Posts Tagged ‘television shows’

NOS4A2‘s TV series has been a highlight to my week during the pandemic. And given how well season one adapted the first half of the source material (see my review here), I was eager to see how well they adapted the second half, when protagonist Vic McQueen is a mom trying to protect her son Wayne from Charlie Manx.

I’m happy to report that season two is better than season one. Not only that, it’s great stuff.

Eight years after her first clash with the vampiric wraith Charlie Manx, Vic is struggling to be a good mom to her son while also battling her own demons. She hopes that life will improve when it’s reported that Manx is dead, but things are never that simple. Not only is Manx still alive, but he’s out for revenge against Vic. And he’ll use her own son Wayne to achieve that revenge if Vic isn’t fast enough.

What I liked about this season was that, while adapting events from the book, they added in things that contributed to the story. This was a welcome change from the first season, where they added crap like a halfhearted love triangle and Vic partying with rich kids right before a showdown with Manx. Highlights include the episode around the original character the Hourglass, the deteriorating relationship between Manx and his assistant Bing Partridge, and scenes involving Manx’s previously-unrevealed backstory.

I also liked how they fleshed out some of the side characters. Vic’s partner Lou Carmody gets plenty of time to shine and show what sort of person he is, rather than the love interests from the first season, who can be summed up as “rich kid who likes a girl from the other side of the tracks” and “stoner with a heart of gold and a crush on his childhood friend.” Another character who gets fleshed out is Millie, Manx’s daughter and his first victim. In this season, she takes on a central role as she starts to question her world and her father. It’s fascinating to see her discover so much about her father and herself throughout the show.

Add in some scares and tension, as well as some great acting and storytelling, and you get an awesome second season.

I do have some criticisms though. For one thing, while it’s cool to see how Charlie Manx came to be the monster he is, there’s too much emphasis on making him somewhat sympathetic. And you know what? I don’t want to sympathize with Charlie Manx. He’s a monstrous character who uses the kids he “rescues” while at the same time believing his own propaganda. I really don’t want to sympathize with that.

Another issue is that Craig, Wayne’s biological father, makes a few appearances in the latter half of the season, but it feels unfulfilled. We see him a few times, and then he’s kind of forgotten. I would have liked to see him utilized a bit more at the end of the season.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving NOS4A2 season two a 4.8 out of 5. It’s a freaky, thrilling ride that improves on the first season and makes revisiting this world a pleasure. There’s a possibility that a third season might happen (whatever that might look like), so you might want to grab your seat belt and catch up on the series while there’s still time.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll be posting another review soon, as I bought advanced tickets to see The New Mutants in theaters. That’s right, I’m going to a movie theater. And should I survive the experience, I’ll hopefully have a new review for you all.

Until then, stay safe and pleasant nightmares!

Cover of the first Hellraiser film.

If you’re not familiar with the Hellraiser series, let me start with a bit of background. Based on the novella The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker,* the films follow a magical puzzle box which, when solved, open a gateway to a hell dimension inhabited by creatures known as Cenobites. Anyone who comes into contact with the Cenobites is then pulled into their world, where the boundaries between pain and pleasure are explored until they all blend into suffering. All the films in the series follow people who come into contact with the puzzle box, with the fourth film exploring the puzzle box’s creation and history, though only the first four were released theatrically.

I saw the first three films years and years ago, but was recently spurred by a colleague rewatching some of the films to revisit them and finally watch the fourth one. And I have some thoughts on the series.

For one thing, I get the appeal of the series, which first released in the 1980s during the height of the slasher boom. However, unlike other slashers of the time, which focused either on silent killers like Jason or Michael Myers, or funny, over-the-top characters like Freddy Kreuger, the Hellraiser films were outliers. The monsters of those films weren’t silent stalkers or wise-cracking undead. They were more like scientists of sensuality and suffering rather than killers. Death was just sometimes part of their work (at least for the first couple of films). In fact, in the first few films, the lead Cenobite Pinhead, nearly always played by Doug Bradley, is articulate, intelligent, and dispassionate except when speaking of his work.

In addition, the first two films don’t follow a regular slasher structure. Instead, the focus shifts around to various characters and their motivations, making the films feel almost like novels in how their stories are told. And the first two films also have a surreal aspect to them, especially the second one, which adds to the feeling of horror and unreality that the films are going for.

And finally, the films weren’t focused on gory deaths. They focused instead on desire, on what made people do horrible things in exchange for their wants and needs, even if those wants and needs included horrific sadomasochistic experiments. If that sometimes led to death, then so be it.

Pinhead, leader of the Cenobites and the most prominent character in the series.

Given all that, I can see why the films were popular and have stuck around. That being said, I can see how the series fell in quality as early as the third film. While that one was good, it structured its story in the vein of a more traditional, good-vs-evil supernatural slasher. It also eschewed the more weird aspects and added in some campier aspects with some of the new Cenobites. And then the fourth film, while giving a history to the puzzle box and an “ending” for the series, sacrifices quality and scares in the process.

It’s really no wonder the series went to direct-to-video from there on out, or why the subsequent films have tried for a more psychological approach rather than an out-and-out gory supernatural style.**

Despite all that, the first two films, while they have their issues, are still masterpieces and the third film is worth a watch (though I would stop after that). And, like all good slashers, the very concept is powerful enough to make you want to see more. to explore more from the safety of your living room. It’s why the series has endured, and why a reboot and a TV series are both in development (though we may not see anything new for a long, long time).

And if I’m being honest, I wouldn’t mind a reboot. This series has gone through so many ups and downs, a fresh take done with love for the original concept might just be what the series needs. And if one does get made, I hope antagonist Julia would be given a bigger role. She was such a powerful character in the first two films that at one point, it was considered giving her the role of main antagonist over Pinhead, and I think the character’s exploration of her own darkness and sexual desires would go over well with modern audiences.

And if you’re interested in checking out the Hellraiser films after this post, here’s where I’d rate them on a scale of 1 to 5:

Any other Julia fans out there?

  • Hellraiser – 4.3
  • Hellbound: Hellraiser II – 4.5
  • Hellraiser III: Hell on Earth – 3.9
  • Hellraiser: Bloodline – 2.6

But tell me, what are your thoughts on the Hellraiser franchise and my observations? Do you support a remake? And is there anyone else here who thinks Julia is much more terrifying than Pinhead? Let’s discuss.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll likely have a new review out soon, so keep an eye out for that. And until next time, stay safe and pleasant nightmares.

*Which I really need to get around to reading one of these days.

**Or so I’ve read. I have not seen anything past #4 yet, and I’m not sure I want to.

About two years ago, I binge-watched the entire first season of an anthology series called Channel Zero, this one focused on adapting popular creepypastas. The first season, Candle Cove, was terrifying enough to earn a 5 out of 5 review from me (which you can read here).

And then it took me two years to actually get around to watching season two, No End House. But over the past week, I watched it. How did it stack up? Let’s find out.

Based on the story No End House by Brian Russell, this season follows Margot, a young woman still mourning the sudden passing of her father the year before. One weekend, when her friends are home from college, they invite her out to a traveling haunted attraction called No End House, a house so terrifying that it’s said to change lives! They go to check it out, and find out that the house is more than a haunted attraction: it’s another world and a living organism unto itself. And they are its meal.

Like the first season, No End House uses a slow-burn approach to tell its story. Combined with a surrealism rooted in normal suburbia, it makes for a compelling watch that’s hard to look away. The characters are mostly nice enough to root for. My favorite was probably Seth Marlowe, played by Jeff Ward of Agents of SHIELD fame (Deke Squad forever!), who constantly surprised me with the reveals of his character. And John Carroll Lynch, who has played Twisty the Clown and Mr. Jingles in various seasons of American Horror Story, plays his character with plenty of love and pathos.

And there’s quite a bit of horror played around memory, the loss of or perversion of it. It’s a little chilling when you think of how memory is almost a physical, tangible thing used against the characters in this season.

That being said, the season does have its issues. The emphasis on emotional and character-driven storytelling is emphasized at the expense of the horror. There were no moments where I felt like crapping my pants or curling into a ball out of fright. Furthermore, there’s a missed opportunity to lean into the horror of the surrealism, just keeping it weird rather than creepy. All this is at the expense of the horror. Whereas the first season had this constant dread of the strange and unexplained, of the mystery at the center of it and how it affected the characters and the world, there was none of it in this season.

ON the whole, I’m giving Channel Zero: No End House a 3.4 on a scale of 1 to 5. It has some great characters and ideas, as well as some freaky scenes, but it misses numerous opportunities to scare the pants off us. If you’re looking for more story and character driven horror, this might be for you, but it won’t give you the buzz a real scary show will.

Despite how the second season compares to the first, I’ll probably still check out season three at some point. Likely within two years, though.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ve got a busy weekend ahead of me, but I’ll try to check in with something by Monday evening at the latest.

Until next time, stay safe, pleasant nightmares, and if you go to a haunted attraction but you can’t find anyone running the place, signing waivers, or paying/taking money…maybe reconsider stepping inside.

After the failure that was the Grudge reboot earlier this year (see my review here), I was hopeful after learning a television series based on the original Ju-On movies was going to be released in Japan. And it was being brought to America through Netflix. And as soon as I could, I sat down to watch all six episodes of JU-ON: Origins. After all, it was guaranteed to be better than the Grudge reboot, but would it be legitimately scary?

JU-ON: Origins begins with a paranormal researcher named Odajima appearing on a talk show with an idol who experienced supernatural happenings at her apartment after her boyfriend goes house-hunting for them. At the same time, a troubled high schooler named Kiyomi becomes involved with a mysterious house near her school. This and other events leads to many people’s lives becoming involved with the house, a house whose history is alive and kicking, and in the worst possible way.

While this series bears very little resemblance to the original story of the movies beyond a cursed house and several men questioning if they’re the father of the children they’re raising, it’s definitely a better horror story than the Grudge reboot. And even better, it’s freaking scary.

First off, the show does a great job of setting up a mystery. The characters spend their time running down multiple leads, each one leading to a new aspect of the haunting. And each new aspect seems to add more questions than it answers. But even better, there are a number of terrifying moments. There were quite a few moments, especially in the later episodes, where I was squirming in my seat. Anyone who gets to episode five will shiver every time they think of it.

I also liked how they incorporated famous tragedies from Japan’s recent history into the story. A lot of the major events of the story occur around the same time as the murder of Junko Furuta, the sarin gas attacks, and the Kobe child murders (which, by the way, are terrifying in their own rights). Almost as if to say the house’s evil has some sort of connection to those events.

And if you don’t like subtitles, there’s an English dub on Netflix, and it’s decent. The English dialogue matches very well with the Japanese lip movements, and there are some well-known anime voice actors in the series (I had a lot of fun making jokes about that in the calmer moments of the show). Though I am sad to say, that’s not Nicholas Cage voicing the main character Odajima, but a guy named Brock Powell doing a really good Nicholas Cage impression.

This scene! Oh God, I’m shivering again.

If there’s one thing I didn’t care for, it was that I would’ve liked to see more from the original films incorporated into the story. I’m not asking for a direct based-on-the-movie or Kayako and her son to fully appear on screen, but I would’ve enjoyed more references or incorporation of the original story that’s become so beloved by fans.

And just a trigger warning: this series delves into subjects such as domestic violence and sexual assault. So if that’s a turn-off, maybe don’t watch this one.

For everyone else, however, JU-ON: Origins is a terrifying TV show that will satisfy anyone else bored with more recent entries into the Ju-On and Grudge franchises. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving this show a 4.5. Head on home and settle in to watch it. Just make sure to watch with the lights on.

Also, if you go house hunting and the house has a history, make sure that it hasn’t harmed anyone in at least a decade before deciding it’s your dream home!

For those of you who are unaware, Slasher is a Canadian-American TV series that’s like American Horror Story, with a different story and cast every season, but more bent towards slasher horror. I’ve reviewed the first two seasons (see my reviews here and here), and have enjoyed watching the evolution of the show from a so-so derivative AHS knock-off to a very thrilling and bloody murder mystery in the second season. And while it took me a while to get to it, I finally got around to the third and final season. And what a season it was!

Subtitled Solstice, the story begins with the murder of Kit Jennings, a bisexual party boy who is violently murdered at his apartment building by a masked murderer known as the Druid. A year later, all the residents living at the apartment building at the time of the murder are still living there, and start to die under horrific and bloody circumstances. As the police rush to find the returned Druid killer, the apartment residents will have to watch their backs. Because everyone has a connection to Kit, everyone has a secret, and everyone is a target.

I don’t know if the third season was intended to be the final season, but in a way, I’m glad it was. There’s no way they were going to top this season.

For one thing, I love how they manage to take these diverse characters, flesh them out to make them feel real, and then weave a narrative around them. It could have easily come across as hard-to-believe, or silly, or dumb, but the writers made it believable and truly thought out every aspect of the story to make it thrilling. I also like how the emphasis on this season was on connections and community. There’s a lot of commentary on how people are united and divided in a community, both online and offline, people can be. You have white supremacists living next to Muslims, straight couples living by LGBT families, caring people living beside monsters. All that gels together in a way that feels organic and believable, and I loved it.

And speaking of the cast, I don’t think I’ve ever found a horror story where I wanted so many despicable characters to get murdered! The white supremacist; the white supremacist’s prejudiced, slutty daughter; the housewife who believes sharing everyone’s pain across her gossip vlog is real journalism;* the creepy teenager who thinks bringing up people’s trauma is funny. Each one of them is written and played so well, and I only hope I can portray such characters so well in my own work.

Finally, this season contains some of the most brutal kills in a slasher story I’ve ever seen. Kid you not, I cringed more than I normally do with these kinds of stories, and that’s saying something. If you decide to check this season out, be prepared. This season goes the limits.

If there’s something I didn’t care for, I would’ve liked to see more of protagonist’s, Saadia Jalalzai’s,** parents and family. They leave for a trip at the beginning of episode one and then are pretty much gone from the season. I honestly would have enjoyed seeing a bit more of them and their reactions to everything that occurred within the course of the season.

All in all though, Slasher‘s third season is a gory, terrifying delight for any slasher fan. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving the season a 4.7. Get on Netflix, settle in for eight episodes and, if you live in an apartment building, thank whoever that even your worse neighbors probably aren’t as bad as the ones in this show.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I wanted to get one more blog post out before I left on my trip tomorrow, and I’m glad it was this one. Don’t know when my next one will be, but I’m sure whenever it is, it’ll be the first of several. And in the meantime, if you’re in Des Moines this weekend, come by the Valley West Mall for the 5th annual Indie Author Book Expo. I’ll be selling books and doing Tarot, so I hope to see you there!

Until next time, stay safe, beware of machete-wielding maniacs, and pleasant nightmares.

*BTW, if I ever get as addicted to my online following as that woman or some of the other characters in that show, please break my phone and slap me silly. I’ll need it.

**And yes, I was reminded a bit of my character from the Reborn City series, Zahara Bakur, but I’m pretty sure they just share an archetype.

The Shanley Hotel in Napanoch, New York, one of the haunted locations I want to visit.

Well, it’s been a while since I’ve written one of these posts. And for those of you who don’t know, I keep a rather extensive list of places purported to be haunted that I want to visit someday, and I’ve been lucky enough to visit a few of them, such as the Lizzie Borden Bed & Breakfast and the Paris catacombs. I’ve even been to the Ohio State Reformatory twice (and if it weren’t for this damned coronavirus, I’d have been there this past weekend for a convention).

And as of last month, I’ve finally come up with enough additions to that list to warrant another one of these posts. So if you’d like to know what places I could possibly visit in the future to look for ghosts, or you want to know some places to avoid in the future, please read below. And you can check out the first three in this series here, here and also here.

And don’t worry. The places on these lists may be haunted, but the posts themselves aren’t. I think.

Drovers Inn, Loch Lomond, Scotland

Head out to rural Scotland, and you’ll find an old, historic house on the north end of Loch Lomond. In addition to being a working hotel, the house also features good food, live music, and more than a few ghosts. Guests have reported flickering lights in midair, a ghost girl in a pink dress showing up in a photograph, the ghost of an angry cattle driver, and a family who died in a snowstorm looking for shelter, among others.

One room, please!

The Shanley Hotel, Napanoch, New York

Yeah, you’re going to be seeing a lot of hotels, motels, and inns on this list. Almost like these places attract spirits for some reason.

Anyway, the Shanley Hotel is a beautiful, three-floored bed and breakfast located in the northern area of New York. Built in 1845 as a hotel, it has gone under many names, but has always been known for an elite clientele and even has been an active bordello at times (scandalous!), and was a site active for bootlegging during Prohibition. To this day, there are many spirits who still haunt the house, including a few children of the previous owners who died young, one of the bootleggers, a cat that died, and perhaps even a few of the bordello women.

Supposedly this place is so haunted, you need to sign a waiver and pay a handsome fee to stay there. But like that is enough to scare me off. Nope, I’m in, and I’ll take anyone who’s brave enough with me.

Wolf’s Creek Inn, Wolf Creek, Oregon

The oldest still-running inn in the Pacific Northwest, this beautiful building features lovely rooms, a restaurant, and more than a few ghosts hiding within its walls. It’s been featured on paranormal shows like Ghost Adventures, and advertises ghost hunts and paranormal tours on its website. If you ask me, it sounds like a good excuse to go out west further west than I’ve ever gone before.

RMS Queen Mary, Long Beach, California

The Queen Mary is a former British ocean liner that first set sail in 1936. It briefly saw use as a troopship, ferrying soldiers to the war. Afterwards, it became a passenger ship and traveled across the Atlantic Ocean until the 1960s. It was retired in 1967, and has been moored in Long Beach, California ever since. It has since become a tourist attraction, and there have been rumors of hauntings ever since, including shadow figures and one room where the ghost of a murdered passenger still hangs around.

Normally I’m not one for cruise ships, but I’d make an exception for this lovely lady.

Hell’s Bridge, Algoma Township, Michigan

If you go into central Michigan, and then into the woods, you’ll find an old, metal bridge spanning a narrow river. It looks unassuming, at least in the day time, but at night it looks rather eerie. Especially when you learn about the legend surrounding the bridge. Supposedly during the 1800s, a serial killer named Elias Friske murdered several children and threw their bodies into the river off a stone bridge. When the bodies were finally found and Friske identified as the killer, he claimed the devil had told him to kill those kids before he was lynched by the locals.

While there are no records of Friske or these supposed crimes, at least none that I could find, the area where the stone bridge was and where the metal bridge now stands has gained a reputation. Supposedly, if you stand on the bridge at night, you’ll spot the spirits of Friske or the children he killed, and perhaps even the forces that he claimed influence him to kill. I’d check it out if I had the chance.

Wisner Bridge, Chardon Township, Ohio

Yeah, there’s a few bridges on this list as well. Another haunted location in Ohio I need to visit, the Wisner Bridge was a Crybaby Bridge, or a bridge where the spirits of dead children can supposedly be heard crying. In this case, the Wisner Bridge supposedly was haunted by spirits of melon heads, diminutive humanoids with bulbous heads in American folklore. While the legends vary from state to state, in Ohio it’s believed the melon heads were orphans who were experimented on by a sadistic doctor, either causing or worsening their appearance. They later killed the doctor, burned down the orphanage, and retreated to the woods near the bridge to live in the wild.

Today the bridge itself is gone, having been torn down in 2013. However, locals still report hearing crying babies at the site where the bridge stood. Whether or not you believe the urban legends, this might be a place for me to check out.

Gold Brook Covered Bridge, Stowe, Vermont

A wooden bridge that has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, this bridge is also known as Emily’s Bridge, owing to the legend surrounding it. While stories vary, most of them agree that a young woman named Emily was supposed to get married or elope, and when her lover never showed, she died on or by the bridge. There’s no evidence Emily existed and the legend first popped up in 1968, after a student wrote a paper about how they used an Ouija board and made contact with a spirit named Emily.

Since then, many people using Ouija boards and other devices to contact the dead have supposedly come into contact with Emily and learned her story. Even stranger, many people passing over the bridge have been touched or scratched by her, whether on foot or in their cars. Is Emily the spirit of a real person? The result of overactive imaginations? Or did belief in her bring a spirit into existence, one that took on Emily’s identity to answer the demand to see her? I want to go and find out!

Franklin Castle, Cleveland, Ohio

Another Ohio location, the Franklin Castle is an old Victorian manor with a reputation. Its original owners, the Tiedermann family, suffered several deaths while they lived there, including four of their children, and there were rumors of horrific crimes within its walls. Since then, the house has changed hands several times, and several of its past owners and residents have reported hauntings. One family even performed exorcisms in the house before moving out. And in 1975, human bones were found on the property, though there is evidence to suggest they may have been planted.

The good news is, my dad lives up in Cleveland, so there’s a good chance I’ll visit this house the next time I visit my dad. The bad news is, the house is privately owned and there’s very little chance the current owners will let me in. Still, I can at least drive by and take photos. And who knows? Perhaps someone living there will allow me in. Whether that someone is living or not, however, is up for debate.

LaLurie Mansion, New Orleans, Louisiana

Fans of American Horror Story will know Delphine LaLurie as the sadistic southern slave-owner who took pleasure from torturing her slaves. What they may not know is that the house featured in the show was not her actual house. Or that her real house is still standing in New Orleans, and that it may have a few spirits living in it. Supposedly there have been moans heard from the room where the slaves were kept and the sounds of footsteps at night. When the building was an African-American girls’ school, many of the children there reported being attacked by a mysterious woman, and when the building was converted into apartments, one resident was found murdered after claiming a demon was after him.

Sadly, today the house is privately owned and the current owners show no interest in having investigations conducted in the home. So, like the details of LaLurie’s life and the full extent of her crimes, we may never have the full truth. However, ghost tours passing by the house occasionally have encounters of the weird kind. And I would be happy just to have that.

Cecil Hotel, Los Angeles, California

Speaking of American Horror Story, the Cecil Hotel was another inspiration for the fifth season, Hotel. Originally a luxury hotel for businessmen and travelers, after the 1940s the hotel became a home for transients as the neighborhood took a dive. Even before that, though, the hotel had been known for murders and suicides. Other violent and illicit activities occurred there over the years, and the hotel was a temporary home for serial killers Richard Ramirez and Jack Unterweger. In 2013, a Canadian student was found dead and naked in the water tank on the roof. Footage was found of the student acting erratically, poking in and out of and hiding in an elevator hours before her death. The footage is, to say the least, unsettling.

While the hotel has since been renamed the Stay on Main and is trying to gain back its reputation as a luxury destination, the building cannot escape its reputation of sinister and violent occurrences. And perhaps, if I were to check in, I would find some guests that had never checked out.

 

There you go. Ten more haunted or strange locations I’d like to visit after this pandemic has run its course. But tell me, have you been to any of these places? Do you want to go to any of them? Maybe with me? And what haunted places have you been to that I haven’t named? Let’s discuss.

That’s all for now, my¬† Followers of Fear. I’ll be busy writing this week, so hopefully I get plenty done. And in the meantime, you can still order signed copies of Rose by sending me an email at ramiungar@ramiungarthewriter.com. Until next time, stay safe, be healthy and pleasant nightmares.

It’s been a while since I’ve done any sort of tag, so I saw this on my friend Kat Impossible’s blog and I was like, “Sounds like fun.” And while I’m not sure I believe in “perfection,” I tried to come up with stories that come close to that in my personal opinion. Most of these titles are from the horror genre, but I do add some from other genres and even a few other mediums (I can be a rule breaker when I want to be). With that in mind, let us begin the Perfect Book Tag.

THE PERFECT GENRE

(pick a book that perfectly represents the genre)

I had a hard time choosing on this, between what could be considered a quintessential horror novel, and what could be the most terrifying novel (AKA the “perfect” horror novel). In the end, I wanted to include the quintessential novel elsewhere, and I hate repeating myself, so I decided on the most terrifying novel I’ve ever read, The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum. Honestly, this novel’s show of brutality, the ease in which regular people can be persuaded to commit acts of evil and the graphic descriptions of torture and cruelty were enough to make me put the book down at times just so I could process what I was reading and get control of my dread. If you want perfect horror, this might be close enough.

Just don’t blame me if this gives you an upset stomach or nightmares. Trust me, it’s a tough one to get through.

THE PERFECT SETTING

(pick a book that takes place in a perfect place)

Again, I’m not sure if there’s anything considered “perfect” in entertainment, let alone a perfect setting. However, as far as I’m concerned, this might come damn close. The Doctor Who universe has every sort of setting imaginable. From futuristic cityscapes, to the distant past, and even our own modern times, you can find aliens, historical personages, gods and demons, magic (sort of) and science, friends and enemies, and even new universes or pocket universes! It’s an endlessly adaptable setting, and that’s why it’s my choice for perfect setting.

Also, I know it’s a TV show and the books are expanded universe and semi-canonical at best, but like I said, I like to break the rules.

 

THE PERFECT MAIN CHARACTER

(pick the perfect main character)

For this one, I didn’t pick perfect as in “they’re the best at everything and never have to improve. The story is just a way for the reader to fawn over how amazing the characters are.” Those are known as Mary Sues and Gary Sues, and most writers learn to stop creating them when trying to write compelling stories. Instead, I picked examples of characters I like to work with the most: women/girls who don’t start out as protagonist material, but as time goes on they grow into their heroine roles. Sailor Moon and Buffy are two great examples of those characters, as well as the reason I love that character type.

Neither Buffy Summers nor Sailor Moon started out as heroes who were thrilled with their roles. They just wanted to be normal girls, not burdened down with these destinies to save humanity from evil. But over time, as they get stronger and build their support networks, they become stronger, able to defy evil and inspire everyone around them and everyone watching them, regardless of age or gender. It’s part of the reason why these characters have endured over thirty years after their debuts, and part of the reason why I am who I am today.

 

THE PERFECT BEST FRIEND

(loyal and supportive, pick a character that you think is the best friend ever)

 

This one was easy. She’s smart, kind, brave, and is willing to point out when you’re wrong or doing something stupid. And she’s willing to stand up for the oppressed when no one else will, including many of the oppressed. She can be a bit stubborn, and at times she loses sight of reality when it comes to studies or other things she deems important. But honestly, Hermione Granger would make a great best bud.

 

THE PERFECT LOVE INTEREST

(pick a character you think would be an amazing romantic partner)

Let me level with you all. I may be bisexual, but I’m aromantic, so I don’t really feel romantic attraction to anyone. Sexual, definitely, but I have trouble imagining myself wanting to be tied to someone like a partner or lover. And since I don’t feel like telling the world about a character I may find sexy, I’ll just leave this one blank. Sorry if you really wanted to know what my type was or wanted to set me up with someone you know. You can’t change someone’s nature that easily.

 

THE PERFECT VILLAIN

(pick a character with the most sinister mind)

Remember that quintessential horror novel I mentioned as a contender for Perfect Genre? Yeah, IT was the runner-up. But in terms of villains, Pennywise is the ultimate, hence why he’s here. Honestly, he’s a perfect mix of both the human villain and the supernatural. He understands human fears and motivations, is a master manipulator and knows just how to get under our skin and either terrify us into a stupor or make us his pawn. At the same time, he’s this giant cosmic entity from beyond the universe, a thing we can only grasp as orange lights known as The Deadlights. His motivations aren’t born from hatred or greed or any human desire, but from the need to feed and eventually the need to procreate. It’s just another show of his Otherworldly nature.

And let’s face it, he’s devious! It takes a special sort of evil to enjoy being an evil clown 24/7, and Pennywise does it better than the Joker. Yeah, you read that right. What are you going to do about it?

 

THE PERFECT FAMILY

(pick the perfect bookish family)

Well, they’re not from any books, at least not originally, but the Addams Family would be my perfect fictional family. You can guess why.

 

THE PERFECT ANIMAL OR PET

(pick a pet or fantastic animal you need to see on a book)

Although I’m against the breeding of white tigers (they’re a genetic abnormality and breeding them leaves the tigers with all sorts of genetic problems), White Blaze from the anime Ronin Warriors is a creature I always wanted. He’s a tiger and deadly towards his enemies, but he’s smart, kind and good with people. You could honestly have him babysit your kids, he’s that good. And in a fight against evil, you couldn’t ask for a better animal partner.

In fact, White Blaze might be part of the reason why tigers are my favorite animal. And it’s not hard to see why.

 

THE PERFECT PLOT TWIST

(pick a book with the best plot twist)

I won’t say what it was. But it left me reeling. Took me half the next chapter to realize the author was serious and wasn’t pulling my leg. Still the hardest a twist in a novel has ever hit me.

 

THE PERFECT TROPE

(pick that trope you would add to your own book without thinking)

Let’s face it, I love a cosmic horror twist. The idea of an entity that defies human conception, to the point it can drive us mad, excites me as a horror writer to no end.

 

THE PERFECT COVER

(pick a cover you would want on your own book)

I want a cover similar to this on one of my books someday. Either that, or something that disturbs just to look at it.

 

THE PERFECT ENDING

(pick a book that has the perfect ending)

My favorite endings in horror have the horror continuing on long after the heroes appear to have won. So if I have to pick one that’s a good example, I think I’ll go with Needful Things by Stephen King. Great book with an enigmatic and terrifying antagonist. If you haven’t read it yet and you have a stomach for horror, you might want to change that sooner rather than later.

 

I TAG THEE:

  • Priscilla Bettis
  • Iseult Murphy
  • Joleene Naylor
  • Ruth Ann Nordin
  • Matt Williams
  • YOU!!! (If you want to)

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Tomorrow, I finally start that essay, and then I start on a new short story. But in the meantime, what did you think of my choices? Any of them resonate with you? Let’s talk in the comments.

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Last year’s premiere of Castle Rock on streaming service Hulu garnered lots of attention and love from critics and from viewers, both longtime Constant Readers and folks unfamiliar with King’s work. When word of a second season reached fans’ ears, we got excited. Which Stephen King stories would they draw on? Would the showrunners make every season different, like early American Horror Story? Would the different stories be connected by more than just a common location, like later American Horror Story? Or would it be a continuing story with the same actors and characters, like every other TV series out there?

We sat down and watched ten episodes over the course of eight weeks. And while I can’t vouch for the rest of the fandom, I can say this season far surpassed season one.

Season 2 follows Annie Wilkes–yes, that Annie Wilkes–as she and her teen daughter Joy find themselves stranded in Castle Rock after a horrific car accident. They’ve come at an interesting time, as Castle Rock and Jerusalem’s Lot–yes, that Jerusalem’s Lot–are about to celebrate the latter’s four-hundredth anniversary, and the Lot’s growing Somali population are facing discrimination and threats of violence from the likes of Ace Merrill, nephew of pawnbroker and loan shark Reginald “Pop” Merrill. Annie just wants to have her car repaired and leave town before her past comes for her and Joy. But when someone finds out about who she used to be, events are set in motion that will bring not just Annie, but the whole town to the edge of sanity.

While Season 1 was more influenced by newer, weirder Stephen King, Season 2 was definitely more old-school King: visceral, terrifying, and at times very explosive. Drawing on elements from mainly Misery and Salem’s Lot, the storytelling is mixed with terrifying scares and fun twists (episode 7, am I right?). And even the things you see coming from a mile away (and there are a few) are told in such a way that you don’t mind seeing them coming. And you gotta love all the homages to and Easter eggs referencing King’s works, including a heartfelt tribute to The Body (aka Stand by Me) in episode 3.

Probably the best episode was episode 5, “The Laughing Place,” which gives Annie a new backstory. Honestly, I was a little unsure at first, but as the episode goes on, it just hits you with the weight of the story and the emotion behind it as Annie becomes the person she meets. Sure, Annie is changed from a metaphor for toxic fandom to a painful example of what untreated mental illness can do to a person, but here it works.

“The Laughing Place;” best episode this season.

The actors were also great. Lizzy Caplan’s Annie Wilkes is a wonderful forerunner to the character we meet in Misery, a woman trying to do right by her daughter even as she wrestles with demons that not even medication can fully contain. Tim Robbins (aka Andy Dufresne of The Shawshank Redemption) gives the character of Pop Merrill, in the books a greedy and scheming man, a human side with guilt and a history he’s trying to make amends for. Yusra Warsama is excellent as Dr. Nadia Omar, Pop’s adoptive daughter dealing with her world basically imploding due to what’s going on around her. And Barkhad Abdi and Elsie Fisher as Nadia’s brother Abdi Omar and Annie’s daughter Joy, respectively, give great performances as people trying to deal with their upbringing and at the same time move away from it towards something positive.

If there’s one thing I’m going to ntipick, it’s that I wanted to see more of John “Ace” Merrill. It’s not easy to explain this without spoiling anything, but basically we only get to see one side of the character for a single episode, and then it’s a different side for the next nine. And I kind of wanted to see more of that first side (though the second side is an excellent villain). Did that make sense? I hope it does.

Overall though, Castle Rock season 2 is a scary and tense thrill ride drawing from some of the best of King’s earlier works and then some. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving the season a 4.8. Sit down and buckle up, you’re going places you never imagined going before.

And while no season 3 has been announced, I feel it’s only a matter of time before we get word on that, so let’s start speculating. Which characters will come back? What stories will be drawn on?* And can I please get a commission to write an episode for the show? Only time will tell.

*I’m hoping The Library Policeman, Needful Things and maybe Apt Pupil.

What did you think of Season 2? What do you hope to see in Season 3?

This has been long overdue. But as promised, I am doing another post on anime I like. After all, along with horror, anime is a huge influence on me and my life as well as my writing (anyone who’s read Rose can see that). So with that in mind, I thought I’d do another post recommending some anime I’ve enjoyed recently and that I hope other people would like to check out.

If you’d like to check out my first list, click here.

And with that in mind, let’s get onto the recommendations!

Princess Tutu

At first glance, this anime seems like it’s something aimed at little girls. A duck is chosen to become a human girl, and then become a magical girl named Princess Tutu, who uses the power of dance to restore a prince’s lost heart. And admittedly, the first couple episodes are light-hearted and comedic. But as you continue on, it becomes clear that this is actually a dark and emotional anime about fate vs. free will. The characters soon begin to realize that there are sinister forces manipulating their lives, and it becomes a struggle not just to restore the prince’s heart, but if they should restore it, as well as to find a path that allows them to control the course of their lives.

This is the sort of anime where you’ll look back at the first episode after watching the last and be like, “Holy crap? Did that just happen?” It’s a roller coaster, a thought-provoking anime that uses dance to create emotional struggle and to explore the idea of who controls our destiny. If you want a surprising fantasy anime using a beautiful art form to tell its story, you might enjoy Princess Tutu.

Also, this is an anime I watched as research for Toyland. Just saying.

The Helpful Fox Senko-san

An overworked and super-stressed office worker comes home one day to find a fox spirit in the form of a human girl in his apartment. This fox-girl introduces herself as Senko, and says she’s here to take care of and pamper the office worker. Thus starts the office worker’s new, and hopefully more relaxing, life.

At first, I was not sure what to make of this anime, or why I kept watching it. But then I had a long, exhausting, stressful day at work, and I realized the reason why I was drawn to this show. We’ve all had days where life has stressed us out and we want to scream to the heavens about our exhaustion. And on those days, we really wish there was someone waiting at home for us at home to take care of us and make things better. Maybe not a magical fox girl, but someone. Senko-san taps into that, and gives us a scenario like that. And rather than making us overly jealous, it actually relaxes you a bit. You relax vicariously.

If you’re interested in an anime that aims to soothe you (or you’re into ASMR, like I am), I highly recommend The Helpful Fox Senko-san.

Digimon Tamers

A lot of people think Digimon is a knockoff of Pokemon, but in reality they’re just very similar products that came out around the same time in the 1990s. In fact, at some points Digimon was more popular than Pokemon! Another thing people don’t realize is, unlike Pokemon, the anime is made up of several different anime revolving around the same concept, like how there are multiple coexisting versions of Marvel superheroes with their own separate universes.* And Digimon Tamers is, by far, the best of the various series.

In this version of the franchise, Digimon are fictional characters with a TV show and card game, kind of like our world at the turn of the century. However, certain children come across real Digimon. Unlike on TV, however, these are violent and wild animals who enjoy the fight and the kill as much as they enjoy the human world. As time passes, it becomes clear that a secret shadowy organization is watching the Digimon and trying to stop them as they emerge into our world. And if these kids aren’t careful, they’re going to lose more than their new friends.

A darker take on the franchise, Digimon Tamers deals with the issues of what it’s actually like to have a connection with what is essentially a sentient wild animal that needs to kill its fellows to survive. It’s a slow burn story that grows more complex as time goes on, dealing with heavy psychological issues and even incorporating cosmic horror themes at times. If you want to see how a “kids show” can be more mature than some shows for adults, while at the same time evoking 90’s and 2000’s nostalgia, this may be the show for you.

*And for those unaware, the concept of Digimon revolves around children who befriend monsters made of computer data, and together they fight evil Digimon and try to maintain the balance of both the human world and the Digital World.

Flying Witch

Makoto is a young witch who moves out to the country to live with relatives. The goal is to attend high school in an area with plenty of nature while also nurturing her magic skills. Along the way, she makes friends, sees amazing sights, and collects a lifetime of memories.

Flying Witch is a relaxing, quiet anime that focuses more on interaction between its characters and making you laugh or feel good rather than building a big, magical world. The result is a mellow series that leaves you feeling relaxed while you watch it. If you’re just looking for something wholesome to melt your stress away, Flying Witch is probably the answer.

And trust me, it’s worth it just for the “Mommy” joke in the first episode.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Madoka Kaname is your average middle school girl. That is, until she saves a mysterious creature from a transfer student in her class, and the creature offers to grant her one wish in exchange for becoming a magical girl and fighting evil entities known as witches. While at first it sounds like a great deal, Madoka soon learns that every wish comes with a price. And for some, it’s too much to pay.

Considered a classic of anime, Madoka Magica is a dark take on the magical girl genre, showing the psychological toll of trying to be a savior of humanity at the tender age of 14 can do to a girl. Combined with masterful twists and storytelling, beautiful backgrounds and trippy imagery, this is an anime that’s still being talked about today.

If you’re looking for an anime to surprise you (or you want to see one of the other anime I watched as research for Toyland), I can’t recommend Madoka Magica enough.

Cells at Work

You know that movie, Osmosis Jones? Imagine an anime version that’s a thousand times better, and you have Cells at Work, which portrays an anthropomorphized world full of cells working together in a human body as their city.

This series has been lauded for its accuracy as a portrayal of how blood cells actually work (albeit from a whimsical side) and has even been used as a teaching tool in universities around the world. Plus, it’s just fun to see a hapless red blood cell hanging out with a ruthless white blood cell, platelets portrayed as small kids going around and building things, and watching bacteria getting the shit kicked out of them.

Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms

This is one of the most Ghibli-like non-Studio Ghibli films I’ve ever seen, and I mean that in a good way. Maquia is part of the Iorph people, a tribe of long-living humanoids with blonde hair, blue eyes, and youthful appearances. One day, after a powerful kingdom invades their homeland and Maquia is separated from her people in the ensuing madness, she comes across a human baby whose mother has just died. She adopts the child, and soon begins a journey that will change the both of them forever.

While I have some problems with how the movie explains the world it’s set in, I have to admit this is a beautiful tear-jerker of a film. It captures the struggles of parenting beautifully, while also adding in the pressures of being an eternally young mother. At the same time, it deals a lot with identity, extremism, and the things people are willing to do to survive. It’s a powerful film and may make you cry. If you prefer your anime more heartwarming and Ghibli-ish, I can’t recommend Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms enough.

Gonna be the Twin-tail

A parody of magical girl anime, Power Rangers, and the hairstyle of twin pony/pigtails (aka “twintails”) which shows up in 80% of anime, this is one of those anime meant to make anime lovers laugh!

A high school boy with a thing for girls with twintails is approached and tasked with a humongous task: aliens are coming to Earth with the goal of stealing the world’s twintails and other attributes that cause physical attraction! Why? Because they feed on that sort of thing, apparently! And this young man must stop these aliens from messing with his beloved twintails…while at the same time transforming into a redheaded girl with twintails named Tail Red.

Yeah, this series is weird. But for anyone who’s been around the anime scene long enough, it’s basically a goodhearted laugh at what makes most of us keep coming back to the medium. I wouldn’t watch it if you’re looking to explore anime for the first time. But if you’re already into the scene, and you need a lighthearted laugh, Gonna be the Twin-tail is the series for you.

 

What anime do you recommend? Have you seen any of the ones on this list? What did you think? Let’s discuss.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ll have more posts out soon, believe me (though it may be another 6-8 months before I do a list like this again). And until then, goodnight and pleasant nightmares!

I normally don’t do introspective posts like this. You know me, if it’s not something horror or writing-related, there’s a good chance it’s related to an issue near and dear to my heart, such as disability rights and awareness. But I found out today that there’s only 45 days left of the year, and it’ll be even less once you’re reading this post. And that’s significant, because it’s not just the end of 2019 that’s approaching, but the end of the 2010’s. And that’s crazy to think about. An entire decade is ending in just over a month and a half.

So I’d like to take a bit of time and write about my thoughts concerning the ending of 2019 and the 2010’s.*

And a lot can be said about either subject. For 2019, I’m going to argue that the best things about this year were in terms of entertainment. Think about it: Avengers Endgame, The Lighthouse, Us and the fourth season of Lucifer. They were all amazing! And the rest was pretty much cringe-inducing (I won’t say anymore on that lest I break my rule about commenting on politics and certain current events).

But it’s hard to deny that it’s been a tough year, and a tough decade to boot. Depending on who you ask, things either started out good and got worse over the years, or things started out bad and got better. Or a couple other answers, but those are the main ones, I think. However you saw the 2010’s, it’s been a decade of profound change. Technology became faster and more efficient, more ubiquitous and necessary to our lives. Many peoples became more divided because of beliefs, or backgrounds, or a hundred other reasons. Leaders have changed, and with them the policies of various nations. The need to protect the environment has become stronger, and we’ve taken steps forward and backward to address that. Pop culture took radical shifts too, with horror gaining a new, hard-won respect it previously never enjoyed, and Marvel became the movie powerhouse that DC has always been. Streaming has become the new frontier. And more media is being created every day to reflect our increasingly diverse society, with much of it making into the mainstream. All along lots more remakes and reboots and sequels than anyone wanted or needed.

In short, lots and lots of change.

The 2010’s were a decade of change for me as well. Quite literally. I started the decade as a high school student who thought I had a cushy after-school job selling basketball tickets and that I was going to be a bestselling author by the time I was 25. I graduated high school, went to college and dealt with all the growth and crazy and learning that comes with it. I went on a study abroad trip, moved to my first apartment, and graduated again. I went to Germany for an internship, and then came home for the nadir of the decade, where I dealt with a horrific job search and back pain. I finally got my job and my old place. My health improved, though at some point I did develop a nasty anxiety disorder. I visited haunted locations I’d always dreamed of visiting. I got my driver’s license and my car.

At some point, I stopped being a kid and started being an adult. And along the way, I found this amazing community of writers and bloggers and readers and published books and short stories along the way, including Rose this past summer. It’s been kind of crazy.

And for the most part, the decade was good. Yeah, there were some bad times, but the good are what I remember the most. Mostly because the good was the result of my own hard work and perseverance.

And as the new Roaring Twenties approach (hopefully they’ll be roaring because they’re fun, and not because of nuclear missiles being launched everywhere), there’s something we should all keep in mind. I know the future seems bleak and scary. Believe me, all I have to do is look at the news to be reminded of that fact. But we have the power to make good things happen. I’ve seen amazing things happen just through sheer effort. And when you take a step towards what you want to see in the world, you’ll see the world come together to help you along.

So as we end this year 44 days from now and enter a new decade, just remember to keep your chin up. You have the power to make the changes you want to see. And when you take those steps, you’ll be amazed at what you accomplish.

Well, this post is getting super long. I’ll cut off here and say see you Thursday at the latest. Until next time, my Followers of Fear, pleasant nightmares!

*Normally I’d reserve this sort of post for New Year’s. However, I’ve noticed that, probably because of the holidays, those posts don’t get that many readers. So I figure I might as well get my thoughts out now before we’re all caught up in our personal lives and can’t spare any time to read blog posts.