Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

I’ve heard a lot of good things about The Lodge, including that it was a new classic in the genre (or something like that. I may be paraphrasing). With the last couple of horror films I’ve seen since my last film review being average or below and not worthy of a blog post (*cough* Fantasy Island *cough*), I had high expectations. At the very least, I hoped it was worth the cost of parking at the nearest theater it was playing at.

The Lodge follows Aiden and Mia, a pair of siblings living with their father following the sudden death of their mother. On their trip to their family cabin for Christmas, their dad’s girlfriend Grace comes along to get to know the kids better. The kids are less than thrilled, partly because Grace is the lone survivor of a suicide cult headed by her father. However, when the kid’s dad has to go back into the city for work and has to leave Grace with the kids for a few days, several days of madness ensue. One that will push Grace to the brink, and maybe take the kids with her.

Oh my God, this film is terrifying!

The Lodge takes storytelling and suspense hand-in-hand and creates an atmosphere where everything feels up in the air. If horror is fear of the unknown and loss of control, then this film succeeds. I saw hints of twists that were to come early in the film, only to quickly forget them even when I see them again because the film convinced me nothing was certain. Add in creepy imagery, strange happenings, and jump scares that are few and out of left field for their utmost effectiveness, and you’ve got one hell of a horror movie.

The four central characters also do an excellent job in their roles. Aiden is played from Jaeden Martell, who played Bill Denbrough in the IT movies, so he’s used to horror films, and puts it to use here. His sister is played by Lia McHugh, who also have a history in horror, so they bring the experience. But more than that, they know how to play siblings brought close by tragedy, to the point that I forgot they were actors.* Riley Keough also is excellent, showing the stress of the situation on a woman already psychologically and emotionally vulnerable so well. It’s honestly a delight to watch.

I can’t think of anything bad about the film. Doing so would be nitpicking. I will let you know that if you prefer horror films be filled with CGI and lots of jump scares (the opposite of me), this film may be a bit too intense for you. Trust me, most of the theater were freaking out in our seats. Even when nothing was happening on screen (or seemed to be happening, anyway).

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving The Lodge a 4.8 out of 5. Nerve-wracking, twisty and twisted, you’ll be freaking out from the first jump scare to the haunting ending. Grab a blanket and someone to watch it with, and get ready to squeeze their arms tightly. Believe me, it’s that scary.

*And maybe wondered their relationship was incestuous. Hey, it’s an R-rated horror film, boundaries are hazy at best if it helps the story along.

February is Women in Horror Month. Since women writers are a big influence on my writing–JK Rowling got me into storytelling in the first place, and Anne Rice helped pave the way for me to write darker fiction–I thought I’d recommend some stories for those who want to help support the month. You’ll see some familiar names here, but also some you may not be familiar with. Either way, I hope you’ll consider giving them a read.

Tiny Teeth by Sarah Hans. This is actually a short story by a friend and colleague of mine, but it is a scary one. Imagine a world where a virus turns children into dangerous, gnawing animals, and one woman’s experience in that world. You can find it on Pseudopod.org, a website where scary short stories are read by narrators and released as a podcast. Give it a listen. Guarantee you, it’ll be 45 minutes not wasted. Here’s the link.

Garden of Eldritch Delights by Lucy A. Snyder. This is also by a friend and colleague of mine, but it’s also a great collection of scary stories. The majority of them feature cosmic horror themes and entities, which I love, as well as intriguing characters and plots. A couple of the stories also incorporate sci-fi and fantasy themes, and feature a diverse cast, which is something I love to see. If you pick up Garden of Eldritch Delights, you will find it worth your time. Here’s the Amazon link.

The Amaranthine Books by Joleene Naylor. You’ve probably seen Joleene’s name around this blog before, but did you know she’s written an entire book series? She has, a vampire series called the Amaranthine books, and they all come highly rated. Even better, some of the books are free or under a dollar under the Kindle edition, so why not take the opportunity to read them? You can find all the Amaranthine books, and then some, on Joleene’s Amazon page.

In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware. Technically, these are mysteries, but they have horror themes about them, so I’ll count them here. In a Dark, Dark Wood follows a mystery writer invited out to a bachelorette party by a friend she hasn’t seen in years, unaware of the forces conspiring against her. The Death of Mrs. Westaway stars a Tarot reader on hard times who finds out she’s received an inheritance from a grandmother she didn’t know she had, and what that inheritance entails for her. Both are terrifying and keep you on the edge of your seat with suspense. You can check out both further on the author’s Amazon page (and I need to check out more of her work).

Kept me on the edge of my seat the whole audio book.

Within These Walls and The Shuddering by Ania Ahlborn. No joke, Ania Ahlborn is one of the scariest writers I’ve ever had the pleasure to read, and I really need to read more of her work, as should you. Within These Walls follows a true crime writer as he and his daughter stay in the home of a Manson-like cult leader, and what happens while they’re there (I actually reviewed it a few years ago). The Shuddering follows a group of young adults as they go skiing at a mountain resort, only to discover the area has come under siege from a rather hungry enemy. Either one will leave you shaking in your boots! Here’s the Amazon page if you want it.

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson. Come on, you know I had to include this. Even if I’m not a fan of this book, it’s undeniable that Jackson’s most well-known novel, and one of the most influential horror stories of the 20th century. Following a group of paranormal researchers as they explore the titular house and the effect the house has on them, this book is still a well-known classic in the genre, and some consider it required reading for fans and authors. It’s so well known, I won’t include any links for it (surprise!).

Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice. Again, can you blame me? Whatever you think of the many sequels, it’s undeniable that Anne Rice’s debut novel has remained a classic for a reason. A journalist interviews a 200-year-old vampire named Louis, who recounts his creation in French New Orleans and his travels around the world looking for meaning and for more of his kind. It’s a haunting tale, the horror coming more from Louis’s psychological journey and despair rather than from the supernatural. As I said earlier, this novel also paved the way for my eventual turn to horror, so I can’t recommend it enough (and I’ll have to reread it someday). Again, no need for links. It’s that well-known.

 

What recommendations do you have for Women in Horror Month? Are you reading anything for it? Are you familiar with any of these books? What was your opinion of them?

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope you find something good to read based on this list. I’ll be listening to The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates this month on audio book, so maybe I’ll add it to a future list someday. I better get started soon!

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Over the past couple of months, people in the horror-themed Facebook groups I belong to have been raving about this particular book. I looked it up and it sounded up my alley, so when I had an Audible credit, I downloaded the audio book. But before I started it, I found out the book was written by the same guy who wrote the novel The Perks of Being a Wallflower, as well as wrote/directed its movie adaptation. Really? Isn’t that a sweet, YA rom-com? How do you jump from that to horror? (looks up what that book is really about.) Oh. That’s pretty dark. Yeah, I can see how the dude transitioned to horror.

Imaginary Friend follows Kate Reese and her son Christopher as they leave Kate’s abusive boyfriend and move to a small town in Pennsylvania. However, soon after they move there, Christopher disappears in the woods near his school. He reappears a week later, unable to remember what happened to him, except being led out of the woods and back to civilization by someone called “The Nice Man.” While Kate is happy to have her son back, and things start to improve after he returns, Christopher has changed. He’s smarter now, unable to sleep, and suffers from headaches a lot. And he’s in contact with the Nice Man, an invisible being who instructs him to build a treehouse in the woods he disappeared in, and to do it before Christmas. If he doesn’t, something bad will happen. To the town, to his mother, and to him.

This one was hard to put down. I normally only listen to audio books while at work, but the story was so intriguing and out there that I listened to it while checking email and cooking dinner. Imaginary Friend feels a lot like Stephen King novels like It or Needful Things, these huge stories based around weird concepts that are both scary and hard to put down. I mean, you got a kid who goes missing in the woods, and then when he comes back, has to build a treehouse to save the world from the Apocalypse. And that’s just what I feel I can tell you without spoiling too much.

I also have to give Chbosky credit: I had a hard time predicting what was going to happen as we got further into the story. Every little piece of the puzzle had the potential to surprise me, and quite a few did. During the “darkest hour” of the book, when things are at their most pessimistic, you felt the misery and the tension as the situation deteriorated. And that climax! Woo-boy, that was epic. Like, the final battle of an Avengers movie epic.

Not only that, but the characters are very well-developed. Also like some of King’s books, especially earlier ones, just about every character is well-developed. I felt like I’d known some of these characters my whole life, from Kate and Christopher Reese to the two or three old ladies suddenly regaining their faculties after years of dementia.

I do have one major gripe about the book: as the story goes further on, the novel takes on an…evangelistic air. It’s not like the Left Behind books, where it’s trying to get people to become born-again, but the story leans more in that direction than in the direction of The Stand or Supernatural. I don’t think the goal is to convert me: rather, I think Chbosky is using his Catholic upbringing to give the story a particular authenticity and philosophy other non-evangelistic Ultimate-Good-versus-Ultimate-Evil stories don’t have. There are some interesting ideas on the nature of guilt, our relationship to God, and how to find different kinds of salvation presented in the story.

Still, there were times when I was like, “Dude, scale it back a bit. I’m starting to get how people feel when I start ranking villains in horror, and they’re not horror fans.” That’s happened before, and it’s gotten awkward.

On the whole though, Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky is an engrossing horror novel that’s weird in the best of ways and full of terror and twists. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’ll give it a 4.4. Pick it up and see for yourself. You’ll never look at treehouses and deer the same way again, but you’ll have a hell of a ride thanks to it.

The Colour Out of Space (yes, with a “u” in Colour), is my fifth favorite HP Lovecraft story (click here for my Top 8 Lovecraft stories). There have been a couple of adaptations of the film over the years, but they’re either foreign films that are hard to come by, or are really bad for one reason or another. So when word popped up in late 2018 that Nicholas Cage was going to star in a new adaptation of the film, directed Richard Stanley in his first major outing since the 1990s, fans of Lovecraft, horror and/or film in general were piqued. We only got more excited as news from the film trickled back to us. When the trailer came out, I immediately knew I had to see this film.

I got back from seeing it a little while ago, and I’m happy to report, it was well worth the wait. This film is freaking terrifying!

Color Out of Space follows the Gardner family, who are living on the family farm and have converted it into an alpaca farm.* One night, a meteor lands on their property, giving off a strange, colorful light. Soon after, lightning strikes the meteor several times during a storm, the meteor disappears, and then things get weirder from there. The animal and plant-life start changing shape and color, technology goes haywire, and the family starts acting unhinged. All of it can be traced to a mysterious light. An entity. A color. From out of space.

If you’ve seen the film Hereditary, Color is a lot like that. It’s a slow, excruciating build with the characters going through a downward spiral, punctuated by moments of strong terror that left me petrified in my seat. The use of CGI is sparing, used only when practical effects in the style of The Thing aren’t possible. And by the way, those practical effects are amazing! They create some truly horrifying visuals, and Richard Stanley knows when–or even if–to truly reveal the mutated monster. There are also a lot of excruciating scenes involving bodily harm that left everyone in the theater freaked out, including me (not easy to do), and they added to the film in the best way.

As for the actors, they all do an excellent job. This might be the first time I’ve actually enjoyed Nicholas Cage in a movie, as they managed to balance his noncommittal acting style with his crazy acting style in a way that works. It’s funny to see him go from “normal” to acting like a bitchy teenager, but it’s also horrifying because you see how it’s connected to whatever’s affecting the family. The rest of the actors are great, embracing their roles and really convincing you they’re going through this tragic event.

Did I mention that Colin Stetson, who did the music for Hereditary and will be doing the music for the upcoming anime adaptation of Uzumaki by Junji Ito, did the score for the film? Will, he did and it works really well. Sound plays as much a big role in this film as visuals, and Stetson’s score adds the perfect touch to the atmosphere.

First time I’ve actually liked Nick Cage in a movie. How about that?

My only criticisms are that there’s a scene involving the Necronomicon (yeah, there are quite a few Lovecraft Easter eggs in this film) that I feel wasn’t given the best payoff. That, and the character of Ezra, played by Tommy Chong of Cheech & Chong fame, felt kind of extraneous. If you cut him out of the film and have one of the Gardners say some of his lines, it wouldn’t change much.

All in all though, this is not only an excellent adaptation of Lovecraft’s work, it’s a great horror film that’s both faithful to the spirit and text of the original story and terrifying to watch. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m givingĀ Color Out of Space a 4.8 out of 5. Any fan of Lovecraft, or of horror in general, should come away satisfied (or freaked), so buy a ticket and get ready to see the first great horror film of 2020.

(I already plan to buy the Blu-Ray when it comes out. And I really hope the disc is more colors than just blue, if you get my meaning.)

*Yes, it’s an alpaca farm. And it’s that kind of farm for more than just laughs. Also, the family “dog” is a wolf-dog. Trust me, I researched it. What kind of family owns alpacas for farming and a well-behaved wolf-dog used for herding, I don’t know. It would make for a great reality show, but I digress.

You know, when the trailers for this film hit, the response was pretty lackluster. “Oh, it’s got Kristen Stewart in it and it’s a disaster film about an underwater sea base that’s about to be destroyed. They have to find a way to survive. Whoop-dee-freaking-do!” But then word among the horror community started saying…positive things. And later rewatches of the trailer made it look cool. So I decided to see it, though I couldn’t do so till this weekend because I was sick last weekend.

Underwater follows six workers on an underwater sea base seven miles below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, drilling for resources to bring above. However, a mysterious quake causes major damage to the base, meaning they have to navigate the failing base and find a way back to the surface or die. But there’s something else down there with them. And it’s not going to stop till they’re all dead.

I’ve heard a lot of comparisons to John Carpenter’s The Thing and Alien with this film, and I have to say, not only are the comparisons apt, they’re justified.

One of Underwater’s strengths is how it creates its atmosphere. Soon after the movie starts, we’re thrust into the destruction as we watch a residential section of the base succumb to water pressure and shifting earth. From there, we’re right in the middle of the action as the characters have to navigate dark and narrow passages filled with water and debris. And while the situation itself is urgent, the movie takes its time, allowing us to get to know these characters as well as building a feeling of tension and encroaching doom. Realistic sets and dirty water further the feeling of claustrophobia and the horrific death just beyond the walls. Somehow, that tension is kept up even when the characters are walking across the open seafloor in suits. Probably because those suits are a thin barrier between life and death as well. Add in some well-placed jumpscares that are never excessive, and it’s damn tense.

As for the creature or creatures in this film, they are the fun innovation that change this film from just another disaster film to a Lovecraftian horror fest. Their reveal is very slow, and even when fully revealed, the darkness of the sea leaves them with a bit of mystery. Fans of certain HP Lovecraft stories will recognize the creatures. Whether you do or don’t, however, there’s no denying how scary and deadly these creatures are, and they make the film worthwhile.

As for the characters, they’re serviceable for this film. For once, Kristen Stewart’s deadpan expression works pretty well with her character Norah Price, who defines herself as a cynic trying to get by. TJ Miller as weird, funny guy Paul does okay jokes. He and the character Rodrigo, played by Mamoudou Athie, both enjoy anime. Other than that, you can’t say much about these characters, but for the purposes of Underwater, that’s just fine.

That being said, the film does have its issues. There are a few moments where the tension reaches a lull, and during those moments I felt restless and a little sleepy (though that might be because I had to wake up earlier than planned this morning). And I would have liked to see what life on the base is like on a normal day. You know, when it’s not in danger of flooding and crumpling into dust. We only get a minute and a half of seeing the pre-destruction base at the beginning of the film, and that’s mostly filled by Stewart monologuing and saving a daddy long-legs from a sink.

Altogether though, Underwater is a tense, Lovecraftian thrill ride, a modern-day The Thing, almost.* On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4. If you have a chance, go to the theater and prepare to dive into a world of terror. Most likely, you’ll find yourself pleasantly entertained, and more than a little scared.

*And not just in quality. The Thing actually did poorly with critics and at the box office after its release. It didn’t become a classic until it hit home video. I have a feeling Underwater will go through a similar process, though I would like as many people to see it in theaters as possible.

And welcome to my first review of 2020! As many of you in the horror community are aware, the Grudge film series is famous both in its homeland in Japan, where it is known as the Ju-On movies, and in America, where both the original films and the first remake are considered classics in terrifying people.* However, the sequel to the American remake was only so-so, and the direct-to-DVD Grudge 3 was awful. Thus ten years have passed since the last film was released. When word of a new film got out, people were skeptical, but some were willing to give it a chance based on the trailers. Including me.

2020’s The Grudge begins with a live-in nurse leaving the original house from The Grudge and heading home to Pennsylvania.** However, she brings the curse home with her, and ends up killing her family and herself, making her home and her family an extension of the original curse. Years later, a detective enters the house while investigating a possibly-related murder, setting off a chain of events that will impact her life forever.

So this is technically a side-story to the original Grudge remake, following a new family of spirits and a new community to torment with the curse. The filmmakers did this so they could hopefully reinvigorate the franchise.

And they failed miserably on that front. While the film is told in a non-linear fashion and has plenty of callbacks to the 2004 film, switching Kayako and the Saeki family out for a new family of spirits was a huge mistake. Not only do these new ghosts feel so generic that they could come from any other ghost-centered horror movie, Kayako is an iconic part of the franchise. You can’t separate one from the other. It’d be like calling a movie Friday the 13th and having it focus on Jason’s cousin Matthew Bellman, who wears a football helmet and kills people who enter an abandoned ski resort. It just wouldn’t work.***

Even if you don’t factor that in, the film leaves a lot to be desired. As I said, the ghosts feel like they could come from any horror film, and the rest of the film feels pretty lackluster. Most of the scares derive from jumpscares, which are there and then gone pretty quickly. Most of the plot and acting feels pretty phoned in, and Lin Shaye’s appearance is horribly wasted (good thing she’s had better roles in most other horror films).

Is there anything good about the film? Well, there is a scene where the main character has to defend herself from the spirits in the dark basement of the police station that’s kind of tense, and a bloody scene with LIn Shaye that’s super-freaky. And John Cho as a realtor dealing with a crisis in his marriage is a surprising highlight of the film.

But other than that, 2020’s The Grudge is a poor horror film that was banking more on name visibility than actually trying. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving this one a 1.7. Only watch if you want to make a drinking game out of how many times you see the number 4 (which in Japanese sounds a lot like the word for death). Otherwise, watch either the 2004 remake or the original Japanese films, but definitely not this.

I’m off to get the remake from the library. I need my faith in the series restored.

This is a bad start to 2020’s horror films. Hopefully the other ones coming out this month are better by leaps and bounds.

*No joke, when I first saw the American remake, my sister asked me to watch it for her to let her know if she could watch it without getting scared. I watched that movie in our basement, and then I never let her near that franchise until I moved out of the house. As far as I know, she still hasn’t watched any of the films.

**Why a live-in nurse goes from Pennsylvania to Japan for work when her family is still in Pennsylvania is not actually explained, so don’t expect an answer from me. I can only guess that there was a sudden shortage in live-in nursing jobs and they were only available in Japan, because otherwise it makes no fucking sense whatsoever.

***And it would also be worse than the 2009 remake, as hard as that is to believe. Yes, I found another way to blast that horrific movie! Screw you, Michael Bay! Your horror movies are travesties and deserve to be erased from history!

I heard first heard of Mr. Hamill and his novel after I came across his article on contending with the legacy of HP Lovecraft as a writer. The idea of his book interested me, so I put it on my reading list. Took a few books to get to it and a few weeks to get through it, but I read A Cosmology of Monsters from front to back. And with that out of the way, it is my pleasure and duty to review the book.

A Cosmology of Monsters follows the Turners, a family living in North Texas and running their own haunted house, The Wandering Dark. Told by the youngest member of the family Noah, the story begins with the meeting of his parents in 1968 and follows them as various tragedies befall the family throughout the decades, as well as the threat following the family through the years and generations.

Cosmology is literary horror at its finest.

Told in the style of Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (which I’m told was a major influence on Cosmology and which I recommend as a read on its own) Noah Turner narrates how his family began, and through the decades the many hardships his family endures. It’s an engrossing way to tell the story, because every decision has far-reaching consequences on the Turner family. You also get a deep understanding of each character through this storytelling method, what their motivations and their troubles are, and how those play into the events of this story.

Noah himself is a fantastic narrator. He’s talking from the perspective of a grown-up looking back over fifty years of history, but he does a good job of calling up his childhood feelings of loneliness and isolation, of feeling alienated and not understanding why the people around him do what they do.

I also like how weird it can be sometimes (makes sense, since it’s me). The supernatural aspect of the story is very slight at the beginning and only gains prominence as you move deeper into the novel, and as you do, you find yourself with more questions than answers. Conventional monsters do play a part, so to speak, but there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes and it gets weirder with every layer revealed. It took me a while after I finished the book to really understand what all these revelations meant, and even now as I write this, I’m only half-certain I understand what everything meant.

All that said, there were things that I had issues with. There’s a section in the book where, instead of black letters against a white page, it’s white letters printed on a black page, and for some people, especially for people with certain eye issues, that might make things difficult to read (and why I don’t use my blog’s original theme anymore). And if you’re looking for a more typical horror story, with monsters popping out every five seconds or the supernatural aspect a constant presence in the story, this won’t be your kind of novel.

That being said, A Cosmology of Monsters is a mesmerizing read and one of the best books I’ve read this year. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.8. Grab your flashlight, and prepare to walk through a house haunted by the tragedies of the family. You won’t want to leave till you get to the very end.

And then you’ll want to think about both the deeper meaning of the book as well as what it’d be like to create your own haunted house attraction. Or is that just me?