Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

Season 9 of American Horror Story decided to get on the 1980s nostalgia train and create its own love letter to the decade which produced my favorite music, particularly to the slasher films that came out during that decade. And the very first episode made sure to saturate us with bright colors, crazy hair, a fun playlist, a murder story told around a campfire that turns out to be true. It was both a homage and a satire that I enjoyed. And I was interested to see what the rest of the season would be like.

Turns out, AHS: 1984 decided to spend the next couple episodes playing up the slasher tropes, and then turn EVERYTHING on its head for the rest.

And that’s one of this season’s strengths. For the most part, the show knew how to give us everything we expected in the first couple of episodes, especially when it came to 80’s culture, and then found ways to make our jaws drop. Characters whom we thought were good people turned out to be bad and vice versa, the cause of all the horrors is first one person, and then another, and now we don’t know what to think.

Oh, and I love all the references to famous slasher films, especially the references to the original Friday the 13th film in episode 8.

I also really liked the characters, especially the three lead females. Brooke, played by Emma Roberts, turned out to be a surprisingly strong protagonist who developed very well over the course of the season. Leslie Grossman’s Margaret was a blast to watch once you found her hidden depths. And oh God, did I love Billie Lourd as Montana. I swear, Lourd can change characters and personalities and be totally unrecognizable in each incarnation, and that’s especially true with Montana.

Of course, our serial killers were great as well. John Carroll Lynch’s Benjamin Richter, aka serial killer Mr. Jingles, went from a rather one-dimensional slasher killer to a very sympathetic character. Zach Villa as Richard Ramirez was petrifying! I would not want to meet him in a dark alley! And oh, it was nice to see Dylan McDermott on the show again!

That being said, there were some issues with this season. 1984‘s final episode opted for flashbacks to tell the ending events of the main conflict of the season, and while that worked well in season 2 for the most part, it kinda fell flat like it did in season 5. When we already have an idea of how it’s going to shake out and is over-reliant on flashbacks, it can take some of the tension out of the story. Not to mention that I felt the show didn’t give Brooke the ending she deserved. And don’t get me started on the plot hole the last episode opened up with Richard Ramirez! All I’m saying is, they better fix that in a future season, or this is going to be a never-ending gripe among fans of the series.

I want Zach Villa as Richard Ramirez back, and not just because he’s freaking terrifying!

Oh, one more thing: the make-up used to make Donna and Brooke look older did not work at all! We could all tell they were waking make-up!

But all in all, this was a solid enough season, and it delivered on the promise to make the season a standout on the 80’s nostalgia that is so rife in our pop culture these days. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving American Horror Story: 1984 a 4.2 out of 5. A bloody, tension-filled season with twists to make your mouth drop and characters to draw you in and keep you watching. Get your shoulder pads and leg warmers and get ready to dive right in.

You’ll enjoy it more than the Friday the 13th remake. And no, I’m NEVER letting that go! Not until we get a better movie anyway.

Anyway, looking forward to season 10, whatever that is. I’m still hoping for an academy or orphanage setting. Maybe some references to J-Horror or K-Horror or some Lovecraftian elements too. And a fixed plothole from 1984 might be nice. Hey, a guy can hope, right?

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

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Now let’s get one thing out of the way: the Doctor Sleep movie is based on the novel Doctor Sleep by Stephen King, which is a sequel to King’s previous novel, The Shining. The movie is also an attempt to reconcile the novels and Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining, which King hates (and which I kind of agree with). And apparently King loved the script for this movie, as well as the final product. Everybody got that? Good.

Doctor Sleep follows Danny Torrance post-Overlook. He’s grown up to inherit his father’s issues with anger and alcohol, though once he arrives in a small New Hampshire town, he does sober up. At the same time, he makes a psychic connection with a young girl in a neighboring town named Abra Stone and who shines way more powerful than Dan does.* Which is good, because there’s a group of people known as the True Knot roaming around America in RVs, kidnapping kids with shine abilities and killing them to extract their power in the form of steam. In order to defeat the True Knot, as well as their leader, Rose the Hat, Dan and Abra will have to go someplace special to defeat them. A place Dan never wanted to revisit.

Well, I’m going to say this: it does feel like a Stephen King novel brought to film. In a good way.

So there are a lot of callbacks to the source material, as well as to King’s works in general. I had a private laugh at shots meant to pay homage to the Kubrick film, as well as to a field of corn and the number “19” showing up (folks who know King get it). And it’s really awesome to see the theatrical Overlook brought back to life (though degraded with age). And the novel does a great job of hybridizing the books and the Kubrick film in a way that would satisfy most King fans.

And the actors also do their jobs very well. I should mention that. The True Knot actors are particularly creepy when they’re sucking up steam or doing something else freaky, inhuman and cult-like.

That being said, there are some issues. For one thing, there is a lot of exposition, which in a novel we can get away with (especially in a King novel), but in a film it can slow things down. There are some things from the original novel that never made it to the movie that I would’ve liked to see, and there were some changes I didn’t care for.

And I didn’t find it that scary. I mean, there were a couple of moments where I jumped or was a little freaked out, but they weren’t enough to scare me. My criticisms of the Kubrick film aside, at least it’s unnerving to watch. But while the intent is there, Doctor Sleep can’t bring that unnerving feeling to life.

On the whole, I’m giving the Doctor Sleep film adaptation a 3.5 on a scale of 1 to 5. If you’re a big fan of the Kubrick Shining film, you’ll be disappointed. If you’re here for a horror movie, you’ll find it so-so. And if you’re a fan of King and the original novel, as well as interested to see how the film version can reconcile all the books and films, you’ll walk away satisfied.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m going to bed and getting into writing tomorrow. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*Fun fact, I named a character Abra in my NaNoWriMo project Toyland after reading Doctor Sleep. No psychic powers though. Not a spoiler, just a statement of fact.

I don’t have work tomorrow, and I wanted a horror film to watch on Halloween while still saying I went out for the evening. I’ve seen everything else playing that’s considered “horror,” so I went into this with low expectations. I only knew of it because of some commercials showing audiences reacting like Paranormal Activity and a promotional app popular among teenagers and young adults.

Countdown follows a nurse named Quinn who downloads an app she hears about from a patient, which supposedly predicts the very date and time of your death. When people try to change their fates based on the app’s predictions, they end up stalked by a demon that taunts them before killing them at the appointed moment of their death. Now Quinn has to find a way to cheat death or she and those dear to her will die in the worst possible way.

So, we’ve all seen this sort of movie before. It’s like a simple recipe. People take part in something that seems harmless, it turns out to be real, supernatural in nature and very deadly. Someone becomes affected, finds an expert to help them identify where the evil comes from and possibly how to beat it. After a showdown with a CGI evil and a few deaths, the protagonist manages to beat the evil, which lives on one way or another. Throw in some jumpscares and some creepy imagery, and you have a cheap horror film trying to get in butts in seats because somebody knows how hungry horror fans are.

But Countdown didn’t even manage to meet my expectations for this kind of poor horror! Everything was predictable, and at times, it felt like the cast and crew weren’t even trying. They indulge in a lot of tropes, and not even do it very cleverly. The one trope they try to change is to have the supernatural expert be a priest who, rather than being old and well-experienced with demons, is a young man who literally calls the Bible “the world’s greatest graphic novel” and geeks out over the possibility of stopping a demon. It’s supposed to be funny, but is kind of cringey instead.

There is one thing that sets this movie apart, however. There’s a subplot where Quinn has to deal with a doctor who sexually harasses her and then tries to ruin her career when she spurns him. Now, I’m all for exploring these sorts of subjects in media, including horror. I often feel that horror is a good lens to view societal problems, and horror is a fertile ground to explore women’s issues. However, I don’t know this was the right film to have this sort of subplot. It feels more like a gimmick and a bad one too.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I give Countdown a 1.5. There are a lot better horror films out there to watch on Halloween. I suggest you go find them, especially if you want to feel scared and that you didn’t just waste eighty minutes of your life.

Well, that’s all for now. Halloween ends in forty-five minutes or so, and then something rather crazy will begin. I’ll let you know how that goes in due time. Until then, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares and Happy Halloween. See you again soon.

 

The Lighthouse is the latest film by Robert Eggers, the same director who brought us The Witch. I went in hoping for two things: to be scared and that it would be easier to understand what everyone was saying than in The Witch.

On both counts, I can say it was a success.

The Lighthouse follows Robert Pattinson as a young man who signs up to be an assistant lighthouse keeper at a remote island. There, he works under Willem Dafoe, an irascible lighthouse keeper who forbids his assistant from going up to the light at night for some reason. As time goes on though, both men, particularly Pattinson’s character, start seeing strange sights and creatures. Madness and isolation begin to set in the longer they stay together, leading to an irreversible outcome.

This is the first horror movie I’ve seen in theaters since Us where I’ve been truly terrified (I enjoyed Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, but I wasn’t that terrified). There’s a very claustrophobic feel to the film, which is helped by the fact that there are only two characters with speaking roles, and the film is filmed in black and white. Shadows seem bigger than they are, and the occasional blaring of a horn has almost a psychological effect on the viewer. The use of dialogue, which is only at times is slightly difficult to understand, is never excessive, instead deepening the feelings of madness and our inability to trust the characters and what they say.

It’s a very Lovecraftian sort of film: while it doesn’t involve space gods or giant monsters from the depths, the ocean, as well as what’s in it, do have a negative effect on the characters. They’re dealing with madness, isolation, claustrophobia, forces they can’t understand, secrets, questions without answers, and each other. And there’s this sense, especially near the end of the film, where what’s behind the curtain will only appear to be what you’re seeking. In reality, it’s going to ruin you.

Also, speaking of the characters, Dafoe and Pattinson are great! You can hardly recognize them as actors, they just totally envelop themselves in these characters. Granted, Pattinson’s accent changes quite a bit (is he Irish? Brooklyn? I can’t tell). But you actually start wondering if these actors are going as crazy as their characters may or may not be.

I can’t really think of anything negative about the film without being nitpicky. It’s a great film, technically well done and psychologically unsettling. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving The Lighthouse a 4.7. It’s a vast improvement from The Witch, weird and disturbing, and I think it’ll be an instant Halloween classic. Dive in and check it out for yourself.

Having read, reviewed and enjoyed the author’s previous works–A Head Full of Ghosts and The Cabin at the End of the World–I was interested to read a collection of short stories by Paul Tremblay. And after I got my latest Audible credit, I downloaded it and started listening. And whoo-boy was that a collection.

Now as I stated in a previous post, with every collection or anthology you’re going to get some stories you like, some stories you don’t, and a couple you just don’t get. Thankfully, the majority of these I liked, and wow, they were good. My favorite stories, “Notes for ‘Barn in the Wild'” and “It’s Against the Law to Feed the Ducks,” hint at much bigger and darker events than what you’re reading on the page (or hearing in your earbuds, in my case). It’s kind of like cosmic horror, where only a little bit is peeled away for the characters and audience, but that one peek is terrifying. And those stories could be cosmic horror, depending on the source of the trouble (I won’t give anything away).

Another great story is “Notes from the Dog Walkers,” which is out-and-out hysterical! I was really surprised to find that story in there, given that this is a horror collection, but once I got into it, I couldn’t stop listening. It’s hysterical, and has some interesting twists to it. And there’s one more story titled–get this–“Untitled.” Not sure why, it just is, and I found it wonderfully weird. Definitely recommend for a laugh, especially if you’re familiar with Tremblay’s work and/or you’re aware of just how weird people can be sometimes.

And after the last story, Tremblay has a bunch of notes about each individual story, which I love seeing in a collection and don’t see enough.*

There was only one story I didn’t like, but it was pretty unique. It was kind of like one of those pick-your-own-adventure books from when I was a kid, only it’s a short story or novelette in a horror collection for adults. Not in itself bad. I actually find taking that sort of story for a horror story not aimed at the Goosebumps crowd an intriguing concept. I just have never been into pick-your-own-adventure stories. Might have something to do with the fact that I, as an author, like to control everything that happens in a story when I’m given power over it. Not just a character’s choices.

And as far as stories I didn’t get, there was just the one, revolving around a teacher and an AP class. I think it was supposed to hint at the effect teachers can have on students, but I guess I missed something, because I left it more confused than anything else. Or was that the point?

But the rest of the stories were really good, and I’m glad I got to listen to them.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Paul Tremblay’s Growing Things and Other Stories a 4.5 out of 5. Creepy and entertaining, you’ll enjoy it from cover flap to cover flap. Pick up a copy and see if it…grows on you too.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m off to summon dark spirits from the nether realms and work on a story for my own gestating collection. Let’s hope it comes out somewhat decent.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*And Mr. Tremblay, if you’re bored and happen to be reading this review, let me just respond to the comment about authors who have more ideas than time to write: I’m one of those authors, I’m only nicely dressed when I have to be, and be careful what you ask for!

Hello, my name is Rami Ungar, and I’m pretty much in the best mood ever. Not even that sacrifice getting loose and running to the police station can’t bring me down. Why? Well, the sacrifice’s warrants are going to prove problematic and I’m merciful with my cultists. But the real reason I’m so happy is because I’ve been receiving so many new reviews of Rose!

Now if you’re unfamiliar with Rose, first off, hi, welcome to the blog. Second, Rose is my first novel with a publisher, a fantasy-horror novel about a young woman turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). I wrote it as my college thesis originally, edited it on and off over five years, and then somehow got it published about four months ago with Castrum Press.

And as I said, a lot of new reviews have been popping up lately. Many of them have come from book bloggers, some of whom have left their reviews on Amazon and Goodreads as well. In fact, on Amazon Rose has over twenty reviews. Which, is a huge deal. Not only is that more reviews than any of my other works, but once you get past twenty, Amazon includes your books in that little space that says, “Customers Who Bought This Book Also Bought.” So thanks to everyone’s reviews, Rose will have slightly more visibility on Amazon in the future.

And what reviews they’ve been, too! Most of them have been extremely positive.* One blogger said, “Ungar has created a new horror monster that isn’t quite like the rest.” Another said, “Don’t let the beautiful, delicate cover fool you–this is out-and-out horror.” My job here is done.

Anyway, I’m just really thankful for all the reviews. I’m still trying to establish myself and carve out an audience. And with all these reviews, I’m hopeful Rose will be read by more people, and help me build my audience for the next book I put out there, whatever that is.

If you want to read any of these reviews, I’ll post the links below and update as more bloggers post reviews. After all, they deserve just as much exposure for giving Rose some much-needed exposure. I’ll also include links for those who want to read Rose themselves. And if you do end up checking it out, let me know what you think. Positive or negative, I love feedback, and it helps me out in the long run.

Also, thanks to Blackthorn Book Tours for putting Rose in the hands of so many reviewers. You’ve been such a big help for me lately. I hope we can do this again someday with whatever I publish next.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Rose: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada

Review Sites: Goodreads, Isobel Blackthorn, Alison’s Catty Book Corner, Power Librarian, The Book Review Hub, Whispers and Wonder (great interview), The Bookwormery, #CupidIsWatchingMe, Alex J Book Reviews, Unwrapping Words, Book, Blog & Candle, Bookshine and Readbows, A Little Fool Reads, Book Reviews & More, Tattooed Bibliophile, Iseult Murphy, Literary Retreat, Megan’s Haunted House of Books (interview and review).

*Actually, I’ve been really lucky in the review department. I’ve only had one lower than three stars, and the person who left that on Goodreads said she wouldn’t leave a full review because she only gave it two stars. Which honestly only makes me curious. What did she dislike about the novel? It’s going to bug me for a while.

We all know I love the Addams Family, especially the 1960’s sitcom iteration. So of course, I’ve been keeping my eyes out for anything new from the franchise. And when the first trailer for this movie dropped…well, let’s just say I may have been mistaken for a banshee or a werewolf in the Columbus community.

The Addams Family shows the Addams living in New Jersey. Due to past experiences with less-than-tolerant townspeople, they’ve lived in isolation to protect themselves. However, when a new suburb crops up by the Addams’ estate, they have to deal with not only the suburb’s creator/leader, a TV interior decorator, but the temptations and dangers of having to live near people again. All as the Addams prepare for an upcoming celebration in which the whole family will be gathered under one roof.

Before I start, let me just clarify one thing: in this adaptation, Fester is Gomez’s brother again (though whether older or younger is unknown), Grandmama is Gomez and Fester’s mother, and Wednesday is the older sibling again. These relationships can vary from adaptation to adaptation.

Now that that’s out of the way, let me state this: this might be my new favorite adaptation of The Addams Family.

For one thing, the animation really resembles the original Charles Addams cartoons, as well as allows for more crazy happenings during the course of the movie. (Not saying it’s better than any of the live-action versions, which I know a lot of people love, Just saying it looks nice and allows for more creative freedom)

And the story is decent. While it’s the sort of story we’ve seen before–people of different backgrounds learning to find common ground despite a powerful person trying to keep power–it’s done with a lot of heart and creativity here. Not only that, but it allows for a lot of character exploration, particularly with Morticia and Wednesday. The former is dealing with the fact that she can’t protect her child from the world anymore (something a lot of parents are dealing with more and more in a world where social media makes us grow up faster), while Wednesday is confronted with a world she’s unfamiliar with, and is ready to explore it despite her mother’s worries.

What took me by surprise, though, was how much this film’s themes could be applied to today’s world. I know there’s a lot of talk about refugees seeking safety in other countries,* and the Addams could stand in for refugees. In fact, the very first scene depicts them as refugees, fleeing the old country after Gomez and Morticia’s wedding is interrupted by townspeople with pitchforks and torches. The villain of the film could be seen as a stand-in for a lot of politicians or media types who use social media to comment on their issues, and sometimes inflame and direct people to action.

There’s actually a lot to unpack with these films, and it might surprise a few viewers. Granted, sometimes the way the film handles its themes hits us on the head–the new suburb is called “Assimilation,” for one–but for the most part, it’s done pretty well.

And yes, it is extremely funny. And there is an opportunity to snap your fingers and sing the theme song during the film. Trust me, everyone in the audience was doing it.

All that being said, I did have a few issues with the film. There’s a subplot revolving around Pugsley preparing for his Saber Mazurka (basically the Addams’ version of a bar mitzvah), and it feels kind of rushed compared to the other characters’ arcs. You can kind of tell that his arc is an excuse to get all the Addams in one place, and I would’ve liked to see his arc given more attention.

Also, Grandmama is barely in the film, which is a shame because she’s fun to play off other characters, especially Morticia. The villain’s fate…well, without spoilers, it leaves a bit to be desired. And was Snoop Dogg really okay playing Cousin Itt? He’s on screen for two minutes and has maybe three lines, all of which is gibberish. I’d have thought he’d want a bigger role.

But all in all, 2019’s The Addams Family is a fun family film perfect for the Halloween season. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving this one an even 4. Pack up the hellspawn, get in your favorite hearse, and check it out. You should have a blast (though not because of the grenades).

*Due to my day job, I can’t openly comment on issues like that, but anyone who knows me should have some idea of what my views are.