Archive for the ‘Scary Stuff’ 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.

Hello, Followers of Fear! It’s been an entire week since I last posted. Did you miss me?

As many of you know, this year I’m participating in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, this year. For those of you who are unaware, the goal of NaNoWriMo is to write a fifty thousand word novel in thirty days, or about 1,667 words a day. There’s no prize for actually making the goal (and it’s doubtful the resulting novel will be any good, as it’s a first draft), but it’s a good way to see what you’re capable of and push yourself. At least, that’s how I look at it.

So this year’s project is called Toyland, and as you may remember, it’s a Gothic horror novel about a boarding school terrorized by a ghost obsessed with a children’s book. This is my first Gothic horror story, as well as my second time participating in NaNoWriMo. How’s it going so far? Well, as of last night, I’m a little over eleven-thousand words in over three-and-a-half chapters. Over a fifth of the way there!

That’s my update. See you later.

Just kidding. I have more I want to discuss.

I have to say, it was a good idea to take some time off from the office to work on this novel. I’ve had a lot more time to write, which means I was able to get through three chapters in just under a week. It might’ve taken a month to get the same amount of progress if I didn’t take time off work and just wrote in the evenings. If I do NaNoWriMo again next year, I may take time off again to get a good head start.

As for writing in the Gothic sub-genre, that’s been a learning experience. As I mentioned in my post on Gothic horror (click here to read the full article), the genre has a very particular set of tropes that sets it apart from other genres of horror. However, there is more to the genre than I had room to include in that article. For example, you have to devote a lot of space to describing your main location. After all, Gothic horror is very place-centric. Hill House, The Overlook Hotel, the house at Kill Creek, your mother’s house (yes, I went there, and in more ways than one). All those locations are described in detail. Lots of detail. Gothic tries to make you aware of the place the story is in at all times, especially the darker aspects of it.

In that vein, I’ve spent a good chunk of Chapter Two just describing Auckland Academy, the main setting of the book. And I’ll be further emphasizing the location as the book goes on, as well as in subsequent drafts.

Of course, I’m still early in the novel. Including the chapter I”m in now, I have twenty-six more to go, and plenty more to learn about Gothic literature. I’ll let you know how things go when we reach November 14th. Hopefully I’ll have made plenty more progress by then. Even if I have to go back to work on Tuesday.

Well, that’s all for now. I’ve got some errands to take care of, so I’m going to get on that. I promise though, you won’t have to wait a week before I post again. Until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

Are you participating in NaNoWriMo? How’s it going for you?

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!

From left to right: Anton Cancre, Tim McWhorter, myself, and Lucy Snyder.

So as many of you are aware, this past Thursday I attended an event with other members of the Ohio Chapter of the Ohio Writers Association. And let me tell you, it was a lot of fun.

First, the Bexley Public Library were great to have as hosts.* They were so enthusiastic and went out of their way to make sure everyone was comfortable and that the space looked great. And hoo boy, what a space! Their Quiet Reading Room looks like what you would expect a room in a historic library to look like. Bookcases lining the walls with big tombs, fancy light fixtures, a fancy carpet. I almost expected to see an elderly British man with a pipe sitting in an armchair reading a newspaper!

And the event itself was a lot of fun. Excluding the library staff, there were about ten or twelve people who showed up, which is good for a niche genre like horror fiction. Plus there were the other authors: Anton Cancre, who was at the reading in Cincinnati a couple weekends ago; Lucy Snyder, who has been Bram Stoker-nominated for her work; and Tim McWhorter, who recently went down to a haunted bridge tunnel in Ohio for an event. I’m not jealous at all.

Anyway, for those of you who weren’t able to attend, Anton was able to film the event via Facebook Live, and then uploaded it onto YouTube today. I’ve embedded the video below. And yes, that is me as undead Alexander Hamilton and Anton in a lovely Renaissance dress. What can we say? It was a Halloween reading. And yes, that was me blowing an Aztec death whistle once or twice. What can I say? It’s a great prop for opportunities like this.

Overall, the event was a lot of fun. We had a great time reading, the attendees asked some great questions, and we may have a few new fans. And the library staff enjoyed having us as well. It made both parties want to do it again some day. Which might happen. I’m not saying it will, but there has been discussions of possible dates. So who knows what might happen?

Anyway, I just wanted to post about this and let everyone know what a blast it was. And thanks to everyone who was able to show. It means a lot that you came.

Anyway, that’s all for now. My sleep schedule is a little off, owing to the fact that I slept fifteen hours straight and didn’t wake up till three in the afternoon. So I’m going to do a little late night writing. Wish me luck on a new short story. And until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

*For those of you unaware, Bexley is a small neighborhood in the middle of my home city of Columbus. Just thought I’d mention it.