Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

Do I really need to say anything? No, we all knew I was going to see this movie opening weekend, and that I would post a review soon afterwards. The only question is, besides what did I think of the movie, is why the review is being posted so late at night. Answer: I went with a couple of friends to Oktoberfest Columbus for drinks and only just got back a little while ago. Now onto the review.

IT: Chapter Two picks up the story twenty-seven years after the ending of Chapter One. A violent gay-bashing reawakens It, who begins another reign of terror upon the people of Derry. Mike Hanlon, the only member of the Losers Club still in Derry, calls back his friends, who have forgotten most of their memories and need to recall what they’ve forgotten in order to stop It once and for all. Unfortunately, It wants them to come back. It enjoys having enemies. And It wants to finish what they all started twenty-seven years ago.

I’ll be honest with you: I was disappointed with this movie.

There’s stuff here to enjoy, don’t get me wrong. The adult versions of the characters not only look like grown up versions of the kids we met two years ago (who show up a lot in this movie, and I really can’t tell they’ve been digitally de-aged, even though that’s what happened), but they put their all into the characters and do it so well. Bill Hader as the adult Richie Tozier, for all his inexperience in the horror genre, does scared very well, and steals just about every scene he’s in. Bill Denbrough is given a decent character arc tackling his ongoing guilt regarding his brother’s death. They actually do the giant spider form some justice in this film, as well as the scene with Adrian Mellon being beaten to death by homophobes.

Stephen King himself has a great cameo in the movie, and they managed to work in an in-joke about King’s writing (namely that he doesn’t know how to end a book)* by having people say Bill doesn’t know how to finish a novel. And I approved of some of the changes to the story for the film, especially one involving a secret of Richie’s and putting Stan Uris’s suicide in a new light.

However, there was a lot I didn’t care for in this film. One thing I didn’t like was how everything just seemed to be spelled out for our protagonists. In the first film, you watched the characters figure out everything–It’s 27-year cycle, how all seven of them need to be together to fight It, how It has many different forms, including a clown–and that was great. People who knew the source material got to see them figure out the puzzle (I’m told this is called dramatic irony) and those who weren’t pieced things together with the characters. But in Chapter Two, EVERYTHING gets spelled out, mostly by Mike. He’s practically one big info-dump, which takes away some of the sense of mystery.**

Not only that, but It’s power in Derry seems to be downplayed in this film. In the first film, they do a great job conveying how much power It has over Derry and its inhabitants, but I did not get that sense as much during this film. I could’ve also used further exploration of It’s origins. I’m not asking for Maturin and the Macroverse (I’m not unreasonable), but I would’ve loved to see a bit more otherwordliness and maybe a scene going into how the form of Pennywise arose (fans were teased a scene like that after the first film). Kind of made Pennywise less threatening to me, actually.

We also get a lot of CGI in this film, which is ugly and comes with enough flashing lights that I left the theater with a strong headache. And while the final battle was awesome at times, the way it ended left me feeling less than impressed (really? That’s the final shot of Pennywise you went with?).

Oh, and before I forget: the tone. One criticism of the first film is that the tone’s a little inconsistent at times. However, it’s worse in the second film, with jokes and music that doesn’t fit popping up every other minute. I mean, can we leave the joking to Bill Hader and just keep things consistent? I want to be scared, not giggling at one-liners.

There are other things I could say, but I’m going to just leave it at that. On a scale of 1 to 5, I think I’ll give IT: Chapter Two a 2.5 out of 5. Perhaps I psyched myself up too much for this film, but it did not fulfill my expectations. Also, don’t see this film if you have any sort of photosensitivity.

I bought this Pennywise doll after the movie. No matter what you think of the second movie, this is the best version of Pennywise, and I wanted something to celebrate that.

On the bright side, Chapter One still holds up, and will for years to come. We may never get an adaptation of IT in any format that will satisfy everyone, but at least Chapter One will always be the closest to doing so. And of course, Joker and Doctor Sleep come out next month. Those should settle our scary clown and Stephen King itches, respectively.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Goodnight, and pleasant nightmares.

*Which I don’t agree with. I can count the number of his books I’ve been disappointed with the ending with on one hand, but that’s just me.

**Also, wasn’t he supposed to be a recovering addict in this film? I mean, they kept saying in promotional interviews that he was, but the only evidence I saw of that was an empty beer bottle and one Native American vision journey. He comes off more as obsessed to me: obsessed with Pennywise and his childhood friends. Worrisome, but not evidence of a recovering addict.

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It’s hard to believe we’re in the second half of August, and October (AKA the Halloween season, AKA the most wonderful time of the year), is right around the corner. Soon, we’re going to have to get ready for witches and goblins and more candy than is probably healthy. But before we go into all that (as well as some of what I have planned for that month), I have to mark a milestone. That’s right, my novel Rose has been out for two whole months!

So for those of you who know, Rose is a fantasy-horror novel I wrote as a college thesis project. The novel follows a young woman named Rose Taggert who awakens with the past two years missing from her memories. She quickly undergoes a terrifying transformation into a plant-like creature, which begins a saga to ensure her survival as she realizes people in her life are hiding dark secrets from her.

It took a lot of work, about seven drafts, and more than a few anxiety attacks, but after five years, Rose was released on June 21st, 2019. And I’m proud to say that it’s been doing well. Everyone I’ve talked to who’s read it seems to like it, or at the very least, not hate it. Just this past Sunday, for example, I received two new reviews of Rose, each from very different reviewers. For example, The first came from Angela Yuriko Smith, editor of S’pace and Time Magazine, who shared her thoughts on her personal website (which apparently she read the same week she put in a garden. Now that’s synergy!). The other came from Elle Turnpitt of Dead Head Reviews, who found it terrifying and gave the novel as a whole a 4 out of 5.  Nice stuff.

Me at the reading on Sunday. Yes, I am wearing a black cloak. Does that surprise you at all?

Also on Sunday, I had my very first solo author reading* at Brothers Drake Meadery in Columbus. I’ve loved that place since my college years, and I was super excited to have my reading there (plus, the mead!). A small but very enthusiastic crowd showed up for the reading, only three of whom were related to me, and they liked what they heard. After the reading, they asked me a lot of questions (my favorite was if I’m a LARPer–I wish I had the time for that!) and a few people even bought signed copies. It was an amazing experience, one I hope to do again with them someday.

Did I mention the owners of Brothers Drake messaged me on Instagram today to let me know they’re reading it? I’m really excited to hear what they think.

Anyway, if any of this has made you curious about Rose, I’ll leave the links below so you can check it out, read some of the other reviews people have left, and then decide to get a copy. And if you do get one, please let me know what you think. Positive or negative, email or online review, I love feedback and it helps me out in the long run.

The table featuring the copies of “Rose,” which I enjoyed signing books and talking to people at.

Oh, and before I forget, I’ll be at the Bexley Local Author Festival at the Bexley Public Library on Sunday, August 25th, in Bexley, Ohio. I’ll be selling and signing copies of Rose, taking photographs, and probably not sacrificing the lives of the innocent in order to start a terrifying plague. Hope to see you there if you can make it. And if you can’t, I’ll likely be blogging about it, so you can read that. Should be a good time.

Well, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I have to torture the souls of famous personages from history who were secretly serial killers (you’ll never guess which American Founding Father is among that group) and then work on a possession story before heading to bed. Until next time, happy reading and pleasant nightmares!

Rose: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada

*Sort of. I had one in college in my dorm, but given that I bribed or blackmailed most of the five people who showed up and it didn’t really result in any sales of The Quiet Game, I’m not sure it counts anymore.

Someone on Twitter mentioned this film and I thought it sounded interesting. That’s it. I have nothing else to add, beyond the wait at the library took way longer than I expected. Oh well. Let’s get into it.

The Witch in the Window follows a man and his son who go to Vermont to flip an old farmhouse. However, they’re not long before they find out the house is already occupied. And this occupant is very intent on them staying. Whether they want to or not.

Well, this was a surprisingly decent Gothic horror film with a lot of heart.

The best part of this film is the relationship between dad Simon and his son Finn. The filmmakers could’ve gone with some generic story about a moody kid and his dad coming together through adversity, but instead we get a relationship that’s touching and feels organic. You get the sense that they see this trip as getting away from all the toxic influences in their lives and are reconnecting in a way that would make many parents and kids jealous. It’s this relationship that drives the film, and makes you want to root for the characters.

I also like the story for the most part. While there is a jump scare or two, there’s a lot more importance placed on atmosphere and disturbing imagery. There are a number of scenes that make your skin crawl, all without any cringy CGI or loud noises. One scene when Finn wakes up had me in awe because of how clever and creepy it was. Coupled with a plot that goes in unexpected directions, it makes the movie difficult to look away from. You just want to see where it goes and what will happen next.

That being said, the third act does feel rushed, which made the ending feel slightly hollow rather than psychologically terrifying but ultimately sweet. If maybe another ten to twenty minutes had been added to the film, it would’ve been much scarier and maybe the ending might have a more emotional punch.

All told, The Witch in the Window is an engaging and different kind of horror film than what we’re used to. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 3.8. Pop it in if you get a chance because, like the characters, you’ll be staying for a while.

I don’t remember much of the Scary Stories series from my childhood days, but what I do remember terrified me shitless (thank you, Mrs. Paulowicz, for scaring your entire third grade class with the story of the grave digger who stole silver coins from over the eyes of a dead woman). So when it came out that a movie based on the stories was in the works, people were excited, skeptical, curious, and terrified (of their beloved childhood memories being tarnished). And then we saw those initial trailers on Super Bowl weekend. And we were like, “Ooh, this should be good.”

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark takes place in a small Pennsylvania town in the fall of 1968. Several teens, led by aspiring writer Stella Nichols, go to visit the old Bellows mansion, an abandoned house supposedly haunted by the spirit of a murderess who was kept hidden in a basement from the world, poisoned kids who came to hear her scary stories through the wall, and hung herself. They end up finding the book of Sarah Bellows, which is still being written, with the teenagers as the main characters. Now they have to find a way to stop Sarah before the antagonists of the stories take them and kill them all.

I’ll admit, the story has a predictable structure, and the third act could have been a lot scarier and less reliant on CGI monsters. Still, Scary Stories is a decent horror film. Much better than some other films I’ve seen lately (looking at you, Midsommar!).

For those wondering, this film does contain a lot of favorite monsters and references to other stories. Jangly Man, the Pale Lady, the girl who had spiders birthed from her cheek. They even make several references to The Hearse Song, which many people were first exposed to through the book series (and which is one of the inspirations for my short story Pinochle on Your Snout).

The best part of this movie is its scares and atmosphere. While there are jump scares, they’re not overused and for the most part are pretty effective. The filmmakers used a combination of settings, such as the house, a cornfield, or a hospital wing,* along with lighting (or lack of it) and practical/make-up effects to create a claustrophobic and suspenseful atmosphere that will make you curl in on yourself in terror. I swear, the scene in the cornfield with the scarecrow had me genuinely freaked out. Especially when it moved!

The actors also do a good job with these characters. I really empathized with Stella, played by Zoe Colletti, who loves horror and writes, but at times has trouble interacting with others and has to deal with bullies (girl, I’ve been there). And Ramon Morales, played by Michael Garza, came off as truly kind and sympathetic.

Also of note is the theme of persecution in the film. There’s a reason that this film takes place in 1968, when the first book was released in 1981. Sarah Bellows, whom we only really see at the end, is revealed to be born with a disability, and is treated horribly by her family for it. Several of the main characters have dealt with bullying for being different, and Ramon is persecuted mainly because he’s Hispanic. The Vietnam War and the 1968 election also comes up quite a bit in the story. All this comes together to give this film a rather poignant undertone that one could find ways to apply to our current political climate (just saying), and that never hits you over the head to get the message across.

But as I said, the story is kind of predictable and the third act has some issues. Specifically, there’s too much attention paid to making Sarah Bellows a sympathetic villain, along with wrapping things up with a nice bow, that the fear kind of dissipates by the end of the climax. Doesn’t help that they chose a monster requiring lots of CGI to bring to life in that act.

But all in all, Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark will delight fans of the series and should satisfy regular horror fans. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give Scary Stories a 4.2. Atmospheric and creepy, you’ll be drawn in and learn to be afraid of the power of stories. Go and check it out.

*By the way, one of the locations in the film is the Pennhurst State School, one of the haunted locations I want to visit! Not the real one, but a great recreation. Way to tie in a real haunted location with a sordid past into a horror film, filmmakers. I’m impressed.

I saw this novel featured on Red Lace Reviews and got interested, so I asked my library to order a copy. Lo and behold, they ordered one, and I got through it in about two weeks (it would’ve been sooner, but I had to skip some lunch breaks due to workload or illness). And as often happens when I get my hands on new horror, I have to review it.

Kinfolk follows Ray and Eric, two brothers who have been brought together after years of separation to wrap up some unfinished business. However, while traveling through the backwoods of Texas, they get lost and stranded, and find themselves at the mercy of a twisted, cannibalistic clan who have way more firepower than they do, as well as enough bloodlust to match. In a moment, the brothers’ thoughts of revenge are pushed out by a much greater need to simply survive.

So if “backwoods of Texas” brought to mind images of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, don’t worry, because that’s been a lot of people’s impressions. In fact, it wouldn’t be too far off to call this book an updated TCM without the chainsaws. And given my own dislike of the original TCM (bite me, Tobe Hooper fans, that movie’s shock value has waned after forty-five freaking years!), I’m happy to say that I enjoyed Kinfolk a lot more.

Kinfolk does a very good job of freshening up the “rural, cannibalistic, in-bred family” trope. Rather than portray all of the members of the clan as outright crazy and obviously dangerous, a lot of them on first glance seem normal, which plays into a sense of false safety before we’re given a rude awakening. And the concise language helps evoke the story in your head so you can plainly see (and occasionally feel) the Texas setting, with all its hidden dangers.

The main characters are also fun. Ray and Eric are by no means saints. They won’t win any awards for intelligence, and they don’t come off as even the romantic sort of criminals one might find in a novel like this, but there’s something about them that makes you want to root for them and hope they survive whatever’s about to befall them. Maybe it’s because they’re underdogs, just trying to get by and find some peace in a world that doesn’t always allow for peace or sense for any length of time.

If I had any problems with the novel, I’d say that it did play into a few tropes a bit too much, and that made it at times a little predictable. Especially when you’re like me, and you’re used to trying to guess how things will play out from the writer’s POV.

However, Kinfolk was, on the whole, an enjoyable read that I had trouble putting down. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’ll give the novel a 4. If you want a fast-paced horror story that manages to put a fresh coat of paint on a certain horror story, then fill up the tank and drive right in. You won’t be disappointed.

I listened to the audio book of NOS4A2 by Joe Hill (aka Stephen King’s son Joe King) about a year or two ago. I liked it: it had several scary moments, awesome characters, and trippy psychic phenomena his dear dad probably approved wholeheartedly (the only real downside was the narrator. Just totally wrong for that book). When I heard a TV adaptation was in the works, I got interested, especially since the book doesn’t exactly lend itself to adaptation. But adapted it was. And whoo-boy, what an adaptation.

NOS4A2 follows Vic McQueen, a teenager whose motorbike allows her to access the Shorter Way Bridge, a supernatural wormhole that helps her find lost things. She later finds out that there’s another like her out there: Charlie Manx, a man who kidnaps children in his Rolls Royce Wraith (the license plate of which is where the title of the show comes from), transforms them into vampiric monsters, and takes them to a place in an alternate dimension called Christmasland, where it’s Christmas Eve every night and Christmas Day every day. In exchange, he gets to stay young. And whether by choice or by fate, Vic must face Manx and stop him, or he’ll keep taking kids forever.

Let me just say, the cast of this show is the best part. Every actor fully becomes their characters, so that it becomes hard to remember anything else you’ve seen them in. The best, of course, are Ashleigh Cummings as the protagonist Vic McQueen and Zachary Quinto as antagonist Manx. Cummings truly makes you believe she’s a teen just trying to get out of town and out of poverty, preferably by going to art school in Providence. And oh my God, whether as his normal self or under a lot of make-up and prosthetics to look a hundred years old, Quinto is creepy as heck. He comes off as charming on the surface but underneath is a psychopath hungry for power and totally convinced of his own line of altruistic bullshit. I swear, if he goes in character at a convention, every parent who’s seen the show is going to scream and grab their child out of instinct before remembering he’s an actor in a role.

Of course, the show itself is nothing to sneeze at. There are several creepy and tense moments, and more than a few scenes where Vic is in danger that kept me on the edge of my seat. Even better, there are no episodes where things slow down and get unnecessarily boring. There was one episode where Vic had to go to a hospital where I thought it would get slow and boring, and she’d spend the whole book sorting her life out before deciding to fight Manx. Without getting into details, my expectations were subverted (and not in a bad way, like what I hear happened to the last season of Game of Thrones).

The only issues I had were that some things the writers included just didn’t feel necessary or make sense to me. In one episode, Vic’s got twelve hours to meet up with Manx, who has kidnapped a kid she knows. What does she do in the meantime? She parties at a rich friend’s house, gets drunk, and talks with a cute boy before getting sick. Whaaat?

And what was with the halfhearted love-triangle? They just kind of didn’t go anywhere with that, so why would they include it?

But on the whole, NOS4A2‘s first season is a strong start for the series, and I can’t wait for the second season. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving this season a 4.4. An amazing cast and great storytelling mixed with taut atmosphere and mystery. Grab your reality-cutting knife, get some hot chocolate and candy canes, and dive into the Highway of the Mind. You won’t be disappointed.

And until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares.

In the past couple of years, Riley Sager has made a bit of a name for himself among horror-thriller writers. Final Girls was a great debut novel with a new twist on an old trope, and his second book The Last Time I Lied gave new life to the sleep away camp horror story by making a twisty thriller out of it. So I had high hopes for his third book, Lock Every Door, which just came out.

And you know what? It has all the hallmarks I’ve come to expect from a Riley Sager novel. A young woman with a past negatively affecting her present as the lead? Check. A situation out of an old horror movie just ripe for a new spin? Check. Lots of flashbacks? Check. A whole ton of twists to keep you guessing? Check.

You know what else? Dude still knows how to write a good horror-thriller.

Lock Every Door follows Jules Larsen, a young woman recently laid off from her job and out of a bad relationship. Life’s been hard for her: her sister went missing, her parents are dead and she’s got nowhere to go. So when she’s offered a job as an apartment sitter at the Bartholomew, an upscale Manhattan apartment building for the rich and famous that also happens to be the setting for Jules’s favorite novel, she jumps on it. But once she moves in, she finds a disturbing side to the Bartholomew. Another apartment sitter goes missing in the middle of the night, and Jules suspects someone at the building is responsible. As she investigates, she uncovers a web of intrigue and murder that may claim another life very soon. Her own.

Mood-wise, Lock Every Door is semi-Gothic: it takes place in a fancy apartment building with gargoyles and a dark and sordid history. There’s not enough emphasis on the building itself as a character to really make it a Gothic novel, but there’s enough there to give it a feel of that genre, and that works in the book’s favor. It gives horror fans some expectations, but at the same time leaves room to defy them in a spectacular manner.

I also liked Jules as a character: she’s damaged and somewhat pragmatic, but she’s fiercely loyal to those she cares about and that’s what drives her throughout the story. She’s the kind of person you’d want as a friend through thick and thin, as well as the sort of character I like to write into my own stories.

On top of that, the story is quick-paced and full of the usual twists. I spent a good chunk of my reading wondering, “Where’s this going to go? Where are you taking us?” And just when you think you have it figured out, the carpet is pulled out from right under your feet. I had to struggle to put the book down sometimes, which could be an issue as I mainly read it on my lunch break.

If there’s one issue I had with Lock Every Door, I felt like characters other than Jules felt underdeveloped to me. You could feel them wanting to be more, but they weren’t really allowed to be, and this made them a bit easier to predict as to what their final fates would be (usually I’m not good at guessing these sorts of things in these types of books. Not so with Lock Every Door. I was making early predictions that turned out to be right each and every time).

But on the whole, Lock Every Door is a fast, engrossing, and chilling read that will have you thinking one thing and then totally throw you for a loop. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give the book a 4.7. Check in and hope you’ll come out unscathed.

Makes me wonder what Mr. Sager will be doing for his next book. What horror trope will he flip on its head for a new thriller novel? I hope it’s not a school. I’ve got plans for November, after all…