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Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: JASON X (2001).

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There seems to be a reoccurring joke among horror fans. When a franchise goes to die, it goes to die in space. I’m not sure which franchise started it. Maybe when Critters went into outer space in Critters 4 (1991), or maybe it was Leprechaun 4 (1997)…but to be fair, this series died waaaaay before then. Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996) went into space, however brief. And truth be told, that movie was pretty darn good. However the joke started it would seem a fan favorite amongst the slasher sub-genre ALSO decided to venture out into space. Friday the 13th part X upon their 10th film explored where no slasher had gone before. Now, to be clear, the movie was titled Jason X, just like with Jason Goes to Hell (as apposed to Friday the 13th part 9), due to a lack of property rights with Paramount. They were able to snag the characters, or character, but not the franchised title as a true Friday the 13th. Despite that, fans have pretty much just grouped them all together. Not caring for all the boring legality. With all that settled, lets get back to what we’re really here for. Was Jason X good? Or did the franchise die in space? Heaven help us, we’re going to find out together.  Continue Reading

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Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: FREDDY VS. JASON (2003)

[Probably some spoilers—like you give a fuck, bitch (Freddy voice)]

 

Okay, when this came out, I’d seen every film in the two series this was a crossover of. It would be hard to say which of the two had held up the most, and neither would qualify as serious horror properties by the time this came about. But by then that wasn’t really the point. Not for myself or most fans I knew, at least.

The first few films in each series (well, probably first one or two for Freddy) were pretty serious, dark horror films that happened to be about teenagers frolicking and getting horribly slaughtered. They both became somewhat tongue-in-cheek affairs the further they went on, then eventually each had a remake of some sort, and just before this crossover, Nightmare had what I felt was a very well done return to serious territory that was also “meta”-rrific and a step outside the canon. Craven himself directed that one, and it showed. Actually to this day the only one of these films I haven’t seen is the remake of Nightmare, but I’ve heard I really haven’t missed much. I personally even enjoyed the Friday the 13th sort-of remake reboot-ening, but only saw it once and wasn’t exactly sober, so be gentle.

So, Full Disclosure™—while I have love for both of these characters and properties, I personally would own up to landing pretty squarely in the Team Jason camp—Get It? ‘Camp’? We try to have fun here…

The real question, though, is: does this crossover live up to what people enjoy about each franchise and character and make for an enjoyable film on its own?

Well, heck-a-doodle-doo-doo-muh-bob-a-reeni—let’s find out what I thought, shall we?  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: Jigsaw (2017)

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The Jigsaw killer strikes again a decade after his death, setting up several traps for five people who need to atone for their sins. This film follows a male and a female forensic pathologist as they help uncover clues as to how the Jigsaw killer has returned from the dead. Meanwhile, a team of detectives suspect that these two are the copycat killers. Find out for yourself whether or not Jigsaw faked his death! I mean… he is the only one able to do something like this, right? Or did he set up enough secret traps before his death to last a lifetime?

First, let’s discuss a little bit about the films prior to Jigsaw. The original film, Saw, was the most unique out of the lot. The budget wasn’t extremely high, and in comparison to the following films it did not nearly have the amount of gore that this series is so famous for. Most of the films follow an ongoing detective investigation trying to find the Jigsaw killer and rescue those still alive while we watch them try to escape the traps that the Jigsaw killer and his accomplices set up for them.  Continue Reading

Reviews in the Machine: The Ridge by Jeffery X Martin

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For those who know me understand, I will never win awards for the worlds fastest reader. I see other bibliophiles and their Goodreads accomplishments and marvel. My own wife can sit down and consume a 800 page mega-novel in the span of a few days. Its insane. I don’t get how its even possible. But hey, to each their own pace, right? So, when a fast read, and I mean a good fast read, comes along, its worth celebrating. Such was the case when I started Jeffery X Martin’s new book, The Ridge on a Saturday morning and finished that night.  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: Scream 3 (2000)

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What do you get when you take a ghost mask, a voice-changer, and a knife — and then multiply it by three? Scream 3, of course!

This film opens with a scene somewhat mirroring the original opening scene from the very first Scream movie, but with a twist — the whole “Wanna play a game?” scenario with everything starting off somewhat flirty and harmless. This time, though, the killer calls Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber) saying that he’s outside of his girlfriend’s bathroom. Of course, when Cotton hears this he rushes home to his girlfriend’s rescue… only to find her hiding, and, unknowingly, with the killer still in the house. Shortly after, they are both attacked, and neither make it out alive.  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: Se7en (1995)

 

While slasher films can be gritty they mostly stay within the realm of hokey, not in a bad way, but in a fun and enduring way. Slashers are those movies we watch when we want to turn our brains off for a while and watch some masked burnt mysterious whatever maniac do horrible things to teenagers. Serial killer movies however, while can be equally hokey, normally tend to lean towards the more serious of the two. Most serial killer movies that I’ve seen are dark and intrinsically layered films that force me to keep my brain working, to watch out for the clues, and to digest whatever metaphor or symbolism packed in bloody imagery that the director is intending for me to swallow. We’re talking Silence of the Lambs, Zodiac, Identity, American Psycho, Henry, and the list goes on. Se7en is no different.  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: Friday the 13th part 2 (1981)

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A quick warning: this article spoils Friday the 13th Part 2 from hell to breakfast. If you’ve not seen this movie, maybe give this a miss.

“Jason was dead to begin with… this must be distinctly understood, or else nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate” — Charles Dickens.

I know. You’re a horror fan. You love the old school stuff, especially those great iconic slashers from the Eighties. There’s that Halloween Blu-Ray collection on your shelf, complete with the sound-corrected Producer’s Cut of Halloween 6. You’ve got a Freddy Kreuger glove. You use it to scare your little niece on holidays. And you absolutely love Jason. He’s Jiminy Cricket with a machete, the bloody enforcer of all the morals you rebelled against as a teenager. Don’t do drugs. Don’t have pre-marital sex. Don’t be fat or offensive in any way. Conform or be cast out. Jason Fucking Voorhees. He is the physical embodiment of the entire Reagan Administration, and he’s the best, right?  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers In Review : You’re Next (2011)

next3Starring:  Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn, A.J. Bowen, and Joe Swanberg

Written By:  Simon Barrett

Directed By: Adam Wingard

Synopsis: Aubrey and Paul Davison plan to celebrate their wedding anniversary at their remote weekend estate. Unfortunately, the festivities take a terrible turn for the worse when their home is invaded by a group of masked individuals armed with knives and crossbows.

My favorite sub-genre of Horror are slashers. As we all know, the slasher film had its hay-day in the 80’s but every once in a while a fun modern slasher comes along and hits the world of cinema like a breath of fresh air. I was born at the end of the 80’s so I was really only able to enjoy watching these films on tv or going to my local Blockbuster or Hollywood Video and renting every slasher that I could get my hands on.  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: The Legend of Lizzie Borden (1975)

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“The Legend of Lizzie Borden” from 1975, directed by Paul Wendkos, was a movie I had been dying to watch, both because I like to stomach anything Lizzie Borden-related and due to actress Elizabeth Montgomery. I’ve always been a fan of hers from growing up watching re-runs of “Bewitched” and she starred in the lead role as Lizzie Borden. “The Legend of Lizzie Borden” came out when I was just one-year-old, so I wasn’t one of those crowded around the TV watching it on ABC Movie of the Week when it aired, but I had read just how much it would have been controversial at the time for how much violence it showed. Violence, by the way, that doesn’t hold a candle to what we watch now, or would back then as the ‘80s approached, in terms of slasher films. If I had a been a bit older, we would have never been allowed to watch it in my house anyway. Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers In Review : Red Dragon (2002)

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Red Dragon (2002) has the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of the instant classic and award-winning The Silence of the Lambs (1991).

The novel of the same name by Thomas Harris was the first in the Hannibal Lecter series and takes place prior to The Silence of the Lambs, even though the movie adaptation came out 11 years later. A previous adaptation of the novel was released prior to Lambs in 1986 under the Manhunter title, starring William Petersen as lead character Will Graham before Petersen went on to be a star on the hit TV show CSI.

While Manhunter has gone on to have a cult following in recent years, it barely made a blip on the radar of most moviegoers, earning just a few million dollars at the box office. So of course someone in Hollywood decided we needed another adaptation of the book starring Hopkins again as Lecter.  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: Friday the 13th part 5 (1985)

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Horror fans can be divided on a lot of different things. The works of Master of Macabre Stephen King comes to mind. Remakes and reboots of beloved classics such as A Nightmare of Elm Street, The Omen, or the upcoming release of another take on Dario Argento’s masterpiece Suspiria can conjure quick debate. We all have our tastes on what is good and what we think is not good. Be that as it may, there are also flicks in which bring instant rejoicing or equally jovial disdain. Take for instance, I believe a majority of horror fans would agree collectively that John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982) is a treasured cult classic. Or that The Exorcist is one of the scariest movies ever made (sure, there’s always that one jerk who denies the truth). And the same goes for the ones we agree we don’t like, such as Nine Lives starring…Paris Hilton (ugh), Shyamalan’s The Happening, or even Exorcist II: The Heretic. This also applies among fans of the Friday the 13th series, while the best ones are hotly debated, the worst is widely agreed upon. And so on this Friday the 13th I thought I’d talk about the one everyone loves to hate, Part 5: A New Beginning. Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: Sleepaway Camp (1983)

[YEAH, I’M SPOILING THE BEST PART… ‘CAUSE WHAT ELSE IS THERE IN THIS ONE?]

Okay, being totally honest—I had only seen the very last scene from this film before watching the whole thing a few nights ago. I’d stumbled onto it in some list of shocking horror moments or something and wasn’t worried about it being spoiled, so I watched it. That scene stuck with me, and also made me (mistakenly!) assume this was a disturbing, dark film throughout. Hahahaha… No. Not at all. That’s not to say it’s bad… but I think the backwards way I experienced it actually says a lot about this film and its legend, if you can call it that. This is more like a Troma film for the most part with a few decent kills and one very effective, weird scene.  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers In Review : High Tension (2003)

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In an early scene of HIGH TENSION, a man in a creepy van has sex with a severed head and then drops it outside before driving off. The sadistic violence is at the core of the films in the French Extreme movement. However, movies like HIGH TENSION, MARTYRS, and INSIDE aren’t just about how much gore they can show, but about stripping everything down and pushing the audience’s tolerance to the limits while still being visually stunning at times.

Co-writer and Director, Alexandre Aja borrowed from Dean Koontz’s book, INTENSITY, for the first half of the film but quickly veers off into his own material. The surprise ending is pretty much exposed in the beginning of the film, but it still works The audience is left uncertain of the truth of what they are watching. Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: Terror Firmer (1999)

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Now THIS is my kind of film. It’s 124 minutes of the stupidest, most offensive garbage I’ve ever seen – and, trust me, I’ve seen a LOT. As a taster, the top-rated IMDB review ends with the line: “How many ‘eating faeces’ scenes can a normal person watch before going insane?”

Cheap, nasty, and utterly repellent, this Tro-masterpiece is for fans of early John Waters, early Peter Jackson, and general trash aficionados.

Terror Firmer is a film made by the infamously tasteless Troma studio. It’s also the Troma film to end all Troma films, and piles atrocity upon puerile atrocity, packages it in a box of provocation, and decorates that box with a bow made of congealed bodily fluids. It’s as silly and outrageously violent as you’d expect, and tells the tale of how a Troma film production is thwarted by the antics of a deranged sexual sadist who keeps slaughtering cast members and crew. Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: Psycho (1960)

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Psycho is a psychological suspense/horror film produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1960.  It is based on the Robert Bloch novel of the same name, published the year before; the novel, in turn, was based on the Ed Gein murders.

Ed Gein was a serial killer in Wisconsin in the 1950s.  A ‘mama’s boy,’ Gein was devastated by the death of his mother in 1945, and felt all alone in the world; when she was alive, she was a domineering, prudish woman, teaching him that all women were sexually promiscuous instruments of the devil.

Soon after her death, Ed began making a “woman suit” so he could “be” his mother by crawling into a woman’s skin.  For this purpose, he tanned the skins of women.  He also admitted to robbing nine graves.  Body parts were found all over his house as ghoulish works of art.  These macabre crimes were the inspiration not only for Psycho, but also The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the Buffalo Bill character in Silence of the Lambs, and numerous other horror movies.  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers in Reivew: A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010)

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A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (2010)

[95 minutes. R. Director: Samuel Bayer]

Within the past two decades, horror remakes have gone from distinctive, auteur-driven works to mass-produced product. Horror remakes prior to the millennium were created with specific intent: Werner Herzog’s 1979 rendition of Nosferatu reconsidered F.W. Murnau’s 1922 silent film with improved technology; John Carpenter’s re-take of The Thing updated a 1950s alien-invasion flick into a transformative missive on assimilation and isolation; and David Cronenberg brought gravitas to his FX-heavy, 1986 version of The Fly.

Heck, even Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake of Psycho was noteworthy for its big-studio gamble on a film that amounted to an elaborate “because I can” technical experiment.  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers In Review : Intruder (1989)

IntruderWith Intruder, Scott Spiegel, co-writer of Evil Dead 2, made a taut, humorous, reasonably thrilling offer to the slasher genre just as the 80’s came to a close. Boasting a decent cast of horror regulars such as Elizabeth Cox (The Wraith, Night of the Creeps), Dan Hicks (Darkman, Evil Dead 2), and of course Sam Raimi, Ted Raimi, and Bruce Campbell, this film is sure to entertain most fans of 80s horror.

DISCLAIMER: If you are drawn to the film because Bruce Campbell’s name is on the cover, you should know up front that he only appears for a short cameo at the very end. However, there’s quite a bit of Elizabeth, Sam, and Ted to hold you over.  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: MANHUNTER (1986)

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You Owe Me Awe!

Manhunter (1986) – essay by Kit Power

Expect spoilers. If you don’t want to be spoiled, go watch the damn movie. I’d recommend it.

As soon as the list of movie titles went up for this project, I knew I wanted to cover Natural Born Killers. And I had initially promised myself that’d do – there’s a lot of talented writers in the machine mean pool these days, and it’s not like I don’t have the odd other project to be getting on with.

And then I saw that Manhunter was on the list.

So here we are.

And it’s impossible for me to talk about the movie without talking about it’s more famous cousin, Silence Of The Lambs – covered on this site with admirable enthusiasm by Chad A Clarke. I don’t have much to add to his piece, but I do want to note that like many, if not most people, I saw …Lambs first, and discovered Manhunter later – my memory is as part of a late night film season on Channel 4.  Continue Reading

THE BRIDES OF DRACULA w/ guest Ian McKinney

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When I was asked to do this review I was initially reluctant, as it would mean re-watching a movie I remember fondly from my childhood. And rather than viewing it with a sense of nostalgia I was being asked to be analytical, and I was concerned that it would be found wanting. Often the passage of time can be unkind to treasured memories, especially when they are examined in the cold light of day. Luckily my fears were unfounded, I watched it – and loved it.

Over the years, the popularity of Hammer Horror Movies has ebbed and flowed with the fashions of the times. Horror has become more realistic and often sadistic, consequently the theatrical, and somewhat simplistic morals of the Hammer Horrors seemed antiquated and naïve. Although after watching this movie, I can recommend it to anyone who enjoys entertainment more than prolonged scenes of torture and mutilation.  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers In Review : Jason Lives (1986)

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Absence makes the heart grow fonder: a quote that always reign true when it comes to issues of the heart and mind. We miss what makes us comfortable.

In 1984, Paramount killed off Jason Voorhees—they wanted to take Friday the 13th in a new direction; after four films, the studio decided to take a chance and introduce a new killer, it didn’t sit right with fans. What did they want? What did they need? Jason, of course.

Jason made his mighty screen come back on August, 1st 1986.  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: The Funhouse 1981

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This was a first time watch for me, and I have to say, while very formulaic, it is a fun watch. Tobe Hooper was a master of using atmosphere, lighting and soundscapes over gore and jump scares.  This little gem is sandwiched between two of Hooper’s bigger known films, the made-for-t.v. Salem’s Lot in 1979 and Poltergeist in 1982.  Of course, his Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 1974 broke massive ground in the history of horror cinema.  While Funhouse is not in my eyes a true slasher, it seems that there were, in the history of this fun house, other “accidents and incidents,” which I suppose makes Frank and his dad serial killers?

The story is a tried and true trope of teenagers sneaking around where they ought not be.  Amy (Elizabeth Berridge), Buzz (Cooper Huckabee), Liz (Largo Woodruff) and Ritchie (Miles Chapin) go to the carnival together…instead of the movie.  Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself. Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers In Review : Scream 2 (1997)

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As a general rule, I’m not a fan of sequels when it comes to horror movies, especially when we are talking about slasher films. Mostly because it rarely feels like the narrative from the original film is going anywhere as much as simply being restarted. Sequels are constantly criticized as being little more than cash grabs from studios, trying to continue to profit off a successful property. And I think that horror is one realm where this criticism is more valid. Horror is one genre where sequels often have the feel of rinse and repeat, as it isn’t at all unusual for horror franchises to make it to seven, eight or nine films. For me, proper horror is quick and brutal and once it’s done, the stage is cleared.  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: Friday the 13th PART III 3D (1982)

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As a horror fan I feel rather fortunate that so many of my favorite thrillers released on the year of my birth. A quick Google re-search will reveal a VHS candy store of goody gore and lovable murderers, from The Thing to Poltergeist to Halloween III (the one without Myers) to Amityville II: The Possession (the one that was like The Exorcist but with incest) to The New York Ripper to Pieces, Parasite, The Slumber Party Massacre, and…Friday the 13th…PART 3 (cue groovy disco music). And among the other entries in the franchise, PART 3 is I would say my second favorite. There are many factors that play into my rating but unless you’ve seen it you probably won’t understand. So do me a solid and go pop this flayed VHS cause this review will be chopped full of SPOILERS. Readers…you have been warned!  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: Candyman (1992)

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Let’s get right to the point. Candyman (based on the story The Forbidden by the timeless Clive Barker) scared the shit out of me when I first watched it. I’m not sure if it was the Deep baritone voice of Tony Todd as the terrifying title character which is the first dialogue we hear as we see an army of bees crawl over each other, or the delicate musical score by Phillip Glass which was subtle and really got under the skin. I remember my sister had been to the cinema to watch it and was said it was the most frightening thing she had seen at the time. I was, of course, too young to go and watch it so when I saw the VHS pop up at our local video shop I couldn’t wait to watch it. Thankfully, due to the lax attitude of the owner of our shop and such things as certification being less of an issue at the time, I sat down to watch the film as a young kid who didn’t know any better. When it was done, I agreed with my sister. It was horrifying and stayed with me for some time.

As it happens, I haven’t watched it again since and so in doing this review decided to pick it up in super shiny Blu ray so I could see if it was still as scary the second time around.  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers In Review : The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)

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Starring: Marilyn Burns, Allen Danziger, Paul A. Partain, William Vail, Teri McMinn, Edwin Neal, Jim Siedow, John Dugan, and Gunnar Hansen as Leatherface.

Written By: Kim Henkel and Tobe Hooper

Directed By: Tobe Hooper

Synopsis: A brother and sister set out with their friends to check on the grave of their grandfather after hearing about instances of grave robbing and vandalism. After taking a detour to their family’s old farmhouse, they discover and soon become victims to a family of crazed, murderous cannibals.  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: The Collector (2009)

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After making a splash with their major studio debut, Feast, and shouldering the burden of continuing the formidable Saw series from the third entry on, screenwriters Marcus Dunstan and Patrick Melton came into their own with the release of The Collector in 2009. Dunstan directed the film from a script co-written with Melton that was originally pitched as a Saw prequel. The end result was a horror movie similar to the Saw films in its levels and methods of violence and gore, but with a chillingly different breed of killer.

And in the annals of horror, he and the film he dominantes are barely a footnote.  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: Friday the 13th (1980), part III

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These holidays (F13) are so few and far between, I couldn’t resist saying a few words about one of my all time favorite horror movie franchises. As a younger fan of the slasher genre, I watched more of Nightmare on Elm Street. In a way, i think that’s because Freddy is more “kid stuff,” especially the flicks starting with part 3, aka Dream Warriors. It became more and more of a build up to those sweet one-liners, such as: “Wanna suck face?” or “How’s this for a wet dream?” or “Welcome to prime time bitch!” and then breaking into that cackling laughter whilst the soon to be dispatched teen flees for however many seconds of life they have left. Good times. But i think it was around 1994-95 when my allegiances changed when Jason Goes to Hell released to VHS. Somehow, one of my buddies (Matt) was able to get his hands on a copy. Fangoria was still really popular back then too and they had done a full spread on the movie. Needless to say, from that moment forward, my slasher heart belonged to Jason Voorhees.   Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers In Review: Friday The 13th (1980), part two

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As today is Friday, the Thirteenth, we had a moral and ethical obligation to pay homage to one of the biggest slasher films of all time. So of course we had more than  one angle on the issue.

What scares me?

That’s a big question, one that I would have a hard time capturing in one essay. So in the context of this review, what originally scared me when I was introduced to this horror genre in which I now reside?

Horror has had a long and storied history in the cinema, dating back over a hundred years of style, mood and atmosphere. And I was lucky enough to board the ship right in the middle of one of the renaissances of the genre.

What scared the hell out of me was the realism of movies in the late seventies and eighties. Check out the work of George Romero and Wes Craven and you can see what I’m talking about.  These films weren’t about the beautiful fantasy and magic of Hollywood. This was about making you feel like you stumbled across a crime in progress and you don’t dare move, lest you be spotted yourself. This is about being placed in front of something that you can’t bring yourself to turn away from.  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers In Review : Friday The 13th (1980), part one

F13 4Tonight we take a look at one of the big four.  I mean, really, when one hears the word SLASHER, four characters jump to mind, right? Freddy Krueger, Michael Meyers, Leatherface and of course, Jason Voorhees.

There are countless other stalker killers out there, but for some reason, these four are synonymous with the word slasher.  It doesn’t seem to matter that there were slashers before and after these classics were made, these are the Grandaddies of the slasher family. Take it or leave it.  One might make a case for Chucky, The Firefly Clan and others, and while terrifying and time-tested, in my opinion, Chucky has become a lampoon of himself and The Fireflys were only in two(?) movies.  That’s not to say that Jason and Freddy haven’t become parodies either, but that’s a topic for another day.  Today we talk about the birth of all things Camp Crystal Lake and why teenagers of the 80’s didn’t want to go to camp.  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: Child’s Play (1988)

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Starring: Brad Dourif, Alex Vincent, Chris Sarandon, Catherine Hicks

Directed by: Tom Holland

Written by: Don Mancini, John Lafia, Tom Holland

What begins like a crime thriller quickly escalates into a bizarre horror about a dying murderer who manages to use black magic to transfer his consciousness into a ‘Good Guys’ doll. ‘Chucky’ finds a home with 6-year-old Andy, initially befriending and manipulating him into helping him commit more murders, and then Andy himself becomes the target as Chucky plans to transfer his consciousness into him before he can be killed in his doll form.  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers In Review : Bay Of Blood (1971)

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Fans of Bava’s films know they are more about style than plot. The revolutionary use of color and framing create mood and atmosphere that leave a deep impression.  A BAY OF BLOOD is loose and sometimes confusing, but it set the tone for many important films to come after it. The main film is, of course, Sean Cunningham’s FRIDAY THE 13th.

A BAY OF BLOOD centers around the inhabitants of a small bay. Countess Frida, (Isa Miranda,) is murdered by her husband, who is then himself murdered. The murders set off a chaotic chain of events as neighbors and family members fight and back stab each other for control of the bay. Among them is Simon, (Claudio Camaso,) the Countess’s illegitimate son; Renata (Claudine Auger),  his step sister, and her husband Albert (Luigi Pistilli); Frank (Chris Avram,) a greedy businessman and his secretary Laura (Anna Maria Rosati), and card reader Anna (Laura Betti), spreading doom and gloom with her insect loving husband. There is also a side story of two young couples camping out in one of the empty houses and falling prey to the killer. The ending involving Renata and Albert’s children also makes no real sense.  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)

 

[ blahblahblah Spoilers Probably yaddayaddayadda ]

This is a weird one, you guys. Not in a deliberate, fun way. More in a… I-have-no-idea-what-the-director-was-thinking-half-the-time kind of way. I’m going to keep myself to the format I’ve been using for the most part and not get too far ahead of myself this time. I’ll just say this one might be a little less meaty than my usual review as I’m not sure how much I can say about this one. We’ll see what happens as I get further down this cuppa (Joe)…  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers In Review : The Devil’s Rejects (2005)

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Rob Zombie knows movies, and he takes his knowledge of and passion for film and applies it to his own projects.  Sometimes he is successful in his execution, sometimes he isn’t.  It all boils down to personal preference.  When it comes to The Devil’s Rejects, I believe he was successful.

This film came out in 2005 and is the follow-up to House of 1000 Corpses.  It follows the Firefly family as they attempt to escape the law.  The film is a mash up of different genres, including crime films and sexploitation, drawing heavily from slasher films with murder and gore to beat the band.  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: SCHRAMM (1993)

 

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[65 minutes. Unrated. Director: Jorg Buttgereit]

Sometimes – okay, a lot of the time – I question the logic that drives my physical-media collection. Why are some DVDs more disposable and trade-worthy than others? Why are others as immovable as Stonehenge? There are films that sit on my shelves, never leaving the shrink-wrap; and others that are so mood-specific, I only re-watch after a passage of years. Salo is a great film, no question about it, but two hours of feel-good vibes it most certainly ain’t.

The same applies to the work of director Jorg Buttgereit.

After a string of shorts, his career began proper with the worldwide-controversial Video Nasty Nekromantik, which took a semi-comedic approach to a young couple’s desire to bring a rotting corpse into the bedroom. While a fine showcase for Buttgereit’s low-budget ingenuity (including some sick – and sick-funny – practical gore effects), the film was little more than the sum of its shock value (and I liked its labored, cheap-looking sequel even less).

The director fared much better with two other efforts: 1990’s actively oppressive Der Todesking (English translation: The Death King), which follows a group of unfortunate souls who fall victim to a lethal chain letter over the course of a week. The film is devoid of hope, and its experimental nature (more anthology than conventional narrative) creates a detachment from the characters that is deliberately cold. One can imagine Buttgereit’s intent: “This is humanity with the forced pleasantries and rule of law removed – see it and weep.”  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers In Review : Scream (1996) DOUBLE FEATURE part 2

kinopoisk.ruFor a significant number of years, the concept of slasher movies fell away. The major horror franchises of Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm St. and Halloween found themselves struggling to stay relevant with the demographic that made them classics. Meanwhile, in 1996, a single question stirred a new generation:

Do you like scary movies? 

Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers In Review : Scream (1996) DOUBLE FEATURE part 1

ScreamIn 1996, the cinematic world was introduced to the first of what would be one of the more successful new horror franchise of the modern era. And interestingly enough, it would spring forth from the mind of one Wes Craven, already responsible for one of the most popular monsters in movie history.

At the time this came out, I was in college and without going into a lot of details, I was going through a difficult time in my life. School was not going well and I had personal issues that were leading to some fairly severe depression and anxiety. I was on break at my father’s house and decided one night to take a spin with a video rental, a new movie release that I had seen advertised but knew very little about.  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: Hannibal (2001)

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The mad genius may be an over played trope, but it is still entertaining to watch. I have to wonder though if the character in question on today’s installment of Slashers & Serial Killers would fit into the mold of “mad genius.” Is Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter truly mad? Is he insane, mentally ill, certifiable, deranged, demented, or otherwise of unsound mind? Honestly, that’s a tall order. What he does is shocking, sure enough. I think we can at the very least say for certain that he is a genius. You don’t become a physician and practicing psychologist speaking fluently in several languages with perfect memorization and dictation of countless works of art and poetry, not to mention an obsessive culinary skill, without the moniker of said genius. Mad though…that begs the question.  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers In Review : Silence Of The Lambs (1991)

silence posterSilence Of The Lambs marked a monumental moment in film history. For me, it was one of those transitions as a teenager where I saw first hand how gripping a story could be and how the villain of a story can be developed just as much, if not more than the hero. Silence Of The Lambs would also lead to a number of unfortunate side effects down the road, something that was completely out of their control and that I will touch on later.

This film made household names out of both Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins. And while Foster certainly deserves the credit she receives for her work, the role of Clarice Starling is almost a throwaway for me. You can’t have a movie without a protagonist and she fits that bill just fine. We have a young, talented FBI agent-in-training, one with a bright future, but also with a past just dark enough to be exploited by one Hannibal Lector.  Continue Reading

Theatre of Blood (1973) w/ author Roger Keen

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I had the basic plot idea for Literary Stalker – a bad writer with grudges who takes revenge on selected colleagues – many years before I wrote the novel, but it remained on the back burner because it seemed too simplistic. Then I had the further idea of making the work a pastiche, with showcased references to films and other novels, very much in the style of Quentin Tarantino. Having fun developing this, one film in particular popped into my mind – one I hadn’t actually viewed for decades, but which I remembered fondly from way back in the 1970s and ’80s. It was Theatre of Blood, and I got the DVD and re-watched it, several times. The rest, as they say, is history.  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 DREAM WARRIORS (1987)

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Well, here we are.  Six years after Nancy defeated(?) Freddy, and a new batch of crazy(!) teenagers for our favorite undead serial killer to torment when their eyes close. Heather Langenkamp and John Saxon reprise their roles as Nancy and Lt. Thompson (from ANOES) and we find that Nancy has gone to school to become a psychiatrist making groundbreaking work in “Pattern nightmares.” This was the directorial debut of Chuck Russell, who would go on to direct the cult favorite The Blob remake, as well as Jim Carrey’s comedy The Mask.  Based on a story by Wes Craven and Bruce Wagner, the screenplay was written by Wagner, Craven, Russell and a young upstart writer named Frank Darabont (I hope I don’t need to remind this crowd who HE is, do I?)

As I said, there is a new cast of teenagers to be led to slaughter by Freddy, including Kristen (Patricia Arquette), Kincaid (Ken Sagoes), Joey (Rodney Eastman), Taryn (Jennifer Rubin), Phillip (Bradley Gregg), Will (Ira Heiden), and Jennifer (Penelope Sudrow).  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers In Review : Monster (2003)

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EDITOR’S NOTE – Monster was a movie that had a huge impact on me and I think this is one example of, while the story of a film might not be as memorable, the performance elevates it into something extraordinary. I think Charlize Theron is one of the most exciting actors of our time. I’ve been a fan of hers from the day I saw her steal practically every scene she graced in Devil’s Advocate. I think she has a unique ability to completely occupy the space of a character. With many legendary actors, when it comes down to it, you still feel like you are seeing a variation on that person. I watch DeNiro’s films and for the most part, I still feel like I’m seeing Robert DeNiro, or Russell Crowe or whomever. Charlize Theron is a rare example where I feel like she becomes something completely different with each role.  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: PEEPING TOM (1960)

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Starring: Karl Bohm and Anna Massey

Directed by: Michael Powell

Written by: Leo Marks

This review is spoiler-heavy.

Peeping Tom has a lot going for it. It’s widely accepted to be the first ever ‘slasher’ film, released months before Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho in 1960. It is also the first horror film to show us scenes from the killer’s perspective, a technique that has since become somewhat of a genre trope (John Carpenter’s Halloween 1978, Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead 1981, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining 1980, to name but a few).

The acting performances are great and the directing is superb. The story is original, the script is competent, and the movie is generally well paced and atmospheric. So it may come to many as a surprise that upon its theatrical release, Peeping Tom was critically reviled and it was detested by the public, so much so that the film was pulled from distribution, its cinema run was cut short, and it was banned. It practically disappeared until Martin Scorsese revived it in the late 1970s. It’s generally acknowledged as the film that ended (director) Michael Powell’s career. Powell’s previous work included A Matter of Life and Death (AKA Stairway to Heaven) (1946), A Canterbury Tale (1944), and The Red Shoes (1948). He was a beloved and highly acclaimed filmmaker, until he released Peeping Tom. After this, he was able to get some film work, mostly abroad, but then his career tragically died, much like several of his Peeping Tom characters.  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers In Review : Natural Born Killers (1994)

Only Love Can Kill The Demon

Kit Power on Natural Born Killers

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SPOILER ALERT! I will assume you’ve seen the film, and talk accordingly. If this is not the case and you don’t want to be spoiled, go, now, and watch this damn movie. You should, anyway, because it’s awesome.

In 1994, Oliver Stone was right in the middle of his imperial phase, as a filmmaker. Following the Oscar success of Platoon in 1987 (where it unfairly beat RoboCop, which admittedly hadn’t actually been nominated, but still, UNFAIR I say!), he went on to make Wall Street, Born on the Fourth of July, and The Doors, among others – any of which could support at least a slim volume worth of essay material in their own right (albeit not, probably, in a series about slashers and serial killers). Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: HALLOWEEN (2007)

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Imitation is often seen as a tribute to an artist; other times it is seen as a mockery and a laughable attempt to establish, oneself, in a world of other artists.  A question that should be asked, what separates the good imitations from the worst?

The answer is a little more underlying.

A work of imitation can branch off and become something different, something appreciated by others.  The difference is—Appreciation for the original work and artist—nothing more.

In 1978, John Carpenter set out and defined the slasher genre.  Many fans were introduced to their first masked serial killers: Michael Myers.  The original story was enough to send millions of fans into a terror filled adventure, murder and mayhem a-plenty.  Man escapes mental institution after murdering his sister twenty years prior and begins slashing and stabbing his way through Haddonfield, IL.  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers in Review : THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986)

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Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2: A favorite in Slaughter town

As little girls our mother allowed us to watch the first Texas Chainsaw Massacre, being all of maybe nine years old we were terrified (and, yes, probably too young to watch it but our mom’s awesome like that). The thoughts of some psycho cannibal family living in an old farm house in Texas, hacking unsuspecting people to death and then consuming them definitely reached a higher level on the horror meter than some of the classics we had been previously exposed to and yet there was an element to it that really drew us in. That man behind the skin mask, not speaking a word yet saying so much to us, he won our hearts forever.

Flash forward a few years when we are on the cusp of becoming teenagers, the precious years when other girls are like totally concerned with regular girl things like makeup and stylish clothing, it was then that the young Sisters of Slaughter were reintroduced to a certain family of cannibals in the form of a sequel, a horror comedy that helped shape their twisted senses of humor, one that is celebrated in Slaughter Town like a national holiday.  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: ALONE IN THE DARK (1982)

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The Eighties are often thought of as the Golden Age of Slasher movies. And why not? We had Jason and Freddy and Michael roaming around movie screens, dispatching hormone-addled teenagers in creative ways. It all became a bit formulaic, but with pretty naked people and bucketfuls of the red, red kroovy, who cared? The horror algorithm was simple back then, and anybody who could get funding from family or a cabal of local medical professionals could follow the formula, shoot a movie in a couple weeks, and potentially get a lucrative distribution deal.

With an audience hankering for knives and nubiles, other horror movies got lost in the shuffle. That’s why most people have probably never heard of Alone in the Dark, a terrific movie from 1982 with no nudity, little bloodshed, and no young’uns traipsing through the forest, tripping over tree roots in the dark.  Continue Reading

My Judgement on Hellraiser: Judgement (2018)

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Not very often we review a horror movie that’s been out less than a decade. And for good reason perhaps. Not to say that there are no good modern horror movies. I believe Get Out and Conjuring prove that decent horror is still making its way to theaters and into our living rooms. Yet, as a whole, the horror community clings to the hey-day, so to speak, of better times. Due to this habit, it feels like some movie makers get the notion that all we want to see are rehashed classics. While i have no problem digging deeper into an already established horror universe, but i’d much rather see something new than something old with a new wig, if you catch my meaning. Case in point, last night’s screening of Hellraiser: Judgement (2018).  Continue Reading

SLASHERS & SERIAL KILLERS IN REVIEW : HENRY : PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER 1986

Henry1In June 1983, drifter Henry Lee Lucas was convicted of 11 murders. Later, he confessed to over 3,000, but retracted many of these over time. Today, most believe that Lucas was responsible for about 40 separate killings, including his sex worker mother, and Becky Powell, the intellectually-impaired 15-year-old niece of his close friend and lover, Ottis Toole.

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) is as much a biopic and crime drama as it is a horror film. It is as far from the territory of Jason, Michael and Freddy as an 80s serial killer movie can be, and its uncompromising violence and dread-soaked atmosphere ensured controversy and a release plagued with censorship issues. These problems set its American release back by 4 or so years, while in the UK, the uncut version of Henry was only made available in 2003, a full 17 years after it was made.  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972)

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If a friend asked me, “Hey, Tommy, can you recommend a good slasher movie?” Off the cuff, I’d typically guide said friend to one of the many wondrous titles under the Friday the 13th franchise or Nightmare on Elm Street. If they wanted obscure but tasteful, I’d most likely say The Prowler or The Burning. Those looking for something for date night, I’d recommend Scream or perhaps Silence of the Lambs. If I wanted to sound like an intellectual or one of those real classic film guys, I’d suggest Psycho. But if I were really brave…if i wanted to take the risk, if not in losing a friend and all credibility in recommending slasher movies, but also risk being looked at (at worse) like some weirdo pervert, well…if i didn’t care about that, then I would totally recommend THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972).

This isn’t to say that THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (TLHOTL) is a horrid movie. Its not. Its actually quite amazing. Raw. Brutal. Shocking. And truth be told, not entirely that fun of a film. Just how slasher flicks really ought to aspire. TLHOTL doesn’t wear a mask to scare you, it removes the mask, and in so doing is utterly terrifying. There is no pleasure in the depravity, except for perhaps towards the end when the protagonists’ parents exact revenge (more on that later). In Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street or even Halloween, we’re (mostly) rooting for the killer, “Yeah! Murder those dumb stupid teenagers!” But in TLHOTL, those very scenes are sickening and uncomfortable to watch.  Continue Reading

Slashers & Serial Killers in Review: The Strangers (2008)

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On one hand, I think that The Strangers typifies what can be the brightest and most brilliant executions of the horror genre. On the other, I also think that The Strangers is a perfect example of some of the worst kind of tropes that are pounded to death like so many coffin nails.

Let’s start with the positive because it’s a new year and I’m trying to focus on such things. The premise for the film is as simple as can be which, as an aside I think is actually essential for great horror. The films and books that perform the best for me are about creating a visceral experience for the reader and the characters. If you need to draw a flow chart in order to find the horror, you might not be doing it right.  Continue Reading

Reviews In The Machine : What Good Girls Do, by Jonathan Butcher

WGGDChances are that if you have found your way to this review, what I am about to say is likely unnecessary but I think it is still important to make this clear, up front.

You can always say things like, “this book isn’t going to be for everyone”. It’s a statement I have always been a little perplexed with, even though I use it myself often enough. My issue with it is that ultimately, isn’t that going to be the case with every book? So I am going to take this a step further.

This book will offend you.

You should exercise the full extent of your caution and awareness before you undertake this read. If you have even the smallest tinges of sensitivities to graphic and extreme content, you should be aware that this book has it in great magnitude. If ever there was a book that needed to come with trigger warnings, this would be it. It will offend you and I say this not as a criticism but because the horrors in the book and the way this character is treated should offend you. This book contains scenes of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation in brazen fashion.

It also makes you think.

The main character is introduced in a quick and brutal first chapter. She is being held prisoner in the home of an unidentified male, someone she identifies simply as “Daddy”. It is with sinking dread that you realize that she has been essentially raised by this person for the purposes of providing pleasure and that her outlook on the world around her is so distorted and skewed, she doesn’t even share the same basic language. It was chilling for me when I reached the moment that I realized that she referred to not just her captor as Daddy, but in fact was referring to all men as, “Daddies”.

The second character is a wife, sharing a morning at home with her husband and children. The chapters of the book jump back and forth, twining the stories around each other in a dual narrative that seemed disparate at first but once the narratives are brought together; it’s off to the races in a way that was appalling, tragic and impossible to look away from.

One thing Butcher does particularly well is in crafting the voices for these two characters. It’s easy to just say that this chapter is from this character’s point of view and this chapter is another. But I genuinely felt the depth and complexity of both of these women. The difference in language in how the two of them talk and see the world around them is beautifully crafted. It feels strange using a descriptor like that for a book of this nature but he really does an outstanding job capturing the spirit and voices of two completely different people.

Reading this book, I found myself contemplating at times the extent of our tolerances when it comes to the horror genre. Is there a line that should be left alone? Is it possible to go too far? This is without a doubt one of the most extreme books I have ever read but the answer I kept coming back to was that a lot of this is dependent on the context in which the content appears in the first place. There were plenty of moments in the book that made me want to turn away, made me question why I was reading this thing. What I find interesting though is that despite all those moments, I never really questioned whether or not the content I was reading was needed for the story. There were a few moments that I thought he could have pulled back a little but on a whole, I felt like everything was there for a reason.

You can tell (I think) when an author throws in something gross or explicit, simply for the purposes of “punching up” or making their story more “in your face”. There does seem to be a culture of, “see how much I can shock you” that I am not necessarily a fan of. But in the case of What Good Girls Do, I was shocked and appalled but all throughout, I felt like I was reading the natural progression of a story as opposed to grit and gore that was being arbitrarily shoehorned into a book.

The best kinds of monsters are the ones that can’t be reasoned with, the ones who you can’t talk down or convince to be merciful. As the scenario in this book unfolds, what makes it particularly effective is that this monster in human form shares all those attributes. Because of the altered understanding of her world as a result of her captivity, she becomes essentially an uncomprehending monster that cannot be negotiated or bargained with.

And even at the height of the horrible acts she was conducting, I found that I couldn’t bring myself to hate her. And this is likely the most powerful aspect of the book for me. Because the thing is, I understood that everything she was doing was a result of her captivity and being sculpted against her will into this creature that destroys without really understanding what she is doing. I understood that the real monster in the story was the one who had kidnapped her, withheld her from the world and allowed her to grow into what she has become.

My sole criticism for the book would be that in the last chapter, the story makes a bit of a shift that I had a hard time accepting. Not because of how it made me feel or because I needed the book to end a certain way. It was that a character makes a decision that I didn’t really feel like I understood. I didn’t buy that the character had come to the point of the final act we bear witness to. I really needed that moment to be drawn out a little more so that Butcher could devote more to exploring the motivations and causes. I’m sorry for being so cagey in my framing of this, but I obviously can’t get into details without spoiling the end of the book. Still, it was this point that probably shifted my review from five stars to four. It was a shocking ending, to be sure, but speaking for myself, I needed Butcher to take a little more time in order to properly sell it.

Is this going to be a book for you? I can’t answer that. What I can tell you is that I was captivated all throughout. As a parent, the story wreaked me, emotionally. It was one of the most challenging reads I have ever taken on. This book made me feel. It made me cringe. It made me think and it made me recoil. It made me ponder the morality of the world around me and shudder at the thought of such things like this happening in real life. It made me scared for us as a society as I can absolutely imagine something like this happening in neighborhoods across the world. This is a book that was eye-opening and mind-bending. It found the cracks and crevices of my being and forced its way in.

This book does what all art should. It doesn’t care about you or in conforming to what you want.

It simply is.

Follow the link. Buy the book. Take the risk. Read the book. Do it.

Reviews In The Machine : King Carrion by Rich Hawkins

CarrionAs a child of the eighties, I was born and raised on what I consider to be one of the golden ages of horror fiction. Franchises were born here, franchises that, to this day we find ourselves unable to escape from. And while there are any number of instances where we, as a culture have lost our way, there is one specific area which I particularly lament where we seem to have gone wrong.

I speak specifically of vampires.

A lot of this is likely going to seem directed at Twilight and to be sure, much of it for me came from that particular franchise. If that’s your thing, all the power to you but for me, it was way too far of a stone’s throw from the classic films I grew up with. Vampires used to be cool, they were dangerous and gritty. Vampires were a force to be reckoned with in the fictional landscape.

Then things began to change and it was almost like vampires started to become too precious. The intensity of the genre seemed to lessen and with the exception of a few standout films, vampire fiction seemed to become very bland and for a long time now, I have been waiting for a beam of light to show us the way through this long vampiric nightmare we seem to exist within.

Enter King Carrion, by Rich Hawkins, stage left.

The story of the book is to the point and efficient. The main character, Mason, is returning to his home town after an incarceration to try and beg himself back into the life of his ex-wife, trying to atone for his crime. He quickly discovers that something is wrong. An ancient vampire God has descended on the town, intent on making Great Britain his own.

This.

This is what I have been missing for all this time. These are the vampires I grew up with, this is the horror genre I grew up with. It was a breath of fresh air in a world of emotionally available vampires. These vampires hit hard and fast, with just the right amount of gore that I have come to expect.

The book is paced quite well and for me, King Carrion often has the feel of Salem’s Lot, if it were to be clarified down to its essential base self. Hawkins wastes no time taking the reader straight into the heart of the story and uses a ton of great description to plunge us into this beautifully bleak environment.

The quality of the writing here is top rate. Hawkins’ aptitude for physical description comes through clearly in this book and the action of the story does a great job moving things along. There was no point where I felt things were dragging and pretty much throughout the book, I didn’t want to put it down. This is one that I definitely could have taken down in one reading if the time had been there. His characters feel genuine and their struggles seem real. He does a good job making their situation sympathetic very quickly.

Hawkins also does what I think is essential to any proper monster story in that he takes the essence of the vampires but also adds some personal twists of his own. It felt like he paid tribute to the legacy of the monster while also putting something out there that was uniquely his.

If I had any gripe about the story, it would be a minor one and to be fair, this is a hard bridge to cross for any author and there are just some times when it works better than others. But for me it was the point in the story where, after having his first encounter with the vampires, Mason decides to return to the scene to investigate. For me, I always find myself in horror movies and books asking why the character is bothering at all when I would probably be trying to get the hell out of there. Why go back? So in the context of this book, I think I would have liked it if that decision had been a little more fleshed out so that his motivations were a little clearer. As I said though, very minor issue for me.

I don’t know if Hawkins has any plans for a follow-up to this book but if there is a chance, I would definitely be on the lookout for it as I believe there could be more story to tell here.

For anyone out there who is of a similar disposition to me, who loves their horror delivered with some grit and some bleakness to it, this book would be an excellent choice for you. And maybe, with small steps like this, we can start to bring ourselves back into the light and away from the sanitized versions of these great fictional characters we have today.

Say it with me.

Vampires can be cool again.

EDITOR’S NOTE – Please consider checking out Rich Hawkins’ Amazon author page and take a look at more of his books. He is an incredibly talented author who deserves far more recognition and accolades than he receives. Support a great artist today.

RICH HAWKINS ON AMAZON

Reviews In The Machine : Shepherd Of The Black Sheep

Shepard Of The Black SheepThis was a beautifully written book and pretty much from the start I was taken in by the description of the environment. I thought it was a brilliant decision to place the story onto this bleak, cold landscape as I felt it perfectly reflected the nature and mood of the narrative.

This book is a perfect example of why I need to rectify the blind spot that has largely existed in my reading habits when it comes to crime novels. It’s a genre I’ve always felt drawn to but for some reason don’t actually come to as often. I think one of the strengths of narratives of this type (and this book in particular) is how much the human condition can come through and how the depth of the characters is put so emotionally on display.

As a parent, I responded deeply to this story, the tragedy of a young child killed (Alice), her best friend (Paige) bearing witness and the main character of the book (Tom), left to care for his granddaughter, protect her from elements of the town that would do her harm as well as what he can to help her heal. It’s a situation that has great potential for conflict and it’s all used to perfection.

The emotional conquests against Paige seem to come on multiple fronts as, in addition to the expected trauma, she becomes of greater interest to Alice’s parents. For whatever reason, they have concluded that Paige knows more than she has been telling and will go to any lengths to get her cooperation. What I liked about this point was how, on one hand their behavior comes off as unreasonable and hostile, you also feel a touch of sympathy for them. They have lost a child, after all. This, I think is an essential element of all great fiction. You don’t necessarily have characters that are absolutely good and absolutely evil. All we have are characters doing the best they can to live through the struggles which have been thrust upon them.

And as the story progresses, the escalation of situations that Tom keeps getting pulled in to serves wonderfully to heighten the tension of the story. It reminded me a bit of Scott Smith’s A Simple Plan in how, despite all efforts to correct his situation, things just keep getting worse and worse.

And it all builds up to an ending that, while it isn’t something we haven’t seen before necessarily, Triana executes it in a way that is effective, without taking it so far over the top that it seems gimmicky.

If I had any criticism, it would be that while Tom himself is a deep and interesting character, early in the book there are a number of points where he reflects on his disdain for the world today. Of his lack of understanding of the younger generation and their technology and phones and so forth. It isn’t a point of view that I’m necessarily unsympathetic to, it’s just that it’s a narrative I’ve become more and more tired of seeing. It’s the kind of thing I can get pretty much every day on Facebook or Twitter and as it doesn’t really add anything to the plot of the book, I found it to be a bit distracting.

You could make the argument that this disdain for the modern world serves to further isolate Tom as a character from the rest of his life. But I think that the circumstances of the story already accomplish this effectively enough without having to use any kind of enhancing device.

Also, as we find out early, Paige is living with Tom because her parents passed away, leaving her in her grandfather’s care. This puts Tom in the awkward position of having to act as a parent, an older man trying to figure out the unsteady ground of raising a young girl. This in my opinion would be a more effective way of highlighting Tom’s sense of aloneness. It’s germane to the story, incredibly emotional and personal and doesn’t have quite so much the feel of pop-culture-speak.

And just putting all cards fairly on the table, there are a number of typos in this that were a bit glaring. That being said however, I didn’t feel like these took away from the impact of the story or the beauty of the prose. I never felt like turning away  but they were there. I just think the story could have stood for another editing pass.

In all, it’s an incredibly rich and entertaining book, one I read multiple times. It’s a quick journey and if you’re looking for a vivid distraction, an emotional and human story, look not further than right here.

*originally posted at the Gingernuts Of Horror (http://gingernutsofhorror.com/fiction-reviews/book-review-shepherd-of-the-black-sheep-by-kristopher-triana)

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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

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