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Fright Fest 2019: Dark City (1998)

DarkCity4Dark City is a film that manages to get just a little more complex and interesting with each time I watch it. It’s one of the more unique and engaging sci-fi films to come out of my early adult years and is one that I am happy to have had the chance to enjoy.

The premise of the film is one that has been done in some form again and again over the years. A man (John Murdoch) wakes up in a bathtub with no memory of who he is or how he got there. There is a dead body in the room and he has blood on him. Everything that follows is a gradual unraveling of this mystery we have been presented with. And as with any mystery, the key is obviously how well done and satisfying the payoff is at the end. Do we walk away satisfied or disappointed?

The idea behind the film is that a giant experiment is taking place, with some kind of species holding mankind hostage. Each night, they cause things in the world to come crashing to a halt and in this seemingly infinite length of unaware inactivity, they begin changing things. Buildings sprout up that weren’t there before. People are moved around like chess pieces, to different houses and different families. A poor couple discussing their day over dinner may blink away and come back to consciousness now in an opulent home, having the same conversation but now in the lifestyle of the rich. How people react to these changes is what our overseers are most interested in, evidently.

Some may feel the urge to compare this to The Matrix and while I can see a connection on a superficial level, it really is comparing apples and oranges. Dark City may have the basic notion of people leading false lives, against their will and without their knowledge, but the concept is so much more rich and interesting than just that.

As Murdoch proves immune to the technology of these aliens, we are left to watch him stumbling about the landscape, trying to remember his past in a world of people who can’t remember anything. I felt the tragic notes of the story much more acutely this time around. That I find myself as well at a point in my life where all I want to do is seek out and take hold of all the things that are now behind me.

William Hurt has grown to become one of my all time favorite actors. He just has this soft-spoken ability to fully inhabit the skin of a character and bring them to life in a way many are unable to. In this DarkCity2film, we see him as a police detective, trying futilely to solve a series of homicides, which John Murdoch might be guilty of, clearly having only a limited picture of what is happening in the city around him. He’s also trying to unravel the crazed rantings of his former partner, trying in vain to get a grip on the mindset of someone who has no grip on anything. He can sense that something is wrong in the city. But how can you explore an answer when you don’t yet really have a question? In a way, he is searching for deeper answers on an unconscious level, just as much as John Murdoch is consciously seeking them out.

There’s this odd contrast. Visually, the movie is stunning to watch. All the beautiful city skylines and landscapes and the fact that nearly the entire movie is at night makes it feel almost like a black and white picture. But the lighting and visuals and performances from the cast also lends an incredible melancholy feel. You find yourself observing these people trying to live out their lives, but who are unable to do so, as they end each day being reset by some higher power they are unaware of and don’t understand. They have no concept of what is happening to them and instead seem to exist in this perpetual fog of a semi-depressive state, as the same scenes in their lives are played out, again and again.

One of the most poignant moments in the film for me was when Murdoch tracks down his uncle, who raised him from a child. One question Murdoch seems obsessed with is in finding out how to get to Shell Beach. He is overloaded with memories of a childhood there but despite seeming to know what Shell Beach is, no one he asks is able to tall him how to actually get there. His uncle tries to help Murdoch with his memory issues by showing him some slides from his childhood. But when Murdoch starts to ask his uncle some basic questions, everything just falls apart.

He tries to get at his uncle’s specific memories but finds that those specifics have been long since replaced by generalities, like an intricate ink sketch had been replaced with a basic painting of broad brush strokes. For me, it was a poignant metaphor for getting older, something I think I appreciate more than I did when I was twenty. Our pasts are robbed from us, a little more each day. The person I was twenty years ago has essentially ceased to exist and there’s nothing I can do to bring him back. It was this feeling that struck me most acutely as I re-watched Dark City. Every day, the people of this city are robbed of their lives, wiped clean and then shoved back into those lives, still having to function as if DarkCity3nothing had happened. And while on a conscious level, nobody seems aware of their experiences, it seems like behind the vacant gazes of so many characters, they’re all somehow existentially aware of everything they are going through. And the tragedy of this is brought into full form under the constant blanket of cold, dark skies.

Dark City is a special film, full of phenomenal performances. This is one of my favorite pre-Jack Bauer roles from Kiefer Sutherland. I’ve already mentioned William Hurt. Rufus Sewell is spot on as the lead role and the criminally under-recognized Jennifer Connelly puts in a phenomenal performance. And yes, the portrayal of the aliens can be a little on the cheesy side, especially with their names like Mr. Book or Mr. Hand, Mr. Wall and so forth. But the costume and makeup of the creatures was so well done that I’m willing to overlook that aspect.

So many movies anymore are entertaining but they don’t stay with you. There has been a certain amount of drama recently over remarks Martin Scorcese made about not liking superhero films. And while I do find the Marvel movies entertaining, I have to admit that I don’t think he’s wrong. I go to an Avengers film, have a great time and then barely ever think about the movie again after leaving the theater. I rarely have any desire to watch them again. With movies like Dark City, I find it gets into my head. And despite having seen it again and again, I can still find reasons to enjoy it, even though it’s the DarkCity5fifth or sixth time I’ve seen it. It’s a style of movie-making that I wish would become more financially viable anymore. Let movies become the landscapes of dreams again and not just plugging in a basic visual formula.

But I digress.

Dark City for me is a story about a man trying to find himself in a society where there is nothing left to be found. It’s about how powerful our innate drive to discover truth can be, no matter how heavily it might be shrouded and inaccessible to us. It’s a reminder that we might be lost to each other, we might be lost to ourselves, but sometimes there still remains that tiniest of tethers, that cord of truth and experience that can return us to what once was. We just need to learn how to operate the mechanisms within ourselves.

To find our own Shell Beach.

Who knows who might be waiting for you there?

 

D3mini

Chad A. Clark is an author of dark-leaning fiction, born and raised in the middle of the United States. His road began in Illinois, along the banks of the Mississippi and from there he moved to Iowa, where he has lived ever since. From an early age, he was brined in the glory that is science fiction and horror, from the fantastical of George Lucas, Gene Roddenberry and Steven Spielberg to the dark and gritty tales of Stephen King and George Romero. The way from there to here has been littered with no shortage of books and movies, all of which have and continue to inform his narrative style to this day. Chad has written horror, science fiction and non-fiction. He has been published by Crystal Lake Publishing, Dark Minds Press, Shadow Work Publishing, Sirens Call Publications and EyeCue Productions and his books have received critical praise from the Ginger Nuts of Horror, Ink Heist, Confessions of a Reviewer, Horror DNA and This is Horror. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page


Fright Fest 2019: Cloverfield (2008)

CloverfieldCloverfield is a title that seems to be quite divisive among film lovers. You either love it or you join up with the masses that have elected to turn it into an object of scorn and mockery. Despite the success of films like this and the Blair Witch Project, found footage films has become a genre that I’ve seen frequently falling into the crosshairs of critics. Either for the vomit-inducing lack of a good steady shot or for the absurdity in the logic of the premise, that a person fleeing for their life would none-the-less do so while carrying a camera and dropping one-liners the entire time.

I really do get it. I can see how people could see found footage as little more than a gimmick to publicize the film. That the credibility you think you’re gaining with a low budget film such as this can sometimes be seen as an excuse for not investing time in the writing and production quality of the product.

That’s all fine and I can’t say that I have any logical grounds to counter the argument. Although I do suspect that making a movie appear so casual and haphazard takes more effort than the average person would be willing to admit. Still, I get it. It doesn’t make sense that anyone would be clutching to a camera, filming every horrid thing they’re going through. Anyone with an ounce of sense in their head would toss the camera to the side and buy themselves that much more speed to maybe get away with their life.

The thing is, these movies, even more than the rest, aren’t about capturing the height of realism and credibility. Movies are all about the illusion of the storytelling. It’s a lesson we should have learned long ago in the earliest days of our childhood, going to the theater to see jedis clashing lightsabers or to see talking cars or pirates in outer space. Enjoying movies is about enjoying that magic.

Now I’m not saying that at the crusty old age I’ve gotten to, I’m still sitting in the theater, glowing in the magic of the cinema. But I think I’m still capable of leaving a certain amount of my disbelief at the door and allowing myself to sit back, relax and just enjoy a story, even though it might not be realistic. Not for nothing, but if you’re looking for realism in a movie about a skyscraper-sized monster rising from the depths of the ocean, you might be in the wrong store.

Cloverfield is a fun movie. And while that may make the more refined of us turn their nose up at the notion, for Cloverfield2me, finding that thrill of excitement while watching a movie is all about chasing down those childhood experiences.

I’ve loved monster movies for a long time and what I love about this film is that it shows us what the story might look like if it was from the perspective of one of those countless screaming victims, running through the streets, looking for safety. There isn’t a booming narrative voice in this and there was only one recognizable face in the cast, although you had to be paying attention to catch him.

What the camera serves in this movie is to put us into the story as a character, sprinting in this insane race to try and survive in the face of total destruction. It was a nicely conceived and executed notion. And while very little is explained, I felt that for the kind of movie it was, this worked perfectly. We knew no more than the characters being hunted down and for me it made the experience all the more frightening and fast-paced.

I also liked the device of the occasional interludes inserted in the movie, (ostensibly bits of recordings on the tape) of two of the main characters sharing an afternoon together.

Cloverfield3The way this is introduced is as follows. At a party, one of the characters is handed a camera and asked to film people at the event. Assuming he is supposed to use the tape already in the machine, he does so, not realizing that he is taping over the old content. So after long stretches of death and destruction, the film will cut back to what was on it originally, an afternoon at Coney Island with two people in love. And again, it makes no sense that the footage would be there. It should all be erased and gone. But for the purposes of the film, it provides some moments of levity between the characters and highlights the tragedy of events unfolding.

Cloverfield was a stunning movie experience. It was loud and fast and took no prisoners. The experiences of these characters is terrifying and the frantic nature of this chain of events is expertly laid out for you. If you can turn down the volume on your adult side and just sit back, you could really enjoy this. Let the visuals wash over you and buckle up for a bumpy ride.

If you want to watch a movie where the army guy and the scientist brilliantly save the day and vanquish the monster, you should give this one a pass. But if you might enjoy seeing a group of characters dumped into a situation where they are suddenly fighting for their lives with little chance of seeing the dawn, this movie might just be the one for you.

D3mini

Chad A. Clark is an author of dark-leaning fiction, born and raised in the middle of the United States. His road began in Illinois, along the banks of the Mississippi and from there he moved to Iowa, where he has lived ever since. From an early age, he was brined in the glory that is science fiction and horror, from the fantastical of George Lucas, Gene Roddenberry and Steven Spielberg to the dark and gritty tales of Stephen King and George Romero. The way from there to here has been littered with no shortage of books and movies, all of which have and continue to inform his narrative style to this day. Chad has written horror, science fiction and non-fiction. He has been published by Crystal Lake Publishing, Dark Minds Press, Shadow Work Publishing, Sirens Call Publications and EyeCue Productions and his books have received critical praise from the Ginger Nuts of Horror, Ink Heist, Confessions of a Reviewer, Horror DNA and This is Horror. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page


Fright Fest 2019: Event Horizon (1997)

EHThis is not the first time I have reviewed this movie. In fact, it isn’t the first time I have reviewed this movie for this site. But it happened to come up as relevant to the theme for this month and all I could think was, “I couldn’t just recycle the old review, could I? That wouldn’t be right.”

There are certain plot formulas that will win me over, just for coming into the room and saying, “hello”. And one such formula is that of the ghost ship, especially if you add in a kind of cautionary angle. The ship had gone off on some kind of exploratory mission, was never heard from again and then, decades later just shows up, abandoned. I love the inherent darkness and peril that hovers just outside the borders of those stories and the first time you read or watch something like that, you spend most of your time clenching, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Now if you were to make that concept into a sci-fi movie, there’s going to be little chance I won’t like it. You’d have to try pretty hard to turn me away.

Enter into the conversation, Event Horizon.

So maybe you shouldn’t give this review any weight because the person writing it isn’t coming from an impartial point of view. Maybe I should adopt a more discerning eye for the more important flaws of a movie and be willing to put my feelings aside in the essential dissection of the mechanics of a film in review.

Maybe there’s some value to that point but I’m not doing it. Sorry.

I mean, not really but you know what I mean.

The premise of the movie is (as ideal for horror) simple and effective. Sam Neil plays Dr. William Weir, a man who is in mourning for the death of his wife and in the midst of this is called to duty in the investigation of an exploratory vessel he helped design, years ago. The Event Horizon, created for deep space exploration, has suddenly reappeared after vanishing without a trace and with no explanation.

A salvage crew led by Captain Miller (played by the outstanding Laurence Fishburne) has been scrambled to go to the ship and Weir has been tasked to accompany them, as an expert on its technology.Film and Television

What happened to the Event Horizon? Where has it been all this time? Why has it come back? What happened to the crew? All questions that will need to be answered in the course of their mission. And after a quick introduction to our cast of characters, the story is moving full speed. What I think the film uses most effectively is that of isolation and foreboding. As soon as the ship catches up to the Event Horizon and boards her, you have a sense of something dark about the ship and that Weir knows something that he isn’t sharing with the rest of the crew. All of this unfolds nicely as most everyone starts to come unhinged and eventually they are trapped on the Event Horizon.

As the ship’s creator, Weir seems to be especially affected by the ship as his recent emotional traumas are exploited to bring him around to a rapidly descending path into madness.

For me, Event Horizon is all about the claustrophobia you manage to feel within the immense vastness of space. Every scene is oozing tension with the mystery of what might be lurking around the corner and what entity may have returned as a part of this cursed ship. You spend most of the film bracing yourself for coming upon the brutal end that you know most of these characters are destined for.

There is a certain mythology around this film on the subject of the infamous director’s cut. Evidently there was quite a bit of footage in the film that was removed as it was thought too disturbing and considering what did end EH2up in the final product, I can only imagine what that would entail. However, while footage like this would normally be reserved for an eventual re-release as a blu-ray collector’s edition, that footage has sadly been lost forever as it was evidently exposed as a result of being improperly archived. For some reason, for me this gives the film a little extra bit of aura, somewhat along the lines of all the mysterious problems that existed on the set of The Exorcist. After being simply missing for years, the lost footage from Event Horizon was found in a Transylvanian salt mine. That in and of itself is begging to have a book written about it.

Event Horizon is a beautifully shot film with fantastic atmosphere and tension. I love all the scenes on the ship with thunder rumbling outside even though it makes no fracking sense that they would be able to hear thunder while in orbit. After all, in space no one can hear…well you get the point. Still, I love it. Maybe I’m being suckered into the fly trap of the film’s superficiality but I don’t care. It’s a movie I love to watch and I would place it on a level as being a later generation’s version of Hellraiser, another favorite of mine.

Sometimes things that we think are lost come back. And sometimes they bring friends. Check this film out and you can see a pretty good example of this.

 

D3mini

Chad A. Clark is an author of dark-leaning fiction, born and raised in the middle of the United States. His road began in Illinois, along the banks of the Mississippi and from there he moved to Iowa, where he has lived ever since. From an early age, he was brined in the glory that is science fiction and horror, from the fantastical of George Lucas, Gene Roddenberry and Steven Spielberg to the dark and gritty tales of Stephen King and George Romero. The way from there to here has been littered with no shortage of books and movies, all of which have and continue to inform his narrative style to this day. Chad has written horror, science fiction and non-fiction. He has been published by Crystal Lake Publishing, Dark Minds Press, Shadow Work Publishing, Sirens Call Publications and EyeCue Productions and his books have received critical praise from the Ginger Nuts of Horror, Ink Heist, Confessions of a Reviewer, Horror DNA and This is Horror. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page


Reviews In The Machine : City of the Flesh Eaters (2019)

City of the Flesh EatersGrowing up, zombie movies were something that really fueled my love for the horror genre. They scared all holy hell out of me and I think the main reason was the implacability and inevitable nihilistic doom to which the movies all seemed to portend. A zombie by itself might pose no threat. But bring on a herd of the shambling monsters and your odds were a lot worse. Add the fact that as the movie goes on, there just seems to be more and more of the things and the outlook is bleak, indeed.

This was the benchmark I used as I began to develop my own sensibilities in crafting horror and it is something I will always be grateful for.

So reading this series from Thomas Flowers I find myself appreciative on several levels. First, it returns the zombie genre back to those days I remember from so long ago but as a bonus, he has also grounded these stories heavily in the eighties. Doing so only helps me feel an even stronger connection as the books have now become tied up in my own fuzzy, happy memories of times gone by.

This series, currently standing at two books, began with Island of the Flesh Eaters. And as the VHS video tape-style cover and title would suggest, this is one story that goes after you from page one, taking little time for fluff or ceremony. You are thrust into the story along with all the gore and glory you would expect. It’s a quick read and well worth your time.

Just last month, we got the next book in the series, City of the Flesh Eaters. And what I think works most effectively here, besides the writing, is the fact that while it exists as a sequel, it runs more concurrently to the events from book one and as a result, the two books could be theoretically read in any order. It’s something that can be hard to pull off but Flowers has done a good job in this effort.

The book follows a format of moving the camera around between a group of characters, giving individual chapters to specific people. The story-lines don’t all occur necessarily at the same time and while it can be jarring to jump from one character to the next and back again, I think this feeling is actually important to the experience of the book. After all, isn’t disorientation exactly what the characters are experiencing themselves?

As would be expected, this story moves along quickly and as the reader, I was waiting for everyone to be brought together and the point where the book would become unified and moving in the same direction. And then, in one brilliant, extended chapter, Flowers takes hold of the different threads of the plot, brings them all together and makes them one with a heavy piece of twine wrapped tightly around everything. It is a plot that is deceptively complex, fooling you with how simple it seems. It is a project that requires organization, even being of shorter length and again, Flowers has proven up to the task of keeping a lot of narrative organized and up in the air.

If you cut your teeth on the glory of eighties horror, this is a book that you should check out. While store-bought nostalgia has become more of the norm anymore, this one feels quite different, coming from the creative mind of someone who has a clear love for that time and for the culture which came out of it. Reading this as well as his Planet of the Dead series gives me little glimpses into what it is I love about zombie movies in the first place. Do yourself a favor and dive in today.

D3mini

Chad A. Clark is an author of dark-leaning fiction, born and raised in the middle of the United States. His road began in Illinois, along the banks of the Mississippi and from there he moved to Iowa, where he has lived ever since. From an early age, he was brined in the glory that is science fiction and horror, from the fantastical of George Lucas, Gene Roddenberry and Steven Spielberg to the dark and gritty tales of Stephen King and George Romero. The way from there to here has been littered with no shortage of books and movies, all of which have and continue to inform his narrative style to this day. Chad has written horror, science fiction and non-fiction. He has been published by Crystal Lake Publishing, Dark Minds Press, Shadow Work Publishing, Sirens Call Publications and EyeCue Productions and his books have received critical praise from the Ginger Nuts of Horror, Ink Heist, Confessions of a Reviewer, Horror DNA and This is Horror. For more information on his literary universe, check out his official website or take a peek at his Amazon author page


Walking In Memory, by Chad A. Clark

walking in memory

The plane set down in New Orleans in a pouring rain. He stepped out of the terminal, his bright red alligator boots crunching down on broken glass. He raised up a hand, clutching a pack of cigarettes, as he waved for the next cab.

He walked down Bourbon Street, glancing up at the balconies, and remembering how her hair had flowed in the breeze as they pelted the Mardi Gras crowds with peanuts. He took long drags from the cigarette, the smoke rising up to mingle with the banners and elaborate flower arrangements that lined the street.

The coffee shop where he had met her was still there, now sandwiched between trendy chain restaurants. The ragged poster of Louis Armstrong still stood guard over the patrons, partaking in burnt espresso and stale sandwiches. He had never cared for the place, but the essence of her still lingered there and who was he to fight the pull of tradition?

On the next corner, as he tried to fight the taste of caffeinated memories, the smell of catfish frying wafted down from the balcony above, and he could make out the sound of someone inside, banging on an old piano. It was the same corner he had walked past with her, the preacher standing on his apple crate, reaching out to the crowd, reaching out for him.

She had always loved the city, the people and the music, the food and festivals. Loved the smell of spice in the air, and nights spent trudging through the worst parts of town to find restaurants hidden behind heavy metal doors. He was often surprised that they hadn’t needed a password, just to get in.

She had always been there next to him on these trips, here in the city and beyond. She was supposed to stay there, always at his side. Now the only presence he felt around him was the weight of absence.

So, hours after his informal walking tour, he blinked and found himself on the bed of a hotel room. He reached across to return the now empty bottle of gin next to the empty bottle of scotch. Satisfied that he had finished both, he reached to the table on the other side of the bed, took hold of the tiny prescription bottle and laid back, steeling himself against the imminent comfort of the outstretched shades of eternity.

 

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

D3mini

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


Reviews in the Machine : The Cold, by Rich Hawkins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

D3mini

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


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

DragMe1

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

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

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

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

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

Right off the bat, I have a problem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

D3mini

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


First Meetings, by Chad A. Clark

first meetings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

D3mini

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


Reviews In The Machine : Compliance (2012)

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

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

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


Ambition, by Chad A. Clark

ambition

Morris ducked through the archway into the cemetery, trying to stay out of sight. That intern had been at the movie and clearly was interested in conversation that Morris wanted no part of. As soon as the credits started to roll, he jumped up out of his seat and darted out through the rear emergency exit. He thought he had made a clean getaway but still, he heard the sound of dragging footsteps, coming from somewhere behind him. The kid was nothing if not relentless.

A certain amount of hero worship was to be expected when you were a vice president of foreign acquisitions. He was used to that, but the unending barrage of questions and requests was almost enough for him to consider early retirement. He had neither the interest nor the time to be just some renewable resource. Not unless he was getting paid.

Besides, it wasn’t as if there was a career path that he could recommend, based on his vast experience. Granted, climbing the corporate ladder had always been easy for him. What he could never say was that the reason was that people ahead of him on the food chain always seemed to fall victim to convenient accidents. How could he phrase that in the form of a mission statement? Kid, just make sure you’re always in position to step up, if and when someone kicks the bucket. Better yet, make sure you provide the bucket. Continue Reading