Posts Tagged ‘celebrities’

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.

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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!

I listened to The Stranger Beside Me by true crime writer Ann Rule, who actually knew Ted Bundy, on audio book to prepare for this movie (and that’s the extent to my knowledge of Bundy). In the days leading up to this film’s release on Netflix, I was excited to see this adaptation. Nearly thirty years after the man’s death, would this film, along with the Netflix documentary (I know, I need to watch it, I just haven’t gotten around to it yet), introduce a new generation to the shocking murders of Ted Bundy?

Well, I went in expecting a different kind of movie, but I came out satisfied with what I got.

Based on the memoir The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy by his real-life girlfriend Elizabeth Kloepfer (known as Liz Kendall in the film and Meg Anders in The Stranger Beside Me), Extremely Wicked follows the romance of Bundy and Kloepfer, how they got together, how Bundy’s arrest in Utah, his two escape attempts in Colorado, his final trial in Florida, during which he marries one of his groupies but (seemingly) still has feelings for Liz, and finally his execution in Florida.

I think what I like the most about this film is its star-studded cast. Everyone embodies their characters so well. Zac Efron as Bundy comes across as a sympathetic, lovestruck man who finds his life falling to pieces around him and the one good thing in it drifting away, while Lily Collins as Liz Kendall does a great job as a woman who put so much into her relationship with this seemingly-perfect man, only to grapple with his crimes. John Malkovich as Judge Edward Cowart did the man an honor, combining the judge’s Southern gentility with his own deadpan acting method (finally, a film from this year that doesn’t waste the guy’s talent). And Jim Parsons made me forget at certain moments that I was watching Sheldon Cooper. I actually had to watch the scene where he delivers his opening remarks as prosecutor Larry Simpson twice, it was so chilling. Parsons could lead a legal drama now that The Big Bang Theory is done.

I also like how the film balances a romantic storyline with what is mostly a courtroom drama. Unlike other films, Extremely Wicked doesn’t go to great lengths to show Bundy’s depravity or murders, but instead hints and flits around it until the final scene of the film. Its focus is showing how the ongoing legal saga affects Bundy and Kloepfer’s relationship and vice versa, as well as the psychological toll on Bundy. The director knew what they were going for with this film, and in that aspect it succeeded.

If I have one gripe with this film, it’s that romanticizes Bundy a little too much. Bundy’s always had a number of female fans who find him attractive despite what he’s done.* Even actors portraying him have awakened the wrong kind of fascination in teenage and young women (Ann Rule relates some of the phone calls she got after The Deliberate Stranger with Mark Harmon aired in 1986 in her book). Zac Efron is a very handsome actor, no doubt of that, and in the interest of focusing on his romance and courtroom battles, Extremely Wicked glosses over the evil in its title and makes Bundy out to be more of a sweet, hurt man than a calculating serial killer. And I’m not sure that was the best decision.

I also would’ve liked to see Ann Rule make an appearance in the film, but I think I can live without that.

On the whole, I give Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile a score of 4 out of 5. While its POV Is slightly skewed, its an entrancing thriller that draws you into the story and the bloodless battle occurring on screen. Take a look, and prepare yourself for a ride.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope to have one or two more posts out before the weekend is done.

In the meantime, I’m still looking for advanced readers for my upcoming fantasy-horror novel, Rose, about a young woman who starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). In exchange for an early electronic copy, all I ask is you read it and consider posting a review after the release. Anyone interested should send me an email at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*The scientific name for attraction to dangerous partners, by the way, is called hybristophilia. Theories to how it arises range from evolutionary desires for strong and capable partners to romantic notions of wanting to change/help a damaged partner to wanting fame or even just knowing the partner is stuck in a jail cell and won’t go anywhere. The more you know.

Remember when we were all skeptical of a new Hellboy film without Ron Perlman? And then we saw early shots of David Harbour of Stranger Things as the titular character and were like, “This could go somewhere”?

Well, I just got back from the theater, and this was a fun little romp. And from the sound of things, I may be the only person saying that, but whatever. This is my blog, so you’re getting my opinion today.

Hellboy follows…Hellboy, a demon creature who was raised by a monster hunter to fight all the creepy-crawlies that go bump in the night. On a mission to England though, he finds himself discovering rather uncomfortable truths about his past and lineage, as well as struggling with whether he is as good a creature as his father wants him to be. All while a powerful witch named Nimue is resurrected with plans to spread a plague across the world and bring on the Apocalypse. Possibly with Hellboy at her side.

I have to say, this feels like a comic book movie. By which I mean, the plot feels lifted right from a comic book. There are tangents and flashbacks galore for exposition. And for the most part that works. It’s fun, fast-paced, and has some great action scenes with lots of movement and kicking of ass. And unlike Us, the sprinkling of jokes throughout the film works here, possibly because it’s a comic book movie (though Us is still a phenomenal film).

I also liked the characters. David Harbour as Hellboy and Sasha Lane as Alice Monaghan, a girl Hellboy once helped and who now works as a medium/apprentice ass-kicker are among my favorites from the film for their chemistry and humor. And for those who were worried about David Harbour as Hellboy, don’t be. Yeah, Ron Perlman will always be great, but Harbour’s essentially playing a different version of the character, one who’s still getting to know himself and figure things out. Thus he’s a lot rougher and has more issues than previous film versions. He also drinks a lot and doesn’t have a million cats throughout his home, so there’s that.

I also enjoyed Milla Jovovich’s performance as Nimue. The character is kind of one-dimensional, but the actress brings angry and on a mission to the role very well. And my God, she does not look a day past 28, and I’m falling in love with her just writing this.

That said, the many flashbacks, some of which are pretty long, can be kind of distracting and are used mainly for lots of info-dumping. I would’ve liked it if maybe some of the flashbacks were shortened so we could get more on Ben Daimio, who I felt needed a more fleshed-out emotional arc. It would make sense to do that rather than have a lengthy flashback about Hellboy’s “birth” with a superhero character named Lobster Johnson who doesn’t really contribute that much to the story. Actually, more than a few characters were in this film with no purpose. There was a witch character who I could not see the point of. She interacts with Nimue, talks to Hellboy, and then leaves. I mean, what the hey?

I get a feeling a lot of creative decisions were made in order to jumpstart a film series or even a cinematic universe, and thankfully there was less groundwork-laying for future films than there was in Batman vs. Superman or 2017’s The Mummy, neither of which I care for, but it could’ve been handled a lot more delicately in my opinion.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’ll give Hellboy a 3.2. It’s nothing that amazing, but it is a fun two hours of monsters, action and mayhem. If you’re just looking for a mindless comic book action film, you could do worse. As it is, this is good enough for me, and sometimes, that’s all I ask for.

 

And while I still have your attention, I’m still looking for advanced readers for Rose. The novel is a fantasy-horror story following a young woman who turns into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). In exchange for an early electronic copy, all I ask is that you read it and consider posting a review online somewhere on or after the release date. If interested, please send an email to ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com.

So do you remember the other day, when I posted about the character of Momo, who supposedly reaches out to kids and teens online, and tries to hurt them or make them hurt themselves? I outlined the myth and how the character took off in the public consciousness, before mentioning that I was working on my own story inspired by Momo and other terrifying figures that originate online and gain a life of their own in the real world.

Well, I just finished that story a few minutes ago. As you can tell by the title, I’m calling the story Queen Alice, and it follows an investigative reporter who delves into the burgeoning legend of a cult leader named Queen Alice who uses social media to bring harm to her targets. Or does she? Is she even real? The reporter is determined to make it to the bottom of this mystery, and what happens when he releases his report will change his world forever.

Writing this story was a lot of fun and I found it easy to write it, despite how much went on in my life (it’s gotten to the point where I’m going to bed earlier and setting lower writing goals so I can get more rest during the work week). The online world is as much a play and communal space as the campfires were for early humanity, when our first boogeymen were created. Today we’re creating boogeymen through the Internet, and people are taking them seriously in ways that would’ve been unimaginable even just ten years ago. Tapping into that fear, even though I sometimes have trouble understanding the most basic of human emotions and motivations, allowed the story to really flow for me and I was able to get it out much quicker than I thought I would.

It probably also helped that I pictured actor John Noble in the role of the reporter. Not sure why, he just fit the part in my head when I was visualing the character.

So what now? Well, I think I could get it published somewhere. At 27 pages and under 7,600 words, the story isn’t too long for many publications. I’ll get it looked at first and see if a beta reader can’t give me some good feedback before I edit it. With any luck, I can get it published somewhere very soon.

Well, that’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I have some stuff to take care of before the day is over, so I’ll see you all later. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

 

And while I still have your attention, I’m still looking for advanced readers for my novel, Rose. The book is a fantasy-horror story about a young woman who starts turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems). In exchange for an early electronic copy, all I ask is you read it and consider posting a review on or after the release date. If you’re interested, send me an email at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com.