Posts Tagged ‘celebrities’

I listened to the audio book of NOS4A2 by Joe Hill (aka Stephen King’s son Joe King) about a year or two ago. I liked it: it had several scary moments, awesome characters, and trippy psychic phenomena his dear dad probably approved wholeheartedly (the only real downside was the narrator. Just totally wrong for that book). When I heard a TV adaptation was in the works, I got interested, especially since the book doesn’t exactly lend itself to adaptation. But adapted it was. And whoo-boy, what an adaptation.

NOS4A2 follows Vic McQueen, a teenager whose motorbike allows her to access the Shorter Way Bridge, a supernatural wormhole that helps her find lost things. She later finds out that there’s another like her out there: Charlie Manx, a man who kidnaps children in his Rolls Royce Wraith (the license plate of which is where the title of the show comes from), transforms them into vampiric monsters, and takes them to a place in an alternate dimension called Christmasland, where it’s Christmas Eve every night and Christmas Day every day. In exchange, he gets to stay young. And whether by choice or by fate, Vic must face Manx and stop him, or he’ll keep taking kids forever.

Let me just say, the cast of this show is the best part. Every actor fully becomes their characters, so that it becomes hard to remember anything else you’ve seen them in. The best, of course, are Ashleigh Cummings as the protagonist Vic McQueen and Zachary Quinto as antagonist Manx. Cummings truly makes you believe she’s a teen just trying to get out of town and out of poverty, preferably by going to art school in Providence. And oh my God, whether as his normal self or under a lot of make-up and prosthetics to look a hundred years old, Quinto is creepy as heck. He comes off as charming on the surface but underneath is a psychopath hungry for power and totally convinced of his own line of altruistic bullshit. I swear, if he goes in character at a convention, every parent who’s seen the show is going to scream and grab their child out of instinct before remembering he’s an actor in a role.

Of course, the show itself is nothing to sneeze at. There are several creepy and tense moments, and more than a few scenes where Vic is in danger that kept me on the edge of my seat. Even better, there are no episodes where things slow down and get unnecessarily boring. There was one episode where Vic had to go to a hospital where I thought it would get slow and boring, and she’d spend the whole book sorting her life out before deciding to fight Manx. Without getting into details, my expectations were subverted (and not in a bad way, like what I hear happened to the last season of Game of Thrones).

The only issues I had were that some things the writers included just didn’t feel necessary or make sense to me. In one episode, Vic’s got twelve hours to meet up with Manx, who has kidnapped a kid she knows. What does she do in the meantime? She parties at a rich friend’s house, gets drunk, and talks with a cute boy before getting sick. Whaaat?

And what was with the halfhearted love-triangle? They just kind of didn’t go anywhere with that, so why would they include it?

But on the whole, NOS4A2‘s first season is a strong start for the series, and I can’t wait for the second season. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving this season a 4.4. An amazing cast and great storytelling mixed with taut atmosphere and mystery. Grab your reality-cutting knife, get some hot chocolate and candy canes, and dive into the Highway of the Mind. You won’t be disappointed.

And until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares.

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Hereditary was one of the scariest films of 2018. It’s considered so unnerving and terrifying, watching it a second time is considered by some to be a masochistic act (believe me, I was called that when I watched it again a month or two ago). So when we all heard director Ari Aster was following it up barely a year later with Midsommar, horror fans everywhere get excited. We were even willing to forgive him diving back into the evil cult trope just because he did so well with it in Hereditary. With the bar set high, I went to the theater today to see if this follow up could measure up to its predecessor.

Midsommar follows Dani, a young woman who, after suffering a family tragedy, joins her boyfriend and his friends on a trip to Sweden for a summer solstice festival held in the childhood home of one of the friends. While at first things seem innocent enough–minus a bit of drug use, of course–it soon becomes clear that these rituals and celebrations have a dark side to them. And not everyone will survive the nine-day festival.

I can say this movie is weird and fucked up. But not in a good way.

Obviously, this movie’s going to be compared a lot with Hereditary. But you know why that film worked? Because everything in it, from the painful breakdown of the family to the supernatural occurrences–felt like one big domino effect or Rube Goldberg machine. And in the end, it turned out to be that way. And it was done by looking into every situation where horror could be derived and then exploiting it to its most effective length. There’s none of that here. It felt like Aster just took one of the most prominent factors in Hereditary–the cult aspect–and extended it with psychedelic imagery and as much weird stuff as possible, though with barely any rhyme or reason, let alone with a Rube Goldberg-like exactness.

Even worse, it wasn’t scary. Actually, at times it feels kind of comical. One guy in the theater laughed at out at one point, and I couldn’t blame him. What happened was ridiculous.

And the majority of the characters are flat as rocks. You can sum most of them up with a single sentence, and it’ll encompass all of them completely and succinctly. You have the horndog who’s pissed he’ not having sex every other minute; you have the scholar who only cares about the research; you have the boyfriend who clearly isn’t happy but is guilted into the relationship; and you have the friend who invited everyone and is obviously hiding a lot.

Oh, and there’s something involving disabled villagers which just…didn’t sit right with me. I won’t go into spoilers, but I’m troubled by it, and let’s leave it at that (if you know what I’m talking about, let me know if you were troubled as well in the comments below).

Was there anything good in this film? Well, there’s some beautiful cinematography, shots that take weird angles or go on for minutes at a time. The psychedelic imagery, at times, is pretty cool. There are moments where flowers seem to breathe, which is visually stunning. And Dani is not only a fully realized character, but one whose battle with anxiety and depression come across as very genuine. You really see this woman who has been beaten down by life, and is just trying to find some joy and happiness while on this trip. It’s really heartbreaking.

But on the whole, Midsommar feels like a promise broken after the gem that is Hereditary. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving the film a 2. If you really want to watch this one, I’d wait until it’s on DVD or streaming. Either that, or watch either Wicker Man movie, because they deal with similar concepts. Or The Apostle or The Ritual on Netflix, because they have similar concepts as well and are done soooo much better.

Either way, Ari Aster will have to do a lot better with his next film to regain our trust.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Hopefully the next review I do is for something that really hits it out of the park. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Let me preface this review with a disclaimer: I’ve never been a fan of the Child’s Play franchise. I saw the original Child’s Play when I was too old to be scared of Chucky, and I never bothered to see any of the sequels. So I was not among the many people who raged at the thought of a redesigned Chucky, a new origin story for the character, or the concept of a reboot in general. However, I knew that there was a good chance this would fall under horror remakes we all wish we could forget would ever make. So I braced myself, bought a ticket, and went in.

Child’s Play follows Andi, a young deaf boy with trouble making friends. His mom finds him a used Buddi doll, a cross between your Alexa smart product and the worst of the uncanny valley, as an early birthday present. Unfortunately, neither of them realize that this particular doll was sabotaged by a disgruntled factory worker, and has all the limiters taken off. The result is a psychopathic stalker unhealthily obsessed with a little boy. And he’ll stop at nothing to make sure his best buddy stays his best buddy. Especially when he gains access to the network.

Okay, first off, I’m just going to say it. In what world does ANYBODY want THAT version of Chucky in their home? Give the original design its due, at least it looks somewhat adorable, something your child would want to play with. Take it from the guy who has a doll collection and his favorite is kind of creepy, this doll looks too creepy for the average family, let alone something people would allow into their home and pretend is their best buddy while at the same time handing control over their home devices.

There’s this thing called the suspension of disbelief. Don’t go too far with it, or nobody will believe your story.

Yeah, I wouldn’t trust this with my devices. Why would anyone?

And now that that’s out of the way, let’s just say it. Even if you can forgive all the changes from the source material, the Child’s Play remake is not very good. For one thing, it’s predictable. We’ve seen this story, the doll that comes to life and becomes too attached to its owner, again and again. Beyond adding the element of a doll connected to the cloud and the Wi-Fi and everything else, there’s nothing new to add. If you have a checklist for this kind of trope about what to expect, you can check every single one off and rate it as average at best.

I also disagreed with some plot choices. The worst was with Andi’s mom, played by Aubrey Plaza. She seems caring, but at the same time she’s like, “I could care less and want to go back to being a carefree teenager.” And then, in a scene where Andi displays some behavior that seems disturbing, she instead…takes him to work? How about a hospital to get his head looked at?

Oh, and talk about a waste of Mark Hamill. I totally forgot that was Luke Skywalker/arguable one of the best Jokers ever playing Chucky. The robotic voice mutes the actor’s distinct voice, making you forget who’s behind the character.

Was there anything good about this film? Well, the cast is okay. They’re not trying very hard, but they convince me anyway. Some of the sweeter, more heartfelt moments are decent at giving you the feels. And some of the moments of horror and dark humor are enough to terrify and gross you out. Especially with one scene in the basement.

But all in all, the Child’s Play reboot is a sad attempt at revitalizing a slasher franchise. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 1.8. Even if it somehow is a success at the box office (which, with a ten million dollars budget, could be done in a few weeks), it might not get a sequel just based on how bad it is. Only go if you don’t mind wasting two hours of your life.

Thank God it wasn’t a bad Friday the 13th reboot. Can you imagine how disappointing it would be if that happened? Oh wait, that did happen! And it’s still a shitty piece of filmmaking courtesy of Michael Bay’s toilet. That’s right, I found another opportunity to trash the Friday the 13th reboot! And I’ll keep trashing it until a better (or worse) Friday the 13th film is released, mark my words!

Since the very first trailer, I’ve been excited for this film. I mean, a horror film led by the phenomenal Octavia Spencer? That should be amazing! And even though I was enjoying myself this past weekend in various locales associated with spirits (more on that in other posts), Ma was never far from my mind. And since I’m still on vacation, I thought I’d go see an afternoon matinee.

Ma follows a group of teens, including new girl Maggie, as they wrangle a veterinary technician named Sue Ann Ellington (aka Ma), into buying them booze. Sue Ann later entices them into partying with her in her basement, and soon her place becomes the place to be. However, Sue Ann starts to exhibit some strange behavior, and it becomes clear that she has a history, one involving the parents of some of the kids. And she’s still upset about it.

There are two things about this film that stand out to me. The first is Octavia Spencer’s performance. She does crazy so well, it’s terrifying. I’m no psychologist, but I’m pretty sure the character of Sue Ann displayed traits of both borderline personality disorder and Munchausen’s by proxy, and it’s convincing. The second is the storytelling, a slow-burn of a story showing a woman twisted by her past out for revenge after several years of keeping most of that anger under wraps. It’s not done with big scares or a tense atmosphere, but small things that eventually grow into a freaky finale.

The one gripe I have–and this is a gripe shared by other critics of the film–is that it could’ve gone farther. Tate Taylor, the director, feels like he’s not willing to lean into the concept and portray more violent or disturbing acts on the part of Sue Ann. I mean, there are definitely some things she does that are chilling, no doubt, but a few more would’ve only helped the film. Certainly the low kill count will trouble some horror fans.

Still, I can see some sequel or prequel potential in Ma. The film sprinkled enough things into it and had an ending that might be conducive for further films. And if done right, Sue Ann Ellington–aka Ma–might join the ranks of great horror villains like Michael Myers, Freddy Kreuger, and my boy Jason Voorhees.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Ma an even 4. If you prefer subtle horror with a focus on storytelling and a compelling villain, this may be the horror film for you. Grab a drink, and check it out.

And while I have your attention, this is another reminder that you have till Friday to sign up to be an advanced reader for Rose, my upcoming fantasy-horror novel from Castrum Press. The story follows a young woman who starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). Anyone interested should send me an email at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com. All I ask is you read the book and consider posting a review after the release. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.

My dad and I on the balcony of the Garfield Memorial.

So this past week I was in Cleveland visiting family, including my dad, and getting to see a bit more of Cleveland than I ever have before (when you have a car, planning your own leisure activities during your vacation is sooo much easier). Among other things, I got to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, get the best shave I’ve ever had, and visit a huge indoor marketplace. But the one thing I wanted to talk about in this post was something my dad did with me Friday morning: we visited Lake View Cemetery.

Now if you don’t know, Lake View Cemetery is a large, ornate cemetery modeled after the great cemeteries of Victorian England and France. It’s known as “Cleveland’s Outdoor Museum,” and is home to some very prominent individuals, including Eliot Ness, Alan Freed (who coined the term “rock and roll”), John D. Rockefeller, and President James Garfield, who has the most ornate mausoleum not just of any resident there, but of any American president. Amazing considering he only served for about 200 days.

Me being me, I’d been looking forward to seeing this place since I first heard about it. And of course, me being me, I brought my reliable dowsing rods with me, because they are so good at striking up conversations with the dead.

Our first stop was the Garfield Memorial, but even before we reached that place, I could tell this was a different sort of cemetery than any I’ve visited in the past. For one, it was so pretty. Cemeteries used to take the place of public parks in places that didn’t or couldn’t have public parks for whatever reason, and as I said, this cemetery was based on the kinds popular from a hundred and fifty years ago. So you had wide, sloping hills and fields of green, a lake with benches and geese and swans in and around it, and majestic lanes to walk upon (or walk your dog, as I saw one woman doing with her husky). Also, there were so many different kinds of headstones and grave markers! Look at some of the photos below.

I don’t ktow these people, but I love their tastes. Good kitty!

Alan Freed’s gravestone, front side.

Alan Freed’s gravestone, back side.

The Rockefeller Obelisk, or most of it. It’s a big monument.

As I said, our first stop was to the Garfield Memorial, this huge, ornate structure that was even more amazing once you got inside. A docent there told us how money was raised for the memorial after the president’s death and some of the features of the construction and artwork on display. For example, the glass in the walls were all inserted by hand, and the murals on the wall include goddesses representing the thirteen original colonies, plus Ohio and War and Peace, and the leaves set into the floor are supposed to guide you around the room, showing Garfield’s humble beginnings in Ohio and how he came up to become the President, a real American success story.

The front exterior of the Garfield Memorial.

 

The glass designs on the wall, from afar and up close. Imagine the work that went into all that!

Later we went downstairs to the crypt, where I got out my dowsing rods. Unfortunately, my dad forgot to hit record on my phone, so we didn’t have a recording of that conversation, but I did get into contact with James Garfield’s ghost. Apparently, while his family is buried with him, none of their spirits are with him, and he’s pretty lonely. I felt bad for him, and considering how many other spirits are in the cemetery, I had to wonder why he didn’t have many people on either side of the veil to speak to. The docent later told us that after his assassination, a friend of Garfield did engage a medium to speak to his spirit, and other psychics have been by the grave.

The Garfield crypt. It was a lot mores shadowy when I was there.

The balcony from the Garfield Memorial. You can just see Lake Erie in this photo.

After a quick trip up to the balcony, where we had a view of Lake Erie (hence the name “Lake View”), we checked out some of the other graves around the cemetery. One of those graves was John Rockefeller, and that was a conversation we did get on video. Check it out below.

Now, that was amazing. How many people can say they’ve had a conversation with John D. Rockefeller? And apparently death is treating him well. Not surprising, when you consider he’s got a scenic place to live in death and lots of people to talk to. And he may go visit Garfield, for all we know.

We left soon after that. We tried to visit the Wade Chapel, this beautiful structure with this Tiffany glass decoration, but there was a funeral going on there, and we didn’t want to disturb the grieving family, who seemed like they were going to stick around a while. But in all honesty, I really enjoyed myself. This trip played to all my interests, and I got to do it with my dad, who I don’t see often anymore and whom I enjoy doing most things with.

And Lake View Cemetery is just a beautiful place to go. If you haven’t gone and have the chance, I highly recommend you take a trip there. I’ll definitely try to go again the next time I’m in Cleveland and have a few more conversations while I’m there.

Have you ever been to Lake View Cemetery? Did you have any encounters there? What was it like?

And in the meantime, this is a reminder that anyone interested in being an advanced reader for my upcoming fantasy-horror novel “Rose” has till June 7th–this Friday–to sign up. The novel follows a young woman who turns into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). If you’re interested, please send an email to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com. All I ask is you read the book and consider posting a review after the release. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope to have a few more posts out this week, including a review and some more of my recent experiences. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Erin McGraw, author of Joy

I’ve had the good fortune to learn from a variety of different authors. And sometimes they’ve had the bad fortune–I mean, they’ve been kind enough to teach me in person instead of through the medium of a book. Recently, I had the good fortune to go and listen to one of my professors, Dr. Erin McGraw, do a reading of her new book Joy (which is also my next read, by the way) at the bookstore near me. We got to talking afterwards, and I asked if she wouldn’t mind letting me interview her.

This is the resulting interview. Ladies, gentlemen, and non-binary people of manners, let me introduce Erin McGraw!

Rami Ungar: Welcome to the show, Erin. Please tell us something about yourself and your published works.

Erin McGraw: I’ve written seven books of fiction, three novels and four story collections.  Whenever I’m writing stories, I’m convinced that novels are easier.  When I’m bogged down in a novel, I long to be writing stories.

RU: Your latest book is Joy, a collection of 53 short stories. Please tell us how the project came about and what sort of stories are inside the collection.

EM: Joy happened largely by accident.  I had just retired and finished two novels back to back, and I was tired.  I thought I was writing tiny little stories—3-4 pages—just to keep in practice until I could figure out what my next book was going to be.  It took embarrassingly long to realize that these tiny little stories were the next book.

The stories are dramatic monologues, meaning that the main character steps out of their life to directly address the reader, explaining why they’re doing what they’re doing.  Since these are people acting as their own defense attorneys, they often lie.  That’s what makes things interesting.

RU: Obviously, there are a number of different voices within Joy. Did you do any sort of research for any of the voices you wrote?

EM: I researched almost all of them to some degree.  The ones that come from actual people, like Ava Gardner or Patsy Cline’s dresser, required that I read books to get the facts and background right, but even a story from the point of view of a nameless songwriter wannabe required that I look up some of the facts of the songwriting business, to make sure I got my guy right.  It only takes a paragraph or so before I start feeling responsibility toward my characters, and I want to treat them with respect.

RU: Were there any voices you tried to write but couldn’t? What were the reasons?

EM: I tried for a year and a half to write a story about a man who searched out his spirit animal on the internet.  People do this all the time, I reasoned; it should be easy.  And funny.  But the story stubbornly refused to get funny or easy, and eventually I parked it in my ever-growing “Undead” file, where I put things that I can’t get right but still seem like good ideas.  Maybe I’ll get this one right someday.

It’s funny, right?  Going to the internet to find your spirit animal?

RU: I think so. I mean, it’s trusting an algorithm created by interns and programmers to tell you something profound about yourself. Says something about the people who use it, I’m sure.
Anyway, you also taught for a number of years at Ohio State University. Were any of the stories in Joy based on your teaching experiences?

EM: Not any teaching experiences, no, but a lot of the stories exist, at least in my mind, in central Ohio.  I lived in Columbus for 15 years, and 10 years before that in Cincinnati, so I spent a lot of time thinking about Ohio and pondering its aggrieved status as a fly-over state.  Recent politics have changed that some, which I think is a good thing.

Joy by Erin McGraw

RU: What’s next for you? Are you working on any projects now?

EM: I’ve got a few more very short stories; I think they’re the leftover energy from finishing Joy.  A new project has floated to the front of my mind, but I’m superstitious about talking about things too early.  If it happens, it will be another book with a lot of voices.  I like to hear people talk.  It gives me a break from my own company.

RU: What are you reading these days?

EU: I’ve been on a tear for two years reading about the socio-economic divide in the U.S., and I’m still reading those.  Also books about the development of a recognizable U.S. cuisine, a subject of ongoing interest to me.  Also a superb book about climbing vines.  Don’t laugh.  It’s good.

RU: What is advice you would give to other writers, regardless of background or experience?

EM: The advice I was given by my teacher, John L’Heureux, regarding character:  Complicate the motive.  Simplify the action.

RU: I’ll have to meditate on that one a bit. Final question: if you were stuck on a desert island for a little while and could only take three books with you, which would you take?

Since they would have to be books I could bear to read over and over, the first would be Eliot’s Four Quartets.  Then King Lear, which I’ve never known well enough.  Then the collected Emily Dickinson.  She wrote enough to hold me for quite a while, in case the rescue ship gets held up.

RU: Ah, King Lear. That was an interesting read. Anyway, thanks for joining us, Erin. I hope you’ll join us again someday soon.

If you would like to check out and maybe get signed copies of Joy, you can click on this link. I’ll be checking it out myself very soon. And if you would like to know more about Erin McGraw and her work, check out her website here.

If you would like to see some of the other interviews I’ve been lucky enough to do, click on my Interviews page to check those authors out. And if you yourself are an author with a book you’d like to promote, send me an email at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com

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

What if the Superman origin story had a dark, horror-movie style twist? That’s the conceit of Brightburn, a movie produced by the director of the Guardians of the Galaxy films and the upcoming Suicide Squad film, written by his brothers Mark and Brian, and directed by David Yarovesky, who directed the pretty-good horror film The Hive. And from the trailers, it looked like it could be really good, or just plain bad. Either way, I put my butt in the seat and waited to see how it would go.

Brightburn follows the Breyers family, consisting of farmer Kyle, wife and artist Tori, and adopted son Brandon. Around his twelfth birthday, Brandon starts exhibiting supernatural powers and psychopathic behaviors. When he starts to hurt classmates and people around town start dying or going missing, Tori and Kyle reveal to their son his extraterrestrial origins, and he reveals to them his dark purpose in coming to Earth.

*sigh* You know, I can forgive them for copying Superman’s basic power-set in this film. I can also forgive them for not mentioning him at all (probably did that out of legal reasons). But I can’t forgive them for making a bad film that puts all its best bits in the trailers!

I kid you not, everything that was supposed to make this film exciting and scary was revealed in the trailer. The woman who got glass in her eye, the guy in the car seeing Brandon flying on the road, the girl’s hand getting broken, the plane crash. Those should’ve been surprises, but we all saw them in the trailers, and that takes out all of the suspense and horror of the actual movie. Except for a few moments, I watched the film thinking to myself, “That’s predictable. That’s predictable. Oh, how could I have not seen that coming? Oh wait, I did! In the previews!”

What do you have left when you take all those elements out? Just your below-average evil child horror film, like Prodigy from earlier this year (which I didn’t review because it was so much like every other evil child film out there). Parents get a kid, usually not their own. Kid grows up mostly fine, but then starts exhibiting scary behavior. Kid turns out to be evil, either because they were born seriously messed up or because of some supernatural reason, one parent ends up dead, the other either successfully kills the kid or is killed while trying because a bystander was nearby and didn’t know the truth.

Seen it. Done it. Took it to dinner. Had a good time afterwards. Ordered them an Uber. Point is, done to death.

There were only two things I liked about Brightburn. One was the mask the kid Brandon wore, which looks like a crocheted cross between an insect head and Cthulhu’s face. The other is Elizabeth Banks as mother Tori. You really see her love for this strange boy, and how much she tries to hold onto that little boy despite all he’s done.

But other than that, Brightburn is sadly unoriginal despite marketing itself as original. And I’m convinced the filmmakers knew that, and that’s why they put all the highlights in the trailers, to get butts in seats. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving this one a 1.5. Avoid, unless you like wasting two hours of your time. I hope to God I never write anything as unoriginal as this.

Speaking of which, I’m still looking for advanced readers for my upcoming fantasy-horror novel from Castrum Press, Rose. The story follows a young woman who turns into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). Anyone who’s interested should send me an email at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com before June 7th. All I ask is that you read the book and then consider posting a review after release. Thanks, and I look forward to hearing from you.

Until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!