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Creature Features in Review: Swamp Thing (1982)

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Swamp Thing

Starring:  Ray Wise; Adrienne Barbeau;

Louis Jordan; Dick Durock

Written and Directed by Wes Craven

One of the great joys of being a cinephile is that moment when an entertaining film quietly emerges as a great one.  In Wes Craven’s 1982 cinematic adaptation of the classic DC comic Swamp Thing,  that moment occurs about a half an hour into the proceedings.  More on that in a moment.  Continue Reading

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Creature Features in Review: Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988)

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The Blob, but with clowns. That will get you close to understanding what this film has in store if you haven’t seen it yet, but it doesn’t quite cover it. In fact, despite the Chiodo brothers’ stated intent to pay homage to The Blob, as well as the 50s alien invasion film in general, chalking it up to a simple homage would be a disservice. Killer Klowns from Outer Space is such a great movie in so many ways, but one of its most important features is its originality.  Continue Reading

Creature Features in Review: Castle Freak (1995)

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Today’s offering borderlines what we’d define as a “creature feature.” The monster isn’t some radiated beast nor is it (he) cosmic or multidimensional. Castle Freak is without a shadow of a doubt human. Not subhuman nor extraordinary. He’s not unkillable (such as Jason or Freddy) or super strong. But I wouldn’t categorize Castle Freak as a slasher or serial killer or mass murderer either. In fact, when researching some info on Castle Freak I was shocked to find that it was labeled as a mystery slasher film. I think perhaps that’s because the people doing the “labeling” didn’t understand what it was they were looking at. The “monster” in Castle Freak isn’t out for revenge or to score a high kill count, in fact, there’s not a heck of a lot of death in this movie, not if it were indeed a slasher flick. No. Castle Freak isn’t a slasher, its a creature feature, and I’ll tell you why…  Continue Reading

Creature Features in Review: Species (1995)

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We’re back with a brand new review for our soon to be concluded “In Review” series, Creature Features. We put the monsters on hold last month for Fright Fest as the zombie horde took center stage. But as the saying goes, the show must go on. And what an odd 90s movie to begin our trek. Species as I an recall was among those last great VHS rentals at Blockbuster. I remember really liking it back then because of…well…the nudity. Seriously, come on, its a super hot alien hybrid looking for a man to mate with. Of course, this was teenager me thinking about few things other than boobs. As a great disappointment (I’m sure) few things have changed. Still…as an adult now enjoying the boobs is honestly highly important, but perhaps there’s something else going on behind the film. We all know what hormones does to a teenage boy, but what about the ladies? Species makes me wonder, the way it was written, is it perhaps allegory for femininity gone wild?  Continue Reading

Fright Fest: DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978)

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Francine Parker: They’re still here. 
Stephen: They’re after us. They know we’re still in here. 
Peter: They’re after the place. They don’t know why; they just remember. Remember that they want to be in here. 
Francine Parker: What the hell are they? 
Peter: They’re us, that’s all, when there’s no more room in hell. 
Stephen: What? 
Peter: Something my granddad used to tell us. You know Macumba? Vodou. My granddad was a priest in Trinidad. He used to tell us, “When there’s no more room in hell, the dead will walk the Earth.” 

Dawn of the Dead is among many things a very quotable movie. The scene above is probably everyone’s favorite, and for some there are more selective scenes to nibble on. Scientists arguing on what remains of the news broadcast. The SWAT incursion of the Philadelphia apartment building. The refueling scene, the dock scene, the shopping montage. The raiders and ensuing firefight. There are plenty. And if you were to ask me, I can’t really say if I personally have an all-time favorite scene, I mean let’s be honest here, there are so many to choose from. From the very beginning, Dawn of the Dead lures you in and keeps your attention rooted into the story. The pacing couldn’t be more perfect.  Continue Reading

Fright Fest: Burial Ground, The Nights of Terror (1981)

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Zombie fans come from every walk of life and every zombie fan has their own tastes when it comes to zombie movies. In fact, you could say that there are even sub-genres within the sub-genre of flesh eaters. Just this month alone during this year’s Fright Fest we have seen a wide variety of zombie flicks (saving the best for last, which will be tomorrows review). The only sub-genre within the sub-genre we did not allow into the mix were voodoo curses and “anger” viruses, like 28 Days Later which is not technically a “zombie” movie at all, just like The Crazies were not zombies, they’re “mad, insane, and otherwise still living.” Feeling very much like a bouncer at some classy (or not so classy actually) nightclub, we’ve allowed in a certain clientele. “Are you dead and are you eating the flesh of the living? Yes. Okay. You’re cool, come on in.” That’s right folks, we’ve got standards at this joint.

Be that as it may, even folks who consider themselves “fans” of flesh eating walking corpses are not necessarily all that well versed when it comes to the cabinet of zombie movies. Nowadays I’d say that’s a fair statement given the popularity of The Walking Dead and Z-Nation (not sure if that’s still popular, but I tossed it up anyway). There are some zombie fans who watch TWD and that’s about all she wrote. And there are others who delve into the Romero films, such as Dawn of the Dead, Night of the Living Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead, and I shall’t not name that dreadfully last one made. And some Romero fans haven’t even seen all the named and unnamed movies. And then there are the truly indoctrinated flesh eating fan, those who’ve peered into the depths of foreign film and came back to tell the tale. You think only the Americans have zombies in the bag, well…you are sadly mistaken. As Winston Zeddmore so aptly put it, “I have seen shit that’ll turn you white!”  Continue Reading

Fright Fest: Land of the Dead (2005)

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In 2005, my interest in the undead had officially been reclassified as ‘Mildly Addicted’, due in no small part to the Romero trinity of Night, Dawn and Day. By now I had branched out, and was working my way through any zombie film I could get my distended claws into. Then the news broke that Romero was making a new zombie film, Land of the Dead. To say I was a little excited would be an understatement. I remember watching it at the time and whilst I enjoyed it, it was not a patch on the originals, or most of the films I had been watching during that period.

So, looking at it objectively now and giving it another (overdue) viewing, has my opinion changed? Well…get comfortable, and I’ll begin.  Continue Reading

Fright Fest: [REC] (2007)

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[REC] (2007)

Directors: Jaume BalagueróPaco Plaza

Writers: Jaume Balagueró (screenplay), Luiso Berdejo

Release Date: 23 November 2007 (Spain)

Since its release back in 2007, REC has since become something of a modern horror classic, and is no doubt destined to be in the pantheon of greats in the many years to come. Like it’s found footage forebear The Blair Witch Project it elevates its limitations to enormous strengths – creating a building and palpable tension throughout that will have you creeping closer, and closer to the edge of your seat as it reaches its horrifying conclusion.

Co-written and directed by Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, REC presents itself as ‘real’ footage recorded when a local TV reporter Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman Pablo (Pablo Rosso) cover a fire crew about their day-to-day lives, and join them when they respond to a vague emergency call about an elderly lady in a local apartment building.  Continue Reading

Fright Fest: Train to Busan (2016)

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Let me start off by saying that the film cover for “Train to Busan” is so eye-catching that it made me want to watch it, even if it is a zombie movie. I wanted it NOT to be a zombie movie, because frankly, I hate zombie movies. I love trains though, and couple that with a thriller or horror movie, you’ve enticed me right there. I was happy to sign up for another year of this October Fright Fest and review a film, but silly me, I thought it would be something classic. I freaked out after I signed up, when Thomas, the host, said the theme was zombies. CRAP! What kind of zombie movie am I going to be able to watch? The only one I had seen before was “World War Z,” which wasn’t bad, but it may have been the eye candy.  Continue Reading

Fright Fest: Invisible Invaders (1959)

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From another planet comes the Invisible Invaders!

How can you stop what you don’t see?

The dead will destroy all the living!

The living dead threaten all life on earth!

I know, Invisible Invaders? you say. Aliens, you must be joking. Certainly, Tommy, anything Romero-esque would be post 1968 and here you have a review for Fright Fest: Zombies with a film released back in 1959. What gives? Well, I’ll tell you. Yes, the rules still apply, though truth be told this one does kinda skirt the line a bit. The reason I wanted to include Invisible Invaders is due to the ambiance of the film and how obscure it has become in recent years despite its obviously forgotten importance to the history of zombie lore. As per the “rules” and as per the formula of Romero films, the zombies or ghouls or walking dead are not living persons controlled through magic or voodoo, though I do enjoy that variation, it doesn’t quite fit within the spectrum of Romeroism. The rule is simple enough, a person dies, they get up and attack the living, that living person dies and they get up and attack the living, etc. etc.  Continue Reading

Fright Fest: DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004)

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I love horror movies. I love zombie movies. But more specifically, I love one very specific part.

I love the beginnings of zombie movies.

I love the inherent sense of dread at what we all know is coming. If the sequencing is done right, it’s a thrill to watch, with a few disparate, seemingly unconnected events and soon enough, it’s all going to shit. It’s quick. It’s brutal. It’s total. And best of all, you are never told why it is happening.

Zombies have often been painted as a metaphorical criticism of our own over-consumerism but I think it also functions as a demonstration of our own existential shelf life. That at any given moment, anything can turn on us and bring about a cruel and uncaring demise. The frailty of our own condition is really highlighted in the terrifying opening moments of any great zombie film.
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Fright Fest: Zombieland (2009)

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Zombieland: The Best Zombie Movie

Yep, you read that right—it is my assertion that Zombieland represents the best the genre has to offer. And yes, I will present proof of my claims. But first, the synopsis.

When we meet our intrepid main character, Columbus (survivors go by place names rather than their actual names), we’re post zombie apocalypse. Columbus devises a list of rules to remain un-undead, which becomes a running joke throughout the movie (i.e. Rule # 31: Check the back seat; and my favorite, Rule # 17: Don’t be a hero—which changes into “Be a hero” by the third act. But I digress.). He meets up with another survivor, Tallahassee, who is on a quest for Twinkies (priorities, man).  Continue Reading

Fright Fest: Diary of the Dead (2008)

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Where will you be when the world ends? When it comes to apocalyptic movies, the beginning has always been my favorite part. Sure, its fun to see the aftermath, what the world looks like when the dust settles, but what I find absolutely intriguing is what happens in those defining moments when normalcy if flipped on its head. This is a huge reason why I’ve always enjoyed George A. Romero’s films. Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead (arguably) are about how the world ends in the moment. Day of the Dead and Land of the Dead are films about how people are doing after-the-fact. Good movies, but they’re missing that special punch. The defining factor which begs the question: What will you do when the world ends?  Continue Reading

Fright Fest: Dead & Buried (1981)

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The Art of Death in Dead and Buried

What if someone’s arrogance took the act of dying to the extreme for artistic purposes? This is the cornerstone of Gary Sherman’s Dead and Buried, written by the team of Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett (though apparently O’Bannon’s writing efforts had been edited out) based upon the Chelsea Quinn Yarbro novel.

The story takes place in mythical Potters Bluff, Rhode Island – one of those out-of-the-way seaside communities where everything appears to be quaint, but what happens at night or behind closed doors is a different kind “The Twilight Zone” story. Daniel Gillis (James Forentino) happens to be the local sheriff investigating bizarre murders that seemingly spring out of nowhere, and William G. Dobbs (Jack Albertson), the town’s old-time undertaker who can’t even speak until a Big Band tune ends, helps in providing clues left behind by the bodies of the recently departed. But Sheriff Gillis is having a hard time navigating the evidence that may prove the involvement of his neighbors as well as his wife, Janet (Melody Anderson).  Continue Reading

Fright Fest: City of the Living Dead (1980)

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Don’t you hate it when a zombie pulls your brain out the back of your head and squishes it between his fingers like Gak? Are you curious what that would look like? Give the first installment of Lucio Fulci’s Gates of Hell trilogy, City of the Living Dead, about sixty minutes of your time, and you can see for yourself.

The film opens with a séance, during which a psychic, Mary, envisions the suicide of a priest and the subsequent rise of the dead. She gets fairly riled, foams at the mouth, and dies. Only she’s not dead and is almost buried alive but for the intervention of a dashing reporter, Peter, who nearly brains her with a pickaxe in the process of removing her from the casket. It turns out that by committing suicide, the priest of her vision has opened a gateway to Hell in a town called Dunwich. Mary and Peter team up to find the town and close the gate before All Saints Day, when the dead will rise.  Continue Reading

Fright Fest: The Living Dead at Manchester Morgue (1974)

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Which is better: walking zombies or running zombies? What about the 28 Units of Time series? Do you consider the monsters to be zombies or ragers? These are the two biggest arguments among horror folk about zombie flicks, but I would like to introduce another, for I am a rabble-rouser.

While George Romero invented the modern zombie film in 1968, he also reduced the genre down into a formula ten years later with Dawn of the Dead. The suburban apocalypse, leaving small pockets of survivors, some of whom retain their basic humanity while others revert to savagery and animalistic behaviors. Meanwhile, the rank and file of the undead grows with each passing moment, spreading through cities and towns. In one case, Lucio Fulci’s Zombi, the dead are seen walking over the Brooklyn Bridge, an obscene rag-tag army staggering their way through the five boroughs.  Continue Reading

Fright Fest: Nightmare City (1980)

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Nightmare City

Director: Umberto Lenzi

Also Known As: City of the Walking Dead

Runtime: 

Are you bored of zombies yet? I am. I am thoroughly fed up of them. Sick to death. If a zombie horde wanted to kill us, they could just wander around and re-enact parts of 90% of the zombie films released in the last 10 years. We’d die of brain fatigue, being forced to watch the same troupes re-trod time and time and time again. I’m not saying all new zombie material is terrible, it’s just that the sub-genre is so flooded it’s harder to find.  Continue Reading

Fright Fest: Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972)

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[ SPOIL-O-RAMA, GUYS—DON’T CRY ABOUT IT—HAVE FUN WITH IT… ]

I’d been meaning to check these films out on my own for a while and had a set in my amazon wishlist waiting and ready when I saw this title in the list of choices of films to review. I called dibs and went immediately to amazon to grab this. So, just so I’m clear on what I’m working with, the set I now have is the Blue Underground set of all four Blind Dead films (and that Ghost Galleon that popped off its holder in transit better be watchable when I get to it…) and there is a decent amount of conflicting information (hence, the 1971/2 up top). This film is generally referred to as Tombs of the Blind Dead, but the disc in this set has two versions of the film—the first one I watched, La Noche Del Terror Ciego (The Night of the Blind Terror) is the original Spanish/Portuguese production title and cut; and The Blind Dead. Nowhere in the actual video material does it say the title I’ve always heard this film given, other than the box. Also, on the box it says it came out in 1971, but most other places say 1972.  Continue Reading

Fright Fest: Day of the Dead (1985)

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Day of the Dead is the third installment of the ‘Dead’ series from the late, great George A. Romero, and the final movie in what many consider the ‘original Dead trilogy’. It is, in every way, a masterpiece.

As the second sequel to Night of the Living Dead and part of a series, it is the perfect final third act. As a standalone horror movie, it is fantastic. As a zombie movie, it is divine. The special effects alone set this movie apart from most others, rivaled only by those in John Carpenter’s The Thing and Ridley Scott’s Alien (and okay, maybe also Tremors, directed by Ron Underwood).  Continue Reading

Fright Fest: Night of the Living Dead (1990)

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What? Were you expecting a Friday the 13th Jason Voorhees review? Keeping with tradition, with Part 3 playing in the background, I’ll do my best and not yarn too much over the movie I give credit as starting my entire fascination with not just horror, but zombies too. No, not Friday the 13th Part 3, come on people, stick with the program. I’m talking Night of the Living Dead. Imagine, if you will, that you’re a twelve year old boy and you have a big sister who by all accounts ought to be hanging out with her much more mature friends but instead decides to watch movies with you. That was me. And while not every Friday (because my sister did have a life), but on most Friday nights we would have a Friday Movie Night. I’m talking pizza, popcorn, soda, candy, and whatever other junk we decided to indulge ourselves with. We’d order Pizza Hut and drive down to the local video store (Blockbuster) and rent whatever we wanted. While I cannot recall every movie night, I certainly recall the night my sister rented Night of the Living DeadContinue Reading

Fright Fest: Shock Waves (1977)

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Shock Waves (1977)

[85 minutes. PG. Director: Ken Wiederhorn]

(It’s 40 years old, but I’ll give a SPOILER WARNING anyway)

There are literal and figurative streams of consciousness at work in Shock Waves, Ken Wiederhorn’s most well-remembered film.

It’s not a great film – at least not as great as my childhood mind remembers – but makeup designer Alan Ormsby’s suggestion on the Blu-ray commentary track, that the film is possessed of a “dreamlike quality” is not inaccurate. And that’s arguably where it acquires its power.

It’s a film that takes place primarily on water, with the midsection set in an abandoned hotel on a desert island.

There are scenes where characters paddle toward escape – through narrow, knotted thickets; through shallow ocean waters on the way out to sea – and don’t say much. They don’t need to, really – they know their situation is inexplicable and absurd, so what’s the sense in fevered rationalizations? By the end, the lone survivor of the ordeal, Rose (Brooke Adams) has been rendered catatonic by what she’s seen, reduced to writing gibberish in a journal.  Continue Reading

Fright Fest: Night of the Comet (1984)

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I’ve often written or talked about the first ever zombie film I saw, the eponymous Dawn of the Dead, by the legend that was, George A. Romero. The second was Return of the Living Dead II, the line, “His brains, they smell so spicy,” still sticks firmly in my head. The third, though unknown to me at the time, would probably have as big an impact as the first. It was Night of the Comet.

The film is basically a 50s/60s B-Movie, made in the eighties. It has a cheesy voice-over at the beginning which would not be out of place in Invasion of the Bodysnatchers or War of the Worlds. The setup is remarkably similar to Day of the Triffids. A once in a lifetime meteor shower promises an amazing light display, so the entire world and their dog hold street parties to have a few beers and take in the sights. Unfortunately, thanks to the heavy handed introduction, we learn that this very comet also made an appearance just as the dinosaurs disappeared.  Continue Reading

Fright Fest: DEAD SNOW (2009)

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The first time I saw the trailer for Dead Snow, I knew I wanted to watch the movie. It looked fun, exciting, and familiar. When I finally watched the movie, I wasn’t disappointed. By the end, I was giddy. Dead Snow had all the horror elements in it that I enjoy: carnage, blood and guts, and a super cool villain. As an added bonus, it also had humor.  Continue Reading

Fright Fest: Fido (2006)

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What’s Wrong, Boy? Is Timmy Being Eaten Alive?

What if Lassie hadn’t been man’s best friend but instead, a flesh eating zombie? In this post zombie apocalyptic world, director Andrew Currie, re-imagines not zombies, but society’s place for them. “Fido” tells a campy tale about a family needing to fit into suburban life in an over-the-top 1950’s satire.  Continue Reading

Fright Fest: Zombi (1979)

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George Romero is the father of the zombie movie, but Fulci’s ZOMBI takes the monster to it’s most gruesome level. ZOMBI is glorious with scene after scene of rotting, putrid flesh being ripped off, and pumping blood geysers. And, of course, there’s the shark vs. zombie scene. This film is all about imagery.

ZOMBI  is also known as ZOMBI 2, without Fulci’s consent. It was called that not because it’s a sequel, but to cash in on Romero’s DAWN OF THE DEAD, released a year earlier. The closing scenes filmed in New York, with the radio voice over, were added because of the earlier film. It was originally released with an X rating, and later labeled “a video nasty” in 1984 by the Video Recording Act.  Continue Reading

Fright Fest: The Video Dead (1987)

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The Video Dead

Director/writer: Robert Scott

1 Hr 30 mins.

Release Date: November 1987

An unlabeled crate from an unknown source is delivered to a house in the woods. The homeowner unwisely accepts the delivery, only to discover it contains a TV set that starts spewing giggling zombies all over the place. When a new family moves into the now-abandoned house, the son discovers the haunted television and is soon told what he needs to do to send the zombies back where they belong. Knowing and doing, however, are two very different things, and the zombies are not likely to go quietly. 

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Fright Fest: PLANET TERROR (2007)

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One of the best things about the Zompoc sub-genre is how widely diverse it is. You can go old school with some classic black and white voodoo hexes, such as White Zombie, I Walked with a Zombie, or The Plague of the Zombies, to name a few. There are the comedies, such as Shaun of the Dead or Zombieland or Return of the Living Dead. And there are the more serious minded zombie movies such as the works of the late great George A. Romero and all those wonderfully directed Italian zombie flicks (a good number of which will be reviewed during this year’s Fright Fest). But then you’ve got those Zompocs that are a bit harder to classify. Take for instance today’s morsel, PLANET TERROR. Upon my first screening it was hard to understand where this movie was coming from and where it was taking me. I mean, was it satire? Not completely. Was it serious? Not entirely. Was it expressionist, like those gritty foreign-made horror flicks? Not absolutely. Well, for crying out loud, what precisely is PLANET TERROR?  Continue Reading

Fright Fest: Dead Alive/Brain Dead (1992)

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The most brutal lawn mower ever filmed: Deal Alive.

When I was a child I watched the original Night of the Living Dead one Fourth of July and totally regretted it. We parked out in the desert to watch the fireworks show taking place over at a local high school, something I usually enjoyed, but I couldn’t help but cower in fear wondering if a pack of flesh eating zombies were going to come eat my entire family. For years after that I shied away from watching zombie flicks because they scared the shit out of me. When I became a teenager I decided to stop being a wussy and began educating myself in the world of the walking dead.  Continue Reading

Fright Fest: Return of the Living Dead (1985)

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Return of the Living Dead

by D. S. Ullery

Released August 16,1985.

Screenplay by Dan O’Bannon

Story by John Russo, Rudy Ricci and Russell Streine.

Directed by Dan O’Bannon

Starring Clu Gulager; Thom Matthews; James Karen; Don Calfa

There’s a moment about midway through Return of the Living Dead wherein several humans (who are  trapped inside of a funeral parlor as waves of zombies run rampant outside)  tie the writhing half-corpse of a long dead woman to an embalming table.  Continue Reading

Fright Fest: Night of the Living Dead (1968)

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Though zombie is never said in Night of the Living Dead, this 1968 horror film set the standard for all following zombie films: radiation raises the ghouls (as they’re called in the film) to life (though, as of this film, radiation as a cause is only speculation), they move in a slow, plodding manner, they eat the flesh of the living, and the people they kill turn into zombies.

What makes George A. Romero’s Dead films so important, though, isn’t the thrills and chills they provide, as generous as that providing assuredly is. It’s the social and political commentary, hidden beneath the piles of corpses, that distinguishes him from his imitators. The following is my interpretation of that commentary, a theme of mindless, pitiless killing, and a killing not limited to what the zombies commit, by the way.  Continue Reading

Interviews In The Machine : Amy Cross

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I love discovering new authors. In this craft that I have devoted so much of my life to, it is a thrill to find artists out there who are like-minded and to see their approach and their process. My introduction to the work of Amy Cross came via her book, The Farm. I was immediately attracted to the great cover and as it was posted as free at the time, I had no reason not to try it. And when I finally got around to checking it out, I was instantly impressed at the quality of her prose. The story was intriguing and paced perfectly. The characters were sympathetic and dynamic and the book had just the right balance of atmosphere and elements that were more extreme.  Continue Reading

Creature Features in Review: Gremlins 2 (1990)

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This essay contains spoilers for, and assumes prior knowledge of, Gremlins and Gremlins 2. If you don’t want to be spoiled, go watch the films first. So, I’ve written about Gremlins < http://gingernutsofhorror.com/my-life-in-horror/someday-you-may-be-ready > elsewhere. It’s one of the most popular things I’ve ever written online, at least in terms of number of views, which is both gratifying and mystifying. And I feel like I should start by stating the obvious – it doesn’t need a sequel. There’s nothing significant left hanging in terms of plot or character resolution that needed another movie to explore. The movie is, in Aristotelian terms, a complete action. The most you can say in defense of any proposed sequel is that the first movie leaves the door open, what with Gizmo still being alive at the end, but that’s a long way from having a sequel be either needed or, necessarily, desirable.  Continue Reading

IT (2017) – A Review

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I’m going to start with my immediate reaction to the movie, literally as I walk out of the theater. This was possibly one of my favorite adaptations of a full-length Stephen King novel. Any time you are dealing with Stephen King’s style of storytelling in particular and considering the extreme length of many of his books there is often quite a bit lost in translation when it makes the full transition to the screen. But in this case, while there certainly were plenty of changes made to the story, I thought they really nailed the heart of the book and brought IT to life.  Continue Reading

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

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.  Continue Reading

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.  Continue Reading

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.  Continue Reading

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]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rural Research, by Chad A. Clark

rural research2

The barn loomed tall against the pitch black of the nighttime sky. Oscar looked up as he heard the sound of birds taking flight and could see the darkened silhouettes as they rushed by. There was a hint of thunder, as lightning kissed the furthest reaches of the southern horizon. The heat felt oppressive, pressing in on him with physical force. They needed this rain.

“Sorry I had to bring you out here so late at night like this.” Daniel was the caretaker of the property, the one who the bank had arranged to give Oscar the tour. “Frankly, I don’t really know why you’re so interested in this place anyway. Nothing here you can’t read about in books and police reports.”

“The paper wanted me to be thorough,” Oscar explained. “It’s been ten years since Mr. Rollins’ disappearance and they want the coverage to be extensive.”

“Sure,” Daniel said as he continued fiddling with the padlock.

“I’m surprised that all of this is still here, with what the land has to be worth. What’s the point of just leaving it abandoned?”

‘Well, it isn’t like anyone would ever want to live here. The property went into some anonymous trust, and our company is being paid for the upkeep. I have no idea what the owner has planned for this place.”

They walked into the main part of the barn. Oscar heard the fluttering of wings from somewhere up above. There was a strong smell of mildew in the air, indicating not complete neglect, but of a definite absence of attention.

“So what are you looking for anyway?” Daniel asked.

Oscar took out his notebook and flipped it open. “You’re a local, right?”

“Sure. All my life.”

“Would you mind going over with me what happened here, your memories of the events? Just so I can make sure my facts are right?”

Daniel nodded and dropped his gaze to his feet, shuffling them in the dirt as he contemplated his answer.

“Mr. Rollins was kind of a nobody around here. Came in after the war. You didn’t really like or dislike him. He kept to himself for the most part, minded his own business.”

“What did he do for a living? My understanding is that he owned the farm but didn’t actually do any farming himself.”

“Yeah, he rented out his fields to the neighboring farms. He inherited the land originally, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t have any interest in working it. Times were good enough that the farmers around him could afford to expand onto his land and he made enough money renting out the property.”

“And when did things start to go wrong for him?”

“An older couple came into town claiming that their son and his girlfriend had been driving through here and had gone missing. Sheriff was ready to write them off until someone found the kids’ car, partially buried in the woods.”

“How was it found?”

“Well, whoever had done it had rushed the job a bit. Some of the bumper had been exposed, likely from a recent wind storm. They called in the Staties and started going door to door, questioning people. They didn’t have anything else to go on.”

“Until they talked to Mr. Rollins.”

“Not even then, at first. One of the officers thought that he was acting strange, but wrote it off. After a few weeks of chewing it over in his head, the officer decided to report his concerns. They were so desperate that they went and got a search warrant based off of it.”

“And that was when they found all the bodies?”

Daniel nodded. “Dozens of them, piled up all over this room here. Whatever he had been doing with them, it had been going on for a pretty long time. The bodies had been hacked up, thrown all over the place. It was a dammed mess. There was a bunch of strange equipment down below and it looked like he had been operating, conducting tests of some kind.”

“And Mr. Rollins was not present during the search, wasn’t heard from again?”

“That’s correct.”

“And what about his research?”

Daniel snorted. “I guess if that’s what you’d call it. They found boxes of Steno notebooks full of his chicken scratches. Crap about other universes, lots of mathematical equations, numbers and more formulas, dates for test subjects. Kept going on and on about finding something. ‘I’m going to figure out how to get there, I will leave this world for good and enter the next.’ Shit like that, mostly.”

Oscar looked up at that. “What was he talking about?”

Daniel shrugged. “Who knows?”

“Do you think the people he killed were the test subjects he was referring to?”

“Probably. Anyway, the last entry they found just had one word. Success.”

Oscar strolled around the barn’s interior. As much as the property outside had remained untouched, most of what had been in here had long since been removed. All that remained was a few stray bales of hay. The wood surfaces all around were colored, stained from the sins of acts long past. He bent down and ran his hand along the handle of a water pump that was jutting up and out of the ground.

“Who were his victims? The people he killed, was there any kind of connection established?”

“Best anyone could tell, they were all drifters, people out on the road for some reason or the other. He never killed anyone who lived here. Guess he didn’t want the attention.”

Oscar nodded, but didn’t say anything to add to the theory.

“Your paper said that you were going to want to see the cellar, is that right?”

“Yeah, I think I need to go down there, unfortunately. Is that a problem?” Oscar found himself half hoping that it would be.

“Nope. The trap door is just over there by the back wall. It’s just that…if it’s all the same, I’d just as soon stay up here.”

Oscar shook his head. “That’s all right. Not a problem.”

Daniel seemed to relax noticeably and went to unlatching the door. Oscar stared down the stairs leading into the cellar and contemplated the immensity of what had likely occurred down there.

“There’s a work light,” Daniel said. “About ten feet to the right from the very bottom of the stairs. Just turn as soon as you step off and go in a straight line, you’ll run into it.”

Oscar nodded and began walking down, wincing at the groaning from the wood, sure that he was about to end up trapped down here for hours while Daniel tried to get a rescue unit out here to fish him out. The stairs held out though, and he soon found himself standing on the cellar floor. There was a rectangle of light around him, cast from the open trapdoor above and all else was darkness.

He took several stops to the right, waving his arms around until he made contact with the light, hanging from the ceiling. As he fumbled with it, trying to find the switch, he had a brief image of Rollins reaching out to him from across the room.

The light finally clicked on and cast illumination all around the thirty square foot room. There was an even stronger smell of damp mildew and mold down here, bugs and worms oozing out from the walls and the muddy mess that the floor had become. There was a wooden work bench set against the wall with pegs, where various tools had likely once hung. Oscar found himself fixating on what Rollins might have been doing to all these people, what horrific lengths he had gone to, in pursuit of what he evidently saw as the needs of science.

The coroner’s original report had suggested that the cuts and wounds on the bodies were consistent with that of an axe, or possibly a saw. Standing here in this place, where so much violence and suffering had occurred, he could almost detect the metallic taste on his tongue of blood in the air.

There were random mechanical parts, in piles all over, but only one piece of actual, intact equipment, in the center of the room. It looked like it had once been the pilot’s chair of a plane, stripped out and mounted on the floor, which was possibly the reason it had never been moved. A primitive control panel of sorts was bolted onto one of the arm rests, with a number of dials and switches, marked with numbers and letters, but with no indication of their actual purpose.

Oscar felt an urge to take a seat, examining the contours that looked perfectly suited for his frame. There were two pedals on the floor of the contraption and, without really thinking it through, he reached down and pressed one of them with an open palm, pushing it down until there was a clicking sound from somewhere inside the mechanism, and the pedal made contact with the former floor of the aircraft.

The barn began to shake, a deep rumbling that came from somewhere under the ground itself. He looked to his right at the sound of tools clanking against the wall. Tools that weren’t even there before.

“What the hell is going on down there?” He heard Daniel yelling at him, but from across a wide gulf. The building was shaking so much that pieces of the rafters were starting to pull loose and rain down on him. The bulb in the work light popped, fading to dark and showering glass down on him.

Oscar knelt down on the floor, crouched, with his hands thrown up over his head. He was afraid to make his way back to the stairs in the dark, not knowing what debris had fallen that he now couldn’t see.

The howling of the wind outside was joined by the ringing in his ears. As he stood, another sound began to creep into his awareness. It was a dragging sound, shuffling across the dirt floor.

The sound of footsteps.

Rollins had never been found, presumably out there somewhere, making himself scarce. Despite that, Oscar somehow knew, in that moment, whose presence he now felt. It bore down on him like a sudden physical weight as his senses detected the new person, now in the room. Somehow, Oscar had managed to bring the man back from whatever infinite gulf he had figured out how to cross.

“Daniel?” He tried calling out to the caretaker, but there was no answer other than the sound of wood fracturing. The room shook with the sudden noise and impact of the stairs finally collapsing under the weight of some unknown force. He heard the footsteps approaching him in the dark, and now the sound of ragged breathing. He also heard something else, dragging like the footsteps, but this had a metallic edge to it.

The head of an axe.

 

For more short fiction like this, check out Chad A. Clark’s collections, A Shade For Every Season as well as Two Bells At Dawn.

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

Tracing Trails : Gwendy’s Button Box

TGwendyhe final new book of this project.

As a brief editor’s note, I should mention that at the time this review is being posted, we are a month or so removed from the release of Sleeping Beauties, King’s collaboration with his younger son, Owen. Because of the timing, I won’t be including that review as a part of this project. However, when I compile all of these into the format of a book, that review will be included as bonus content.

Keeping this on Gwendy, this book represented only the second author King has collaborated with in this fashion. He worked with his son, Joe Hill, on a short story but in terms of books, the only other ones were the two titles he co-wrote with Peter Straub.

I’ll be honest, I have had no experience with the work of Richard Chizmar. I’ve been aware of Cemetary Dance publications for some time as well as the gorgeous books they produce. Their anniversary edition of IT is the crown jewel of my tiny book collection. The point is that I had no kind of road map or expectations going into this book. So in a way, I suppose you could say that End Of Watch was the last book I read that was completely Stephen King. With this, it’s hard for me to really evaluate who’s who. As much as I’d like to say that I’ve become so familiar with King’s tone that I can identify who wrote which sentence, my dumb brain just doesn’t work that way. Ultimately, for me, there’s really no way to know where King ends and Chizmar begins. In any authorial collaboration, it’s pretty much impossible to separate one voice from the next, unless one of the authors is Tarzan or Jar Jar.

I can say that having just finished End Of Watch that this book felt consistently in line. I’ll be completely honest and admit that seeing this coming out in such close proximity to Sleeping Beauties, it wasGwendy 5 hard to not immediately think of Tom Clancy. For those who might not be aware, Clancy began at some point in the mid-nineties to authorize books with his name but written by other authors. At first, this was limited to a special series of books, separate from the main universe he wrote in but that bubble slowly expanded until, for the last chunk of his career, pretty much all of Clancy’s books were being penned by someone else. Even now, despite the fact that he passed away several years ago, we are still seeing new books hitting the market with his name on the cover. An author that I loved as a child eventually become essentially a brand name.

And to be clear, I don’t feel like I have the right to criticize Tom Clancy for taking his career in this direction and if it were the case with King, I would also feel inappropriate in calling that out. Certainly both authors have proved the world many times over their ability to write beautiful books. I don’t see a conspiracy, as I suspect some people would. For me, it’s simply a matter of an author getting on in years and changing the way they work. And who’s to say how involved they are in the process? For all we know, Tom Clancy was sitting down with his writers, extensively outlining the books while not wanting to undertake the grueling work of writing out the actual prose.

I don’t feel for a second that King is checking out from his process Gwendy 4or handing off the reins to someone else. My opinion is that he is likely just as invested in his craft as before. Having seen him speak in person as well as other interviews, I can sense the connection he feels with his work, something that I think wouldn’t be as evident if he wasn’t doing any of the actual writing. And I think there is more evidence of this in the recent announcement of a new (solo) King book, The Outsider, a mystery novel set for release in early 2018. So I’m not going to make this a treatise on hyper-analyzing each turn of phrase and conjunction to evaluate who deserves more of the credit. I’m just looking for an entertaining story. This, after all is likely the best legacy King has left for us.

When news came out regarding this book, much was made of the story being a return to Castle Rock, a long since abandoned locale for King and a product of what I think is the best stage of his career. I was both excited and nervous. How well would this hold up to what KingGwendy 3 has already done with the town? Needful Things was such a great sendoff, would this be a letdown?

In reality I would only classify this peripherally as being a “Castle Rock story”. There are some cool references here and there but otherwise, the actual story is the heart of this as opposed to the setting, as it should be.

And in this regard, the story is actually pretty entertaining. I thought it read as a kind of long form fable, but intended for an adult reader. The main character of the book, Gwendy, is gifted an ornate box with several buttons. This box has the ability to make her life qualitatively better. It also gives her the power to harness great destruction. How she deals with this power establishes a question of morality and integrity that runs throughout the whole book.

There is an interesting scene in which Gwendy is questioned by a teacher as to a moral decision. If you could kill anyone in the world, who would it be? The ensuing conversation is almost a microcosm for the entire book, more than likely intentional as Gwendy struggles with this notion from the moment she receives her special box.

As such, the book serves as an interesting version of a “what would you do?” type of story. It’s almost like a a long parable and I Gwendy 2think that King and Chizmar did a good job making that concept entertaining, while at the same time thought-provoking. It isn’t an easy balance to strike and often stories of that nature seem to be heavy-handed or preachy but I actually enjoyed this. It wasn’t just about making some heavy-handed points through the specifics of the narrative. I really felt for Gwendy and her situation.

The mysterious stranger who gives Gwendy the box is definitely intriguing for me. I would love to know more about him and where he fits into the whole shared universe of King’s books. The language he uses in their first meeting, asking Gwendy to take a seat next to him on a bench so they can have a “palaver” had me thinking quite a bit of the Dark Tower. Not that I’m going to just declare this to be a Dark Tower book but I did appreciate the reference. A part of me did wonder if perhaps this stranger was indeed another manifestation of our friend Walter, Randall Flagg, the Man in Black. Seeing how the character behaves throughout the book though makes me think this isn’t likely. It’s fun to think about, especially in the occasional moments throughout the book that are creepy and unsettling, but looking at the larger picture, it’s a theory that I don’t think holds up in the actual text.

Stephen King has been a master of this craft for quite some time. I Gwendy 1genuinely believe that there is at least one Stephen King book out there for everyone. His work has spanned more years than I’ve been alive and we have nearly lost him a number of times along the way. While he invited a partner to ride this particular trail with him, I think that his creativity and spark still shows through. I have faith and I have trust. And I’m excited to see what the future will bring.

My name is Chad Clark and I am proud to be a Constant Reader.

 

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

Behind Our Walls, A New Afterword

Behind Our Walls PrintEditor’s Note : The print edition of Behind Our Walls is soon going to be re-released with some new content, including a brand new afterword from the author. Check it out here, first!

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It’s hard for me to pinpoint exactly where the story of Behind Our Walls came from. In the beginning, this entire universe began with a short story, titled Tomorrow’s Memory. I wrote it largely as a challenge to myself. I wanted to try and create a story entirely through journal entries. I wanted it to take place on an apocalyptic landscape but I didn’t want the focus of the story to be about walking from point A to point B of how the world collapsed. It seemed to me that that story has been told often enough. I also didn’t want to bring any supernatural elements to bear on this.

I wanted it to be a human story.

I’m a big fan of George Orwell’s 1984. And one aspect of the book I’ve always found chilling is the manipulation of people to achieve the ends of the state. Eliminate revolution by removing the lingual ability to express discontent. The political landscape and the “enemies” of the people need to change? Just rewrite the history books to agree with your new reality.

The point is that I was intrigued by the idea of a survivor in the apocalypse using a journal as a way of speaking to future generations, to maybe plant the seed for a solution that could be generations away.

While it is only mentioned in passing in this story, I was intrigued by the idea of a football stadium being used to rebuild a community. If it could be secured from the outside, there would be a great deal of space for a group of survivors to come together, with luxury suites being used essentially as apartments. I think that wanting to explore this further was a big part of what led to a longer book.

I was happy with how the story came out and it was included in my debut collection, Borrowed Time : And Other Tales. And at the time, I assumed I was basically done with it.

In early 2014, I decided that there was a larger story to tell here. The snapshot provided in Tomorrow’s Memory was interesting enough but I wanted to back out and put out a more traditionally structured narrative.

The main character Of Tomorrow’s Memory only makes one appearance outside of that short story. At the end of Behind Our Walls, we see Fiona for the last time as she is about to approach a pair she has come across on the road. She makes mention of one of them writing in a journal. Did you catch that one? The pair she encounters is indeed Stella and our unnamed narrator from Tomorrow’s Memory. I don’t suspect we will see him again and I kind of like that he is simply an anonymous figure. I think his status as a symbol is more important than his actual name.

When I wrote Tomorrow’s Memory, I was intrigued with the character of Fiona and found myself wanting to give her a larger role, to see more of what she was like. Also crossing over from Tomorrow’s Memory was the author in the final entry of the infamous journal, Sophia. With two characters set firmly in my head, I went about to the task of building a story around them.

The book grew. And grew. And grew. As I often tend to do, I was trying to tell a story that was just too ambitious for a single book. A large crux of my issues seemed to be around the character of Fiona.

In the early drafts, Fiona was a cruel, unsympathetic character, similar to how she ended up being in the book. I seemed to think that she needed to be softened and made to be more complex so, denying my early instincts, I pulled a vintage George Lucas Mos Eisley reversal and tried to increase Fiona’s humanity.

It didn’t work.

Put simply, the narrative of the story was dancing around all these characters so much that it ended up not being about any of them, really. Fiona might have been more sympathetic but she was less engaging for the reader. After some key advice from a friend, I made the decision to pare down the book and did so spectacularly. The book was about 100,000 words at that point and I think I cut close to 30,000. All of the chapters from Fiona’s point of view were removed. In one case, I took a scene in which Fiona and Nairi are kidnapped by a man in the woods. Nairi is raped. The chapter containing this went away but I decided to give the scene to Sophia and Corrine, keeping that essential character element to the story.

Besides cutting back on Fiona and returning her to the vicious character she was from the start, I also stripped away most of the first sections of the book, choosing to start things literally in the middle of the drama. The specifics of the origins of this universe isn’t as clear but I think the opening we ended with was much more powerful. When I wrote the first paragraph, starting up in the moments immediately following the killing of Sophie’s mother, the tumblers clicked in my head and I immediately knew I had made the right decision. The story that followed was much more tight and focused than any previous incarnations.

As I said previous to this, Behind Our Walls is a human story. It’s about keeping the story at ground level without the loud, booming narrative voice. It’s about these characters that have been dumped into their own collective nightmares and how they struggle to find themselves again.

One aspect that was important to me was that, while the story is bleak and harsh, there are also elements of optimism. I think it’s important to remember that even in the depths of the darkest corners of our souls, there is still a potential for goodness. There is still a possibility and a reason for hope. Living in the world, nowadays it has been harder to hold on to that. So while the book was written well before our most recent Presidential election, it has been nice to have been able to turn back to this story.

So the question at this point is where the franchise will go from here. I can say with certainty that there will be two more books. The second of the trilogy, From Across Their Walls will be released in 2018. The story is not a sequel, really. The protagonist is a new character, although there will be some familiar faces. And this will start at a similar point, running alongside Behind Our Walls for some time before splitting off on its own, occasionally crossing paths with the progression of the first book. I’m happy with how this story has shaped up and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you.

And as for the third book, there isn’t much I can reveal at this point. It’s still very early on and it won’t start to really take shape until the second book is completely finished. I can say that like the second book, a new central character will be introduced and the story will have some time to walk on its own legs before joining up with the collective narrative.

In the end however, I have to make sure I give thanks to all of you who have taken interest in Behind Our Walls, which to date has been my most successful release. It’s a world that I have loved creating and I’m looking forward to spending a little more time there.

Thanks for being there with me.

Click here to purchase Behind Our Walls in paperback or for the kindle. Click here for the audiobook edition.

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

 

Tracing Trails : End Of Watch

end of watchI think that one of the more interesting aspects of this trilogy is the fact that each book seems to have its own unique vibe and ecosystem. And in the third installment, we finally have more of what I would consider to be the classic Stephen King story type. I would still classify this as more of a thriller but with much more influence from the paranormal.

King wastes little time getting into the heart of this story. Bill Hodges is back. And so is the Mercedes Killer, albeit in not the form you might expect.

As the title of the book, as well as the various interpretations would suggest, this is a book that deals largely with endings and watching the world move on around you. I thought that King did a good job creating an atmosphere for this finale that was poignant and heartfelt. I thought there was genuine growth that I saw in the characters and in their relationships.

One storytelling device I have always found effective was the notion of a killer continuing to pursue previous victims. To create the notion that just because a certain character might survive, it doesn’t keep them safe in any other books yet to come. I thought it was powerful how the survivors of the original City Square incident continue to be victims of a killer whose capabilities are only growing. It’s incredibly evocative in the sense that for the lives of these characters, things don’t necessarily stop just because you’ve reached the last page of the book. Despite surviving a traumatic event, there is still plenty of potential for a person’s life to steer off the path and take a turn for the worse. Just because you experience a victory in the course of your struggles, it doesn’t mean that defeat still can’t be right around the corner. In a sense, looking at this from an existential perspective, the ultimate failure is out there waiting for all of us.End Of Watch 1 Maybe that’s a bit too much of a downer for something as simple as a book review but I think that it is a point that is well underlined over the course of this story.

I could be projecting here but I feel like Stephen King at this stage of his life is just giving himself the freedom to really enjoy his writing. Not that he has ever allowed himself to be dictated to by the fans but it seems like he is writing stories for the sake of doing things he likes. And some may criticize him, arguing that his edge isn’t as sharp or his craft isn’t as refined. Personally, after so many books I think he’s earned the right to take things easy. It’s one thing to write a book of a thousand or more pages and take five years to do it when you’re in your thirties. But when you’re in your late sixties, having traversed the fires of drug and alcohol addiction and nearly lost your life at the hands of several tons of automotive steel, I think you’re entitled to scale down the professional obligations in your life. Take time for yourself and your family. We will continue to be eternally grateful for what we have gotten and might still get.

I’ve said this before in previous reviews, but I think Bill Hodges is a great kind of a hero, reminiscent somewhat of Ralph from Insomnia. Sometimes the heroics that are needed can be found in unlikely places. I’m less interested in the heroes that are so powerful, it’s almost like End Of Watch 4reading a comic book. Just like villains, heroes are made that much better if their strengths are balanced by more weaknesses. I’m never going to relate to a Bruce Wayne type character. But Hodges seems like the kind of person that I can understand. And ultimately in any suspenseful story, this is essential. And in End Of Watch specifically, Hodges has grown a lot since Mr. Mercedes. With the third book of the trilogy, I feel like the character actually has some complexities to him and that it isn’t just a case of the same personality being forced through a different plot as if it was a sausage factory. Even the more secondary characters of the book feel like they have grown and changed from the beginning of the series.

One other area that I wanted to point out that I appreciated and that would be the relationship between Hodges and his partner in his private detective agency, Holly. There is a trend anymore in film and books and television I have been increasingly annoyed with and that would be the incessant need to create romantic pairings between two characters. If there’s a male character paired up against a female character, it’s like the immediate assumption for many readers is to wait for the inevitable moment when they get it on. With End Of End Of Watch 3Watch, it would be an almost standard expectation that, despite the difference in age, Hodges and Holly would eventually cross over the divide between friendship and romance. And while King seemed to flirt with this at times, for the most part I felt like he maintained the relationship as something that was at least a little more unique, that went against the flow of what had to be many people’s expectations.

A trilogy of books is something that I don’t think I would have ever expected to come from Stephen King. Besides the Dark Tower series and the Talisman books, he seems to have established himself as a one-off author. There are plenty of references throughout his work but most of his them stand tall on their own. It was cool to see him take on the challenge of telling a story on this level and in this format and I think that for the most part he was successful.

On a personal note, I should mention that on the publicity tour for this book, I finally got to achieve two things that had been a dream of End Of Watch 2mine for a long time. First, I got to see Stephen King live and in person. He did a tour of smaller venues, hitting not necessarily the bigger cities and I was overjoyed earlier in the year to see that he would be coming to Iowa City, my home town. The event was at a local theater that had also been a huge part of my childhood. In fact, I think I saw Pet Semetary in that theater. The evening was fantastic and it was a thrill to see him talking about his craft. One story I have held on to in particular is how he described the existence of three Stephen Kings. The first is the guy who lounges around the house, watching Red Sox games and taking out garbage when asked. Then there’s the version who goes out on the road to do appearances and speaking engagements. He commented that his kids used to describe this as him going on the road to “be Stephen King”. And finally, there’s writer Stephen King, the dark presence that he leaves behind in the shed out back, the one who rises to the surface to pen so many books that we have come to love.

I also received a hard-back edition of End Of Watch as a part of the cost of my ticket. King wasn’t doing a book signing at the events, I suspect because it’s much harder for him to stay comfortable for long stretches after his accident. But there were several hundred autographed editions of the book mixed in with the stacks so as I End Of Watch autographdeparted the theater and was given my book, I found that I had reached the second dream in about as many hours.

I had an autographed Stephen King book.

My name is Chad Clark and I am proud to be a Constant Reader.

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For more Stephen King reviews, check out Tracing The Trails, a blog dedicated to his collected works.

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

Special Sauce, by Chad A. Clark

special sauce

The health inspector walked alongside the counter, running his finger over the surface and frowning at the thick layer of grime and dust that he pushed through. Dale watched him go through his routine, wondering how long this particular dance would have to go on.

“So…What happened to our regular guy?” he asked.

“Food poisoning, I’m afraid.” The twerp removed his gloves long enough to scratch his nose and adjust the glasses that were perched on the end of his nose. Once done, he removed a fresh pair of gloves from his pocket. “Though I can’t say that his absence has been a bad thing, especially considering his obvious inattention to certain details.”

“Uh-huh.” Dale watched as the inspector looked over the menu scrawled onto an old chalkboard. He pointed at the listing for the house special, which was currently marked as unavailable.

“What exactly is a…luck of the…” He frowned and leaned in to get a closer look at the menu. “luck of the day-wich?”

“Just a sandwich. We use whatever’s on hand, you know? You get what we give you. But it has a real special kind of meat. Sort of need it, you know? It’s hard to get, real regular.”

The inspector smiled, a thin expression that did nothing to convey any kind of mirth or good will. “Charming.” He turned his back on Dale and began his seventh tour around the diner, an establishment that was barely larger than a one bedroom apartment. This was going on way too long.

“So what’s the verdict?”

The inspector ignored the question as he did another soul-sucking lap. When he finally returned to his starting point, he took his gloves off and put the pen back into his breast pocket.

“Perhaps we should go somewhere more discreet to discuss this?”

Dale stuck out a lip and shook his head. “Just get out with it, I don’t care.”

“Well, then where do I begin?” He lifted his clipboard and began tracing down it with his finger even though Dale suspected that he knew the whole thing by heart. “You have no hand-washing stations. I have observed your cook returning from the lavatory twice without washing his hands and when I asked him, he was unable to tell me what your procedures are for properly holding perishable food.”

“Well come on now, the sink in the bathroom’s just fine for—”

“You have unlabeled bins of meat in your reach-in, cooked meat sharing containers with uncooked meat, and vegetables that are mostly rotten. You have inadequate holding temperatures in all of your coolers, blood on the floors, no properly maintained dish-washing station and your waitress has been sneezing and coughing on the food the entire time I have been here.”

He looked up from his clipboard with a smug look of satisfaction as if Dale was supposed to just figure out the answer to his original question on his own. He tried repeating it, but slower and enunciating the words more effectively.

“So, what’s the verdict?”

“Sir, I cannot in good conscience allow you to continue serving food to the public in these conditions. You will need to shut down your kitchen immediately, confiscate any food from your patrons and you are not to charge anyone for what they have ordered or partially consumed. I will also need to see the documentation from your last inspection.”

“Yeah…” Dale looked around in the mess under the register, stealing glances at his customers who were all rolling their eyes at the show that this officious prick was putting on for everyone. “Tell you what. That green binder over there, next to the phone? Down by your knees? Pretty sure it’s in there.”

The inspector leaned down to reach for the binder. As he did so, Dale grabbed the meat cleaver that the cook was passing through to him from the kitchen. He raised it, and brought it down into the center of the prick’s back. The man shrieked as he fell forward and Dale brought the blade up for a second blow, this time to the back of the head. After a third, fourth and fifth time, the screams stopped. He tossed the cleaver into the sink and stood up with a grin lighting up his face.

“Special’s back on boys!”

For more short fiction like this, check out Chad A. Clark’s collections, A Shade For Every Season as well as Two Bells At Dawn.

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

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