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Reviews

Creature Features in Review: The Mist (2007)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matt Shaw

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

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

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

$2.99


Creature Features in Review: Piranha (1978)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STUPID TEENAGER? CHECK!

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

BOOBIES! CHECK!

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

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

POTENTIAL FISH FODDER? CHECK!

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

POTENTIAL LOVE INTEREST? CHECK!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CRAZY GUY WITH A DIRE WARNING? CHECK!

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

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

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

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

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

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

STUPID DECISION BY THE ARMY? CHECK!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BRAVE ACTION HERO SACRIFICE? CHECK!

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

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

SEQUEL BAIT! CHECK

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

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

Keep in touch with Michael Bray by following his website!

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Creature Features in Review: The Stuff (1985)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating: 4 out of 5

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

Revenge is a dish best served with BBQ!


Now Coming to You in Atomic Soundwaves from Space!

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

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

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

But there’s a trick.

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

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Experiment. 

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

 

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

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

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

Now Available for YOUR earbuds!!!

The Hobbsburg Horror Audiobook


Creature Features in Review: Aliens (1986)

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

ALIENS: THEY MOSTLY COME AT NIGHT…MOSTLY

By: Israel Finn

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

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

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

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

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

GAME OVER, MAN! GAME OVER!

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

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

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

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

TO SUM UP

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

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

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

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

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

 


Creature Features in Review: DeepStar Six (1989)

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

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

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

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

Okay, with that out of the way…

SUMMARY:

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

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

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

REVIEW:

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

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

But the first half works.

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

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

But no—he’s a loner Dottie… a rebel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other than that…?

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

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

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

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

This last part is worse than that.

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

 

WHAT I LIKED:

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

-Miguel Ferrer, but I always do.

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

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

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

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

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:

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

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

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

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

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

RATING:

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

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

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


Creature Features in Review: Predator (1987)

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

PREDATOR: They Were Skinned Alive – a lecture.

By: Rich Hawkins

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

*parp*

*snigger*

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

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

*clears throat, adjusts underwear*

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

It was horrific.

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

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

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

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

So, that’s it.

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

I hope this lecture has been informative. Any questions?

*uncomfortable silence*

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

*even more of an uncomfortable silence*

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

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

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

Black Star, Black Sun by [Hawkins, Rich]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Twilight Zone: You Drive (1964)

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

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

It goes like this:

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

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

Stay and face the consequences of his actions…

Or run.

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

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

Oliver Pope must decide.

Face the consequences of his actions.

Or be continuously haunted by his car.

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

My rating: 5/5

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

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Creature Features in Review: Them! (1954)

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

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

Alas, those day’s are gone forever.

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

Sad.

Well…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Atomic Age…

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

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

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

My rating: 5 out of 5

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

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

Image result for The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996)

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

Before we continue, shall we recall this delectable movie?

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

Have I mentioned how much I love those IMDb synopsis?

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

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

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

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

Why indeed.

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

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

Or not.

Which they didn’t.

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

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

However…

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

My rating: 3.5 out of 5. 

Image result for thomas s flowers

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

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Image result for thomas s flowers