Posts Tagged ‘Richard Chizmar’

I first read the source material by authors Richard and Billy Chizmar in the Dark Tides Charity Anthology (which I highly recommend and not just because proceeds go to charity) back in April. I found it terrifying, psychologically thrilling. I even expressed on Twitter that I thought it might make a good movie, though I doubted one would be made right after the release of The Lighthouse. Then about a month or two ago, I found out a movie had not only been made, but would be coming out on September 1st. I had some free time, so I rented it off YouTube and sat down to check it out.

Widow’s Point follows Thomas Livingston, an author and paranormal investigator who is doing an investigation of the infamous Widow’s Point lighthouse in Harper’s Cove, Maine. The lighthouse has witnessed numerous murders and suicides over the years, making many speculate it’s haunted. Livingston and his crew arrive to stay the weekend and hopefully make some quick cash. Too bad he’s going to get so much more.

I feel like I was watching a Stephen King miniseries or TV movie from the 1990s, with a bit of classic Doctor Who serials. Yeah, on the surface it does seem a bit hokey and amateurish, and the one or two special effects are laughable. But it’s a lot of fun to watch, and I keep smiling when I think of the film and my experience watching it. Also, since all of the actors were unknown to me and looked like people I might see on the street, it gave the film a weird sort of plausibility. Like, this could happen to average joes. Add in a little suspension of disbelief, and you can believe in the story.

On top of that, there were some scary moments. Particularly when Livingston, played by Craig Sheffer,* is undergoing psychological stress and his mind is really beginning to snap. Those moments gave me some chills, I’ll tell you. And a lot of attention is paid to historical detail with flashback scenes detailing the lighthouse’s history, which I loved as a fan of history.

But there are things I didn’t care for. Like I said, the special effects were laughable, and I disliked how the filmmakers tried to give an explanation to the lighthouse’s evil, rather than leaving it mysterious like in the original short story. Sometimes less is more, and it certainly would have been more here.

All in all though, Widow’s Point is a nice guilty pleasure horror movie to start the Halloween season with. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 3.5. It probably won’t make you shit your pants in terror, but it’s entertaining and will scratch that horror itch. It’s on DVD and streaming sites, so give it a go if you’re interested.

 

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m off to work on one of my own stories. Until next time, stay safe and pleasant nightmares!

*By the way, I want this guy to narrate an audio book of one of my stories someday.

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.

Today’s interview is a really special one. For over thirty years, this man has been making a name for himself through his publishing company, Cemetery Dance, as well as his stories and collaborations with other writers (including a certain Royal Scariness we all know and love). He’s got two new books out, The Girl on the Porch and Gwendy’s Magic Feather (the sequel to 2017’s Gwendy’s Button Box with said Royal Scariness). I can’t believe he’s here to talk with us! Ladies and Gentlemen, Followers of Fear, let me introduce Richard Chizmar!

Rami Ungar: Mr. Chizmar, welcome to my blog. Please tell us who you are, about your writing, and about Cemetery Dance Publications.

Richard Chizmar: I’m an old dude (early 50s) who lives with his wife and two sons in Maryland and has been really fortunate in life. I started a nuts-and-bolts small press magazine called Cemetery Dance while I was still in college. The magazine found a growing readership with each issue, and I never had to go out and get a real job. A few years later, I started publishing horror and dark suspense books. The rest is history. All the while, I was writing my own stories of horror and suspense, and a few years back in 2017, I co-wrote a book called Gwendy’s Button Box with my longtime friend Stephen King and became a thirty year, overnight success.

RU: Tell us about The Girl on the Porch and Gwendy’s Magic Feather. How did those projects come about?

RC: The Girl on the Porch was inspired by a real-life incident where a doorbell camera in a suburban neighborhood recorded a terrified woman with shackles on her wrists in the middle of the night. Once the homeowner’s discovered the footage, the woman was long gone and no one knew what had become of her. I saw the video footage online a number of times and it haunted me. I knew early on that I needed to write my own version of the story and furnish my own version of an ending.

Gwendy’s Magic Feather is a direct sequel to Gwendy’s Button Box, which I wrote with Steve King. I woke up one morning with a very clear picture in my mind of what Gwendy had been up to since the ending of the first book. I emailed Steve the idea early that day, with no real plan to pursue it, but he responded very favorably and encouraged me to write it. So I did. It’s due to be published in hardcover on November 19.

RU: You’ve worked with other authors before, including Stephen King, as we’ve both mentioned. How does that process work?

RC: The process differs for many writers, but in my case, in each instance, it’s just been a matter of emailing the manuscript back and forth until one of us typed THE END. Allowing complete freedom for both authors to rewrite each other, layering and blending the work until it becomes a third, unique voice. That’s the only way I know how to collaborate.

RU: What about horror and dark fiction draws you in and makes you want to write and publish those sorts of stories?

RC: I’ve always been drawn to the darker side of things. It’s strange. In real life, I’m a happy and optimistic person, but when it comes to entertainment (books, movies, comics), I’ve always liked the fantastic and scary stories. Despite my outward cheeriness, I tend to see most clearly in the shadows. I might be walking down a Main Street sidewalk on a sunny July afternoon, but it’s not the smiling mother holding her daughter’s hand or the laughing elderly couple waiting at the corner I see; instead, it’s the dark alley across the way that looks like it could be hiding a monster. In fact, are those eyes I see glowing in the shadows? It’s just the way my imagination works.

RU: Oh crap, he spotted me! *cough* I mean, as a writer and the editor/owner of Cemetery Dance Publications, do you see yourself as someone who’s significantly helping to shape the horror genre and its future?

RC: I’ve never really given much thought to that kind of big question. We’ve always been too busy hustling to stop and ponder whether we were having a large-scale effect on the genre. We’ve been around for over 30 years now and that’s what is most important—that we continue to survive and thrive and keep bringing readers entertaining stories.

RU: What are some upcoming projects you have in the works?

RC: After publishing four books in 2019 (the trade paperback of The Long Way Home, The Vault, The Girl on the Porch, and Gwendy’s Magic Feather), 2020 will be a bit of a break for me. I should have one of those nifty “Little Books” out from Borderlands Press and hopefully the sequel to Widow’s Point, co-written with my son, Billy. Not sure what else might pop up.

RU: When you’re not writing, publishing, or reading horror, what are you up to?

RC: Fishing, exercising, working around the house, fantasy football. Mainly just spending as much time with my wife and sons as I can. I’m fortunate to do the majority of my work at home, so my days and nights are interwoven with family lunches and dinners, attending the boys’ sporting events, movie and game nights, and whatever other adventures life throws at us.

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

RC: Read as much as you can. Write as much as you can. Don’t tailor your work for the market; write about what moves you, scares you, excites you. No matter how small the story is. Don’t feel like you have to invent the wheel or write a high concept story to make your mark. Readers respond to a writer’s honesty and voice. Expect a long road ahead. Accept rejection and speed bumps as part of the process, almost like badges of honor.

RU: And what is some advice for writers who want to be published in Cemetery Dance? Asking for a friend, I swear.

RC: Read the type of stories and books we publish. Capture our attention in your synopsis and tell a story that is difficult to put down. Be persistent.

RU: Final question: if you were stuck on a desert island for a while and could only bring three books with you until you were rescued, which would you pick?

RC: IT by Stephen King, Lord of the Flies by William Golding, and Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon.

RU: I’ve read two out of three of those, and I really have to get on the third. Anyway, thank you for joining us, Mr. Chizmar. It’s been a pleasure.

If you would like to learn more about Richard Chizmar, you can check him out on his website and on Cemetery Dance’s website. If you want to read The Girl on the Porch or Gwendy’s Magic Feather, you can find both books on Amazon.

If you’re curious about other authors I’ve interviewed, you can check out my Interview page. And if you’re an author with something new out you’d like to broadcast, you can hit me up at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com. I usually have time for an interview or two, so let me know.

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

You know, I’ve never reviewed a proper Stephen King story on this blog before. I’ve reviewed plenty of adaptations of his work, but never any of his actual stories. Probably because I’ve either gotten to them too late and so much time has passed that doing a review seems silly (which is true with the vast majority of his bibliography) or I didn’t feel there was enough to talk about to actually write a decent review (such as Gwendy’s Button Box, co-written with author Richard Chizmar). So I’m glad I’m finally able to review one of his books here. And this one is something else: it’s his latest novel, The Outsider.

The Outsider follows Ralph Anderson, a detective in the small city of Flint City, Oklahoma. The novel opens with Ralph and his fellow officers arresting Terry Maitland, a local teacher and boys’ baseball coach who is beloved by Flint City, for the horrific murder of a young boy. The state’s case seems ironclad: there’s not only eyewitnesses, but a ton of physical evidence linked back to Maitland. But soon after the arrest, evidence arises to cast doubt on Maitland’s guilt, and it’s just as ironclad. The contradiction in this case leads to a domino effect as Anderson and his allies try to figure out if the beloved Coach Maitland is hiding a darker personality, or if someone else, someone darker and worse, is at large in the town.

Now before I go into my review, let me just say that this book shares a few characters in common with King’s Mr. Mercedes trilogy, and contains a few spoilers. So if you haven’t read those books yet and would like to be surprised, probably hold off on this book until you’ve read those.

So I have to say, I came away very satisfied with this story. I like how King starts out with this novel seeming like a regular thriller-mystery: he shows the arrest, switching between the action and then showing interviews and documents from the investigation. The Outsider continues in this vein for a little while, but then goes in a different direction that defies your expectations so far. From there it develops into a compelling and strange read with some great characters. I especially liked Holly Gibney, who comes from the Mr. Mercedes trilogy. She’s neuro-atypical, like myself, but is shown to be an integral part of the investigation and makes certain leaps that, without her, the other characters might never be able to. It’s a very real portrayal of someone with disabilities, and I related to Holly on a number of levels. I love those sorts of portrayals of neuro-diverse people in fiction, and I hope to see more in the future.

But probably the novel’s greatest strength is just how hard it is to put down. King takes mystery, the strange, great characters, and much more to make a read that’s hard to put down. Normally I’m able to restrain myself to reading during my lunch break or on weekends, but this novel was so good, I found myself reading it late into the evening at times (which helped me to get to this review today).

That being said, The Outsider does have its issues. One of the biggest ones is that we’ve seen a lot of the concepts used and explored in the book in other King novels, and frankly done better there. I won’t say what, but they’re pretty obvious, and every time they came up, I kept thinking to myself, “This feels like a lighter/duller version of insert-story-name-here.” That, and I felt that the climax could’ve been a bit more epic. It was decent, but I felt it was hampered by too much exposition on the parts of the characters and the story’s villain, who is humanized a little too much (that makes more sense if you’ve read the book). Which, unfortunately, lowers the terror factor with a creative villain that could be as scary as some of King’s other famous villains. I was disappointed about that.

Overall, The Outsider is an entrancing and powerful read, subverting your expectations and leaving you wanting more. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.6. Check it out, and get sent down a mine shaft full of the strange and the unsettling.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ve got my own novel to work on, so I’m going to get on that this evening. Until then, pleasant nightmares!