Friday, March 29, 2013

Movie Review: The Possession (2012)

Call me a horror snob, but I was scoffing at this movie before I even saw it. I thought it looked it like almost every other mainstream horror movie that is coming out these days that does nothing but rely on cheap scares and stupid images with no meaning to make us think that it's cooler than it is. And well... okay, the movie does do that for the most part, you gotta admit, but I always try to overlook some of that stuff to see if a new movie manages to give us something new. The Possession, while being mostly formulaic and trite, did actually surprise or intrigue me at points and I'd like to give it some props.

The movie starts with an older lady getting the shit beaten out of her when she is thrown around her living room because she tried to destroy this wooden box on her shelf. Cut to our good old American family (well, almost) who purchases the box at a yard sale for young daughter Emily. Of course, Emily starts exhibiting strange behavior and becomes increasingly possessive of (and possessed by) this strange object. Turns out that it is a dybbuk box, something from Jewish folklore that is said to house the spirit of a restless demon who is able to possess the living. 

The Possession ventures us into familiar and at the same time unknown territory for a horror movie. No way is demonic possession anything new to the genre but it did introduce to us the existence of Jewish demons and a Jewish exorcism. So that's definitely something new, and something that I had never heard of or thought of before - does the Jewish faith have demons and a rite of exorcism like the Catholic faith? I guess so. It's a bit frustrating that the movie takes a good 50 or so minutes to finally tell us just what this box is, even after all the crazy stuff that has happened to or around Emily. Of course, Emily's father Clyde just happens to know a professor who might have some answers so he finally goes to see him. And even when Clyde visits the guy in his classroom, he has something titled "Self-Possession Through Transformation" on his overhead projector, which annoyed me but I'm probably the only one.

It's actually not a bad movie, but a lot of its effect was almost completely ruined by the advertisement and the movie's overall lack of imagination. It is seriously times like these when I really and truly just hate trailers. The best scare of the movie is when the fingers appear at the back of Emily's throat - but of course, they played that scare to death in trailers and TV spots so the effect was gone when I (and probably everybody else) watched it. The rest of the "scares" are cheap and cliched, the same kind of stuff that is being repeated over and over again in mainstream movies lately, which in turn cheapens the tone and any sense of fear or suspense that you might have for the family. There were actually a few things that I somewhat enjoyed; a lot of it being similar to body horror type stuff that always freaks me out - the way Emily's eye goes all wonky and you see something moving around underneath her face; seeing the demon inside her when she's in the MRI machine; and the lady at the beginning getting the shit beaten out of her. Again, it's nothing new or shocking, but sometimes the right image at the right time in the movie can still work. It doesn't happen very often in The Possession, though.

The Jewish exorcism scene at the climax is pretty lackluster, with Emily just doing a bunch of weird stuff and getting chased around a hospital while there is the obligatory and literal light show happening all around. They try to make it all scary when the demon finally appears in full form by doing the strobe effect, but it was still disappointing. He was just this gooey, Gollum-like thing crawling across the floor - after crawling out of Clyde's mouth. They could have made that part so much more gross and disturbing if it weren't for that danged PG-13 rating they were probably striving to keep. The ending is sadly just another obligatory shock value moment that wants to open doors for a sequel.

On to some of the movie's good parts. I found myself really enjoying the acting of Jeffrey Dean Morgan as the dad Clyde and the two girls who played his daughters, Emily and Hannah. Kyra Sedgewick as the mother Stephanie is the same old horror movie mother I've seen before with no real personality. Sorry, Kyra, but it's true. Anyway, the family is going through the obligatory (seems to be the word of the day) strife with the parents being divorced, which of course just makes the whole demonic possession thing even worse. I really thought that Clyde and his daughters had some nice family moments together, and most importantly, Clyde's love and connection to his children felt real. Morgan is becoming a particular favorite of mine, even though it took me about 20 minutes to realize that he was not Robert Downey, Jr. Seriously. Those two have to be related in some way, I'm sure of it.

I now have to say that I think my favorite part of the whole movie was when Clyde brought the dybbuk box to the synagogue in New York, because as soon as he showed it to all the Jewish dudes, most of them hightailed it out of the room. That got a pretty big laugh out of me.

Though a pretty good chunk of The Possession is all trite, uninspiring, forgettable crap, I'm going to give it at least a few plus points for introducing a new concept to the same old exorcism stories. There are good actors to help give us some nicely drawn characters, and portray a believable family unit. It wasn't as bad a movie as I was expecting; it was just mostly disappointing - especially coming from beloved producer Sam Raimi.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Lammy Nomination For Me! Also, A Question About Horror Conventions

A huge, bloody THANK YOU to whoever nominated The Girl Who Loves Horror for a Lammy Award this year for Best Horror Blog! Seriously, who was it? I want to kiss you.

That's me - number 785, on the nomination list!

I hate to be in competition with some of my best blog buddies like Maynard and Fred, but there's really no way I'm making it past the first round of nominations anyway, SO... I'm just going to enjoy this nomination for now! Thank you again!

I read through the full list of all nominees in all categories and it is gargantuan, you guys. Makes you realize just how many of us (movie bloggers) are out there and what great work they are doing for really nothing in return. That's why it's cool to have awards like the Lammies to keep the bloggers going.

If you want to vote (vote for me) for this year's Lammies, (vote for me) here's where to find the official ballot (vote for me). Keep scrolling on that page for the link. (vote for me)

And now, I need some affirmation from my blog buddies. For the past few years, I have been absolutely dying to go to a horror convention. Hear me? DY-ing. I almost went to one they were holding in Las Vegas about two years ago but chickened out on making plans. Now I'm dead serious. FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GORY, I WANT TO GO TO A HORROR CONVENTION.

And I think I've found the perfect one to break my convention cherry.

Texas Frightmare Weekend will be held in Dallas the weekend of May 3 - 5, 2013. It's fucking perfect, y'all. Tickets are only $65 to get in all three days (VIP passes are all sold out - boo to people who plan so far in advance), and my initial search for flight and hotel got me a package deal for only around $500. I have the money, but I can be a tightwad sometimes, and a weenie when it comes to doing things like this on my own.

But, dear goodness, look at the guest line-up:

See that shit? Michael Berryman, Tom Savini, Nick Castle, Virginia Madsen, Mary Lambert, Danny Trejo, Sean Patrick Flanery, Norman Reedus, Denise Crosby, Dee Wallace, Heather Langenkamp... AAAAAAAAHHHHHHH! I will fucking WALK to Dallas for that line-up! Not to mention the film screenings, and whatever swag I can pick up at booths.

So I guess I'm asking you guys to convince me to go. Anybody been to conventions before? Totally worth the money and traveling? An opportunity not to be missed? Convince me, please, before I punk out again.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Book Review: "Zombie, Illinois" by Scott Kenemore

Straight up, dudes - Zombie, Illinois is the best zombie novel I have ever read, and a new personal favorite. Having now read the book twice and freaking loving every second of it each time, I feel like I can and like I must recommend this book (and, really, anything else Kenemore writes) to anybody with the same love for zombies that the author has. A very close second to my love for ghosts is an undying love for almost all things zombie-related as well. I'm also particularly fond of the good old zom-com so this book and I were pretty much meant to be. Read on to learn more about it and hopefully I can convince you to read the book, too!

The zombie expert himself, Scott Kenemore
Zombie, Illinois takes place in the heart of Chicago and follows three very different characters as they try to survive the first 24 hours of a zombie apocalypse. In the midst of the chaos, these people - a middle-aged reporter, a female rocker, and a pastor - find out about some pretty shady dealings having to do with the local government, who are using the zombie crisis to hide their crimes and assume power.

Kenemore's wit is unmatched and his ability to constantly keep the action interesting, exciting, and hilarious is one of the many things that I love about Zombie, Illinois. The three main characters - Pastor Leopold Mack, Maria Ramirez, and Ben Bennington - are all completely lovable, well-drawn and amazing characters in different ways and I couldn't get enough of them. Chicago itself is a major character, too, and though the book would probably have more meaning to me if I actually knew anything about Chicago, Kenemore easily paints the picture of a corrupt, yet loyal and beautiful city that has its ups and downs. It's a story about the different neighborhoods in the city and how they either work together or against each other when the crap hits the fan, something that is very unique to me. I didn't even really speak to my neighbors until after I'd been in my apartment for about 3 months. And that was just to ask if I could borrow a snow shovel. Not so sure they'd take me in once the dead started coming back to life.

Zombie, Illinois is unique for many reasons, and one of those is the types of zombies our heroes encounter. Many zombie apocalypse movies show the audience the freshly dead and turned. Kenemore makes us think about all the other types of dead people we'd have to deal with come Z-Day - murder victims thrown in the river; dusty gangster skeletons; and the heap of dead people rising from unmarked graves. Another thing unique to this book is that zombies are not the only foe the main characters find themselves up against. Ben is a reporter who knows about city politics and Maria has a close connection to one of the city's aldermen (which is a member of the city council, basically, representing different neighborhoods). The book is clearly a commentary on Chicago politics, which kind of made me all scrunchy-face at first because I don't like or understand politics, but I can't deny that it makes total sense for the situation and gives the reader a very interesting spin on a zombie apocalypse story. I mean, what are the first things to always fall in society in any zombie apocalypse story? Democracy, law and order. Nobody is really in charge of anything anymore, but get enough scared survivors together, give them a leader to follow, and they will follow. That's exactly what these aldermen (and women) do in Zombie, Illinois - and they do it quickly, too. Maybe everyone really should follow them if they can get things under control so fast after zombies take over...

Maybe not.

The absolute best part of the novel is when Mack, Maria and Ben make the brave (and sort of stupid) choice of staying off the streets and instead choosing a quicker route by traveling through the system of old, closed-off coal tunnels under the city's streets. The sense of absolute dread and danger as they try to find their way in pitch darkness with weak flashlights was enough to make me squirm in my seat while reading, picturing myself in the same situation. This part is also great because it is where the trio meets the greatest zombie of the book - one with a badly broken back that at first looks to them like it is just a pair of walking legs. That's just... genius. Pure freaking zombie genius.

This section of the novel is also noteworthy because it reinforces what I think Kenemore is really trying to say. When Mack is looking down into the pit of zombies in the coal tunnel, it is not the fact that they are reanimated corpses that truly horrifies him. It is the fact that they are the reanimated corpses of aborted fetuses and Girl Scouts with their throats cut. It is seeing the crimes and inhumanity of his city literally coming back to haunt him and showing him just how bad it really was. I definitely liked that there was a good message, or at least something deeper to this novel than just being something funny about zombies - another reason for me to love Kenemore and what he's doing even more.

There's zombies, there's corrupt politicians, there's pastors who wear pink ties, there's a budding romance between a reporter and a Latino girl in a band called Strawberry Brite Vagina Dentata. THIS. BOOK. RULES. It is probably the most fun you'll ever have reading about zombies, and once it's over you'll just want to flip straight back to that first page. Kenemore is one of the most promising new names in zombie/horror literature and I cannot wait to read more of his stuff. I've read he's already working on a new novel right now... with more zombies, right? Please tell me there are more zombies! Um, anyway, read Zombie, Illinois and I can pretty much guarantee that you'll enjoy every word of it, just like I did.

Did I also mention that Kenemore has Chicago's mayor being eaten alive on TV by an undead Al Capone? 'Cause he does. I want to marry this man.

Wait, before you go... I also reviewed two of Kenemore's other books - my thoughts on Zombie, Ohio can be found here and my review of Zombies vs. Nazis: A Lost History of the Walking Dead is right here. If I haven't convinced you to give this author a chance from this review, maybe one of those will do the trick.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Non-Horror Movie Roundup

Seeking Justice (2012)
So I don't know what is it with me and revenge movies, but apparently I will watch anything if it has to do with a family member seeking vengeance on someone who hurt a loved one. Maybe it's the emotional, dramatic side to that sort of story that I'm attracted to. Probably. So when I read the synopsis for Seeking Justice, I was all over it. 

Nicolas Cage plays a guy who enlists the help of a secret vigilante organization to kill the man who beat and raped his wife. All they ask in return is a future favor that will help them on their mission, which of course doesn't turn out how Nic thought it would and ends up pitting him against the organization. So the problem with this movie was two-fold - 1) it stars Nicolas Cage, who I've never really liked anyway, and 2) it has no emotion. It should have its characters be so emotionally invested in what they are doing that it's heartbreaking, and instead the movie turns itself into a run-of-the-mill chase movie against the bald-headed bad guy. 

This guy is Guy Pearce (who I LOVE) and he does the best he can with the role, but even he can't seem to get the emotional side right. Cage is the worst perpetrator of this. His reaction to his wife's brutal rape by a stranger is not what it should be for this kind of movie and does not match up to his hurried decision to kill the bastard. I just didn't feel it, and I needed to feel the brutality of the attack and the shattering of their lives to make Cage's decision seem plausible. None of that matters after a few minutes, though, because after the rapist is dead, the movie spirals downward into foot chases and car chases and Cage eluding the police while trying to bring down the organization. Ho-hum. You've seen it all before. It was boring then, and it's boring now. Nice try, Seeking Justice, but you really could have done a whole helluva lot better.

We'll see what Bob thinks of it in the next Project Terrible round in April :).

Columbus Circle (2012)
Columbus Circle was actually a pretty good little independent thriller I found on Netflix a little ways back. It is about an agoraphobic heiress who has spent 20 years alone in her apartment. When the lady in the apartment across the hall dies and a young couple moves in, she's forced to finally face her fears and interact with the outside world - which her new neighbors show her is just as twisted as she thought it was.

The cast for the film is an impressive one, at least for me: Selma Blair is Abigail, the heiress; Jason Lee and Amy Smart are the new couple Lillian and Charlie; Giovanni Ribisi is the detective investigating the neighbor's death; Kevin Pollack (who also co-wrote the film) is the concierge who helps Abigail; and Beau Bridges is Abigail's doctor and the only person she ever has real contact with. They all do a great job of weaving themselves through this tale that has as many twists as a Slinky, and they do it in a way that makes the story credible and believable, and really, quite clever.

Abigail is, unbeknownst to her, at the center of an elaborate scheme that I never even slightly predicted. However, once the first twist about her neighbors is revealed, everything else does fall in line how the audience would probably think it would. It doesn't hurt the film at all really, because it's still fun to see how the mystery is going to play out at the end, which turns out to be very satisfying. Some very good entertainment value here. This movie should have been played in theaters.

Red Lights (2012)
On the other hand, we have Red Lights: just the kind of the movie that gets all the theater buzz in the world and totally doesn't deserve it. But with a cast like Cillian Murphy, Sigourney Weaver, and super-ultra movie star Robert De Niro, did I really expect anything else? In Red Lights, Murphy and Weaver are two physicists who work on debunking psychic or supernatural phenomenon. Murphy becomes obsessed with proving that a famous psychic (De Niro) is really just a big fat phony.

Nope. Didn't like this one. Lots of pretty colors and showy theatrics, but that is exactly what was wrong with this movie. I really don't know what could have made it better, I just know that it wasn't my favorite and I pretty well forgot about it not too long after it was over - after I was done scoffing at the stupid ending. LAME.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

My Book Sale Haul! Yes, There is Stephen King!

So, as I was sharing with another blogger not too long ago, every year in March my local library puts on this huge, 4 day long used book sale. Literally, THOUSANDS of books for usually no more than a dollar (hardbacks are two dollars). Of course I go every year and stock myself up on paperbacks that I can read at work and see what other goodies I can find.

At this awesome book sale, a mere $22 got me 19 paperbacks and 2 hardbacks (I didn't realize until I got home that they miscounted - whoops).

Totally could've picked out more, but the bag was getting heavy and it was hot in there and there were people all around and I just wanted to go home.

I'm going through a Michael Connelly phase right now so I got some more stuff by him; also some Dean Koontz, a Brian Keene, and two Peter Straubs, which I'm really excited about because I've only ever read The Talisman. Would have loved to find Ghost Story, but no such luck.

Not gonna lie, though. My first intention when I get through the door is to scope out Stephen King hardbacks, preferably first editions of the older stuff. I've been somewhat lucky in the past with finding the ones I want, but as you can see from this year, either someone grabbed them up first or there just weren't as many SK hardbacks available. I even shared my frustration with a fellow shopper who wanted to see the copy of The Dead Zone that I put back (beat-up dust jacket and it was just a book club edition - nah). So the SK haul wasn't as good this year.

Not that I'm not happy with what I got. I got the hardback of The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon; a nice first printing paperback of Dolores Claiborne; that awesome dog's mouth cover paperback for Cujo (it's more beat-up than I would usually like, but I couldn't resist); AND the complete set of The Green Mile serial novels (my only copy has them all in one). Plus, I picked up copies of Hearts in Atlantis and Cell because I only have those in hardback, and The Drawing of the Three because at some point I know I'm going to have to read The Dark Tower books.

One find that I thought was pretty cool was this first edition - I think - of The Silence of the Lambs:

It's a cool cover and in good condition so I was stoked about this. Kinda makes me want to read the whole series again.

Anyway, that's my haul. I might go back again tomorrow because they're going to keep putting out new stuff until the last day (on that day, you just fill a box with books and it's only $5). My little SK bookshelf has now, like all my other bookshelves, gotten too small for my crazy book shopping. If a fire ever started in the office of my apartment, I'd be fucked.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Anthology Quest: Tales from the Crypt (1972)

Call me the worst horror fan on the planet, but um, I always thought Tales from the Crypt was just the HBO series... I never knew for the longest time that there was an earlier British movie from the 70s of the same name. A girl needs to know these things, people. I know the series is not based on this movie particularly - they're both based on the EC Comics - but I still think I should have seen this earlier in my horror career, just for reference.

With five separate stories, I don't want to get all windy like I usually do in my reviews. So I'll try to keep it snappy - or as snappy as possible. Which means it probably won't be at all. Anyway,  the movie starts with a group of people taking a tour of some old catacombs or crypts. Five get separated from the main group and end up in a room where they meet a man in a monk's robe (the original "Crypt Keeper"). The strangers are confused about why they are there and the Crypt Keeper tells each of them what happened to them - specifically, how they died and why they deserve to be there.

"...And All Through the House"
This first tale is of course very familiar to me because it is quite popular as an episode of the Tales from the Crypt television series, which I've seen a few times. Now it's time for the original starring Joan Collins as a woman who kills her husband on Christmas Eve - the same night that a killer dressed as Santa Claus has escaped from an asylum. This story is perfectly creepy and cheeky and should be told every year as the horror fan's "'Twas the Night Before Christmas." There's no real explanation for why Joan kills her husband other than money (or why she kills him on Christmas Eve while her daughter is upstairs - harsh, much?) but it makes for a good explanation for why she can't call the police when Evil Santa shows up. I absolutely love that reveal of the daughter ringing the bell through the curtains and saying, "Look, Mommy, it's Santa! I let him in!" The audience is scared of what is going to happen to Joan (and the daughter - seriously, he must have killed the daughter, too, right?) and at the same time thinking that this bitch is getting a good lesson in karma because of her actions. All around wonderful story and wonderfully executed - except for the bad red paint blood when Joan kills her husband. Always hate that.

"Reflection of Death"
The conclusion of this segment made it not so much my favorite, despite some of the smartly shot earlier scenes. Here, a man leaves his wife for a better model and as they are driving together one night, he has a terrible dream of them getting into a car accident, only to wake up and have the accident happen again for real just like in his dream. I liked the bulk of this one simply for the scenes of the man, Carl, wandering around after the dream accident. It's all shot from his perspective and starts to get very strange after people keep running away from him in terror after looking at him. Oooooh, he must look so very disgusting! I can't wait to see it! The reveal of this is nice because in his dream, Carl goes to see his mistress Susan after he's been messed up and she doesn't see him because she was blinded in the accident. Carl sees his reflection in a mirror and screams, which wakes him up from the dream. He doesn't really look like he should after being in a car accident, but more like he had been rotting in the ground for a while - which I guess would go along with what happened in his dream, but I was still a little disappointed. This segment has a lot less shock value and cheekiness than the rest of them. The whole dream-comes-true thing is not that clever but don't worry - the stories get a lot better from here on out!

"Poetic Justice"
James lives in a nice, but snobby, neighborhood where a more eccentric older man, Grimsdyke, is ruining their beautiful facade. James tries to push Grimsdyke away - scaring away the neighbor children from going to hang out with him, taking away his beloved dogs, sending him horrible and mean Valentine cards - until Grimsdyke commits suicide. One year later, though, Grimsdyke can still get his revenge! From the somewhat dull first part of this story, you would never expect that the conclusion would be this awesome. Seeing Peter Cushing crawl out of the ground as a zombie was enough to make me very happy. Cushing's makeup is delightful, all dark eyes and sunken cheeks and gray, nasty skin. Total horror fan giggle scene right there (if that made any sense). Then to top everything off, Grimsdyke's revenge includes him leaving James's heart in a valentine card saying "You were mean and cruel right from the start; Now you really have no" and James's actual heart completes the poem. The reasoning for Grimsdyke coming back to life is flimsily explained by a book on the occult on his desk, but for all this awesomeness, I'm not going to complain. 

"Wish You Were Here"
A classic short story gets an even more horrific treatment in "Wish You Were Here," with very strange but still satisfying results. Inspired by "The Monkey's Paw," and in fact referencing it several times (as if the audience wasn't smart enough to figure out where the idea for the setup came from), this story follows Ralph and Enid, a couple in financial trouble who stupidly try to solve all their problems by using a Chinese figurine that says that it will grant them three wishes. The story is at first very similar to what happens in "The Monkey's Paw," but there is a horrible twist at the end that had me thinking bad thoughts for the rest of the day. Basically, Enid wishes for money but only gets it because Ralph dies. Then she wishes him back to life, and then she wishes him to live forever. Problem is, Ralph apparently is going to live forever as an embalmed corpse and in immense pain because Enid tried to save him by hacking him up with a sword. Quite possibly the worst fate of anybody I've ever seen in a horror movie. The effects work on Ralph's bloodless innards was quite gross, almost worse than if they had been all bloody because it looks so unnatural and disgusting. I really didn't think Ralph was that bad of a guy to deserve this, so that made his fate hurt me all the more. Should have happened to his wife, the greedy bitch. Anyway, liked this one a lot. Not as many iconic or memorable images (except for the bloodless innards) as some of the other stories but still a nice addition to what is already a pretty kick ass anthology movie. The best is yet to come, however(!)...

And because I always like to slip a Buffy, the Vampire Slayer/Angel reference in wherever I can, I'd just like to point out that the guy who plays Charles in the beginning is Roy Dotrice. Dotrice was in a fifth season episode of Angel where he played Roger Wyndam-Price, Wesley's father. You get that little piece of trivia for free. You're welcome.

"Blind Alleys"
Oh my gosh, you guys. I loooooooooved Blind Alleys SO MUCH. Totally the best segment of Tales from the Crypt and the best one to serve as the ending to a very satisfying movie. First of all, I got major excited when I saw Patrick Mcgee, aka the guy I always refer to as the wheelchair guy from A Clockwork Orange. The bushy-eyebrowed, crazy hair man is back in one amazing short story about a cruel superintendent at a home for elderly blind men whose carelessness and neglect ends up costing him big time. Mcgee is the unofficial leader of the other blind men and when one man dies under Major Rogers' supervision, he gets them together to hatch a very deliciously elaborate plan for revenge. Don't ask me how they did it, but the blind guys built a maze for Rogers to traverse from one side of the room to the other - including through a hallway that gets narrower as you go and is lined with razor blades (hell yeah!) - where they eventually release Rogers' beloved dog on him, whom they have been starving for days. Too elaborate to be believable? I DON'T CARE. This short was fantastic, with the acting being really great from all involved - heck, even the dog - and the set up being one of the coolest things I've ever seen in horror flick or revenge tale. Just the anticipation of finding out what the hell those blind guys are doing building stuff (again, don't ask me how they accomplished it) gets the horror mojo flowing, and when Rogers is finally let out into his maze, you've never rooted for the protagonists more! I wanted to actually see this guy's own dog eat him, but sadly, that's mostly left up to the viewer's imagination. Still definitely my favorite! In fact, if I were rank the stories in Tales from the Crypt, it would probably go "Blind Alleys," "...And All Through the House," "Poetic Justice," "Wish You Were Here," and "Reflection of Death." 

What's the whole movie about? Bad people go to hell. Even if your own death was revenge for your bad deeds, the fiery pit of Satan's living room is still the only place you are headed, bub. The Crypt Keeper tells everyone at the end that he didn't really have anything else to tell them and that they're all going to hell - that's pretty mean, but apparently they all deserved it. Watching Tales from the Crypt has made me realize just how much I miss the HBO show and how little I remember of the episodes. As soon as my whole Anthology Quest is over (still have 3 more movies planned for review) I might just have to have to devote every spare minute to watching every single episode of that show. Sounds like it could be a really good time for me!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Book Review: "Shadows in the Mist" by Brian Moreland

Though it has taken me an obscenely long time to get around to reading Shadows in the Mist after being sent a copy by author Brian Moreland himself, I'm so glad that I finally got my lazy butt in gear. Just like his novel Dead of Winter that I reviewed for The Zed Word (clicken ze link HERE to read those fantastic prose), Moreland's Shadows in the Mist was kind of the perfect book for me because it combined my secret passion for history - more specifically the history of Nazi Germany - with the supernatural, my favorite subgenre of horror. There's also some pseudo-zombie action, so seriously, how could I resist? Enough about me though, let's talk about the book. 
Shadows in the Mist is a frame story involving two members of the Chambers family - Sean and his grandfather Jack. During a particularly bloody battle in Germany's Hurtgen Forest in World War II, Lieutenant Chambers and his faithful band of soldiers, who dubbed themselves The Lucky Seven, came face to face with one of the Nazi's most evil and deadly creations that wiped out Jack's entire platoon. As Sean travels to Germany to finally give these men a proper burial, he reads his grandfather's diary, which recounts every detail of a most unbelievable and terrifying story.

Shadows in the Mist is an engaging and at times quite endearing romp that takes readers across the ocean and back in time to tell this very unique tale. Moreland did exceptional research on all things World War II for this novel, going so far as to travel to Germany to actually see the locations that he would be writing about, like the Hurtgen Forest. Moreland's descriptions of each location then became so vivid that I could easily picture the characters in them like I was watching a movie. From the dense, foggy, and hilly atmosphere of the Hurtgen, to an abandoned barn where the platoon holes up, to the final location in a Nazi-occupied church, Moreland expertly builds the story up and keeps the mystery and suspense alive all the way through. All the military mumbo-jumbo that usually goes over my head in books and movies is laid out here so that any reader can follow along and immerse themselves in a story that just gets better and better with each new chapter.

In the story, Jack Chambers and his men have been asked to join a secret mission with Special Unit X-2 commandos to take over a Nazi command post. When they reach the town of Richelskaul, the men encounter the Nazis' secret weapon for winning the war. Nazi soldiers in their gray SS uniforms wielding swords and wearing creepy gas masks (like on the cover up there) soon reveal themselves to be virtually unkillable by the Americans' weapons - round after round of machine gun fire only seems to piss them off. Zombies? Maybe. But these creations have also apparently slaughtered some of their own fellow Nazis, so the question for the rest of the novel is just what are these creatures, who created them, and how? It is quite a while before the answer is finally revealed, but is worth the wait, as it was something that I thought was very unique and unexpected. It jibes well with the Nazis known obsession with the occult and makes you think, "Oh, yeah. The Nazis would have totally done that." The only part of this whole Nazi plan that furrowed my brow a bit is that they had to rely on Jews to accomplish it. 

The kinship and loyalty of the Lucky Seven was one of the best elements of the novel. These guys are a true band of brothers who have been through many battles and missions with Lt. Chambers and have dedicated themselves to each other in order to stick by their motto that "everyone lives." The men all have different backgrounds that readers slowly learn about, and one of my favorite traits that Moreland included was that they each had some kind of good luck charm that they carried with them - a baseball, a deck of cards, a watch. The humanity of these men in turn gives the book the humanity it needs to be more than just an action or history or supernatural novel. Though the reader knows from the beginning of the novel that only Jack survives by the end, it still sucks to read about each character's demise. The differences between the Lucky Seven and the X-2 unit that they go on this mission with is made quite clear from the beginning so you know who the real bad guys and good guys are. Good dialogue to me is always an indication of a good writer, and while some of the characters do get a little wordy here and there, overall the dialogue in Shadows in the Mist felt real and believable, both for the time and because of all the military terminology.

Horror hounds expecting a read with lots of bloody battles and body parts need not look any further. As the sorta-zombie SS monsters can't seem to operate firearms, their use of swords (and in one satisfying instance, their bare hands) lets them kill our heroes in very gory ways - right from the moment where a soldier exits a building missing an arm and trying to hold in his intestines with the other. Battle descriptions are just as vivid and real as everything else Moreland writes about, some so much that I found myself making disgusted faces while reading. And that's not a criticism, that's a compliment! When I was reading Dead of Winter, I felt like I was reading a script to a great horror movie and the same can be said for Shadows in the Mist. With the right actors and the right budget, Shadows could be an awesome supernatural horror flick - that image of the Nazi with the gas mask on could be iconic!

Since I've now read two of his books and enjoyed them both immensely, Moreland has proven himself to be a very promising new voice in horror literature, and I'm sure that he has many more thrilling tales to tell us. Coming up later this year are two new books from Moreland - The Witching Hour will be available this August, with The Devil's Woods following in December. Check out his website to read more reviews, and if you plan on reading Shadows in the Mist, I would definitely recommend you check out the section on the research he did, if only for the pictures from Germany because they really enhanced the reading experience for me.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Anthology Quest: Black Sabbath (1963)

The promise of Boris Karloff in an Italian horror anthology film made Black Sabbath irresistible to me. Karloff himself introduces the audience to three terrible tales (and also stars in one) directed by Mario Bava, each one dealing with a different kind of horror. The only problem with Black Sabbath was that I unfortunately saw the American version which upon my further research told me was drastically altered from the original Italian version.

Maybe the people who edited the American version didn't think that the story order mattered that much, but it was the first thing I picked up on as something that hindered Black Sabbath's effectiveness. In the American version, the order of stories goes "The Drop of Water," "The Telephone," then "The Wurdalak," while the original order from the Italian version is "Telephone," "Wurdalak," and then "Water." Then to make matters worse, they also did some heavy cutting on the second best story of the bunch, "The Telephone," turning it into a bit of a confusing mess at the conclusion. However, the individual stories are still effective on their own even if the overall presentation of the anthology is screwed up.

So first up in my version was "The Drop of Water" and really starts the movie out with a bang. A nurse is called to the home of an older woman who has just died in order to prepare her for burial. While dressing her, the nurse steals a ring from the dead woman's hand. The nurse goes home only to find out that woman's ghost has followed her there and intends to terrify her. The story is simple and the ghostly instances are also simple and subtle but it all works so well, coupled with the odd lighting and set decorations for both locations.

But of course the most effective element in "Water" is the absolutely terrifying, nightmare-inducing, fucking freaky-ass looking dead woman. Look at that picture of her up there! WHAT IS THAT?! Where did it come from, and is it really dead because it's looking at me like it's going to eat me!? Whoever came up with the look of this chick is either insane or a genius because I don't think I'll be able to scrub this image out of my brain EVER. Oh, and then to make it worse later, they have the dead woman haunt the nurse in her apartment and freaking come slowly floating toward her. Jeebus, I'd choke myself to death, too, just to get away from that creature. Gah!

So now that I've been traumatized for life, the next story is "The Telephone," which is equally as good as "Water" except for this is the one that the editing messed up. Basic rundown is that a beautiful young woman named Rosy starts receiving strange phone calls with the caller saying all kinds of kinky things and, even worse, telling her things that make her know that he is watching her. The caller appears to be her dead lover, Frank, so Rosy's obviously freaked out and she calls this other chick named Mary to stay with her. Mary acts all strange and ends up drugging Rosy with a tranquilizer. While we think Rosy's dead, Mary sits down to write her a letter and Frank the dead guy comes in and kills Mary. Rosy wakes up, Frank comes after her, but she stabs him to death. Then the phone is off its cradle and Rosy still hears Frank's voice coming out of it. Over.

The story was working out so well for the first part of this until things got all kinds of confusing. The editing for the American version ruined everything. So we never find out that Rosy and Mary were actually lesbian lovers, that Frank was not really dead, and that Mary was the one calling Rosy pretending to be Frank. Yeah, that's a real good idea to take out all the elements that would actually make the story make some sense. Good call. What we have to deal with in the American version is a sorta-ghost story thing but at the same time not really because ghosts can't strangle people or be stabbed to death. This is still a great story though, with a really fantastically creepy atmosphere, and I'm just going to have to remember it as it should have been in the Italian version.

I don't really know how "The Wurdalak" fits in with either of the two earlier stories at all. This is where the rummaging around with the story order really hurts Black Sabbath because no way should "Wurdalak" have been the last story in the anthology. Granted, I was already feeling a little sleepy by the time this one rolled around, but damn, did "Wurdalak" almost bore me to death. It seemed to go on a lot longer than the earlier stories, and the change of time period and pace was somewhat  jarring (especially toward the end when I was half asleep but still able to register that there was almost no talking in the last 10 or 15 minutes - ugh). The action is slow and I barely even remember what happened - not the best state in which to write a review, but I really don't think a rewatch would make me like this one any more. Karloff is great at looking all disheveled and freaky, and his performance as Gorcha is great even when he's not doing anything. Don't have anything more definitive to say about this one, sorry.

Oh, no, wait. One very entertaining part of "Wurdalak" has got to be Boris Karloff's line when he wants to hold his grandson Ivan but the mother seems a little hesitant so Karloff says, "Can't I fondle my own grandson?!" Oh. My. Goodness.

I have no doubt that it would have been so much better to see Black Sabbath as it was originally intended by Bava, in the right order and without all the ridiculous cuts to one segment. I love Karloff's introductions with his fabulous wit (little disappointed that there was no "goodbye" message or something at the end) and the first two stories are strongly written and acted with the perfect atmosphere; however, the last story almost brings the whole thing down. Totally worth a look, though, for anyone who hasn't seen it.