Archive for the ‘Scary Stuff’ Category

You know me, I HAVE to review the season premiere and the season as a whole, every season, for American Horror Story. And with Apocalype being the series’ most ambitious season yet, I was interested to see if they could pull it off. I mean, not only is this an apocalypse-themed season (can’t get bigger than that), but it’s a crossover between the original season, Murder House, and Coven, the season that divides many fans (personally, I like what they were trying to do, but found it all too campy and maybe a little too expansive). So can show runners Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk really pull it off?

If the first episode is any indication, yes they can.

The first episode of Apocalypse, appropriately titled “The End,” depicts what you would expect: the end of life on Earth as we know it. Nuclear missiles are launched at every corner of the Earth, sending the planet into a nuclear winter. Everything seems to be gone…or is it? A group called the Cooperative has brought people together–some for their money, others for their genetic makeup–to an underground bunker to become the survivors of humanity. Watched over by Madam Venable (Sarah Paulson), life in bunker is strict and the punishments for disobedience are harsh. As the months go on, the survivors start to go stir crazy and worry how much longer they can tolerate conditions. That is, until a mysterious figure enters from outside the compound. Does he bring hope…or hell?

The first episode is definitely off to a good start, depicting the chaos and fear that would all but surely arise if Armageddon began in the first ten-fifteen minutes: riots, people committing suicide, everyone going insane trying to find shelter. But then a very different tone arises after we’re introduced to the Cooperative and its agents: things become very claustrophobic. Lots of sharp angles that are meant to make you feel closed in, plenty of shadows. It makes you feel as uncomfortable as the characters, and makes the punishments for disobedience all the more awful.

Plus, those hazmat costumes are freaky! If I didn’t already know what I was going as for Halloween, I might try to get one of them and wear it!

As far as acting, Sarah Paulson’s Madame Venable is clearly the best. She’s an icy woman, almost psychopathic in the way she interacts with these characters. It’s quite a change, as Paulson’s never played this sort of character on the show before. I’m looking forward to seeing where she could go from here.

I can’t point to anything that didn’t gel with me. It was a really good episode and a great start to what will hopefully be a memorable season. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’ll give the season premiere of American Horror Story: Apocalypse a 5. I have high hopes for the rest of the season. If you haven’t yet and are curious, check out the first episode. And prepare for the end.

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If it’s not obvious by now, I’m a big Stephen King fan (cue everyone who knows me saying in a torrent of sarcasm, “Gee, really? We had no effing idea!”). So when I heard some time last year that Hulu, JJ Abrams and His Royal Scariness Himself were collaborating to create a TV series set in his famous fictional town Castle Rock, you know I was interested. Fast forward to July 25th, and the first three episodes of Castle Rock premiered on Hulu. I didn’t write a review for them (I think that I was busy with a hundred other things that week), but I thought that the series had a strong start, and I was looking forward to seeing where the story went.

At the time I’m writing this, I’ve just finished Season One. How did it hold up?

First, the story. Taking place in the Stephen King multiverse, particularly in one of his frequent settings, Castle Rock, Maine, Castle Rock‘s first season follows Henry Deaver (Andre Holland), a lawyer who returns to his childhood town after receiving a call from nearby Shawshank Penitentiary after a prisoner (Bill Skarsgaard of IT fame) was found in its deepest depths, in a cage, with no name or other identity, only asking for him. Deaver, who left town after disappearing and then being found, only to be accused of murdering his adoptive father, tries to help this mysterious young man. But as he delves into this man’s case, as well as his own disappearance, he finds some strange connections between the two. And as violence starts building in the town, the race to figure out both mysteries takes on a whole new importance.

Okay first off, the cast is the best thing about this show! Every character utterly inhabits their character and make them feel like real people, some of whom you can imagine hanging out with (others, stay the hell away from). I especially liked Melanie Lynskey’s Molly Strand, a realtor with psychic powers and a history with Henry Deaver, and Sissy Spacek (yes, the original Carrie came back for another Stephen King story) as Ruth Deaver, Henry Deaver’s dementia-addled but still feisty and witty adoptive mother. And Scott Glenn as Alan Pangborn (maybe the only character who actually comes from a King story in this show) is a very sympathetic character, though he does come off at first as almost unlikable. Still, Holland as Deaver is the one who carries the story. We see things mainly through his eyes, and see how he struggles with all the baggage he carries as he tries to sift through all the confusion between events past and present.

I also liked the plot and how the story was told. It’s clearly geared towards people who are familiar with King’s works but still makes it accessible to those who haven’t seen the series. The writers also took the approach of a slow burn, taking their time to set up these characters and draw us in with the mystery while every now and then pumping things up to keep it interesting. And the writers weren’t afraid to take risks: two episodes are told entirely from the POV of a single character, and one of these episodes, through the eyes of Sissy Spacek’s character, is probably the best episode of the season.

Love Sissy Spacek in this show.

And finally, this does feel like a Stephen King story made for a television format. It’s not based on any particular story he’s written, but incorporates all of his stories, especially the ones set in Castle Rock, to give us a drama and a place that’s both familiar and new. Plus, you’ve got all the tropes you love (or in some cases, hate) from King: psychics, small towns full of secrets, religious fanatics gone crazy, sheriffs (or in this case, retired sheriffs), and of course, a whole bunch of weirdness that makes you go, “Say what? That works, but still, what the hell?”

Was there anything I didn’t like about Castle Rock? Well, a few things: one is that there’s a little too much weird. King’s been known to include a lot of odd concepts and sci-fi ideas into his work to varying degrees, and Castle Rock has a lot of that. The problem with that is, too much weird can lead to a lot of exposition and slow sequences where not much happens. Consequently, it also bites into moments where we could be totally terrified. And in my opinion, there weren’t enough of those moments, which is sad. Stephen King or Stephen-King inspired, his work is truly at its best when it features a shape-shifting clown hungry for children, or a Nazi war criminal burning cats alive in his oven,* things that make it hard for us to sleep. And that was lacking here.

On top of that, I didn’t like the season finale as much as I thought I would. It had its moments and explained a lot, but the climax could’ve been more epic, and I have mixed feelings on the final scene, both in what it featured and how it was told.

Still, all in all, it’s a great start to a series, and I’m looking forward to whatever they cook up for the upcoming season two (maybe something involving my man Leland Gaunt?). On a scale of 1 to 5, I’ll give Castle Rock a 4.3. Take a visit to the Rock, and hope that while you’re there, you come out with all your fingers attached.

That’s all for tonight, my Followers of Fear. Expect a review tomorrow for the season premiere of American Horror Story: Apocalypse (I’d review it tonight, but it ends after I should be in bed!). Until then, pleasant nightmares.

*I’m reading Apt Pupil right now, and that part had me frozen in my seat!

I was very excited waiting for this film to come out. How could I not be? I saw the original trailer three times before I sat down in the theater, and it made me jump at the end every time! And apparently another trailer was so scary, it was taken off YouTube (I wish I’d seen it before it got taken down, but that’s life). So you could see why I was interested in going to see it, and why I hoped it wouldn’t be terrible.

I’m glad to say, for the most part, The Nun lives up to the hype.

The Nun follows Father Burke, a priest who investigates paranormal and strange events on behalf of the church, and Sister Irene, a young novitiate with a history of fantastic visions. They are sent by the Vatican to investigate the suicide of a nun at a convent in Romania, and while there face an ancient evil that is seeking to escape the abbey and to wreak havoc on the wider world.

First off, the best part of this film is its characters and the actors playing them. Although they’re not the most developed, they feel like real people you might know and even want to hang out with. Sister Irene, played by Taissa Farmiga (the main series’ star Vera Farmiga’s younger sister, if you can believe it), is a loving, down-to-Earth woman who is trying to figure out whether to become a full nun. Frenchie, a young man who helps Father Burke and Sister Irene out, is wonderful comic relief as he flirts with Sister Irene and asks the occasional stupid question. And the Nun…yeah, that monster is still freaky as it was in the Conjuring 2. No wonder a film centering on it got made.

I also love the set of this film, a castle which is like a cross between Hogwarts’s darker sides and some castles in Europe I myself have been to. It’s so creepy and decrepit,, and is made to look almost like a maze you could get lost in. Add in all the touches–like the hundred thousand crosses placed throughout the castle–and it adds the perfect touch.

And, as always, there’s a strong atmosphere in this movie, just as we’ve come to expect from the Conjuring franchise. It keeps you tense and, coupled with some good jump scares (including that one from the trailer, which still got me) and a decent plot, keeps you interested and even a little scared throughout the movie.

Still, The Nun isn’t perfect. While the plot is decent, you can kind of guess where things are going to go about sixty-percent of the time, with the other forty-percent just being minor touches like a twist with the hauntings or something the demon does that you don’t expect. That, and the film may over-rely on jumpscares. This is a criticism that many people have had about the Conjuring films, but this is really the first time it bothered me. It might’ve been better if maybe the film relied more on creeping terror and a few more twists rather than making me jump in my seat.

Still, The Nun is a great addition to the Conjuring series and a good sign that there’s still plenty to mine from the lives of Ed and Lorraine Warren. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving the film a 3.8. It’s not perfect, but it’s got a lot going for it and I’m glad I went to go see it. Take a look, and pray for safety…and that the next Annabelle film is good.

Yes, there’s another Annabelle film on the way. It’s going to be released next summer, and it looks like it might be the last Annabelle film, dealing with the titular doll and the Warrens’ daughter. Obviously, I’m looking forward to it.

If you’ve been with me for a while now, you know I’m interested in and an admirer of creepypasta, urban legends and scary stories born and spread on the Internet that seem to have some sort of plausibility of truth to them, even if you can’t prove it. Recently I heard about a TV series called Channel Zero that, like American Horror Story and Slasher before it, told a different horror story every season, though in this case the stories were based on creepypasta. I decided to take a look, and found out my local library had all three seasons on DVD. I reserved the first season, subtitled Candle Cove, and picked it up yesterday.

Guess who spent most of his Saturday binge-watching it on his TV and laptop? This guy. And as this is me we’re talking about, of course I’m reviewing it.

Based on the Candle Cove creepypasta by Kris Straub (unknown if he’s related to horror author and friend of Stephen King Peter Straub), Channel Zero: Candle Cove follows Mike Painter, a child psychiatrist who returns to his childhood home of Iron Hill, Ohio (go Ohio!) after leaving twenty-eight years previously, when five children were horribly murdered and the killer was never caught. One of the children was Mike’s twin brother Eddie. Now back to put old demons to rest, Mike reconnects with old friends and finds out that several children in town have been watching Candle Cove, a mysterious TV series that originally aired during the two months the murders occurred. Its return to TV doesn’t just coincide with Mike’s return, but with a series of events that threatens to rock Iron Hill, Mike, and his family to their very cores.

I was very impressed with Channel Zero‘s first season. First off, there’s the story. Candle Cove tells a slow-burn story centered around its unfolding mystery. It’s very hard to look away as you watch the characters try to figure out the mystery of the Candle Cove TV show and how it may have affected events past and present. It’s also extremely twisty, making you question everything and wonder how it’s all connected. Trust me, you won’t see the finale until it happens, and it’ll leave you speechless.

I also sympathized with a lot of the characters. They each had their own demons to deal with, and as events start getting crazier and crazier, you can almost find yourself understanding why they do what they do. Doesn’t mean you’ll always approve or root for them, but you’ll understand.

Special mention goes to Fiona Shaw (the actress who played Aunt Petunia in the Harry Potter movies) who played Marla Painter, Mike’s mother. That character goes through so much, but is probably the strongest character on the show, and Ms. Shaw carries it with every scene. Loved seeing her on screen every time she showed up.

Hello, I’m the Tooth Child. I’ll be in your nightmares tonight.

And oh my God, the visuals on this show! From the clips of Candle Cove, to the figures of the Tooth Child and the Skin-Taker, to even some of the dream sequences, there is so much terrifying imagery! Season One definitely took care to make sure every creepy scene was as disturbing as possible. If any of my works ever get adapted, I hope just as much care is put into the visuals and scares.

If there are any flaws with season one, at times the story tends to focus more on the slow-burn story than on actually making viewers crap their pants. That’s not a bad thing, but for some horror fans who prefer outright scares, the slow-burn quality may be a bit off-putting. But at the moment, that’s the only issue I can point out with this show. And it’s not even my issue!

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Channel Zero: Candle Cove full marks with a 5 out of 5! Great storytelling with a well thought-out mystery and excellent visuals, it feels like something Stephen King might produce from his own twisted imagination. Tune in, and let yourself be hypnotized.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. With September here, there’s a lot of great horror stories on the horizon to read/watch and review. And believe me, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on most of them. Whether you want me to or not.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

 

There are people looking at the title of this post and thinking, “What the heck did that crazy author come up with now?”

To answer that question, I just finished writing a short story taking place during the London Blitz. I first had the idea for this story over four years ago, when I went on a study-abroad trip to Europe to follow the Allies’ path through Europe. While our teacher and tour guide (or was it one of the other students giving a report based on the research they did the last semester?) was discussing the London Blitz at Bletchley Park (the site where Alan Turing cracked the Nazi Enigma code), I had this idea for a story taking place during the Blitz, involving some kids encountering something awful while trying to run from the bombs. Over time, the antagonist came to be Adolf Hitler.

Or is it him? You know me, I never write anything simple. In any case, the story reflects something about me that shouldn’t surprise anyone: I’m scared of Hitler and the Nazis. As a Jew, I know how close my people came to annihilation nearly three-quarters of a century ago. If the war had gone differently, I probably wouldn’t be here, let alone talking about my stories and my love of horror with you. This is part of why I studied the Holocaust in college, and why I still study it today (though obviously not as frequently as I did in college). But even though I studied the Holocaust and have a pretty good understanding of what occurred, knowing doesn’t make me any less afraid of the Nazis or their monster of a leader. And with such a resurgence of people saying Hitler was right or worthy of admiration, I made sure to get that fear across in the story. Hopefully I succeeded.

You know, I actually wasn’t intending to write this story. I was planning on getting back to a novelette that I’d started working on in-between drafts of Rose. However, this story started calling to me to write it, and I couldn’t resist the call to listen to it. And yes, stories can demand to be written. At least while they’re in our heads. And I only just figured out why this story wanted me to write it so badly that it grabbed my attention. You see, I went to Washington DC recently for work. It was the first time since I was thirteen or so that I’d been to DC, so obviously I was going to do the tourist thing and check out some places (see my Instagram for photos). One of the places I decided to visit was the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, so I could see it after being so much more informed about it than I was as a teen.

The train car at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. There’s such a palpable energy of despair coming from it, you can’t help but be affected by it.

I guess my subconscious had me write this story because I was going to that museum. Maybe it was some form of mental preparation, or maybe I felt somewhere in my mind that it was the right thing to write. In either case, I went to the museum on Saturday, and let me tell you, their main exhibit has a palpable atmosphere. You can’t go in there without coming away affected. Seeing all these artifacts from the past–concentration camp and Nazi uniforms, newsreel footage, photographs, testimonials from survivors, even a train car that might have been used to transport Jews and other “inferior races” to concentration camps–along with the museum’s presentation of them, make you fully aware of the horror that occurred so long ago and how it still affects us today.

After I left the main exhibit, I was so glad I was writing this story. It was as if through the story, I was reminding people there’s still a reason to fear Hitler and his ideology. Especially since it’s showing a resurgence these days, long after its abominable creator committed suicide.

So what’s next for this particular story? Well obviously I’m going to have it looked over and then edited. Afterwards though…we’ll see. It’s a little over sixty-eight hundred words, so it’s not too long. I’ll see about getting it published somewhere. There’s a magazine I’ve been trying on and off to get published in, so maybe they’ll take it. Then again, the Ohio Chapter of the Horror Writers Association, of which I’m a member of, has been talking about putting together an anthology. Perhaps I’ll submit it there.

In any case, I’ll let it lie for a while before working on it again. In the meantime, let’s see if I can finish that novelette before I get the latest draft of Rose back from Castrum.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m going to get ready for bed. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

The other day, I was talking with someone about what sort of tattoo I’d get if I were the type to get one.* This is a topic I’ve thought of a lot in my twenty-five years, and I think I’ve figured out what I would get. As I explained to my friend, it would be a representation of the horror genre, how the various causes of horror in fiction–like demonic entities, the prospect of death, and of course human beings, among others–have a detrimental effect on us. “It’s corruption of the innocent,” I explained. “The very essence of horror.”

And then I realized something: corruption of the innocence is an essential part, if not the essence, of horror. And it can be found in every horror story, if you think about it. I knew it was part of Gothic horror, as I mentioned it in my post about what makes Gothic horror. But beyond that subgenre? Hadn’t even considered it.

I could have hit myself for not realizing that sooner. It was staring me right in the face, goddammit!

As I said above, I mentioned how corruption of the innocent is an element of Gothic fiction, and we see this in Gothic stories like The Shining. Danny sees the world go from a mostly-nice place where bad luck sometimes causes disaster for good people to a dark place where entities like The Overlook exist and kill people or drive them mad. Said entity also tries to corrupt Danny’s shine, to make that beautiful psychic power part of its own dark self.

Innocence corrupted.

However, this concept is found in other horror stories. HP Lovecraft incorporated it into his work quite often. In The Call of Cthulhu, his most famous work, the narrator starts out as being very sure that the world is a concrete place of science and rationality. However, after going through his late uncle’s effects, he realizes that there’s something awful in this world, a worldwide cult devoted to the bloody worship of an awful god that will one day rise to retake the Earth. And not only did this cult kill the narrator’s uncle, its agents will likely kill the narrator, driven close to madness with fear, before long.

Innocence corrupted.

This story is a great example of corruption of the innocent at work without being part of the Gothic genre.

And sometimes the innocence being ruined here isn’t your traditional childlike innocence. Sometimes it’s as simple as just having your worldview changed. Two early Stephen King stories, “The Mangler” and “Battleground,” revolve around hardened men discovering the world can involve the supernatural or just plain weird (in this case, a possessed dry-cleaning machine and toy soldiers that come to life to kill you). As I said, nothing dramatic. Just a shift in viewpoint.

Innocence corrupted.

Even when it’s so ubiquitous though, I don’t think corruption of the innocent is the essence of horror, as I characterized above. Or at least, the only essence of horror. After all, we can’t forget about fear, which is what horror plays on and seeks to create. Without that fear, you just don’t have a good horror story. Perhaps then, like fear or a powerful antagonist, corruption of the innocent is something necessary to writing horror. Without it, the genre would be missing something that cannot be done without.

So while not exactly the full essence of horror, corruption of the innocent is important to the genre. You could even say it’s wrapped up in the essence of horror. And I’m glad I finally realized after such a long time that it was.

Hopefully it makes writing decent horror stories easier.

What do you think of corruption of the innocent as part of horror? Do you think I’m onto something?

Do you think I should get a tattoo? Would you like to see this design of mine realized? Do you know how any artists who could help me create it?

*For the record, I’m tempted, but my religious beliefs aren’t fond of me getting one. And I’m not sure I want something so permanent on my body, anyway. Especially if I have to pay a ton of money for what I’m looking for. Still fun to think about, though.

Also, I want it on my back. Best place to get it, in my personal opinion.

Slender Man has been one of the most talked-about fictional figures to be created in the past ten years. It seems that it was inevitable that a major film adaptation of the character would come out, though nine years after the character’s introduction and two or three years after his peak in popularity seems later than I’d expect. But since the film’s trailer came out, there’s been a lot of discussion on the film, not just whether it would be any good or if it was too late for a Slender Man film, but also if there should even be a film based on the character. I won’t touch on that last subject (that’s something for a post for another day), but I can answer the first two.

Starting with if the film is any good, I’m going to say I have the same feelings towards Slender Man as I did to The Forest: a concept with great potential, but an execution with poor payoff.

Based on the famous Internet boogeyman, Slender Man follows four teen girls who find an online video that’s supposed to summon the titular entity. Soon after, they start getting sick and having nightmares. When one disappears, the remaining three realize that something is afoot, that they are being watched and stalked by an entity alluded to in folklore and on the Internet by a variety of names. And it won’t leave them alone.

The problems with this movie are numerous. For one thing, this movie is excessively trope-filled. And while we horror nuts love our tropes, we like them done with a little style, or a bit of love, or even some subversion. And we never like the film to be so trope-filled that it’s hitting us over the head with them. None of that love is here, and thus the tropes ring hollow. In addition, the film fails to build an atmosphere. Watching the film, I didn’t feel creeped out or terrified as I might have with another film. I just felt neutral the whole time, even when they are trying to scare me with disturbing footage (again, in another film this might have been terrifying). When you have a horror film filled with hollow tropes and no atmosphere, that doesn’t bode well for said horror film.

On top of that, the characters are pretty flat. It’s almost like they have variations of the one generic teen girl personality. I know you only have so much time to build personalities in a film that focuses on scaring the shit out of you, but you could literally shift these girls into each other’s roles, and it wouldn’t make much of a difference.

And finally, there are plot threads that are left hanging. They just present some threads, and never wrap them up. I left the theater with a lot of questions: what happened to that one girl we last saw looking out a window? Is the character Wren a preacher’s kid? Shouldn’t that matter more to her character? What happened to that one dude? We kind of just forgot about him.

Such potential for this character. And they wasted it with his first official film outing.

So yeah, Slender Man doesn’t have that much going for it. Does it have any good points? Well, the actors are decent. They’re not given much to work with, but what they do with it is pretty good. There are a few effective jump scares. And for all its faults, the film seems to have some respect for the Slender Man character and mythology. They really tried to incorporate as much as they could of the mythology into the film, and it shows.

But other than that, this film is poorly written and overly-reliant on tropes, with uninteresting characters and a lot of plot threads that just don’t get resolved. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Slender Man a 1. If you want a horror film based off a popular folklore character, there has to be better than this.* In the meantime, I would skip this one. And hope the next time a film about a creepypasta character is made, it’s done a lot better than this.

And as for whether it was too late for a Slender Man movie, I don’t think so. There’s always an opportunity to make an old story or idea new and relevant again (look at last year’s It, for example). I just feel that Slender Man was too reliant on the character’s past popularity and thus didn’t put that much work into making a good movie. If they had, this could’ve been something awesome, rather than a pointless piece of commercial fluff trying to make a buck off of something popular. Like The Angry Birds Movie.**

*Hell, there’s a better Slender Man film out there! You see, this is the first official Slender Man film, with the permission and blessing of the copyright holders over the character (yeah, he’s not as public domain as I thought he was). There was one a few years ago made without permission, a found footage film also called Slender Man that I honestly enjoyed more than this. It wasn’t the most amazing thing, but it was a good deal better than this piece of crap. Too bad it wasn’t official, because I prefer it over this one.

**Or the Friday the 13th remake. Okay, that’s not commercial fluff, that’s just another crap film that takes a great horror character and does everything wrong with him. And until something better is produced to remove the stain, I’LL NEVER STOP HATING ON IT!!!