Posts Tagged ‘scary stuff’

When trailers for Bird Box first hit the net, people were immediately intrigued. Not only because Sandra Bullock was in it, but the film, like A Quiet Place, drew its tension and challenge through avoiding a monster by denying an important sense or human function. I was also intrigued when it was pointed out to me that the film shares similarities with a story I wrote (not enough to get lawsuit thankfully). So this evening, I sat down and checked it out.

Based on the novel by Josh Malerman, Bird Box follows Mallory, a woman with two young children who is trying to get to a compound downriver while she and the children is blindfolded. The story then switches to five years previously, when a pregnant Mallory becomes trapped inside a large house after invisible monsters start causing anyone who gazes upon them to either commit suicide or try to make other people look at them. Switching between past and present, the movie follows Mallory’s journey of survival, both then and now, as she tries to keep those close to her alive.

This was a really good horror film. It takes a simple concept and executes it very well, creating this gripping tension. Even when characters are indoors, there’s this feeling of dread as you see them struggle with their various survival needs–food and water, two very pregnant women, anyone outside might be dangerous, etc.–and the possibility of having to expose themselves to the outside. In those moments, you see these characters really having to work to keep themselves alive, using everything in their environments to both get around and keep themselves from seeing something they shouldn’t. It really makes you believe in the scenario occurring, and that these would be the steps people would take if such a situation would occur.

I also liked how the movie handles the monsters. You never see them, you only see their effects on the environment and anyone who sees them, and that adds this powerful sense of mystery to them, compounding the terror they create.

And for those wondering, Sandra Bullock in the lead was awesome. I mean, all of the principal cast is really good, but especially Bullock. You really do see this woman who has grown up being very guarded and afraid of bonds with people new to her having to really change herself in order to adjust to the situation she’s in. Yeah, at times she does seem a little emotionless, but I think that is just her character trying to stay guarded. I know some people have said that annoyed them or made it harder to sympathize with the character, and I have a feeling that’s going to be a point of contention though with a lot of people. Hopefully the debates stay civil, especially online.

I also liked John Malkovich as Douglas, a character whose survival drive at times makes him gravitate between asshole and murderer. Yeah, I hated the character, but God was it hard to look away whenever he was on the screen. And he does a great impression of Donald Trump at a rally during one scene. That alone is worth checking out the film.

If there was anything I didn’t like, it was that a few characters didn’t get more screen time. You have Sarah freaking Paulson and BD Wong in this film, but their roles were relatively small, and that’s just a damn shame (though since they were both on American Horror Story: Apocalypse, that might have had something to do with it). And Lil Rei Howery as Charlie, a grocery store employee and aspiring author writing a novel about the end of the world (a man after my own heart) should’ve been given more screen time. He stole the show every time he was on screen. I wish that guy could have his own film.

All in all, Bird Box is a tense apocalyptic thriller with great characters and an engrossing story. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving the film a 4.5. Go in, and go in with eyes wide open. You’ll see how beautiful it is.

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If you’ve been with me a while, you remember a few years ago I read this awesome horror manga called Uzumaki by Junji Ito (and if you don’t or weren’t around then, here’s the link) Since then I managed to get my hands on the movie adaptation of Uzumaki (you can read that review here), read plenty more of his works (his stories can be hit or miss, but generally I like them), and watched a couple episodes of an anime adaptation of his various short stories (which, by the way, sucked. I didn’t even bother to review it, it was sooo bad). And most recently, Ito’s adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was released in the United States, along with eight previously untranslated short stories, six of which are interconnected. All in one big volume.

How could I not read and review that?

Obviously Frankenstein is based on Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, the tale of one scientist’s journey to create a living being through science and the disastrous series of events that follows, along with elements from some of the movie adaptations out there.* And honestly, Ito’s art is perfect for this story. I’ve heard he spends upwards of ten hours on illustrating a single page or frame, using ink and shadow, as well as his disinterest in making his art pretty or visually appealing in the normal sense of the phrase. I mean, look at the reveal of the Monster.

Um, yikes!

Seriously, this guy has to do more Gothic horror. His style is a natural for it. And it’s a natural fit here, really allowing you to feel the horror that early audiences felt of the original novel, especially in bringing the monster to life. There’s also some decent changes from the original text in order to make the story more compelling for the style of manga, such as when it comes to the creation of the Monster’s Bride.

Still, there are some things that could’ve been improved. A couple of Ito’s changes do make the story a bit slower near the end, and the translated text might be a little too close to the actual novel for a modern audience (if I wanted old-timey speak like that, I’d read Lovecraft). And honestly, I would’ve liked to see Ito take more liberties with the story, make it his own. His stories can be really unnerving, and I’d love to see him bring more of his style to the Frankenstein story.

The short stories added to bulk up the book (because of course they are) are decent, for the most part. Six of them follow Toru Oshikiri, a teenager living in a giant mansion by himself who starts to have a strange series of experiences, gradually leading to him making a shocking discovery about his home. Some of these stories work really well, but sometimes the build-up in them seems to lead to a letdown.

The real problems though are the unconnected stories. They don’t really add anything, and one of them is definitely from the bottom of Ito’s portfolio.

By itself, I give Ito’s adaptation of Frankenstein a 4 out of 5. If you want a really creepy visual adaptation of the original Frankenstein story, this is definitely worth a read. With the addition of the other stories, I’d give it a 3.5. Not what I’d recommend for anyone coming to Ito’s work for the first time (for that, I’d point to Uzumaki or his collection Shiver, which came out in December 2017), but for anyone familiar with his work already, this collection is probably worth checking out.

Speaking of which, Ito’s got another collection, Smashed, coming out in April. I might have to check that one out and give that a review as well. Hopefully his stories Hellstar Remina and The Bully are included. I hear those are reeeeally freaky.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. If I don’t post anything within the next couple of days, then I’d like to wish you a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year. May Cthulhu bless us, every one (because of course I would go there). Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

*Highly recommend the 1994 adaptation with Kenneth Branagh. It’s not just the most faithful adaptation of the original novel, it’s got the best “bringing-the-monster-to-life” scene I’ve ever seen.

This is kind of how I imagine fighting my anxiety. Only, you know, I’m actually wearing something when I do.

It was around this time last year that I started recognizing the symptoms of what would be diagnosed later as a generalized anxiety disorder. I was feeling dread when I was by myself or in a crowd, sure that anything I said or did might come back to haunt me. I was paying extra attention to what i posted online or what stories I wrote because I was sure it would lead to me becoming a pariah. If I was around people, I was afraid something I’d say or do would be misinterpreted and would lead to consequences.

There was also a touch of pessimism in the state of the world, and the possibility of a soulless universe that would cease to exist in a couple billion-billion years started rolling around in my skull a bit more. That happened.

I saw my psychiatrist, who gave me a prescription which has helped me with the majority of my symptoms. I’ve started recognizing triggers for my anxiety and situations where it was more likely to manifest. And I developed coping mechanisms to stave off or dull the anxiety, even enlisting the help of a counselor at work for further advice. All this came together to make sure 2018 didn’t get riddled with anxiety for me.

Still, it hasn’t been all wine and roses for me. There were times when I still felt really anxious, especially when it came to what I was writing or trying to make a name for myself as a writer. And sometimes, especially in the evenings, I still feel a bit of dread, and it makes me reluctant to write or do anything productive. Just the other night, I had to listen to a whole lot of my favorite music and some hypnosis just so I could put some words on paper. I ended up getting a little over a thousand words in a new short story down, but for a while it looked doubtful I could get a sentence or two down.

Yeah, having anxiety is far from easy.* No matter the coping mechanisms and the medications, my brain’s overproduction of one neurochemical or another is a constant problem, and I have to fight it everyday. That’s how I see it, as fighting. I imagine myself dressing up in armor and going to fight with a sword shield a many-headed monster which spawns rats that it directs to bite me (the rats, if it’s not obvious, represent my out-of-control thoughts). It’s the one-time I’m not thrilled to fight a demonic creature!

Thankfully, this is a battle that I’ve won almost every time. Sure, there are days where the beast gets the upper hand for a little while, but with the weapons I’ve been developing and adding to my arsenal over the past year, those moments don’t last very long. I know I’m stronger than the beast created by my brain chemicals, and I know how to fight it when I need to. And I know I have so many of you supporting me today, giving me the strength to fight even on my worse days.

And know that if you have an anxiety disorder, I’m supporting you. You’re not alone: approximately forty million people in the United States deal with anxiety every year. We’re all connected by this disorder, and we’re all in this fight together. By recognizing what we have and not giving into the stigma of mental illness, we can fight off the many-headed beast and regain control of our lives. Together, we can be happy.

Thanks for the all the support, everyone. It means a lot to me. And if you’re struggling with anxiety and need some strategies, I list some in this article from when I first came out about my anxiety. Who knows? You might find some of the tips helpful.

Well, I’ve got dinner to make and a scary story to write. Until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

*Along with autism, ADHD, allergies, partial albinism, and back pain. Yeah, I’m a hot mess. But at least I’m humorous about it and try not to let it get me down.

Lately I’ve been working on a new story that’s likely going to be a novelette or novella. It’s about ten-thousand words long at the time I’m writing this, and it’s unusual subject matter for me because it’s human-based horror.

I’ve written before on the differences between supernatural and human-based horror stories, and how authors tend to gravitate to one or the other with the stories they write. Personally, I tend to gravitate towards stories with supernatural threats in both what I read and what I write, But occasionally I do like a human-based horror story. In fact, the scariest novel I’ve ever read was human-based horror (The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum, and that novel still leaves me shaking!), and back in college I wrote a human-based horror/thriller novel called Snake that I had a lot of fun writing.

But this is my first time really delving into human-based horror since Snake, and I’m realizing a few things about it that separates it from supernatural horror. Specifically, the mechanics of such stories. Let me try to explain it: in my mind, supernatural horror stories work something like driving into a dark tunnel that you find out has some dangerous structural issues. Now prior to entering the tunnel, you’ve heard of structural issues, but you’ve been told to treat them like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy, as in they’re not real and you don’t have to worry about them. Because of that, you may only half-believe in structural issues at most. Until you start driving into the tunnel, and you come to the realization that not only do structural issues exist, but they can kill you if you’re not careful navigating them.

This is how a lot of supernatural horror stories work: people go into a situation pretty sure that nothing beyond the natural realm can hurt them, only to realize there’s a dark, second world all around them that until now they didn’t believe in, and if they’re not careful, it’s going to kill them.

Human-based horror, on the other hand, works more like a downward spiral. At the very top of the spiral, things don’t necessarily start so bad. There’s probably a hint of evil, but nothing to really alarm you yet. But as you get further down the spiral, things start to get darker. Someone starts showing violent or cruel impulses. Someone else may end up grievously injured or even dead. As time goes on, the injuries or deaths may get more gruesome, or be explored in more detail. The person or persons causing the horror may get nastier, bolder, and crueler. This will only continue to escalate as the characters (and the reader) get down the spiral, and things come to its inevitable head.

We need only look at one of the most famous volumes of human-based horror, Misery¬†by Stephen King, to see this in action. At the beginning, Annie Wilkes is only hinted at being the monster she is. But as time goes on, she starts torturing Paul Sheldon to do as she wants. First it’s small stuff: making him drink soapy water or withholding food and medication. But then Annie gets worse, hitting his legs when he complains about the typewriter, cutting off his foot when he leaves the room, and then cutting off a thumb when he complains about the typewriter breaking down. All leading to that fateful night, after Annie kills a State Trooper, where she and Paul have the battle of (and over) their lives.

I’ll let you know how the story goes as I continue writing it, shall I?

This is the mechanic that I’m keeping in mind as I write this new story. And so far, I’m finding it works. This is quickly becoming one of the most disturbing stories I’ve ever tried writing. Hell, I felt a little uncomfortable while writing one particular scene, so I can only imagine what it’ll do to my readers if I get the story published. And I’m learning quite a bit from writing it too. I’m looking forward to how this story develops as I continue writing it.

I’ll let you guys know how it turns out when it’s finished, shall I?

What tips or insights do you have for writing human-based horror?

I heard about this film a few months ago, and thought the trailer looked promising. Even when the reviews came in and said the film was terrible (one review I saw called it a “soulless possession flick”), I was still interested. So today I got in the car and went to see it, thinking it would either be as terrible as advertised, or I might like it more than others had.

Well, you can’t live on caviar alone, can you?

The Possession of Hannah Grace follows Megan, a former cop and recovering addict who gets a job on the night shift at a hospital morgue. On her second night, a body gets dropped off with extensive damage, the result of a botched exorcism, and immediately weird things start happening around Megan. Machines won’t work, someone breaks into the morgue, and the body seems to change in very odd ways. Soon Megan realizes the corpse, the human formerly known as Hannah Grace, may be more than just a dead body. It may be the vessel for something much worse.

This film was rife with problems. I mean, it had a great set, and the actors put their all into their roles. Shay Mitchell as Megan does a great job as vulnerable, and it was a nice surprise seeing Stana Katic from Castle as Megan’s friend/AA sponsor (I miss that show sometimes). And there are a couple of good jump scares here and there, plus some pretty brutal death scenes. There’s a good horror film trying to break out of here.

The problem is, it’s just not scary. It starts off showing Hannah Grace’s failed exorcism and how she dies, and that takes out much of the mystery and suspense of the film. I feel if the film had been given a different name and the knowledge that Hannah’s botched exorcism until two-thirds through the film as a twist reveal, it would’ve been more effective. As it is though, we know too much, and see where it’s going much too soon. That wouldn’t be a problem (that’s usually how films in the Conjuring series or some of Blumhouse’s films operate, and those are often very good), but the lack of atmosphere and the poor attempts at jump scares don’t do the film any favors.

Also, the ending gave me so many questions. Not the good kind of questions, like the ones that make you return to the film to look for Easter eggs or hidden meanings. The kind that make you scratch your head and wonder what the filmmakers were thinking when they made these decisions. I won’t say what they were in case you don’t want to be spoiled, but let’s just say they left me a little disappointed, and I’d be more than happy to vent in the comments.

And oh my God, you can hear every breath Megan makes! And while that’s normal for characters in a scary movie to breathe hard, here it’s just distracting for some reason.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving The Possession of Hannah Grace a 1.5. It’s a crappy possession film that’s trying to market itself as a B-grade popcorn muncher but not doing any of the work to get that distinction.

On the bright side, based on the ticket sales for this film, we won’t have to worry about a sequel or prequel. That’s something to be thankful for.

The real Annabelle doll next to the movie version.

The other day I was driving home from grocery shopping, and this silly insurance commercial came on the radio about a creepy doll. According to the commercial’s announcer, the scary doll, which can’t help being creepy and claims horror movies as its natural habitat, knows paying less for car insurance is good sense. The announcer then says, “The only question is, how did the creepy doll get down the hallway? I would get out of the house if I were you.”

I responded to said commercial, “Well, you’re not me. And after I finished going ‘Oh holy shit, the doll moved!’ I’d take the opportunity to find out as much as I can about the doll and the spirit possessing it.”

Yeah. That’s me in a nutshell.

My relationship with dolls have gone through a transformation over the years. At first I was freaked out by them, but over time I’ve become enamored of them, and even have a small collection of dolls and figurines. And the idea that some dolls and figurines might be inhabited by spirits fascinates me. I enjoy the Annabelle films and would love to own the collectible version of it (I hear the actual Annabelle doll is a little hard to come by, especially since it’s under lock and key. So that’s out). I enjoy watching videos about haunted dolls on YouTube, including this one from Buzzfeed.

I seriously thought this doll was haunted at one point. For better or worse, it’s not.

And it probably won’t shock you that I once suspected one or two from my own collection were haunted (I swear I thought I saw the arm of a figurine move, though that particular arm has no joints). I even checked one of my dolls, the one I thought most likely to be haunted, to see if it had any spirits. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, depending on your opinion), my dowsing rods experiment didn’t yield any meaningful results, so I’m going to have to say that’s a no.

But a part of me would like to own a haunted doll. Why? Well, I guess for the same reason people collect salt and pepper shakers or go out of their way to get comic books. Something about the item in question appeals to them. Dolls already appeal to me, and I’ve been to haunted locations before.¬† Seems like just a great meeting of two loves, like scaring people and writing.

And as the Buzzfeed video above says, you can find those pretty easily on sites like eBay. I was actually on Etsy the other day and saw this one haunted doll that I felt almost drawn to. And it was reasonably priced. You know, for a doll that might actually have a self-aware spirit or intelligent entity attached to it.

Of course, the problem there is that, yes, the doll has someone or something attached to it. Some dolls, like the actual Annabelle doll, supposedly have one or more demons attached to it. Imagine taking something like that into your home and being negatively affected by it. The doll or its spirit could destroy property, threaten lives, etc. Robert the Doll supposedly curses anyone who takes pictures with him without permission, which can lead to financial ruin and physical harm.

And if it does have something nasty attached to it, what would I do to contain it? I’m acquainted with one of the former owners of the Dybbuk Box,* and he had to go to all sorts of lengths to keep that box from affecting him and his family. Imagine what I might have to go through to keep that doll from messing with my life.

But I guess that’s the risk bringing anything into your home that’s alive. Yeah, a haunted doll would be a lot more complicated than a pet, but it’s still something I would like to try.

Perhaps in the future I’ll be given the chance to bring a haunted doll into my house. And who knows? It might not lead to anything, but I’ll hopefully have fun and get a few story ideas from it.

But tell me, do you think haunted dolls exist? Do you have any stories you’d like to share? Would you own one if you could? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading another post by me about just how strange I am. As always, appreciate the support. I’ll hopefully have another post out later this week. Until then, my Followers of Fear, good night and pleasant nightmares!

*For those of you who don’t know, a dybbuk is a ghost in Jewish folklore that’s turned away from Heaven and Hell and possesses living people to interact with the real world. The dybbuk box is a wine cabinet that supposedly has a malevolent dybbuk attached to it, and has been blamed for a number of misfortunes that befell past owners. Currently it’s housed in Zak Bagans’s Haunted Museum, where you have to be 18 or over and sign a waiver to see the box, as it curses anyone near it, including rapper Post Malone.

If you think you’ve heard of this before, that’s because the Dybbuk Box was the inspiration for the horror movie The Possession (which I highly recommend), and dybbuks in general have inspired countless pieces of literature and theater, including a famous play and ballet, and even a certain short story from my college days.

You know, sometimes you come across movies in the weirdest ways. Sometimes they’re just on while flipping channels, or someone makes a reference to it and you want to know the interest. I heard about Down a Dark Hall because I heard AnnaSophia Robb (aka the kid from Because of Winn-Dixie) was in it. I remember she used to slay in anything I saw her in (especially The Reaping, another horror film she was in), and the fact that this was a horror film got me interested. I asked my local library to order it, they said yes, and I picked it up this weekend, not sure what I was going to get but looking forward to finding out.

This turned out to be a decent example of modern Gothic horror.

Based on the Gothic YA novel by Lois Duncan, Down a Dark Hall follows Kit, a troubled teenager whose mother sends her to an elite academy with the hopes of straightening her out. There with only four other similarly-troubled girls, Kit finds that the school’s very unique and focused program starts to have results. Weird results. Results that devolve into obsession, addiction, neurosis and trauma. On top of that, Kit has been seeing things in the hallways and in the dark. Faces, people, movement. All this collides to lead Kit to a terrifying realization about the school, and what its staff is doing to the students.

For starters, the actors in this film all do a very good job in their roles. AnnaSophia Robb as Kit slays again, inhabiting this very angry girl who slowly finds herself actually liking the school and then distrusting it as things get weird like a second skin or as if she’s done this a hundred times before. The same goes for Victoria Moroles as Veronica, who hides her own tragedies in a badass attitude. And Uma Thurman does a great job as the aristocratic and charismatic Madame Duret.

The film’s story is also very compelling. It checks all four of the boxes I mention in my article on Gothic fiction, all in a very pretty set, and you definitely find yourself caught up in the mystery of the story. Some of the most disturbing moments of the film are when you see these girls falling under the spell of the school, becoming obsessed with math or music or painting or whatever and how badly it affects them. And the special effects aren’t half bad either, more subtle than garish or distracting.

However, the film isn’t without its issues. I never felt very scared, and there wasn’t much of an atmosphere or sense of threat. Outside of the moments of obsession, that is. In addition, a few things in the film felt a little extraneous. There was a certain bald-headed and scarred ghost that really didn’t serve any purpose beyond a few extra scares, and the romantic tension between Kit and her music teacher was inserted, but nothing was really done with it. Seriously, the question of how to portray those relationships in fiction aside, either use it or cut it out and just show them as close student and teacher!

Finally, I also thought that the ending was wrapped up in too sweet a bow and maybe a few minutes too long. In some ways, it felt a little too hopeful compared to the rest of the film, which jars the viewer and takes away from the experience.

Still, Down a Dark Hall was a good Gothic horror film. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 3.8. It’s no Kill Creek (which I highly recommend by the way, check out my review as to why), but if you turn off the lights in your living room and put this on the Blu-Ray player, you probably won’t regret it. Check it out and see for yourself.