FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Technological and Vehicular Terrors!

Technological Terrors and Vehicular Perils

by Kristin Battestella

Fasten your seat belts for these retro road rage terrors and ominous vintage vehicles.


The Car
 – Empty desert roads, dusty wakes, mountain tunnels, dangerous bends, and perilous bridges spell doom for run over bicyclists in this 1977 ride accented by Utah scenery, vehicular point of views, and demonic orange lighting. Regular rumbling motors, honking horns, and squealing tires are devilishly amplified as this cruiser uses everything at its disposal to tease its prey while up close grills and red headlights create personality. No one is safe from this Lincoln’s wrath! Rugged, oft shirtless single dad deputy James Brolin (The Amityville Horror) takes his daughters to school on a motorcycle, insisting they wear helmets because of course he can’t or it would hide that suave seventies coif and handlebar mustache. The hitchhiker musician hippie moments are dumb, however roadside folks don’t live long and witnesses aren’t helpful on plates, make, or model when people are getting run over on Main Street. What brought on this evil? Suggestions on the small town past with alcohol, domestic violence, and religious undercurrents go undeveloped alongside brief suspects, red herrings, and personal demons. Despite Native American slurs, it’s nice to see Navajo police officers and foreboding tribe superstitions as the phantom winds, cemetery safe havens, terrified horses, and school parades reveal there’s no driver in the car. Giant headsets, operators plugging in the phone lines, retro vehicles, and yellow seventies décor add to the sirens, decoys, roadblocks, radio chatter, and sparkling reflections from distant car mirrors as the real and fantastic merge thanks to this tricked out, mystically bulletproof, unnatural, and evil classic roaming about the rocky landscape. Although the editing between the unknown killer menace and asking why public fear is well filmed tense with foreground and background camera perspectives setting off turns around the bend or approaching headlights; some of the video is over cranked, ridiculously sped up action. It’s an inadvertently humorous high speed effect amid the otherwise ominous idling, slow pushes off high cliffs, and fiery crashes – our titular swanky flips but remains unscathed and it doesn’t even have door handles! Rather than embrace its horror potential or call the army and get some tanks or tractor trailers with passenger priests on this thing that no garage can contain, our police go it alone with a lot of dynamite for a hellish finale against the preposterous road rage. If you expect something serious you’ll surely be disappointed, but this can be an entertaining shout at the television good time. Besides, no matter how stinky, today you know we’d be on The Car: Part 12 with a different hunk per sequel battling the star Lincoln.

 

Killdozer!– Embarrassingly splendid outer space effects, red fireballs, and glowing blue rocks establish this 1974 science fiction horror television movie. Lovely sunsets, oceans, and island construction are here too for seriously deep voiced and strong chinned Clint Walker (Cheyenne) and the baby faced Spenser for Higher Robert Urich – who have some terribly wooden dialogue and tough scene chewing at hand. Our metallic humming meteorite whooshes its life force into the titular machinery, making the controls work by themselves amid fun point of view shots as the blade’s teeth inch closer to its target. Deathbed confessions are too fantastic to be believed when there’s work to be done, and the nasty foreman never takes off his hard hat even after the latent BFF gets really into the sensitive subtext over his fallen friend and tells nostalgic stories of how they swam alone together at night. Big K.D., meanwhile, destroys the radio – plowing over camp regardless of the caterpillar’s cut fuel line or some dynamite and fuel cans in its wake. But you could lose an eye on those huge ass walkie talkies with those dangerous antennas! Camera focuses on its little headlights a la eyes are also more humorous than menacing, and the puff puff choo choo out its smoke stack backtalk makes the supposedly evil facade more Little Engine that Could cute. Tight filming angles and fast editing belie the slow chases through the brush as everything is really happening at about ten miles an hour yet no one is able to outrun this thing, just crawl in front of it until crushed. Stereotypical Africa coastal comments, Irishman jokes, and a treated as inferior black worker always at the helm when something goes wrong also invoke a sense of white man imperialism getting what it deserves as they argue over on the job negligence and burying the bodies. Everybody’s testy, nobody shares information, and there’s an obligatory useless self sacrifice before the hard heads finally come together to destroy the indestructible with another rig, machino versus machino. Despite an occasionally menacing moment, this idiocy is more bemusing than fearful for an entertaining midnight movie laugh.

 

Night Drive – Valerie Harper (Rhoda and The Mary Tyler Moore Show) stars as a pursued murder witness in this 1977 television thriller – though I’m not sure about the Night Terror and Night Drive title switch a roo. The supporting cast is very after school special dry, yes. Everyone is a non-believing idiot or ass, and it’s tough to accept Harper as a fearful, neurotic, absent-minded, non-funny housewife. For an under 80 minute movie, the pacing is also slow to start with a lot of seemingly nothing happening – most of the scenes are silent and solitary, too. Fortunately, things get interesting when the highway horrors hit, and who can’t feel for a mom we love in peril? Sure, the filmmaking is a little dated or unintentionally comical – I think the station wagon has a lot to do with that! However, desolate roadways and abandoned curbside locales keep things atmospheric. Today we take for granted how easy it is to get from one place to another thanks to GPS, Bluetooth, cell phones, or cars that can dial 911 or tell us where to go.  As a result, some basic suspense sequences here have the viewer holding one’s breath or shouting at the television, and it all makes for an entertaining little show.


Road Games
 – Stacy Keach (Mike Hammer) and Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween) get right to the big rigs, radio chatter, hitchhikers, meat factories, seedy hotels, and nude strangulations in this 1981 Australian trek complete with rival green vans, dingoes in peril, and ominous coolers in the backseat. Classical music, harmonicas, idle word games, and poetry quotes pepper the boredom of the open road alongside mocking others on the highway – the packed station wagon, a nagging wife passenger, bratty kids in the backseat, and naughty newlyweds. Radio reports about a killer on the loose add to the shattered windows, jamming on the brakes, squealing tires, and suspicious shortcuts while our van man dumps unusual garbage and digs holes in the middle of the Outback. Interesting rearview mirror angles and well done rear projection make up for some of the talkativeness, for all speculation about our mystery driver has to be out loud because we have so few characters amid the cliff side hazards and chases through the brush. Does he have sex with his female victims before he kills them and chops them up? Is this just a bemusing puzzle to occupy the time or is the sleepless sleuthing and overactive imagination getting the best of our truck driver? Down Under road signs, truck stops, and country locales accent the arcade games, cigarette machines, and patchy phone calls to the clueless police as the engines rev up with dangerous high-speed chases, motorcycles, decoys, and abductions. Lightning strikes, rainbows, sunsets, headlights, and car alarms set off the tense zooms as the cops accuse our heart on his sleeve driver – and the suspicious banging in the back of his overweight haul. This isn’t full-on horror as some audiences may expect, but hanging pork and red lighting do a lot with very little. Perilous curves and speeding accidents bring the race right into the city streets with alley traps, crushing vehicles, and a tasty fun finish.


For More SF Horrors, Revisit:

Tales from the Darkside Season 3

Island of Doctor Moreau (1977)

Kong: Skull Island

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.

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Tales from the Darkside Season 2

Tales from the Darkside Season Two Provides More Bizarre by Kristin Battestella

Producer George A. Romero’s 1985-86 Second Season of Tales from the Darkside is the series’ longest year with twenty-four episodes of oddities, scares, and morose mood. Of course, the night club comedy act in “The Impressionist” is stale – but mysterious G-men offer a has-been comedian a special job communicating with gestures amid secret labs, spaceships, and sympathetic aliens. Our slight of hand performer picks up the interstellar mimicry but refuses to reveal the alien’s secret to fusion power. While the weak effects are a little laughable, this alien touch gives a once sarcastic man a piece of something more. It’s business as usual, however, for harsh workaholic Bill Macy (Maude) in “Lifebomb” until an insurance salesman presents a deal on an unique medical safety device that’s too good to be true. After sudden chest pains, he accepts the titular offer, but that little implant on his back leads to scarier medical situations and company control over what could be life-saving technology. This is an interesting plot on stress, aging, and our career servitude made fantastic before inventor John Heard (Home Alone) recounts the earthquakes and mini volcano rising through the floor to deliver extraterrestrial Penelope Ann Miller (Carlito’s Way) for “Ring Around the Redhead.” The jailhouse frame condenses the pace for the romance, reduces the need to show action the series can’t afford, and grounds the what-ifs with electric chair shadows and noir mood. Remodeling and rent control versus eviction unfortunately carry a touch of racism in “Parlour Floor Front” as the upstairs alligator on the polo shirt snobs insults the elderly voodoo practitioner downstairs. A few curses lead to damaged antiques, broken wrists, and falls off the ladder. Mischief, disrespected coffins, and evil-tainted gold escalate to fatal lies as Tales from the Darkside does a lot of scary with very little. Likewise returning director Tom Savini’s “Halloween Candy” adds vintage costumes and candy bags to the holiday hate and cranky old dad hoping the kids have a sugar overdose on the doorstep. Threats to call the police or telling the trick-or-treaters to go to hell result in an incessant doorbell buzz and a devilish little goblin peeking in the window. Broken watches at midnight, bugs in the candy, blue hues, and freaky monster masks stand out thanks to the well-edited suspense.

Romero himself pens “The Devil’s Advocate” starring ornery radio show host Jerry Stiller (Seinfeld). He makes his callers cry amid vintage soundboards and flashing red studio lights, but the engineer falls asleep, the studio grows increasingly darker, and call-ins come from all over history before a chat with the boss from below himself in this superb one-man parable. A man in shades also has an exclusive offer to revive an old sixties network series for the film within a film of “Distant Signals.” The show Max Paradise was unfortunately terrible, but a hefty gold investment reminds the crusty Hollywood suit, writer’s block writer, and drunken actor how inspiring television really is. Although this nice Galaxy Quest story follows several scary tales, it’s made all the more bemusing thanks to today’s reboots and revivals ad nauseam. By contrast, the self-involved yuppie parents in “Ursa Minor” don’t believe their daughter when she says her antique teddy bear is responsible for the household mischief. Occult experts warn them of Native American magic and ancient worship of the eponymous bear constellations, but the muddy little paw prints and tool mishaps create some chilling moments before the faulty gas stove, ambulances, crutches, and karma for “Effect and Cause.” Starving artist Susan Strasberg (Scream of Fear) believes in synchronicity, tarot, and astral charts, leaving her reluctant to paint over unusually awful found canvases. Unfortunately, the esoteric heavy and chaos debates leave her trapped, helpless in a home that’s working against her in this Mandela Effect meta mind-bender. Baby Seth Green (Buffy) has something creepy under the bed on Christmas morning in “Monsters in My Room,” too. The boy prays against tentacles, saw blades, and boogie men in the closet out to get him with scary nighttime lighting and every toy, ticking clock, or floorboard creak adding to the terror. However, his stepdad wants to toughen him up, giving him beer and trying to make the boy a man in a whiff of subtext as real-world and horror merge.

Shakespeare quotes and an antique telescope invoke a renaissance touch for “Comet Watch” – a lighthearted entry obsessed with the cosmos once an Edwardian babe pops into the attic after taking a long celestial trip. The dated science and charming love triangles set off what was then a timely January 1986 airing ahead of the forthcoming Halley’s Comet. Yes, this again far beyond the Darkside theme. However, this is probably the last time a genre television series could address such fanciful fears with such innocence as we’re too scientific and overly cynical these days. “A New Lease on Life” provides a new apartment with all the trimmings and supposedly no catch for an uber-cheap $200 a month. Unfortunately, the wall groans when an against the rules nail is hammered in, and handymen against newfangled microwave radiation fix the bleeding sheetrock with peroxide. Neighbors denied water warn our tenant while cries within the walls and giant garbage disposals suggest there’s a price to pay for eating meat. One could have it all forever if he just follows the rules and does what he is told, making this a freaky little statement on human horrors and arrogance. The desperate writer with the empty refrigerator in “Printer’s Devil” follows an ad to one creepy agent’s office where voodoo dolls, mystic tomes, and animal sacrifices promise Pulitzers. Publication and success soon follow, but the so-called inspirational pets also increase as the literary riches must be maintained. When his new girlfriend starts sneezing over his apartment zoo, well, our devilish agent suggests one final sacrifice. “The Shrine,” by contrast, presents a mother offering her estranged daughter milk and cookies. She doesn’t want to talk about the past or her daughter’s breakdown, but she keeps her daughter’s room in untouched childhood perfection – yet phantom winds and nursery rhymes suggest someone else is living among the ribbons and pom poms. Can a mother be so disappointed in how a child grew up that she would try again with the same daughter? The who does mommy love more contest could be silly, but the warped women’s roles are played serious amid the taboos. Motel manager John Fielder (The Bob Newhart Show) reluctantly lends the Room 7 key to a cruising salesman for “The Old Soft Shoe,” and a vintage radio plays jazz while a woman in black lingerie draws a steamy bath. She calls our salesman by a different name and insists they’ll never be apart while they dance cheek to cheek. However, 1950 newspaper clippings and dusty corsages lead to gunshots and jilted dames as the nostalgic personalities and ghostly femme fatales bring the blood and stockings full circle.

On Thanksgiving eve an ingenue waits on the desolate platform for the late train in “The Last Car.” Once onboard, the eponymous passengers warn her she can’t travel between cars – they fear the upcoming tunnels, nobody likes to talk about time, and the so-called train to Providence isn’t stopping like it should. Lost watches, a shoebox full of all the foods they desire, and a nonsensical conductor create an askew Twilight Zone perception with memorable revelations before a cocky doctor is happy to diagnose mob boss Abe Vigoda (The Godfather) with cancer for “A Choice of Dreams.” Fortunately, a more radical scientist offers him power over death for a cool ten million. Ticking clocks count down as the murderer faces his own mortality while black and white offices with futuristic technology keep the brain alive as the memories flashing before our criminal’s eyes catch up to him. The 1935 noir, moonlight, pale skin, and hints of red in “Strange Love” tell us what fangs are afoot. Marcia Cross (Melrose Place) has no heartbeat and a cold touch to match her seduction, power, and beauty as this saucy love triangle leads to betrayal, a double wide coffin, and a bloody good time. The video will be left by a fire and brimstone televangelist for his sister Connie Stevens (Hawaiian Eye) in “The Unhappy Medium,” however, isn’t the riches she hoped. The hypocritical pretenses and greedy true colors come out thanks to neon lighting, purgatory traps, and devilish possession. The family that sins together, stays together in this timeless Tales from the Darkside parable. Meanwhile, the empty army recruiting office receives an unlikely man not signing up but asking for sanctuary in “Fear of Floating.” He unbuckles his boots and floats every time he lies – a gift the army would love to use between the zany standoffs, tall tales, delusions, deceptions, and one low hung ceiling fan. Splattered sheets and bloody babes set off frequent Tales from the Darkside director Frank de Palma’s finale “The Casavin Curse” amid homicide detectives, suspect servants, and ancient gypsy curses turning a tiny heiress into a deadly demon with killer claws. She always ends up hurting the one she loves!

Tales from the Darkside’s half hours often center around one or two characters, and episodes are slightly better when there’s a more recognizable name to anchor the fun. Indeed, viewers have to take these gonzo tales with a sense of humor, for even amid the serious parables there are laughable things. Scribble on a piece of paper isn’t an alien language nor is one earring and a few crystals in a gal’s hair outer space couture – actually, it’s just totally eighties! A calm granny offers chicken soup to the possessed little girl who’d rather eat souls in “The Trouble with Mary Jane,” and local amateur exorcist cum con artist comedienne Phyllis Diller is going to use tea leaves and tarot cards to put this demon into a pig and make her fortune. This could be something scary, but it’s tough to tell if the humor is intentional and we should roll with it or just laughably bad. Several juvenile shows and household scares in a row sag mid-season, and daughter Lisa Bonet (A Different World) tries to inspire her angry composer father in “The Satanic Piano.” His record company is unhappy with his latest album, but a mysterious man offers the family a computerized keyboard with telepathic connections and a sinister price to pay. Can a machine capture the purity and essence of one’s soul and music? This contemporary tale is waxing on something innocent, however, the execution is off the mark in a series where youth in terror befits the Darkside content. Dated phrases like “rad,” “far out,” or “right on” I can dig, yet I can’t say the same for “Dream Girl” as film shoots and pin-ups help a creepy janitor live out his sexist misogynist fantasy. While fog, distorted angles, and fake props set off the warped titular haze, the Inception play within a play meta is too nonsensical and confusing with abusive shouting and characters trapped in an overlong, dry predicament. Certainly, the computers and alien designs are primitive. The empty sets are grayscale abstract with wild faux marble luxury meant to be eighties high end but it’s all so obviously cardboard fake today. One may argue the backdrops beyond those false windows create a more stage-like setting allowing the bizarre per tale to shine, however, the redressed cheap is often too apparent – an office from one episode is easily a jail cell the next. Most special effects seen are also hokey but brief with major fantastics largely left to off-camera imagination. Though the jury may be deliberating on the eighties silk blouses and pussy bows back in vogue, those bright yuppie pinks and thugs in sport coats with the sleeves rolled up were never good looks!

While there may be no subtitles for the Tales from the Darkside: The Complete Series set, the always chilling greeting and opening theme speak for themselves. Old tape recorders, rotary phones, and typewriters add nostalgic décor alongside retro ice boxes, doilies, and static on the big boob tube. Blue lighting, silver accents, moonlight silhouettes, firelight, and candlesticks invoke mood as increasingly dark schemes, shadows, dreamy photography, and cigarette smoke frame the spooky atmosphere. Some of that white leather furniture and mauve pastiche does have the right swanky, and Tales from the Darkside’s production values increase slightly during the season with latter episodes featuring real homes and locales rather than mere set walls. Tiny white lingerie and steamy nightgowns and some side boob close calls also push the envelope, yowza! Art Deco tone on tone designs add an Old Hollywood simmer while choice reds and brains in jars never let us forget the horror at hand. Sure, Tales from the Darkside has a certain amount of dated silliness. Bemusing weirdness is more often featured than full-on frights. However, the scares are superb when they happen and the spooky fun doesn’t overstay its welcome. Tales from the Darkside Season Two is easy to marathon for nostalgic creepiness and all manner of bumps in the night.

Read our more risque Tales from the Crypt reviews or catch up on Tales from the Darkside Season 1, too! 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Island of Dr. Moreau (1977)

Dangerous Adventures Make the 1977 Island of Dr. Moreau by Kristin Battestella

AIP’s 1977 adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau directed by Don Taylor (Escape from the Planet of the Apes) pairs down the half man half animal mad science to its core themes with claustrophobic symbolism and strong performances anchoring the beastly adventures as shipwrecked Andrew Braddock (Michael York) is taken in by the isolated scientist Dr. Paul Moreau (Burt Lancaster). Also on the beautiful but dangerous island are Moreau’s enchanting adopted daughter Maria (Barbara Carrera) and his crusty assistant Montgomery (Nigel Davenport). Braddock, however, discovers there are more monstrous inhabitants – victims of Dr. Moreau’s twisted experiments – leading to a struggle of wills, abominations, and control.

The silent vast and empty blue ocean open The Island of Dr. Moreau with a tiny boat and one small, desperate survivor bearded and thirsty. Epic music mirrors the hope of this green, lush island oasis, but hanging vines, uneven terrain, and booby traps belie this paradise said to be one thousand miles from nowhere. Fenced in buildings with food, bedding, mosquito netting, books, and fresh clothing appear civilized, however dangerous animals are said to roam the island and one should never leave the compound after dark. Idyllic pets and pleasant races in the woods lead to strange sounds in the night and “muffled roaring.” Viewers think we see something amid the rustling leaves but we don’t know what. Hunched creatures, creepy servants drinking from puddles like animals, and more “special” types of people on this island are in need of Dr. Moreau’s care – and his laboratory is complete with a menagerie of wild cats, cages, and shackles. Rearing horses, chases, fear of the unknown, and unanswered questions are difficult for men who like to know and control all when exploring the natural or unnatural boundaries they should not. The once lovely island locales become increasingly congested environs as the external out of control science closes in on the body sacred thanks to serums, syringes, and surgery. Why would a doctor create such suffering animals now made partially people? Are the hairy inbetweens and experimentation in the name of science worth the loss of one’s morality? The civilized man must defend himself in caves where unwelcome, monstrous, man made creatures have their own laws – not to walk on all fours, not to eat flesh, no taking of life. Gunshots scare away fierce offenders, for these animals given speech and rules remain controlled through fear. Will these hybrids remember what humans told them to say and do if they regress to their innate ways? After all, to study nature, one has to be as remorseless as nature, which has its own sense of justice, selection, and violence to match our undeniable ability to destroy. Dangerous tiger attacks, mercy killings, and angry mobs with torches lead to blood and pain in well paced action as power devolves into anarchy. Although The Island of Dr. Moreau’s symbolism is apparent, the sentiment doesn’t hit the audience over the head thanks to a multi-layered cycle of man made monsters and men made gods.

Dr. Paul Moreau showed signs of brilliance in his youth and loves to converse about emerging technology, but Burt Lancaster’s (From Here to Eternity) extensive academic has been here in his own paradise for eleven years. His colleagues opposed his work, criticizing his theories on the nature of good and evil, to which even Moreau agrees he doesn’t have all the answers. Fortunately, he admires Braddock’s intelligence, explaining to him the need to help his fellow human beings by controlling all stages of life whilst also keeping him at the compound and withholding the details of his trial and error experiments to save mankind. Moreau thinks what he is doing is just – making his work all the more frightening when the results aren’t as he hoped. The doctor gets angry with his whip when his creations remain animalistic. He speaks to his subjects about the law from his rocky pulpit, lording over those punished in his house of pain with his white suit and halo-like hat almost as if Elmer Gantry turned to dastardly mad science. Moreau thinks he can tell an animal he is human and it will understand. He wants his flock to obey Braddock – Moreau needs a successor to continue his delivery of science from cruel butchery and dissection. However, Braddock is a man who doesn’t do what he’s told, and Moreau is determined to use his tough love science to prove Braddock’s true nature. Unfortunately, Moreau is threatened by his own cause, unaware his do as I say not as I do superiority does not give him reign over his creations. Formerly of The Lady Vain, the situation goes from bad to worse for Michael York’s (The Three Musketeers) rugged seaman Braddock. He’s curious about the island, reads, questions where everyone came from and if there are nearby places. He walks the coast and repairs his damaged boat – the audience is on his side as the handsome hero uncovers the askew science. Alas, Braddock is too inquisitive for his own good, in over his head and meddling where he shouldn’t. He must learn to abide by this island’s rules or he will be punished for his interference. Braddock becomes desperate to remember who he is and where he comes from in all this upside down, and The Island of Dr. Moreau is a fine two-hander between its leading men – father and son figures where the elder won’t get his way thanks to the new, stronger man. Though often sweaty and shirtless when proving his macho, Braddock becomes embarrassed by his animal instincts. Ultimately, he buttons up his clothes when these dire circumstances force him to show he can behave like a civilized man. Barbara Carrera’s (Never Say Never Again) stunning image of beauty Maria, however, answers only to Dr. Moreau’s commands. He raised her, and initially, she keeps her distance despite Braddock’s romantic interest. Although the tender, sensuous explorations are well done, viewers know we shouldn’t trust the frolicking strolls along the beach as she gives in to her passion. Carrera doesn’t really have a lot to do, but Maria’s an innocent young woman, a blank slate being shaped by her in the wrong father figure and a lover who would take her away from the island when she’s afraid to go. Nigel Davenport (A Man for All Seasons) as Dr. Moreau’s gruff assistant Montgomery also has less to do than in the novel, but his cryptic attitude adds to the sinister isle orchestrations. He tells Braddock to get over the shock of it all, for he sleeps better on this island than anywhere else. Ironically, this man who chooses to be subservient because he lacks humanity becomes a problem once he does show sympathy.

Safari hats, white linen suits, and lacy women’s frocks match The Island of Dr. Moreau’s turn of the century talk of fantastic flying machines and underwater vessels. Candlelight, lanterns, gramophones, longhand journals, leather volumes, and pistols add vintage to the emerging gear, telescopes, globes, and specimens in jars. Laboratory equipment, medical beds, and giant needles create disturbing science alongside creepy teeth, gross smiles, and distorted faces making the audience recoil. Granted, some of the animal make up is weak compared to contemporary designs – the noses, wild hair, and horns could be laughable but they are not thanks to the serious abomination implications. One red scarf becomes a symbolic bright spot in the otherwise earthy palette while foreboding shadows around the buildings instill fear thanks to the natural and unnatural sounds beyond the halos of seemingly civilized light at the compound. Pans over the mountains capture the divine Caribbean locales, but the point of view more often looks out the windows or in past the verandas as if the cameras themselves won’t leave this little oasis. Overhead spins parallel the disorienting jungle alongside well done chases and unseen monstrosities amid dangerous but beautiful bears and big cats in cages. Animal claws and growling effects set off disturbing mobs and vicious attacks before a fiery finale with blood on all hands accenting both the messianic savior visuals and Judas retribution hangings. While the classic horrifics and big performances make Charles Laughton’s 1932 adaptation Island of Lost Souls, the 1996 Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer version is a little too messy despite being more faithful to the novel than the excised bookends here. With its horses, weapons, upside down tone, ravishing brunette, intelligent spark, revealing pace, and primitive design; this Island of Dr. Moreau at times feels more like the original Planet of the Apes. Perhaps we are due for another fully realized Wells interpretation, however, I fear that today’s over reliance on CGI talking animals, motion capture special effects, and spectacle transformations would miss the point of the piece.

Even if such shock value isn’t as important as the scientific harbingers, the bitter parable with man meets beast violence here can still be uncomfortable for some audiences. This well known story of half animal, half human would also seem to get old eventually – audiences aren’t meant to be surprised anymore by the monstrous warnings of combining man and beast for one’s own gain. Nonetheless, The Island of Dr. Moreau remains a relevant conversation starter in today’s era of cloning, stem cells, and healthcare debates, and this well done adventure with fine performances is worth a fresh look.

Odds and Dead Ends: Doctor Who’s Sci-fi – Horror Masterclass

When Doctor Who revived on March 26th, 2005, I was seven years old, a few months away from my eighth birthday. I was the perfect age to have my mind utterly blown by the galactic voyages, the heritage, the sets, the monsters; everything about it was just cool. Russell T. Davis’ era of Who was one of the things that made me the genre fan I am today. Now that I’m older, I look back on it and wonder which episodes, stories, stand out most. One day I will certainly do an article analyzing speech and identity in the Series 4 episode Midnight, an underrated gem of an episode. Blink gave me a phobia of statues for months, and I remember coming home from school pretending to be a Cyberman (complete with stomping sound effects) once the new incarnations came through in Rise of the Cybermen/Age of Steel.

Yet for me, the more I think on it, the more I affirm my beliefs that The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit, episodes 8 and 9 of Series 2 respectively, are the best episodes of the show’s now 13, nearly 14 year, revival. A blend of cosmic horror, claustrophobic sci-fi thriller, and possession horror movie, this storyline is an immaculate blend of multiple genres, pushing the boundaries of Saturday-night family TV, which retains the ability to chill even the hardiest of adults. The Halloween special Waters of Mars was a very successful episode along a similar vein, but despite the claustrophobia in that episode, it doesn’t have the imagery, the scale, and grandeur, that comes with being stranded on a planet orbiting a black hole. This article is my attempt to analyze, decode, and understand just why this storyline is sci-fi/horror perfection, through the physical and emotional squeezing of the episode, and the theological darkness of The Beast.

 

Isolation

Sometimes horror tries to overload your senses with something vast and grand, such as the infinite size of the cosmos and the beyond, stuffed with elder gods and creatures unfathomable. This is most definitely the Lovecraft tradition of horror. One of the other approaches is to make the whole thing feel claustrophobic, and to put the pressure on the audience, tighter and tighter and tighter. This, perhaps, could be considered a Hitchcock tradition. The Impossible Planet/The Satan Pit (which I will abbreviate as TIP or TSP throughout the rest of this article), manages through its sheer concept alone, to accomplish both a physical claustrophobia and tension, and a grand intellectual, mythological scope.

In TSP, a sequence sees Rose, Danny, Toby, and Jefferson, trapped in the vents underneath Sanctuary Base 6 being pursued by the possessed, murderous Ood. As if this isn’t bad enough, Captain Zachary has to manually shift the oxygen to them from each section of the tunnel each time they move on to the next section.

For me, this is the ultimate moment of claustrophobia in the two episodes, and it’s a careful appreciation of each turn of the screw (pun intended) that makes us feel so tense. Here’s my quick run-down of the beats up to this point that apply the pressure.

  1. The Tardis, the time-and-space ship, lands on a base, not feeling well. As The Doctor says, it’s like “‘she’s worried.’”
  2. The Doctor announces that they’ve arrived on a sanctuary base. The word ‘sanctuary’ implies a safe haven, but from what?
  3. ‘Welcome to Hell’ is scribbled on a wall, along with an indecipherable ancient language.
  4. After an earthquake, the revelation of their situation is made. The base is on a planet orbiting a black hole, held by a strange, unknown energy source that could plunge them into it at any moment.
  5. An earthquake plunges the Tardis into the depths of Kroptor, the planet. Their usual escape route has been lost.
  6. The base’s electronics, and Toby, come under the influence of The Beast.
  7. A hull breach loses one of the crew members, and they watch her drift up into the black hole. A constant reminder of mortality perched on the edge of the abyss.
  8. The Doctor and Iva descend down into the bowels of the planet in a small cable lift. The Doctor, the main intelligence and rationale of the galaxy, is physically distant from those above.
  9. The Ood become possessed; their translators changed into devices capable of electrocution.
  10. The Satan Pit opens down into a further unknown dark.
  11. The lift cable snaps, trapping The Doctor and Iva down below.
  12. Their electronic communication is temporarily stopped.
  13. With Ood all around, the crew have to shuffle through the underfloor ventilation tunnels to reach Ood habitation, the den of the things trying to kill them, in order to cut the possession of The Beast.
  14. Zachary, holed up in a room with Ood cutting their way in, has to manually, time-consumingly, shift their oxygen after them.
  15. The Ood are after them in the tunnels.

There are several aspects I’ve excluded for my later discussion on the Satan aspects, but it is easy to see even from this simple breakdown, how the episodes add layer upon layer of threat and danger. This sequence in the tunnels is perhaps only 2/3 of the way through the episodes’ total runtime, and there are sequences with danger in the rocket at the finale, but I believe the ventilation chase to be the best example of pressure-cooker isolation I’ve seen in Who.

In Doctor Who Confidential S2 E8, the set designers acknowledge Alien (1979) for inspiration in the base’s design. Indeed, the walkways are hemmed in by pillars that crowd the crew as they duck and scamper down the corridors. Similarly, the Nostromo’s corridors in Alien were designed so the actors had to crouch through the ship, complete with constant vents of steam and smoke from the walls that are also constantly shown in Sanctuary Base 6 coming from the floor. Far more than just the base, however, the civilisation in the interior of the planet also seems to have a touch of the Alien franchise about it, with the large sculptures something you’d find on board the Space Jockey’s ship. The abseil of The Doctor into the pit isn’t too dissimilar to Kane’s descent into the egg room. And you can’t watch the ventilation chase sequence without thinking of Dallas’ search through the Nostromo’s vents after the Xenomorph. This time, they can’t even see the threat as the Ood don’t register as life forms, and the opening of the final door to reveal the Ood there ready and waiting for them is so reminiscent of Dallas’ demise in Alien that you have to accept the homage.

Part of this story’s mastery, then, is of the sense of claustrophobia, of danger pressing in on you. Taking inspiration from its predecessors and finding new ways to tighten the vice, the whole scenario feels like you’re being slowly crushed. If the lack of air doesn’t get you, the Ood will. If they don’t, The Beast will plunge you into space. If he doesn’t do that, he’ll ensure the base doesn’t let you out. If that doesn’t happen, he’ll plunge you into the black hole. The noose gets tighter and tighter with each passing moment.

Satan Unbound

When, in TIP, the Doctor calculates the amount of energy needed to hold the planet in orbit around the black hole, he reels off a load of numbers, to which Rose replies, “‘all the sixes.’” Specifically, there are three of them. 666. The story deals with the iconography of Satan and a fairly unique discussion of language and communication to discuss the mere concept, the idea, and the horror, of the devil.

Perhaps the most obvious point of contact with this is the ancient language. The connection between this writing and an ancient evil are immediately apparent, with the ‘Welcome to Hell’ sign being scrawled above a copied passage of writing. That the planet they have arrived on is equated with Hell is subtly reinforced with several shots through doors and over shoulders, one such example being when Rose gets food from the Ood, where the ‘Hell’ on the sign is clearly visible.

The ancient language is also our main visual clue that Toby is possessed/himself. The writing jumps from the pottery to his hands, and later vanishes into the Ood. That this language is that of The Beast and not of the ancient civilisation is apparent from the pictures depicting the capture of The Beast down in the pit itself. These people used images, whereas The Beast uses words. Images exist purely in a visual form, whereas language can exist in visual or audible forms, or even touch if you think of Braille. This makes The Beast’s method of communication much more effective and potent for expanding throughout the universe, perpetuating his image throughout the countless civilisations.

That language is the myth-maker of The Beast’s choosing is made apparent when Ida discusses the planet’s name, spoken of only in scripture, and labelled as a demon when the Black Hole spat it back out. Not only is it through text that the story of the planet’s evil, and by extension its resident, perpetuated, but ‘scripture’ implies a religious text.

Despite a brief flash of The Beast on the hologram in the main hub, it is through words and speech that The Beast’s rising is foreshadowed. The computers announce that ‘He is awake,’ and Rose’s phone is hijacked to deliver the same message on a phone that can’t get a signal. Also, The Beast’s targets for possession are those with the closest links to language and words. Toby is an obvious choice because he is closest to the language as the archaeologist. However, the Ood are important thematically because they require the translators to communicate with their human masters. Before we get the hijacked message, the ‘we must feed’ interference and joke following TIP’s title sequence puts language at the forefront of the terror.

These translators are important not only for The Beast to use as weapons (language being used to kill and carry ideas of death), but it is also through the Ood that we get our longest pre-possession hints, “‘The Beast and his armies shall rise from The Pit to make war against God’”, and the lengthy discussion with The Doctor. The concepts of The Beast and his mythic perpetuation through language and words are inescapable. Language is how we view, understand, and construct the world around us, and that The Beast would use this as a means to attack us is perhaps more terrifying than anything else.

The Doctor’s incredulity and vehement rejection of the idea that The Beast can have existed before the universe is little relief for the audience, for The Beast knows so much that he can’t know. He sees into the minds of all the crew, and even predicts Rose’s future several episodes later. This complete knowledge of all, traversing the realms of possibility, puts the possibility of The Doctor being wrong into question. Is he right that The Beast is lying? After all, one of the names for Satan is ‘The Father of Lies.’ On the other hand, everything The Beast has said occurs in actuality, so who is to say he is wrong? That something is impossible isn’t an issue for The Beast; The Doctor describes his language as being ‘impossibly old’ upon first seeing it.

And then, in the final scenes, we have possessed-Toby’s ravings that the idea of him (The Beast) will always live on, despite being launched into the black hole, lingers, ‘I shall never die. The thought of me is forever.’ The Doctor himself says that ‘an idea is hard to kill’. The Beast’s final words that ‘nothing shall ever destroy me. Nothing’, hang in the air long after the episode concludes. In addition to this damning statement, The Doctor comes away with no conclusions as to what he believes he found, ‘I don’t know, I never did find out.’ We are left none the wiser. After escaping possessed aliens sent by a Satanic beast, who claims to have been from beyond time and space, eternal and forever in the hearts of men, and managing to escape the snatching jaws of a black hole, a horror still resonates. The idea of evil will never be killed. They don’t defeat evil in the end, they just manage to escape its wrath a little longer.

 

Conclusion

Sometimes, when it gets it just right, Doctor Who manages to push all the right buttons. In an impossible situation, isolated and trapped, claustrophobic, yet opening up the theological, philosophical, and personal horrors of belief, thought and language, these two episodes deliver a truly captivating, yet terrifying 90 minutes of television. Ignore what anyone says; this episode arc is the most horrifying, devastating, and yet hauntingly beautiful storyline the show has had in its revival.

Article by Kieran Judge

You can now follow him on Twitter at @KJudgeMental

Chilling Chat Episode 162 Mary Turzillo

chillingchat

Mary Turzillo’s latest novel is Mars Girls, Apex 2017.  Her Nebula-winner, “Mars Is no Place for Children” and her Analog novel, An Old-Fashioned Martian Girl, are read on themary International Space Station. Her poem, Lovers & Killers, won the 2013 Elgin Award. She has been a finalist on the British Science Fiction, Stoker, Dwarf Stars, Nebula, and Rhysling ballots. Sweet Poison, with Marge Simon, was a Stoker finalist and won the 2015 Elgin Award. Satan’s Sweethearts, also with Simon, came out in 2016.  She lives in Ohio USA, with her scientist-writer husband, Geoffrey Landis. She represented the US in the World Veterans Cup in foil fencing in 2016.

Mary is a brilliant and witty woman. We spoke of history, writing, and the nature of evil.

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

MT: I am so flattered to be asked!

NTK: You are, primarily, a Science Fiction author. How did you get involved in writing Satan’s Sweethearts?

MT: That’s really two questions. I’m a science fiction writer who has these little dark twinges in my fiction. I just can’t help it. A guy is stuck in a prison on Mars, trying to stop a biological catastrophe, and suddenly he’s being chased by an eight-foot-tall sex doll. Somehow that just popped into the story. I think I’m a natural horror writer who has a science-fiction worldview. As to how I got into writing Satan’s Sweethearts, Marge Simon and I know each other from still another world: she was a high muckety-muck in the small press world. And of course a genius poet besides the horror work. So, I knew her name and was delighted to actually meet her. We clicked right away and started writing poems back and forth to one another. At first it was humor stuff, like her poem about a gay dragon who prefers knights to maidens. Then we wrote some poems about evil cats. Eventually, Marge and I decided on doing more serious work and we did Sweet Poison together. That evolved into explorations of women murderers and torturers and other offenders. Marge has one poem that is so dark I shudder every time I even think about it, about a slave-holder, obviously a psychopath, who used her helpless slaves as targets for horrendous experiments and disembowelings. We felt the world needed to know that women are not all angels, that in addition to “Me, too” there were also men and women who were abused and murdered by powerful or insane women. (“Delphine LeLaurie’s Upstairs Room” is the poem I’m thinking of, by the way.)

NTK: So, you’re a horror writer at heart? What got you interested in horror?

MT: I suppose early reading: Poe, History of World War II, The Conquest of Mexico.

And, my mother had a very dark imagination.

NTK: Was she your first influence?

MT: Well, she did buy that complete collection of Poe stories and poems for me, so, yes, definitely an early influence.

NTK: How did you like collaborating with Marge on Satan’s Sweethearts?

MT: It was fun, and it was scary. Marge is a genius. I asked her once how many poems she had published, and she said she had completely lost track, that’s how many there were. Marge has a dark sense of humor, and we would get into it about some of the evil babes we were writing about. Sometimes both of us felt the poems were giving us nightmares. But it was all about truth, about the true nature of human beings, and we had to persevere. We developed a close friendship through this project. Very much in tune with each other’s fears and hopes and sense of humor.

NTK: Do you think humans are more frightening than any supernatural entity? Do you tend to write about the darkness in the human soul?

MT: Hmmmm. “More frightening than any supernatural entity.” What a question! I think most, if not all, of the supernatural entities in horror fiction, poetry, and cinema are extrapolations of stuff that human beings have inside their imaginations. Two things that astonish me: 1) how could a Jeffrey Dahmer walk among us? For that matter, how could a Delphine Lalaurie have lived a civilized life with nobody suspecting her evil actions? 2) How do we, ourselves, and I mean myself, come up with these horrific ideas—and yet be noble enough not to act on them? Women are seen as being lesser offenders, but I think it’s not because they are more civilized, but because they are more skilled at hiding their evil. Take the “baby farmers” that Marge and I wrote about (Amelia Dyer, for one). They took on infants pretending to do day-care for working mothers, and then summarily killed the babies, and sometimes with great pleasure, as with Dyer’s enjoyment watching children die as she slowly strangled them with tape. Yes, I know, we have the Golden State Killer, but actually his tally is LESS than Amelia Dyer’s. I think we tend to think about her murders as “oh, well, the mothers were just low-class working girls, maybe even prostitutes.” Hello? These baby farmers (and Amelia was only one) were SERIAL KILLERS with kill-scores of the magnitude of Ted Bundy or John Wayne Gacy. Babies are totally helpless. Bundy’s and Gacy’s victims fought back.

NTK: Do you think it’s easier for these women to get away with crimes because of their social status? Or because no one believes a woman would do such things?

Satan's SweetheartsMT: Oh, Marge and I talked and talked about that. Some women got away with it because of social status—Delphine is one example. Some got away with it because they had political or gang-related power. Bloody Mary and Queen Ranavalona were the supreme authority in their countries. I don’t know how Ranavalona is regarded by historians, but she was basically a serial killer supported by her country’s laws. Then take one “heroine” that many people think is wonderful because she was a female ruler in a time when women did not become Empresses: Wu Zetian. She killed her own baby in order to keep her position. Good lord. Another favorite example of mine is Ching Shih, the female pirate. The poem is called “The Sister.” Oh, and it’s really noble to be a pirate? She nailed men’s feet to the deck for fornication. She tied cannon balls to the legs of women who “strayed,” despite the fact that she had started life as a prostitute.

Shall I continue with examples of “how they got away with it”? For one, they preyed on children, as with Enriqueta Marti (“Mother Marti”) whose deaths often weren’t investigated.

We tried to find women who hadn’t been as much in the news, and we also tried to give a fresh perspective on their activities. We found that sometimes actions that would have been considered evil if done by a man were “heroic” if by a woman.

NTK: They preyed on the helpless. That’s really frightening. Who do you think the worst villainess is in Satan’s Sweethearts?

MT: The worst villainess? Oh man! Aileen Wuornos was a baddy, but I think she was of diminished intelligence. Of course Delphine was one of the most horrific. I guess I might settle on Ilse Koch, the “Red Witch of Buchenwald.” She was the one who wanted the skins of victims so she could make pretty lampshades out of them. Heaven help us. The Jewish religion frowns on tattoos, so maybe some Jewish people were spared that final indignity (although they probably still died).

NTK: Going back to your writing, where do you get your ideas? Do they come from dreams? Or is the door to your unconscious mind cracked open allowing the darkness to slip in?

MT: I don’t know so much about how Marge gets her ideas, but mine come from reading. I should mention that my sister, Jane Turzillo, is an author of historical non-fiction and several of her books focus on women offenders: Wicked Women of Ohio from the History Press.

NTK: When you write a character, how much control do you exert over said character? Do they have free will?

MT: Do [my] characters have free will? I know there are brain malfunctions that cause people to do awful things. Mary Ann Cotton, who poisoned twelve of her babies, might have pleaded post-partum depression. But no. I think we have free will. We think horrible things. We don’t have to act on them.

NTK: Is Poe your favorite author? Who is your favorite horror author?

MT: Stephen King and, a close rival, Joe Hill. They not only terrify, they also have an underlying message about the nobility of the human soul. I think that’s necessary to horror. Aristotle said “pity and terror.” Without the pity (and maybe hope), horror is just a road to depression, insanity, suicide. I like Peter Straub for the same reason.

NTK: Do you have any favorite horror television shows? Any favorite horror movies?

MT: Movie: an old favorite of mine is SCANNERS, with (spoiler alert) the exploding head scene. Some Dr. Who episodes are horrific enough. TV? Not sure. In the old days (three years ago, maybe?) the really scary stuff wasn’t so much an element. I haven’t kept up with TV enough to know what’s good now. I love Game of Thrones, but that’s not really horror. Oh, I guess it has some horror elements, the Wildings, the decapitations etc., but it’s really SF/fantasy, with the emphasis on fantasy. And lots of sex.

NTK: Mary, why do you think humans create monsters in literature? Why do you think Dracula, Frankenstein, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde exist?

MT: Naching, no matter what age we live in, the Middle Ages, prehistory, the Holocaust, the present day, the world is scary. Your best friend can die at any time. You get in a car bonsai babies screen.jpgand you could be dead 50 minutes later. You see a pink ribbon and immediately worry about that last mammogram. Our parents died. Hell, my son died! Nothing can protect us from war, disease, accidents, serial killers, drive-by shootings, poisoned lettuce (seriously, who saw THAT coming?). So we need to make sense of the world. In horror fiction, bad things have causes. So we think, Oh, he died because a malignant alien lived in his microwave (By the way, a Nebula winner had this premise). “But I don’t have a microwave, so I’m safe.” Or we think, “We all die, but there is reincarnation, or heaven, or at least a meaning to our life, or even just a cessation of pain.” It’s the human condition. Aristotle said tragedy provided catharsis. (And Greek tragedy was pretty horrific, what with eye-gouging, father killing, hunting for the body of your fiancé in a dung heap.) We need to make sense of the fear and the horror and pain. If nothing else we know that others have suffered and either survived or left a legacy.

NTK: Mary, what does the future hold for you? What works do Horror Addicts have to look forward to?

MT: I’m working on something a little sunnier right now. This girl is a high school fencing competitor, but every time she does a flying attack called a fleche, she time travels to one of Jupiter’s moons—five billion years in the future. One of the leading characters is a giant cat who becomes her mentor. No horror in it. Or at least, not much. Knowing me, the horror will suddenly pop up.

NTK: Awesome! And, speaking of fencing? You compete, don’t you? Could you tell the Addicts about that?

MT: It was sort of a reaction to my son’s death. He was very interested in swords and sword fighting. I’ve always wanted to fence, so I took it up. I get my nasty urges out in it. It’s very aggressive. You stab people. Oh, they’re wearing protective gear, but still! You STAB people. Talk about the evil in people’s souls. By the way, I was at one time the 6th best foil fencer in my age category in the US. (Now, I’ve dropped down to number 11.) I also represented the US in fencing in my category in a World Cup in Germany two years ago. My husband fences, too. I get to stab him sometimes. And vice versa.

NTK: Your husband is a writer too. Does he enjoy your darker works?

MT: I hope so. He has to live with me, no matter what he really thinks. I so far haven’t written anything that actually scares him. I’m still trying.

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

MT: Let me think…hmmmm. Sometimes, I tell telephone solicitors that I’m a voudou adept and that parts of their bodies will fall off with every minute they stay on the phone with me. Who knows? Maybe it actually works. My favorite verbal curse is “Shitfire!” Got that from my sister.

NTK: (Laughs.) Those are great curses. Thank you so much for chatting with me, Mary. It’s been an honor and a pleasure.

MT: The honor and pleasure are all mine! Thank you SO MUCH!

Addicts, you can find Mary’s work on Amazon.

Satan’s Sweethearts took second place in the Full-Length Book Category of the Elgin Awards on September 21, 2018.

FRIGHTENING FLIX by Kbatz – Kong: Skull Island

Despite Narrative Flaws, Kong: Skull Island is a Rip Roaring Good Time

by Kristin Battestella

 

Without a doubt the 2017 MonsterVerse cum 2014 Godzilla prequel Kong: Skull Island has its flaws. One shouldn’t expect perfection or deep thoughts with this fun jungle ride brimming with action and big monsters. But heck yeah let’s over-analyze the shit out of it, shall we?

Bill Randa (John Goodman) recruits ex-SAS tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and anti-war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) to join the secret government group Monarch’s expedition to the elusive Skull Island alongside Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard’s (Samuel L. Jackson) elite helicopter escort. Landsat officials and mission science teams use seismic charges to map and study the island – awakening ancient monsters friend and foe, government conspiracies, and personal vengeance as the team rescues crashed World War II veteran Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) from the fantastic isle protected by King Kong.

 

Kong: Skull Island’s opening World War II crash transitions to newspapers, archive footage, and period photography on the mysterious Monarch organization as audio quotes from Truman and Kennedy lead to bleak 1973 DC protests and ironic quips about the screwed up time in Washington. Monarch needs funding to mount this satellite mapping expedition and its under the rug search amid ominous whispers of ship eating monsters and Bermuda Triangle fantastics surrounding this uncharted Pacific island. Fiery explosives reflect in the aviator glasses, animals flee the seismic bombs, and distorted music is drowned out by the destruction. People who think they are so big are made small by Kong’s giant hands and teeth – an excellent introduction with superb monster graphics and motion capture. Warped gunfire and thumping helicopter blades add foreboding to the mighty monster silhouettes as separated civilians, stranded scientists, and angry military argue who takes orders from whom. Nixon winks, geek references, and “Hold on to your butts!” keeps the old school cool coming early and often alongside minute to minute action montages with diegetic classic rock, first person shooter video game angles, and intriguing camera shots. Skull Island is an embarrassment of riches with too much to see in one viewing thanks to wild giant spider impalements and more well done personal horror vignettes with blood, gore, and brain splatter nods to Cannibal Holocaust and Evil Dead. Slow motion over the shoulder fears, creaking animal approaches, that giant log come to life – aren’t walking sticks bad enough?! The rush to repair a salvaged airplane turned riverboat adds more flying monsters and aerial fatalities to the adventure. Kong is an angry mother, but he didn’t do anything wrong in protecting his home from the dangerous creatures man has stirred, and the mission only has its bombing in the name of science to blame. Fortunately, culture shock jokes create lighthearted fun, since it’s more of a cold war with summers off, a man on the moon is eating Spam after sipping Tang, and The Cubs are never going to win the World Series. Likewise the excellent graveyard sequence combines all Skull Island’s divided and united people with scene stealing visuals, action, and monsters. Retro picture flashes and rewind clicks accent gritty zooms and intense monster filming with green gas heightening the sense of smelly vomit, skulls, bones, and gas masks. Deadly cigarettes, flames, lighters, and fumes add to the swords and machine guns poised atop the triceratops skull as man comes to regret the cruel and violent destruction he has caused.

Of course, Skull Island is also a very messy movie with an uneven dual focus. This should be either a Vietnam, horrors of war, military monster Apocalypse Now with a photographer and a scientist OR the scientific monstrosity adventure a la Jurassic Park with one ex-SAS tracker but not BOTH plots giving nobody their fair share. The us versus them scientists in blue and military in green sitting on opposite sides of the briefing is never capitalized upon but redundantly introduces everyone by name after the port of call arrivals already suffice. Likewise, conflicting, convoluted information dumps on hollow earth inklings, monsters exist proof, nature taking back the planet subtext, and more conspiracies are lost amid who’s doing the suspicious underground mapping or using dangerous seismic charges – and none of it is as important as the visual destruction despite precious little time to enjoy the awe-inspiring views. Increasingly intrusive hip highlights and filler montages distract viewers with busy, loud hyperbole, and fine jokes aren’t needed to alleviate tension because intercutting between separated characters walking to and fro for action fodder never leaves the audience with anyone long enough to appreciate their peril. Casual wonder, superficial dear family letters, and featherweight Icarus speeches can’t keep up with the up up up piecemeal quest, soldiers rightfully spazzing over the giant monkey are paid dust in favor of repeated clicks west or evac north fluff, and one trek in the wrong direction for a dead man proves pointless on top of unnecessary revenge. What should be somber shipwreck history and ancient monster worship become tossed aside double talk, and the science dialogue, monsters, and mission objectives change as people act stupid from scene to scene as needed. Littering the narrative with so many excuses that we just don’t care how each group of people and their monster attacks tie together is incredibly annoying because there is so much more potential to the friend or foe ominous and native people glossed over with photos and peace signs. Slo mo hold me back man tears turn laughable thanks to all over the place point of view voiceovers with no time for a breather properly addressing the nonsensical. Quotes about an enemy not existing until you make one get squashed between more meandering, on the nose rock montages while blow torches are convenient in one scene but forgotten the next. Our two women never talk to each other, and Skull Island can’t stick to telling its story well because it’s so desperate to appeal to as many bang for its buck viewers as possible – leaving the World War II radiation and ancient cave paintings hodgepodge to do nothing but set up the inevitable sequel.

 

All the people should have been listed in the blurb at the bottom of the Skull Island poster because no one character is fully developed – least of all top billed Tom Hiddleston as tracker James Conrad, who spends more time giving repetitive exposition on clicks, radius, or distance and unnecessary let’s go, no time to waste obviousness. It’s also noticeable that the character concept was changed when T. Hiddy was cast – perhaps in a Legendary twofer contract with Crimson Peak or during filming, for the grimy shirt jaded and gritty bearded wanderer is traded for a sunshine blonde matinee idol buff. It’s like a different guy shows up for the mission! When meeting Conrad in the bar, he’s ruthless with a cue stick. However, on the island, he’s the team negotiator, going from a rugged bad ass asking for five times the mercenary money to…Tom Hiddleston. Viewers see him as himself in Skull Island and The Night Manager rather than his Loki visage – maybe because it looks like he’s wearing his own clothes again onscreen – but someone should have been in charge of his eye candy fitness as his increasing muscles or shrinking wet shirt vary throughout the adventure. The mysteriously decommissioned tracker also suddenly cares, sneaking into restricted areas to check out the bombs and question the mission even though Conrad never gets to use this seemingly new found good guy muster. His great line, “I suppose no man comes home from war, not really,” and brief mentions of his lost father – Tom, please, no more characters with daddy issues! – go unredeemed save for dad’s handy lighter to rectify a lifetime of searching for something you can never find. Instead of calm, problem solving Conrad challenging Packard, our expert tracker gets lost and seeks higher ground before taking charge anyway after useless self sacrifices. Despite his name, there’s very little Heart of Darkness to Conrad, yet the character remains overly serious and that divine accent feels out of place – taking longer and prettier to say his exposition in a different, formal rhythm amid all the fast, casual slang. Although he has the best gas mask glory moment in Skull Island and some of the samurai choreography is reminiscent of the first advance in 300, our would be hero has no winking Indiana Jones moment nor does he take off his shirt. Why hold back when you can go all the way? But hey, those biceps aren’t enough to forgive the fact that Conrad wears a gun in a shoulder holster and never uses it!

With our rugged man and Brie Larson (Room) as anti-war photographer Mason Weaver, Skull Island feels very The People That Time Forgot. However, Weaver doesn’t cry out for her camera’s safety or click away as much as she perhaps should. She never runs out of film and such gear perils or mishaps could have been an ongoing gag, but Conrad seems to look out for her camera more than she does. There is rightfully no overt romantic plot further crowding Skull Island with unnecessary saccharin, yet their feeling each other out banter should have been utilized more – Weaver interrupts Conrad’s hero zoom by motioning for him to move over on the helicopter seat and he does. All these charming, award winning thespians have so little room to breath, leaving Weaver with lame one liners and nothing to do. The “Bitch, please!” retort for her to have several seats isn’t the right response, but her trite platitudes won’t get all these macho men pointing guns at each other to stand down either. Fortunately, her outfit isn’t uber skimpy, and Larson’s modern earthy look is perhaps the most seventies style in the cast. Weaver goes from skeptical equals Pulitzer to island believer saving injured animals too quickly with no depth to her island connections if any before ending by saying she will expose their information rather than keep this precious ecosystem secret. She could have been a hippie tree hugging activist woman alone in tune for peace with Kong, but Weaver’s touching moments with the ape are too few and far between. Whether there is some kind of native spirit and island good to counter the evil creatures below isn’t explored, and while all the scientists pick up guns, Weaver shoots with her camera only – a nice statement that just leads to her getting rescued by Conrad in every dangerous situation. A brief moment of her refusing a gun and more of her resourceful ingenuity as with Conrad’s handy lighter would have added better character strength and humor. Sadly, Skull Island has both Weaver taking pictures to expose Monarch and John Goodman’s (The Big Lebowski) underutilized Bill Randa recording film for his secret organization’s posterity. What is the point of having both such rival documentarians on the trip when they never even have the chance to object to each other onscreen?

 

But why you gotta be mean like that to Kong, Nick Fury? Despite the Vietnam withdrawals underway and orders to head home, Samuel L. Jackson’s Colonel Packard isn’t ready for the war to end. He wonders what this the fight was all for – accepting this final mission without considering the families and day jobs waiting for his Sky Devils stateside. Packard resents the camera and the media’s influence on the war as more dangerous than a gun, and objects to calling the battle lost. He’s upset at Kong for destroying his helicopter team, blaming the ape and demanding payback when he’s the one who ordered them to fly through the island’s nonsensical storm front. There’s room for more psyche, but other plot contrivances compromise Packard’s fanatical. His insistence on taking out Kong instead of the more deadly skull creature continues even when his reason for pursuing one over the other is proven more fatal, and Packard gets around the island just fine without the obligatory SAS tracker, gutting any tension the two are apparently supposed to have. After aimlessly walking for half of Skull Island, Packard needlessly divides the group when they actually come together, and any deeper hates the monster because he hates himself guilt about man’s supposed superiority is never fully explored. Certainly the Lieutenant Colonel did nothing wrong in ordering his men and defending his homeland from the horrors of war, but he takes the extinguishing the wrong monster too far and doesn’t learn from any of the mission’s bureaucratic stupidity, ultimately using napalm to flush out more creatures than he can handle. Likewise his soldiers – family man macguffin Toby Kebbell (Control), headband wearing Thomas Mann (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl), and letters to his mama Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton) don’t listen to local information on avoiding island perils. At once they decide it’s all for one and one for all while telling others they will be left behind if they don’t like the plan, and none of them go against the Colonel even when he is wrong and the chain of command has broken. Although dead pan Shea Whigham (Boardwalk Empire) eating in the face of giant apes is good levity, the too crowded Skull Island keeps these military men stereotypically hip with shirtless photo sessions and no questions asked until after the fact rather than developing any killer edge e.g. Predator.

There are simply so, so, so many superfluous people in Skull Island that you can argue almost anyone doesn’t really need to be here. Landsat fraidy cat John Ortiz (Fast & Furious) deserves more than ticking the Hispanic check box with his own personal homage to Jurassic World. This looks like a diverse ensemble with representation from all walks of life, but it isn’t diversity if each monster fodder minority has five cliché lines while the white people save the day. Geologist Corey Hawkins (24: Legacy) and biologist Jing Tian (The Great Wall) look like they filmed their scenes separately from everyone else. Their brief conversations happen with no one else around and they don’t really interact with anybody on the island – simultaneously missing the opportunity for statements on the struggles of a well educated black man with a radical theory while nonetheless desperate to appeal to Asian markets with an intelligent but meek biologist who barely speaks. Hawkins’ Houston Brooks objects to the titular craziness with almost the exact same words as Mann’s Slivko, and eventually, the scientists are told to go back to the boat – which they easily find and operate without Conrad holding their hands. The post-credits scene likewise has them repeating Randa’s words on the monsters to come while again telling us not much of anything on Monarch’s intentions. Fortunately, John C. Reilly’s (Chicago) kooky World War II castaway Hank Marlow is the most dynamic character in Skull Island. He’s happy these new found people are real because he’s more than ready to get home to beer, hot dogs, and the Chicago Cubs, becoming the only fish out of water in this crazy habitat that receives any narrative payoff. I also dare say Marlow’s opening cross cultural duel turned bond with Japanese singer Miyavi as Gunpei Ikari and their subsequent hear tell eight attempts to leave the island during their forced twenty-eight year sabbatical may have been the more dramatically interesting tale – “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra” and all that.

 

Fine gunfire, brief World War II designs, aerial action, and impressive photography also pepper Skull Island. A variety of cool ships accent the beautiful, tropical, misty, hot locations from Hawaii, Australia, and Vietnam amid lovely waters, deadly swamps, and killer jungles keeping everyone good and sweaty. There are dangerous rocks, mountains, vegetation, and animals, too – but that giant water buffalo thing has a cute nose! Unique patinas, golden sunsets, neon, bright blues, red lighting, and choice zooms set off every frame in Skull Island, and a fiery haze makes the night time battle with Kong befitting of the island’s devilish face shape. However, despite all the old school touches, Skull Island doesn’t feel as aged as it could be. A 1973 Life Magazine and a record player don’t a la the past when everybody looks so today. The money here is rightfully spent on the badass ape kids will dig, but younger audiences probably won’t notice the early computers, retro televisions, dark room photography, old reel frames, slide projectors, or rotary phones and period references. Fortunately, these creatures are so big that director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer) must pull the camera back – we can see the well choreographed rumble without hiding behind panoramic swoops and hectic editing. Kong breaking free from a shipwreck’s chains is a fine homage, and the deleted scenes with more platoon camaraderie and a bristling introduction between Conrad and Packard should have been kept. Of course, Skull Island is available in different video editions with seller and regional behind the scenes exclusives. An official comic book also continues the adventure, but I wish the background material or what happens next wasn’t relegated to extras or waiting on another picture in the franchise. Although, ironically, Skull Island might have made a great limited television series with fulfilled episodes dedicated to our mad military man, lost tracker, photographer, castaway, or scorned scientists.

Kong:Skull Island seems like it began with storyboards of cool things for Kong and company to do with everything else as filler to meet the feature length duration. There’s no time to stay on Skull Island and explore its myths or monsters, and this does indeed feel like one mere stepping stone toward the inevitable Godzilla vs. Kong anticipation in 2020 thanks to postscript MonsterVerse revelations. Though entertaining, the forties bookends are abrupt and in between viewers are spoiled for choice of eye candy. Skull Island is meant to be a monster money maker and it shows with this sweet but shallow action. It wants to be man versus man, man versus nature, and man versus himself, but superficially potlucks all the deep possibilities. Thankfully, Skull Island is not a film meant for critical eyes and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Despite its narrative flaws, there’s just so much fan service that Kong: Skull Island was bound to be an enjoyable success.

 

Author Interviews at the Mount Holly Book Fair Part 2

 

Witches, Time Travel, and Shapeshifters!

 

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

 

Author JL Brown talks about her book The Burning Arbor, witches, tarot, and magic on and off the page. For more visit https://www.facebook.com/AuthorJLBrown/

 

 

Author Gary Frank talks about his book Forever will you Suffer, short fiction versus novels, time travel, the business of writing, and horror. For more visit http://authorgaryfrank.com/

 

 

Native American Storyteller Laura Kaign chats about her Earth Child series, science fiction, natural versus supernatural, dreams, YA, and storytelling. For more visit http://ladyhawkestorytelling.com

 

 

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

 

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

Jeff Carlson, Never to be Forgotten

One of our frequent authors and a man many of us had the pleasure to know in life, has passed on. Jeff Carlson, author of the Plague Year Series and Frozen Sky, died Monday, July 17th from an extremely aggressive lung cancer. He is survived by his wife and two sons, who he adored.

Jeff was an excellent writer and had an exuberant thirst for life. We here at HorrorAddicts.net would like to express our sincerest sympathies to his friends and family by celebrating what enjoyment Jeff brought to our lives through his writing.

About Horror, Jeff said,

We like to be scared because we have a huge capacity for fear. The most basic element of storytelling is conflict because we respond to it.

With four features on HorrorAddicts.net and tons of cameos and book reviews, Jeff is one of the most frequent guests on the podcast. He won our Best in Blood award for season one with his story “Monsters” and continued to be a driving force in the show.

Since meeting Jeff at BayCon in the early 2000’s, I followed his career, attending many of his book parties and enjoying his live readings. His books Plague Year, Plague War, and Plague Zone came at a time when readers were craving survival fiction, before The Walking Dead saturated the market.

The Plague Year series started with a bang and just kept going. Jeff was able to bring our world to the brink of destruction in such a real way, it almost seemed like you were listening to news reports rather than reading a fictional thriller.

In Plague War, the non-stop thriller action doesn’t stop. There were so many layers to this book. You had the survival instinct unwilling to die in the main characters, the war between countries grasping at straws to maintain control, and a zombie apocalypse that actually seemed plausible.

Plague Zone‘s zombies weren’t the George Romero, searching for brains type. They were more subtle, but not less scary. The first scene with the zombie people (people they knew!) being kept in the hut in case they could save them was almost unbearable. I could just hear the bumping and moaning as they struggled against restraints. Ruth’s claustrophobia was contagious and I found myself having to step outside to get some air.

This series was a crazy-fast rollercoaster ride through a nanotech infested world where only one thing guarantees your survival—your will to carry on no matter what. Through Jeff’s writing, he inspired us to overcome surmountable odds, keep true to the loyalty we’ve fostered with other humans, and to never, ever give up.

HorrorAddicts.net Reviewer, David Watson says,

I makes me sad to hear of the passing of Jeff Carlson and my heart goes out to his family in this terrible time. I didn’t know Jeff personally but I talked with him through emails and he was always friendly. The first time I heard of Jeff was when he read his story “Monsters” on the HorrorAddicts.net podcast. In 2015 I was the editor of Horror Addicts Guide to Life in which he wrote an essay called, ‘Why I Write Post-Apocalyptic Fiction.’

One idea Jeff wrote about in the author’s note for his book Frozen Sky 3: Blindsided, was how true happiness in life doesn’t come from slacking off, it comes from working hard and accomplishments. Jeff worked hard at his craft and it shows in the success he had as a writer. I love his work and reviewed four of his books, including his anthology Long Eyes which is a perfect introduction to his awesome storytelling abilities. My favorite work of Jeff’s sets horror in outer space with his Frozen Sky series where he masterfully combined action, horror, science fiction, philosophy and politics. It makes me sad to know that I won’t get to read another new book by Jeff Carlson but at least he left behind eight great books and several short stories that we can all reread and remember him by.

Fellow HorrorAddicts.net author, J. Malcolm Stewart says,

I first met Jeff Carlson in 2011 at Westercon 64 and immediately knew I had found a kindred soul. We were on a panel called Horror Tropes as Social Commentary, which, if you know me, was a subject near and dear to my bloody, beating heart. We had a blast that afternoon and quickly exchanged contact info with the usual good intentions to catch up in the near future.

I didn’t pay too much mind to the promise, figuring the gesture on Jeff’s part was a case of throw-away professional politeness. He was a well-known, well-respected, past winner of Writers of the Future, had been nominated for a Phillip K. Dick award, and his Plague Zone series of novels had spent weeks on the New York Times Best-Seller list. I was a complete unknown who was six months away from my first novel even being published.

But a strange twist, one worthy of Hitchcock himself, happened… Jeff did call and he did email, just as he had promised. And from that time on I was blessed to experience one of the great professional friendships of my adult life.

Jeff was many things in his far-to-brief 48 years. Among the crowd of his attributes was his sheer writing talent, his engaging personality, his keen and probing mind, his oft displayed sense of humor… But the greatest attribute I ever observed about Jeff Carlson was his constant and unwavering love and dedication to his family.

I say with no hyperbole that every conversation I ever had with him, no matter how long or short, ended with either “I gotta go. It’s date night.” or “Gotta get to the soccer game. I’ll catch you soon.” I can’t express this strongly enough. Every time without fail.

I know directly that Jeff bypassed many promotional opportunities at cons or book signings to make sure he had time with his wife and kids. As a result, he wasn’t the most visible author in the Northern California writing scene. But as writer and person, he was without a doubt one of the most respected.

I am personally privileged that our time together included over eight hours of recorded interviews conducted over these last six years. I knew instantly that those conversations were gold to any writer who aspired to learn in the ins and outs of this insane profession. Sadly, I didn’t know that they would come to an end so quickly.

As both a creative artist and in my professional life, I often have found myself grappling with the finality of death. It’s an inescapable part of the human condition, a principle of existence both devastating in its scope and humbling in its randomness. Like many who knew him, I’m still processing the fact that shadowy hand of fate has taken away Jeff. But what I can say with all certainty is that Grim Titan who stalks us all has taken into his company one our best and brightest.

To his wife, Diana and their two boys, my deepest and most sincere condolences.

It’s amazing to me that so many of us felt we had a special, meaningful relationship with Jeff, but he made sure we did. He was a genuine guy and when he said he’d connect with you, he really meant it. Despite his busy career, he always made time for his friends and family.

Horror Addicts Guide to Life

In our 2015 anthology, Horror Addicts Guide to Life, Jeff said,

I think we’re programmed for hardship. In my experience, human beings are happiest when they’re working themselves to the bone. Call me crazy, but from what I’ve seen, people are more likely to feel adrift and unsatisfied when they have too much leisure time. Purpose is the greatest gift. Obstacles are good.

Well, Jeff, we suppose you are right, but getting over your loss will not be so easy. You will always be in our hearts and minds.


Listen to Jeff’s work here:

Ep: #1 with his short story “Monsters”

Ep #20 with his story “Romance”

Ep #27 with is story “Caninus”

Ep# 51 with his story “Pattern Masters”

Read more about Jeff in our blogs here:

https://horroraddicts.wordpress.com/2010/11/23/13-questions-with-jeff-carlson/

https://horroraddicts.wordpress.com/2012/07/16/a-jeff-carlson-double-header/

https://horroraddicts.wordpress.com/2010/09/21/jeff-carlson-on-post-apocalyptic-fiction/

https://horroraddicts.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/the-frozen-sky/

https://horroraddicts.wordpress.com/2014/07/24/frozen-sky-2-betrayed-by-jeff-carlson/

https://theallnightlibrary.wordpress.com/2016/07/10/frozen-sky-blindsided-the-europa-series-book-3/

Visit his own site for more information on these works at: http://www.jverse.com/

Kbatz: Victor Frankenstein (2015)

 

Latest Victor Frankenstein Unfortunately Disappointing

by Kristin Battestella

 

I had hoped Gothic dramatizations and Victorian horror were making a comeback. Unfortunately, with the cancellation of Penny Dreadful, the less than welcoming reception of Crimson Peak, and the disappointing result of the 2015 Victor Frankenstein, the potential for dark romanticism and steampunk gone macabre trends seems over before it could really start.

The hunchbacked Igor (Daniel Radcliffe) is rescued from the cruel circus and healed by the visionary but radical Doctor Victor Frankenstein (James McAvoy). Dismissed from his medical college, Victor is reanimating small subjects and intends to create life with a new man-made cadaver. Unfortunately, Inspector Turpin (Andrew Scott) is following the gruesome trail back to Victor, and he objects to Frankenstein’s amoral and godless plans – which need Igor’s raw medical talents to be completed.

 

Victor Frankenstein is slow to start with more telling than showing when the waxing on man versus monster making could all be seen rather than told. These talkative delays underestimate the audience, compromising atmospheric immersion and period mood with “little did I know” narrative breaks. Where’s the Victorian carnival flair and underlying horror? Victor Frankenstein has a unique angle on this oft told tale, but the action is styled for the cool circus escape with unnecessary slow motion and leaping over a box being highlighted as more important than freakish servitude and characters in peril. Viewers can see Victor observing Igor reading medical texts – we can feel the characters if you let us instead of cutting corners with fast moving dialogue, hectic editing, and shaky camerawork. Victor Frankenstein isn’t really sure how it wants to present itself because the required flashy becomes more important the the man versus nature, man versus man, and man versus himself horror possibilities. Mischievous animal part thefts and science montages happen quick with little time to enjoy the mad science. Of course, Victor Frankenstein isn’t true horror, yet the soft romantic scenes and rags to riches drama feels at odds with the macabre. Debates on magic and superstition versus emerging science and technology make for better drama alongside failed science presentations and medical mistakes letting us know where each character stands. Although the hissing monkey prototype has some creepy moments and could be a sinister step to the monster making, these scenes come off as a laughable detour. Real science probables such as two hearts and four lungs and numerous design montages become too busy, hindering the grossly fantastic and the character drama. Is Victor Frankenstein about Victor’s mad descent or Igor’s misused intelligence? If this is about Victor’s coming to this ghastly point, the story should begin before his experiments and conclude with the onset of his creation. If Victor Frankenstein really is about Igor’s role in the monstrosity, then the science should be nearer completion. Instead, Victor Frankenstein meanders for over an hour before London on the lamb and double crossings throw more wrenches into the quick monster finish. Past reasons why come too late, and tacked on narrations do nothing to explain what Victor Frankenstein is about beyond an opening ending in hopes of a sequel.

With his slick ‘stache and Victorian finery, James McAvoy (X-Men: Apocalypse) looks the titular mad scientist with an ulterior reason for inspiring Igor. Arrogant Victor thinks he’s too intelligent, admitting he prefers his vanity to being called a criminal and will speak slowly when talking to lesser people. Victor gets too far ahead of himself in belittling believers, life, and theology. He’s too excited over his own experiments and uses a fast talking wit to confuse others into not questioning his brilliance. Unfortunately, this flippant, condescending double talk effect is exactly how the audience feels when watching Victor Frankenstein. It’s more interesting to see Victor educate and raise Igor almost like he would do the monster. He doesn’t care about charity just control – Victor needs Igor’s talent to finish his life and death projects while he takes the credit. He fixes Igor’s hump in a gross, back cracking pinning while sucking the fluids out through a tube in one erroneously forced and homophobic scene, and comedic dialogue perceiving them as friends jars against the feeling superior Victor using Igor for his own devious ends. We meet Victor Frankenstein after the doctor has already left any morality questions behind and made his leap to madness, leaving what could have been an intriguing science versus soul debate as stubbornly unlikable assery. Victor’s motivation is revealed too late and very little consequences follow his actions. McAvoy is left doing more shouting than anything creepy, and his Scottish accent bleeds through into a not necessarily British, just toned down affectation akin to the meh at hand.

Fortunately, Daniel Radcliffe’s (Harry Potter) Igor is developed as a real assistant rather than an idiot in Victor Frankenstein. Despite learning nothing but cruelty from people as a circus hunchback, Igor is also a self-educated amateur doctor who cleans up nice and tries to remain loyal thanks to Victor’s kindness toward him. Of course, this Victor Frankenstein can’t be told wholly from Igor’s perspective as promised when he is absent from several scenes and critical information is given without him. Igor’s narration also comes and goes – oddly returning for his moon eyes over a girl when the fantastic science is afoot. Igor is also able to run, swim, and scale a rock cliff just by putting on a back brace after having spent a lifetime as cripple…okay. Staying entirely in Igor’s point of view would have helped Victor Frankenstein tremendously as his voiceovers or journaling montages could explain the number of weeks or months passing while giving the audience his private observations on the increasing madness. Instead, Igor flip flops too much to be the viewer’s anchor and changes his tune on Victor’s plans – first he’s reluctant to proceed due to a financial deadline and wants to discuss the peril of creating man in his own image but then he feels obligated to Victor for giving him life thanks to metaphoric contrivances. Igor knows the jealous Victor has become an embarrassment, used him, and interfered with his romance. However, the two hearts and two brothers parallels between bad Victor and good Igor seem more important that Igor’s fresh perspective, and the idea of Victor being a positive benefactor raising up life through Igor ends up too muddle to save Victor Frankenstein. However, the hunchback does get the girl in a hammy but surprisingly not exploitive sex scene. How often can you say that?

The supporting players in Victor Frankenstein sadly also serve as little more than stereotypes, including Jessica Brown Finlay as the pretty acrobat turned beard Lorelei. Despite potential for a would be love triangle, Finlay only appears in a handful of scenes looking too modern, out of place, and too small in her swimming costumes – and it’s all so odd because she was so good on Downton Abbey. Lorelei is merely used as a brightly color standout when some symbolism is necessary before inexplicably disappearing for the finale. While Andrew Scott’s (Sherlock) Turpin is a shrewd inspector not falling for Victor’s spin, the intriguing idea of his pursuit of Frankenstein for religious beliefs rather than legal prosecution is dropped for a standard case of lawman with manpain. Scott also feels either out of his depth or too much for the material, for his scenes seem like they come from another movie. Turpin may also loose an eye or hand at some point – but he ends up still having them both later anyway. Whoopsie! Elder Frankenstein Charles Dance (Game of Thrones) does add an element of stern class in his sacrilegiously short screen time. One frigging scene! The Baron gives Victor a good talking to with a well-deserved chastising and slap, and Victor Frankenstein needed much more of these father and son aspects.

 

Victor Frankenstein has sweeping Victorian scene setters with colorful circus tents, exterior facades, and zooming in entries – and viewers can tell it is all unnecessary CGI. What’s happening under the circus tent and inside the laboratory are cool enough thanks to nighttime gaslight glows, crackling electricity, and large gears. Up close foggy streets, bleak hospital interiors, and horse drawn carriages accent more alongside period medical sketches, Victorian zoos, steam gizmos, disembodied eyes, and more creepy specimens in green tanks. Mirrors and reflections mimic the duality in Victor Frankenstein, and overlaying anatomy lines, diagrams, body labels, and human schematics do better than any trite slow motion. Unfortunately, the mad science blueprints are used onscreen early, then dropped for most of the picture until the final monster design montage – almost to cop out on not actually showing any of the monster work. Daylight scenes in Victor Frankenstein reveal the color, costumes, golden rooms, and would be splendors of the time like heat and running water, but the bare minimum period setting remains Victorian light rather than fantastic steampunk. Top hats, a crinoline, and a few big skirt twirls don’t hit home the costumes, and modern tattoos can be see when wearing those strapless gowns. Victor Frankenstein never even says the year, and despite its obviously expensive intentions, this feels low budget messy and unfinished. Stormy, gloomy Scottish atmosphere comes too late in the final act – where the raising of the monster is an orchestration in action set pieces followed by a spectacular destruction. All that fiery, confusing hurrying and Victor Frankenstein limps into over five minutes of credits with little to show for it.

This not a horror movie nor a character drama, but Victor Frankenstein isn’t really science fiction and has no fantastic to its creation either. The rush to be modern cool or more Hollywood than nineteenth century British sacrifices any Gothic feeling, and the condensed script or production changes on the fly lack period finesse. It’s tough to view Victor Frankenstein as what it is but rather what it could have been, and the cast, setting, and story deserved better. While serviceable for audiences who haven’t seen any other Frankenstein adaptation, Victor Frankenstein makes older audiences appreciate the panache of the Hammer Frankenstein films all the more. If you’re looking for the book you won’t find it – like a game of telephone, Victor Frankenstein starts with Mary, passes through Universal, and quotes Young Frankenstein before this disappointing result that never takes its original possibilities to the next level.

Kbatz: Prometheus

Frightening Flix

 

Despite Its Flaws, Prometheus is Entertaining 

By Kristin Battestella

 

I feel like there’s a chest burster inside me.”

That’s what I said in the ER this past July when they asked me to answer their polite 1 to 10 point-at-the-smiley-frown pain scale. I didn’t know what was causing the increasingly horrible and unbearable pain beneath my right ribs. I could barely move, breath, or speak. I flailed my arms in pain and accidentally hit the nurse when she tried inserting my IV. Of course, this reminded me of one early hospital scene in Aliens, and later, after I clawed my husband’s hand and drew his blood, I said, “I guess this is what I get for going to see Prometheus!”

Doctors Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and Charlie Holloway (Logan Marshall Greene) petition the Weyland Company to support their archaeological discovery: ancient civilizations each repeated the same astronomical pictograph and alien “Engineers.”  Shaw sees the pattern as an invitation to the stars and the origins of humanity, and the state of the art Prometheus disembarks to the distant LV-223. Only the android David (Michael Fassbender) is awake for the journey while the rest of the crew- including the doctors, Captain Janek (Idris Elba), and Company representative Meredith Vickers (Charlize Theron) remain in hyper sleep. Once they reach the moon, the human crew rises to search an ancient monument full of dead Engineer bodies, mysterious urns, and surprising familiar iconography.  As storms fronts approach on the surface and the crew separates, one by one their fates and faiths are tested, for these Engineers and their perilous DNA projects aren’t as dormant as they seem….

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Plotting A Prequel Conundrum

Whew! It turns out it was just my gall bladder going, but director Ridley Scott’s return to science fiction with this pseudo Alien prequel was certainly on my mind most of the summer. I’d been waiting over a year for the release – even remaining spoiler free into its approach. The possibility of Alien’s back-story feels like its been in my subconscious for decades. I used to drive my father batty with speculation about how the crash on LV-426 happened, to where – or whom – that homing beacon was transmitting, and how the evil android Ash and the then unnamed but obviously money loving and corrupt Company were involved. Yes, most of these questions from Alien are not answered in Prometheus and that is this film’s blessing and curse. Some may rightfully dismiss Prometheus simply because it answers nothing beyond itself. After all, what’s the point if technically nothing gets us any closer to Alien’s mysteries? The connections and feelings are there, but it seems like Prometheus’ key elements are being spread out for its inevitable sequel or a completely new trilogy. It becomes both rushed in its foreboding yet too disjointed as the plots diverge and reveal. This almost feels like Alien 3, strangely, where one film had to suffice both its brooding horror and action SF predecessors. The internal pace is fine to start, with good cringe inducing moments and a horror styled pattern of storms and entrapped personnel. Though the deleted scenes were apparently cut for length and action pace, it feels as if Prometheus should have continued in this speculative science fiction or horror vein, with complete character intelligence and a scary food for thought.

There is room to speculate on the alien dangers and high concept religion and faith debates. However, writer Damon Lindelof (Lost) also left serious plot holes, unexplained developments, and changed script scenarios in rewriting newcomer John Spaihts’ original treatment. Nothing short of having all the action taking place on LV-426 as originally envisioned would have appeased die-hard fans. Whether Prometheus was going to be a direct sequel or not, whatever storyline you finally intended to go with – all those decisions should have been settled upon rather than be left hanging in the film. Frankly, nothing – no creature connections, planetary aspirations, or character motivations – should have been held back in the hopes for a sequel. In the theater, I was screaming to myself that this film better dang be successful enough to earn a sequel, otherwise, this will really not just disappoint, but anger the audience. If you open Pandora’s Box, do so all the way.  Innumerable plot holes and character head scratchers and inconsistencies linger in Prometheus. Some of that is answered in the viral and behind the scenes material, but you can’t hinge the full vision of your film on the extras or sequels. Not only are the big spiritual topics not as deep as could be, but the intentional ambiguity is far too on the nose. I thought I was alone in wishing for more from Lindelof’s weak touch, but Prometheus takes the easy way out by dropping its high concepts for a typical big action ending. The first half of the film is brimming with foreboding and body horrors just like Alien, but unexplained secrets become plot contrivances and what should be hidden personal or family connections are too obvious. Perhaps a truly sophisticated slow science fiction morality tale can’t achieve success today, but it feels like Lindelof didn’t even give Prometheus a chance to try.  In the behind the scenes materials, he admits he found Alien boring, and no studio today will accept boring! If one can let go of Alien and accept that Prometheus is not a direct prequel and will not answer your long held questions, then it can be enjoyed thanks to great sets, thoughts, and performances. Can a hardcore SF viewer accept the plot holes and screenplay mistakes? We don’t really have much of a choice until the supposedly in the works follow up is on the big screen.

 

 

Powerful Performances

Well, well, Michael Fassbender does it again! Perhaps his ambiguous android David wasn’t meant to steal the show, but his artificial intrigue and robot speculations are the best part of Prometheus. Though his questionable actions initially support the faith versus science explorations and romance between Shaw and Holloway, David’s seamless orchestration of the crew and events around him subtly exceeds his programming. Fassbender’s (X-Men: First Class, Shame) uniquely devoid wizard behind the curtain pushes and pulls in true Vader fashion, and this malevolent Data is almost like a synthetic child on the verge of sociopathy. David is hyperactive, told not to go somewhere or touch anything, but he continually disobeys any instruction – maybe it’s for his own purpose, maybe not. He’s androgynous and prepubescent, almost not physically developed or impotent and thus uses his superior intellect and the low opinions of others to gain control. Despite his not having emotions, Shaw becomes the twisted object of David’s affection, and he scientifically violates her in a slick and premeditated plot. It’s not desire as we would think, but rather experimental curiosity. It’s third party rape because he can, and thus in David’s mind, he should.  Thanks to Fassbender’s well-played deceptions here and in Prometheus’ viral campaign, there are times where the viewer might swear David damn well does have emotions, and this Pandora of possibilities is a tad frightening.  An android who wants to be like Lawrence of Arabia? There are no Laws of Robotics here, and it’s creepy to see David’s graduation from playing with alien bugs to using human fodder go unchecked – particularly when it is such a cold and logical step to him.  Without internal censors to curb David’s motivations and ambitions, his last shall be first realization that people are inferior is allowed to run amok and create Prometheus’ finest moments.

Naturally then, when Holloway belittles David, it is not only his own undoing, but it sets all of Prometheus’ events in motion. Rather than being the hero, Logan Marshall Green’s (Dark Blue) scientist comes off as big jerk thanks to script and character issues. He drinks because he is unhappy that he has discovered the existence of human progenitors on another planet. Huh? This writing faux pas ironically works in Fassbender’s favor. One might actually be sympathetic to David instead thanks to the way he is insulted or dismissed. The android is kind to Shaw, but her trust is betrayed and it makes for some fine work by Rapace. Noomi (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) is up to snuff as our Ripley successor, oh yes.  Though younger than her co-stars, she may seem a bit too mature against Logan Marshall Green or too upscale European for American audiences. However, this edge is perfect for the deep, heavy, and spiritual Shaw. These beliefs drive her pursuit of science, but they should conflict – and her newfound alien discoveries spearhead Shaw’s reexamination of herself. It all seems kind of lofty or too high brow, but Rapace keeps Shaw likeable and believably kick ass. Yes, there are convoluted script moments and unrealistic post-injury scenes that do take the audience away from the character. She can run around alien planets and climb all over the place after that?! The lack of believability in the plot also takes a bit away from the awesomeness of her alien encounter, but no faults come from Rapace, and I look forward to more of her. 

I do, however, wish more religious connections were made out right between this trio. After all, we have a worshiped alien being birthed by a woman named Elizabeth after an impregnation orchestrated by a surrogate father. In keeping with the ABC android names of the previous films in the franchise, we have a D for David. But why the name David instead of any other D name? Was there meant to be some sort of Root of Jesse lineage and messianic message? It is Christmas aboard the ship after all, and the Shaw praying scene in the trailer was cut from the final film. One of the new creatures in Prometheus is also called a “deacon.” What exactly is all this religious iconography supposed to mean? Humanity is seeking out their alien creators and thus outgrowing their divine masters, and in some ways, David is doing the same thing to his human inventors. This ideological succession, oedipal shadings, and patricide hopes are touched upon in the script and chewed on nicely by the players when its given to them. The triumvirate keeps the entertainment and intelligence afloat for the audience, but unfortunately, the shaky foundations in the writing don’t answer these lofty questions. Had the cast been given complete character motivations and plot aspirations, nothing could have stopped Prometheus.

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Poorly Handled Ensemble

Oscar winner Charlize Theron (Monster) is ice queen good fun as Prometheus’ resident secret wielding company representative, but there could have been a lot more to her character than what we receive.  If you think about Vickers’ background and motivation too much, too many nonsensical red herrings emerge. Her big secret is quite obvious, but whether she is a human or robot isn’t hardly addressed, nor is her alternating bitchy, sympathy, intelligence and stupidity. As with David, serious Scott fans could have had their hearts set a flutter by Vickers and possible Blade Runner connections. Unfortunately, as is, the character ends up meh despite Theron’s best attempts to counter the iffy scripting. Likewise, it is always a delight to see Guy Pearce (L.A. Confidential) and that therein is another big hole in what could have been Prometheus glory. I’m going to be nice and say the aging make up isn’t that bad – we just know it is Guy Pearce and would rather see him be the power hungry and creator- complexed young Weyland as seen in the Ted Talks viral video. Why couldn’t he have a pre-mission briefing instead of that weird hologram recording? That right there would have gone a long way in explaining all the characters and their reasons for signing on to such a space flight! The waste of creative character developments and potential is actually almost as in your face as Weyland’s actual not so surprise twist!

Although the supporting cast is most definitely talented enough, they aren’t given much to do beyond making mistakes or being barely there. Idris Elba (Luther) certainly has the presence to be the rogue captain of this wonderful ensemble, but his heroics and humor are so broadly written all over the board in crayon that we can’t fully care about Janek despite Elba’s charisma.  He’s devil may care but spiritually sensitive and cares about his crew and ultimately, humanity. However, Janek doesn’t give two shits about crewmen in jeopardy and doesn’t bother to ask what the mission entails. This isn’t multi-dimensional character development; it’s more like the captain is just a script placeholder to use whenever something is needed. It’s a sacrilegious waste of Elba, and Rafe Spall (Anonymous), Sean Harris (Outlaw), and Kate Dickie (Game of Thrones, Red Road – Did no one in this production see Red Road?!) become plot points for alien high jinks instead of being truly developed characters. 

Similarly, we never really get to meet the potentially charming Emun Elliott (Black Death) and Benedict Wong (Dirty Pretty Things), and there are even more unnamed disappearing and reappearing soldiers aboard the titular vessel. If we’re not going to spend some time with these crewmembers in order to know their fears or faults intimately in a slow build of apprehension and peril, how can the viewer appreciate them? Deleted scenes and alternate takes improve the troop slightly, but the audience never gets the feeling this crew is in it together, as in Alien or Aliens. Sure, we need a conspirator or two, but these folks are so divided, it seems like they each had different versions of the script from which to work. If you’re not fans of the players, it is tempting to fast forward thru their stupidity and squandered opportunities. As Prometheus is, this talent becomes padding for the body count in the final act. 

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Positive Bells and Whistles

Fortunately, whatever you may think of Prometheus, it looks damn great, simply smashing. Instead of a dark and congested submarine – perhaps expected by our recent trends toward brooding, bleak, apocalyptic futures – the palette here is bright SF, with sweet looking, large-scale special effects and an imaginative ship design. It all looks sweeping, epic, and state of the art but somehow still natural and practical – a realistic progression and scientific advancement on our current technologies. There are some Alien allusions in the designs as well, and Prometheus does meld soundly as the mechanical precursor but 21st century offshoot to the franchise. Fortunately, the action scenes aren’t brimmed with unnecessary cool gadgetry for the sake of instant technological flash. The detailed and well-thought production here will outlast the in the moment product placements so often found in today’s films – remember all that MSN crap in The Island? Prometheus is not ‘sponsored by Sony’ in your face, and unlike the eighties 3D hurrah, there are no ridiculous foreground objects and actions thrusting at the screen desperation.  I dislike 3D and chose not to see Prometheus as such, however, you can still tell which swooping CGI effects shots are meant to be in the multidimensional glory. Thankfully, the exceptional Icelandic waterfalls and galactic scenery aren’t overruled or at worst ruined by the 3D as so many films are. 

Ironically, while writing this review, I received the Prometheus 4 Disc Collector’s Edition as a gift from my husband.  Of course, I’m not as interested in the 3D blu-ray disc as I am all the other critical bells, whistles, and special features.  I haven’t even gotten thru all the exhaustive behind the scenes interviews, production galleries, screen tests, commentaries, and more. Like the immensely detailed Prometheus: The Art of the Film companion book, alternate concepts, deleted scenes, storyboard ideas that didn’t make it into the film, and even those screen tests and viral videos all help to piece together a lot of the head scratching and character flaws in Prometheus.  The aforementioned video and several other blu ray and DVD editions are now available of course, each with varying degrees of special features. However, I thought it might still be amusing to share some of the quick notes from my original Prometheus Monday afternoon summer theater experience, for these trailer observations seem particularly prophetic now: “Frankenweenie looks dumb. Savages is too Oliver Stone generic, The Watch the usual comedy. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter looks too action badass can’t see the forest for the CGI, and Rock of Ages has great music but what a crappy ass cast! I would see none in the theater and would not be surprised if some or all do poorly.”   Hehe.

There is most certainly an audience for Prometheus, and viewers should see it at least twice for complete entertainment value – even more for finite assessment. Love it or hate it, general science fiction fans looking for a return to mature, sophisticated tales can find something here, and Alien fans tired of the Predator crossovers should definitely have a look. Granted, the separation from total Alien connections and the “is it or isn’t it” on the nose marketing approach was a deception to audiences expecting complete franchise resolutions. That audience burn alone is enough to not see Prometheus. Again, those expectations both helped put people in the seats to pad Prometheus’ box office and hurt its reputation by disappointing longtime fans.  Because of these botched Alien connections and the fly by night scripting, a necessary sequel is indeed forthcoming, although I wish the powers that be hadn’t mashed up Prometheus in anticipation of a follow up film or two and box office splendor. Behind the scenes flaws and Alien relations aside, Prometheus is nonetheless entertaining for fans of the cast and science fiction lovers.

 

David’s Haunted Library: Lost World Of Patagonia

David's Haunted Library

 

25526371Many people believe that there are creatures out there that exist where science says it’s not possible. One of those people is Cryptozoologist and university professor, Alex Klasse. Alex has learned of a place where dinosaurs still exist and he has received a grant from the Ace corporation to lead an expedition to find them. Alex will be accompanied by students from his university and a band of mercenaries who are in search of rare jewels. The team is taking two nuclear powered all-terrain vehicles into the unknown where danger lurks around every corner.

Lost World Of Patagonia by Dane Hatchell is an action adventure story complete with man-eating dinosaurs that really did exist at one point. It seemed like the author did his homework on what archaeologists and paleontologists believe dinosaurs looked like, complete with some of them having feathers. It also gets into the idea that mammals may have evolved from lizards. One of my favorite scenes in this book was when the explorers send a drone with a camera attached to explore Patagonia and we get to see the dinosaurs in their natural habitat, If you are into dinosaurs and the science behind their existence this is a good book to pick up.

While Lost World Of Patagonia maybe more science fiction than horror it does have some moments that are pretty terrifying. The book opens with two people running through the wilderness being hunted by dinosaurs. Dane does a great job building suspense as you see these two try to survive in a desperate situation. I don’t want to give anything away, but I loved how the beginning was set up with one character, surviving several cliffhangers. I had figured this character would be the hero of the story but then it goes into a different direction. From the beginning this book had a real anything goes feeling to it.

The action scenes in this book were great and I liked hearing about the dinosaurs, but a lot of the characters came across as one-dimensional. There is a love triangle going on here that had the feel of something out of a bad Syfy channel movie. The way they wrap the love story up made me want to stop reading and the ending to the book was enough to make you yell “what the hell?” I think the story should have spent less time on the characters and more time on the dinosaurs because I didn’t care about these people. Where this book really shines is with the focus on a world that time has forgotten.

Lost World Of Patagonia is a book that starts with a gruesome bang, slows down and then has a crazy ending. I love the concept here, as I was reading I kept thinking it would make a great Science fiction/horror movie. It’s like Jurassic Park but with a lot more detail on the creatures that live in this world. Patagonia is a fascinating place to explore and I’m happy to see that there is a second book available.

Kbatz: The Strain Season 1

Frightening Flix

 

The Strain Struggles Late in Its Debut  by Kristin Battestella

 

Guillermo Del Toro (Pacific Rim, Crimson Peak) executive produced the 2014 FX debut of The Strain – a thirteen episode vampire zombie plague thriller based upon Del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s (Prince of Thieves) own novel trilogy. While the series starts strong with scientific updates on traditional horror lore, the pacing flounders in the latter half with muddled, drawn-out storytelling.

CDC Canary Team members Ephraim Goodweather (Corey Stoll), Nora Martinez (Mia Maestro), and Jim Kent (Sean Astin) investigate the strange circumstances surrounding a plane landing in New York. Everyone on board is seemingly dead, and a mysterious box of Earth lies in its cargo hold. Despite plague symptoms and infectious worm-like creatures, higher up authorities dismiss Eph’s insistence for a quarantine thanks to the powerful but ill mogul Eldritch Palmer (Jonathan Hyde). Rodent inspector Vasiliy Fet (Kevin Durand), however, realizes larger vermin are afoot, and ex-con Augustin “Gus” Elizalde (Miguel Gomez) reluctantly takes jobs for the bizarre Thomas Eichhorst (Richard Sammel) – who has tormented the supposedly unassuming antique dealer Abraham Setrakian (David Bradley) in the past. Fortunately, Setrakian wields a silver sword cane and having seen this kind of vampire killer previously, uses his strigoi wisdom to help Eph stop this outbreak before it is too late.

 

A super-sized seventy-two minute “Night Zero” written and directed by Del Toro starts The Strain with waxing on hunger, unquenchable thirst, and love – the forces that make us human. Airplane tedium, radio chatter, familiar travel fears, and ornery passengers create realism, grounding the ominous scares in the cargo hold with jurisdiction, stupidity, press, and red tape. Family troubles versus work priorities layer values, packing in smart dialogue and character backgrounds without being rushed or in your face. Spiritual character names and “Holy Jesus!” exclaims over creepy jar specimens and biohazard suits invoke a whiff of religion alongside doctors talking of 210 souls on board this modern Dementer ala Horror Express. Well shot horror movie accents set the scene amid numerous locations, disaster response action, quarantine technicalities, and paranormal simmer. The Strain uses horror to mirror politics and acknowledges public panic, PR responses, famous survivors, and disaster containment while building suspense and updating traditional vampire lore with contemporary science and plague cliffhangers. Television reports and leaked documents are not to be trusted – nor is the titular coffin decorated with Faust demonography in The Box.” It’s tough to get everyone’s name on The Strain, however, the not all white, not all speaking English characters are real people dealing with prejudice to match rather than stock Hollywood pretties. Supposed criminals go to mass and respect their families while the villains at the top are more concerned with looking in control as they cover their asses. Shrewd commentary on the press making a scoundrel for the public to detest sets off terse conversations and hatred coming full circle as the empty body bags, zombies at the morgue, and bath tub body horror mounts. Selfish bureaucrats look the other way to tentacles and bone cracking transformations – orchestrating suffering to belie the facade in “Gone Smooth.”

The Strain may start slow for some viewers, but we are now invested in the players even before the horror escalates. Be it cravings for blood, liver transplants, custody battles, or sobriety, everyone is trapped by their own needs – not to mention the intrusive media and corrupt disease officials. The Strain tells its scary story with authentic hopes, wills, and weakness rather than expected television gimmicks, and frightful moments of invasive violence create scientifically based monsters for 21st century audiences in “It’s Not for Everyone.” Basement autopsies and pets beware disrupt rosaries and prayers yet gruesome new appendages and genital mutations become increasingly intriguing. Blood on snow, husbands and wives that can’t do what needs to be done, dishonest team members – if you love someone, how far are you willing to go? Hackers and lying politicians are just as dangerous as biological agents, and the ye olde Van Helsing and front line doctors lock horns over how to proceed in “Runaways.” This strigoi vampire history is tough for men of science to accept! Instead of listening to rat catchers, Spanish traditions, or our elders when they say to stay away from monsters, today these horrors demand documentation, cell phone video, and proof splashed upon the unreliable internet – idle inaction as this tiered metamorphosis grows from plague to vampires to zombies in “Occultation.” Apocalyptic gloom, biblical pestilence, and contemporary virus talk refresh the vampire genre while leaving the comforts of sunlight to save the day. Unless there’s a gosh darn lunar eclipse imminent that is! External planetary zooms further show how small humans are once we’re the tasty victims chained in a padded room, and The Strain reminds us this outbreak will get worse before it gets better. Can we protect loved ones when families won’t have it? A plague that isn’t on the news means it isn’t really happening, right? Nail gun action matches slowing or rapid heart rates as the untrustworthy phones, backward security systems, and interrogations help things fall apart in “For Services Rendered.” Sirens, bridges shutting down, cabbies with a gun and silver bullets…oh yeah.

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SARS masks in the crowded subway station keep the fears immediate for Creatures of the Night” while vampires and virus debates reveal similar preferences for lying dormant in dark, damp areas. Looting is small in comparison to what’s at stake once zombie movie aspects pick up the outbreak action. Our everyday heroes are besieged – fighting off the approaching, growling prowlers with rudimentary weapons. With teamwork, they can get the job done, and it’s great to see characters who have been apart on The Strain finally meet. Will they work together or is it everyone for themselves? What do you do when one of your own is infected? Do you treat a victim or save one’s soul? Fortunately, a convenience store is a good place to hold up, and UV light is your friend against a smart monster mob. Back room surgery, however, is to no avail. Everyone on The Strain is fair game, and people must be smart with Macguyver tricks and proactive measures against the increasing enemy and disturbing child attacks. Once noble citizens must sneak into corporate offices, investigate underground tunnels for vampires, and experiment with science and weapons – breaking the rules they once felt paramount to save all they hold dear. Hefty decision making comes in “The Third Rail” with plans to attack and big, matricide choices thanks to not the fantastic but regular human sickness. Do we leave family behind or commit a worse sin? World Trade Center ties give The Strain a firm reality while containers packed with strigoi are apparently being bought and shipped in a quite creepy, but gosh darn it not surprisingly corporate turn. Science versus bible quotes accent the tiptoeing into the lair as everyone gets on the same page for some great confrontations. Evil so easily tricks the well-intentioned does it not? An almost Hammer-esque sixties flashback sets off “Last Rites” as personal parallels are strongly felt past and present. This battle has been going on longer than we think, and there’s no time for current stubbornness and disrespect amid such bittersweet loss.

Sadly, The Strain degenerates somewhat when too many disposable characters and dead-end tangents behave in dumb horror movie fashion and disrupt the interesting but unanswered vampire hive hierarchy designs, creature differences, and mystery SWAT teams. The solid Holocaust flashback scenes should also not be intercut with the modern narrative as if they were just any standard B plot. I don’t like Holocaust material as it is, and splicing it with horror plots compromises the real world impact – this provenance should have been told in its entirety in one episode. The Strain falls into an alternating pattern with the same character plots together – which forces important developments to wait while others catch up – and the storylines become increasingly busy and repetitive. Redundant scares aren’t surprising the fourth time around in “The Disappeared,” and The Strain sags when boosting annoying child questions and plots. The audience doesn’t need any rabies for people explanations, and more inconsistencies creep into the debates, grief, and jailbreak infections. Some victims are infected by a little nick while others unafflicted fight hand to hand versus the tentacles, and these later episodes becoming increasingly padded with either extreme as needed. Maybe there are biological time differences for a strigoi turning, but a serious amount of artistic license plays a part as Loved Ones” further sidetracks The Strain with convenient laptop uses, secondary A/B plot holes, and unrealistic turns. Isn’t anybody getting out of dodge to warn somebody about this huge happening in New York City? Where is the military? Secretary of Health quarantines and National Guard calls comes too late – as does an attempt to broadcast information. Shouldn’t a way to call for help have been the first course of action, not last? Surely, these intelligent vampires could have looked up everyone’s addresses and come knocking on some doors much sooner, too. Although the miniseries styled international ensemble represents all walks of life and the characters themselves are well done, the show would have been a lot shorter – and maybe should have been only ten episodes – had several plots and players been woven tighter. Half the survivors are completely superfluous with stray shock stories wasting time The Strain doesn’t have to spare. The Master” finale does tie up some loose ends by pulling together speakeasy secret passages and survivor connections, but such obvious information and smart uses of sunlight feel unnecessarily delayed just to entice for the second season. You can get away with that on the page, but on television the string along action becomes too chaotic, ending The Strain with poorly choreographed fights and a vampire turf war voiceover.

 

Ephraim Goodweather is a fittingly ironic name for Corey Stoll’s (House of Cards) relatable CDC doctor reluctant to choose between his falling apart family and work commitments. Eph is frank with the press on the job yet has to be the bigger man and leave his family happy without him. Drinking questions are thrown in his face, and Eph can’t convince the FBI to just consider the possibility of an outbreak – making viewers glad when he gets to say I told you so. The family angles do become too cliché as the season goes on, unfortunately slowing the main story down while The Strain decides whether these side characters are important or not. Such uneveness compromises Eph at times, like when he sleeps with a woman one moment but professes to love his wife in the next. Fortunately, this scientist is thrust out of his element with swords and medieval monsters thanks to David Bradley’s (Harry Potter) tough pawn shop owner Abraham Setrakian. Our Armenian Jew Holocaust survivor has seen these strigoi before as a young craftsman learning how to stay alive, and his old-fashioned ways are a pleasant marker amid the contemporary battles. After all Setrakian’s witnessed, we don’t blame him for his chopping heads with a sword first and the heck with CDC rules after crusty attitude. He vomits at the gore but Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings) as Jim Kent plays the fence when it comes to doing the right thing thanks to an understandably sick wife behind his reasons. What do you expect him to do but what any one of us would have done? Jim is the audience layman and sums up the scares quite plainly, inducing dry chuckles to alleviate the tension. We hope Samwise will make amends, but will it be too late? Likewise, Mia Maestro (Frida) as Nora Martinez cracks and can’t always handle The Strain’s gruesome or deaths. They are supposed to be doctors helping people, right? Nora cares deeply but doesn’t need a man to tell her what to do. She researchers her own information and shares her input with Eph against superiors and red tape. Though reluctant to believe what’s happening – much less fire a gun or kill – Nora must protect her mother while on the run and accepts the necessary defiance of their ‘do no harm’ creed.

Kevin Durand’s (Lost) Vasiliy Fet has a thankless job as a city exterminator aka rat catcher. However, he’s quite well educated and has a sense of humor about his work. Fet can be both harsh to the uppity deserving it and kind to others in need – he knows what’s happening below is a sign of worse to come and to hell with those who disagree with him. He does what he has to do without help from others, but comes to respect Setrakian’s knowledge and ingenuity in this fight. Miguel Gomez’ (Southpaw) Gus Elizalde is also doing the best he can to get legit and help his family now that he’s out of juvenile prison. He quickly grows suspicious of Eichhorst and wants out of his dirty work, but, like most of us, he just plum needs the cash. When his friend is infected and the prisoners are chained together, the cops see rap sheets rather than what’s really happening, naturally. Yes, how do you stop a plague from running rampant in a jailhouse? I know there is a reason for it, however, I wish Gus wasn’t separate from the other main storylines. His literally bumping into another main cast member on the street is not enough. Thankfully, Richard Sammel (Inglourious Basterds) as the not quite breathing Thomas Eichhorst is wonderfully creepy unto himself with a Nazi to the core defense of the Reich and a suave, godless collaborator veneer. He counters every argument with a justifiable defense and is frighteningly not wrong when he says people accept the choice to suffer and comply rather than die. Eichhorst’s strong arm and menace increases as The Strain goes on, and Jonathan Hyde’s (Jumanji) terminal magnate Eldritch Palmer wishes he were as ruthless. He believes in a higher power and thinks The Master will reward him with immortality, but faith in evil or one’s own wealth and power may not get you very far in the end. We should have seen more of Roger Cross (24) as Palmer’s loyal but suspicious aide Fitzwilliam, and Ruta Gedmintas (The Tudors) as regretful hacker Dutch Velders is a strong character with superb chemistry who’s story is dealt with too late. Jack Kesy (Baywatch) as the goth musician Gabriel Bolivar and Regina King (American Crime) as his manager Ruby are also underutilized – The Strain glaringly derails by conveniently forgetting to check up on his storyline much, much sooner.

 

Fortunately, fine cinematography and cinematic editing anchor The Strain’s usual forty-five-minute episodes. Viewer discretion is advised alongside brief title credits with bloody smears on white tiles and a fitting sense of medical gone wrong. Onscreen locations and time stamp countdowns with the occasional pop-up text messages are nicer than having to read tiny print on a dated phone screen, and the realistic mix of languages, Spanish lyrics, and cultural accents match the city locales. The antique store base provides a sense of old patina hidden in the borough, contrasting the bright yellow warning tape, flashlights, bio gear, and technology screens, laptops, and communications. Simple buzzing sounds, ringing noises, “Did you hear that?” calls, and recoils over ammonia smells invoke more senses than obnoxious jump scare sounds while slimy tentacles, oozing worms, slushy squirts, and gurgling slurps add to the monstrous. Autopsy saws and dissections increase the body horror as Neil Diamond tunes, pop music cues, and nursery rhymes create irony. Colorful orange and green hues pop during night scenery, drafting a super-sized count on acid, comic book style, however dark tunnels and UV lighting can be tough to see at times. There’s also a subtle ‘Spot the Cross’ thread in The Strain thanks to necklaces, crucifixes, altars, and other veiled spiritual reminders seemingly hidden in every scene – good visually counteracting evil. Several common directors and writers doing multiple episodes each including Keith Gordon (Dexter), Peter Weller (Sons of Anarchy), David Weddle and Bradley Thompson (Battlestar Galactica), David Semel (American Dreams), Regina Corrado (Deadwood), and Gennifer Hutchinson (Breaking Bad) help maintain The Strain’s overall cohesive feel and well done horror design. I must also say, I actually don’t mind the commercials when watching The Strain on Hulu, for these fast moving ads get back to the show – unlike the seven minutes or more on television when you forget what you were watching!

The Strain starts with plenty of layered horror parallels and intriguing monsters versus science enthusiasm and well developed characters. However, poor pacing and struggling storylines in the second half of this debut kind of make me want to read the books instead of watch Season Two. Some harsh language and brief nudity are nothing major for horror tweens today, but it is best for sophisticated scary fans to go into The Strain cold for a maximum on the surprises, plague versus horror politics, historical commentaries, and religious context. Despite a piecemeal, trickling along exit, The Strain is a unique combination of mad science, vampires, and zombies with a little something to appease all horror audiences.

It Came From The Vault: The Mouth of the Mountain

vault

The Mouth of the Mountain

by Michael Gormley

October 27th, 1912

 

The luminescent moon shone brightly through the clouds as I descended my usual mountain path.  When finally, the moon was admitted a gasp of air from the clouds, a ring of white light formed around it, and reverberated so viciously that my eyes became strained. My head pounded as brutally as the pulsations.

My evening strolls to the wooded top was a nightly adventure, and it was not until as of late that the trip had actually become adventurous.  Prior to the past few weeks my late walks were nothing more than routine.  After dinner, Edgar – my seven-year-old Weimaraner, a retired hunting dog – and I would head into the mountain’s path, blanketed by conifers and limber pines.  The entrance to the woods was decorated with a few weeping willows that were now fading as the fall was coming to an abrupt end.

Within the last month or so, Edgar became violent.  Not towards me, as I do not think he ever would, but more so to the intensifying moon.

Edgar was orphaned by his previous master, an esteemed hunter in the eastern states, from what I have learned.  I also, unfortunately, had learned that Edgar was orphaned in a disturbing, almost fatal manner.  It was not much for me to bring him back to health, since I did not do as much as I had before.  Now being sixty-seven years old, I spent most of my prolonged days within the woods.

Edgar went through complex stages over the last few weeks.  First, he was increasingly curious on our walks, mostly after the sun had set and the moon prowled behind the clouds.  Then he became angry with the subtle sounds and critters in the brush.  The week after, Edgar became disgruntled with myself for leaving him behind in our quaint cabin as I took my own walks in solitude.  It was as if Edgar knew what lay in wait within the lush mountains behind our cabin. It was as if Edgar’s insightful perspective had made me curious as to know the same as him.

Other than the uneasy feeling of being alone after dusk in the wooded mountains, which I had been growing more accustomed to, it was not until that night that I felt uneased – I assumed it was the same feeling Edgar had experience a few weeks prior.  Covert at first by the spontaneous migraine, the sense of dread veiled my thoughts.

Normal nights were dark by the time I had reached the top of the mountain, but this night was more somber than usual, even with the effulgent moon above.

I sat in the cold, dew covered grass.  I could feel them crawling all over my body, like the distressing itch that shows on one during an over bearing and sticky night.  It was the itch that even tossing off the sheets cannot cure.  I could feel them crawling, a feeling so strong that I knew which had four legs, which had eight, or even more.  I could feel their antennae brushing across my porous skin.  I knew that they could taste my fear.  Yet as hard as I tried – and the scratches that I had inflicted all the way down my arms would attest to my trial – could not remove them from my now violated body, let alone even see them.

I cannot recall the time spent running, tripping, and staggering down the root-full mountain path.  As I broke the forest line, beyond the weeping willows, swaying in the breeze, – as if they laughed and mocked my fear – my body was free from whatever itching invaders had turned my body into their shelter.  My pulsating head ceased its pounding.  I could almost feel the sense of dread seeping from my body, but my fear was so great that I could not have been so certain.  I was almost sure, however, because I felt lighter.

Edgar whimpered, like a stricken child cowering behind his mother, and found a corner of darkness when I erupted through the cabin door.  I could tell he wanted to smell me, to again investigate the odd events that he had surely encountered weeks before I had, but he was too afraid.  The smell of whatever was in the forest was on my clothes, and the eerie recognition had dazed him.  I pitied Edgar – he had been through enough to have that fear – but I did not care.

I needed to wash away the darkness.

The fire was easier to light than ever.  My clothes that I had worn into the woods burned easier than any kindling, and Edgar finally welcomed my return.  As I sat on my torn sofa in front of the crackling fire, he licked my hand like I had been wounded.  Before I even had the chance to plop my hand on his brown-speckled head, and scratch behind his ear in reassurance that we were both fine, I was fast asleep.  I needed the rest for my journey back into the fateful forest tomorrow evening.

I awoke early after a foolproof sleep.  I could not recall dreaming or, as I had half expected, recalled any nightmares.  I was rested, and more so than I should have been.

Edgar was still asleep, breathing heavily from his heart palpitations – another side-effect caused by his abandonment, as I was told – in front of the still simmering and smoky fireplace.  The stench from the burned clothes made my stomach turn, and I decided that there would be no breakfast this morning.

My day was restless.  My mind turned and twisted as I attempted to pass the time with a novel from above my hearth.  After I remained on the first page for an hour or so, I sealed the booked and it coughed a stagnant cloud of dust as it was slammed shut.

With the sun setting, I hesitantly dug out my Winchester Seventy-Three from the shed.  I sat, loading it full of stale cartridges, and received the reaction that I had rightfully expected from Edgar.  Again he found a dark corner of the house to hide and whine.

I had decided, almost fully subconsciously, that Edgar would again, after almost a full month now, rejoin me in the curious woods.

Therefore, the Seventy-Three would not.

I spent the last hour before dusk contemplating, and in more ways fighting with my conscious, about my decision to be accompanied by Edgar.  He had sensed the darkness, the queer happenings of the woods almost a full month prior to my odd experience (and for all that I knew) he understood them but was not granted the ability to properly communicate to me his knowledge.

Edgar would join me.

That night, as the sun was bleeding over the horizon-line in a cast of dark orange, Edgar and I – unfortunately without the sound reassurance of my Seventy-Three – set out toward the mountain path.

The air was brisk and cool, nipping at my skin through my plaid jacket.  We approached the entrance to the mountain path, and I could see Edgar shivering with each step.  I wanted to believe it was from the chill in the air, but I knew that he felt the same fear as I.

The entrance seemed to fold in on itself more than normal, and the branches hung over the opening like large, rotten teeth, waiting for us to feed its appetite.

Edgar and I obliged the woods.  We entered through the mountain’s starved mouth – hesitantly, I will admit – yet I did not feel anything unusual other than the goosebumps rising on my arms and the back of my exposed neck.

Fight through the depths of your will, Edgar.  I need you by my side.

I did not even receive the slightest amount of recognition from my companion, but with me, he trudged on.

With no issue, we reached the mountain top and gazed out upon the forest’s canopy.  The leaves were almost gone, granted the pines still held their beauty.  The mountain peak was empty, and the grass duller and dead than the night before.  I sat beside Edgar – who panted happily – and together we watched the radiant moon rise high into the sky.

How frivolous was I?  To justify my hallucinations on my mentally unstable canine companion.

Another restful night had passed, and the day had gone by just as flawlessly.  Edgar and I had gone into town for errands.  I returned to mount my Seventy-Three above the hearth.

It wasn’t until 5 PM that I had realized I still had not eaten since the night before.  Anxious to return to our now normal nightly walks, I scarfed down my dinner and allowed Edgar to indulge himself in my scraps as I laced my boots.

The mouth of the forest was again more closed than the nights before, yet I no longer felt any apprehension.

I entered through the mouth yet again, this time Edgar trotting ahead of me.  He held a spirited walk.  I had not seen that in months.

The moon was already high, tucked again behind the clouds, and as I gazed through the breaches in the canopy, a strong sense of anger filled my soul.

I looked again to Edgar, who gained some ground on me as he continued his carefree trot.

This angered me; exceedingly.

Heel mutt.

            The bizarre size of my voice caused Edgar to leap an entire foot off the hardened ground, and with that he was seated by my side.  His head was lowered in anticipation of the strike he so justifiably assumed, but his eyes were raised up to meet mine.

I could feel the very distinct dread from within his hazel eyes, as if his entire soul was pouring itself out to me.  I am not sure what heinous thoughts crossed my mind in my anger, or maybe I just did not want to believe them.

I walked on past Edgar.

My stomach was an endless pit, filling expeditiously with malicious hatred towards these woods, towards Edgar, and towards that damned, reverberating moon.

The peak of the mountain brought back the uneasy itch over the entirety of my body, anger rising.

Less than a full twenty-four hours prior, Edgar and I gazed upon the stars, sitting in the grass before me.  At that moment it would not have been possible – even if I had contained half of the anger inside of me – since the ground in front of my fully conscious eyes were filched by three slate-grey stones, as large as the ones of Stonehenge.

Two lay fallen, with another laying perfectly across the others.  The curious structure stood no higher than my dinner table, but the stones were too large to have been placed by human hands, at least within one day.

I reached out with my left hand, trembling, unaware of any consequences, and ran my calloused fingers against the stone top.  It was smoother than even the most polished garnet, or even coated wood.

The hundreds of legs again crawled over my body, sent into an immense frenzy as I brushed the stone.

Four legs I could feel on one, eight on another.  There were countless limbs traversing my helpless body, yet I still could not find them.  I tore at my jacket and shirt until they were ripped from me in miniscule pieces at my feet.

I felt the legs on my chest but still could not see them with my own eyes.

Again, I scratched and clawed, but they would not cease their incessant hurrying.  From deep within my pants pocket I pulled my whittling knife and hacked across my chest.  The blood ran wild like the steam coursing down the mountain’s path, but it did not wash away the legs.

I tried my arms, and again, the blood poured, but the insects – or whatever they were in their visual absence – remained.

Edgar’s delicate whimper broke my concentration and ended my irrational slashing.

Had I not told him to heel?

In the midst of licking the recently inflicted wounds on my left arm, I grew more disgusted with the mongrel.

I hacked at him.

Edgar had lived an unfortunate life, but a lucky life at that.  Blind in my hatred for these woods, for Edgar, and for the moon, I missed him with my scarlet blade.

As quickly as my hatred had consumed me, I brought back the handle of my small knife onto Edgar’s fragile spine, and with an agonizing yelp he bolted back down towards the mouth of the mountain.

I felt no guilt, only uncontrollable rage, and I too bolted after the mutt.

The descent detached from my mind all recollection of the assemblage of legs, from the woods, and from the migraine that pounded in unison with the pulsating moon.  But not, this time, from Edgar.

Breaking through the mouth of the mountain felt as if I had reached the surface, still alive, after an impossible and tedious swim from the ocean depths.

A crackling of thunder rolled through the air as a drizzle fell upon my aching head, already soaked from my perspiration.  Lightning ripped apart the gloomy clouds above and seemed to reach the ground, possibly closer to my unoccupied cabin.

Had Edgar gone back?  More importantly, would Edgar ever return to me?  Another corrupt master in his poor life.

I had spent the following day on my porch waiting for Edgar.  I did not call for him.  I did not want him to hear my traitorous voice.  Frankly, I did not want to hear it either.

Heavy rain fell from the sky all day, splashing upon the porch.  The pattering was soothing, but it did not put my mind at ease, and it did not help that the sky remained a dull grey for the remainder of the day.

Until the sun was setting I had not recalled smashing my whittling knife into Edgar’s back, only my vile language and anger.  The chances were high that he remained in the wicked woods, injured or expired on the ground.  I had done nothing but merely sit on the porch, listening to the now annoying rain.  I would go back through the mountain’s mouth.

I would rescue Edgar again.

The willows at the mountain’s jaw – as I had come to expect – drooped ever so slightly more than the night before.  On this night, dull and gloomy – like the relationship had turned between Edgar and myself – the pelting rain crashed upon me, the woods whispered to me.  It was not as if I heard the voices clearly, but I could feel that I was anxiously invited in.

I was hesitant, but I entered through the mouth of the mountain.  I would not return without Edgar in my arms.

Looking up through the sporadic breaches in the canopy top – for the last time I had hoped– again, I felt the moon absorb my soul, filling me with irreversible emotion.  Thankfully, I prayed that I was correct in my gratitude, it was not the rage returning.

Twenty-seven years ago, I lost my wife commencing my decision to relocate to my cottage in the hills.  For nearly twenty-seven years, until I fostered Edgar, I lived in my remote homestead – peacefully I would add – no less than ten miles from the nearest town.

In that, I never felt more alone than in my ascent to the mountain plateau.

With each step growing ever so wearisome I began to sob.  Initially, I assumed that it was in the dreadful reality of Edgar’s situation.  I also decided, more than that, it was from the desire to see my wife again.  I remembered the moon, pumping its white light in unison with my escalating heartbeat.  The forest was the causation of my isolation and seclusion.

I was alone.

A distant, muffled yelp came from the mountain, breaking my mind out of its daunting state of inconsistency.

I began to run, my legs felt heavier with each step.  In the likes of my mind, I again blamed these woods.  I walked this path an inordinate amount of times to becoming sluggish on that night of all.

I should have been blinded as I broke out into the mountain plateau, for still stood those stones.  A fog had settled there, and I could barely see even my knees.

Around the enigmatic stones, at least two-handful of sable-like figures stood, shrouded by the fog, all facing the stones.  Human in size, still I could not make out any distinctive features other than their inverse knees, pointed backwards as they stood.

Their rhythmic chanting in unison filled the night and echoed off of the peak.

Dum nalag Ro

            Dum nalag Nath

            Dum nalag RoNath

         

   With deficient reason I stood listening, growing more careful with each repetition as the chant mesmerized me.  It was an odd language in which I never heard. Somehow, as if they wanted me to comprehend – which was the more frightful matter, knowing I had been noticed – the elementary word “follower” materialized in my mind.

With that word, I knew.  What it was specifically I could not be certain, but beyond any reasonable doubt I knew.

Each step closer to the stones abated my heartbeat.  Each step sucked more of the emotional pressure from my tainted soul.

With each step closer that I had taken, those fearsome figures, with their satiric knees took equally attentive steps away from the stones, still deep in chant.  Still in precise unison.

As they regressed, and their shadowy forms faded into the mist – I saw him.

I saw Edgar, suspended to a grand pine by splintered, detached branches, two pierced through his withered ribcage.

I wanted to blame myself for Edgar’s demise.  I wanted to blame the monster that I had become, but I knew the adverse truth.  It was these poisonous woods that were to blame.

The pain I felt was none, and the absence of my guilt was resolute, because that is what the celestial moon had decided for me on that night.

I laid down on the stone table, staring up into the night sky, now clear of all its rain clouds.  The pulse of the moon had almost wholly subsided, and I assumed that my heart would match its pace yet again.

This was my peaceful confinement.

The sky blackened and the moon faded as the menacing branches folded in over me, fingertips of the wicked woods.  Closing my eyes, I hoped that I would soon again have Edgar by my side.

The gradual pulse of the shimmering moon finally ended.

_________

Michael Gormley is a student at Cleveland State University. Born and raised in Ohio, Michael resides roughly an hour outside of Cleveland. Writing in the genres of horror, thriller, and science-fiction, Michael traverses the ideas and phenomenons that are associated with human emotions.

David’s Haunted Library: Kill By Numbers

David's Haunted Library

 

 

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It’s tough to be a human in space. Other races look down on humans because they think of them as violent sociopaths. With the human empire disbanded, they are spread out across the galaxy trying to make a living. This brings us to former assassin Raena  who is trying to get a new start on board the alien space ship,the Veracity. Raena has a complicated past, she was a prisoner as the Templars were wiped out by a genetic plague and the situation has created some bad psychological effects.

Raena is having nightmares of shooting her ex-lover in the head and she has to deal with the fact that the now extinct Templars have left booby-trapped biotechnology throughout the galaxy and her ship is infected. Raena and the pirate crew that she is with must learn to trust each other and figure out how to fix the booby-trapped technology or the galactic economy could collapse.

Kill By Numbers by Loren Rhoads is the second book in the wake of the Templars series and could be best described as a character driven action adventure story. This book starts off slow and gets deep into the character’s personalities before getting into the  story. The thing I really enjoy about Loren Rhoads writing is that she creates characters that seem real and gives a lot of detail on them.  To me the sign of a great character in a book is if you want to read about them even if there is no conflict with them. I love good character development in a story before we get into the action and Kill By Numbers does an excellent job of it.

I love the concept behind this book, Raena is a human on a ship of aliens so Raena doesn’t fit in. Raena is trying to start a new life and escape her past, the crew of the Veracity is trying to help but what they want for her and what she wants for herself are two different things. Everyone on the ship is a different kind of alien but because of her past, Raena is the oddest one. I liked the idea that everyone on the ship was so different making it like a melting pot of races.

Another interesting aspect of this book is how the media is portrayed in this futuristic setting. The crew of the ship gathers at the same time every day to see the news and then talk about the new scandals across the galaxy. The media are a lot like how it is in the present and everything that goes on in the news is seen as truth even if there are no facts to back it up. The media are a small part of the story but I liked how even in the future people are addicted to getting information about other political systems and alien races. The best part of the book is the relationship between Raena and Gavin. Gavin wants to help Raena with her new life but seems to hurt her as he tries to help. Kill By Numbers is like an action packed soap opera in space and the kind of book that hard-core Science Fiction fans will love.

An Interview with H.E. Roulo

On February 29th Horroraddicts.net publishing released its newest book:Plague Master: Sanctuary Dome by H.E. Roulo. She has had stories in other Horroraddicts.net publications such as:   The Wickeds, Horrible Disasters and Horror Addicts Guide To Life. She has also been on the Horror Addicts podcast on several occasions and won our Most Wicked award in 2009. Here is what some people are saying about Plague Master: Sanctuary Dome:

10497226_786392101430051_367125154057381978_o“A perfect mix of classic sci-fi and zombie horror. Once you start, you are hooked!”
-Jake Bible, author of Little Dead Man.
“Sanctuary Dome starts with a bang, is complicated by a kiss, and ends with a promise. This is a YA zombie love story like no other.”
-Jennifer Brozek, author of Apocalypse Girl Dreaming
“A smart zombie novel with relatable characters you’ll be rooting for until the end.”
-Emerian Rich, author of Night’s Knights Vampire Series
“Sanctuary Dome is fast-paced zombie sci-fi on a prison planet of the dying and the undead.”
-Stephen North, author of Beneath the Mask

“H.E. Roulo transports the reader to an eerie, futuristic environment. Her efficiency of prose will absorb readers of all ages. Macabre, frightening, but always hopeful.”
-Philip E. Carroll, author of Shooting Stars

Here is an interview Horroraddicts.net did with H.E. Roulo about her new book:

When did you start writing?

From the top bunk, I’d tell my younger sister stories at night. As soon as I knew enough letters, I put  pencil to paper to write stories. By the time I was in the third grade I knew I wanted to be an author. I just didn’t know how badly it paid.

You produced your first book Fractured Horizon as a podcast. Why did you go this route and where can people listen to it?

For a lot of years, I didn’t tell people I wrote. Co-workers didn’t know. It was my secret.
When I finally decided to take my writing public, I wanted to see whether there was interest. Did people like my stories? Podcasting my novel let me get immediate, week-by-week feedback. I also didn’t have to worry about hiring an editor, I did all the recording myself at night or while my toddler slept.
Fractured Horizon was my first big success, even a Parsec Finalist, and it will always be dear to me. The story of Kay Downs traveling through time the hard way, by living through it, until she reached the damaged future and repaired it, started my career. Peoples’ responses to that story encouraged me to continue. I’ve learned a lot since then. I recently rewrote the text of Fractured Horizon to be clearer. I’ve had it edited. I need to release it, it’s just a matter of finding the time.fractured-horizon

Is writing an audio drama different from writing a novel?

I’ve deliberately attempted new things so I would be a better writer. I learned a lot about story, being concise, setting the scene, and pacing, from experimenting. The podcast novel, Fractured Horizon, was an audio book. I simply read the written novel, edited the audio to take out pauses, and added an episode introduction to catch listeners up. It’s a little rough, and moves too fast. I could do better now. Of course, I think that about every project I finish.
Once I was done releasing Fractured Horizon, I was looking to do more audio. I released short stories, including three for HorrorAddicts.net. Those stories did a lot for me. I won the first annual Wicked Women Writer’s challenge with “Graveyard Shift”; released “Undergrowth” as my first ebook single; and “Great Asp & Little Death” became one of the stories in the Rich & Roulo series.
After that, I had several stories traditionally published in markets like Nature and Fantasy’s special Women Destroy Fantasy issue.
Finally, I wrote a script for a full-cast audio drama. An audio drama is different from an audio book because the voices of the characters and sound effects tell the story—just like old radio plays. I had to be creative; there’s only sound to tell the story. I couldn’t rely on descriptions or go inside the character’s head. That audio drama, and the world I created, led to much more.

What is the inspiration behind Plague Masters: Sanctuary Dome?

The novel took a long path. It started as an audio drama submitted to Necropolis Studio Productions for their Omega Road Chronicles, which is a series of moody unconnected short stories, much like The Twilight Show. My script was for a 40 minute show. They selected it right away. Next, I turned the idea into a short for the Live and Let Undead anthology, which is themed around putting zombies to work. And that sold right away.
At that point, it seemed a no-brainer to expand the world I’d come to love. I already had Samantha, who is searching for her brother’s murderer. For the novel, I added the story of Trevor, a teenager from a downtrodden planet. He wants to fight against the zombies swarming his world, but opportunity is scarce. He’s working as zombie-bait for the local militia when the girl he likes becomes infected. They get sent to the Sanctuary Dome, a punishment that’s actually a big improvement, but he’s not infected and is trying to save everyone, even his home world, from this disease.

Are the zombies in your story fast-moving or slow-moving?

24899021Mythology is so important in a story like this. It drives the tension and action. In my world, a bite means a change to a zombie, but there are also blood infections. Get splashed with zombie blood, and you’ll change but no one knows how soon. It turns people into ticking time bombs. That’s what happened to Samantha, and to the girl Trevor loves. They’re infected, but not changed into zombies, yet.
When someone does change, they go through stages of madness and rage. They’re still fast. Eventually, zombies become slow and docile. They will wander with sheep in a field, but they can get aggressive again if provoked. Don’t provoke the zombies, it gets ugly fast.

How many books do you have planned in the Plague Masters series?

It’s a tidy trilogy with an ending I’m really excited to write. At this point, the first book is available for purchase. I’ve finished writing the second one. Now, I get the dig into the finale of the series. There’s going to be even more action, and more at stake for every character.
All the worlds in this system are suffering. The series has to end soon, before there’s no one left for me to torture.

Why do you think people are so fascinated with the zombie apocalypse?

I think there are lots of different reasons. A zombie apocalypse lets us imagine a world starting over. Old, boring problems are gone. No one_IMG_8000 worries about grades or taxes in a zombie apocalypse.
Life becomes purer, it’s about survival, testing ourselves, and hopefully rising to the occasion. With zombies, there’s no guilt in killing them, no gray area, no reason to understand their point of view. There’s fairness in knowing that they’ll kill you if they can, and you can respond on that level. If you’re smart and careful, you’ll survive. Our world is a complicated place. The zombie apocalypse simplifies it.
Until the Plague Masters rise, of course.

Heather Roulo is a Seattle author. Her short stories appear in several dozen publications, including Nature and Fantasy’s special Women Destroy Fantasy issue. Plague Master: Sanctuary Dome is the first book in her Plague Masters Series.

To hear the audio drama of the short story that inspired Plague Master: Sanctuary Dome, visit The Omega Road Chronicles Audio Drama online.

Find out more at heroulo.com

http://podiobooks.com/title/fractured-horizon/

http://www.fracturedhorizonnovel.com/2015/04/13/free-audio-drama-omega-road-chronicles-ep-3-the-killer-with-eyes-of-ice/

Horroraddicts.net Publishing presents: Plague Master: Sanctuary Dome

10497226_786392101430051_367125154057381978_oOn February 29th Horroraddicts.net publishing released its newest book: Plague Master: Sanctuary Dome by H.E. Roulo. She has had stories in other Horroraddicts.net publications such as:   The Wickeds, Horrible Disasters and  Horror Addicts Guide To Life. She has also been on the Horror Addicts podcast on several occasions and won our Most Wicked award in 2009. Much of H.E. Roulo’s writing mixes horror and Science Fiction and her latest book is no exception. My full review is below:

Some teenage boys dream of getting a car or having a nice girlfriend. When you’re a teenager who lives in a run down neighborhood on a planet that is being over run by zombies, you dream of helping your planet’s army kill them all. Trevor wanted to do all he could to help his planet and jumped at the chance to be zombie bait. The soldiers send him into buildings to draw the zombies out and he gets to feel like he is helping society.

Life changes quickly for Trevor as he saves his dream girl but finds out she is infected. Trevor then escapes his planet and ends up in the Sanctuary Dome where the people infected with the zombie virus stay until they are changed. On another planet not far away, a teenage girl named Samantha is trying to find her missing brother and believes that the person responsible is a man named Julius. Julius is a rich man and his money built the Sanctuary Dome, can he be responsible for murder? Secrets are being kept under the dome and soon the zombies will be free to infect the universe.

Plague Master Sanctuary Dome is a book that horror fans and Science Fiction fans will enjoy. Science fiction fans will love the futuristic mythology and the political system that reminded me of The Hunger Games. I love the concept of a dome on another planet where diseased people are kept and the technology they have to see if someone is infected. I also liked how different the zombies are, they can be fast-moving or slow-moving based on how they were infected.

My favorite part of this book was Trevor’s story. Trevor is your average teenager thrown into a harsh situation. He simply wants to protect his family and everyone else on his planet but he finds out that everyone has an agenda and nothing is as it seems. He is used as zombie bait by an army that doesn’t care about him because he is from a poor area of the planet. While he sees himself as helping people against the zombies, his father is against what he is doing and is the only one who is looking out for him. The relationship between father and son is easy to relate to, Trevor’s father just wants to protect his son but Trevor is naive and thinks he knows whats best for himself.

There may be a lot of zombie books out there but Plague Master: Sanctuary Dome is a fresh spin on the genre. What I liked best about it was the characters who are mostly young people who were forced to grow up to fast. Not only do they have to deal with zombies they also have to deal with a corrupt political system that doesn’t have everyone’s best interests at heart. This book has something for everyone. Younger readers will like the action and the characters while older readers will like the setting that H.E. Roulo created. This is the first book in a trilogy and it will be exciting to see where the story will go next.

 

_IMG_8000Heather Roulo is a Seattle author. Her short stories appear in several dozen publications, including Nature and Fantasy’s special Women Destroy Fantasy issue. Plague Master: Sanctuary Dome is the first book in her Plague Masters Series.

To hear the audio drama of the short story that inspired Plague Master: Sanctuary Dome, visit The Omega Road Chronicles Audio Drama online.

Find out more at heroulo.com

An interview with Dario Ciriello

Our featured author for episode 122 of the horror addicts podcast is Dario Ciriello. Dario recently answered a few questions for us about his work:

When did you start writing?

18710085 When I was eight or so! I actually have my first short story, a one-page effort called “The Anti”, written on my Dad’s typewriter (he was a journalist, so I had a model right there).  It’s a fraught little piece, full of foreboding and strange events. Though the editor in me sees a few issues, I was clearly already channeling Poe and Conrad. But I only really became semi-serious about my writing in the early oughts and published my first book, Aegean Dream, in 2011.

What do you like to write about?

 Ordinary people faced with strange and challenging situations. I started off writing straight-up Science Fiction short stories, which I’ve always loved; but in recent years I’ve moved towards suspense novels. Still, I can’t do “straight” reality: my work is always going to have an element of the fantastic or supernatural, because that’s really how I see life—the known is always shadowed and underpinned by strangeness and the unknown.

Who are some of your influences?

I’ve always been a style and language junkie, so really terrific prose artists who also know how to keep a reader turning pages—authors like John LeCarre, Fritz Leiber, Roger Zelazny, PD James, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allen Poe, Joseph Conrad, Robert Graves—have always been favourites; and though his excesses are many, Lovecraft does hold a special place in my heart. I’m also a terrific fan of Stephen King, whom I consider one of the all-round best authors of our time in every way. He really gets character, and is incredibly good at psychological depth and getting under the reader’s skin. There aren’t many authors who can hold my attention for 60 pages, never mind 600 or more.

Do you prefer writing fiction or non-fiction? 7085919

 Nonfiction is in many ways easier for me, as no invention is really required. My first book, Aegean Dream, a nonfiction travel memoir, is my longest work, yet it was the fastest to write—the first draft reeled itself off in just three months or so. But there’s a whole added dimension of satisfaction and achievement to crafting a long work of fiction in which you spin characters and sometimes entire worlds from whole cloth.

Can you tell us a little about Panverse publishing? 

 I founded Panverse in 2009 to edit and publish a series of original Science Fiction novella anthologies—novellas are my favourite story length for SF, and yet the one there are fewest markets for. In 2011, after publishing three annual anthologies (Panverse One, Two, and Three), I published my own first book, Aegean Dream, and it did very well. I expanded the company and in 2013-2014 began to publish novels by other authors, as well as my own thriller/suspense novel, Sutherland’s Rules. But the workload was horrifying and my own writing was suffering. So at the end of 2014 I returned the rights to our authors, and kept Panverse as an indie publisher/imprint solely for my own work.

What do you find fascinating about the horror genre?

8492651 The exploration of the subconscious and the more shadowed, ancient parts of our psyche. I like psychological rather than graphic, in-your-face horror full of gore and shock images. Getting back to King’s work, I find the novels Gerald’s Game and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon infinitely more scary (and interesting) than, say, Carrie, Cell, or Salem’s Lot. I do find the idea of possession—and there’s a strong element of that in my forthcoming novel, Black Easter—genuinely terrifying. We’re an ancient race, and parts of our wiring go back to pre-rational days. We’re hardcoded for correspondences and symbolism, for instance, at a level we can’t easily access consciously…but we sense it. At some level we know that the everyday world is just a construct, an agreed model, a fiction of sorts, and that there’s an awful lot of what’s out there that goes unseen, and for very good reasons. The best horror fiction and film taps into those pre- and subconscious levels where we’re aware of the hidden and occult realms, and it scares the shit out of us. And I do believe that there is such a thing as real, true evil in the world.

What will you be reading for episode 122 of the podcast?

 I’ll be reading an excerpt from my new novel, Black Easter, which releases on December 5. What’s it about? Well, there’s black magic, human sacrifice, a severely traumatized Nazi colonel, love, sex, possession, an idyllic island in the sun-drenched head shot2014Aegean, and a whole new theory of Hell.  It’s Mamma Mia meets The Exorcist, with a side of Inglorious Basterds.

Where can you we find you online?

 Thanks for asking, and I do love to hear from readers. I’m in quite a few places, including:

My author blog:    www.dariospeaks.wordpress.com

My indie press:      www.panversepublishing.com

Facebook:              http://facebook.com/dario.ciriello

Twitter:                 @Dario_Ciriello

Amazon page:       http://viewauthor.at/DarioCiriello (no “www”)

You also can pre-order some of my books at:

www.panversepublishing.com/black-easter

And finally, I write a monthly Thursday guest post for the Indie Author Series over at Janice Hardy’s excellent Fiction University (blog.janicehardy.com)

 

David’s Haunted Library: Containment

20563870Life is different in the late 22nd century. We’ve had wars, drones watch all of our movements and ghosts are used as a power source. When someone dies their spirit is taken to a containment unit where for eternity their energy is used in place of fossil fuels to light up the city of Charlotte. One of the workers at the Spectral power containment facility is a devil-human hybrid named Feast. Feast is a rare breed and different form most people in the city. He has had his run ins with the city and the dead seem to be more attracted to him than anyone else.

Feast doesn’t necessarily agree with the way the city is run but goes along with it because he appreciates the benefits he gets from working for the city. All of that changes when Feast has to help bring down a powerful entity that has the ability to make you see your worst fears or your greatest desires. Feast starts to see that he is more than he thought he was, but it might not be enough to keep him from becoming a ghost trapped in the containment unit.

Containment by Eden Royce is a book that hooked me right away. The concept of ghosts being used as a power source in the future is an original idea unlike anything I’ve read before. I also love how the book starts off, Eden makes you feel compassion for Feast as you hear what he thinks about the ghosts trapped in the Containment unit. Feast has a sense of hopelessness, he sees what happens to spirits when they die and knows everyone ends up in the same horrible space. You also sees how he lives in a society where there is little freedom.

Despite what looks like a bleak existence for  Feast he is still grateful for many things, he likes the benefits from his job and he talks with the ghosts in the containment unit despite being a little freaked out by them. He may not like how things are but he doesn’t see everything as bad either. One of my favorite parts of this book was when Feast tells how he thinks we should live life and later says that the ghosts in the containment unit are not the only ghosts there are. Feast is a fascinating character and the descriptions of the world he lives in are equally as interesting.

Another thing I like about this book is how the story is told. In the beginning the story seems deceptively simple. As the plot moves along its like Eden is adding more layers to the story. There is a lot going on in this book which leads me to my one complaint, its short. From reading Containment you get the impression that it is part of a much bigger story and there are unanswered questions. On a positive note there is a sequel to Containment available so I’m hoping that this becomes a series. Containment is a beautifully written story that shows that there are a lot of original story ideas out there.

 

An interview with Mike Robinson

Our featured author for episode 117 of the Horror Addicts podcast is Mike Robinson. Mike has five books available and a blog where he talks about cryptozoology. Recently Mike answered some questions for us about his writing:

When did you start writing?

17839307My hand has been fused to The Quill (my generic name for any writing instrument, be it a pencil, pen or keyboard) since I was about 7 years old. I don’t remember any particular moment when I decided to write — I simply wanted to spin the kind of stories I was reading, or that were being read to me. It was my brain’s way of going to the bathroom. As my first Big Ambition was to be a baseball player, I naturally started writing about sports. Gradually, with the help of authors like Bruce Coville, Mark Twain, R.L. Stine, Gary Paulsen, Stephen King, Michael Crichton, etc., I started transitioning into the realm of the horrific and the fantastic. To this day, I remain lost in that delicious labyrinth.

What do you like to write about?

The horrific and fantastic. (*wink*) Like a lot of my shadow-dwelling peers, I’ve always been fascinated with humankind’s ongoing relationship to, and reconciliation with, the Unknown. The human reaction to a monster, or a strange phenomenon, interests me more than the monster or phenomenon itself (though of course I have Fortean love for those, too). So I often infuse my classifiably “speculative fiction” tales with more “literary fiction” hallmarks such psychological analysis, metaphysical exploration and introspection. Spaceships, vampires and elves are not really my thing. Contemporary people confronting something whose very21795163 existence their minds, and our world, has barely even begun to conceptualize — now, that’s my thing.

What interests you about cryptozoology?

More or less the same thing that interests me about speculative fiction (the umbrella term for all things science fiction, fantasy and horror): the search for and celebration of the Unknown. Whatever its spotty reputation, at its heart cryptozoology recognizes that we still live in a wide, weird cosmos. Globalization may be shrinking the human world, but I’m confident the greater world’s many nooks and crannies still await with untold wonders. I also appreciate cryptozoology’s inherent rejection that the natural sciences have virtually checked off everything “big”, an assertion that has always given off an unpleasant whiff of Ahab-ian arrogance.

What are some of the books you have out?

My first was Skunk Ape Semester, which I call “On the Road” meets “The X-Files”, and which touches on real-life phenomena such as Bigfoot (or, the titular Skunk Ape), Sedona vortices and UFOs, the Dover Demon, the lake monster Champ, etc.
17364665Next came The Green-Eyed Monster, a supernatural murder mystery with a strong philosophical bent, and which shares space with my surreal thriller Negative Space in a non-linear trilogy called The Enigma of Twilight Falls, the final of which,Waking Gods, will be released in January 2016 (I call it a ‘non-linear trilogy’ because the books can theoretically be read in any order).
There’s also The Prince of Earth, a metaphysical horror novel set alternately 20 years ago in the Scottish Highlands and in modern-day Los Angeles, and which I call a cross between H.P. Lovecraft and the films of David Lynch. Last but not least is the sampler platter Too Much Dark Matter, Too Little Gray: A Collection of Weird Fiction, which is a pool of horror, metaphysics, sci-fi, and “other.”
What will you be reading for episode 117 of the podcast?
My short story “High Stakes” from the aforementioned collection, Too Much Dark Matter, Too Little Gray. It’s a Twilight Zone-y meditation on fate and theology, tinged with dark humor and horror.
Where can you we find you online?

Remembering Tanith Lee

Lee-Tanith-221x300In a 1998 interview with Locus magazine Tanith Lee said that everyone is a book and we all have a story to tell and everyone is important. Tanith Lee looked at herself as a storyteller and she did a great job entertaining people with her stories. On May 24th 2015 Tanith Lee passed away at the age of 67 after a long illness. Her fans will remember her for her 90 books and 300 short stories that she wrote throughout her life.

I admit to not being to familiar with Tanith’s work but as I was reading the articles that described her career, I began to admire this woman. She was born in 1947, her parents were professional dancers and she had a love of Weird Fiction and Science Fiction stories. This was despite the fact that she couldn’t read until she was eight years old due to undiagnosed dyslexia. This didn’t stop her from being an avid reader and publishing her first story at the age of 21.

From there she went on to publish several stories in the Horror, Science Fiction and Children’s Literature genres. She also won several awards including The Horror Writers Association Lifetime Achievement Award and The World Fantasy Convention Lifetime Achievement award. More important than winning awards, she produced a body of work that entertained legions of fans and she got children to read and write by producing work for a young audience that didn’t talk down to them. Tanith Lee had a passion for writing and storytelling and she left behind several literary masterpieces that people will enjoy for years to come.

I wanted to close out this article with a beautiful poem that was put up at http://www.tanith-lee.com/. If you wan’t to find out more about her work and life check out: http://www.daughterofthenight.com/

19-9-1947 – 24-5-2015

Though we come and go, and pass into the shadows, where we leave
behind us stories told – on paper, on the wings of butterflies, on the
wind, on the hearts of others – there we are remembered, there we work
magic and great change – passing on the fire like a torch – forever
and forever. Till the sky falls, and all things are flawless and need
no words at all.

Tanith Lee

tanith-lee-6

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Review: Plague Master: Sanctuary Dome

25256749

Some teenage boys dream of getting a car or having a nice girlfriend. When you’re a teenager who lives in a run down neighborhood on a planet that is being over run by zombies, you dream of helping your planet’s army kill them all. Trevor wanted to do all he could to help his planet and jumped at the chance to be zombie bait. The soldiers send him into buildings to draw the zombies out and he gets to feel like he is helping society.

Life changes quickly for Trevor as he saves his dream girl but finds out she is infected. Trevor then escapes his planet and ends up in the Sanctuary Dome where the people infected with the zombie virus stay until they are changed. On another planet not far away, a teenage girl named Samantha is trying to find her missing brother and believes that the person responsible is a man named Julius. Julius is a rich man and his money built the Sanctuary Dome, can he be responsible for murder? Secrets are being kept under the dome and soon the zombies will be free to infect the universe.

Plague Master Sanctuary Dome is a book that horror fans and Science Fiction fans will enjoy. Science fiction fans will love the futuristic mythology and the political system that reminded me of The Hunger Games. I love the concept of a dome on another planet where diseased people are kept and the technology they have to see if someone is infected. I also liked how different the zombies are, they can be fast-moving or slow-moving based on how they were infected.

My favorite part of this book was Trevor’s story. Trevor is your average teenager thrown into a harsh situation. He simply wants to protect his family and everyone else on his planet but he finds out that everyone has an agenda and nothing is as it seems. He is used as zombie bait by an army that doesn’t care about him because he is from a poor area of the planet. While he sees himself as helping people against the zombies, his father is against what he is doing and is the only one who is looking out for him. The relationship between father and son is easy to relate to, Trevor’s father just wants to protect his son but Trevor is naive and thinks he knows whats best for himself.

There may be a lot of zombie books out there but Plague Master: Sanctuary Dome is a fresh spin on the genre. What I liked best about it was the characters who are mostly young people who were forced to grow up to fast. Not only do they have to deal with zombies they also have to deal with a corrupt political system that doesn’t have everyone’s best interests at heart. This book has something for everyone.  Younger readers will like the action and the characters while older readers will like the setting that H.E. Roulo created. This is the first book in a trilogy and it will be exciting to see where the story will go next.

Book Review: Jagannath by Kerry Alan Denney

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Jagannath by Kerry Alan Denney is about an evil unstoppable monster that is destroying civilization and bringing on the apocalypse, one city at a time. The name describes a Hindu god and means lord and master of the universe. Jaggernath is also the origin for the word Juggernaut and this creature is unstoppable, it absorbs humans and assimilates their intelligence growing stronger as it moves along.

Once it is done with the human race it will move on to the next planet and start all over again. There is hope though, a small band of soldiers is fighting back and one little girl named Lilly seems to be immune to the creature’s powers. Things may look bleak for the human race but as long as there is a few survivors there is hope.

My favorite character in this book is Lily. She is a fascinating character, this is a 13-year-old trying to make it on her own in the apocalypse. The Jagannath has wiped out over half of earth’s population including her family, she has raised herself and has learned about life through reading books. Lily constantly compares herself to the heroes that she reads about and sees herself as a coward, but its obvious that she is no coward.

One of my favorite parts of the book is when Lily is being held captive by a group of five abusive survivors. Lily gets tired of how they abuse their dog, her and each other. She even goes as far as saying she would prefer being with the monster over their company. As the situation escalates and Lily gets tired  of the abuse, she thinks to herself: “Fraidy-cats could only be pushed so far before they hissed and bared their claws.” At this point I found myself wanting to yell out loud: “Go get ’em, Lily.” I loved the idea that despite seeing herself as a fraidy cat, she is the toughest character in the book.

The people in Jagannath go through hell and back, but never give up. Another part of this book I enjoyed was when a soldier and a scientist speak with the monster and find out what the creature thinks of itself and uses the knowledge against it. This book got off to a slow start, I found myself wondering how the creature could be everywhere at once and I also liked the character of Lily so much that I didn’t like when the focus switched to other characters. The other characters did grow on me though and all my answers about the monster did get answered. I liked the fact that by the end I was feeling some sympathy for the creature as it gets revealed what it is and where it came from. I’m hoping  Kerry does a sequel to this story because I’m curious to see what comes next.

By the time I got to the middle of the book I was thinking this was an amazing read. It mixes mythology, philosophy, horror, science fiction and lots of action. There is also a theme of redemption with one of the characters that I liked.  You could teach a class from the deeper meanings that come through in this book. Jagannath is a book that works on several different levels and is a must read for Horror and Science Fiction fans.

Press Release: Volwys And Other Stories

product_thumbnailThe Dog Horn has released “Volwys & Other Stories” by some bloke called Douglas Thompson (!), supposedly “a darling of the indy presses” and “an undeniable master of his craft” (Chris Kelso, SF Signal). This book is Thompson’s eighth to hit the shelves and his second release from Dog Horn. Here’s the synopsis:

Two centuries from now, humans’ unchecked environmental pollution will have provoked a new ice age. Amid the ruins of the city of Volwys, a bio-dome is under construction to protect a privileged elite, while the peasants outside live in mediaeval squalor, facing gradual extinction as the planet cools. Only one man alive remembers our world, having been kept alive by genetic manipulation by the mysterious ‘cherubs’. The cherubs are frequent visitors at the court of the ruler: The Wolf King, who is guarded by bird-headed soldiers. Rrio is plagued by nightmares and visions as he attempts to uphold his odious regime by interrogation and torture. As his consciousness disintegrates, he comes to realise that the rebel leader each of his victims speaks of holds a fascination that may unlock the enigma of his own soul. This edition also includes nine acclaimed science fiction short stories published over the last ten years in magazines and anthologies.

Douglas Thompson’s short stories have appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies, most recently Ambit, Postscripts, and New Writing Scotland. He won the Grolsch/Herald Question of Style Award in 1989 and second prize in the Neil Gunn Writing Competition in 2007, and has been a director of the Scottish Writers Centre since 2011. His first book, ‘Ultrameta’, was published by Eibonvale Press in August 2009, nominated for the Edge Hill Prize, and shortlisted for the BFS Best Newcomer Award. His critically acclaimed second novel, ‘Sylvow’, was published in autumn 2010, also from Eibonvale. A third novel ‘Apoidea’ was released from The Exaggerated Press in 2011, a fourth ‘Mechagnosis’ from Dog Horn and a fifth ‘Entanglement’ from Elsewhen Press in Autumn 2012. In 2014 ‘The Rhymer’, ‘The Brahan Seer’ and ‘Volwys & Other Stories’ were published by Elsewhen Press, Acair Books, and Dog Horn respectively.

http://douglasthompson.wordpress.com/

Press Release: The Frozen Sky 1 and 2

Jeff Carlson recently revealed that his books The Frozen Sky and Teh Frozen Sky 2: Betrayed have been re-released with new covers by Jasper Schreurs. Also Frozen Sky 2 is now available as an audio book: http://www.audible.com/pd/Sci-Fi-Fantasy/Frozen-Sky-2-Betrayed-Audiobook/B00NJ1K3U4/. Jeff is currently hard at work on Frozen Sky 3. To find out more about him go to: http://www.jverse.com/

frozen-sky-paperback

I’m hooked.” —Larry Niven

A first-rate adventure.” —Allen Steele

BENEATH THE ICE

Something is alive inside Jupiter’s ice moon Europa.
Robot probes find an ancient tunnel beneath the surface,
its walls carved with strange hieroglyphics. Led by
elite engineer Alexis Vonderach, a team of scientists
descends into the dark… where they confront a
savage race older than mankind…

FIRST CONTACT

Based on the award-winning short story,
The Frozen Sky is a new full-length sci fi thriller novel.

frozen-sky-2-paperback1

 

Pulse pounding.” —Publishers Weekly
Highly recommended.” —Seanan McGuire

SUNFISH VS HUMAN

A quake in the ice nearly kills Alexis Vonderach, setting off new confrontations with the blind alien tribes of Europa. In the weeks since First Contact, her crew has learned their bizarre language… but the sunfish are as violent as their world…

Betrayed is a 200 page sequel to The Frozen Sky by the international bestselling author of Plague Year.

Plague: Aftermath

smallcoverplagueaftermathBefore you read our review of Jeremiah Donaldson’s Plague: Aftermath I want to mention that we have two paperback copies of this book to give away. Be one of the first two people to email us at horroraddicts@gmail.com and we will mail you a copy.

Plague: Aftermath is a horror anthology edited by Jeremiah Donaldson that looks at society after an airborne Ebola virus  ravishes mankind. This collection can also be considered a sequel to Jeremiah’s first novel called Plague. While his first book looked at how the virus started and spread,  Aftermath looks at what happens next. There are six stories in this book by five different authors that show you how desperate people can get when death is everywhere and just breathing can lead to a painful death

The first story in Plague: Aftermath is Anie and Dozer by S.S.  White, this one follows a man named Anie who is heading up into the mountains with his dog Dozer to escape the plague that is running wild through America. He is waiting on a friend he met online at a campground before he goes, but slowly he begins to realize that his friend might not make it. This story is more about psychological horror and is different from the other stories in this book. Though Anie doesn’t see himself as a social creature you still hear first hand how he worries about the people he sees on the way to the mountain and worries about having food for his dog along with the arrival of his friend. Anie and Dozer looks at how loosing everyone around you might affect you, even in the worst of circumstances people need people and this story looks at the horror of being alone.

The next story is called The Tomb by Matthew Wilson. This story follows a girl named Sam who is trapped in a house with her father who is infected by Ebola. The townspeople are outside planning on burning down the house with Sam in it, Sam doesn’t believe she is infected but she may not be able to escape the angry mob outside. The Tomb had some great suspense and shows how people can turn on people in a time of crisis.

The third one is Our Time To Go by Lindsey Shir-McDermott-Pour and looks at a doctor and nurse who leave the hospital they are working at and go on the run. The two have lost hope that a cure can be found and feel that it should be everyone for themselves. The main idea in the story is of loosing hope and what happens after you abandon everything. A good point is made here on keeping hope and being there for the ones you love.

The 4th story is Dear Miss Christie  by S.S. White and is a letter written by a girl named Sara who is looking at her bleak situation but still hoping that things will get better. This one reminded me of some of the letters that you hear about from people who have lived through a disaster. You can feel this woman’s fear in her letter and also see how she is a caring person as she describes the woman she is writing to.

Next up is Going To School by Ginny Bowman about a boy named Toby whose mother is trying desperately to make everything seem normal when nothing is normal anymore.  All Of A Heap by Jenner Michaud is next and deals with the same theme . Both stories look at a character who has lost someone and how they have to carry on even though they feel their world has ended. These were both heart wrenching stories that explore how we deal with loss and change.

The last story takes a 90 degree turn from the others, it’s an action packed tale called John’s Story by the editor of Plague Aftermath, Jeremiah Donaldson. This one looks at a soldier who has the task of taking down a religious cult, I liked the idea here and think it could make a great novel. All the stories here are well written and take a scary look at the human condition when things are at their worse and don’t have much to live for. This is a timely and chilling anthology due to the outbreaks of Ebola that have been talked about in the news lately and its is an anthology that you won’t want to miss.

To find out more on Plague Aftermath check out Jeremiah Donaldson’s website:

www.ephiroll.com/storiesandbooks.html

 

Frozen Sky 2: Betrayed by Jeff Carlson

22035237When we last saw Alexis Vonderach in Frozen Sky it was the year 2113 and she had just made first contact with an alien race. The creatures that inhabit Jupiter’s moon Europa are referred to as sunfish by Earthlings and they live beneath the frozen surface. Earth had been taking resources from Europa for months before they realized that beneath the ice were hieroglyphics and tunnels. Vonderach and some other explorers met Europa’s locals and they were not friendly.

Flash forward three months and the sunfish and Earthlings have an uneasy truce. This is where we are in the opening of Jeff Carlson’s Frozen Sky 2: Betrayed. Tribe Top Clan Eight-Six has sent one representative who the humans call Tom to an underground module so they can learn more about Europa’s new visitors. Earth has sent Vonderach, together the two learn each other’s language but when the ground starts to quake due to Earth’s machines,  the peace between humans and sunfish may be shattered.

Earth’s leaders start to debate what should happen next as more sunfish arrive with reinforcements. At this part of the book you see that every human in Frozen Sky 2 has their own agenda and only Vonderach is thinking of someone other than herself. War is about to begin between an ancient race who lives for violence and the greedy governments of Earth who only care about Europa’s raw materials.

Frozen Sky 2: Betrayed has a little bit of everything. At one point this book is an action adventure with the battle between sunfish and humans. it’s also a horror novel with Vonderach trapped in an underground room with a hostile alien and the betrayal that goes on later in the book. Later the book becomes a suspense novel with an insane robot that doesn’t know which species that it wants to destroy. It even workes as a political thriller with all the governments of the world and the scientists having their own agenda and manipulating each other to get what they need. Even the sunfish have tribes and agendas and battle each other to have the best living conditions. I really enjoyed hearing about how they lived.

I took Europa as a metaphor for early life on earth with sunfish representing caveman who battle for limited resources. That being said, you also see the supposedly advanced humans who still battle each other like the primitive sunfish. I loved how in the beginning of this book Jeff Carlson includes a timeline giving all the advancements of Earth throughout time and in this story you also see how sunfish civilization have risen and fallen over the centuries and you began to understand that they really aren’t that different.

Frozen Sky 2: Betrayed is an excellent novel on many levels. My favorite parts were the interactions between Vonderach and Tom as they try to work out deals and learn about each other. I also loved Vonderach trying to reason with the crazy robot that has the memories of the scientist she once worked with. Despite the great action and political intrigue in this novel it was the personal relationships between the different characters that I enjoyed.

Frozen Sky 2: Betrayed is the work of a master storyteller and a great example of what good Science Fiction should be.

 

 

 

Cecil and Bubba Meet The Thang

cecilbubbathangcoverThere is a thin line between comedy and horror. In my opinion, horror should have a little comedy in it to lighten the mood once in a while, but sometimes it is hard for a book to be funny and scary at the same time. One book that manages to scare and make you laugh is Cecil And Bubba Meet The Thang by Terry M. West. Cecil and Bubba’s problems began when they ran over a drunken gypsy’s dog. The gypsy got her revenge by cursing the two men, saying that they would be plagued by strange and evil beings until the day they die. Their first run in with the supernatural was with a succubus named Hattie Mae, but in this story things get worse. It’s Halloween night and Cecil is working late in his father’s garage while Bubba is working as a bouncer at the strip club. Bubba gets the shock of his life when he finds out that Hattie Mae is now working as a stripper in the  strip club and she wants to help Cecil and Bubba lift their curse. Back at the garage Cecil has a couple of customers come in with a broken down truck, they leave the truck to be fixed and warn Cecil to not look in the back. Not being one to follow directions, Cecil looks in the back and an alien escapes to terrorize the town.  The only ones that can save the day now are Cecil, Bubba and Hattie Mae. For a short novella, there is a lot going on in this book. The characters are deep and the story has it all, including drama, comedy, science fiction and horror. The story draws you in from the beginning, making you feel a lot of sympathy for the main characters. Cecil has a heart to heart with his dad that doesn’t go well and we see Bubba at the strip club feeling lonely and not noticing that there is one woman who really likes him. We also get a glimpse of Hattie Mae and see her as a changed woman who is trying to start a new life and redeem herself. After Terry M. West gets us emotionally invested in the characters he manages to give us a great science fiction tale with a creature who could have easily came out of a 1950’s monster movie. The creature has long tentacles and wants to destroy earth and Terry does a great job of describing him. Some of the dialogue between the FBI agents and Cecil and Bubba was also great. There were some good funny moments such as the Plan 9 From Outer Space reference and some of the lines like “Maybe he will phone home.” This book has a lot of heart along with some laughs and good scares.

20330734Keeping with the Halloween theme, I also recently read One Hellacious Halloween from Horror Novel Reviews. This is a book of flash fiction with 30 stories in it all having to do with Halloween. This book has humor, horror and lots of quick quirky stories that would be fun to tell around a campfire. This anthology includes a story from Horroraddicts.net’s own Emerian Rich called “Soul Taker 2.0”. It’s about a game programmer named Tory who is designing an add on pack to an online game called Soul Taker. To play the game you have to sign over your digital soul and all your supernatural fantasies come true, but there is a price to pay. I felt like Emerian really put some research into this story which made it seem more real and I loved the ending. Terry  M. West also has a story in this anthology called “The Hairy Ones,” which is about religion and marriage and what kind of horrors people are willing to put up with for the sake of both. This was a story that managed to be disturbing using the power of suggestion rather than being violent. I felt that this was one of the better stories in the book. This book was a fun read and will do a good job getting you in the mood for Halloween. There were a lot of good ideas and stories in this book such as “Werewolf Dentists From Hell” and “The Halloween House”. The stories were so quick that you didn’t have a chance to get bored and it will introduce you to several new writers. Which leads me to the one thing I didn’t like about the anthology. There were no author bios, so if you like an author from this collection you will have to look them up to learn more about them. I think it would be fun to read a story from One Hellacious Halloween everyday in October to get you in the mood for Halloween, but these stories are entertaining all year-long.

The Fool’s Illusion

Fool's Illusion BookCover FrontThere are a lot of illusions in our lives. Books, movies television and advertisements all ask us to believe in something that is not necessarily true. Sometimes they say the illusion is real. While other times media is just asking us to suspend our disbelief. If we believe in an illusion we are a fool.  For example we might think people who believed in ancient mythology are fools. Some people who don’t believe in bigfoot might call people who believe in him, fools. There are also times that we create our own illusions like when we dream and wake up thinking the dream was real.

Another  example of a fool believing an illusion is when you see a magician sawing a women in half. It might look like the woman is really being cut in two, but its a magician’s trick. One person may know its an illusion but another may believe it. Illusions are all around us, even what we think is reality may really be an illusion.

Figuring out the difference between illusion and reality can make for great storytelling. This is the main theme in The Fool’s Illusion by Steven Rose Jr. This anthology begins with a great non fiction piece on what illusions are, which was well written and really set the mood for the following stories. I really liked Steven’s observations on how sometimes we think something will make us happy and in reality they don’t and how we deceive ourselves with drugs or television to escape everyday life. In the intro Steven points out that everything is an illusion and its up to us how we interpret it.

I thought all the stories in this collection were good but there were five that really stood out. The first one was The Inheritance. This was a horror story about a man who inherits the family estate and  has to deal with the curse that comes with it. He is warned to ignore the sounds coming from the cellar but curiosity gets the best of him and he finds the reason why college students around town are dropping like flies. This story mixes humor and horror with a great protagonist.

Another story I liked was Coming Out. Puberty is a rough period in your life and its even worse when you have a second one and become a different thing all together. I really enjoyed the relationship between the young boy and girl in this one and watching him figure out what he truly was. I would love to see this one expanded into a novel.

I also enjoyed Digital Love At First Sight which is about how one person manages to fall in love with someone who is a billboard model and not a real person. There is  a good theme here about how you can’t have love without pain. My favorite in this anthology was the futuristic Planet Of The Dead which is about a murder mystery on a cemetery planet. I’ve never read a story that combines Science Fiction and gothic horror but this one manages to do it.

Another one not to be overlooked is The Bazaar which takes a humorous look at mass consumerism.The Fool’s Illusion has a little something for everyone.  I enjoyed the concept behind this anthology and look forward to seeing more fiction and non-fiction by Steven Rose Jr.

The Dead Have Ruled The Earth For 200 Years

15944997It’s over for the planet earth. The zombie apocalypse has happened. The human race is destroyed with the exception of a few people living in spaceships and inhabiting colonies on Mars and the Moon. The humans have movies and music to remember what life was like on Earth, but they left the most important thing behind and now three people are returning to Earth to get it.

It won’t be easy, there are zombies everywhere and these aren’t like the zombies you see on TV, they’re much more vicious. Also, if you bash a zombie it will die then reform and come back more terrifying than before. If a group of zombies are huddled together, they will form into a different creature all together. So in addition to zombies, there are other giant monsters roaming the planet wanting to devour living flesh.

The Dead Have Ruled The Earth For 200 Years by Noah Mullette-Gillman is not your average zombie story. I loved how the zombies formed into giant unstoppable monsters. This book is full of non-stop action and the reason behind the zombie epidemic was believable. Even with all the action, it still managed to have a decent story to it. Society is gone, but the humans left still long for things they left on earth and need them for the new society to last in space.

There are only four characters in the book and what makes the story interesting was how similar each character is, but different at the same time. If you read it, you’ll understand. The character  I was able to relate to most was Dix . He is shown as not being as smart as the others, he feels inferior to everyone else, and has a short attention span. He is left to guard a passageway where the others are searching for the thing they came for. He watches a movie instead of standing guard and things go down hill quickly. Despite Dix being shown as an idiot,  I found myself rooting for him and hoping he would redeem himself and become the hero.

My favorite part of The Dead Have Ruled The Earth For 200 Years was when one of the  characters named Anya asks Dix to pretend he is someone else so she doesn’t feel alone. I could relate to Dix feeling down about not being appreciated by someone he cares for and I loved what eventually happens to him in the story. Another thing I liked was the description of  what Earth looks like 200 years after humanity is destroyed.

The only question I had about Noah K. Mullette Gillman’s book was, what did the zombies eat? It’s stated that they only eat living flesh but there are no humans left on the planet so I wondered if the zombies just ate animals because they didn’t eat each other. There was a lot to like here, though. I liked the protective suits that the humans had and I have never read a zombie sex scene before. The revelation that the characters made at the end also made this a great read. If your tired of zombie fiction then give The Dead Have Ruled The Earth For 200 Years a shot. This book was an original take on the zombie genre.

Limbus Inc.

17162718Are you down on your luck? Are you unemployed? Well the Limbus corporation is here to help. They already have a job that would be perfect for you, all you have to do is call. Of course the job may be to kill things to feed an alien princess or to help an alien creature who enslaves humans find a portal to his home world. Or maybe the job will be to stop a sacrifice that will keep evil from taking over the world.

They may not be glamorous jobs, but at least you will be employed. Then again maybe it would be better to be unemployed. This is the concept behind Journalstone publishing’s anthology called Limbus Inc. Limbus is a shadowy employment agency that finds the perfect job for someone with their back against the wall. That person finds a business card from Limbus and ends up getting the job that is perfect for them in every way. Things are never that easy though and the job seeker is left to face their worst fears.

This book contains five stories and a story within a story from the likes of Brett. J. Talley, Anne C. Petty, Joseph Nassise, Jonathan Maberry and Benjamin Kane Ethridge. If I was going to compare this book to a TV show its kind of like the Outer Limits. Each story is a kind of mix of science  fiction and horror.

The first story is The Slaughter Man by Benjamin Kane Ethridge. It’s about a man who has just lost his job in a slaughter-house and also found out his wife was divorcing him. He’s not sure what he wants and he feels a sense of hopelessness. All that changes when a mysterious woman in a business suit shows up talking about a new job that is perfect for him. I felt the author made a great point about not giving up in a horrible situation and I liked how the main character changed throughout the story.

The second story is The Sacrifice by Brett J. Talley. This one looks at a man who has seen some horrors in Afghanistan and Iraq. Coming home from war he is trying to find some direction in life and is given a job to find a kidnapped girl. The job isn’t as simple as it seems and is not what he thought it was going to be. This was a great horror story with a surprise twist.

The next story is called One Job to Many by Joseph Nassise. This tale takes place in the future and is about a recruiter for Limbus who takes on more than he can handle when he hires a man to travel to different time periods to change the past in his favor. This one was a great time travel story with some interesting characters. It answers the question what would you do if you could change the past.

We Employ by Anne C. Petty looks  at a man who couldn’t be more down on his luck and what he is willing to do to fix it. I thought this story really made a good point about how things are not always what they seem and how your luck can turn around at a moments notice. I also liked the idea of what kind of beings are among us without us knowing.

I liked all the stories in this book but my favorite was Strip Search by Jonathan Maberry. This horror tale follows a down on his luck private detective with a secret, who is hired to find the killer of sixteen women. I liked how the main character changes, I also loved the blood soaked ending and the mythology behind this story.

Limbus Inc. is a great anthology which really gets into what some people fear most. Which is the idea of what your willing to do to support yourself. It then shows you that there are even worse things to be afraid of. Limbus Inc. is a great book for Science fiction and horror fans alike.

The Frozen Sky

Not often do you come across a novel that blends action, horror, science fiction, philosophy and politics but Jeff Carlson’s  The Frozen Sky does it masterfully.  The Frozen Sky was originally released as a novella but has now been expanded into a full novel which adds  more characters, more action and  more depth to the original story. Set in the distant future the governments of earth have sent several space probes to explore the galaxy and they have found that Europa may have simple life forms and other materials that can be used back home.

A group of archaeologists led by Alexis Vonderach are exploring Jupiter’s moon and the governments of the world are waiting to see what they will uncover.  The crew finds more than they bargained for when they find  hieroglyphs and other proof of life.  Europa is indeed inhabited and the natives don’t like visitors.

The story begins with Alexis running for her life through frozen ravines and canyons of rock while being chased by creatures that resemble  starfish. To make matters worse, her spacesuit has an artificial intelligence program that is malfunctioning and it has its own plans for handling the situation. Alexis is left with the decision to destroy the creatures that are pursuing her or communicate with them and hope they understand her. Help is on the way as other Earth ships arrive on Europa, but what are their plans for Europa’s inhabitants?  Are the starfish type creatures more advanced then they seem and do they want to destroy us for invading their home?

There is a lot going on  in The Frozen Sky and the story works on a lot of different levels. Science Fiction fans get a great description of life on Europa including how the creatures survive, how they communicate and how they changed through the years and you learn how humans advanced through the centuries. It works as an action novel as you hear about the battle between Earth and Europa. It works as a horror novel as the creatures have Alexis on the run with nowhere to go and the story gets philosophical as the humans debate whether they are doing the right thing on Europa. The Frozen Sky  also works as a political thriller as it gets into how the governments make deals with each other for what they want out of Europa and how the humans on Europa try to talk them out of it.

You could tell Jeff Carlson did his homework on the recent findings about Europa and did a lot of research on what Europa is like. I loved how this alien world was described. I also liked how the aliens were presented in the story. At first you see them as monsters but you start to learn about the conditions that they live in and how it shaped what they are, you also discover that they are much more than they seem.

Another thing I like is how the mecha works to explore Europa and how the AI works to its own advantage. My favorite part was learning how Europa’s inhabitants evolved and seeing  how they go from monsters to sympathetic creatures. You also see how the humans can become monsters and even in the future they’re dealing with a lot of the same issues that we deal with now. The Frozen Sky has something for everyone and is a great read no matter what genre of book that you like.

Free Fiction Friday: Dead Girls

This weeks Free Fiction Friday selection is a book that mixes Science Fiction with Horror called Dead Girls by Richard Calder. This book was originally published in 1992 and takes place in the year 2072. In the future Europe is having a recession. They have been taking in all of the refugees from the defunct Soviet Empire and the spreading of a plague has effected all of their exports. In order to compete in the global economy with the United States and Japan they have used nanotechnology to create life size realistic female dolls that are programmed to be the perfect companion for men.

Technology never seems to work like you want it to though and the dolls have evolved and are rebeling against society. With their vampiric saliva they are causing males to impregnate women who then give birth to human/robot hybrids that want to overthrow humanity.

This book is the first of a trilogy, the second book is called Dead Boys and the third is Dead Things. The way I heard this book described makes it sound like a war of the sexes and a metaphor for the sex trade and how it effects personal sexual relationships. If you want to find out more about the author go to http://www.sf2h.com/richardcalder/index.php. If you would like a copy of this book leave a comment on this post. The first comment gets the book.

A Jeff Carlson Double Header

A vampire dog, a human spaceship hybrid and a half fish, half human. These are some of the things that you will read about in Jeff Carlson’s short story collection called Long Eyes. This anthology according to the author is the book no one wanted him to publish except his fans. Long Eyes includes all of Jeff Carlson’s short stories from when he first started writing to the present day.

Included in this collection are three stories that fans of the horror addicts podcast will be very familiar with. One is the story Monsters which was heard in episode 20 and won Jeff Carlson the best in blood listener’s choice award for season 1. Also included is Caninus which was heard in episode  27. Another story in this collection is Pattern Masters which was one of my favorite stories and was featured in horror addicts episode 51.

I have to admit even though I enjoyed all of Jeff Carlson’s stories on Horror Addicts I was a little apprehensive of reading Long Eyes. I do like science fiction but I find a lot of it goes over my head and I thought that might be the case with the stories in this anthology. Not only was every story excellent but none of them left me feeling confused as to what was going on. Long Eyes is very well written and shows how a great science fiction anthology should be.

One theme I found that seems to run through all of the stories here is loneliness. There is usually one character in each story that doesn’t fit in with what is considered normal. A good example of that is in the title story Long Eyes. Which tells the tale of a woman named Clara who is physically connected to a space ship. Clara has been traveling through space for 600 years before landing on a planet and being attacked by humanoid creatures.  Clara sees the potential in these humanoids and has to decide whether to help the creatures become more then they are or put in a distress call in to help her leave the planet.

This story was the first selection and really set the mood for the whole book, I loved the idea in this story about a lonely being  comes across a race of people that are worse off then she is, and deciding if she should help those around her or do what is best for herself. Another story that has a similar theme is Planet of the Sealies. This one follows a woman named Joanna searching a planet in the distant future in search of dna to find out how past civilizations lived. This story was another one of my favorites and once again has a character that doesn’t fit in with anyone else.  I also loved finding out what a sealie is.

Long Eyes has something that will appeal to horror and science fiction fans alike. There is also a little mystery, fantasy and comedy thrown in as well. In addition to the stories I also liked the commentary that Jeff Carlson gives at the end of each story, it was kind of like getting a director’s commentary for each story. My only problem with the anthology was that I thought almost every story in this anthology would make a great novel and I wanted more. I guess that is the point of a good anthology though, to make your fans want more.

If your looking for more from Jeff Carlson then another title to check out is The Frozen Sky. This novella  is about the first manned mission to Europa. A group of archaeologists are exploring Jupiter’s moon and the governments of the world are waiting to see what materials from Europa can be used back on Earth.  The crew finds more then they bargained for when they find some hieroglyphs and other signs of life.  Europa is indeed inhabited and the natives don’t like visitors.

The story is mostly told from one of the crew member’s point of view; a 36 year old woman named Alexis who the rest of the characters see as being childish. Alexis has to run for her life through frozen ravines and canyons of rock while being chased by creatures that resemble  starfish. To make matters worse her spacesuit has a mind of its own and has its own plan for handling the situation.

There is a lot going on in a short period of time in The Frozen Sky. A lot of the story is told through flashback as the crew fights for their lives, the back story unfolds and you learn why the mission is taking place, what is at stake and what the crew hopes to get out of the trip. I liked how Jeff Carlson started the story in the middle of the action and then back tracked to tell how we got to where we are. I think if the story was told from the beginning it wouldn’t have worked as well.

You could tell Jeff Carlson did his homework and did a lot of research on what Europa was like. I loved how this alien world was described. I also enjoyed watching Alexis wrestle with the question of how she will escape the creatures or is it possible to communicate with them without causing them harm. Another good thing was how the aliens were presented in the story, at first you see them as monsters but you start to learn about the conditions that they live in and how that shaped what they are. Europa is a harsh environment to live in and there is another surprise in the story that makes the moon’s inhabitants lives even harder.

This novella will probably best be enjoyed by hard core science fiction readers. It has a  good mix of science and politics set in the 22nd century and quite a bit of action as well.  The Frozen Sky was a really fun read that can be enjoyed on many levels and it really gets you thinking on what may be living on Europa.

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

Photo Credit: Alan Light/Wikimedia Commons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Steven Rose, Jr.

 

(Original post can be found here: http://faroutfantastic.blogspot.com/2012/06/rip-ray-bradbury-very-sad-loss-to.html?spref=fb )