So the other night on Twitter, I see Richard Chizmar (you know, that author/publisher I interviewed a while back?) tweet about this movie, The House of the Devil, saying he had to stop watching it thirty minutes in and could only finish it by the light of day. Obviously, I’m intrigued, so I went and reserved a copy from the library. And I finished it in one sitting after dark, so I think I can brag about that? Wait, I live in an apartment with noises, and part of the reason Mr. Chizmar couldn’t finish it was because he was watching the film in a dark, quiet house. Obviously, there’s a difference.

Anyway, on with the review!

Set in the 1980s and “based on true events,” The House of the Devil follows Samantha, a college student struggling to make ends meet. In desperation, she answers a babysitting ad she finds on campus and takes it. However, things get weird when she gets to the house. And once she’s alone with her charge, she learns that there’s more afoot than meets the eye.

Ladies and gentlemen, I may have a new favorite horror film!

So first off, this really does feel like a horror film from the late 70s/early 80s. In addition to the normal signs of a 1980s-set story (teased hair, Walkmans, and music from the best era for music ever, etc.), the movie was filmed with 16mm film, giving it that slightly filtered quality we know and feel so nostalgic about. Add in some yellow credits and some pauses during opening credits, and I could almost believe this film was made over thirty years ago rather than just eleven years ago.

I also love how this film builds tension. I know I use the term “slow burn” quite a bit, but it fits here. Director Ti West takes his time laying the groundwork and establishing our main character Samantha (wonderfully played by Jocelin Donahue, who embodies natural 80s beauty as much as Natalia Dyer in Stranger Things). Once we get to the house, things switch to showing Samantha’s increasing unease and paranoia. The camera work in these scenes is great, showing the heroine exploring the house multiple times, as if she’s not sure she’s really alone, while at the same time the camera films things in a voyeuristic way, like we’re the ones stalking Samantha, allowing us to share in her unease.

And that final third! Whoo-boy, things go zero-to-sixty real quick, and it is scary and thrilling to watch. I also like seeing how Samantha strikes a great balance between terrified final girl and willing to fight back. Usually in these films it’s either they’re screaming their heads off or they’re angry vengeance personified, so it’s a nice change to see a compromise.

As far as problems go, this film might be a bit too slow and quiet at times for some viewers. If you prefer your horror film have faster paces or not so many quiet points where characters just talk, this may not be the film for you. Also, there are some flashing imagery at the beginning of the final third that might trigger people with photosensitivity. It’s not as bad as IT: Chapter Two was, but it’s still something to keep in mind.

All in all, The House of the Devil is a wonderful homage to the slasher and suspense-horror films of the 70s and 80s. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.8. Settle into the couch, order a pizza and prepare for one of the best horror films you haven’t heard of. You won’t regret it.

Unless you have nightmares. In which case you may regret it.

Okay, not actually in 3D, this is a blog, after all. However, I need to give these posts a snappy title if I’m going to keep recommending them, so here we go. Anyway, I’ve got some new anime I’d like to recommend to you, so let’s get to it.

And if you would like to read my previous two recommendation posts, here’s Post Number One and Post Number Two.

Astra: Lost in Space

Set in the far future, when humanity has started exploring other planets, a bunch of teenagers and one ten-year-old are sent on a survival retreat to an uninhabited planet. Unfortunately, their camping trip goes awry when a portal appears out of nowhere and sends them millions of light years across the galaxy, into the vast reaches of space. Luckily though, they find a spaceship that they can navigate back home. Along the way, they explore strange planets, grow as people and as a family, and try to find out how they ended up transported across space in the first place.

So yeah, this is kind of like Lost in Space, but animated and with teenagers. Hell, the show’s in the title! The balance between humor, mystery, and storytelling is a little off at times, but the characters are lovable and the mystery elements to the story are compelling. If you’re looking for sci-fi with characters you want to hug and a bit of suspense to boot, this might be up your alley.

 

Serial Experiments Lain

After one of her classmates commits suicide, fourteen-year-old Lain Iwakura finds out said classmate has since been sending messages to others in her class over the Wired, a super-advanced version of the Internet that uses virtual reality. She starts exploring the Wired, and finds herself going down the rabbit hole as she deals with secret societies, and an entity claiming to be the God of the Wired. But the greatest mystery of all may be Lain herself…

Released in 1998, Serial Experiments Lain has become something of a cult phenomenon in the anime community, noted for its uncanny predictions of how the Internet would develop in the next twenty years or so and exploration of Internet culture, as well as the nature of consciousness, God, and so much more. It’s a story more focused on philosophical/psychological exploration rather than traditional storytelling, so its slow pace might turn off some viewers. But if you stick with it, you may find yourself having your mind blown by this hard-to-define series.

 

Fruits Basket (2019)

Technically speaking, there are two adaptations of this award-winning manga, one from 2001 and one from last year. However, the more recent version has gorgeous animation, adheres more closely to the original manga, and plans to tell the whole story.

Fruits Basket follows Tohru Honda, a cheerful girl who finds herself homeless after her mother’s death. She ends up moving in with the Sohmas, a large and influential family whose members Tohru is classmates with. However, she finds something crazy out about her new home: certain members of the Sohma family can turn into animals of the Chinese zodiac when hugged by a member of the opposite sex or under great stress. Thus Tohru’s life becomes more wonderful and stranger than she ever dreamed.

So while the premise sounds whimsical enough, and there are plenty of sweet and funny moments, this series can get really dark. A lot of the characters have suffered from their ability to transform into animals, and there’s a lot of exploration of social isolation, anxiety and depression, self-loathing and self-fulfilling prophecies, broken homes and gang violence, and more. How the show balances all that so well with humor and lighter moments, I have no idea, but there you go.

Anyway, this is a great series to make you laugh and cry, with a literal menagerie of characters for you to fall in love with. The second season is due out next month, so I hope you’ll check it out in the meantime.

Overlord

This one’s become my new favorite anime, and I’ve watched it five or six times since I first watched it back in September. Yeah, you read that right. And I’m about to tell you why.

A gamer’s favorite virtual reality game is about to shut down forever. Having met all his friends and received his best memories in that game, he decides to stay in the game until the servers shut down. However, when the game shuts down, he finds himself transported to a world where magic and monsters exists. As his video game avatar. Which so happens to be a powerful undead skeleton and commander of an entire monstrous army, the great Ainz Ooal Gown. Wanting to understand his new world and find out how he got there, Ainz embraces his new form and sets out on a conquest of this strange new world.

Considered one of the best isekai stories out there,* Overlord has a lot to offer. Not only is it the sort of story where you get to root for a super-powerful villain, but the ensemble cast are a lot of fun and the story manages to keep you interested by flipping point of views and coming up with new scenarios to challenge the main character Ainz, who’s basically an office drone who’s suddenly found himself in the position of a god-king and is basically just trying to fake it till he makes it. And let’s face it, it’s just awesome to see an overpowered character as an antihero sometimes (check out this clip if you don’t believe me).

Ascendance of a Bookworm

A young woman gets her dream job of becoming a librarian and getting to read books all day. But then she dies and gets reincarnated into a fantasy universe. Cool, right? Wrong. First off, she’s now a sickly little girl named Myne, and can’t walk down a set of stairs without getting a fever. Second, she lives in a world where books are expensive and are usually the property of the nobility, which she is not. Despite all that, Myne is determined to get books one way or another, and she won’t let small things like illiteracy or a frail body get in her way!

As far as isekai anime go, this is a bit of an outlier. Normally, isekai protagonists have some great advantage and go out to do amazing things. However, Myne’s only advantages are her own brains and experience, and it’s a story about an ordinary girl (sort of) trying to live an ordinary life with her friends and new family, not anything like saving the world or conquering nations. Add in a mellow pace and beloved characters, and you find yourself falling in love with these characters. If you want a fantasy story not focused on anything major like politics or war and lovable characters just trying to eke out a normal life, this might be the anime for you.

My Bride is a Mermaid

Nagasumi Michishio nearly drowns, but is saved by a mermaid. But now, by mermaid law, he has to marry the mermaid, a girl his own age named Sun Seto. Whose overprotective father is the head of a merfolk yakuza family. And he’s not ready for his little girl to go off and marry, let alone marry a weak human. Hijinks ensue.

This beloved romantic comedy is sure to make anyone laugh. It brings together a whole bunch of kooky characters with a zany concept, and makes the most of it. For a while, it was my favorite anime in high school, and there’s a reason it’s endured for over ten years since it aired. If you want a zany comedy with endearing characters and the ability to surprise you at least once or twice an episode, this may be the anime for you.

 

Welcome to Demon School, Iruma-kun!

Iruma Suzuki is a 14-year-old pushover who’s been forced to work since he was a small child in order to get by. One day, his scumbag parents sell his soul to a demon. The demon, Sullivan, takes Iruma to the nether realms…and adopts him as his grandson! He then enrolls in the elite demon school, Babyls, where if he’s discovered to be human, he’ll be eaten. Hijinks ensue.

This is one of my new favorite anime. It oozes year-round Halloween spirit in every frame of animation, with eyeballs and skulls and spider webs (oh my!) everywhere. Not only that, but these characters are lovable and quirky in their own way, from sweet and pure but easily swayed Iruma, to the beloved and adoring Asmodeus Alice, and the hilarious Clara Valac (think me, but a demoness with twice as much energy and randomness as me). Watching them grow and become friends in a strange world is a lot of fun, as well as hella funny. If you want a series full of demons, Halloween, and utter hilarity and fun, I can’t recommend this one enough.

Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun

A high schooler goes into a bathroom to summon the spirit Hanako-san,** who is supposed to grant a wish to anyone who summons them. Instead of a little girl in a red dress, she gets a devilish boy in an old boy’s uniform, Hanako-kun. He’ll grant her wish…but in exchange, she’ll have to be his assistant in keeping her school’s spirits in line. Hijinks ensue.

With a unique animation style like a webcomic and a great balance of silly humor and intrigue, Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun is one of the breakout hits of Winter 2020. If you’d like a series with funny characters, stellar animation and a bit of supernatural fun, you might enjoy this one. New episodes are airing right now, so why not go ahead and check it out?

Which anime whets your appetite? Have you seen any of these? What did you think? Let’s discuss.

That’s all for now, Followers of Fear. I hope to have another post or two out this week. Also, wanted to let you know I’m writing like crazy these days. I should have an announcement of a new first draft before too long.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*If you don’t remember from my first anime recommendation post, isekai is a subgenre of fantasy anime in which a normal person is transported to a magical world resembling fantasy worlds out of novels and video games, and may have features from the latter. The transported average Joe often ends up becoming some sort of hero or adventurer, going on quests and fighting monsters or exploring unknown regions. It’s a popular genre of anime right now, to the point that half the new series that came out last year seemed to be isekai anime. Thankfully, I can point out some of the good ones.

**Yes, the same spirit from Japanese folklore that inspired my short story “Hannah.”

I’ve confirmed that this film, while co-produced and distributed by Universal, isn’t part of the Dark Universe. Yeah, it has a Universal Classics Monster, but it’s safe to say Universal’s attempt at a cinematic universe around its monsters is deader than Frankenstein’s body parts pre-assembly. I can also confirm that this book barely resembles the book it’s based on, but you probably knew that already. All that being said, let’s begin the review.

The Invisible Man follows Cecilia Kass, who leaves her abusive ex-boyfriend Adrian Griffin. Not too long afterwards, Adrian kills himself and leaves Cecilia with a generous amount from his trust. However, weird things start happening around our heroine. First it’s small things: a portfolio goes missing, a meal catches fire, a floorboard creaks. But then things get crazy. Soon Cecilia figures out Adrian is back from the dead, and has found a way to turn himself invisible. And he’s determined to make Cecilia’s life a living hell.

Best thing about this movie is its lead actress, Kate Moss. She plays the psychologically damaged woman in survival mode so well, it’s scary in and of itself.

As for the rest of the movie, I will give it this. There’s a tension in it. The jump scares pair very well with the anxiety of not knowing what’s in the empty spaces around the characters. I think everyone in the theater were on edge during scenes when Moss was walking around, looking for her stalker.

And thank God, most of the effects are practical rather than CGI. In fact, CGI is used only when absolutely necessary, and I’m always happy when a movie goes that route rather than packing in as much CGI as possible. I mean, oy vey!

Still, this film wasn’t perfect. There were quite a few predictable parts that I saw coming a mile away, as well as a few plot holes that I couldn’t help but notice. Those factors kind of brought the film’s score down for me.

Speaking of which, I’m giving 2020’s The Invisible Man a 3.1 out of 5. If you want to go see it in theaters, go right ahead. Just be aware, you’re not getting anything that’s going to stick with you once you leave the theater. Hopefully, the sequel they’re making is better. Yes, they’re already planning a sequel. The Invisible Woman. Elizabeth Banks is set to star, direct and produce. Given her roster, I’ll give it a chance.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m going to figure out what to do with the rest of the evening. Probably either write, read, or scare my neighbors silly. We’ll see what I come up with.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

I heard about this film last year, but couldn’t see it for a couple of reasons.* I kept an eye out for news about it, but for the longest time, the only places you could watch it were on Amazon and YouTube, and for a price. And then this week it popped up on Netflix. Cue the need to watch it. Which I did this evening. And the wait was worth it.

Girl on the Third Floor stars wrestler-turned-actor CM Punk as Don Koch, an ex-lawyer with a checkered past, buys an old Victorian house in the suburbs with plans of renovating it for his pregnant wife. Problem is, not only is Don still living the party life to some degree, but his new home seems to have some interesting features. Nearly every wall has black goo pouring out of it, pipes and wall sockets leak a milky fluid that looks like a certain other well-known milky fluid, and a strange woman named Sarah keeps appearing around the property. Soon Don and his wife find out their house is way deadlier than they ever could’ve imagined.

I’m told this is director Travis Stevens’ first film, and I have to agree with critics that he’s done an excellent job. A Gothic horror story,** Stevens sets up a slow burn that’s entrancing. It’s as much a psychological horror as a supernatural horror story, following Don as he tries to make things up to his wife while still being a frat boy, and how those choices affect his stay in his new home. Combined with some bat-shit crazy supernatural occurrences, it’s pretty scary.

On top of that, the principal actors, particularly CM Punk, are great in their roles. I totally believed in his role of Don, and loved watching him see the dominoes drop due to his choices and actions. Also, Sarah Brooks as Sarah Yates has an amazing emotional range and really works as the driving force of the movie. I applaud you, Ms. Brooks!

Oh, and let’s not forget the house. The house is itself is a character, and the film does a great job in bringing that character to the fore.

If there’s one thing I could’ve done more with, I wanted more of the history of the house. We got some explanations, but I wanted more on the spirits and where they came from. There’s more to that house than meets the eye, and I feel like we only saw one layer to it.

Overall though, I’m giving Girl on the Third Floor a 4.3 out of 5. It’s a creepy slow-burn that’ll pull you in from start to finish. Get on Netflix, move inside, and be prepared to never move out again.

*Chiefly because the one theater it was playing at is right next to Ohio State, there was a home game that weekend, and you don’t want to drive near campus during a home game. Trust me, it’s the wrong kind of nightmare.

**I’m running into those all over the place. It’s interesting to compare them to Toyland.

I know the moment I press “Publish” on this post, WordPress is going to notify me that I’ve published three posts in three days, and to “keep it up!” I won’t. I can’t blog that much! What would I blog about? My chiropractor’s appointment? The weather?

Okay, onto the subject of this post. If you didn’t know, I have a small YouTube channel. And I mean small: in the eight years I’ve been uploading videos, I’ve only uploaded twenty-seven videos, most of those in the past couple of years. Obviously, I don’t have a lot of traffic on my channel.

But I try to at least update the channel when I have something to update it with. And last night, I filmed a short video letting my YouTube channel followers know that I’d finished Toyland. I also let them know what I was planning to do with the novel in the near future and my immediate writing plans.

And I waxed eloquent about my love of Brothers Drake mead. Again, not sponsored, I just love their stuff and like to celebrate big milestones with mead.

Anyway, I thought I’d post the video here on my blog to further spread the word. If you have fifteen minutes to do so, please watch it below. And if you like it, maybe leave a like and a comment. Hell, subscribe if you’re feeling crazy. Like I said, I don’t upload that much, but when I do, I think it might be entertaining and informative for people. I’ll include the link for that below, as well as links for Rose and The Binge-Watching Cure II (if you watched the video, you know why).

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

My YouTube Channel

Rose: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada, Audible

The Binge-Watching Cure II: Paperback, Ebook

Call the press! Pour the honey wine! Sacrifice your neighbor to the eldritch deity of your choosing! The first draft of Toyland is done! To be specific, I finished it early this morning at around four in the morning. I started working on the last two-and-a-half chapters around ten o’clock last night, after I wrote my review of The Lodge, and just didn’t stop.

And now that I’ve gotten some sleep, I’m blogging about it, because that’s what you do!

Now, for those of you who are unfamiliar, Toyland is a Gothic horror novel I started writing back in November for National Novel Writing Month. The story takes place at a boarding school in southern Ohio, and follows students being menaced by a ghost obsessed with a children’s book. Yes, that’s the plot. I can assure you, it’s just as bonkers as that pitch sounds. I hoped to have it done by the end of January, but I’m glad I was able to finish it by the end of February, which is still a whole new record for me in terms of writing a novel (I think Rose had the last one at around six or seven months).

And how is the first draft?

Well, it’s a first draft, which means it’s crap.

Okay, that might be harsh. It not crap, it just needs a lot of work. First drafts are nicknamed “rough drafts” for a reason, after all. I’m going to have to do a whole lot of editing to get this book out to people. And I may need to have someone take a look at it just to make sure it can survive out in the world as a full novel. I did that with Rose, after all, and Rose is doing very well now, with an audio book and some awesome new reviews.

So how long is Toyland, anyway? I knew it would be longer than fifty-thousand words (the minimum word count for “succeeding” at NaNoWriMo), but I haven’t done a count recently. Give me a moment to do some math…holy crap! In terms of pages (with twelve-point, Times New Roman font, double-spaced on regular MS Word paper), Toyland is three hundred and sixty pages long and 97,186 words! For context, the first Harry Potter novel is around seventy-seven thousand words.

This isn’t the longest story I’ve ever written (that honor goes to my thriller Snake), but still pretty freaking long.

So what’s next? Well, obviously I’m going to party a bit (pizza and locally made mead tonight!). But in terms of Toyland, I’m going to let it be for a while. I always believe a story needs to lie and sleep for a while before editing, so I can look at it with fresh eyes. After a second draft, I may start looking for a publisher. Hopefully, it won’t take five years like it did with Rose to get it published.

I wanted to post this graphic one last time.

In the meantime, I’ll try to take a little vacation from writing anything except blog posts (though if the writing bug gets me, that’s that). After that, I’ll try my hand at those ten short(er) stories I mentioned in a previous post. Two of those stories, by the way, take place in Victorian England and one of which I hope to put into that short story collection I’m putting together. I’m looking forward to them. I may also work on an essay which has been cooking in the back of my mind. We’ll see what happens.

For now though, I’m off to relax. Thanks for supporting me during this writing process, my Followers of Fear. I hope you’ll check out Toyland when it comes out and maybe let me know what you think of it. For now though, how about checking out my novel Rose? It’s a Kafkaesque horror story about a young woman turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). If Toyland sounds up your alley, you’ll probably enjoy Rose. I’ll post the links below.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Rose: Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada, Audible

I’ve heard a lot of good things about The Lodge, including that it was a new classic in the genre (or something like that. I may be paraphrasing). With the last couple of horror films I’ve seen since my last film review being average or below and not worthy of a blog post (*cough* Fantasy Island *cough*), I had high expectations. At the very least, I hoped it was worth the cost of parking at the nearest theater it was playing at.

The Lodge follows Aiden and Mia, a pair of siblings living with their father following the sudden death of their mother. On their trip to their family cabin for Christmas, their dad’s girlfriend Grace comes along to get to know the kids better. The kids are less than thrilled, partly because Grace is the lone survivor of a suicide cult headed by her father. However, when the kid’s dad has to go back into the city for work and has to leave Grace with the kids for a few days, several days of madness ensue. One that will push Grace to the brink, and maybe take the kids with her.

Oh my God, this film is terrifying!

The Lodge takes storytelling and suspense hand-in-hand and creates an atmosphere where everything feels up in the air. If horror is fear of the unknown and loss of control, then this film succeeds. I saw hints of twists that were to come early in the film, only to quickly forget them even when I see them again because the film convinced me nothing was certain. Add in creepy imagery, strange happenings, and jump scares that are few and out of left field for their utmost effectiveness, and you’ve got one hell of a horror movie.

The four central characters also do an excellent job in their roles. Aiden is played from Jaeden Martell, who played Bill Denbrough in the IT movies, so he’s used to horror films, and puts it to use here. His sister is played by Lia McHugh, who also have a history in horror, so they bring the experience. But more than that, they know how to play siblings brought close by tragedy, to the point that I forgot they were actors.* Riley Keough also is excellent, showing the stress of the situation on a woman already psychologically and emotionally vulnerable so well. It’s honestly a delight to watch.

I can’t think of anything bad about the film. Doing so would be nitpicking. I will let you know that if you prefer horror films be filled with CGI and lots of jump scares (the opposite of me), this film may be a bit too intense for you. Trust me, most of the theater were freaking out in our seats. Even when nothing was happening on screen (or seemed to be happening, anyway).

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving The Lodge a 4.8 out of 5. Nerve-wracking, twisty and twisted, you’ll be freaking out from the first jump scare to the haunting ending. Grab a blanket and someone to watch it with, and get ready to squeeze their arms tightly. Believe me, it’s that scary.

*And maybe wondered their relationship was incestuous. Hey, it’s an R-rated horror film, boundaries are hazy at best if it helps the story along.