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Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: Insidious (2011)

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Director: James Wan

Writer: Leigh Whannell

Stars: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, et. al.

Synopsis: “A family looks to prevent evil spirits from trapping their comatose child in a realm called The Further.”

Release date: April 2011

Review by: Jonathan Butcher

Throughout its first half, Insidious is a wonderfully unnerving tale about a peculiar type of haunting. Then at some point along the way it becomes a goofy, balls-to-the-wall ghost train ride, complete with wacky gas-mask set pieces and a villain who is basically Darth Maul on hooves.

After the appearance of a menacing hag in the first 30 seconds, the opening credits prime you for watching scenes a little more closely than you might have otherwise. The credits roll to the sound of tense, minimalist strings played over disorienting pans of a large house. In some – or perhaps all – of the brief camera shots, something unsettling is taking place. A ghoulish face appears in a mirror. A chair is moved by an unseen force. A picture frame shifts of its own volition. And with that, the scene is set for a genuinely masterful build-up of tension, caused on some level by the creeping suspicion that unsettling things are taking place right under your, and the characters’, noses. Continue Reading

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Reviews in the Machine : The Cold, by Rich Hawkins

The ColdIt’s been a long held fact that you can’t judge a book from its cover. I would disagree with this notion from time to time but the relevance to this discussion is the incredible cover art that perfectly sets the mood for this book. This cover looks like the book was published, ready for John Carpenter to come swooping in to do the film adaptation. And in all seriousness, if this book makes it into the right hands, I can only hope that that adaptation becomes a reality.

I have been a fan of Rich Hawkins from the early days of the Last Plague. He has taken his books in any number of different directions but what I constantly find myself drawn to as a unifying factor in his books is a profoundly ingrained and yet beautiful sense of bleak darkness. There’s an almost nihilistic drive to the writing that, while sad on the surface is also compelling enough to keep me turning the pages and pulling me through the story.

The Cold starts abruptly and while many would call for more information and context, I think this works better. Rich is superb at putting the reader into the story, along with the characters. The book opens on a train and we have about that much time to acclimate before things kick off. It begins to snow and the train stops, stranding the passengers. And hidden within the misty snow and driving wind are creatures that are powerful and terrifying.

I hate retreating back to the tried and true catch phrases like, “Truly no one is safe in…” But in this case, I can say with total accuracy that no one is safe in a Rich Hawkins book. As our characters do what they can to make their way across this nightmarish landscape, new people are quickly introduced. And just as quickly, they are obliterated out of the story in spectacular fashion.

And while you aren’t given a ton of back-story up front, I felt like the protagonist managed to grow in my mind as the book wound its way to the gripping finale. Rich does a great job keeping with what you know and mixing all of that into a great tale, even when there’s more still yet to come.

Rich has some of the most vivid and visually creative descriptions I think I’ve read in some time. So while the book could be seen as maybe a touch plot-heavy, I find that the plot is so great I just don’t care that much. The book could have been twice as long and I would have happily gone along for the entire ride. A meal as good as this one, you don’t never want it to end.

We live in a world in which every day, people seem to be a little bit angrier. For whatever reason, so many people seem all the more invested in finding reasons to take issue with each other. And I’m not putting down the more politically inclined of our society or those who speak up in favor of those who can’t speak for themselves. But there’s no reason why that has to completely take over our lives. It’s also refreshing to be able to pick up a book and take in a really great story. This is a frightening tale that is paced brilliantly and leaves you wanting to immediately know when the next Rich Hawkins book is going to finally hit the shelves.

Or at least wondering when John Carpenter is going to get around to doing an adaptation of this book.

 

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Chad A. Clark is an author of horror and science fiction. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: Final Destination (2000)

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Director: James Wong

Writers: Glen Morgan, James Wong

Stars: Devon Sawa, Ali Larter, Kerr Smith, Seann William Scott, Tony Todd, et. al.

Release Date: March 2000

Article: What If Death Has A Design?

Review by: Kit Power

[The following essay assumes you’ve seen the film Final Destination, and contains comprehensive spoilers.]

 In the early 2000’s, I was bascially out of the horror scene. I wasn’t watching horror movies, and most of my reading was crime fiction – Kellerman, Leonard, Ellroy. My spare time was almost entirely absorbed by a combinaiton of internet poker and my band, Capo Jr, who I confidently predicted would be headlining Glastonbury and/or Download in a year or two. It hadn’t been a conscious choice – I wasn’t ‘off’ horror ,or anything like that – it was more just how things played out, that’s all. Neutral drift. The life thing that happens when you’re making other plans. Continue Reading

Paranormal & Supernatural In Review : Drag Me To Hell (2009)

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Drag Me To Hell is a film that I enjoyed when it first came out but with so much time having passed since, for the purposes of this review I thought I should re-watch it. And what I found was that I wasn’t enjoying it as much the second time around. And this could be a simple case of a movie not holding up as well for multiple viewings but I tried to mull it over and decide what exactly about it bothered me this time, as opposed to when I first saw it.

And in the end, I think what I can come up with is that this is the kind of movie that is going to depend a lot on what you’re expecting to see as you walk through the door. What style of horror are you expecting and how well does it hold up under those expectations?

Looking at this as a straight horror film, I felt like it came up quite short in the end. And it’s more than just the acting not being great or the cringe-worthy lines of dialog, the likes of, “I beat you, you old bitch” or “That’s the last of my hair you ever get!” For me, it goes down to how the premise of the movie itself is executed, pardon the pun.

Now don’t misunderstand me, I love a good story involving a curse. But in this case, I kind of felt like the movie just goes through the motions of establishing said curse.

The movie opens on a young couple rushing to the aid of a medium. Their son has been marked and made the target for a powerful demon. He has been hearing voices following an incident in which he stole a necklace from a group of gypsies. Always gypsies, right? The parents tried to return the necklace but to no avail. And in the course DragMe4of the attempted séance, a demon attacks and takes the boy, dooming him to an apparent eternity of suffering.

Right off the bat, I have a problem.

Give me a moment and I’ll come back to explain.

Flash forward some thirty years later and we are with our protagonist, Christine. Christine is a loan officer at a bank who is competing with a sniveling coworker for a promotion and things aren’t looking good for her. On this day, an elderly woman comes to the bank because her home is about to be repossessed. She pleads for leniency, despite already having gotten multiple extensions. Christine goes to her boss who implies pretty strongly that if she hopes for this promotion, she should turn this woman away. But of course it’s her choice.

Christine rejects the woman’s plea for help and in the course of her desperation, she makes somewhat of a scene in the bank, begging on her knees and in the course of a mildly physical confrontation where they kind of get tangled up in each other, Christine calls security, having the woman kicked out. She leaves, scolding Christine for shaming her and I’m pretty sure you can guess where the story goes from there.

My problem is at the point where it seems like these people drop a curse on someone in the blink of an eye. And while I get that the point is to generate sympathy for the characters, it goes so far as to make the gypsies in the movie just seem like unreasonable assholes. Look at something like Stephen King’s Thinner. In this story, you have a main character who is in an equally sympathetic situation but at least there’s the other side of the coin where you realize he could have been responsible for a death. He is being punished for an act that most of us would consider equally horrible. There’s a balance.

DragMe5In this? A child is dammed to eternal suffering in hell? For stealing a necklace? That they tried to give back? Could Christine have given the woman a break and given her another extension? Sure. But is it really her fault that the loan is so far behind? Should she be cursed to her own eternity in hell for something like this?

The responses seem all out of proportion with the crime. At some point, you would think that the demon these people are calling up would be like, “Hey, could you stop summoning me every time the checkout clerk at Costco is mean to you?”

I know, I’m taking this aspect of the plot too seriously as obviously this is just intended as a mechanism to put the protagonist into a situation of peril. I just thought they could have done a better job making the main character a bit less sympathetic while still preserving the overall tragedy of the notion of a curse.

All of that aside, I do have to acknowledge some of the better parts of the movie and there are some fantastic moments of gross gore in all of its horrific glory. There are any number of scenes involving the main character and dead bodies and fluids expelling that are pure gold for their entertainment value.

And that brings me to the other side of this coin and what I think settles my mind in terms of seeing the reaction to this movie as being so linked with the attitude you have going in.

I mean, who is this that we are talking about, anyway? Sam Raimi has certainly established himself as a name when it comes to epic, splatter-tastic cult horror films. I mean, that’s what he’s known for AFTER consideration of his epic cameo appearance in Spies Like Us. From the opening moments of Drag Me To Hell when the retro logo for Universal crawls onto the screen, I should have been expecting a throwback to a fantastic era of horror when the experience was just as much about calling friends over right before you ordered the pizza and began stacking up the VHS tapes.

These were not high-brow movies, meant to be taken seriously. This isn’t an experience that is necessarily going to dragme3-e1564170900329.jpgleave you enlightened and more mature. None of it is really meant to be taken on an intellectual level.

Looking through that lens allows me to relax a bit and take in the absurdities of the film as just part of the ride.

The moment of the movie where I think it all crystallized for me had to be the goat sequence. If you aren’t familiar, basically the plan that is hatched by the medium that Christine goes to for help is to summon this demon, trap it within the body of a goat and then kill the goat. Sure, nothing could go wrong. Anyway, the moment when the animatronic goat becomes possessed is one of the more hysterical sequences I think I have seen in any kind of a film, be it horror or comedy or whatever else. How can you not love a movie that has the guts to create a scene as over the top as that?

So I guess my overall diagnosis of the film and how I reacted to it is that I think maybe Raimi was hedging his bets a little too much. The film kind of dips its toes into both sides of the fence but doesn’t seem to commit to one or the other. I think this either needed to be a serious horror film or he had to flip all caution into the wind and go totally over the top. A lot of the movie feels like it’s kind of stutter-stepping in that direction without having the conviction to just do it.

What I’m saying is that if we had slapped on a little more cheese, we might be talking about this film, right alongside the likes of The Evil Dead.

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Chad A. Clark is an author of horror and science fiction. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page

First Meetings, by Chad A. Clark

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Before the crew had even finished the landing sequence, the delegation of Khaln’aari had emerged from the forest to greet them. Captain Altranor led them down the ramp to meet the party with the crew already in full dress uniform. Theirs was one of the first crews to come to the planet, and it lifted their spirits to find such a warm reception.

The digital network that was streamed through their comm badges was able, albeit slowly, to translate what the Khaln’aari were saying. Before long, the formalities of the reception had lessened somewhat to a more comfortable familiarity. They exchanged gifts, the Captain giving the Khaln’aari a glass figurine of Thoth, the Egyptian god of wisdom. The Khaln’aari had given each of the crew necklaces of tiny, but intricately sculpted pieces of brawn’dak stone.

The two groups entertained each other at the reception site with traditional myths native to each others’ cultures. They traded the stories, back and forth, until the sun was starting to set beyond the southern horizon.

The food was by far, the highlight of the evening.

Being nighttime hunters, the Khaln’aari allowed several members of the crew, including the Captain to join them on that evening’s excursion. The crew had been able to achieve several kills, even though all they saw of the animals were dark shapes running through the trees. The Khaln’aari had several dozen kills, and they sent the younger hunters of the tribe to collect the bodies and clean them for the feast.

Hours later at dinner, the servers brought out pots, steaming from within. The stews, all different, were served to everyone, dark and rich, with the most moist, and flavorful meat any of them had ever eaten. The over-sized glasses of blood-red wine went straight through them, and soon, most were seeing the table through an unsteady haze of pre-intoxication.

The Captain stood to toast the hospitality of their hosts and to thank the Khaln’aari for the feast.

There was a tittering of laughter in response to the toast and for the first time, the Captain looked uncertain. The leader of the Khaln’aari rose and spoke loudly for quite some time, the rest of his delegation chuckling as he went on. It took a minute before the neural network was able to fully translate what was being said, and another minute before the implication of his statement set in.

“That is precisely what the last group of humans who visited here said. I know that you believe you were the first to set foot here, as did they. You were incorrect in that assumption, as were they. They enjoyed their meals as well, that is, before they knew what they were eating, or rather, who they were eating. As great as their anger was at being tricked into hunting their own kind, the humans who had visited here before them, it paled in comparison to the revelation that it was those fellow travelers who they had been dining on.”

The crew all pushed back from the table, meaning to stand, reaching for weapons that the Captain had not let them bring for fear of offending the Khaln’aari. Before they could even rise to their feet, guards stepped forward out of the shadows and held them down in their chairs. The Captain stood frozen in place, unable to move or react. The leader spoke one last time, “I wonder,” he said as he lifted a glass, “how the next crew will feel about hunting you. Do you think they will enjoy the food?”

 

 

Read more short stories like this in Chad A. Clark’s collections, A Shade For Every Season and Two Bells At Dawn.

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Chad A. Clark is an author of horror and science fiction. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: Suspiria (1977)

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Director: Dario Argento

Writers: Dario Argento, Daria Nicolodi

Starring: Jessica Harper, Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci

Release Date: 12 August 1977

Country: Italy

Review By: Jeffery X. Martin

Synopsis: Suzy Bannion travels to Germany to perfect her ballet skills. She arrives at the Tanz dance academy in the pouring rain and is refused admission after another woman is seen fleeing the school. She returns the next morning and this time is let in. She learns that the young woman she saw fleeing the previous evening, Pat Hingle, has been found dead. Strange things soon begin to occur. Suzy becomes ill and is put on a special diet; the school becomes infested with maggots; odd sounds abound; and Daniel, the pianist, is killed by his own dog. A bit of research indicates that the ballet school was once a witches’ coven – and as Suzy learns, still is.

The 1977 film, Suspiria, didn’t turn me into a horror fan. It was the trailer. I was eight years old when I saw it for the first time, and I was immediately repulsed and fascinated. The title font that looked like pulsating flesh. That ominous voiceover. And what the hell was a suspiria? Was it a musical instrument? Could I buy one? Continue Reading

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: Halloween III Season of the Witch (1982)

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Directed By: Tommy Lee Wallace (Fright Night Part 2, Vampires: Los Muertos)

Starring: Tom Atkins (Night of the Creeps, The Fog), Stacey Nelkin (Yellowbeard, Get Crazy), and Dan O’Herlihy (The Last Star Fighter, Twin Peaks)

Written: Tommy Lee Wallace (Amityville 2: The Possession, It), John Carpenter (Escape from New York, The Fog), Nigel Kneale (Quatermass and the Pit, The Abominable Snowman)

Release Year: 1982

Review By: Andy Taylor

Halloween has always been my favorite time of year, and one of my favorite aspects of the holiday are the costumes, specifically the masks. Every year on November 2nd, I go to whatever Halloween superstore is in the area and purchase a discount mask because I am far too cheap to pay full price. This strategy has netted me a great collection of creepy, humorous, or disgusting Halloween masks. I’ve got cinematic favorites, scary monsters, and twisted psychos galore, and yet my creepiest mask by far is a large, rubber judge mask that seems to scare everyone who has seen it, judges being terrifying enough without having warped, elongated faces. One mask I’ve never been able to get, and one I would love to own, is the pumpkin mask they put out as promotion for the release of Halloween 3: Season of the Witch. They do have recreations you can get for around a hundred dollars, but if I’m paying that much for a pumpkin mask, it better have a real piece of Stonehenge in it like the ones in the film. My face might get melted off and some nasty creepy-crawlies might come pouring out of my head, but at least I’ll die a horrifyingly memorable death. Though I’m not sure Doctor Challis or the victims of Silver Shamrock would agree with the sentiment. Continue Reading

Reviews In The Machine : Compliance (2012)

Compliance1Compliance is a movie that I watched ages ago, back in the days of old of Netflix and bright red envelopes. But the movie recently popped up again on my Amazon prime list so I thought it would be worth paying it a revisit.

Compliance isn’t a horror movie necessarily. It doesn’t have monsters or the supernatural or any kind of ghoulish threat to our main characters. However, the experience of the protagonist in this movie definitely crosses over the border into what anyone in their right  mind would consider to be horrific. It’s the kind of story that shines a disturbing light on how easy it can be to get people of strong moral character to do the most depraved and horrible things.

The film is based on actual events which maddeningly could be accurately be described as a series of phone pranks. For the most part the basic details were the same. An individual calls in to a restaurant claiming to be a police officer. He tells the manager that he has just taken a complaint from a customer who claims that a cashier from the restaurant has stolen money from her purse. And because there isn’t an officer available to come to the restaurant, he needs the manager to pull the employee aside, detain her and go through her belongings to try and find this money. Continue Reading

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: The Fog (1980)

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Directed by: John Carpenter

Written by: John Carpenter, Debra Hill

Starring: Adrenne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Hal Holbrook, Tom Atkins, Janet Leigh, Et al.

Release date: 8 February 1980

Review by: Thomas S. Flowers

For me, the intrinsic appeal of ghost stories is the tale. Sitting around a campfire, sharing a ditty about life, death, and the thereafter typically involving some crime, something that went wrong, some singular cataclysmic event in which something horrible happened that over the years formed into the story. Said story exists both to scare (entertain) and to give warning. Beware the house on Redwood Street, inside its dilapidated walls a horror awaits those foolish enough to enter its haunted halls, etc. etc. In the macabre 1980 masterpiece The Fog, John Carpenter does just that. Using a traditional Gothic atmosphere, he creates a tale, campfire and all, warning the younger generation of the sins the past. Greed. Hate. Betrayal. And murder have stained the lineage of the small California coastal town of Antonio Bay. But as the idealistic community prepares to celebrate their centenary strange things begin to occur and a foreboding blue fog spreads toward the shores. Continue Reading

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: The Amityville Horror (1979)

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The Amityville Horror (1979)

A Review-ish by: Feind Gottes

Directed by Stuart Rosenberg

Adapted for the screen by Sandor Stern from the book by Jay Anson

Starring: James Brolin, Margot Kidder and Rod Steiger

The Gist: Come on, even non-horror fans know this one! The Lutz family buys a new home on Long Island (Amityville), NY where a young man killed his entire family about a year prior. Evil abounds and 28 days later the Lutz family run for the hills never to return to the home themselves ever.

My Review-ish: Now if you’re a horror fan and you do not know the basic story of The Amityville Horror I have to assume you’re very young, like under 5 or something, or you aren’t actually a horror fan in which case… WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING HERE??? Due to that fact this review isn’t so much a review as it will be a personal story. Don’t worry I’ll keep it short but I should tell you this film is one of the most important horror films to me personally. Now I’ll move on to some facts then we’ll have a little fun, ‘kay?  Continue Reading

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review” The Changeling (1980)

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The Changeling

Release date: March 1980

Director: Peter Medak

Staring: George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere, Melvyn Douglas

Synopsis: “A man staying at a secluded historical mansion finds himself being haunted by the presence of a spectre.”

Review: “The Changeling: Why Do You Remain?” by William D. Prystauk (aka Billy Crash)

Haunted House

Tales of haunted houses trace their eerie legacy back to Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto in 1764 to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher from 1845, and beyond. As horror goes, nothing seems to be creepier than having one’s own home become a threat. The sanctuary turns against its owner and the protective womb of wood and stone may become a tomb. Continue Reading

Saugus Falls, an excerpt, by Chad A. Clark

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A few months ago, I began writing what I thought was going to be a short story. As I got into it, however, I realized that this was likely going to end up being a full novel. For posterity and maybe to motivate myself, I am sharing the first chapter with you now, in all it’s rough-draftiness-glory. I’ve done very little to this, keeping it pretty close to how it sprang out of my mind. I’ve given it a quick read to make it (hopefully) not completely embarrassing. Still, it’s a project that I’ve been intrigued to see what direction it’s going in. Check it out, I hope you enjoy it. It will be some time before this project sees the light of day but it’s from here that it begins.

Nolan picked up the battered Zippo from the gravel. He took note of his fingers trembling as he wiped the greasy leavings of blood from the tarnished metal. The thing was frail-looking, despite the breadth of time and destruction that it had borne witness to. He wondered at how many fire-fights it had gone through, tucked away in his grandfather’s uniform as he struggled to find warmth in the Ardennes Forest. A battered landscape long since given itself up to the cold of empty death.

Now the thing was no better than a token for drunk rednecks to go bare-knuckles over in the parking lot of a bar that looked like it only served as the last stop before the end of the line. He hawked up the gunk in his throat and spit, feeling something dislodge in the process and watched detachedly as a tooth skittered off towards the sewer. Considering how much the side of his face still burned from where the guy had put the pool que, one tooth was probably getting off easy.

Maybe it was time to call it quits on this town. Put boots to that dusty Iowa road and depart for yet one more point B. It was a bit far to the next town but he could always get a good start now, thumbing his way for the rest. Someone would be willing to pick him up and toss him a ride. Even if it was in the flatbed of a pickup that wheezed and groaned, like it was on the verge of giving up the ghosts. He just had to be patient and put himself in the right position to catch a ride. Continue Reading

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: The Exorcist III (1990)

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Legion: The Exorcist III

Release Date: August 17 1990

Starring: George C. Scott, Brad Dourif, Ed Flanders, Jason Miller, Nicol Williamson.

Written and Directed by: William Peter Blatty, based on his novel Legion.

Review by: D. S. Ullery

I have a list I’ve compiled over the years consisting of movies I feel were grotesquely underappreciated in their initial release. Not too long ago, readers read an earlier piece I wrote about one such title – the late Tobe Hooper’s fantastic science fiction horror opus Lifeforce (you can read that article here)

The film I’m discussing today isn’t merely on that list, it holds the top spot. The Exorcist III  (originally titled Legion: The Exorcist III after the novel it’s based on, but shortened to just The Exorcist III on screen and in later promotional materials) is the definitive example of a sequel hampered by both the poor reputation of an immediate predecessor (which this film thankfully ignores entirely) and a cinematic climate that didn’t really have much room for this sort of film at the time. In a bit, I’ll break down some of the specific reasons why I regard this film not only as an equal to the original but a masterpiece in its own right. Continue Reading

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: Hereditary (2018)

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The ideal of motherhood is often posited as the pedestal upon which society is built. Mothers are supposed to be the ones who protect us, civilize us. Women are expected to flow gracefully into the role of motherhood with full acceptance and wisdom. Fear or resentment are taboos women are expected to repress. The theme of the perversion of motherhood is a popular one in horror, and is a central theme of writer and director Ari Aster’s HEREDITARY.

Even stripped of all supernatural elements, HEREDITARY is a devastating film about a family destroyed by secrets and mental illness. The death of Annie’s (Toni Collette) mother, after a long illness, serves as a catalyst for the family’s final breakdown. They are also attacked by some bizarre force they are powerless against. Annie, her husband Steve (Gabriel Byrne,) son Peter (Alex Wolff) and daughter Charlie (Milly Shapiro,) all seem disoriented and disheveled, pulled along like the puppets Charlie is constantly making. Annie’s mother was very manipulative, especially of Charlie, who tells Annie, “She wanted me to be a boy.” She also asks who’s going to take care of her after Annie dies. Continue Reading

Reviews in the Machine : Frankenstein Theory, by Jack Wallen

Frankenstein TheoreyAt some point, author Jack Wallen made the decision to climb the literary mountain and write his own interpretation of one of the classics, Mary Shelley‘s Frankenstein. And as we currently sit in the era of the reboot and the remake, I think it would be totally understandable if the reflexive reaction to something like this would be to dismiss. To bemoan the general lack of originality and new ideas that are popular culture seems unable to produce anymore.
However, knowing Jack’s work and him personally, I knew him to not be the kind of writer to simply take on any easy gimmick as a way of bringing in readers. I know how devoted of a storyteller he is and as I allowed the idea to fairly percolate in my head, I had to acknowledge that for as much as I like the original Frankenstein, it certainly isn’t without its faults and flaws.
I actually have just re-read Frankenstein this year as I had purchased it for someone as a gift. And as I was reading it, I couldn’t help but wonder where exactly my enjoyment of the story was coming from. There were several junctures where I had to acknowledge that my reaction was stemming from the fact that on an intellectual level I simply knew what was going on in the story. I couldn’t say that I was reacting to the inherent quality of the prose itself. And I think that raises the question which is important for a lot of literature of time periods which are lost to us. How much of our enjoyment of the writing is coming from the actual words from that author and how much is coming from the fact that we are so intimately familiar with the raw details of the plot? Is it possible that these books have been talked over so many times in so many literature classes that we now almost read them on autopilot?
Mary Shelley wrote a classic of modern genre literature. It has hints of science fiction and horror and while people commonly misunderstand who in the story Frankenstein actually is, this book did launch an entire franchise of content in our pop culture. However, I do have some issues in the way in which she chose to deliver the story.
The nested doll style of the plot, along with the heavily epistolary nature of the story makes me as the reader feel cut off from the heart of what is going on. At the outset of the book, the story is centered around the captain of a scientific expedition, writing letters back home to his wife. In his letters, he details an encounter with another scientist by the name of Victor Frankenstein. Frankenstein proceeds to tell this captain an extremely detailed story in his own right, shifting the story to another voice. And at the peak of the story’s narrative complexity, the voice of the narrative shifts again to that of Frankenstein’s creation. If you’re keeping track, this  becomes the voice of the monster, told by Frankenstein to the Captain who then retells it all it in his letter to his wife. At some point you start to wonder how it is that so many people have such a crystal clear recollection of every word spoken to them over the course of their life.
And I get it. I understand that a certain amount of suspension of disbelief is required. After all we are talking about a book in which the dead are brought back to life. Still, my point stands that while I enjoy the novel a great deal, there is plenty which can be built upon and expanded and maybe done with a little bit more clarity. And what I think Wallen has done here so effectively with Frankenstein Theory is to take some of the concepts which Shelly flirts with and makes them much more evident and impactful on the page.
According to Wallen, this book began as a short story intended to be somewhat of a backstory for Victor Frankenstein. And as short stories often seem to do, it ended up growing and expanding from there. So another strength of Frankenstein Theory is that the doctor himself feels like a more fleshed out and rounded character, as opposed to merely an obligatory piece who is there to tell his story.
For me, what made Frankenstein Theory stand out was in the way that it made the issues presented in Mary Shelley‘s book more accessible. And I don’t mean that in a lazy sense of “I just don’t want to deal with the mental strain of disentangling Shelly’s prose.” For me, this book manages to make the morality of the story the centerpiece, as opposed to an aspect which has to be explained and talked over before you really get the significance of what’s going on.

And Don’t get me wrong, the language of Mary Shelley is beautiful and it is a book I enjoy a great deal. It’s just that, generationally we are so far removed from that period of time and that language.  It’s overly simplistic to accuse a lack of intellect when people have a hard time engaging with classic literature. It’s simply that for many, the process of engaging with a voice so far removed from us just isn’t worth the pay-off of what we get in the narrative. And for as simple as I’m sure many would dismiss books of our current era, I have to think that a hundred years from now, readers would have just as much trouble trying to  get at the heart of what was being written. The key I see to my enjoyment of this book is how it manages to dust off the power of Shelly’s work and make it feel less like a literary artifact.

Because of the immediacy of events, Wallen is able to plunge the reader into the moral spectacle that Shelley only seems to wink at. That as the book moves forward, the monster becomes progressively more human while Dr. Frankenstein becomes more and more inhuman. To me, this is the core power of Frankenstein. Not stumbling, green monsters, but how the rational pursuits of an intellectual mind can reveal the real monsters hiding within. And this is a point beautifully laid out in Frankenstein Theory. I, for one, am excited to read more in this series.

D3mini

Chad A. Clark is an author of horror and science fiction. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page

Interviews in the Machine : Jack Wallen

Jack WallenTune in tomorrow for our review of Jack Wallen’s latest book, Frankenstein Theory. For now, check out this interview we conducted with him as well.

MM : Tell us a little about yourself and what put you on the road to being an author.

JW :I spent the first 30 years of my adult life as a professional actor. I was on the road, traveling across the country, from gig to gig, and finally landed at my current home state, where I performed for one of the largest theater for young audiences in America. During my ten years as a resident actor there, I realized that Actor’s Equity Association’s retirement plan was, in a word, sad. When that hit home, I knew I had to find something that could serve as a retirement.

Flash backward to graduate school (go, Purdue!) and I had a very tight-knit group of friends who played a lot of role playing games. We spent an entire year playing Vampire: The Masquerade. I became so connected with the character I played, I decided I wanted to continue his story. After leaving Purdue, I had no one around me to play with (sad panda), so I decided the best way to keep that character in my mind was to write out his story.

Turns out, I actually had a knack for verbiage. That story never saw the light of day (although I do still have the manuscript), but it kicked off my love for writing.

MM: How would you characterize your writing? Genre? Ideal audience?

JW: To sum up my writing is tough, because I write in so many genres. I tend to allow the Universe to instruct me what to write next, so I never know what genre I’ll be playing in. Outside of that, my writing tends to be intellectual and lyrical. I’ve always felt, as a writer, words are my tool to convey plot, character, relationship, ambiance, mood, style, rhythm … and so much more. And so, I use those words as a composer uses notes, a painter uses paint, or a sculptor uses a chisel and clay. To me, it’s artistic expression on a high level.

MM: A number of your books have connections with music. The Kitty in a Casket series as well as Punk Ass Punk. Music certainly plays a central role in Frankenstein Theory. How does your background as a musician and an actor inform your writing?

JW: It’s one of the things I hold most dear, as it helps me to understand things like point/counterpoint and rhythm. As an artist, one of the things I talk about a lot (when I teach) is a bit of music theory call non-harmonic tones. These are tones which color melody as it passes from phrase to phrase. It’s a bit of a stretch to use it with the written word, but there are ways – as in transitions from beat to beat, or scene to scene. Being able to blend those moments together with tension or resolution really brings the writing to a new level. Those “passing tones” help the characters to navigate the waters of plot with grace, precision, empathy, pain, wit … you name it. Outside of that rather esoteric notion, the use of rhythm is incredibly important to my writing. When I see paragraph after paragraph written as big blocks of text, I immediately see a writer who has no sense or understanding of the role rhythm in the written word. Most humans don’t speak or think in that manner … they think in spurts and sputters, intermixed with long, drawn-out thoughts. Writing should reflect that type of rhythm.

MM: I’m old enough that I can still just remember the end of the era when going to the movies was more of an event, almost on level with going to the theater. I see the Universal Monster Franchise as a great symbol of that era. What drew you to these stories?

JW: First of all, I adore those old black and white films. When I was a child, my favorite memories are watching the horror films of old. I couldn’t get enough of B-Horror and B-Scifi. I think there’s this layer of innocence to those films that allowed people to be so much more frightened of the unknown. These films brought to the celluloid table something no one had ever before seen, so even the original Frankenstein was able to frighten them to nearly fainting. Today, we’ve pretty much witnessed every possible horror and calamity that there is to behold, so there is no longer such thing as innocence in the cinema. The same thing holds true with books.

MM: How did Frankenstein Theory come to be, specifically?

JW: It actually started out as a short story. A gent reached out to me, saying he was going to be doing an anthology of short stories, based on the Universal Monsters. He gave me Frankenstein, and I decided to do a sort of prequel to the film … a sort of “What happened to lead up to Victor reanimating a human?”  After submitting the short story, the gent had to abandon the project (for reasons unknown). I loved the story so much, I decided it needed to be fleshed out. That led to me taking on the story with the twist found in Frankenstein Theory.

MM: You seem to engage much more directly the contrast between Dr. Frankenstein and his monster. How the morality of the Doctor seems to decrease as the morality of his creation seems to increase. Is this something that was on your mind as you wrote?

JW: Yes. One of the biggest themes in all of my horror writing is turning the mirror back on humankind, to illustrate how, left unchecked, we are the most horrific monster of all time. So I spend a lot of time in much of my work on that theme. Why? It serves as a way to help remind readers that we are only a twitch away from the monstrous … so keep yourself in check. Without keeping tabs on our morality, the human condition wants to spiral down into a rather dark abyss. It is that dance, I find, where so much horror gold can be mined.

MM: There is such a disconnect between Mary Shelly’s book and the way the monster is represented in the films that followed. Have you ever wondered how point A led to point B in this case?

JW: At the time, Hollywood believed Shelly’s book to be too intellectual for the standard audience. They couldn’t offer up a “monster” who was not only intelligent, but worthy of sympathy. The “monster” in the book speaks with an eloquence we don’t find in most villains (save for the likes of Hannibal Lecter).  There is no way Hollywood could have placed the burden of sympathy on a character like the “monster” and turn the protagonist into a villain. In the book, the monster says “I am content to reason with you. I am malicious because I am miserable. Am I not shunned and hated by all mankind? You, my creator, would tear me to pieces and triumph; remember that, and tell me why I should pity man more than he pities me?” That is far too moralistically confusing for audiences of the period. Because of that, Hollywood opted to strip the monster of eloquence and make him hideous.

MM: Can we expect more from you in this series?

JW: Yes. I am about to release “Dracula Theory”, which does the same thing (for similar reasons) that I did with “Frankenstein Theory”. I also plan on continuing the series with the rest of the Universal Monsters and beyond. I love writing these types of period horror, because their tapestries are so rich and lush.

MM: The landscape out there for authors seems to experience constant tectonic shifts. What advice would you have for authors who are trying to get noticed?

JW: Patience, patience, patience. Back in 2014, it was reported that a new book went live on Amazon every five minutes. I would imagine that number to be exponentially higher now (more like 100+ every five minutes). That translates to a very large number of new books every day, which (in turn) translates to it being harder and harder (with each passing day) for authors to be seen. That means you have to work … hard. At what? Your craft. Make it your goal that the book you’re working on now is better than the book you previously finished. Never. Stop. Pushing. Yourself. Also, don’t adhere to someone’s advice as though it were gospel. Why? Just because it worked for them, doesn’t mean it will work for you. I have witnessed so many authors fail, simply because they were trying to recreate what succeeded for another. Pave your own way. Know the rules, break the rules, make your own rules. I’ve pretty much lived and died by that mantra, and it pays off.

The beat I march to is my own. Find yours and make it something glorious.

MM: Is there anything coming up for you on the horizon that you would like to share?

JW: As I mentioned, I have “Dracula Theory”, which is my take on Bram Stoker’s fabulous tale. My version is in the same period, but flips the whole narrative on its head. Besides that, I’m working on my first romance novel, called “Beautiful Complication”. This is far from a standard romance, so expect the unexpected. Beyond those two pieces, I have a “to be written” file that’s massive, so there’s never a lack for ideas.

Paranormal & Supernatural In Review : The Exorcist (1973)

Exorcist1
What can I really say about a movie that has had so much expressed about it already? It’s a classic film, regardless of how much of a horror fan you are and there have been countless films and books inspired by it.
I came to this movie at some point during college in the late nineties. I’m not old enough to have seen it upon its original release but I did see it in the theater in 1998 when the remastered, extended version was released to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of its creation. It’s a monumental film, one that has been deeply influential for me.
I think one aspect that rings so loudly for me is the tragic implacability of the thing. In a similar fashion to Jaws, once you’ve found yourself in the crosshairs of the monster, there’s very little you can do to save yourself and more importantly, there was very little you did to put yourself there in the first place. Having this horrific string of events happening to this sweet, innocent-looking girl heightens the overall tragedy.
And on this point, I really have to pass along my compliments to the parents of star, Exorcist2Linda Blair. For as much drive as there must be to find roles for your working-actor child, I have to think there must have been a great deal of hesitation and stress over their daughter being in this film. And also credit to the production team as well as director William Friedkin for coming up with ways to do the heavier scenes without having to involve Blair but also for bringing the material to a more simple level that she could understand and engage with. It’s difficult to get the frightening performance out of a child that you need without at the same time setting that kid up for some future therapy bills.
This was also one of the first films I was aware of that really flexed its marketing muscle to its full potential. Some early trailers for the film utilize a string of animated still shots along with some heavily accented strobe effects, the point being to heighten the discomfort of the viewer. This feeling can of course only serve to keep the film present in the mind until the inevitable moment when you finally break down and watch the movie. There were also a lot of news reports detailing how people were fleeing the theater in search of the nearest chapel. Add to this all the stories of the production being cursed and the number of people involved with the film that died. I don’t know how much, if any of this is credible. But what I do know is that it all lends a disturbing atmosphere to the film before you’ve even watched the opening scene.
Speaking more to the urban legends around the film, I’ve never really believed that the production was cursed, although it does make for a good story. Frankly, I’ve always suspected this was created as another facet of the guerrilla marketing of the film. Max von Sydow has spoken on the issue and I agree 100% with his take, that any time you have a production that drags out as long as the Exorcist, there are bound to be more deaths and mishaps.

I do believe this film is an example, not unlike Apocalypse Now, of a director becoming consumed by a project. I have no idea if Friedkin had a Coppola level breakdown, but from what the cast has had to say, he became quite invested in the success of the film. In one heightened incident, after extensive takes of not getting the emotional performance he wanted from an actor, he proceeded to slap him before a take. In the scene, as the priest delivers the last rites, you can see his hand shaking. This wasn’t a result of just his acting craft.

Say what you will about Friedkin’s tactics and behavior, but he managed to take this book and turn it into one of the greatest horror movies of all time. It is a tour de force that employs brilliant suggestion and foreshadowing that leads up to a terrifying confrontation.

Exorcist3I think what I love the most about the Exorcist is that it refuses to comply with easy explanations and it doesn’t simply feed you backstory or information. Somehow, this young girl finds herself possessed by some kind of an entity and over the course of the film, the heroes wage a battle against it on several different philosophical fronts. Why does it happen? What does it want? We don’t know. The movie lends itself to your speculation. I am in total agreement with Friedkin that the Exorcist is the kind of film where you take from it what you bring in. If you believe that the world is a dark and evil place, then you’ll get confirmation of  this. But the movie also supports the notion that there are forces for good that struggle on our behalf. It’s a movie that, despite all the horrific things that happen, there is also some good for you to take hold of.

I read Blatty’s novel recently and found it excellent as well. There isn’t a ton that strays from the film and I think it pays testament to how effective of an adaptation Friedkin managed to put together.  The Exorcist fires on all levels and if by some chance you haven’t seen it, you should make all efforts to rectify that oversight as soon as possible.

D3mini

Chad A. Clark is an author of horror and science fiction. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page

For Walls Do Crumble, by Chad A. Clark : Chapter One

For Walls Do Crumble2

In one week, the final chapter in Chad A. Clark’s apocalyptic trilogy will be released. It’s now available for pre-order. Are you curious? Interested in checking it out and don’t want to wait? Machine Mean has for you an exclusive look at the first chapter. Enjoy, and please considering pre-ordering, via the link at the end of this piece.

-1-

 

The dime was what first caught her attention.

As she walked along the street, Roxie caught a flash from the corner of her eye, glancing to her right to see sunlight reflecting off the small piece of metal on the ground. She slowed and veered towards the coin, bending down to pick it up. As she did so, her feet absurdly tangled and her balance began to slip. With a mocking laugh from within, she realized that there would be no way to prevent this as she held out her hands to try and brace herself, with nothing but open air to stop her. Two pedestrians offered their help in the form of deftly stepping out of the way when she fell, grunting as her shoulder hit the ground and possibly in an unconscious attempt to escape from reality, she allowed her momentum to carry her on as she rolled between two newspaper machines.

The world erupted in bright white light.

Roxie squeezed her eyes shut, putting her arms up over her head as a blast of heat flowed over her. There seemed to be a collective outcry as the ground shook, glass breaking all around. Car horns seemed to go off all at once, only to be immediately silenced as if from some higher power and above, tendrils of darkness stretched out into the sky.

“What the fuck?” She looked at the blood on the pavement, rubbing the side of her head at the unexpected warmth. It was like an oven door had been opened next to her head.

It took a moment for her to register the screams.

Ten feet away, two people were on the ground, kneeling and shrieking in clear agony. One woman had clamped hands to her face, blood seeping through clutching fingers. The other was trying to rise to his feet, blinking with bloodshot eyes, looking like they couldn’t draw a focus, screaming as he did so.

“I can’t see! Someone please help me, I can’t see!”

And as she looked up and down the street, there was more of the same. Either prone bodies littered across the ground or people doubled over in pain and confusion. She looked up to City Hall when her breath caught at the sight of the clouds roiling up into the rapidly darkening sky. There was no denying the sight of the mushroom cloud, something she had only previously seen in documentary footage.

“Fuck.”

The muttered protest was all she could think to do as she averted her gaze from the explosion, thinking of all the people around her who had evidently lost their vision. They writhed on the ground everywhere, plunged into their own pain and confusion. An odor of something burning was in the air and all she could wonder at was how she had managed to avoid being hurt herself. How she had the luck to not be looking into the sky when the detonation had happened. There were more vibrations under her feet and part of her wondered how long it would be before the ground itself split open.

“Hey!” The voice came from behind her as a hand landed firmly on her shoulder to drag her to the ground.

“What…what the hell are you—”

“Shut up and follow me. There isn’t time!” The tall, reedy man darted off through the crowd and as she struggled to keep up, she pulled up at the sight of him pulling on a manhole cover, stepping onto the ladder below. She detected a foul odor as she stepped closer, watching him descend. He snapped at her again, his tone leaving no room for debate. “Come on, we don’t have a lot of time!”

She shook her head at the insanity that somehow, climbing into the sewer with this stranger was almost more crazy than what she had just witnessed. The crashing report of a car colliding with a signpost across the street snapped her back to reality and she stepped onto the ladder.

“Who are you, do you know what’s—” Her question died on her lips as she stepped off the ladder and found her new friend stripping off his clothes and dropping them onto the concrete next to them. “What…the hell are you doing?” she asked him.

He shrugged as he continued to undress. “You know what that was, right? That was a nuclear explosion. That means your clothes are contaminated. You got to get them off. Careful not to get them in the water, though.”

Roxie glanced at the wide, man-made stream flowing past in the trench. She wanted to protest as every instinct screamed how insane it was to simply strip in the presence of this man. Still, if what he said was true, she had to do it. Pulling her clothes off, she looked over as he stood there, down to his bare ass and glancing off to the side as if he was trying not to watch.

“All of it,” he said, almost sounding apologetic. Roxie slipped out of her underwear and added it to the pile. Reaching down, he added her clothes to his but as he turned she had a sudden thought.

“Wait!” she cried out. He paused and turned back, clearly agitated, one foot already on the ladder. “Wait, my keys are in my pants pocket.”

He snorted and shook his head. “Kid, you aren’t going to be driving anywhere anytime soon.”

“No, you don’t understand, the key-chain!”

He reached into the pockets until he found the keys and held them up, looking but clearly not understanding.

“The key-chain!” she repeated. “That’s a picture of me and my brother. Please, I can’t lose that. Please give them back.”

He let out a slow breath before nodding and tossing them to her. She had a brief, terrified vision of missing and watching them slide into the water but she managed to catch them cleanly, clutching them to her chest while he scampered up the ladder. He threw the clothes up and out, coming back down after he had disposed of them.

“Don’t worry,” he said. “I’ve got clothes where we’re going.”

“Christ,” Roxie muttered to herself. The guy acted like he hadn’t heard, leading her down the walkway along the water. At some point, he bent down and picked an object up off the ground. She heard a clicking sound and light emerged from the flashlight he now held. After what seemed like an eternity and as the echoing sounds of explosions above began to fade, he stopped abruptly and reached for a ladder. Her mouth gaped open as he stepped down and began towards the water.

“Don’t worry, it’s only about four feet deep and the current isn’t that strong. Just keep close to the side.”

“You want me to—”

“Come on! I promise we can talk all this over but we need to get to a safer place. Please just shut up and—”

“Okay! I’m coming, for fuck’s sake. Just hold on.”

The water was surprisingly cold as she eased into it. It came nearly up to her armpits but the foothold underneath was more secure than she had been expecting and it was relatively easy to move along the wall without losing control. From above, there were occasional tremors, followed by a shower of dust. All she could cling to was the hope that at any moment she would wake up, having had the most surreal dream.

“Come on. In here.” He stopped and turned into what looked like a small alcove. She could see the top of what looked like an arch of some kind but it seemed to be a solid wall, inset somewhat from the main tunnel.

“Okay,” he said, turning to her. “This is the point you’re going to have the hardest time with and I need you to trust me. Take my hand. Now what we’re going to be doing is going underwater and swimming straight ahead. I know it sounds crazy but just close your eyes, take in a deep breath and stay with me, all right?”

Roxie barely had time to nod before the light clicked off and they were going down. The water swirled up above her as they submerged and the world took on a tinny, hollow echo. They swam forward but the wall she had expected to find before them wasn’t there. Instead, they swam through a secondary tunnel that had been obscured by the water level. She had the vague thought that she wished he had told her how far it was going to be but they were already angling up.

As they broke the surface, she coughed out the moisture that had managed to seep in, looking up into the chamber they had just entered. The water went another ten feet before reaching a dead end. The room itself was shaped like an over-sized horseshoe, with the water at the center. At the very end, another ladder took them up to the platform, at least ten feet above.

“Wait for a minute,” he said as he climbed out of the water. He moved away, out of sight for a moment before returning with a towel, holding it up for her as she climbed. He averted his gaze as she wrapped it around herself and pointed off towards one of the walls. “There’s some clothes over there you can choose from. Sorry I don’t have more but it’s better than nothing.”

Roxie wasn’t interested in clothes, though. She looked around the chamber, seeing that there was no way in or out, other than the submerged tunnel they had just swam in through.

“What is this place?” she asked.

He shrugged in response. “I don’t really know. I found it about a year ago.”

“And you…you’ve been living down here?”

He smiled for the first time. “Beats the alternative at the moment, doesn’t it?”

“So…what the hell just happened? What are we going to do down here? Where are we…” She trailed off as she began to feel her breath running short. The questions flew into her head too quickly to articulate them.

“Let’s take that slowly and start simple, okay? I’m Jeff. What’s your name?”

“Roxie. I…why did you help me?”

It was the only question she could phrase from the stew of confusion brewing within her.

“Honestly, I don’t really know. Everything happened so fast but you had been lucky enough to not be looking into the blast and I…whoa, easy there!”

Before she could speak, she threw up what was left in her stomach, feeling her eyes dropping shut and the last sensation she could mark before darkness rushed in was pitching forward into his outstretched arms.

Click HERE to preorder today!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: Prince of Darkness (1987)

Image result for prince of darkness 1987

Directed By: John Carpenter (Halloween, Escape from New York)

Starring: Donald Pleasence (Halloween Franchise, Phenomena), Victor Wong (Tremors, Big Trouble in Little China), Dennis Dun (Big Trouble in Little China, The Last Emperor), Lisa Blount (Chrystal, An Officer and a Gentleman), and Jameson Parker (The Bell Jar, Jackals)

Written By: John Carpenter (They Live, The Fog)

Release Year: 1987

Review By: Andy Taylor

As the son of a preacher-man, it should surprise no one that I’ve always had a strong interest in religion. Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and so many others have long fascinated me, ever since I found reading the Bible, the only reading material available during church, to be more interesting than listening to the sermons. I might not prescribe to any particular one, though what my beliefs are remain immaterial to this review, but I’ve read most of the different religion’s main holy books to sate my curiosity, finding each one to be a fascinating look at how early humans tried to explain the world around them. Another big interest of mine is science. I might not understand a lot of it, but I love how science continues to delve the depths of our universe for answers we’ve been asking as a species for thousands of years. In some cases, both science and religion can be blended together, though many times the two are diametrically opposed, and this can make blending them effectively a difficult task. Thankfully, John Carpenter seems to have those same interests, and being the talented writer that he is, did a good job mixing the two into a strange, but fascinating tale, even if it does suffer from a couple of issues. Before we get to that, let’s look at the weird tale of Liquid Satan. Continue Reading

Reviews In The Machine : The House With A Clock In It’s Walls (1973)

House With ClockWay back in the day, when I was starting to get legs as a reader, while I had yet to find my way into the universes of Stephen King, my early sensibilities towards horror were already beginning to manifest in my love for one book in particular.

The House With a Clock in its Walls.

I think I was drawn initially to the fact that the hero of the story was a child, of roughly my age. But more than that, this was a child who felt out of place, like me. Like Lewis, I often found it easier to retreat to the comfort of books than to expose myself to the stress of trying to make and hold on to friends. I had recently moved to a new town as well and much of my life at that point was spent feeling out of place. I knew all too well the drive and desire to want to impress people and to set myself apart from the pack.

I was immediately drawn to the characters of Uncle Jonathon and Mrs. Zimmerman. They were great but beyond that I was also still at a point in my life when I looked up to adults and again, because I generally didn’t feel like my peers ever accepted me, I felt much more comfortable around adults.

I also loved magic. And magic was something this story was steeped in. But not the magic of Tolkien or CS Lewis. I think this was the first time I considered the possibility of magic in the context of a contemporary setting. I had never entertained the notion that a wizard need not come cloaked in robes and a tall hat. And that witches didn’t need to be accompanied by a cat, a cauldron and crystal ball. In this story, the witches and warlocks were also just the neighbors that lived up the hill from you.

John Bellairs did a great job making his books exciting and spooky, but never so high on the scare scale that I couldn’t handle it. His books had ghosts, dark magic as well as apocalyptic leanings but it was still in a format ideally to be consumed by an emerging reader. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if his books had been some of the earlier influences taken in by a young JK Rowling.

As an adult, I found that the books had slipped from my recollection. I couldn’t remember the titles or the name of the author. All I could really remember was something about a young character moving in with an uncle. And magic. For years, this book held an almost mythical status in my imagination. The notion of it would rise up into my mind but with no way of really satisfying the urge. It was finally thanks to the internet that I was finally able to put the pieces together as someone on Facebook was able to steer my in the right direction.

John Bellairs and this book in particular were  a part of my life again.

MOVIE 'THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS'

And the book has again risen to the national consciousness with the recent film adaptation. And while I was definitely skeptical of the notion of it being another Jack Black vehicle, I ended up enjoying it, quite a bit. There were some departures for sure, but that should always be expected. There were aspects to the film I would have liked to have seen done differently but I definitely felt the spirit of the book. Even Jack Black proved to be great as the enigmatic Uncle Jonathan and of course, Cate Blanchett was spectacular as Mrs. Zimmerman.

In all, a highly entertaining book, one that I am glad was a part of my development as a writer. It may be a bit on the mild side, especially with the older readers but it’s still a fine example of fun and spooky entertainment.

D3mini

Chad A. Clark is an author of horror and science fiction. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page

Reviews In The Machine : The Evil Dead (1981)

Evil Dead 5I decided to take a trip down amnesia lane and revisit an old classic with the Evil Dead, the movie that would launch both a franchise as well as (arguably) the career of Bruce Campbell.

I’ve always loved the punk rock, cult atmosphere around these films, for as much more attention as they have gotten in recent years with first the remake and then Ash vs Evil Dead. These films exuded what I have argued is crucial to the heart of great horror movies.

Practical special effects.

The thing that I consistently love the most about this movie is how it feels like it’s occupying an actual physical space. And despite the fact that the budget was so low, they did a phenomenal job making that practical space seem terrifying. Despite having very little backstory, preamble, prologue or exposition, I immediately felt the unease and discomfort around this cabin. Everything has an aged, worn- down look to it, as if the thing is rejecting life itself.

The people who were responsible for dressing the set were geniuses. Everything from the groaning and creaking of the wood, to the look and feel of the faded book which our heroes find, to the sound of rain dripping down through the ceiling and onto the floors. The basement was incredible, with buckets and tools clanking against each other, the sound of it all really brought you into this frightening place, more so than many other movies I’ve ever watched.

I think another area where the film excels is in that it proves that you don’t need make the development of a concept overly complicated.  These aren’t difficult machines that we are putting together. It is entirely possible to scare people and engage with the viewer while at the same time laying down some fairly basic brushstrokes. We know nothing about this cabin or how this group of friends came to renting it. We don’t know what’s going on in those words or what the history of that location is. But with a few simple and basic scenes, the film manages to infuse a huge level of dread and foreboding in everyEvil Dead 2 set piece that comes onto screen.

All it takes is for our heroes to find a creepy looking book along with some tape recordings from who I assume used to live at the cabin. We have all the basics we need to figure out pretty much exactly what ends up going on for the rest of the film. And while we have an intellectual understanding of what’s happening, the fact that we don’t really have any clue what the hell is going on makes the story that much more captivating and scary.

This is certainly not without its flaws. I’m not going to stand here and try and trumpet some ridiculous song about how this is the pinnacle of modern cinema. The acting isn’t great, pretty much all around. And I realize that Bruce Campbell has achieved a certain level of adoration from his fans. Hell, I’m a fan of his as well, but it’s not like his acting is that dynamic. He plays a character and he’s great at it. His reputation and popularity is well deserved. But I don’t think anyone would mistake this movie for high-level craft. And I don’t think that was what they were going for. This is not meant to be a deep or insightful film. It’s supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to gross you out and scare you.

This is about the ride.

Evil Dead 3Evil Dead is the epitome of fun horror. The premise and the atmosphere are scary. The monster is implacable and disturbing and there are some beautifully cringe-worthy moments. It’s the kind of film that can stand on its own or can function as a part of a series. It’s not the peak of cinema but it’s the perfect movie to order a pizza and include as a part of a horror flick marathon.

For as low budget as this was, the film still works surprisingly well, even after all these years. It’s a movie of heart and soul and writhing guts that I often find to be a defining product of this time period, the likes of which I have rarely seen again, before or after.

D3mini

Chad A. Clark is an author of horror and science fiction. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: The Blair Witch Project (1999)

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Directors: Daniel MyrickEduardo Sánchez (as Eduardo Sanchez)

Writers: Daniel MyrickEduardo Sánchez (as Eduardo Sanchez)

Review by: Carissa Ann Lynch

In order to fully appreciate The Blair Witch Project, you have to rewind the tape twenty years. Go on—I’ll wait.

It’s 1999—I’m fifteen years old, piled in the back of some goober’s pickup, watching the film on a grungy, old drive-in movie screen. I’m pretty sure it was after midnight.

Here’s the thing—back then, there was a lot of secrecy surrounding this film. Whoever did the marketing—or lack of marketing, I should say—really set the tone for viewers like me. The actors were unknown; their names in the credits were the same as their characters’ names. And in the very beginning of the film, the viewer learns that this film is “recovered footage” of three film students who went into the hills of Burkittsville, Maryland to film a documentary about a local legend—the Blair Witch—and never returned. So, right from the start, we know they’re doomed. The people in the film aren’t actors—they’re dead people. And now we’re going to watch this footage of what happened leading up to the moment of their deaths… Continue Reading

Reviews in the Machine: The Black Room Manuscripts, volume four

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00014]The Sinister Horror Company has long since established itself as a source for outstanding fiction. I have been introduced to a number of fantastic authors, courtesy of their releases and they are one publisher in particular that I always keep a close eye on to see what might be coming next. The handling of the books has consistently been of the utmost care and respect and I always feel confident that my purchasing dollars are going to a good place whenever I support their authors.

One major centerpiece of the Sinister tabletop has been the anthology series, the Black Room Manuscripts. Having run over multiple editions and years, more amazing fiction than I could keep track of has graced the pages of these books, with a hefty amount of money going to charity on the back of the work of so many spectacular authors.

This year, the Black Room series has come to an end with volume four, the final installment. And Sinister Horror laid down a collection of great stories to go out in fine form. Overall, I found them to range from entertaining to staggering and it reminded me of what I have loved about the series (that I have read), that the stories contained in these collections make a point of straying from the convention and striking out into narrative territory that is maybe a bit less tackled by other authors and publishers. I have always held that there isn’t really that much new to be done out there and that the important issue is the talent of the writer. Despite my holding to this conviction, this book still manages to feel at moments like writing I have never seen before.

If I had any critical comments to make about the book, it would be that some of the stories felt a bit on the ambitious side for the length they had to work with. There were a number of stories where, when I reached the end I was kind of surprised and disappointed to find that there weren’t a few more pages to contexualize everything. But even taking this issue into consideration, even those stories where I wished the ground felt a little firmer underneath me, I still found plenty in the prose to enjoy. The journey of words in all of these stories were enjoyable to experience. I think it’s normal and should be expected with any anthology that some stories aren’t going to work as well for you as others. It’s just the nature of the beast. A story that I might not respond to could be the one that splits the skies open for someone else. You never know.

So with those prefacing statements, I felt it would be appropriate in recognition of this great achievement from Sinister that I go through the book and offer up my thoughts on each individual story. And I want to make sure it is clear how much I would like to pass along my compliments to all the individual contributors to this book. You are of a quality we all should aspire to and the work you contributed here is well deserving of all praise and honor.

THAT THING I DID, by TRACY FAHEY 

This was about as powerful an opening to an anthology as I may have seen. It’s the kind of story where you aren’t really sure where things are going until the last few moments when all you can do is bask in the heightened tragedy of the whole thing. It’s a perfect example of how you don’t have to have stereotypical horror elements to make a story terrifying. You don’t need monsters or ghosts.

Sometimes the horror is found in the circumstances. 

This story is short but it uses the small space to build a ton of character history and emotional punch. The pacing is perfect and there are just enough crumbs to indicate what’s about to happen. And there is a perfect moment where you almost unconsciously say to yourself, “No, this isn’t going there, is it?”

Of course it’s going there. 



EATING THE DREAM, by K.A. LAITY

This one was more of a mixed bag for me. On one hand, I thought the concept of the story was interesting and that a lot of history was packed into a small amount of space. On the other hand,  though, I also had a harder time engaging in the story and I kind of wish certain narrative parameters had been more clearly established, earlier on. 

The language of this piece is incredibly gorgeous. The tactile imagery and sensations in the story were about as intense and effective as I have seen in a book in a long time. Passages like “The lights of a small town are just right, a bouquet of neon, headlights, and flickering fluorescence. Makes me feel pretty” or “The main transaction is between loneliness and cash”. Lines like that just take me off my feet and remind me about what language can be and why I love doing this in the first place. So many turns of phrase that are just awesome and the poetry of the setting is so powerful, I might just be happy reading it off into the horizon, like the longest Tom Waits song ever written.

All that aside, I did find it harder to pick up on what was going on in the story and where things were going. And please don’t let this arbitrary note deter you from reading this because it’s entirely possible that the problem is with my dumb brain. All I can say is that I think the story could have  been stronger if we had known a little more concrete information about not just this universe but also the narrator. It’s a tough challenge here because while using the first person cuts us off from a lot of potentially useful information that a third-person narrative voice could provide, being able to hear the character’s train of thought is really important. Perhaps a hybrid between the two would have worked. 

In all, an interesting story that I found compelling for what it seemed to be offering. I just would have liked it to have been executed slightly differently.  



A CLEAR DAY IN A SEASON OF STORMS, by SIMON AVERY

This was a cool story with a premise that really rattled around in my brain pan for some time after reading it. And sadly, there is very little I can say about it without spoiling the details of the plot. I shall do the best I can.

The story is centered around  a married couple who have clearly seen better times in  terms of their relationship. As we open, we see them having seemingly reached the realization that even their fairly extreme ideas to try and improve their marriage have failed and as the reader, my immediate assumption was that they were likely finished with each other.

The table is upturned by the introduction of a stranger (I know, cue Ms. Agatha Christie with the sudden thunderstorm and a dark visitor in the rain slicker). If you can look past the superficial, you will find a story that is unique in its scope and execution. I was fascinated by this new  character and  with how quickly he took on a tone of familiarity with this couple. I’m a sucker for any kinds of stories about the sea and as with the previous tale in this volume, the atmosphere and setting of this is phenomenal.

Great characterization, plot and description. And a great reminder that just because a story has supernatural elements, it doesn’t necessarily have to be horrific.



THE HANGING BOY, by GARY MCMAHON

This was a fun story. I really enjoy it when an author allows a narrative to thrive on a surrealistic landscape and doesn’t make a ton of effort to explain away or justify it. This tale is definitely an example of that, a normal, average day that quickly transitions to anything but. It was a situation for a character of which I had no understanding but was definitely engaged in wanting to know more. Some of the language and dialogue really reinforced the idea with me that this was a kind of modern day fable.

I think it casts an interesting light on the subject of perspective and how our mind can sometimes allow us to see the world in times of stress. In other words, maybe we can’t always trust our own senses if, on a subconscious level we are trying to shield ourselves from what’s really happening.

Plenty of stories will take the tactic of shifting and changing your perspective on everything but I found this one to be particularly clever about it. An interesting and enjoyable read.

MAM’S GIRL, by J.L. GEORGE


I’ll be completely honest and admit that this one went past me a little. But I definitely enjoyed the intrigue of the tale and in trying to unravel what was going on. And perhaps more importantly, the story got me thinking. 

It made me ponder the experience of getting old and how we can end up retreating into our own consciousness, to the point where maybe we interact with our own memories. Could those memories actually be self-aware as they swirl around us in the ether? Is it possible that the moment of our death is that in which all those disparate elements are finally brought back together?

Not to do with the story. But it’s the mental journey I was sent on. 



TEARS OF HONEY, by JOHN MCNEE

With an opening line like, “For what is pleasure, but an evolution of pain?”, it’s hard for me to not go in with my brain in a Clive Barker kind of mindset. And this is a completely unfair standard to set for a story but unfortunately, that was what was colored expectations from the start.

I was thrilled to find that the story completely delivers on this implied expectation that I had created for myself.  l loved the notion of this group of individuals coming together for the purposes of exploring paranormal phenomenon. It isn’t clear at first what they are going to be doing but the tone of the piece kept me engaged throughout.  

And for me, what sets Clive Barker aside is how he weaves his dramatic visual canvas on which to draw. This carries over nicely as McNee delivers some imagery that is profoundly disturbing.

if I had any critical note, I would say that the story at the start steps aside from the main narrative to offer up backstory. It provides some insight into the characters that I didn’t think was necessary. I wasn’t really sure where things were going at that point and I thought that section could have been condensed quite a bit. 


DECIPHER, by DANIEL MARC CHANT

I think what I found really cool about this was the shifting in time and perspective and how, while narrative modes like this could have created more confusion around the mystery of the plot, Chant manages to layer everything perfectly. I loved the interaction between this couple and seeing how the relationship became so fractured.

Chant does a good job getting into the minds of the characters and using them to craft an engaging story. He did a good job showing the increasing obsession of the wife and demonstrating how this leads to her revelation about her husband that drives the drama underlying in the piece. It all works up to a brilliant ending, one of the stronger ones in the collection, in my opinion. The questions aren’t all necessarily answered and maybe we aren’t left really knowing which one of the couple is more of the monster but I kind of like how that is left open-ended. While some stories leave making me feel like there needs to be more filler to the core of the plot, this moves quickly and is compelling enough to make me really love it in the form it is in.


TAP, TAP, by MARIE O’REGAN

This one had a beautifully creepy atmosphere to it. While dolls aren’t exactly new when it comes to the content of horror fiction, there always exists the possibility of taking something routine and making it great. I think that is what O’Regan has done here, in brilliant form.

The pacing of was near perfect as I had no desire  to put it down at any point while I read it. The tension is real and palpable as the story moves along, which isn’t easy in any kind of story length. I don’t want to give too much away but the experiences of this woman and her mother quickly escalate from curious to simply terrifying. I’m not generally bothered by horror fiction but some of the imagery in my head at the end of this piece definitely had me feeling unsettled. It’s a perfect example of a creative drive that we should all aspire to. It’s a fantastic idea, delivered with tremendously talented writing. This was one of my favorites from the collection. 


BLACK SILK, by BENEDICT J. JONES

Benedict Jones has long since demonstrated his abilities as a great storyteller and he brought his full game to bear in this finale for the Black Room Manuscripts. After a quick start, Jones does a superb job developing tension in this with a great sense of movement to the plot, foreshadowing something terrible yet to come. 

I loved the mystery behind this character as she learns more about herself and her past. And the situation she has to live with is pretty sympathetic, a sympathy which Jones will challenge as the story goes on. Everything winds down to a turn at the end that I didn’t see coming and I thought worked extremely well. 

This story is a perfect example of how things aren’t always what they seem and before you pass judgment on anyone, it’s important to work your way through, all the way to the end.



DRAGGED DOWN, by RAMSEY CAMPBELL

This was a cool little tale that seemed to be going for a number of different angles at the same time. On one hand, I liked the creepy vibe around the nature of a local tunnel and the various stories that the characters come up with, surrounding it. Is this just a case of characters being asked to mine their own imaginations and making something more than it really is? Or does the tunnel in question actually bear some darker aspects that we  can’t really understand?

I have seen a number of stories over the years about the phenomenon of tunnels that have the power where you can be affected somehow if you dare to venture through to the other side. Doing great horror is often about taking something mundane and making it into something unsettling and I think Campbell does this well. 

I also appreciated how the dynamics between classmates was represented here. I think it takes a bit more work and guts to portray children as the bullies they can be and demonstrating how a hostile environment can swell into something horrifically worse.

In all, very entertaining and I’m glad I got the chance to read this.



PLACE OF THE DAMNED, by C.L. RAVEN

This was a fun story that managed to pack a lot of action into a short amount of time and space. The premise of exploring a long vacant castle is certainly nothing new, responsible for so much of the gothic imagery we associate with horror anymore. The vibe I felt in this was really similar to what I got from Dusk ‘til Dawn in which there is a definitive line that separates two starkly different aspects of the story. To start out, we have a fairly light-hearted sort of ghost story but this  quickly descends into something much more serious. Once the action kicks in, it doesn’t let go.

If I had any complaint it would probably be that I didn’t think the whole ghost hunters angle was needed for the story. It didn’t really add anything crucial to the overall vibe of the piece and if anything, it felt slightly more like ground I have walked a few too many times. Still, while these aspects may have been present, I still found the execution of the story to be top rate, a good, fun read.



BROOKS POND, by MARK WEST

I’m always grateful for anthologies like this  for opening my experience to new authors but obviously I  also like seeing what work the names I’m familiar with have laid down. I have been a fan of Mark West for several years now and I think he excels at crafting beautiful atmosphere and characters. His work on Brooks Pond is no exception.

We have come to expect it anymore that in stories like this, our expectations will be played on a little and that by the end of the story, we get to see how misled we had been throughout. West does a great job in spinning the tables around and giving all the characters a grim turn in terms of how we see them. And after all of that, he manages somehow to give one character in particular an even darker turn than he had already. Not really a double twist but certainly a clarification of just how dark and depraved some characters can be.

PLANNING PERMISSION, by HANNAH KATE

Write a horror story involving urban planning. 

I feel a bit ridiculous even writing that out but somehow this is what Hannah Kate managed to accomplish with this one. And I think it’s a great example of how you can take narrative devices that have been used often and freshen them by putting them into a new context. 

Despite being fairly heavy-handed with the exposition at times, I found the mystery to be engaging and interesting. And even though I had an inkling of where things were going, the quality of the prose and skill in the crafting kept me hanging on to the last paragraph. 

SHRIVELED TONGUES OF DEAD HORSES, by ERIK HOFSTATTER

I really loved this one, despite the fact that for the first half or so I hadn’t a clue what the hell was going on. Still, the imagery was incredibly vivid so I hung tight. Then, about halfway through, the story came together and began to actually make sense. And then with the final line, we get the rug pulled out and we are once again floundering without a tether. I suspect I could read this six times and come away with six different interpretations. 

DEATH WISH, by MARGARÉT HELGADÓTTIR

Mixed feelings somewhat on this. On one hand, I love that we are dropped right into the middle of things and the heart of the story is almost immediately present. On the other, I also would have liked to have had a little more information on the universe this takes place in, of traumas experienced by the protagonist that seem to weigh heavily but are maybe sketched a bit lightly. 

Beyond this minor issue, the execution of the story works really well. I liked the sense of confused familiarity between the narrator and the girl he chooses to help. From the start you have a sense that something beyond the obvious is going on and the story does a good job layering the plot out ahead of you. 

I kind of wanted more at the end but it closes with a solid last line and some creepy imagery to go along with it. 





SIZE ISNT EVERYTHING, by JAMES EVERINGTON

I enjoyed this story, mostly for the atmosphere and the description. I felt like I was sitting in that car for most of the time, the writing was so vivid and evocative. I also would have liked a little more clarity at the ending, just tilting the narrative cards down a little bit more so we can get a better look at them. 

That aside, the atmosphere and creeping dread that is present throughout the story is brilliantly done. There’s an intriguing pace to the story as the protagonist finds himself exploring the confines of an abandoned apartment. 

Tons of dark foreshadowing, which I am a fan of. And also an incredibly inventive monster, if you want to call it that. Quite Lovecraftian in its design but with maybe even more sci-fi kind of aspects. 


PAIN HAS A VOICE, by STEPHEN BACON

Really brilliant. A great examination of the emotional struggles of a child who has to come to terms with the death of a parent as well as the introduction of a new parental figure who may be quite a bit less suited as a parent. 

As a writer and a lover of books who also has kids, I appreciated the notion of books being used as a conduit that can connect kids to their parents. 

And although the story is pretty grim in the details of the plot, I also found it a nice way of demonstrating a child’s development of inner strength, possibly to the point of standing up to his abusive step-father. Of course, it’s also possible that we are seeing the origin story for a psychopath. And the ultimate irony here is that both of those statements could easily be true. 

The reality of great fiction is that just because a character is sympathetic, it doesn’t inherently make them a good person. This story really hammered home that point for me. 

SWIMMING OUT TO SEA, by PENNY JONES

This one spoke to me as it took place in an environment that felt comfortable to me. It reminded me of summers at Lake Michigan and wading out into deeper waters than we probably should have been allowed. I’ve felt the uncertain pressure under my feet and around my ankles as they are sucked into the sand, always wondering about the fabled rip-tide that could drag you out to sea. 

This story is pretty bonkers as it unfolds and it’s a brilliant examination of a persons state of mind and how perceptions can be warped or misled. Jones does a great job leading the reader along, right there with the protagonist, only to have the floor yanked out in due course. 

This was a cool sequence of events as this character’s peril just seems to increase with each passing moment. And it leaves you in a powerful moment at the ending.

REANIMATION CHANNEL, by MARK CASSEL

Probably another one of my favorites from the book. The premise of this is incredibly inventive and crafted out to a high degree. And just when I thought I couldn’t get more impressed with the concept behind the plot, it just went and got even crazier and more creative. Somehow, he has managed to take a fairly grizzly monster story and fused it with a kind of tech-y, almost science-fiction feel to it. The mystery is effective and the plot is laid out perfectly to create just the right level of action, mystery and suspense. 

It all builds up to an ending that is probably one of the more emotionally satisfying ending points I’ve seen in a story. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall as the concept for this was worked out because I was really impressed with the level of skill that went into crafting a story such as this. Give it a read. And keep it in the back of your mind the next time you go online to do some serious gaming.


CRAFT AIL, by DUNCAN BRADSHAW

This was an incredibly fun and entertaining story. I have read a number of Bradshaw’s works, from his books to his shorter stories and I am always impressed with the breadth of content in his writing. By no means is this a writer who takes on the same subject matter time and time again. And yet, despite the difference in subject, the style always seems to be uniquely his. It’s hard to strike a totally unique tone in your writing but I think Duncan Bradshaw has done quite a bit in this regard.

This story is bonkers, right out of the gate and with very little exclamation you are dumped into the middle of the craziest situation you could probably imagine in a story. And somehow, without giving a ton of backstory, he still manages to make all of this craziness seemed completely normal. I had a lot of fun trying to disentangle what was going on and what direction the story was going in.

Bradshaw exercises a deft slide in perspective in this, moving from one character to a completely new one at about the midpoint of the story. And while, by all rights this shouldn’t have worked, it serves to function in the story perfectly. The dark and violent notes of the opening are only smoothed over by the humor and absurdity of the second half.

Definitely one of the high points of the collection for me.

ZWIGLI’S LAST PAPER, by ELIZABETH DAVIS

I’m feeling a fair amount of guilt when it comes to this one and it is for this story that I think I have had the most difficult time phrasing how I feel about it. Because I think it’s clear how much time and attention and craft that went into the construction of this story. This is not some paper-thin narrative that someone threw together and patched up with some packing tape. I can only imagine the Herculean effort it would have taken to both conceive of and execute this

It just isn’t for me.

Ultimately, I just feel like there isn’t enough context for the story, told in a mostly epistolary fashion. The mode of the narrative made me think quite a bit about Lovecraft’s At The Mountain Of Madness, or even Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. The problem for me was that I didn’t understand what was happening around the existence of these writings. I didn’t really know why I was reading it or what this person had done to warrant the collection of her writings. Ultimately, there was just too much work for me to engage with this and I was not successful. And I take full responsibility for this. The failing here is mine, not the author.

I would strongly encourage you to give the story a go. Plenty of people will be able to find a connection here that I have not.




LAUREL, by TERRY GRIMWOOD

This was a well paced and written piece of historical fiction. It’s a skill set I have never had and I’m always impressed with writers who can do such a good job putting a narrative so authentically into an era lost to all of us. It’s easy to just say that a story is set in the past, it’s another entirely to avoid the anachronistic and make a piece feel like it’s oozing the time period it’s set in. It was an exciting read. 

It’s also an example of what I have said of the book overall, that this was one that I would have liked to have seen with a slightly more firm ending to it. The frame story in this felt less successful to me and I’m not really sure why, other than it seemed to not function as well as a part of a coalesced work of fiction. 

Still, a fantastically layered story. Kind of a mashup of Lovecraft and the Great Escape. 

TIDE WILL TELL, by V.H. LESLIE

This is a beautifully written piece with a lot of great descriptions. I felt like the tactile descriptions of the environment of the story was done to near perfection and this river sounded like one that I might be walking or jogging along. I also liked the glimpses we got at the relationship of the married couple in this story as I know first-hand how stressful it can become in a relationship when going through the process of trying to have a child. I don’t know if this was something intended by the author. I kind of doubt it but this is one aspect I took away from it.

Centered around a man who comes across a sack floating in the river, sure for a moment that he sees something moving in there. Or did he? I’m not really sure. I would have liked to have seen a little more context for these characters. But even though I suspect the heart of the story went over my head a little, the reading was quite pleasurable, in a fictional landscape that felt familiar and comfortable.



THE LAST HORROR, by JR PARK

Great tale to close out the collection. The layering of the story was a joy to try and read through, with perspectives shifting and dropping out brilliantly. In this, we have a writer trying to figure out a story about a writer who is also trying to write a story. And while on the surface, this may seem destined for disaster, the vibe of the story is brilliant. At times I found myself wondering if any of this was real or if the narratives I was seeing merely existed in the middle layers of a sort of literary nesting doll. How many more layers are there, both above and below? To take that even further into the rabbit hole, in some higher level universe is there someone reading a book about me reading a book about a writer writing about a writer?

Like a great Lynch film, this is a story best experienced driving through without a roadmap. Setting your preconceptions too firmly would likely only serve to detract from the experience. It was a narrative that had me thinking for long after I got to the final lines and for much longer after. 

And that’s a wrap on both this review as well as this series of fantastic anthologies. I would like to extend my thanks to the folks at Sinister Horror for the outstanding work they continue to put out and for being a bright and tragically underappreciated light in this industry. This has been a great series and the world of horror fiction has only served to benefit from them, all four volumes.

Do yourself a favor and give some of your time for a deep and heavy book that will entertain and open your mind to narrative possibilities you may have never considered before.

D3mini

Chad A. Clark is an author of horror and science fiction. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: The Shining (1980)

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Starring: Jack Nicholson, Shelly Duvall, Danny Lloyd, and Scatman Crothers.

Written By: Stanley Kubrick and Diane Johnson

Directed By: Stanley Kubrick

Review By: Joshua Macmillan

Synopsis: Jack Torrance is in recovery, now that he is clean and sober, he is on his last legs. Needing to provide for his family, Jack takes a job as the winter caretaker of The Overlook hotel. For the winter, he will move his family in the hotel and he will maintain the building and grounds. Jack doesn’t know that the hotel has its own plans, that the hotel has more than a few dirty secrets of its own. Jack’s son, Danny, has a secret of his own. Danny has the ability to read minds- a trick he learns is called The Shine. Through the shine, Danny learns that his father is deteriorating mentally and the hotel has its own evil agenda.

The shining, arguably one of the most beloved films from director Stanley Kubrick, is a film that has been discussed and dissected by so many people that the task of writing a review for it is rather daunting. Honestly, I put off writing this review as long as possible because the film has become something more than just an adaptation of a Stephen King novel. I am not the type of movie-goer that goes into a movie looking for hidden messages. I want to be entertained and taken on the ride that the story wants to tell me, taking me out of my world and thrusting me into the world of the characters. When looking at writing about The Shining, I find that you can enjoy the film whether you want to dig in deep and search out those hidden themes or if you just want to watch a movie that will take you into its world. Continue Reading

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: The Entity (1974)

The Entity is a 1982 supernatural horror film based on the 1978 novel of the same name by Frank De Felitta, which in turn was based on the Doris Bither case. Bither claimed to have been repeatedly raped by a trio of spirits–two holding her down while the third raped her–over a period of many years, the assaults eventually becoming less and less frequent until, apparently, they finally stopped altogether.

The film stars Barbara Hershey as Carla Moran, who is based on Doris Bither. It also starred Ron Silver as psychiatrist Dr. Phil Sneiderman; Alex Rocco played Carla’s boyfriend, Jerry Anderson, David Labiosa plays her son, Billy, Jacqueline Brookesplayed parapsychologist Dr. Elizabeth Cooley, and George Coe played psychiatrist Dr. Weber. Continue Reading

Reviews in the Machine: Usher’s Passing by Robert McCammon

Ushers PassingThis past year seems to have a common theme of me finally getting around to Robert McCammon books that I should have read in high school. Last year I finally cracked the cover on Swan Song and loved it. Now, this year the choice appears to have been Usher’s Passing. And again the result is me wanting to reach back through time and give the teenage version of myself a good slap.

To start, I’ll admit that I haven’t read Poe’s story, The Fall of the House of Usher, another error I should probably correct. My point in bringing it up is that I can’t really speak to the relevance of McCammon’s book to Poe’s work.

This is a stunning book. There is so much history and depth to the narrative, much more than anything I have read in a long time. I would probably place this up there with some of the massive tomes like Swan Song, The Stand, IT, stories that just seem to keep getting larger and at no point do you feel like any of it is excessive. McCammon makes this massive book feel digestible by making the characters completely dynamic and compelling. These are people who I am interested to learn more about and to see where the currents of the story will take them. This is a real family with real history and all I wanted was just more pages.

What’s more, McCammon brilliantly lays out the tension between his main character and his family, after turning his back on their legacy of arms development. A decision that has cost him the massive amounts of money he would likely inherit otherwise, had he not been a cog in the wheel. I loved the emotionally antagonistic father who finds himself in the position of having to reach out for help from a son who has turned on him. Also, the sniveling brother who clearly thinks highly of himself, much more than most of the family. Add a further complication with a sister who is frequently traveling abroad and you have a recipe for perfect levels of conflict that can fester in a family.

Description and atmosphere are also outstanding in this book. Reading this is like sitting down to a really great meal that you don’t want to end. The chef might be going off in all different directions that interest them but every turn seems like the perfect decision.

There’s a lot going on at the same time but McCammon doesn’t seem to have any difficulty keeping so much in the air. He executes the story on many different levels and he clearly put in the necessary groundwork that was needed to write this. There is the history of the family but also the history of the area and the people who live on the mountain around the family estate. It’s a massive amount of work that he managed to make accessible and organized.

The drama is done well and not at all cliché. The tension is real and the elements of horror that work their way into the book are disturbing. There are some frightening monsters in this as well as an abandoned house that raises some chills as well. There were some brilliantly creepy moments throughout, all delivered with the McCammon level of intensity and power.

And I suppose the best possible compliment I can give to a book is that it made me feel inspired to go read another book. I should probably stop hedging and follow through on my so-called “interest” in reading Poe’s story. If nothing else, it could only serve to enhance the context of McCammon’s book. And then, of course, once I read Poe’s story it would give me a convenient excuse to go back once more through the doors of the house of Usher.

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Chad A. Clark is an author of horror and science fiction. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: Sinister (2012)

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Starring: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, James Ransone, Fred Dalton Thompson, Michael Hall D’Addario, Clare Foley, and Vincent D’Onofrio.

Written By: Scott Derrickson, and C. Robert Cargill

Directed By: Scott Derrickson

Review By: Joshua Macmillan

Synopsis: A washed up true-crime author moves his family into the home of a mysterious murder. While researching the crime, he finds a mysterious box in the attic full of super 8 home videos depicting multiple grisly homicides, leading the author down a path he is not prepared to take.

2012 was a weird year for the horror genre. We saw Sinister release, as well as Excision, American Mary, The Collection, The Possession, and many others- most of which fell below the mark and found themselves in the realm of obscurity. Sinister was one of the few that didn’t fall to the wayside, instead it was one of the best horror films of the year if you look at the “mainstream” releases. Continue Reading

Reviews in the Machine: The Traveling Vampire Show, by Richard Laymon

vampire showOne of my favorite books growing up was Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon. And it was a book that I didn’t immediately engage with. I had been a fan of several of McCammon’s books already but Boy’s Life was quite a departure from what I was expecting. There was seemingly none of the horrific elements that his books seemed to deliver. I bailed out, shortly after beginning my first attempt but before long, I was able to buckle down and force myself through. It wasn’t long after that before I realized how much I had missed out by not sticking with the book the first time through.

The book isn’t horror. I wasn’t wrong in that initial assessment. Sure, there are some moments where the narrative seems to brush up against the supernatural but in no way was this horror. Still, I loved it. The characters were compelling and I quickly bought into them as a reader. I couldn’t put the book down and the thing that really threw me was how, for most of the book, it wasn’t really clear what the story was driving towards. I’m normally not a huge fan of books that are so plot-driven but in this case, the plot was so great, it was all I wanted.

It was this feeling that I returned to when I came across The Travelling Vampire Show. I have not had the pleasure of reading anything by Richard Laymon before and I suspect that this will not be the last. The setup for the book is pretty straightforward. A group of three friends come across a flier for a travelling act that is coming to town. The poster claims that the town can come out to see one of the last surviving vampires, alive. An intense show is promised, one that won’t be soon forgotten.

The friends, after much debate, decide that they need to figure out how to sneak out that night in order to get in and see this vampire, real or not.

From this point on, the book mostly goes into a detailed sequence of events, what transpires for these three friends. It’s a notion that in the hands of another author probably could have ended up being a complete disaster. And for me, this is where the comparison to Boy’s Life really comes into play. As with Boy’s Life, I frequently found myself looking up from this book and realizing that I really couldn’t say what the book was about, or what kind of arc these characters were on. And while many would bemoan the absence of these things, for me, the story was so compelling, I was finding that I just didn’t care. This was a rich universe that was an absolute pleasure to dip in to. It’s a story about friendship and loyalty and about growing up and how our relationships can change as that process moves forward. The plot has an almost episodic feel to it as our characters move from one emotional challenge to the next and I loved it.

The characters were what really rocketed this book into the stratosphere. Everyone felt like they had an immense history and texture to them and it was a big part of what made me overlook my feelings about the story seeming like one endless stream of point A to point B to point C and so forth. The importance of where the book was going took a comfortable back seat to my desire to simply see what the characters were going to do next.

There were a few points where I thought the book could have been better. There are a number of flashbacks throughout and for some reason, one of the characters always seems to have a different nickname during each one. It’s never really explained why she changes her nickname all the time and the first time it happened there were several minutes of confusion on my part, wondering who this new character was.

My other issue was with the ending. While it was dramatic and satisfying, there were certain aspects that I found a bit overdone. There were several moments that I thought were getting a little masturbatory, with multiple female characters fighting and of course losing their clothes in the process.

These were both minor issues however, and my enjoyment of the book remained strong. The  romance between two of the characters is certainly to be expected by most readers so it isn’t exactly a stunning twist but the way that aspect of the story develops is actually quite sweet and I felt like I was seeing something genuine developing, not just an author arbitrarily pushing two characters together. And I’ll give Laymon credit for resisting the urge at a key moment to launch into an obligatory sex scene and instead throwing in a head-fake that made me actually laugh as I was reading, something that doesn’t happen very often.

This isn’t a horror story. It does however build up to some closing moments that are grim and intense in their violence and in how disturbing they are. Overall, this was a fantastic book and the genius of it is in how it takes moments that should drag the book down and uses them as the essential building blocks to construct a book that I didn’t want to put down.

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Chad A. Clark is an author of horror and science fiction. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: Hell House LLC (2015)

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[PRAAAAWBABLY SOME SPOILERS IN THIS ONE]

I actually just had to go through my now-double-digits past write-ups for Machine Mean to see if I was right on this…but HHLLC will be the first found footage film I’ve actually reviewed. And by found footage, I mean the shot-on-video incarnation, and not earlier films with an in-progress-documentary-film conceit like Cannibal Holocaust, Man Bites Dog, etc..

Coincidentally, I think I was supposed to review The Houses October Built but maybe didn’t for scheduling reasons or something. I say ‘coincidentally’ because that was another found footage film about the “Haunt” industry—commercial haunted house attractions run by professionals during the fall season, especially around Halloween. HHLLC goes a very different way with its scares, mostly due to revealing itself as a different subgenre of horror to THOB, which was something more like The Blair Witch Project meets The Strangers. Continue Reading

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: The Grudge (2004)

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The Grudge (2004) seems to be one of those films it’s cool to hate. The only thing cooler is preferring the Japanese original. I’m going to be uncool (not a stretch) and play a little devil’s advocate (assuming my proposed generality is accurate). I’m going to try to focus on what I think is the film’s greatest virtue. It may even be the case that The Grudge (2004), Takashi Shimizu’s English language reworking of Ju-on, has a great deal to teach us about how to make an effective horror film, even if it ultimately fell flat for you.

What is the virtue in question? The Grudge is played straight. Its premise is held up to the light to live or die by its own merit. The film doesn’t lean on homage the way many horror films have done. Recent successful horror installments like Hereditary and A Quiet Place share this quality with The Grudge. All of these films owe something to the catalog of horror films that preceded them, but they are the clear result of careful digestion and organic integration of classic tropes, not so much ham-fisted nods to their predecessors. There’s a sense that the creators were excited about the stories they were telling. They felt they had something unique in hand, and the general consensus seems to be that they were right. Continue Reading

Reviews in the Machine: Salvage, by Duncan Ralston

Salvage1Salvage is a story built on a solid and creepy premise. It’s a book that somehow manages to feel claustrophobic within mostly open spaces and isolated it’s characters in ways that I don’t think I have seen done similarly in anything else I have read.

I love stories that deal with the sea and especially underwater. One of my favorite movies growing up was The Abyss, along with the fantastic novelization, written by Orson Scott Card. I loved the sense of terror that is exuded from being underwater, even at shallow depths. It’s the one place where, despite our often feeling like masters of our domain, once we are plunged into the depths we begin to realize how weak and unwanted we can be on an alien landscape. The sound and temperature is distorted. You have no sense of touch or smell. What you see can only be illuminated by what natural light filters down or by your dive lights. Diving underwater is something that begs to have a horror story written about it.

The concept for this book is of a lost town, flooded intentionally as a part of rerouting a river. It’s something I was surprised to see has happened before. Google it if you want to see some interesting material. Essentially the population must abandon the town and ever since, it has been lost at the bottom of a man-made lake, save for the top peak of the local chapel. The book is centered around the disappearance of the local Reverend as well as some of the parishioners.

All this makes for some outstanding atmosphere and tension. It’s spooky enough to explore an abandoned town but add to that the aspect of doing it underwater makes for a beautiful sense of claustrophobia and anxiety.

It’s a fine line to strike but technical detail is something I like, so long as it is being used to augment the story, not replace it. I call this the Dan Brown syndrome from his tendency to bring an entire narrative to a shrieking halt while some concept is explained. Maybe we even get a flashback of Robert Langdon beating some concept into the ground for one of his classes. This phenomenon happens when you have a writer who puts a ton of time at the library or online, researching some aspects of the story and when it comes time to write, you can tell they are somewhat shoehorning to make room for all the knowledge they discovered. Wouldn’t want that time to get wasted, would we?

And I get it. I’ve been in a similar position. And often we find ourselves really interestedSalvage2 in a subject and want to write about it. The problem is that it bogs down the narrative. So I was happy to discover that in this, Ralston deftly incorporates the necessary technical aspects of diving while at the same time making it feel natural and logical. He also has enough respect for us to keep from overexplaining, making his descriptions clear, while expecting us to keep up with him as well. I felt like I actually learned a lot about diving and of the common dangers that I don’t think I was ever really aware of. It created a beautiful balance of danger for the characters, presented by the real world sources as well as possibly other-worldly as well.

And of course added to all of this is the well-layered tension and mystery around the protagonist’s history as well as that of the town. There is a certain amount of intrigue to the story as he works through the locals, trying to obtain more information. It’s a dynamic between characters that isn’t necessarily new but Ralston delivers the classic narrative in fine form.

The novel is paced well and the characters are carefully crafted. But for me the atmosphere was what really made this story take off. Supernatural horror has always been one of my favorites and the addition of the diving aspect really made it work well. If, by chance you aren’t as familiar with the works of Duncan Ralston, Salvage would be a great starting point.

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Chad A. Clark is an author of horror and science fiction. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: The Omen (1976)

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The Omen: 1976

Starring Gregory Peck, Lee Remick  and David Warner.

Directed by Richard Donner

Review By: D.S. Ullery
For a great many people, the peace and love movement launched in earnest in 1967 with the Summer of Love – and, in a larger, ideological sense, the innocence of the 1960’s – came to an ugly end on an eerily silent August night in 1969, when Charles Manson sent his followers into the Hollywood hills on a mission of murder. Even the success of the Woodstock festival several weeks later couldn’t quell the tide of rising tensions.

This may seem an odd note on which to launch a review of what’s essentially a mainstream occult horror flick about the Antichrist, but bear with me.

Between 1967 and 1974, the mood in the United States had undergone a dramatic shift away from the sensibilities distinguishing the early days of the Hippie movement. There was the assassination of Robert Kennedy, the aforementioned Manson cult crimes, the Kent State shootings, Watergate and the eventual resignation of Richard Nixon. Continue Reading

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: The Conjuring 2 (2016)

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Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Frances O’Conner, Madison Wolfe, Simon McBurney, and Franka Potente

Written By: Chad Hayes, Carey W. Hayes, James Wan, and David Leslie Johnson

Directed By: James Wan

Review By: Joshua Macmillan

Synopsis: A single mother and her four children are being attacked by a malicious force that is determined to possess one of her young daughters. After attempting to get help from local authorities, the Catholic church appoints Ed and Lorraine Warren to visit the family and try to figure out exactly what is going on.

If you read my previous review for James Wan’s The Conjuring (2013), you would know that I was grasped by that film. It engaged me on levels that I didn’t think it would at all. After I watched it, I immediately wanted to pop in the disk to The Conjuring 2 (2016) but I held off until after I had written my review for the original. Continue Reading

Reviews in the Machine: Day of the Dead (1985)

Day of the Dead 2In light of the recent passing of actor Joseph Pilato, I thought it would be a good time to share some of my thoughts on one of my favorite all-time zombie films. The original trilogy of films which George Romero presented has stood the test of time as great representations of the zombie genre. While zombies have taken off in modern popular culture, all things must have their origins. And while I love all three of the films, Day of the Dead has always been my favorite. Dawn of the Dead is a great film but at times it does tend to drag a bit for me. And while Night of the Living Dead is an undeniable classic, at times it comes off as a bit on the quaint side for me, more of a rough sketch of the greatness that zombie films could become, further down the road. Continue Reading

Paranormal & Supernatural In Review: Jacob’s Ladder (1990)

Jacob's Ladder 1I say without exaggeration that Jacob’s Ladder was one of the most visually disturbing movies I’ve ever seen. The surreal landscape of the story is terrifying and in my opinion has never been equaled by anything after.

And before I get into this, let me say that there will be spoilers. Sorry, but I want this to he a complete discussion of the film so if you haven’t seen it, stop reading, right now, and correct that oversight.

This is the kind of movie you really need to watch at least twice before you can really appreciate it. This isn’t a film that you coast through. This is a movie that you white-knuckle it for two hours before saying, wait what? What the hell just happened? Re-watching the movie, after already fully immersing yourself in it helps you fully appreciate the journey taken by this character. Continue Reading

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

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Released 2005

Directed by Scott Derrickson

Written by Paul Harris Boardman, Scott Derrickson

Starring: Jennifer Carpenter, Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson

This review contains spoilers.

Review by: Kayleigh Marie Edwards

I love horror films but as an atheist, possession movies don’t normally tickle the terror nerve for me. I don’t believe in Satan or spirits or the possibility of being possessed, so as much as I am entertained by the idea of it, it doesn’t scare me as much as, say, Mikey standing in the corner facing into the wall (you know, because forest witches are definitely real). However, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is not just another run-of-the-mill possession movie about a teenage girl in a dirty white nightdress spouting Latin in dual voices. Well… I mean… it is actually, but it’s also so much more. Continue Reading

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: Village of the Damned (1995)

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Village of the Damned (1995)

A Review by: Feind Gottes

Directed by: John Carpenter

Written by: David Himmelstein (adapted from the book by John Wyndham and the 1960 screenplay by Sterling Silliphant, Wolf Rilla and Ronald “George Barclay” Kinnoch)

Starring: Christopher Reeve, Kirstie Alley, Linda Kozlowski, Michael Paré and Mark Hamill

The Gist: All the women in a small town become pregnant at the same time (YIKES!) giving birth to children who turn out to be as weird as the pregnancies themselves.

Feind’s Review (ish): Spoilers Ahead, DUH! This review is going to be difficult to get through without making too many Christopher Reeve jokes but I’ll try to let it stand on its own two feet… shit… so it begins! Thankfully there isn’t a horse riding scene or I’d never be able to get through it! So this review is on the 1995 remake by living legend John Carpenter but I would highly recommend you check out the 1960 original film since, while dated, is an excellent film. I would say check out the book by John Wyndham also but that would be advice to myself since I haven’t read it either. Speaking of ‘50s & ‘60s sci-fi horror I also highly recommend the 1953 film Invaders From Mars (there was a remake in 1986 but I like the original better) which is in a similar vein as Village of the Damned but I suppose I should get on with it.  Continue Reading

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: The Conjuring (2013)

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Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Ron Livingston, and Lili Taylor

Written By: Chad Hayes and Carey W. Hayes

Directed By: James Wan

Synopsis: Shortly after moving into a new house, a family becomes terrorized by demonic forces. After learning of the world renowned paranormal investigating team of Ed and Lorraine Warren, the family asks for their help. Upon visiting the family in their home, the Warrens find themselves confronting a powerful demonic entity determined to continue its reign of horror.

Review By: Joshua Macmillan

When I think of modern horror, James Wan is one of the first directors that come to mind. I would say it is a fair assumption that Wan comes to mind for a lot of us genre fans. From his initial dive into horror with the Saw franchise, his Insidious films, to what I am writing about now with The Conjuring, James Wan has become a horror icon in the realm of creatives.  Continue Reading

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: Stir of Echoes (1999)

StirOfEchoes5Stir of Echoes is a film which didn’t get as much attention when it was released, which I think is kind of a shame. I have always enjoyed it, one of my favorite horror offerings from that time period. Unfortunately, as is often the case in situations like this where timing works against you, I think that this movie was unlucky enough to be lost somewhat in the long shadow cast by a little film known as The Sixth Sense. Being a supernaturally driven film with a child as one of the predominant characters, you knew pretty much right away that there wasn’t much chance of both these films being really successful. And as history has obviously shown, the public was much more drawn to M. Night Shyamalan’s film than this.
And this is not going to be descending into a discussion of which movie is better. I enjoyed both films and honestly I don’t think they even really belong in the same category together. Granted, they both deal with ghosts to some extent but I would argue that in the case of The Sixth Sense, the existence of ghosts is almost irrelevant to the heart of what the story is about. Stir of Echoes is a pure, cool ghost story.
And to me, what really set this film up for success was in packing it full of talented, hard-working actors who were at the top of their game.
I think Kevin Bacon is one that is easy to dismiss because he has done so many movies. And I’ll be the first to admit that not all the films he does are great. There are definitely some stinkers in there. But he’s always struck me as someone who just loves to work and he’s one of those actors who is going to throw everything into a role. He also seems to have an aptitude for portraying blue collar type characters. All of this comes together for him to do a really good turn on a great character in this movie.
And for any Law & Order fans out there, the role of Bacon’s wife (Maggie) is excellently done by Kathryn Erbe. I thought she brilliantly portrayed the domestic partner who is pulled in any number of directions as she tries to support her husband (who is clearly going around the bend) as well as protect her son. She must function as a beacon of rationality in a situation that is anything but and she nailed the emotional roller coaster of that StirOfEchoes2character’s existence.
And for as much as kids in movies often aren’t that great, Zachary David Cope actually did a pretty good job. I think getting good performances out of young actors is often about properly framing the context of what they are doing. You don’t have to lay out the excruciating details of the plot to a seven year old and whatever the director did here worked great.
All around, it’s a phenomenal cast. Then newcomer, Jennifer Morrison, was great as the spectral presence in the film. Illeana Douglas did a nice job as the eccentric sister as well as the neighbor, played by Kevin Dunn. I didn’t grow up in Chicago but I have had a ton of family there so the setting and these characters felt very familiar to me.
I loved how the Witzkys in this became a kind of take on the Torrance family from Stephen StirOfEchoes3King’s, The Shining, minus the abuse and alcoholism. You have a father and son who share a bond over an ability that they don’t fully understand, an ability that is driving the father to insanity. And Mom is doing all she can to just hold it all together. We even get a Dick Halloran type character from Eddie Bo Smith Jr. – another great performance.
I appreciated that this film had both a dose of gritty intensity while at the same time bucking the notion that you can’t also have some positive moments in a story like this. Ultimately this is a family with intensely close bonds to each other which is possibly where the comparison to the Torrances comes to an end.
The mystery inherent in the plot is nearly perfect with the pacing keeping you on the edge while trying to figure out what is happening to these people. One major stumbling block for paranormal type stories like this are the moments when you have to communicate information to the characters. I have taken to calling this the “Google scene” because anymore often we see our characters fleeing to the Internet, performing a simple web search and getting all the information they need. I appreciate the pressure to keep the movie simple but often these scenes don’t work for me. With this movie, the moments in which Tom is able to make headway on this mystery comes off as legit to me Everything in the film that I see comes off as having a logical reason for being there. I never felt like the writers were simply inserting some convenient information for our hero to “find”. And this isn’t all Tom, either. As the essential third part of the equation, the other being their son, Maggie also manages to do some crucial deductions at the eleventh hour, making her much more than just set dressing.
In all, this is a beautifully constructed and crafted film. Is it a bit on the glossy side, maybe a touch superficial feeling for the horror genre? Perhaps. But I’m willing to let that go when held against all the other positives the movie has to offer.
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Chad A. Clark is an author of horror and science fiction. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: We Are Still Here (2015)

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I had no idea what to expect going into this one, other than hearing some vague things about it being pretty good. I’m glad I came in fresh this time. I usually at least have a vague idea of what I’m getting into but it’s nice to have no preconceived notions of any kind once in a while. I had also heard Barbara Crampton was in it, which was a plus as I’ve been a fan since growing up with Re-Animator and From Beyond, and seeing her more recently in Beyond the Gates.

SUMMARY:

So, I’m gonna admit right out of the gate that I didn’t pick up on this being a period piece at all when I watched it the first time. Once I found that out, it made sense when I was scanning back over some scenes. I either missed a year tag or just how period specific all the cars and clothes were. Although, in my defense, a lot of what was popular in the late 1970s in those realms is still popular or popular again. Continue Reading

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: Ghost Story (1981)

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Directed by John Irvin

Written by Lawrence D Cohen adapted from the novel by Peter Straub

Starring: Fred Astaire, Melvyn Douglas, Douglas Fairbanks Jr, John Houseman, Craig Wasson and Alice Krige

Review by: Feind Gottes

The Gist: Four elderly men are haunted by a terrible deed in their youth. The ghost of their past returns to take vengeance on the next generation who stumbles upon the deep dark secret they’ve kept hidden for decades.

The Review (ish): Before I begin I have a couple of confessions to make much like the elderly gentleman who starred in this film. First, I have read many Peter Straub books but I have never read Ghost Story (which released in 1979) which this film is based on. Based on the books of Straub’s I have read I can tell you there are few writers who do horror mystery better than him, I highly recommend his novel simply titled Mystery. Second, this movie is difficult to find without running out to buy the recently released Blu-ray edition which I did not. I saw this film initially sometime in the early to mid-80s and most of this review will be based on that recollection with a little help from videos I’ve used to jog my memory though I will likely pick up the Blu-ray when I have the opportunity. Also, I personally do not believe in ghosts and rarely find movies involving ghosts scary with Poltergeist (1982) being the main exception. That’s my confession so now you’re all priests – STOP TOUCHING LITTLE BOYS!!!  Continue Reading

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: Burnt Offerings (1976)

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There is something about horror movies of the 1970s that I love. Maybe it’s the pre-social media age. There’re no cell phones, no cable TV, no internet, not even compact discs or home computers. The time is one of simplicity. Or so it would seem. I imagine without all our modern distractions, there is more focus on what lies beneath.  It was also a time of mystery. Putting a man on the moon was only something, at the time, that we’d just been able to accomplish. We simply knew less. Religion was much more accepted and widespread. Science was growing but it was still looked at as part fantasy. Less knowledge about how the world and the universe worked meant there was more room for our imaginations to wander in the dark void.

Burnt Offerings is based off a novel with the same name published in 1973 by Robert Marasco.  Director/producer Dan Curtis co-wrote the screenplay with author William F. Nolan.  Curtis was mostly a TV movie guy but does a wonderful job taking up the big chair for Burnt Offerings. Continue Reading

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: The Marsh (2006)

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“You can bury the past… but sometimes the past won’t stay buried.”

“The Marsh” (2006) opens with the main character, Claire Holloway (Gabrielle Anwar), who is a stressed children’s book writer, reading to children in a book store, but quickly follows with a more ominous and action-oriented beginning. Images and sounds from an eerie marsh, followed by screaming, are taken in by our senses as the front credits roll. Soon, we realize we are in Claire’s nightmare from which she awakes in a doctor’s office. It seems she isn’t taking her medication and the doctor tells her “something” is evolving. This makes us wonder if she has anxiety, mental health disorder, trouble sleeping, or what? She seems stressed so in the beginning I was going with anxiety.  Continue Reading

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: Supernatural (1933)

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One of my buddies on Facebook had been pestering me for years to give Supernatural (1933) a watch. Seeing how we’re in the thralls of March Madness, I thought what better time than now. I am after all a fan of classic cinema, especially classic horror. While produced by Paramount Productions, Universal Studios had been sold the rights in 1958. Directed by Victor Halperin, who just one year prior directed White Zombie (1932), a mildly successful release with audiences of the Great Depression, Supernatural was not as revered and today has become a somewhat obscure and hard to find film. In fact, if you Google Supernatural you’ll only find images of Jensen Ackles and Jared Padaleski in the hit CW show of the same title. Needless to say, Supernatural, the 1933 movie, was hard to track down for screening. But by some miracle of modern streaming devices, I was able to procure a copy. Continue Reading

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: Blair Witch (2016)

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Starring: Callie Hernandez, James Allen McCune, Valorie Curry, Wes Robinson, Corbin Reid, and Brandon Scott

Written By: Simon Barrett

Directed By: Adam Wingard

Synopsis: After what appears to be leaked footage dating back to when his sister went missing, James and a few of his friends enter the Black Hills Forest in Maryland to uncover the truth surrounding her disappearance.

At least once per decade, a film comes out that redefines the genre, sending it in a new direction. In the 90’s, we had a renaissance with meta horror found in the late Wes Craven’s 1996 classic- Scream. A mere three years later the genre would change yet again with 1999’s The Blair Witch Project. Co-Directors Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick helped the genre shift and their little indie film became one of the pioneers of the found-footage sub-genre. Continue Reading

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: The Legend of Hell House (1973)

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Released in June, 1973, The Legend of Hell House hit unsuspecting theatergoers with a blast. Based on the Richard Matheson novel, Hell House, (and adapted to the screen by Matheson himself) Legend of Hell House was helmed by John Hough. Hough’s credits after Hell House include a slew of notable horror films (The Incubus, Watcher in the Woods, American Gothic) as well as the Disney Witch Mountain franchise.

The story: Physicist Lionel Barrett (Clive Revill) and his wife, Gayle (An Barrett) lead two mediums into the Belasco House, which is supposedly haunted by the victims of its late owner, Emeric Belasco, a 6’ 5”serial killer dubbed the “Roaring Giant”. This is done at the direction of eccentric millionaire, Mr. Deutch (Roland Culver). Deutch is terminally-ill and obsessed with discovering survival after death. The Belasco House, the “Mountain Everest of haunted houses”, has yet to be refuted. Continue Reading

Reviews in the Machine: The Island, by Michael Bray (2015)

The IslandIn The Island, by Michael Bray, we see a society in which reality television has become a performance platform for violence and death. The island itself is a man-made land mass on which a competition has been resurrected to air for the first time as a television series. Contestants are set loose on the island and only one can survive to the end. Their prize? Whatever it is they desire. All they have to do is make it from one side of the island to the other.

Oh, and they have to make it through an island packed full of dinosaurs.

The main character of the story, Chase Riley, decides to take part in the newly revamped show in order to save his daughter who is suffering from terminal cancer. Against the wishes of his wife, he enters into the show, hoping that a victory will bring in the money they lacked, in order to get their daughter the treatment she needs.

Putting all my honesty down on the table, I have to admit that I was a little dubious of the concept of this book going into it. My concern was that this was going to just end up feeling like a modern reimagining of The Running Man, but with dinosaurs as an artificial attempt to add an extra element to an already successful story. Still, I was also intrigued by the idea and was willing to give it a go.

I’m glad to say that my reservations were unfounded. I think this book is a good reminder that, regardless of the specific concept, effective writing and characters that can be related to will carry a lot of weight, even if the story has some familiar ring to it.

To start off, I think that the strongest element to this book is that of the characters. It’s really easy when you have multiple characters to have trouble keeping track of everyone and they all start to blend together. Despite that challenge, I thought Bray did a really good job making sure everyone was distinct and easy to tell apart from each other. Despite the fact that some of the characters were fairly archetype-ish, I found myself interested in them and engaged in their part of the story.

I also really liked how he explored the dynamic between the characters within the context of the game itself. More specifically, the notion of people who are on one hand contestants but also still feel the urge to help each other. How do you work with and against each other at the same time? How do you deal with the fact that you might care for someone’s well-being while at the same time realizing that you may be put in a position where you might have to take that person’s life?

I found the pacing of the book to be great. I thought the story moved along at a nice clip and once things really got going, they don’t stop until the book ends. Bray did a great job creating a story that is engaging and that held my interest throughout.

As it is probably to be expected in a story of this type, things are not necessarily as they seem. The twists in the story are well done and are used effectively in order to move things along. There were a few points towards the end of the book where I felt like the twists were starting to stretch the limits of credibility, slightly. However, this did not prevent my ability to enjoy them and I was able to shut that part of my brain up and just watch the book unfold.

If I had one critical comment about the book, it would be that at times I thought the writing style got in the way of the flow of the narrative, somewhat. There seem to be quite a few moments where the writing is a bit dense in terms of the paragraphs being very long. There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with this practice, but I think it can make scenes less effective when there is a lot of action going on. I think it has a tendency to slow down the reader and bring down the immediacy of the narrative. In my opinion, some of the scenes could have been more powerful and effective if some of the longer paragraphs had been broken up. This is just a personal issue of my own and it’s a minor one. It didn’t interfere with my enjoyment, nor did it necessarily make the book any less engaging.

In all, I thought that in a culture that has become rife with dystopian literature, The Island does a pretty good job keeping its head above the water and not feeling like ground that is being re-treaded one too many times. It is a book I enjoyed and would highly recommend.

Click HERE for directions to your nearest Amazon storefront listing of this fantastic book.

D3mini

Chad A. Clark is an author of horror and science fiction. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: FeardotCom (2002)

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In 2002, horror was figuring out the next step in its evolution. The ’90s had ended on a high note, with The Sixth Sense re-establishing slow-burn ghost stories as financially viable, and The Blair Witch Project bringing found footage to the masses in a way the then-cult stomach-churner Cannibal Holocaust never could. At that point, Dark Castle had brought a few inventive re-imaginings of William Castle films to a new generation of horror viewer, while the remake floodgates wouldn’t be kicked open proper until 2003’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It was also two years before Saw (allegedly) captured the zeitgeist of the George W. Bush era, turning notions of torture into a financially lucrative extension of the genre.

2002 did show inklings, however, of where mainstream horror might go. In a nod to the relative subtlety and simplicity of The Sixth Sense, and the “something’s out there” (but not necessarily seen) notion of The Blair Witch Project, Dreamworks mined a hit from Gore Verbinski’s The Ring (itself a remake of Japan’s Ringu).  Continue Reading

Reviews in the Machine : The Shades, by Amy Cross (2012)

The ShadesI’m a tad late to the party for this 2012 release but I did manage to get here and I’m glad I did. I’m no stranger to the works of Amy Cross but one thing I like about her catalog is her willingness to go to new places and try new concepts, while also keeping to her same sensibilities and strengths.
With The Shades, Cross does what she often seems to be a fan of, thrusting us directly into the heart of the action, leaving us to grab for a handhold and hope that at some point, she will clear up for us exactly what is going on. The entire population of the United States has disappeared with no explanation as to the cause. A private organization has dispatched a team of experts to investigate what happened. Quickly however, it is apparent that the situation is even more complicated than has been assumed, as well as the motivations for sending this team in the first place.
One thing that Cross really excels at is in weaving a complex tapestry for a narrative and this is no exception. The story takes place on two levels. First, we have the team in the present, exploring an abandoned wasteland that was once New York City. In the other, we are several weeks in the past, following along with another group at the outset of whatever it is that has happened. The book jumps back and forth and while normally this would be a recipe for confusion and disaster, Cross manages to keep everything in the air and uses the device to keep the story compelling and exciting. I have seen her do this in other books and she does a great job creating moments where the narratives collide and present explanations for previous events in the book. She’s great at giving payoffs down the road for ambiguous events early on. While many authors have a tendency to be too vague in the actual explanations in the book, I have generally felt that Cross does a good job grounding the story for the reader.
The vibe of the story quickly transitions from mystery to horror as members of the research team are gradually stricken by some kind of ailment. We see this same condition taking place in the past with our group of heroes, there. Bizarre events make the direction of the plot a complete mystery and for much of the book, I was perfectly happy to sit back and see how things were going to play out. The situations and fates these characters come to were frightening to behold and through it all, Cross also manages to weave in some philosophical wanderings in terms of the ethics of big companies like this and the research they may be spearheading. Shades of Jurassic Park here, I thought.
Overall, this was a book that was fast-paced, exciting and disturbing. And as she is adept at doing, Cross manages to insert just the right level of graphic content to punch up the impact of the story without taking it too far.
Now all of that aside I will admit that the book isn’t perfect. There are a bit more typos in this than I’m used to seeing in an Amy Cross book, possibly a sign of the fact that it came so much earlier in her career. Still, they were a bit distracting and I think the book would have benefited from another editorial pass.
Also, the ending. Any story that starts off like this one is going to create the expectation in the reader for a big payoff and I don’t know if this one delivered necessarily. While Cross does manage to bring the threads of the story together, things end just a bit too neatly for me. And while her explanation for everything that has happened is pretty clever and not one I would have guessed, from a technical perspective I think it needed to be thought out a little more, or eplained . I’m not looking for exhaustive details – this isn’t a techno thriller. But I would have liked the mechanics of what happened in the book to be a little better explained and at moments, there was a bit too much of an air of, “things are just this way because I say they are.”
Those are personal issues though, and different readers are going to come down differently. And in no way does any of that diminish the overall greatness of the book. It’s a spectacular, terrifying and immensely creative narrative, one that I was happy to come across after taking somewhat of a break from the work of Amy Cross.

D3mini

Chad A. Clark is an author of horror and science fiction. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: Sleepy Hollow (1999)

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As I look out my window, the view is an obstruction of what looks like a white sandstorm in the trees. Barren forest, ominous setting, and a perfect time to write a horror film review of the gothic, supernatural variety. Warm, indoors writing of it, I mean! Pull up a chair by the fireplace and join me.

As most people know by now, my sense of humor often carries over into my writing and reviews, so fair warning since I’m reviewing the 1999 horror film, “Sleepy Hollow.” And really, what can one expect with a movie like this starring the king of dramatic over-emphasis, Johnny Depp? However, I will try to be humorous as well as critical, so let’s start over.

“Sleepy Hollow” is a film directed by Tim Burton and I am a huge fan of this director. Consider he’s using the source material of one of my favorite classic horror authors Washington Irving, and one of my favorite short stories “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” what’s not to like? I really enjoyed the show that was on television a few years back as well, but in 1999, just having my first baby, I wasn’t really getting out to the theaters. Somehow, though I always wanted to watch it, I just never did. Now, almost twenty years later, the movie didn’t feel old at all, due to the cinematography, decent special effects, and cast of stellar supporting actors (not to mention how young Depp looks). I’m sure the time period the movie is set in (the 1800s) also helps with that. At any rate, I mean I didn’t feel I was watching a cheesy ‘80s or ‘90s movie of my youth.  Continue Reading

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