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Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: The Legend of Hell House (1973)

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Released in June, 1973, The Legend of Hell House hit unsuspecting theatergoers with a blast. Based on the Richard Matheson novel, Hell House, (and adapted to the screen by Matheson himself) Legend of Hell House was helmed by John Hough. Hough’s credits after Hell House include a slew of notable horror films (The Incubus, Watcher in the Woods, American Gothic) as well as the Disney Witch Mountain franchise.

The story: Physicist Lionel Barrett (Clive Revill) and his wife, Gayle (An Barrett) lead two mediums into the Belasco House, which is supposedly haunted by the victims of its late owner, Emeric Belasco, a 6’ 5”serial killer dubbed the “Roaring Giant”. This is done at the direction of eccentric millionaire, Mr. Deutch (Roland Culver). Deutch is terminally-ill and obsessed with discovering survival after death. The Belasco House, the “Mountain Everest of haunted houses”, has yet to be refuted. Continue Reading

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Reviews in the Machine: The Island, by Michael Bray (2015)

The IslandIn The Island, by Michael Bray, we see a society in which reality television has become a performance platform for violence and death. The island itself is a man-made land mass on which a competition has been resurrected to air for the first time as a television series. Contestants are set loose on the island and only one can survive to the end. Their prize? Whatever it is they desire. All they have to do is make it from one side of the island to the other.

Oh, and they have to make it through an island packed full of dinosaurs.

The main character of the story, Chase Riley, decides to take part in the newly revamped show in order to save his daughter who is suffering from terminal cancer. Against the wishes of his wife, he enters into the show, hoping that a victory will bring in the money they lacked, in order to get their daughter the treatment she needs.

Putting all my honesty down on the table, I have to admit that I was a little dubious of the concept of this book going into it. My concern was that this was going to just end up feeling like a modern reimagining of The Running Man, but with dinosaurs as an artificial attempt to add an extra element to an already successful story. Still, I was also intrigued by the idea and was willing to give it a go.

I’m glad to say that my reservations were unfounded. I think this book is a good reminder that, regardless of the specific concept, effective writing and characters that can be related to will carry a lot of weight, even if the story has some familiar ring to it.

To start off, I think that the strongest element to this book is that of the characters. It’s really easy when you have multiple characters to have trouble keeping track of everyone and they all start to blend together. Despite that challenge, I thought Bray did a really good job making sure everyone was distinct and easy to tell apart from each other. Despite the fact that some of the characters were fairly archetype-ish, I found myself interested in them and engaged in their part of the story.

I also really liked how he explored the dynamic between the characters within the context of the game itself. More specifically, the notion of people who are on one hand contestants but also still feel the urge to help each other. How do you work with and against each other at the same time? How do you deal with the fact that you might care for someone’s well-being while at the same time realizing that you may be put in a position where you might have to take that person’s life?

I found the pacing of the book to be great. I thought the story moved along at a nice clip and once things really got going, they don’t stop until the book ends. Bray did a great job creating a story that is engaging and that held my interest throughout.

As it is probably to be expected in a story of this type, things are not necessarily as they seem. The twists in the story are well done and are used effectively in order to move things along. There were a few points towards the end of the book where I felt like the twists were starting to stretch the limits of credibility, slightly. However, this did not prevent my ability to enjoy them and I was able to shut that part of my brain up and just watch the book unfold.

If I had one critical comment about the book, it would be that at times I thought the writing style got in the way of the flow of the narrative, somewhat. There seem to be quite a few moments where the writing is a bit dense in terms of the paragraphs being very long. There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with this practice, but I think it can make scenes less effective when there is a lot of action going on. I think it has a tendency to slow down the reader and bring down the immediacy of the narrative. In my opinion, some of the scenes could have been more powerful and effective if some of the longer paragraphs had been broken up. This is just a personal issue of my own and it’s a minor one. It didn’t interfere with my enjoyment, nor did it necessarily make the book any less engaging.

In all, I thought that in a culture that has become rife with dystopian literature, The Island does a pretty good job keeping its head above the water and not feeling like ground that is being re-treaded one too many times. It is a book I enjoyed and would highly recommend.

Click HERE for directions to your nearest Amazon storefront listing of this fantastic 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: FeardotCom (2002)

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In 2002, horror was figuring out the next step in its evolution. The ’90s had ended on a high note, with The Sixth Sense re-establishing slow-burn ghost stories as financially viable, and The Blair Witch Project bringing found footage to the masses in a way the then-cult stomach-churner Cannibal Holocaust never could. At that point, Dark Castle had brought a few inventive re-imaginings of William Castle films to a new generation of horror viewer, while the remake floodgates wouldn’t be kicked open proper until 2003’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It was also two years before Saw (allegedly) captured the zeitgeist of the George W. Bush era, turning notions of torture into a financially lucrative extension of the genre.

2002 did show inklings, however, of where mainstream horror might go. In a nod to the relative subtlety and simplicity of The Sixth Sense, and the “something’s out there” (but not necessarily seen) notion of The Blair Witch Project, Dreamworks mined a hit from Gore Verbinski’s The Ring (itself a remake of Japan’s Ringu).  Continue Reading

Reviews in the Machine : The Shades, by Amy Cross (2012)

The ShadesI’m a tad late to the party for this 2012 release but I did manage to get here and I’m glad I did. I’m no stranger to the works of Amy Cross but one thing I like about her catalog is her willingness to go to new places and try new concepts, while also keeping to her same sensibilities and strengths.
With The Shades, Cross does what she often seems to be a fan of, thrusting us directly into the heart of the action, leaving us to grab for a handhold and hope that at some point, she will clear up for us exactly what is going on. The entire population of the United States has disappeared with no explanation as to the cause. A private organization has dispatched a team of experts to investigate what happened. Quickly however, it is apparent that the situation is even more complicated than has been assumed, as well as the motivations for sending this team in the first place.
One thing that Cross really excels at is in weaving a complex tapestry for a narrative and this is no exception. The story takes place on two levels. First, we have the team in the present, exploring an abandoned wasteland that was once New York City. In the other, we are several weeks in the past, following along with another group at the outset of whatever it is that has happened. The book jumps back and forth and while normally this would be a recipe for confusion and disaster, Cross manages to keep everything in the air and uses the device to keep the story compelling and exciting. I have seen her do this in other books and she does a great job creating moments where the narratives collide and present explanations for previous events in the book. She’s great at giving payoffs down the road for ambiguous events early on. While many authors have a tendency to be too vague in the actual explanations in the book, I have generally felt that Cross does a good job grounding the story for the reader.
The vibe of the story quickly transitions from mystery to horror as members of the research team are gradually stricken by some kind of ailment. We see this same condition taking place in the past with our group of heroes, there. Bizarre events make the direction of the plot a complete mystery and for much of the book, I was perfectly happy to sit back and see how things were going to play out. The situations and fates these characters come to were frightening to behold and through it all, Cross also manages to weave in some philosophical wanderings in terms of the ethics of big companies like this and the research they may be spearheading. Shades of Jurassic Park here, I thought.
Overall, this was a book that was fast-paced, exciting and disturbing. And as she is adept at doing, Cross manages to insert just the right level of graphic content to punch up the impact of the story without taking it too far.
Now all of that aside I will admit that the book isn’t perfect. There are a bit more typos in this than I’m used to seeing in an Amy Cross book, possibly a sign of the fact that it came so much earlier in her career. Still, they were a bit distracting and I think the book would have benefited from another editorial pass.
Also, the ending. Any story that starts off like this one is going to create the expectation in the reader for a big payoff and I don’t know if this one delivered necessarily. While Cross does manage to bring the threads of the story together, things end just a bit too neatly for me. And while her explanation for everything that has happened is pretty clever and not one I would have guessed, from a technical perspective I think it needed to be thought out a little more, or eplained . I’m not looking for exhaustive details – this isn’t a techno thriller. But I would have liked the mechanics of what happened in the book to be a little better explained and at moments, there was a bit too much of an air of, “things are just this way because I say they are.”
Those are personal issues though, and different readers are going to come down differently. And in no way does any of that diminish the overall greatness of the book. It’s a spectacular, terrifying and immensely creative narrative, one that I was happy to come across after taking somewhat of a break from the work of Amy Cross.

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: Sleepy Hollow (1999)

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As I look out my window, the view is an obstruction of what looks like a white sandstorm in the trees. Barren forest, ominous setting, and a perfect time to write a horror film review of the gothic, supernatural variety. Warm, indoors writing of it, I mean! Pull up a chair by the fireplace and join me.

As most people know by now, my sense of humor often carries over into my writing and reviews, so fair warning since I’m reviewing the 1999 horror film, “Sleepy Hollow.” And really, what can one expect with a movie like this starring the king of dramatic over-emphasis, Johnny Depp? However, I will try to be humorous as well as critical, so let’s start over.

“Sleepy Hollow” is a film directed by Tim Burton and I am a huge fan of this director. Consider he’s using the source material of one of my favorite classic horror authors Washington Irving, and one of my favorite short stories “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” what’s not to like? I really enjoyed the show that was on television a few years back as well, but in 1999, just having my first baby, I wasn’t really getting out to the theaters. Somehow, though I always wanted to watch it, I just never did. Now, almost twenty years later, the movie didn’t feel old at all, due to the cinematography, decent special effects, and cast of stellar supporting actors (not to mention how young Depp looks). I’m sure the time period the movie is set in (the 1800s) also helps with that. At any rate, I mean I didn’t feel I was watching a cheesy ‘80s or ‘90s movie of my youth.  Continue Reading

Reviews in the Machine : The Goblin Glass, by Mark West

Cover2Great storytelling has very little to do with the specifics of the story itself. And what I mean by that is that when you break down a story to its core elements, they is a fairly small variety of plot types. If there’s a story out there to be told, chances are that countless others have gotten there first.

Writing is about the prose, not the gimmicks. And this is the main reason why my skepticism alarm rages at full volume whenever I see books who claim to take convention and turn it on its head. When I hear about an author who is unlike anyone who has come before them. When writing, one shouldn’t obsess over whether or not they are providing a fresh perspective on a genre or concept. Instead, one should focus on whether or not the story is being crafted at the highest level possible.

And this brings us to the story of the hour, the Goblin Glass, by Mark West.

A story about a burglar who has returned to a life of crime might not be that jaw-dropping as just a concept. And given the context of the story, the reader would likely anticipate that the protagonist of the story will encounter something horrific.

But what Mark West does here and what he has done so brilliantly in the books I have read is to create atmosphere and tension, so fraught that you can’t help but read on. And on.

And on.

For being such a short story, West does an excellent job establishing character. Despite knowing very little about the protagonist, save for the fact that he has clearly done wrong things in his life, I felt like he quickly became sympathetic and relatable on the page. In a thousand or so words, West manages to craft a character who we care about and is thrust into a situation of extreme stress and pressure, all leading him down the path to where he is in the bulk of the story’s narrative.

According to West, this came about as part of a themed anthology around the subject of the Ten Commandments, this story obviously inspired by thou shalt not steal. I thought he ran with this concept and really made it sing, all set against the backdrop of a universe that was beautifully bleak in its construction.

One of my favorite movies is Dark City. I love the image of that grimy industrial setting, perpetually drowned out in shadows and despair. You feel the emotional weight of the setting, not just a physical place through which the characters walk. And for me, the house in Goblin Glass functions as a perfect set piece. For me, it almost makes the entire story. It just so happens that a burglary is in process here but I would take any excuse to read more about this house.

The descriptions are vivid, making me feel like I’m the one tromping through this darkened, vile structure. The look of the place as it is put down on the page makes me feel revolted to picture and yet I couldn’t turn away – something that isn’t easy to accomplish. I could smell the dirty dishes, hear the protests of the floorboards and I was disturbed by the mirrors throughout the house, reflecting light and amplifying your fears as our hero continues going up and up, into the upper reaches of this mysterious house. The origins of all this isn’t necessarily clear. But it’s sure is scary.

Horror doesn’t necessarily require extensive explanation. For me, it’s about the creation of the moment and seeing where it goes. It’s about evoking what you can on the visual canvas of the mind. I’ve always been impressed with the writing of Mark West and this story is the perfect example.

Click here and get your copy for the Kindle, today!

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: The Haunting (1963)

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When folks talk about the original haunted house story, most people are referring to Shirley Jackson’s 1959 classic The Haunting of Hill House. This book has been adapted more times than any other haunted house story. From Salem’s Lot (yes, King alludes to Hill House as a comparison to the Marsten House) to even Hell House (though Richard Matheson took his 1973 book deeper into the paranormal investigative niche and spawned his own adaptions) to the most recent Netflix mini series, simply titled The Haunting of Hill House, which has spurred a resurgent interest into the old gothic tale. There are two other adaptations, of course. One we will not discuss because it is a horrible heap of garbage. The other is as close to the perfection that Miss Jackson composed within her 246 page as a movie can get. Continue Reading

Reviews In The Machine: Halloween, by John Passarella (2018)

Halloween1Just so you are aware.

I have not seen the most recent Halloween movie. There have been more than enough reactions to the film for you to seek out. This review represents my thoughts on the novelization.

 And while I may pretend that the book exists in a vacuum, I also have to acknowledge that this isn’t really the case. So I want to make sure it’s clear that whatever criticisms I may be putting down here, I can’t really hang it on John Passarella. While I’m sure he was given some room to roam, because this is a novelization, it means he was handed this story, fully formed for the most part. The writing is actually entertaining and engaging. The issues I have with the story would be decisions that were made before Passarella even came into the picture.

To start on a positive note, one thing that set Halloween (the original Carpenter film) aside from the other two massive franchises of the decade was in its use of atmosphere and foreshadowing. Michael seems to be constantly on the fringe of the story, floating in and out as a vague presence in many scenes, lending a beautifully bleak feeling of what is coming. This all is aided of course by a fantastic score.

With that fact as a kind of marinade to my point here, in general I would say that I preferred the first half of the book and I felt like the use of similar tension and foreboding was done well. As the reader with extra insight I liked the feeling of hopelessness for these characters as they go about their lives, not knowing what’s coming for them. Michael is appropriately frightening in his silent implacability. And naturally, most of those in charge don’t seem to take him seriously as a threat. And as would be expected from this franchise, we all know he’s going to escape. Still, when that scene finally arrived I thought it was done well.

One big promotional aspect for the film has been the return of Jaime Lee Curtis to her iconic role although, to be fair I’m not really sure why. Not that she isn’t an outstanding actor (she is) but of the nine movies set in the original film’s continuity, she’s appeared in five. I can’t think of any other franchise where an actor, save for the monster has appeared in so many installments. And this isn’t even the first “return” she’s made to the franchise. Maybe they should have called this H40.

I digress.

More relevant I think than just JLC’s presence is that this is essentially the establishment of a new iteration of the John Carpenter universe, seeing another possibility for how things could have ended up for Laurie Strode following the fateful events of that night.

And as such, I think some great potential is present at the start of this book in the relationship Laurie has with her family. On one hand you have her daughter who grows up traumatized herself, having to live with a mother who is constantly paranoid and emotionally unstable, sure that there are monsters poised to strike out at them. And in the middle of this estranged pair is the granddaughter, now of a similar age to Laurie in the first movie.

Unfortunately, this dynamic never really seems to go anywhere. The focus jumps from one to the next, so much that the book ends up not really being about any of them. You get some broad brush strokes every now and then but for the most part, everyone just felt flat for me.

And as for Laurie as a character, I was kind of let down. I’m normally a fan of sequels in which we see how damaged our main character really is and how just because the monster might be beaten, her torture still carries on. I’m appreciative when a writer is willing to show their heroes as being broken. Unfortunately, I thought that Laurie in this became a little bit too much Sarah Conners from T2. We start from quiet, unassuming Laurie in the first movie and now she’s somehow managed the resources and funds to amass a massive arsenal in her home, which is also outfitted with so many security features that it almost becomes cartoonish. And I’m not saying that’s it’s unbelievable that she could end up a fully loaded bad-ass. I’m more than willing to take that journey. It’s just that the transition felt wrong and unexplained to me.

Frankly, I think I would have been more intrigued by a story exploring the effect violence can have on a family. Laurie’s daughter has no memory of the first encounter with Michael. That’s always been theoretical for her. But it’s the reason why she’s raised with guns and knives and self-defense training, rather than birthday parties and toys. Instead of standard slasher-flick fare, this could have been a great aspect to the story but I think by adding both a daughter and a granddaughter, it became too complicated for any of them to get a good amount of focus.

And in my biggest complaint, because I guess they just had to have a Loomis type character, the doctor who is shoehorned into this role is a fail for me. Michael’s doctor has an arc in this story that has no narrative momentum to hold it up. And he ends up taking actions at the end that makes no sense to me. You can’t have a character whose only role is to act as a twist.

The book has some great, brutal scenes involving peripheral characters but once we get everyone to Laurie’s Bat Cave, much of the sense of peril kind of dwindled away for me.

After as many installments as this franchise has seen, I suppose it’s inevitable for the plot to feel a little on the bland side. Still, for me, this book mostly goes down as a case of lost potential.

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: Beetlejuice (1988)

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Director: Tim Burton

Writers: Michael McDowell (story), Larry Wilson (story)

Stars: Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Michael Keaton, & Winona Ryder, et. al.

Release Date: 30 March 1988 (USA)

Review “Living Through the Black Death and Having a Good time Through It” by: J.G. Clay

Every now and again, a film slithers its way from the screen into the Geek Cloud, that weird consciousness shared by folks of a certain demeanor, character and temperament. From Star Wars to the umpteen Offerings from the Universe of Stan Lee (RIP), the tired and huddled masses absorb a dearth of quotable lines and drunken discussion worthy scenes. With this wealth of filmic foolery to play with, its little wonder that a few noteworthy works fall through the cracks to lay undiscovered for years or even centuries. I should know. Many a time I’ve mentioned the shotgun spinning skeletal bat from ‘House’ or the neon lit ‘one fingered salute rising from the rear of car in ‘My Science Project’ only to be met with stony glances and the occasional ‘shut the fuck up. That never happened. I know it did, I know these films exist and I recommend you check them out. Continue Reading

Reviews in the Machine: Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu : A Tale of Atomic Love by Mercedes M. Yardley

montessaSeeing as we are getting into the Stoker award spirit of things, I thought I would share this oldie, my review of Stoker award winning author, Mercedes Yardley, a book with a title so massive, you won’t want to have to say it more than once. Reading it however, was a joy.

Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu: A Tale of Atomic Love by Mercedes M. Yardley is a fun take on several different genres and manages to take brush strokes from each in a brilliant effort to create a new, uniquely molded book.

The has two main characters. As the story opens, Montessa is on her way home from work when she is fallen upon and abducted by serial killer, Lu. He quickly figures out that Montessa isn’t like any other women he has killed before. She is captivating to him and surprisingly, as the story shifts over to Montessa’s point of view, we find that she is becoming just as taken with Lu. In each other, Montessa and Lu discover the holes in their lives they had never realized were there in the first place.

Soon, Montessa no longer travels along with Lu as his victim, but rather as his partner and his lover.

To start, there have been plenty of stories that deal with the situation where a seemingly innocent victim is lured in by the guile of their would-be killer or kidnapper and ends up becoming a part of that world, fundamentally changing themselves into the monster they had thought they were fleeing from. It isn’t what I would call un-trodden ground but in Yardley’s capable hands, the book doesn’t have even the most remote feelings of seeming stale or overdone. I think that fundamentally, there are two different types of stories. In the first, you settle down into the book, saying to yourself, “okay, I’m reading a western”. These are the books that fit into a certain convention of expectations and tradition.

The second type are the stories that feel like genres unto themselves. It doesn’t happen as often and it doesn’t always work. But in this case, I thought that it worked very well. There were moments where I might have been reminded of other stories or films or shows I had seen before but for the most part, this felt like a fully organic, original endeavor.

I think that one of my favorite aspects of this book was how Yardley chronicles Montessa’s journey in terms of how she feels about Lu from the start and how that progresses. Any author can tell you that a character feels or thinks a certain way but it’s another thing entirely to take the reader to the point of actually understanding what they are seeing. It is to the point where I found myself saying, well of course this is what Montessa is doing, that makes total sense. What else would she do?

Both of the characters in this book are woven extremely well and there is a strong sense of them being individually defined while at the same time pieces of the same puzzle. And built into their characters is the existence of a magic of sorts, something that makes the both of them unique. I loved that Yardley resisted the urge to rush in and over-explain everything in the story. Sometimes one of the most difficult things as a writer is to sit back and just let things be what they are, without giving narrative justification. Why does magic exist in the universe of this story?

Because it does.

How is it that Montessa and Lu have their unique abilities? I’m not really sure, they just have them. I don’t think the story suffers from a lack of explanation and I also don’t think it would be enhanced by adding more backstory. It’s the perfect situation as a writer that we all strive for.

If I had one minor issue, I think it would be in how quickly Montessa and Lu’s language towards each other becomes a sort of lovers’ shorthand. The flowery nicknames for each other you would expect to hear from the characters deeply in love with each other. As the book moved on and their bond intensified, it felt more natural but as early as it started, it felt a little forced to me. But as I said, this is just one extremely minor point, in no way did it take anything away from the story.

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

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