FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Dracula (2020)

Netflix’s New Dracula is Downright Frustrating to Watch.

by Kristin Battestella

Initially, I was excited for the BBC/Netlfix 2020 co-production of Dracula featuring Claes Bang (The Square) as the infamous Transylvania count terrorizing lawyer Jonathan Harker (John Heffernan) before sailing to England on the subsequently cursed Demeter. Unorthodox nun Agatha Van Helsing (Dolly Wells) tests all the legendary vampire elements in a cat and mouse battle against Dracula. His survival into the twenty-first century spells doom for fun-loving Lucy Westerna (Lydia West), and unfortunately, the poorly paced, uneven back and forth between the Bram Stoker source and intrusive contemporary changes make for some terribly torturous viewing.

The Rules of the Beast” opens with annoying extras already calling attention to themselves as nuns surprisingly blunt about faith or the lack thereof try to make sense of this Mr. Harker and his monstrous experience. Beginning with the convent rescued is an interesting place to recap the preceding horror, so there’s no need for weird questions on whether Harker had sex with Dracula. Such sensationalism underestimates vampire fans familiar with the tale and lures new audiences with the wrong notes. After the opening credits, snowy Carpathian prayers, crosses, and howling wolves restart the story with the more recognizable coachmen creepy and ominous castle. The full moon, booming door knocker, and fluttering bats build toward famous introductory quotes as Carfax Abbey paperwork and tutoring in English etiquette force Harker to stay with Dracula. Sadly, the actors don’t have much room thanks to the orchestrated frame – the convent interrogation intrudes on the castle tension while extra zooms or hisses over blood and broken mirrors point out the obvious. Rather than letting the audience enjoy the eerie for themselves, the harping voiceover undercuts any ominous with “So it struck you as strange? And so your search continued. Tell us.” minutia. The womanly phantoms and gothic explorations take a backseat as we’re told how Dracula gets younger and Harker grows gruesome – ruining the sinister irony by giving away gory discoveries, bodily contortions, and spinning heads. Viewers anticipate the funhouse horror shocks and laugh as the undead leap out at the screaming Harker before another monologue ruins the quiet reveal of Dracula’s crypt. Spinning panoramas and intercut, fast-talking plans over-edit Dracula in that British heist movie or clever case closed Sherlock tone. Dollies into the mouth of the biting vampire are special effects for the audience instead of painful for the victim, and everything stalls for “You were about to explain how you escaped from the castle.” redundancy. It takes ten minutes to explain how sunlight reflected from a cross burns the vampire as if it’s some shocking revelation, but at least the nuns are ready with stakes when Dracula begs for entry at their gate with severed heads and convent slaughter tacked on in the final fifteen minutes.

Crawling hands, ship-bound nightmares, and onscreen notations introduce the captain, crew, and passengers of the Demeter in “Blood Vessel” alongside ominous cargo boxes, buried alive scratches, and dead deckhands. However onscreen chess parallels, unfortunately, fall prey to typical attractions between Dracula and our female Van Helsing. Characters wax on how books must immediately engage the audience and today’s horror loves a frame narrative, yet editors would ditch the prologues, bookends, and flashbacks. Once again, the episode restarts with one and all coming aboard – including Dracula and a Goodfellas freeze-frame to point everything out for the audience. Despite the Demeter disturbia, the back and forth setting is ambiguous, and flashbacks again disrupt the point of view. Humorous questions about going to the dining room when one doesn’t eat food fall flat, and intriguing passenger opportunities go unexplored in favor of baiting homosexual mixed signals. Dracula roughly attacks men from behind before wiping the blood from his mouth with the closeted newlywed’s napkin. Bram Stoker already wrote of the bite as sex metaphor, so treating the vampire suckling, flirtatious nods, and knee squeezes as a disease to demonize gay men comes off wrong. If this Dracula was going to address more sexual topics, it should have done so properly instead of toying with both characters and viewers. The turbulent ship is a superb locale, yet there’s no sense of space. Is Dracula attacking people and oozing blood in the crowded dining room or leaving bodies above deck in front of everybody? The disjointed editing doesn’t disguise the muddled scene, for key pieces of action that should be shown in real-time are withheld for later spooky flashes. Lackadaisical live-tweeting style voiceovers with a lot of “I don’t understand” and “but I assumed” interfere with the locked cabins, unseen travelers, and tantalizing murder mystery. Searching the ship, suspect evidence, and pointing fingers on who can’t be trusted are delayed for mind games and let downs from the first episode nonsensically tossed in here. Dracula toys with the crimes so he can solve the case with winks on what a great detective he is, detracting from Van Helsing’s book quotes and passenger tensions. At first, it seems so cool to see Dracula up to no good aboard the Demeter, but once the episode backs itself into a corner, one almost wishes we had just seen the passengers on the vampire deduction themselves.

Contrived answers as to how Dracula got out of his watery grave in “The Dark Compass” aren’t shrewd, just gimmicky – pulling the rug out from under viewers with chopped up, non-linear storytelling. After Dracula labors for over two hours on adapting the beginning of the novel – albeit with new intrusions – the series up and decides to move into the present, restarting again with trailer park terrors and in world inexplicable. The vignette style disarray encourages audiences to half pay attention to fast-moving scares with no time to ask questions as the beach raid seriously gives way to Dracula laughing at technology and playing with cameras. Underwater preservation, diving teams, accidental fresh blood revivals, and science briefings studying Dracula are treated as less important than his being down with the lingo or telling doctors his blood connections are like downloading memories. Dracula has a grotesque reflection showing his age, police bulldoze a house so he won’t have a roof over his head during the day, and seeing inside the bite reveals a unique abstract limbo. Poisoned blood makes him vomit and this vampire research foundation was founded by Mina Murray in Jonathan Harker’s name, but any intriguing background or choice horror gets dropped for deadpans like Dracula wondering why his jailers gave him a toilet and “Who gave him the wi-fi password?!” Phones, photos, and raves introduce viewers to a whole new set of characters, and where Dracula painfully dragged out earlier episodes, now the cemeteries, supernatural, and undead move at lightning speed. Problematic cancerous blood, suspect scientific organizations, and ill characters drinking the vampire samples stall thanks to sassy emails from Dracula read as a voiceover – avoiding one one one confrontations for glossed over montages skipping to three months later where there’s no longer any pretense at this being a gothic novel adaptation. Existential wordy on flavor, being in love with death, and suggestions that Dracula has lived so long simply because he is a coward afraid to die are thrown at the screen in the final fifteen minutes alongside Hammer knock offs and a stake through the heart dusting ripped right from Buffy. The “Children of the night…” quote finally comes in a fascinating sequence about hearing the still conscious dead knocking in their tombs, but the lack of paranormal follow through, forgotten up to no good foundation, and barely-there medical crisis are infuriating when this science meets occult agency versus new to the millennium Dracula could have been a series in itself.

It’s a lot to ask for the audience to like an unlikable protagonist with no redeeming qualities thanks to glowing eyes, gross nails, and tasty babies in bags. Claes Bang’s Count is white-haired before being re-invigorated as a well-spoken Englishman – he has the gravitas in serious moments inspired by the novel, but the jolly good clever retorts replace any menace. Dracula need not explain anything, yet our mustache twisting, almost camp villain wastes time mansplaining into the new century even as sad crescendos suggest we should be sympathetic to his crocodile tears. His powers are more cinematic convenience than supernatural, and the glib gets old fast as Dracula complains about exercise while he swipes left for his latest food delivery hook-up. Bang deserved to have a faithful adaptation to sink his teeth into, but the script has the character patting himself on the back before giving up just because the page says so. It’s also obvious Dolly Wells (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) is our Van Helsing when we see her. Using the Stoker text as she explains the undead and waxes on having plans not faith when dealing with those denied salvation are strong enough characterizations, yet Dracula sacrifices her action with too much reflective talking. Agatha doesn’t believe in God but stays in their loveless marriage for the roof over her head, but her serious study is hampered by super sassy bordering on ridiculous. She stands face to face goading Dracula over his invitation status when she isn’t sure of the no vampire entry rules, and their debates are played for temptation. Agatha admires and encourages Dracula, but her lack of undead information leads to deadly consequences. How can she be both bungling sardonic and grandstanding with not today, Satan speeches? It’s not seeing the actors acting per se, but the scene-chewing intrusions are too apparent as Agatha tells Dracula to a suckle boy before her great-great-grand niece Zoe swaps hemoglobin with him for some cryptic ancestral conversations – which could have been awesome if they weren’t tacked on in the last twenty minutes. Despite spending the first episode with John Heffernan’s (Dickensian) pasty, deformed, and desperate Jonathan Harker in an unnecessarily drawn out account, we never really know the character because so much of his development is given to others. His outcome is also significantly different than in the novel, and Morfydd Clark (The Man Who Invented Christmas) is surprisingly almost non-existent as his fiancee Mina Murray. Glittery Lucy Westerna loves selfies and making the boys jealous, but I wish we saw Lydia Wells (Years and Years) in Victorian frocks instead of modern cool and cliché party girl garb. Viewers are tossed into her pretty snobbery before skipping to her down low Dracula feedings, and the pointless cremation screams versus skin-deep beauty wears thin fast. Writer and producer Mark Gatiss (Coriolanus) as Dracula’s lawyer Frank Renfield Skypes with the Count over his human rights being violated. This awkward self-insert calls attention to itself with fast-talking legalese tut-tuts. Renfield asks questions the viewer has, but the answers should be in the story, not told by the writer onscreen.

Steeple silhouettes and gray skies open Dracula with gothic flavor, but sweeping CGI panoramas and bugs squashing against the fourth wall are irritating when we’re here for the flickering torches, winding staircase, stone corridors, and heavy drapes of Dracula’s castle. Echoes and shadows accent the candles, lanterns, portraits, creaking doors, and scratching at the window as boxes of dirt, rats, and undead adds grossness. Hidden laboratories and crosses would suggest medieval hints, but the snarling at the camera is lame and the should be disturbing vampire baby is as laughable as that delicious lizard puppet from the original V. Raw, furry black wolf transformations are much better thanks to birthing contortions, blood, moist oozing, and nudity. Likewise, the congested, ship bound Demeter scenery is superb with all the proper maritime mood, moonlit seas, foggy isolation, and claustrophobic horror tension before fiery explosions and underwater spooky. The present, however, is extremely colorful – purple nightlife, teal laboratories, dreamy red visions, and jarring pink filters. Enchanting abbey ruins contrast the high tech prison rotating toward sunlight to keep the vampire in his place, and the organization’s Victorian roots could imply a steampunk mix with the modern technology, but any older aesthetic is sadly dropped for rapid shutter clicks, strobe headaches, and onscreen text speak. YOLO! For once I’m somewhat timely on reviewing a new series – rushed to beat spoilers because social media compatriots were already talking about not finishing the First Episode here. Unlike Sharpe and Wallander, the three ninety-minute television movie-style episode season does not work for Dracula. Maybe this format is good for a Netflix binge where we just let the whole smorgasbord play, but if Gatiss and co-creator Steven Moffat (Doctor Who) had designed Dracula as six forty-five minute episodes instead of lumping everything together, it would have helped heaps in organizing the story between adapting segments from the page and adding new material or time jumps. Rumors suggest Netflix tracks viewing duration rather than series completion, so maybe bowing out after the initial ninety minutes goes further in their algorithms than if audiences had tuned out after a forty-five-minute start? The bang for instant viewing buck shows in the mess onscreen, and the only thing that could have made this worse was if it had actually been named Dracula 2020.

Narrative interference and deviations from the novel make this Dracula terribly frustrating to watch. This is the first time I’ve felt reviewing was an obligated chore, and at times, I had to take a pause because I was so aggravated. The Transylvania start and Demeter ride imply a novel retelling, but the convent shenanigans and Van Helsing ladies past or present suggest new adventures. Attempting both in a back and forth, short attention span frame only insults audiences looking for new vampire spins, experienced horror viewers, and teachers who can tell when the student has only read the first few chapters of the assigned book and just makes up the rest. Dracula isn’t scary – the Netflix and chill model is designed to make us awe at something creepy now and again, but the try-hard gore is dang common with little sense of dread. There’s so much potential for a faithful book interpretation as well as new vampire direction, but this transparent seemingly cool ultimately ends up being the same old horror same old and Dracula wastes most of its time on nonsensical absurdities.

I feel so scathing but I started with fourteen pages of complaints and made it down to six so I guess that’s an improvement? ¯\_()_/¯

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FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Family Haunts and Fears

Family Haunts and Fears 

by Kristin Battestella

These families are less than comforting for each other when it comes to ghosts, cults, and suburban frights.

Before I Wake – Mike Flanagan (Oculus) directs Kate Bosworth (Blue Crush), Thomas Jane (Dreamcatcher), Annabeth Gish (The X-Files), and Jacob Tremblay (Room) in this 2016 Netflix dark fantasy drama. In spite of the never working, always home in their mansion rich blonde white people, we hope for the couple who lost a child now making a fresh start by adopting a very special but sleepless eight year old. Group therapy’s been helping our fellow insomniac mom cope – getting the psychological metaphors out of the way while showing how our husband and wife have reacted differently to such grief. Their new son, sadly, takes out his books and flashlight to stay up all night, sneaking some serious sugar because he fears the man who eats people when he sleeps. Strange images increase about the house, and instead of the typical jerky husband, it’s nice to have a trying to be helpful doctor. The therapist, however, dismisses mom’s encounters with creaking doors, breaking glass, and ghostly figures as lucid dreams or sleep deprived waking hallucinations. Our couple is always in front of the television not talking about how they can inexplicably see and touch their late son in tender moments giving and taking away before he disappears in their arms. Naturally, they take advantage of this gift, putting on the coffee to stay up while their current dreams come true son sleeps. He can help them heal, and with such fanciful graphics, one almost forgets how they are deluding themselves by using his dreams to fix their reality. When mom drugs his milk and cake with child sleeping pills, we know why. Dad may bond with the boy, but it’s unique to see a multi-layered woman both experiencing the horror and contributing almost as a villain who thinks she’s right. The monster may not be super scary for audiences accustomed to terrifying effects, but this is about kids fearing unconscious ghouls and waking nightmares not scaring viewers. Previous foster parents are committed after talking of demons when the boy’s dreams come true, but he doesn’t know what he’s doing – unlike the adults who realize, do it anyway, then justify their response as mercy. If he can’t wake up, they can’t defeat the black vomit and flesh consuming monsters. Unfortunately, convenient hospital connections provide old records and birth mother details while the caseworker never notices the ongoing file is lifted by the subject. Confining the boy leads to a house of horrors with moths in the stairwell, cocoons, creepy kids, gouged eyes, and bathtub bizarre – which are all fine individually. However, the story backs itself into a corner by resorting to a state of mind scary at the expense of the personal fantasy, unraveling with explaining journals and a parent sugarcoating someone else’s memories so obvious Freudian questions can do the trick. With this thick case file, how did no child psychologist figure this out sooner – especially with such legalese and real-world missing persons? Rather than essentially letting mom get away with sacrificing people to overcome her grief, the finale explanation should have been at the beginning to further appreciate the boy’s torment. Despite a kind of, sort of happy non-ending, the parents dealing with a child dreamer plot makes for a mature reverse Elm Street mixing family horrors and fantastics.

Death at Love House – Couple Robert Wagner (Hart to Hart) and Kate Jackson (Dark Shadowsare writing a book on Lorna Love and stay at the Old Hollywood starlet’s creepy manor in this 1976 television movie. Gothic gates, winding drives, old fountains, and broken statues accent the past torrid and vintage bus tours, and there’s a freaky shrine, too – the preserved corpse of our beauty lying in a glass coffin. Of course this print is obviously poor, but the retro Hollywood scenery, Golden cinema looks, and seventies California style make up any difference. I wish we could see the arches and wrought iron better, but the VHS quality kind of adds a dimly lit ominous to the Mediterranean villa as retro commercials provide a vintage patina. Housekeeper Silvia Sydney (Beetlejuiceisn’t very forthcoming about enchanting portraits of the starlet, and newsreels of her funeral show a man in a cape with a black cat among the mourners. Malleus Maleficarum spell books on the shelf, sacrificial daggers, and crusty director John Carradine (Blood of Dracula’s Castle) suggest Lorna was more evil than lovely, and talk of mirrors, souls, passion, and rivals like Dorothy Lamour (Road to Bali) add to the character unto herself à la RebeccaWithout over the top visuals or in your face action for the audience’s benefit, the performances here carry the scandalous scares – jumping at the horrors as thunder punctuates terrifying encounters in the dark. Apparent heart attack victims, destroyed pictures, and warnings to leave Love House lead to locked doors, gas mishaps, and steamy showers while phonographs provide chilling music as Lorna seems to be looking out from the silver screen film reels with her hypnotic power. Bewitching dreams relive the past and wax on eternal youth as the ghostly obsessions grow. At times, the spiral stairs, red accents, and swanky are more romantic, but phantom ladies at the window and rumors of fiery rituals create sinister. Our husband is said to be going through the scrapbooks but he’s not getting any work done, remaining in denial about the basement tunnels, cult altars, pentagrams, and mystical symbols. Although the Mrs. seems calm somehow once the truth comes out, too, the creepy masks and wild reveals make for a flaming finish. There are too many tongue in cheek winks for this to be full-on horror nor can one expect proper glam and glory in such a brisk seventy-four-minute network pace. However, this is good fun for a late-night Hollywood ghost story full of meta vintage.

Kill List– Financial arguments, unemployment, and stressed parents shouting open British director Ben Wheatley’s (High-Rise) 2011 slow burn while fade ins and outs create a disconnected passage of time amid his mundane routine, tearful phone calls in her native Swedish, and brief playtime with their son. Clearly they are trying to keep it together just for him, but recession talk and conversations about their military past make dinner with friends more awkward. Despite some wine, laughter, and music; tensions remain alongside bloody tissues, mirrors, and creepy occult symbols. Foreboding rainbows, eerie skies, and contracts signed in blood lead to fancy hotels, mysterious clients, guns, and stacks of cash. This sardonic, violent lifestyle is normal to our hit men – want a hot tub, put on a nice suit and kill a few people to make money for your family! Things should be looking up, but past mistakes, religious conflicts, and hits gone wrong interfere with the fine dining, friendly chatter, stakeouts, and casually executed executions. The deliberate pace may be slow to some, however full moons, hallway zooms, and binocular views set off the lying in wait preparations, silencers, and worship regalia. Thumping body bags miss the dumpster and victims aren’t surprised their time has come, but off screen implications disturb both our hardened hit men. They are the righteous torturers breaking knee caps and bashing hands! Dead animals, blood splatter, off list hits, dirty crimes, and graphic skull work are not for the faint of heart as the kills become messy and out of control. Ominous women in white, blood stains, infected cuts – this violence is going far beyond their normal work but there’s no getting out here. Nothing good can come from this dreary potboiler as the kills increase from ironic to curious and ultimately brutal in a final act providing throwback shocks and a sense of realism straying into unreliability. Night gear observations at a fancy estate begat torches, chanting, robes, and masks. If you’ve seen enough cult horror, the ritual foreshadowing is apparent, however there’s a warped cleansing to the rain, drumbeats, and sacrifice. Gunfire, tunnels, knife attacks, screams, and unknowns make for gruesome turnabouts that bring the consequences home in a silent, disturbing, grim end.

Voice from the Stone – It’s post-war Tuscany and dilapidated castles for nurse Emilia Clark (Game of Thrones) in this 2017 tale opening with church bells, toppled statues, and autumn leaves. Letters of recommendation and voiceovers about previous goodbyes are unnecessary – everything up until she knocks on the door is redundant when the Italian dialogue explaining the situation is enough. Her charge hasn’t spoken in the seven months since his mother’s death, and sculptor dad Marton Csokas (Lord of the Ringsis frazzled, too. Our nurse is strict about moving on from a family, and although her unflinching English decorum feels like you can see her acting, this may be part of the character fronting when she wonders if she is qualified for the case. The mute son is likewise an obedient boy if by default because it takes speaking to object, and he listens to the walls to hear his dead mother. Period furnishings, vintage photos, mirrors, and candles enchant the interiors, but the stone and stucco are spooky thanks to taxidermy, strange old ladies, creaking doors, winding stairs, and broken tiles atop the towers. Wooded paths, overgrown gardens, and old bridges lead to exploring the flooded quarry, cliffs, family crypts, and stone effigies. This estate has been in the late wife’s family for over a thousand years, and forty generations are buried beneath the rocks. Noises in the night provide chases and dead animal pranks as our nurse listens to the walls to prove it’s just the settling house, rattling winds, or bubbling pipes talking. Progress with the boy takes time while billowing curtains and melancholy phonographs linger over somber scenes as she grows too attached in wearing our late mother’s clothes. Unlike her, our nurse sits docile and silent when posing for his sculpture before fantasizing some saucy as he carves. She can care for father and son – talking to portraits of the Mrs. and listening to tombs to further ingratiate herself into this family. Desperate, she hears her now, too, in eerie interludes and spooky dreams that add aesthetics yet feel like weird seventies horror movies nonsensical. Wet perils and violent slaps begat illness, but questions on whether this fever is real or psychological unravel with fog, wheezing, heartbeats, and buried alive visions face to face with the dead. Although some may dislike the ambiguous nonanswers and stilted style or find the derivative Rebecca or Jane Eyre mood and outcome obvious, the slow burn period setting makes this an interesting piece for gothic fans not looking for outright horror a minute.

 

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FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: The Frankenstein Chronicles Season 1

The Frankenstein Chronicles Debut is a Hidden Gem

by Kristin Battestella

The 2015 British series The Frankenstein Chronicles follows Thames Inspector John Marlott (Sean Bean) and his runner Joseph Nightingale (Richie Campbell) as a floater composed of other body parts leads the police to body snatchers, abducted children, street pimps, and even author Mary Shelley (Anna Maxwell Martin). Someone may be copying her novel Frankenstein, and the home secretary wants the case solved before pesky newspaper reporters like Boz (Ryan Sampson) print the sensational tale.

Capsizing dangers, muddy chases, vomiting police, and a stitched-together body reassembled from at least seven children set the 1827 London dreary for “A World Without God.” Rumors of grave robbing abound and selling the dead to medical institutions is not a crime – this is a seller’s market doing good business despite still superstitious folk fearing science, medicine, and what happens to a body after death. Our inspector goes through several protocols and technicalities to research whether this butchery was done by a man of science or some layman out to prevent the new anatomy laws, invoking a mix of morose period noir with British lone detective angst. He’s canvassing the dirty streets for a meat market kidnapper while parliament spins grandiose hot air on rights to autopsy versus personal penance. Cholera, prayers, shady men at the docks with carts full of stolen bodies – is someone murdering to procure fresh dead to sell? The hands of the deceased seem to move when touched in “Seeing Things,” and William Blake quotes death bed whispers and sing-song visions wax on the beast with the face of a man. University hospital demonstrations on bioelectricity show how to reanimate the nervous system, however, those medical seminars and the subsequent Sunday sermons are not so different from each other. Higher up officials don’t want to hear about god fearing motives and scientific suspicion coming together as unauthorized doctors run unapproved clinics with their own ideologies. Investigation leads cut too close to home, and a fireside reading with narrations from the Shelley text invoke a self-awareness meta. An open copy of Frankenstein laying on the desk steers our course as the linear tale expands into a more episodic style with incoming regular cast high and low aiding our inspector or rousing his suspicion. Ghostly winds, flickering candles, and blurry visions create eerie, a supernatural clarity that helps connect clues while books such as An Investigation into the Galvanic Response of Dead Tissue in “All the Lost Children” provide handwritten sketches with blood in the margins. Religion versus science abominations, laws of God versus tyranny and oppression, and defiance of deities to defeat death layer dialogue from the author herself along with pregnant teens, abortion debates, and gory late-stage patients who may as well be monsters with their deformities. Past baptisms, dead families, and uncanny nightmares escalate the inner turmoil while hymns, market chases, and back-alley fights add to the well balanced mystery, life and death themes, precious innocence, and making amends.

Underground tunnels and unscrupulous business transactions in “The Fortunes of War” would have young girls sold at thirty-five guineas for ‘company,’ and the disturbing abuses create frightening silhouettes and threatening villains even as the uncaring uppity argue over chapter and verse regarding bastards and police refuse extra men on a sting gone awry. Screams, gaseous brick houses, and skeletons lead to arrests that unfortunately don’t solve the initial case butchery – only will out one small piece of a larger twisted picture. The aristocracy is shocked at the Frankenstein life imitating art scandal as fact and fiction strike the press, politics, police, and the author herself for “The Frankenstein Murders.” Drunken mad science, candlelit pacts, and monstrous machines bring the eponymous inspirations full circle as blackmail and the triumphant anatomy act provide a free supply of corpses for those who will now do whatever they wish. Threats, revelations, and suspicions swept under the rug keep the underbelly dark while disastrous scientific pursuits go awry. Blue currents and electricity experiments try to conquer death as the noose tightens. Red herrings and key pieces of the mystery come together as the audience completes the puzzle along with our constables thanks to erotic clues, nasty denials, ill pleasures, and warped dissections. The detectives must use one crook to catch another with cons, betrayals, and confessions that seemingly resolve the brothel raids, set ups, and scandals. Prophetic calendars, apparent suicides, and emergency parliament sessions make room for plenty of dreadful hyperbole – grotesque body snatchers have used murder to procure and defile corpses and the dubious press thinks it’s all thanks to popular fiction! This public medicine reform may banish the body trade, but lingering questions remain in “Lost and Found.” Constables need proof that the deceased aren’t staying dead and buried, and someone has known it all along. Conflict among friends and lies will out reveal the hitherto unseen beastly in plain sight as underground discoveries, powder misfires, and final entrapments lead to tearful trials. No one’s left to believe the truth thanks to corruption and condemnation blurring the fine line between genius and blasphemy. Last rights go unadministered when one is guilty of much but denies the crime at hand, and The Frankenstein Chronicles escalates to full on horror with frightfully successful dark science abominations.

Producer Sean Bean’s former soldier turned inspector John Marlott doesn’t like crooked police and his lack of fear is said to aide his quality undercover work. His gruff silhouette contrasts the posh officials, for they dislike his methods, deduction, and research on tides or time of death – questioning where others do not think to look makes him a somewhat progressive investigator even if he doesn’t care for books, poetry, or famous names of the day. Marlott has no problem with instructions, but feigns stupidity and says his conscious is his own, playing into people’s sympathy or religion as needed despite privately lighting candles to his deceased family and carrying sentimental lockets. The Frankenstein Chronicles is upfront on Marlott’s past, telling us how his syphilis caused his wife and baby’s deaths – he knows what it is to grieve and the prescribed mercury tonics add disturbing visions to his prayers. He’s uncomfortable at white glove luncheons as well as church services and cries over his past, perpetually tormented by his late loved ones while this barbaric case puts more burdens on his shoulders. He crosses himself at seeing these ghastly sights, recoiling from the morbid even as his own sores worsen. Marlott’s reluctant to use a dead boy’s body as bait to catch grave robbers and gets rough in the alley brawls when he must, acting tough on the outside and going off the book with his investigation after he steps on powerful figures who would manipulate him for their own political gain. Despite his own fatal mistakes, Marlott is a moral man in his own way, dejected that making the city safer tomorrow doesn’t help the children already dead. Now certainly, I love me some Sharpe, and in the back of my mind, I chuckled on how The Frankenstein Chronicles could be what really happened to Sharpe post-retirement. So, when Marlott says he was in the 95th rifles and fought Bonaparte at Waterloo, wears the same boots, and dons the damn rifle green uniform in a flashback funeral, I squeed! Marlott’s not afraid of death and ready to meet his family, not stopping even when the case is officially closed – ultimately breaking out that old Sharpe sword when it really comes to it!

Reprimanded and insulted by superiors, Richie Campbell’s (Liar) Joseph Nightingale is assigned to Marlott because they don’t really care about him or the investigation. The character is initially just a sounding board, however, Marlott confides in him, laying out the procedural methods in lieu of today’s police evidence montages. Nightingale does leg work for the proof needed, following a tip and getting roughed up when tailing a body snatcher. He argues with Marlott, too, countering his witness protection strategy before earning Marlott’s apology and his blessing to marry. Sadly, both share different angers when plans go wrong and people get hurt. The Frankenstein Chronicles offers a fine ensemble of familiar names and faces also including Anna Maxwell Martin (North and South) as Mary Shelley – a sassy, outspoken writer who says outwardly genteel appearances can be deceiving. She tells Marlott her book came from a nightmare, however, she knows more than she admits. Shelley is well-informed at a time when women weren’t permitted to be as cosmopolitan as their male peers, and great one on one scenes make her an interesting antithesis to Marlott. Ryan Sampson’s (Plebs) hyper young Boz is likewise a persistent little reporter who won’t give up his own sources but wants the police scoop. He circumvents Marlott, working all the angles and exposing the bodies found. Boz belittles him for not knowing Frankenstein was all the rage but he is on Marlott’s side in bringing the truth to light – so long as it’s a fantastic story. By contrast, Charlie Creed Miles (Essex Boys) and his mutton chops match the Burke and Hare-Esque thuggery. This body snatching businessman keeps track of his livelihood, for its just honest supply and demand. Pritty’s reluctant to snitch, but Marlott’s blackmail forces him into helping, becoming a useful, if crooked character. Vanessa Kirby’s (The Crown) initially snotty Lady Hervey comes to find Marlott is surprisingly honorable, confiding in him about her family’s title but little wealth even as she wonders if he is playing her for a fool. Jemima grows closer to him yet remains committed to a loveless marriage for money if it helps her brother’s charity hospital. Unfortunately, Lady Hervey is a woman of God who is sorely mistaken when she puts her trust in all these men of science. Ed Stoppard (Upstairs, Downstairs) as Daniel Hervey speaks out against early medical laws and technicalities with disturbingly contemporary theories when not performing abortions behind his sister’s back. Being a starving, homeless prostitute burdened with a child is not life, he reasons, only more suffering. He scoffs at charlatan surgeons and the home secretary’s grandstanding but offers Marlott a new medicinal spore for his syphilis instead of the harmful mercury, doing what he can for those less fortunate whether the Anatomy Act would ruin him or not.

Rain, thunder, fog, riverboats, marshes, and bogs set the chilly, bleak tone for The Frankenstein Chronicles amid period lantern light, overcoats, and muskets. Eerie artwork and beastly designs in the opening credits parallel the gory sights with separated body parts, arms, and legs upon the table, bowls of entrails, and stuck pigs contrasting the organ music, ladies frocks, bonnets, and courtly wigs. It’s bowler hats, simple crates, and bare rooms with peeling wall plaster for lower men but parasols, pocket watches, top hats, carriages, luggage, and grand estates for the upper echelon. Stonework and authentic buildings accent the blustery outdoor scenery, cobblestone streets, and humble cemeteries. Sunlight and bright visions are few and far between amid the candlelit patinas and small pocket portraits – the only available likeness of the deceased – however, reflections, deformed glances in the mirror, and filming through the window panes accent the man versus monster themes. Wooden coffins, baby-sized caskets, plain burial shrouds, simple crosses, body bags, and tanks containing deformed fetuses create more monsters and morose amid sophisticated libraries, early medical gear, handwritten letters, signets, and wax seals. Bones, blood, electricity, ruined abbeys, and hazy, dreamlike overlays combine with late Bach cues for final horrors, but it is bemusing to see the same title page on that open copy of Frankenstein over and over again – as if we could forget our eponymous literary source! Although many scenes happen on the move, enough information is given with time for dialogue in reasonable length conversations, balancing the visual pace and investigation exposition rather than resorting to in your face editing and transitions. All six, forty-eight-minute episodes in Series One are directed by Benjamin Ross (Poppy Shakespeare), teaming with writer Barry Langford (Guilty Hearts) for one cohesive tone on this ITV hidden gem now of course branded as a Netflix Original.

While some elements may be obvious, my theory on the new spins in The Frankenstein Chronicles was totally wrong, and I again wish there were more gothic, sophisticated series like this and Penny Dreadful. The Frankenstein Chronicles isn’t outright horror – the macabre drama, dreary case, and disturbing mystery are not designed as a scare to frighten even as choice gore keeps the ghastly at hand for this easy to marathon harbinger. Instead, the British gravitas meets mad science combines for a Poe-Esque caper with literary fantastics peppering the intertwined crimes and Frankenstein what-ifs.

 

For More Frankenstein, check out Frankenstein: The True Story or for more scaries featuring Sean Bean, re-visit our reviews on Black Death and Silent Hill.

Live Action Reviews! by Crystal Connor: The Silence

Review of: The Silence

Plotline: When the world is under attack from creatures who hunt their human prey by sound, a teenager who lost her hearing at 13, and her family, seek safety in a remote refuge. However, they discover a cult who are eager to exploit her heightened senses.

Who would like it: Fans of the Zombie genre, people who love apocalyptic and survival films, monster fans, and those who like movies about the end of the world.  

High Points: I really loved the fast pace in which this movie moved, and I especially loved the subplot dealing with the religious cult.

Complaints: N/A

Overall: I think this book was marketed to a YA audience but this film will appeal to everyone.

Stars: 3 1/2

Where I watched it: Netflix

***

Master Imaginationist and Instagram photographer Crystal Connor is the Chief Imagineer working for the Department of Sleep Prevention’s Nightmare Division. A Washington State native she loves anything to do with monsters, bad guys (as in evil-geniuses & super-villains.  Not ‘those’ kind her mother warned her about), rogue scientific experiments, jewelry, sky-high high-heeled shoes & unreasonably priced handbags.

When she’s not terrorizing her fans and racking up frequent flyers miles by gallivanting all over the country attending fan conventions and writer’s conferences she reviews indie horror and science fiction films for both her personal blog and HorrorAddicts.net

She is also considering changing her professional title to dramatization specialist because it is so much more theatrical than being a mere drama queen.

http://wordsmithcrystalconnor.com

http://www.facebook.com/notesfromtheauthor

Download your free copy of …And They All Lived Happily Ever After! from Podiobooks.com and see why the name Crystal Connor has become “A Trusted Name in Terror!” 

http://podiobooks.com/title/and-they-all-lived-happily-ever-after

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Forest Frights!

Forest Frights! by Kristin Battestella

Here’s a round up of wooded perils and forest fears – as if the ticks weren’t bad enough!

Bird Box Foreboding radio reports, risky rapids, blindfolds, and children not allowed to talk belie the lovely rivers and still forests of this 2018 Netflix thriller directed by Susanne Bie  (The Night Manager) starring Sandra Bullock (Practical Magic), Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story), Trevante Rhodes (Moonlight), John Malkovich (Shadow of the Vampire), and B.D. Wong (Awake).

Nothingness point of views from behind the blindfold accent the backpacks, lead lines, titular pets, riverside boats, and rowing toward the dangers unknown. If you look you will die, and mom means business as fog and water perils add to the lack of sight unease. Five years before, our mom-to-be is arguing with her sister and painting art full of disconnected, lonely people.

These women have realistic conversations with layered dialogue and familial quips, but the relatable doubts about motherhood and everyday big decisions degrade into mass crowds, suicide reports, sudden hysteria, and panic as something seen by some but not others results in slow motion car accidents, road rage, and shocking deaths. Unlikely strangers fearing demons or religious judgment and arming themselves are thrust together amid busy signals, screaming cell phone calls, no media, and no military help. Is this some new biological warfare making people see something that kills themselves?

Birds sense the danger and a faint growling, but cameras are to no avail and our family on the river will only remove their blindfolds when huddled under blankets as the story goes back and forth between their journey with static on the radio and our previously housebound survivors concerned with rationing and the pregnant women among them. It’s tough to think about baby names when electricity, supplies, and shotgun shells won’t last. No one was prepared for the apocalypse to happen that day. Do they let others inside their abode or listen to voices on the riverbank saying it is okay to take off the blindfolds? Desperate runs to the nearby supermarket for essentials such as canned goods, toilet paper, diapers, booze, and electronics use GPS only, with windows blacked out, tape over the cameras, and proximity sensors to warn when something comes near.

The slow burn suspense allows time for these disparate strangers to forge late friendships amid fears they are all going to die and debates about living versus surviving in these topsy-turvy circumstances. Some briefly consider staying in the supermarket – leaving others behind while they maintain all they need despite the escalating violence outside. Whiskey talking admits how bleak the situation is while others hope things may get better.

However, five years later our mother is still rowing toward the unknown possibility of safety as the family dangers on the boat increase. Of course, a few people do some foolish things, and there may have been other options than taking the most dangerous course of action. The supposedly helpful birds are useful or forgotten as needed alongside somewhat obvious metaphors about the people being who’s actually box-bound and resorting to new, heightened senses. Understandably, the tension escalates when outside influences are let in – one by one people are lost as suspicious newcomers knock and hopeful possibilities end with appropriately blunt gunfire and shootouts. Training to survive without sight becomes paramount while terror in the home, outdoor separations, and family sacrifices test the temptation to look.

Thanks to the courage and drama here with frights real and fantastic, there’s no need for any spoon fed twist, toppers, scary movie cliches, or bombastic  horror in your face. The multi-layered studies and suspense are well-interwoven, progressing naturally as the isolated settings allow the performances and storytelling to carry the must see intensity.

It Comes at Night Gas masks, bodies in the wheel barrow, and backyard executions open this 2017 thriller as rough and bearded Joel Edgerton (Loving) does what he has to do for his wife and son. It’s excellent to see an interracial family front and center – horror needs to stop being blonde babes all the time – but we know things won’t bode well for the family dog! The lone lantern light and shadows traveling through the expansive but boarded up log cabin add a certain sadness to match the sans electricity, long dark hallways, plastic sheeting, and one red door to enter or exit.

Pictures of good times line the walls – the days before this unexplained plague necessitated rifles, the defending of one’s castle, and shoot first ask questions later mentalities. What do you do when another family of three is in need of food and shelter? Flashlights, outdoor sweeps, and night time blues aide the tense family protection amid gory dream scares, body horror, and tied up intruders. Interrogations provide talk of precious water, sickness in the city, going off the grid, and trading for supplies. Men can understand these desperate measures when seeing to their families, but can they trust each other? A family conference votes to welcome the new trio in their secure homestead, yet the skeptical, suspicious, on guard feelings remain thanks to the desolate roads, car crashes, and gunshots outside.

There are rules to the home, too: they eat together, always travel in pairs, and never go out at night.The families bond over chores and even laugh when reminiscing about desserts or liquor, but barking, noises in the woods, and sleepwalking encounters keep everyone on edge. Testy accusations lead to separations and putting others at risk to save one’s own family. No one here is a bad person, but such extreme situations make good people do terrible things.

This claustrophobic parable remains tense and doesn’t overstay its welcome – but it didn’t need the extra horrors or double dream fake outs as the social examination scares and siege stress are enough. Although the unexplained elements continue the debate after the picture ends, it also seems like important staples go unclarified. Were they sick all along? Is there something supernatural at work or not? Some audiences may find the lack of answers a waste, but the subdued chills and bleak statements remain intriguing.

The Passion of Darkly NoonThe titular Brendan Fraser stumbles injured upon the unwittingly tempting Ashley Judd and her mute but charming boyfriend Viggo Mortensen in a surreal wood for this 1995 psychological thriller. While the DVD has low volume and an odd aspect ratio, there’s a golden glow and crisp country white to match the pretty outdoors and should be quaint cottage. Minimal music parallels the natural cricket sounds and rainstorms – but the idyllic springs and hidden grotto are no match for ostracized Judd’s tight tops, tiny dresses, and sweaty mellow.

“Extremist Ma and Pa picked my name from the Bible,” Fraser stutters over past cult persecutions. We don’t see the trauma he recounts but immediately sense the disturbed attraction and late blooming Oedipal complex as “Lee” remains buttoned up in the heat and standoffish, not hearing the notion to leave strict religious groveling for not necessarily sinful ideals.

There’s much to explore, a fresh start on a new homestead, but he’s too distracted by the nineties Skinamax. The naughty atmosphere rises with obsession turning into mea culpa harm, but Viggo (“He is Vigo! You are like the buzzing of flies to him!”) does well with no dialogue as the tensions mount. Backwoods colloquialisms add to the kooky yet friendly characters, but what’s with the literally flaming, giant, glittering shoe floating down the river? A Circus, elephants, apples, religious stewing – viewers must be in the right mood to digest this slow burn symbolism.

Hear tell of who’s crazy; a witch, or the monster of the woods adds to the secrets and rival testimonies. Is it an evil bewitchment when your husband has a heart attack over a tempting woman appearing in the forest? Fear mongering, curses for one’s sins, justice, punishment – where’s the happy medium beyond the escalating blood, barbed wire, and bizarre visions?

The brooding drama becomes increasingly unreliable as this purgatory cycle repeats, for each fanatical person entering this Eden-like grove ruins it a little more. A savage siege leads to red warpaint, hellish flames, and howling in a fine performance from Fraser, who is perhaps more known for his comedies rather than dramas. While this could have been totally horror or straight steamy, some serious, tender, or scary scenes are dated, laughable, and bemusingly infantile. Fortunately, this character study on passion as both sex and sacrifice is an interesting in limbo morality play with saucy fun and tempting extremes perfect for a late night trippy.

Pyewacket – Playing the daughter, Nicole Munoz (Defiance) invokes the eponymous evil to kill mom, Laurie Holden (The Walking Dead) in this 2017 Canadian parable featuring creaking forests, goth rebels, and can’t take it back terrors. Our widowed mother is doing her best to keep it together and wants a fresh start, but moving is the worst thing for a teen with awkward crushes and an inseparable BFF.

Relatable conversations on support versus instability, transferring schools, driving, and bad influences endear both ladies to the audience – even her friends insist parents are just as screwed up as teenagers. Music is in the background rather than overwhelming viewers, a realistic rather than Hollywood choice. As the camera follows this goth gang through the school hallways. We’re the fifth member of the group and caught in the middle from the backseat as the vengeful spell casting looms.

Pizza, a relatively small cabin, mom needing a weekend job, and say hey, a Latina lead, yes please – it’s as if writer and director Adam MacDonald (Backcountry) had a list of horror cliches and insists on how not to incorporate them. Although it’s not expressly said to be Halloween, fallen leaves, pumpkins, cawing crows, sage, chants, binding rituals, and blood bowls and owl motifs accent the occult primer. Despite the careful preparation and craft materials, there’s an underlying sense of a not listening teen doing something she shouldn’t – especially when mom apologizes and the gals bond over memories of the deceased. Her friends think this is all just acting out for attention, but soon enough indeed our daughter regrets the ritual. Unfortunately, a locked door can’t keep out Pyewacket. Ominous knocks and creepy attic access escalate to vehicular frights, and innocuous shots – shadows about the house, rustling in the woods – become suspect while we wait for the subtly disturbing entity.

Overhead slow spins and gradual zooms build unease as friends disappear before the camera shakes with unreliable delirium thanks to unfinished rituals, unexplained appearances, and darkness. Is this evil trickery mounting or is a scared teen roaming in the disorienting woods? Are forgiveness and reverse spells enough to put everything right when this festering horror was summoned in spite of, “be careful what you wish for,” warnings? Visions of the dead, distorted vocal inflections, rattling doorknobs, and pleas to be let in provide terror as this freaky manifestation is revealed. Some may not like the quick finale, but knives, gasoline, fiery mistakes, and a bitter comeuppance create a creepy atmosphere that does what it is says on the tin. Those skinny pants, however, are not going to look good in a few years.

Interview with Author John Everson

Flame Tree Press released Bram Stoker Award-winning horror author John Everson’s 10th novel, The House by the Cemetery, on October 18th.

The teaser for the book hints at a perfect autumn read:

Flame Tree PressThe teaser for the book hints at a perfect read for autumn: “Rumor has it that the abandoned house by the cemetery is haunted by the ghost of a witch. But rumors won’t stop carpenter Mike Kostner from rehabbing the place as a haunted house attraction. Soon he’ll learn that fresh wood and nails can’t keep decades of rumors down. There are noises in the walls, and fresh blood on the floor: secrets that would be better not to discover. And behind the rumors is a real ghost who will do whatever it takes to ensure the house reopens. She needs people to fill her house on Halloween. There’s a dark, horrible ritual to fulfill. Because while the witch may have been dead … she doesn’t intend to stay that way.”

Everson’s novels are dark and visceral, often blending horror with the occult and taboo sex. The Illinois author won the Bram Stoker Award for a First Novel in 2005 for Covenant. His sixth novel, Nightwhere, was a Bram Stoker Award finalist in 2013. Check out Everson’s website by clicking here.

In an exclusive interview with HorrorAddicts.net, Everson discusses his new novel, his past works, and what scares him.

THE INTERVIEW

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HORROR ADDICTS: Your 10th novel, The House by the Cemetery, arrived October 18th from your new publisher Flame Tree Press. Does this release personally feel any different than your previous releases in terms of anticipation and excitement? Or do all of them feel the same?

EVERSON: They’re all a little different, but this one is special because it’s the debut release on my fourth major publisher. My first couple novels debuted in hardcover on Delirium Books, a small independent press, and then made their big “mass market” paperback debut a couple years later on Leisure Books, which put them in bookstores across the country. Both of those debuts were big because – first book ever, and then first book ever in bookstores.  Then after the dissolution of Leisure, my sixth novel NightWhere debuted on Samhain Publishing, which was my second “paperback” home. After four books with them, I am now with Flame Tree Press, which is issuing The House By The Cemetery in hardcover, paperback, e-book, and audiobook. That is the first time I’ve ever had a publisher do all versions of a novel, so… it’s a big release for me!

HA: You set The House by the Cemetery in Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery, one of the most haunted sites in Illinois and near where you grew up. What part of the cemetery’s history or legend intrigued you the most?

EVERSON: I  am always fascinated by ghost stories, so I love the stories of the Madonna of Bachelor’s Grove, a ghostly woman sometimes seen walking with a child, and sometimes on her own. I wrote a short story about her for the Cemetery Riots anthology a couple years ago. And she’s really the inspiration (along with a famous gravestone) for one of my earliest stories, “Remember Me, My Husband.” But the ghost story that inspired the novel is that of a mysteriously appearing house, which people see in the back of the cemetery. I decided that for the novel, the house would be a real, physical place. But the combination of the ghost stories about that, the Madonna, and the devil worship legends about dark things that occurred in the cemetery 40-50 years ago, really fueled the book though they were inspirational, not directly “retold.”

HA: With horror movies breaking records at the box office and tons of quality horror fiction being released the last couple of years, the media is reporting that the horror genre is more popular than ever. Does it seem that way to you or is it just hype? Have any movies or horror fiction blew you away in the last couple of years?

EVERSON: Horror as a film and TV genre does seem more popular than ever. The popularity of series like Stranger Things and The Walking Dead, in particular, has galvanized a huge fan base. I haven’t seen that turn into a huge fan base for horror novels, because at this point, published horror fiction is still divided between Stephen King, Anne Rice and a few others published by the major labels, and … everyone else being published by independent publishers. When you walk into a bookstore, you’re not blown away by the preponderance of horror books, at least not in any of the stores I walk into. I hope that changes because certainly, this is the age of horror video. And without “writing” there are no films and TV shows!

As far as what’s blown me away … I don’t have a frame of reference because I don’t watch most modern horror films and I avoid TV series – because while they may be great, I just don’t have the time! I can either watch TV or write … and I choose writing. I have seen Stranger Things, which is awesome. But that’s about it for me on the screen over the past couple years. My movie watching (which happens every Friday or Saturday night around midnight in my basement!) is centered around older horror, giallo, and exploitation films, particularly from Europe, from the ‘60s-’80s. At the start of the year, I did see and love the films The Shape of Water from Guillermo del Toro and Endless Poetry from Alejandro Jodorowsky. Ironically, both of those films also look backwards in time, to other ages. My favorite things that I’ve seen lately are Hitch Hike, a 1977 film by Pasquale Festa Campanile, Death Occurred Last Night, a 1970 film by Duccio Tessari, and Pets, a 1973 film by Raphael Nussbaum.

HA: You’ve written a horror trilogy titled The Curburide Chronicles about a reporter named Joe Kieran battling demons. What about Joe caused you to return to his story two more times?

EVERSON: I never intended to. After the first novel was initially finished in 2000, I wrote a few short stories, and a year or two passed as I tried to find a publisher for Covenant, the first book. One day in 2002, I heard about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and I thought … what a great way to jumpstart a book – write 50,000 words in four weeks? That’s insane! But I took the dare. I had an idea about what happened to Joe after Covenant, and in some ways, it felt like a better, more adventurous story than the first novel. So…I decided to use NaNoWriMo as my prod to knock out a big chunk of a novel. I still hadn’t sold the first book – and didn’t know if I ever would! – so I tried to write Sacrifice as a standalone novel, though it directly follows the first book.

So … when I finished Covenant I hadn’t had any thought of a sequel. When I finished Sacrifice, though, I thought almost immediately of how I might want to return to the world again, because I’d left a couple characters in limbo. However, the publisher wasn’t interested in a third book (third books in a series don’t usually do great unless you’ve got a mega-bestseller thing going on). So I had to sit on the idea of the third and final book in the series for almost a decade. A couple years ago when both Leisure and Samhain had collapsed and I found myself without a publisher, I decided, “what the hell …” and I dove in and finally wrote Redemption, the final chapter in the trilogy.

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HA: I cite The 13th as one of the best horror novels I’ve ever read and one that’s influential on my own writing. Do you have a favorite amongst your children (why or why not)?

EVERSON: I don’t have a favorite, but I have a few that I tout a little higher than others. Ironically, those are the ones that seem to have either sold less or been reviewed harder than the others! I am really a fan of Sacrifice, though it hasn’t sold half as many copies as Covenant. I love The 13th because it’s just over-the-top crazy horror fun (I think!) I really was proud of Siren, which had a dual narrative structure that was adventurous for me and dealt with some personal themes that also were important to me. While I’ve seen some people call it their favorite, that novel has faired the poorest in overall reviews (a lot of people are not happy with the ending), though personally I think it’s one of my strongest pieces. NightWhere is a big one for me because it dealt with dark, taboo themes that I was afraid to write about (and sign my name to) for years. But when I finally did it, I was really proud of the way it turned out (and it turned into an award finalist and has been reviewed pretty well).

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HA: Was there one of your works that kind of fell through the cracks that you wished more people would’ve discovered?

EVERSON: Redemption. It had everything going against it – it’s the third and final part in my Covenant trilogy, but it was released a decade after the second novel, and it was released on my own independent Dark Arts Books label – the only book I’ve done that with on a first run, because the original publisher of Covenant and Sacrifice was gone.  So … most of the thousands of readers of those first two novels have no idea the finale exists, and there’s no way to let them know unless they’re actively looking for it. But I think it’s one of my best books, and really ties up the threads of the first two books. It’s also my longest novel.

HA: Taboo sex plays a large part in the plots of almost all your novels, but it’s also popular in a lot of other horror novels. Why do you think sex and horror are so intertwined in horror fiction?

EVERSON: Horror is in a lot of ways, a “Christian” genre (there are people bristling all over reading that!) in the sense that, because a lot of horror is based on the crime and punishment philosophy of “people who do bad things – like have sex before marriage – are punished by DEATH!” There are a lot of “sin and retribution/punishment” themes in horror. Being punished for killing someone … and being punished for cheating and/or premarital sex are big themes that horror tales frequently tackle. Horror has always explored the “what happens when you cross the moral line” factor.

And I think that sex comes into horror a lot too because – when are you at your most vulnerable? When you completely open yourself to another human being. We’re afraid of the potential danger of that intimacy, and thus … horror stories!

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John Everson signing his latest novel, The House by the Cemetery.

HA: I know you’re a music lover. Does music influence or inspire your writing at all (how)?

EVERSON: Music is a huge part of my life and I don’t ever write without it. I can’t say that music influences my writing direction in a way (I don’t hear a song and write a story about it) but I do put on types of music if I’m writing particular scenes. Most of the time I have on ambient “dreampop” kind of bands like Cocteau Twins and Delirium and The Cure which set a particular “mood” for writing. But if I’m doing very aggressive scenes, I might put on mixes of harder techno stuff, from Covenant to Rob Zombie to Marilyn Manson.

HA: What music are you listening to now?

EVERSON: I’m listening to a MixCloud mix by one of my favorite DJs, DJ Mikey. I have bought so many CDs because of his mixes! I listen to this particular one all the time at night because it’s nice and lowkey. Here’s the link: https://www.mixcloud.com/strangewaysradio/space-between-us-dreampop-dj-mikey/

HA: Are you binge-watching anything on Netflix?

EVERSON: The only thing I’ve ever watched on Netflix was Stranger Things … which is actually the only reason I subscribed (the rest of my family now won’t let me cancel it). I’m not a fan of most streaming services because their libraries aren’t deep enough for me. I have a lot of niche, cult film tastes and really, the only way to get most of those movies is to buy them from the cult film companies that remaster and produce them for Blu-ray and DVD. Plus, one of my favorite things about watching an old movie is to watch the bonus DVD extras – all the interviews about the making of the film. You don’t get that stuff on Netflix or Amazon Prime.

HA: Have you read any fiction recently worth recommending?

EVERSON: The last novel I finished was David Benton’s Fauna, which is excellent!

HA: When you’re not working, writing, or spending time with your family, what do enjoy doing with your downtime?

EVERSON: Watching cult 1970s/80s horror, giallo and exploitation films – often from Europe – is one of my favorite things to do. Give me a beer and a new discovery from film companies like Vinegar Syndrome, Severin, Raro Video, Mondo Macabre, Shameless or Synapse, and I’m a really happy guy.  If I’m not going to collapse in a comfy chair to watch obscure movies in the dark, I also love to cook and garden and occasionally even do some woodwork – I’ve built an oak bar for my basement and a couple of DVD cabinets.

HA: Give me some breaking news about your next project or tell me something your fans don’t know about you?

EVERSON: I’m currently just a few weeks from wrapping my 11th novel, The Devil’s Equinox. It’s an occult-based Rosemary’s Baby kind of story that maybe shares a few themes with NightWhere, The Devil’s Equinox, and The 13th.

HA: What scares you?

EVERSON: People! I’m a big fan of the core message of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. In the end, it’s really not the monster that’s dangerous.

 

 

 

 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: SWEET RECENT SCARES

 

Sweet Recent Scares

by Kristin Battestella

 

Ghosts, vampires, and cults, oh my! This trio of recent tales get the scares right!

 

I am the Pretty Thing that Lives in The House – Ruth Wilson (Luther, The Affair) stars in this 2016 Netflix original written and directed by Oz Perkins (The Blackcoat’s Daughter). Poetic voiceovers tell of a house being borrowed by the living while dark screens and period silhouettes come in and out of focus, creating an aged feeling for our colonial house, ailing horror author, and her jilted live in nurse Lily – who must always wear white, can’t be touched, and slaps her own hand for snooping. Certainly there are obvious implications with repeated phrases, solitary scenes, one side phone calls, whispering voices, and no outdoor perspectives to disrupt our attention from the suspect footsteps and undisturbed décor. Old music with ironic lyrics, cassettes, rotary phones, typewriters, static TV antennas, and Grateful Dead shirts also invoke a trapped in the past mood implying that the thin veil between life and death is soon to be broken. Shadowed, almost black and white shots and doorways framed in darkness make the audience question which side of the looking glass we are on – slow zooms peer into the dark frames or blacked out night time windows. There are shock moments, but the one woman play design is intense without being loud or in your face. Blindfolds, old fashioned dresses, mirrors, musty papers, and mysterious boxes increase amid moldy walls and suspicious characters from our author’s 1960 novel The Lady in the Walls – creating slow burn literary flashbacks, parallel self-awareness, ghostly uncertainty, and feminine duality on wilted old age blooms versus forever beautiful flowers. Is this a linear story or are the past, present, living, and dead blending together? Again, the answers are apparent with book titles and name hints hidden in plain sight. No one eats, sleeps, or bathrooms yet this ghostly rot and repetition may take multiple viewings for full discussion, interpretation, and analysis. Although there are some pretentious arty for the sake of it moments – not the papa Anthony Perkins scenes on the TV! – knocking on the walls, a flipped up rug, buzzing flies, and a will requesting another woman writer come to chronicle this “House of Stories” are atmosphere enough without run of the mill wham bam effects. This individual horror experience remains can’t look away intriguing for old school horror fans not expecting thrills a minute and those who enjoy a seventies, no concept of time mood.

 

Midnight Son – An aversion to sunlight, skin conditions, and the need for human blood make for a deadly quarter life crisis in this 2011 indie gem from Scott Leberecht (Life After Pi). There’s not much dialogue early – and the DVD has deleted scenes, interviews, and commentaries but no subtitles – yet the visual storytelling doesn’t need anything uber talkative. Interesting schemes denote the false night time light with yellow lamps, neon accents, string bulbs, blue kitchen designs, and choice reds as the doctor diagnoses anemia, jaundice, and malnourishment. Rare steak isn’t doing the trick, but the sight of blood on a bandage at the ho hum night security job gets the heart racing for something tasty. Early Google research moments get out of the way in favor of painting memories of the sun, solitary vampire movie watching, checking for fangs, testing for a reaction to crosses, and having a laugh at the clichés. Loneliness, street peddlers, deadbeats, and debt – life’s already down on its luck so what’s a little vampirism? The vampire vis-a-vis for drug use and life sucks may be trite today, but this allegory has an older, working protagonist stopping in the corner butcher for some blood by the pint to hide in his coffee cup. Companionship and fantastic possibilities can be found in unlikely places, and it’s neat to see just how many things a basement dwelling vampire can really do at night. Although I like his bed with the blackout curtains, this is a potential turned bleak world – the natural awkwardness is understandable and casually realistic. Jacob’s smart, talented, and just hampered by his…health problems…and an ER opportunist is willing to trade blood for a price. Rather than shock horror exploitative, we have an intimate, invested view for the increasing slurps, bloody makeouts, and desperateness. Quick camera flashes leave room for suggestion as bodily changes, night vision, infections, and love bites interfere with potential relationships, murder investigations, gallery possibilities, and you know, trying to get somewhere in life. Can you be a good and normal vampire or is amoral violence the only answer? Though plain to some with nothing super unexpected, the simple constructs echo the mature progression, honest drama, and self-aware focus without the need for horror spectacle. This is a fine story with a small but well rounded, multi-ethnic cast, and it’s one of the best same writer/director pictures I’ve seen in a very long while.

 

Sacrifice – Radha Mitchell (Pitch Black), Rupert Graves (Sherlock), and David Robb (Downton Abbey) star in this 2016 adaptation of Sharon Bolton’s novel beginning with brisk New York pregnancy emergencies before moving to Scotland’s great mountains, rocky coasts, and end of the world island isolation for an adoption. Standing stones, jokes about mistaking “runes” for “ruins”, and talk of Druids, Normans, and ritual sacrifice pepper the scene setting job interviews, hospital tours, and dinner with the wealthy, well-connected, but secretive in-laws. A dead animal on the property reveals a buried body, and our lady obstetrician butts into the police investigation of this bog discovery, studying creepy photos and x-rays of the corpse to suggest the victim had recently given birth before her insides were excised. Quality science, Tollund Man references, and flood clues jar against trow myths, unique folklore, and inscription evidence. The authorities don’t want to hear any of that old sacrificial talk, but these mothers and lady cops are intelligent women talking about history and murder rather than men or gossip. While the well-paced, multilayered investigations may build the spooky versus facts with suspicions and tense cloak and dagger, this is not an overt horror picture. The story here feels caught in the middle when it should have been either a straight crime drama or gone with all out fantastics. There are some plot confusions as well – who is who and all the details aren’t totally clear, leaving an abrupt end with serious unanswered questions. Fortunately, surveillance, shadows, chases in the dark office at night, and lights going out add suspense. Late wives, a clinic full of pregnant but anonymous women – who doesn’t want this medical mystery solved and why? This is a small island, and not being in on its secrets can prove fatal with dangerous bridges or fiery car accidents. Body switches, clandestine interviews, identifying tattoos, hidden passages, and bagpipes tossed in for good measure seemingly tidy the case, and a likable, mature cast anchors the maternal fears and cult demands of this unique little thriller.

 

But Skip

White Settlers – A city couple moves to a too good to be true Scottish fixer upper on a medieval battle site in this 2014 British snoozer also called The Blood Lands. After the usual cool opening credits, are we there yet driving to the horrors, a somewhat shady estate agent, no phone signals, and a move in montage; the very unprepared wife realizes she’s afraid of being in an isolated handyman house without power. Of course, her jerk husband makes Scottish jokes, refusing to let up on his bullshit attitude even when there’s a scary break in and unseen attackers. The outdoor saucy, surprisingly immature and incompatible couple, and nighttime suspicious are typical clichés, and the divine scenery, historical references, and great house are never used to their full potential. When the description refers to ancient battles, one sort of expects something wild like ghosts or cults and past meets present horror – not guys in pig masks angry at the new neighbors. It’s tough to feel any of the supposed English versus Scottish subtext because the horror is so substandard. Eden Lake had better us versus them twists, and I swear I just saw this terrorizing hooligans in animal masks trope in at least three other horror house siege movies. Although flashlights and fog make it difficult to see much of anything here, and our wife has to apologize to her asshole husband for her being afraid even while she’s the superior fighter. Maybe this isn’t that bad on its own, but it’s certainly disappointing if you are expecting anything more than Brits chasing some other Brits through the woods in the dark. Nothing here is horror sentient – people go back to check the still body, bads talk rather than act to create a contrived victim escape, and who trusts the creepy little boy for help? Hello, McFly. If you didn’t want any English buying your Scottish property, why not blame the real estate lady who sold it to them? Or the bank that made the price so high? How is unrealistically terrorizing and ridiculously kicking out the new owners so you can move in going to get rid of any of the real world consequences?