Posts Tagged ‘Scream’

I’ve been keen to read this novel since Stephen King tweeted about it months ago, saying this novel, which apparently is the first work of an already-established author published under a pen name, was the first great thriller of 2017.* By the time it came out on July 11th, I was one of the first people to get a copy at the library. And while I don’t always agree with King on what makes a good story (see my review for A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay), I have to say, he was right that this is a great thriller novel, possibly the first great one of 2017 (I haven’t read most of the others that came out this year, so who am I to judge?).

Final Girls follows Quincy Carpenter, the lone survivor of the Pine Cottage Massacre, in which a man she only refers to as Him killed all her friends while on a camping trip and she was the only survivor. This has made Quincy part of an exclusive club known as the Final Girls, women who have survived horror-movie style massacres and, like the girls in those movies, are the only ones to survive. The other two are Lisa Milner, the survivor of a sorority house murder spree in Indiana, and Samantha Boyd, who escaped and killed a killer known as the Sack Man at a motel in Florida. Quincy, who has no memory of the events at Pine Cottage, wants nothing but to keep up her baking blog, maybe marry her defense attorney boyfriend someday, and have some definition of normal.

That is, until Lisa Milner dies under mysterious circumstances in Indiana, and Samantha Boyd shows up at Quincy’s apartment in New York to talk. Suddenly Quincy’s life is thrown into a maelstrom as Sam’s presence threatens not just to unearth the memories from that fateful night, but change her world forever.

Immediately, you feel like this is two stories in one, a standard slasher and a mystery/thriller. On the slasher hand, you get to read Quincy’s recollections of Pine Cottage, which are told in third-person POV and past tense. And on the other hand, you get the events of Quincy’s current life, which are told in first-person POV and present tense, which is a mystery/thriller mixed with the story of two completely opposite people trying to bond over an incredible and dark situation. And both stories are peppered with references to horror movies, especially the best of the slasher genre. There are some obvious ones: Quincy’s last name is a reference to director John Carpenter of the Halloween series, while Lisa Milner’s massacre is an obvious reference to Black Christmas. But there are other, subtler references.  The mystery elements definitely remind me of the Scream movies and the TV series, which utilize mystery to offset themselves from tried-and-done-to-death slasher stories, as well as elements that make me think of Urban Legend. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, there are probably references I don’t recognize from movies/comics/shows/books I haven’t seen or read yet.

I also really enjoyed the characters. Quincy felt incredibly real to me: rather than being a character who’s always good and delicate or always damaged and dealing with her issues, she’s actually a pretty good balance of both. She’s clearly made some progress in trying to move on and have a new normal, but she also has issues that she doesn’t want to address, even takes some joy in, and those occasionally threaten the balance she’s trying to maintain in her life. It’s very refreshing to see such a realistic character like that. I also found Samantha Boyd (or Sam, as she prefers), to be very real. She’s a girl whose life is one defined by horrors, and who’s trying, in her own way, to reach out to the one person left in the world who knows what it’s like to have felt horrors like hers. The way she does it isn’t exactly smooth, but it does feel like someone with her background might use to reach out and find some mutual catharsis.

But the best part of the story is definitely how twisty it is. Even when we go back to Quincy’s past, it is anything but a standard slasher, going in directions you don’t see coming. Just today, while reading the last 70 or so pages, I kept marveling at surprise after surprise after surprise. And that’s pretty much how it is for most of the book, especially in the latter half of it. I think even some veteran mystery/thriller fans will find themselves surprised at the twists in store here in Final Girls.

If there’s one thing that might have been a drawback for this novel, I felt that the moments that Quincy and Sam were trying to bond were a little slow at times, but that may be nitpicking on my part. They were still well-written parts, and they showed both how much these girls wanted to be friends and how much they rubbed against each other as people.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Final Girls a well-earned 4.6. From one page to the next, you never know what to expect, and it will only leave you wanting more. Go ahead, pick it up, and find you have a hard time putting it down.

* This tweet and hints about the author’s identity make me think it might be Stephen King’s son Joe Hill doing his own Richard Bachman turn, but that’s just my guess.

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Oh come on, did you think I wasn’t going to do this? It’s a tradition, and whether you like it or not, I’m doing it! So strap in, and let the villainous torture begin!

So if you don’t know, every June or so I like to rank the top ten villains in fiction that have really impressed/scared me. Villains are always a central part of horror stories, so it’s important to see what makes a villain memorable, or strong, or terrifying. What makes a good villain, in essence. Some years are easier than others to rank, but with each entry, there’s always something to notice with a villain.

Before we begin, let me remind all who read this that no villain from my own work, or any real life person, will make it on this list (otherwise this would just be political views and shout outs to my own characters). Also, SPOILERS!

Ready? Okay, here we go! #10-6!

#10: Tom Martin/Alex Whitman (Scream TV series)

Scream is a twisty slice of TV-horror awesomeness, and while not everyone loved its Halloween special, I certainly found it a fun break from the show’s normal format. One thing I really liked about the Halloween special was Alex Whitman, a rich young man whose parents died tragically when he was young and who strikes up a sweet romance with protagonist Emma Duvall. Or at least, that’s what we think at first. After a huge twist in which the suspect we thought is the new Brandon James Killer ends up dead, it’s revealed Alex Whitman is actually Tom Martin, a disturbed young man who witnessed his parents’ gruesome death as a child and was warped by all the attention relating to his survival. He sees Emma as a kindred soul, and tries to get close to her by any means, including murder.

What makes Tom a great villain is that he’s so sympathetic! Even after he’s revealed to be dangerous and out of his mind, we feel sorry for him, because his backstory is truly heartbreaking, and there was real chemistry between him and Emma. It’s very hard to make a despicable killer into a sympathetic character (believe me, I’ve experienced that struggle firsthand), and Scream did it really well. It’s a good character for the series to go out on.*

#9: Garrett Douglas (Teen Wolf season 6)

Teen Wolf has had many villains show up on this list, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone that they got one on this year’s list too. Garrett Douglas is a former captain in the SS–yes, the SS, as in the Nazis–who tried to control the ghostly Wild Hunt, supernatural beings who kidnap people and erase them from existence to replenish their numbers. His attempts to do that led to him being held captive for nearly seventy years by the Dread Doctors from season 5, but he escaped after the latter fell, and set out once again to put the Wild Hunt under his thumb. This time he very nearly succeeded, nearly turning the town of Beacon Hills into a ghost town in the process.

While the Wild Hunt were the main villains of the story arc, they were just an elemental force trying to replenish its numbers for survival. They looked scary and had terrifying powers, but they weren’t menacing or evil. Douglas, on the other hand, was a sadistic power-hungry madman, and he was willing to sacrifice whoever he needed to in order to accomplish his goals. That’s a villain right there. However, compared to other villains on this list and on the show, he’s not as intimidating, and he doesn’t rely on his own power, so he ranks rather low. Better luck next time, Teen Wolf. I have confidence in you.

#8: Amunet (The Mummy 2017 film)

I gave this movie a harsh rating in my review (read that HERE), but honestly Amunet was one of its saving graces. Played with convincing power by Sofia Boutella, Amunet is a powerful undead sorceress who made a deal with the god Set for power. Resurrected in the 21st century, she’s willing to sacrifice anyone in order to bring about an apocalypse and become Queen of the Damned (see what I did there?).

What makes her a great villain is that she’s so convincing! You really feel her rage, her lust, her desire for power. And then you see her power at work: she’s influencing Tom Cruise, using animals as weapons, turning people into obedient slaves with kisses or even just with an animal bite. She’s a force to be reckoned with, and proves that even if you have a bad movie, you can have a great villain.

#7: Kevin Wendell Crumb (Split)

I’m not sure if this is one villain or 23 villains or what, but either way, they’re all here. A man with disassociative identity disorder, some of Kevin’s personalities go rogue and take over his psyche in order to bring out a new personality known as the Beast, who causes pain and suffering in the belief that such horrors purify. Kevin and each personality is played with amazing skill by James McAvoy, making each feels real and fully formed. But it’s his darker personalities, the ones that set out to cause destruction by kidnapping three teenage girls from a mall parking lot, that really scare you. You can feel their belief in their godlike Beast, and then when you inevitably see the Beast, he’s a powerful force that makes your heart beat from start to finish. Kevin and his personalities’ place on this list is well-deserved. Cannot wait to see him again in two years in Glass.

#6: The Shadow Kin (Class TV series)

Give it to the Whoniverse to come up with memorable villains. In Doctor Who‘s new spin-off Class, the Shadow Kin are beings made of fire and brimstone, who believe their existence in the universe is a cosmic mistake, as they cannot stand bright light and must travel as gas and shadows. In revenge, their goal is to eliminate all life from the universe by infecting the shadows of their enemies and then killing them. These villains appear throughout the show’s first season, at first only to kill off the refugees of one of their battles, but when their king becomes biologically linked to one of the show’s protagonist, it sets off a literal shadow war as the Shadow Kin battle for control of their king’s power and the planet Earth. Definitely a dangerous villain who kept us on the edge of our seats, wondering what would happen and where the Shadow Kin would appear next.

 

And that’s all for now, Followers of Fear. I’ll have #5-1 out soon. Until then, what did you think of the Top 10 so far? Do you have any favorite villains from this past year. Let’s discuss in the comments below.

*I’m not counting the upcoming third season, because they’re basically rebooting the story with new characters and setting. Um, WTF? You didn’t even wrap up the original story! You had loose threads leading up to the third season! And we know the third season is going to be the last season, so why change things up like that? Why not just wrap things up and let it be like that? TV execs! They’re sometimes the worst people to direct the courses of their own properties.

(The following post may contain spoilers for certain TV shows and movies. Be warned before going in)

It’s that time of year again. I’m counting down the Top 10 villains that have seriously impressed me over the past year. I’ve been doing this for the past three years, and now I’m on the fourth year, so I’m very excited. Anyway, this year I had a hard time choosing villains for this list. Not because there were so many great villains (though there are plenty of those), but mostly because the villains felt slightly lackluster this year. Only a few really stood out this year for me. Not sure why, but it is what it is. Maybe this coming year, we’ll see some much better villains (especially with some creepy horror games coming out this year and all that).

So without further ado, let’s jump into the first half of these villains. Remember, I’m not including any villains of my own creation (that’s cheating) or any real-life people (otherwise Donald Trump would head the list, the giant orange zit!). These are fictional villains, and they’re the cream of the crop.

Also make sure to check out the lists from 2015 (Parts 1 & 2), 2014 (1 & 2), and 2013 (1 & 2) and see which villains made the list those years.

Let’s begin.

10. Lex Luthor Jr. (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice)

A lot of people had some mixed feelings about this movie, and more than a few hated this rendition of Superman’s arch-nemesis, played by Jesse Eisenberg. However, I personally enjoyed this film, and I enjoyed watching Eisenberg play this version of Luthor. For me, he felt like a villain I would create: rich, intelligent, but psychotic and willing to go to great lengths to reach his goals, including creating great and terrifying monsters. Perhaps this villain being Lex Luthor might not have been Zack Snyder’s best choice, and perhaps his goals were a little convoluted, but he was still fun for me, and I feel he should be on this list.

9. The Pale Man/Edgar Mullens (Haunter)

This movie came out in 2013, but I only saw it this past month, and IT SCARED ME! And the villain, the Pale Man/Edgar Mullens, played by Stephen McHattie of Pontypool fame, was a big part of it. A serial killer who died in old age and continues to kill in the afterlife, he enjoys keeping the souls of his victims trapped and repeating their final days on this Earth until he kills him. His soft, silky confident voice and that chilling but pleasant smile, that casual manner he shows at nearly every moment, make him so terrifying to be watch. And when you find out the full extent of his crimes, it’ even worse.

Haunter‘s definitely worth a viewing, and this guy’s definitely worth hiding behind the couch from.

8. Jim Jacobs (The Veil)

Based on Jim Jones of Jonestown infamy, Jim Jacobs and his ghostly followers are the antagonists of Netflix’s horrifying creation The Veil. A preacher who believed it was possible to free oneself from the cycle of life and death, he had a very radical interpretation of theology that actually turned out to be true, but before he and his followers could free themselves, the local authorities interfered, leading to the deaths of everyone involved. Now their ghosts wait, and watch, and hope for the day when they can finish their work.

What’s even freakier about this guy is not only is he able to deliver on his promises (that’s a first), but that you actually like him! Yeah, even as he scares you, you find yourself liking him. Not hard to imagine why though: he looks like John Lennon, has a pleasant voice with a Southern accent, and he makes it sound like everything will be alright, even if everything you’re watching is horrifying!

But what really clinches the deal is how he closes out the movie. I won’t give it away here, but he has this really triumphant moment, talking about how his people will now usher in a new era in humanity’s history, and then in the same tone of voice, remarks on the day’s weather! And it closes out the film so well.

If you’re at home and you want a good scare, join Jim Jacobs for a service. You will become a believer!

7. The Nightcomers (Penny Dreadful)

When is the third season hitting Netflix? Anyway, second season’s villains, the Nightcomers, are freaky to behold. Witches who are in league with the devil, they are a family coven who are out to do harm to the show’s protagonist, Vanessa Ives. They are led by Evelyn Poole, a woman who sold her soul simply to be beautiful (you know, that old chestnut), and her daughter Hecate, who has her own agenda in this Apocalypse-bringing cult.

What’s scariest about them though is not just their magic and their allegiance to the devil, but their true forms: hairless women with big, gaping holes in their bodies, like a monster slashed them wide open but didn’t kill them. I would not want to meet them in a back alley, no matter what era it was.

6. Piper Shaw (Scream TV Series)

I don’t know how many of you have watched the TV series reboot of the 1996 slasher cult classic, but Scream is a very solid TV series (loving Season 2, by the way), and has done better than anyone ever expected (even me, who thought the first episode was completely silly the first time I saw it). And the woman behind the mask in the first season, Piper Shaw, is a force to be reckoned with.

A reporter for a true-crime podcast, she arrives in town to cover the murders taking place, and befriends a few of the main characters, including protagonist Emma Duvall. However, it’s revealed in the last episode that she’s the killer, which I did not see coming, and that she has a very good reason for becoming a serial killer (not that there’s ever a good reason, but you get my point). What makes her a great villain though, is how she manages to insinuate into the characters’ lives, become someone they can count on as an ally, and then when she reveals herself in the last episode, it is such a shock.

I don’t know how the rest of the series will do, but Piper Shaw is part of why the first season was such a success, and I encourage you to check out the show if you haven’t already.

 

That’s all for now. I’ll post #5-1 when I get the chance. Until then, what do you think of the villains on the list this year so far? Any you would have included? Let’s discuss, Followers of Fear.

Hollywood is stuck in this phase where the studios are obsessed with sequels and prequels and spin-offs and franchises and remakes and reboots and re imaginings and a million other things. I have mixed feelings on this culture. On the one hand, I love the Marvel movies and a clever re imagining of a classic story or stories (like what Once Upon a Time has done with some of my favorite fairy tales when I was young) is a great thing. Plus who doesn’t love a good adaptation of a beloved novel or comic book or even video game into a movie or TV series?

On the other hand, seeing all these stories continued or retold constantly encourages filmmakers ane viewers to seek out familiar stories that are sure bets to be successful rather than new material that they don’t know will work out for them, when there is new material. And plenty of these sequels/prequels/reboots/whatever, when they come out, they are just awful and you wonder how the filmmakers could do this to beloved properties (see my review of the Poltergeist remake or watch these two dudes review the Smurfs movie if you need further proof).

The horror genre has been a big part in this, for better or for worse. Since the success of 2003’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake (as opposed to 2013’s remake of the film), there have been a slew of horror remakes, mainly slashers but quite a few others, and they have been showing up with increasing frequency). I’m focusing on the slashers though, because of the horror remakes the slashers are often the ones I see the most advertising for (an exception being Poltergeist, but we know how that turned out), they have some of the most iconic characters in the horror genre (Freddy, Jason, Leatherface, etc.), they’re notorious for putting out too many sequels of varying quality, even for horror, and they’re difficult to get right, because they rely on blood, guts, and gore to scare people rather than suspense and atmosphere.

And for God’s sake, there’s just been so many of them:

  • Texas Chainsaw Massacre and its prequel (the former was good, the latter awful)
  • Halloween and Halloween II (same deal as TCM in terms of quality)
  • My Bloody Valentine (lacks all that made the original so awesome)
  • Black Christmas (awful murder-porn)
  • Prom Night (awful and nonsensical)
  • Friday the 13th (of all the Michael Bay shit movies, this one is the shittiest)
  • Nightmare on Elm Street (I liked it, but others disagree with me)
  • Leprechaun (more of a re-imagining of average quality)
  • Texas Chainsaw 3D (I liked this too, but not everybody else did)
  • Evil Dead (fun and extremely bloody)
  • Scream (got rebooted as a TV series. Only saw one episode before leaving for Germany, but wasn’t impressed by what I saw)

On TV and in the movies at the same time. Like Kevin Bacon or Viola Davis.

And that’s just the ones that I know of that are out. And believe it or not, there are more on the way: Friday the 13th is getting a new movie as well as being re-imagined as a TV series for CW (haven’t heard anything on the movie, but what I’ve heard on the TV series sounds promising), Halloween is getting a new movie (also looks promising), Evil Dead is getting a TV series set years after the original films (excuse me while I skip it, because I’m not much of a fan of the franchise), and Texas Chainsaw Massacre is getting a prequel exploring Leatherface’s origins (I’m skeptical). There was also talk of a Hellraiser reboot, but there’s been no word in two years on that, so I’m going to say it’s been shelved.

So why are slashers being remade by the dozen? Like I said, they’re difficult to pull off, and they’re formulaic. Plus blood and gore is how they primarily scare you, and a lot of horror fans, including myself, find that distasteful. What makes them so appealing?

I think a lot of it has to do with the characters. Slashers have produced some of the most iconic characters in horror and in cinema: Norman Bates, Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers. Heck, Freddy Kreuger isso well-known that he’s made cameo appearances in movies parodying the 1980’s in one form or another. People love these characters as much as they’re scared of them, they love watching them in action and being terrified of them. They like to sit there and think, “What’s he going to do next? What’s he going to do next? What’s he going to do–AAAH!”

Studios are aware of that, as well as they are aware of how much people go back to see the old films (the better ones anyway) and see these beloved characters do what they do best. With huge fan followings like this, and how easy it is to make a horror movie under twenty million dollars with minimal special effects, they know people are going to come and see the films so they can see these beloved characters resurrected again and perhaps in a movie worthy of carrying the franchise’s name.

The problem with that is, these same studios may just be banking on the popularity of a franchise and its character or characters to draw in crowds. Take a look at Friday the 13th, or another horror movie that Michael Bay meddled in, Ouija (read my review here). Both of those sucked, but yet they still made money. I think the latter was because of very good marketing, but the former had the draw of the first Friday the 13th film in six years, and one not bogged down by sequels’ worth of mythologies. Problem was, they didn’t invest in a good story, like the first film did and most of the early films tried to do with varying success. Instead they gave it a passable story and then added in as much drugs, sex, nudity, swearing, and gratuitous death scenes as possible so that the audiences would stay interested.

The result was a waste of film that makes watching people defecate on public streets look more entertaining. And I’m very worried that these other films that are on the way will do the same thing. They’ll be made with just drawing in fans and their credit cards in mind and the results will be absolutely terrible. And no horror fan wants to see beloved characters treated that way.

Hoping for better films for all these guys, and more.

On the other hand, I like to imagine that some of these filmmakers are huge fans of the franchises and really are trying to give these characters the stories they should be in, stories that are worth investing seven dollars and two hours in. The Halloween movie supposedly has an interesting plot, and the one thing I’ve heard on the Friday the 13th sequel indicates it’ll take place in the 1980’s, when the series started and where most of the better films are set. Perhaps there is hope here.

Well, we’ll just have to wait and see…and pray that along with better sequels/franchises/whatever, we get some new material too (*cough* Hollywood, call me *cough*).

All for now, my Followers of Fear. I have to get ready for the High Holidays tonight, so I’ll be busy for a while, but I’ll write again when I can.

See you next year, and Shanah Tovah (that means “Have a good year” if you don’t speak Hebrew).

Rest in peace, Wes Craven. You will be missed.

The word craven means “lacking in courage; cowardly.” I’m hard-pressed to find a man who embodied the exact antithesis of the meaning of his last man, and who instead managed to pass it onto the rest of us. Wes Craven was a filmmaking genius, a horror maestro who helped to create some of our most iconic movie monsters, including Freddy Kreuger and Ghostface. It is with great sadness that I have to admit that he passed yesterday after a lengthy battle with brain cancer at the age of 76.

I remember the first time I watched the original Nightmare on Elm Street. I was somewhere in my teenage years, and I was in my dad’s basement watching it on DVD. From the very beginning the movie set itself apart from other horror movies I’d seen in the past. The small box displaying Freddy preparing his trademark clawed glove, as if he were coming out of a long retirement to start some marvelous work again. That first dream sequence and death, and everything that came after it. Nightmare was visceral, it was scary, and at the end you wondered what was dream and what was reality, or if maybe they were all one and the same. For a guy who hadn’t had that much exposure to the horror classics of the 1980s (I might’ve only recently turned seventeen at that time and gotten access to my library’s collection of 80’s horror, most of which was rated R), it knocked me off my feet and made me want more.

You see, horror is my drug, and the Nightmare movies were really good blow. In Wes Craven, I’d found a powerful dealer, someone who could give me what I needed when I needed my horror fix. I would later find terror when I saw the Scream movies, and quite a few more (I really liked what he did with the North American remake of Pulse). You could go to him and usually he could provide the goods. Occasionally Craven produced some bad stuff—every filmmaker does occasionally, and in horror bad stuff is pretty common—but on the whole he did great work.

And how did Craven feel about these many fans, these people who saw him as a person who fed their inner desires for terror and probably gave more than one child nightmares for the rest of his or her life? To use his own words, “I come from a blue-collar family, and I’m just glad for the work. I think it is an extraordinary opportunity and gift to be able to make films in general, and to have done it for almost 40 years is remarkable…If I have to do the rest of the films in the [horror] genre, no problem. If I’m going to be a caged bird, I’ll sing the best song I can…I can see that I give my audience something. I can see it in their eyes, and they say thank you a lot. You realize you are doing something that means something to people.”(1)

Indeed Mr. Craven. You did something to many people. You gave us iconic characters like Freddy or Ghostface to haunt our dreams. You helped launch the film careers of Johnny Depp, Sharon Stone, and Bruce Willis (no seriously, he did). And you inspired generations of horror fans, from your protégé Nick Simon, whose new movie The Girl in the Photographs will premiere at the Toronto Film Festival next month, to me, a self-published novelist who, while not exactly famous yet, is working hard to create his own stories that maybe one day will scare people far and wide.

So while you may no longer be with us in Mr. Craven, you are very much alive. Like one of your creations, you haunt us in our imaginations and our dreams, making those you inspired take to their pens or computers and create their own wonderful nightmares. And as long as people fear Freddy or Ghostface or those Hills that have Eyes, you will continue to walk among us, leaving your mark wherever you go and giving us our fix when we ask for it.

So tonight, I will raise a toast to Wes Craven, a man with a vision, taken from us when we didn’t want him to go. I will get online and see if I can get a fix from one of his movies. And then soon, possibly tomorrow, I will get to work on my next terrifying creation and hope your ghost whispers in my ears while I do.