the blonde, a jock, a virgin, the fifth wheel jester filled with zany pot wisdoms. Naturally, the GPS goes haywire amid retro Rving, backwoods confrontations, throwback tropes, and nods to old school slashers. The hokey isn’t meant to be taken seriously, but eerie mountain tunnels and hidden systemworks add suspicion. Though at times cryptic for cryptic’s sake, it’s pleasing to have the experiment aspects up front – trick paintings, double mirrors, camera observations, and a cabin that’s bigger on the inside than outside. Useless scenes, comedic quips, and windblown characters that delay rather than inform are annoying, and the attempted Buffy for the big screen tone is apparent with social commentary and upending the genre expectations. Ironically, these Initiative knockoffs never feel urgent or dramatic. Some viewers may wish this was either straight horror or totally from the scientific parody perspective. The global fright-creating branches are often more interesting than the typical teens disregarding warnings to not read Latin aloud amid zombies, free for all monsters, fun house mayhem, and meta on meta horror that plays into stereotypical scares just as much as it lampoons them. Fortunately, a self aware attitude adds intrigue – despite being up to something sinister, the technicians cast bemusing bets and celebrate their wins over predictable spooky cellars, creepy antiques, fanatical pasts, and ominous diaries. Occult prayers, bloody rituals, and creative set piece kills accent the inevitable price to be paid. While slow to start for longtime horror viewers, often silly or derivative, and uneven in its multi-layered execution, the familiar ensemble has a good time with this spooky puzzle. Youthful audiences tired of the same old scary movie banal or casual, horror lite fans can enjoy the uniqueness here.


PhenomenaJennifer Connolly (Labyrinth) and Donald Pleasence (Halloween) star in this 1985 Italian production from director Dario Argento along with Walkmans, a giant computer, overhead projectors, retro school buses, huge headphones, big boob tube TVs, off the shoulder sweatshirts, and crimped hair. The horseshoe phones are so hefty one breaks through the floor when it falls, and top heavy metal names such as Iron Maiden anchor the score. Pretty but bleak Swiss scenery, foreboding roads, suspicious chains, and an isolated cabin speak for themselves with blood, shattered glass, cave perils, scissor attacks, and strangling violence contrasting the rural vistas and scenic waterfalls. The on the move camera tracks the scares, panning with the staircases, chases, and penetrating knives rather than hectic visuals working against the action – leaving heartbeats, ticking clocks, and rage music to pulse the frenetic dreams. Congested tunnels, dark water, and rotting heads build tension alongside sleepwalking shadows, blue lighting schemes, and saintly white symbolism. Insects, monkeys, and bizarre medical tests collide with missing teens, amnesia, and an old school sense of being lost in the foreign unknown. Despite the young protagonist, the horror remains R without being juvenile or nasty. Although necrophilia and rape are implied amid girls in short shirts, dirty old men, and killer penetrations, the innuendo isn’t like today’s overt teen T-n-A exploitation. Doctors and a strict headmistress suspect epilepsy, schizophrenia, or drugs before the otherworldly but friendly communication with animals – cruel schoolmates and religious extremists view such talents or swarming commands as demonic rather than embracing the literal fly on the wall fantastics. Would you follow bugs to the scene of the crime to see the decomposing victim through their eyes? The notion to be in tune with nature and commune with insects as allies is unique in a genre usually reserving such crawlies for scares, and cool bug eye viewpoints, covered mirrors, freaky dolls, and maggots accent the deceptions, twists, and escalating revelations for some gruesome surprises and a wild finish. And oh my gosh there is a classmate wearing a Bee Gees t-shirt. Want it!!

Tale of Tales – Salma Hayek (Frida), Vincent Cassel (Black Swan), Toby Jones (Infamous), and John C. Reilly (Chicago) star in this international, R rated dark fantasy bringing three Italian parables to life with medieval castles, vintage plazas, and divine forests. Colorful period costumes add to the carnival atmosphere amid jugglers, fire eaters, and traveling wagons entertaining at court. There is, however, a sinister to the bemusement with youth and beauty versus old age, life and death bargains, nudity, and sexual undertones. Parallel fates, duality, and mirror imagery accent the charlatan fortune teller promising a sea monster’s heart cooked by a virgin and eaten by the queen will ensure pregnancy. Good suspense, underwater effects, gory slashes, choice red, disturbing violence, and bloody carcasses escalate the action without making the fantasy a ridiculously overblown spectacle. Ogres, funeral processions, albino twins, and creepy old ladies share in mystical connections, enchanted springs, separations, and temptations. Precious offspring are mere extensions of their parents’ rule, but man that is one freaky giant pet flea! We don’t notice the two hours plus length thanks to unexpected circumstances, ironic riddles, and brutish suitors. This is a beautiful looking movie with a little bit of everything remaining entertaining even in its darkest moments with caves, terrible bats, and deceptive appearances. Changing one’s skin may not change what’s inside, but some people will help or hinder fate for their own selfishness and there are consequences for trying to change what’s meant to be. This is sad at times and not scary for many – most may not like the collected meanwhile in the realm style either. However, Hollywood would Princess Bride frame these Basile tales with narrator bookends toning down the brutal and not shy with a Disney gentrification. This is period accurate and elaborate for adults but no less a fantasy with darkness and charm bringing the well paced, quality stories full circle. The lessons are learned without being as exploitative or nasty as Game of Thrones, and I wish there more mature baroque fantasies like this instead of the same old cutesy.

David’s Haunted Library: The Unsaintly

22890862Isabel has dedicated her life to serving others. She is the daughter of the Blanche of Castille and Louis VIII and raised as a Catholic. She had a path she was supposed to follow but instead she chose to serve God and become a nun. Isabel is pure of heart and has suffered from stigmata, you could say she has a gift at showing compassion for others. Little does she know that her faith and kindness has made her  a pawn in the battle between heaven and hell.

In her monastery, angels in disguise are watching over her and God and Lucifer are fighting for her soul. One angel was put there by god to record her actions and Lucifer is also there in the form of a priest.  Isabel suffers through demonic possession and she watches the people she loves put in danger. She is put to the ultimate test of faith in the battle of good and evil and along the way she will have to accept some dark truths.

The Unsaintly by Lisa Vasquez is set in 1254, a time when religion was taken much more seriously then it is now. I was drawn to this book because I liked the idea of someone who is presented as almost saint like being stuck in a battle of good versus evil. In the beginning you get to know Isabel and you like her because she has humanity’s best interests at heart. Isabel to me is a tragic character, you see that all of these eyes are on her and she is forced into some rough situations and you root for her to keep her faith.

While Isabel herself is my favorite part of this book I also liked the setting. This story wouldn’t have worked if it was set in a different time period  and I liked how the monastery and the  armies battling towards the end are described. In the beginning of the book I also enjoyed the discussion that Lucifer has with God. Among the two you get the feeling that they are really shades of grey rather than black and white, but with the human characters you have an easier time telling who is good and who is bad. There is a lot going on this book, considering that it deals with the question of faith and what we believe to be right and wrong, you know it’s going to be a serious novel that draws you into a different world.

The Unsaintly is no light read, this is a dark story and a little bit depressing. The good people in this book suffer and there is no humor to lighten the mood. I feel that Lisa must have really done her homework on this book. Its been a long time since I’ve read the bible but I remember what my perceptions of god and Lucifer were and the way they are presented in this book match how I saw them when I was a kid. This is a well written book and you can tell that Lisa put a lot of thought into how the characters and setting should be. This is a great horror novel that will have you questioning how you think about God.

An Interview with Jaq Hawkins

Our featured author for episode 119 of the podcast is Jaq Hawkins. Jaq has written several non fiction and fiction books, recently Jaq told us a little about her writing:

When did you start writing?

Well, it depends on where you want to start counting. I started my first autobiography at age 6, in pencil on notepaper. I wrote short stories through high school and decided then that I wanted to be a writer. I started getting non-fiction (occult) books published in 1996, but finished my first novel in 2005, which was Dance of the Goblins.

What do you like to write about?

newgoblinI’ve always been a Fantasy reader (Traditinal, not Romance) and love making up imaginary worlds or adaptations of the real world. Like in The Wake of the Dragon, my Steampunk novel. Most of it is based in a properly researched Victorian world, but with airships.

Who are some of your influences?

Marion Zimmer Bradley, Roger Zelazny, Anne McCaffrey and Mary Stewart stand out, although I have great admiration for Stephen King as well.

What do you find fascinating about the horror genre?13601727

Horror was a natural progression from Fantasy that kept getting darker. As someone who has studied and written about the occult, the scope for extrapolating the Fantasy worlds into scary landscapes has a natural appeal. I lean towards entities like ghosts and before they got sparkly, vampires and werewolves in my tastes for Horror. I’ve enjoyed films made from Lovecraftian stories, especially those with unseen creatures that become visible under special conditions. As a child I loved films and stories with odd creatures, like in From Hell It Came, which has a tree-like monster. My brother and I watched that film every time it came on television.

Could you tell us what inspired the Goblin series you have written?

What inspired the story was a polical situation, which has a certain irony because I hate politics. W. Bush was about to get elected for the second time in the U.S. and I had been 13635472in contact with various Anarchist groups and tried to stir a protest movement, only to find that most of these groups were very limited in their smaller agendas. The whole power thing between politicians and mini-oligarchys of protest groups kind of culminated in a line that went through my head, “We are not like you. We do not glory in having power over our own kind, or imaging that we do.”

What are some of the other books you have out?

Dance of the Goblins turned into a series and was followed by Demoniac Dance and Power of the Dance. I’ve also released a combined edition with the full Trilogy. The Wake of the Dragon is my Steampunk book, which will be followed by more in the genre, but I have other projects to finish first.

What will you be reading for episode 119 of the podcast?

An excerpt from Chapter Four of Dance of the Goblins. Writing this chapter is where I learned that I rather like creating dark imagery. I expect that future books will explore this sort of thing further.

Where can you we find you online?

My fiction website is The occult books are on
Social networks are:


Dance Of The Goblins

newgoblinEvery 200,000 years the earth shifts on its axis destroying most life on the planet, but there are always survivors and those survivors go on to start a new society with new religions and some life forms evolve into something else. In the caverns away from the unpredictable and dangerous humans are the goblins who live a simple spiritual life keeping in harmony with the earth.

We also have small communities of humans who have started a different way of life. One group lives life following a strict religion while another group isn’t as strict but still holds on to some superstitious beliefs. One thing they both have in common is a fear of what they don’t understand and when a human wanders into one of the caverns where the goblins dwell, a series of events begins that could lead to war between goblins and humans.

Dance Of The Goblins by Jaq D Hawkins is a fascinating novel which builds a fantasy world where a lot of the beliefs mirror our own. What I like most about this book was how even after society collapses new societies will begin with the same prejudice and fear of what they don’t understand as we have. Three different societies are presented in this book, and they all look at the other groups as being beneath them. The interesting part is hearing what each group thinks of the other and then seeing how that group really is. Even the goblins who are presented as being in tune with the earth have prejudices against the humans that are incorrect and we see in the book how each society has their flaws. Dance Of The Goblins is like a sociology text-book disguised as a fantasy novel.

My favorite character in this book was a female goblin named Talla. Talla uses magic to disguise herself as a beautiful human woman in distress to distract some humans who are getting to close to the goblin’s layer. Thinking she is in danger the humans take Talla to their community and we hear Talla’s thoughts on human society as well as what the humans think of her. In one moment that I found hilarious, one of the humans takes Talla into a bedroom wanting to force himself on her. At this point Talla is curious what sex with a human would be like and is unafraid. Her reaction scares the human who runs out of the room thinking she is a succubus. I loved how when the human doesn’t get the fearful reaction that he wants from the woman, he labels her as evil rather than seeing the act that he was about to perform as evil.

My only problem with Dance Of The Goblins was that it spent so much time describing the world in which the story takes place that the story itself seems unimportant. I found myself being bored with the story but I loved how the goblin and human societies were described. This book may be light on action but it makes up for it in its attention to detail on how each society works. Jaq D. Hawkins has created a realistic fantasy world and an excellent dark fantasy novel. This is the first book in a trilogy and it will be interesting to see how the goblin’s world changes in future installments.

As Above, So Below and Negative Space

20708447As Above, So Below by Loren Rhoads and Brian Thomas is not your average boy meets girl love story. This story is more of an angel meets succubus, they fall in love and both have agendas type story. It all started when the succubus Lorelei goes into a night club in Los Angeles and sees the angel Azaziel. Azaziel has been cast out of heaven and Lorelei has the task of getting Azaziel to become one of Hell’s minions. Lorelei thinks its going to be easy to turn the angel, little does she know that Azaziel has an agenda of his own.

Azaziel has claimed the soul of a young woman named Ashleigh and wants to use Lorelei’s body as a host for Ashleigh so he can show her a night of love in exchange for him being able to save her soul. After Azaziel puts Ashleigh’s soul in an unsuspecting Lorelei, Lorelei flees and tries to find someone to exorcise Ashleigh from her body. If things aren’t already complicated enough,  the city of Los Angeles is swarming with harpies, demons and angels all trying to get Ashleigh’s soul and punish Azaziel and Lorelei.

As Above, So Below is a complex novel that could be called paranormal romance but it also works as horror and erotica even though the sex scenes aren’t over the top like some erotica books I’ve read. The best part of the book was the characters. Since Lorelei is a succubus that has works for Hell, you expect her to be an evil character. In reality she is a sympathetic character that I liked quite a bit. I felt that she was much more compassionate than Azaziel. I would have thought that Azaziel would be the ultimate good but you quickly find that he is more of a shade of grey. None of these characters acts like you think they would act and the lines between good and evil are blurred.

Another thing I liked about the book was the amount of research that had to go into it. This book gets deep into theology and as I read, I found myself thinking this is probably how angels and demons would really act.  The idea of a human possessing a succubus was an original concept and I enjoyed how there were different situations where each one had to take over the body.

It may sound  strange but As Above, So Below reminded me a little of Romeo And Juliet because it’s a forbidden romance and they represent two groups of people who are at war. There were some memorable scenes in this book, in particular at the end where a battle between good and evil takes place in Los Angeles which also seemed like a character in the book. One of my favorite lines in the book was when Lorelei’s demonic master Asmodeus states that “Demons deal in truth, life is painful.” I found myself liking the demons more than the angels in this book. If you enjoy theology and the idea of angels and demons at war among us, you need to check this book out. You won’t be disappointed.

18336919Changing over from Angels and demons to unexplained phenomenon. I also recently read Negative Space by Mike Robinson. The story follows a painter named Max Higgins who is starting to become popular by collecting photos of missing people and putting them in his paintings. He feels he is giving these lost people a home in his art. His impulse to do this comes from dealing with people disappearing from his life as a kid.  Among them was his father. One day someone recognizes a face from one of his paintings and he has to look into his past to find out why his father went missing.

Negative Space starts with a bang, leaving you with a mystery to figure out as you see mother and son try to defend themselves against some unknown attackers. At this point you get the impression that this story is going to have a lot of action. Then Mike Robinson throws you a curve ball and changes directions as he gets into the main character’s search for meaning  after a tragic upbringing.

The characters in this book were great. I liked how it was set during the L.A. riots of 1992. I liked the use of metaphors in the story. A big part of this book is about describing art and the way everything is described in the story, you get the impression that you’re reading a painting. This book seems to really be about looking for a deeper meaning to everything that happens around us and you have to give the book points for originality. This is a good read but short, I felt that it could have been longer in order to explain more of what’s happening. All in all though it was an entertaining read and different from what I’m use to. I found at the end I was curious to see what else Mike Robinson has available.

Horror Addicts Guide to Life Author Spotlight: Chantal Boudreau

12634232Chantal Boudreau writes fantasy and horror. She has several novels out and has been included in several anthologies. For Horror Addicts Guide To Life  Chantal wrote two articles.  One was “Hosting A Creepy Crawly Party” which will tell you everything you need to know about having a horror themed party. The other article is called “Bedtime…Horror Addicts Style” which will make going to bed a little scarier and more enjoyable. To read Chantal’s articles along with several other articles on living the horror lifestyle, pick up a copy of Horror Addicts Guide To LifeRecently Chantal was nice enough to tell us what she likes about horror:

What do you like about the horror genre?

I like the dark aspect to the genre. The fear is cathartic. It’s also one of the speculative genres that lends itself well to realism. Monsters don’t have to be supernatural. There are things out there in everyday life that can generate plenty of horror.

What are some of your favorite horror movies, books or TV shows?

I’m a fan of anything zombie so I love Romero movies and The Walking Dead. I also enjoy anthology series like The Twilight Zone and psychological horror flicks. I’m an avid reader with a penchant for short stories, so I like horror collections. I don’t have one particular favourite author but I have a real affinity for Tanith Lee and Fredric Brown.

In what way do you live the horror lifestyle?10792270

I have to laugh at that one because most of the time I’m a mundane, plain-looking accountant. But my leisure time is spent reading, writing and watching horror and I love Halloween. I don’t get out much thanks to a demanding job and family responsibilities, but I’ve been to Goth dances and zombie walks in the past and participated in some Lovecraftian LARPs. I’ve also helped my daughter organize some spooky parties for her friends.

What are you currently working on?

I’m in the middle of one of my dystopian novels, Dominion, at the moment as well as working on an essay for a competition, but I always have several horror ideas in the works.

Where can we find you online?



Amazon Author Page:


I have an entire page of links where you can access my fiction for free.  You can find the links at

Wendy L. Callahan on Horror Writing

Wherever You Go…

by Wendy L. Callahan

Sometimes we live somewhere we love. Sometimes we live somewhere we loathe. Sometimes we move and the anticipation of it can bring up any number of feelings, including extremes of excitement and disappointment.

While my first published works were set in places I was familiar with (for example, my dark vampire fantasy Dead Wrong [Damnation Books, 2010], is set in my hometown of Bridgewater, Massachusetts, where I lived for nearly 20 years), my later works were strongly influenced by where I lived at the time. In a way, writing where you know dovetails nicely with writing what you know. World building can be a little easier if you are writing details you don’t need to create from your imagination.

However, my most inspired work came from my surroundings later in life. One move thrilled me, while the other left me uncertain, to say the least.

ChronosClock-coverIn 2011, I moved to England. Oh yes, this was an Anglophile’s dream – to live in the land of Shakespear and Doctor Who and Monty Python! Everywhere I looked, I saw beauty and history. England looked and felt just as it “should” in my girlish fantasies. Perhaps I had a little too much Jane Austen and Emily Bronte coloring my expectations, but I saw every bit of my literary dreams and more in my surroundings.

Houses in the village where I lived were quaint stone affairs, with thatched roofs. The pubs were raucous (especially when football was on!), yet cozy places to wind down at the end of a long day. And the fog – oh, that fog. I could get lost in it all day, if only the sunshine wouldn’t dissipate it later.

It was in England that I dreamed up the story of Demetra, my heroine in The Chronos Clock (Aetheric Artifacts: Book One). Demetra lived for tea, cake, and a good adventure, not to mention the opportunity to mock everything and everyone that crossed her path. Over the course of three novels and one short story, she partied in London, solved a mystery in Greenwich, and even ventured to one of the small islands along the Thames to rescue her kidnapped fiancé from a gothic manor. All of this came from the two years I – and my overactive imagination – resided in England.

About a year into our time there, however, we had to decide where we would move next. After a great deal of consideration and weighing the possibilities, we chose Nebraska.

Of course, as a Stephen King fan in the 80s and 90s, my reaction was, “Oh sure – put a New Englander in the state where Children of the Corn happened.”

Dead Wrong_300dpi_eBookBut, rather than weirdly religious children in Amish garb chasing after me with implements of barnyard destruction, I discovered rolling golden hills, prairies of waving grass, and endless blue sky. When friend after friend from back home said, “You’re moving to Nebraska? Oh, I’m so sorry,” I told them I had not just natural beauty to enjoy, but comic book stores, sci-fi conventions, and constant discoveries that Nebraska was more than meets the eye.

Which, in turn, led to inspiration for my current projects. As they are currently on query, I cannot share much about them, except a few, teasing tidbits. First, both novels are about creatures that should not exist in this world and need to hide from humans. Second, they find Nebraska to be an excellent place to do so because while the eastern part of the state is quite heavily populated, the rest of the state is not.

My inspiration for these stories came from the ghost towns here. There is one within two miles of my home, and a great many others throughout the state if you just know where to look.

What I learned in twenty years of moving with a military spouse is this: take each place as it comes. You might be surprised at what you see when you look beyond the mundane or just open yourself up to the possibilities.


AuthorHeadshot-Official-smallerWendy is an urban and steampunk fantasy author, as well as a genealogical Nancy Drew in disguise. You can learn more about her and her work at


Kbatz: Witchy Film Viewings

Which Witch is the Right Witchy Movie?

By Kristin Battestella

Though often woefully inaccurate with a potion of pointy hats, warts, and broomsticks- there’s something, well…magical about a good dose of cinematic witch-ware and brouhaha.

The Craft – High school and witchcraft oh my! Boys Breckin Meyer (Clueless) and especially Skeet Ulrich (Scream) are totally lame, but gals Robin Tunney (Empire Records, Prison Break), Neve Campbell (Party of Five, Wild Things), Rachel True (Half & Half), and a crazy good Farizku Balk (Valmont) are still cool. Yes, the music is the same as 1998 sexy witch successor Charmed.  However, even with the nineties smorgasbord of cast and ideas; the supernatural effects are still sweet, and the girls don’t look super ‘96 in the moment bad fashions thanks to the school uniform stylings.  Some of the ‘back on you’ scenes are indeed scary, too- especially if you have a problem with snakes. The wonderful Assumta Serna (Sharpe) and cruel Christine Taylor (The Brady Bunch) round out the light versus dark misuses as well. What girl hasn’t wished ill on the clique wicked or played light as a feather stiff as a board? I’m not sure how accurately portrayed the titular practices are onscreen, but the appreciation here is more intelligent, mature, and consequential than lighthearted broomstick fair. Sophisticated ladies can still enjoy and boys will love the legal jiggle.

Warlock – Let’s toss in Julian Sands (A Room with a View, Rose Red, Boxing Helena) and this 1989 time traveling scare fest for some juicy- nay badass-equal opportunity magic produced by Roger Corman (House of Usher).  Director Steve Miner (Friday the 13th Part 2 and Part 3) does great with the colonial Massachusetts backdrop and carries the demonic mayhem into the eighties with so bad its good style from Lori Singer (Footloose, Fame, or as I simply say, Marc Singer’s sister). Meanwhile, fish out of water witch hunter Richard E. Grant (Bram Stoker’s Dracula) tries to thwart Big W from assembling an evil book that will uncreate existence. Yowza!  Some of the script speaketh from writer David Twohy (The Fugitive, G.I. Jane) is a little tough and the aforementioned datedness hinders some of the design and action, but of a sweeter titular man-witch, there is none- except for the lower in quality but just as kinky Warlock: The Armageddon (1993).

The Witches (1966) – This Hammer Horror wicked fest is chock full of tribal gone awry, polite but suspiciously Stepford townsfolk, creepy grandmas, and obligatory black cats. Let’s admit the effects and finale ritual are hokey, sure.  However, there are a few great shocker moments here along with swift editing and booming music to match the scares.  The mix of seemingly upscale rural England, witchdoctor mayhem, lovely locales, and on form sixties fashion designs work wonderfully as well.  Unfortunately, some may be very wigged out by a bloodless and tame but nonetheless disturbing rabbit butchering.  Again, the mystery unravels a bit in the end, but the debate of youth- too old to play with dolls but none of that naughty naughty with each other!- is doubly interesting along with what else is behind the schoolyard sinister: “A Sabbath, a meeting, an orgy perhaps.”  Naturally, classic Oscar dame Joan Fontaine (Suspicion, Rebecca) in her big screen swansong looks lovely, adds the film’s glue and sophistication, and most importantly doesn’t treat her horror ingénue as if the part was merely some two-bit paycheck. While we always expect such a thespian to put in her all, we don’t expect someone like be-frocked Joan Fontaine to get muddy or down with the bloody ritual. Bubble, cauldron, bubble! A ‘The World of Hammer: Wicked Women’ half hour treat on the DVD was sweet, too.

The Witches of Eastwick-  The all star cast- including Cher (Moonstruck), Michelle Pfeiffer (The Fabulous Baker Boys), Jack Nicholson (The Shining), Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking), Veronica Cartwright (Alien), and Carel Struycken (The Addams Family)- looks a little eighties bad fashions and big hair, yes. Granted director George Miller (Mad Max) is little slow to start things until the wicked and deliciously sent up Nicholson lights up the town, and yes, the fun comes a little undone for the big finish. But the ladies look damn great and the fun is a little too naughty for younger audiences, meow!  Though the subtitles don’t exactly match the witty dialogue, the dark comedy and ham up style are just right.  The tennis match, balloons, and poolside delights are all downright silly, yet it’s refreshing that the raunchy and good fun is in what is said, not what is actually shown. Take hint bad modern slasher remakes! There’s room for sexual subtext, demented imagination, and moral insights into the battle of the sexes here, and Sarandon’s buttoned up cellist gets, uh, very passionate about her music!



One Potentially Bad Brew

Spellbinder – Though I don’t like Kelly Preston (Twins, or rather John Travolta’s woman who was once shot by Charlie Sheen), am mostly indifferent to Tim Daly (Wings), and Rick Rossovich almost always says cheese about a film (Yes there’s Top Gun and The Terminator, but Pacific Blue anyone?)- this 1988 witch in love shtick is only half bad if you can get passed the leads. Of course, the styles are low eighties dated and the story is slow to start as it gets right to the bedroom kink- naughty but tame and almost nudeless kink- before anything else begins. The cultish mystery becomes much more interesting when director Janet Greek (Babylon 5) gets scary away from the no-chemistry fronts.  Seriously concerned secretary Diana Bellamy (Popular) and for once a good guy cop Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa (Showdown in Little Toyko) and the warnings they provide are far more tantalizing, as is Audra Lindley (Mrs. Roper on Three’s Company!) as the creepy Mrs. White. The ‘pagan is evil’ portrayal is too heavy handed and Preston’s Valley delivery ruins the exposition of it all, but the coven scares and rituals ala The Wicker Man are perhaps juicy enough to keep this watchable for a late night alone.

Kbatz: The Bride

Underrated The Bride Worth A Look

By Kristin Battestella

It’s amazing the hidden gems you find when searching the bargain DVDs at the off name shops.  Such was the case when I discovered the 1985 Frankenstein update The Bride.  I’ve always liked this movie, and upon a new viewing, I’m further miffed why the stylized locales and fine story are passed over by audiences.

Baron Charles Frankenstein (Sting) creates a beautiful mate (Jennifer Beals) for his first monster creation (Clancy Brown).  After her disgusted reaction to the creature, Frankenstein keeps the bride, coins his perfect woman Eva, and introduces her to high society.  Thought dead in his destruction of Frankenstein’s laboratory, the Baron’s monster wanders the countryside until he meets Rinaldo (David Rappaport), a dwarf.  Rinaldo names his new friend Viktor and together they join the circus in Budapest.  Neither Eva nor Viktor adjust to society well, and their telepathic connection makes them question the nature of their creation.


I’m not that a big Police fan, but I actually have a handful of Sting’s films.  It’s strange that he is billed last in The Bride’s credits.  Maybe he’s not considered a great actor, but he is without a doubt a star. Perhaps director Franc Roddam (Master Chef) didn’t want The Bride to be The Sting Show, since at the time, Jennifer Beals (The L Word) was an equal star- Flashdance, anyone?  Both are adequate enough here.  Sting broods and does anger well, and he was young and blonde and pretty for the part of mad scientist Frankenstein.  Beals has the big eyes and beauty without make up to pull off Eva, but her hair is still eighties, and screenwriter Lloyd Fonvielle gives her some awkward early dialogue.  Understandable when she first comes to life that things would be clunky, and actually when Eva finds her voice near the end of the film, Beals sells the turnaround well.

Despite the bigger names in The Bride, the finer work is with Clancy Brown’s monster Viktor and his little pal Rinaldo.  The Highlander alum is delightful as the cast aside creation experiencing the real world.  We’ve seen the bride aspect in Frankenstein tellings before, namely the iconic Bride of Frankenstein,  but Viktor and Rinaldo’s storyline is a little more original.  The late Rappaport (The Wizard) is also charming as the equally disrespected dwarf. At first he uses Viktor’s size and scares to his advantage, but their friendship becomes very genuine.  Sure we may want to look at the very pretty Jennifer Beals and Sting, but the heart of The Bride is this darling plotline harkening back to Mary Shelley’s source novel.


Jennifer Beals’ hair and make up have a touch of that eighties height, but The Bride achieves more with its lovely castle locations and French countryside.  We don’t get a definite time or place reference in The Bride beyond Viktor’s traveling to Budapest and Eva’s reference to Prometheus Unbound (1820) by Percy Shelley, but the ladies’ costumes have a sleek Regency feel, and Frankenstein’s castle is both opulent and creepy.  There isn’t anything scary in The Bride, but its look is decided gothic.  Alluring, yet ominous.

There’s romantic flare and dashing soldiers and pretty white horses and all that, but the core of The Bride is this gothic imagery and the horrors that humanity creates.  There are lessons to be learned by Frankenstein’s individual horrors in the name of science and the persecutions of society that Viktor and Rinaldo encounter. The opening scenes of The Bride are a flashy eighties attempt to explain the creation science, and Clancy Brown’s make up as the deformed Viktor leaves something to be desired. However, the touches from Shelley’s novel keep the human element of the story at The Bride’s forefront.


My budget DVD has an informative director’s commentary and the obligatory trailers, but is otherwise devoid of features.  Did Beals and Sting get along?  Did Brown have trouble with his makeup as he did in Highlander?  Did Rappaport sign on because as a little person, he understands the story of the monsters isolation?  These insights  remain unknown.  Likewise I was surprised by the underutilized score from Maurice Starr (Ghost). It’s haunting and uplifting and tragic in all the right places, but we only hear the title theme at the beginning and end of the movie.  These quibbles, however, don’t deter one’s viewing of The Bride.  Parents might dislike the full frontal female nudity and innuendo between Frankenstein and Eva, but like most films from twenty years ago, what was once racy is tame compared to today.

Fans of gothic archetypes and Frankenstein tales will no doubt enjoy The Bride.  Gore fans might find The Bride slow and romancey, but there’s enough intelligence for fans of Shelley’s wonderful novel.  Look for this affordable DVD at your favorite retailer.

The Phoenix Girls

16206228At some point everyone feels like an outsider. In Penny Sinclair’s case she is a 13-year-old girl moving to a new town after the death of her mother. She has spent four months living in a group home and now is headed to the small town of Dogwood to live with her godmother Susan, who was best friends with Penny’s mother.

As soon as Penny moves into her home she notices a fox that seems to always be watching her. She has already been having mysterious dreams and doesn’t feel comfortable in her new surroundings. When she is outside one day the fox speaks to her, in fear she runs away but she can’t escape her destiny.

What Penny doesn’t know is that her mother once belonged to a group of witches called The Phoenix Girls and she is about to become one of them. The Phoenix Girls Book 1: The Conjuring Glass by Brian Knight is the first in a series from JournalStone Publishing  that young horror fans will enjoy. In a secret grove behind her new home is a cave, wands, magic keys and a book on how to become proper witches.

Penny is not alone, she soon meets another girl who has just arrived in town named Zoe and the two of them start training to become witches. Their spells don’t work half the time but they’re determined to keep trying. Something wicked is coming to Dogwood in the form of a magician with a big secret. The children of Dogwood start to disappear one by one and Penny and Zoe may be the only ones that can help.

The Conjuring Glass is a story geared towards middle school children and has a couple of themes that all kids can relate to. One is trying to fit in with other kids. Penny and Zoe are both outcasts because they are new in town and both are adjusting to their new surroundings. They have each other though and work well as a team. They learn magic together and get help with bullies from the talking fox. As the story develops, the girls are left to their own devices to rescue the kidnapped kids.

Another theme that is in this book is abandonment and loneliness. When Penny comes to Dogwood she feels that she is alone in the world. She is dealing with the loss of her mother, but also wonders who her father was and what happened to him. Penny is obsessed with finding him and her obsession leads her and the whole town into danger. I really enjoyed how the mystery of Penny’s father worked into the story.

While I did think that The Conjuring Glass was slow-moving at points, there was a lot to like about the book. All of the characters reminded me of kids that I once knew. I also think young readers will be able to relate to both Penny and Zoe. The setting and atmosphere were great and I liked the fate of the town’s children lying in the hands of two young witches. My favorite part was when Penny stands up to a bully that was much bigger then she was. It showed that Penny was a tough character and I found myself rooting for her. I think most young kids will love the mystery in The Phoenix Girls: Book 1 The Conjuring Glass and they will appreciate the spooky parts also. I would love to see where the story of The Phoenix Girls goes in future installments.

Artistic License

al-front-coverLeslie Marietta was born into an artistic family but didn’t have the artistic talent that her aunt and mother had. She moved away from her family in California and into an apartment in Pittsburgh. Several years later she received a phone call saying her last surviving relative died and she was now a millionaire and  had inherited the Marietta mansion.

Leslie reluctantly travels to the family estate and finds herself filled with inspiration and starts to paint murals on the walls of the mansion. Much to her surprise the paintings come to life and all her dreams come true. Leslie’s life turns into a fairy tale, she falls in love with a man from the painting named Lord Ashton Northing. He’s not the only one in the painting though, there are several Edwardian era people trapped in the walls, along with shadow servants and evil demon like creatures that want to escape into our world.

This is the storyline behind Horror Addict hostess Emerian Rich’s Artistic License. The book is a little like a work of art itself because of the way the settings are described. Everything about the Marrietta estate on the pacific ocean is  explained in vivid detail and Ashton’s Edwardian world on the other side of the painting is brought to life by explaining how it has painted trees, skies and homes and doesn’t look quite natural. I also loved how Leslie’s painting is described and how her home comes to life as she paints.

At the heart of Artistic License is a love story between Ashton and Leslie but as the story develops it becomes more than that. Leslie changes from a social misfit into a confident woman. There is a mystery as to how the people were trapped in the wall and what they want  and where did the monsters in the forest come from?

The first half of Artistic License is like a beautiful fairy tale but it slowly evolves into a horror story. Not only do you have shadow people who accompany one of the villains in the book, you also have the demon like creatures called buggers that stalk the forests in Ashton’s world. One of my favorite scenes in Artistic License was when some of the buggers surround one of the characters towards the end of the book and chant a certain phrase to her before they attack. I also liked a scene where one of the villains in the story confronts a prisoner that is locked in a basement.

My only problems with Artistic License was that I felt some of the characters were under developed. There are a lot of different people in the story and I would like to have heard more about them. I wanted to hear more about Leslie’s mother and aunt and more about the events that lead up to Leslie leaving Marietta manor. I also wanted to learn more about life on the other side of the painting.

Artistic License is a well told story that will appeal to fans of horror, romance and fantasy. There is a lot going on in this story and the characters are great. I would love to see a prequel to this book that gets more into the world on the other side of the painting and on the events that trapped them there.  I would also like to see a sequel that  tells what happens to the characters after the events of Artistic License. So check out Emerian Rich’s Artistic License, you won’t be disappointed.

Steven Sylva-aRT – R.I.P. Ray Bradbury: A Very Sad Loss to Science Fiction/Fantasy

Photo Credit: Alan Light/Wikimedia Commons

It’s been a sad [time] for many of us sci fi/fantasy fans since one of the greatest writers ever in the two genres passed away [Tuesday, June 5th]–Ray Bradbury.

Ray Bradbury was one of the first science fiction writers who I seriously read. The very first novel by him that I purchased and read was The Martian Chronicles when I was a senior in high school. From then on I was hooked. I’ve read and collected nearly all his books of fiction and although I haven’t read as much of his nonfiction books, the few that I did are totally awsome! Other fiction of his that I’ve read have been, Fahrenheit 451, the second book that I read, and The Toynbee Convector which I bought the summer immediately after my high school graduation and just before I entered my freshman year of college. Later I collected and read The October Country, a collection of his dark fiction, his dark fantasy novel Something Wicked This Way Comes, The Illustrated Man, I Sing the Body Electric, and many more that I still have stacked and/or buried away somewhere in my bedroom.  I doubt I’ll ever get rid of any of them unless I can find older editions of some of them since I am a collector of vintage paperbacks and jacketed hard cover books because of their great art and the very eras it depicts. That is another thing Mr. Bradbury was in love with–the sci fi art of early pulp novels and magazines.

However, Mr. Bradbury was not merely a science fiction/fantasy writer. To label him as such would under rate him way too much. Ray Bradbury was a great writer period. He could and did write in almost any genre of fiction though speculative fiction was his biggest. He also wrote mystery, romance, and romantic (as in highly metaphorical and sentimental, not necessarily as in love) stories and has done equally well in them.  His great poetic prose has transcended genre so much that his work is even required reading in the high schools.

I remember reading in my high school senior advanced English class one of his short stories adapted into the Martian Chronicles. It was about a horror expert who flees to Mars to make his own automated haunted house in a future where Earth has outlawed all things fantasy. Unfortunately, as much as many English teachers assigned their students to read his most famous novel, Fahrenheit 451–about a future society that illegalises books–none of my high school English courses selected that one for us to read. So I went out and purchased a copy and read it on my own. In reading it I discovered more than ever how dangerous censorship can be to both society and individuals.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ray Bradbury at CSU, Fresno in the ’90s when he gave a presentation on his literary and artistic career. I was enchanted when I actually shook his pen-calloused hand just before he signed my copy of his Martian Chronicles at the book signing table. I had the pleasure of seeing him speak a second time during the 64th World Science Fiction Convention in Los Angeles during the summer of 2006, although that time I didn’t get a chance to have him sign another copy of one of his books.  But I am so greatful that I spoke to him in person and had a book signed by him that first time.

One of the things I feared most in all my life is the day Ray Bradbury would die as all of us do sooner or later.  I knew when that would happen there would be no more new stories from him.  Sadly, that day has come.  But he’ll always be with us when we read his work and talk about him as I am doing this very moment.  Also, I believe his spirit will echoe through us new generation of speculative fiction writers who were influenced by his work and his beliefs on art and creativity. I was definitely influenced.

Mr. Bradbury, we will miss you but will always remember you and continue reading your ingenious work. May you rest in peace.

–Steven Rose, Jr.


(Original post can be found here: )

Cinderella’s Secret Diary

Ever wonder what happened to Cinderella after she got married? Not all fairy tales have happy endings and things aren’t going well for Cinderella. Its the late 1700’s, Napoleon is raging a war on Europe and Cinderella is about to start a journey of self-discovery as she comes to terms with her failing marriage and inability to have a child.

This is the story behind Cinderella’s Secret Diary Book 1: Lost by Ron Vitale. The story begins with Cinderella writing in her diary asking her fairy godmother to help her with her problems. She then goes on to tell a story that her mother told her the night she died about the Faerie Lord. The Faerie Lord in the form of a silver fox was walking through the woods and finds a woman who was unhappily married. The Faerie Lord tells the woman that he loves her and has followed her for years; he then takes the woman away to the land of Fey, where the two are married and live happily ever after.

It has been a few years since the prince has married Cinderella and her life has not been a happy one. The prince neglects her and has been seen in the company of other women. Cinderella has yet to have a child which upsets the queen and she has no friends with the exception of a woman named Clarissa. Despite living in a palace Cinderella feels like a prisoner.

After writing several diary entries asking her fairy godmother for help. She finally receives an answer in her diary from her fairy godmother saying that she must free her mind and look within to solve her problems.  With the help of the queen, Cinderella comes up with a plan to visit France where she will meet with a witch to see why she can’t become pregnant.

In France Cinderella falls in love with another man and at this point in the story your thinking that this story is going to be just another romance novel, but then the story changes and becomes much more then that. The witch that was supposed to help Cinderella become pregnant is working with the queen to stop Napoleon from invading England. The witch also lets Cinderella know that she is more then just a princess and her fairy godmother is not working in her best interest. Cinderella is left to decide if she should follow her heart or do what she thinks is right.

If you buy Cinderella’s Secret Diary looking for a nice little fairy tale your going to be disappointed. This book is more of a dark fantasy aimed at a teenage  audience. I did enjoy this book but I had a couple of problems with it. There were a couple of continuity errors and there we’re a couple of things that I felt could have been explained better, but I don’t want to mention them here, because it would spoil the story. Another thing that bothered me was the fact that the whole book is from the first person point of view. The story is told entirely from a series of diary entries made by Cinderella (with some exceptions by the antagonist in the story). I don’t mind reading a whole book from one view point and the fact that it was all diary entries didn’t bother me. In fact there is a reason given why the whole story is told in diary entries.  I still would have liked it if we knew a little more about what the other characters and what they we’re thinking. I did find myself getting tired of reading about Cinderella’s feelings and hearing other character’s viewpoints would have made it better.

On the positive side I enjoyed how the author points out that Cinderella is trapped in a situation that she doesn’t like and can’t control then he goes on to show how the other characters are also trapped in situations they have no control over, such as the prince and queen. I also liked the exchanges between Cinderella and the rince. Despite both characters admitting to each other that they don’t love each other, they still show great affection for each other when Cinderella stays with the  prince when he gets injured and when the prince tries to rescue Cinderella from the villain in the story.   I found myself wanting the prince and Cinderella’s relationship to come to a different conclusion. I also loved the characters of the queen and the silver fox. Most of all I liked the point that the book makes that you shouldn’t wait for someone to come along to solve your problems with a magic wand, you have to depend on yourself to find what makes you happy. Though this book isn’t the kind of book that I usually like to read, I did enjoy it and can’t wait for Ron Vitale to write Book 2 of Cinderella’s story.

HorrorAddictsCon: Steven Rose Jr. – Horror and Dark Fantasy III

Horror and Dark Fantasy: One and the Same?

by Steven Rose, Jr.

Part III

The dark fantasy tends to contain literary elements from both the epic fantasy and, as stated at Beyond, a horror story. The dark fantasy plot often involves a quest on the main character’s part, but it is often a quest into darker, more forbidden settings. The hero may or may not have friends or companions on that quest with him/her. The obstacles he/she faces are menacing creatures that you find in many horror stories, creatures such as zombies or evil spirits ready to devour the hero either physically or spiritually. There often tends to be more fairy or folk tale elements in this type of story than in the epic fantasy or horror story. Therefore there may be magical creatures, such as fairies or talking animals that help the hero, and the hero may come from humble beginnings like the hero in the fairy tale often does. Also, the story’s ending is more like that in the fairy tale—a joyful ending where everything turns out good for the hero(es) and they either go on living life as normal as before or better.

These distinguishing elements between horror and dark fantasy can best be seen if we compare a horror novel such as Dracula with a dark fantasy novel such as Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. In Dracula, a young man who can be considered the hero goes on a journey to the evil count’s estate in Transylvania on business. He is imprisoned by the count, and faces many obstacles in his attempt to escape and in doing so is in utmost fear for his life. He finally does escape, but the count follows him home to his native England . It is there where Dracula causes the terror and havoc on not just the hero’s, Jonathan Harker’s, friends and beloved, Mina, but even on the society at large. The horror of this creature is that he can take control of a person’s life and soul in that he can make them into one of the living dead like himself making them have to feed off of innocent people’s blood. He is immortal and undefeatable. He can appear anywhere at anytime, and, unlike in most of the movie adaptations, can even walk about by day under certain circumstances. He can make people come to him over remote distances by merely thinking about it, like he does with Mina. He can change into a bat, wolf or mist. He can even change the appearance of his age from old to young. Jonathan Harker, Mina, and the vampire hunter Dr. Van Helsing, along with others form a kind of expedition to go after Dracula and kill him after the evil count has fled back to his native Transylvania . In this way the basic mythic motifs of the quest and battle against an enemy comes up in this novel. But even though Dracula has become a threat to an entire society, the climaxing battle here is more for an individual’s soul, Mina’s.

Gaiman’s Neverwhere is a story that is actually developed from the basic plot of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. The story mostly takes place at night in the underground ofLondon . Because it’s based on Alice in Wonderland, it’s got a fairy tale quality to it and this kind of otherworld atmosphere, yet it takes place in the subterranean structures of an actual geographical based city. However, this underground world in the novel is a fantastical one in that it is seldom seen by Londoners and is occupied by magical beings and so is an environment of mystery. One of the magical beings is an enchantress who sucks the life source out of people, an element of horror since it is so close to the idea of sucking the soul out of a person and is a more personal threat like what we see in Dracula than a societal one. But the very fact that this hidden society comes out both underground and above at night while the rest of Londoners are sleeping gives the setting a more imaginary, dream-like quality seen in much of high fantasy. The majority of the characters the hero comes in contact with are of magic and mystery, as opposed to the more rational based human characters in Dracula (save for the vampires themselves, of course). One of these characters is a talking rat, a rodent character type often seen in a lot of fairy tales and fables such as The Nutcracker. So the quest inNeverwhere, unlike in Dracula, involves more fantastical characters who help the hero on his journey, and the purpose of the quest is more societal than it is personal.

Another high fantasy element in this novel is a giant boar that the heroes must battle in the sewers, a creature used as a dragon type in this story. Likewise, Dracula himself on a more implicit and symbolic level is a dragon figure. In fact, his very name derives from a word associated with dragon. As a dragon figure he is a threat to society. But more importantly he is a hoarder of not only blood but gold like the typical Western dragon is. And, of course, he is a devourer of human blood just as a dragon is the devourer or destroyer of human flesh and lives.

So in comparing these too popular novels, we can see that the distinction between the genres of horror and dark fantasy is that one is more emphasized on the threat of the individual as opposed to a whole society, more specifically the threat to a person’s soul, although dark fantasy can contain that same kind of element. However, there is a more fairy tale quality to the dark fantasy than there is to the horror story since more impossible characters occur, characters like talking and humanized animals such as the talking rat in Gaiman’s novel. In the horror story, the characters are more rational and realistic and the plot, although fantastical in its involving supernatural creatures, consists of more realistic and so more believable events.

Another factor that we shouldn’t overlook is that the distinction between these two genres is also due to the commercial industry’s categorization and marketing of fiction. The majority of book retailers sell their literary merchandise according to popular interests and therefore according to what the majority of customers are going to be looking for in story type. But in order for retailers to do that, and in order for them to consider readers’ preferences, the literary conventions of these story types have to be considered.

So the distinction between the genres of horror and dark fantasy seem to be based on two factors: literary convention and marketing. Yet when looking at the conventions closely between stories of these two subgenres, the distinction seems very blurred because many of these conventions are used to a more or lesser degree in both. What are your thoughts on the differences in these two subgenres? Would you say the two are based more on conventions or more on marketing methods? Are such categorizations more up to the reader than the forces of literary convention and marketing? Are horror and dark fantasy interchangeable terms, or can dark fantasy be considered a mixed genre of horror, high fantasy and even fairy tale elements? Should both just be considered dark fiction and not have any further classifications? Let’s extend this discussion, and so please feel free to leave any answers or other comments!


Suggested Reading

Steven Rose, Jr. is a journalist and writer of fiction. His non-fiction includes book, television, and movie reviews. His fiction consists of horror and science fiction short stories, although he plans to write novels in the near future. Besides writing, Steven serves as a public relations rep for the Sacramento based network, Sylvanopolis Writers’ Society. For more information about Steven, go to:

HorrorAddictsCon: Steven Rose Jr. – Horror and Dark Fantasy II

Horror and Dark Fantasy: One and the Same?

by Steven Rose, Jr.

Part II

Like the epic or high fantasy, the horror story also involves the unknown and mysterious, but these two elements are much more threatening to the individual. They are usually threatening to a character’s life either spiritually or physically. Therefore, the threatening force is some sort of unfamiliar being such as a ghost, demon, or vampire and often associated with the underworld like the enemy characters are in epic fantasy. But the emphasis is on the threat to the individual than it is on the one to a whole society. Although the term horror primarily has referred to a sense of fear for a person’s own soul and therefore spiritual life (as is the case with Dracula) it has also come to be associated with an extreme fear for one’s physical life.

If the threatening being is not of the supernatural realm, then it is often associated with it through superstition. This is the case with The Phantom of the Opera. The Phantom is not really a supernatural being himself but, because he hides in obscure parts of the opera house and kills people, he is thought to be a ghostly presence. Throughout the horror narrative, there are many unexpected attacks or pursuits from the monster, often in dark settings, resulting in shock on the audience’s part. Needless to say, such evoking of fear plays a crucial role in the horror story.

Often at the end of a horror story, the reader or viewer is left hanging, but not in the sense of a lack of a satisfying conclusion. The audience is left hanging in the sense that they wonder what will happen to the characters’ lives after the characters have faced the traumatic situation brought on by the threatening figure or monster. Therefore the conclusion to a horror story tends not to be as joyful or promising as that of the epic fantasy, and because the story has been focused on the menacing being itself and the terror it has caused, the other characters’ lives are not elaborated on in the conclusion making it much shorter than that of the typical epic fantasy. The monster may have been destroyed by this time or somehow banished from the setting, but what happens to the characters next is anybody’s guess. The monster may return, as is the case with many Hollywood horror films (and so why sequels are so popular with them) or the main characters may have post trauma to deal with that may drive them to insanity. Because of these possibilities, the conclusion to the horror story is more realistic than the more fairy tale happy ending of the high fantasy.


Suggested Reading

Steven Rose, Jr. is a journalist and writer of fiction. His non-fiction includes book, television, and movie reviews. His fiction consists of horror and science fiction short stories, although he plans to write novels in the near future. Besides writing, Steven serves as a public relations rep for the Sacramento based network, Sylvanopolis Writers’ Society. For more information about Steven, go to:

HorrorAddictsCon: Steven Rose Jr. – Horror and Dark Fantasy I

Horror and Dark Fantasy: One and the Same?

by Steven Rose, Jr.

Part I

In the last ten years at least, the dark fantasy subgenre has become just about as popular as the horror subgenre. The two have many similar elements even to the point where they may seem interchangeable or synonymous with each other. Dark fantasy has been permeating just about all media, including video games and books. Neil Gaiman is one of the most popular dark fantasy writers of today, and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series of novels and the TV series Supernatural can also be considered to fall under this fantasy subcategory. Authors more associated with strict horror have also written some dark fantasy–Steven King with his DarkTower series, for instance.

Two other authors, who write much science fiction and horror but also write a lot of dark fantasy are Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison. Ray Bradbury’s most famous dark fantasy is his novel Something Wicked This Way Comes, while Ellison has famous stories of the subgenre such as “The Basilisk” and “Chatting with Anubis”.

Directors such as M. Night Shyamalan and Guillermo Del Toro who typically make horror movies, like Devil and The Orphanage, also make films that can be classified as dark fantasy: Shyamalan Lady in the Water, Del Toro Pan’s Labyrinth. It shouldn’t be too surprising that such authors and movie directors of horror also produce dark fantasy works since the two subgenres are both imaginative, dark forms of story telling, but what literary elements and conventions really distinguish the two?

Since horror has been the more popular familiar genre for a longer period of time, we’ll look at the literary conventions that make it up before we do the ones of dark fantasy. But before doing that, because dark fantasy descends from the more typical epic or high fantasy, we’ll look at the conventions of epic fantasy before looking at the ones of dark fantasy. But as far as supernatural horror goes, horror itself is also a subgenre of fantasy since it involves imaginary events such as hauntings and black magic.

Horror stories involving more realistic menacing characters, such as serial killers, would not be considered supernatural horror and so would hardly fall under the umbrella of the fantasy genre. So in general, fantasy story telling, regardless of the medium it is told through, involves any type of plot that is centered around magical or impossible events. In a wider perspective, this includes science fiction. The scientific events in a science fiction story, although much more plausible than events in high or epic fantasy, have not occurred in the present time the story is produced and so at that time of production these events are impossible, yet they are visionary since they are possible for a future time. But since we are looking at the distinctions between two subgenres of fantasy that do not primarily deal with science, we’ll disregard science fiction for purposes of this discussion. Because the fantasy genre is the umbrella that the subgenres supernatural horror and dark fantasy fall under, we’ll look at the conventions of epic/high fantasy which is the oldest form of story telling that falls under that genre.

Most epic fantasy involves either a hero’s quest or a battle to save a society–often a kingdom, maybe even the world. Magic, the supernatural, or both play a major role in the story. The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) involves wizardry and underworld creatures such as demons and spirits–the Orcs and Ringwraiths, for example–in the war that occurs throughout Tolkien’s trilogy. The main hero’s, Frodo Baggins’, quest is to take a magic ring to its rightful place and destroy it before it leads to the world domination of evil. The hero or heroes in stories such as this must face several obstacles to completing a task, these obstacles often involving the supernatural. However, they often receive help from a supernatural force such as a deity or elf, or a magic object they obtain. This is the case in the Lord of the Rings prequel, The Hobbit, when Bilbo finds the ring (before its evil power is discovered in LOTR) because he can turn invisible in times of danger by slipping it on his finger.

The hero in epic fantasy often makes it back to his/her homeland after completing the quest/battle bringing some sort of redemption to the society. Such fantasy is often also referred to as high fantasy. Northern Virginia Community College’s literary Website, Beyond . . . , indicates that a slight difference between the two terms is that high fantasy often takes place in imaginary worlds (as is the case with LOTR) whereas epic fantasy is based more in reality and so more directly based on myths rooted in our world’s history (for example, The Odyssey). A good example of epic fantasy would be Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon since it is based on Arthurian and therefore British/Celtic myth. But in nearly all circumstances both kinds of fantasy involve the unknown and mysterious. Because of this we’ll use these terms interchangeably for reasons of simplicity since this discussion’s aim is to distinguish horror and dark fantasy, not epic and high fantasy, from each other.


Suggested Reading

Steven Rose, Jr. is a journalist and writer of fiction. His non-fiction includes book, television, and movie reviews. His fiction consists of horror and science fiction short stories, although he plans to write novels in the near future. Besides writing, Steven serves as a public relations rep for the Sacramento based network, Sylvanopolis Writers’ Society. For more information about Steven, go to:

Free Fiction Friday: Coraline

This week’s Free Friday selection is Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. This book was originally written in 2002 and illustrated by Dave McKean. Coraline was turned into a stop motion animation movie in 2009. The movie version of Coraline was directed by Henry Selick and included the voices of Terri Hatcher, Dakota Fanning and Ian McShane. The movie took 18 months to shoot after two years of pre-production and is the longest stop motion animation movie ever made.

The book Coraline tells the story of a girl named Coraline who has just moved to an apartment in an old house. She lives with her parents who work from home but don’t have a lot of time to spend with her. One day Coraline goes exploring and discovers a door that is just like hers. She enters and finds a world that is like hers but more colorful and better then the one she is living in. Her other mother pays more attention to her and is everything that Coraline wants her real mother to be. Not everything is what it appears to be in the other apartment though. Soon Coraline finds herself trapped in the other world and has to outsmart her other mother to escape.

If you would like to adopt a slightly used copy of Coraline, all you have to do is leave a comment on the blog  tell us why you would like to have a copy of this used book. If you enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, American Gods, or The Graveyard Book you will probably enjoy Coraline also. This is for US residents only. Good luck and please leave a comment.