Film Review: Don’t Breathe

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Don’t Breathe is a breath of fresh air in the stale home invasion theme in horror. The story is bare bones simple and that is one of the things that makes it most compelling. Director Fede Alvarez (Evil Dead, 2013) has crafted a terrifically tense film, co-written with Rodo Sayagues (also Evil Dead, 2013 with Alvarez). The direction is smooth and seemingly flawless, and every frame looks gorgeous, even with the crumbling decay of the setting.

Reviews like this one are difficult to present, mainly because the film depends so heavily on not knowing much when you walk through the door, so I’ll only give a quick rundown of the basic plot. Three thieves in Detroit try to rob a blind military veteran who may or may not have a large stash of cash. And they soon discover that taking on a blind guy isn’t as easy as it sounds. Do yourself a favor and try not to read any spoilers before seeing this film.

The rasping, rage filled blind man, is played to menacing perfection by the awe-inspiring Stephen Lang (the bad guy in Avatar). The other main characters, the tough-as-nails Rocky (Jane Levy, Evil Dead, 2013, and Suburgatory, 2011), the cautious Alex (Dylan Minnette, Goosebumps, 2015), and the gleefully reckless sleazeball Money (Daniel Zovatto, It Follows, 2014, and Fear the Walking Dead, 2015) are all great, amoral characters that are certainly not model citizens, but, before you know it, you still find yourself rooting for them.

I would have thought that the entirety of a film set within one small house would have been boring after a while, but that thought evaporated about halfway through the story. Don’t Breathe is a scary, brutally violent 88 minute thrill ride that will keep you on the edge of your seat. Fresh and imaginative, I give this a nine out of ten gravestones. See this one, Deadies!

GOODNIGHT MOMMY

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Greetings, Deadies!

Rarely does a horror film come along that has people ta

lking, AND is deserving of all the buzz.

Goodnight Mommy is such a film.

I was suspicious when I saw all the online chatter about it. As usual, it took me MONTHS before I saw it – not that I didn’t want to, but anyone who knows me knows that I live in something of a “hostile environment” when it comes to horror movies. The translation? My wife is NOT a horror fan.

I have to fit horror movies in whenever I have the house to myself – which does not happen often. At least not often enough to fit in the tremendous backlog of films I have yet to see!

I hear John Carpenter’s THE THING is pretty good.

Kidding! In a future post, I am going to focus on that classic, and show off one of my most prized nerd possessions relating to the movie. T.D. Trask knows what that possession is…

Stay tuned, Deadies!

Back to Goodnight Mommy.

Hospitalized with apparent cosmetic surgery, a mother comes home to her twin boys, who are rather shaken by the bandages covering her face. Her once playful, loving manner appear to also be hidden, as she isolates herself in her bedroom to recover. When she becomes impatient and angry with the boys after they ply her to interact with them in the way she used to, they become increasingly convinced that the woman underneath the bandages is NOT their mother. No spoilers here, but the boys suspicions escalate, and the second half of the film takes a MUCH darker tone.

The film has a cold, “Kubrickian” feel to it, which is intentional and serves to mirror the emotionally distant relationship between the boys and their mother. That sam

e detached quality augments the harrowing events leading to the film’s controversial conclusion, like an unblinking eye, forced open to absorb every frame of the horrific finale.

Goodnight Mommy lives up to the buzz generated on the interwebs. In fact, I consider it to be a modern classic of the genre. True, you’ll have to read subtitles, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying an excellent – and chilling – horror film.

But don’t tell your mother how much you enjoyed it!

 

 

 

 

 

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MISTER WHITE

 

WHITE

 

Let me go right ahead and recommend this book to you.

Let me also go right ahead and remind you that everything comes at a price.

Read MISTER WHITE. But be warned – this book will take something from you. Your time? Absolutely. But that time will be well spent. This book has higher aims.

It will take a piece of your soul.

There will be no negotiation. MR. WHITE does NOT negotiate.

But MR. WHITE has his generosities. Here’s what he WILL promise:

You will be treated to one of the best horror novels of the year. That horror novel will feature spies, international intrigue, and at the center of its dark heart: icy horror and soul-ruining devastation. You will be treated to a visceral vision of Hell not experienced since the early works of Clive Barker. You will endure suspense on levels you never thought possible in a horror novel. Your stomach will likely turn as these dark delights are revealed.

But as horrifying as they are, and as hard as you might try, you will never forget them.

MISTER WHITE follows the story of Lewis, a CIA operative who asks a most unfortunate question:

“Who is Mr. White?”

From that moment on, a series of grisly horrors follows Lewis in his desperate attempt to reach his family, who he learns is in just as much danger as he is from the terrifying and elusive entity known only as Mr. White. While on the run, Lewis discovers clues to a government conspiracy that branches into a terrifying darkness beyond this world.

MISTER WHITE is the debut novel release from Grey Matter Press, known primarily for their genre redefining short story anthologies since the small publisher first opened its doors in 2013. Written by author John C. Foster, based upon a short story of his that shares the same title, MISTER WHITE hooks you from the first page and never lets go until the last sentence of the final chapter!

I never thought a horror novel/international intrigue thriller could ever endure a mash-up, (let alone having ever heard of one before) but MISTER WHITE effortlessly pulls off the feat, seamlessly integrating elements of both in a way that never feels forced or inauthentic.

If I’m honest, I have to confess that some areas of the plot frustrated me, particularly in regard to the ending, but I can’t share the specifics in this review without spoiling it. On the other hand, as a reader I enjoy being challenged. What I can tell you about the ending is that it is powerful – and memorable.

And it WILL take something from you. A little piece of your soul. And maybe – just maybe – a bit of your sanity as well.

Venturing into the dark corners of MISTER WHITE’s hellish world comes at a price.

DO speak his name, however! Tell everyone you know.

MISTER WHITE is a horror novel you need to have on your shelf.

Thanks for reading, Deadies!

 

 

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Film Review: What We Do in the Shadows

What_We_Do_in_the_Shadows_posterWhat I prefer to review are those films that really impress me with their writing, overall quality and visual style, yet may not be familiar to the average viewer. I like discovering films that I had previously overlooked or dismissed outright, and realizing I was just being kind of a dick about them.

This is, however, NOT the case with this review. I knew I wanted to see this one right out of the gate. Why? Because it takes all of the lore of vampires and makes fun of the entire batch. This is a hilarious film that I recommend to everybody, and no one seems to want to see. Deadies, this one is golden!

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vladWhat We Do in the Shadows is a mockumentary about a group of vampire roommates in New Zealand. We are introduced to the main characters, Viago, the fussy neat-freak, Vlad, the vampire haunted by ‘The Beast’, Deacon, the youngest of the set who just wants to be the ‘cool’ one, and Petyr, the 8000 year-old Nosferatu look-alike. The film documents the vampire’s everyday existence, from who is supposed to clean the dishes, to going out on the town to find fresh blood.

As the film progresses, you meet several side characters who are as involving as the main characters. Nick, the newest vampire they all find annoying. Jackie, the familiar, who is striving to be allowed to become a vampire. The Werewolves, a pack of irritating guys just begging to be antagonized. Stu, Nick’s friend, who introduces the vampires to the internet and everyone seems to like.

The film reviews and highlights each of the major facets of vampire lore in great detail, and shows each one in the funniest light possible, like mistakenly striking the main artery. At the climax of the film is the Ball, a grand party of vampires, werewolves, zombies, and whatever else you can think of that would fit. Vlad is distraught because he knows The Beast will be there.

I’ve seen this film three times now since last year, and I have to say any film that makes me laugh every time, even when I know the joke is coming, is worth savoring. What We Do in the Shadows co-stars, and is written and directed by Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, co-creators of the HBO hit series Flight of the Conchords, so you know the comedy chops are there.

Plus, I’m happy to say, there’s a sequel of sorts in the works, this time focusing about werewolves. We’re Wolves is supposed to be filmed next year, last I heard. I can’t wait.

I say, let’s nail the stake through the heart of so many vampire stories. Watch this one and laugh your ass off, Deadies! Ten out of ten gravestones!

Horror Short Films 2: Short Filmier

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Greetings once again, Deadies!

In my first post about short horror films, I talked about how the short form – in both films and in fiction – is not dead.

In fact, it’s thriving. You just have to know where to look.

Fortunately for short films, there’s YouTube. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. The challenging thing about that is sifting through the roughly 1.8 kabillion (I’m guessing – pretty sure that’s a real number, though) videos on the site, without getting distracted by the plethora of Red Bull swillin’ dudes doing stupid shit or adorable cats doing adorable stuff (SO MANY ADORABLE CATS!).

Fortunately, for us fans short on disposable time, other YouTuber horror fans have done a great deal of the sifting for us! You can also type in a few key words and see what rises from the depths, but I’m a lazy sumbitch.

One of the films I intended to include in the last post was this little gem. THE BIRCH is just flat-out COOL. To say anything about it would risk spoiling it, so I’ll just get out of the way and let you enjoy…

 

Pretty great, right?

And how about those special effects? Impressive, especially for a short film with  a limited budget.

 

THE WHISPERER is pretty cool, too. Not as impressive as THE BIRCH in terms of story, but it’s directed very well, and it’s pretty damn scary! It’s only a few minutes long – check it out and see what you think…

 

I HEARD IT TOO is excellent. A real gut punch to the soul…

 

BEDTIME is terrific. Based on an idea found on Reddit, this film is a fantastic take on the whole monster-under-the-bed story. Enjoy!

 

In my last post about short horror films, I included one called THE SMILING MAN. The one below shares the same title, but is an entirely different film. This one I saw a while back, and I’m including it because it’s just so fucking WEIRD. Because of this, it gets under your skin in a different way than the other films in this post. Enjoy it – but you may want to rethink those late-night neighborhood strolls from now on…

 

SKYPEMARE is the longest of the bunch, but it’s still short enough that you could probably sneak it in before the boss catches you, not that I’m advocating that sort of thing. A great little horror short that surprised me in more ways than one!

 

Pretty cool, right? I thought it was clever and fun and scary – as good horror should be!

Well, Deadies – that concludes this little visit to short film land. I hope you had fun – I know I did! Let’s do this again real soon. I’ll sift through YouTube and see what I can find. If you’ve seen some good ones, share the titles with me in the comments section! I’m always up for a bite-sized horror snack! Gotta go now – the boss is coming!

Not sure why he’s carrying a knife

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HAPPY ENDINGS, PART ONE

I had a bit of a mind-rattling, keep-me-awake-at-night kind of thing happen to me the past few days. Being a writer, I depend upon my computer on a daily basis. Really depend. So last week I got up at my usual time in the morning and did my writing, then went to my other job. I got home that night and turned on my computer to check emails.

As the screen came up, there was my greatest fear. Most of my apps were gone, and worse, all of my files. About 60k worth of writing disappeared for no reason. The next day I took it to my computer repair guy. I wait for a call the next day about whether or not I still have any of my writing found, but nothing. So Saturday I stop in first thing once they’re open.

He found nothing wrong with my computer. I took it home, thinking I was going to have to replicate the first 20k of my next novel, horrified at the setback. I was distraught, sleepless, and more than a little unnerved.

However, my stepson, Pete was visiting us for the weekend. He’s a long haul truck driver who lives in Georgia. Pete is a very bright guy. He’s kind of like a protagonist in one of my stories, except that he has never been chased by a serial killer and rarely stalked by a werewolf. He knows a lot about a lot of things, and has lived all over our great country. This guy has had many different jobs and hobbies. He also knows computers. So after about two hours of me fumbling through different ways to get back my information, I break down and ask Pete for suggestions.

He worked at it for about an hour, and found some unusual things in it. He asked me questions about what exactly happened when I turned on the computer that terrible, fateful day.

Then he said, “I think it may be because of an update has somehow screwed up your computer. I know an IT guy who may be able to help.”

Remember, this is on a Saturday afternoon.

He texted said IT guy.

It all boils down to this. When I bought the computer, it had Windows 8 loaded onto it. I finally gave in and updated it to Windows 10. Fast forward about a year. An update came out and essentially corrupted my profile, forcing all my saved apps and information to be dropped into a deep, dark hole of my hard drive. After following the IT guy’s instructions, he found my files. I saved the files, copied them a half dozen times, and then reset the computer.

Happy ending, the best I could ever have hoped for. No loss of writing, no buying a new computer, and best, not having to pay a cent. End of kind of boring story that has the happiest of endings.

But I’ve been in a reflective mood the last day or so, thinking about happy endings. As a horror writer, I don’t normally write stories that people expect to have happy endings. In fact, most times, happy endings don’t work well in them.

Everyone who reads fiction or watches films always roots for the main characters and hopes for a happy ending for everyone involved in the story. The white ending. But given the very nature of horror and dark fiction, happy endings come only in gradients of gray. Some endings are as pitch black as a moonless midnight in a tomb. This is horror, not a fairy tale. No happily ever after, and I’ll tell you why.

Even though we hope for the best in a story, we know inside ourselves that the best is unrealistic and unreachable. Most of the time, given the constructs of horror, we want a bit of something we can believe in the unlikely situation. The little bit of realism scratches an unknown itch within us, and weirdly enough, satisfies the itch.

What is a white ending? How about most comedies? Pillow Talk or Pretty Woman or any of a couple hundred romantic comedies? Really, Pretty Woman? The rich businessman rescues a hooker with a heart of gold from a terrible life? How fantastic do we want our endings? I’ll admit, it is an entertaining film, but let’s not convince ourselves that it is in any way realistic, except in the construct of comedy. Want to make it real? The hooker ends up dying from an overdose with a number of STDs. But that is horror, not comedy.

The black ending? Think Se7en, the “What’s in the box?” scene. That was one wickedly memorable moment, and the ending, though totally awful, was completely satisfying, at least to me. I can’t think of a better way to end that entire storyline, and I wish I had been the one to write it.

And there are grades of happy endings all along the way in film. Rocky, the original, for instance. Rocky doesn’t win the match. He loses. What makes the ending a happy one?

He goes the distance and proves to himself that he is not a bum.

He reached the goals he set for himself, and that is what makes it a dramatic happy ending. Somewhat realistically.

And that is what makes it satisfying.

As I have more thoughts about happy endings in film and literature, I’ll return to the subject. See you next time, Deadies!

Why Horror?

I get asked that question a lot.

Most of the time, vocally. The rest of time, people just give me that strange, judgmental look.

You know the one I’m talking about.

Whether you write horror fiction, or you’re just a fan of the genre, you’ve gotten that look. It’s a look that says, “What’s wrong with you?” or “Why do you like that stuff?”

Because it fucking ROCKS, that’s why!

Fans of heavy metal (I count myself among you) get the same treatment. Any genre that our society doesn’t generally accept gets regarded with a certain amount of animosity. Horror fiction, horror movies, heavy metal – exist on the fringe. Fans like us are the “outsiders.” The freaks. The weirdos.

We’re the ones that have a morbid infatuation with death. We worship Satan, crave violence, cheer death, praise serial killers…

I  know, right? That’s how “mainstreamers” regard us! You’re right – they don’t get us.

Even if you were to explain that, no – we aren’t presidents of the Ted Bundy Fan Club, and actually, we don’t high-five each other over the horrors found on the internet and the evening news. Even your confession of fainting at the sight of blood won’t likely register much in the way of sympathy from the mainstreamers. To them, we’ll always be the sickos their preconceived notions tell them we are.

After DEADSVILLE came out, members of my extended family (folks who are definitely NOT horror fans) got in touch to say they read the book – and enjoyed it!

I know – they’re relatives. They’re supposed to say that. No argument here. However, they all had one particular comment in common. It struck me because most of the readers who WERE horror fans had the same comment. I have to paraphrase, but it boiled down to this:

“[The stories in DEADSVILLE] were not what I was expecting.”

Reading through the reviews, (and in our online and in-person conversations) Terry and I could clearly see that we had exceeded the expectations of BOTH groups – the established horror fans, and the relatives who had never read (but knew they didn’t like) horror fiction.

The fans didn’t expect the twists or the stories to to be so unique, in that we didn’t rely upon established (recycled) concepts and plot lines. (Thanks!) The non-fans didn’t expect that horror stories could be well-written. Or stories! Their mind-set was blood and body parts everywhere, character and plot secondary or missing entirely. (Thank you! We’re happy to shatter your preconceived notions!)

I write horror because I find it to be the perfect backdrop for exploring the human condition. In the genre, all emotions are valid. I’m not saying that in other genres emotions are somehow less valid, but in horror fiction you’re creating characters that are dealing with all sorts of monsters and madness, and with that much adrenaline being injected into their systems, those characters discover who they really are. Plus, it’s damn good fun to unleash a demon or some other hellish monster and watch what happens to the humans in our fictional worlds! If the story works well, it’s like a mirror – a reflection of the real world. When those characters reveal what they’re made of, we often see what we’re made of!

Sometimes, perhaps, we don’t like so much what we see in our reflection.

Sometimes, there’s a monster staring back at us.

So – why horror? Why write it, why watch it?

Because good horror is always more than the sum of its bloody, dismembered parts. It can be literary. It can be emotional. It can be funny. It can be mashed-up with other genres. Fictional horror helps us deal with the real-life horrors that surround us every day.

Because if there ever is a monster staring back at us in the mirror, we need to know how to take that thing on!

Thanks for reading, Deadies!

For more information on DEADSVILLE, click on the image below…

 

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Film Review of Green Room

Green Room

I’m a lucky guy, I suppose. Two terrific horror films in one week. I know I caught a bunch of flak from those who disagreed of my assessment of the last film I reviewed, but oh well. I call ‘em the way I see ‘em.

But on to the real bit of fun. Green Room is an imaginative and totally enjoyable film from the director of the acclaimed Blue Ruin, Jeremy Saulnier. The premise is a deceptively simple one. A punk band, the “Ain’t Rights”, plays a gig at a neo-nazi club and witness a murder. After witnessing the murder, they are trapped in the club. The twists and turns of the plot are ingenious and numerous.

The late Anton Yelchin, Chekov in the latest Star Trek movies, plays one of the lead characters, and does a terrific job. The entire cast does a good job maintaining a desperate tone to the film, but the stand out in my eyes is the great Patrick Stewart as Darcy, the leader of the group. You can tell he ate up this role and enjoyed every evil nuance of his character, and comes off as surprisingly believable.

Darcy has a whole lot to lose if he lets the band get away, so there begins a very suspenseful and violent clash between the two groups. Let’s just say that the band shows much more resilience than what anyone expects. I won’t give away much more than this because I’d love to have you Deadies check this one out for yourselves. It’s a fun and tense film that you won’t soon forget.

8.5 gravestones out of 10.

Mongrels

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Werewolf stories, as with zombies and vampires, have pretty much been played out – strip-mined beyond recovery, their once seemingly inexhaustible appeal now a barren wasteland of recycled plots and sparkly frenemies.

So when I heard Stephen Graham Jones had written a werewolf novel – novel!! – I was understandably… excited!

Having become familiar with SGJ’s short story collections, (The Ones That Got Away and After the People Lights Have Gone Off) where he kept me joyously off-balance with a broad range of superbly-crafted tales of horror and darkness, I was eager to grab a copy of Mongrels, excited to see what he could do with monsters whose wolf costume had worn thin and more than a little shiny along the flanks.

I have to confess to being apprehensive about the word ‘novel’ associated with werewolves. What I mean by that is, this horror sub-genre seemed so played out, that I wasn’t sure if ANY author could successfully pull off an entire novel about werewolves these days!

Happily, my concerns were abated pretty much after the first paragraph or so, as I was immediately invested in the main characters, an adult brother and sister (who just happen to be werewolves) raising their nephew, who may or may not be one of them.

The novel is told from the boy’s point-of-view, and follows his story for roughly ten years as he travels the southern US with his aunt and uncle, (werewolves are nomads, for obvious reasons) the trio living hand-to-mouth in crumbling, abandoned trailers, working odd jobs and stealing and conning their way back and forth across the South, looking for a better life that they know they can never truly have.

It’s a coming-of-age story, reading more like a literary novel than horror, but don’t forget for a minute that this IS a horror novel. Actually, you can’t because SGJ reminds you of that fact with little punches of unsettling detail distributed throughout the book, ranging from descriptions of the horrific transformations to the dispatching of an owl (in a spectacularly grisly fashion!) to a cop’s belt – with no cop in it.

Mongrels alternates between past and present events, following the young boy’s transformation from childhood to manhood as he yearns to belong, either in the world of werewolves or in the world of humans. The novel has a Southern noir feel, depicting werewolves as ragged, desperate outsiders pursued not only my men who discover their secret, but by other werewolves bent on keeping their culture secure – even if it means attacking their own kind.

Stephen Graham Jones is a gifted wordsmith, weaving a tale with equal parts humor and heart, interlaced with moments of sheer terror as the boy and his family struggle to not only stay together, but stay alive in a world that’s becoming increasingly dangerous.

Mongrels is easily one of the best books of 2016. It might just be the best werewolf novel ever written! Just as he kept me off balance so often with his short fiction, Stephen Graham Jones does that and more with this book. I didn’t know what was coming next, I only knew that, right from the first page I was enjoying the journey.

Mongrels would make a terrific little indie film as well. I don’t know if any producers have bought the rights, but don’t wait around for the movie – get the book today and “wolf out” on a truly great read!

Thanks for reading, Deadies!

Film Review of Hush

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Take a home invasion premise, strip it down to the bare bones, and what you get is this taut little film. Hush is one of the most bare bones films I’ve ever seen, but that doesn’t mean that the film is bad. On the contrary, this is one helluva suspense film, and I’ve seen a lot of them.

Kate Siegel plays Maddie, a deaf writer who has isolated herself in her rural home with her cat. Okay, admittedly, this sounds like a bit of a stretch, but if you can accept that premise, the rest of the film will be a tense rollercoaster ride. John Gallagher Jr. plays the Man, a sadistic masked killer who fancies himself a terrific tormenter, and discovers Maddie. What follows is 87 minutes of nail-biting cat-and-mouse between good versus evil. Just try not to pass out from holding your breath.

I hesitate to go into too much detail, but let me just say that it surprised the hell out of me. I’d never heard of the film before, and now I want to urge every horror film lover out there to give this one a try. Yeah, you’ll be screaming at the screen, but in a good way.

Director and co-writer (with Kate Siegel) Mike Flanagan does a terrific job building suspense and not letting lapses in logic fly beyond belief. This director has another film out soon, called Before I Wake, and apparently has been announced to direct Gerald’s Game, from the Stephen King novel.

Nine and a half gravestones out of ten. Catch it on Netflix streaming, Deadies.