Starring: Sharni Vinson, Nicholas Tucci, Wendy Glenn, A.J. Bowen, and Joe Swanberg
Written By: Simon Barrett
Directed By: Adam Wingard
Synopsis: Aubrey and Paul Davison plan to celebrate their wedding anniversary at their remote weekend estate. Unfortunately, the festivities take a terrible turn for the worse when their home is invaded by a group of masked individuals armed with knives and crossbows.
My favorite sub-genre of Horror are slashers. As we all know, the slasher film had its hay-day in the 80’s but every once in a while a fun modern slasher comes along and hits the world of cinema like a breath of fresh air. I was born at the end of the 80’s so I was really only able to enjoy watching these films on tv or going to my local Blockbuster or Hollywood Video and renting every slasher that I could get my hands on. Continue Reading
It wasn’t until my senior year of college until I was introduced to the work of George Romero, by a college roommate. He also was the one who introduced me to the Evil Dead trilogy as well as Tom Waits, so at some point, I really should track that guy down and offer up my thanks.
I was always sensitive to horror movies as a kid. I couldn’t even bring myself to go through the local haunted house with my friends during Halloween, it was so stressful. So I don’t really have an answer as to why I forcibly exposed myself to this nightmare-inducing content. I suppose I could wax poetic about my unconscious need to face my fears and that horror films and books helped me do that. Saying stuff like that seems a bit too much like retrospective praise that maybe I don’t deserve so let’s just say I felt an illogical pull towards that which scared the crap out of me. Perhaps in a real world in which I had to inhabit the experiences of social anxieties as well as a neurological disorder (Tourette Syndrome), maybe part of me was drawn to the notion of horrors that I could witness and then leave behind.
What drew me to Romero’s work was the intense realism. He managed to pack so much emotion into what, on the surface might be seen as simplistic and childish. Also, unlike so many other films, I never felt like I was seeing special effects. The impact of the grainy, gritty quality of those films only served to drive home the sense of fear you felt watching them. I love the dread I get with Night Of The Living Dead. Using thunderstorms as a means of increasing tension is by no means new, I’ve certainly been guilty of doing it. But those strikes of thunder in that film, early on as Barbara is fleeing the cemetery is intense and evocative. The sense of claustrophobia and impending doom throughout Dawn Of The Dead is a physical weight and the sense of manic terror in Day Of The Dead can’t be denied. It was something I looked at and all I wanted to do was create like that, myself. I wanted to tell stories that had that much grit and impact to it. And ultimately, I believe that the experience of Romero’s films would make for a huge bulwark unto which I would build my own sensibilities as a writer, years on down the road.
So when the opportunity arose to contribute to Stories Of The Dead, a tribute to George, I jumped on the chance to give back and say thanks. It’s difficult to express how much one person can mean to a genre. It’s easy to make statements like, had it not been for George Romero, there wouldn’t be a Walking Dead right now. But more important to that was the way he functioned as a guiding light and inspiration for us all. In the postscript to his entry in Stories Of The Dead, Kenneth Olson talks about being at a convention when news of George’s passing hit the crowd. He talks about how, even in that massive space, it was like the air had been sucked out of the room as everyone seemed speechless at the announcement.
But following the revelation of that great loss, everyone soon began sharing their memories of the man and of his work. And I think it is in this spirit that Stories Of The Dead really succeeds as a book.
As I have work published in this, I can’t ethically post an official review of the book on Amazon or Goodreads or elsewhere. But I felt it was important to express how much I was impressed with this book and how much of an honor it was to be a part, alongside such unquestionably talented authors.
Some of the stories in this stand on their own and some are more heavily steeped in the specifics of George’s films. Want to learn more about the Coopers, the family that was occupying the basement of the farmhouse in Night Of The Living Dead? Want to find out what happened to Francine and Peter following their dramatic helicopter escape in Dawn Of The Dead? Or maybe see a little more of the enigmatic Private Steele from Day Of The Dead? They’re all in here.
My story starts off in the closing moments of Day Of The Dead during what I consider to be one of the most epic movie death scenes of all time. From there it goes off on its own. It was a lot of fun to write, as well as stressful as all hell, mostly because if there had ever been an instance in my career as a writer, this was one I really wanted to get right.
Identifying favorite stories from this collection is kind of along the lines of saying which slice of pizza was your favorite. I want to make sure it’s clear that I loved all the work in this book. But identifying some standouts that I really liked, Bachman’s Diner by Jeff Stevenson was a fun exploration of events prior to the start of Night Of The Living Dead. WGN TV : Off Air and Fuel, by Duncan Bradshaw and Jason Whittle respectively were great looks at characters involved with Dawn Of The Dead. And as Day of The Dead is my favorite of the bunch, I immediately loved David Owain Hughes story, Safe Zone Of The Dead. With After Us, Emma Dehany brilliantly uses a hurricane in New Orleans as a way of setting up her story. And Rich Hawkins’ story, Who They Were was touching as well as tragic and bleak.
George Romero redefined the landscape of an entire industry and I don’t think there are enough words in my arsenal to really express my appreciation for everything he did over the course of his life. There’s nothing new under the sun. Ultimately, there are only so many stories and so many iterations of the basic themes and concepts. Still, I think our ability to continue to generate fresh and interesting ideas comes largely from the incredible example set for us by pioneers like the one and only.
Thank you, George.
I hope you will consider giving this book a chance. Stories Of The Dead was a labor of love for all of us, one we were thrilled to undertake. And most important of all, the proceeds for this book will go to the American Cancer Society. Click here to check out the book at your Amazon storefront of choice.
Red Dragon (2002) has the unenviable task of following in the footsteps of the instant classic and award-winning The Silence of the Lambs (1991).
The novel of the same name by Thomas Harris was the first in the Hannibal Lecter series and takes place prior to The Silence of the Lambs, even though the movie adaptation came out 11 years later. A previous adaptation of the novel was released prior to Lambs in 1986 under the Manhunter title, starring William Petersen as lead character Will Graham before Petersen went on to be a star on the hit TV show CSI.
While Manhunter has gone on to have a cult following in recent years, it barely made a blip on the radar of most moviegoers, earning just a few million dollars at the box office. So of course someone in Hollywood decided we needed another adaptation of the book starring Hopkins again as Lecter. Continue Reading
Scouse Gothic is one of the more unique books I have read this year, just in terms of the makeup and layout of the narrative. I think it’s a book where your mindset and expectations are going to largely dictate how you enjoy the experience.
Mainly, I think it’s best to approach this like a collection of short stories rather than a novel. There were a number of points throughout the book where I felt that, while I was enjoying the read, I didn’t necessarily feel a strong overall narrative drive to everything.
I scanned through some of the reviews for this because I was curious how other people were reacting to this. I suspect that this is the kind of book that will either be a solid hit or a complete miss. One reader compared this book to Pulp Fiction and I found that to be pretty close to the mark.
In Scouse Gothic, what we have is a series of vignettes that take place within a shared narrative universe. And like the threads that make up a piece of fabric, these vignettes have a tendency to bump up against each other and become twisted together. Different characters rise to the forefront to get the spotlight trained on them and before too long, the story is wrapping up and bringing everything back to some extent to where things started.
It should also be noted that this the first of what appears to be a trilogy of books. I have no idea if the followup books will take on a more traditional structure, with this newly formed cast of characters or if it will stick with the same format again. It’s entirely possible that the structure of the first book was mostly intended as an introduction to the key players.
For me, what makes this book shine is the characters. Books are made up of human (or otherwise) characters and their ability to reach the reader on an emotional level are going to be essential to making things work.
As I suggested already, most of the time when I feel like I don’t understand where the story is going, I tend to tune out. With this, I found the individual stories so compelling and entertaining that I wasn’t caring so much about the global perspective.
Just out of my own misgivings anymore, I tend to shut out stories involving vampires, just because the cultural landscape has become so littered and oversaturated. But even considering this, it’s still completely possible to write a good vampire story. What I think makes this work is that the character’s vampirism isn’t necessarily what the story hangs on. In fact, it almost seems incidental to the actual track of these vampires as characters. These aren’t bland, cookie-cutter people. They live and breathe and provide great texture to a world that is masterfully crafted.
Another way I feel like this book is a success is from the fact that, as each vignette drew to a close, I felt a little disappointed that we would have to move on and that most of the individual characters could likely support an entire separate book on their own. The book grabs your interest, holds on to it and when it gives it back, you find yourself saying, “Wait, you can hold on to it longer, if you want!”
Scouse Gothic is an interesting book that I hope you will consider checking out. Whatever you may feel is lacking from the overall narrative is more than made up for by the individual parts. Read this for the characters and for the quality of the writing, like a really nice wine that you have to let wash through you and take time to properly consider.
CHECK OUT MORE FROM IAN McKINNEY AT HIS OFFICIAL AMAZON PAGE, INCLUDING LINKS TO THE SECOND AND THIRD BOOKS OF THIS SERIES.
I finally took the plunge on my Kindle this past week and cracked open a book I had actually purchased some time ago, an experience I’m sure many of us are well familiar with. The Devil’s Guests was a book I was intrigued with, long before it was released but for whatever reason, it took me this long to get around to it.
And I was definitely not disappointed. I’m always a little hesitant, going into a Matt Shaw book because, while I don’t necessarily have an issue with extreme horror, I have to admit that it isn’t my favorite medium for the genre. While I have never found any of Shaw’s books to be lacking in depth or complexity, I have come across other names which I shall not mention that seem to use extreme horror as license to put as much vile, disgusting content onto the page as they can manage, with even the plot taking a back seat.
However, my experience with the work of Matt Shaw is that he devotes the proper attention to all aspects of the story, not just the parts that make you cringe away from the page or the screen. And while his writing does make me uncomfortable at times, it has always been with the knowledge and faith that somewhere in there is a point to the extreme nature of the story.
The Devil’s Guests on face is a simple concept, centered around a particularly violent and sociopathic manager of a hotel. In and of itself, it isn’t the newest concept but for me, what makes the book stand out is the collaborative effort of all the authors involved. While the heart of the book has been constructed by Shaw, he has invited other writers to pen specific sections of the book, introducing various characters who Shaw is then responsible for dispatching in good time.
What I was most taken by was how smooth the narrative comes off. In the introduction, Shaw mentions that he had to go through the manuscript with some minor editing to keep the tone of the characters consistent. I can’t imagine the amount of work and headaches that go into keeping a project like this straight but he did a fantastic job layering and fitting everything together. In all truthfulness, I found the tone here to be as consistent as most single-author books I have read. This is not an anthology, as Shaw argues himself, this is a novel.
The story isn’t given much context in terms of a backstory but I also don’t think it’s needed. This is about plunging yourself into a frightening and visceral experience. The characters are all great, the movement of the narrative is top notch and the extreme portions work well within the context of the story. I thought Shaw did a great job at balancing out the more graphic parts with great narrative, foreshadowing and voice of characters.
There were moments when I did feel like the hotel itself was a bit over the top just in terms of how many secret doors and rooms could be found within, making it seem more like the set of a classic Bond film than gritty horror. Still, this is a small criticism and to be honest, I was more than happy to let that go in the course of a fun reading experience. Horror works best when there is no reason and very little warning. This is a well-written exploration of the dark horror that can take place for no more of an offense than checking in to a hotel.
And as a bonus, Shaw provides several additional short stories from other authors, one of which is an extended scene of what ended up in the book. Shaw wrote an introduction explaining his decision to pare it down and I have to say that I agree that putting this story into the book in its original form would likely have been too much. It’s a brutal story and I’m pretty sure I would have had trouble moving on into the rest of the book after getting to the other side of this scene.
All around, great writing by everyone involved.
As a general rule, I’m not a fan of sequels when it comes to horror movies, especially when we are talking about slasher films. Mostly because it rarely feels like the narrative from the original film is going anywhere as much as simply being restarted. Sequels are constantly criticized as being little more than cash grabs from studios, trying to continue to profit off a successful property. And I think that horror is one realm where this criticism is more valid. Horror is one genre where sequels often have the feel of rinse and repeat, as it isn’t at all unusual for horror franchises to make it to seven, eight or nine films. For me, proper horror is quick and brutal and once it’s done, the stage is cleared. Continue Reading
I hope you will forgive me the indulgence of sharing some personal thoughts with you this week. Don’t worry, it won’t be long before we return to the blood and guts as normal.
This past week, an old friend of mine passed away after a long struggle with an illness. I don’t want to use his full name out of respect for his privacy so I’m just going to call him Tom, enough that family and friends of mine should know who I’m talking about.
I found out this past Friday that he had passed the night before and it was a pretty tough gut shot to hear. Obviously, when someone has been sick for some time, the end shouldn’t come as a shock on an intellectual level. Still, when the moment passes you are inevitably left with the feelings of depressive regret for all the things you wish you had done differently, as if fate grabs you by the head and wrenches it around backward, forcing you to devote all your attention to what is behind, now gone forever.
Essentially, the exact opposite of what I suspect Tom would have wanted from us.
I worked closely with Tom, starting in the mid-nineties. He came into my life in that informative phase, when you are just starting to get some legs under you and figuring out what the hell the world is (as an adult). I think for most of us, if you cast back, you can come across certain key people in your life who, maybe without their knowing it, had a profound effect on your development. Not in the same way children grow but in the sense that you float about in the world, striving for examples of what you think you would want to be seen as, in the prime of your adulthood.
I wanted to have Tom’s mind. He had one of the sharpest, most intuitive intellects I think I have ever had the luck to come across. He could carry on an informed discussion on just about everything. His knowledge of wine and food was unmatched in my experience as well as his passion for culture. He could talk about philosophy or he could talk about sports. What I remember learning the most from Tom is that it can be cool to be smart. And he carried his intellect with an equal weight of humility. I don’t think I ever felt a sense from him that he thought he was special or above anyone else.
I wanted to have Tom’s books. He was an avid reader and I always saw him with a book in his hands, whether it be at work or when he was out and about, walking from point A to point B (in all the time I knew him, Tom never owned a car. Or if he did, he never used it). Tom was well read and well spoken. I saw in tribute that compared him to Bukowski and I think it’s actually a pretty astute comparison. This was a man who struck out into the world and made it his, in turn introducing all of us to the person that could only ever be him. I never had the guts to show Tom any of my writing, mostly because I was sure he would call it out for the unparalleled, putrid shit that it really was. Because if there was one thing that described Tom to the letter, it’s that he was honest. If he thought something, he would tell you.
I wanted to have Tom’s music collection. Before I met him, Tom worked at one of the respected indie music stores in town and I can only imagine how extensive and eclectic his collection might have been. I have always held the belief that flipping through Tom’s records would be like taking a walking tour of rock and blues, probably some country and jazz, most of which I would not have ever heard of. I always thirsted for Tom’s knowledge and awareness of music and on more than one occasion, I tried to pick his brain to get some tips on the cool bands to check out.
I wanted to have Tom’s wine collection. This is the big one because I’m willing to bet those that knew him would agree that there would be some pretty phenomenal bottles in there. He practically built the wine department at our store single-handed, building a network of loyal customers, many of which are still with us to this day. He blazed out with a refined palate and built things of greatness.
Nothing in our life is permanent. We all know this, and we get reminders of it all the time. I can still remember the last conversation I had with Tom, mostly for the triviality of our encounter, more than anything else. How much I would like to drop down into myself in that moment and really tell him how I felt, how important of a friend I had always considered him to be.
I never had that chance, obviously. So, I do the best I can with what has been left behind, to earn the life I have and to enjoy the things which Tom no longer can. I always held Tom in the highest regard and respect. I consider myself privileged to have been able to spend time with him and to take away some of that vast bank vault of wisdom and knowledge contained in that head of his. He was an individual who dared to be himself in a world that often seems to worship normality, a reminder that sometimes it’s important to question things and think about things.
Thank you, Tom. May whatever waters you now sail across be forever a source of peace and comfort to you. Thank you for being a part of our lives. Yours is a mark that will stay with me for a long time to come.
In 1996, the cinematic world was introduced to the first of what would be one of the more successful new horror franchise of the modern era. And interestingly enough, it would spring forth from the mind of one Wes Craven, already responsible for one of the most popular monsters in movie history.
At the time this came out, I was in college and without going into a lot of details, I was going through a difficult time in my life. School was not going well and I had personal issues that were leading to some fairly severe depression and anxiety. I was on break at my father’s house and decided one night to take a spin with a video rental, a new movie release that I had seen advertised but knew very little about. Continue Reading
Silence Of The Lambs marked a monumental moment in film history. For me, it was one of those transitions as a teenager where I saw first hand how gripping a story could be and how the villain of a story can be developed just as much, if not more than the hero. Silence Of The Lambs would also lead to a number of unfortunate side effects down the road, something that was completely out of their control and that I will touch on later.
This film made household names out of both Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins. And while Foster certainly deserves the credit she receives for her work, the role of Clarice Starling is almost a throwaway for me. You can’t have a movie without a protagonist and she fits that bill just fine. We have a young, talented FBI agent-in-training, one with a bright future, but also with a past just dark enough to be exploited by one Hannibal Lector. Continue Reading