Odds and Dead Ends: Why we only remember the opening of ‘When A Stranger Calls’

The question posed by this article’s title, by default, raises many questions. The film, When A Stranger Calls has passed into horror legend, had a sequel and then been remade in the classic 21st century tradition, and seems to be put in with the canon of horror greats, like so many others. And yet what people remember it for occurs in the opening act, and the rest of the film bares such a lack of resemblance to the actual phone calls that one would be mistaken for thinking that there had been a mix-up in the editing room. So why is it, that when we think of When A Stranger Calls, all we think about is the babysitter being asked if she’s checked the children?

The first point I’d raise is the obvious one; the title of the film. It’s like hearing a Harry Potter title and not thinking of Harry Potter. This immediate drawing of our attention to the singular opening means that our entire connection to the film is dominated by this link of the title to the opening scene. We associate the whole film with the title, and the title with the opening act, so we’re essentially being taught to summarise the film by its relation to the first twenty minutes.

We also have the obvious call-back to Black Christmas (dir Bob Clarke, 1974), with the phone call coming from inside the house. The film wasn’t as well known then, but the influence is undeniable. Additionally, there is the fact that it’s obviously based off the fairly standard urban legend; the legend had already been worked into the Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark books. When you also factor in that the opening is essentially a larger-budget version of a short film based off the legend that director/writer duo Fred Walton and Steve Feke made, called The Sitter, you realise that the basic premise is well known and already recognisable before the feature film. This means that the repetition of the basic storyline makes its way into our memories through an already-established pattern.

After the first twenty minutes go by, the film becomes a strange, police-procedural-cum-Giallo-cum-slasher, the kind of film you’d eventually see with films like Maniac (1980), and some of Fulci’s American films, such as The New York Ripper (1982). That the rest of the film is fairly slow and nowhere near as thrilling as its opener shows how a brilliant start doesn’t necessarily mean that the whole film can hold up. Having to find a route onwards, the filmmakers choosing to follow both the killer (as a fully reasoning and functional – to a certain extent – adult) and the police, is a bold move, but works only if the cat-and-mouse can be sustained. Even if it can (and it’s questionable as to how effective it is in the final cut), it’s so different from the opening act as to only be, from a certain point of view, tangentially linked.

This also doesn’t even mention that the first twenty minutes are, by comparison, a superbly directed piece of suspenseful filmmaking. The direction is taut, the feeling of isolation and claustrophobia wonderful, and the nihilistic ending caps it all off to create one of the most tense openers in film. That our prior knowledge (or most people’s prior knowledge) of the outcome, thanks to our knowledge of the urban legend, doesn’t change the fact that we’re looking for every shadow to move and growing more and more fearful with each frame that passes. With cinematography from an Oscar-nominated cinematographer to boot, it rightly deserves its place in the great halls of horror film canon. It’s just one of those oddities that we can turn off at the 20/21 minute mark and be perfectly happy with walking away from.

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Twitter: @kjudgemental

-Having mentioned Fulci in this article, if you want to read up some more on him, I wrote an article a few years ago as a brief introduction to his work: https://horroraddicts.wordpress.com/2018/07/25/odds-and-dead-ends-lucio-fulci-italys-godfather-of-gore/

-And if you’re interested in learning more about Giallo, the Italian violent thrillers, that Fulci made, I’ve got you covered there as well: https://horroraddicts.wordpress.com/2019/08/05/odds-and-dead-ends-an-introduction-to-the-giallo/

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Dial M for Murder

Dial M for Murder Remains Whodunit Expertise

by Kristin Battestella

Alfred Hitchcock (The Birds) directs the 1954 murder mystery Dial M for Murder featuring Ray Milland as an obsessive husband plotting to kill his adulterous wife Grace Kelly. Yes indeed, despite whimsical music, morning newspapers, and stereotypical bliss, our lady is kissing two men as daytime white robes give way to scandalous red dresses and evening cocktails. The reunited lovers catch up on blackmail, anonymous threats, and whether to tell her husband, but the British accents feel a little put on amid heaps of exposition. Fortunately, the pip-pip cheerio phone manner adds to the fronts presented, and banter about buying a car with his money or hers and who gave up one’s career for whom reveal more than what’s really being said. Dial M for Murder has a lot of laden dialogue, past tense tellings written by Frederick Knott from his stage play, and for some audiences, the meticulous talking about comings and goings we didn’t get to see may be too stiff. However, viewers also need to be informed of each recognition, supposedly coincidental encounter, and unaware pretense as the eponymous request drops so casually. Who’s pulling the wool or has one over the barrel and who’s going to blink first? Devious two-handers elaborately orchestrate the perfect crime via untraceable cash, switched keys, and fatally timed phone calls that can’t prove who really did what. The first half-hour of Dial M for Murder tells you who’s going to be killed, when, where, and why with strategic placements, police scenarios, and assumed deductions. The only person who knows different will be dead, but the victim isn’t where she’s supposed to be, leading to suspenseful slip-ups and costly mistakes. Stag party alibis, nightgowns, behind the curtain veils, roughness over the desk, risque strangulation, and penetrating scissors make for an interesting sexual, even cuckold or homoerotic symbolism. Our husband lets another man enter the home sanctity and do to his wife what he cannot – orchestrating the coughing, gasping, purple bruises, and rough aftermath as an over the phone voyeur. A brief intermission gives the audience some relief before locks, shoes, mud, handbags, and thefts leave holes in the revisionist history. What’s been touched, misplaced, planted, burned? No forced entry and suspicious stockings escalate to lawyers, nightmarish trial montages, and an ominous sentencing. However preposterous or unproven, could there another perpetrator? Jolly good men pour drinks and ponder what if, winking at writing a detective novel and putting oneself in the criminal’s shoes. “Just one more thing” deduction a la Columbo wears down the suspect with crunching numbers and attache cases suspense. Viewers must recall how the chess meets Clue really happened as each tries to outwit and reveal the truth.

 

Former tennis star now working man Ray Milland (The Premature Burial) is so doting he even sends his wife to dinner and the theater with another man when he’s working late. Unfortunately, Tony Wendice is clearly up to something, lying on the phone and faking knee injuries amid arguments about why he gave up sports and what he would do if his wife ever left him. Of course he knew about the affair – blackmailing Margot with her stolen letter in hopes the ended correspondence meant they would live happily again. His being the charming husband, however, only serves to hide his obsessive plotting on how to kill his missus. Tony is so suave about it, yet the detailed character focus reveals how crazy he really is – excited and pleased with his guaranteed calculations. He calls the police about this ghastly accident before serving them tea, planting evidence, and telling Margot to corroborate what lies he told. Tony speaks for her, too, using her shock for oh yes, but you see explanations and tidy answers. The debonair tall tales, however, only lead to more questions he cannot escape. Likewise sophisticated Grace Kelly (Rear Window) has ended her romance for her husband, contented at home even if she doesn’t like listening to radio thrillers alone and seems like a kept little girl doing what her husband tells her. Margot robotically repeats what Tony says, confused by police and breaking down at the disturbing, intimate attack. Despite being the female victim held, used, attacked, and judged by men, Margot does have one moment of impaling power that disrupts her husband’s plans. She’s both numb and overwhelmed, not recalling his face but the horrible eyes and shamefully embarrassed for the adulterous truth to come out in her official statement. After all, scandalous women with secrets are unsympathetic to a jury. Mrs. Wendice lied about her lover, so why should anyone believe her now? Robert Cummings (Saboteur) as suave American writer Mark Halliday is here to be our lady’s holiday fancy, using his literary perspective to help Margot though he can’t quite put the pieces together thanks to carefully worded hypotheticals and holes poked in his theories. Shady criminal Anthony Dawson meanwhile – who appeared in the stage production with our Chief Inspector John Williams – is the swarthy, rough, killer womanizer able to do what our husband can’t. Fortunately, our inspector knows more than he’s saying, pursuing unnerving evidence and paperwork with jolly good deduction to counter every seemingly airtight explanation. He has a slick mustache, too!

Originally Dial M for Murder was designed for then vogue 3-D showings – evident now with obvious outdoor backdrops and exaggerated foreground objects. In hindsight, it makes no sense to have such a talkative piece presented in 3-D anyway, and if I could choose, perhaps Hitchcock’s surreal Spellbound would have been a more interesting visual candidate. Bar carts in the forefront, moving silhouettes on the wall, cameras following the cast toward the screen, and filming through doorways also lend depth, but those are more about Hitchcock’s voyeuristic audience rather than three-dimensional staging. Exceptional lighting schemes, flickering firelight, and strategic lamps also spotlight areas or divide the frame for players with opposite motives. Keys and staircases play their usual Hitchcockian part amid retro rotary phones, giant receivers, vintage cars, fedoras, furs, cigars, and cigarettes. Dial M for Murder relies on a small two-room set cluttered with furniture and objects to consider in the fatal orchestration – mirroring Dial M for Murder itself as the film tells you the plan then leaves viewers to wonder who gets away with it via panning cameras, overhead angles, killer point of view, and giallo mood. Frenetic notes match the violence as well as the internal simmering from our seemingly so cool characters, and when we do have action, it’s claustrophobic, intimate, and scandalous. His and hers separate beds are moved out of the bedroom while the illicit couple is seen sitting on one bed, filmed through the headboard during conversations about which man has her key. While the DVD has a brief behind the scenes chat about the fifties 3-D craze, a twenty-minute retrospective with contemporary directors breaking down Hitchcock’s suspense whets the appetite for more. Of course, there are similar plots to a Dial M for Murder like A Perfect Murder that makes audiences these days more aware of the outcome. The slow, talky nature may bother some, yet that hoodwink, who’s bluffing dialogue helps the suspense. Thanks to contemporary in your face and special effects, there’s also a certain appreciation in how Dial M for Murder doesn’t need elaborate set pieces thanks to deceptive performances, in-camera assaults, and crime complications. In plain sight sleight of hand, nail-biting clues, charming criminals, and reverse whodunit lies remain entertaining shout at the screen excellence for mystery writers, fans of the cast, and Hitchcock enthusiasts.

For more Alfred Hitchcock Suspense, revisit more Frightening Flix including:

Alfred Hitchcock Video Starter

The Birds

Early Alfred Hitchcock

 

Alfred Hitchcock Basics – A Video Primer

Happy Birthday Alfred Hitchcock!

Good Evening, Horror Addicts!

Kristin Battestella aka Kbatz here again with a video review breakdown on some of our Alfred Hitchcock Favorites! From The Lady Vanishes, Lifeboat, Notorious, and Spellbound to Psycho, Rear Window, Vertigo, and The Birds – if you haven’t seen one or two, here’s why you should!

 

 

Don’t forget YOU can be part of the conversation on our Facebook Group or revisit some of my Horror Addicts.net Hitchcock reviews here.

 

By Horror Addicts, For Horror Addicts!

 

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: An Alfred Hitchcock Primer

 

An Alfred Hitchcock Primer

by Kristin Battestella

Fans of old school thrillers young or old can earn their suspense credentials with these early Alfred Hitchcock nail biters.

The Lady Vanishes Only one lovely train passenger has seen the titular dame, causing rail car mayhem for Margaret Lockwood (The Wicked Lady) and Michael Redgrave (Mourning Becomes Electra) in this 1938 mystery. Travel delays and assorted languages invoke the tourist hustle and bustle as our ensemble is humorously introduced – from the governess rambling about her past charges and country songs or dances to cranky Englishmen commandeering the phone just to ask the line from London for the cricket scores. All the rooms are let out in this hectic hotel save for the maid’s quarters, and she comes with the room, wink! The bellhop is trying not to look at the scandalous bare legs as our bachelorette orders caviar and champagne, but the men in bed together is gay in both senses of the word with jolly good innuendo. This quirky inn comforts the audience yet there are whispers of pretty American girls and the almighty dollar getting preferential treatment, newspaper sensationalism, and intensifying continental troubles. A hit on the head at the train station leads to a kaleidoscope of confusion, unfamiliar faces, magic tricks, and slight of hand illusion. Everyone’s interconnected – incognito affairs, musicians, a famous doctor, magicians, and foreign diplomats. Some genuinely don’t recall seeing the woman in question, but others have an ulterior motive for not wanting the train delayed, willful gaslighting compounded by lies, lawyers watching their own back, and that unreliable bump on the head. Tea in the dining car alone, suspicious wine glasses – complaints about non-English speakers, nationalism, political secrets, and conspiracies. Who’s really on who’s side? Train whistle harbingers pepper the constant hum of travel, matching the rail montages, impressive rear projection, and black and white photography. Despite the confined setting, the pace remains fittingly on the move with perilous comings and goings between cars. There are stoles and divine hats, too, but that giant monogram scarf looks more like a napkin stuck in her collar! Humorous bunging in the cargo with magician’s rabbits, trick boxes, false bottoms, and contortionists is good on its own, however, perhaps such fun should have happened earlier before the serious mystery escalates. There are some contrived leaps as well – it’s amazing how all the Englishmen can shoot to kill and do it so easily – and though not naming the enemy country is understandable thanks to political relevance then and now, the obligatory bad guys are just nondescript. Likewise, one can see why the sardonic comedy teams and shootouts were included, and Flightplan really steals from this right down to the writing on the foggy window. Fortunately, the ticking clock race to the border, wrong track turns, gunfire standoffs, and international chases roll on right up to the end. But seriously, what it is with Hitchcock and trains already?

 

 

Lifeboat – Journalist Tallulah Bankhead is stranded on the high seas with torpedoes, sunken ships, u-boats, and Nazis in this 1944 self-contained thriller nominated for Best Director, Story by John Steinbeck, and Black and White Cinematography. There’s no need to waste time on spectacle with the in media res sinking – flotsam and jetsam with everything from English playing cards to dead Germans heralds the nationalism and wartime grays to come amid damp passengers, dirty sailors, famous dames, mothers, babies, and injuries. Tallulah’s in furs, smoking a cigarette, and dictating what junk to bridge aboard, and despite the tiny boat space, multiple conversations happen fore and aft thanks to strategic intercutting between the immediate wounded and more self-absorbed survivors. Fog and windswept water sprays accent the superb rear projection, and the strategic filming captures everyone from all angles with foreground zooms and background silhouettes. Natural ocean sounds and the rocking of the ship, however, might make sensitive viewers seasick. There are numerous colloquialisms as well as accents and translations, but conversation is all we have – a stage-like talkative jam packed with insinuating layers, interrogations, and double meanings. Can you make your own law in open waters and toss the Nazi overboard? Everyone feels the need to establish who’s American, Christian, or had relatives in Czechoslovakia and France, and the black cook is surprised he’s included in all the decisions. It’s unfortunately expected that Canada Lee’s (Cry the Beloved Country) Joe is the least developed character, yet he’s also the most genuine person starboard. This is also a more diverse ensemble than often seen in today’s movies, and three women talk to each other about shell shock and lacking supplies but nobody knows the right prayers for a burial at sea. Cold, wet, sleepless individual vignettes allow the refreshingly flawed stranded to come clean, and at the time having a Nazi officer as a realistic character rather than an evil archetype was understandably controversial. Testy questions on who’s skipper, united sympathies, and diplomatic delegating drop the formalities, as after all “we’re all in the same boat.” However, information is not always forthcoming and no one knows the course to Bermuda – except Herr Kapitan. Can you trust his seamanship? A compass, typewriter, watches, diamond bracelets, brandy, and newspapers with Sir Alfred in the classifieds add tangibles and some humor alongside baseball talk, debate on the superior rowing capabilities of the Master Race, and other unexpected camaraderie, for “dying together is more personal than living together.” Repeated “Some of my best friends are…” quips also address differences as rambling on past regrets becomes veiled talk about shocking revelations and amputations. Lost material possessions give way to symbolic shoes, bare feet, shirtless men, and tattoos, but there’s time for intense poker, lipstick, and flirtation. Bermuda is the macguffin, and storms, hunger, delirium, suspicion, and men overboard get in the way of getting there. Rather than just special effects cool, wet and wild action heightens the internal boat suspense as beards grow and tables turn. They’re surrounded by undrinkable water, rain is precious, fishing bait is nonexistent, and sudden twists happen with nothing but a splash. Violent mutinies and shellfire are surprising to see in a forties movie, but Bankhead is a stunning, strong, sexy older woman able to be kissing or angry in the same scene – a multifaceted female role few and far between these days. Once stripped bare by the consequences of welcoming your enemy, do you accept your fate, continue to row, or laugh at the irony? Perhaps this warning against fatally lumping all together and the guilty lessons learned in such a no win situation can only be appreciated in retrospect, as this tale tries to see everything from both sides, remaining gripping from beginning to end with nothing but eight people in a boat in the middle of the ocean intensity. It makes one wonder why nowadays everything is so gosh darn bombastic.

 

SabotageBuzzing light bulbs go dark in this 1936 caper based on The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad – not to be confused with Hitchcock’s previous Secret Agent or later Saboteur. Whew! Crowds are both confused and giggling in this blackout, singing or arguing by candlelit and wanting their money back from the down picture show. Flashlights, the silhouetted skyline, shadow schemes, and askew camera angles add to the power tampering suspicion, and suspenseful notes follow our mysterious man in black as he returns home, washes his hands, and claims innocence – despite his neighbor’s claims to the contrary. He talks of money coming soon yet doesn’t want to draw attention to his cinema business, but the professional, public, and domestic are intertwined with families living above the bustling marketplace. Fine dresses, fedoras, and vintage cars add to the quaint, however no one is who they seem thanks to grocers with an angle, Scotland Yard whispering of trouble abroad, and shadowed men with their backs to the camera conversing over promised payments. The innocuous movies, aquarium, and pet shop host seemingly innocent ingredients used for making bombs, and onscreen days of the week lie in wait while the public is occupied by the picture show, hoodwinked by what’s in plain sight. Creepy packages, trick bird cages, and threatening “sleeping with the fishes” coded messages become a tongue in cheek nod to the nature of cinema and hidden observations as covers are blown and men scatter. Our wife is clueless abut her husband and oblivious to her family being used for information, creating an interesting dynamic for her between the handsome detective and a damn cold, cruel husband. Who are behind these plans and why? Despite several great sequences, convenient plot points leave too many unanswered questions. The busy start is rough around the edges, meandering for half the movie before becoming eerily provocative as a child delivers a fatal ticking package in the middle of the crowded market. We know the route and the time – delaying for street sales, demonstration detours, and interfering parades ups the suspense alongside traffic jams, stoplights, and montages featuring clock tower gears, dangerous flammable film, our innocuous brown papered package, and the puppy on the bus next to it! A clock on every street corner checks each five minutes passing amid town criers, newsboys, crescendos, and clues in the film canister that go for the big shocker while silent visuals bring the threats home to the dinner table. Although I don’t think today we’d have a cartoon singing “Who killed Cock Robin?” but that might just be me.

 

The 39 Steps – Like Maugham’s Ashenden stories, I wish there were more adaptations of the other Hannay books by John Buchan, not just numerous remakes stemming from this unfaithful but no less landmark 1935 picture with Robert Donat (Goodbye, Mr. Chips) joining our original icy blonde Carroll and all the Hitchcockian one can muster including the mistaken man, foreign intrigue, macguffin secrets, and budding romance. Cheeky dance halls host marriage jokes, brawls, chases, and gunshots with shadowed men in trench coats, pipes, and fedoras. Double decker buses, netted pillbox hats, stoles, and more period touches such as newspapers, lanterns, and milkmen contrast mysterious maps of Scotland, missing fingers, knives in the back, and a gal whose name depends on where she is and which country is the highest bidder. The mercenary espionage, air defense hush hush, and ticking clock is upfront in telling us what we need to know whilst also revealing a whole lot of eponymous nothing. Danger tops each scene thanks to suspicious phone booths, perilous bridges, and jealous husbands spotting those knowing glances across the dinner table during Grace. Police at the door and women both helpful or harmful compromise potentially rural calm – news travels fast and a spy must always be on the lookout. Whom do you trust when no one is who they seem? Lucky hymnal twists and false arrest turns escalate from one location to the next with ironic parades, impromptu speeches, cheering crowds, and charismatic escapes despite handcuffs, sheep, and romantic comedy tropes. Filming through doors, windows, and Art Deco lines accent the men in disguise, overheard rendezvous, and small hiking silhouettes against the pretty mountain peaks. Trains, airplanes, and rapid waters add speed to the pursuit. The superb cabin car photography and railroad scenery don’t need the in your face action awesome of today, for chitchatting folks reading the daily news is tense enough for the man who’s picture is beside the headlines. While some may find the look here rough around the edges or the plot points clichéd, many of our cinematic caper staples originate here. The full circle music, memories, and shootouts wink at the facade of it all, remaining impressive film making for the early sound era with great spy fun and adventure.

As Above, So Below and Negative Space

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Nightmare Project

thenightmareproject200x300There is nothing more horrifying then not being in control of your own mind and body.  Julia Montgomery has to live with that fact everyday. She suffers from nightmares and two years ago she killed her husband and has been a patient in an insane asylum ever since. Julia wants to get back home to her two children but she might be a danger to herself and her children.

There may be one way out of the asylum for Julia and that is The Nightmare Project. This experimental procedure uses subliminal messages and aggressive psycho-therapy to control a person’s unconscious behavior. There is one person who the project didn’t work for and her name is Kaitlyn Summers. Kaitlyn was the youngest participant in the Nightmare Project, she didn’t survive but a part of her is still in the hospital and she is looking for a new body.

Jo-Anne Russell’s The Nightmare Project is a psychological horror novel that has some violent moments that will make you cringe but the scariest part of the book is the characters. Everyone has a dark side, for instance you have Kaitlyn who comes across like an innocent victim but you also see that she has a vicious temper and has murdered before. You also have Julia who just wants to be a mother again, but she has killed before and she wonders if she can be trusted around her children because she doesn’t have control of her mental state. There are also several doctors and patients in the story who all seem to have their own agendas and Julia doesn’t know who she can trust. Each person in this book is intriguing because they keep you off-balance wondering what their motivation is and if they are good or bad.

Another thing I liked about the book is the way the nightmares are described and how at times you are not sure if what is going on is a dream or reality. Like when you hear about why Julia killed her husband, you realize what Julia remembers is a dream and the reality of the situation is much scarier. While there are a lot of suspenseful moments in this book the two scariest moments for me were parts that weren’t meant to be scary. There is one part where an orderly named Ben tells Julia that she should not do the Nightmare Project. Julia says she has to so she can see her kids again  and Ben asks if she really thinks that will happen. At this point in the story you see the hopelessness  of Julia’s situation. You also see Ben as someone who can help her, but you soon find out he has secrets of his own. The scariest part for me though was when Julia is thinking about the feel of her husbands arms around her and how safe she felt with him. She may have killed her husband but she never stopped loving him.

If you find the  concept of mental hospitals, experimental therapies and not being in control of your thoughts fascinating and chilling at the same time you will love The Nightmare Project. This book is no light read, it will leave you with an uneasy feeling and you may not look at hospitals the same again. This is the first book in a series and I am really curious where Jo-Anne Russell will take this concept in the sequel.