Grey Matter Press: The Terrifying Toddler of Publishing



2013 was a hell of a good year for horror fiction.

That’s the year I picked up a copy of Dark Visions, Volume 1 – the debut horror anthology from Chicago-based Grey Matter Press. Right away I was reminded of the terrific anthologies of the 80’s – many of which were edited by the late great Charles L. Grant – with one key difference:

This one was even better!


The writers involved were mostly unfamiliar to me, as was the publisher, but once I finished the book I was already tracking down more of their work, and I was eager to read more from Grey Matter Press, impressed by not only the quality of the writing, but the appearance of the books, which were flawlessly produced, featuring high-quality artwork on the covers and superb interior design. On the shelf or on your Kindle, it was clear that this new small publisher meant business, and was determined to run with the big dogs. Or werewolves – this is a horror blog, after all!

Grey Matter Press was founded by editor Anthony Rivera, who (thank God – or perhaps Black Phillip?) grew weary of the advertising biz, and in 2012 pursued his true passion – dark fiction – and started Grey Matter Press. Together with co-editor Sharon Lawson, the duo began cranking out one great anthology after another, quickly becoming horror’s Lennon and McCartney, earning accolades from readers and writers alike, as well as nominations for the prestigious Bram Stoker Award.

A couple of my favorites from their early collections are worth noting, as I feel they serve as excellent examples of the quality of the stories Grey Matter publishes. “Release,” from Dark Visions 2, is simply the best zombie story I’ve ever read! Wholly original, and deeply – profoundly – disturbing. Written by Peter Whitley and Jane Brooks.

“Violence for Fun and Profit,” by Gregory L. Norris, appears in Splatterlands: Reawakening the Splatterpunk Revolution, shatters a well-established truth about this blood-soaked horror sub-genre: that the stories are thick with gore, but thin on plot and character. Luckily, Grey Matter Press readers can have their cake AND eat it too. Just make sure that cake is nailed down good and tight before reading this one! To say more would spoil the fun, suffice to say it involves a killer for hire who REALLY enjoys his work!

What these two stories have in common is originality, and you’ll find that in buckets with GMP.

                DREAD: A Head Full of Bad Dreams – their recently-released “best of” collection – is a must-read whether you’re new to Grey Matter’s offerings, or an established fan. Read this one and you’ll understand precisely what I’m talking about in terms of quality and originality. A few of my very favorite stories from this book inENDclude Rose Blackthorn’s “Through the Ghostlands,” “Amnion,” by John Everson, “Mister Pockets,” by Jonathan Maberry, and “Wormhole,” by J. Daniel Stone. Every story in this book is excellent, and you’re likely to find yourself reading them all more than once – they’re that good!

My favorite anthology published by Grey Matter is a single-author release – John F.D. Taff’s The End in all Beginnings, a collection of five novellas. I should add the word ‘brilliant’ to that description, because this book is easily on my Top 5 All Time Favorites List!

Mr. Taff’s work transcends genre, proving that horror fiction can be literary, that it can earn its place in the world of “respectable” writing. First, the guy writes beautifully, his prose vivid and sharp – like a high-quality chef’s knife. And he knows how to use that knife, folks! His words bring his stories to life through well-crafted characters and the haunting landscapes where they reside. Then those words turn on you, and he uses that knife to gut you, to expose your heart before ripping it out and showing it to you! All in the most beautiful of ways.

John’s short stories can be found in several Grey Matter Press anthologies. Read any of them and it’s easy to see why he’s nick-named The King of Pain. His stories leave a mark!

I’m looking forward to more of John’s work being published by Grey Matter Press. PerhapsWHITE

we’ll see a future novel of his appearing under the GMP logo soon!

The good news is that Grey Matter Press is now publishing NOVELS!

Earlier this spring, the Chicago-based publisher released its first novel, and it’s every bit as unique as the anthologies that came before it.

MISTER WHITE, by author John C. Foster, is described as a “dark thriller,” and it’s every bit of that and more. It’s part Robert Ludlum, part Clive Barker – tightly coiled around a plot that involves spies, international intrigue, and the terrifying Mr. White, a mysterious and particularly deadly entity whose name you do not dare speak. If you do, God help you.

Actually, God can’t help you. You see, Mr. White has a habit of destroying those who speak his name in a variety of ghastly ways.

I would tell you more, but trust me – you’re going to want to read it for yourself. I never would’ve thought the horror and spy genres could endure a mash-up in any way that was remotely credible, but this page-turner expertly blends the genres, delivering a superb dark fiction novel that thrills as brilliantly as it chills!

Based on these past few years, I’m excited for what the future holds for Grey Matter Press. Barely a toddler, to use John F.D. Taff’s description, Grey Matter Press has already achieved more success in a few short years than most small publishers ever dream of, if they’re lucky enough to survive this long at all.

So pick up one – every single one – of Grey Matter’s books. And be sure to write a review. Small publishers – even successful ones like Grey Matter – stay successful because of support from their readers. So review, and share your thoughts across your social media. Make note of the stories that really thrilled you and give a shout-out to the authors! Trust me – we absolutely depend on reader feedback in order to get noticed by publishers such as Grey Matter Press.

Shop the Grey Matter Press website store or Amazon for all their titles, and look for their new anthology, I Can Taste the Blood, featuring five new novellas from authors John F.D. Taff, Josh Malerman, J. Daniel Stone, Joe Schwartz, and Erik T. Johnson! The collection releases August 23rd, 2016.





A Writer You May Never Have Read…But Should


King, Straub, Matheson, Campbell, Simmons, McCammon, Barker, Poe, Lovecraft, Shelley, and the list goes on. These wonderful writers have been providing chills and sleepless nights for years now, but I want to spend a brief moment to talk about one of the classic writers of the macabre that you may not have known about or read.

MR James b. August 1, 1862 d. June 12, 1936

Montague Rhodes James. He is widely considered the granddad of the modern ghost story. If you have a mind to, pick up Ghost-Stories of an Antiquary and read through it. I was first introduced to MR James when I was in junior high school. Through the years I’d find a story by this writer and, upon reading, it would never fail give me that sense of being in some study, smoking a pipe, drinking brandy in front of a crackling fireplace at midnight while the story was read to me with intense fervor. To me, that was the best way to read ghost stories, snug in the relative safety and comfort of a dark study where the macabre could sneak in unseen and unexpected. And that was the way that MR James started.

MR James was a scholar, a devout Christian, and a teller of frightening tales that professed that the stories meant nothing except to entertain. Any genuine reader, or a writer, of horror, should be checking all his stories out. If for nothing less than the entertainment value and to awe at the sheer imagination that went into them. Sure, the language and stories may be dated and sound stuffy when compared to our present-day short attention span standards. But damn, this guy was GOOD!

To believe that he did it completely for entertainment value is more than a bit naïve. In other words, I believe that is BS. He worked so strenuously and long on his stories that I don’t believe it could account for the driven nature of his fiction. I believe that he actually had incidents in his life that conflicted with his religious beliefs, and this conflict became an annoyance that produced these pearls of terrific stories. Any true connoisseur of the supernatural story should know this writer.

MR James stories for those who have never read him:

Canon Alberic’s Scrap-book

Lost Hearts

Number 13

The Ash-tree

Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad

…and any other story of his you can get your hands on.

A word of warning. These are not action-packed stories with fast-moving plots. This is an Old English style of telling stories. Give them a chance to do what they were designed to do. Scare you.

For those of you who like your ghost to wear a bed sheet, I present the MR James British classic 1968 classic drama, Oh Whistle, and I’ll Come to You. It isn’t as faithful to the story as I like, but the feeling is there. The film is less than forty-five minutes, and it’s cool. And yes, I know, it is in black and white. Philistines. 

For those of you who would prefer to listen to the actual story being read (my personal favorite way to get the chills) is here. Turn the lights down low. Also less than fifty minutes.

And for those who want a bit more on the subject about MR James’ fascinating life and why in particular he wrote his ghost stories, here is an entertaining documentary (1995). Less than an hour, and it’s also cool.

Have some fun discovering new stuff, Deadies.





I know – this is a horror blog.

So why on EARTH am I using up space on this page talking about a sci-fi action film?

The answer is simple.


And I’ve been been dying to talk about the movie, so I figured what the hell.

I’ve been a Star Trek fan since my big brother Don sat me down to watch the original series with him back in the early 70’s. The show was in reruns then, on its way to cementing its legendary status within pop culture and sci-fi circles. The Saturday morning animated continuation of the series was still on the horizon, (I own that on DVD in a sleek white box) and the first feature film was still years away, but it was clear even then that Trek, despite being canceled, wasn’t going away any time soon. The reruns of the original series flourished on TV for decades. Gene Roddenberry’s “Wagon Train to the stars” was towing a helluva lot of passengers, and they could be found in the hundreds of Star Trek conventions that were popping up all over the USA. As with Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone, Trek was now so ingrained in the lexicon of pop culture it was now Americana.

Over the years, Trek spawned not only a highly-successful, if uneven, feature film series, new TV series arose to slake the unquenchable public thirst for more journeys to where no one has gone before. I remember literally shaking with excitement as Star Trek: The Next Generation debuted in 1987. Even now, I was all aflutter watching the recent teaser trailer the latest incarnation of the series, the forthcoming Star Trek: Discovery.

I’ve been equally giddy over the feature films as well, trekking (sorry) to the theater to see every one of them beginning with Star Trek: The Motion Picture in 1979. They were an uneven lot, but when the films got it right – oh, boy – did they ever get it RIGHT. Star Trek: TMP may have been a boring slog of a thing, but 1982’s Wrath of Khan hit a high-water mark that just may never be equaled!

The prime lesson from the early Trek film franchise?

If Star Trek is going to work on the big screen, the movies need to be action-oriented. The purely exploration themes that Roddenberry preferred over fisticuffs and phasers were better suited for the television plots, although an argument can be made when considering episodes such as “The Space Seed” from the original series, or “The Best of Both Worlds” from The Next Generation. Those stories were intelligent and action-packed.

Which brings me to the latest Trek film – STAR TREK: BEYOND.

Now, if you’re one those Trekkers that just doesn’t care for the J.J. Abrams “reboot-iverse,” then you probably will hate the movie. Just like you hated Into Darkness and the first one. I personally don’t understand the vitriol leveled at the new films, but hey – that’s your thing. If you don’t dig it, you don’t dig it.

For those of you who have liked the “reboot-iverse,” you’re going to enjoy Beyond. It’s a better movie than Into Darkness, and just like the ship Kirk and crew use in this one in place of their beloved Enterprise, it’s a stripped-down hot rod of an adventure, not surprising given the film’s director, Justin Lin, who helmed three movies from the Fast and the Furious franchise. The sharp script, written by Simon Pegg (Scotty) and Doug Jung, brilliantly captures the family dynamic that the original cast and characters shared. The action is punctuated with humor and heart, and despite the villain being a bit generic and almost beside the point, Idris Elba gives dimension and plenty of menace to the character.

Star Trek: Beyond has a lot in common with Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, only with a more balanced approach to the action and humor. This being the “reboot-iverse,” there’s also an excellent opportunity for the film-makers to correct a rather large mistake (my opinion) from the “Shatner-verse,” and that issue gets handled pretty ingeniously, (again, my opinion) paving the way for the remainder of the films for this current version of the Star Trek film franchise.

This being the 50th anniversary of Star Trek, Beyond is loaded with Easter eggs that both the casual fan and hardcore Trekkers alike will have fun discovering. There’s also a touching tribute to Leonard Nimoy, and a haunting acknowledgment of the tragic passing of Anton Yelchin, who did such a great job portraying Chekhov. We’ll have to wait until the next film to find out if Paramount continues the character with a replacement actor, or (please God NO!) writes off Chekhov altogether.

Either way, the stage is set for more Star Trek adventures on the big screen.

I’m on board for the continuing voyages of the starship Enterprise. I hope Paramount Pictures has their phasers set to FUN.

Thanks for reading, Deadies!

Next post will DEFINITELY be about horror.

Until then…

Live long, and prosper!

Film Review: LIGHTS OUT

Lights Out is a fun little film about those things that you can only see in the dark. Director David Sandberg’s scary-as-hell short film was done so well that he got signed to do the major motion picture, and he did it well. If you want, take a look at the original short film. Don’t worry, it’s only about 2:42 minutes and won’t give away anything about the film.

By the way, check out Dale Elster’s terrific post about short horror films. This one is there, as well as some frightening new films to help you get your creep on.

Now that you’ve seen the short film, imagine that as an entire ninety minute picture. From the opening the viewer gets exactly what they paid good money for, jump scares on screen and the feeling that even in the darkened theatre, no one is safe. There is a surprisingly decent story, and the actors are all uniformly good and believable. Maria Bello is terrific as the mentally ill mother, as are Teresa Palmer as the spunky, troubled daughter, and Gabriel Bateman as the constantly trembling Martin.

Unfortunately, about an hour into the movie, I was getting tired of seeing the same old creaking floors, doorknobs rattling, and silhouettes in the shadows. There is little variety in the frights. True, there are some very fine jump scares, but the same scare over and over again got wearing for me to the point I could see them coming.

But the point that kind of ruined it for me most was one silly little abnormality in common sense and logic of storyline. The back story about how the bad entity came to be in existence was, well, in my mind at least, ridiculous. I won’t give out any spoilers, because I believe Lights Out still merits a watch. Watch it in the dark for full effect. And you can fully expect to see sequels in the future.

So Deadies, I give Lights Out full film 7 out of 10 headstones. The short Lights Out film 10 out of 10.





What follows is what I believe to be a relatively spoiler-free review of Stranger Things. If, however, you haven’t seen (binged) the show yet, and want to know as few details as possible, here is my quick-and-dirty, positively spoiler-free review:



I trust you folks are already headed for your remotes and La-Z-Boy recliners, ready to watch (binge) the show.

For those of you who haven’t seen the series, but don’t mind learning a few (as spoiler-free as possible) details, read on. For those of you who have seen the show – welcome! – and please feel free to add your thoughts to the comments section below.

In the new Netflix series Stranger Things, the eighties are back – and not only due to the show being set in 1983.

Stranger Things is a throwback to all the things that made TV and movie pop culture back then great. In the eight episodes that comprise Season 1, you’ll find all manner of nods, tributes and tip-your-cap howdy-do’s to Stephen King, John Carpenter, James Cameron, The X-Files (OK – 90’s show, I get it) author and screenwriter Dan O’Bannon, (who gets a character named after him) Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott – the list goes on. Even the excellent theme music is reminiscent of John Carpenter and Tangerine Dream.

What’s great about all that stuff is that, behind all this love-letter praising of artists and movies of that era, is a very solid and well-executed storyline. The scripts are clever and fun, the acting is first-rate, and the directing is terrific, rife with the above-mentioned stylistic cues from so many legendary directors that flourished in ththings2e eighties.

The overarching plot is about a young boy who goes missing one evening after a Dungeons-and-Dragons campaign with his three equally-nerdy pals. In the pre-credit sequence, we see a scientist being pursued by some kind of strange, unseen creature, and we can only assume the poor D&D player has also fallen victim to the monster.

The rest of the episodes revolve around the boy’s distraught mother, the town’s alcoholic sheriff, and the other three D&D-playing buddies as they all set out on independent missions to find the kid. As the series evolves, an assortment of government baddies led by Matthew Modine (ask your parents about his 80’s resume) is also eager to find the lad, albeit for their own nefarious purposes.

Enter “Eleven,” a little girl with a shaved head and destructive telepathic and telekinetic powers that are reminiscent of Stephen King’s Charlie from his novel Firestarter. She – and her powers – are discovered by the misfit boys during their search, and, well…. stranger things ensue.

The show features monsters and mayhem, and while the series is reminiscent of past works by the above-named authors and directors, none of it is a rip-off of their work. The show feels fresh and authentic despite its pre-internet setting and derivations, and it’s a helluva lot of fun to watch!

At only eight episodes, the series never comes close to wearing out its welcome, as there are no filler moments, let alone filler episodes as it breezes along toward its monster-filled, dimension-bending conclusion.

And it’s a satisfying conclusion, effectively wrapping its first season and leaving you wanting to see more. Netflix has already granted fans that wish, and I can’t wait to see what series creators (and directors) the Duffer Brothers come up with next. They are a couple of interesting guys! The series, while paying tribute to their creative heroes, also looks like the greatest fan-film ever made, in that there is a raw quality to the style of the episodes due to what I can only assume was a low production budget. And yet they pull it off brilliantly. The visual effects work very well, and it’s clear these guys know what they’re doing behind the camera, making the most out of their resources in much the way John Carpenter did with his early films.

So catch the binge-train to Netflix and watch the show. Bring a friend, even if they’re not that into horror and sci-fi. If they were children of the 80’s, they’ll dig the nostalgia! And I’m willing to bet they’ll enjoy the complex, yet not too complicated storyline.

Hey, Stranger Things have happened…



Where do I get the ideas for my stories?

The conversation usually goes something like this:

“I’ve always wanted to write, but I can’t seem to get any ideas. Where do you get your ideas?”

And I say, “You know, I read a lot, and daydream and take from dreams, sometimes stuff happens in real life. That’s about it, really.”

At this point, the conversation dies off, usually with a look of disappointment on the other person’s face, like I was supposed to let them in on some secret that only writers know.

Nah. It’s true. I read a lot. I read fiction as often and for as long as I can on a daily basis. I also let my mind wander, and sometimes a dream will catch me by surprise with an especially juicy idea.

But the point of this post is to let my readers know, and perhaps any aspiring writers out there, just where I get my best ideas.

The news. Yep. I read the news and gauge how the events I’m reading about affect me intellectually and emotionally. Just read and keep up on current events as often as you can stomach it. And remember, read what you are interested in.

For me, I’ve always been fascinated in the paranormal and scary things. I haunt the websites that feed me the latest on weird news and supposed paranormal happenings, and I feast on the good stuff there. I find that when I read something truly weird yet believable, I’ll get this shiver at the top of my spine, just above the shoulder blades. This tells me that this could be the basis for a story, and then I store it away in my mind. I don’t write it down. I figure that if the idea is strong enough, I’ll remember it when I need it. I love the fantastic, usually first-hand, accounts. The ones that make absolutely no sense, yet have that ring of truth I search for and only occasionally find. I take those shivers, and let them simmer within that disturbing cauldron I call my skull.

So allow me the opportunity to give you my personal choices for paranormal websites that I check on at least once a day.

The Anomalist is usually my first stop in my search for weird news. The site is set up by most recent date, and usually includes the best bits from other website stops I make daily. It doesn’t limit itself to one or two topics. Everything from ghosts to ufos to Bigfoot to Slenderman news is there with the links to the stories.

The terrific Lon Strickler accumulates and presents major paranormal news stories as well as personal accounts of scary and bizarre things that people experience and send to him. Loads of fun in every post.

Mysterious Universe has been putting forth the best in paranormal news, historic events, and the latest findings in science. Always good. Always interesting.

David Weatherly strives to bring the unusual stories you don’t normally find on other sites. He posts every few days, but I’ve never been disappointed when he does.

Beachcombing’s Bizarre History Blog is exactly that, posts about strange historical happenings. Yum!

A wonderful round-up of news and strange occurrences, nicely parceled and presented. This is updated a few times a week.

Finally, of course The Fortean Times. It’s a UK based message board, but people post interesting things from around the world, sometimes stuff that’s in the news, sometimes cool and scary It Happened to Me stories. I visit this one about once a week.

And the final treasure trove of bizarre,

Reddit is a mighty force on the ol’ Intertubes, and I invite you to go there and use the search tool to find topics on just about anything paranormal. I personally check these subreddits:

This subreddit is for non-fiction personal stories, some simply odd, some absolutely terrifying. If even a fraction of these stories are true, then man, are we wrong about the nature of reality!


And a whole bunch of other stuff too numerous to list here.


There you go. Some of my most treasured sources to turn to for ideas. Sure, they won’t (and shouldn’t) write the story for you, but sooner or later you will find that one little idea that sparks the frightening story within you. I hope this info helps.

See ya later, Deadies!

A Look At: Horror Short Films

I write short fiction.

So it makes sense that I have a particular fondness for short horror films.  As with short fiction, these films take minutes (usually under twenty) to tell their stories, and if they’re good, they make an impact.

Sometime around the start of middle school, I discovered The Twilight Zone, and I was instantly hooked, my life forever changed. Rod Serling, the show’s iconic host, creator and chief writer, introduced me to that strange land between light and shadow, a place of both things and ideas. A place where nothing was ever as it seemed. From that first moment, I knew I wanted to write, and what I wanted to write were these kinds of stories.

These days, anthology shows like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits are no longer produced, and haven’t been in decades. The format itself is a survivor, though. Those classic television shows live on in syndication. Short horror fiction lives on as well, despite numerous articles and posts over the decades declaring the format dead.

The format is not dead. Horror authors cut their teeth writing short stories, and most continue to write them even after becoming established novelists.

Film-makers follow a similar path. Short films are easier to finance and produce, so it makes sense that directors start with them. Some return to the format (Creepshow, Twilight Zone: The Movie, Tales from The Darkside, etc) and it’s easy to see why:

They love the format, too!

Short films offer an opportunity for the film-maker to tell a story with a single set, few characters, often with little or no dialogue. Instead of unpacking a complex story over two hours, the short film can be told in a single scene. Expensive special effects can be set aside in favor of a single drop of blood. In my opinion, the director who can scare you on a shoestring budget knows how to scare you best. They know that relying solely on special effects or other film-making trickery is a fool’s errand. They know that most audiences will see right through that stuff, revealing the usually poor script and bad director behind the camera. Not that lavish, complicated special effects can’t be used well, (John Carpenter’s The Thing comes to mind) but if that’s all a director has in their toolkit, it’s usually a sign of a bad film.

With these things in mind, what follows are some of my favorite short films I’ve seen recently. These little movies use their slight budgets to great effect, making an impact with an economy of resources. I’ve selected them because they’ve gotten under my skin in some way. Some are scary. Some feature a clever twist. Some tell a great little story. Others I chose because they were simply odd enough to stay on my mind.

All of them, in my opinion, are made by talented folks who demonstrate the best attributes described in the paragraphs above.

First up is Cargo – a gem of a zombie tale about a bitten, soon-to-be undead father and his clever, desperate plan to save his infant daughter.



Cool, huh?

I like dark subject matter that isn’t afraid to plumb the emotional depths of the characters in an honest way. Anybody could make a film with characters that blubber and weep, but that always comes off as hokey and inauthentic, in my view. In this story, we feel the dad’s terror – his anguish – as he hatches his plan to save his child, and the sheer hell of it is that he’ll never really know if his plan is successful! But the film-makers don’t try for any emotional “cheap shots” here. This is honesty in character development and storytelling – remarkable for such a short film.

Next up is Lights Out. You’ve no doubt heard about the feature version produced by James Wan, and I hope it’s at least as good as this little fright fest! Simple techniques used to build tension and deliver the scary goods are on full display here. Check it out – with the lights ON.



As with Lights Out, a talented film-maker spotted this short film and was instrumental in developing a feature version for the big screen. Guillermo del Toro, one of my favorite directors working today, produced Mama, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s a horror classic. Wildly underappreciated, Mama delivers a better ghost story than anything with ‘paranormal’ in the title, out-conjures the first Conjuring by a long shot, and is far more ‘insidious’ than anything in that series.

The short film is equally genius in telling a complete, terrifying tale in a mere two minutes! “Mama” herself is brought to twisted, nightmare-inducing life with some truly remarkable special effects techniques!



The Smiling Man is creepy as hell. A child in danger, little baggies of doll parts tied to balloons – this one has classic horror elements on full display, and the best part? Well – you’ll just have to watch! I was impressed by the way this film used those elements in the set-up, and didn’t squander them in the final reveal. The Smiling Man gets under your skin – and takes up residence there for a long time.



The Killer Inside is a fun little horror film from indie director David Karner. I thought it was clever, and left me wanting to see more from this film-maker. Whatever you do – stick around to the end – it’s a good one! And don’t take stuff without asking.



One Last Dive is our last “dive” into this subject – for this particular post anyway.

This film is only a minute long, but it’s very effective – and a lot of fun to boot! Plus, deep water scares the shit out of me. Whether that fear was created by JAWS or simply revealed by that film is anybody’s guess.



I hope you enjoyed this look at the short horror film. The films I talked about here are just a tiny sampling of what’s out there. If you’ve seen a good one – or several – share the titles with us in the comments section! I’m always up for a good movie, and with my crazy schedule these days, these snack-size bites of horror really hit the spot!

Review of The Conjuring

conjuring image

Okay, Deadies, I rewatched The Conjuring like I said I would to reevaluate my original thoughts about it. If you’ve read my review of The Conjuring 2, you know that I was impressed with how scary and well-crafted it was, and how I thought it was better than the first one. So I did it. I watched the first Conjuring again, and I’m here to tell you that my original thoughts about it hold up.

Ed and Lorraine Warren go to a secluded farmhouse to help a terrorized family kick some demon’s ass back to Hell. James Wan did his standard fine job directing, obviously relishing the material by relying on the standard jump scares and haunted house creaks and groans. The fine actors Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, Ron Livingston, and Lili Taylor are endearing and obviously committed to the material enough that you certainly root for them. There were a few very good scares. Good stuff there.

But I had issues with the storyline. The writing was fine for the most part, but the story seemed a bit thin in the logic department in places. For instance, in one scene, the statement is made that Lili Taylor’s character, Carolyn Perron, has been demonically possessed, so they need to get her away from the house. Ahem. Really? Why? Certainly a demon from the fiery pit of Hell would not care less where that possessed person was specifically, only that they were inside them and behaving evilly.

And then, since the demon possessing Carolyn is, according to Lorraine Warren, targeting the children, they all pile into a car to go to a motel. Road trip. Together. So we have a terrorized family with a possessed Mommy who wants to kill the kids all going to a motel. What kind of continental breakfast would a woman possessed by a demon request? I joke, I joke.

And because of these little things that didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, I found myself impatient and slightly bored at the end. The silliness just kept getting increasingly silly rather than scary. If the writing could have better explained the inconsistencies in logic, I would have been okay with it.

By the time the credits rolled, I was left as disappointed as the first time I watched this film. I like the director, I like the actors and acting, I liked many of the scary elements, but the lapses in logic threw all of that off for me.

For a grade, where I would give The Conjuring 2 an A, The Conjuring gets a B- from me. I know that audiences and reviewers seem to like the first one better. I just thought the sequel was better.

Watch them both and see for yourself. If you think I’m full of crap, let me know. Leave a comment below with your thoughts.

A Review of 10 Cloverfield Lane




By now, you’ve no doubt heard that 10 Cloverfield Lane is not really a sequel to 2008’s hit found-footage monster classic Cloverfield.

It isn’t, and that’s OK. From what I understand, the suits in charge of green-lighting this one wouldn’t go ahead with it unless it was tied to that film, so the producers decided to set this “in the same world” as Cloverfield. Marketing trickery? Maybe, but again, I’m OK with that because a great film got made as a result.

Cloverfield, (far superior to the recent Godzilla, and don’t even get me started on that awful 1998 version!) in my opinion, didn’t need a sequel. In such a franchise-driven movie culture, it’s refreshing to have a “one and done” film. Kind of a throwback, really. Now, perhaps there will one day be a direct continuation of the Cloverfield story, but I hope not.

The same goes for 10 Cloverfield Lane. The story in this film could be continued, but I hope it isn’t. It’s a terrific film just as it is – a tense, taut thriller with some dandy horror elements!

Lane stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Michelle, a woman who, weary of her failing relationship, decides to leave her boyfriend and drives off amid strange reports of rolling blackouts. Distracted by the reports over the radio, she is involved in a serious car accident on a Louisiana backroad. Hours later she comes to in a basement room, hooked up to an IV. The room resembles one of those terrifying dungeons we see on so many news reports where women were imprisoned for years after being kidnapped by a creepy older dude. (why do they always look like they could be from the same family, somehow?)

Soon we meet Howard. Sure enough, he’s a creepy, middle aged dude – brilliantly played by John Goodman. His Howard is a lurking bear of a man, and positively obsessed with survival prep, the kind that we also see on so many TV shows and news reports. Has Howard captured Michelle to fulfill his own perverted fantasies, or is he her savior, protecting her from a world that has suffered an apocalyptic disaster?

Either way, Howard has spent years building an impressive underground bunker. He is well-stocked with food and supplies – enough to last years. Whatever the man’s intentions are, Michelle is going to be stuck with him until the bitter end. Howard is convinced that the air on the surface is now lethal, and she is unable to persuade him otherwise.

To say anything further about the plot would risk spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it. The director does a masterful job with an excellent script, building the suspense and continually ratcheting up the tension, tossing in some humorous moments for levity before gut-punching you with sequences that run the gamut from white-knuckle suspense to raw horror.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead does a brilliant job at portraying a tough, smart female lead. Her Michelle reminded me of Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley. Michelle is anything but a victim, despite being hopelessly imprisoned by John Goodman’s Howard. She uses her fists when needed, and is always using her head in scene after scene as she tries to outwit her captor and break free from the bunker.

John Goodman (finally!) is allowed to be the male lead in a film, and man – does he ever make the most of it! Genius in all of his supporting roles, Goodman applies those same skills to his lead role here. His Howard is equal parts unhinged madman and misunderstood good Samaritan. Few actors could walk this delicate line so convincingly. Personally, I think he deserved an Oscar, but that’s a discussion for another time.

As for the plot, I really enjoyed how the cat-and-mouse game between the main characters unfolded, and I particularly enjoyed the ending, which has been a source of some controversy among fans of not only Cloverfield, but of films like this in general. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend 10 Cloverfield Lane. Decide for yourself if you like it all the way through to the end, as I did. If you were a fan of the monster movie predecessor to this, you may be disappointed. Or not. In regards to the ending of Lane, I felt it had a similar tone and feel as Cloverfield. It really does feel like the same world to me. But I really like that this film is not that film, or that story.

Both Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane are great stand-alone films – for different reasons.

I hope Hollywood keeps them that way.


Movie Review: The Conjuring 2

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This review is only an opinion piece. If you read this and disagree, take a deep breath, cool your jets, and grab a cool drink. These are my thoughts and I’ll say any damn thing I think since, come on, it doesn’t truly matter.


Over the past few years, I’ve become a bit disillusioned with many horror films. Most have the same tired themes and lack originality. Occasionally I’ve been pleasantly surprised by a new horror film, such as The Babadook and Bone Tomahawk. Film makers would be better served to delve into the indie horror scene to get a fresh perspective, because there is a growing library of horror that has not yet been cultivated for ideas.

That being said, I still really liked The Conjuring 2. True, the film really doesn’t break new ground. Ed and Lorraine Warren are once again pulled by a series of circumstances to investigate a North London home. A woman and her children are enduring frightening experiences and ask for help. The Warrens arrive and then the real fun begins.

Director James Wan has been making films for years now, most well-known for his trend-setting film Saw and more lately for Furious 7. This fine director knows horror, and he knows how to build a climax. While I’ve not been completely enamored with some of his films, this one works.

I walked into this film expecting kind of a retread of the first Conjuring, but it really isn’t. Though the central characters remain the same from the previous film to this one, Wan builds upon the first film to bring us a totally new story.

Using the Enfield Haunting incident from decades ago, Wan goes full throttle, not caring a whit about how historically accurate it is. Honestly, as I watched the first Conjuring, I was a little distracted by the inaccuracies of the main characters, the Warrens, as well as the problems in the story. Still, it was one of the better horror films of that year. I plan on re-watching it again soon to see if I’ll have an attitude adjustment about it.

In this film, the Warrens, once again played by the fine actor Patrick Wilson (the guy who’s good in everything and you recognize, but can never remember his name) and Vera Farmiga. They have a comfortable chemistry with one another, and this brings a nice grounding to all the weird things they go through. I hesitate to say anything further about the plot since if you decide you’d like to give it a try I don’t want to sully your experience. The film is rated R, and thinking back on it, I don’t remember any swear words at all and not a lot of blood, and absolutely no sex, so I figure it has to be because of the intensity of the fear it instills in viewers.

This film can stand alone as one of the best horror efforts of this year. This is a solid film, ably directed, with fine acting all the way around. There are plenty of scare jumps, a creepy demonic creature dressed as a nun, and a fine sense of overall dread and fear that drapes over the entire story. And for once, here is a horror film climax that delivers and satisfies.

I’ve read in other reviews that this is not only a good horror film, but a good film outside of any genre, and I agree totally. I highly recommend this film.