Kbatz: Lady Horrors!

Frightening Flix

 

Lady Horrors!

By Kristin Battestella

 

Because new, retro, foreign, zombies or witches – we all need some more ladies in our horror!

 

The House of the Devil – Creepy menus, cult statistics, and retro credits start this 2009 blu-ray featuring Jocelin Donahue (The Burrowers), Dee Wallace (The Howling), and Mary Woronov (Death Race 2000). Payphones, eighties rhythms, and old fashioned style add period flair alongside onscreen smoking, maps, feathered hair, and a big old cabinet television showing Night of the Living Dead. Even the giant Walkman and slightly corny music montage and dance about the house has a purpose in the narrative. Church bells, cemeteries, and an imminent eclipse lay the scary foundation, and rather than an opening scare fake-out, writer/director/editor Ti West (The Innkeepers) uses zooms and movement within the camera frame to create viewer intimacy, closing in from the chilly exterior and ominous windows as the suspicious phone calls lead to desperate babysitting jobs, desolate night drives, and a maze-like Victorian manor. Yes, our Samantha is at times very dumb and unaware she is in a horror movies thanks to plot holes a collaborator not wearing so many behind the scenes hats could have clarified. Mistakes and convenient contrivances in the somewhat tacked on final act also break the solitary point of view for the audience’s benefit. However, that finale free for all with ritual candles, hooded robes, and a sudden twist ending is in the seventies splatter spirit, and the simmering, silent build happens naturally over the film. Instead of hollow thrills a minute, the viewer is allowed time to suspect the scary attic, theorize on suspicious photos, and listen for every noise – we know something is supposed to happen but not when. Though this kind of approach may seem boring to some, this innate alone trickle let’s us appreciate the dark basement and the inopportune power outage for when the titular frights do happen. It’s nice to have something different from the mainstream horror trite, too – not to mention an $8 pizza! 

 

Hush – Writer and director Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Absentia) and his wife, co-writer, and star Kate Siegel place our deaf-mute author in a pleasant forest cabin for some writing, relaxation, and terror in this 2016 eighty minute Netflix original. Comfort cooking noise fades and unheard laptop tones switch to wild kitchen alarms – immediately establishing the common sounds taken for granted alongside subtitled Sign Language, feeling vibrations for sound, and hearing an author voice in your head brainstorms. Friends speak while they sign, breaking up the quiet for the viewer, and we must pay attention to writing onscreen such as book jackets and manuscript text. Understandably, phone technology and Facetime calls are important, but an over-reliance on gadgets in horror can be tiring and soon dated with wi-fi switches, lost connections, and cut power. Fortunately, the intimate home makes the audience accustomed to the hearing challenges before adding the muffled silence, unseen scares, unheard screams, and instant cyberstalking. Through windows or foreground focus and background action, we have the full perspective when the protagonist doesn’t. It is however a mistake to reveal the crossbow and Bowie knife wielding stalker so completely. We don’t need to know the sociopath motivation nor should the viewer feel for the killer or care if he has any personality, and removing his mask just creates limp assholery. The frightening unknown with footstep vibrations, hands at the window, and approaching shadows creates a better siege, and the mystery of who and why is lost in the contrived lulls and stupid mistakes while Maddie waits around for his taunts instead of fighting back. Why not set something on fire, smoke signal authorities? Having her inner monologue address the situation and the pros or cons in each course of action is also better than breaking Maddie’s point of view and using fake out possibilities. Although it’s a pity millennial viewers wouldn’t watch something that was all silent, the long periods with no dialogue, sound effects, and score crescendos do just fine in accenting these unique dynamics. While not perfect, this tale has enough thriller tense and innate woman alone in peril – and thus proves exactly why I must know where all the windows, entrances, and exits are in a given location and never sit with my back to any of them!

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Maggie Sad voicemails, outbreak news reports, desolate cities, quarantines, and martial law immediately set the bleak outlook for infected daughter Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine) and her gray bearded father Arnold Schwarzenegger in this 2015 zombie drama. Wait – Arnold? In a drama movie? About zombies? No choppers?! Nope, this is not an action horror movie, and gruesome gurneys, gangrene encounters, and blackened decay are not played for scares. Here the body horrors and social breakdowns go hand in hand – science can’t put a dent into the virus fast enough, and loved ones must wait as the vein discolorations and white out eyes spread toward heightened smells and cannibalistic tendencies. Minimal technology, chopping wood, rustic generators, cassettes, and older horseshoe phones accent the isolated farmhouse as insect buzzing, infected neighbors, and animal dangers mount. Younger siblings are sent away, and step-mom Joely Richardson (Nip/tuck) struggles with her faith, strength of conviction, and the promises they’ve made despite the deadly risks. How does a teenager keep it together when she has nothing better to do but sit around and die? Do you call friends for a last hurrah? This flawed father won’t send his daughter to die in quarantine with strangers, but he can’t give the painful lethal injection at home or make it a quick end, either. Creepy doctor visits amplify the stigmas and paranoia regarding these in between infected, and nice teen moments soon give way to growls and necroambulist changes. Where is the line between siege removal authorities and family compassion? Someone has to take control and there’s no time for sympathy – just the inevitable breakdown of families desperate to stay together. Governator Arnold produced the film sans salary, and the off-type surprise provides heart wrenching results and must see performances. Granted, most audiences probably expected zombie action thrills a minute and there are unnecessary artistic shots, long pauses, and plodding direction at times. However, this is a strong story with hefty goodbye conversations, and it is surprising such realistically upsetting and horrible circumstances rather than horror went unnoticed. Without mainstream box office demands, indie releases are free to tell their story as it needs to be told, and this tearjerker delivers a great spin on the flooded and increasing derivative zombie genre. 

 

Picnic at Hanging RockThe Criterion blu-ray has almost two hours more features discussing this 1975 Australian spooky drama based on the Joan Lindsay novel about schoolgirls gone missing in 1900. The innocent white lace and valentine wishes are soon to be ill foreboding thanks to eerie music and budding whispers. These girls tighten each others corsets in parallel shots with mirrors, BFF poetry, latent suggestions, and repression abound. The seventies breezy fits the late Victoria ruffles, hats, and parasols – gloves are permitted to be removed for this excursion! Capable Aussie help and buttoned up British elite mark a strong class divide, and pretty mountain vistas, wild vegetation, and rocky mazes contrast the lovely yet out of place English manor. Straightforward, controlled camerawork captures the society at home, but surreal, swooning outdoor panoramas invoke Bermuda Triangle suggestions alongside dreamy voiceovers, rolling cloud rumbles, and red symbolism. Insects, reptiles, swans, disturbed bird migrations, fickle horses, watches stopping at noon – the metaphysical or transcendental signs imply something beyond mere coming of age and sexual awakening. Trance like magnetic lures radiating from the titular nooks and crannies stir these Gibson Girl naps, and askew slow motion reflects this layered beauty meets danger. The enchanting blonde, the nerdy girl with glasses, an awkward brunette, and the complaining chubby girl – standard horror stereotypes today – all talk as if they are up to something naughty with self-aware doomed to die chats before scandalously removing their shoes and stockings. A flirty French teacher, the severe math teacher in red reciting lava flow build up and volcano rising statistics with an uncomfortable kinky – we don’t see what happens. However, hearing the screams and watching the resulting hysterics make it creepier. Incomplete searches, Victorian speculation, and unreliable witnesses muddle the investigation, but most importantly, doctors assure the survivors are still chaste. Such delicate interrogations and polite society leave newspapers and angry townsfolk wondering while the school faces its own fallout with withdrawals, unpaid terms, drinking, and guilt. Yes, there’s some artistic license with absent families, poor forensics, and missing evidence ignored. Surprising connections, however, and good twists in the final forty minutes keep this damn disturbing – and it’s all done without gore or effects. The innate power of suggestion, period restraints, and our own social expectations drum up all kinds of unknown possibilities, and I don’t know how anyone doesn’t consider this a horror movie.

 

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The Witch – We don’t get many Puritan period pieces anymore much less ninety minutes plus of simmering 17th century horror as seen in this 2015 festival darling. Big hats, white collars, thee versus thou court room arguments, and family banishments immediately establish the ye olde alongside natural lighting and authentic thatch buildings for a rural, simplistic ambiance. Unfortunately, such exile to these empty, harsh, unyielding lands turns devotions to desperation with gray crops, bloody eggs, abductions, and babies in peril raising tensions in the humble hovel. Spooky forests, fireside red lighting, blood, nudity, ravens, and primal rituals suggest a dark underbelly only partially seen with hazy splices, shadows, and moonlight. The screen is occasionally all black and certain scenes are very tough to see, but such visual bewitching adds to the folktale surreal. Personal, intimate prayers are addressed directly to the camera, and we feel for Anya Taylor-Joy (Atlantis) as Thomasin when she apologizes for her sin of playing on the Sabbath. The scripture heavy dialogue and religious names are fittingly period yet remain understandable as coming of age children question how an innocent baby can be guilty of sin. Both parents’ faces are shadowed with hats, dirt, and impurity, yet snapping mom Kate Dickie (Red Road) gives Thomasin all the difficult work. Increasing dog problems, ram troubles, and creepy rabbits contribute to the toughness – the young twins chant oldeth nursery songs to the goats and claim there is a witch at work, but dad Ralph Ineson (Game of Thrones) isn’t totally forthcoming with his grief, hopeless trading, and family pressures. The isolated, starving couple argues, debating on sending the children away as the strain, zealousness, and fears mount. Ominous lantern light, alluring witchcraft, and almost ritualistic in itself bloodlettings stir the finger pointing hysterics while great performances hit home the wild bed fits and exorcism-esque prayers. Somebody has to be blamed. Where do you get help when evil would take advantage of such hypocrisy and social failings? It’s easy to imagine the fantastic or confuse apparitions of the dead as angels when the devil answers your pleas instead of Grace. Maybe one has to be familiar with Puritan history or Biblical texts to fully appreciate the struggles and references here. However, contemporary audiences should realize that there’s more to the horror film genre than today’s rinse repeat wham bam boo gore. Although a brighter picture would have been nice, the genuine designs here are much more pleasing than any digital overkill. Doubt, what you don’t see, and the power of suggestion escalate the horrors with maniacal laughter, screams, and one scary voice leading to a deliriously delicious finale. Why aren’t these niche indies that do film making right really the mainstream cinema?

 

Don’t forget you can read more of our Feminine Horror recommendations in the Horror Addicts Guide to Life!

Ghastly Games: Last Night On Earth

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Imagine this, you are living in a small town and you and your friends are looking for something to do on a Saturday night. Suddenly you see a horde of zombies stumbling towards you from down the street. Now you have to go into buildings and search for items that you can use to defend yourself and try to save others from the zombies that are taking over the once peaceful town. Does this sound like a B grade horror movie? Well that’s the point behind Last Night On Earth from Flying Frog Productions.

This game comes with a game board with parts that you can move around in order to change the game.  Also you get 22 plastic miniatures, 8 unique heroes, and 14 zombies, 120 playing cards, split between 40 Zombie Cards, 40 Hero cards and then 20 Advanced cards for both the Hero and Zombie decks. You can either play as the zombies or heroes in this game and you can play with 2 to 6 players. If you ever wanted to know what its like to be in a zombie movie then this is the game for you.

I played this game with my family and in all honesty despite all the glowing reviews that I saw for it we thought it was mediocre. There were a lot of instructions to read, the set up was a little complicated and if you’re playing as a zombie it’s almost impossible to win. To really get into this game you have to spend a good hour reading all the directions and then expect to play it for a couple of hours. So if you have a short attention span (like me) or you don’t have a lot of time to spend playing games, then this might not be a good game for you.

However if you are willing to take the time to learn the rules and play the game more than once, you may start to like it. What I mean is that you are not going to like this game right out of the box, you have to play it a few times to get a better understanding of it and then it will grow on you. The object of this game is for it to feel like you’re in a zombie movie and if you have the patience you get to a point where it does feel that way. This game even comes with a soundtrack CD to set the mood.

If you are a novice game player you might not like this game but if you love board games and taking the time to learn new ones, you might get a kick out of it. For my family the most fun we had while playing this game was inventing different backstories for all the zombies and heroes.  We made up our own scenarios on how the zombies became zombies and we gave the humans the task of turning the zombies into humans again. This game became a lot more fun when he started getting more creative on how we played. So I do recommend this game, just remember if you get bored with it just think outside the box and you may learn to love it.

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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.

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

Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

PPZFor strange people like me who are both Horror addicts and Regency fans, the movie Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is the perfect mix of gore, tradition, and humor.

To benefit those of you who have been under a rock, I will explain. This movie is based on the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies book series written first by Seth Grahame-Smith and improved upon by Steve Hockensmith. In its most basic description, it takes the original Jane Austen tale and ultimately inserts zombies, but it’s so much more than that. The lore behind the Bennett sisters and the rest of their relations has been “punked” zombie-style. Instead of the Bennett sisters being looked down upon because of money or poor relations, they are chastised by one set for being trained in martial arts in the Chinese style (vs. Mr. Darcy and the Japanese tradition) and by another set, they are chastised for being trained at all. Mr. Bennett has made sure his girls know how to defend themselves and others from the undead zombie horde. Mr. Darcy and his Aunt Catherine are also warriors, but trained in the more “upper class” Japanese style. No one much pays attention to the girls until zombies spring up in their neighborhood and then everyone hides under the table while the Bennett sister effectively take care of business.

Those of you who have not seen the film, might want to stop here. Spoilers ahead!

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Mr. Darcy is not the tall, commanding gentleman we’ve grown to love, but he is a warrior and has an understated sort of command. Lizzy and Jane are expertly played by two young women that I adored. Wickham is all he should be: charming, underhanded, evil…even if he looks more like Capt. Wentworth from Persuasion than P&P’s bad man. Out of all the actors, though, Lizzy (Lily James) is the star.

Written and directed by Burr Steers, I say bravo! He brought everything I wanted in this movie and none of what I didn’t. His humor and sincerity combined in a movie I will be owning as soon as it’s released. Instead of the mimicky spoof that the first book emanated, he seemed to take more of the whit and sincerity that the prequel (Dawn of the Dreadfuls) and sequel (Dreadfully Ever After) captured. The message in this film is one women can get behind and if your daughters are old enough to handle the gore, they should see it. It proves women are just as tough and can take care of themselves in battle, even in Regency gowns and stockings.

The fun-est scene is when Darcy and Lizzy have a disagreement and they use martial arts to settle it. At one point, Lizzy crisscrossed her feet around Darcy’s neck. Scary, but so sensual as Darcy looks down her long stockinged legs to the knife latched on her thigh. These girls are sexy anyway you look at it and they fill me with pride when they launch into battle. Go Lizzy! Go Jane! Lydia, Katie, Mary…battle those zombies like we know you can!

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This movie is not without faults. There are holes and a few instances of “skips” in action, such as when Darcy and Wickham are back to back, surrounded by a zombie horde and when we rejoin them they are suddenly alone, battling each other, no zombies in sight. But these holes are easily overlooked for the entertainment value it brings. For hard-core Janites, there are a few “YES!” moments that we have always wanted played out. What if Lizzy could beat up Darcy during the proposal? What if Darcy finally got to kick Wickham’s butt? What if Lizzy could prove to Lady Catherine she is worthy of Darcy after all?

One thing I felt kind of annoyed with was the “heaving bosoms” of Lizzy. Almost every single shot has her breathing hard, her breasts bouncing up and down in an over-amplified manner. If you can stop noticing it, you’re better than I, but I guess the guys had to have some incentive to watch. And taking my hubby along, I have to say he did enjoy it almost as much as I did. There are enough epic battle scenes and zombie confrontations to keep him occupied.

Although I loved this movie from beginning to end, the gore might be a little much for some of you not used to it. If, however, you are an avid watcher of The Walking Dead, Z Nation, or the movies of our most beloved George Romero, this will be tame gore for you. For the horror addicts, this has a few truly terrifying moments such as when Jane encounters a zombie woman in the woods clutching an undead baby to her breast. The undead are done pretty well for you, too. No Halloween store makeup here.

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There is definitely room left for a sequel, but if following the book series, a lot from the sequel and prequel will have to be filled in to complete the story. I’d love to see both the prequel and sequel filmed, but because this is such a niche market, I don’t think that dream will be realized.

I love this film and this is the first time I will have ever said this—the movie was better than the book! For you Janites who aren’t sure about the gore, give it a chance! Or just wait for someone to cut it into pieces on YouTube so you can enjoy the precious story moments in between the scares.