Book Review: Things You Need by Kevin Lucia

Things You Need – Kevin Lucia
(Crystal Lake Publishing)
5/5 stars

I enjoy collections and anthologies but with so many available these days, it takes something special for a new publication to rise above the herd and Lucia has achieved that. By cleverly intertwining the individual stories with the thread of the tale of a traveling salesman, he effectively creates a story within a story which ends with a twist I did not see coming.

Johnny is a sales rep, disillusioned with his life, despairing of his future, ready to turn his .38 on himself; however, before he can commit this act, he finds himself browsing the shelves of Handy’s Pawn & Thrift in the town of Clifton Heights. This shop gives you what you need – although this might not necessarily be what you want. Each item he handles – a tape player, an old Magic Eight Ball, a phone, a word processor – takes him away to other lives, all featuring characters who are trapped in one way or another. A ghost haunts his old den in The Office, the nightmare of being trapped in rooms and hallways continues in Out of Field Theory, Scavenging and A Place for Broken and Discarded Things. In each, the main character has to face up to, or accept certain truths, much as the character of Johnny is forced to do, each tale taking him nearer to his own truth.

Johnny too is trapped, he is locked mentally into his own depression and physically in the store, with no apparent escape from either. The shopkeeper has disappeared and, between the tales, he finds himself facing never-ending corridors and suddenly-appearing trapdoors, all the while feeling an increasing desire to kill himself. This parallels the stories he reads or hears, an overarching theme which makes sense when you read Almost Home, the tale of Johnny himself, and which delivers an unexpected, and wonderfully conceived, twist.

This is Death of a Salesman written for the horror market. The stories are flawless and original, avoiding the usual, hackneyed tropes, with no weak links between them. A thoroughly enjoyable read for the longer autumnal nights.

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Ghastly Games with Daphne Strasert: Igor

Introduction

I have never actually see the 2008 CGI animated movie Igor. In fact, I can’t say that I was even really aware that there was a CGI animated movie called Igor. But I found this gem of a game at my local second-hand bookstore and one thing led to another, so here we are.

I haven’t reviewed many games that are suitable for children, so this is a pleasant change of pace for you Horror Addicts with little monsters at home. Igor is suitable for ages 7+ (and younger if you’re willing to provide a little help). It is played with 1-4 people and takes about 20 minutes.

Game Play

In Igor, you are a scientist in a desperate race to complete monsters for the science fair. First, shuffle the monster deck and set out three incomplete monsters. Each monster requires certain numbers and types of parts which are shown on their card.

On your turn, roll the dice to gain the necessary parts. You can use as many dice as you want from the roll to furnish a monster then reroll the rest. If at the end of your turn, a monster has all the necessary parts, yell, “Pull the switch!” and gain the points printed on the monster’s card. However, if none of your dice can be used to add to a monster, you lose the rest of your turn and any completed monsters are discarded and replaced.

When the draw pile of monsters runs out, the player with the most points wins.

Game Experience

Igor was just plain fun. The mechanics are simple, so it takes less than five minutes to learn the rules. For a game made as a promotional material, I was impressed with the playability. This is a game that can be fun for both children and adults. Children can play it as a game of chance, but there is room to scale up the strategy of the dice rolls with adults.

The art is good—in line with the movie style—and fits the monstrous theme. There aren’t many pieces and they are cheaply made, but since the game is intended for children, I count that as a plus.

The best part of the game is, without doubt, making everyone say “PULL THE SWITCH” in the loudest, most ridiculous voice possible.

Final Thoughts

Igor is fun, simple, and silly. It is a perfect addition for a children’s game box (or an adult collection). However, since the movie faded into oblivion over a decade ago, the most difficult part may be finding it.

Book Review: The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donahue

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

The Boy Who Drew Monsters

Summary:

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

Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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


GUEST BLOGGER BIO: 

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

FRIGHTENING FLIX by Kbatz: Mummy Movies!

Unwrapping a Mummy or Two!

By Kristin Battestella

 

Seen any good mummy movies lately?

 

Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb – Based upon Bram Stoker’s The Jewel of Seven Stars novel, this 1971 Hammer outing gets right to the saucy, sexy mummies, colorful jewels, tombs, and classic Egyptian designs not through spectacle of production but via subdued lighting, firelight, soft music, foreboding curses, and a silent, dreamy start. The intriguing father and daughter dynamic between Valerie Leon (The Spy Who Loved Me) and Andrew Kier (Quartermass and the Pit) is both endearing and suspicious – straight jackets, psychics, ominous constellations, cluttered museums, and sinister relics likewise contribute to the visual mixing of old, Egyptology styles and early seventies designs. Pleasing hysterical fears, snake scares, uneasy reunions, and power struggles unravel the reincarnation tale nicely. It is tough, however, to see some of the night sky transitions, and the simmering 94 minutes may be too quiet or dry for today’s speedy audiences. Subtitles would help with the exposition as well – especially for the fun homage character names like Tod Browning that may be missed otherwise. Brief nudity, one by one deaths, the collecting of killer artifacts, and a resurrection countdown also feel somewhat rudimentary at times, predictable before snappy and missing some Hammer panache in cast or direction. Considering the on set death of director Seth Holt (Taste of Fear) and the departure of Peter Cushing – both briefly discussed in the DVD’s features – the film’s flaws are certainly understandable. Besides, this is still most definitely watchable with an enjoyably moody atmosphere and fun, subjective finish.

 

The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb – Hammer producer Michael Carreras (Maniac) wrote and directed this 1964 sequel to The Mummy, and it’s a well shot piece with plenty of Egyptian color, tombs, flashbacks, artifacts, humor, and film within a film carnival spectacles. The 1900 designs are also period fine, but some scenes are obviously on-set small scale and lacking the expected all out Hammer values, making this follow up feel like some one else’s beat for beat B knock off rather than an authorized continuation. Opening blood and violence, characters at each other’s throats in fear of the eponymous threat, brief debates on traveling sideshow exhibitions, and scandalous belly dancing can’t overcome the slow, meandering pace while we await the well wrapped and perfectly lumbering Mummy violence. Jeanne Roland (You Only Live Twice) is very poorly dubbed, and beyond the over the top, annoying, love to hate Fred Clark (How to Marry A Millionaire) as a sell out American financier, the rest of the cast is interchangeably bland with no chemistry. The somewhat undynamic writing is uneven, with twists and mysteries either out of the blue, too tough to follow, or all too apparent. Though the sinister deaths aren’t scary, it’s all somehow enjoyably predictable because we’ve seen so many rinse and repeat Mummy films. This isn’t a bad movie, but it takes most of its time getting to the Mummy scenes we want to see – and we can see a lot of fact or fiction Egyptology programming today. It’s not quite solid on its own and feels sub par compared to its predecessor, yet this one will suffice Mummy fans and fits in perfectly with a pastiche viewing or marathon.

 

The Mummy – Karloff, Karloff, Karloff! The drawn, crusty, and dry opening makeup and mummification designs looks dynamite- accenting OMK’s tall, imposing, sullen, and stilted presence. His silent up close shots are indeed hypnotic and powerful- even if modern audiences might find this one more fanciful fantasy than truly frightful. Even though there is some tell, not shown off-screen action, the plot is well paced, with nice dialogue and support from Zita Johann (Tiger Shark) and Edward Van Sloan (Dracula). Some of the 1932 style or mannerisms, foreign languages, and customs of the time might be strange to us now, but the mysteries and iconography of Ancient Egypt look delightful. An action packed pseudo silent styled flashback also works wonders. The CGI spoiled may of course find things here slow and dated compared to the 1999 The Mummy, but seeing a film done when Egyptology was arguably at its height allows a little more of all that onscreen glamour and gold to shine through. Actually, I am usually completely against it, but I’d love to see this in color- at least once anyway. Sweetness!

The Mummy (1959) – Hammer perennials Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee team again for this well paced if somewhat familiar plot. Though he looks like the Creature from the Black Lagoon in some scenes and is styled more like a Bond henchman doing the evil deeds of late Victorian villain George Pastell (also of The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb); Lee’s reanimated and mummified priest Kharis is dang menacing but no less tragic in his violence and lost love. His overbearing stature works wonders against the intelligent and suave archaeology gentleman Cushing- whether he’s in the dirty wraps or decked out in great Egyptian costumes, color, and brightness. The sets, however, could use some work, as the exteriors are a bit, well, plastic looking instead of mighty stonework monolith. Yvonne Furneaux (Repulsion) is also a lovely but slightly lightweight façade that’s a little out of place with Cushing’s take action and dueling wit. Fortunately, the musical charms accent the Egyptian suspense and cap off the scares beautifully. Toss in some humor and great fun and this version equals total entertainment.

 

The Mummy’s Curse – Stay with me now – this 1944 hour long Universal sequel marks the final appearance by Lon Chaney Jr. as Kharis after The Mummy’s Tomb and The Mummy’s Ghost, which follow the 1932 original and The Mummy’s Hand. Got that? Of course, the timeline and locales are all over the place at this point anyway! We open with a French sing along to set the inexplicably changed Louisiana setting here before getting to the expected accursed mummy swamp recovery, investigating archaeology professors, and screaming dames. It’s amusing to see all the fearful and faux French accented locals, and reused stock footage from prior Mummy films creates further humor. But why is this exact same story being told to us again? Again but in a Louisiana swamp? A swamp that lies below a conveniently abandoned chapel where the Mummy hides? Fortunately, once the audience takes these leaps, Chaney’s resurrected and deadly, limbering monster can be enjoyed thanks to well done shadows, lighting, and crisp black and white photography. Virginia Christine (Tales of Wells Fargo) also has an excellent entrance as the revived Ananka, with eerie music, stilted movement, and great horror editing. Despite the spooky bayou atmosphere, this isn’t as scary movie as it should be – somehow Chaney’s crippled, dragging Mummy seems sad and used more than frightening. Poor thing misses a victim or two thanks to them, you know, walking away from him! Thankfully, the quick fun here is still watchable for fans, especially in a Mummy or Chaney viewing marathon.

 

The Mummy’s Hand – Be he curse protector or resurrection accomplice, George Zucco (Dead Men Walk) is slick as ever in this 67 minute 1940 Universal sort of sequel that’s otherwise lacking in the expected Mummy stars such as Karloff or Lon Chaney, Jr. These different characters create more remake than follow up feelings, and after awhile, these Mummy films do seem somewhat the same anyway. There’s a little too much humor and bumbling rivalries away from the titular action for this installment to be scary, too. Who has the money for the expedition? Who doesn’t want the archaeology to happen? What’s pretty daughter Peggy Moran (King of the Cowboys) doing pointing a gun at folks? Wallace Ford (The Rogue’s Tavern) is also an unnecessarily fast talking swindler sidekick for by the numbers Dick Foran (The Petrified Forest), and the then-modern Cairo pre-war styles and colloquialisms slow the plot down when there’s no time to waste. Fortunately, despite the black and white photography, the opening Egyptian flashback provides the expected regalia and spooky curses. Perhaps this entry is typical or nondescript in itself, but its fun for a classic marathon. When we finally do get to the tomb robbing action and Tom Tyler (The Adventures of Captain Marvel) as the murderously lurking about Kharis, this becomes a pleasant little viewing with a wild finish.

Ghastly Games with Daphne Strasert: Arkham Horror: The Card Game

Game Review: Arkham Horror: The Card Game

Introduction

Arkham, Massachusetts: an idyllic New England town complete with mysterious disappearances, mangled bodies, and a suffocating sense of doom that lingers over every home. Strange things have always happened here, but it seems something more malevolent is at work this time. Something that wants to come through…

Arkham Horror: The Card Game hails from the same game universe as Arkham Horror, Elder Sign (previously reviewed for HorrorAddicts.net), and Eldritch Horror. It uses a familiar play style, following a Lovecraftian storyline with the addition of obstacles and monsters drawn at random. Players embody characters who have health and sanity, things they risk in order to investigate and defeat the evil lurking just on the other side of our reality.

Arkham Horror: The Card Game is a narrative game for 1-2 players (expansions allow up to 4 players) and takes 1-2 hours to play.

Game Play

Game play consists of characters exploring their environment (represented by cards) and fighting obstacles that appear there. Finding clues allows the investigators to proceed through the storyline, revealing new locations, items, monsters, and characters. If they advance to the end of the story, they win. But with each round, the horrors advance as well—monsters appear and attack and the situation grows ever grimmer.

Arkham Horror: The Card Game is set up with D&D style campaigns, each containing several scenarios. Characters evolve with experience gained during these scenarios, so as you go further into the campaign, your character has more abilities to help you face challenges that are more difficult. Players can go through an entire campaign at once, or tackle each of the scenarios one at a time. Each scenario takes an hour or two (depending on player experience and the desired difficulty), so if you want to play through an entire campaign, be prepared to stay a while.

Game Experience

Often, I review games for a larger group of people (around 5), so this is a refreshing change of pace. Arkham Horror: The Card Game can be played solo or with a partner. You can combine two core games to be able to play with up to four players. I actually played this one by myself, which was an interesting experience, for sure. The game loses something when you don’t talk strategy with others around you. I would recommend playing with the recommended two players or expanding the game to four.

Arkham Horror: The Card Game is a faster, more compact version of the infamous original Arkham Horror and retains most of those features.

The real draw of Arkham Horror: The Card Game is the Lovecraft aesthetic throughout. The game contains quotes from actual Lovecraft stories, which are just as spine tingling as you would expect. The art has a detective noir theme, albeit with a dark twist (is that blood on the cards?). It’s a gruesome, horrifying good time and is best suited for late nights and dim lights.

Final Thoughts

As with other narrative style games, replay may become an issue. So much of the play hinges on the story, so once that is played out, replay holds fewer mysteries. There are expansions for Arkham, which helps, and different monsters and difficulty values can make replaying more challenging. However, if you are mainly interested in the story, you may want to try this game out at a board game café first.

I enjoyed Arkham Horror: The Card Game, and I highly recommend it if you are a fan of narrative games. The additional character building elements that allow the game to change with time are a great asset, as well.

I’ve been reviewing an awful lot of Lovecraft themed games, lately. I can’t help it; I love them so much. The dark mythos, the mystery, the monsters… isn’t that every Horror Addict’s dream?

 

Ghastly Games by Daphne Strasert: Elder Sign

Game Review: Elder Sign

The artifacts in the museum are more than they seem. The collection is opening barriers between our world and other dimensions where an ancient evil lurks, waiting to cross over.

Elder Sign uses the universe of H.P. Lovecraft to create a brilliant atmosphere of supernatural suspense and adventure. Players form a team of investigators trying to prevent an Ancient One from crossing into our world. They do this by collecting Elder Signs and defeating smaller monsters throughout the museum. Players can gain items and powers that aid in this and work together toward success. Failure brings the Ancient One closer to unleashing its wrath on humanity.

Elder Sign is a cooperative dice game for 1-8 players and takes about 90 minutes to play.

Game Play

Before play starts, the players choose an Ancient One to battle in the coming game. Each has a different power that makes gameplay more interesting. Some are more difficult to defeat than others. Players also choose characters. These also have special abilities that give them an advantage in certain encounters.

Throughout the game, characters attempt tasks to succeed in Adventures and gain rewards. Some of these rewards are Elder Signs, which are used to seal away the Ancient One before it can cross over into our world. But beware, failure has dire consequences and can bring the monster even closer.

All the while, time ticks forward, bringing the Ancient One closer to our world. Strange events happen every midnight that make gameplay harder. If players fail to seal the Ancient One, they must fight it in a nearly impossible, last-ditch battle for humanity.

Game Experience

Elder Sign is beautiful. The art is in a lovely dark fantasy style that is perfect for the Lovecraft mythos that it represents. Symbols use are straightforward and easily identified, which is a benefit in complicated gameplay. Each Adventure card has a snippet of a story on it, giving insight into the perilous world of the museum. Reading these bits was an enchanting part of the game.

Despite appearing extremely complicated, Elder Sign is actually straightforward. There is some work in learning the game mechanics, but once you have a handle on that, play runs smoothly. I recommend taking the time to familiarize yourself with the manual before starting and allocate extra time for your first playthrough. Once you have the hang of it, though, you will be able to play many more times.

A benefit of Elder Sign is that the game is actually winnable. Some cooperative games (like Dead Men Tell No Tales, which we also reviewed here at Horror Addicts) are nearly impossible to defeat. Players can succeed in Elder Sign, provided they put thought and strategy into their gameplay and have reasonable luck with dice. It isn’t a guaranteed win, by any means, but players can expect a reasonable return for their effort.

Final Thoughts

What I liked best about Elder Sign (and I liked a lot of things about Elder Sign) was how re-playable it was. There are a variety of Ancient Ones to fight against, but even without that, the different adventures, characters, and items change gameplay significantly. Each game experience is unique. This is a game that I would consider well worth the money to add to my own collection.

Book Review: Freaks edited by Toneye Eyenot and Michael Noe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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