Posts Tagged ‘scary stuff’

You know me, I HAVE to review the season premiere and the season as a whole, every season, for American Horror Story. And with Apocalype being the series’ most ambitious season yet, I was interested to see if they could pull it off. I mean, not only is this an apocalypse-themed season (can’t get bigger than that), but it’s a crossover between the original season, Murder House, and Coven, the season that divides many fans (personally, I like what they were trying to do, but found it all too campy and maybe a little too expansive). So can show runners Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk really pull it off?

If the first episode is any indication, yes they can.

The first episode of Apocalypse, appropriately titled “The End,” depicts what you would expect: the end of life on Earth as we know it. Nuclear missiles are launched at every corner of the Earth, sending the planet into a nuclear winter. Everything seems to be gone…or is it? A group called the Cooperative has brought people together–some for their money, others for their genetic makeup–to an underground bunker to become the survivors of humanity. Watched over by Madam Venable (Sarah Paulson), life in bunker is strict and the punishments for disobedience are harsh. As the months go on, the survivors start to go stir crazy and worry how much longer they can tolerate conditions. That is, until a mysterious figure enters from outside the compound. Does he bring hope…or hell?

The first episode is definitely off to a good start, depicting the chaos and fear that would all but surely arise if Armageddon began in the first ten-fifteen minutes: riots, people committing suicide, everyone going insane trying to find shelter. But then a very different tone arises after we’re introduced to the Cooperative and its agents: things become very claustrophobic. Lots of sharp angles that are meant to make you feel closed in, plenty of shadows. It makes you feel as uncomfortable as the characters, and makes the punishments for disobedience all the more awful.

Plus, those hazmat costumes are freaky! If I didn’t already know what I was going as for Halloween, I might try to get one of them and wear it!

As far as acting, Sarah Paulson’s Madame Venable is clearly the best. She’s an icy woman, almost psychopathic in the way she interacts with these characters. It’s quite a change, as Paulson’s never played this sort of character on the show before. I’m looking forward to seeing where she could go from here.

I can’t point to anything that didn’t gel with me. It was a really good episode and a great start to what will hopefully be a memorable season. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’ll give the season premiere of American Horror Story: Apocalypse a 5. I have high hopes for the rest of the season. If you haven’t yet and are curious, check out the first episode. And prepare for the end.

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If it’s not obvious by now, I’m a big Stephen King fan (cue everyone who knows me saying in a torrent of sarcasm, “Gee, really? We had no effing idea!”). So when I heard some time last year that Hulu, JJ Abrams and His Royal Scariness Himself were collaborating to create a TV series set in his famous fictional town Castle Rock, you know I was interested. Fast forward to July 25th, and the first three episodes of Castle Rock premiered on Hulu. I didn’t write a review for them (I think that I was busy with a hundred other things that week), but I thought that the series had a strong start, and I was looking forward to seeing where the story went.

At the time I’m writing this, I’ve just finished Season One. How did it hold up?

First, the story. Taking place in the Stephen King multiverse, particularly in one of his frequent settings, Castle Rock, Maine, Castle Rock‘s first season follows Henry Deaver (Andre Holland), a lawyer who returns to his childhood town after receiving a call from nearby Shawshank Penitentiary after a prisoner (Bill Skarsgaard of IT fame) was found in its deepest depths, in a cage, with no name or other identity, only asking for him. Deaver, who left town after disappearing and then being found, only to be accused of murdering his adoptive father, tries to help this mysterious young man. But as he delves into this man’s case, as well as his own disappearance, he finds some strange connections between the two. And as violence starts building in the town, the race to figure out both mysteries takes on a whole new importance.

Okay first off, the cast is the best thing about this show! Every character utterly inhabits their character and make them feel like real people, some of whom you can imagine hanging out with (others, stay the hell away from). I especially liked Melanie Lynskey’s Molly Strand, a realtor with psychic powers and a history with Henry Deaver, and Sissy Spacek (yes, the original Carrie came back for another Stephen King story) as Ruth Deaver, Henry Deaver’s dementia-addled but still feisty and witty adoptive mother. And Scott Glenn as Alan Pangborn (maybe the only character who actually comes from a King story in this show) is a very sympathetic character, though he does come off at first as almost unlikable. Still, Holland as Deaver is the one who carries the story. We see things mainly through his eyes, and see how he struggles with all the baggage he carries as he tries to sift through all the confusion between events past and present.

I also liked the plot and how the story was told. It’s clearly geared towards people who are familiar with King’s works but still makes it accessible to those who haven’t seen the series. The writers also took the approach of a slow burn, taking their time to set up these characters and draw us in with the mystery while every now and then pumping things up to keep it interesting. And the writers weren’t afraid to take risks: two episodes are told entirely from the POV of a single character, and one of these episodes, through the eyes of Sissy Spacek’s character, is probably the best episode of the season.

Love Sissy Spacek in this show.

And finally, this does feel like a Stephen King story made for a television format. It’s not based on any particular story he’s written, but incorporates all of his stories, especially the ones set in Castle Rock, to give us a drama and a place that’s both familiar and new. Plus, you’ve got all the tropes you love (or in some cases, hate) from King: psychics, small towns full of secrets, religious fanatics gone crazy, sheriffs (or in this case, retired sheriffs), and of course, a whole bunch of weirdness that makes you go, “Say what? That works, but still, what the hell?”

Was there anything I didn’t like about Castle Rock? Well, a few things: one is that there’s a little too much weird. King’s been known to include a lot of odd concepts and sci-fi ideas into his work to varying degrees, and Castle Rock has a lot of that. The problem with that is, too much weird can lead to a lot of exposition and slow sequences where not much happens. Consequently, it also bites into moments where we could be totally terrified. And in my opinion, there weren’t enough of those moments, which is sad. Stephen King or Stephen-King inspired, his work is truly at its best when it features a shape-shifting clown hungry for children, or a Nazi war criminal burning cats alive in his oven,* things that make it hard for us to sleep. And that was lacking here.

On top of that, I didn’t like the season finale as much as I thought I would. It had its moments and explained a lot, but the climax could’ve been more epic, and I have mixed feelings on the final scene, both in what it featured and how it was told.

Still, all in all, it’s a great start to a series, and I’m looking forward to whatever they cook up for the upcoming season two (maybe something involving my man Leland Gaunt?). On a scale of 1 to 5, I’ll give Castle Rock a 4.3. Take a visit to the Rock, and hope that while you’re there, you come out with all your fingers attached.

That’s all for tonight, my Followers of Fear. Expect a review tomorrow for the season premiere of American Horror Story: Apocalypse (I’d review it tonight, but it ends after I should be in bed!). Until then, pleasant nightmares.

*I’m reading Apt Pupil right now, and that part had me frozen in my seat!

I was very excited waiting for this film to come out. How could I not be? I saw the original trailer three times before I sat down in the theater, and it made me jump at the end every time! And apparently another trailer was so scary, it was taken off YouTube (I wish I’d seen it before it got taken down, but that’s life). So you could see why I was interested in going to see it, and why I hoped it wouldn’t be terrible.

I’m glad to say, for the most part, The Nun lives up to the hype.

The Nun follows Father Burke, a priest who investigates paranormal and strange events on behalf of the church, and Sister Irene, a young novitiate with a history of fantastic visions. They are sent by the Vatican to investigate the suicide of a nun at a convent in Romania, and while there face an ancient evil that is seeking to escape the abbey and to wreak havoc on the wider world.

First off, the best part of this film is its characters and the actors playing them. Although they’re not the most developed, they feel like real people you might know and even want to hang out with. Sister Irene, played by Taissa Farmiga (the main series’ star Vera Farmiga’s younger sister, if you can believe it), is a loving, down-to-Earth woman who is trying to figure out whether to become a full nun. Frenchie, a young man who helps Father Burke and Sister Irene out, is wonderful comic relief as he flirts with Sister Irene and asks the occasional stupid question. And the Nun…yeah, that monster is still freaky as it was in the Conjuring 2. No wonder a film centering on it got made.

I also love the set of this film, a castle which is like a cross between Hogwarts’s darker sides and some castles in Europe I myself have been to. It’s so creepy and decrepit,, and is made to look almost like a maze you could get lost in. Add in all the touches–like the hundred thousand crosses placed throughout the castle–and it adds the perfect touch.

And, as always, there’s a strong atmosphere in this movie, just as we’ve come to expect from the Conjuring franchise. It keeps you tense and, coupled with some good jump scares (including that one from the trailer, which still got me) and a decent plot, keeps you interested and even a little scared throughout the movie.

Still, The Nun isn’t perfect. While the plot is decent, you can kind of guess where things are going to go about sixty-percent of the time, with the other forty-percent just being minor touches like a twist with the hauntings or something the demon does that you don’t expect. That, and the film may over-rely on jumpscares. This is a criticism that many people have had about the Conjuring films, but this is really the first time it bothered me. It might’ve been better if maybe the film relied more on creeping terror and a few more twists rather than making me jump in my seat.

Still, The Nun is a great addition to the Conjuring series and a good sign that there’s still plenty to mine from the lives of Ed and Lorraine Warren. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving the film a 3.8. It’s not perfect, but it’s got a lot going for it and I’m glad I went to go see it. Take a look, and pray for safety…and that the next Annabelle film is good.

Yes, there’s another Annabelle film on the way. It’s going to be released next summer, and it looks like it might be the last Annabelle film, dealing with the titular doll and the Warrens’ daughter. Obviously, I’m looking forward to it.

Good morning folks, I’m posting from Washington DC today, where I’m again hanging out for a few days for work. But just because I’m working, that doesn’t mean I’m slacking. So let’s get started on Day Six of the Ten Day Book Challenge, brought to you by my cousin Matthew.

Now before we go any further, I have to go over the rules of this thing again:

  • Thank whoever nominated you with big, bold print. If they have a blog, link to the post where you got tagged there.
  • Explain the rules.
  • Post the cover of a book that was influential on you or that you love dearly.
  • Explain why (because I don’t see the point of just posting a picture of a book cover without an explanation. That goes for Facebook as well as blogs).
  • Tag someone else to do the challenge, and let them know they’ve been tagged.

Today’s book is the scariest book I’ve ever read, which I came across last year and have been shaking ever since. What book could that be, you ask? The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum, that’s what.

I didn’t know much about this novel going in. I’d just seen it recommended to me as an audio book on Audible. It was too short an audio book for me to download (as I listen to these mainly at work and have to make them last throughout the month, I have a rule not to get any shorter than twelve hours long), I was intrigued enough to get it as a paperback. The novel follows David, a twelve-year-old living in the 1950s whose next door neighbor Ruth and her sons take in their cousins, the beautiful teen Meg and the sweet disabled Susan, after they’ve lost their parents. However, Ruth is anything but loving to her new charges, and especially targets Meg to vent her anger at them and at life. But because Ruth is so popular with the kids, who see this awful abuse, many don’t do anything to stop it. In fact, some help out with it. And David will have to make a decision about what to do about this as the level of abuse intensifies.

This novel is terrifying. For one thing, the level of brutality isn’t glossed over, but exposed in terms that leave nothing to the imagination. You see every injury, every attack, every bit of indifference to the suffering of others. It was so horrifying and tragic, there were times I had to put the book down just to process it and keep my equilibrium. It’s even scarier when you find out that it was based on a real story. Yeah, that’s true: there was something similar that happened in the 1960s, and it’s just as scary just reading the details about it.

This makes me wonder, was this novel an attempt by Ketchum to make sense of a tragedy he likely read about in the newspaper or on TV while in his late teens? Or did he already understand, and was trying to make us ask and understand too?

I’m going to caution anyone who wants to read this novel. It is intense, it is terrifying, and it is world-shaking. If you do decide to read it, I hope you have the stomach for it.

Next up, I’m tagging my friend Dellani Oakes. Have fun, Dellani! I can’t wait to see what you post.

Well, that’s all for now. I’ve got to be somewhere soon, so hi-ho! Hi-ho! It’s off to work I go. Yeah, I made that reference, and I proudly stand by it. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Halfway there! And woo-boy, is it going well. I haven’t missed a single day, somehow. Let’s hope I can keep up the pace!

So once again, I’m doing the Ten Day Book Challenge, which started on Facebook and should’ve stayed on Facebook, but why should I do what everyone else is doing? I never have, unless other horror authors are suddenly collecting dolls and going to the ballet while also supporting the Ohio State Buckeyes and practicing Judaism to the best of their ability, and I probably never will. So thank my cousin Matthew for getting me started on this, and let’s get onto the rules:

  • Thank whoever nominated you with big, bold print. If they have a blog, link to the post where you got tagged there.
  • Explain the rules.
  • Post the cover of a book that was influential on you or that you love dearly.
  • Explain why (because I don’t see the point of just posting a picture of a book cover without an explanation. That goes for Facebook as well as blogs).
  • Tag someone else to do the challenge, and let them know they’ve been tagged.

I wasn’t sure whether to do the other Stephen King novel or something else today, but in the end, I decided to get the second novel out of the way and save a particular novel for Day Six. For Day Five, I’m going with another example of quintessential Stephen King: Needful Things.

This is a novel that is both terrifying and hilarious, campy yet deep, and full of all the weirdness that we love about King. It’s also one of those thousand-page whoppers he churns out every couple of years, and I absolutely love it! The story takes place in Castle Rock, the same little town that’s the setting for King’s new show on Hulu, Castle Rock. A man named Leland Gaunt opens up a shop called Needful Things and starts selling the most amazing products to his customers…in exchange for a favor. And each favor exposes a darker side of the town, a domino in a Rube Goldberg machine, all leading to one inevitable conclusion.

I’ve had the chance to reread this book several times since I first read it about three years ago. To be more precise, I listen to the audio book, which is narrated by His Royal Scariness Stephen King himself. And it gets me every time. On the one hand, you have all the scares that you’d expect from King: a villain that appears human but soon reveals himself to be so much more, a spider-creature that Gaunt uses to great effect in the novel, people who are just assholes on a bad day but under Gaunt’s influences become psychopaths and murderers, full of rage and jealousy. On the other hand, you have weird ad hilarious moments like two overweight housewives both believing they’re having very intense romantic/sexual affairs with Elvis Presley, a woman who gets off on having feuds and fights, and a town sheriff whose love of magic tricks proves important to saving the day! And somehow, it all works wonderfully! I hope someday I can write as well as that, because let me tell you, it might come in handy for some of my weirder ideas.

Sadly, this novel has not gotten the same amount of love as some of King’s other works. Hell, the only adaptation is one terrible movie that came out a little over two months after I was born. I think it’s due for a graphic novel or a TV adaptation (which is why I hope it somehow features more prominently in Castle Rock season 2)., but then again, Hollywood doesn’t listen to me that much. They certainly haven’t heard my pleas for an adaptation of The Library Policeman as of yet.

Still, if you’re in the mood for an unusual horror novel with weird and hilarious moments peppered here and there, you can’t go wrong with Needful Things.

And now to tag someone. I hereby nominate my good friend Kat Impossible from the blog Life and Other Disasters. I know you’re busy starting a new job in Berlin, Kat, but I hope you’re able to find the time to do this. Especially since you tend to enjoy book related tags and challenges.

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

Some of you are probably wondering when a certain novelist I hold in high regards will appear on this list. Don’t worry, he’s appearing today (and this is only one of two times he’ll appear during this challenge).

Anyway, welcome back to Day Four of the Ten Day Book Challenge. I wonder what my cousin Matthew, who nominated me for this, thinks of these blog posts. Anyway, let’s get onto the rules and talk about today’s featured book.

  • Thank whoever nominated you with big, bold print. If they have a blog, link to the post where you got tagged there. He doesn’t have a blog, as far as I’m aware, but thanks Matthew! I appreciate it!
  • Explain the rules.
  • Post the cover of a book that was influential on you or that you love dearly.
  • Explain why (because I don’t see the point of just posting a picture of a book cover without an explanation. That goes for Facebook as well as blogs).
  • Tag someone else to do the challenge, and let them know they’ve been tagged.

Well, as I said, you all knew this guy would show up somewhere during this challenge. Truth be told, it was tough keeping it down to two books by this guy, and only two, but I did it. Not only that, but they’re two of his longest books, and two of his best (at least in my honest opinion). The first one, which also happens to be my first of his works and is probably the quintessential example of his ouvre: It by Stephen King.

Where do I start with this one? It was the perfect novel to introduce me to the work of Stephen King; to keep me up at night, afraid that a killer clown would come up to the sliding door of our rental home near the beach to get me; and the perfect book to get me addicted not just to reading horror, but to writing horror. In many ways, this book is just as much part of my writing journey as Harry Potter was. I still have the copy I bought all those years ago, and if I ever get to meet His Royal Scariness, I hope he’ll be kind enough to sign it and give me some words of encouragement.

From what I hear, he’s a pretty cool dude, so I’m hopeful. Not very, but I am. As I’ve said before, weirder stuff has happened in my life.

Today’s tag goes to my good friend Angela Misri of A Portia Adams Adventure. One of my oldest writing friends, and a great talent as well. I hope I get to see what books she’s going to post.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Today’s my only day at the office before I go on a trip for work, so let’s see what I can accomplish in this day. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Before you ask, no this story isn’t some sort of reference to Game of Thrones and the numerous weddings ending in someone dying that occur in that series (spoiler alert).

I needed a break from the novelette/novella I’m working on, so I decided to tackle a short story I’d had the idea for recently to give my brain some breathing room. The story involves two kids who are given a job by a strange entity known as the Master. And that’s all I’m saying, because I’d hate to give away this story before I’ve had the chance to polish it up and maybe get it published.

The thing is, I have no idea if this story is any good. On the one hand, it reminds me of other stories I’ve read that have gotten published in prestigious anthologies and collections. Heck, it even reminds me of some of Stephen King’s early works, especially in his collection Night Shift. And at only a little over three-thousand words, it’s a lot shorter than most stories I write and therefore I might have more places to publish it. However, the story is a little weird. Not surprising given the fact that I wrote it, but then again, that could also work against me just as easily. Heck, even I find it somewhat odd! And in some dictionaries, I’m right next to the word “odd!”

I’m also next to the words “eccentric,” “strange,” “malevolent,” and “interdimensional being,” but you knew that already, right?

Anyway, I’ll let this story lie for a little while. When I have time, I’ll revisit it and see if I can get it published anywhere after some edits. In the meantime, I’ll use the rest of my Labor Day weekend to watch a movie and do some reading. I’ll get back to work tomorrow on the novelette/novella and hopefully make some more progress on it before I have to get back to work on Rose. Fingers crossed that it all works out.

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