Archive for the ‘Scary Stuff’ Category

I’ve been reading a lot of articles about how Hollywood is coming to see big horror films are, and that they are looking into making more. It’s even been compared to the explosion of superhero films that came about after the Dark Knight trilogy and Iron Man showed how popular and profitable superhero films could be. Since I am a horror fan in addition to a horror writer, I thought I’d weigh in on the subject.

First off, this explosion in horror is not exactly out of the blue. Studios have been making horror films since the early days of film, and they keep making them every year. There’s obviously always been an interest and a profit to be made in horror. It’s just lately we’ve had a slew of horror films that have shown studios and audiences that horror can be extremely profitable, mainstream, and even deeply thematic. We actually first started seeing this trend years ago with films like the Paranormal Activity series, which kicked off a huge fad of found-footage horror films, and with Blumhouse Productions, which proved you can make horror films cheaply and still have critical and box office success. This is especially so with their Conjuring film series, which in itself is a cinematic universe.

But late 2016 and 2017 brought on a slew of horror films that really brought these points home. Split, with its surprise ending technically making it a superhero film, and Get Out, with its commentary on race on par with some Oscar-nominated films, brought horror into the mainstream in new ways. Later in 2017, Annabelle: Creation and It proved massively successful beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, and in 2018, films like A Quiet Place are raking in the dough and proving how powerful horror can be in creating terrifying atmospheres and emotional narratives.

And this is just scratching the surface: Stephen King stories are being optioned at record rates (where’s my adaptation of The Library Policeman?); some of Netflix’s biggest recent original films have been horror movies; and studios are developing more horror movies than ever before. It: Chapter Two starts filming this summer, and a new Halloween film is getting released this year. So while I may say yes, horror is kind of the new superhero film, it’s not because they suddenly became profitable. The potential has always been there, it just took some very specific successes with deeper cultural resonance to really bring that potential to the attention of studio heads.

Remember, don’t do what The Mummy did. Not if you want your horror movie to actually be successful, let alone spawn a franchise.

So yes, the horror genre may be the new superhero film, with every studio wanting its own successful films, film series, or film universe. But to steal a superhero film quote, “With great power comes great responsibility.” So while I have no pretensions that studio heads or directors or writers or whatever will see this post, let alone take its message to heart, I thought I’d offer some advice advice on getting into this horror boom. After all, as a horror fan and a creator, I want the horror boom to continue. The more good horror out there, the better. So here are some of my ideas for ways to make sure the boom doesn’t fizzle out:

  • Focus on telling a good scary story. This seems obvious, but some companies get so caught up in having a successful film or franchise, they forget to make a good horror film. Remember last year’s The Mummy? That film was convoluted, packed to the brim, and not at all scary. Not a good start for a film that was supposed to be the launching point for an entire cinematic horror universe. Which was the problem: Universal was so concerned with getting their franchise off the ground, they forgot what let Iron Man get the MCU off the ground: a good film in and of itself. If Iron Man had not led to the MCU, it still would’ve been an excellent superhero film. The Mummy should’ve been made that way, but unfortunately, it wasn’t, and now the Dark Universe is sunk.
    So remember kids, focus on a good story first, franchise a distant second. At least said franchise is up and running, of course.
  • Take chances on new/indie directors and stories. A lot of great horror films have come from the indie scene and/or from new/emerging directors. It Follows and Babadook were both very successful horror films from directors with less than three films under their belts, and the former was from the indie scene. Get Out was from Jordan Peele, who had never done a horror film before in his life.
    And all these stories are original plots. In an age where every other movie is a sequel, remake, or some variation on a familiar story or trend, adding something new to the horror canon has the ability to draw in a diverse audience, rather than just the smaller audience of devoted fans and some possible new ones.
    So take a few risks. It could lead to some big returns.
  • Adapt more than just Stephen King. Yeah, I’m happy for the many Stephen King adaptations being made (Library Policeman movie, please?). But there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Even his Royal Scariness: I got sick of him back in high school because I read too much King and had to take a break for a few years. I still make sure to space out my dives into his stories nowadays. And if that could happen to me with his books, imagine what it could do to audiences with too many of his movies.
    The point is, there are a number of horror writers out there whose works should be adapted. Scott Thomas’s Kill Creek is one of the best novels I’ve read so far this year; Ania Ahlborn’s Within These Walls would make a great Blumhouse movie; Junji Ito has plenty of stories that could make great films; and as I noted in a previous post, HP Lovecraft is in the public domain and would make for great cinema. It’s something to consider.
    And before you ask, “What about your works, Rami?” I would be flattered if someone showed interest in adapting one of my stories. However, I don’t think that’s a possibility at this stage of my career, so I’m not going to get my hopes up. Still, I’d be flattered.

Horror is finally being given the attention it deserves from Hollywood, and I couldn’t be happier for it. However, it’s going to take a lot of work, and a lot of good stories, for horror to continue to thrive. I hope that filmmakers old and new are up to the task.

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Whenever Blumhouse is involved in a movie, I usually get interested, as they tend to produce high-quality horror films. When I heard about this film, I got interested both because it had an interesting concept behind it, and because I like Tyler Posey (Teen Wolf fan for life!). So even though it got negative early reviews, I decided to check it out anyway, and convinced a friend of mine to see it with me.

I have a lot to say about this film. Let me try to keep this brief.

Truth or Dare follows a group of college students who go to Mexico for their final spring break. While there, they meet a mysterious man who invites them up to an old Spanish mission for drinks and some good, ol’ fashioned truth or dare. However, when they leave Mexico, they find the game has followed them, and it’s now much nastier: you either play the game, no matter what horrific secrets you might have to share, or what terrible deeds you must commit, or you will die. And the game won’t end till all the players are dead.

Now on the surface, I should have liked this movie. In addition to an interesting concept, the film is incredibly well-written. The story isn’t only compelling, but surprisingly, without plot holes. With very simple tricks, they plug up most of the plot holes that would come up in a horror film, let alone one surrounding a game mainly played by children and horny teenagers. Not only that, but the way the film has these characters expose their deepest secrets is so good at making you feel sympathetic, you almost feel their pain. And when they have to undertake some of the dares, you actually get a little afraid for them.

Not only that, but most of these characters are well-written and multidimensional. Most characters in horror films are ridiculously flat, and especially in ones based around games (*cough* Ouija *cough*). But Truth or Dare actually makes these characters more than flat or stereotypes. They have trouble, they have hidden depths, which is only made more clear when characters are forced to reveal dark secrets. This is especially true with the character of Markie, who at first glance is a happy-go-lucky strawberry-blonde, but in actuality is struggling in a number of ways.

It’s helped by the fact that the actors in these films are all really good. I can’t say any one of them gave a bad performance.

But the film has one big issue: its atmosphere. In horror, atmosphere is essential. And this film  doesn’t really have one, at least not one that lasts. Several times, the film does create some tense moments (keep an eye out for the roof scene), and there are a number of great jump scares. But after the tense moment or the jump scare, I found myself winding back down to normal. And in a horror film, you should be kept at a slight tension at every moment. There should be something in the back of your mind that says, “Oh my God, I’m scared, my heart rate is going to increase a little.” And I never felt that way during this film.

And that really brings down the film as a whole.

Still, if it weren’t for that problem, this film would be terrifying. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give Truth or Dare a 3.5 out of 5. Despite its lack of atmosphere, I honestly recommend seeing it. It probably won’t leave you scared stiff, but it’ll keep your interest and won’t leave you angry at the actors or the directors like other films I could name (*cough* The Friday the 13th remake is a piece of trash, and I would love to chase Michael Bay around Camp Crystal Lake for that ass-terrible excuse of a film. *cough*). Give it a watch, if you feel so inclined, and decide for yourself.

Go on. I dare you.

Whenever you hear a movie getting a ton of hype, especially a horror movie, you tend to be a bit skeptical. And when you hear that Platinum Dunes, Michael Bay’s production company for horror movies, is involved, you’re even more skeptical. I mean, have you seen Ouija? Or that crappy, way-too-sexual middle finger to a franchise that was the Friday the 13th reboot (I’m sorry, but I’ll never forgive Michael Bay for that film. Did not understand what made Jason Voorhees or the Friday the 13th films great at all).

I’m glad to report that this film was not only very good, but actually scared me a bit. And I credit that to how much its director, John Krasinski, who also starred in the film with his real-life wife Emily Blunt and co-wrote the script (rather than a certain director who thinks explosions, boobs, and unsteady camera movements make good cinema).

A Quiet Place follows a family–a father (Krasinski), a mother (Blunt), their deaf daughter (actually deaf actress Millicent Simmonds), and hearing son (Noah Jupe)–living in the first years of a post-apocalyptic world where a predatory race of creatures that hunt through sound have exterminated most of the human race. The family tries to survive each day without making a sound, speaking only with sign language and going to extreme lengths to muffle or suppress every noise (which makes you very aware of how much noise we make in our everyday lives). Which is getting more and more complicated because the mother is heavily pregnant (you can understand why that might be an issue). The film chronicles one particularly nasty night, when the mother goes into labor, and what happens afterwards.

This film is a great horror film. For one thing, the emphasis on sound in this film, both in terms of the lack of ordinary sounds like speech, electronics, and whatnot, the sounds we do hear, from nature to the monsters’ roars and growls, to the music, help to create this creepy, unearthly atmosphere. This helps in suspenseful moments, where characters have to be very careful not to make a sound or they’ll get killed, as it heightens the terror you feel. Hell, I was afraid to make a sound during those moments, and I was in the audience! Coupled with a some well-timed jump scares, you get a really scary film.

I also really liked the monsters in this film. Even in broad daylight, the monsters aren’t very easy to make out through most of the film, keeping them mysterious and making their deadliness all the scarier. And when we finally do see them, they are still really terrifying to look at, even if they may look like the monsters from a certain popular science-fiction/horror franchise (those who’ve seen the movie know what I’m talking about). And I love how not much about the monsters is revealed in the film. You learn enough to understand how they hunt and why they’ve been so successful in hunting down humanity, but you never really learn where they came from or how they appeared on Earth. And that, like the Xenomorphs from the Alien franchise before Prometheus, just makes them all the scarier.

But the best part of this film are the relationships between the family members. With little to no spoken dialogue, you really get to see how this life has been wearing on them, how little mistakes and arguments, along with the constant need for survival, have given each character their own struggles and fears, and how all that creates tensions between them. Seeing them work together, fight, and try to overcome this life is not only enthralling, but contains a great metaphor for the struggles of a family–any family–during difficult times.

That all being said, the lack of sound and action at times does make it hard to stay invested or pay attention to the story. I also thought that the ending could’ve been darker, which would’ve made it a much more memorable and powerful film. At least in my mind.

All in all, I’m giving A Quiet Place a 4.3 out of 5. This is a scary film that will draw you in not just with its premise and atmosphere, but with its intelligence and depth. Take a look and see why silence is truly golden.

Veronica dropped onto Netflix back at the tail end of February. A Spanish film directed by Paco Plaza, best known for the critically acclaimed REC films, it quickly gained a reputation as “the scariest film on Netflix.” I try not to pay attention to that sort of hype, but any film that was getting that sort of recognition is likely going to make it onto my watchlist. Last night I watched it, and I would’ve reviewed it right then and there, but it was late, so I went to bed. And then today I had a busy morning and early afternoon. So I hope you don’t mind that I’m getting this post out so late.

Based on actual events,* the film follows Veronica, a Spanish schoolgirl living in Madrid in 1991. Since her father’s untimely passing, her mother has been working long hours at a restaurant/bar, leaving Veronica to care for her younger siblings. One day, Veronica and a couple of classmates bring out a Ouija board so that Veronica can contact her father’s spirit. Instead she contacts a dark entity that seems intent on not only haunting/killing Veronica, but her younger siblings as well.

While I won’t say this is the scariest film on Netflix (Lord knows I haven’t seen enough of their selection to say that), it is a damn good scary movie.

While the film is filled with the normal tropes of many possession movies–things moving on their own, scary invisible or shadowy entities, people acting totally creepy uner the influence of the evil spirit–they’re done so well that you forget that you’ve seen these tropes before. The actors all do a very decent job, especially newcomer Sandra Escacena as Veronica, who really makes you believe she’s this character and sympathize with her troubles. I also seriously loved Sister Death, a blind, elderly nun who helps Veronica realize what she has to do to fight the spirit after her (because of course there’s going to be a nun who gives advice). For an old blind woman, she’s a bit of a badass, and was never dull when she was on screen.

But on top of that, the film doesn’t go overboard with the fact that it’s a period film. Most properties taking place in popular recent decades do everything in their power to remind you that they take place in that decade. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing and is sometimes part of the charm (see Stranger Things or Ready Player One), it’s kind of refreshing to see a film that’s more focused on its story than on its culturally-popular decade.

There are a couple of things that take away from the film. For one thing, there are trippier moments in the film, like a scene where Veronica is running across the print of a page from an occult magazine on the way to her mother’s restaurant, that feel rather unnecessary and add nothing to the film. On top of that, for being the titular character, Veronica isn’t the most developed character. Yeah, she’s a responsible teenager taking care of her younger siblings and misses her father, but those are just character tropes. They don’t make Veronica herself memorable like Carrie on prom night was memorable, or how Annabelle the doll is memorable without being anything more than a creepy, possessed doll. In the end, I’m going to remember the film more than I remember the actual character the film is named after.

And as I said, this film is filled with a lot of familiar tropes. And while I’m fine with that, I know there are a lot of other horror fans who won’t care for that, no matter how well done they are.

But all in all, Veronica is a definitely a new gem in the horror film genre. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving this film a 4.5. Head to Netflix, turn it on, and get ready for an experience you won’t be able to look away from.

*No seriously, something did happen. Apparently in 1992 a bunch of Spanish schoolgirls did use a Ouija board, only to have the ceremony interrupted. One of the girls later died because of a mysterious illness, which some have suggested might’ve been due to demonic possession. So while we’re not exactly sure what happened, there’s enough there that this film has more of a claim to the “based on actual events” tagline than Texas Chainsaw Massacre ever did.

I discovered this novel, which came out on Halloween last year, on Audible as an audio book while looking for my next listen/read. It sounded interesting, and nothing else I was finding in the catalog was really grabbing my attention, so I decided to listen to it. I’m really happy I made the decision to do so: this is probably one of the best scary stories and one of the best novels I’ve come across in a while.

Kill Creek follows four famous horror novelists: Sam McGarver, a writer with a past who’s struggling to start his fifth book; TC Moore, an abrasive novelist who likes to explore the blurring of pain and pleasure in her stories; Daniel Slaughter, a religious man who writes Christian horror fiction aimed at teens; and Sebastian Cole, a veteran horror writer who’s considered the King of Modern Horror. They’re invited to Kill Creek, a house in the middle of rural Kansas that’s considered one of the most haunted houses in America, for a Halloween publicity event. This results in the awakening of a powerful entity, one with plans for the authors. Plans that will not only jeopardize their sanity, but their very lives.

I loved this story. For one thing, the book’s language. Thomas doesn’t spend time floating around with flowery language or writing confusing passages. Every word is there because it’s meant to be, which keeps the reader (or listener) invested in the story. I never once felt lost, wondering what the heck just happened or thinking that this or that word or paragraph was unnecessary. And that also helps create the unsettling atmosphere: when they’re at the house, you feel like you’re there with the characters, and you’re feeling every uneasy feeling they’re feeling. For horror fanatics, that’s a great feeling.

I also like how the story is unpredictable. Plenty of times I was sure that I knew where the story was going to go, only to be proven wrong a chapter later. And I’m the guy who prides himself on being able to predict where movies are going to go couldn’t predict each twist or the change of direction the story goes, so that says something about how well-written and unique this story is. The story itself is even a cool and clever twist on the haunted house trope!

But my favorite part was the main characters. They all felt like real people, and we’re given enough time with each of them to reveal their hidden depths. My favorite character of the bunch was TC Moore. My God, was she entertaining! I always looked forward to the narration switching to her perspective, when she would swear like a sailor and just eviscerate anyone who rubbed her the wrong way (which was everyone). I doubt I’d get along with her if she was a real person, but as a character, you just have to love her (kind of like Sheldon Cooper, but even harder to get along with).

And by the way, I count the house as a character. And it is a freaky character, let’s leave it at that.

On the whole, I only had one real problem with the story: there was a minor character who appeared in the story for maybe two or three pages. Honestly, you could’ve kept them entirely off-stage, mentioned only in flashbacks or in exposition, and I would’ve been fine. They really didn’t add anything when they were in the story.

Kill Creek by Scott Thomas is a wonderful example of modern Gothic horror. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.5. A great debut novel from an author I hope to read more from in the future. Check it out and get lost in the madness.

And if you get it in audio book, you’re in for a treat. Bernard Setaro Clark is a great narrator who gives each character their own particular sound and whose voice goes great with the book’s language.

I’m really not sure where to start with this one. I mean, how do you tell people about the realization of your childhood dream in one blog post, let alone be coherent? I feel like going in fifty different directions with this post, that’s how excited I am!

Well, I guess I’ll start at the beginning. Or what I think makes a good beginning, anyway: back in March of last year, my friend and fellow novelist Matt Williams (check out his blog HERE) announced that his novel, The Cronian Incident (which I recommend if you’re into science fiction and detective stories, by the way)  had been accepted for publication by Castrum Press, a company based out of Belfast in North Ireland which, in the year since Matt’s been accepted, has gained a bit of a reputation for publishing great speculative fiction and treating its authors very well. Later that year I did an interview with Matt and then received an eARC copy of Incident from Castrum to read and review. After hearing how Matt liked the company and seeing how well his book was doing, I asked if he’d make an introduction for me to the company’s editor. He said yes.

I talked with Castrum’s owner, Paul, and he asked to see some of Rose. This was after the third draft had been finished, if I remember correctly. I sent him the first ten pages, letting him know I planned to do one more draft after the beta readers were done with the manuscript. He sent back some notes and asked to see more of the book when it was done. One draft later, I sent him the fourth draft of Rose, hoping against hope that they’d like it enough to publish it.

Cut to last Friday, and I receive an email when I get home from work. It was Castrum: they wanted to discuss publishing Rose. After jumping up and down like a kangaroo and screaming high enough to break glass, I replied saying I’d be happy to work with them. Paul sent a contract yesterday, and after having some of my questions answered, I signed the contract and sent it back to him this afternoon, with the realization that my dream has been accomplished. A novel of mine is getting published by a company.

To which there’s only one thing to say:

By the way, if you’re unfamiliar with Rose, this is a novel I first wrote as my college thesis during senior year. It follows a young, amnesiac woman who starts turning into a plant woman. And that’s just the events of Chapter One. And trust me, it’s a full-on horror novel from there, complete with psychological and supernatural terrors galore. I tried editing it again in 2016 and couldn’t make it work, tried again in 2017, and after that things kind of just snowballed from there. And now it’s getting published.

Obviously, I’m feeling a number of emotions right now. Excitement about the publication process and seeing Rose out in print, nervousness about how it will be received by the book-reading public, satisfaction that this dream has been achieved, hope for the future, and a feeling of goodwill about things to come. Especially that last one. Since at some point during the third draft of Rose, I had a feeling that things were about to change, that something big was about to start. And since the New Year, I’ve had this very strong feeling that not only was 2018 going to go slower than 2017 did, but that 2018 was going to be my year. And so far, it seems I was right on both counts. And I hope I can continue to be right on both counts.

Rose will appear in this medium very soon.

There’s so many people to thank for this wonderful event. Firstly, my friend Matt Williams for connecting me to the company, my beta readers Joleene Naylor and Dr. Black (my chiropractor, believe it or not), as well as Paul Camper, Maura Heaphy, and Manny Martinez for looking at the book back in college, and of course to Castrum for taking a chance on this indie author from Ohio. But most of all, I’d like to thank you, my Followers of Fear. For nearly seven years, you’ve stood by me and supported me through my various writing endeavors, my college experience, finding and getting a job, my ups and my downs, and so much more. You’ve all supported me and helped me get this far, and I can’t thank you enough for that. I hope you continue to support me (and maybe even read Rose when it comes out) as I continue down this road and try to make sure Rose is a huge success.

So what happens next? Well, I’ll work with Castrum to produce a fifth and hopefully final draft of the novel. We’ll get to talking about cover art and at some point we’ll set a release date (I’m hoping before Halloween, but we’ll see). And of course, I’ll make sure to let you know of any major developments.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear, I wish you pleasant nightmares (I’ll, of course, be having nothing but pleasant dreams)!

I started this series of rewatching movies I previously disliked with an Asian horror film, and it seems I’m ending it with an Asian horror film, albeit from a different country. I swear, that wasn’t intentional.

But before I get into the review, I want to thank you all for keeping up with this series and making it a success. Watching films I’ve hated has been no easy task. It’s time-consuming and can be almost physically painful to watch some of these duds. If it weren’t for the constant reads, likes, and comments you guys gave me, I would’ve probably stopped after film number 3 or 4. So thank you for being there and enjoying these rewatch reviews. I hope you got something from them (particularly ideas about which films to enjoy and which to avoid). I certainly did (some of which my doctor can’t find a diagnosis for).

So onto the final Rewatch Review, the 1998 landmark South Korean horror film, Whispering Corridors.

WHAT IT’S ABOUT: The film follows Ji-oh, a strong-willed but slightly superstitious artist at an all-girls high school and Eun-young, a young teacher who was once a student at the school. They become aware that there may be a ghost at the school targeting teachers. As Ji-oh tries to figure out if perhaps she’s connected to the deaths, Eun-young knows she has a connection to the deaths, and must try to stop them before they get any worse. Both women will find out, they both have a connection to the deaths, and to the ghosts causing them.

WHY I DIDN’T LIKE IT: I was watching a lot of Asian horror films when I saw this one, and I thought this one didn’t compare well to the others I’d seen at the time. Just not scary enough, and too much focus on daily life instead of spooky, scary spirits.

WHY I REWATCHED IT: I found out this was one of the first horror films made in South Korea after the end of the dictatorship, and that it came with a lot of commentary on that time and on the South Korean school system, which made me see it in a whole new light. It also started a successful series of horror films set at all-girls schools, one of which involves a ballet school (and you know I’m a sucker for ballet) and was influential on Korean horror and Korean cinema as a whole. And finally, I needed a tenth movie to round out the series. Hence, Whispering Corridors.

THOUGHTS: Okay, it’s not as intense as other horror films I’ve seen, but it is a decent film.

For one thing, the story does set up a great mystery: it’s established early in the film that the ghost is masquerading as a student, and does a good job of making you guess who the ghost is. And while the body count in this film is small, they’re shot well and at times executed (pun intended) very creatively. All this contributes to create a unique, fairly creepy atmosphere.

There’s also the non-supernatural horror in the film: the school system itself. As I said above, the film features heavy commentary on the South Korean educational system, in this case the darker sides coalesced into one school. A number of the teachers make the school into an uncomfortable place to be. They’re often verbally abusive, set the students against one another and, in the case of one teacher, physically abuse and sexually harass students! I mean, my God! And all on top of a rigorous education philosophy designed to emphasize academic excellence to the point of crowding out everything else. To say the least, it’s horrifying.

That being said, the film does have its problems. The pacing can be very slow, with lots of moments involving people just talking rather than anything supernatural and/or exciting. I know some horror stories are slow-burns, but I don’t think this one should be one of them. Also, the ending is a little sappy, with a special effect that I’ve seen done better in other films.

But that’s the extent of the problems I’ve found. And considering other films with more problems that I’ve seen, I’ll take that.

JUDGMENT: I’m glad I made this film part of this series. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Whispering Corridors a 3.7 out of 5. Not the scariest movie I’ve ever seen, but I recommend seeing it. In a good way, it’s like Texas Chainsaw Massacre: while it may not be that terrifying, you should see it for the impact it has. And I guarantee that if you do see it, you won’t be as disappointed as you might be with TCM.

Just be aware that this is an extremely difficult film to find. Not kidding, I had to jump through a few hoops to find this film (hopefully the sequels will be easier to find). And you’ll likely have to go through a few too to get this one. Just warning you.

 

And that brings an end to the Rewatch Review series, for now anyway. We had laughs, we had tears, we had screams of terror or boredom. And who knows? I may do this again someday, if I can find enough films to rewatch and the will to go through it again. But right now, I think I’ll try getting through my Netflix queue.