Posts Tagged ‘celebrities’

The other day, I posted my thoughts on the COVID-19 virus. Among those thoughts was my desire for writers and readers alike to support authors who will be struggling during the ongoing crisis. For a lot of authors, this crisis will cut into conventions, teaching seminars, readings, and so much more that they rely on to sell their books and use their craft. The best thing we can do for those authors is to support them. This could be by buying their work, writing their reviews, anything else you can do to help them out while we’re all stuck inside and trying to protect our health.

That said, there’s an opportunity to do just that.

I’ve known Jason Stokes, owner of Gestalt Media, for about a year. He’s a writer whose work I’ve read and reviewed, but he’s also the owner of a publishing company that tries to give authors the best experience with a publisher as possible. This includes better royalty rates and more control over the creative process than you might find at another publisher. And the model’s worked so far; in the year or so they’ve been in business, Gestalt Media has acquired a number of authors, many of them horror authors, and are sending their stories into the marketplace.

Not only that, but Gestalt Media put together a charity anthology last year for victims of the Virginia Beach shooting which included the likes of Stephen King and Neil Gaiman. Yeah, not kidding, those authors let their short stories be used in the anthology, Dark Tides, to benefit victims and families of victims of that charity. You can check out the anthology’s Amazon page by clicking on this link.

Anyway, just like authors everywhere else, Gestalt Media is working hard to support its authors during this difficult time. They’re raising money on GoFundMe to ensure their authors are able to whether the storm, and they’ve already made almost ten percent of their goal. And for every dollar they make, companies like GoFundMe, Intuit and Yelp will match them. Yeah, every dollar does count here!*

Now, I know a lot of you might be struggling yourselves during this difficult time. Many of us are out of work and unable to make an income during this crisis. I understand. But if you are able to help somehow, please consider doing so.  I’m lucky enough to still be working and making enough money to meet my needs, so I was able to donate. And if I can, I want to help further, so I’m spreading the word where I can.

And if you can’t help out monetarily, maybe consider sharing the campaign on your social media. The more people who know about this,  the more people will be likely to donate. And if you can help out monetarily, great! You’ll be helping out plenty of authors.

Whatever way you can help, please do. We’re all in this together. In fact, the whole point of all these measures is to make sure we all get through the crisis together. This would only be a continuation of the communal preservation we’re engaging in.

And if you can’t help out, that’s fine too. We all have things we can and can’t do, even now.

Well, that’s all for now, Followers of Fear. I’ll include the link for the fundraiser down below. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Gestalt Media Creators Relief Fund

*How they were able to work that deal, I don’t know, but I’m not going to complain when they’re able to get results.

I heard about this book sometime last year and immediately requested my library buy copies (they did, and I was #1 on the list). I mean, a horror story set on the Titanic and having to do with some sort of creature living in the sea? Where do I sign up? And it came in for me at the library right before my library ceased operations due to the virus, so I was happy to get it when I did.

The Deep follows Annie Hebbley, a maid who works on the Titanic, and gets involved with the Fletcher family, a troubled married couple with a baby girl. Strange things occur on the ship leading up to that fateful (or fatal?) meeting. Years later, Annie meets Mark Fletcher, the very same man she waited on during that voyage, though now she’s a nurse on the Titanic’s sister ship the Britannic and he’s a wounded soldier returning from the battlefield of WWI. Coincidence? Or is something else at play? Something that has unfinished business with these ships and their passengers?

Let me tell you, this book has a lot going for it. For one thing, it’s set partially on the Titanic, which is always a fascinating topic and setting for any story. And turning it into a ghost story? Even cooler.* That, and the Titanic sailed during the Edwardian era, which is close enough to my beloved Victorian era that I felt right at home.

But beyond that, this is one damn good horror novel. Author Alma Katsu takes a psychological approach to this story, using hints to keep us guessing as to what’s going on. Are people going crazy onboard? Is there something supernatural afoot? Whether it be a seance or someone acting strange, you’re kept very up in the air about it up until the last fifth or so of the book, and even then, you may still have questions.

At the same time, you get to know a lot of these characters intimately. It’s a big cast, told from the points of views of Annie, Mark Fletcher and his wife Caroline, you have the POVs of several historical figures, including boxers Dai Bowen and Leslie Williams, whom I absolutely fell in love with; Madeleine Astor, worried about an alleged curse on her unborn child; and William Stead, an aged journalist with an interest in the occult.** But Katsu does a great job of developing each and every character and giving them a unique voice and issues to explore.

A lot of attention is paid to detail as well, the same sort of attention that went visually into James Cameron’s movie. It really brings alive the setting for both ships, and makes you feel like you’re there. And there are plenty of moments filled with tension, such as the aforementioned seance, a scene at the saltwater pool, or close to the very end, when things are finally revealed.

The ship may have sunk, but the stories about it, like my heart, will go on. And in some cases, get very creepy.

All these factors kind of make it feel like you’re watching a really dark and spooky stageplay about the Titanic, only you’re reading it out of a book. In fact, I can imagine The Deep being made into a stageplay someday, or perhaps even a Broadway musical, one that’s scarier and has less humor than Sweeney Todd. I’d even help adapt it if someone deemed me experienced enough and wanted me to.

I can’t find anything to put as a downside to this novel. Some might find it a bit too slow, or maybe too much time is spent on the characters’ problems and backstories. I didn’t, but I can see other people feeling that way.

Overall, I’m giving The Deep by Alma Katsu a 4.5 out of 5. It’s an unnerving, intimate historical horror novel that’ll have you enthralled. Pick up a copy, put on that one Celine Dion song you’re probably thinking of, and get ready to dive in to what may be a contender for next year’s Bram Stoker awards.

*Of course, when I try to turn a luxury cruise liner into a ghost story, Disney’s lawyers come after me. How was I supposed to know ritualistic murder wasn’t allowed in international waters? It’s always okay in wartime!

**I recognized him from my own research into Victorian England. When I came across him and the reference to the occult, I literally shouted “Wait, I know this guy!” to my empty apartment.

On Sunday, I posted about finishing my first short story of 2020, a science-horror story called “Primordial Nuclear Soup” (what a title, right?). I mentioned in that post I wanted to find a beta reader to take a look at the story before I edited it and tried to send it anywhere. Thankfully, I found someone very quickly who turned out to be the right sort of reader for this story. They gave me some excellent feedback on ways the story could be improved, but there’s one point that I wanted to focus on.

With “Primordial Nuclear Soup,” I was going for an ambiguous ending to the story. You know, the kind where things are left kind of open, leading to readers wondering what happened after “The End”? Yeah, apparently I confused my beta reader with that. They actually asked me if I’d cut it off early.

Now, this may have been because I simply forgot to put the words “The End” at the end of the story. But it got me thinking: when is an ambiguous ending good for a story, and when does it actually get in the way of telling the story?

As usual, when faced with a writing quandary that I can’t reason out on my own, I go to Facebook groups for writers. I got a variety of opinions on the subject, some of which felt more on the mark than others, but one response in particular resonated with me. The writer in question said that ambiguous endings work best with ambiguous stories.

What do I mean by ambiguous stories? Well, these are stories where so much is up in the air, that an ending where things are up in the air makes sense. A story with an unreliable narrator fits this description, or a story like The Haunting of Hill House, where we’re not sure if the house is really haunted and we feel the psychological strain on the characters. By the end of the latter, we’re still not sure whether the house is haunted, so an ending that still leaves us questioning what the hell just happened fits nicely.

Of course, some more “definitive” stories may benefit from an ambiguous ending, especially if it ramps up the tension. “All That You Love Will Be Carried Away,” a Stephen King short story about a traveling salesman contemplating suicide, has an ambiguous ending dependent on whether the protagonist sees a light from a farmhouse through a snowstorm.* It’s a great way to top off a story revolving around a troubled man wondering whether or not he should kill himself or live to write a book about his encounters on his travels.

As for my own story…well, it’s science horror. And science/science fiction tends to deal with exactness. Even though the Xenomorph from the pinnacle of science horror, Alien, has an unclear origin,** everything else in that film is clear as crystal. So perhaps I need to give my own story a clearer ending.

Well, we’ll see. I’ll give the story an edit before I start that essay (yes, I’m going to write it) and see what I can do with it. Hopefully, I’ll make something a magazine won’t want to throw in the trash after the first page.

A dramatic shot of “Rose” I couldn’t help but take.

Oh, and while I have your attention still, did you know today is the two-year anniversary of when I announced Rose was accepted for publication? Yeah, it happened on this day in 2017, and a lot’s happened since then. A year of edits and rewrites, the release and all the marketing, the audio book, and so much more. More and more, people have been telling me they’ve enjoyed the story, and hearing that is the most gratifying feeling ever. Makes me want to keep writing.

If you haven’t read the Kafkaesque story of a young woman turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems), and you’d like to check it out, I’ll include the links below. And if you do read it, please let me know what you think. I love feedback, and reviews help me out in the long run.

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

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

*It’s been 19 years since it first came out, so I’m not sorry I didn’t include a spoiler warning.

**I like to pretend Prometheus and Alien: Covenant never happened. They take all the mystery out of the franchise.

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.

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’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.