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Kong: Skull Island (2017) REVIEW

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Okay, seriously…have you seen the new Kong? For starters though, i’ll admit it is kinda strange taking on a creature feature review outside of the Creature Features in Review series. However, as I had the gumption to finally watch the latest of Kong movies, Kong: Skull Island, I felt compelled to write down some of my thoughts regarding said movie. There are no spoilers here, per say. Kong holds not mystery that hasn’t already been shown in the many previews and trailers that came out prior to the movie’s release. So, I don’t feel bad talking about it.  Continue Reading

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Creature Features in Review: Dark Was The Night (2014)

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[99 minutes. Unrated. Director: Jack Heller]

It exists, has always existed, but feels increasingly harder to find these days, especially in the horror genre.

No, I’m not talking about Bigfoot or the Fouke Monster or the Wendigo.

I’m talking about something that’s harder to pin down; something that is, more often than not, maddeningly subjective. Something that comes with a storyteller’s approach to horror.

That “something” is sincerityContinue Reading

It (2017): SPOILERS

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WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.

If you’re still reading this than I can safely assume you’ve taken some time to go see the latest of Stephen King novel to movie adaptations, It. This week on Machine Mean has been an It-palooza. With our very own Chad Clark bringing you a review of the novel in a three part series, including that very scandalous scene from the book, you know the one. And Chad and I both tackled a review of the original made-for-TV film from 1990. What better way to end the week than with a review on the new addition?  Continue Reading

Creature Features in Review : It (1990)

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Chad’s take on It.

In 1990, the world of Stephen King expanded even more as ABC aired a miniseries adaptation of his legendary book, IT. The movie would span across two parts and feature a large ensemble cast, the same group of characters, both as children and as adults. The success or failure of the film aside, Tim Curry’s performance as Pennywise has gone down as one of the more brilliant portrayals of a Stephen King character, alongside Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrence and Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes.

We find ourselves now in the year 2017, on the brink of a new film adaptation, this time set for a theatrical release as opposed to television. And while the original miniseries continues to have legs in terms of the fans, as the years go on, it seems to take more of a turn towards being mocked and criticized as a joke and a failure, a betrayal of source material which I concede is likely King’s greatest book.  Continue Reading

Creature Features in Review: Humanoids from the Deep (1980)

[ BIG SPOILERS—like, skip-to-the-number-score-if-you’re-actually-worried level spoilers ]

 Okay, two things right out of the gate: this movie is terrible… but I’m going to explain to you why I feel (if you enjoy a certain level of badbad = goodgood) you should still watch it.

Also, it’s basically about mutant fish people raping women (when they aren’t killing everyone else to get to that) but seeing as how I highly doubt there are going to be humanoid fish people waddling out of the sea and actually raping anyone anytime soon, I’m not going to address that further in any serious way after this intro. I also won’t make a joke out of it, though, and you can call me what you like for that.  Continue Reading

Creature Features in Review: Arachnophobia (1990)

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Arachnophobia is the most utterly terrifying film I have ever seen. I’ve seen, read, and written vomit-inducingly horrific things, but there’s only one thing that scares the absolute shit out of me— spiders. I was nine when this film premiered and, up until now, that’s the last time I watched it. Like the main character of the film, Dr. Ross Jennings, I am an arachnophobe (a person with an abnormal fear of spiders). Also like Dr. Jennings, my phobia was solidified by a traumatic early childhood experience (and many thereafter).

Flashback to the late 1980s: my brother Tommy and I were peering over the basement railings of our grandparent’s newly built house. We spied a black, circular, baseball-sized mass at the landing of the second flight of basement steps. Curious and eager to explore, we rushed down to the first landing to get a closer look. It appeared to be a giant rubber Halloween prop spider. Figuring our grandpa was playing a prank on us and eager to use the prop for our own nefarious devices, we rushed forward to grab it.  Continue Reading

Lovecraft Country: book in review

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The critically acclaimed cult novelist makes visceral the terrors of life in Jim Crow America and its lingering effects in this brilliant and wondrous work of the imagination that melds historical fiction, pulp noir, and Lovecraftian horror and fantasy.

Chicago, 1954. When his father Montrose goes missing, 22-year-old Army veteran Atticus Turner embarks on a road trip to New England to find him, accompanied by his Uncle George—publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide—and his childhood friend Letitia. On their journey to the manor of Mr. Braithwhite—heir to the estate that owned one of Atticus’s ancestors—they encounter both mundane terrors of white America and malevolent spirits that seem straight out of the weird tales George devours.

At the manor, Atticus discovers his father in chains, held prisoner by a secret cabal named the Order of the Ancient Dawn—led by Samuel Braithwhite and his son Caleb—which has gathered to orchestrate a ritual that shockingly centers on Atticus. And his one hope of salvation may be the seed of his—and the whole Turner clan’s—destruction.

A chimerical blend of magic, power, hope, and freedom that stretches across time, touching diverse members of two black families, Lovecraft Country is a devastating kaleidoscopic portrait of racism—the terrifying specter that continues to haunt us today.

Let me say, period pieces really are my favorite niche in any genre. While working as a colorful backdrop, it also ought to really become a character in and of itself. That’s to say, the characters within the story should be effected in some way, both great and small. You can’t just say your on the 1950s and not have some sort of conflict within the boundaries of that era. And Lovecraft Country is sweating Jim Crow. Every action and resolution is weighed against a concise and chillingly real understanding of what it was like for African Americans during segregation. I’m actually a big fan of studying this precarious time in our country. Yes, fan may not be the best choice of words and there are lots of harrowing and sinister moments and events, but (to me at least) there are a lot of heroes that are born from this era in history. Author Matt Ruff capitalized on that, I think. His characters, the Berry’s and Turner’s, had to face extreme racism and event he more subtle and more sinister forms of it, but they stood the test, in their own way. Atticus’ father, Montrose, for example, I did not favor him in the beginning, to me he seemed a harsh kind of father figure, but later on, discovering his history and his ultimate message to the black youth around him, I began to like him more and more. For the historic setting and the story surrounding it, top marks.

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But as a Lovecraft inspired work of fiction? Some debate could be made. There is a feeling, a vibe that hints at a cosmic dread, but nothing on the level as H.P. And for those looking for Lovecraft are bound to be disappoint, at least a little bit, right? And that’s okay. Truthfully, I had hopes of seeing more of Lovecraft’s world, not just having his work mentioned between a group of unlikely sci fi fans. The supernatural is certainly there, or as they call it “natural philosophy.” But what Lovecraft Country really lacked was teeth, especially if stamping the title with Lovecraft’s name. Lovecraft Country was like a PG romp into some rather serious issues dealing with race in America and reading the characters all coming out unspoiled seemed disingenuous. Fun, but not realistic.

In summary, Lovecraft Country works as a reminder and a warning regarding the legacy of Jim Crow America. The tension is clearly defined and some parts were hard to get past. The history was spot on and believable. But as a Lovecraft stamped title…it lacked that sense of dread, lurking creatures or not, that ought to come with every Lovecraft inspired book. An argument could be made that the dread was with the characters having to survive the effects of segregation, that the hidden lurking unfathomable monstrosity was in fact racism itself. Still, in the end it felt as if most things had been resolved, more or less. Parts of the book, which was designed in short story increments that connected eventually together, wrapped up too neatly. And the lack of death or any serious permanency felt strange compared to the real threat this part of our history posed to those who lived it.

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Rumor is, Lovecraft Country has been picked up to be developed as a TV show, and seeing how Matt Ruff wrote the book with an adaptation in mind (most likely to reason for lacking any real depth) I’d be interested in seeing how that would work, especially if the rumors are true and Jordan Peele (Get Out fame) will executive produce the book as an HBO series. Get Out was one of my favorite movies to come out thus far this year and I am excited to see Peele’s name attached to the project. But I have my doubts anything Lovecraftian will surface.

My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Thomas S. Flowers writes character-driven stories of dark fiction ranging from Shakespearean gore feasts to paranormal thrillers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His veteran focused paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served three tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews horror and sci fi movies and books and hosts a gambit of guest contributors who discuss a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can follow Thomas at a safe distance by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.

Creature Features in Review: The Mist (2007)

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When I first heard of the film “The Mist” I knew nothing about it other than – a mist descends on a town and, hidden within the murkiness, there are… Things. Nasty things that kill people. I couldn’t help but laugh and shake my head. Just what the film industry needed, another knock-off film. I mean, we’ve seen this back in the eighties with John Carpenter’s “The Fog”. Not entirely sure we needed another film with a similar concept. But, then, I heard more about the film. Directed by Frank Darabont, he who made “The Green Mile”, “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Walking Dead”. I’m a fan. Then I saw it was based on the work of Stephen King. Now, I’m not a fan of King because – for me – I find the books a bit too wordy to read (I have a short attention… oh look, a penny). That being said, I do like the ideas he has.  Then, of course, there was the cast list: Thomas Jane (in my eyes an under-rated actor) and several folk from “The Walking Dead” (Carol, Dale, Andrea… Was Frank doing a test run with the actors before hiring them for The WD?). What the hell, there was enough there for me to give it a go and – you know what – I’m glad I did.

“The Mist” is not an original story (as mentioned). Now I don’t know what came first between King’s short and the novel of “The Fog” and I do not really care. It’s a story that has been told time and time again in various ways but this… This worked well because of the minimal locations and the chemistry between the varied characters even though said characters are also the type of people you see in these films.  You have the small minded locals, you have the God-Worshipping woman who tries turn everyone else into believers (“We are being punished for our sins”), you have the father trying to save his kid, the military folk with something to hide… Seriously – no originality but they work – which is just as well as we don’t really see any of the features until about an hour into the film. The rest is them talking, panicking, planning. blah blah.

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When the creatures do come, you can’t help but get pulled out of the film a little – and the story it is trying to tell. The reason being because – whilst they don’t look bad – they don’t look great. Or rather, they don’t look great in colour. You see, there are two’s versions of this film. You have the aforementioned colour version with it’s rubbish CGI and then you have the same film but done in black and white. Frank’s original vision of the film, to have it in black and white. Personally, this is the definitive version of the film. It’s moody and atmospheric and even reminds me of those old sci-fi serials I used to watch when growing up. But, more than that – and more importantly, because it’s black and white the effects of the creatures don’t look so obviously fake. In colour, the CGI looks cheap and nasty – in particular, there’s one scene that features a dire looking tentacle. In black and white, it blends well into the scene and doesn’t look like a seven year old has drawn it with a BIC biro.

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Other creatures include flying things, big arse legs of monsters unseen and – of course – spiders. After all, what horror film (about creatures at least) would be complete without some big arse, mutated eight-legged little bastard fucks?! Before we get to the spiders though, a quick mention to the flying creatures. There are a couple of “breeds” on display here – one is large and almost dinosaur looking and the other (better) type is around the size of an arm and more gnat-like in their appearance. And, like a gnat, these things bite and when they do… Well, just watch the film. Anyway, I hinted towards some arachnids…

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The spiders in this being particularly nasty for those with a fear of spiders. I personally don’t fear them. I’m THE Matt Shaw. I don’t fear anything. I do, however, go out of my way to kill them if they’re in my house. Because they’re cunts. What’s good about these particular spiders is that – whilst they’re obviously big – they don’t look too different to what we already fear. The only difference is that they spit acid webs and put their eggs inside of you (yes, there is a scene in which the spiders come from a person). In colour, this doesn’t look too shabby to be fair but – again – in black and white, it’s seamless.

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So to sum up the film isn’t original, the characters are paint-by-numbers and the plot straight from something out of the sixties but – yeah – it works. Even in colour, the first time I saw it, I came away loving it but that was mainly to do with the ending. And this is where I shut up, other than to say – the ending, for a true horror lover, is nigh on perfect. It’s a great big fuck you to the Hollywood system that usually dictates films should end a certain way to please the majority of the audience (in their eyes). Whilst the ending doesn’t really make a blind bit of difference as to whether it is colour or black and white (it’s great as an over all) the whole film as a complete package just works better without colour.

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If you haven’t seen this film, you need to give it a go. Do suspend your disbelief, do switch off and just enjoy it. For me personally, this film went straight into my top twenty when I watched it. When I saw the black and white version: It went into my top 10.

Matt Shaw

MATT SHAW is the published author of over 120 stories. Although known as being a horror author, he also enjoys spending time in other genres too – something he had always planned to do in order to have at least one book, in a wide collection, which would appeal to people from all walks of life. Shaw was first published in 2004 with his horror novel Happy Ever After – the first of his books to reach the number one slot on Amazon and the first of his books to use his trademark style of narrating the stories through the first person perspective. An extremely prolific writer, Matt Shaw is continually writing as well as keeping up to date with his readers via his (some might say) crazy Facebook page.

Be sure to check out Chaturbate’s Castrations: A Tale of Sex and Horror. Available on Amazon Kindle. 

Chaturbate's Castrations: A Tale of Sex and Horror by [Shaw, Matt]

$2.99

A new era at Machine Mean

D3You may have noticed that a new name has been added to the banner of the Machine Mean site. I thought this would be as good a time as any to introduce myself. My name is Chad Clark, indie author of horror and science fiction. I have accepted the gracious invitation from the talented Mr. Flowers to join on as a partner on the Machine Mean blog.

I have been writing for most of my life, a passion which was forged in the incredible popular culture of the 1980’s. Whether it was the magic of Spielberg and Lucas or the grit of Stephen King and George Romero, I was quickly hooked on the art of storytelling. I was an avid reader from an early age and was fortunate enough to have parents who were willing to give me room to explore the areas that interested me.

After high school and as I got into college, I took some time away from writing as my Yesterday, When We Diedpassions went elsewhere. As was likely inevitable though, I found my way back to books, both to read and to write. After re-dedicating myself to the craft, I would have the honor to publish my first book in 2014, a collection of shorter stories titled, Borrowed Time : And Other Tales.

In 2013, I also launched my first blog, The Baked Scribe. The blog would start with featuring new short stories every week and as it grew, would also add essays on the craft of writing as well as book reviews. The Baked Scribe would last for several years and total two hundred stories before closing its doors earlier this year. In addition to my initial book, I have published a novel, Behind Our Walls, two novellas, Down The Beaten Path and Yesterday, When We Died and two collections of flash fiction, A Shade For Every Season and Two Bells At Dawn (due to be released on July 26). My short stories have been featured in various anthologies as well as on Amazon. In 2016, I also took on a position as a reviewer for the book blog, Confessions Of A Reviewer.

So that brings us to Machine Mean.

What will I be doing for the site? In addition to coverassisting Thomas with some behind the scenes stuff, I will be posting book reviews every other Wednesday. On the off weeks, I will post a piece of original short fiction. These will be either new stories or will be classic issues brought back from the Baked Scribe. I will also be sharing posts from my other online project, Tracing The Trails, an examination of the works of Stephen King as I read every one of his books in order and review each one along the way.

I am looking forward to this opportunity to work with Thomas on the site and to bring youChad more of the great content you have come to expect. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any questions or comments. If you are interested in seeing more of my work, you can click here to check out my official website and here for my Amazon author page. You can also follow me on Facebook. Look for the page for Chad A. Clark.

Thanks for your attention and for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here!

Creature Features in Review: Piranha (1978)

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I remember back in the late eighties, a school friend of mine let me borrow a pirate VHS tape he had.  He wanted to borrow my copy of Robocop and so was offering his tape in exchange.  I loved horror as a kid (no shocker there) and back in the days before people really paid attention to the certification in shops etc., I used to frequent my local newsagent to rent videos (for a whopping 50p a go!) which going by the often gory and bloody cover art I was far too young to be watching. Nonetheless, I rented video nasties without issue and so at that point I had seen a lot of films already, but the two on this tape were new to me, even if initially I thought it was a single film.

Piranha slugs? Never heard of it,’ I said, looking at the handwritten scrawl on the label.

‘No, it’s two films. One is called Piranha, the other is called Slugs.’

Bonus! Two for one! Curious to watch these two new horrors, I handed over my copy of Robocop and took the piranha Slugs tape home to watch. Weirdly, Slugs based on the novel by Shaun Hutson was also one of my favourite films of the 80’s. Who would have thought that around 20 years later the very same Shaun Hutson would be consulting on a script I’d written based on a book I had also written for a feature length movie I was making! Weird how things work out.

Anyway, this isn’t about Slugs, this article is about the first film on that tape, Piranha.

I remember watching that tape I borrowed a couple of times and then never watched the movie again. I’m pretty sure I liked it, although if you were to have asked me the plot until I sat down to watch it today I wouldn’t have been able to give more than a basic premise. So here we are in 2017 about to watch the 1978 classic again for the first time since I borrowed that scruffy pirate VHS. How will it shape up? Let’s see. I’ll be checking off the classic horror tropes as we go!

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We open with a young couple walking through a foggy wooded area at night. They come to a sign which warns them not to trespass but SHOCK HORROR they ignore said sign and climb under the conveniently broken wire fence with the man (who is wearing a HUGE backpack) claiming it was all fine and nothing bad would happen.

STUPID TEENAGER? CHECK!

We all know things never end well for people who say such things. Minutes later they arrive at an enclosed pool of sorts. This being an 80’s horror film, everyone loves to swim and because of the need for nakedness in such films, the pair strip off and we see out first bit of naked flesh

BOOBIES! CHECK!

The girl pushes the guy into the water (lucky for him he’d removed his huge backpack) technically murdering him but we’ll get to that later. The girl dives in after him and the boy complains that she’d bitten him under water. The girl, of course, denies this but doesn’t have time to say much else as the man starts to convulse and shake in his best attempt to emulate the opening scene from Jaws as the water turns red. The girl kind of floats there for a while, just watching unharmed until the unseen fish apparently remember to eat her too. We cut to a shot of the moon as we hear her scream. We see our opening titles then go into the film proper.

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We open on ANOTHER homage to Jaws as a woman who is really far too old for such things is playing a video game of the movie. Said woman is leaving the city to go look after a summer camp and although slightly ditzy, is clearly going to be a key player. She gets on a plane and we cut away to a lake and a young bearded man buying booze from an old bearded man.  I suspect one or both of these will meet a grisly end. I also realise I remember next to nothing about this film! We shall see what happens!

POTENTIAL FISH FODDER? CHECK!

We cut away from the manly beard fest to the ditzy woman again, who after playing Jaws and getting on a plane is now driving a jeep across rough terrain. The jeep breaks down, smoke pouring from the engine. We cut away AGAIN to a shot of a fish in a frying pan. It’s young bearded man! Before he can eat, there is a knock at the door and its ditzy woman! Maybe the bearded man isn’t fodder but a love interest? Hmmm, possibly!

POTENTIAL LOVE INTEREST? CHECK!

Ditzy isn’t there by accident, she’s looking for our bearded friend, verifying that his name is Paul and telling him that she, in turn, is Maggie and that she works for a skip tracing company. Bearded Paul asks her what that is, and I’m glad because I don’t have a clue either! It turns out a skip tracer is someone who finds missing people. Bearded Paul (still holding his fish in the frying pan) asks if his ex wife sent her. Maggie says no, and she’s looking instead for the stupid kids from the pre credits sequence. The ignorant Paul is standoffish with her and after a bit of back and forth about where the teens might have gone, Paul (who is still trying to eat his bloody fish) mentions something about a nearby army facility where the kids might have gone swimming. Ignoring all rules of being polite, and despite it being clear that Paul is eating, Maggie demands he take her up there. The cheek! I definitely think this is a love interest situation. Despite being standoffish, I would bet anything Paul turns out to be a good guy and hero. I still reckon old bearded guy from earlier is going to get it though.

I ACT LIKE A DICK BUT YOU WILL LEARN IM A NICE GUY CHARACTER? CHECK!

Apparently knowing he won’t get to eat in peace anyway, he agrees and we join them in Maggie’s jeep (now repaired again without explanation) as they jostle down the bumpiest road I have ever seen. If they tried to film this today health and safety would have a heart attack!

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They arrive at the facility and encounter a locked fence with a warning sign. That doesn’t matter to Maggie. Who the fuck reads signs anyway in this film? Especially warning ones. She decides to cause criminal damage and smashes the padlock off the gate with an axe, thus allowing them into what is clearly a restricted area.

I KNOW THERE IS A WARNING SIGN BUT WILL IGNORE IT ANYWAY? CHECK!

Paul follows her in as she commits trespass, taking a big swig from his canteen which I suspect is filled with something other than water. A little way down a dirt road they find what looks to be an abandoned facility of sorts. Paul follows, looking suitably bored and also rocking the world’s largest belt buckle. Really, you should see it! Even though the place is clearly empty and they had to break open a gate to get in, Maggie calls out to the teenagers I the hope they will answer. They continue to look around and come to a pool which looks suspiciously like the one from the pre credits section. Maggie finds a locket by the side of the water which belonged to one of the missing teens (no clothes though? Maybe the fish jumped out and ate those too?) Confused, Paul sits on the edge of the pool and dangles his fingers into the water. We cut to an underwater shot looking up and hear what sounds like a dozen fish gargling mouthwash. It seems Paul Is about to be bitten when…he pulls his hand out of the water just in time! Phew!

CLOSE CALL WHERE ONE OF THE MAIN CHARACTERS ALMOST GETS EATEN BUT DOSENT? CHECK!

Maggie wonders if the bodies might be at the bottom and so commits further trespass by breaking into one of the buildings in search of a way to ‘pull the plug’ on the pool. I don’t see this ending well….. They find themselves in a research facility of sorts. Maggie finds a cup of half drunk coffee that is still warm. My guess is the person who was drinking it has gone to find out who broke the lock off their gate and let themselves in….. Undeterred, they continue their illegal break in and move into another room, this one housing a full Frankenstein-like laboratory complete with a weird animatronic creature which looks like a miniature T-rex with a sharks fin as it skulks about on the table. Paul drinks some more, probably wondering why his agent got him this role.  The lab is full of jars containing all manner of unidentifiable creatures. Mutations it seems! One particular creature in a tank of water looks a hell of a lot like that big worm thing that ate the Millennium Falcon in the Empire Strikes Back. Paul finally decides they should leave but Maggie sees something and hurries across the room. It’s the massive backpack and the clothes of the missing teenagers! Ahh so that wasn’t a plot hole and the fish didn’t eat them. Fair play! Maggie says she thinks they should drain the pond, to which Paul says (bear in mind this is after breaking and entering, criminal damage and trespass) that they probably shouldn’t do that without getting someone’s permission!

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Maggie clearly doesn’t give a shit about the rules though and drains the pool anyway, just as the person who had left the cup of coffee returns, demanding, rightly, to know what the hell they think they are doing. The attendant (who works there and has every right to be there) tries to stop the intruders who have broken in and have no right to be there from draining the pool, but Paul and Maggie fight him off and stop him. They can add assault to the list of potential charges when Maggie beats the shit out of him from behind with Paul’s huge metal flask, knocking the guy out.

Leaving the unconscious attendant where he fell, they go to the now drained pool and find lots of bones at the bottom. The lab attendant, still groggy and likely concussed, in the meantime steals their jeep and tries to escape, rolling and destroying it, almost killing himself in the process. Maggie and Paul rescue him and he wakes up later patched up and in bed back at Paul’s house after they have rescued him. He begins to rant and rave screaming to be let out.

CRAZY GUY WITH A DIRE WARNING? CHECK!

He tells them they have made a mistake and ‘they will breed like flies and will kill us all’ they leave him in bed, wild eyes and mumbling to himself. Maggie quizzes Paul about his drinking habits and asks if it had anything to do with the death of his wife. They talk for a while. I can see where this is going! My love interest theory is coming true I think!

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Next morning they decide they need to get the injured lab assistant some help, but with the jeep out of action, they decide to take a raft down the river to get some assistance.

We cut next to a lakeside camp. A young girl is afraid to swim. Like a scene out of Friday the 13th before Jason arrives, the camp counsellor convinces the young girl that it is perfectly safe to swim. Another councillor, this one a dick with no people skills, belittles the kid and tells her she’s stupid to be afraid and that she should show guts and swim or they will lose the competition later that day. The nice councillor ushers the young girl back to the group. I think we’ve just set up nasty councillor becoming fish food!

From here we go back to old bearded drunk and I know for sure he’s about to croak! He’s drunk and sitting on the edge of his mini dock with his dog fishing, with his FEET IN THE WATER. This won’t end well… As suspected, old drunk’s feet get savaged. We hear him scream as the water turns red in a frenzy. Before we see anything else, though, we cut away AGAIN. This time to the raft with is carrying Paul, Maggie and the injured guy downstream at the slowest possible pace considering the poor guy could need urgent medical attention. Paul tries to question the guy about the facility but he won’t talk. He sees Maggie trailing her fingers in the water and snaps at her to not put her hands in there. She asks why and he tells her the water is filled with carnivorous piranha. Maggie asks how they got there, conveniently forgetting SHE LET THEM OUT IN THE FIRST PLACE until the lab guy reminds her. Before further argument can be made, the raft rolls past old drunk’s dock. He is missing and only his dog remains, barking at them. Curious and because there is apparently no rush to get the lab assistant the help he needs, they move the raft closer to investigate. They tie onto the dock and follow a blood trail back towards old drunks house where they find him dead with his feet reduced to the bone. Despite the urgency of the problem and the injured man waiting on the raft, Paul goes to look for a shovel to bury the old drunk as he wouldn’t want to be buried in town… Shouldn’t they be telling the police???

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We cut away again to a canoe. A man is reaching into the water trying to untangle a fishing line as his son sits at the back of the boat. Something bites him but instead of jerking his arm out of the water and any normal person would, he leaves it there to ensure the fish can eat/kill him with ease. The boat tips over and the boy climbs onto the overturned hull. We cut away again to the raft which is once again moving s-l-o-w-l-y down the river.  We learn that the lab assistant guy is actually a scientist who was tasked by the Army to develop a strain of carnivorous fish which could survive in cold and either fresh or salt water to be used as a weapon to flood the rivers in Vietnam, however, the war ended before they could be used. Paul realises there is a summer camp down the river and finally begins to speed up the raft!

We cut to said camp where kids are playing in the water. Back on the raft, Maggie and Paul blame the scientist for everything, forgetting that SHE pulled the plug. Further arguments are stopped when they encounter the canoe from earlier with the boy still on top of it. The scientist jumps in the water to help and starts to get eaten in the process, not before he can save the child though and redeem himself. The child is pulled onto the raft and Paul pulls the scientist out of the water, taking off his not one but TWO jackets and covering the scientist. He asks in vain how to stop the piranha, but the scientist dies before he can answer. Sadly, his arm is trailing in the water and the piranha attack the raft to try and get to the body. Paul Maggie and the boy barely make it to land before the raft is eaten. Paul tells Maggie to stay with the boy whilst he runs to the dam to stop them opening it and releasing the killer fish into the wild. Paul makes it just in time before they can be released. Next thing we know, the army have arrived to save the day! They say that because Paul and Maggie are the only ones who know about the killer fish, they ask them to join the team to stop them. Paul points out a river fork which goes around the dam and potentially gives the piranha a way into the open world. Rather than listen to this valid and good point, the army laughs it off and says it’s fine as the fish are not intelligent enough to know there is another way, even though the fish were being deliberately bred to be intelligent. Hmmmmm…..

STUPID DECISION BY THE ARMY? CHECK!

Paul and Maggie decide they have to take action themselves to stop the Piranha, and after Maggie causes a distraction, by flashing her lady parts at a random soldier and the two make their escape into the night. Paul makes a phone call, which is picked up by nasty camp counselor from earlier who was asleep in what looks like a bedroom ripped straight from a children’s TV programme or musical. Paul tries to warn him but he just says Paul is a drunk. Paul then asks to speak to his daughter (he kept that quiet!) and is also told no, which I think is probably not legal, then nasty councilor hangs up the phone and goes back to sleep. Taking their stolen army truck (how many laws are these two going to break??) they race to the camp at speed, only for the police to follow and pull them over and arrest them, taking them off to the station. (At last) the police call the army who tell the officer to keep them there. Both are locked in a cell and told they would be there until the morning. Paul begs to be let loose to help his daughter but to no avail.

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At the camp, two female councillors are sitting alone. At night. On the dock. Talking about swimming together. Before they can dive in, nasty councillor interrupts them and reminds them swimming at night is prohibited. They send him off to the other side of the lake, certain they heard someone over there swimming.

Back at the prison, Maggie adds to her huge list of illegal activities by enticing the sole remaining guard into her cell to fix a faulty sink (which she deliberately broke off) then knocking him unconscious as they make their escape. So that’s also assaulting a police officer and jailbreaking to add to the list! They race towards the camp, hoping to make it in time as the Aquarena party kicks into action. Lots of people are in the water and having fun. Uh oh.

At the children’s camp, a swimming contest is about to take place!  Paul and Maggie are now on the way to the scene, now in a stolen police car!

At the camp, all the children are in the water ready for the swimming contest apart from the one kid from earlier who was afraid of the water. Nasty councillor finds her and tells her to get in the water, no excuses. This guy is definitely a dick.  He is distracted and the girl manages to get away and hide. Back in the water, the nasty councillor is waist deep, running the relay races between groups of kids in rafts. Paul and Maggie are speeding and almost cause a head-on collision. Meantime we see shots of the piranha making for the children. They attack and start eating the kids! That would never fly today so good one for the 80’s!

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The piranha are now fucking everyone up, even nasty councillor gets a piranha to the face when one jumps out of the water and bites his cheek .only the scared girl is safe in her hiding place. She sees everyone is being attacked and tries to push a canoe into the water but she is too small to move it. Instead, she finds a rubber dinghy and gets in it, paddling out to help her friends. The kid reaches the two stranded councillors in a rubber ring (the ones who had been nice to her). One escapes onto the raft, the other gets taken by the piranhas. Our two fugitives from the law arrive just as most people are getting out of the water.

It turns out the young kid who was afraid of the water is the one which is Paul’s daughter. I must have missed that as I wasn’t sure which one. Maggie calls the aquamarina party to warn them but they laugh it off, so she and Paul jump into their stolen police car to go there in person. We cut to lots of shots of people having fun in and around the water. Shit is about to go down! Yep, I was right. Two divers are first to go. I reckon this guy water skiing is next….. The guy water skiing sees a bloody body floating on the surface which has been eaten by the fish. He tries to warn the two girls in charge of the speedboat to take him in but they think he’s joking. There is a huge on water crash between two boats and lots of fire. Nice. Meantime, the piranhas have reached the party and are starting to eat the guests! Much mass panic and overacting follows as people try to escape their fishy killers! Paul and Maggie arrive amid the death and chaos. As they haven’t broken a law for a full five minutes, they decide to steal a speedboat. Maggie wants to know where they are going. Paul has some vague plan about poisoning the fish if they can be drawn to where they are. However, the control unit to release the pollutant into the river is submerged under water (what a surprise). Paul ties a line to himself and the boat tells Maggie that after 100 seconds if he’s not back to accelerate the boat as he can’t hold his breath any longer. With that, he dives into the water.

BRAVE ACTION HERO SACRIFICE? CHECK!

Paul swims into the submerged control room and tries to turn the valve to release the poison into the water. The valve is stuck though, and he keeps trying to turn it as the piranha arrive and start to eat him. He manages to free the valve, spilling poison waste into the water! Yay!  Just then, when it looks certain Paul will die, Maggie reached her 100 count and accelerates, pulling Paul to safety and speeding away. She stops a little further away and pulls in the rope, but it is severed and bloody. She screams as a bloody hand belonging to Paul launches out of the water.

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We cut back to the party where they injured are bring helped and the dead are being taken away. A reporter asks one of the scientists who was with the army if there is any danger of the few remaining piranhas escaping to the ocean. The scientist says no, it’s impossible as even if they did they couldn’t survive in salt water, which we know is false as we learned earlier that they could!

SEQUEL BAIT! CHECK

The movie ends with a shot of a sun-drenched beach as we hear the sound of gargling piranha somewhere in the distance. And that was Piranha! As with a lot of low budget films of the period it hadn’t aged particularly well and some of the acting was a bit suspect. All in all, though it was a fun nostalgic trip which was nice to revisit it again! in fact, I’m going to watch the sequel now as I don’t remember that one either!

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Michael Bray is a bestselling author / screenwriter. Influenced from an early age by the suspense horror of authors such as Stephen King, Richard Laymon, Shaun Hutson, James Herbert & Brian Lumley, along with TV shows like Tales from the Crypt & The Twilight Zone, his work touches on the psychological side of horror, teasing the reader’s nerves and willing them to keep turning the pages. Several of his titles are currently being translated into multiple languages and he recently sold movie rights to his novel, MEAT with production planned to take place in 2017.  A screenplay written by Bray / Shaw based on their co written novel MONSTER  was picked up for distribution by Mandala Films, with both Bray and Shaw set to produce / direct the movie, taking his career into new territory as he looks to write more for both the literary world and the screen.

Keep in touch with Michael Bray by following his website!

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Creature Features in Review: The Stuff (1985)

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Tonight’s showing has to be one of the strangest selections within the sub-genre Creature Features. And it because it technically is very much a creature feature, its makes the very in your face metaphor all the more brilliant. Of course, I’m talking about The Stuff. Filmed with a 50’s sci fi B-movie in mind and with voice-overs worse than a Kung movie, we’re guided through a fairly simply story structure with a much complex core. Its a creature flick that begs the question, if we are consumers of the creature are we not in fact monsters ourselves? The Stuff, for all purposes, has lasted the test of time and remains one of the best 1980’s anti-consumerist flick. If you haven’t seen the movie, check out a trailer on YouTube and give it a chance. I’m not promising you’ll like it, The Stuff will require some patience, but if you’re a fan of horrible 80’s horror, or horrible horror in general, you might just enjoy yourself.

Are you eating it…or is it eating you? During the summer of 1985, director Larry Cohen introduced America to the discovery of a mysterious, yet delicious, white gooey treat. Found by a group of miners bubbling up from the earth, the Stuff quickly sweeps across the nation. Soon after, conglomerates pick up the Stuff and break record sales. Former FBI agent Mo Rutherford remarks, with some disbelief, that folks are willing to stand in line at two in the morning, just to buy some Stuff.  Another protagonist, a young boy  named Jason, refuses to eat the Stuff as he watches his family become addicted, turning into mindless drones– craving nothing to eat but the Stuff. In one of the oddest scenes (yes, there are a few) Jason is forced to watch his family slowly slip away from rationality and into…something else entirely. When an attempt to fool his folks into thinking he’s eaten some of the Stuff fails, Jason scarcely escapes, his father yelling out in the middle of the street, chasing after him, “It’s good for us, Jason…it kills the bad things inside us.”

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What…you’ve never heard of this movie, The Stuff? I’m not shocked; unless you’re a connoisseur (see what I did there?) of obscure horror, The Stuff is by far one of the most obscure-ee horror movies I’ve ever seen. This very low-budget does take on, as other classic horror flicks such as Dawn of the Dead (78), American consumerism and consumption during the 1980’s. Some of the other films during this era, and some of my personal favorites of glorified 80’s consumerism, include Evil Dead 2, Friday the 13th part 8, and Videodrome.

Film critic Brian Dillard had this to say regarding The Stuff:

“…another 1980’s horror flick… mixed wit and gore with anti-consumerist ideology. On the surface, The Stuff is just an exploitation flick — a jumble of The Blob [and] Invasion of the Body Snatchers… full of amateurish special effects and hammy performances.”

If that’s what’s on the surface of the movie, cheesy effects and a hammy attempt at saying something, is there anything beneath? I’d point out all the random commercials that pop up during the movie which I think are brilliant parodies to everyday life. It almost calls out the audience (we) and asks if we can tell the difference. Are we that conformed to commercials that even fake ones seem real to us? This aspect really reminds of the appeal in Invasion of the Body Snatches, more especially the 1978 version as it focused more on the characters and their doppelgangers. Its about paranoia, almost, and The Stuff really brings that paranoia into focus. Can we trust anyone to be objective regarding a product that they are bought into? Can we trust a representative or legislator to be unbiased toward a private sector entity when (s)he get’s campaign donations from private corporations? Not to get political, but…have we become like Jason, being told to “eat it” because its good for us?

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As the movie comes to an end, following the efforts of a few good men and women, and a boy, the public becomes aware of the vile intentions of the conglomerates pushing the fluffy white alien goo. People “wake up” and see how The Stuff is actually a living thing. Yet, as the credits roll, we (the audience) are left with the feeling that the profligate has been set back up as the company executives comment that “the Stuff seeps out from many places in the ground.” We are given a true nihilistic ending as anyone can get, that there will always be more Stuff.

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If you’re screening The Stuff for the first time, it will time some getting used to the low quality in which the film was shot, unless you are already a member of the 80s splatter zombie corp and uber-obscure VHS demon flick rentals from Italy club. If that’s the case, then the low budget shouldn’t throw you off. The story is there if you’re willing to follow it. Low budget doesn’t necessarily mean low quality. Just look at Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead as an example of how low budget films can become The Stuff of legend (oh man, I kill myself). 

My Rating: 4 out of 5

Thomas S. Flowers creates character-driven stories of dark fiction ranging from Shakespearean gore feasts to paranormal thrillers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His veteran focused paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served three tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books and hosts a gambit of guest writers who discuss a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can follow Thomas at a safe distance by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.

Revenge is a dish best served with BBQ!

Now Coming to You in Atomic Soundwaves from Space!

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I got my first taste in publishing when I was in high school. Some short story of which I have long since forgotten the title for and have long since misplaced the letter of authentication. Given my moody teenagerism, it was probably something dark and depressing. It would be another 15 years before I’d publish again. In 2014, I put out my second short story, Hobo, and followed it closely with Are You Hungry, Dear?, and then released my first novel, Reinheit. In that very short span of time, I’ve been able to launch 4 more novels in a continuing series called The Subdue Series (Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging), 2 solo shorts, contributed to 7 published anthologies (the 8th to be published later this year), including a serial short story exclusive to the 13: An Anthology of Horror and Dark Fiction series, my first collection called The Hobbsburg Horror, AND 2 novellas,  Lanmò and Feast.  That’s what? Some 20 published works, most of which are shorts. I’d say I was simply prolific, but I know more authors that do way more than my meager sum.

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No, the aim (for me) cannot be about out producing the competition. I’d go nuts trying to keep up. What I can aim to do is provide quality entertainment in the vein of horrifying reads. I want to tell stories, plain and simple. I don’t want to out do anyone. I want to tell tales and get them out there to be read. Easy enough, right? What’s interesting, in this current era we find ourselves, is the constant development of technology that allows schmoes like me to publish our works. Amazon wasn’t around when I was a grump moody teenager. Self publishing was unaffordable. And traditional publishing took knowing someone who knew someone who knew someone. If you didn’t have that connection to your father’s brother’s uncle’s cousin’s former roommate, you were SOL. And the BIG 5? Forgetaboutit.

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But now? Man, the entire system has expanded exponentially. With the development of eBooks (and its popularity) which later gave rise to print on demand (I use CreateSpace), publishing became insignificant. Not to belittle it, just that anyone can and many do. In fact, its not uncommon to stroll into a cyber writers group and read at least a dozen complaints about how saturated the market is. Its a favorite word to toss around that makes you sound more knowledgeable than what you really are. Saturated. Saturated. Saturated. Martha. Martha. Martha. And its true, the market IS super saturated. Personally though, I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. Now readers have more of what they want. They have options outside of what they thought they could only get from the BIG 5.

But there’s a trick.

You cannot just put something out there and expect readers to flock to you. That’s just insane. Unless you have a known name, readers are not going to flock to you. Connections help; making connections is even better. What I’ve found most appealing with how this publishing world has evolved is how much of a community it has become. Embrace it. There will be some who try to take advantage. Don’t let a few turds keep you from making lasting connections. If people are willing to not only share your stuff, but also interact and maybe even give advise, those are the connections worth holding on to.

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Experiment. 

Experimenting with marketing can lead to surprising results. Ever heard the phrase, “Put your money were your mouth is?” The same applies to marketing your wares. I think “nut up or shut up” also applies, but its a tad cruder to tell your 80 year old grandma who wants to self-pub her book of recipes. In lieu, sometimes you gotta take a risk. Just don’t bet the farm. Play it smart, ask and listen to those connections, share what has worked or hasn’t worked. A word to the wise, among small press folk, BookBub is a known book promoter that lives by the slogan, money well spent.

 

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Above all this noise, the most important thing publishing schmoes can do is keep writing, keep publishing, keep moving forward. And if you want those quality stories to reach more readers, you need to be willing to adapt to new technology. Last year, I was introduced to a little thing called Audiobooks. This is not new, per say. The spirit of audiobooks has been around a long time, back in the land before TVs and cable networks. Audio entertainment is not a new idea, but the tech behind it has come a long way since The Shadow and Little Orphan Annie broadcasted to delighted listeners gathered around a cherry red cabinet Philco radio. Cassette tapes came, followed by CDs. Nowadays, we’ve got digital recordings. At first, it was new and I didn’t want anything to do with it. I turned my nose up at it. But then Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) made everything so bloody simple its almost scary. I jumped in and released 4 titles on ACX last year and have released 2 titles thus far in 2017.

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The idea here isn’t that your putting out even more stories (though you ought to be working on that). The idea is to use the technology available in order to put your work on as many platforms as possible so you can reach readers on the format that suits them best. And you’d be surprised. Audio is a expanding market for books. And the more this tech develops, the more affordable it becomes. Readers are now listeners, tuning in while driving to or from work or school. City and urban consumers plugged into YOUR book from their phones or tablets while they ride the train or bus or even airplane. Times are a-changing, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing unless we let it, right?

Thomas S. Flowers is known for his character-driven stories of dark fiction ranging from Shakespearean gore feasts to paranormal thrillers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His veteran focused paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served three tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books and hosts a gambit of guest writers who discuss a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can follow Thomas by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.

Now Available for YOUR earbuds!!!

The Hobbsburg Horror Audiobook

Creature Features in Review: Aliens (1986)

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Yes children, take a seat and I’ll begin the tale. Once upon a time, in the land called 1980s, there was a director who was known as the King of Killer Sequels. Now, whether these James Cameron directed killer sequels are actually better than the originals is hotly debated. The sequels we’re talking about include, Terminator 2 (on this one he topped his own original), Piranha 2: The Spawning (one up-ing Joe Dante’s original with flying killer fish), Rambo: First Blood part 2 (while not technically in the directors chair, he contributed to the screenplay), and…Aliens. Truth be told, when it comes to killer sequels, there is really only one film in which I adore more than the original, and that’s Empire Strikes Back. Not many sequels, in my mind, out shine the original. Some would disagree, I’m sure. T2 was a massive success, after all. And as our guest contributor will most likely discuss, Aliens became more iconic than the Ridley Scott original Alien. Even among dedicated horror fanatics. So, it begs the question, what really made Aliens so good?

ALIENS: THEY MOSTLY COME AT NIGHT…MOSTLY

By: Israel Finn

After a very long nap (57 years, to be exact) Lieutenant Ripley (portrayed by the inimitable Sigourney Weaver) and her faithful cat, Jonesy, are discovered by a deep space salvage crew. Upon awakening from hibernation, the corporation that owned the Nostromo, the space barge Ripley destroyed in the first film, informs her that they have lost contact with a colony of terraformers on LV426. They plan to send a company of marines to investigate and would like her to go along as a consultant. There’s just one problem: LV426 is the very planet where Ripley and crew first met, then were ravaged by, the xenomorphs. Ripley at first adamantly refuses to return to the planet, citing her nightmare encounter there. But it’s clear that the corporation is skeptical about her description of the aliens and why she destroyed the Nostromo and its valuable payload. At last she agrees to go, with the stipulation that they are going there to destroy the creatures, and not to study them.

NUKE IT FROM SPACE. IT’S THE ONLY WAY TO BE SURE.

As they approach the planet, Ripley finds herself among of a company of marines that has little respect for her. It’s not because she’s a woman–the pilot and one of the grunts are also female, and command respect. It’s because they believe her to be inexperienced and of little value to the mission. When one of the crew wonders aloud why “Snow White” is accompanying them, the answer is, “She saw an alien once.”

When they land on the planet and enter the compound, the group discovers a little girl, nicknamed Newt, who Ripley takes under her wing. But the rest of the colony seem to be missing. That is, until the entire community is located in a single isolated section of the complex. The team investigates and finds the entire colony, or what’s left of them, cocooned by the xenomorphs. Aroused by their presence, one of the colonists awakens and begs to be killed before a “newborn” alien bursts through her chest. Things then begin to quickly fall apart when several of the marines are taken by the creatures.

The rest of the team decides to get the hell out of Dodge and obliterate the complex from above but, as fate would have it, their ride off the rock crashes when one of the “bugs” slaughters the pilot, leaving them trapped.

GAME OVER, MAN! GAME OVER!

We lost Bill Paxton on February 25th, 2017. I loved him in Tombstone, Apollo 13, A Simple Plan, and Frailty (which he directed). But I adored him in Aliens. He played the whiny, cowardly, comic relief, Private William Hudson, the thorn in everyone’s side once the shit earnestly hit the fan. And the movie would not have been the same without him.

Private Hudson has to be coerced and cajoled into every action, but he manages to hold it together while newly-in-charge Corporal Hicks, played by Michael Biehn (The Terminator, Tombstone, The Abyss) orders Bishop the android, played by Lance Henriksen (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Terminator, Alien 3) to leave the relative safety of the compound and remote connect the colonists’ ship.

Meantime, Carter Burke, a corporation lackey, portrayed by Paul Reiser (Bye Bye Love, Funny People, Mad About You), hatches a plot to trap Ripley (with Newt in tow) inside the med lab with a couple of the face-huggers. His plan is to have one of the little buggers “impregnate” someone so that he can get an alien past security back on earth. His motivation? What else: money and career advancement. But his scheme is thwarted by the intrepid marines.

By this time, all hell is breaking loose as the aliens infiltrate the team’s weak fortress. There are more deaths, a couple of daring rescues, and an epic final battle between Ripley and the queen mother of the xenomorphs.

TO SUM UP

This is an exceptional film by a legendary director, James Cameron (The Terminator, The Abyss, Titanic, Avatar), and some might even say it’s superior to the first. It casts a derisive eye at corporate greed, looks at love and loyalty, and reminds us that Mankind may not be at the head of the table after all, but may in fact be on the menu.

And it does all this while entertaining the hell out of us and scaring the pants off of us. Win win.

Israel Finn is a horror, dark fantasy, and speculative fiction writer, and a winner of the 80th Annual Writer’s Digest Short Story Competition. He’s had a life-long love affair with books, and was weaned on authors like Kurt Vonnegut, Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Arthur C. Clarke and H.G. Wells. Books were always strewn everywhere about the big white house in the Midwest where he grew up. He loves literary works (Dickens and Twain, for instance), but his main fascination lies in the fantastic and the macabre, probably because he was so heavily exposed to it early on. Later he discovered Stephen King, Robert McCammon, Dean Koontz, Dan Simmons, Ramsey Campbell, and F. Paul Wilson, as well as several others, and the die was indelibly cast. He’s been a factory worker, a delivery driver, a singer/songwriter in several rock bands, and a sailor, among other things. But throughout he’s always maintained his love of storytelling. Right now you can find Israel in southern California.

Don’t forget to pickup Finn’s horrific collection Dreaming at the Top of my Lungs on Amazon for $2.99!!!

Dreaming At the Top of My Lungs: A Horror Collection by [Finn, Israel]

 

New Release: 13 Déjà Vu (Thirteen Series Book 2)

Following the huge success with 13: An Anthology of Horror and Dark Fiction that released last October (keeping on the top charts for horror anthologies ever since), Limitless Publishing has decided to bring even more dark fiction and horror. 13: Déjà Vu (Thirteen Series Book 2) has just released and as one of the authors in the anthology, I couldn’t be any more excited. The authors you enjoyed in the first 13 book are back with brand new tales, most of which are either sequels or continuations in some way to the work done in the original 13, to include: by Bradon Nave, Elizabeth Roderick, Carissa Ann Lynch, Sara Schoen, Marissa Farrar, Thomas S. Flowers, S. Valentine, Erin Lee, Jackie Sonnenberg, Samie Sands, Luke Swanson, D.A. Roach, and Taylor Henderson

For my part, you will find the next installment in my continuing Twin Pines Hotel stories, completely exclusive to the 13 Anthology Series. You witnessed Will Fenning’s strange demise in Room 313, now bear witness to the story of mass murderer Andy Derek and his confrontation with Room 249. iScream Books had this to say regarding the story:

A disturbing story of a cross country cold blooded murder spree. The murderer hides out in a unique hotel while the man hunt ensues. I found myself cringing and grossed out with this story but I also found it very unique and clever with its plot.

Pickup your copy today on Amazon for only $0.99!!!

 

 

Summer Frights

Howdy, folks. Just wanted to drop a quick line. Lots of exciting things are going on. Anticipation of some new horror movies coming out later this year, monster flicks like the new adaption of Stephen King’s IT and the finally being released Dark Tower: The Gunslinger flick. 47 Meters Down looks freaky as hell, mostly because of my fear of deep ocean water and all the many monsters that live there. Wish Upon looks pretty good too, as does God Particle (a hush hush third installment in the growing Cloverfield franchise). There seems to be a ton of horror coming out this year. Not that I’m complaining. Summer is my second favorite season next to fall. Yeah, here in Texas we like to barbecue and we enjoy swimming and drinking a cold one during the summer, but this season of beach balls and camping tents also invites the macabre. October is without a doubt THE season for horror. Its just not the only one.

There is a strong argument that summer is just as nostalgic when it comes to that feeling of fright. One of my favorite slasher franchises is built around the summer. Friday the 13th is ALL about creating terror around the appeal of camping. Which is funny because most of the Friday movies were filmed off-season during the late fall, but still…the image, the idea, the invocation takes us to that seat around the camp fire, listening to tales of dread and misery. Jaws is another blockbuster film that is surrounded by middle-class incantations of summer and then ripping those good-times to shreds. And the list goes on and on.

So, as the clock turns to June 20th lets remember the reason for the season and celebrate by going to the movies to see a new horror flick, or hosting a late night get-together or have yourself a stay-cation and toss in an old VHS copy Friday the 13th part 6. Or Critters 2. Or The Evil Dead. Go ahead, have a blast.

As my way of celebrating the start of Summer Frights, I’ve marked down my latest publication with Shadow Work Publishing. FEAST, which started this Saturday, June 17th, 2017, will be marked down at the low price of $0.99 for the eBook version on Amazon until June 24th, 2017. You can download this gory book directly to your Kindle device or to your FREE Kindle reader app. These apps are available on your smart phone, tablet, or even on your computer.

All proceeds goes to my monthly royalty % which in turn feeds my own horror habits…so you know its for a good cause.

FEAST

Between the rural Texas towns of Bass and Sat is one of the most popular barbecue restaurants in America. Big Butts Bar-B-Que has been the seat of power for the Fleming family since the Great Depression, but when tragedy and scandal beset Titus and his surviving transgender son Lavinia, deals are made to keep control of the restaurant. An arrangement that will put a father at odds with his legacy. As the table is set, is it just the keys to the barbecue kingdom some are after, or something else entirely?

 “Classically Greek, Tremendously Twisted” -The Haunted Reading Room.

“Extreme-ly superb!” -Confessions of a Reviewer.

“I think Shakespeare would’ve enjoyed it” -Lydian Faust.

Don’t wait. Get your copy today.

ONLY $0.99!!!

Often called The Hemingway of Horror, Thomas S. Flowers secludes away to create character-driven stories of dark fiction ranging from Shakespearean gore feasts to paranormal thrillers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was soon published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books and hosts a gambit of guest writers who discuss a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can follow from Thomas at a safe distance by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.

Creature Features in Review: DeepStar Six (1989)

[ SPOILERS ABOUND; also, PETTY, UNNEEDED LATERAL REFERENCES yaaay! ]

So back in the day, after his success fusing science fiction and horror with The Terminator (1984) and ALIENS (1986), James Cameron was shopping a treatment (not sure if it was one of his legendary ‘scriptments’) of his around Hollywood for a new original film called The Abyss. With these other two films under his belt—and possibly even his (false) start with Piranha Part Two: The Spawning (1981)—apparently several studios assumed he’d be using his vaguely revealed deep-sea setting to craft a horror film of some kind (or possibly knew it wouldn’t be, but made horror films anyway; but the assumption of horror was how it was told to me by an insider back in the dayday). While it was thrilling and suspenseful and had some spooky-ish setup moments, it was more of a survival action film driven ultimately by a well-guarded pure sci-fi premise.

Which brings me to why I am once again starting a review by talking about a film I am not reviewing—I chose to review DeepStar Six because I grew up watching it a lot and I wanted to revisit it, and it was one of the films produced at least in some small way in anticipation of competing with a Cameron epic deep-sea horror film (that doesn’t and never was going to exist). And when I first heard this story, I only knew about Leviathan (1989) and DeepStar Six

There were three others made I only stumbled across when I first started researching for this review: The Evil Below (1989), Lords of the Deep (1989), and The Rift/Endless Descent (1990)—which was itself a low budget production also funded by Dino De Laurentiis, who had bankrolled the thematically similar Leviathan as well a bit earlier.

Okay, with that out of the way…

SUMMARY:

DeepStar Six is about a team of US Navy and civilian deep-sea workers setting up a prototype (?) nuclear launch platform on the ocean floor. They’re almost finished (and it’s established that this tour of duty has been longer than originally planned (im-por-taaaant).

While surveying the site they intend to erect the nuke platform on, they detect a cavern under it. The leader of the project on the civilian end decides it should just be… collapsed… or… something? So, they send a couple guys out to do that. That goes poorly.

Then, they…….. Okay, naw. I have to skip to just reviewing because—review spoiler—this one is not really worth a lot of analysis. I can’t fight my urge to talk trash within the summary, so that’s a bad sign.

REVIEW:

Okay, I’ll be honest—I’d watched this movie in double digits when I was younger (my older brother chastising me about that fact every time he witnessed it) and even I remembered it not being great, but I was genuinely surprised on this viewing how well it holds up… for just about the first half.

We’ll return to that magical second half, believe me.

But the first half works.

The characters are introduced naturally enough and all seem to have their place in the station teams and such. Our focus characters are a submarine pilot, McBride—Greg Evigan (mostly of My Two Dads fame to me personally, other than this movie)…

…and another crew member, Joyce (whose role isn’t super clear. Her job puts her in close proximity to this sub pilot, which leads to their joint introduction being intimate and post-coital.  It’s established that sub pilot has never been married because he couldn’t find a woman who would put up with his demanding schedule and all that. She practically beams with desire to assure him that wouldn’t be a problem for her—seeing as how they’ve been getting close on the regular and they do the same kind of work, I’d assume.

But no—he’s a loner Dottie… a rebel.

Other than that, we’ll go fast and loose. The jerky head of the project mentioned earlier, Van Gelder (Marius Weyers), decides to collapse the chamber under the chosen nuke erection site, ignoring Scarpelli’s (Nia Peeples) expert opinion—and hope—that they could find sea life that had been cut off from the rest of the ocean and evolved on its own in parallel. So, long story short… two other minor characters (pleasantly and charmingly played by Thom Bray and Ronn Carroll) blow the cavern, then guide a remote down into it and lose it. They detach their sub from the cat style threaded base and go down into the cavern.

Well, Scarpelli was right!—and we really, really know that because of her lengthy explanation, that is all but crosscut with this scene and also happens to be completely accurate somehow.

The two most fun characters in the film are immediately murdered by… something mysterious…

Said mystery creature then attacks a forward station staffed by Joyce and the probably-Russian Burciaga (Elya Baskin), crippling that station and causing McBride and the tragically underused but great Taurean Blacque as station commander Capt. Laidlaw—although, now that I think about it, his character gets to do something noble and dramatic in the last decent scene in the film so it works out better for him all around—to take a sub out to see why the forward station isn’t responding.

They hook the sub to the damaged, tilting-on-precipice-of-the-deepdeep forward station—‘cause golly, McBride is just the best—and use a manual bypass lever to go inside the station. They find Joyce and a just-dead Burciaga. While leaving, the manual lever inexplicably slips its notches and slams down onto Laidlaw’s midsection, breaking his back. They try to save him, but Laidlaw sees they’re all going to die if he doesn’t do something—so he presses a manual flood of the station, drowning himself and forcing the others to swim for it.

-[ rough mid-point; end of relative goodness ]-

Now that I’ve ruined the decent build-up parts… I’m going to go into a hard nutshell on this one.

After that mid-point, this film is, frankly, a mediocre one-plot time trials race to the bottom of fake-as-hell looking ocean floor. And that’s a snide reference to how some of the deep sea miniature effects are pretty cool… then this one recurring ‘set’ ruins those by being so murky as to look like a VHS transfer to 35mm for some sort of deliberate ‘realism’. Blargh, I say… Blargh and such.

After realizing there is something quite deadly lurking about and killing whatever is moving and/or lit up, they decide to secure the site and leave for the surface.

My favorite actor and character in this film is Miguel Ferrer/Snyder, and that’s for good reason. If you watch this film for no other reason, it should be Snyder’s jerky selfishness and telegraphed need to leave the DeepStar Six station ASAP becoming a bumbling, death-causing, drug-induced psychosis-fueled exodus—and resulting death-splosion of human jam.

Buuut before all that scene-chewing goodbadness, the biggest bullshit thing they make this character do is completely misunderstand the commands their super-secret nuclear erection control computer is presenting him. Van Gelder tells Snyder to ‘secure’ the nukes or something to that effect. While going through the procedure—and highly stressed from being undah dah sea too long, as well as the mystery creature attacks, and completely alone, I might add—he misinterprets the questions and options and basically tells the computer that Russians are trying to take the nukes… So it detonates them.

That goes poorly for good ol’ DeepStar Six station, and after that, Snyder had basically doomed them all (except for the ones who sort-of-secretly like touching each other, and as we find out, literally destined to be together…)

Other than that…?

There’s a pretty gnarly guy-in-diving-suit-gets-bitten-in-half scene—not many of those around. Then Nia Peeples gets eaten in the least convincing death in the movie (which is saying something).

The on-site doctor, Norris (Cindy Pickett)—who also seemed to be the only semi-sympathetic character to the perpetually-losing-it Snyder—goes down in a blaze of… Well, she uses a defibrillator to electrocute the monster—wait, no. She electrocutes a huge amount of water to electrocute the enormous arthropod thing.

There’s also some bullshit late in the move about Joyce hearing God voices or some shit and feeling super-sure everything’s just gonna be peachy. I am not kidding.

Then the true-er-ish climax of the film is of course a desperate battle against the not-actually-dead monster at the ocean surface—that is so badly presented I just…  I just can’t, you guys. It’s one of the worst things I’ve ever seen. Okay, have you ever seen Game of Death? That one shot where it’s obviously a promo shot of Bruce Lee himself used as a bad matte over a shot of the body double guy?

This last part is worse than that.

It also reminds me of another film—but in that film, the fake background was intentional and part of the point.

 

WHAT I LIKED:

-The Creature. It’s actually pretty well done and seems to be a decently researched representation of a Eurypterid or other big arthropod from the WayWay Back. I almost added a point back in for the overall quality of the monster… but the script failed it badly enough I just can’t.

-Miguel Ferrer, but I always do.

-The two guys who bite it first are fun to watch.

-Some of the miniatures and underwater pieces are well done.

-Greg Evigan does a pretty good job, if I’m being honest.

-Nia Peeples ‘Scarpelli’ is adorably earnest in a pretty wasted role.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:

-The second half is mediocre at best and sometimes painful to watch—for all the wrong reasons.

-I decided not to even go into all the subtle and not-so-subtle limp parallels and visual/scene nods to ALIENS because I already talk about those movies too much and they’re just transparent and weak.

-The last fight scene with the monster is unforgivably cheesy and bad

-Said last scene is immediately followed by (what at least feels like) a ten second shot of the Joyce actress standing and looking at where she’s sure her lover just sacrificed himself to save her… and her diamond-hard nipples are framed prominently in the shot. I actually laughed at how long and obvious the shot was—not the emotion I think they wanted me to feel in that scene.

-Oh and then they rip off fucking JAWS by having McBride burst to the surface behind her, splashing around amidst the debris of the exploded sub… thing… I’m done with this trash movie. Ugh

RATING:

I’ll give DeepStar Six­­­­­­­­­­­­­­………5.0/10 (added a full point because I loved Miguel Ferrer; RIP, good sir)

PATRICK LOVELAND writes screenplays, novels, and short stories. By day, he works at a state college in Southern California, where he lives with his wife and young daughter. His stories have appeared in anthologies published by April Moon Books, Bold Venture Press, Sirens Call Publications, Indie Authors Press, PHANTAXIS, and the award-winning Crime Factory zine. Patrick’s first novel, A TEAR IN THE VEIL, was released June 2017 by April Moon Books. Twitter: https://twitter.com/pmloveland   Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pmloveland/   Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00S78LF9M Blog: https://patrickloveland.com/ 

You can ORDER A TEAR IN THE VEIL FOR on Amazon for $14.99!!

Creature Features in Review: Predator (1987)

We offer here some of the most obscure of monster flicks, creatures of horror of which many perhaps have never heard made mention before. AND sometimes here on this delightful series we have the privilege of examining movies that are considered to be pillars, benchmarks in the history of not just horror but also cinema. PREDATOR is without a doubt one of those landmark movies just about everyone can recognize. Perhaps not PREDATOR 2, but that’s a story for another day. This movie says everything that has to do with 1980s. Over the top action and violence, cheesy one-liners, very simple A to B plot lines, muscles, and…Arnold Schwarzenegger. Not to mention just about every other 80s famous action star, including Carl Weathers and Jesse Ventura. While maybe not the greatest film we’ve reviewed here, maybe not the some sci-fi-ish, but I certainly the most iconic. I know people who don’t care much for horror or sci-fi, but they LOVE this movie. PREDATOR defined something about our generation of 1980s kids. Sure, it booted a wonderful R-rating, but there were PREDATOR toys marketed to us, how were we not supposed to watch this movie?

PREDATOR: They Were Skinned Alive – a lecture.

By: Rich Hawkins

Welcome to this lecture. I’m Professor Alan Schaefer. First off, I’d like to have a minute’s silence for Jim Hopper.

*parp*

*snigger*

Okay, that’s done. Right. Well, what can I say about the THIRD greatest film of all time? That’s right, the third. You heard. Stop laughing at the back and listen to what I have to say, you disrespectful fucks! What’s that, you have to go pee-pee? You’re nothing an expendable asset, but okay, just hurry up. I’ll wait. I have time to bleed.

Right, you’re back. At last. You’ve got some splashback on your trousers, but fair enough, I’ll start. Jeez, some people have been pushing too many pencils.

*clears throat, adjusts underwear*

I first watched PREDATOR as a wide-eyed ten year old, after my older brother bought a VHS copy and played it one night for the family to watch. I was terrified – the skinned bodies hanging in the chopper; the death of Hawkins; Billy’s shrill death-scream as he was killed off-screen; all of it. It was just so visceral. Before PREDATOR, I’d never encountered the notion of men being SKINNED ALIVE by an alien killing machine that kept the flayed skulls of its prey as trophies.

It was horrific.

But it was also fucking awesome – from the first scene of the Predator ship arriving at Earth, to Arnie/Dutch finally defeating the alien and getting to the chopper. The last minute or so of the film, with Arnie standing in the smoking ruins of the detonation site; a traumatized man numbed by his hollow victory and the loss of his men, while the rescue helicopter approaches and the theme of bittersweet trumpets and trombones fades into sad clarinet – before kicking back into Alan Silvestri’s main theme – gets me in the feels even now. Absolutely epic. This is not just any generic macho bullshit.

And over the years, I’ve only come to appreciate the film even more. Despite being released in 1987, it’s aged remarkably well, and the special effects hold up. The cast of badass characters and Goddamn sexual tyrannosauruses devour the script of one-liners and with aplomb. Billy, Blaine, Mac, Hawkins, Dillon, and Poncho – all heroic, but ultimately doomed, characters. Mercs and veterans of war unprepared to face a technologically-advanced and ruthless hunter of men. But they go down fighting, all of them, despite being outmatched. Even Dillon, the CIA man with a hidden agenda portrayed by the great Carl Weathers, manages to gain some redemption before getting an arm blown off and being impaled by the Predator.

They’re the best of the best, but over the course of the film – after they’ve destroyed the rebel base – they’re picked off one-by-one by the Predator, who is most definitely not fucking around. But then there’s the main man, Arnie, right in his prime and smoking cigars like a boss. He’s a match for the alien, but only just, and not without some luck. He gets the majority of the one-liners and the action – obviously, as he was arguably the biggest action star in the world at that time – and he makes the most of it. He’s never been better in an action film, in my opinion.

The tension of the film, once poor Jim Hopper and the other Green Berets are found in their crashed chopper, never lets up, but it’s punctuated by the comic one-liners and moments of camaraderie and bleak humour between the members of the squad. It’s a superbly paced film. Hell, it’s a slice of fried gold in a soup of Eighties’ macho-action and gore, and it planted a seed of love for sci-fi horror and monsters within me. It’s only beaten by John Carpenter’s THE THING and ALIENS in my personal list of films. It’s a classic, a holy relic of a film from a time when offence wasn’t so easily taken and action stars were absurdly macho.

So, that’s it.

Thank you, Arnie. Thank you, John McTiernan. And thank you to the squad who were ‘a rescue team, not assassins’. You were the best.

I hope this lecture has been informative. Any questions?

*uncomfortable silence*

Okay, then. No problem. You may go…but don’t forget to GET TO THE CHOPPA!!!!!

*even more of an uncomfortable silence*

Fair enough. Get out of here. You millennials wouldn’t have lasted five minutes with Old Painless in the Val Verde jungle in the Eighties.

Rich Hawkins hails from deep in the West Country, where a childhood of science fiction and horror films set him on the path to writing his own stories. He credits his love of horror and all things weird to his first viewing of John Carpenter’s THE THING. His debut novel THE LAST PLAGUE was nominated for a British Fantasy Award for Best Horror Novel in 2015. The sequel, THE LAST OUTPOST, was released in the autumn of 2015. The final novel in the trilogy, THE LAST SOLDIER, was released in March 2016.

You can pickup Rich’s unsettling new thriller novella for $2.99!

Black Star, Black Sun by [Hawkins, Rich]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Twilight Zone: You Drive (1964)

You know, I’m fairly certain I’ve been a member of Netflix since the beginning, or at the very least since 2008, BEFORE the big streaming push and the demise of the video store. It happened slowly, I think. The takeover of streaming from home. There wasn’t much available to start. At the time, I still had the 2 DVD rental membership. Maybe it was around 2010 when we, the wife and I, did away with the DVDs. Why? Well…we didn’t need them. In fact, streaming became so much more convenient and affordable that we ultimately dropped cable television. My wife enjoys newer shows, but the ones she likes she streams from apps or catches up on Hulu. And for viewers like me, well…I’m more of a movie kinda guy to be honest, but the shows I do watch the most are typically…how do say…off the air. I watch old shows that have long since been canceled. There are a few newer ones that sometimes makes me wish we still had cable, shows like AHS and maybe a few others. However, if I’m patient enough, those very shows will eventually find their way onto Netflix’s monster cache of streaming availability.

But while newer shows have the glamour, I still indulge in older programming. We’re talking X-Files, MASH, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Star Trek, and yes even The Gilmore Girls (don’t judge!). But my number one favorite oldie to watch is without a doubt Rod Serling epic sci fi thriller The Twilight Zone. If you’ve never seen an episode…jeez…think black and white science fiction, but not just about space and rocket-ships, but also weird tales, time travel, magic even, or death itself. They’re also all moral stories, more or less, warnings and questions of our humanity, not to mention the consequences we could face given certain destinations. The other night I screened for the first time one of these consequence driven episodes, from season 5 episode 14, titled “You Drive.” And let me say, this was one of the more creepier episodes of the show with the most simplistic plot-lines.

It goes like this:

“After involved with a hit-and-run killing a child, Mr. Oliver Pope is haunted by his car.”

Now I can see where King and Straub and everyone else got their ideas from. Perhaps not as deranged as Christine, but no doubt the genius of those darker works of haunted cars that would eventually come out in the 70s and 80s. In “You Drive” businessman Oliver Pope is on his way home. He’s driven this route for years. He knows every turn. Every bump in the road. As it happens on this particular day, its raining, and maybe Oliver has had a long day at work, stressed over a new client or something. He’s distracted and as fate would have it accidentally runs over a young boy delivering newspapers on his bicycle. Now at this point, what Pope has done is nothing more than an accident, tragic certainly, but an accident all the same. He didn’t intentionally run down the boy. However, as Mr. Pope jumps out to check on him (the boy doesn’t look good) and notices no one around, he makes a choice.

Stay and face the consequences of his actions…

Or run.

Consequences is what Mr. Oliver Pope is afraid of. Afraid of what people will think of him after they discover what he’d done. Not just running over and killing the boy (which we later discover died from his wounds), but running away, his cowardliness. This is perhaps the whimsical side of watching shows like The Twilight Zone, they show you an era in which people still gave a damn about character. And character is what Mr. Pope desperately clings to protect. He doesn’t want people to think less of him. Sure, we can get that, right? But what Oliver fails to understand is that it is our actions that define our characters, not what people perceive us to be.

Well, as par for The Twilight Zone, because of Mr. Pope’s horrible choice to runaway the natural order of things begins to bend. There’s something not right…with his car, the very one he killed the boy with. Pope wants to forget, to put the matter away, what’s done is done, etc etc. But the car will not let him forget. His car haunts him and everyone around him. It honks in the middle of the night. It stalls out when his wife attempts to drive it to the store. It appears back at home seemingly to have driven itself. Blaring its horn over and over. And when Mr. Pope refuses to drive it, the car follows him on his way to work. The car makes a show to run him down. It wont stop. It cant, not until…

Oliver Pope must decide.

Face the consequences of his actions.

Or be continuously haunted by his car.

“You Drive” is certainly a chilling allegorical story to be sure. Haunted by our mistakes, our poor choices in life, especially those that have or could have dramatic effects on the lives of others. And how the consequences of those mistakes cannot be forgotten, never completely. And there’s even a lesson about character here, if we care about such a thing anymore. Our character isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) defined by how people think of us, it is defined by our actions and our deeds, and it is by those deeds we will be judged.

My rating: 5/5

With a face only a mother could love, Thomas S. Flowers hides away to create character-driven stories of dark fiction. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was soon published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can hide from Thomas by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.

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Creature Features in Review: Them! (1954)

Image result for them! 1954 tall poster

The most foreboding title among the horror and science fiction lexicon, besides perhaps IT or They (which is just a cheap knockoff of the more impressive film we’re about to discuss), is the 1954 masterpiece known as Them! Among the many different creature features, be it swamp critters or critters from space or super mutant hybrids, bugs freak me out the most. As defined by the omnipotent Wikipedia, “Entomophobia (also known as insectophobia) is a specific phobia characterized by an excessive or unrealistic fear of one or more classes of insect, and classified as a phobia by the DSM-5. More specific cases included apiphobia (fear of bees) and myrmecophobia (fear of ants).” Now, that being said…I think my “fear” can be measured by mass. The smaller the insect, the less I get “freaked out.” Hence, small little pests like flies and mosquitoes are simply put…pests, easily swatted or shooed away. But on the other spectrum, the bigger they get, the more I’m apted to run away screaming. If someone were to make a monster movie with the intention of provoking the mass amount of fear from yours truly, Them! would be the quintessential experience.

But it cannot be done in a silly way. If you want a serious reaction, the movie will need to have a serious undertone. Them! is a perfect example of this. As a fan of most dubbed “classics,” basically timeless pieces of cinematic history, be it 1930s or 40s or 50s or 60s or even those in the Silent Era, I took double pleasure in the fact that this now 63 year old movie can still capture that tension, that wonderful feeling of dread so fantastically. Them!, not too sound too fan-girlish, is utterly amazing. By modern standards, Them! easily tops what producers consider to be blockbusters in not just storytelling and characterization, but also special effects. It makes me curious what original audiences thought when they first sat in their parked fin-tailed red and chrome Chrysler’s at the local drive-in, WITHOUT having been desensitized by years of modern computer generated graphics.

Alas, those day’s are gone forever.

All we can do now is cherish the time we had.

Sad.

Well…

For those who have not had the pleasure, here is a quick synopsis of Them!

“The earliest atomic tests in New Mexico cause common ants to mutate into giant man-eating monsters that threaten civilization.”

Boom. You don’t really need anything more than that, do you? Needless to say, IMDb isn’t wrong. In a nut shell, those are the stakes. A mutated strain of ants are multiplying in the New Mexico desert and could very well threaten civilization. And not just any mutated ant species, but a mutation of the Cataglyphis genus, better known as Desert Ants. These sand dwellers are among the most aggressive of ant. The perfect bugs to supersize for a horror/science fiction movie, right?

Image result for them! 1954

One of the fun aspects of Them! is how the movie starts off and is treated more or less throughout the entirety as a “detective” story. The movie opens with a patrol car doing their normal patrol and pickup a little girl, no more than six years old, strolling through the desert alone dressed in a nightgown and cradling a broken doll. They try talking to her but she is catatonic, speechless, staring blankly out at the brown sand. That feeling of dread we talked about begins to weave slowly into the movie and as the policemen investigate a nearby trailer, finding it mostly destroyed, pulled apart from the outside (they deduce) the tension builds even further.

The next scene certainly adds to not only the mystery but also the horror when police sergeant Ben Peterson’s (played by the very awesome James Whitmore) partner “disappears” off screen investigating a strange sound. He get’s off a couple of shots and then screams, that kind of scream that sends chills down your spine. The sound the officer investigates permeates throughout the entire movie. A familiar nature melody for anyone living in suburbia or out in the country. The sound of cicada or crickets singing in trees or in tall grass. Come summer, that sound is still quite pleasant to me, despite this film’s attempt to ruin it. Though, there is a lingering feeling of “what’s really making that sound? Are they, Them! watching me?”

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And I love how, despite the excellent movie art on the  poster, knowing there will be giant ants in this movie, the story stalls the BIG reveal, forgive the pun, until the absolute right moment. And that moment, much how the newly brought on character, FBI agent, Robert Graham (played by man’s man James Arness), to its frustrating conclusion through the “comic relief” of sorts Professor Harold Medford (played by Santa himself Edmund Gwenn) and his “if a boy can do it a girl can do it too” daughter Dr. Patrica Medford (Joan Weldon). The Dr. Medord’s are not really that comedic, the old man is sort of how we might think brilliant old men are, a tad absent minded to every day tasks, but a genius in their preferred fields of study. And the female Dr. Medford, despite her strong grace of femininity, wasn’t overpowering or preachy. She was meek but smart and willing to go places most men wouldn’t dare go. In a decade before feminism really took off in America, it’s hard to place the purpose of her character. Regardless, I was and am very pleased with her performance, second to her father perhaps, how she was not the ditsy romance how most other movies place actresses. Harold may have been love struck, but everyone else called her Pat, a genderless name, and I prefer it that way.

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The reveal was perfect, as I said. A sandstorm kicks up and everyone’s goggled and stumbling around for clues. Somehow Pat get’s separated from the group. That chilling buzzing, ringing, clicking cicada sound starts again, getting louder and louder, and everyone is looking around wondering what that noice is and where it’s coming from. Above Pat on a dune, emerges a large black head with giant orb eyes long furry antenna and large sharp looking mandibles. She screams, alerting the others who begin opening fire, destroying the ant’s antenna (to the suggestion of Dr. Medford). The ant is killed and while the others are staring at this impossible horror, Dr. Medford makes a statement, the inspiration and message of the entire movie, I think. He says, “We may be witnesses to a Biblical prophecy come true – ‘And there shall be destruction and darkness come upon creation, and the beasts shall reign over the earth.'” He says something very similar towards the end of the movie, stating, “When Man entered the atomic age, he opened a door into a new world. What we’ll eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict.”

The Atomic Age…

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Full of sparking large logos and flashy gadgets and a new generation of fast food and drive-in theaters and modern jazz and rock-in-roll, but this was also an era of uncertainty. Hiroshima and Nagasaki awakened something in humanity. Something more than just awe and dread. Something darker and more pious than religion. The Atomic Age was this new fear of the bomb. Uncertainty over world powers, the growth of the Cold War, and a horizon in modern science to which many did not understand. Not knowing is the greatest fear of all, at least according to H.P. Lovecraft. The Atomic Age also gave birth to this very feature we find ourselves enjoying (hopefully), the birth of unnatural monsters such as Godzilla and Them! Better known as Creature Features.

Them! acts as a cautionary tale. Be warned, what will await us on the other side of the door. Will science bring upon us destruction and darkness? Will man’s ignorance? Them! isn’t about the dangers of real giant bugs, its about consequences. That in everything we do or strive to bring about, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, as Newton had once said. Its a message every new generation hears, right? Cautionary warnings from the old folks rocking on the porch, talking about how things used to be.

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The rest of Them! takes on that similar detective story we were introduced to in the beginning. They hunt down the hive and destroy the giant ants with poison, only to discover a few  queens had escaped prior. Now the once localized investigation turns into a global event. Hush hush, of course, to avoid widespread panic, the team with the added benefit of the military and select government officials quickly work to destroy Them! But the movie doesn’t end like some monster movies with the creatures being destroyed…there is a feeling of uncertainty, astute given the era, and we are left wondering if perhaps there are more giant mutated ants out in the desert thanks to atomic weaponry. And as Dr. Wedford said, “nobody can predict.”

My rating: 5 out of 5

With a face only a mother could love, Thomas S. Flowers hides away to create character-driven stories of dark fiction. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was soon published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can hide from Thomas by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.

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Creature Features in Review: The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)

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Awe, the 90s. Nothing quite hints that you are venturing into the realm of 1990s cinema like introspection, mad science (or fear of science), and Val Kilmer. 90s movies are also grouped into that category of not so cult classics with few actually becoming cult classics, sometimes rightfully so, others…not. Actually, truth be told, there are quite a few 90s flicks most consider to be bombs I, for some off reason, rather enjoy. The Ghost and the Darkness is a great example of a wonderful film that has fallen into obscurity. Lions, Douglas, and The Val Kilmer!!! What more do you need? Some 90s horror flicks are more serious than others, such as The Relic. And others are more comedic, like Tremors. And there are some 90s films too great, too fantastically wrapped in speculation that it ascends all others. I am of course referring to the 1996 debacle that is The Island of Dr. Moreau.

Before we continue, shall we recall this delectable movie?

After being rescued and brought to an island, a man discovers that its inhabitants are experimental animals being turned into strange-looking humans, all of it the work of a visionary doctor.

Have I mentioned how much I love those IMDb synopsis?

Well, they are not entirely wrong. It just feels…horribly vague compared to the drama that surrounds and infuses The Island of Dr. Moreau. What drama you ask? We’ll get to that in a moment. First, lets break this sucker down, shall we? So yes, there is a rescue out at sea when one Edward Douglas (played by the always charming Brit David Thewlis) is on a life-raft set a drift. And our survivor is not alone, there are others with him, and as the movie narrates for us, the survivors are fighting each other over the quickly diminishing supplies. Thus, this very short and easily missed scene establishes for us perhaps what the question is that we’ll be wrestling over, human nature and violence in the ugly face of survival, or so one would think…

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Anyhow. Our survivor is soon rescued and brought to a private island where he can radio for another boat brave enough to venture to this very isolated and secretive island. And just who was his dashing rescuer? Who is the hero who pulled him out of the sea? Val mother f-king Kilmer, playing the role of one Dr. Montgomery, who is questionably a doctor; more a veterinarian. We need to perhaps discuss a little more on Mr. Kilmer. I know there are not too many fans left around seeing how he’s been reduced to playing in horribly produced b-movies nowadays, but this was a shy over twenty years ago (feeling old?). He was in his prime. Some may question if he’d ever had a prime, but I say boo boo to those naysayers. Kilmer was a fantastic actor, from high flying jerk in Top Gun to sociopathic killer turned armed robber in Heat. He’s done drama and comedy and everything in between. Not to mention his stint of the cape crusader in Batman: Forever. Perhaps not the most beloved Batman film, but certainly not the worst. His role as Montgomery felt strangely in tune to the insanity hanging over not only the island but the production as well. Playing both mystic hippy and savior to psychotic and oddly stoic. For me, his Montgomery is one of the better parts of the movie.

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The movie begins to kinda take off at a sprint around the time when our survivor is locked in his room by Montgomery. And one would think there ought to be some feeling of mystery or dread here, give me some lightening and rain, but sadly no. At best, Douglas acts as some spoiled brat, ungrateful for his rescue, and “breaks out” as a teenager escaping being grounded to his room. In fact, let us surmise something important here and now. When I first screened this movie back in the 90s, I was all about seeing Douglas, the survivor and moral judge of the film, as the hero. I was young and understood the world very little. In my mind, he was the good guy because he was simply the protagonist. The soon to be discovered “beasts” were the villains only because they were…well…beasts. Horrible, I know, but hey…I was naive. Watching the movie today, I found myself shouting victor for…everyone else. Even the quack scientist/wanna be god, with a small g, Dr. Moreau (played by an aging and supposedly uncaring let’s collect our paycheck Marlon Brando).

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Not to get ahead of myself. The film does get a little catwampus from here. Douglas goes for a stroll after escaping his room and happens upon some strange sounds. He investigates cause…I guess that’s what you do when you hear strange noises. He soon discovers the source of those macabre screams. It seems one of the locals on the island is giving birth. But this is no normal birth and those physicians, aside from Montgomery, are no normal people. To Douglas they seem like upright horrors with fur and large teeth. Even the soon delivered baby has some rather haunting eyes and a screech that is no utterance of any human baby. To be perfectly honest, this scene is just about perfect and does ring of terror. They baby…whatever it was, mere-goat, looked grotesque and chilling, as if screaming, “Why have you made me?”

Why indeed.

Douglas, terrified, runs off into the woods. He runs into Aissa (played by bug eyed beauty Fairuza Balk) who promises him, what sounds like, a way off the island as long as he promises to take her with him. But that’s not what she does and even if she could, the only ship there is invested with rat-people, very small very CGI rat-people. Anyways, this is where things get kinda of confusing. Aissa leads Douglas to Sayer of the Law, some kind of blind man-goat preacher (played by the always badass Ron Perlman), but why? You’d think maybe the Sayer was some sort of resistance leader against their “creator.” But he isn’t. Sayer preaches the Master’s gospel of non-malevolence. Why did Aissa bring him there if she wanted to escape? Did she even want to escape? I’m so confused…

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And that’s about the summation of The Island of Dr. Moreau. Confusion laid on top of more confusion. Especially when Douglas is “captured” and has a long talk with Dr. Moreau about what the good doctor has done and without much build up that Douglas was even religious starts in on this whole blasphemy stick. Crimes against God, with a big G, and so on. I understand the argument, this was the 90s after all and cloning was in the news a lot, something about a cute little goat being cloned and the religious right was on the warpath. But if you’re going to make that argument, you have to lay in some ground work first. Let the audience know Douglas is zealous.

Or not.

Which they didn’t.

And folks like me got really confused over Douglas’s moral standing.

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The confusion perhaps could have something to do with the direction of the movie verses producer expectations. In fact, there’s an entire documentary called Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau. Yup. A over an hour long documentary was made on the strange and confusing tale of turning H.G. Wells literary masterpiece of the same title into a movie. Scandal be damned, it’s actually really good. And informative. Needless to say, changing directors and actors mid-stream can create…confusion. I’m actually surprised an actor as iconic as Brando stuck around, unless of course he needed the paycheck.

However…

If given the chance and ignoring some of the confusion its not that bad of a movie. My perspective has certainly changed since my original screening back in 1996. As well it should. Given the twenty some years, my perspective had damn better change some. On Dr. Moreau’s strange island of human-beasts, I first saw them as villains, as monsters, because they looked like monsters. Now I know better. Now I know its not what’s on the outside that make’s us beasts, its what’s on the inside. In our struggle to survive on life boats or how we present ourselves to the world it is our actions that define us. Good or bad. If a movie can teach us that, well…then that’s a pretty damn good movie in my opinion. And besides, its got the Kilmer in it, how could you NOT like it?

My rating: 3.5 out of 5. 

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With a face only a mother could love, Thomas S. Flowers hides away to create character-driven stories of dark fiction. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was soon published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can hide from Thomas by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.

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Creature Features in Review: Jaws (1975)

What is your greatest fear? Everyone is afraid of something, everyone. Some people are skittish about insects, usually particular ones like roaches or spiders. I for one get bugged out, forgive the pun, over roaches. I don’t know why there’s just something about those six-legged bugs that freak me the hell out. Maybe it’s because they are so intrusive. Maybe it’s something on an instinctual level, something to do with the fact that roaches have been on the earth far longer than humans have. They’ve survived greater tests, while we humans, on the other hand, have fundamentally just begun our evolutionary journey. To be perfectly honest, roaches are not my greatest fear. I’m not really afraid of roaches. I get freaked out by them, sure. But to say they conjure from me that primitive nonsensical non-rational feeling of terror, they do not. Do you know what does? The ocean. More particular, sharks. Have been since I was young. And I blame two things for my unconditional dread of the deep blue, the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week program…and Jaws. Why? Why not! Have you seen a shark? They are the apex predators in the water. And me, personally, I’m rather fond of land. Irrational or not, sharks are bloody huge with jagged rows of sharp teeth, the quintessential image of horror. And I’ll leave it to our guest author to tell you why Jaws is probably one of the most terrifying of all Creature Features.

Jaws (1975)

By: Chad A. Clark

In the history of cinematic scoring, there has been a ton of legendary work. The landscape is about as rich and varied as the movies themselves. However, one theme stands out above all the rest as one of the most evocative, one that, whenever you hear it, you’re going to have a reaction. And the composer, John Williams, managed to accomplish it with two notes. Daaaaa-dum.

Daaaaa-dum.

Seriously, chances are you already know what I’m referring to, just by reading it. It’s a movie theme that will stay with us until the end of time. And if you are roughly of my generation and disposition, it is a movie that has forever scarred you whenever you dare to swim in open water.

The irony about Jaws is that many people likely don’t even consider it to be a horror movie. Maybe because, instead of serial killers or vampires or zombie clown nazis, it’s about a fish.

And yes. Sharks are fish, not mammals.

Don’t lie, you were thinking it.

Anyway, while Jaws might not be a film that people would classify as horror, there has been no other film that has had such a long-lasting effect on my psyche. I wasn’t lying or being sarcastic at the outset. I have never been comfortable swimming in anything other than a pool. Even in fresh water ponds and lakes, I’m usually convinced that a twenty-five-foot shark is poised to drag me to a watery grave.

The shark in Jaws is no different than any other horror movie monster, it just happens to be based on a real world animal. But real sharks don’t act like that. Real sharks don’t have those kinds of proportions. Or at least, they’re very rare. The shots in the film of Richard Dreyfuss’ character underwater in the shark cage? They did that by putting a tiny person in a miniaturized cage to make the sharks look bigger than they really are. The shark in Jaws is a caricature.

It’s a monster. Of the worst kind.

Jaw’s (I’m just going to start using that as if it’s the shark’s name) is unrelenting. Jaw’s don’t give a damn who you are, what your hopes and dreams are. Jaw’s looks at you and he sees a warm-blooded, walking and talking snack. He sees you when you’re blissfully unaware, paddling away until those teeth clamp down and that’s all she wrote. Jaw’s comes along as a massive metaphor for our own mortality and takes anyone in its path and turns them into digestive material.

You can’t control him. You can’t fight him. You can’t beat him.

Well, unless you’re Roy Scheider. Then you can beat him. I guess.

I think part of what makes Jaws brilliant as a creature is how little we see of him in the film. Other than some images of his face and head, some teeth gnashing and blood and gurgling, we don’t really see him until the very end of the film. Otherwise, he is mostly an ominous presence in the water, something that can show up at any time.

One of my favorite moments in the film is so terrifying and graphic but at the same time is so straight forward, you almost miss it. It’s the shot of the boy being attacked while on his inflatable raft. It happens far off from shore and all you see, through the crowd of other swimmers is something come up out of the water. He’s knocked off the raft and as he rolls, there is this fountain of blood up into the air. It happens in a few seconds and almost goes unnoticed. There is this moment of shocked silence before the whole beach becomes bedlam as everyone scrambles for shore. That moment in the film has stayed with me for so long. Just seeing a casual, relaxing environment turned instantly into a killing field is classic and brilliantly done. The speed and viciousness of the kill is still chilling to watch for me, even after so many years.

I have been scared plenty of times by movies. The slasher movies of the eighties scared the crap out of me and there have been plenty of supernatural based films that have had me up at night. But for the most part, the effect of those films is temporary and fades with time. I have never lost the inherent, fundamental fear that was planted into my root programming by seeing Jaws. It is a movie that forever changed me, as well as my ability to ever comfortably swim again.

Thanks, Spielberg.

Chad A. Clark is a frequent flyer here on Machine Mean. He has reviewed for us before with commentary on House of Dracula (1945) and House of 1000 Corpses and Jeepers Creepers. Mr. Clark is a midwestern author of horror and science fiction. His artistic roots can be traced back to the golden era of horror literature, Stephen King and Robert McCammon being large influences. His love for horror began as well in the classic horror franchises of the eighties. He resides in Iowa with his wife and two sons. Clark’s debut novel, Borrowed Time, was published in 2014. His second novel, A Shade for Every Season was released in 2015, and in 2016 Clark published Behind Our Walls, a dark look at the human condition set in a post-apocalyptic world. You can keep up with all of Mr. Clark’s works by following him on Amazon here.

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The Subdue Series Continues…

The fourth chapter, Converging, in my ongoing paranormal series is set to release on May 16, 2017. As the fourth book in a continuing story, let me put your concerns at ease….you do not need to have read any of the other books to “get” what’s going on in this one. Does it help? Sure. As any reader of a series can tell you, reading the previous stories can give you more depth for the characters. But just like how Conceiving was set up, Converging is written in a way that helps you “catch up” without the tedious boredom of flashbacks. What’s in store for you in this chapter? Werewolves, plural…that’s right, Bobby Weeks isn’t the only cursed soul in this romp. More of the fiendish John Turner, our Frankenstein-ish monster. More of Luna too. And there are new characters with their own troubles. Donna Swanson, a small town sheriff caught up in something way beyond her depth of experience or even belief.

Get YOUR copy now!!!

Here’s the synopsis to wet your appetite…

Donna Swanson has been the sheriff of New Castle long enough to know something is terribly wrong in her town…

With its peaceful Appalachian streams and a homely diner where the residents congregate over pie, New Castle seems like the least sinister place on earth. Then a new restaurant opens, and a wave of deadly illness ravages the town. Is it a coincidence, or has evil appeared in their midst, cleverly disguised as restauranteurs? Donna’s duty demands she discover what’s going on before the disease wipes out her town.

Jo Harwood didn’t ask to be a monster, and Bobby Weeks would do anything to take back her curse…

Bobby thinks they can make a fresh start in New Castle, a quiet place where he can teach her how to control the monster inside her. But when Jo’s desire for independence clashes with Bobby’s need for control, she takes off, and Bobby races to find her before she transforms into the beast.

Luna Blanche tries to accept her new identity and to accept the gruesome truth about John Turner.

Luna tries to adapt to her role as Woman in the Woods—priestess of the desperate residents surrounding Mississippi’s Delta—while John struggles with his anger and hatred. Since his resurrection, he’s been driven to abominable acts. He wants Luna to love him, but how could she love a monster?

Dark forces are converging on New Castle, Virginia. Can conflicts be put aside before evil consumes them all?

But that’s not all!

In celebration of the fourth book’s release, ALL previous titles in the Subdue Series have been marked down to $0.99!!! This includes Dwelling, Emerging, and Conceiving. $0.99 each for this week only. Dwelling, four childhood friends separated and scarred by war are pulled back together by an unseen force. Emerging, as the once childhood friends gather at the House of Oak Lee, trust becomes elusive and betrayal from one of their own all the more foreboding. Conceiving, just when Bobby Weeks thought the nightmare was over, events force him to confront the evil in Jotham that tore apart his life. The Subdue Series is a paranormal thriller story filled with human suffering and supernatural monsters. Layered with rich characterization and injected with subtle horror that builds and builds until you can no longer stop reading, though it terrifies you, you have to see what happens next.

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$0.99!!!

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With a face only a mother could love, Thomas S. Flowers hides away to create character-driven stories of dark fiction. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was soon published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can hide from Thomas by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.

Creature Features in Review: Alien (1979)

By now we must have realized, this subgenre, this oddly obscure realm we call “creature features,” that blends science fiction and horror together, is fantastically intelligent as it is perspicacious, understanding the needs of the times, the questions that demand to be (not necessarily answered) dragged out into the light. Questions of ecology, science, naturalism, humanism, and even biology, questions of our own innate taxonomy. Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we going? Which ultimately brings us to the chef d’œuvre question of all humanistic endeavor, what else is out there? Today’s movie up for review on Creature Features in Review is one of those rare gems that combined thrilling storytelling and special effects and atmosphere to have the most impact in raising those eerily human questions. While the sequel, Aliens, may have been the bigger blockbuster, some of the thrills had been lost, the question had already been answered. In Aliens, we knew what was out there. In Alien, storyteller Dan O’Bannon, and director Ridley Scott, not only forced us to question our place in the cosmos but also in the cosmos of our own flesh.

Alien: You’ll Get Whatever’s Coming to You…

by William D. Prystauk

In 1979, after much print-based-hype, especially if one was a fan of science fiction and read “Starlog” on a regular basis, Ridley Scott’s ALIEN hit screens that summer. It wasn’t hard for sci-fi and horror geeks to get worked up because many publications ran some of H. R. Giger’s conceptual art, which rocked many readers. Other conceptual drawings, from the look of the Nostromo, to space suits, and even land vehicles, kept those readers intrigued about what was to come.

The late, great Dan O’Bannon penned the script from a story he developed with Ron Shusett. Written with a budget in mind, he never expected the screenplay to get A-list support from 20th Century Fox – but they were hungry. After the unexpected blockbuster success of 1977’s STAR WARS, they wanted something else in a galaxy far, far away. And as the story goes, when O’Bannon said ALIEN was “JAWS in space,” that sealed the deal (O’Callaghan).

Originally entitled STAR BEAST (thank the stars they changed it), the story features the crew of the Nostromo (Italian for “shipmate”), a barge in space hauling megatons of ore across the cosmos, who are in hibernation as they await orders from “Mother,” their onboard computer, to wake them up once they get closer to Earth. Mother picks up a supposed distress signal, and the crew’s awakened prematurely to check it out. Landing on a cold dwarf planet, three members of the seven-person team head out to find the vessel to see if they can save any souls. Instead, they return with an infected crew member, and in short order, their souls need saving.

Although Dan O’Bannon said, “I didn’t steal Alien from anybody. I stole it from everybody!” the film stands as an original (Macek). Many have made comparisons to PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES and even THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD, but ALIEN brought audiences many new elements they had never seen before in a science fiction horror.

Here’s why ALIEN (including material from the 1979 theatrical release and 2003’s director’s cut) is one of the greatest films of all time…

A Stellar Cast, an Out of this World Director

It’s hard to find films in any genre where every cast member is a standout. Other than David Mamet’s remarkable GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS, ALIEN ranks at the top: Veronica Cartwright, Ian Holm, John Hurt, Yaphet Kotto, Tom Skerritt, Harry Dean Stanton, and Sigourney Weaver. (Helen Horton gave us the firm and foreboding, yet oddly seductive voice of Mother, and Bolaji Badejo, in his only film role, became Giger’s alien entity). Cartwright, Holm, Skerritt, and Stanton had been building their reputations on the small and silver screen since the fifties, Hurt and Kotto since the sixties, and after a couple of lesser roles, ALIEN proved to be Weaver’s breakout role as Lieutenant Ripley.

This acting foundation alone said much about the script’s value as well as 20th Century Fox’s commitment to the production. Some may say they were taking a chance with Scott, who only had his feature directorial debut two years before with THE DUELLISTS, but the film had received critical acclaim in short order – and all this after Scott had taken an eight-year hiatus from directing television episodes.

Galactic Feminism

If STAR WARS were one of the first science fantasy films to feature a woman who didn’t scream, hide behind a manly-man, or faint thanks to Carrie Fisher’s strong-willed and determined Princess Leia, ALIEN’s Lieutenant Ripley took the liberation to a whole new level.

Third officer Ripley and Cartwright’s Lambert are the only female team members, and they are simply a part of the crew. Lambert’s the co-pilot/navigator, and Ripley’s a communication’s officer, and the third in charge after Captain Dallas (Skerritt) and Kane (Hurt). The women are on equal terrain and respected, other than an innuendo from Parker (Kotto) because he may have been in space without a partner for too damn long.

Although Lambert may come undone in the film, this is because of her character and the traumas she’s experienced, not because she’s a woman. After all, even Parker’s waylaid by the death of his friend Brett (Stanton), and his strong exterior waivers on a couple of occasions regardless of his anger and determination.

Ripley, on the other hand, has several facets to her character: She’s logical and pragmatic, and respects command, even with her role in the officer food chain. When that rank is challenged by Ash, the science officer, she visits him in his lab for a private meeting to lay down the law. Though that turns out to be a wash, Ripley stands her ground and left nothing to the imagination. Later, when the issue of quarantine comes up again, Ripley’s passive-aggressive comment is her version of an “I told you so.” To make certain Parker and Brett are working on ship repairs, she once again walks into that crew member’s domain to make certain she’s heard and understood. When Lambert slaps Ripley for wanting to keep her, Dallas, and Kane in quarantine for 24-hours, Ripley goes to war, and Parker and Brett must break up the pair.

Even with all the hell from an attacked crew member to the whereabouts of the face-hugger, when Ripley’s freaked out, she pulls herself together in short order. When she finally takes command, instead of trying to define her role with a new idea to destroy the alien, her logic and pragmatism shine through. Since Dallas’ plan is a viable one, Ripley goes with it. However, as a leader, she’s comfortable enough to ask if there are any other suggestions. If anyone thinks this represents a lack of confidence on her part, Ripley’s quick and loud in drowning out an overly frustrated Parker, and she has no problem telling Ash that he hasn’t been doing a damn thing to help. (If she hadn’t asked Ash earlier for suggestions about capturing or killing the alien, he may not have done anything at all.)

Ultimately, Ripley has to be her own savior and to do so, she must overcome her fear of an unyielding enemy while under the strictest of deadlines, and even with that pressure and need for self-preservation she has enough humanity to try and save the Nostromo mascot, Jonesy the cat.

Atmosphere

Nothing works like isolation in a horror film. ALIEN features a small crew packed into the heart of a smaller ship, which is equivalent to a tug boat. And if that tugboat starts to capsize, there’s a small escape ship – a life raft – that can only fit three.

Even worse, the Nostromo is akin to being lost at sea. Due to the early wake up from Mother, they’re 70 million miles from the Milky Way and would have to go back to the old “freezerinos” for another ten-month sleep. There are no other ships in their part of the void. They are as alone as a group of people can get. And to add an exclamation point to the Nostromo crew’s predicament, ALIEN’s tagline says it all: “In space no one can hear you scream.”

Right from the beginning, from Jerry Goldsmith’s score to Derek Vanlint’s cinematography, as well as Ian Whittaker’s set decoration, it’s clear the Nostromo is an all work and no play environment. Seating’s cramped at the front of the ship. And everything’s cold and dark. There may be light and white in the dining and sleeping quarters, but the remainder of the ship is either cavernous, though still encroaching, and the passageways are reminiscent of catacombs. Due to the small crew and the workload, the Nostromo is far from ship-shape. The equivalent of equipment based debris seems to appear at every turn, the lighting’s questionable in spots, and the nether regions of the vessel are cold and dank.

The only time we truly have any sense of peace and hope is at the very beginning and at the very end. Before ALIEN’s story gets underway, the hibernation area is all white with a center cylinder with each crew member extending from that “stem” to form the petals of a flower that blooms once they awaken. They each wear white undergarments, and they arise as if newborns from the bassinet of a hospital’s maternity ward. And they are born anew on a journey they never saw coming.

At the end, Ripley hibernates with Jonesy. A white glow emanates from her protective pod, another womb to nurture her, and we have the sense that she will awake as a new, stronger, and virtually fearless person. To add an exclamation to Ripley’s rebirth: Upon the annihilation of the Nostromo at her own hand, she bears witness to her own “Big Bang” and recreates herself. She becomes her own mother and gives birth to her new self as both creator, destroyer, and preserver, much like the Hindu goddess, Kali Ma. Once transformed, she not only overrides her fear in strong fashion but quickly forms a solid plan to vanquish her foe.

Space Relations

The status quo continues in ALIEN. Providing a dim look of the future, the white and blue collar mix of the crew remains stuck in the doldrums of working for “the company.” Regardless of the manual Ripley tries to cling onto, Captain Dallas is quick to point out that one does what the company tells one to do. This also means the object of fairness doesn’t hold up either. Both Parker and Brett signed on, but with their contracts, especially when it comes to “the bonus situation,” the pair won’t receive full shares.

Better still to make certain the Nostromo crew checks out that distress beacon, the fine print in their contract has a “full forfeiture of shares” clause if they decide to skip the alarm and head back home. (Mother, acting like Big Brother, would undoubtedly show through report tracking that the crew never left the vessel to check for survivors.)

We understand that as the crew is screwed by their employer, most of us have similar stories where the company that gives us a check every two weeks undermined us in some way, shape, or form. And when it comes to a cafeteria, and according to Parker, the only good thing on the ship is the coffee.

Parker wants to get home and party, but as team leader, Dallas has had it. At different times, he tells both Lambert and Parker to “knock it off” because as middle management, he’s just done. As he sits in the escape ship and tries to relax to classical music, we can imagine him trying to determine how the hell he’s going to write a report about this mess. But he has nothing to fear because a mole is amongst the crew who will help fulfill a different set of obligations for the company.

By not giving “the company” a name, it can be any entity we may work for on our little blue ball. Plus, with Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, we see the trouble of putting sponsors’ names on video phones and space ships, because Pan Am and The Bell System are long gone – though Hilton could build a space station in the next century.

Due to these items, and the wearing of many hats – those mining vehicles aren’t going to move themselves – the crews’ dissatisfaction may mirror our own.

Intercosmic Dialogue

Before ALIEN, most science fiction films were built on the backs of conservative, military-like communication full of boring conversation or scientific mumbo-jumbo or stiff reporting full of salutes. Right from the beginning, we can relate to the crew as “regular people” due to the dialogue and their exchanges. They curse, they rub each other the wrong way like children – “That’s not our system,” says Ripley, and Lambert almost sings her response as if a kid who doesn’t want to be bested, “I know that” – and Parker wants to get back home, with bonus in hand, and “party.”

However, the film goes one step further to make the dialogue and exchanges ring true. When the dead facehugger falls to the lab floor, Ash asks if it came from the overhead. Traumatized by the experience in his own way, Dallas peers down at their deceased guest and says in an annoyed fashion, “It was up there somewhere.”

When four crew members remain, a stressed out and now in command Ripley lays down the plan, which is a continuation of the old one. Parker’s also stressed and angered, and says, “Let’s hear it” as Ripley tries to speak, causing her to raise her voice and yell at Parker. Anxiety and frustration take their toll:

Ripley (to Parker): …We’ll move in pairs. We’ll go step by step and cut off every bulkhead and every vent until we have it cornered, and then we’ll blow it the fuck out into space. Is that acceptable to you?

Parker: If it means killing it then it’s acceptable to me.

Ripley: Obviously it means killing it.

Having characters joke, speak over each other, and go from being ticked off to being accepting, serves as one of the best reflections of genuine dialogue and speaking patterns. This realness allows the audience to better connect with the characters due to this relatable and grounded communication. The crew may reside in the future, may live on a space vessel, but the audience knows exactly where they’re coming from.

The Universal Other

Like John Carpenter’s THE THING, ALIEN not only introduces “the Other,” the alien that must be assimilated or destroyed, but the Nostromo crew is “the Other” as well. Humans are not natural to space and the dwarf planet they land on is as alien to them as it is to the alien. Neither belong. But what Ash calls, “the perfect organism,” the creature’s as fearless as a honey badger and there’s no negotiation or assimilation. It’s kill or be killed. At no point does Parker try to sit down with the monster in a weak attempt to get the alien to help with the bonus situation.

No other monster from another planet in all the early science fiction fair has a life cycle like this one: From a leathery egg comes a spider-like facehugger that unleashes another egg through the mouth and down the throat of a host. Serving its purpose, and after the internal egg is protected and ready to hatch, the facehugger dies. Soon after, the young creature bursts from its host, killing the animal it leaves behind in the process and takes off on its own. In short order, the little monster that bleeds acid becomes a bipedal giant ready to kill, consume, and get the cycle up and running again. This means the Nostromo crew is left to fight an extraterrestrial endoparasitoid, which is an alien parasite that lives inside another creature and kills it. Wow.

Macrocosmos of Mysteries

ALIEN certainly has its mysteries. This doesn’t mean O’Bannon’s writing had flaws or that Scott overlooked things, but what follows are points to consider.

“Better break out the weapons”

Before heading outside to check on the distress beacon, Dallas uses that line before the away party suits up. Inside the Space Jockey’s vessel, Kane holds up a gun-like weapon right before the facehugger greets him with a kiss. The company supplied weapons are never mentioned again, and only primitive ones make from scratch are used. Why? Maybe the weapons were garbage, or more logically since the alien bleeds acid, which could burn through the hull, forcing it into the airlock with a flame thrower to send it into outer space is probably the best solution.

First Contact

If the company sent up a robot to protect the alien and bring it back to Earth, how did it know about the creature in the first place? Maybe another expedition came along, and unlike Kane, those miners in space suits decided not to break that layer of mist and get up close to those eggs. Then again, maybe they did. Maybe they lost a crew member (or two or three), but won in the end and made it home to give a full report. That report became the catalyst to send out another crew in that general area to unwittingly bring the creature home.

Ancient Computers

Often forgiven by fans and critics since the movie was made in pre-personal computer 1979, Mother, her special “Eyes Only” room, and the computer graphics raise questions. In 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, regardless of space flight, HAL 2000, and major technological advances, the astronauts still had to use clipboards as they sail towards Jupiter. When it comes to predicting what the hell we might have or create in a future world can prove daunting (follow the haircuts and clothing styles, as well as social interactions to help date films even more). Maybe the best reason one can use is that the Nostromo is an absolute worker bee of a ship, which means it doesn’t have state of the art anything. However, maybe as an homage to Kubrick, Scott created Mother and her room in HAL-esque style. Too bad the crew couldn’t speak to Mother, and she never even sang them a song.

The Signal

Why would Dallas and company venture out into the unknown when Mother hadn’t deciphered the beacon? If they had waited another hour or two, they would have had a better clue about what was awaiting them. The answer may be Dallas’ grumpiness, which on some level mimicked Parker’s, as well as that old favorite feeling that can bring fortune or failure: curiosity. And maybe due to their ho-hum mining drudgery, no one puts the breaks on the “rescue mission.”

“Why don’t you just freeze him?!”

Curiosity also reigns supreme when Kane and facehugger come on board. Parker says the “freeze him” line on several occasions, but Dallas and Ash take no heed or pay him no mind. The nature of discovery has taken them over.

Locked Up

How did Jonesy end up in that closed locker? Since this is the first time we see the Nostromo mascot, and Brett, Parker, and Ripley certainly didn’t expect to find him there, one of the others must have put him in there, which would have been cruel. Or, he could have been accidentally locked in when someone was working or getting some supplies by the locker.

How old are you now?

Interstellar space travel will either leave aging astronauts to die aboard ship with the next generation to take over the journey, or some sort of hibernation will exist. After returning from the dwarf planet, a ten-month journey remains for the crew. We don’t know how long they’ve been out there or how long their mining assignment has taken, but that had better be some pretty expensive or rare ore to send a crew so far out into the cosmos. Does this mean their families are in hibernation as well? If not, their spouses, partners, and children, if they have any, of course, are going to age every time they head out to gather some ore. Check out “The Long Morrow” from “The Twilight Zone” to see what will happen if you don’t get it right.

Space Rape

This thematic dynamic may not be the reason ALIEN is at the top of the science fiction horror list, but it’s quite notable. In an interview, O’Bannon made this frightening comment:

“One thing that people are all disturbed about is sex… I said ‘That’s how I’m going to attack the audience; I’m going to attack them sexually. And I’m not going to go after the women in the audience, I’m going to attack the men. I am going to put in every image I can think of to make the men in the audience cross their legs. Homosexual oral rape, birth. The thing lays its eggs down your throat, the whole number’” (Dietle).

And O’Bannon does just that. Not only does the facehugger do the above, but the adult alien sports a phallic like head and behind its silvery, dripping teeth exists a phallic juggernaut of a secondary mouth that juts out in erect fashion to tear apart flesh and bone as it penetrates the heads of both Brett and Parker. Its phallic-esque tale rips into Lambert.

When searching for the facehugger, Ash and Dallas do so with long-lighted prods. As Ripley looks about, Ash tells her not to do so without “one of these,” and holds up his prod. Ripley doesn’t grasp one.

But the crew fights phallus with phallus from the cattle prods to give the creature “incentive,” to the pointed motion detector, to the flame throwers, and to the gun and its respective grappling hook. (Both Ripley and Lambert wield the phallic detectors – Ripley does this with ease, but Lambert has issues.)

Feminine imagery exists as well. Dallas, Kane, and Lambert enter the Space Jockey’s ship through a hole. And the Jockey has a hole in its chest, as Kane will soon have. Dallas enters the duct system with his flamethrower, and the round hatches shut him off as he enters the hollow shafts within the ship. Finally, when Ripley squares off against the creature, she uses that phallic grappling hook to propel her foe through the open hatch of her escape craft, and when the creature tries to enter through one of the open engine exhausts, Ripley turns on the afterburners and blows him away once and for all.

Celestial Conclusion

The story, acting, direction, music, dialogue, set and setting, make ALIEN a film to be reckoned with. Due to the realism of the characters, their emotions and reactions, Scott’s film transcends genre labels. In this sense, O’Bannon, Shusett, and company created a remarkable tale to capture the imagination – and fear – of any audience.

Sources
Dietle, David. “Alien: A Film Franchise Based Entirely on Rape.” Cracked. Cracked, 02 Jan 2011. Web. 06 May 2017.
Macek, J. C., III. “Deconstructing the Star Beast: How the ‘Alien’ Saga Went
Wrong.” PopMatters. PopMatters.com, 04 May 2015. Web. 06 May 2017.
O’Callaghan, Paul. “Ridley Scott: Five Essential Films.” BFI. British Film Institute, 28 Nov 2014. Web. 06 May 2017.

William D. Prystauk (aka Billy Crash) cohosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast on iTunes and at http://crashpalaceproductions.com. He’s in pre-production of a dramatic science fiction feature film he’ll shoot in Seattle with his company, Crash Palace Productions. When he’s not listening to punk rock and leaving no sushi behind, he indulges in the food group better known as chocolate. Follow him on Twitter as @crashpalace, and look for him under his real name at LinkedIn, IMDb, Amazon, Behance, and at http://williamdprystauk.com.

You DO NOT want to miss a single episode of his award-winning podcast, The Last Knock!

 

Creature Features in Review: King Kong (1933)

I am going to assume you’ve seen this film so spoilers will abound. If you haven’t, for the love of God, go. Go now.

Well, now. Here we are again.

Last time, it was Bride of Frankenstein (check out THAT review here). Sure, Thomas, I’ll cover Bride’, thinking quick watch through of Frankenstein and the sequel, then 1500 words, bish bash bosh, job done. Then that sinking feeling, as I realized how ludicrously good Bride was, how much I’d have to say, would want to say, just how big the world of existing essays, books and criticism must already be.

You might have thought I’d have learned something from that.

Yeah.

Apparently not.

So, King Kong. In my defense, I had seen it before, and more in my defense, it had been well over a decade. So, my memory was simply that it was bloody brilliant, absurdly good for a movie made in 1933, a cracking, action packed monster movie with some bonus pathos and what have you.

And, you know, that wasn’t wrong, per se. Watching it again for this, I was forcibly struck by how sophisticated so much of the effects work was. The combination of stop frame and huge model work, for example, is incredibly impressive, as are the moments where the stop frame interacts with filmed actors at certain points (even if with modern eyes it’s painfully clear when the actor becomes a stop frame version of themselves, there’s still a certain not-quite-sure-how-they-did-that thrill to the transitions). Kong himself is glorious, especially in mid shot, fighting a T-Rex or giant snake. The giant model face isn’t quite as expressive or mobile as the stop frame equivalent, but it’s for the most part intelligently used for short close ups and is especially brilliant when he has some poor islander or explorer being used as a chew toy.

Similarly, Skull Island is as spectacular as I remembered. Bathed in the ethereal, slightly hazy black and white glow (my DVD copy of the movie was clearly a straight lift from the film stock, preserving even the cue marks signaling the need to swap reels), the island really does feel like a visitation to The Past. The giant wall, the extensive, gorgeous hand painted backgrounds, the cunning use of rear projection to show dinosaurs and explorers on camera together and the mighty, thunderous score, all combine to brilliant effect, creating a viewing experience that is utterly captivating. King Kong is a class act all the way.

Similarly, the acting is superb throughout, with special props going to the indefatigable Fay Wray, who has the absolutely thankless task of screaming in peril from basically the 30-minute mark to the close, with little pause for breath, but who nonetheless brings incredible depth, humanity, and interiority to her character. Her acting in her first big scene, when filmmaker Denham makes his pitch, is especially brilliant, her desperation and hunger warring with common sense and fear, her vulnerability genuinely heartbreaking. It packs an extra wallop when you consider that the Great Depression was both a current and ongoing event at the time the film was made, with many young actresses no doubt facing real world choices every bit as stark as Ann Darrow’s dilemma.

That’s a layer of sophistication the movie exhibits that had completely passed me by on prior viewings, actually. I’m so used to movie depictions of The Great Depression (The Sting being the example that immediately springs to mind, a movie I love unconditionally) that the contemporaneous nature of the film passed me by. And yet King Kong is, in part, a pretty pointed social commentary on the economics of that time – how people sought to escape from the crushing misery of the day to day by visiting movie theaters and getting blissed out on Hollywood. When you think about the essential amorality of filmmaker Carl Denham in King Kong, and the ultimate fate of the theatregoers eager to see the ‘8th wonder of the world’… well, let’s just say there was a to-me entirely unexpected level of anxiety and self-criticism from Hollywood that was both pointed and kind of thrilling. I mean, I was expecting – eagerly anticipating, even – the fifty-foot gorilla going ape. A movie displaying insecurity about the role of mass entertainment in the midsts of financial upheaval and social misery? That was a welcome and crunchy surprise.

There were other surprises that were less welcome. And here, I am going to wimp out by simply observing the painfully obvious; namely, that a movie that was made in the 1930’s and that depicts an island of ‘natives’ with brown skin contains racial politics that could charitably be described as ‘problematic’. I am both acknowledging and skipping that not because I don’t think it matters, or doesn’t deserve discussion, but because minds far superior to mine have already engaged with the subject with far more knowledge and insight than I could hope to bring, and you should go to Pop Matters and READ their article, and then read Angry Bitch Blog on the subject, and then Inverse’s take,  and don’t forget this bit of commentary. All I will say here is obvious; it’s there, and it’s ugly. And if you feel a discussion of Kong that doesn’t engage with the racial politics of the movie is woefully incomplete, you’re right, and I’m sorry, but I also know when a subject is too big for me, both in terms of concepts and word counts.

I think it’s worth taking just a quick look at the Kong-as-boy thing, though.

And let’s just start by observing that Kong clearly is male. It’s not just the name – though there is that – but his performative chest-beating displays are lifted directly from the behavior of the male silverbacks he’s modeled on. And let us further observe that this fifty-foot ape is, therefore, genetically speaking, a very close relative indeed.

Again, in full awareness that I’m dislocating my hip in order to sidestep the huuuuuuuge racial implications and encoding of the giant ape falling for a white woman, having previously eaten all the brown women he was offered (because, fucking yuck, let’s not), what we have here, therefore, is a love story. A violent, inarticulate, hugely powerful male is drawn to kidnap, then preserve and protect a small, vulnerable beautiful female from a hostile world.

Now, the movie itself draws an explicit parallel here between this situation and the story of Beauty and the Beast – indeed, it makes what looks suspiciously like a post-modern joke to that effect on the boat, with Denham fully saying out loud, apparently to himself ‘Say! I’m developing a theme here!’. But the film that I found myself going back to was Bride Of Frankenstein.

Because Kong, like The Monster, is, well, a monster. Powerful. Inarticulate. Angry. Violence-prone. Strong, yet vulnerable. Lonely.

Innocent.

That’s the real kicker, for me – the factor that gives both such amazing cinematic power and resonance. The innocence. Kong is innocent. Not good, you understand: he kidnaps women, seems to enjoy a spot of mortal combat rather too much, and certainly chews people to death, even if he doesn’t eat them. Like the other Monster, his anger is swift to rise and terrible to behold.

At the same time, he’s still innocent. In Kong’s case, he’s unarguably a product of his environment. In an ecosystem as hostile and violent as Skull Island, only the most ruthless and strong can possibly survive. Kong’s aggression and violence may be terrifying, but they are also understandable necessary survival mechanisms. He may have that considerable ape intelligence, but he’s still, as we’d understand it, a ‘dumb animal’.

Like the monster, we are invited to both fear Kong, but also pity him – perhaps even love him. It’s fundamentally Not His Fault, after all – he’s taken from a place where he belongs to a world he cannot hope to understand. Again, sidestepping the imagery of the chains (not enough yuck in the world, there), we’ve got the same notion seen in ‘Bride..’ of ‘civilisation’ colliding with a more primal force.

And this is where, I think, things get fundamentally fucked up. Because Kong is a monster. He kills indiscriminately, his obsession with Ann Darrow is the worst kind of stalker/woman as object behavior, and he appears to enjoy destruction and violence for its own sake. These are monstrous behaviors. Add in the whole fifty feet tall thing, and, well…

None of us would remotely dig having Kong in our town, and if he was coming down the street, the vast majority of us wouldn’t want the RSPCA (or ASPCA for my transatlantic friends). No, we’d want the army and a fucking bazooka.

But he’s not on our street. He’s on the screen. And there, knowing what we know about his history, safe in the knowledge that we’re not going to become Kong popcorn, we can feel for him. We can empathize with his pain. We can rationalize his obsession, forgive his violence. He’s a dumb animal. He doesn’t know any better. He’s been hurt and he’s lashing out. It’s the only behavior he understands.

And when the planes finally take him down, some of us may even weep.

I usually do.

And, you know, that’s okay, because he is an animal. If we take the fiction seriously, it’s not surprising to feel that way. But it is, also, undeniably unsettling. Kong’s behavior, his effect, is terrible, terrifying, horrendous. Yet he is innocent. As with that other monster, it’s the tension between those two facts that elicits such strong emotions, such powerful pathos.

Still, I can’t help feel like there’s a parable here, albeit not the one intended by the filmmakers. Because looked at as a list of traits, Kong is pretty much textbook toxic masculinity (yes, I know he’s an ape). And you can feel the racist barely-subtext tugging again if you note that the message seems to be that these traits are innate, a product of environment, and that ‘civilisation’ is ultimately to blame for transforming the environment to such an extent that these natural instincts no longer have relevance, have become destructive.

And, you know, fuck that, basically.

I think by far the more interesting read is to note that, yes, Kong has these horrible traits, but we as an audience can see them and still empathize with him, still feel sadness at his treatment and his passing. In the same way as we do for the Universal Monster, and interestingly, in a way that far fewer of us can for the real life, human monsters that share these traits.

Because, of course, Kong is innocent.

That’s the aspect of the movie that still gnaws away at my mind, the dichotomy that elevates this from merely brilliant period popcorn to something… ah, hell, we’ve come this far. Let us just call it art, shall we?

Kit Power lives in the UK and writes fiction that lurks at the boundaries of the horror, fantasy, and thriller genres, trying to bum a smoke or hitch a ride from the unwary. In his secret alter ego of Kit Gonzo, he also performs as front man (and occasionally blogs) for death cult and popular beat combo The Disciples Of Gonzo. He is the published author of such works as, GodBomb!, Lifeline, and has contributed to numerous anthologies, including The Black Room Manuscripts, Widowmakers, and upcoming Easter Eggs and Bunny Boilers.

Pick up YOUR copy of GodBomb! for $3.99 on Amazon!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday the 13th: The Game

“He’s back! The man behind the mask, and he’s out of control” ~ Alice Cooper

When it comes to slasher movies there are few killers who have anything in comparison with Jason Voorhees.  He has amassed a kill count of over two hundred people. While other slashers have their kill count in the double digits; Jason has triple. When Friday the 13th launched in June of 1980—it became a huge success! Despite what the studio had to say about slasher movies, in a way, it helped propel the slasher genre. The franchise has eleven movies and one re-make.

The 80’s were a time of home entertainment—more so, the pre-cursor of today.  Where the only time we really have to leave our house is to work. Video Game consoles were taking off—allowing family and children to chuck the board games aside or into the back of the closet.  The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was wildly popular with young children and teens.

By the time the Nintendo launched, Friday the 13th was on its fifth film.  It would be four years later when Friday the 13th part: VIII was released that a video game would coincide with the release of the film.

Developed by LJN in 1989, it was one of the first survival horror games released in America.  The story of the game: You play as a group of counselors, and you must save the children of camp Crystal Lake.  The game is notorious for jump scares and not player friendly.  Overall, it failed to stay true to the F13 franchise.

In October of 2015, Gun media and Illfonic launched a Kickstarter for a new F13 game.  Based on their original idea of a multiplayer game where you play as the slasher and 8 people played counselors, the slasher would chase the counselors down and do what he does best. Kill.  Once Sean S. Cunningham saw the tech demo for the prototype, and he offered the F13 license.

Editors note: Before Cunningham offered up the f13 license, the Kickstarter project was known as “Summer Camp.”

The game itself is a collaboration of sorts: It re-unites Tom Savini to the franchise (Jason’s original designer), Harry Manfredini (series composer), and it re-unites the most important thing to the series, the only actor who has ever played Jason more than once: Kane Hodder, who will be performing the motion capture for Jason.

Being a Friday the 13th fan, it was my obligation to donate to the campaign.  I donated at the $55.00 tier and earned the right to play in the beta, which was released in December of 2016. The excitement to play was tearing at me.  The drive home from work was the longest drive in the history of the world, it felt miserably slow.

Once the computer finally booted up and I was introduced to a nostalgic opening.  It feels like you have just popped in your favorite VHS tape, the tracking finally diminishes and you are introduced to the name of the developer: Illfonic and Gun Media.

You are greeted by various shots of Jason and the infamous “Ki Ki Ma Ma” is heard. The title scene in itself is something nice.  It allows you to feel the ambiance, and you’re treated to Manfredini’s music, an ode to the classic F13 sound.

Every match begins the same, you pick the counselor you want to play and Jason is selected randomly.  Every character has a different set of skills that will help them survive the match, and the counselors get a certain number of perks.  Jason has pre-selected perks for each version you play (There are five in all. Part 2, 3,6,7,8 and Jason Goes to Hell, plus a backer original designed by Savini himself).  One of the most interesting things about playing as Jason is that you will be able to level him up and select different kills.  One of my favorites is the kill from part VIII where Jason knocks Julius’s head clean off his shoulders.  You are also able to select new kills that were created for the game.

Now, one would expect that playing as Jason is the best part of the game, not true.  The counselors are what make the game fun, sure, walking around and killing dozens of teens is a good time, however, the thrill of staying alive is where the fun is.

As the counselors, you have four objectives—either, call the police and they will meet you at a select point in the map,  fix a car and drive off the map, kill Jason, ( not available in the beta), or die.

As a counselor, you are able to find various items to help fight off Jason or stun him long enough for you to make a hasty retreat. You have the option of hiding from him in cabins, closets, and tents (playing as Jason, finding the hiding counselors will reward you with extra XP that you can use to buy more kills).  Sounds simple, right? Not, so much.  Jason has different abilities. One ability, allows you to transport Jason to any part of the map, another ability, will allow Jason to chase the counselors or appear in front of them.  The main ability players will use is “Sense”  as it allows Jason to see where the campers have staked out—making it slightly easier to hunt them.

The game is fun, at least, the beta.   It gives the feeling of fear and confusion and plays true to the F13 format.   The ambiance of the game is something that really plays into effect.  The ground is often dark and shadows play tricks on the eye.  When Jason comes close to a party or a single camper, a music Que plays to let you know he is near. While it seems cheesy, it gives the player a chance to run and hide.  The game feels like a movie.  Something, I never expected—being a longtime fan of video games and a regular player. I’m not a fan of multiplayer games, at all, with F13, I felt I was in the movie.  I would get adrenaline rushes if Jason was near and I was wounded. My fight or flight instinct would kick in and most the time I would lose or there would be a chance, I would get away, only to have Jason take his revenge, and shove a machete down my throat.  Despite, some bugs (it’s a beta, they will happen) it was an experience I will never forget and cannot wait for the full release.

Friday the 13th: The game is a rare feat, it stays true to the license. A prime of example that in the right hands a movie license can stay true to its origins. And make an experience worthwhile; other companies can learn from this particular developer. If care and passion go into a license a game can break free of the bonds and ideologies; that all movie-based games are cheap and never a worthwhile experience.

Friday the 13th breaks that mold, not only for horror games but multiplayer games, as well.

Kurt Thingvold, no stranger to Machine Mean, was born and raised in IL. He finds passion in writing, which helps calm his demons. He grew up in a tough household that encouraged reading and studying. He spends his time writing in multiple of genres. His published his short story, Roulette, which can be found on Amazon for $0.99!!! When not writing he can be found playing games, reading, or attempting to slay the beast known as “Customer Service”, which, he fails at almost every day. As mentioned, Kurt is a frequent flyer here on Machine Mean, you can also check out his previous review on Ridley Scott’s legacy movie Alien here.

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Creature Features in Review: Kingdom of the Spiders (1977)

Spiders.

There is no middle ground. You love them or you hate them. You either gently put them back outside when you find one in the bathroom, or you go Ripley on the bastards with a can of aerosol deodorant and a lighter.

Having had a terrible, life-changing spider experience myself, I come down pretty firmly on the Screw the Biosphere, Annihilate All Arachnids side of things. And yet, I am compelled to watch the 1977 movie, Kingdom of the Spiders, three or four times a year. Why would I put myself through that psychological torture?

Because this movie is freakin’ amazing, that’s why.

The story is basic bio-horror, where humans and their usage of pesticides are the real enemies. All that wanton spraying of DDT has killed off the smaller animals usually eaten by tarantulas. Out of necessity, and possibly anger, the tarantulas have banded together into a supergroup, much like Asia or The Traveling Wilburys. Working together, they can take down much larger prey. Cows! Biplane pilots! William Shatner!

That’s right. William Shatner. Before you start doing that Captain Kirk impression in your mind, understand that out of all the Shatners that Bill Shatner has ever shat, this is the least Shatner of all the Shatners. He gives a fine, almost realistic, performance in this movie. No chewing scenery, no unfortunate soliloquies. He knows he’s in a crappy B-movie, yet he sets his histrionics on stun.

Shatner plays a veterinarian with the awesome name of Rack Hansen. Can you imagine all the stuff you could get away with if your name were Rack Hansen?

“I’m sorry, Golden Corral server named Marla, but I won’t be paying for this meal, for I am… RrrrrrrACK HANSENNnnnnn.”

“I understand, Mr. Hansen. Please come back and bring condoms, for I want to make sweet ham fat love to you by the meat carving station.”

It all starts with a calf, dead for reasons Hansen can’t quite comprehend. He sends a sample of the calf’s blood to the lab and the lab sends back a woman. Not the standard way to respond to blood samples, but it works in this case. The woman, Diane Ashley (Tiffany Boling), is an arachnologist… arachnidiatrist… a spider doctor person. Turns out the calf was killed by an insane amount of spider venom. The guy who owned the calf (Woody Strode) says something to the effect of, “Oh, that explains the giant fucking spider hill behind my house with thousands of tarantulas crawling around it.”

The puny humans make an attempt to burn the spider hill, but those clever tarantulas have an escape tunnel. They regroup and begin an attack on the town itself.

It’s never explained how the pesticides give the tarantulas human emotions, like anger or the desire for crawling revenge, but soon, the little bastards are on the rampage, tearing through a small town in Arizona. It’s like a small, eight-legged version of The Warriors, as the humans try to make their way to Camp Verde, a resort where they can hide and be safe. It’s their Coney Island. Meanwhile, the Gramercy Riffs (the spiders) are hot on their tails, leaving cocooned victims in the streets behind them.

There are so many spiders in this movie, most of them actual live tarantulas, and if you love the creepy-crawly little things, be warned. I think some of them get smashed on camera. They used fake spiders, too, so there’s no way of really knowing. It’s certainly not at the Cannibal Holocaust level of animal violence, but there’s your trigger warning.

If you can get past that, you’re in for a real treat with this movie. The spiders show up in waves, like the little aliens from Space Invaders. There’s a lengthy sequence where the tarantulas attack the center of town, and it’s surprisingly brutal. Bloody dead kids wrapped in webs lying on the sidewalk like Pez dispensers for spiders. Panic in the streets. One elderly man goes shuffling in front of the camera with a real tarantula on his Sunday hat. He just wanted to make it to Golden Corral before Rack Hansen used all the ham fat! Now he’ll never use that AARP discount.

What’s the deeper meaning of it all? Tarantulas are creepy. That’s it! There ya go. This is a movie for loving, not analyzing. As far as the eco-terror genre goes, Kingdom of the Spiders is one of the most effective entries because it doesn’t beat you in the face with any Silent Spring manifesto. It is way more concerned with dropping live tarantulas onto actors getting paid scale and recording their terrified reactions. Cruel? Probably. Does it work? Hell, yeah.

The ending, which involves an egregious matte painting, is rightfully infamous, but even that works within the context of things. For a film with no CGI and William Shatner, there’s no other way the movie could end.

Ridiculously entertaining while remaining fairly grounded in reality, Kingdom of the Spiders is a must-see. While it has been made fun of by professional movie riffers, watch it straight before you indulge in that kind of wackiness. Like your spouse’s siblings, Kingdom of the Spiders deserves respect and the benefit of the doubt before you make fun of it behind its back.

Jeffery X. Martin is the published author of several stories that are sure to shock, including those in the Elders Keep universe. He also published a fantastic tale in The Black Room Manuscripts. You can find his work, including his latest novel, Hunting Witches, on Amazon’s blood-soaked altar. When Mr. X is not writing creepy mind-benders, he’s the host and/or contributor to several podcasts and review sites, including but not limited to, Popshifter, Kiss the Goat, and the Cinema Beef Podcast. He is a frequent contributor to Machine Mean, reviewing for us The Wolf Man (1941), The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944), Revenge of the Creature (1955), and Squirm (1976).

Get YOUR copy of Parham’s Field for just $0.99!!!

LOVE NEVER DIES.
PEOPLE DO.
Everyone in Elders Keep knows you don’t wander into Parham’s Field at night. But when a body is discovered there in the heat of the summer, Sheriff Graham Strahan and historian Josie Nance must uncover the truth. Their meeting with a mysterious old man reveals a tragic and terrifying romance that stretches from the 1970’s to the present. It is a journey to the festering abscesses of the human heart, a dark love story told as only Jeffery X Martin can tell it.

Come to the Feast

What would you do for family? I’d say most of us would do anything for family. However, we can imagine of certain situations in which we couldn’t do everything for family. We couldn’t betray our core values, or moral obligations, or our principles…or could we? I think for the most part we follow something similar to Issac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics when it comes to the lengths we’ll go or will not go for family. The law is as follows, with some tweaking on my part to adjust to our question of family.

A family member may not injure another family member or, through inaction, allow a family member to come to harm. A son/daughter must obey orders given by their parents except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A person must protect their own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Something kinda like that, though not perfectly fitting, of course, this is just a thought exercise. And in actuality, the First and Second Laws typically conflict with each other, as demonstrated in the cartoon on the side.

And why do the Laws come in conflict? Because people are beautifully horrifyingly imperfect. Imperfection invites conflict. Anyone with mothers or fathers or brothers or sisters or really close cousins know all too perfectly how imperfect people can be. And yet, we cannot escape our families, though I am sure some have tried and succeeded in some measure, but overall our love remains for our sisters who are still our sister, our brothers still our brother, etc. etc. This brings us back to my original question: What would you do for family?

This question over the lengths we’re willing to go for family is what inspired the story in my latest book. FEAST is the story of a family, dysfunctional perhaps, but in the end, still family. Titus Fleming is a father and a businessman, and as the story progresses his dual nature between the two conflict. Is he a father more or is he a businessman? His surviving son, Luke, is going through a transformation in his life, becoming who he has always been, Lavinia. but when tragedy and scandal-beset his family, an arrangement will be made that will conflict with who Lavinia (Luke) really is.

And then there is the barbarous Lange family. Tamora and her two sons, Chad and Drake, and her employee Aaron. Who are they in this story? Victims? Perpetrators? Accomplices? Allies? What are these sons willing to do for their mother?

FEAST will ask those questions.

I am very excited for this release! FEAST is an extreme horror story inspired by Shakespeare’s play Titus Andronicus, one of my favorites from the famous playwright. Maybe a bit twisted to admit, but I had a lot of fun writing this book. The story and the characters pushed me into worlds and situations I have not dared to go before. While I do enjoy conjuring fantastic creatures, FEAST reminded me of the most horrifying of all horror monsters, humanity. Big shout out to my friend Travis Eck who came up with the design for the cover. I simply gave him a concept and he ran with it. Producing his own creation and artwork. Totally blew me away, as always, with his work and talent. Also, some thanks are in order for Jeffery X. Martin for editing my horrible use of the English language. Shout out to my favorite Canadian, Duncan Ralston, for not only helping me with the formatting of this book but also inspiring me to delve into a subgenre of horror I have only previously flirted with.

To help introduce the characters in Feast, here are some “character cards” that will provide a sort of visual representation:

FEAST

What would you do for family?

Between the rural Texas towns of Bass and Sat is one of the most popular barbecue restaurants in America. Big Butts Bar-B-Que has been the seat of power for the Fleming family since the Great Depression, but when tragedy and scandal-beset Titus and his surviving transgender son Lavinia, deals are made to keep control of the restaurant. An arrangement that will put a father at odds with his legacy. As the table is set, is it just the keys to the barbecue kingdom some are after, or something else entirely?

An extreme horror story inspired by Shakespeare’s play Titus Andronicus.

Get YOUR copy today!

$2.99

Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of character-driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. His debut novel, Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, and his newest release, The Hobbsburg Horror. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging (coming soon), are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can keep up with Thomas and all his strange events by joining his author newsletter, at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.

 

 

Creature Features in Review: Cabin in the Woods (2011)

Wes Craven’s 1994 New Nightmare was a movie ahead of its times. In that I mean, the way the story was told, the significance of something we make-believe into being real (knowing it is actually fictional) and having it given back to us as this make-believe thing made real by our own imagination. That was kind of the genius of Craven’s New Nightmare. Freddy wasn’t real, but we pretended he was, as we do with all characters we watch on the big screen, small screen, or even in print, and yes even the horrorish ones. New Nightmare played on that, trapping the imaginative character Freddy in the make-believe world until the “movies” ended and thus releasing the bonds that kept imagination captive. Suddenly Freddy is real because WE made him real. Very clever, if you sit for a spell and think about it. Unfortunately, much like Jason Goes to Hell, audiences, and fans of the Nightmare on Elm Street series were expecting…well…what they have been accustomed to and not this metaphysical metaphor of fantasy meets reality through a sort of cognitive mythological construct. Not all movies fall prey to being ahead of their time. Take 2011’s Cabin in the Woods as a perfect example of the right kind of out of the box thinking movie coming out at the right moment in our social environment, which is to say at the very least uncertain.

Cabin in the Woods

By: Jeremy Flagg

I was raised on 80’s slasher films. Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween filled my nights, and as an adolescent, they may have altered my childhood. However, these classic horror films provided ample education. I learned at an early age, you never separate from your friends, you never skinny dip, you never get drunk, and by all means, never lose your virginity in a sketchy locale. While a multitude of movies have attempted to recreate these classic tactics of terror, few have ever lived up to the original.

In walk Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard with Cabin in the Woods.

Horror movies have a recipe. With an ample suspension of disbelief, a movie builds tension, redirects our fear, and then in a moment of complacency, it scares. This recipe is repeated with variation for a little over an hour and somehow, at the end, our “final girl” perseveres by eliminating the big bad. We are put again into suspense as the credits end and claws emerge, or a hand rises from the grave, or a mask is picked up. There is a formula we’ve grown comfortable with, when it is tampered with, we get uneasy. However, Cabin in the Woods examines this formula, uses it, stomps on it, laughs at it, uses it again, and at the end, we’re left blinking in an entertained disbelief.

It starts with scientists talking about child safety cabinets and how only they and Japan remain viable options. What? Isn’t Cabin in the Woods a movie about a group of people going on a mini vacation to a vacant cabin in the middle of the, well, woods? Cue title scene and then onto the movie we expect.  A fun flirty vibe, filled with sunshine, dreams and the need for relaxation. We have all the expected character tropes necessary to make a mediocre horror film; the jock, the overachiever, the stoner, the sexy girl and the kind of nice guy who we instantly forget is in the movie. Everything about this post screams “middle of the road.” Or does it?

True to form, we’re ten minutes into the film and the group of soon to be killed young adults have met the old man who gives foreboding advice. However, in every scene, we see a hint of something. A man following them reports to his superiors. The old man makes a phone call asking for approval. A flying eagle crashes into an unseen wall. A room in the cabin holds a one-way mirror. There is a horror movie laid on top of something, perhaps a conspiracy? We’re barely into the movie and we already know we’re being played with and it’s not being subtle. Are we seeing hints of a twist? It must be a twist because goodness knows every movie has to have an obnoxious twist at the end. That’s how horror is done.

As the screen zooms out, we realize the scientists are watching the five young adults. Wait, that’s not how horror goes? These goons are watching them, luring them into this horrific situation. Lowering inhibitions with chemicals and increasing their libido, we have no idea to what end, but we know they’re setting them up for disaster. It’s only made more comical as they take bets on how the group will die. We have no idea why this is happening, but we know that the scientists can only lead them to a dangerous situation. The group must begin the catalyst that will set them up for death.

Now let’s recap, cause from here on out something serious changes in this movie. We know it’s a horror movie. We know the scientists are setting the scene for this horror movie. We know death is coming, but we’re still not entirely sure why. As they are led to the basement where a variety of talismans and treasures are stored, we discover they will choose their fate. Zombie redneck tortured family. Meanwhile, a similar fate is befalling a group of Japanese school children, a scenario competing with our movie for victims.

The movie adds a new element, horror movie as a spectator sport. However, the darker, and even more genius aspect is that we, the viewer are part of the movie. Much like the scientists watching their hidden cameras, we are rooting for the body count to begin. As danger looms on the horizon, we are hoping for a massacre. We want those partaking in dangerous activities such as drinking, drugs, or sex to fall victim to the classic horror deaths. And when the sex kitten is about to pull off her blouse, we want her to die. Then she resists and plays coy and we, along with a room full of watching spectators groan. Then science jumps in, releasing a pheromone mist.

Wait, does this potentially explain why in every horror movie stupid stuff happens? Were deranged scientists aiding Jason and those campers were all just victims of a mastermind game player? Did chemicals being pumped into the bedrooms of teenagers bring on Freddy as a hallucination? I’m left pondering if everything I’ve been told is a lie. But wait, I’ll worry about that later, because redneck zombies are about to start killing people. Did I just cheer? Maybe.

!!! Spoilers Below !!!

As redneck pain-loving zombies achieve their first kill (a girl about to get her groove on) we’re introduced to a new piece of the puzzle. Somehow, the scientists are culling the blood of the victims in some sort of ceremonial effort. Our next clue comes from the drug-addled hippy that is so used to altering his mind, the chemicals created by the scientists do little to affect him. Cue more classic death scenes, often times paired with comedic lines from the viewers in the bunker of scientists. When the victims refuse to split up, scientists manipulate the scene forcing the classic tropes to align to their 80’s horror counterpart.

Cabin in the Wood teaches us that a healthy addiction to Weed can save us in a horror movie.

The movie gets, even more, meta as the remaining two survivors find themselves in an elevator going down into the bunker hidden beneath the cabin. Locked in cages, we see a variety of classic horror monsters. Werewolves, giant bat things, even a unicorn are kept in cages, waiting to be called upon to slay the innocent. As the fool, our high-as-a-kite unlikely hero and the virgin unleash havoc on the underground bunker, releasing hordes of b-rate horror atrocities, we find ourselves cheering on the death yet again. We’re not quite right in the head.

As the final showdown begins, we’re not given a Final Girl showdown of immense proportions. Sigourney Weaver says that if the heroes live, they will destroy the world. The heroes, the ones we’ve been rooting for, either die, or we all die. I’m not sure if I’m annoyed or I commend them as they decide to live, thereby destroying the world. But, you know, it happens.

The snappy dialogue mixed with this meta look at horror creates something entirely new to the genre. We find ourselves cheering on the heroes, only to condemn them, and wanting more mayhem. We learn quickly that we, the viewers of this disaster, are really quite twisted. Most of all, we’re really excited that we got to watch a unicorn slaughter a man. At the start of the review, you had no idea a unicorn would be whom we cheered on. Cause you know, it’s a horror movie.

Jeremy Flagg is no stranger to Machine Mean, having reviewed for us Final Girls during our Freight Fest series, he also is the author of the CHILDREN OF NOSTRADAMUS dystopian science fiction series and SUBURBAN ZOMBIE HIGH young adult humor/horror series. Taking his love of pop culture and comic books, he focuses on fast paced, action packed novels with complex characters and contemporary themes. For more information about Jeremy, visit www.remyflagg.com.

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Creature Features in Review: Jurassic Park (1993)

I think we all have our list of movies that affected us in some way as a child. Both positive and I’m sure there are plenty of negative feelings towards movies out there too, either because they were horrible or horriful, depends on the person watching. Honestly, my bar is so low its hard to watch a movie, even a really cheesy one, and walk away hating it. There are plenty of other people more critical, and I’ll leave it to them to right the ship on movie reviews. There’s also a degree of separation we need to consider. The movies we 80s kids watched in either the late 80s or 90s that were totally awesome back in the day but watching them now almost feels embarrassing. 1997’s SPAWN is probably one of the best examples of that degree of separation. Back in the 90s, us fans of the demonic hero comic were more than ecstatic to watch the live-action version, but I challenge you to watch SPAWN (fan or no) now and not feel at least a smidge bit embarrassed that you at one point in your life thought this flick was the bee’s knees. However, there are some movies that surpass and shatter the nostalgic lens and are just great movies. Jurassic Park is one of those movies, for me at least. I have fond memories of seeing this movie as a 90s young teen. This was, in fact, the LAST movie I had gone to the theaters with my entire family (mom, dad, & sister) to see. So there’s that, a very nostalgic feeling, but Jurassic Park is also just a great movie all around, a classic Spielberg at the end of an era in which Spielberg actually made classics instead of rehashing old ones and ruining them. But, I’ll leave the review for this movie in more capable hands as our guest writer takes a swing at Jurassic Park.

Jurassic Park

By: Kurt Thingvold

Dinosaurs have long captured the imagination of the world. Titans of the prehistoric era.  In 1912, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote: “The Lost World” as the story a group of explorers led by Prof. Challenger who encounter a prehistoric world. Seventy-Eight years later Michael Crichton wrote of a similar premise where a group of scientists are invited to a prehistoric park where Dinosaurs are brought back to life by genetic engineering in the hopes of garnering a profit.  The book was a huge success!  And it dealt with issues of animal rights, genetics, and the repercussions of not paying attention to detail, and having constraints when it came to new advances in science. While the book was seen as a huge success, studios were bidding for the rights to make a movie. Universal ended up winning the bid and picked Steven Spielberg to direct, and Michael Crichton to draft the screenplay, which would later be co-written with David Koep. The film was in pre-production for 24 months before filming in August of 1992 and filming ended in November of 1992. A grueling 98 days of filming,  from Hawaii to soundstages in Hollywood.  With special effects taking over a year to develop.  The movie launched in June of 1993. Critics praised the movie for its action sequences, music, and most importantly the special effects.  The plot of the movie followed, somewhat, closely to the book.  A few characters were mixed around, and some of the more important characters from the novel had their screen time reduced to a mere minute and a half.  Parts of the story did remain untouched, with the exception of an awesome raft chase scene with the T-rex.

The story for the movie goes something like this:

A worker is killed on Isla Nublar, an island that holds a secret resort attraction. Three scientists and a lawyer are sent to investigate the attraction, Dr. Alan Grant (played by Sam Neil), Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), Dr. Ian Malcom (Jeff Goldblum), and Donald Genaro (The money hungry and corrupt lawyer played by Martin Ferraro). Shortly after arriving, they find that the park is inhabited by creatures from another era: dinosaurs.  A greedy computer programmer sabotages the park, and the dinosaurs start to run loose, now everyone must survive until rescue arrives.

What made the movie different from the book? What made this movie a cultural success? It wasn’t an exact carbon copy of the novel, but it could stand on its own. (Spielberg isn’t known for being true to the source material. Peter Benchley was kicked off the set of Jaws after he found out that the shark was going to explode, instead of dying from its wounds, and dragging Quint down to his watery grave). A few things, actually, could be counted toward the movie’s success: dinosaurs and children.  Dinosaurs have always had popularity with the youth.  The movie also addressed a certain form of science that was growing in popularity at the time: Genetics. The novel went into great detail about genetics and genetic manipulation.  The movie did address a few key points.  The lunch scene, where Hammond addressed the scientists after viewing the velociraptors being fed. And the incubator scene where Malcolm berates Dr. Wu with questions about natural breeding. Wu states: “The dinosaurs could not be bred in the wild due to them all being female.”

(The following quotes are spoken during the lunch scene and address the lack of discipline involving the cloning process to bring the ancient species back.)

“I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here, it didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now you’re selling it.”

(Another addition to Malcolm’s lines during the scene.)

“Don’t you see the danger, John, inherent in what you’re doing here? Genetic power is the most awesome force the planet’s ever seen, but you wield it like a kid that’s found his dad’s gun.”

They resonate a serious tone about scientific power at the time, where, we tried to create what we could as fast as we could, without thinking of the danger of what we were doing; and it could be taken to another level without consulting with the public. It also portrays that uncontrolled science and technology could be a terrible thing. It also goes to show that just because you have obtained the knowledge and knew how to do it—doesn’t mean you should.  The main theme of this scene and the incubator scene are about control—which—the park lacked and that it is why it had its problems. Yet, the theme is downplayed in the movie compared to the book—Malcolm would and does rant about conservation, discipline, and taking what could happen into consideration.  While, novel Malcolm, is almost the complete opposite of movie Malcolm.

Spielberg, also, combined and changed characters from the novel.  In the film: Grant can’t stand to be around kids and the movie follows his coming to understand and love children (classic Spielberg, coming into fatherhood after reluctance). Genaro is another example of a character swap—in the novel, he is portrayed and somewhat timid and very cautious, and not so much caring about the money.  While, the film version, he is cowardly, greedy and not much into anything else. He was also mixed with another character from the novel: Ed Regis, a PR rep who takes the group on the tour of the park and causes the T-rex to escape its enclosure.  While in the film—Genaro runs from the vehicle setting off the infamous T-rex attack scene. And promptly, devoured on a toilet.  Genaro in the novel isn’t killed at all—In fact he comes around to be a hero—fighting off a velociraptor and calling a ship back and saving Costa Rica from a dinosaur invasion.  Robert Muldoon (Bob Peck) is another character who survives the book and dies in the film.  In the book, Muldoon is a badass—he has his demons of being an alcoholic but makes up for it in his heroics. Also, Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler are an item. In the novel, she is a student and his assistant.  They also give a little backstory about her fiancé and how she plans to marry him after she graduates. Again, a lot of subtle differences between the book and the film.

So, what makes the book good, what makes it a good movie? The answer is simple: It’s different.  While the novel is mentally stimulating and fascinating to think about.  The movie creates an atmosphere—it shows you the wonder and awe of seeing what you’ve always wanted to lay your eyes upon, a dinosaur, and the movie treats the creatures as actual animals.  When the scientists first come to the park they are in awe. They become fascinated with their childhood dreams.  You see the creatures breathing, eating, and suffering from disease.

If anything, Jurassic Park is known for two things: The music and special effects. The special effects of the nineties were limited—computers had not been used too much for creatures, with the exception of the glass creature in Young Sherlock Holmes, and the main villain of Terminator 2: Judgement Day.  Spielberg hadn’t a clue which method he would take for full body shots of the dinosaurs—he was leaning towards the use of Stop Motion animation, and once he saw the tests for the stop—motion, he was not impressed.  However, he was blown away from the CGI tests and decided he would go with computer images for most of the full-bodied animals.  For the close-up shots, the film would use animatronic heads and partial bodies. What really made this work is how the CGI and the animatronics were blended together to create the illusion of a real life creature.  It brought the illusion of amazement and belief that an ancient creature could be brought back from the dead.

Music is another aspect that brought life into Jurassic Park.  John Williams, the composer created a masterpiece with his score; a score that can transport you to an ancient world.  What makes the soundtrack work is that the music, in itself, promotes power and wonder.  One of the few soundtracks to a movie that isn’t a piece of music but an addition to the scene, the music acts as a special effect; giving the scene the power to captivate. When you listen closely to the soundtrack. Scenes from the movie will come rushing back into your head, a rare feat. Williams didn’t compose music for the movie, he created the breath of the movie.  Of course, what ties the whole movie together is the direction of, Steven Spielberg. There are rumors floating around that he didn’t want to make the movie and that if he didn’t make it Schindlers’ List would have never seen the light of day.

Regardless, he created a family film and one that everyone could enjoy.  He worked with some of the top experts to make sure that the movie could stand the test of time and it did. Spielberg chose actors who weren’t top billed, he wanted to create characters that people would remember.  He didn’t just shoot at a movie studio.  He wanted a location that looked prehistoric and a place people could visit. Jurassic Park may not be one his best films, but it is one that is enjoyable. Spielberg took the chance to show us that a movie can bring a family together and a little journey to the past could be a wondrous thing. Even after twenty-four years, with the release of Jurassic World, people still flock to the theater with their children to share in a magical memory and to be blown away by special effects and the simple pleasure of seeing a dinosaur on the big screen.  Jurassic Park will be a movie that our kids will share with their kids and so-on.  It captures a piece of us, a time when we were all so innocent and could be captivated by a little make believe and a little science.

Jurassic Park will always be a part of my heart and will always be what got me to start writing at a young age.  The film, the novel, it all represents a dream of someone wanting something bigger, someone wanting something they could feel and touch.  Life will always find a way, and so will Jurassic Park.

Kurt Thingvold is no stranger to Machine Mean, having reviewed for us on several occasions, including his previous review on Godzilla (1954). Kurt was born and raised in IL. He finds passion in writing, that helps calm his demons. He grew up in a tough household that encouraged reading and studying. He spends his time writing in multiple of genres. His published short story, Roulette, can be found on Amazon. When not writing he can be found playing games, reading, or attempting to slay the beast known as “Customer Service”, which, he fails at almost every day. As mentioned, Kurt is a frequent flyer here on Machine Mean, you can also check out his previous review on Ridley Scott’s legacy movie Alien here.

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Double Feature Review: Get Out/ The Belko Experiment

I don’t think I’ve seen so many new horrors as I have this year. AND IT’S ONLY MARCH!!! I’m not going to list off all of them, as at this time in the morning hours with only one cup of coffee to keep my brain functioning, cannot recall. Though some honorable mentions are due. XX, a 4 film horror anthology directed by Jovanka Vuckovic, Annie Clark, Roxanne Benjamin, and Karyn Kusama, was a stellar performance, despite some notes falling flat. Another one that was actually listed as a 2016 movie, but I saw in January, so it counts on my list for this year, and that flick was Split…which split critics while still bringing in rather respectable ratings from audiences, not just because it released (late Dec?) in January (the month movies go to die), but also because it was a return of sorts for M. Night Shyamalan. This last movie brings up a point that I’d like to address. Maybe I haven’t really been paying close enough attention, but when did Blumhouse start producing good horror movies? And back to back, mind you. As per our double feature review here of Get Out and The Belko Experiment (more on those to follow), add in Split, and that’s two out of three money making horror movies for the apparently expanding horror flick producer. No complaints here. Blumhouse’s wheelhouse has added a sort of balance for me and my comic book movie obsession. So…lets get into this and take a look at two horror flicks, both of which I had the pleasure of screening on back to back weekends.

Let’s kick things off with The Belko Experiment.

Produced by, you guessed it, Blumhouse, directed by Greg McLean. From IMDb, “In a twisted social experiment, 80 Americans are locked in their high-rise corporate office in Bogotá, Colombia and ordered by an unknown voice coming from the company’s intercom system to participate in a deadly game of kill or be killed.” I think it’s important to note that the screenplay was written by Guardian of the Galaxy director James Gunn who was originally asked to direct this movie but decided to step back for personal reasons. This was the most recent horror flick I’d gone to theaters to see, mostly out of having some free time come up and why not, right. I had a good feeling the theater would be empty and it pretty much was. Not for lack of trying for the producers. I’d seen a share number of advertisements both on the radio and on TV. And judging by said previews, the plot wasn’t hard to decipher. This wasn’t one of those kinds of movies. Here, there was no twist ending, and if the ending was supposed to be one, well…sorry buddy, I believe Joss Whedon already pulled it off in Cabin in the Woods. Not to get spoilerly here, as this is still showing in theaters. But you’ll get it when you see it, a very Cabin in the Woods kinda vibe. And that’s also not to say that Th Belko Experiment was bad. I actually enjoyed it. I didn’t have to think too much. It was a dark humorous action thriller with plenty of gore to please most horror fans. There were a few aahhs and ohhs from the audience when someone’s face got split in two with an ax, or when someone who’d been doing all the right things in a horror movie suddenly without much warning gets killed.   

That can kinda sum up The Belko Experiment. A boiling pot of other movies and mixtures such as Office Space meets Battle Royal meeting Cabin in the Woods. People who came looking for a mystery to solve probably left feeling disappointed, as it seems many other movie critics and audiences had, given the poor showing on Rotten Tomatoes or how it was pretty much cast into the back of the theater on opening day. Hell, the theater I normally go had stopped showing it, forcing me to drive an extra five miles to the next theater. Bastards! For me, I knew before the movie started what it was going to be. I knew there’d be one or no survivors. I came for the nihilistic violence and nihilistic violence is what I got. The Belko Experiment wasn’t perfect, not by a long shot. The story seemed to falter against the easy to predict concept of the film. Too much attention was given to certain officer works battling internally over the dilemma of their humanity. I think if producers and director had turned the volume up on the violence, making it a sort of hyper-violent nihilistic movie, it would have been a shade better.

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Now…how about we Get Out.

It’s been two weeks since I saw Get Out. And while the movie had been out for at least a week if not more before I journeyed to the theater, if there were any doubts as to its popularity, let me say…my theater was not empty. Not at all. I’m rather certain it was plum full. The same happened to me when I saw Split. Packed theater. And for a horror movie no less, whether you liked the movie or not, should make you a little optimistic about the future of the genre, if you’re a genre fan, that is. Get Out was directed and written by comedian Jordan Peele (from Key & Peele and Wanderlust fame). And this was Peeles first go at directing, or directing a horror flick at the least. I can say without question that I wish upon a star that he returns to the director’s chair for another romp. For those who do not know, Get Out is about “a young African-American man who visits his Caucasian girlfriend’s mysterious family estate.” And that’s pretty much all you need to know. The plot is rather simple, actually. But the twist…oh my, it is almost too good.

Don’t worry. No spoilers here. I’d wouldn’t do that to you. But let me say for those who were told or believe that Get Out is an anti-white movie, you are DEAD WRONG. They (or you) couldn’t be furthest from the truth. In fact, I’d say this movie pokes more fun at white liberals than staunch racists. Racism is there, you can’t avoid it, just as you cannot avoid it in everyday life. But the real gem of this movie is the natural way it highlights the awkwardness between African Americans and Caucasian Americans. The scenes dealing with this phenomena are quite brilliant. And there are layers are weirdness that can only be described as such. And there are scenes that make little sense and/or do not add to the quality of the movie, nor do they take anything away. They’re kinda just….well…there. I’m assuming Peele’s way of appealing to traditional horror flick fans.

Also, don’t be fooled by those espresso hipsters, those fascist wannabes who think they know everything. Get Out is a horror movie in every definition. Just as there are multiple ways of horrifying audiences, when Get Out pulled out its heart-stopping end, I was truly terrified. When I allow myself to be put in his shoes and those who came before him, well…it kinda reminded me of some terrifyingly strange classic sci-fi flicks from the late 50s and 60s, with perhaps a touch of H.P. Lovecraft. Not to show my hand or anything, I’m trying not to spoil as the movie is still showing in theaters. You really do need to see this for yourself. Trust me. I had the assumption of what was going on and when I found out I was wrong, I was very surprisingly pleased. And it’s one of those surprise endings that make you think back over the course of the movie, and when you do, you’ll nod your head and say, “Oh, that’s why…” etc. etc. Get Out is by far my favorite horror movie of the year, thus far.

My rating: 5 of 5

Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of character-driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. His debut novel, Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, and his newest release, The Hobbsburg Horror. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging (coming soon), are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can keep up with Thomas and all his strange events by joining his author newsletter, at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.

New Release Alert!!!

Get YOUR copy of Dark Designs: Tales of Mad Science for $0.99!!!

 

 

Dark Designs: Tales of Mad Science

 

Science without limits. Madness without end.

All proceeds from the purchase of this ebook will be donated to Doctors Without Borders / Medicins Sans Frontieres.

This is a warning. What you are about to read violates the boundaries of imagination, in a world where science breeds and breathes without restraint. A world very much like our own.

Within these shadowy corridors you will discover characters seeking retribution, understanding, power, a second chance at life—human stories of undiscovered species, government secrets, the horrors of parenthood, adolescence and bullying, envisioned through a warped lens of megalomania, suffering, and blind hubris. Curious inventors dabble with portals to alternate worlds, overzealous scientists and precocious children toy with living beings, offer medical marvels, and pick away at the thin veil of reality.

You can run. You can look away. But don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Witness our Dark Designs.

David Cronenberg, infamous director and storyteller of body-horror movies such as The Fly (1986), Shivers (1975), and Videodrome (1983), once said, “Everybody’s a mad scientist, and life is their lab. We’re all trying to experiment to find a way to live, to solve problems, to fend off madness and chaos.” This statement of Cronenberg’s is a rather optimistic one. And not altogether inaccurate, we are after all trying to find ways to live in harmony and in doing so we must solve problems that arise to get there. But that’s not really the genesis of the purpose of mad scientist stories. The notion of “mad science” is self-explanatory, that there is something strange or “mad” in the unknown realities that surround us. Even today, quantum theorists are often seen as “mad” scientists, practitioners of metaphysics more than actual provable science. And in some ways, there’s some truth in that metaphysics and quantum mechanics often overlap, which brings us to one of the most exhilarating and equally terrifying aspects about science, that is, it’s never ending, always searching, constantly discovering something new, something previously unknown, beyond us.  In part, our understanding of science; or more to point, our misunderstanding of science has become the inspiration over centuries for what has been deemed the quintessential “mad scientist.” Not for reasons given by Cronenberg above, that we are all in the same pursuit, but out of fear, fear bred from the unknown, and fear of what all these discovers, these advances, will bring us. And even more alarming, how far are we willing to go to achieve the impossible?

My first impression while surveying the history of “mad science” was that Victor Frankenstein, created by the imagination of a twenty-one-year-old Mary Shelley, was the first of the mad scientists to be conjured into the literary world. I was wrong. It was actually Dr. Faustus, written in 1604 by Christopher Marlowe, that should be credited as the first “mad scientist.” Dr. Faustus was perhaps more alchemical in nature than traditional science, but still the story serves as asking the proverbial question all mad scientist stories ask, “How far are we willing to go…?”  Some of the more popular “mad scientists” who defied boundaries and terrified audiences with their audacity against “nature” include, Dr. Moreau, an H.G. Wells story penned in 1896, and Danforth & Dyer in “At the Mountains of Madness” by H. P. Lovecraft, published in 1931. These stories are typically told from the perspective of a layman looking into nightmarish worlds, boiled in a cauldron of obsession and forbidden knowledge. H.P. Lovecraft would go on to create a few more characters in this realm of unrestrained science with Dr. Herbert West, one of my personal favorites, and Charles Dexter Ward.

Growing up, the one “mad scientist” story that ignited my imagination and kept me glued to the edge of my seat was Steven Spielberg’s science-fiction epic Jurassic Park (1993). Even in my pubescent years, the memory still rings clear today, the duel realities of science, that in the wonder of watching a baby dino hatch or Dr. Grant’s first realization of what was going on as the Jeep drove through the part to the Visitor’s Center, first realizing that those massive tree trucks were moving and were not in fact trees, being held prisoner in a sort of child-like spell, and then suddenly seeing it all go wrong, demonstrated the dangers of unrestrained science, that even now the question of trust must be asked. Ian Malcolm, played by a black leather clad Jeff Goldblum, has one of the more illuminating statements in the film, a statement that has rung in the minds of audiences for over four-hundred years, when he says, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

Today, “mad scientist” stories have for the most part found themselves kicked to the kid’s corner, in such books as Meet the Creeps or Franny K. Stein. Sadly, there isn’t much being offered in way of adult entertainment. This was the prime motivation for raising the question to my Shadow Work Publishing cohorts of collaborating on a mad scientist anthology. While science continues to evolve and new discoveries are being made every day, the question posed in 1604 still remains relevant today, “How far are we willing to go” in the pursuit of said discover what consequences, if any, will we face? We landed on the title, Dark Designs, more or less on the alluring sinister quality, but not just that, also, as our quote says, “Science without limits. Madness without end,” there is a certain amount of ambiguity regarding science, that without limits perhaps we could possibly go “too far,” and in reaching such limits, madness is sure to follow. Here, as you turn the page, you’ll find yourself in a world without limits, where science breeds and breathes without restraint. You’ll walk these corridors with characters seeking retribution, understanding, revenge, and perhaps for some a second chance on life. These are human stories through the spyglass of mad science, of undiscovered insects, government secrets, horrors of parenthood, adolescence, and bullying, about curious inventors dabbling in portals to alternate worlds, of ambitious biologists and overzealous children tinkering with things they probably shouldn’t, and stories that stretch our understanding of the boundaries of life.

From Shadow Work Publishing, and the sixteen authors of which contributed to this charity anthology for Doctors Without Borders, thank you and bid you welcome our Dark Designs: Tales of Mad Science.

You can get YOUR copy of Dark Designs: Tales of Mad Science for $0.99!!!

First Blood: Book in Review

“First came the man: a young wanderer in a fatigue coat and long hair. Then came the legend, as John Rambo sprang from the pages of FIRST BLOOD to take his place in the American cultural landscape. This remarkable novel pits a young Vietnam veteran against a small-town cop who doesn’t know whom he’s dealing with — or how far Rambo will take him into a life-and-death struggle through the woods, hills, and caves of rural Kentucky.

Millions saw the Rambo movies, but those who haven’t read the book that started it all are in for a surprise — a critically acclaimed story of character, action, and compassion.”

FIRST BLOOD: published in 1972 by David Morrell

I’m ashamed to say that I had no idea First Blood was a book before it was made into a movie. Not a single clue. But, I’m glad to finally have this error corrected and was even more glad to have gotten the chance to read this amazing book. Now, there were some definite drastic changes from film to print or print to film more like. And that’s okay. I never expect the movie to be just like the film. There have to be differences, so long as the essence remains intact. For example, I had read Stephen King’s IT before attempting to watch the made-for-TV movie starring Tim Curry. I made it maybe 30 mins into the film before turning it off. TV movie IT was too far removed from the source material to be enjoyable. Whereas, as another example, Hellraiser was based on The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker, and it not only expands the story, it diverges from it regarding Cenobite leadership and other details. However, the difference between why IT as a movie failed and Hellraiser succeeded is that Hellraiser kept the essence of the original source material.

And for the most part, the essence of First Blood, be it Sylvester Stallone or just the imaginative projection from hearing how David Morrell describes John Rambo, is beautifully captured, more so I would say in the book because we are given the characters internal thoughts. The director and Stallone for his part did a great job conveying through action and struggle Rambo’s internal conflicts, but in the book, it becomes, even more, clearer. Did you know that when Rambo arrived in that pinewoods mountain town (called Hope in the movie), he had been kicked out, or “pushed,” as he calls it, at least a dozen times before? That is where the “pushed” thing comes from during the movie that doesn’t make much sense, but in the book it does.

No spoilers here, but the end is veeerrryyy different, and I’m not sure which one I like the most. I feel for Rambo in both scenarios, and I love that end scene monolog he has with his old unit commander in the movie. But in the book…dang…it’s just… I’ve said enough.

As far as veteran issues go, both film and book appealed to me and wrung the gauntlet of emotions. More so in the movie than the book, despite the benefit of reading Rambo’s internal thoughts. The movie seems to focus more on Rambo as a veteran, whereas in the book he’s more often referred to as “The Kid.” The book did, however, add a level of polarity to the conflict between the sheriff, a Korean War veteran, and Rambo, a Vietnam veteran, and how each of them refuses to surrender to the other, way more than what the movie offered. In the movie, the sheriff is more of a chump and doesn’t know what he’s walking into, and just seems to be a dick for no reason. In the book, he is more clearly defined. Especially with what happens during the first hunting party. DAMN is all I can say about that!

Overall, if you’re a fan of the movie, you may want to check out the book. I have few doubts you’ll be disappointed.

My rating: 4/5

David Morrell is the author of FIRST BLOOD, the award-winning novel in which Rambo was created. He holds a Ph. D. in American literature from Penn State and was a professor in the English department at the University of Iowa. His numerous New York Times bestsellers include the classic spy trilogy that begins with THE BROTHERHOOD OF THE ROSE, the basis for the only television mini-series to premier after a Super Bowl. The other books in the trilogy are THE FRATERNITY OF THE STONE and THE LEAGUE OF NIGHT AND FOG. An Edgar, Anthony, and Macavity nominee, Morrell is the recipient of three Bram Stoker awards and the prestigious Thriller Master award from the International Thriller Writers organization. His writing book, THE SUCCESSFUL NOVELIST, discusses what he has learned in his four decades as an author. His latest novel is the highly praised Victorian mystery/thriller, MURDER AS A FINE ART.

Thomas’s latest collection of horror and dark fiction!!!

THE HOBBSBURG HORROR, 9 tales sure to keep you up at night…

$3.50

Creature Features in Review: Critters (1986)

Watch the skies! Keep your family close. A new terror is invading our world. They are…KRITES…no wait, sorry, CRITTERS…yeah, definitely that! If you’re a nerd, such as myself, then you are probably aware of such a movie called “Critters,” and the three other sequels that followed. Critters is not the first horror-comedy to grace this Creature Features series, but at the same time, it is something quite unique. When you think “monster movies” you kinda assume something like gigantic lizards that breath fire, or mutant genetically altered insects, or maybe even meteor shit that turns out to be some sort of alien slug that turns people into a mess of zombified conglomerated flesh. But when we get catch phrases like, “They bite,” and “When you got Critters, you need all the help you can get,” we sort of don’t know what to think. Is this movie serious? Or is it pure spoof comedy? Is it even horror? On one spectrum, you’ve got Roger Ebert giving this flick a thumbs up back in 1986 while on the other hand sporting a meager 43% audience approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Some critics have called Critters “Gremlins on acid,” (MovieHole) while others have said that “Critters [is] a franchise [that] has nothing on the Nightmare on Elm Street films, but it’s proven popular enough with Gen X-ers who forward ‘You know you’re a child of the ’80s if…’ emails to all their office mates” (Slate Magazine.) So what is it about Critters that appeals to some while turns away others?

Let’s take this one step at a time.

To get us started, here is a wonderful synopsis by our friends over at IMDb:

“A race of small, furry aliens make lunch out of the locals in a farming town.”

BRAVO!!!! Okay, well, my work here is done, folks. Furry aliens make lunch…oh, you can’t get any better than that people, that is pure gold. Well, as pure usual, they aren’t wrong. Here’s what I got while watching the movie for the…jeez…I don’t know, maybe twentieth time maybe? Somewhere around there. As our heroes over at IMDb pointed out, yes, furry aliens do make lunch, but as the New Line Cinema bold red screen appears, one Nightmare on Elm Street fans should recognize with a sense of glee, the screen opens on a giant space rock that so happens to also be a prison. We don’t really get to see much here, just a bunch of dialogue going on off screen. Supposedly, a violent criminal species known as Krites are being transported to the facility. Right away we’re told they “eat everything.” Just as my Magic 8-Ball predicted, the Krites escape the facility by stealing a space vessel and take off toward planet Earth. Here we get little (get it?) glimpses of the Krites, their claws and hear their language which has been thankfully translated for us via closed captioning.

The warden on this highly secured prison, who looks like the Caterpiller from Alice in Wonderland, hires “the bounty hunters” to track down these fiendish hungry villains and dispatch them. And it’s around here when the screen opens on a quaint small farm in a quiet small town. Nothing much to hate about this place. We’ve got our A typical American breed family. Pa and Ma and big sister and little mischevious bro Brown. A stark difference to the science fiction space opera going on in the beginning. Here we’ve got one of the most overused and iconic of horror and sci-fi backdrops, the American farming town. But given the opening, there’s already a feeling of helter skelter. What are we watching? Horror or sci-fi? Is this ET or “Gremlins on acid?” I have no idea, but I do know one thing, we’ve got  Dee Wallace, ET’s Henry Thomas’s mother in nearly the same dubious role as the harried Ma Brown of young Brad Brown (played by Scott Grimes who I believed was actually a younger Judd Nelson), our plucky kid hero who goes to battle against these Krites; Critter invaders.

Several scenes play out as we patiently wait for what we really came here to see. Aliens eating people and GORE. Spoiler: the latter you’re not going to get much of, sorry. My biggest concern watching this film was regarding young Brad. Now, yes, we all adore the stereotypical young boy who loves fireworks and plays with M-80s, whistlin’ bungholes, spleen splitters, whisker biscuits, honkey lighters, hoosker doos, hoosker don’ts, cherry bombs, nipsy daisers, scooter stick, and whistlin’ kitty chasers. But good God man, this kid is packing more than your typical firecracker. This thing is a bomb. His father reprimands him, also looking a bit weary about his son’s interest in explosives. Later, we see Brad sent to his room where he has a workbench of destruction and assembles what looks a lot like a stick of dynamite. Seriously, where are this kid’s parents?

Two highlights soon follow. Billy Zane and Bill Zane’s death. More on that to follow. Zane must have been just starting out acting when Critters came along. He looks quite young and only has a few lines. I did like that they made the big sister and girlfriend of Zane’s (played by Canada’s sweetheart Nadine Van der Velde) as the promiscuous one. She’d practically dragging young Zane up into the loft where she has prepared a sort of love nest, complete with 80s jams. Earlier, when Pa learns of his daughter’s new New York city boyfriend, he quickly asks his wife if they’ve had the talk on “how things are.” Jeez, I can only imagine what that talk as about consider sister Brown’s later behavior. But hey, who am I to judge the phenomenal romance of teenage love?

As far as horror movies go. I do not think this is such. This wasn’t horrifying. Even the going into the basement scary scene wasn’t really scary. It’s hard to be scared with Gremlin sized furballs cracking jokes in some strange intergalactic language. That’s not to say Critters wasn’t good. Critters is actually a fun movie to watch. The characters are not deep or complex, but their motivations are easy to understand and thus we do not have to invest a lot of brain power with them. Just as with the plot, though seemingly complex with the beforementioned space opera, it’s actually an oversimplification of several movies that came out in the space of 1986. Critters is without a doubt “Gremlins on acid,” it’s also got a touch of The Terminator with the machine-like bounty hunters and the garb they wear. And director Stephen Herek (director of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure) is not shy poking fun at ET. There’s a great scene with one of the Krites talking with a stuffed ET doll, yelling “Who are you!” And then ripping the doll’s head off. Looking back at Herek’s resume, it’s easy to see that he is mostly a fan of light hearted-humored movies. He wants to have fun and that mood is clearly carried throughout the film.

One of my favorite scenes involves Dee Wallace versus one the Critters that attack the family while they are retreating back into their house from the porch. The family gets back inside, and out on the porch one Critter turns to the other and warns that they “have weapons.” His Critter buddy replies, “So what?” Dee Wallace sticks out the barrel of her shotgun through the door and blows the “so what” Critter into goo. his buddy turns to his dispatched friend and screams “Fuck!” in his own intergalactic language, shown to use again by that marvelous closed captioning. It’s little moments like this sprinkled throughout the movie that makes Critters fun and funny to watch.

Oh, I also forgot. This town, as the sheriff (played by the fantastic M. Emmet Walsh) was quick to say, is a circus, and just like any good or decent circus, it comes complete with its very own town drunk/alien conspiracy nut/minor-leaguye baseball washout by the name of Charlie (played by Don Keith Opper). Charlie is quick to predict the arrival of the aliens, either by the feelings in his fillings or by dumb luck, the latter more like, and fumbles his way throughout the entire movie, stepping up at the very end by lofting a molotov cocktail into the alien spacecraft, destroying it and the creatures inside, thus saving the day. What I liked more about the end was the utter “fuck you” given by the Krites as they attempt to flee, firing a laser on the American Dream, portrayed in this movie with the Brown’s farm house, blowing brick and wood and shingles to smithereens. It’s usually in moments like this when I begin to formulate any possible meanings or questions the movie and or director are trying to convey. Seeing the destruction of the “American Dream” begs the question of what’s most important to us, was the “Dream” a lie all along? Was keeping the family together the most important part and that even when you’ve done everything right you will not necessarily get to ride off into the sunset?

Well…as I was pondering these questions I had believed the movie was asking, the preverbal reset button was pushed and the house rebuilt itself via a device given to Brad as a “thank you” from the aliens. In seconds, the house is restored to its original glory. Watching this and then seeing the credits roll I was left somewhat dumb stuck. Did the director just punk me, as I image he punked countless over movie reviewers before me? Maybe.

Regardless, Critters is certainly a classic film, one that kids of the 80’s without a doubt share in email and threads on social media as one of those flicks that defined an era. The mood was lighthearted, and despite certain scenes with F-bombs being dropped, I’d say Critters is family friendly. Could they have upped the gore and blood and violence and made this sucker even more of a satire than what it turned out to be? I think I would have loved it even more! But the lack of blood and guts doesn’t deter me from enjoying some 1980s nostalgia.

My rating: 4/5

Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. His debut novel, Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmo, and his latest release, THE HOBBSBURG HORROR. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging (coming soon) are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a Bachelor’s in History. He blogs here at machinemean[dot]org, where he does author interviews and reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can keep up with Thomas and all his strange books by joining his author newsletter, at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.

The Hobbsburg Horror NOW AVAILABLE for only $2.99!!!

 

Creature Features in Review: Slither (2006)

 

Again I find myself mesmerized by the complexity of the creature features subgenre. And as a first, thus far in our little series, we find ourselves in the midst of a horror-comedy within the creature feature mythology. The gory ridiculous atmosphere of Slither (2006) is no doubt the responsibility of its creator, directed no less than by Guardian of the Galaxy symphonist James Gunn. Now, as most already probably know but I’ll mention it here again, Gunn has an interesting repertoire of cinematic exploits. He was the director who took on the remake to Dawn of the Dead (1978), keeping certain elements whilst still maintaining itself as a stand alone movie ALL THE WHILE pleasing not just audiences, but fans of George A. Romero’s beloved classic. But Gunn is not without question…he did have a hand in those live-action Scooby-Doo movies and the not so cult-classic Tales from the Crapper. This weekend, apparently The Belko Experiment, in which Gunn wrote the screenplay, will finally be released to theaters, having started playing trailers off and on as far back as November of 2016, has already come under fire from critics. So where does that leave Slither? Well…I think I’ll leave that explanation on the shoulders of our esteemed guest contributor, Jonny Numb.

Slither

By: Jonny Numb

 

Universal’s decision to let James Gunn direct Slither was an act of faith that spoke to the studio’s appreciation of how his Dawn of the Dead screenplay – coupled with Zack Snyder’s direction – led that film to box-office success.

The result – a 1950s-styled creature feature that combined practical FX with CGI – was a pastiche with a disparate cast (including cult favorites Nathan Fillion and Michael Rooker, and rising star Elizabeth Banks) that had a mercilessly short theatrical run.

I get it because I wasn’t a fan of Slither when I first saw it on DVD. I can’t remember why it didn’t click for me – maybe because it leaned on “backwoods redneck” character types too much (and that specific type of humor); maybe because my taste in sci-fi is maddeningly specific; and maybe – just maybe – it was because I had yet to be exposed to the wonders of Captain Mal on Firefly.

In any event, I revisited the film last year (for the first time in a decade) and was surprised that my feelings toward it had improved. While problematic in places (mostly in the wobbly, tone-setting early going), Slither grows into a bizarre and sneakily subversive take on the sci-fi it’s paying loving homage to:

The Blob (either version). The Thing (Carpenter version). Invasion of the Body Snatchers (mostly the ‘50s version).

There are also subtle-to-obvious references to the works of David Cronenberg and Roman Polanski, as well as Gunn’s former tenure as a screenwriter for Troma (including a Lloyd Kaufman cameo); and keep an eye on the Main Street storefronts during the opening credits for more sly Easter Eggs.

Grant Grant (Rooker) is a macho sleazeball in cheesy glasses who’s married to trophy wife (and elementary-school teacher) Starla (Banks). Spurned by his wife’s refusal to fulfill her duty as willing sex object one night, Grant meets up with local bar girl Brenda (Brenda James). In a bit of cosmic irony, they find themselves in the woods, and Grant has feelings of remorse before he can consummate any carnal desires. More ironic still, this leads Grant to the discovery of a translucent egg-sac with a symbolically vaginal opening, one from which something shoots out, infecting him with an extraterrestrial parasite. After the transformed, meat-craving Grant impregnates Brenda, she becomes the “mother” to the alien invasion.

Once the parasites explode (literally), Slither really kicks into gear. Gleefully grotesque practical effects – and some CGI that hasn’t aged as well – ensue.

To make a hard right turn: does anyone really talk about Kylie (Tania Saulnier), and how she’s probably the smartest, most resourceful character in the movie?

Only on my most recent viewing did it occur to me that we see her not once (in the high-school classroom), but twice (in the crowd at the town’s “Deer Cheer” event) before being properly introduced around the family dinner table (where she makes reference to the “Japanese” design of her painted fingernails (tentacles much?). Her character is at the center of a great setpiece midway through, during which she’s taking a bath with her earbuds in, and winds up fending off a parasite with a curling iron. Even more so than the scene’s well-taken stylistic nods to A Nightmare on Elm Street and Shivers, notice how Gunn allows Kylie to react as rationally as the situation will allow, without turning it into an excuse for T&A or a gory money shot. When the tub parasite nearly shoots down her throat, Kylie briefly taps into the aliens’ shared consciousness – and the glimpses of havoc on an unnamed planet far, far away certainly foreshadows Gunn’s eventual segue into the world of high-budget comic-book blockbusters.

Rather ingeniously, the DVD cover for Slither – that of Kylie in the tub, being descended upon by thousands of squirming parasites – represents the film more accurately than most video-art concepts (which tend toward hyperbole). It’s unsubtle without really giving anything away, and Gunn subverts expectations for the scene itself by guiding it to a surprising conclusion. The sequence of events that follows the tub encounter is brilliantly rendered, and reminded me of Barbara’s full-moon escape from the farmhouse in Night of the Living Dead (yes, the 1990 remake).

There are other things, as well:

The comic relief of Mayor Jack MacReady (played by Brian De Palma regular Gregg Henry), who – in look and demeanor – bears an eerie resemblance to a certain boorish ex-reality-TV star. He’s paranoid, perpetually angry, casually misogynistic, and at one point asks if the town’s being “invaded by the Russkies.” Gunn’s smart handling ensures that we’re always laughing at this clown, and Henry is definitely in on the joke.

Meanwhile, Starla transitions from Grant’s doormat to a model of marriage to, eventually, a woman who wakes up to the fact that her husband’s internal ugliness has manifested on the outside in a way that’s rather poetic. Their final confrontation is a fine demonstration of Beauty no longer tolerating the Beast’s shit.

So maybe, finally, the film resembles Bride of the Monster (but in title only. Thank God).

One nagging question, though: even with the padlock on the basement door, how did the stench of all those dead pets not make its way through the vents in the Grant household?

Jonny Numb’s Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Jon Weidler, aka Jonny Numb, is no stranger here on Machine Mean. He has contributed for us Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy (1955) AND Clean, Shaven for our Fright Fest month back in October. Mr. Weidler works for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania by day but is a podcast superhero by night. He co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast under the moniker “Jonny Numb,” and is a regular contributor to the Crash Palace Productions and Loud Green Bird websites. His archived movie reviews can be found at numbviews.livejournal.com, and his social media handle is @JonnyNumb (Twitter & Letterboxd). You can read his review of A&C Meet Mummyhere.

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Creature Features in Review: The Blob (1988)

!! CONTAINS SPOILERS !! CONTAINS SPOILERS !! CONTAINS SPOILERS !!

 The Blob (1988) is my second-favorite 1980s remake of a classic monster horror film, The Thing by John Carpenter being the first—and if the ALIEN Trilogy (yeah, I said ‘Trilogy’) didn’t exist, JC’s The Thing would be my all-time favorite film. Now, I’m usually the first to say that JC’s The Thing is not strictly a ‘remake’, because of its alternate take on Who Goes There? by John W. Campbell, Jr.—but in his great Creature Features in Review piece on JC’s The Thing, William D. Prystauk beat me to it. John Carpenter’s take was a more accurate, more paranoid version of that novella than Howard Hawks’—and Christian Nyby’s and Edward Lasker’s and others’—The Thing from Another World, while also bringing in elements of amorphous, madness-inducing creature moments that—when paired with the snow-blasted, isolated Antarctic setting—came to draw well-earned and fair comparisons to aspects of H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness and creatures from his other works.

Okay, I’m not going the same route as my last Mean Machine guest review and framing my entire review of one film on elements of other works… but please bear with me a bit longer.

So, if John W. Campbell’s Who Goes There? was the basis of John Carpenter’s The Thing for its setting, plot, paranoia, and dread—with a healthy dose of Lovecraftian vague, disturbing forms as well as cosmic fear and wonderment—I’m of the opinion that The Blob remake from 1988 and its 1958 predecessor take their starting premise at least loosely from Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space.”

I know, I know… The inspiration is directly attributed to a genuinely weird, fishy sounding police report from Philadelphia in 1950 that was detailed in a local newspaper, so I have no way of knowing if Irvine H. Millgate had read Lovecraft as well—but that’s my trip and I’m running with it, you guys!

But while “The Colour Out of Space” is a subtle and measured build of a tale about a meteorite crashing to Earth at a farm and something in it tainting the soil and water for a good distance around as its semi-physical presence wears down the people and eventually takes them… The Blob is like a far less elegant and more (squishy) blunt instrument of terror. Lovecraft’s story is one of ‘other’-ness and truly alien elements infecting and rotting the mundane setting due to the mostly-unseen menace’s weird attributes. The Blob is about a big nasty growing glop puddle ‘eating’ everything. Both crashing down from space with no explanation—except in The Blob remake, but I’ll get back to that—but with different approaches and implied motivations or at least confused actions.

Then the remake ratchets up the clever uses of the amorphousness and menace of the creature and goes in hard on the creature effects. Both JC’s The Thing and The Blob (1988) elevate practical creature effects during what was already their heyday as a way to take their source material and really focus the horror and visceral thrills and stakes.

Leaving comparisons behind, though, I’d say what really stood out for me on this review re-watch—I’d seen it several times over the years, but never paid too much attention to the actual story or presentation, instead just taking in the creature effects—was how much the film relied on and seemed to celebrate the concepts of heavy foreshadowing and pay-off, as well as one shameless deus ex machina moment. Hold that thought…

SUMMARY:

A meteorite crashes just outside a mountain ski town in the offseason (or the film would have ended there, from its own logic), a strange substance glowing in the center of the cracked ball of hot metal. A hobo who saw the landing gets too close—the pink Blob substance gloms onto his hand. From there on out, it’s a succession of setups for the continuously growing, gloppy creature to rack up gruesome kills as the main characters try to survive and figure out how to stop it.

 REVIEW:

Reviewer self-sabotage or not, I’ll just say it outright—on the strength of the creature and makeup effects, and the kills alone, I love this movie. Always have. Some of the most incredibly graphic and messed up practical monster effects ever put on screen.

From the first death, we know this is going to be a dicey night for the characters. A high school football player and cheerleader—characters playfully introduced as a riff on the original film—accidentally run into the hobo with their car as he stumbles across the road clutching his own warped pink arm. They rush him to the hospital where he’s whisked away to a room in the ER. The football player goes to check on him… and the hobo’s body bulges strangely under a sheet. As the boy and a doctor approach, the body shifts, showing the hobo’s newly clouded-over white eyes. The doctor pulls the sheet off—the hobo’s body is mostly gone, having been dissolved and burned as if by powerful acid.

The second death follows this closely, and as the football player makes a phone call, the Blob drops onto him from the ceiling. When the cheerleader comes to find him, she takes a heavy SAN loss as she finds her beau almost entirely inside the quickly growing Blob’s mass—burning away at his flesh and pulling his skin and muscle from his face with its raw strength. This is one of the best practical creature/kill effects ever.

I won’t describe them all, but some other great ones are: a horny teenage friend and fellow football player of the cover kill kid who gets wrecked while trying to take advantage of a girl he got drunk at a make-out spot, a short order cook is pulled gruesomely into a kitchen drain, a movie theater projectionist is consumed on the projection booth ceiling, a sheriff’s deputy is snapped in half and pulled out through a barricade the remaining townspeople are trying to construct… Some quality carnage in this one.

I think my favorite kill involves a phone booth and a waitress who’s on the phone when the Blob starts pouring itself down over the whole booth. Other than being a nightmarish claustrophobic setup, before it crushes the booth into her from all around, she sees another recent victim floating in the thick, pink nastiness of the Blob’s formless body—and this last one leads me back to my intro remarks.

This review re-watch as I said really brought the story and its structure to the fore for me in a way it never has before. I’m not saying it’s an amazing story, but the way it’s all set up and executed felt way more deliberate than I’d ever given it credit for.

So, if you the reader will allow this reviewer the looser usage of a concept, I have to say this film is dominated by one interpretation of ‘Chekhov’s Rifle/Gun’ being repeatedly put into practice. That is in the form of constant foreshadowing—and this script is almost surgically precise and economical in its setups and payoffs. I bring this up because, in this most recent viewing, I couldn’t not see it. Knowing what would happen later from past viewings, I watched as every major scene was foreshadowed, sometimes down to the most unimportant seeming moments. My favorite example is what I’ll call Chekhov’s Zipper.

The cheerleader has a little brother—whose main purpose is to sneak into a late night horror movie showing (remember the projectionist?)—and almost get killed. When he’s introduced way back before the cheerleader and cover kill boy even leave so they can hit the hobo with the car, he’s supposed to be going out to his best friend’s house. As he’s getting ready to leave, he has trouble pulling his zipper up. What I have to imagine is at least 30-40 minutes of screen time—I checked; it’s 44 mins, 18 secs—later, the cheerleader, her little brother, and his best friend are escaping the movie theater and the exit doors slam closed on the back of the little brother’s jacket—and wouldn’t you know it? They can’t get the little brother’s jacket off to free him from almost certain death because… his zipper’s stuck. They get him out of his jacket and off for more survival shenanigans in the dark sewer system, but that was a planned, patient setup and follow-through, heavy-handed or not.

And that’s the second longest setup and payoff distance.

Tough kid (with bad hair) Brian (Kevin Dillon) is introduced in the early parts of the film smoking, drinking a beer, and lustfully gazing upon a ridiculously set up destroyed bridge with one side conveniently higher than the other… He discards his shameful chemical vices—especially for one so young, merciful heavens…—and he tries to jump the bridge gap on his motorcycle. He fails, of course, and his bike is damaged in the process of him eating shit.

That occurs 1 hour, 1 min, and 16 secs before he makes that same jump on his repaired motorcycle—while being chased by military helicopters and a pickup truck filled with biohazard suit wearing soldiers, no less.

Side Note: that unbelievable setup and jump will lead to something even sillier—after making the jump, Kevin Dillon hides by a huge storm drain opening as military vehicles search for him all around… and wouldn’t you know it? That tunnel is just large enough for a guy, a motorcycle, and the guy’s horrible, huge hair to fit in and comfortably ride down. And that’s just really serendipitous since the cheerleader and her brother are in dire need of rescuing down the same tunnel just a bit later… Yeah, there’s our shameless deus ex machina usage.

Another great setup and payoff takes us back to my favorite kill/death, the woman in the phone booth. This one was a layered setup and also made the already disturbing creature scene messed up emotionally. From early in the film, it’s established the town sheriff has a thing for the woman who runs the diner. They have a possible date setup for 11pm—before all that horrible monster stuff starts, ruining their evening—after she gets off work. When things get worse in town, the sheriff says he’s heading to the diner. That’s the second to last time we’ll see him. So, after the diner kitchen sink kill, all the people in it escape in different ways. The woman who works there runs out to the phone booth. As she’s on the phone, the Blob comes down to the booth and she starts losing it. On the phone, she hears the dispatcher say that the sheriff came down to the diner… and the victim floating up through the Blob over the phone booth—is wearing a badge. Boom. Cold-blooded business.

The projectionist in the theater sequence has a whistling yo-yo that later drops from the ceiling, causing the theater manager to look up and see him being consumed on the booth ceiling.

The whole resolution is set up in the establishing intro shots of the town, with signs for snow equipment and such all over. The Blob’s weakness is cold, as in the original, so those familiar with the first film probably chuckled at sight of those signs in the theater when it came out. Brian uses an artificial snow machine to save the day, so that might actually be the rightful longest setup, thinking about it now.

But going back a few steps, it might have seemed strange to those unfamiliar with this film—who for some reason are reading this quite spoiler-y review—that I hadn’t mentioned the military before the motorcycle jump. Wacky, right?

Sooooooo, like I’d mentioned early on, the menacing forces/creatures in “The Colour Out of Space” and The Blob (1958) both have unexplained origins. Not The Blob (1988), oh no!

This being a sci-fi/horror film from the 1980s, it’s revealed late in the second act that this Blob creature isn’t just some run of the mill space monster—it was the result of a germ warfare project from the Cold War that was launched into space because it was so dangerous. Good one, Cold War guys…

One last thought I’ll express about this film is that it differs from many other creature films in one major way—in ALIEN films, every stage of the creature is strange and frightening in its own right as what it is. In JC’s The Thing, the creature is most viscerally frightening as it goes between mimicked forms, becoming amorphous and disturbing as it changes. In The Blob, the pink glop is the creature. It grows and gets tentacles here and there in the remake, but the most gruesome and memorable shots in this film are victims inside the translucent muck of the creature’s form. Their bodies being burned and digested/absorbed—and the torture of that expressed on their disintegrating faces—are the truly haunting moments I always think of. Silly as the film can be, some of those images are genuinely classic and stick with me.

WHAT I LIKED:

  1. Creature effects and kills are glorious.
  2. Foreshadowing mini-meta-game is fun and rewarding.
  3. Setting up the beginning in a similar way to the original film, then completely going a different way with it.
  4. One of the best ‘But Wait…’ style horror ending scenes/shots ever.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:

  1. This movie and its predecessor probably having no relation to “The Colour Out of Space,” even though I want them to… I mean c’mon—the whole setup is like TCOoS, only a shoggoth-like thing comes out instead of the vanishing/infesting color. If Millgate didn’t read Lovecraft’s work, he should’ve. He would’ve loved it.
  2. Foreshadowing is fun and rewarding to find and watch play out, but it’s obvious and overdone enough it could turn people off because of its making light of the artifice.
  3. While I’m a big fan of 1980s cynicism about military science experiments gone awry as a plot frame, I think it had already been overdone, even by the time this film came out. Doesn’t ruin it and adds a layer and some “hew-manns are teh real monsturrs…” moments, but that’s some well-worn territory, even then.
  4. The motorcycle jump scene I mentioned before is fucking ridiculous, especially as an even more obvious deus ex machina setup.
  5. Kevin Dillon’s hair.

 RATING:

This is a very enjoyable piece of 80s creature horror with an almost dizzying series of setups and payoffs, usually of the disturbing and visceral kill type.

I’ll give The Blob (1988)……………..7.5/10.

PATRICK LOVELAND writes screenplays, novels, and short stories. By day, he works at a state college in Southern California, where he lives with his wife and young daughter. His stories have appeared in anthologies published by April Moon Books, Bold Venture Press, Sirens Call Publications, Indie Authors Press, PHANTAXIS, and the award-winning Crime Factory zine. Patrick’s first novel, A TEAR IN THE VEIL, will be published in early-to-mid 2017 by April Moon Books. Twitter: https://twitter.com/pmloveland   Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pmloveland/   Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B00S78LF9M Blog: https://patrickloveland.com/

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Logan: The End of an Era

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If you’re one of the movie goers who contributed to Logan’s $85.3 million domestic opening over the weekend, then this review is for you. For everyone else, you may want to go see Logan before reading. The following article Logan: The End of an Era will contain spoilers. This will be your only warning. Clear? Good. Now that we have that bit of business out of the way, I wanna talk about the movie everyone else is talking about. That’s right if you haven’t guessed it, I was one of the nerds…sorry, geeks who ventured and braved the crowds to see Logan. I sat shoulder to shoulder with friends and strangers to witness the end of an era. Which era? The Wolverine, or at least Hugh Jackman’s portrayal as one of the more popular characters in the X-Men lexicon. And let’s face it, this may very well be the end of the character Logan as well, for the time being. At this stage, I don’t see anyone else picking up the reins and having much chance of success. But, that’s a conversation for another day. As I said, I wanna talk about Logan.

Here’s a quick synopsis from the always loveable IMDb:

“In the near future, a weary Logan cares for an ailing Professor X in a hide out on the Mexican border. But Logan’s attempts to hide from the world and his legacy are upended when a young mutant arrives, being pursued by dark forces.”

Not a bad synopsis, as simple as the basic premise and catalyst of the film itself. Better than the typical three words they usually give movies. And they’re not wrong, as the movie opens, the year is 2029, and sleeping Logan is woken by a gang on the Texas-Mexico border attempting to steal his tires. Logan stumbles on the scene and gives a somewhat slurred warning for the would-be “bad guys” to do themselves a favor and take off.  On par with what most red shirts do, they ignore his warning and shoot him down. A typical setup for any superhero action movie. But there’s somewhat different here. Something amiss. Wolverine isn’t getting up as fast as he used to. He’s taking a lot more punches until he’s basically driven into an animal like state, lashing out wildly and somewhat lazy. EVenutally in what would have normally taken him seconds, he finally dispatches the would-be thieves, jumps back into his car (a limo BTW), and takes off. He stops at a nearby gas station and runs into the bathroom to clean himself up. It’s here we see more evidence that something is not right with our beloved hero. His body is riddled with poorly healed scars. Marks that would have in the past healed over in a blink of the eye, are now a visible roadmap who his harsh existence.

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So, I’m not going to do a play for play on this review. If you’ve seen it, then you already know what happens.

For the most part, Logan (as a movie) felt very familiar. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen Wolverine as the reclusive hero or even the reluctant hero. In just about all the movies thus far in which Wolverine makes an appearance, he has been the grumpy cigar smoking asshole everyone loves, except for in Days of Future Past (my favorite X-Men movie) in which he took lead role as the dominant leader of the pack, and of course his cameo in X-Men Apocalypse, one of the few highlights of that movie where they finally got the Weapon-X story arch right. Tell me I’m wrong, but besides those two movies, has not Wolverine always been the “reluctant hero?” And that’s okay. It’s his MO. What it really means is that director James Mangold will have to work twice as hard not to bore the shit out of long time fans. Something he wasn’t quite able to do in his first foray with Wolverine in The Wolverine (2013), which to be fair was much better than the previous Wolverine movies, the duo bust that-shall-not-be-named (Last Stand and Origins), he still fumbled a bit with the ending. The majority of The Wolverine was pretty good, I thought. Bringing Logan out of his guilt and into his true purpose as a soldier/warrior.

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Carrying into Logan, Mangold brings the evolution of this “warrior’s tale” to its final conclusion, in a movie that works as both a western and as a dystopian without having to resort to a dismal apocalyptic future. No, the Sentinels are not to blame. Nor is Bolivar Trask. Or even Col. Striker…well, perhaps his legacy is to blame for some of it. No, the real bombshell is that it was Xavier’s degenerative brain disease that is to fault in the so-called “Westchester Event,” as he called it in an impromptu confession of sorts, to the deaths of the mutants, or at least the X-Men. Most of the backstory is left to interpretation and not filled in with lazy narration or exposition. This “revelation,” just before Xavier’s final moments, reveals that this is NOT just another reluctant hero movie, this isn’t a rinse and repeat from Mangold’s first go with Wolverine back in 2013. Logan was a hero, he was a warrior and a soldier, but after witnessing the deaths of his friends, an event that would send any hero Helter Skelter, he’s simply lost his purpose, his banner…now set on caring for himself, and also an ailing aged Professor, and of course Caliban is there too.  Can you image?He’s caring for the man who killed his friends, not malevolently of course, to no one’s fault but the disease. Still…what a burden, right? Enough to make anyone a selfish prick.

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So, the motivation makes sense, and though they make stem from the same vein as previous films, the differences make all the difference. Logan is a wounded, dying animal driven into a corner, and as such furiously defends himself and his very selective circle. But then a strange woman arrives and begs for that “hero,” the legend that this Wolverine, to return and help guide a young mutant, Laura (who happens to be his daughter), played wonderfully by Dafne Keen, to a place called Eden on the Canadian border. Eden is a place mentioned in a comic book, along with a set of GPS coordinates. But Eden doesn’t really exist, and it does exist. This part of the story was kinda brilliant, playing off audience expectations. Seeing an X-Men comic, kinda fourth wall; kinda not, showcasing a sentimental view of the X-Men and this place called Eden, which Logan constantly tells Laura doesn’t exist because it’s in a comic book, therefore fictional, and then, in the end, Eden does exist, but not in the way audiences may have expected. Eden was simply a rondevu point for the escaped children who were part of an initiative designed to re-create the Weapon-X program, the same program that gave Wolverine his adamantium skeleton and claws.

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From here the conclusion is drawn in the sand. Thanks to the children, and some hair trimmings, Logan becomes what he was always meant to be. Not a warrior for hire, but a hero. A very angry and very very violent hero, facing off against what he could have become had he remained in the original Weapon-X program, a rampaging, feral, mindless killing machine. This clone aspect was interesting and very symbolic, forced to square off against one’s past, a somewhat distorted mirror image. For a moment, I thought X-24 looked somewhat like Sabertooth from that dreadful Origins movie with the mutton chops. For a story arch this long, spanning seventeen years, the ending of Logan was exactly how it should have ended. Just like with the “what happened to all the mutants” question, the “why isn’t Logan healing” is also kind of fill in the blanks. The assumption I think is that Logan is suffering from some sort of long-term exposure to adamantium. his healing factor is all but burnt out now. Knowing this, we should have known going into this movie that Wolverine was not going to ride off into the sunset. This was his last mission, not to save the future, but to give the future a chance. While sad, the ending is fitting, as Laura and the other children bury Logan, marking his grave with a wooden X, and running off into an unknown destiny.
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I’m sure more will be said regarding all those metaphors and symbolisms we grazed over about family and parenthood or fatherhood, and all that. For now, let me close this review with one final summation. Why did “they” have to get Wolverine right on the FINAL movie??? Seriously. Finally, as audiences would no doubt want more, we’re given the last bill. The emotional setup was near-perfect, opening the curtains by giving us a brief look at Deadpool 2, everyone laughing and then closing the curtains with Logan’s death and an uncertain future for a new generation of mutants. And the no after credit scene added to the realization, this was it. Perhaps not the end of the X-Men, but certainly the end of an era.

My Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars. 

Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. He is published with The Sinister Horror Company’s horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. His debut novel, Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein and Apocalypse Meow. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, both Dwelling and Emerging and Conceiving, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a BA in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he does author interviews and reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can keep up with Thomas and all his strange books by joining his author newsletter, at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.

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Book in Review: FEED by Michael Bray

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Tyler Matthews is desperate for change. Sick of his life and plagued by alcoholism, he makes the decision to divorce his wife, sell everything he owns and travel the world to try and find focus and rid himself of his addiction. Eventually arriving on the sun-drenched shores of Australia and still plagued by his demons, he has spent all his savings and is facing the prospect of having to return to his old life.

It is here that he meets two men with an outlandish story about a horde of sunken drug money in an area known as the Devil’s Triangle – Australia’s answer to its Bermuda namesake and said to be the lair of a terrifying monster of the deep. Offered a share of the fortune if he helps retrieve it, Tyler agrees to go with the men to the location, skeptical and thinking only of prolonging his journey of self-discovery.

He will learn, however, that this particular urban legend is real, and they encounter a giant of the seas, the previously thought to be extinct Megalodon which makes its home within the area of the Devil’s triangle.

Barely escaping with their lives, the three men wash up on an isolated island – no more than a rocky outcrop with no vegetation, fresh water of food sources. As desperation to survive intensifies, horrifying decisions will be made that will illustrate how man is sometimes the most violent predator on earth and when left with no option will do anything, even the unthinkable, in order to survive.

You may or may not know this, but I’ve got a bit of a phobia towards ocean water. I don’t mind heading to the beach, especially Flordia’s white sand, clear water beaches of Pensacola. That’s not really the problem. The problem is the deep. Or better yet, what lives in the deep, what’s hunting in the deep. Perhaps blame for this phobia can be placed directly on Discovery Channel’s Shark Week specials I’d watched as a kid. Seeing those Great White’s launching themselves, razor teeth and all, up out of the water to snag a morsel of meat. I also clearly remember watching another show on either TLC or Discovery about an old fisher man’s tale about being out at sea and hearing a thudding noise against the bow of his ship. Taking a lantern (because this is late at night, mind you), the captain goes to investigate. Peering over the side of the boat he stares down at something he doesn’t quite understand, and then suddenly it dawns on him…he’s staring down at a giant eye, the looks at him, and then disappears back into the deep. Most likely, the tale was about the infamous Kraken, a so-called giant squid with massive tentacles. Nonsesnse, perhaps, but still…these were the emotions I carried with me while reading Michael Bray’s new book, FEED.

FEED starts off with the main character, Tyler Matthews, who, as the reader will quickly discover, is tired of his ho-hum ordinary life. To escape he must exsponge his controlling misses (soon to be ex-wife), his banal job (of which she helped him get as means of controlling him), and all his meaningless worldly possessions. Tyler is set on exploring the world. His separated wife seems to think he’ll just burn all his money on booze. I really enjoyed the go between here, between Tyler and Amy (the soon-to-be-ex). And you can see where Tyler is at this stage, that they’ve been here before, and how he had failed to purge his life in the past, succumbing apparently to her controlling ways. I found myself easily rooting for Tyler and relieved that he finally stood up for himself. The one thing that stood out as odd was the separation and divorce, and perhaps seeing how Bray is an English chap and I a mere American is the hang up here, but I was questioning how Tyler ended up with everything from the divorce. He sold all his possession. His house, car, everything. And kept the proceeds…or maybe I missed the part where they were going to split everything 50/50. Amy did confess to having an affair, which drove this separation and eventual divorce, but still…

Throughout FEED we’re able to jump from chapter to chapter into various perspectives. Moving to where the majority of the story takes place, Australia’s Devil’s Triangle, I enjoyed the early setup between Scott and his “buddy” Karl, in which Karl informs Scott of an old legend of sunken gold, the only problem being that there’s a guardian of the gold, a giant monster that lurks in the deep. Scott doesn’t believe his stoner buddy’s story but decides to jump in and take a look anyhow. Why not, right? He soon discovers his friend was right, but instead of telling Karl that there is gold down at the bottom, he simply resurfaces to tell him there was nothing but sand, marking the GPS coordinates so he can return later and keep the prize for himself. This was a fun little scene, setting up what will be the eventual motivator of the story, getting that gold, but also being shown that getting said prize will most likely cost something, something very dear more like, as Scott definitely senses something down there stalking him. Or was it just his imagination?

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Somewhere around here, we’re introduced to Nash, a very scarred, very “Ahab” trope character. His face and most of his right side of his body are in ruination. His flesh horribly drafted and pieced back together and over twenty years or so has healed in a not so pleasant on the eyes kinda way. Nash looking into the mirror is constantly reminded of what happened to him out in Australia’s Devil’s Triangle and has his heart set on revenge.

I don’t want to get into too many spoilers here. Understandably, reviews tend to reveal more than a few things about a book. Yet, we need to slow things down here, as around this point in the book, the pace begins to pick up. Needless to say, Scott returns to retrieve what he left at the bottom of Devil’s Triangle, and he brought his older, convict brother with him, Paul. I really enjoyed the go-between with Scott and Paul, and this highlights one of many awesome things about FEED, the dialogue is just about spot on, the reactions feel real, and the motivations, no matter how grotesque or horrifying, are justifiable. Even later on when certain characters are stranded on an “island,” which is basically nothing more than rock, with no food and no water. This scene with Scott and Paul also introduces us to the antagonist of the book, though Bray makes mention a few times, through his characters, that the shark is not malicious or anything, its particular species happens to be very dominate and very protective of its territory, and its territory so happens to cover the Devil’s Triangle. Due to the shark’s size, it needs to FEED quite often, which drives its more violent tendencies. Scott and Paul soon discover how real the legend is…

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Things progress, time goes on, and we catch up with Tyler in…you guessed it, Australia. He’s been all over the world now, adapted to his new lifestyle, and burning through his funds rapidly, mostly due to his alcoholism. He claims “near-alcoholism,” but come on, a spade is a spade. If Tyler wishes to continue his pilgrimage, he’ll need to replenish his bank account. And as fate would have it, he runs into the most unlikely of people, Nash and his son, Liam, as they discuss things over a few pints of bitter. He overhears their conversation and is quickly swept up in a bid for unimaginable riches. My only hang up here is how easily diving underwater seems. I liked the detail with the equipment, knowing the names of parts I’ll never look up, and though I’m not a “diver” myself, I would assume there would need to be some sort of training involved. I could be wrong here. I’ve only ever been snorkeling, maybe any joe schmoe can put on a wetsuit and some flippers and tread deep water. But regardless, this IS a detail easily ignored and doesn’t really effect the overall story. And so, Nash recruits Tyler to join him and his son, Liam, on a mission to get rich by finding the treasure left behind on the seabed of the Devil’s Triangle.

For the rest, you’ll simply have to read the book…

FEED works in many ways because it is and isn’t a traditional monster story. Sure, we’ve got the Megladon that is very protective of its territory. But we’ve also got a cast of characters that are not in the least two-dimensional. Tyler, the main protagonist, has his flaws, but he’s also very human and real and because of that, he is relatable. As are the many other characters, even the ones that don’t last very long on “screen.” Nash would be another great character I liked reading, a very “Ahab” prototype, hell bent on revenge, even at the risk of his own son and Tyler. Survival and the lengths we’re willing to go to survive are strong motivators of the story, some of which play out in very grotesque ways. This highlights that FEED isn’t just a story about a shark gobbling up people, in fact, for most of it, there are other predators and demons one has to watch out for. My own personal phobia of the ocean no doubt played into my reaction to the story Michael Bray has cooked up for his readers, but it also says something of the quality of the writing, to be able to play on those phobias, the isolation, and claustrophobia, the unknown aspects of what’s really out there in the black depths of the water. FEED is definitely a read fans of horror will not want to miss.

You can get your copy of FEED for $3.99 on Amazon!!

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Michael Bray is a bestselling horror / thriller author of several novels. Influenced from an early age by the suspense horror of authors such as Stephen King, Richard Laymon, Shaun Hutson, James Herbert & Brian Lumley, along with TV shows like Tales from the Crypt & The Twilight Zone, his work touches on the psychological side of horror, teasing the reader’s nerves and willing them to keep turning the pages. Several of his titles are currently being translated into multiple languages and with options for movie and Television adaptations under negotiation for others, he will look to continue his growth as a full time professional writer long into the future.

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Creature Features in Review: Mimic (1997)

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During the 1990s it felt as if horror movies had descended into the visceral and psychological methods of storytelling, such as In the Mouth of Madness, or Jacob’s Ladder, or Candy Man, or even Freddy Krueger exploring the realm of mythology in New Nightmare. Some monster flicks kept to their proverbial roots. The payout, of course, is what typically happens with most creature features, when the directors, producers, screenwriters turn on the cheese factor and make the movie a satire, such as Arachnophobia or Gremlins 2 or The Faculty. Seldom do we find anything that’s actually haunting. Anything that makes us sit on the edge of our seats. Anything that forces us to watch even though we want to look away. The horror pickins are slim. There is one director, however, who, up until this point in his career at least, did not bow to cheese in order to make a monster movie. Of course, I’m talking about 1997’s cult hit creature feature, MIMIC, directed by none other than Guillermo del Toro. Before del Toro was pitting giant robots versus behemoth sea monsters, his work was subtle and carefully crafted, honing in on character building and turning on the suspense until the deluge spilled over into a wonderfully cataclysmic conclusion. Thus was the work of Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone, and also what we get with Mimic.

Before we begin, here is a classic IMDB synopsis:

“Three years ago, entomologist Dr. Susan Tyler genetically created an insect to kill cockroaches carrying a virulent disease. Now, the insects are out to destroy their only predator, mankind.”

Bravo IMDb, bravo. Yet again another astute generalization of one of my favorite creature features. You’re not wrong, IMDb, it just feels a tad oversimplified. For starters, if you’ve seen Mimic, but haven’t seen the Director’s Cut, stop now and go rent/buy/whatever you need to do to see this edition. Let me tell you, I was happy with the original version, but I LOVE this Director’s Cut. And sure, it really only adds about nine minutes or more of footage, but those added moments really help make the story shine all the better. I especially love the added bits at the beginning, the extended opening sequence that shows us this ravaging disease called Strickler’s, that is decimating a huge percentage of New York City children, and then we get Dr. Susan Tyler, played fantastically by Mira Sorvino . She genetically creates a new species of insect called the Judas breed. They target the city’s cockroach population, releasing an enzyme which causes the roaches metabolism to speed up and starve themselves to death. The Judas breed was created to be all-female with a short life expectancy. The last opening clip (from the Director’s Cut) shows Dr. Tyler releasing the Judas breed into the sewers. She kneels and watches as her “children” begin their work as she is stylistically swarmed by roaches. And a moment later we see a river of dead cockroaches and an announcement from the CDC that they have eliminated the “Strickler’s” disease.

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Cut scene. 

Fade to black.

Now we find ourselves three years after the release of the Judas breed. Just three years. What can happen in such a short span of time? Well, if there is any indication from the name of the insect, Judas, well…historically things have never really worked out with things named Judas. Not to mention any species introduced into the wild trusting that a genetic “all-female” plug will hold, I mean, haven’t these people seen Jurrasic Park? To quote Ian Malcolm, “Life will find a way.” And life certainly did find a way, as our scientists are soon to find out. After the fuzzy “all-is-well-with-the-world” moment, the movie opens again on a man being chased onto a roof at night in the rain. Here we get our first glimpse at what has become the Judas breed. Strange clicking sounds and an odd shadowy face and the outline of what looks like a man in a black trench coat. The movement of this mysterious “man” and the design are incredibly creepy, and no wonder, as legendary The Thing and The Howling practical effects master/guru Rob Bottin had a hand in the development of the creature.

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Let me stop here for a moment. I have a confession. Bugs freak me out. I think this is a well-known fact if you’ve read any part in my Subdue Series books you should know. I’m not sure why. I don’t recall being traumatized as a child, not with insects at least. The My Buddy doll my folks got me for Christmas is another subject entirely (thanks, Sis!). I think people have their own thresholds for fear. Some hate clowns. Others hate anything to do with eyeballs. Some teeth. For me, big nasty arthropods are what tickles my medulla oblongata (technically the amygdala, but medulla oblongata sounds cooler). Too many legs. Nightmare mouths. Multiple glass eyes. Ugh!!! And as the movie, Mimic, was so kind to point out in Dr. Tyler’s lab of horrors, certain species of insects can do some rather impressive stuff, such as certain warrior ants that even when injured will continue to attack. Wasps that turn prey into zombies. Spiders that lay eggs inside a host to be consumed as a snack when the babies hatch. It’s not evil in the sense of good or morality. There is no morality when it comes to insects. To quote another Jeff Goldblum line, “Insects… don’t have politics. They’re very… brutal. No compassion, no compromise.” And here perhaps is what trips my fear sensor the most, the absence of compassion, compromise, especially in something as large as what the Judas breed becomes.

Continuing…

Soon after the death of the man on the roof and some cut scenes of Dr. Tyler and her husband, Dr. Mann, and their on-screen hopes of becoming parents, solidifying again the overarching theme of Mimic, fertility, some well-meaning “hood-rat” children out to make a quick buck bring Dr. Tyler an “interesting” find they discovered below ground near one of New York’s many metro tracks. Dr. Tyler soon realizes just what this large bug really is. Though “just a baby,” as she says, the creature is as large as the palm of her hand. But Tyler isn’t alone in her lab. There’s a shape at the window, a mysterious “man” in a dark trenchcoat. Okay, pause. I have to once again give a nod to both Rob Bottin and the original author of the creature in this flick, Donald Allen Wollheim who came up with the short story, titled, “Mimic,” a first-person narrative about a dude who notices a strange “man” in a trenchcoat standing on the streets in his town but never says anything to anyone. Following the sound of screams, the narrator discovers the “man” dead in his apartment, but upon closer examination, he unveils that the mysterious “man” isn’t a man at all, but a large bug imitating a man. This, for me, adds to the creep factor here. Not only are we dealing with larger than normal insects, but we’re dealing with an insect that has evolved to “mimic” us.

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Stories begin to collide at this point. All leading back deep underground onto some abandoned metro tracks that would inspire curious urban spelunkers to explore. Dr. Tyler, Dr. Mann, officer Leonard (played wonderfully by Charles S. Dutton) and Manny (a father searching for his lost autistic son who “followed” the Judas breed into their underground metro hive). All these motivations would seem to make the movie feel too complicated, but in actuality, they add to the movie’s believability. That they happen upon each other, sure, could be a stretch, but otherwise getting a glimpse at their personalities and motivations actually benefits how audiences feel towards them. I wanted them to survive. There were no “villains” here. Even Dr. Mann’s doomed assistant, Josh (played by Josh Brolin), though kind of cocky and moronic, you don’t hate the guy and you felt something when he was killed off, fairly horribly I might add. All this was accomplished without a bunch of unnecessary backstory. At this stage in del Toro’s career, he had made a name for himself for interweaving likable heartfelt characters into his story, not through exposition, but dialogue and interaction.

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Mimic is not without some cheese. 

This is, after all, a creature feature. 

Whoever came up with the genius plan to get the old boxcar trolley operational is…a moron. Seriously. But, not altogether unrealistic. People come up with horrible ideas all the time. Consider the Shake Weight exercise dumbells. Yup. Someone thought that was a good idea too. No, though the trolley idea was moronic, it was not out of the realm of what someone in that situation would probably do. The real cheese for me was what the “King” Judas bug was doing at the end. But, let me explain the entry of this “new” character. Nearing the climax, we discover that part of the genetic code used to create the Judas breed came from a species of insect that has one male as the only fertile member of the colony. Of course, they had created the species as “all-female,” thus supposedly limiting the lifespan of the Judas breed exponentially. However, as fans of Jurrasic Park should know, “life finds a way,” and thus the species adapted. Part of the enzyme that gave Judas the ability to eliminate the cockroach infestation by accelerating the roaches reproduction rate, essentially burning them out, in turn, gave them the ability to mass reproduce at an alarming rate. Consider how in just three years the Judas went from cockroach size to human size, developing the necessary biology in order to grow. Reproduction, fertility and natural childbirth seem to be a motif in Mimic.

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Back to the cheese.

A big creep factor in this movie was the fact that these insects were not acting in any personal way. Insects do not have politics, remember. They simply…are. They do as their genetic makeup implies for them to do. They attack when provoked. They feed and breed for survival alone. There is no pleasure, “no compassion, no compromise (I’m telling you, Jeff Goldblum should have been cast in this movie as Dr. Mann).”  That said, in the end, the “King” Judas bug didn’t seem to be following the movies preestablished rules of insect politics. The “King” acted mightily pissed off. Before being mowed down by a subway car, that sucker “looked” like he wanted blood. Half-burnt, limping after Dr. Taylor. But, that’s just a small blip on an otherwise decent and definitely creepy creature feature flick. My only other “WTF” is the last line in the movie when Dr. Taylor and her bo Dr. Mann reunite, both are happy the other survived the subway fire that wiped out the Judas colony. Dr. Mann whispers in his wife’s ear, “We can have a baby,” or something to that extent. As the last line, this kinda has me in a loop. After everything they survived, the ordeal, that’s what he tells her? This, of course, brings the circle around regarding the theme of natural childbirth and fertility. But what did it answer? Or better yet, what question did it raise? Unnatural fertility will breed monsters? Seriously? Maybe I’m missing something.

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Regardless, Mimic was an excellent escape from the visceral and psychological methods of storytelling that seemed to dominate the 1990s. And Mimic was definitely one of del Toro’s best pictures if you ask me. This flick could have very feel come off as a cheap B-movie, it had the trappings for such a disaster, but it didn’t. Mimic came out as a genuinely creepy monster movie. If you haven’t seen this one, you need to, but be sure to watch the Director’s Cut. It’s only really nine minutes of added footage, but those added moments make the movie all the better.

My rating: 4 out of 5 

Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. He is published with The Sinister Horror Company’s horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. His debut novel, Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein and Apocalypse Meow. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, both Dwelling and Emerging and Conceiving, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a BA in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he does author interviews and reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can keep up with Thomas and all his strange books by joining his author newsletter, at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.

You can get Reinheit for $2.99 on Amazon!

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Horrible Women: My Favorite Women in Horror part 2

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Women have broken more boundaries and defied not only gender clichés, but also more social and cultural obstacles than men as well. Hollywood, or the world for that matter, is still very much a man’s world. Actresses still struggle to get paid the same amount as a male counterpart. Horror is not with its own stereotypical pitfalls, but in fairness, horror has also come a long way. Slasher movies are known for typecasting women as weak characters. Sure, but looking at it from another angle, perhaps you might notice that as said slasher movie victim is running around bumping into dead things and screaming at the top of her lungs, she survives while typically every single if not 99% of the male character population parishes in some grotesque way. At the very least, maybe those stereotyped movies are saying that when the shit hits the fan, women are survivors. To say the only contribution women have made for horror is to play its victim is a gross generalization. In movies where women are intended to be the victim, they survive. And then there’s the other side of the road. The villains. The most creepiest characters and monsters of horror, in my humble opinion, have been women. Consider Kathy Bates in Misery and you tell me if her portrayal as Annie Wilkes didn’t creep you out! Putting aside our egocentric macho bullshit lets admit it, women have done more for horror, and are continuing to do more for horror, than men. So, without further ado, here are a few of my favorite horrible women!

Eihi Shiina as Asami Yamazaki in Audition (1999)

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I’m not ashamed to say, Asami scares the shit out of me. And for good reason. Leave it to the Japanese to come up with something so twisted. The story follows a widower named Aoyama who, aided by a film producer friend, hosts an “audition” of which they aim to work as a dating service. Aoyama sets his sights on the quiet and withdrawn Asami, but when they venture to his house, Aoyama soon discovers Asami is not so reserved as she appears to be. The torture in this movie is…insane. Its almost doubled by the this otherwise seemingly sweet woman, who even during the torture is nearly whispering pleasantly as she inserts nails into Aoyama. Here’s a clip on YouTube, but its not for the faint of heart.

Vera Farmiga as Lorraine Warren in The Conjuring 2 (2016)

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Both Conjuring movies that have thus released have been true pleasures watching on the Big Screen. And while you cannot have Lorraine Warren without her partner and husband, Ed (Patrick Wilson), I feel it is Lorraine who really shines, in both movies. In part 2, the Warren’s are called out to Enfield, England to help Peggy Hodgson, a single mother of four who tells the Warren’s that something evil is in her home. When one of her daughters begins to show signs of demonic possession, the Warren’s work quickly to try and help the besieged young girl. The Lorraine and Ed relationship almost reminds me of Fox Mulder and Dana Scully, where Ed is the headstrong, well-meaning “car sells-man,” and Lorraine is the collected talent. Not to mention that Vera is a real treat watching on screen.

Jane Levy as Rocky in Don’t Breathe (2016)

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Another slam-dunk that came out last year, Don’t Breathe was a surprise; not surprise hit with new audiences and horror fanboys alike. Stephen Lang may have stole the show with his creepy vulnerability, but it was Levy playing the part of thief/single mom Rocky that really sold me on the story. But Don’t Breath wasn’t you typically casting, technically Rocky was the bad guy, of sorts, breaking in to a blind man’s house in the hopes of making it rich so she can take her kid and escape the wastelands of inner city Detroit. And Rocky takes some hits in this one, as well as dishes out her own vengeance. Seeing how this is her second appearance on “My Favorite Women in Horror” list, last years being Mia from Evil Dead, I’m very curious what this young lady has planned for 2017.

Karen Gillan as Kaylie in Oculus (2013)

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Karen Gillan in anything is both entertaining and amazing. Her time with The Doctor aside Matt Smith as the 11th incarnation of The Doctor, to her reprised role as Nebula in Guardians of the Galaxy. Oculus was a solid lead for her, released shortly following the end of her stint on Doctor Who. In this movie, Gillan plays Kaylie, a strong headed woman who attempts to exonerate her recently released brother in order to prove that he did not murder their parents, but that a cursed mirror did. The movie is a total head trip and Gillan plays wonderfully as a strong resourceful leader whilst still somewhat vulnerable. A drop in the bucket among paranormal movies coming out, Oculus is potent enough for its flavors to let it stand out. Gillan certainly added to the movies benefit.

 Anya Taylor-Joy as Thomasin in The Witch (2015)

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Another rising star, right there beside Jane Levy, Anya Taylor-Joy has been in horror hit after horror hit, starting with The Witch, followed by Morgan, and finally this years mind bender, Split. The Witch is a unique movie that divided horror fans into two groups of “love it,” and “hate it.” From what I can tell, most are in the “love it” group, and for good reason. What caught my attention was the use of 17-century records as means to developing a script that sounded very much like a movie set in the mid-1600s. The Witch was also not what I was expecting. I thought maybe the story was going to be about this town and witches were involved in some manner. But instead, the movie focused on a zealot uber religious family that is exiled from a colony for being too religious, which is funny in its own right. And whilst the family struggles to survive living on their own in the wilderness, tragedy befalls them when the youngest newborn member of the family is thought to be taken by wolves. the mother blames Thomasin, the oldest daughter who was watching the boy at the time of his disappearance. With suspicion and paranoia mounting, twin siblings Mercy (Ellie Grainger) and Jonas (Lucas Dawson) suspect Thomasin of witchcraft, testing the clan’s faith, loyalty, and love to one another. As said above, the movie wasn’t quite what I thought it was going to be. Yet, it was still really provocative, with plenty of tension and wonderment, especially when you realize there really are witches out there. The ending was one of the more satisfying endings to a movie I’ve seen in years.

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Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. He is published with The Sinister Horror Company’s horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. His debut novel, Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein and Apocalypse Meow. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, both Dwelling and Emerging and Conceiving, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a BA in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he does author interviews and reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can keep up with Thomas and all his strange books by joining his author newsletter, at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.

You can get Reinheit for $2.99 on Amazon!

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Creature Features in Review: Cloverfield (2008)

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Note: The below is written based on the assumption that you’ve seen Cloverfield. If you haven’t yet, go and see Cloverfield. Or be both spoiled and confused. Your choice.

I tried to resist the obvious pun. I really did. But I can’t do it. So, with apologies…

Cloverfield is a very odd beast.

Sorry.

But it is.

I mean, on the one hand, it isn’t, at all. Giant monsters have destroyed Manhattan Island since forever, after all. Like London, New York is one of those rare cities whose ‘centre of the universe’ mentality is actually somewhat borne out by reality (Tokyo is the other one that immediately jumps to mind, and oh, look…). So, I mean, of course, the aliens and monsters are going to start there. Why wouldn’t they? It’s where, as they say, the action is.

In that regard, Cloverfield is part of a long established tradition – none more trad, arguably, in the giant creature feature genre.

Similarly, found footage? It’s rare as a horror fan you’ll go through a month without someone complaining either on your Facebook feed or in a blog post about the ubiquity of the found footage movie and it’s disastrous impact on the genre – such complaints are almost a sub-genre themselves, at this point. Ever since the not-universally-popular-but-at-least-successful-and-then-somewhat-original Blair Witch Project rattled our tents and planted in our ears 17 years ago (yes, you’re old, get over it), seems like every indie wannabe superstar has been chasing that found footage Bigfoot, trying to recreate the magic. In musical terms, it reminds me of the rap/metal explosion that followed Rage Against The Machine – people trying to combine the same mechanical elements (hip-hop singer with a metal band) without the slightest clue as to what made Rage so damn special in the first place. Gifting the world Limp Bizkit and a million behind them that were even worse. Thanks, recording industry.

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But hang on, though, because we may just have stumbled over the point, there, while getting on our self-righteous nu-metal-bashing hobbyhorse (yeah, you were up here with me, don’t deny it). Because prior to Rage, there had been both Hip Hop and Metal (obviously), and both movements were, by ‘91, well established enough to have had mainstream successes, even while remaining musical subcultures as a whole. But aside from one-off songs like Aerosmith/Run D.M.C’s Walk This Way, nobody had thought to combine the elements – and certainly not in a fully functioning band unit, where neither style held obvious supremacy.

So, to finally get on topic, found footage movies weren’t unusual. Neither were giant creature features.

But a found footage giant creature feature?

That’s new.

And we might as well get this out of the way; one of the principle reasons it’s new is because it’s also an insane idea. If you’re making a giant creature feature in 2008 and wreaking Manhattan in the process, you’re doing it largely with CGI. However, if you’re making a found footage movie, especially with an in-fiction non-professional camera operator (as you are in Cloverfield) then you’re talking strictly handheld.

And to be fair, for your indie horror filmmaker, that’s an enormous plus, for the obvious reason that it’s dirt cheap. Slap cheap digital cameras into the hands of your actors, and then let loose the mayhem, and hilarity and awards ensue, right? And all the auto-focus fails, and blurry shots of the maybe-thing-maybe-person stalking or whatever, that all just adds to the atmosphere, right?

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Except, now, with Cloverfield, your shaky-cam is filming a skyscraper exploding, or your shutter speed is blurring the head of the Statue Of Liberty as it bounces down the street, or the autofocus is failing to decide which piece of the 200-foot monster to focus on.

And, of course, none of those things actually exist, outside of some computer whizzes laptop.

.That is what, frankly, blows my mind about Cloverfield, and why I wanted to write about it.

Because I do sometimes find myself wondering (outside of the total movie geek circles I am proud to inhabit) how many people really understand just what a staggering achievement this movie represents. I wonder if the average movie goer, benumbed as they must be by massive digital spectacles, fully appreciates how complex, how difficult, and how special Cloverfield is, in terms of what it achieves. How tough it is to integrate digital effects with handheld footage in such a way that the unreal appears so naturalistic that the only reason you know the creature isn’t really there is because it would be impossible to build.

It is, in the parlance of our times, fucking awe inspiring.

Of course, director Matt Reaves pulls every trick in the book to make it work. In 1975, a malfunctioning robot shark inadvertently forced Spielberg to the genius realisation that having the monster mostly be off camera made it WAY scarier, and while Reaves in a found footage format doesn’t have the luxury of cutting to the monster’s POV, accompanied by a John Williams score, we do see far more of the creature’s handiwork than we do the creature itself, in the scarred streets and skyline of the city. There’s also a return of the good old ground tremors from Jurassic Park, and a ton of similar tricks employed throughout to both build tension and, by happy coincidence, save money (another brilliant example is when the creature passes by the store our protagonists are cowering in – before it passes, the air outside becomes so full of brick dust and ash from a collapsing building that the monster itself is only heard and felt, not seen).

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It’s smart, savvy filmmaking, selling us on the scale and power of this thing without providing even a glimpse. Similar brilliance announces itself elsewhere in the storytelling. One of the central strengths of found footage is also its central weakness – you’re stuck with one perspective, one window on the world. This is compounded in Cloverfield by also ostensibly being unedited footage, the only cuts being when the camera operator turns the device off for some reason (during which segments we’re treated to bleed-through from the previous recording that is being overwritten – a cute device for delivering back story, albeit not one I’m convinced makes sense in a digital age – sure, a videotape would work this way, but digital files?).

Horror fans and writers will immediately grok to the appeal and strength of such an approach, but it can cause problems, not least when trying to transmit a sense of scale, or hints at a wider world response to events. There’s a superb moment where Rob, desperate to restore his mobile phone charge, runs into an electronics store that’s in the process of being looted. Our camera man follows him in, huffing and puffing (one of the funniest lines in the movie is his exclamation early on that ‘I don’t really do this running stuff!’) only to be pulled up short by the TV coverage. Via his camera pointing at the TV, we get a glimpse of how the news coverage is panning out, at least until he’s pulled away by his friends and off into the next part of the story.

Similar brilliant flourishes abound, from the camera perspective on the Brooklyn bridge as a tentacle (actually tail, we later learn) smashes into it, knocking the cameraman off his feet, to flickering or emergency lighting creating a dramatic, nightmarish strobe effect, to a brilliant sequence in the subway in which first the camera torch is employed, and later the night vision, in what is for my money one of the best jump scares of the last ten years – without cheating with some dramatic score or jump cut.

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And then there’s the creature.

The beast itself is on camera rarely – I’d bet less than five minutes of the total running time feature any glimpse of it, and most of that is exactly glimpses – a tale, an arm, and a stunning in motion underneath shot as our heroes plunge into the subway and the army engages in a fierce firefight. Even seen on the news footage or from the evacuation chopper, it’s partially obscured by buildings, or smoke, or just the trembling of the camera man. But in the closing minutes of the film, we’re finally treated to a full, uninterrupted view, and it’s just glorious – huge, organic, monstrous both in size and features, raining grotesque parasites – it really is brilliantly realized, the stuff of nightmares.

So, yeah, there’s a lot to recommend Cloverfield, and I think it’s a brilliant movie – or at least, near brilliant. There are some elements that don’t quite hang together, for me. There’s the technical stuff – I’ve already mentioned in passing how the ‘bleed-through’ of the old video footage only really makes sense in the analog age and given that mobile phone networks were disconnected across New York throughout 9/11, Rob’s suspiciously functioning mobile is, well, suspicious.

And as we’ve brought it up.. So, there’s the 9/11 thing.

Because prior to 2001, there were a lot of movies that indulged in disaster porn and specifically blowing up New York. And let’s be honest – it felt like good clean fun at the time. I vividly remember being utterly thrilled at the destruction of the Empire State Building and The White House in Independence Day when it came out – not even slightly in a ‘fuck America’ way, to be crystal clear, but in a totally generic ‘wow, big badda-BOOM!’ way.

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And I similarly vividly remember watching ID4 for the first time post-9/11. And it felt different. A lot less fun. Kind of a bummer, actually.

But, you know, historical artifact, innit? Like any seismic historical and cultural moment, there’s just a pre and post-9/11 divide in art, and you can’t judge one by the standard of the other.

Except then, there’s Cloverfield.

And it kind of explicitly plays with the imagery and atmosphere of that day. When the attacks first start, and all people can see is explosions, one of the voices at the party says ‘Is it another attack?’. The police evacuating people in the street, clearly well drilled in massive disaster response. The moment I talked about earlier, with the group hiding out in the store as the smoke and dust rolls past – that could almost be footage from the day.

Now, I’m pretty much a free speech absolutist, to be clear. This isn’t about what people should or shouldn’t be allowed to say or write or film. At the end of the day, the same rights that protect your right (hypothetically speaking) to be a racist fuckhole are the rights that protect me calling you out on your racist fuckhollery and telling others about it. That’s how it works, and, IMO, the only way it CAN work. Social change powers political change, not the other way around. So be the change you want to see in the world and all that.

So I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t make a piece of popcorn entertainment in 2008 that evokes the imagery of 9/11. Of course, you can. Equally, though, as Dr. Malcolm might say, it might be worth thinking about whether or not you should.

Not just because 9/11 was an event of global trauma, the repercussions of which are still shaping lives and getting people killed – though it is. But because… well, look – you can make a movie like World Trade Centre, which is a pretty straight telling of the events of the day. That’s one thing. But to take imagery and iconography from the day and chuck them into your, let’s face it, popcorn monster movie… well, it is, at least, a little uncomfortable, and at worst smacks of being tasteless, even exploitative.

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Again, to be clear, I’m not saying the movie shouldn’t have been made, or anything like that. And I can even sympathize with the filmmakers in some ways – with the found footage vibe, it’s all about verisimilitude, after all. And damn, now we’ve got real footage of what a demolished Manhattan skyline looks like at street level – how could you not use that information?  At the same time, as much as I like Cloverfield (and I do, a great deal) this aspect of the film always leaves me feeling a little queasy.

And you know what, that’s okay. It’s okay – healthy, even – to have ambiguous or conflicted reactions to art. It’s okay to like or even love a movie (or album, or book) even as it’s flawed make you sad, or angry, or uneasy. To climb back on the free speech soapbox one more time, that’s almost the point. Conversation, discussion, argument – that’s how we improve our understanding, refine our opinions, and yes, sometimes, learn something new that changes how we see the world or a facet of it.

Cloverfield is a very good movie, that for me edges on greatness (and in a technical sense, it is unambiguously great, I think). Far from flawless (aside from the above, the plot that drives the characters is as hack and obvious as it’s possible to be, and the actors, while solid, don’t quite manage to elevate that into something more), but the things it does well it does SO damn well that, especially first time through, it’s a total thrill ride of a movie, a classic popcorn rollercoaster.

And yeah, it’s a brilliant giant creature feature. Maybe even the best post-2000 one, what with the intelligent and expertly realized use of the found footage format and a brand new monster that looks like nothing you’ve ever seen before.

And if parts of it make me uncomfortable… well, how bad is that, in the final analysis?

After all, beats the shit out of being boring.

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Kit Power is no stranger to Machine Mean. He was reviewed for us both The Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and the forever classic Monster Mash Pinball Game. And participated during Fright Fest with a review on Parents. Mr. Power lives in the UK and writes fiction that lurks at the boundaries of the horror, fantasy, and thriller genres, trying to bum a smoke or hitch a ride from the unwary. In his secret alter ego of Kit Gonzo, he also performs as the frontman (and occasionally blogs) for death cult and popular beat combo The Disciples Of Gonzo. He is the published author of such works as,GodBomb!, Lifeline, and has contributed to numerous anthologies, including The Black Room Manuscripts, Widowmakers, and upcoming Easter Eggs and Bunny Boilers. You can read Kit’s review of Bride here.

You can get Breaking Point, Kit Power’s newest release, for $2.99 on Amazon!

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BREAKING POINT – THE LIFELINE TRILOGY

A Cyclist is knocked unconscious on his way home and wakes up in a nightmare…
A devoted husband begins to suspect all is not well with his marriage…
A desperate family man, running out of time and options, turns to an old schoolmate from the wrong side of the tracks – looking for work – any work…
A young man’s world is thrown into chaos as his father is abducted…
Four tales of people pushed to BREAKING POINT.

For ‘The Loving Husband’ – “Gripping, compelling and utterly nerve-wracking.” – DLS Reviews.

For ‘Lifeline’ – “More savage than Rottweiler on meths with its nads caught in barbed wire.” – zombiekebab, Amazon reviewer.

“One of the best novellas I’ve had the pleasure to read.” – Duncan Ralston – Author of Salvage.

“a sliver of sheer brutality and nastiness that is unbridled.” John Boden, author of DOMINOES.

“Power gets splatterpunk in a way that few do.” – Bracken MacLeod, author of Stranded and Mountain.

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Creature Features in Review: Nightbreed (1990)

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I’ve always had a soft spot for Nightbreed.

I think I responded mostly to what it was trying to accomplish, to make monsters into sympathetic characters and humans the villains, rather than what it lacked. Even as a kid, I knew there was something fundamentally flawed about it but I held firm to my love for Boone and the monsters of Midian and—maybe more so—to the coldblooded serial killer Dr. Decker. I’d often found myself fumbling to defend the movie I knew it could have been, not the film they’d given us.

Later interviews revealed Barker’s bickering with studio heads who had liked Hellraiser (or at least the money it made them) but felt audiences wouldn’t “get” a movie with monsters as the heroes. They thought it would be too confusing.

The finished film suffered greatly for their tampering. To Barker’s fans, the studio had entirely missed the point. Barker himself said of the theatrical cut, “The movie that was released in 1990 was not the movie I wanted to make philosophically or artistically.”

Still, Barker’s monsters shone through despite the deeply flawed theatrical cut. Barker has not only created some of the most iconic creatures in cinema history (Hellraiser‘s Cenobites, for example, or Candyman), but also the most complex. Barker’s script based on his own novel doesn’t paint these monsters as either wholly evil or tragic victims of an oppressive society. There are shades of gray here. You understand the “monsters” and even sympathize with them.

The first citizens Boone meets in Midian (“where the monsters live,” according to several characters) are Peloquin and Kinski. Peloquin merely sees the human interloper as “meat for the beast,” but his friend reminds him of Midian’s laws.

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In essence, Midian is a fully functioning society of “monsters” with all the flaws, culture, history and beliefs of any civilization—the only real difference is they must live out of sight for fear of human judgment and terrorism. Because of how they look. Because of how they live. And it’s not an irrational fear, as events prove in the latter half of the film.

Visionary director Alejandro Jodorowsky called Nightbreed “the first truly gay horror fantasy epic.” There are people who want the monsters of Midian hunted down and exterminated. Think about that. This movie was made and released during the tail end of America’s AIDS epidemic when many people erroneously believed it could be passed along simply by touching someone, and some still considered it a “gay disease.” Magic Johnson had yet to reveal his diagnosis, which some saw as a turning point in the AIDS scare, putting a human face (a very famous human face) on the tragedy.

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I can’t say whether or not Barker had this subtext in mind while making the film or if Jodorowsky was reaching, but it does add an interesting layer that makes Nightbreed transcend its flaws and the trappings of the “Creature Feature” subgenre. Another intended philosophy, that humans are the true monsters. Another that our fascination with monsters leads some to wish to be monsters and live among them. Barker spoke about this in a 2014 interview: “Why would you not want to change into an animal? Why would you not want to fly? Why would you not want to live forever? These are the things that monsters do.”

This adds layers to the Creature Feature aspect of the movie not found in many others. In addition to the “normal” monsters, we have Boone (do I need to say “spoilers”?) who is psychic-driven by his psychiatrist, played wonderfully icily by David Cronenberg, into believing he’s a serial killer. When he hides out in Midian he is bitten and transforms into the monster he thinks he is.

We have a man Boone meets in the hospital who so eager to become a monster that his cuts off pieces of his own face to join them in Midian. He seems to be accepted into their group without question, and later we see several more humanlike “monsters” below the cemetery where Midian lies.

We have the most heinous monster of them all Cronenberg’s psychiatrist, who kills families under the guise of his “buttonface” mask.

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We see glimpses of Midian’s citizens through the eyes of Boone’s partner Lori as she travels the underground city in search of Boone. Small lizard-like creatures feast on carrion. A sabre-toothed woman drums out a beat on a wall for some unknown reason. Monsters wash the penile humanoid head of a lumpy creature whose body resembles the Kool-Aid Man. A bulbous, greasy Jacob Marley lookalike limps around on a cane scaring people for fun. Another monster feeds his own blood to a jar of live eels. (The music that plays under this scene is phenomenal by the way, quintessential Danny Elfman. Watch the scene here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-T11WcS64_M.)

Later we encounter their religious leader Dirk Lylesberg, played by Doug Bradley (Hellraiser‘s Pinhead). They even have their own god, Baphomet: a giant living statue far below the earth.

Other monsters have been imprisoned in the bowels of Midian, called the “Berserkers.” These slimy behemoths with football player padding are never explained. They could be criminals or protectors or both. Whichever they are they are let out to charge the intruders, easily overpowering them.

Title: NIGHTBREED ¥ Year: 1990 ¥ Dir: BARKER, CLIVE ¥ Ref: NIG096AO ¥ Credit: [ 20TH CENTURY FOX/MORGAN CREEK / THE KOBAL COLLECTION ]

In its creature creation, Nightbreed is difficult to top. The sheer amount of thought put into this world and its inhabitants are a creature designer’s wet dream. Lori’s descent into Midian in particular calls to mind the cantina scene in Star Wars: A New Hope, one of the most iconic establishing scenes in movie history.

Nightbreed definitely has its flaws (the Director’s Cut fixed most of them while adding others), but as a Creature Feature, I’d list it among my favorites.

Bonus Review of Nightbreed: Director’s Cut for interested parties.

If you’re thinking of diving into Nightbreed for the first time I would suggest checking out the Director’s Cut instead. Critics pointed to the uneven direction and lack of characterization to the 1990 release. Little did they know 40 minutes of Barker’s original film had been cut. Until very recently it was thought this footage was lost.

The story of how Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut came to be started in 2008 when Mark Miller, co-head of Barker’s production company Seraphim Films, began to hunt down the extra footage. It was clear from the get-go the heads at Morgan Creek weren’t eager to help. When they finally relented Miller was left with a box full of VHS tapes. All the film they’d shot, according to Morgan Creek bigwigs, had vanished.

But the Monsters of Midian have a cult following. After a lucky group of fans saw the extra footage at something called the “Mad Monster Party” in 2010, the “Occupy Midian” campaign was born. That was the last I’d heard of it from Clive Barker’s Lost Souls website, aside from the occasional brief this-is-what-you’re-missing review from someone who’d seen the cut with the VHS footage inserted.

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Then in 2012 Morgan Creek officials miraculously “found” the originally filmed footage after seeing the potential audience (ie. dollar signs). From there, Shout! Factory put together the Blu-ray and DVD version with new interviews and featurettes and released it in 2014.

Fans asked for it and we got it.

I bought the Blu-ray on the day of release and popped it in the PS3 as soon as it arrived. For the most part, the additions work. It’s definitely closer thematically to what Clive Barker—and all of us diehard Cabal fans—had envisioned. There’s no doubt the monsters are the good guys here and there’s a massive amount of sympathy generated for them throughout, despite the few “lawbreakers” like Peloquin who just wants to eat the “Naturals” (humans).

The main villain as in the original cut is Dr. Decker (aka Button Face). He’s a maniac on par with some of the best, though he gets precious little screen time. I’d love to see a prequel movie about him and his murders, his adoption of the mask—which is pretty goddamned creepy—and if he’d blamed any of his previous murders on other patients, attempting to “psychic drive” them into taking the blame as he does to Boone. It doesn’t feel as though his part was beefed up at all from the Theatrical cut but it doesn’t feel like they’ve cut anything from his storyline.

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Many of the additions focus on the relationship between Boone and Lori; some work and some don’t. The scene where Dr. Decker has drugged Boone and Boone is hallucinating in his apartment, watching himself from outside his body having sex with Lori (who for some reason wears white lingerie, likely to symbolize her purity or “Natural”-ness), works much better in the original cut. In that cut, he takes the pills and suddenly he’s tripping balls, walking down the highway. We’ve seen all we need to. What they’ve added here doesn’t work, does nothing for the story and harms the film’s pace, front-loading it.

This sequence also features Lori singing to a sold-out crowd in a country bar. The song is “Johnny Get Angry,” whose lyrics suggest she wants a “real man,” but also that Boone could very well be a little abusive. The song itself works fine and has a very ‘90s feel, reminding me of those scenes in Twin Peaks with Julee Cruise—but it’s overlong. They play the entire song. During it, Boone, still tripping, wanders in and becomes confused and frightened. He stumbles off and that’s when we rejoin the theatrical cut where he’s about to be hit by a truck. I think it works well to establish Lori as a character, but it could have been pared down.

MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD:

The biggest changes are in the big final battle which is more of a bloodbath than anything since the Nightbreed barely get any shots in. This is The ATF Storms the Koresh Compound times a thousand. The police here act like paramilitary, lock-and-loading a plethora of automatic weapons (a Twitter friend remarked on the inordinate amount of guns in Canada since it’s meant to take place in Alberta). The scene in which the cops beat Ohnaka to death, a little man with his little dog, seems just about as traumatizing as in the original film.

Shot in slow motion this Rodney King-style beating during which the victim, dragged out into the sun and beaten, turns to dust, sets the stage for the slaughter to follow.

As Midian explodes it actually seems like a BIG thing, unlike in the theatrical cut where it felt and sounded like a Hollywood soundstage. We hear babies screaming, mothers crying. The earth cracks underfoot with huge, Surround Sound rumbles. By the time Boone finally unleashes the Berserkers we’re rooting for them to take out the human invaders—and they do, in classic monster-rampage style. Another good addition adds clarity to the scene where Boone inherits the spirit of Baphomet, the Nightbreed’s version of God, and becomes the living god “Cabal.”

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In the end, when Lori asks Boone to bite him so she can become Nightbreed and stay with Boone, the decision makes much more sense as their relationship is solidly established. Boone refuses, still the good guy even now he’s a full-on monster, and in her desperation Lori stabs herself, forcing him to bite her so she’ll live forever. Hidden in a barn, the surviving Nightbreed speak of Boone/Cabal returning “on the next wind.”  “Johnny Get Angry” plays us out into the credits.

If you’re a fan of the original cut you owe it to yourself to watch Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut. If you’re a horror fan who’s never seen it it’s worth a look. This is the movie that inspired Wes Craven’s The People Under the Stairs, and in my opinion, it’s a far better film. For creature fans, the Director’s Cut has many more monsters to satisfy your deviant pleasure. All in all, the new cut is a more cohesive story with a lot more focus on Boone and Lori’s relationship and much more sympathy for the Nightbreed themselves.

If it had been released this way originally, it might have spawned its planned sequel instead of just a cult following, a comic series, and a terrible video game.

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Duncan Ralston was born in Toronto and spent his teens in small-town Canada. As a “grown up,” Duncan lives with his partner and their dog in Toronto, where he writes dark fiction about the things that disturb him. In addition to his twisted short stories found in GRISTLE & BONE, the anthologies EASTER EGGS & BUNNY BOILERS, WHAT GOES AROUND, DEATH BY CHOCOLATE, FLASH FEAR, and the charity anthologies BURGER VAN, BAH! HUMBUG!, VS: US vs UK HORROR, and THE BLACK ROOM MANUSCRIPTS Vol. 1, he is the author of the novels SALVAGE, EVERY PART OF THE ANIMAL, and WOOM, an extreme horror Black Cover book from Matt Shaw Publications.

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How far would you go for revenge? When a six-year-old girl is abused and left for dead by a pedophile known only as the “Rabbit Man” due to the claw marks left on her body, police follow every lead but reach only dead ends.Hungry for justice, her grieving father abandons wife and child on a harrowing journey deep undercover into Miami’s sex offender colony under the Julia Tuttle Causeway. His purpose is simple: to find the “Rabbit Man” among them, and put him in the ground. Months later, with no one to trust and the pedophiles he lives among growing suspicious of his actions, he learns nothing is simple where the monsters live.

Get YOUR copy of WHERE THE MONSTERS LIVE on Amazon for $1.39!!!

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Creature Features in Review: Frogs (1972)

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In an era known for lurid movie posters, the marketing plan for 1972’s eco-horror film, Frogs, stood out from the rest. Posters presented man-eating reptiles, showing a picture of a human hand hanging from a giant frog’s mouth. Pulpy text promised “slithering, slimy horror,” hellbent on devouring everything in its way, cutting a furious swath of reptilian destruction. Nature’s revenge against pollution, a cold-blooded stand against the wanton use of pesticides, the animals finally taking their rightful place upon the earth. Glory, glory, hallelujah!

As is often the case, promises are made to be broken. This is not to say that Frogs is a terrible movie. It isn’t. The replay value of this movie is practically immeasurable. But audiences looking for blood and gore, sinews being snapped by angry teeth, are going to be disappointed. What those who watch this film are presented with is more like people dying in the presence of assorted reptiles and amphibians.

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The reason for this so-called reptile rebellion is plainly laid out. It is the Fourth of July, and the family of Jason Crockett (the venerable Ray Milland) has gathered at the family plantation for the holiday. Photojournalist Pickett Smith (a mustache-free Sam Elliott) is injected into the situation when his canoe is toppled by Jason’s jackass son, Clint (the late Adam Roarke), who is hot-dogging in his speedboat. Smith is brought back to the house for dry clothes and is invited to spend the weekend.

Smith is investigating the disappearance of wildlife in the area, and quickly deduces the cause as the ridiculous amount of pesticides Crockett uses to keep his property bug-free. This is a place delightfully ignorant of the many uses of citronella. However, it does play into the headlines of the early Seventies, where chemicals like DDT and Agent Orange caused terrible damage to the environment worldwide. It was a time of mutations and increased birth defects. It was obvious we were destroying the planet, and filmmakers latched onto that, creating worst case scenarios, science fiction mixed with social commentary and, if one was lucky, a little bit of T&A.

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Frogs does offer a boisterous, scene-chewing performance by Milland. Bound by both a wheelchair and the strongly held convictions of the Old South, he barks orders to his family like a drill sergeant, demanding punctuality and subservience with every breath. This rigid structure is shown to us through the eyes of Elliott’s character, the stranger in town, rolling in like John the Baptist from the desert, extolling the virtues of ecology and bucking against the confines of the patriarchy. He is the voice of reason in this film, his message falling on deaf ears.

But it is the promise of animal attacks that lures us to this movie, and apart from a crocodile attack, actual critter-on-human violence is non-existent. We get a woman who wanders into a swamp, gets some leeches on her and falls down in front of a rattlesnake. The snake bites her and kills her, but is this really strange behavior? Snakes are going to behave like snakes. A man dies in a greenhouse when lizards knock over jars containing toxic chemicals, which combine to make breathable poison. However, even in these examples, none of the animal behavior seems particularly malevolent. It all seems accidental, casualties by causality, without any malice aforethought.

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That’s partially what makes Frogs so entertaining. There are frogs in the movie, even some abnormally large toads, but they simply do what frogs and toads do. They hop. They croak. They look slimy and weird. This makes Frogs less a movie about nature taking revenge on humanity and more of our fear of nature. It’s about how we’ve become comfortable in our homes, our cities, our conclaves. The sight of animals in what we conceive of as our natural habitat feels like an invasion. It knocks us off balance. We see a spider in the shower and that son of a bitch must die. A bee flies into our car while we’re driving, and lose control, veering back and forth until we can safely pull over and let the accursed beast out. We are imposed upon, the unclean thing daring to enter our sanctuaries and touch us.

That’s some heavy exposition for a drive-in programmer, but the movies that endure, even B-movies like Frogs, always have layers of thought and meaning beneath the exploitative surface. Certainly, Frogs can be enjoyed on that top level, where it’s all snakes and toads and wouldn’t it be gross to have tarantulas on your face. But there’s more here, and this little movie is a solid reminder of how far removed we are from the world around us, the world under and around the edifices we have constructed. There be no shelter here, and there is no safety.

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Frogs is available on glorious Blu-Ray from Scream Factory as a double feature with Food of the Gods, creating a dandy eco-horror double feature. Seek it out.

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Jeffery X. Martin is the published author of several stories that are sure to shock, including those in the Elders Keep universe. He also published a fantastic tale in The Black Room Manuscripts. You can find his work, including his latest novel, Hunting Witches, on Amazon’s blood-soaked altar. When Mr. X is not writing creepy mind-benders, he’s the host and/or contributor to several podcasts and review sites, including but not limited to, Popshifter, Kiss the Goat, and the Cinema Beef Podcast. He is a frequent contributor to Machine Mean, reviewing for us The Wolf Man (1941), The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944), Revenge of the Creature (1955), and Squirm (1976).

You can pick up Hunting Witches on Amazon for $4.99!!

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Creature Features in Review: Jeepers Creepers (2001)

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Maybe I’m a bumbling fool to have forgotten to post this most excellent addition to Creature Features in Review…or perhaps a certain kind of mad genius. For those State-side and for those abroad, our neighbors to the north and our neighbors to the south, from the Atlantic to the Pacific (and it’s not all that terrific), the world awaits the inauguration of our (America’s) 45th President. Controversy. Disunity. Anger. Resentment. Strife. Uncertainly. It all feels at the moment to seep from the fabric of our country. That hidden fear of the unknown, the same fear H. P. Lovecraft spoke of in his many works, has captured, or should I say strangling, our attentions. This same mood thrives in the electrical grid of most Creature Features, especially Jeepers Creepers. There may be some criticisms and creepiness surrounding the infamous director Victor Salva, but separating the art from the artist, Jeepers Creepers (for me) is a perfect example of a modern American gothic tale. You can literally watch this movie in black and white and still enjoy it, probably more so. The moral compass of puritanism and rational versus irrational is present throughout the entire film. And it’s one of Justin Long’s best performances. Here to help us navigate these precarious times and this very precarious movie is our esteemed guest writer, Chad Clark.

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By: Chad Clark

When Jeepers Creepers came out in 2001, the cinematic horror landscape seemed to be in an interesting place, and not all of it was necessarily good. My memories of this time period were of mainly reboots and PG-13 horror films. Other than Final Destination, there seemed to no longer be such a thing as horror franchises anymore and even in the case of FD, there had only been one installment. So it was within this environment that I was generally suspicious of Jeepers Creepers. The way it was marketed and the vibe I got from it was that this was just another glossy, hollow interpretation of what made horror movies great. I remember seeing ads for this while it was in the theaters but I wasn’t sold and gave it a pass.

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Spoiler alert: that was a mistake.

I finally took the plunge with Jeepers Creepers, via the newly created online rental company at the time, Netflix. There wasn’t any streaming, only waiting for the physical DVD’s to arrive in the bright red celebratory envelopes. I was skeptical but to be honest, the first half hour or so of the film is one of the best openings I have ever seen. It starts out so innocently with a brother and sister leaving for the long drive home from school. Before they can get there, the movie takes a turn for the dark side and they quickly find themselves the target of a powerful creature that they don’t fully understand.

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The monster in Jeepers Creepers is fantastic and it seemed like they took a lesson from Jaws in that we don’t see it in its full glory until late in the film. What is great though is that even seeing quick flashes of it early on, it’s still scary as hell. I love the image the brother and sister arguing and then the brother (Justin Long) sees this thing dumping what looks like human bodies down a huge pipe in the yard of an old church. By all appearances, it’s just a tall guy wearing an overcoat and a large, wide-brimmed hat, but the design of that costume is incredibly creepy and evocative.

The pacing of the movie is very well done as the monster proceeds to chase the two of them across a rural landscape. Along the way, they get some bits and pieces of information that may give them some insight into the thing and how powerful it is. But mostly, I think we just gradually figure out how screwed they really are. I can tell you this, before seeing this movie, I would have never guessed that the song, Jeepers Creepers would ever feel foreboding. That said, they managed to accomplish that very thing, to the point that I can’t help but think of the film whenever I hear that song.

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The movie also has some pretty good acting, something that is occasionally glossed over in the horror franchise as being less important. The cast of actors was pretty much unknown at the time but I thought they all managed to fit in together pretty well. This was especially true with the main players, in that they managed to create two characters that I genuinely cared about and rooted for.  It’s a cliché, but I felt like I was on the edge of my seat for these two all throughout the movie, all the way up to the ending, which was brutal and brilliant. I don’t want to give anything away but the movie ends with a slow zoom out to a point and a perspective that left me with my jaw hanging open. It really was that good.

I’m not normally a viewer who pays a lot of attention to things like costume and makeup but I thought they did a phenomenal job making the monster authentic and scary. In a world that was increasingly becoming about CGI, this was a monster that felt physically present and the makeup department did a great job bringing a feeling of grittiness and gore to the monster.

In short, if you are looking for a great example of the modern monster movie, I would definitely start with this one. Jeepers Creepers is a fun film that gives you all the visceral escapism that great horror movies should provide. I can’t recommend it enough.

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There is an elephant in the room here, namely that of Victor Salva. He was the director of Jeepers Creepers.  Salva was convicted early on in his career for child molestation. I am not going to go into the specifics of his crime. If you are already aware of it, I don’t want to take column inches rehashing common ground. And if you happen to be unaware of what he did, Google can get you there in less than a minute.

The reason why I bring it up is because it has been commonly argued that Salva’s movies should be boycotted. And I want to make sure one thing is clear before I go on to state my position on this. I think that what Salva did was despicable. In no way would I ever want to imply support for or endorse that kind of behavior. I want to make sure that is absolutely clear before I move on. I also believe that he should have received a harsher punishment. The sentence passed down by the court was laughable and that doesn’t even take into consideration that he didn’t serve the full sentence that he was given. I think that a reasonable case could be made for not allowing him to work in movies, mostly due to the fact that he used his power and position as a film director in order to do the things he did.

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All that said, he was convicted in a court of law and he served the sentence that was passed down to him by our judicial system. I don’t think that this was right. I don’t think it was justice. And I absolutely support the victim and everything he does to try and make himself healthy again.

Still, I cannot bring myself to support the notion of a boycott, and my reasoning is as follows.

If there was a way to financially hurt Salva and only him, I think that would be one matter. But the fact is that when you were talking about a big budget Hollywood film, we aren’t talking about just Victor Salva anymore. There are literally hundreds of people employed in the process of developing and releasing a feature-length film. Obviously, there are the actors but also all the individual departments that are responsible for the physical look of the film as well as the process of filming. You have the people who spend countless hours with the actors in their studios applying makeup and costumes. There are the people who take the time to set up and dress the sets, keeping things in motion as production moves along. There are the musicians who develop a score for the film, one of the most important parts and record all of that music. Even the caterers who provide food and the marketing firms who promote the movies. There are a lot of people here.

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I have always thought that directors got a little too much credit for what ends up on the screen. They function as an organizing force with a global perspective, but there are a lot of different people who work hard at the ground level to make that finished product. The director is responsible for the totality of the thing but it is rarely their hands actually on the product, crafting it. So if I felt like a boycott would be destructive to Salva and only Salva, I might be more inclined to go along. But because of the countless other people who worked their butts off in order to create this film, I can’t support it.

Jeepers Creepers is a brilliant film, and my compliments go to all the cast and crew that dedicated themselves to the creation of it.

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Chad Clark is a frequent flyer here on Machine Mean. He has reviewed for us before with commentary on House of Dracula (1945) and House of 1000 Corpses. Mr. Clark is a midwestern author of horror and science fiction. His artistic roots can be traced back to the golden era of horror literature, Stephen King, and Robert McCammon being large influences. His love for horror began as well in the classic horror franchises of the eighties. He resides in Iowa with his wife and two sons. Clark’s debut novel, Borrowed Time, was published in 2014. His second novel, A Shade for Every Season was released in 2015, and in 2016 Clark published Behind Our Walls, a dark look at the human condition set in a post-apocalyptic world. His latest book, Down the Beaten Path, released in September 2016. You can keep up with all of Mr. Clark’s works by following him on Amazon here.

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John Carpenter Lives

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Among the horror community, there are certain names that can go unnoticed. New directors and cult indies that simply do not get enough limelight. And there are others in which one ought to know regularly. If there was a quiz, you should know the names of Wes Craven, David Cronenberg, George A. Romero, Alfred Hitchcock, James Whale, Guillermo del Toro, Sam Raimi, and Tobe Hooper as the most easily recognizable of horror directors. Wes Craven gave us (among so much more) Freddy Krueger. Cronenberg gave us Videodrome (among his other visceral work). Romero created an entirely new monster subgenre, zombies. Hitchcock paved the way for most of everyone on this list, starting, I think, with Shadow of a Doubt (1943), but most people probably know him best for Psycho. James Whale, another original pavemaker, gave us Frankenstein. del Toro brought horror into the depths of imagination. Sam Raimi locked us away in the cabin in The Evil Dead. And Tobe Hooper chased us into the sunset with a chainsaw. All these names of known for certain achievements. And in all transparency, even while you’re reading this article, there are probably differing movies you remember or associate with each director best. One director, obviously unnamed in my little list here, if we dug deeper in the cesspool of horror fandom, we’d probably wallow in some pretty nasty disagreement on which of his movies he is best known for. Personally, as a fan of his work, our still yet unnamed director (can you guess?), I’d be amiss not to do a “favorites list” on this the day of his birth. To keep things not too lengthy, this will be limited to my top five favorites (which will NOT be easy) ending on THE movie I think he is best known by. So, hold on to your butts, from least to best, the following are my five favorite movies by none other than John Carpenter.

5. The Fog (1980)

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If we’re talking personal favorites, The Fog would certainly go to the top of the pile. But if we’re talking which of Carpenter’s movies he is best known for, well…I have my doubts, even within the horror community, of those who associate Carpenter with The Fog. For starters, The Fog isn’t as over-the-top as some of his later projects. It is simple. Banal. And contained. Yet, in that simplicity, there is a wonderfully fantastic film built on classic gothic themes. A weather-beaten old fisherman tells an ancient tale of betrayal and death to fascinated children as they huddle together by their campfire. An eerie fog envelops Antonio Bay, and from the mist emerge dripping demonic phantoms of a century old shipwreck…seeking revenge. 

4. Escape From New York (1981)

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Now we’re getting into the nitty-gritty. However, much like The Fog, I’m unconvinced how well known Escape from New York is a John Carpenter flick. I think most would be able to tell you Kurt Russell is in it, but other than that…? Regardless, Escape From New York is definitely on my top five list for Carpenter pictures. Here, Carpenter introduces us to some rather complex characters without having to spend too much time on them. Instead, Carpenter focuses on the action as he bravely takes us into the future,  a not so far fetched future where crime is out of control and New York City is converted into a maximum security prison. When the President’s plane crashes in old Gotham, the powers that be recruit tough as nails Snake Plissken, a one-eyed former war hero now turned outlaw, into bringing the President, and his cargo (nuke codes), out of this land of confusion.

3. Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

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Without a doubt, not only do moviegoers in the horror community know and can easily associate Big Trouble in Little China with John Carpenter, but so can those who do not frequent horror movies, and that’s mostly because Big Trouble in Little China is not technically a horror movie. I think it could be labeled mostly as sci-fi fantasy and comedy action. And as ole Jack Burton says, this flick is one of the most quotable of all of Carpenter’s work. The film is an unexpected classic following a tough-talking, wisecracking truck driver named Jack Burton whose life on the road takes a sudden supernatural tailspin when his friend’s fiancee is kidnapped. Speeding to the rescue, Jack finds himself deep beneath San Francisco’s Chinatown, in a murky, creature-filled world ruled by Lo Pan, a 2000-year-old magician who mercilessly presides over an empire of spirits. Dodging demons and facing baffling terrors, Jack battles his way through Lo Pan’s dark domain in a full-throttle, action-riddled ride to rescue the girl.

2. Halloween (1978)

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His one movie that sparked a franchise, I’d be really shocked to discover anyone who didn’t know this flick was one of John Carpenter’s. And I swear to all that is holy, if I ever asked someone, “Hey, have you seen Halloween?” And they told me, “Oh, you mean that Rob Zombie movie?” I’d slap them silly. Halloween is a classic to be sure. The score alone is probably more recognizable than the directorial name. And a movie that typically makes it onto everyone’s Halloween holiday movie lineups, a movie that started on a cold Halloween night in 1963 when six year old Michael Myers brutally murdered his 17-year-old sister, Judith. He was sentenced and locked away for 15 years. But on October 30, 1978, during the night before being transferred for a court hearing, a now 21-year-old Michael Myers steals a car and escapes Smith’s Grove. He returns home to his quiet hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois, where he searches for his sister. 

1. The Thing (1982)

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Was there really any surprise The Thing is my number one pick here? Yes, there could be some debate on whether The Thing is an easily associated film of Carpenter’s. And there are two sides to this coin. While I do admit, I have some serious doubts people outside of horror fandom would even recognize the movie title let alone the director, but within the horror fandom world, The Thing has become an inescapable cult classic of behemoth proportions. I do not think I’ve seen another movie that has gardened such a fanbase as The Thing. And for good reason, too. The Thing, besides The Fog, has one of the most simple sets imaginable, the kicker really being how isolated the characters are and how audiences can feel that itch of madness, being cooped up too long, stir crazy, etc. etc. The paranoia drips from the screen. And much like Escape from New York, we’re given rich complex characters without the need of some unnecessary backstory for any of them, even Kurt Russel’s characters MacReady is really only known by his actions. Nearly 35 years later, the practical effects in this movie are still considered high quality. If that doesn’t say something, I don’t know what will. The story is grounded and easy to follow. After the destruction of a Norwegian chopper that buzzes their base, the members of the US team fly to the Norwegian base hoping to find survivors, only to discover them all dead or missing. What they do find among the carnage are the remains of a strange creature burned and haphazardly buried in the ice. The Americans take their find back to their base and deduce that it is not human, not entirely, but an alien life form. Soon, it becomes apparent that the alien lifeform is not dead, and to make matters worse, it can take over and assimilate other life forms, including humans, spreading much like a virus does. Anyone at the base could be inhabited by the Thing, tensions soon escalate.

0. They Live (1988)

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I’d be amiss not to include at least one honorable mention. Originally, I really wanted to include Carpenter’s They Live, starring late great Roddy Piper, on this list of top films. Call me lazy, but I didn’t want to spend all morning writing about which of Carpenter’s movies are the best or most recognizable as being his, I’d be here all day if I did that. I gave myself a five movie limit and stuck with it. That said, I think They Live, at least within the horror community, is a really recognizable Carpenter flick, and probably one of his most (sadly) relevant films to date. The action is def. cheesy, and the concept is bizarre, but the message is a real punch to the gut, one that I’m sure many a film student as spent dissecting and discussing.

Did you like what you read here? Consider joining our mailing list and stay up to date on new releases, hot deals, and new articles here on the blog. The above list are my picks for Carpenter flicks, but I want to know what are some of yours? Comment below with your number one or give pick of John Carpenter’s most recognizable movie. Thanks for reading, and as always, do not forget to live, laugh, and scream!

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Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. He is published with The Sinister Horror Company’s horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. His debut novel, Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein and Apocalypse Meow. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, both Dwelling and Emerging and Conceiving (coming soon), are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a BA in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he does author interviews and reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can keep up with Thomas and all his strange books by joining his author newsletter, at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.

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Creature Features in Review: Godzilla (1954)

 

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Godzilla is one of the best examples of how science fiction and horror can relate certain fears within society and that they (the movies) are not just kids movies or nonsensical. I mean, sure, there are plenty of nonsensical movies out there, especially within the genre of horror and science fiction, but if I could be so brash as to say that a majority actually do serve a purpose. Storytelling has always been our way of relating concern or passing on wisdom, teaching the new generation our fears and our struggles and what threats, missteps, whatever, to look out for. Watching the original televised trailer for Godzilla (1954), it definitely begs the question of what Godzilla really symbolizes. The very first screenshot shows audiences a “once peaceful city of Tokyo, now laid in ruins…,” but given the historical context, I had to ask myself just what city was I really looking at, a fictional Tokyo, or a literal Hiroshima or maybe a literal Nagasaki? What is it that Japan seems to be afraid of? Thankfully, our guest author is here to help explain some of these things in his review. Please welcome, Kurt Thingvold.

Two notable things stand out in World War II: the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the attacks on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Why should they stand out? Easy, they were the beginning and the end point in our conflict with the Japanese. Both conflicts ended in multiple deaths, a beginning, and an end to the horrors of war. Millions dead—countries in shambles. America recovered, Japan recovered, but not before having to surrender their military forces in order to prevent Japan from re-arming and starting another war. This marked the end of World War II, the world remained in peace.

When Japan surrendered their forces it made the country feel weak and they feared invasion, while the invasion would never come—the fear remained—only in the last twenty years, or so have the Japanese fought to regain a glimmer of military presence. A second horror remained in the eyes of the Japanese people.  Two Atomic bombs had obliterated their fellow countrymen and woman.  The horrors of the war had never escaped the small country. Even through the decade following the war—the fear of nuclear weapons haunted their dreams—who was to defend their country, now, that a small defense force was in charge of keeping the invaders out, what if, they had to deal with a situation that had never become the small country?

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In the1950’s, a Japanese film company wanted to make a film about the horrors of war— the original idea never came to fruition (based on the invasion of Indonesia, the Japanese refused visas).  When producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was flying back to Japan after failed negotiations with the Indonesian government to shoot the film, he looked out at the ocean, and thought about a monster that comes from the sea and attacks the mainland! While the idea seemed to be a ludicrous idea, it would serve the film company well. The film company was known as Toho Studios.  The Film would come to be known as Gojira (Godzilla).

The movie starts out in the ocean, we see a boat,  the crew seems to be having a grand old time, singing, dancing and joking around, suddenly, a flash of lights, the boat begins to sink in a fiery mess, slowly, sinking below the ocean floor.  Shortly after the sinking, a second boat is sent to investigate, the same flashes are seen, and the second boat has a meeting with the ocean floor, with few survivors. A fishing boat from the nearby island is also destroyed, causing the residents of the nearby island to venture into Tokyo to seek aid and relief as the fishing near the island have plummeted down to near threatening levels. Once the locals arrive they describe a large creature destroying their villages, the Japanese concerned they decide to send renowned paleontologist Dr. Kyohei Yamane to investigate the islander’s claims.  Once he and his team arrive on the island– they discover the village in almost ruins—Dr.Yahmane discovers a giant footprint of the massive creature, with a trilobite embedded within the footprint, which turns out to be radioactive. The village bell rings out and the creature finally reveals itself—the villagers dub it Gojira (Godzilla). After this horrifying discovery Yamane returns back to Japan and presents his findings that “Gojira” is a remnant of dinosaurs slumbering beneath the waves and the testing of atomic bombs have disturbed his sleep.  The Japanese government responds by sending a fleet of ships to deploy bombs and try to destroy Godzilla. Which, causes the creature to rise and head towards the mainland.

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Dr. Yamane’s daughter Emiko, who is engaged to a colleague. Dr. Serizawa, she does not love the man as she loves a young trawler operator Hideto Ogata, a young reporter arrives to interview Serizawa and he refuses.  He does show Emiko, a secret project he is working on. In which, the air is removed from the water, causing fish and sea life to disintegrate.  This Horrifies Emiko.  “Gojira” begins to attacks the mainland, after a few short minutes the attack is over and he returns to the ocean.  After the attack, the government consults with the Japanese Self-Defense Force (JDSF) to build a 100 ft. electrical tower to kill the creature. Dr. Yamane is distraught that they plan to kill the creature rather than studying it. Emiko and Ogata are waiting for her father, so they may have permission to wed. Ogata and Dr. Yamane, engage in a fierce vocal battle about the fate of the creature and Yamane orders Ogata to leave.  “Gojira” Emerges again in Tokyo bay and attacks the city a second time.  Ripping through the trap the JDSF had set, breathing his radioactive, melting the steel like wax. Godzilla continues his rampage destroying and killing thousands of citizens. After, the attack, we are introduced to the horrors of the previous night. The dead and wounded overcrowd the hospitals. Emiko runs to Ogata and tells him of Serizawa’s weapon the “Oxygen Destroyer” Both go to Serizawa and plead with him to use the Oxygen Destroyer on Godzilla and stop him once and for all. Serizawa hesitant to use the weapon, he decides to use the weapon, but not before destroying the documents.  Ogata and Serizawa travel to where Godzilla was last spotted, both of them dive to the bottom of the ocean. Once they spot Godzilla, Serizawa plants the bomb, he motions for Ogata to surface. Serizawa cutting his own oxygen supply detonates the bomb. Destroying Godzilla and the secrets to the weapon with him.

We catch a glimpse of Godzilla rising from the ocean as he melts away.  We are left with a quote from Yamane, as they mourn for their friend, Serizawa.

“I can’t believe that Godzilla was the only surviving member of its species… But if we continue conducting nuclear tests, it’s possible that another Godzilla might appear somewhere in the world again.”

While the plot may seem silly, it portrays its dark tones rather well—Godzilla being an allegory for nuclear threat/invasion, the characters interact with the creature with either horror or admiration. And a key scene that plays into this is where Yamane is describing the creature and its possible origins, and why it is so intent on destroying Tokyo. While, other players in that scene want it destroyed with no question. We see people struggling in awe on how to deal with a threat that seems new, but now have to deal with it at half their normal strength. Another scene that shows a real struggle and emulates of the idea that something of this magnitude (using nuclear technology) is where Emiko tells her father she plans to marry Ogata, and he agrees that Godzilla should be destroyed.  These two scenes show a man struggling to convince others that what he wants is for the best. Knowing the power of what has occurred and what could occur. A nuclear attack was still a possibility in the 1950’s—not by intention, of course. Americans were still close enough to the country to accidentally cause more damage, an incident did occur, The Lucky Dragon No.7 was close enough to Bikini Atoll during a test to receive fallout from the explosion, causing major concern for the Japanese. (The first boat attacked in the movie was based on Lucky Dragon No.7). Another scene, which, we should play close attention to is when Godzilla first starts attacking Tokyo, setting the buildings on fire, destroying everything in his path. The JDSF is useless in stopping him. This plays homage to the attacks on Nagasaki and Hiroshima; there is even a brief mention of the attacks. A mother holder her children and trying to comfort them tells them in sobbing words. “We will be with father soon.” Indicating he was one of the victims of the bomb. Godzilla is a powerful force that relentlessly attacks the people of Japan, and themselves feel useless in stopping him.

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Two years after the first film was made—an Americanized version of the starring Raymond Burr was released. While this version of the film feels is not as dark as the Japanese version. It still shows the horror of the Atomic bombs through the view of an American reporter, while the plot is the same, this version is still rated highly. The American version is a great companion, for a different view of the film. Just two years ago, we released another American Godzilla film, dealing with a different nuclear threat, plants going into meltdowns—this version also plays into the social effect of how we as people are ignorant to the dilemmas and threats that happen across our globe on a single day.

The music also emulated the themes of the film. Heroic and dingy sounds to expand the scenes, and draw you into the moment. While most of the music is accompanied by the monster’s roar, and footsteps it has the rare ability to summon the emotions and fears of the viewer. (Akira Ifukube went on composing for the series up until the mid-90’s).  The scores themselves are memorable and are a joy to listen to on their own.

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Godzilla is a movie everyone should see, regardless if you’re a historian or film buff.  The movie portrays a lot of themes dealing with the atomic age and war, in general. While Godzilla has spawned off from the original message and horror of the first film, it still portrays a message of anti-nuclear weapons.  During the sixties and seventies, the Godzilla films took over as a protector of people.  All Godzilla films portray a message whether it’s from one of the sillier movies, or the dark depressing atmosphere of the first: We need to find a way to protect ourselves, we need to take a look at what we do on a daily basis and think about how it is going to affect ourselves, or the land and people around us. Overall, Godzilla may have changed over the last sixty years, but the message itself still remains the same.

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Kurt Thingvold, no stranger to Machine Mean, was born and raised in IL. He finds passion in writing, that helps calm his demons. He grew up in a tough household that encouraged reading and studying. He spends his time writing in multiple of genres. His published short story, Roulette, can be found on Amazon. When not writing he can be found playing games, reading, or attempting to slay the beast known as “Customer Service”, which, he fails at almost every day. As mentioned, Kurt is a frequent flyer here on Machine Mean, you can also check out his previous review on Ridley Scott’s legacy movie Alien here.

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Interview w/ Leza Cantoral

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One of the wonderful things about writing dark fiction and horror is the many subgenres one can find themselves. So many avenues to explore. Pockets of strange ungodly things. Cosmic horrors and mutant creatures. Fantastic beasts of myth come alive. Haunted furniture and murderous toys. Not forgetting, of course, the most horrifying of all horror tropes and subgenres, the capacity of human indignity. Evil men and women bound to do insidious works. Where do writers come up with their ideas? Where do stories come from? These are two separate questions. Fundamentally, stories come from the same place they always have, that deepest part of ourselves that, though afraid, dares to look out into the unseen where shadows dance and blue razor teeth smile gleefully back at us. And though the core of every writer is the same, inspiration can come from an assortment of places and experiences. Today, we’ll be talking with Leza Cantoral, an up and coming writer that specializes in (but not limited to) the subgenre bizarro fiction. So, pull up a chair. Keep your tentacles to yourself. Take a seat. And give your attention to our guest.

Machine Mean: Let’s get some basic introductions out of the way, shall we? Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? What got you into writing? What type of genre or sub-genre do you write in?

Leza Cantoral: I grew up in Mexico and my family moved to the Chicago suburbs when I was 12. I felt very alienated and began writing poetry to cope with depression. I think I got The Diary of Anne Frank for my birthday that year. I thought about her and what a lovely person and writer she was and what a shame it was that I could not read anything by her but her diary. I think that inspired me to chronicle my life through daily journaling. I also wrote a lot of poetry and a few screenplays.

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I did not really think of story writing as an actual point of focus until college when I met Garrett Cook. He was the strangest person I had ever met. We became friends when we took a Postmodernism class together. He slipped a story he wrote under my dorm door called ‘The Ashen Bride’ about a Cinderella with a Vagina Dentate and the story blew my mind. I worried that he was some kinda sexual deviant, but mostly, I was impressed with his style. Reading his stories made me want to write my own surreal and grotesquely twisted fairy tales.

At the time, I was mostly getting stoned and writing endless streams of consciousness, inspired by people like Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsberg. I think the Beat and the Bizarro kinda came together for me eventually. You can see it in stories like “Dope,” which is part angry drunken rant, part dream, and part really uncomfortable description of someone getting probed by aliens. Someone told me it reminded them of Harlan Ellison.

MM: What’s your favorite book and why?

LC: Alice in Wonderland, because it really captures the female psyche. I see myself reflected in it every time.

MM: What is your favorite Lovecraft short story? Why?

LC: “The Music of Erich Zann” because it makes me sad and excited and has a fabulous eerie atmosphere. Also, I find the metaphor apt for the artist. You do often go mad creating and it is hard to know where to draw the line between art and madness. It is a possession.

MM: This is a hard one…but, what is your favorite horror movie? And why?

LC: That is really hard. I’m gonna go with Phenomena, by Dario Argento, starring Jennifer Connelly. This movie is pretty low key on the horror, for an Argento film, though there are some incredible, sensual kills, as well as some grotesque imagery at the end that will never wash out of your mind once you see it. I love it because of the atmosphere and the cool psychic insect powers and the chimp. It is a very sweet movie and it is also wonderfully haunting.

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MM: Leza, I have to admit, you are certainly one of the more interesting persons I’ve ever met through social media. You are very vocal and passionate about your art, which is very awesome and refreshing to see in up and coming authors. What kind of inspiration do you draw from? Do you have a mentor of sorts?

LC: I draw inspiration from many places. Mostly poetry and pop music. I love both Sylvia Plath and Lana Del Rey. I love them so much I am editing an anthology of stories inspired by them for CLASH Books.

I grew up in Mexico and learned French in high school. I think this affected how I write. Spanish and French have a certain rhythm, texture, and cadence. There is a softness, a rawness, and a voluptuousness to the Latin languages. The French Surrealist poets had a huge impact on me in college. I have been trying to write like them ever since.

I have had a few mentors. My first was Garrett Cook. I met him in college and I fell in love with his short stories. I learned by shadowing him and watching his process. I adopted some of his techniques such as handwriting first drafts. There is a magic to having the pen to paper. A computer will never have that raw immediacy for me.

I recently took a class by Juliet Escoria on LitReactor called “Taboo Topics.” It was an incredible experience and she was the perfect mentor. She gave us assignments that pushed our comfort zone boundaries and then gave incredible feedback to keep our writing simple and honest. Two of the pieces I wrote in her class made it into the collection.

My main mentor is Christoph Paul. He has been working with me for the past two years. He gives me honest feedback and is a master of story structure. The main thing that I have gotten from working with Christoph is his work ethic. He is one of those people that feels really guilty if he is not working on at least five things at the same time. I work harder because he raises the bar for what is normal. He is great at balancing praise with criticism. He never kisses my ass.

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MM: From the sounds of things, you seem to be keeping busy, with book signings and various traveling and publishing articles with Luna Luna Magazine, I think my head would spin taking on so many projects! Do you have a writing method that helps you keep everything grounded? A schedule of sorts? Do you have a special place you like to do your writing?

LC: I have an office and that helps keep things organized, though I tend to do most of my writing in bed while listening to pop music or watching movies and TV.

My schedule is: post stuff on the CLASH Media website in the morning, do other business and publishing-related things, promote, edit, etc. Then after dinner, I focus on writing.

When I work on short stories it kinda derails my schedule, though. I will get totally obsessed and manic and go a little insane for like a week or so, watching or listening to music and movies on repeat that is putting me in the zone. My technique for short story writing is pretty much a self-induced trance. Once I am done it takes me a day or two to come back to reality and I usually feel dead inside until I do.

MM: According to the all-knowing and all-powerful Amazon, your last publication was Baum Ass Stories: Twistered Tales of Oz, which was a collection of short stories and poems based in a sort of twisted version of Oz. Can you tell us a little bit about this book and what compelled you to dabble in this particular sub-genre? Is it a sub-genre you fell into or came by naturally?

LC: I was asked by Zeb Carter to write a story for it. I grew up reading and loving the Oz books. I had a dystopian Nazi Disney world that had been brewing for a while in my head and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to start exploring it. My main character is a cross between Eva Braun and Princess Langwidere. She is really fucked up and insane. This story mostly arose out of my fascination with Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler’s relationship. It just seems very twisted and sadomasochistic. She was very much in love with him and it seems like he kinda took her for granted. In my own twisted way, I kinda gave Eva the ending I felt she deserved.

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MM: Okay…let’s talk about your new book that just released, Cartoons in the Suicide Forest. The cover looks stunning, BTW. Can you tell us a little bit about what kind of stories readers can expect from this collection? What genre or sub-genre would you label it as?

LC: The stories in this collection span many genres. Bizarro, surrealism, splatterpunk, speculative, strange fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, literary horror, body horror, experimental metafiction, slipstream, stream of consciousness. Some of the stories read like surreal prose poems, some are straight up horror stories, and some are twisted fairy tales, like Planet Mermaid (The Little Mermaid), Beast (Beauty and the Beast), Eva of Oz (Ozma of Oz).

I would say that the stories in this collection are all pretty dark. My characters all want things: validation, satisfaction, release, escape, love. The general tone is tragic. I use colorful language to deal with sad themes. The happy endings are bittersweet if they happen at all.

MM: In the description, it sounds like readers are in store for a unique experience. One reviewer said that Cartoons in the Suicide Forest is “mesmerizing, sexual and grotesque, often at the same time.”  They also gave the book a five-star rating. Did this reviewer hit the nail on the head more or less for what you were going for?

LC: I love directors like Dario Argento, Alejandro Jodorowski, and David Lynch. I try to create an eerie and dissociative experience for the reader; something that will take them outside of themselves.

When I write stories that are of a sexual nature it is because sex sometimes is the only way to describe a certain psychic state. I often explore the feeling of being violated against one’s will, or of being outside one’s body as other people are using it. This is metaphorical of loss of self. Holding on to my sense of self is actually something I struggle with. It might surprise people, or not. Writing is the only way that I can honestly express myself. Selfies are lies. You see my face but you don’t know what I am really thinking or feeling. If you want to know my heart, read my stories.

MM: The book cover looks freaking sweet. Can you tell us a little bit about that? Who designed it? Did you get any say in the creative process?

LC: The cover is by Matthew Revert, who is a genius. I gave him the titular story to draw inspiration from and I cried when I saw what he came up with. That cover truly captures the soul of this collection.

MM: Before we go, can you drop a little hint on future projects you may have cooking?

LC: My next project is a Fantasy adventure called “The Ice Cream Girl Gospels.” I have begun outlining the book and drawing a map of Ice Cream Land. The story will be sweet and strange. It is inspired by Candyland, drugs, and pop music videos. After that, I have a novel called “Tragedy Town.”  It’s a dark romantic comedy about the danger and beauty of falling in love. Think if Charlie Kaufman directed an episode of The Twilight Zone. I also have two poems appearing in the upcoming Civil Coping Mechanisms anthology A Shadow Map: An Anthology of Survivors of Sexual Assault and a slipstream story about Jackie Kennedy, called “Saint Jackie” that will be appearing in the Bizarro Pulp Press anthology More Bizarro Than Bizarro.

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You can get YOUR copy of Leza’s latest book Cartoons in the Suicide Forest for $3.99!!!

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lezacantoral

Leza Cantoral was born in Mexico and moved to the Chicago suburbs when she was 12. She runs CLASH Books and is the editor of Print Projects for Luna Luna Magazine. She lives in New Hampshire with the love of her life and their two cats. ‘Cartoons in the Suicide Forest’ is her first short story collection. She is currently working on a YA Bizarro novella called ‘The Ice Cream Girl Gospels’ You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Twitter @lezacantoral

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