Posts Tagged ‘slow burn’

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!

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If you’ve been with me for a while now, you know I’m interested in and an admirer of creepypasta, urban legends and scary stories born and spread on the Internet that seem to have some sort of plausibility of truth to them, even if you can’t prove it. Recently I heard about a TV series called Channel Zero that, like American Horror Story and Slasher before it, told a different horror story every season, though in this case the stories were based on creepypasta. I decided to take a look, and found out my local library had all three seasons on DVD. I reserved the first season, subtitled Candle Cove, and picked it up yesterday.

Guess who spent most of his Saturday binge-watching it on his TV and laptop? This guy. And as this is me we’re talking about, of course I’m reviewing it.

Based on the Candle Cove creepypasta by Kris Straub (unknown if he’s related to horror author and friend of Stephen King Peter Straub), Channel Zero: Candle Cove follows Mike Painter, a child psychiatrist who returns to his childhood home of Iron Hill, Ohio (go Ohio!) after leaving twenty-eight years previously, when five children were horribly murdered and the killer was never caught. One of the children was Mike’s twin brother Eddie. Now back to put old demons to rest, Mike reconnects with old friends and finds out that several children in town have been watching Candle Cove, a mysterious TV series that originally aired during the two months the murders occurred. Its return to TV doesn’t just coincide with Mike’s return, but with a series of events that threatens to rock Iron Hill, Mike, and his family to their very cores.

I was very impressed with Channel Zero‘s first season. First off, there’s the story. Candle Cove tells a slow-burn story centered around its unfolding mystery. It’s very hard to look away as you watch the characters try to figure out the mystery of the Candle Cove TV show and how it may have affected events past and present. It’s also extremely twisty, making you question everything and wonder how it’s all connected. Trust me, you won’t see the finale until it happens, and it’ll leave you speechless.

I also sympathized with a lot of the characters. They each had their own demons to deal with, and as events start getting crazier and crazier, you can almost find yourself understanding why they do what they do. Doesn’t mean you’ll always approve or root for them, but you’ll understand.

Special mention goes to Fiona Shaw (the actress who played Aunt Petunia in the Harry Potter movies) who played Marla Painter, Mike’s mother. That character goes through so much, but is probably the strongest character on the show, and Ms. Shaw carries it with every scene. Loved seeing her on screen every time she showed up.

Hello, I’m the Tooth Child. I’ll be in your nightmares tonight.

And oh my God, the visuals on this show! From the clips of Candle Cove, to the figures of the Tooth Child and the Skin-Taker, to even some of the dream sequences, there is so much terrifying imagery! Season One definitely took care to make sure every creepy scene was as disturbing as possible. If any of my works ever get adapted, I hope just as much care is put into the visuals and scares.

If there are any flaws with season one, at times the story tends to focus more on the slow-burn story than on actually making viewers crap their pants. That’s not a bad thing, but for some horror fans who prefer outright scares, the slow-burn quality may be a bit off-putting. But at the moment, that’s the only issue I can point out with this show. And it’s not even my issue!

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Channel Zero: Candle Cove full marks with a 5 out of 5! Great storytelling with a well thought-out mystery and excellent visuals, it feels like something Stephen King might produce from his own twisted imagination. Tune in, and let yourself be hypnotized.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. With September here, there’s a lot of great horror stories on the horizon to read/watch and review. And believe me, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on most of them. Whether you want me to or not.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

You know, for a little while now, I’ve been pondering something. I’ve heard a lot of people refer to certain stories as “slow burns.” Heck, I even called my friend/colleague Pat Bertram’s book Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare a slow burn mystery when I reviewed it on Amazon (and I highly recommend you read it, BTW). But what exactly makes a story a “slow burn?” Sadly, searching in Google didn’t pull up a lot of information, and I needed a short break from working on Rose (which is going great, BTW), so I thought I’d share my observations on the matter.

So what is a slow burn story? Well, to put it simply, it’s a story that doesn’t try to rush itself or keep escalating things as the story goes on. Instead, the story takes its time getting to the story’s resolution, using an intriguing set up, good characters and character development, and little bumps in the excitement levels to keep readers invested in the story. A good example of a slow burn would be a romance that, instead of having the characters hook up within the first half of the story and then showing them struggle to stay together, or having the characters finally confess and kiss at the end of the story after a number of travails, the story takes its time establishing these characters, the development of their relationship, and then showing the hook up, all without any big drama or too huge plot twists.

Getting an idea for them yet? And you’re probably familiar with a lot of these stories, even if you don’t know it. Many of these slow burn stories are pretty calm for up to the first two-thirds, with little intervals during that time that ramp up the excitement for a brief period, before they have an explosive final third (not always but often). A good example of this is The Shining, both the book and the movie. Unlike other King stories like It, where things are big and scary from the very beginning, The Shining takes its time building things up. It lays the groundwork, showing us these very real characters and their struggles, the isolation they feel, and the true nature of the Overlook. On that final one, King really takes his time. We get brief glimpses of the truth of the hotel, and each glimpse gets nastier every time, but it’s not until the final third that things really hit a head and things become truly exciting.

Another facet I’ve noticed about slow burns (the ones I’ve come across, anyway) is that there’s a sort of reluctance on the parts of the characters. In The Shining, none of the three main characters want to be in the hotel, but they all have to be so they can survive as a family, and it’s with a certain reluctance that the characters, especially Jack, acknowledge that there’s something seriously wrong with the hotel they can’t handle and that they have to get the hell out of Dodge. Dracula is often described as a slow burn, especially in the novel and in the Nosferatu adaptations, and without a doubt the characters are reluctant to be in the machinations of a centuries-old vampire. And in Pat’s novel Madame ZeeZee, the first-person narrator is very much reluctant at first to look into the strange events that occur at the titular character’s dance studio. It’s only as things progress that she finds herself really looking into things.

So that’s slow burns for you. But how do you write them? If I had to guess, I’d think it would have to do with moderation, specifically moderating the amount of excitement in the story. With most other stories, the norm is to build the excitement until the climax of the story when things get really explosive. But with a slow burn, it’s more like you’re doing a mostly flat Richter scale graph with only slight bumps here and there until the very end when things get super exciting (if you decide to write the story that way, that is). Doing that might take some practice, however, so I would recommend doing that practice and just allowing yourself to get good at them. Don’t get upset if you’re not good at it at first; we all start somewhere, don’t we?

In the meantime, if you’d like to read some good slow burns to get a good idea for them, here are some of the ones I’d recommend: The Shining by Stephen King; See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt (see my review of that novel here); HEX by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (see my review of that here); Final Girls by Riley Sager (see my review for that here); and of course Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare by Pat Bertram, which I reviewed on Amazon. All of them are excellent slow burns, and I can’t recommend them enough. Definitely check them out if you’re curious.

What observations have you made about slow burn stories?

Which slow burns have you read recently? Would you recommend them?

I’ve been hearing about this film for a few months now, and the earliest whispers I heard was that it was going to be scary. Some event went so far as to call it an instant classic in the horror genre. Well, with rumors like that, I had to see this one myself. So today I went to the theater, trying to go in without preconceived expectations so as to give it a fair rating.

God, Hereditary is unsettling. And I’m still not sure what to make of it.

Hereditary follows the Graham family: father Steve, mother Annie, teenage son Peter, and 13-year-old daughter Charlie. The film begins with the funeral of Annie’s mother Ellen Leigh, who had a very complicated relationship to her daughter. What follows is a strange and twisting journey as the family experiences tragedy, psychosis, and the strange, all in two terrifying hours.

Where to begin? Well, for one thing, the film is excellent at creating atmosphere. It’s a slow burn story that doesn’t pile on the scary stuff all at once or starts small and then continues to escalate. Instead, it features small instances of horrifying and/or possibly supernatural occurrences, followed by big scary moments that stay with you for ages (one early-ish in the film left my mouth hanging with my hand covering it for several minutes) before retreating back to low levels. It’s a method that I don’t usually see in horror, but it’s quite effective. And when paired with odd camera movements and a soundtrack that’s quiet for nearly half of the film and only utilizes music during the most necessary scenes, the unsettled feeling you get while watching is doubled.

And on top of all that, you don’t really know if what’s happening is actually caused by supernatural forces or is taking place in the characters’ heads. Annie admits that her family has a very dark history of mental illness, and it’s hinted that daughter Charlie possibly has some mental/learning disabilities as well. So is what’s happening on screen actually the work of malevolent, supernatural forces, or is it some sort of shared delusion manifeting in a family under stress? Hereditary makes you ask that question throughout the movie, and you may not be able to answer by the end. All these elements come together to create this really freaky atmosphere that where it feels like nothing is stable, and anything can shift under your feet at a moment’s notice. Heck, the camerawork for this film, like sliding one person to the next and then backing up all in one shot or revealing a character’s reaction to a scare before showing us what’s so scary, feels like something right out of The Shining.

Actually, one wouldn’t be wrong in calling Hereditary a modern-day Shining, as its ability to unsettle and make audiences question the characters’ sanity, along with the excellent tricks of music and camera, are reminiscent of the Kubrick film. Of course, knowing my feelings on The Shining, it won’t surprise many of you to know I like this film better.

Of course, none of this would work so well without a brilliant cast to back it up. There are a number of excellent actors in this film, like Toni Colette as Annie, Alex Wolff as Peter and Gabriel Byrne as Steve, and they all do an amazing job in their roles. But the prize definitely goes to young break-out star Milly Shapiro as Charlie, who embodies the strange, creepy kid almost too well. You watch her, and you can’t help but be mesmerized and afraid. I hope she appears in more horror films (or films in general), because if her performance in Hereditary is anything to go by, she’s going to have quite the career in the future.

If there’s one problem the film had, it was the last couple minutes. I mean, they were passable, but I expected more after everything that came before. Other than that, great film.

All in all, I think the moniker “instant classic” is an excellent one for Hereditary. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.5. An unsettling, gripping addition to the horror pantheon that you won’t be able to disengage from and will stay with you long after the credits roll. Check it out, and be prepared for scares.