Posts Tagged ‘thriller’

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.

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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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Before I give you the news I hope you’re all eager to hear–the latest on my novel Rose, which is to be published by Castrum Press–I want to first share something I was told recently. Now, I’m not sure if this is true and I haven’t been able to find any corroborating evidence, but according to someone I talked to online, in the first draft of Carrie by Stephen King, Carrie actually grew horns and sent bolts of electricity from her eyes at some point in the story. This was later dropped during the revision process of the novel.

Okay first off, I kind of want to see that version of Carrie, not just in book form but in movie form as well (I still maintain that the 2013 film is the superior adaptation, and you know the horns and lightning bolts would’ve looked awesome in that film). Second, it shows that even King’s works, including one of his greatest, require extensive revisions. And that made me feel a whole lot better about the revisions I have to do for my own story.

Now, if you’re unfamiliar with Rose, it’s a novel I’ve been working on since my senior year of college, when I wrote it as my thesis project. It follows a young woman who finds herself turning into a plant creature (and that’s just the start of her problems).

I’ve mentioned before that my publisher asked me to do nix the many flashback sequences in Rose, essentially throwing out one-third of the book, and another third that was dependent on that first third. Although I was understandably more than a little disappointed about that, and it even brought my mood down quite a bit at times, I decided to try and find a new direction for the story that didn’t rely so heavily on flashbacks. Somehow, after a lot of head-scratching and extensive use of a method of brainstorming I’ve been wanting to try for a while (I’ll write an article about it for Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors soon enough), I managed to find a new direction and plot for Rose that I thought made for a good supernatural thriller.

I sent a new outline for the story to my publisher, and just today they got back to me. I was really worried that they might not like the new direction, but the tone of the email was really enthusiastic. They just asked me to keep in mind some things about chapter length and a few other things, and wished me luck.

I can’t tell you what reading that feedback did for my confidence. The closest I can get to is by saying that it felt like a weight had been lifted off of my shoulders.

And since I’m on vacation for the first third of June (not going anywhere, I’m just having a relaxing stay-cation at home), now is the perfect time for me to get back to work on Rose. I plan on getting through at least the first seven chapters of the novel, and then start on the new material for the novel. All that, along with more than a few blog posts I’ve been wanting/meaning to write for a while, and of course the normal stuff one does while on vacation (sleep, watch TV & movies, read, hang out with family and friends, run errands, have tea and scones with a succubus you’ve been seeing on another plane of reality, etc.), should keep me pleasantly occupied during my vacation.

So as you can see, Rose is still coming along. It may take some time, but I still think we can get the book out before it starts to turn chilly again (though in my state, that can happen even in summer). And I think when I get it done and on the shelves, it’ll surprise more than a few people. Especially those who’ve read earlier versions of the story.

That’s all until morning, my Followers of Fear (got another post I need to work on after I’ve gotten my much-needed sleep). Until then, pleasant nightmares. I’ll see you soon.

I talk a lot about my writing career. Not just on this blog, but everywhere else: when I was at school, at social events, at wherever I happen to be worshiping (usually it’s at a synagogue, but occasionally I’m at other places), when I’m hanging out, and of course, at work. I’ve mentioned to more than a few people at work that not only am I a writer, but I’ve told them that Rose is getting published by a publishing company. The vast majority of people I’ve talked to about it have been very excited to read it, even if horror is not their normal genre (though I think Rose would be more classified as a supernatural thriller at this point). It really boosts my mood when people say that, and makes me want to be an even better writer.

Today, a coworker from another office and I passed in the hallway at work. She asked me about updates on Rose, and I told her that my publisher was hopefully going to get back to me this week about some revision suggestions I’d made. She got that “how cool!” look on her face and told me to keep her informed. She then dropped this on me: she’d been telling her kids about me, as I was proof of success for “following your dreams.”

Well, this really got my thinking. I mean, I’m flattered and all, but do I really deserve to be called an example of following your dreams? To my coworker, I probably am. After all, to non-writers, getting the book accepted by a publisher counts as living the dream. But to me, I haven’t accomplished my dreams yet.

That’s not modesty on my part, I’m just not sure I can say I’ve reached my dreams. At least not at this point. My dream has changed over the years, from being the next JK Rowling to the next Stephen King to just being able to make a living off of writing and maybe writing full-time, which is where my dream is that today. And I’m not there yet by any means. I still work a 40-hours a week job to pay my bills (sometimes longer if I have to stay late to finish up certain projects). And while Castrum Press wanting to publish Rose is a big step in the right direction, the book still has to come out.

I guess what I’m saying is that I’m still following those dreams. I’m still working to make it so that I’m in bookstores, to get lots of people to actually want and look forward to reading my books. And I say “books,” because it’s probably going to take several books, if I’m very lucky, to be able to write full-time. It’s rare for authors to be able to write-full time, and even rarer just after the first book. If I somehow manage to make that happen, then hooray. But at the moment, that’s still several years in the future.

I guess I’m still chasing my dreams. Right now, I’m on the right track, and I’m an example of how hard work, lots of revision and rejection, a bit of backbone, and a Plan B if you don’t happen to be one of those overnight success stories (aka employment) can pay off a little. But of successfully chasing your dreams? Well, we’ll see where I end up in the next few years. Fingers crossed it’s a better place than where I am now, even if I’m still not writing full-time.

On an unrelated note, you remember how in my last post, I talked about getting a statue of Cthulhu? Well, my boss took a look at it this morning and okayed me to keep it in the office. To which I say, “Yay! Now I can really start turning my workspace into a den of horrors!” But seriously, it’s nice to really be able to personalize my workspace in such a way. Before now, it really didn’t have that much to say, “Oh, this is totally Rami’s desk. You can just tell by looking at it.” There’s a lot of rules to how one can decorate their workspace at my job, so being able to just have Cthulhu there is a big deal for me. Perhaps in the future, I can also put some other cool stuff around my desk to really help me feel at home while I work.

Until then, I’m cool with just Cthulhu. Besides, he looks so cool there, doesn’t he? I think he does, anyway.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. Thanks for letting me ramble on about this stuff. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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