David’s Haunted Library: The Final Reconciliation and Skin Deep/Ordinary Monsters

Thirty years ago a new progressive rock band exploded onto the music scene called The Yellow Kings. The band was made up of 4 teenagers with big dreams who released an ep and toured America, eventually landing a record contract. Along the way, they meet a young woman named Camilla who has an odd influence on the band. After their first tour, The Yellow Kings went out to Los Angeles to record their first album, a concept album called The Final Reconciliation. Little did they know it would be their last album and very few people would ever hear it.

The album was shelved after The Yellow Kings put on an album release party in an L.A. nightclub where they planned to play the full album for the first time. The concert ended in a disaster which killed almost 200 people and left only one band member alive. For the first time since that fatal night, The Yellow Kings lead guitarist and sole survivor Aiden Cross has agreed to be interviewed about the events leading up to that tragic night.

The Final Reconciliation by Todd Keisling is inspired by Robert W. Chamber’s “The King in Yellow.” Written in 1895 it was also the inspiration behind some of H.P. Lovecraft’s work. In the 1895 story, it was a play that if read brings madness to the people reading it. In this story if you listen to the full album it creates chaos. I wasn’t familiar with the source material but loved how it was presented in this book. The idea of a heavy metal album opening a portal to another world and making people go crazy is a great concept.

This cosmic horror novella is more than just a new twist on old mythology, though, it’s also the story of kids from a working class background achieving their dreams and worst nightmares at the same time. One of my favorite parts of this book was when three members of the band return to their hometown from their first tour and you see the background they come from. They don’t get a warm welcome, their parents don’t understand the bands need to follow their passion instead of working a blue collar job. In a short time, The Yellow Kings achieve a high level of success before it all comes crashing down. You know early on that it’s all going to end in disaster, which leads me to what I didn’t like about the story. You knew what was going to happen from the beginning, it’s just a question of how we’re going to get to the final result.

The Final Reconciliation is a great little horror tale that mixes music, mythology and a coming of age story all into one. The description of The Yellow Kings kingdom comes to life brilliantly and the final scenes in the Nightclub disaster were wonderfully grotesque. Todd Keisling does an excellent job of setting a mood of dread and keeping it going throughout the book. I think most of all I loved the concept of a progressive rock album being the key to a world of terror. If you are familiar with the Cthulhu mythos you shouldn’t pass up this book.

Skin Deep/Ordinary Monsters by Frank Martin is a different kind of horror book. It includes two stand alone pulp fiction style horror novellas and a comic.  The first story is called Skin Deep “A Vampire Story Of Love.” The story centers around a  girl named Laura who is a track and field star in high school, rebelling against her parents. She sneaks into bars and complains that her parents pushed her into track, but her attitude becomes a big problem when she meets a Cajun vampire who teaches her a lesson in love she won’t forget.

Skin Deep is the kind of story that comes to mind for me when I think of pulp fiction. It’s a simple story with simple characters and its a lot of fun when the vampire shows himself. The beginning is boring but as the story moves along it gets better. I loved the vampire and the final gory scenes in the story are excellent. Skin Deep is a story that has its flaws, such as parents that Laura thinks are overbearing but in reality come across as non caring, until the end. Laura also has a sister named Jessica who has a story that is never fully explained. That being said the scenes with the vampire in it make this story worth it and we even get a nice message about not having to live the role that people expect of you.

The second story is called Ordinary Monsters and is about two teenage best friends whose friendship is put to the ultimate test when an old family secret is revealed.  This is an excellent werewolf story which touches on such subjects as the Nazi concentration camps, dealing with anger and how far loyalty will go. I love the scenes from the werewolves point of view and the description of the change from human to werewolf was brilliant. This story represents why werewolves have always been my favorite monster. It’s all about a person dealing with an inner rage that they have no control over, this book is worth your time for this story alone.

Skin Deep/Ordinary Monsters also includes a beautifully illustrated comic that tells the story of a werewolf and vampire doing battle during World War 2. I felt both of these stories got off to a slow start and had the feel that they were coming from a first time writer, but both got better as the monster was introduced into the story. This book is a fun read that fans of a good monster story will love and with cover art like that, who can resist.

 

 

David’s Haunted Library: Baker: Demons and other Night Things (The Magic Now Series Book 3)

DavidsHaunted

30832333Baker Johnson has a gift and a curse. He has the ability to read people by just looking at them, but he is haunted by a dark past and doesn’t like to be close to people. At least not living ones. Baker is a demonologist, exorcist, and keeper of cursed objects living in the 1930’s. Baker: Demons and other Night Things by Terry West includes 4 stories about Baker Johnson as he gets introduced into the Night Things universe.

The first story is The Giving Of Things Cold and Cursed and is about Baker inheriting his uncle’s Black Room where he kept cursed objects. To Baker’s surprise many of the objects have been given away and now he needs to clean up the mess. In this story we find out about Baker’s personality and why he does the things he does. Baker is a complex character, he uses his gift because he has to, but he isn’t happy, he just accepts it as his station in life.

The second story is The Servant Of The Red Quill. Here Baker is called to a home of a wealthy collector of Cursed objects, where he has to perform an exorcist on the man’s daughter who is being possessed by a spirit tied to a book written by Marquis de Sade. I loved the concept of this story, I loved that we learned more about The family Baker had and I liked how Baker acts when the demon uses Baker’s family against him. The Baker character grows in this story and I found myself starting to like him despite his flaws.

The next one is called The Dark Alp, this one once again has Baker grow as a character as we see him being haunted by a nightmare demon. Not everything is as it appears in this story, I loved the ending and I loved how once again Baker is confronted with the ghosts of his past but he shows that he is more powerful than his past. In all these stories I loved that there seemed to be a theme of not letting your past define you.

The last story called A Weird Tale ties Baker to the Night Things universe. The story opens with H.P. Lovecraft telling Baker that the old gods are coming and nothing can stop them from destroying the world. These words haunt Baker and that leads to a meeting with Johnny Stucke who pays Baker to hand over a cursed object that might change everything. We see a very different Baker in this story, he now has a team backing him up but he still has to contend with the darkness within. Once again I loved the ending and how it sets up future Night Things stories.

This book also includes a sample of Terry West’s next Night Thing book. If you are not familiar with Terry West’s work this is a good book to start with. West knows how to make memorable characters that are flawed and that you can relate to at the same time. What is interesting about Baker is that he has this dark history but despite that, he still tries to do the right thing and we see the character grow into a different person through each of these stories. Terry West knows what horror fans like to read and this book is a great example of how horror should be written.

 

 

David’s Haunted Library: Night Things: Undead And Kicking

David's Haunted Library

 

 

30190570What would our world be like if vampires, werewolves, zombies, ghouls, mermen and other creature walked the earth? They aren’t all trying to hurt humans, some of them just want to make an honest living and be accepted. People still fear what they don’t understand and even though some accept the Night Things, others aren’t so trusting. So the night things are given devices that track their every move.

Times are changing after the events of Z Day and Johnny Stucke, a Night thing himself is getting involved in politics. One of his first orders of business was getting Dr. Herbert West to work on a way to control zombies. Enter recently deceased professional MMA fighter Carol Haddon. Her DNA may hold the secret to changing the world’s zombies. Carol has also drawn the attention of Herbert West’s greatest enemy Jack The Ripper. Due to an accident Dr. West has made Jack more powerful than ever and if Dr. West can’t defeat him, it could bring on the apocalypse.

Night Things: Undead And Kicking by Terry M. West  is the second book in The Magic Now series and there is so much going on here that a 2 paragraph description hardly does it justice. The plot moves along at a brisk pace, it includes several sub plots and some great characters. There are also some great cameos from popular creatures and people known to classic horror fans. What makes this masterpiece of horror stand out over other works in the genre is how Terry M. West presents his characters.

For instance the main character is Carol Haddon. When she is introduced we see her as someone who feels compassion for the Night Things, she works in a shelter for them and we hear her comparing them to immigrants(love the metaphor). We also see her as a bad ass MMA fighter, but at the same time she is a vulnerable human being who goes to a therapist to deal with feelings she has for her mother. At this point Carol comes across as a complex person and things get harder for her as we find out that the two people helping her, Johnny Stucke and Herbert West have their own agenda and might not have her best interest at heart. That being said they are better than Jack The Ripper who would like nothing better than to rip the dna from her bone marrow. Carol is a hero you can relate to because she’s a compassionate person in a bad situation. Then we have Johhny Stuck and Herbert West who are shades of grey. They want to help Carol but at the same time they have an agenda that has already made major problems for Carol. You see the good and bad in both and it makes you like them that much more.

Undead And Kicking is the type of book that you can point to when people ask you why you like horror. Terry M. West is a horror fan writing books that he knows other horror fans will love. This story puts a fresh spin on classic horror mythology and also manages to add humor, great characters and plenty of blood and good scares to the mix.  I can’t say enough good things about this book and I hope there are several more books in The Magic Now series.

Kbatz: Friday the 13th: The Series Season 1

Frightening Flix

 

Friday the 13th The Series Gets off to a Memorable Start

by Kristin Battestella

 

No, this 1987 television series has nothing to do with Jason Voorhees and the Friday the 13th film franchise. This Friday the 13th is an American/Canadian co-production that debuts with twenty-six episodes of curses, scares, creepy, and campy charm.

 

Distant cousins Micki Foster (singer Louise Robey) and Ryan Dallion (John D. LeMay) are bequeathed a mysterious antique store from their suspicious and relatively unknown late Uncle Lewis Vendredi (R. G. Armstrong). Unfortunately, this eclectic inventory isn’t for sale, as the store’s contents are comprised of cursed items from Uncle Lewis’ deal with the devil. All previously sold and demonically indestructible merchandise – ranging from as small as a compact mirror to as big as an electric chair – must be reacquired and returned to the special vault beneath the Curious Goods store. With the help of occult researcher Jack Marshak (Chris Wiggins), Micki and Ryan must now pursue former customers who aren’t always so willing to part with their antique’s particular evil enchantment.

 

Yes, some of the antique retrieval plots are silly and dated, but Friday the 13th has many memorable episodes beginning with “The Inheritance” and its devilish retribution complete with flaming hoof prints on the stairs. The series premise is introduced alongside a killer doll, a little girl in peril, and playground dangers with creepy lullabies, thunderstorms, and howling winds. It’s easy to get behind our trio in their evil object of the week quest, for the ravens, monastery, suspicious brotherhood, and quill that writes the deaths to come of “The Poison Pen” add an eerie medieval mood with hoods, candles, chanting, spiders, and guillotines. Despite some rad eighties moments, “A Cup of Time” has skeletons, murder, and deadly sips from an ordinary looking mug. Maybe old ladies fighting over teatime with a punk score is hokey, but the fountain of youth desperation remains wicked. Normally, it would be good business to have some fun dress up and magic tricks for “Hellowe’en,” however a crystal ball, good scares, and ominous smoke and mirrors assure this party at Curious Goods wasn’t the best idea – especially when your guests fiddle with the merchandise. This spooky atmosphere, demonic rituals, and a race against the sunrise sets the tone for Friday the 13th perfectly while the autopsies, hospitals, morgue drawers, and elevator injuries accent the Jack the Ripper scalpel in “Doctor Jack.” What if an operation with an accursed objected wielded by a skilled surgeon with a superiority complex was your only chance at survival? The titular effects, camera works, and enchanted gloves of “Shadow Boxer” are no less preposterous yet Friday the 13th is again memorable with a green locker room patina, old school gym feelings, and a down on his luck sports fall from grace. There’s humor, suspense, justice being taken into one’s own hands, and they have to wait for the pictures to develop overnight. The horror!

 

The crazy, rich old ladies and killer yardwork of “Root of All Evil” are slow at times, but we do get to know our characters’ relationships and responsibilities better amid this intense, man-sized mulcher action. It’s good to get away from the shop for the harvest struggles and rural farms of “Scarecrow,” too. Scythes and heads on the front porch create an off-kilter slasher tone before the David Cronenberg (Videodrome) directed “Faith Healer” and its rousing, fire and brimstone con man claims – and an ominous medieval white glove that does the trick. Is such power for good or ill when for every life it heals, it must take another? White, clean, pure suits quickly become sullied with back alleys, leprosy sores, and pestilence consequences as this glove literally burns itself onto the hand where its deeds and demands cannot be escaped. These impressive morality and faith debates give way to perhaps my most memorable Friday the 13th episode, “The Baron’s Bride.” A time traveling vampire fantasy may see like a big leap of faith – especially once the colorful gothic décor and capes switch to black and white carriages and angry mobs. However, the Stoker myths and traditional vampire lore hold up alongside fast action and a whiff of romance. Sunken treasures, stormy nights, and scary phone calls in “Bedazzled” make being alone at night at Curious Goods as spooky as you’d expect. This bottle show takes place almost entirely in the store with good old fashioned scares and invading crooks who don’t stop once their cursed antique has been locked away in the vault. “Vanity’s Mirror” is another memorable Friday the 13th hour thanks to beauty obsessions and an innocuous little compact causing too much torment. Cruel teasing and ugly duckling relatable forgive any hello eighties high school motifs – in fact, the pitiful prom designs add to the creative deaths, quality gore, and alluring retribution.

 

I’m sorry doesn’t cut it when you execute wrong man in “The Electrocutioner,” but grainy jailhouse footage sets the mood for this electronically charged dentist who’s out for some shocking revenge. Unsympathetic kills and nitric oxide play into our medical fears with this wrongful sense of justice as do the trepanning techniques, draining spinal fluids, and simple but desperate patients in “Brain Drain.” Cool mad laboratory equipment and brains in tanks anchor the intelligence transfers, trephanator talk, and intangible, Flowers for Algernon sciences. Friday the 13th goes all out for the mid-season two-parter “The Quilt of Hathor (Part 1)” and “The Quilt of Hathor (Part 2): The Awakening” for a trip to a good old fashioned thee and thou religious community hiding the titular evil homespun and its sinful dreams brimming with red décor, forbidden fruits, and baroque frocks. Horse drawn carriages, snow, and culture clash suspicions accent the forbidden romance and religious fervor. Who knew being so penitent didn’t mean you couldn’t be any less nasty? Okay, the old speaketh arguing may make some chuckle, but the witchcraft finger pointing, fiery mobs, and comeuppance twists match the horror where we least suspect it superb. Likewise, flashbulbs, dark rooms, and a Geraldo-esque newscaster with best alibi ever develop “Double Exposure” alongside gory bubbling, doppelgangers, and machete killings. It’s interesting to see this early commentary on scandalous crimes boosting nightly ratings when we have instant breaking news alerts everywhere today. Maybe this episode felt the need to go all out with crazy dreams, evil television motifs, and slasher slick after the slightly slower two-parter before it and Ryan having two loves of his life two episodes in a row is poor placement. However, the ticking clock twists here are memorable fun before the pregnancy fears and medical defects make for a warped sense of necessity in “What a Mother Wouldn’t Do.” No one wants to harm a baby, but an evil cradle can fix all that! The parental defense, Titanic history, and watery deaths give this Friday the 13th debut year a penultimate topper.

 

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The middle of this season is very strong, however, with such a high episode number, Friday the 13th was bound to have a few clunkers. Ugly statues, honky tonk stalkers, seedy motels, and unlikable, obsessive frat boys ruin “Cupid’s Quiver,” and the lack of authorities illumes one of the series’ ongoing impossibilities. Early on, our trio aren’t very smooth investigators and think they have the right to break in all over a college campus because they’re antique dealers! Magician secrets, beautiful assistants, fatal theatrics, and the cutthroat of magic show business don’t save “The Great Montarro.” It’s a pity since this is one of the few Jack centric episodes, but the sideshow tricks and Houdini wannabe divas are more laughable than ominous. “Tales of the Undead” has comic book shop nostalgia and an evil edition that kills you within its pages – a fantastic possibility ruined by a trash can looking monster costume. The ‘Take on Me’ music video from A-ha did it better! Though the poisonous insects and creepy crawlies will disturb some audiences,“Tattoo” is a cliché Chinatown crime plot with seemingly deliberate bad Kung Fu lip reading, submissive Asian prostitutes, and every other old Oriental stereotype crammed into one episode. Maybe the horror aspects aren’t all bad, but these mediocre episodes are a letdown when following immediately after such memorable Friday the 13th hours. “The Pirate’s Promise” offers lighthouse quaint, eerie foghorns, and phantom boats that take modern babes in exchange for gold bullion. Unfortunately, the mutinous history can’t help our cousins not bungle it up without Jack, and the Miami Vice wannabes, counterfeit money, and macho talk in “Badge of Honor” is likewise D.O.A.. The up close camera shots, day glo lighting, and jazzy score try for a jaded, gritty noir piece, but even with steamy Micki times, this one is embarrassingly dated and out of place. The Egyptian relics, trapped in the vault peril, and evil green effects make for a great framework for “Bottle of Dreams,” but sadly, this final episode of the season is largely a clip show that should have been the second to last airing instead. Sure, it’s an overlong season, however we aren’t going to forget all the good times that soon!

 

Billed as just Robey on Friday the 13th, our Micki is certainly beautiful – but my goodness that is big red hair! Some obvious extensions and then-vogue Jem styles make Micki always seem MTV ready, but her frilly tank tops, skirts, and uppity shoulder pads often make her appear more tiny compared to the baddies or disproportionate with her giant bobblehead hair. Initially doubtful, squeamish, and needing to be rescued, Micki’s bad feelings about their situation increase over the course of the season. She accepts responsibility and wants to do the right thing – Micki isn’t willing to leave anyone in danger and chooses this antiques recovery quest over her potential wedding. At times, she does regret giving up her old life for this so-called job but also gets pretentious in her righteousness. She’s an antique dealer in a battle of good versus evil and that gives her a license to go anywhere and intrude on anyone – even going undercover as a boy! Micki gets in on the action more and comes to handle herself alone just fine – except when our intrepid team doesn’t succeed or when the plot doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Both cousins still have parents, so why did they inherit the shop? Why do they all live at Curious Goods? Micki has some romance and visiting Friday the 13th old flames, however it’s always played as too eighties steamy – and we’re expected to believe she brings guys home when Ryan sleeps on the other side of a glass door? Micki’s not herself in “The Baron’s Bride,” but it’s fun to see her personality changes and vamped persona because we already like and respect her moxie.

 

Ironically, watching Friday the 13th back in the day, I always thought John D. LeMay’s (also of the unrelated Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday) Ryan Dallion had a crush on Micki, and the dialogue always makes sure to reiterate how through marriage or distantly related they are. They do have fun chemistry even when Ryan is a jerky Andrew McCarthy knock off to start. He thinks Curious Goods is cool and gets his information on the supernatural from his comic books. Ryan is self aware, however, and adds humor and realistic logic on how their simplest answer must be the correct one – which helps ground the audience when he enjoys playing the hero detective in a yuppie suit. Some of the eighties brat pack cool is kind of meh today, but Ryan fits right in undercover at high school! There are consequences to their collection, of course, and he is injured a few times, adding a sense of realism and not reset fantasy even though Friday the 13th has an evil of the week design. “Double Exposure” gives Ryan too many lady loves in a row, but his romance in “The Quilt of Hathor” makes the character grow up a little alongside the eerie colored smoke and his side of the family’s dangerous business prospects in “Pipe Dream.” Though this plot is a little thin, the personal ties keep viewers interested. Will Ryan treat the cursed object and its consequences any different now that Uncle Lewis wasn’t the only family member in on the devilish bargains? Ryan openly discusses the series premise, the evil behaviors, and moral turnarounds he’s seen. By the end of this debut season, it isn’t so cool, and Ryan develops a cynical edge with more than a few regrets.

 

Already experienced in the occult and its negative allure, Chris Wiggins (Babar) as Jack Marshak is a wonderful mentor for our young cousins – an Obi-wan Kenobi who acquired the antiques that Uncle Lewis cursed and re-released to the public who greatly regrets his unwitting part. Ever resourceful, Jack uses newspapers and tabloids to find curious stories that may lead to their quarry. At times, he only appears briefly in bemusing ways to help, but his quirky street connections add depth to the quest. Jack has a lot of exposition to quickly deliver early on Friday the 13th, but his knowledge of their evil manifest and gruff authority grounds the fantastic. Unfortunately, Jack doesn’t appear in all the episodes, and the one-liners about him being off elsewhere on a retrieval mission are convenient but disappointing. Today, an older ex-occultist battling alone against evil objects around the globe sounds like a good series premise itself. The storylines with Jack present have just a bit more finesse, and he has his doubts about whether our young team is up to snuff. “Brain Drain” also offers a bittersweet rekindled romance for Jack, but he nonetheless dusts himself off and is there to save the day when things go wrong. But why does he have to sleep downstairs by the creepy vault? In antithesis to Jack, television veteran R.G. Armstrong (Pat Garret and Billy the Kid) also makes several guest appearances as Lewis Vendredi, that devil bargaining late uncle who sold his soul and spread evil all in a day’s work. Just because he’s dead doesn’t mean he won’t pop up now and again! Carrie Snodgrass (Diary of a Mad Housewife) should have stayed longer as Jack’s love interest, however genre audiences will find maybe not necessarily name players but numerous recognizable character actors adding extra charm to Friday the 13th. Ray Walston from My Favorite Martian, Catherine Disher of Forever Knight, Sarah Polley from Avonlea – I swear Philip Akin brought some of the dojo sets from Highlander: The Series with him!

 

Whelp. This was 1987 and 88, so the shorts, sport coat, rolled up sleeves, and slim tie together or the big earrings, big belts, high waisted jeans, and giant shoulder pads eighties meets forties caricature fashion should go without saying as bad. Fortunately, Friday the 13th does have spooky, to the point opening credits complete with a creepy waving monkey to hit home the peeking through the keyhole ominous artifacts tone. Curious Goods is a neat and comforting shop in its own evil way. We never get to fully see the entire set brightly lit with the layout completely known, which works for on set logistics whilst adding the potential for mysterious nooks and crannies where anything can happen. Dusty interiors, record players, corded phones, and cassette tapes in the answering machine add period nostalgia in addition to the past curios and clutter alongside television static, adjusting the rabbit ears, two whole channels, and a giant flash on that camera. Where else could you use the line, “Let’s go out to dinner – you, me, your camera – and see what develops.” *rimshot* Remember, on Friday the 13th they couldn’t just Google their case. Our team goes to the library to make copies! Some special effects are hammy and poor while other gore designs are seamless enough to maintain the scary, desperate atmosphere despite dim lighting and a flat picture making it tough to see everything. The sound is also uneven at times, but stormy effects and recognizable, fitting theme music with whimsical tinkles and crystal chimes accent the shadows, silhouettes, flashlights, and lanterns. There are some jump scares on Friday the 13th, but the gags are admittedly humorous, adding campy appeal to the fast moving forty-five minute episodes.

 

I’d like to skip over the clunkers and Friday the 13th has its fair share of dated, cheap faults in this debut season. Fortunately, most of the fond thoughts from watching the series then hold up now thanks to a not always cut and dry good versus evil. It wouldn’t be any fun if it was easy to retrieve these cursed tchotchkes all wrapped in a pretty bow. Even my mom wanted to know what channel Friday the 13th was on – which surprisingly doesn’t seem to be anywhere despite the increasing popularity of retro-themed channels and horror anthologies. DVD sets are available, however, as well as Amazon Prime streaming. Today Friday the 13th may seem like a relatively short-lived series, but this first year has more than enough memorable curses, evil, and eighties fun for paranormal audiences to revisit or enjoy anew.

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.

Once Upon A Scream Author Spotlight: K.L. Wallis

Horroraddicts.net publishing has recently published our 4th anthology called Once Upon A ScreamRemember the Fairy tales that you grew up reading? Well they are back again with a horror twist. Once Upon A Scream includes 18 tales that are fantastic and frightful. One of the authors in this anthology is K.L. Wallis and recently talked to us about her writing:
What is your story in Once Upon A Scream called and what is it about?
 

OnceUponAScreamFrontMy story is called Briar. It is about a man who gets lost deep in the mythical Black Forest – largely due to his own curiosity – where he stumbles upon a fairy tale castle, and gets trapped. Despite first appearing vacant, the castle’s occupants turn out to be more the stuff of nightmares than of fairy tale.

What inspired the idea?


The idea came from an odd blend of things I had recently read. I am a huge Anne Rice fan, and was inspired by the idea in Interview With A Vampire of the mindless, hollow vampires of Eastern Europe. I also wanted to play on technique, so was opting for a minimalist style as demonstrated by Cormac McCarthy in The Road. I was fascinated by the nameless protagonist and wanted to emulate that. While opting for a minimalist approach, I used more descriptive language in the begging, when things are looking a bit brighter for our protagonist.
When did you start writing? 

I started writing Briar about a year ago for an assessment piece I was working on for university. It actually came together very quickly, and I had the first draft completed in the space of a couple of afternoons.
What are your favorite topics to write about? 

Much of what I write about comes back to mythology and legend. I can’t help myself! I tend to use very Gothic techniques in my prose, even when I am not writing ‘Gothic fiction’ per se.

What are some of your influences?

I am most often inspired by other literature. Sometimes by something as minor as a word I want to play with on the page, or a phrase which comes to mind. I like to explore things, particularly motives. I don’t like bad guys who are bad for the sake of it, I like to ‘justify’ and rationalize the irrational. Or, as I mentioned earlier, I am often influenced to write simply to experiment with technique. To quote Picasso, “learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist,” – my favorite quote and personal motto as a writer.

 

What do you find fascinating about the horror genre?

In fear of suddenly becoming very unpopular, I wouldn’t say that I am particularly drawn to all horror, but I have always had a deep affinity for vampires and the spiritual. I just don’t like ugly bad guys! Zombies are definitely not my thing! Perhaps that’s my own vanity speaking, but there is something about a beautiful immortal villain which is so enticing. I think vampires represent the darker side of human nature, which in itself is fascinating. Also, as mentioned, I am a fan of Gothic techniques in literature, and so this genre is inadvertently very much my playground. My motivation to write horror isn’t so much about blood and gore, but more so about creating a sense of suspense and apprehension – to keep the reader hanging on what may be around the corner.

 
What are some of the works you have available?

Briar is my first publication, but it will not be my last! I am currently working on a couple of short stories in other genres which I am hoping to submit for publication soon – time permitting.

What are you currently working on?Pic

I have several things in the works at the moment. I am undergoing post-graduate study (Honours) in Creative Writing, so my exegesis and creative artifact for that are precedent at the moment. I am looking at bending the boundaries of perspective, so I am focusing on two pieces with non-living narrators. As is the nature of Honours, this is likely to change greatly within the next year and a half/two years. I am also re-writing one of the Greek myths, which is turning out to be one of my greatest challenges so far. Trying to re-create a world which has been and is no more, is an extreme challenge. Especially with the complexity of Greek mythology. I am also writing a short story about a girl with multiple personalities, a chic lit novel, and (when I finally get around to completing it) a vampire novel set in the days of Jack the Ripper.

Where can we find you online?

I need to increase my online presence, but currently you can find me mainly on Facebook at my business page Restricted Quill, or Restricted Quill’s website: Restrictedquill Official

David’s Haunted Library: Obfuscate

David's Haunted Library

 

obfuscate-final-cover

You might think that Cheyenne O’ Cuinn has an easy life but nothing can be further from the truth. She may be beautiful, have a successful career as a computer programmer and her own virtual reality game that she designed but she is also a vampire. Not too long ago she found out that mythological creatures were real and many of them were playing her game, ExsanguiNation. Since she found this out, her life has changed drastically and now she has three tasks ahead of her.

She has to Rescue her sister from cannibalistic vampires, eliminate the villain who threatens her family and hunt down the man who tried to kill her. You think you have it rough? Think again.   Luckily she’s not alone, she has a vampire, a werewolf and a dragon along to help her. This may seem like a situation out of her video game but the threat is real and she can’t get a do over if she fails.

Obfuscate by Killion Slade is like a supernatural pulp fiction monster mash-up on steroids. Dragons, vampires, werewolves, wendigos, black-eyed children and merfolk, Obfuscate has all these and more. This is the second book in the World Of Blood series but it does work as a stand alone novel. When you start to read this book, the best thing to do is to just sit back and enjoy the ride. The story moves along at a frantic pace and goes back and forth from being scary and serious to being ridiculous and bizarre. Which is a good combination to have in an action packed story. One scene towards the beginning of the book was a total surprise to me.

What I liked most about the book is the amount of mythical creatures that are in it and are presented as real. There is one scene in a hospital where a character describes the island where a rescue attempt took place as Lord Of The Rings because of all the trolls and elves on it. The fact that you know that anything is possible in Obfuscate makes it a more entertaining read. Another thing I liked was that all the main characters were a different creature, they all take on human forms at different times and they all work well together. I think it would be fun to see a stand alone story with Torchy the dragon. World Of Blood is a universe where lots of good stories can be told. Also on a smaller note I liked that this book has a reference section at the end that lists songs, videos, movies and places that inspired the book.

Obfuscate has a little bit of everything: “Romance, action and more mythological creatures then I’ve seen in any other novel, this is one fun thrill ride. I loved how it opens on an island of cannibalistic vampires and goes to several other locations before it’s done. Obfuscate is like a video game in book form. This book isn’t meant to make you think, its meant to be a fun read and it is just that.It’s a lot of fun with some memorable characters thrown in and I’m already looking forward to the next installment in this series.