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Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: Sinister (2012)

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Starring: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, James Ransone, Fred Dalton Thompson, Michael Hall D’Addario, Clare Foley, and Vincent D’Onofrio.

Written By: Scott Derrickson, and C. Robert Cargill

Directed By: Scott Derrickson

Review By: Joshua Macmillan

Synopsis: A washed up true-crime author moves his family into the home of a mysterious murder. While researching the crime, he finds a mysterious box in the attic full of super 8 home videos depicting multiple grisly homicides, leading the author down a path he is not prepared to take.

2012 was a weird year for the horror genre. We saw Sinister release, as well as Excision, American Mary, The Collection, The Possession, and many others- most of which fell below the mark and found themselves in the realm of obscurity. Sinister was one of the few that didn’t fall to the wayside, instead it was one of the best horror films of the year if you look at the “mainstream” releases. Continue Reading

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Reviews in the Machine: The Traveling Vampire Show, by Richard Laymon

vampire showOne of my favorite books growing up was Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon. And it was a book that I didn’t immediately engage with. I had been a fan of several of McCammon’s books already but Boy’s Life was quite a departure from what I was expecting. There was seemingly none of the horrific elements that his books seemed to deliver. I bailed out, shortly after beginning my first attempt but before long, I was able to buckle down and force myself through. It wasn’t long after that before I realized how much I had missed out by not sticking with the book the first time through.

The book isn’t horror. I wasn’t wrong in that initial assessment. Sure, there are some moments where the narrative seems to brush up against the supernatural but in no way was this horror. Still, I loved it. The characters were compelling and I quickly bought into them as a reader. I couldn’t put the book down and the thing that really threw me was how, for most of the book, it wasn’t really clear what the story was driving towards. I’m normally not a huge fan of books that are so plot-driven but in this case, the plot was so great, it was all I wanted.

It was this feeling that I returned to when I came across The Travelling Vampire Show. I have not had the pleasure of reading anything by Richard Laymon before and I suspect that this will not be the last. The setup for the book is pretty straightforward. A group of three friends come across a flier for a travelling act that is coming to town. The poster claims that the town can come out to see one of the last surviving vampires, alive. An intense show is promised, one that won’t be soon forgotten.

The friends, after much debate, decide that they need to figure out how to sneak out that night in order to get in and see this vampire, real or not.

From this point on, the book mostly goes into a detailed sequence of events, what transpires for these three friends. It’s a notion that in the hands of another author probably could have ended up being a complete disaster. And for me, this is where the comparison to Boy’s Life really comes into play. As with Boy’s Life, I frequently found myself looking up from this book and realizing that I really couldn’t say what the book was about, or what kind of arc these characters were on. And while many would bemoan the absence of these things, for me, the story was so compelling, I was finding that I just didn’t care. This was a rich universe that was an absolute pleasure to dip in to. It’s a story about friendship and loyalty and about growing up and how our relationships can change as that process moves forward. The plot has an almost episodic feel to it as our characters move from one emotional challenge to the next and I loved it.

The characters were what really rocketed this book into the stratosphere. Everyone felt like they had an immense history and texture to them and it was a big part of what made me overlook my feelings about the story seeming like one endless stream of point A to point B to point C and so forth. The importance of where the book was going took a comfortable back seat to my desire to simply see what the characters were going to do next.

There were a few points where I thought the book could have been better. There are a number of flashbacks throughout and for some reason, one of the characters always seems to have a different nickname during each one. It’s never really explained why she changes her nickname all the time and the first time it happened there were several minutes of confusion on my part, wondering who this new character was.

My other issue was with the ending. While it was dramatic and satisfying, there were certain aspects that I found a bit overdone. There were several moments that I thought were getting a little masturbatory, with multiple female characters fighting and of course losing their clothes in the process.

These were both minor issues however, and my enjoyment of the book remained strong. The  romance between two of the characters is certainly to be expected by most readers so it isn’t exactly a stunning twist but the way that aspect of the story develops is actually quite sweet and I felt like I was seeing something genuine developing, not just an author arbitrarily pushing two characters together. And I’ll give Laymon credit for resisting the urge at a key moment to launch into an obligatory sex scene and instead throwing in a head-fake that made me actually laugh as I was reading, something that doesn’t happen very often.

This isn’t a horror story. It does however build up to some closing moments that are grim and intense in their violence and in how disturbing they are. Overall, this was a fantastic book and the genius of it is in how it takes moments that should drag the book down and uses them as the essential building blocks to construct a book that I didn’t want to put down.

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

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: Hell House LLC (2015)

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[PRAAAAWBABLY SOME SPOILERS IN THIS ONE]

I actually just had to go through my now-double-digits past write-ups for Machine Mean to see if I was right on this…but HHLLC will be the first found footage film I’ve actually reviewed. And by found footage, I mean the shot-on-video incarnation, and not earlier films with an in-progress-documentary-film conceit like Cannibal Holocaust, Man Bites Dog, etc..

Coincidentally, I think I was supposed to review The Houses October Built but maybe didn’t for scheduling reasons or something. I say ‘coincidentally’ because that was another found footage film about the “Haunt” industry—commercial haunted house attractions run by professionals during the fall season, especially around Halloween. HHLLC goes a very different way with its scares, mostly due to revealing itself as a different subgenre of horror to THOB, which was something more like The Blair Witch Project meets The Strangers. Continue Reading

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: The Grudge (2004)

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The Grudge (2004) seems to be one of those films it’s cool to hate. The only thing cooler is preferring the Japanese original. I’m going to be uncool (not a stretch) and play a little devil’s advocate (assuming my proposed generality is accurate). I’m going to try to focus on what I think is the film’s greatest virtue. It may even be the case that The Grudge (2004), Takashi Shimizu’s English language reworking of Ju-on, has a great deal to teach us about how to make an effective horror film, even if it ultimately fell flat for you.

What is the virtue in question? The Grudge is played straight. Its premise is held up to the light to live or die by its own merit. The film doesn’t lean on homage the way many horror films have done. Recent successful horror installments like Hereditary and A Quiet Place share this quality with The Grudge. All of these films owe something to the catalog of horror films that preceded them, but they are the clear result of careful digestion and organic integration of classic tropes, not so much ham-fisted nods to their predecessors. There’s a sense that the creators were excited about the stories they were telling. They felt they had something unique in hand, and the general consensus seems to be that they were right. Continue Reading

Reviews in the Machine: Salvage, by Duncan Ralston

Salvage1Salvage is a story built on a solid and creepy premise. It’s a book that somehow manages to feel claustrophobic within mostly open spaces and isolated it’s characters in ways that I don’t think I have seen done similarly in anything else I have read.

I love stories that deal with the sea and especially underwater. One of my favorite movies growing up was The Abyss, along with the fantastic novelization, written by Orson Scott Card. I loved the sense of terror that is exuded from being underwater, even at shallow depths. It’s the one place where, despite our often feeling like masters of our domain, once we are plunged into the depths we begin to realize how weak and unwanted we can be on an alien landscape. The sound and temperature is distorted. You have no sense of touch or smell. What you see can only be illuminated by what natural light filters down or by your dive lights. Diving underwater is something that begs to have a horror story written about it.

The concept for this book is of a lost town, flooded intentionally as a part of rerouting a river. It’s something I was surprised to see has happened before. Google it if you want to see some interesting material. Essentially the population must abandon the town and ever since, it has been lost at the bottom of a man-made lake, save for the top peak of the local chapel. The book is centered around the disappearance of the local Reverend as well as some of the parishioners.

All this makes for some outstanding atmosphere and tension. It’s spooky enough to explore an abandoned town but add to that the aspect of doing it underwater makes for a beautiful sense of claustrophobia and anxiety.

It’s a fine line to strike but technical detail is something I like, so long as it is being used to augment the story, not replace it. I call this the Dan Brown syndrome from his tendency to bring an entire narrative to a shrieking halt while some concept is explained. Maybe we even get a flashback of Robert Langdon beating some concept into the ground for one of his classes. This phenomenon happens when you have a writer who puts a ton of time at the library or online, researching some aspects of the story and when it comes time to write, you can tell they are somewhat shoehorning to make room for all the knowledge they discovered. Wouldn’t want that time to get wasted, would we?

And I get it. I’ve been in a similar position. And often we find ourselves really interestedSalvage2 in a subject and want to write about it. The problem is that it bogs down the narrative. So I was happy to discover that in this, Ralston deftly incorporates the necessary technical aspects of diving while at the same time making it feel natural and logical. He also has enough respect for us to keep from overexplaining, making his descriptions clear, while expecting us to keep up with him as well. I felt like I actually learned a lot about diving and of the common dangers that I don’t think I was ever really aware of. It created a beautiful balance of danger for the characters, presented by the real world sources as well as possibly other-worldly as well.

And of course added to all of this is the well-layered tension and mystery around the protagonist’s history as well as that of the town. There is a certain amount of intrigue to the story as he works through the locals, trying to obtain more information. It’s a dynamic between characters that isn’t necessarily new but Ralston delivers the classic narrative in fine form.

The novel is paced well and the characters are carefully crafted. But for me the atmosphere was what really made this story take off. Supernatural horror has always been one of my favorites and the addition of the diving aspect really made it work well. If, by chance you aren’t as familiar with the works of Duncan Ralston, Salvage would be a great starting point.

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

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: The Omen (1976)

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The Omen: 1976

Starring Gregory Peck, Lee Remick  and David Warner.

Directed by Richard Donner

Review By: D.S. Ullery
For a great many people, the peace and love movement launched in earnest in 1967 with the Summer of Love – and, in a larger, ideological sense, the innocence of the 1960’s – came to an ugly end on an eerily silent August night in 1969, when Charles Manson sent his followers into the Hollywood hills on a mission of murder. Even the success of the Woodstock festival several weeks later couldn’t quell the tide of rising tensions.

This may seem an odd note on which to launch a review of what’s essentially a mainstream occult horror flick about the Antichrist, but bear with me.

Between 1967 and 1974, the mood in the United States had undergone a dramatic shift away from the sensibilities distinguishing the early days of the Hippie movement. There was the assassination of Robert Kennedy, the aforementioned Manson cult crimes, the Kent State shootings, Watergate and the eventual resignation of Richard Nixon. Continue Reading

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: The Conjuring 2 (2016)

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Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Frances O’Conner, Madison Wolfe, Simon McBurney, and Franka Potente

Written By: Chad Hayes, Carey W. Hayes, James Wan, and David Leslie Johnson

Directed By: James Wan

Review By: Joshua Macmillan

Synopsis: A single mother and her four children are being attacked by a malicious force that is determined to possess one of her young daughters. After attempting to get help from local authorities, the Catholic church appoints Ed and Lorraine Warren to visit the family and try to figure out exactly what is going on.

If you read my previous review for James Wan’s The Conjuring (2013), you would know that I was grasped by that film. It engaged me on levels that I didn’t think it would at all. After I watched it, I immediately wanted to pop in the disk to The Conjuring 2 (2016) but I held off until after I had written my review for the original. Continue Reading

Reviews in the Machine: Day of the Dead (1985)

Day of the Dead 2In light of the recent passing of actor Joseph Pilato, I thought it would be a good time to share some of my thoughts on one of my favorite all-time zombie films. The original trilogy of films which George Romero presented has stood the test of time as great representations of the zombie genre. While zombies have taken off in modern popular culture, all things must have their origins. And while I love all three of the films, Day of the Dead has always been my favorite. Dawn of the Dead is a great film but at times it does tend to drag a bit for me. And while Night of the Living Dead is an undeniable classic, at times it comes off as a bit on the quaint side for me, more of a rough sketch of the greatness that zombie films could become, further down the road. Continue Reading

Paranormal & Supernatural In Review: Jacob’s Ladder (1990)

Jacob's Ladder 1I say without exaggeration that Jacob’s Ladder was one of the most visually disturbing movies I’ve ever seen. The surreal landscape of the story is terrifying and in my opinion has never been equaled by anything after.

And before I get into this, let me say that there will be spoilers. Sorry, but I want this to he a complete discussion of the film so if you haven’t seen it, stop reading, right now, and correct that oversight.

This is the kind of movie you really need to watch at least twice before you can really appreciate it. This isn’t a film that you coast through. This is a movie that you white-knuckle it for two hours before saying, wait what? What the hell just happened? Re-watching the movie, after already fully immersing yourself in it helps you fully appreciate the journey taken by this character. Continue Reading

Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

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Released 2005

Directed by Scott Derrickson

Written by Paul Harris Boardman, Scott Derrickson

Starring: Jennifer Carpenter, Laura Linney, Tom Wilkinson

This review contains spoilers.

Review by: Kayleigh Marie Edwards

I love horror films but as an atheist, possession movies don’t normally tickle the terror nerve for me. I don’t believe in Satan or spirits or the possibility of being possessed, so as much as I am entertained by the idea of it, it doesn’t scare me as much as, say, Mikey standing in the corner facing into the wall (you know, because forest witches are definitely real). However, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is not just another run-of-the-mill possession movie about a teenage girl in a dirty white nightdress spouting Latin in dual voices. Well… I mean… it is actually, but it’s also so much more. Continue Reading

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