Posts Tagged ‘thriller’

As many of you know and as the below video demonstrates, I’m a huge Friday the 13th fan.

Yes, that was me with my Jason Voorhees hockey mask. Shouldn’t surprise any of you that I have that.

And as many of you know, I HATE the remake that came out nine years ago. Seriously, what was that film? It was like the director and writer started making a porno because they hadn’t gotten any action lately, added a bunch of swearing and dirty humor to hide it as a raunchy comedy, and then added Jason just because they couldn’t get studio support for the comedy. But what do you expect, when Michael Bay is producing?

Obviously, I would like for a better Friday the 13th film to come out. So I was intrigued when a friend told me about Never Hike Alone, a Friday the 13th fan film that has gotten some good press. And with the day off from work (we’re observing Veteran’s Day today), I decided to watch it and see if it was as good as said.*

Holy shit, why haven’t I heard of this before? That was great!

Never Hike Alone follows Kyle McCloud, a vlogger who records his hikes on his GoPro and then uploads it to YouTube. He goes hiking in the Catskills and comes across Camp Crystal Lake, abandoned and dilapidated due to years of neglect. Exploring the ruins of the camp, Kyle expects only to find some pieces of history that have expanded into a famous ghost story. What he ends up finding is that some legends are very grounded in reality. Especially when they involve Camp Crystal Lake.

First off, I love how much this looks like a professional production from a major studio. From the camera work to the buildings around Camp Crystal Lake, it’s so well done. I also thought the storytelling in this film was par excellence. Using a minimalist approach to focus exclusively on Kyle’s experience, it creates this suspenseful cat-and-mouse mood. For the first half of the film, you’re on the edge of your seat, expecting Jason to appear in frame at any moment. When he finally does make a move, the film smoothly transitions to this thrill-fest as Kyle tries to survive Jason. And while there is plenty of violence, it’s never overly sensational or stupid, but just enough to give the necessary scare. There’s also only a little swearing, and absolutely no sexual or drug content, which I was thankful for.

I guess Womp Stomp Films, the studio who produced Never Hike Alone, also took one look at how those elements were misused in the remake, and decided to go the opposite route. Good call.

The only major issue I have was that the last scene, which goes on about seven minutes, could’ve been cut a bit shorter. I mean yeah, there’s a cool little cameo at the end, but other than that I would’ve preferred five minutes of it be cut so that it didn’t drag.

Other than that though, Never Hike Alone is a great tribute to the Friday the 13th franchise and a possible view as to where the series could go in the future. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a well-deserved 4.5. Atmospheric and suspenseful, you’ll find this satisfies you until we get an actual good film from the franchise, should that ever happen.**

If you’re still unsure, take a look at the trailer below before going to check out the full film on YouTube. Trust me, it’s an hour well-spent.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m not sure when I’ll be posting again, but until I do, I wish you all some wonderfully pleasant nightmares.

*I would’ve waited till the next Friday the 13th, but that’s not till September next year, so I’ll have to settle for Monday the 12th.

**And if that ever does happen, with or without Lebron James, I hope they take example from this film on how to make a good Friday the 13th film. And maybe let me help write the new one. I’ve a few ideas on how to bring back my boy Jason, and none of them involves bringing him to Manhattan.

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“It’s a movie about Nazi zombies.” From that description alone, you’d think you’d know Overlord inside and out. After all, this subject’s been done before, and it’s usually pretty silly, overly gory, and focuses on some buff action-hero types who cut through the zombies with guns and on as many cheesy deaths as possible. But then you hear JJ Abrams is involved. And that it’s gotten a 81% score on Rotten Tomatoes. And His Royal Scariness Stephen King praises it on Twitter, comparing it to the early work of Stephen Spielberg.

I went to go see it with my cousin today, expecting it to be just as predictable as the movies that came before. What we got instead, to our surprise and delight, was an above average and atmospheric horror film.

Overlord follows Ed Boyce, an African American soldier who is part of a special mission to facilitate the D-Day landings in France in WWII. His unit has to destroy a Nazi radio tower in a converted church in Normandy so the Germans can’t radio for support during the D-Day invasions. However, when they get to the town, they find something weird is happening there. Civilians are being dragged into the church, and those that do come out seem to be changed, and not for the better. Boyce and his unit soon realize they’ve discovered a dark plot that could change the course of the war. Unless they stop it.

As I said, this isn’t what you’d expect with a movie involving Nazi zombies. In fact, the zombies don’t feature as heavily as they might’ve in another film. Rather, director Julius Avery decided to focus more on the horrors of war and the creepy atmosphere, rather than sensationalized gore and violence. And it is effective. Everything, from the war-torn town to the blood and gore, look incredibly realistic. Very little CGI is used, which only makes things more authentic and visceral. I especially liked the Nazi base of operations underneath the church. It’s use of shadow, space and overabundance of creepy and bloody medical equipment reminded me of some of the scariest parts of the video game Outlast.* And as I said, there is an attention to the horrors and privations of war and atmosphere that you really do feel without the zombies being present.

And when the zombies do show up, God are they scary! They’re slimy and bloody, they move spasmodically and growl like animals. The fact that they aren’t overused especially helps.

I also found the cast very believable. True, I couldn’t help but think “It’s Fitz from Agents of SHIELD” every time Iain De Caestrecker’s character was on screen, flawless American accent or not. But other than that, you really do believe these actors are these characters. Jovan Adepo is especially good as Private Boyce, who is affected every time he sees someone die or has to kill someone. You believe this guy is going to be haunted for years to come.

One critique I do have for Overlord is that it does get a bit predictable at the end. I mean that’s fine, it’s a great finale, but you could still see where the film was going to go at that point.

All in all though, Overlord is a good horror film and a much better film than you’d expect. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.4. Unnerving and powerful, it’ll stay with you for a while after you’ve left the theater. Take a look and see for yourself.

*BTW, if you haven’t played or watch someone play Outlast, I highly recommend you try it. Just be careful though, because that game is enough to leave me shaking.

Your protagonist is faced with a terrible choice. Whatever choice they make, they’ll be gaining one great thing but losing something else that’s equally important to them. Which one do they choose? Why can’t they have both? And is that even a possibility?

Sound familiar? This is actually a pretty common trope in a lot of fiction, the “Two Big Life Choices” trope. And I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest fan of it, at least in theory. I see its use, but as the title of this post indicates, the trope has its limits.

Let’s quickly go over it with a hypothetical example, shall we? You’ve got a character, a protagonist who has a big life choice set ahead of them and they have to make a choice soon. Let’s say it’s a young man who is given the chance to be the leader of a powerful mafia clan. His parents, friends and the clan itself want him to take over the clan, and saying no could lead to consequences for him, his parents, the clan and many innocents. On the other hand, he has a girlfriend and child that the former doesn’t know about just because of all that drama, and he wants to stay with them. Problem is, if he accepts the leadership position, he’ll have to leave his family forever to keep them safe. Which will he choose?

This is the Two Big Life Choices trope. And you’ll find it in many different places throughout fiction. Most recently, I found it in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina on Netflix, and that inspired this post.

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has a great example of this trope in its first few episodes.

But as I said, this trope does have its limits. To be specific, while in able hands the trope does create for some strong tension and storytelling while the protagonist goes back and forth between their choices, it will eventually lead to a choice being made. Otherwise, the audience will lose interest with the constant hemming and hawing.

In our hypothetical example, the protagonist could choose to join the mafia clan, destroying his relationship with his girlfriend and child, as well as hardening/numbing all of them to everything that happens from here on out, but allowing one of the most powerful mafia clans in the story’s world to survive under a strong leader. On the other hand, he could give up the mafia clan and run away with his family, leading to his happiness but the dissolution of the clan or it being passed to a leader who will hunt him down for leaving the clan in the lurch, which means they’ll be on the run for the rest of their lives.

You can see where my problem with this trope comes from.

Sometimes though–not every time, but sometimes–there’s a third path to take. This is when the protagonist actually decides to defy convention and take both options or neither one, forging an entirely new road. In the case of our hypothetical story, the protagonist could demand that since all the other options for clan leadership suck, he’ll take the job but only if he’s allowed to marry his girlfriend and raise his child with her under the clan’s protection. This could lead to all sorts of interesting conflicts as the protagonist deals with the strains of trying to be a husband and a father while at the same time dealing with the demands and politics of leading a powerful mafia clan. And for many audience members, this could be the most wished-for option, even when it doesn’t seem all that likely.

Conversely, the protagonist could decide “screw it” on both options and just run in the exact opposite direction, but I’ve never seen that option employed and I have doubts about the quality of the story if it is used. Or the quality of the character.

The managa Nisekoi uses this trope very well, especially in the final arc.

Now, despite its limitations and while I’m not exactly a big fan of this trope in theory (which might limit how much I use it in my own fiction), I do admit that when done right in practice, it is amazing. One story that uses this trope extremely well is the manga Nisekoi, where the “Big Life Choice” is the protagonist trying to decide between two girls he has feelings for in the final chapters of the story. I freaking loved that manga, and looked forward to every single one of its twenty-five volumes. Another great example is the above-mentioned The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, where this trope is a driving force through the first couple of episodes of the first season. And as we can see from the show’s critical reception, people (and this half-human demon lord) love the show and can’t wait for Season 2.

So yes, while this trope does have some limits, it can make for some fun storytelling. The thing to keep in mind while using it is, beyond an interesting set of choices for both character and audiences, keeping the drama and tension high while at the same time keeping it from being melodramatic, as well as figuring out how best to handle the drama that ensues once the choice has been made.

If you can do that, you might just have the makings of a very engaging story. One that can last quite a long time, and will have fans for years afterwards.

What are some good examples of the Two Big Life Choices trope?

Do you use the trope in your own work? What tips do you have for using it?

When this film was first announced, people weren’t sure what to say. They were especially wary after hearing that a comedy director was helming the film. But then Jamie Lee Curtis and John Carpenter, two of the people who were such instrumental parts of the original Halloween’s success, signed on for the film, and people thought this could be something. And then the trailer for Halloween dropped, and it became a contender for Horror Film of the Year. Today I went with a friend to see if this was worth all the hype.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Halloween film we’ve been waiting years for.

Taking place forty years after the original film’s events in 1978, Halloween erases all the previous sequels and sets a new course (so yeah, Michael’s no longer related to Laurie Strode). Laurie is a mother and grandmother still living in Haddonfield but extremely shaken by her experiences as a teen and has lived her life preparing for a possible reunion with Michael Myers, at the expense of her relationship with her daughter. Michael, on the other hand, has been in custody for all these years, and is about to be transferred to another, much harsher facility. Of course, the night he’s being transferred, on October 30th, he escapes. Thus begins a night of terror as Michael makes his way back to Haddonfield for another night of terror.

I think this film’s greatest strengths lie in its storytelling and its cast. Rather than going for an overly-loud approach like the Rob Zombie remakes, Halloween instead goes for a more human approach, focusing more on Laurie’s relationship to Michael and to her family and how Michael continues to influence the Strode family and vice versa. At the same time, it weaves in a strong suspense story that knows how to show its kills. Many kills are only shown off-screen, after they’ve occurred, or from the victim’s perspectives. The ones that are shown on-screen are for the most part the ones that have maximum effect on the audience, and believe me, they will leave you shaking. Add in a few surprising twists and some great callbacks to the original Halloween and you have quite a thrill ride.

And yes, Michael is portrayed as menacing and as hard to penetrate as he was in the first film. Thank God they didn’t try to humanize him like they did in the sequels and in the remakes.

And as I said, the cast is extremely strong. Curtis returning as Strode is given a significant role, which gives her plenty of room to show off her acting chops. She’s believable as a woman suffering from PTSD.. You get the sense from her that Michael is always with her, even if his physical form is in chains and behind walls. Judy Greer as Karen, Laurie’s daughter, does a great job of portraying a woman who is trying to have a normal life after a pretty messed-up childhood and wanting better for her family. I liked watching the character at first trying to be the antithesis of her survivalist mother, insisting the world is a nice place full of love and goodness at one point,* and then completely changing after realizing her mother was always right and did everything out of love for her. And Andi Matichak is a great new introduction as Allyson, Laurie’s granddaughter who wants a relationship with her grandma despite the latter’s problems. You see her sort of go through Laurie’s journey from the original film, albeit with a few changes. If there are sequels,** it’ll be interesting what changes her character goes through and what she’ll be put through.

I can’t think of anything in particular that the film does wrong. Some of the humor in the film does feel a little out of place, like it doesn’t belong. I laughed at it, but still.

All in all though, Halloween is a great return for the franchise and its silent lead. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.4. Buy yourself a ticket, and prepare yourself. This Halloween, you’re going to be scared.

*Apparently Karen doesn’t watch the news that much.

**Yes, they do leave some doors open for sequels. Not going to say how, but they do.

A couple of years ago, I binge-watched the first (and at the time, the only) season of a Canadian horror TV show called Slasher. The show billed itself as an anthology horror series geared more towards slasher fans, so basically American Horror Story with a lot more blood and gore. I reviewed it after I finished it (which you can read here). If you don’t have the time to read it though, let me summarize my thoughts: I thought the first season was intriguing with a great mystery and practical effects, but was horribly hampered by a seriously derivative story and a wooden lead. Also, the killer’s outfit was the definition of impractical.

Based on that, I figured that if the show was to get a second season, the people behind it would have to do a loooot of work to make sure the show didn’t get slashed off the schedule. And with no news of a second season a year later, I guessed the show was done for.

That is, until I saw an ad for it on my Netflix. Yeah, apparently Netflix picked up the show as one of their Originals, and decided to give it a second season (love it when they do that for shows that deserve another season. #LuciferOnNetflix). I decided to give it a watch, and see if they fixed the problems from season one.

Holy shit, did they improve!

Subtitled Guilty Party, season 2 follows five former camp counselors–Peter, Andi, Dawn, Noah and Susan–who accidentally murder a fellow counselor after confronting her for being a total psychopath and then bury the body. Five years later in the midst of winter, they return to the camp grounds, which have since become a small New Age commune, to destroy the counselor’s body when they hear a new resort will be built nearby, possibly leading to the body being discovered. Unfortunately once they get there, they inevitably get stranded there, and a killer starts picking them one by one. But who is this killer? With everyone there having secrets, they’ll have to be careful who to trust, or everyone may end up dead.

So as I said, this show did improve with the second season. For one thing, while the story does take influence and even has callbacks to previous famous horror and slasher stories, especially the Friday the 13th franchise, it’s nowhere near as derivative as the first season was. It works with an extremely tense story that keeps you on the edge of your seat for the whole eight episodes. You never know where the next twist or death will come from, and when they do hand one to you, it just makes you ask the same questions over and over again. And even when you think you know, there’s still a twist ahead to get you. It is a thrill ride, to say the least.

I also have to give props to the actors, they did a very good job. I sympathized with a lot of them, even as I learned just how deep some of their sins (there’s this one character who I felt was a lot like me. I was really disturbed by how deep his darkness went). And even those I didn’t sympathize with, I could not distinguish between the characters and the actors. That’s how good they were.

And ooh boy, was this thing scary! I mentioned how tense it was, but some of what happens to the characters who get caught by the killer* or who finds themselves in a similar jam. They do not skimp on the physical or psychological torment, and it will affect anyone watching it (I still flinch when I think of one particular scene).

All that said, the season did have one problem: there were a couple of characters who showed up for just a single episode, and very out of the blue, too. I feel like if you’d written those characters out of those episodes, there would still be ways to tell this story without sacrificing tension, pacing or anything else.

But all in all, Slasher season two is a monumental improvement over the first season. Intense, twisty and full of memorable characters. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving the second season a 4.8. I cannot wait for the upcoming third season (yes, that’s happening. I wonder what they’ll do for it). Pack some winter clothes, give it a try, and see for yourself.

Who knows? You may even survive the encounter.

*Who I’m pleased to say is appropriately dressed for the work and the weather. No impractical costumes this time! Though if they did wear a hockey mask, this would be a much better Friday the 13th film than Michael Bay’s shit remake. That’s right, I found another way to diss that trash movie! Your film sucks, Bay! It sucks!

You know, I’ve never reviewed a proper Stephen King story on this blog before. I’ve reviewed plenty of adaptations of his work, but never any of his actual stories. Probably because I’ve either gotten to them too late and so much time has passed that doing a review seems silly (which is true with the vast majority of his bibliography) or I didn’t feel there was enough to talk about to actually write a decent review (such as Gwendy’s Button Box, co-written with author Richard Chizmar). So I’m glad I’m finally able to review one of his books here. And this one is something else: it’s his latest novel, The Outsider.

The Outsider follows Ralph Anderson, a detective in the small city of Flint City, Oklahoma. The novel opens with Ralph and his fellow officers arresting Terry Maitland, a local teacher and boys’ baseball coach who is beloved by Flint City, for the horrific murder of a young boy. The state’s case seems ironclad: there’s not only eyewitnesses, but a ton of physical evidence linked back to Maitland. But soon after the arrest, evidence arises to cast doubt on Maitland’s guilt, and it’s just as ironclad. The contradiction in this case leads to a domino effect as Anderson and his allies try to figure out if the beloved Coach Maitland is hiding a darker personality, or if someone else, someone darker and worse, is at large in the town.

Now before I go into my review, let me just say that this book shares a few characters in common with King’s Mr. Mercedes trilogy, and contains a few spoilers. So if you haven’t read those books yet and would like to be surprised, probably hold off on this book until you’ve read those.

So I have to say, I came away very satisfied with this story. I like how King starts out with this novel seeming like a regular thriller-mystery: he shows the arrest, switching between the action and then showing interviews and documents from the investigation. The Outsider continues in this vein for a little while, but then goes in a different direction that defies your expectations so far. From there it develops into a compelling and strange read with some great characters. I especially liked Holly Gibney, who comes from the Mr. Mercedes trilogy. She’s neuro-atypical, like myself, but is shown to be an integral part of the investigation and makes certain leaps that, without her, the other characters might never be able to. It’s a very real portrayal of someone with disabilities, and I related to Holly on a number of levels. I love those sorts of portrayals of neuro-diverse people in fiction, and I hope to see more in the future.

But probably the novel’s greatest strength is just how hard it is to put down. King takes mystery, the strange, great characters, and much more to make a read that’s hard to put down. Normally I’m able to restrain myself to reading during my lunch break or on weekends, but this novel was so good, I found myself reading it late into the evening at times (which helped me to get to this review today).

That being said, The Outsider does have its issues. One of the biggest ones is that we’ve seen a lot of the concepts used and explored in the book in other King novels, and frankly done better there. I won’t say what, but they’re pretty obvious, and every time they came up, I kept thinking to myself, “This feels like a lighter/duller version of insert-story-name-here.” That, and I felt that the climax could’ve been a bit more epic. It was decent, but I felt it was hampered by too much exposition on the parts of the characters and the story’s villain, who is humanized a little too much (that makes more sense if you’ve read the book). Which, unfortunately, lowers the terror factor with a creative villain that could be as scary as some of King’s other famous villains. I was disappointed about that.

Overall, The Outsider is an entrancing and powerful read, subverting your expectations and leaving you wanting more. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving it a 4.6. Check it out, and get sent down a mine shaft full of the strange and the unsettling.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’ve got my own novel to work on, so I’m going to get on that this evening. Until then, pleasant nightmares!

It’s hard to believe that a number of things are happening today (believe me, I’m still pinching myself). But among those things, one of them is something I’d like to bring up here, and that’s today is the fourth anniversary of the publication of my second novel, Snake, the cover of which is over there.

Now if you’re unfamiliar with Snake, let me tell you about it. I was between books in the Reborn City series, and I wanted to write something a bit closer to my native horror instead of some more sci-fi. I’d had an idea a while back, partially inspired by the movie Taken and slasher films of the 1980’s, and spent about six months writing it in 2013. The result was Snake, which was published June 10th, 2014.

Here is the blurb on the back cover of the novel:

How far will you go for love and revenge? When a young man’s girlfriend is kidnapped by the powerful Camerlengo Family, he becomes the Snake, a serial killer who takes his methods from the worst of the Russian mafia. Tracking down members of the Camerlengo Family one by one for clues, the Snake will go to any lengths to see the love of his life again…even if it means becoming a worse monster than any of the monsters he is hunting.

I was pretty nervous about this novel when it came out. While it was one of the easiest for me to write, it was also one of the most violent stories I’d ever written, and I had no idea what people would think when they read it. Also,– I was still a college student, fresh off my first trip to Europe, and had only just become legally able to drink in the United States, so I was wondering if people would notice how inexperienced a person I was with the story.

To my delight though, people who read the book tended to enjoy it. At the moment, it has seven reviews on Amazon, with the average rating a very nice 4.4 out of 5. Here’s what some of them had to say:

I really enjoyed this book. When I selected “dark” for the mood, it was almost a toss up with suspenseful. You knew early on who the mafia killer was, but the question of how he was going to find his girlfriend and rescue her was suspenseful. I ended up choosing “dark” because of the level of violence our main character used in getting to the girlfriend. But he was a complex character. Even though he definitely had the dark side to him, there was a surprisingly good side to him, too. You don’t really see this until later on in the book. So early on, you might think this is an unredeemable character. But one of the most intriguing characters are those who aren’t what they initially seem, and for this reason, I enjoyed this character. The pacing was just right. It wasn’t rushed, and in no way did I ever feel it dragged, which is awesome for a book that was over 500 pages in paperback.

This book is violent, and it contains sexual situations. Some of it can be cringeworthy. So I wouldn’t suggest this for young readers. I’d recommend this only to adults. If it was a movie, it would be a strong R. There’s also swearing. These things don’t bother me as a reader, but I know it bothers some, which is why I mention it. But if you don’t mind these elements, I think you will enjoy this book. It’s a great thriller.

–Ruth Ann Nordin, author of Marriage by Contract

A very good read. The mixture of horror and suspense were on point. I now want to read more of Ramis great books.

–Sherri

Rami Ungar makes a promise to (the reader) in all his writings: he WILL scare you, and if he does “his job is done.” Snake will scare you. I am a huge Stephen King fan, so this should give you some idea of my tolerance level for gore, death and mayhem – I was scared. Rami takes you into places you would never have believed possible, and manages to pull his hero (and eventually his heroine) out of them against all odds. If you like to be scared. If you LOVE to be scared. You should read this book.

–Angela Misri, author of Jewel of the Thames

Being compared to Stephen King always makes me giddy.

Anyway, this novel still has a special place in my heart. It was a real form of experimentation for me in terms of writing with violence, writing thriller fiction, and writing a sex scene (that didn’t get cut out of the final draft), among other things. And I’m still open to returning to that story and writing a sequel someday. Maybe two, depending on a number of factors.

And if you’d lie to check out Snake and maybe see if it’s up your alley, I’ll include the links to check it out below. And if you do decide to get a copy and read it, please let me know what you think. Positive or negative, I love receiving feedback from readers, and if you leave a review on Amazon or another site, it helps me in the long run by letting other people know what you think and helping them decide whether or not to check out the book.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I have a big day ahead of me, so I’ll talk to you all later. Until next time, pleasant nightmares.

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