I don’t think I’ve seen so many new horrors as I have this year. AND IT’S ONLY MARCH!!! I’m not going to list off all of them, as at this time in the morning hours with only one cup of coffee to keep my brain functioning, cannot recall. Though some honorable mentions are due. XX, a 4 film horror anthology directed by Jovanka Vuckovic, Annie Clark, Roxanne Benjamin, and Karyn Kusama, was a stellar performance, despite some notes falling flat. Another one that was actually listed as a 2016 movie, but I saw in January, so it counts on my list for this year, and that flick was Split…which split critics while still bringing in rather respectable ratings from audiences, not just because it released (late Dec?) in January (the month movies go to die), but also because it was a return of sorts for M. Night Shyamalan. This last movie brings up a point that I’d like to address. Maybe I haven’t really been paying close enough attention, but when did Blumhouse start producing good horror movies? And back to back, mind you. As per our double feature review here of Get Out and The Belko Experiment (more on those to follow), add in Split, and that’s two out of three money making horror movies for the apparently expanding horror flick producer. No complaints here. Blumhouse’s wheelhouse has added a sort of balance for me and my comic book movie obsession. So…lets get into this and take a look at two horror flicks, both of which I had the pleasure of screening on back to back weekends.
Let’s kick things off with The Belko Experiment.
Produced by, you guessed it, Blumhouse, directed by Greg McLean. From IMDb, “In a twisted social experiment, 80 Americans are locked in their high-rise corporate office in Bogotá, Colombia and ordered by an unknown voice coming from the company’s intercom system to participate in a deadly game of kill or be killed.” I think it’s important to note that the screenplay was written by Guardian of the Galaxy director James Gunn who was originally asked to direct this movie but decided to step back for personal reasons. This was the most recent horror flick I’d gone to theaters to see, mostly out of having some free time come up and why not, right. I had a good feeling the theater would be empty and it pretty much was. Not for lack of trying for the producers. I’d seen a share number of advertisements both on the radio and on TV. And judging by said previews, the plot wasn’t hard to decipher. This wasn’t one of those kinds of movies. Here, there was no twist ending, and if the ending was supposed to be one, well…sorry buddy, I believe Joss Whedon already pulled it off in Cabin in the Woods. Not to get spoilerly here, as this is still showing in theaters. But you’ll get it when you see it, a very Cabin in the Woods kinda vibe. And that’s also not to say that Th Belko Experiment was bad. I actually enjoyed it. I didn’t have to think too much. It was a dark humorous action thriller with plenty of gore to please most horror fans. There were a few aahhs and ohhs from the audience when someone’s face got split in two with an ax, or when someone who’d been doing all the right things in a horror movie suddenly without much warning gets killed.
That can kinda sum up The Belko Experiment. A boiling pot of other movies and mixtures such as Office Space meets Battle Royal meeting Cabin in the Woods. People who came looking for a mystery to solve probably left feeling disappointed, as it seems many other movie critics and audiences had, given the poor showing on Rotten Tomatoes or how it was pretty much cast into the back of the theater on opening day. Hell, the theater I normally go had stopped showing it, forcing me to drive an extra five miles to the next theater. Bastards! For me, I knew before the movie started what it was going to be. I knew there’d be one or no survivors. I came for the nihilistic violence and nihilistic violence is what I got. The Belko Experiment wasn’t perfect, not by a long shot. The story seemed to falter against the easy to predict concept of the film. Too much attention was given to certain officer works battling internally over the dilemma of their humanity. I think if producers and director had turned the volume up on the violence, making it a sort of hyper-violent nihilistic movie, it would have been a shade better.
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Now…how about we Get Out.
It’s been two weeks since I saw Get Out. And while the movie had been out for at least a week if not more before I journeyed to the theater, if there were any doubts as to its popularity, let me say…my theater was not empty. Not at all. I’m rather certain it was plum full. The same happened to me when I saw Split. Packed theater. And for a horror movie no less, whether you liked the movie or not, should make you a little optimistic about the future of the genre, if you’re a genre fan, that is. Get Out was directed and written by comedian Jordan Peele (from Key & Peele and Wanderlust fame). And this was Peeles first go at directing, or directing a horror flick at the least. I can say without question that I wish upon a star that he returns to the director’s chair for another romp. For those who do not know, Get Out is about “a young African-American man who visits his Caucasian girlfriend’s mysterious family estate.” And that’s pretty much all you need to know. The plot is rather simple, actually. But the twist…oh my, it is almost too good.
Don’t worry. No spoilers here. I’d wouldn’t do that to you. But let me say for those who were told or believe that Get Out is an anti-white movie, you are DEAD WRONG. They (or you) couldn’t be furthest from the truth. In fact, I’d say this movie pokes more fun at white liberals than staunch racists. Racism is there, you can’t avoid it, just as you cannot avoid it in everyday life. But the real gem of this movie is the natural way it highlights the awkwardness between African Americans and Caucasian Americans. The scenes dealing with this phenomena are quite brilliant. And there are layers are weirdness that can only be described as such. And there are scenes that make little sense and/or do not add to the quality of the movie, nor do they take anything away. They’re kinda just….well…there. I’m assuming Peele’s way of appealing to traditional horror flick fans.
Also, don’t be fooled by those espresso hipsters, those fascist wannabes who think they know everything. Get Out is a horror movie in every definition. Just as there are multiple ways of horrifying audiences, when Get Out pulled out its heart-stopping end, I was truly terrified. When I allow myself to be put in his shoes and those who came before him, well…it kinda reminded me of some terrifyingly strange classic sci-fi flicks from the late 50s and 60s, with perhaps a touch of H.P. Lovecraft. Not to show my hand or anything, I’m trying not to spoil as the movie is still showing in theaters. You really do need to see this for yourself. Trust me. I had the assumption of what was going on and when I found out I was wrong, I was very surprisingly pleased. And it’s one of those surprise endings that make you think back over the course of the movie, and when you do, you’ll nod your head and say, “Oh, that’s why…” etc. etc. Get Out is by far my favorite horror movie of the year, thus far.
My rating: 5 of 5
Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of character-driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. His debut novel, Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, and his newest release, The Hobbsburg Horror. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging (coming soon), are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can keep up with Thomas and all his strange events by joining his author newsletter, at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.
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Watch the skies! Keep your family close. A new terror is invading our world. They are…KRITES…no wait, sorry, CRITTERS…yeah, definitely that! If you’re a nerd, such as myself, then you are probably aware of such a movie called “Critters,” and the three other sequels that followed. Critters is not the first horror-comedy to grace this Creature Features series, but at the same time, it is something quite unique. When you think “monster movies” you kinda assume something like gigantic lizards that breath fire, or mutant genetically altered insects, or maybe even meteor shit that turns out to be some sort of alien slug that turns people into a mess of zombified conglomerated flesh. But when we get catch phrases like, “They bite,” and “When you got Critters, you need all the help you can get,” we sort of don’t know what to think. Is this movie serious? Or is it pure spoof comedy? Is it even horror? On one spectrum, you’ve got Roger Ebert giving this flick a thumbs up back in 1986 while on the other hand sporting a meager 43% audience approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Some critics have called Critters “Gremlins on acid,” (MovieHole) while others have said that “Critters [is] a franchise [that] has nothing on the Nightmare on Elm Street films, but it’s proven popular enough with Gen X-ers who forward ‘You know you’re a child of the ’80s if…’ emails to all their office mates” (Slate Magazine.) So what is it about Critters that appeals to some while turns away others?
Let’s take this one step at a time.
To get us started, here is a wonderful synopsis by our friends over at IMDb:
“A race of small, furry aliens make lunch out of the locals in a farming town.”
BRAVO!!!! Okay, well, my work here is done, folks. Furry aliens make lunch…oh, you can’t get any better than that people, that is pure gold. Well, as pure usual, they aren’t wrong. Here’s what I got while watching the movie for the…jeez…I don’t know, maybe twentieth time maybe? Somewhere around there. As our heroes over at IMDb pointed out, yes, furry aliens do make lunch, but as the New Line Cinema bold red screen appears, one Nightmare on Elm Street fans should recognize with a sense of glee, the screen opens on a giant space rock that so happens to also be a prison. We don’t really get to see much here, just a bunch of dialogue going on off screen. Supposedly, a violent criminal species known as Krites are being transported to the facility. Right away we’re told they “eat everything.” Just as my Magic 8-Ball predicted, the Krites escape the facility by stealing a space vessel and take off toward planet Earth. Here we get little (get it?) glimpses of the Krites, their claws and hear their language which has been thankfully translated for us via closed captioning.
The warden on this highly secured prison, who looks like the Caterpiller from Alice in Wonderland, hires “the bounty hunters” to track down these fiendish hungry villains and dispatch them. And it’s around here when the screen opens on a quaint small farm in a quiet small town. Nothing much to hate about this place. We’ve got our A typical American breed family. Pa and Ma and big sister and little mischevious bro Brown. A stark difference to the science fiction space opera going on in the beginning. Here we’ve got one of the most overused and iconic of horror and sci-fi backdrops, the American farming town. But given the opening, there’s already a feeling of helter skelter. What are we watching? Horror or sci-fi? Is this ET or “Gremlins on acid?” I have no idea, but I do know one thing, we’ve got Dee Wallace, ET’s Henry Thomas’s mother in nearly the same dubious role as the harried Ma Brown of young Brad Brown (played by Scott Grimes who I believed was actually a younger Judd Nelson), our plucky kid hero who goes to battle against these Krites; Critter invaders.
Several scenes play out as we patiently wait for what we really came here to see. Aliens eating people and GORE. Spoiler: the latter you’re not going to get much of, sorry. My biggest concern watching this film was regarding young Brad. Now, yes, we all adore the stereotypical young boy who loves fireworks and plays with M-80s, whistlin’ bungholes, spleen splitters, whisker biscuits, honkey lighters, hoosker doos, hoosker don’ts, cherry bombs, nipsy daisers, scooter stick, and whistlin’ kitty chasers. But good God man, this kid is packing more than your typical firecracker. This thing is a bomb. His father reprimands him, also looking a bit weary about his son’s interest in explosives. Later, we see Brad sent to his room where he has a workbench of destruction and assembles what looks a lot like a stick of dynamite. Seriously, where are this kid’s parents?
Two highlights soon follow. Billy Zane and Bill Zane’s death. More on that to follow. Zane must have been just starting out acting when Critters came along. He looks quite young and only has a few lines. I did like that they made the big sister and girlfriend of Zane’s (played by Canada’s sweetheart Nadine Van der Velde) as the promiscuous one. She’d practically dragging young Zane up into the loft where she has prepared a sort of love nest, complete with 80s jams. Earlier, when Pa learns of his daughter’s new New York city boyfriend, he quickly asks his wife if they’ve had the talk on “how things are.” Jeez, I can only imagine what that talk as about consider sister Brown’s later behavior. But hey, who am I to judge the phenomenal romance of teenage love?
As far as horror movies go. I do not think this is such. This wasn’t horrifying. Even the going into the basement scary scene wasn’t really scary. It’s hard to be scared with Gremlin sized furballs cracking jokes in some strange intergalactic language. That’s not to say Critters wasn’t good. Critters is actually a fun movie to watch. The characters are not deep or complex, but their motivations are easy to understand and thus we do not have to invest a lot of brain power with them. Just as with the plot, though seemingly complex with the beforementioned space opera, it’s actually an oversimplification of several movies that came out in the space of 1986. Critters is without a doubt “Gremlins on acid,” it’s also got a touch of The Terminator with the machine-like bounty hunters and the garb they wear. And director Stephen Herek (director of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure) is not shy poking fun at ET. There’s a great scene with one of the Krites talking with a stuffed ET doll, yelling “Who are you!” And then ripping the doll’s head off. Looking back at Herek’s resume, it’s easy to see that he is mostly a fan of light hearted-humored movies. He wants to have fun and that mood is clearly carried throughout the film.
One of my favorite scenes involves Dee Wallace versus one the Critters that attack the family while they are retreating back into their house from the porch. The family gets back inside, and out on the porch one Critter turns to the other and warns that they “have weapons.” His Critter buddy replies, “So what?” Dee Wallace sticks out the barrel of her shotgun through the door and blows the “so what” Critter into goo. his buddy turns to his dispatched friend and screams “Fuck!” in his own intergalactic language, shown to use again by that marvelous closed captioning. It’s little moments like this sprinkled throughout the movie that makes Critters fun and funny to watch.
Oh, I also forgot. This town, as the sheriff (played by the fantastic M. Emmet Walsh) was quick to say, is a circus, and just like any good or decent circus, it comes complete with its very own town drunk/alien conspiracy nut/minor-leaguye baseball washout by the name of Charlie (played by Don Keith Opper). Charlie is quick to predict the arrival of the aliens, either by the feelings in his fillings or by dumb luck, the latter more like, and fumbles his way throughout the entire movie, stepping up at the very end by lofting a molotov cocktail into the alien spacecraft, destroying it and the creatures inside, thus saving the day. What I liked more about the end was the utter “fuck you” given by the Krites as they attempt to flee, firing a laser on the American Dream, portrayed in this movie with the Brown’s farm house, blowing brick and wood and shingles to smithereens. It’s usually in moments like this when I begin to formulate any possible meanings or questions the movie and or director are trying to convey. Seeing the destruction of the “American Dream” begs the question of what’s most important to us, was the “Dream” a lie all along? Was keeping the family together the most important part and that even when you’ve done everything right you will not necessarily get to ride off into the sunset?
Well…as I was pondering these questions I had believed the movie was asking, the preverbal reset button was pushed and the house rebuilt itself via a device given to Brad as a “thank you” from the aliens. In seconds, the house is restored to its original glory. Watching this and then seeing the credits roll I was left somewhat dumb stuck. Did the director just punk me, as I image he punked countless over movie reviewers before me? Maybe.
Regardless, Critters is certainly a classic film, one that kids of the 80’s without a doubt share in email and threads on social media as one of those flicks that defined an era. The mood was lighthearted, and despite certain scenes with F-bombs being dropped, I’d say Critters is family friendly. Could they have upped the gore and blood and violence and made this sucker even more of a satire than what it turned out to be? I think I would have loved it even more! But the lack of blood and guts doesn’t deter me from enjoying some 1980s nostalgia.
My rating: 4/5
Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. His debut novel, Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmo, and his latest release, THE HOBBSBURG HORROR. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging (coming soon) are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a Bachelor’s in History. He blogs here at machinemean[dot]org, where he does author interviews and reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can keep up with Thomas and all his strange books by joining his author newsletter, at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.
The Hobbsburg Horror NOW AVAILABLE !!!
Tyler Matthews is desperate for change. Sick of his life and plagued by alcoholism, he makes the decision to divorce his wife, sell everything he owns and travel the world to try and find focus and rid himself of his addiction. Eventually arriving on the sun-drenched shores of Australia and still plagued by his demons, he has spent all his savings and is facing the prospect of having to return to his old life.
It is here that he meets two men with an outlandish story about a horde of sunken drug money in an area known as the Devil’s Triangle – Australia’s answer to its Bermuda namesake and said to be the lair of a terrifying monster of the deep. Offered a share of the fortune if he helps retrieve it, Tyler agrees to go with the men to the location, skeptical and thinking only of prolonging his journey of self-discovery.
He will learn, however, that this particular urban legend is real, and they encounter a giant of the seas, the previously thought to be extinct Megalodon which makes its home within the area of the Devil’s triangle.
Barely escaping with their lives, the three men wash up on an isolated island – no more than a rocky outcrop with no vegetation, fresh water of food sources. As desperation to survive intensifies, horrifying decisions will be made that will illustrate how man is sometimes the most violent predator on earth and when left with no option will do anything, even the unthinkable, in order to survive.
You may or may not know this, but I’ve got a bit of a phobia towards ocean water. I don’t mind heading to the beach, especially Flordia’s white sand, clear water beaches of Pensacola. That’s not really the problem. The problem is the deep. Or better yet, what lives in the deep, what’s hunting in the deep. Perhaps blame for this phobia can be placed directly on Discovery Channel’s Shark Week specials I’d watched as a kid. Seeing those Great White’s launching themselves, razor teeth and all, up out of the water to snag a morsel of meat. I also clearly remember watching another show on either TLC or Discovery about an old fisher man’s tale about being out at sea and hearing a thudding noise against the bow of his ship. Taking a lantern (because this is late at night, mind you), the captain goes to investigate. Peering over the side of the boat he stares down at something he doesn’t quite understand, and then suddenly it dawns on him…he’s staring down at a giant eye, the looks at him, and then disappears back into the deep. Most likely, the tale was about the infamous Kraken, a so-called giant squid with massive tentacles. Nonsesnse, perhaps, but still…these were the emotions I carried with me while reading Michael Bray’s new book, FEED.
FEED starts off with the main character, Tyler Matthews, who, as the reader will quickly discover, is tired of his ho-hum ordinary life. To escape he must exsponge his controlling misses (soon to be ex-wife), his banal job (of which she helped him get as means of controlling him), and all his meaningless worldly possessions. Tyler is set on exploring the world. His separated wife seems to think he’ll just burn all his money on booze. I really enjoyed the go between here, between Tyler and Amy (the soon-to-be-ex). And you can see where Tyler is at this stage, that they’ve been here before, and how he had failed to purge his life in the past, succumbing apparently to her controlling ways. I found myself easily rooting for Tyler and relieved that he finally stood up for himself. The one thing that stood out as odd was the separation and divorce, and perhaps seeing how Bray is an English chap and I a mere American is the hang up here, but I was questioning how Tyler ended up with everything from the divorce. He sold all his possession. His house, car, everything. And kept the proceeds…or maybe I missed the part where they were going to split everything 50/50. Amy did confess to having an affair, which drove this separation and eventual divorce, but still…
Throughout FEED we’re able to jump from chapter to chapter into various perspectives. Moving to where the majority of the story takes place, Australia’s Devil’s Triangle, I enjoyed the early setup between Scott and his “buddy” Karl, in which Karl informs Scott of an old legend of sunken gold, the only problem being that there’s a guardian of the gold, a giant monster that lurks in the deep. Scott doesn’t believe his stoner buddy’s story but decides to jump in and take a look anyhow. Why not, right? He soon discovers his friend was right, but instead of telling Karl that there is gold down at the bottom, he simply resurfaces to tell him there was nothing but sand, marking the GPS coordinates so he can return later and keep the prize for himself. This was a fun little scene, setting up what will be the eventual motivator of the story, getting that gold, but also being shown that getting said prize will most likely cost something, something very dear more like, as Scott definitely senses something down there stalking him. Or was it just his imagination?
Somewhere around here, we’re introduced to Nash, a very scarred, very “Ahab” trope character. His face and most of his right side of his body are in ruination. His flesh horribly drafted and pieced back together and over twenty years or so has healed in a not so pleasant on the eyes kinda way. Nash looking into the mirror is constantly reminded of what happened to him out in Australia’s Devil’s Triangle and has his heart set on revenge.
I don’t want to get into too many spoilers here. Understandably, reviews tend to reveal more than a few things about a book. Yet, we need to slow things down here, as around this point in the book, the pace begins to pick up. Needless to say, Scott returns to retrieve what he left at the bottom of Devil’s Triangle, and he brought his older, convict brother with him, Paul. I really enjoyed the go-between with Scott and Paul, and this highlights one of many awesome things about FEED, the dialogue is just about spot on, the reactions feel real, and the motivations, no matter how grotesque or horrifying, are justifiable. Even later on when certain characters are stranded on an “island,” which is basically nothing more than rock, with no food and no water. This scene with Scott and Paul also introduces us to the antagonist of the book, though Bray makes mention a few times, through his characters, that the shark is not malicious or anything, its particular species happens to be very dominate and very protective of its territory, and its territory so happens to cover the Devil’s Triangle. Due to the shark’s size, it needs to FEED quite often, which drives its more violent tendencies. Scott and Paul soon discover how real the legend is…
Things progress, time goes on, and we catch up with Tyler in…you guessed it, Australia. He’s been all over the world now, adapted to his new lifestyle, and burning through his funds rapidly, mostly due to his alcoholism. He claims “near-alcoholism,” but come on, a spade is a spade. If Tyler wishes to continue his pilgrimage, he’ll need to replenish his bank account. And as fate would have it, he runs into the most unlikely of people, Nash and his son, Liam, as they discuss things over a few pints of bitter. He overhears their conversation and is quickly swept up in a bid for unimaginable riches. My only hang up here is how easily diving underwater seems. I liked the detail with the equipment, knowing the names of parts I’ll never look up, and though I’m not a “diver” myself, I would assume there would need to be some sort of training involved. I could be wrong here. I’ve only ever been snorkeling, maybe any joe schmoe can put on a wetsuit and some flippers and tread deep water. But regardless, this IS a detail easily ignored and doesn’t really effect the overall story. And so, Nash recruits Tyler to join him and his son, Liam, on a mission to get rich by finding the treasure left behind on the seabed of the Devil’s Triangle.
For the rest, you’ll simply have to read the book…
FEED works in many ways because it is and isn’t a traditional monster story. Sure, we’ve got the Megladon that is very protective of its territory. But we’ve also got a cast of characters that are not in the least two-dimensional. Tyler, the main protagonist, has his flaws, but he’s also very human and real and because of that, he is relatable. As are the many other characters, even the ones that don’t last very long on “screen.” Nash would be another great character I liked reading, a very “Ahab” prototype, hell bent on revenge, even at the risk of his own son and Tyler. Survival and the lengths we’re willing to go to survive are strong motivators of the story, some of which play out in very grotesque ways. This highlights that FEED isn’t just a story about a shark gobbling up people, in fact, for most of it, there are other predators and demons one has to watch out for. My own personal phobia of the ocean no doubt played into my reaction to the story Michael Bray has cooked up for his readers, but it also says something of the quality of the writing, to be able to play on those phobias, the isolation, and claustrophobia, the unknown aspects of what’s really out there in the black depths of the water. FEED is definitely a read fans of horror will not want to miss.
You can get your copy of FEED for $3.99 on Amazon!!
Michael Bray is a bestselling horror / thriller author of several novels. Influenced from an early age by the suspense horror of authors such as Stephen King, Richard Laymon, Shaun Hutson, James Herbert & Brian Lumley, along with TV shows like Tales from the Crypt & The Twilight Zone, his work touches on the psychological side of horror, teasing the reader’s nerves and willing them to keep turning the pages. Several of his titles are currently being translated into multiple languages and with options for movie and Television adaptations under negotiation for others, he will look to continue his growth as a full time professional writer long into the future.
During the 1990s it felt as if horror movies had descended into the visceral and psychological methods of storytelling, such as In the Mouth of Madness, or Jacob’s Ladder, or Candy Man, or even Freddy Krueger exploring the realm of mythology in New Nightmare. Some monster flicks kept to their proverbial roots. The payout, of course, is what typically happens with most creature features, when the directors, producers, screenwriters turn on the cheese factor and make the movie a satire, such as Arachnophobia or Gremlins 2 or The Faculty. Seldom do we find anything that’s actually haunting. Anything that makes us sit on the edge of our seats. Anything that forces us to watch even though we want to look away. The horror pickins are slim. There is one director, however, who, up until this point in his career at least, did not bow to cheese in order to make a monster movie. Of course, I’m talking about 1997’s cult hit creature feature, MIMIC, directed by none other than Guillermo del Toro. Before del Toro was pitting giant robots versus behemoth sea monsters, his work was subtle and carefully crafted, honing in on character building and turning on the suspense until the deluge spilled over into a wonderfully cataclysmic conclusion. Thus was the work of Cronos and The Devil’s Backbone, and also what we get with Mimic.
Before we begin, here is a classic IMDB synopsis:
“Three years ago, entomologist Dr. Susan Tyler genetically created an insect to kill cockroaches carrying a virulent disease. Now, the insects are out to destroy their only predator, mankind.”
Bravo IMDb, bravo. Yet again another astute generalization of one of my favorite creature features. You’re not wrong, IMDb, it just feels a tad oversimplified. For starters, if you’ve seen Mimic, but haven’t seen the Director’s Cut, stop now and go rent/buy/whatever you need to do to see this edition. Let me tell you, I was happy with the original version, but I LOVE this Director’s Cut. And sure, it really only adds about nine minutes or more of footage, but those added moments really help make the story shine all the better. I especially love the added bits at the beginning, the extended opening sequence that shows us this ravaging disease called Strickler’s, that is decimating a huge percentage of New York City children, and then we get Dr. Susan Tyler, played fantastically by Mira Sorvino . She genetically creates a new species of insect called the Judas breed. They target the city’s cockroach population, releasing an enzyme which causes the roaches metabolism to speed up and starve themselves to death. The Judas breed was created to be all-female with a short life expectancy. The last opening clip (from the Director’s Cut) shows Dr. Tyler releasing the Judas breed into the sewers. She kneels and watches as her “children” begin their work as she is stylistically swarmed by roaches. And a moment later we see a river of dead cockroaches and an announcement from the CDC that they have eliminated the “Strickler’s” disease.
Fade to black.
Now we find ourselves three years after the release of the Judas breed. Just three years. What can happen in such a short span of time? Well, if there is any indication from the name of the insect, Judas, well…historically things have never really worked out with things named Judas. Not to mention any species introduced into the wild trusting that a genetic “all-female” plug will hold, I mean, haven’t these people seen Jurrasic Park? To quote Ian Malcolm, “Life will find a way.” And life certainly did find a way, as our scientists are soon to find out. After the fuzzy “all-is-well-with-the-world” moment, the movie opens again on a man being chased onto a roof at night in the rain. Here we get our first glimpse at what has become the Judas breed. Strange clicking sounds and an odd shadowy face and the outline of what looks like a man in a black trench coat. The movement of this mysterious “man” and the design are incredibly creepy, and no wonder, as legendary The Thing and The Howling practical effects master/guru Rob Bottin had a hand in the development of the creature.
Let me stop here for a moment. I have a confession. Bugs freak me out. I think this is a well-known fact if you’ve read any part in my Subdue Series books you should know. I’m not sure why. I don’t recall being traumatized as a child, not with insects at least. The My Buddy doll my folks got me for Christmas is another subject entirely (thanks, Sis!). I think people have their own thresholds for fear. Some hate clowns. Others hate anything to do with eyeballs. Some teeth. For me, big nasty arthropods are what tickles my medulla oblongata (technically the amygdala, but medulla oblongata sounds cooler). Too many legs. Nightmare mouths. Multiple glass eyes. Ugh!!! And as the movie, Mimic, was so kind to point out in Dr. Tyler’s lab of horrors, certain species of insects can do some rather impressive stuff, such as certain warrior ants that even when injured will continue to attack. Wasps that turn prey into zombies. Spiders that lay eggs inside a host to be consumed as a snack when the babies hatch. It’s not evil in the sense of good or morality. There is no morality when it comes to insects. To quote another Jeff Goldblum line, “Insects… don’t have politics. They’re very… brutal. No compassion, no compromise.” And here perhaps is what trips my fear sensor the most, the absence of compassion, compromise, especially in something as large as what the Judas breed becomes.
Soon after the death of the man on the roof and some cut scenes of Dr. Tyler and her husband, Dr. Mann, and their on-screen hopes of becoming parents, solidifying again the overarching theme of Mimic, fertility, some well-meaning “hood-rat” children out to make a quick buck bring Dr. Tyler an “interesting” find they discovered below ground near one of New York’s many metro tracks. Dr. Tyler soon realizes just what this large bug really is. Though “just a baby,” as she says, the creature is as large as the palm of her hand. But Tyler isn’t alone in her lab. There’s a shape at the window, a mysterious “man” in a dark trenchcoat. Okay, pause. I have to once again give a nod to both Rob Bottin and the original author of the creature in this flick, Donald Allen Wollheim who came up with the short story, titled, “Mimic,” a first-person narrative about a dude who notices a strange “man” in a trenchcoat standing on the streets in his town but never says anything to anyone. Following the sound of screams, the narrator discovers the “man” dead in his apartment, but upon closer examination, he unveils that the mysterious “man” isn’t a man at all, but a large bug imitating a man. This, for me, adds to the creep factor here. Not only are we dealing with larger than normal insects, but we’re dealing with an insect that has evolved to “mimic” us.
Stories begin to collide at this point. All leading back deep underground onto some abandoned metro tracks that would inspire curious urban spelunkers to explore. Dr. Tyler, Dr. Mann, officer Leonard (played wonderfully by Charles S. Dutton) and Manny (a father searching for his lost autistic son who “followed” the Judas breed into their underground metro hive). All these motivations would seem to make the movie feel too complicated, but in actuality, they add to the movie’s believability. That they happen upon each other, sure, could be a stretch, but otherwise getting a glimpse at their personalities and motivations actually benefits how audiences feel towards them. I wanted them to survive. There were no “villains” here. Even Dr. Mann’s doomed assistant, Josh (played by Josh Brolin), though kind of cocky and moronic, you don’t hate the guy and you felt something when he was killed off, fairly horribly I might add. All this was accomplished without a bunch of unnecessary backstory. At this stage in del Toro’s career, he had made a name for himself for interweaving likable heartfelt characters into his story, not through exposition, but dialogue and interaction.
Mimic is not without some cheese.
This is, after all, a creature feature.
Whoever came up with the genius plan to get the old boxcar trolley operational is…a moron. Seriously. But, not altogether unrealistic. People come up with horrible ideas all the time. Consider the Shake Weight exercise dumbells. Yup. Someone thought that was a good idea too. No, though the trolley idea was moronic, it was not out of the realm of what someone in that situation would probably do. The real cheese for me was what the “King” Judas bug was doing at the end. But, let me explain the entry of this “new” character. Nearing the climax, we discover that part of the genetic code used to create the Judas breed came from a species of insect that has one male as the only fertile member of the colony. Of course, they had created the species as “all-female,” thus supposedly limiting the lifespan of the Judas breed exponentially. However, as fans of Jurrasic Park should know, “life finds a way,” and thus the species adapted. Part of the enzyme that gave Judas the ability to eliminate the cockroach infestation by accelerating the roaches reproduction rate, essentially burning them out, in turn, gave them the ability to mass reproduce at an alarming rate. Consider how in just three years the Judas went from cockroach size to human size, developing the necessary biology in order to grow. Reproduction, fertility and natural childbirth seem to be a motif in Mimic.
Back to the cheese.
A big creep factor in this movie was the fact that these insects were not acting in any personal way. Insects do not have politics, remember. They simply…are. They do as their genetic makeup implies for them to do. They attack when provoked. They feed and breed for survival alone. There is no pleasure, “no compassion, no compromise (I’m telling you, Jeff Goldblum should have been cast in this movie as Dr. Mann).” That said, in the end, the “King” Judas bug didn’t seem to be following the movies preestablished rules of insect politics. The “King” acted mightily pissed off. Before being mowed down by a subway car, that sucker “looked” like he wanted blood. Half-burnt, limping after Dr. Taylor. But, that’s just a small blip on an otherwise decent and definitely creepy creature feature flick. My only other “WTF” is the last line in the movie when Dr. Taylor and her bo Dr. Mann reunite, both are happy the other survived the subway fire that wiped out the Judas colony. Dr. Mann whispers in his wife’s ear, “We can have a baby,” or something to that extent. As the last line, this kinda has me in a loop. After everything they survived, the ordeal, that’s what he tells her? This, of course, brings the circle around regarding the theme of natural childbirth and fertility. But what did it answer? Or better yet, what question did it raise? Unnatural fertility will breed monsters? Seriously? Maybe I’m missing something.
Regardless, Mimic was an excellent escape from the visceral and psychological methods of storytelling that seemed to dominate the 1990s. And Mimic was definitely one of del Toro’s best pictures if you ask me. This flick could have very feel come off as a cheap B-movie, it had the trappings for such a disaster, but it didn’t. Mimic came out as a genuinely creepy monster movie. If you haven’t seen this one, you need to, but be sure to watch the Director’s Cut. It’s only really nine minutes of added footage, but those added moments make the movie all the better.
My rating: 4 out of 5
Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. He is published with The Sinister Horror Company’s horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. His debut novel, Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein and Apocalypse Meow. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, both Dwelling and Emerging and Conceiving, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a BA in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he does author interviews and reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can keep up with Thomas and all his strange books by joining his author newsletter, at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.
You can get Reinheit for $2.99 on Amazon!
Welcome, my friends to the start of a brand new series here on Machine Mean. I’m more than ecstatic to present to you the first of many Creature Features that will be reviewed during this duration. And what better way to kick things off than with one of my favorite horror sub-subgenres, mad science. Looking over the landscape of Creature Feature movies, there seem to be plenty that fit the bill of mad science, including, I would argue, those radiated atomic age giant sized monsters. How could we not include those? Did Dr. Oppenheimer and the rest of the Manhattan Project not considered (if not to each other to be) mad scientists? Following a successful test of his bomb, Oppenheimer dedicated his life to restricting the use of such a device. His intellect pursued the impossible and when said impossible was achieved, he drew back in quiet revulsion. Mad science…and even creatures of the macabre have a tendency to show us the things we most fear. Considering the mad scientists of the atomic era, they created and let loose upon the world a weapon so powerful that it changed the global culture and set us into a new age. Most had their own motivations, no doubt about it, but I would be confident to assume a majority of those motivations were intellectually based. Pushing the boundaries, so to speak. Creature Feature movies come from a similar vein. Unresolved fears gleaming into a new dawn. Numerous what if scenarios. Of invaders. Of the future. Of what lurks in the basement or in the woods or under the bed or out in the swamps. And some relate to our unresolved fears within our own bodies…and our minds. David Cronenberg’s The Fly (1986) is a masterpiece of body horror, also known as venereal horror. Let’s take a closer look.
Here’s a synopsis of the film from the always wonderful IMDb:
“A brilliant but eccentric scientist begins to transform into a giant man/fly hybrid after one of his experiments goes horribly wrong.”
This IMDb synopsis isn’t wrong. It just feels horribly simplified, right? There’s so much more to say about The Fly. One could point out the romantic triangle between the “mad” scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) and his newly minted lover/journalist Veronica (Geena Davis) and her ex-lover/editor Stathis Borans (John Getz). One could also point out a possible allegory of puberty, as Seth undergoes “changes” in his body, pimples, and other oozing features while becoming obsessed with his physique and sexual intercourse. Or we could go with the basic plot of an eccentric scientist and his doomed experiment. But neither of those feels quite right, do they? No. Something deeper is going on.
Before we consider The Fly, we ought to consider the director. David Cronenberg, also known as the King of Venereal Horror, back in the 80s and late 70s, set in motion a series on what film nerds refer to now as organic-horror, biological horror, or simply body horror. Anything to do with the horror of the human anatomy. For Cronenberg, we can look to Dead Ringers, Videodrome, Scanners, Shivers, The Brood, eXistenZ, and Rabid that could arguably be counted toward his run on body horror themed films. Each one taking on a different aspect or story regarding our humanistic fears about our own bodies juxtaposed to our vulnerability to disease or technology or parasites. In The Fly, this fear seems to be centered around the fear of mind versus body. Fear of what our minds create, that is technology, doesn’t feel dominate, though it definitely plays a part in Cronenberg’s philosophy.
We cannot ignore it.
Seth Brundle admits during the first hour of the movie that he has extreme motion sickness and he feels that this is a crippling condition. He cannot travel very far without getting sick. So, motivated by this horror he feels handicaps him by isolating him, scientist Brundle sets out to create a teleportation device, so that he may beam from one point to another without ever getting sick. His endeavor works. He has invented and created a teleportation pod, or tele-pod. But there’s a catch. The machine cannot properly read or understand flesh. This failure is clearly and disgustingly seen in the teleportation of Baboon #1 as the poor monkey is turned inside out. The machine doesn’t understand flesh, just as the character Seth does not understand flesh. He works exclusively alone, isolated from even his peers until he can no longer tolerate being alone. As he says to Veronica, the reason why he sought her out in the first place was because he had been alone for too long, he desires, craves, lusts for human contact. In a way, this illustrates the drama taking place between mind and body. His mind wants to continue its intellectual pursuits, but the body demands human interaction and thus intervenes and creates obstacles in the path of his goals.
While the mind is presented as being purely objective, the body is thought of as being subjective. During the duration of the movie, these ideas of mind and body are turned inside out, just as the Baboon was, and exposed for the ugliness this philosophy can bring upon us. Ideas become twisted. Seth creates a machine to solve his motion sickness problem. Okay, but he’s alone and finds solace in journalist Veronica. His bodily craving is resolved, for now, until more fleshly desires present themselves when Veronica puts the moves on our bumbling scientist. Suddenly he understands the dilemma between mind and body due to his ignorance of body and correlates his discovery with the tele-pod machine. He then successfully transports Baboon #2. They celebrate. Unfortunately, Veronica has to, as she says, “scrape off the heel” of her shoe the problematic ex-lover/editor Borans. Unschooled in the ways of human interaction, let alone women, Seth believes his new girlfriend is cheating on him or whatever and gets drunk and decides to go through the pod himself. Abandoning mind for bodily created jealousy. Unknown to him, a fly joins him in the pod and away they go. The machine wasn’t programmed to account for two separate genetic codes and so decides on its own, or more likely a fallback program, to splice them together. Seth emerges from the other pod in a cloud of white smoke seemingly unharmed or changed, instead, he is glistening and muscular, perfection one might say of both mind and body…but as horror fans, we know all too well there are no such guarantees.
Something went wrong.
It is interesting how Cronenberg differed here from the original 1958 film. When scientist Andre Delambre (played by Al Hedison) emerges from his pod he is instantly changed. His head is that of a fly’s head and his once human hand is a mandible-like claw. Differing, in this 1986 adaptation, Seth Brundle emerges seemingly unchanged but then goes through a slow and grueling deformation of his flesh and eventually his mind too. At first, he denies what’s happening, as any good horror character will do. When Veronica realizes something is amiss and tries to make him realize he is different, Seth screams at her, “You’re afraid to dive into the plasma pool, aren’t you? You’re afraid to be destroyed and recreated, aren’t you? I’ll bet you think that you woke me up about the flesh, don’t you? But you only know society’s straight line about the flesh. You can’t penetrate beyond society’s sick, gray, fear of the flesh. Drink deep, or taste not the plasma spring! Y’see what I’m saying? And I’m not just talking about sex and penetration. I’m talking about penetration beyond the veil of the flesh! A deep penetrating dive into the plasma pool!”
The pacing of this film is magnificent. Shortly after the above scene, Seth witnesses the first of many parts of his body that begin to fall off. Slowly, with each stage of decomposition, which quickly is realized as a perverted form of evolution, his bodily-humanity is degraded, ruined, being transformed into something else. At first, Seth accepts this new discovery, jokingly referring to his medicine cabinet as a Brundle Museum of Natural History. But the more insect he becomes, the more he realizes his once beloved intellect will also slip away into the obscurity of a brutal body-dominate fly. This realization is made in one of the movies best lines when Seth asks Veronica is she “ever heard of insect politics? Neither have I. Insects… don’t have politics. They’re very… brutal. No compassion, no compromise. We can’t trust the insect. I’d like to become the first… insect politician. Y’see, I’d like to, but… I’m afraid, uh… I’m saying… I’m saying I – I’m an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over… and the insect is awake. I’m saying… I’ll hurt you if you stay.”
Seth quickly goes to work to try and resolve this transformation before he loses his mind to the bug. The machine analysis in an algorithm that he would have to splice two or more pure humans to reverse the insectoid growth. Devastated over Veronica’s departure, Seth discovers she is pregnant and chases her down when she seeks an abortion. Ina dream, Cronenberg himself plays the gynecologist, which is stoically brilliant. Seth, of course, crashes into the changing room and takes her away, imploring that she does not kill what remains of his humanity. She cannot and so he goes about his last-ditch attempt to reverse the progression of the insect with one of the best transformation effects ever conceived on screen as Brundle becomes a fully matured Brundlefly. The attempted abortion and the splicing algorithm give clues to this “other” possibility of resolving the conflict between mind and body. The mind can take action to destroy physical progression. Consider how people are outside of the movies. Why do people pursue cosmetic surgery? Why do we have organ transplants?
The Fly calls to our extremes. The war between our minds and body’s. Seth ignored his body, pursuing only the mind, to end up pursuing his physical desires over the discovery his intellect had made, only to realize all too late the need for an equal relationship between both mind and body. The Fly is definitely one of my favorite 1980s horror flicks and one of my favorite Cronenberg films. Great composition. Amazing practical effects. Top notch character acting. And gratifying gross-out scenes. But not just that, The Fly also has a deeper meaning that I find equally satisfying to all the blood and guts and giant humanoid insects, what would I be without my mind? What would I be without my body?
My Rating: 5/5
Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. He is published with The Sinister Horror Company’s horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. His debut novel, Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein and Apocalypse Meow. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, both Dwelling and Emerging and Conceiving (coming soon), are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a BA in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he does author interviews and reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can keep up with Thomas and all his strange books by joining his author newsletter, at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.
Kim McDonald is no stranger to Machine Mean, having reviewed for us during our Fright Fest series back in October, The Thing (1982). Kim will also be with us during our Creature Features series coming up in 2017. Kim lives in Charleston and loves all things horror. especially foreign horror. Kim also publishes reviews for LOUD GREEN BIRD, tackling some of horror’s greatest treasures, giving readers a deeper retrospective and often introspective on films like “The Iron Rose,” “Baskin,” “The Conjuring 2,” “The Witch,” and much more. As you can see, she is no stranger to the art of movie reviews. You can follow Kim @dixiefairy on Twitter and you can follow her blog, Fairy Musings, here.
Nothing is more alluring for both audiences and writers than dusting off old tropes. This is true. There is no argument against this statement. Resistance is futile. Boom. Done. Let’s pack it away, boys. No? Okay, I guess we could talk a little more about this very general statement I just made. And if I’m going to be talking about housekeeping motifs and tropes, do me the favor and humor me by nodding your head or something and when passersby asks why you’re nodding your head, you tell them about this brilliant piece you’re reading, as I delve into this odd analogy to FX’s dark horror show, The Strain. Let it be known now, while I may make mention of some of the newer seasons, my focus will mostly be with the first season, as it is the best and has one of my top ten TV/movies favorite openings/pilots. The only big let down with the second season is the new kid they got to play Zack Goodweather, as he plays a larger role in the second season, he became downright annoying and I’m secretly hoping something really bad happens to him. If that was the point then bravo to the writers cause I really do loathe that little bastard. Anyway, that’s not really why we’re here, is it? Tropes. That’s the term I used before and that is precisely what I want to talk to you about. Dusting off aged tropes is, in my humble opinion, an excellent method of storytelling. The classics for horror being Dracula, Wolf Man, Mummy, and Frankenstein, etc. etc, and how can we use these today? In this endeavor, The Strain is an excellent example we can learn from.
Before we scourge the graveyard any deeper, here’s a quick synopsis from our favorite source, IMDb:
A mysterious viral outbreak with hallmarks of an ancient and evil strain of vampirism ravages the city of New York.
Ladies and gentlemen, a round of applause, if you please, for another stunning synopsis from IMDb. Well, they’re not wrong. There is a virus going around, and it certainly creates hosts that act very vampiric. A very fresh take, I think, on the classic vampire trope. No. This isn’t Lestat. These are monsters, as well they should be. And I love this reimaging of the vampire. The Strain uses invokes classic myths, such as The Master, or “patient zero,” as one of the characters refers to him as, in a way of explaining the legend to a couple of non-beliving doctors. Silver and sunlight are also here too. But no longer crosses and garlic, both of which are hardly ever mentioned. So, despite that the fangs are gone and they have a “stinger,” a worm like tentacle, that the vamps use to “latch on” to their prey, it’s still very much in tune with the aged trope. Better, in my opinion. While we all love Bela, the dashing vampire is too tired nowadays, and xenophobia is more rapid and in your face for such subtlety. We need monsters. Vampires are not lonely outsider boyfriends that sparkle. They are killers, and worse. They are a virus, a scourge, a blight. Some films get it right. 30 Days of Night was good. And Let the Right One In was an instant classic.
What really sets The Strain apart is the use of some of the more classic character types that are largely ignored in modern vampire storytelling. Sure, you cannot have a vampire movie without the preverbal “Dracula,” and in The Strain, we get The Master, who is without question truly terrifying and oddly alluring. But besides the “Dracula” character, what else is offered. I’m going to start off with my favorite. Instead of Abraham Van Helsing, we get Abraham Setrakian, an aged, very aged professor now turned pawn shop proprietor. His history within the context of the show is very rich. Setrakain is a Holocaust survivor who was taught by his grandmother regarding certain “creatures of the night.” As a young man, Setrakian believed her stories to be just that, stories. For a young Setrakian, the Holocaust proved to have enough horrors of its own without the need of mythical monsters. However, as it would seem, the concentration camp, Treblinka, in which Setrakian is incurred is besieged by, not just from war and death and human injustice, but also by a physical parasite that moves about during the night. Witnessing the creature with his own eyes, his grandmother’s stories flood back and he works quickly at finding a way to dispatch this monster. He fails at this but survives the encounter and the war. He then dedicates his entire life at tracking down The Master and his creations and riding the world of the Strain.
The Van Helsing motif in Setrakian was very well thought out, taking the old trope and making it more, giving it more life and substance. For me, Abraham really makes the show enjoyable, especially during flashback episodes that show Setrakian’s evolution.
Another interesting twist with tropes is the Renfield motif found in not just one character, but two, each with their own set of motives that feel very parallel to each other. The first is a human named Eldritch Palmer. While Renfield in the film and Bram Stroker book feels both pathetic and sympathetic, Palmer takes that notion to a different level. Due to his disabling sickness, whatever condition he seems to suffer from physically does not hinder the power of his will, his sheer determination to get whatever it is he wants. And what he wants most of all is to live. This desire seduces him in aligning with The Master and helping the Strain spread over New York. We feel bad for him, as we do with Renfield, for the kind of life he must have had, never knowing which breath would be his last, while at the same time we are appalled by his greed for life and uncaringness towards others. The second Renfield character is in the person of Thomas Eichhorst, played wonderfully by Richard Sammel. Eichhorst is, for lack of a better word, the Master’s right-hand man, but in reality, he’s more of a puppet than anything else and is in fact used quite literally as a puppet whenever the Master feels like “speaking” through him. But his character is more alluring for me than Palmer is. Palmer is just pathetic, especially in season 2. An old groveling to maintain his authority. Eichhorst has an interesting history that is connected with Setrakian, making the motivations for their rivalry very believable, and solidifying Eichhorst as a fan favorite baddy.
There are other characters in the show, a lot of hunters and community leaders, most do not necessarily correlate to classic Dracula trope. We could say that Dr. Ephraim Goodweather could be a close match to a Jonathan Harker motif. But Harker wasn’t really a well thought out character in the movie, perhaps more so in the book. There is one character though that needs mention. The part of Kelly Goodweather as a trope for Mina Harker. While the Master’s fascination with her still begs the question, her role is without a doubt very much Mina-like. When she is turned, she is used, more or less, as a tool to find her son, Zack Goodweather, and in turn to stop Eph and the merry band of vampire hunters. The Master’s interest in Kelly seems to only relate to his interest in stopping the good doctor, perhaps using Kelly and keeping her around just to taunt him.
Have you ever heard the statement, “There is nothing new under the sun?” It’s a saying from Hebrew scripture, Ecclesiastes 1:9. I’m often fond of saying it, especially when fellow writers pitch me their book or story idea and ask if it’s too much like another story. I’ve done the same as well, wondering if this “new idea” is too much like something else. Recently I published a short story with Matt Shaw is his release of Bah Humbug! An Anthology of Christmas Horror Stories. My story is called “Happiness U.S.A.,” and is “inspired” by a classic Twilight Zone episode titled “Garrity and the Graves.” The basic concept is a con artist that travels through an old west town and cons the town into thinking he can resurrect the dead. The catch is that the people in this old west town do not want their dearly departed returned to them, and so to put them “back in the grave” they have to pay Garrity more money. This is one of my favorite shows and one of my top favorite episodes. It’s both cheeky and disturbing, as many Twilight Zone episodes are. And I wanted to do my own take on Mr. Garrity and this old west town. But my version, my dusting off of the classic trope/motif was asking myself, what if Garrity wasn’t really a “con” artist per say, what if he could really bring back the dead. What kind of person or being could do something like that? An angel…or devil? So I took that concept and made my town of Happiness a small Texas oil town back in the mid-1970s. And the price the people of Happiness will have to pay will be much steeper than gold or silver.
This feels like a long way around to basically say, it’s okay to resurrect old trope, give them a good dusting, and retell the story in a new and exciting way. The Strain just so happens to be my favorite example and I wanted an excuse to talk about the show. I’ve started in on the novel the show is based on. There are some differences, but the meat and potatoes are pretty much the same. So if you need a recommendation, you’ve got it. Give this show and book a go. You will not be disappointed.
AND if you happen to be curious about that Christmas anthology I mentioned, follow the image below.
And if perhaps I can tempt you with one more book. I’ve got a new novel that released this week. Conceiving (Subdue Book 3). “…an evil [is] biding its time…waiting for them all,” Conceiving can be read as both a standalone or as part of the series. You can find out more about the book here. Or you can check it out on Amazon. Currently, the book is marked down to $0.99, but only for a limited time. Available for both kindle (or kindle apps) and on paperback.
Okay, maybe the title of this post is a little what kids call”clickbaity,” but hey…I make no excuses. The world is what it is. Filled with click baits…and fake news sites…and paranoia…and silent conversations over Thanksgiving dinner… (sighs) Well, now that I have you here, assuming you fell for my ingenious trap, I’m more than ecstatic to announce the release of my new book, Conceiving. Now available on Amazon, B&N, and iTunes. This book really does feel like a long time coming, especially when considering that Dwelling and Emerging released back in December 2015, almost a full year ago. Anyhow, if you’re new to the series and don’t want to spend time catching up by reading the first two books, no worries. Information regarding the first two books is included in this new one without being drab, but only generally. So you know what happens and are not lost in this new book. If you’ve read both Dwelling and Emerging and have been waiting for this new book to release, I bid you welcome home. The real benefit of reading the entire series is the intimacy of getting to know the characters and experiencing why and/or what they are in Conceiving.
Conceiving is a supernatural thriller of which I would humbly compare to the likes of a mashup between Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen, and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. Old and new readers will follow the somber adventures of Bobby Weeks, one of the major carry overs from the series, and Luna and Ronna Blanche, minor characters in the series that now have larger roles. New characters include Boris and Neville Petry, and yes Neville is a girl.
The Petry’s are my new favorite. A young couple wanting what most young couples want, a family, a dream home, and dream jobs. I imagined Boris like this “cool” history professor if such a thing can exist. He loves his area of expertise and wants to move up the ranks of his profession and among his peers. Like most academics, he wants to be respected and revered for his work. Neville, on the other hand, I saw as this young college educated woman who doesn’t really believe women need to be “stay at home” moms or wives, but choices to take on that role. She often compares herself to her mother, but not always positively.
In the fashion of how I typically tell stories, these individuals and groups begin separated, facing their own troubles alone, but there are forces at work pulling them together, inching them toward some cataclysmic event that will shatter their perception of reality and perhaps take more than just their sanity.
Conceiving is available on Amazon kindle or kindle app. You can get your copy here for the low price of $3.99……..https://goo.gl/4EWzSU
Or if you’re a traditionalist and prefer paperback, you can get your copy here for $15.99…….https://goo.gl/5pTAQ4
There is a strange perverse serendipitous feeling watching Rosemary’s Baby. This first of Roman Polanski’s American films opens with a New York City urban landscape outstretched and panned across, as if what we see is some malevolent box metal toy, wound up and played on the tune of some woman humming an intently sweet and ambiguous lullaby. But instead of some creepy jack-in-the-box, we get something much different in the end. Much more sinister. And utterly human, regardless of its supernatural parentage. The movie makes things almost too easy to find some quality or deeper meaning to the story of Rosemary’s Baby, from the presence of evil surrounding an alienated city, to spousal rape, to the occult even (to get to the nitty-gritty) or the overshadowed all-consuming feeling of a small frail Nebraskan girl being swallowed alive by the even more deadpan banality of the city. But, before we get too comfortable with our new neighbors, let’s walk the halls of the apartment house on West 72nd Street, and see where those eerily demonic chants are really coming from.
As stated above, Rosemary’s Baby opens on a panorama view of an urban city with a disturbingly sweet lullaby “la-la-la” playing in the background, and opening credits in a cursive script and hot pink. Immediately I think of girls, as in pink for girls, blue for boys. Given the title, even if you’ve never watched Rosemary’s Baby, the title kinda gives away the central theme, childbirth. What waits for us following the opening credits and the bird-like drifting to the young couple walking through an archway, remains a mystery, all but for one thing, whatever happens, it has to do with Rosemary’s baby. What happens with Rosemary’s baby, we do not know; all we know is that everything that will be set up will be for the sole purpose of telling a story regarding Rosemary’s baby. Savvy? Let us continue.
Moving into the apartment, we are introduced to Guy Woodhouse, a struggling New York City actor, and his very meek looking wife, Rosemary. We also discover they are newlywed and are considering (maybe more) starting a family. The apartment is very gothic and old looking, perhaps as old as the city itself, with roots as deep as the Trans system underneath them. The previous tenant was an elderly woman, in fact, most of the tenants of West 72nd Street are elderly, who had passed away recently in a coma. Her apartment remains as she left it, the furniture collecting dust, the herbs in her kitchen garden browned and frail, and notes of “I can no longer associate myself…” partially complete. And there is one more item, a large heavy secretary cabinet is blocking one of the hallway closets. Odd, we think, because of the placement of the furniture and that it would seem too heavy for an elderly woman to move by herself. But we laugh it off, perhaps the old duck really had gone senile before passing. Regardless, the next we see Rosemary’s nearly begging, but not that hard really, for Guy to agree to lease the lavishing apartment.
Guy Woodhouse is many things. Some of those things are quite vile and selfish, of this, we’ll see intimately later on. But there are moments when we get a look at a guy (no pun intended) who would do whatever it took to make his wife happy. It’s evident, he’s a city (again, no pun) guy and she’s a small town girl, and her eyes shine with that jubilant expectation of a glamorous life in a rich landscape of modernity. We see her giddiness and are nearly jumping up and down with her. In this lush big city dream apartment, what’s not to love?
Next, just before the montage “moving-in” scene, we are introduced to one of the few pleasant characters that fill the void. At the dinner table of close friend Edward “Hutch” Hutchins, played by Maurice Evans, a scholar of sorts and author of children’s adventure stories, warns them with the history of the apartment the Woodhouse’s have just leased, a history of witchcraft and cannibalism and dead babies in the basement. The story is quite chilling, but the young couple does not seem phased by it, as if they may be accustomed to hearing fancy tales that may or may not be entirely true from their friend Hutch, a type of friend, family or otherwise, is not entirely clarified, though he does seem to favor Rosemary over Guy. And we’ll see later on, that he is more her friend over the husband in many instances that do not last long enough on screen as they should.
Following dinner, we get our first montage scene. The drab dark gothic is replaced by bright whites and sunny yellow wallpaper and new (at least in 1968) furniture and appliances. Everyone is happy, though Guy does seem a little apprehensive about the move and the costs, mostly due to being passed over for parts in his acting career. Day or weeks go by, we’re not entirely sure, montage in all, and next we see the misses doing laundry in the basement of the apartment building. The basement is stereotypically creepy and Rosemary is happy to share the space with a new face, Terry Gionoffrio, who she mistakes for Victoria Vetri, an actually real person made famous by Playboy magazine and the real name of the actress playing Gionoffrio, who admits she gets mistaken for “all the time, but she doesn’t see the resemblance.” I have to assume that this actually stirred some laughs back in 1968, or at least I hope because this joke went right over my head when I first watched the movie (heck, even when I screened the movie for the fifth time). To get this joke, watching Rosemary’s Baby in 2016, you have got to be a historian or a really big fan of Playboy magazine.
Well, moving on.
The two are fast friends and commit to doing laundry together to avoid being alone in the “creepy” basement. And while the creepy basement is an overused trope in horror, it’s overused for a reason. It’s believable. It solidifies the realism of the movie. We don’t want to be in that basement alone either. And thus, we’re given another of many human connections to Rosemary’s Baby. Unfortunately, tragedy strikes. Following a night of strange chanting sounds coming through the yellow sunny wall, the Woodhouse’s discovered a freighting scene in front of their apartment house. Police tape is being strung. Reds and blues are flashing. People are gathering and murmuring among themselves. And on the pavement, the bloody aftermath of Terry Gionoffrio, dead from an apparent suicide. “She must have jumped from her apartment window,” the police say. Before the scene ends, we are introduced to our un-seeming antagonists, an elderly couple, Roman Castevet, and his wife Minnie, who are both perhaps eccentric and maybe a little intrusive, but otherwise kind and thoughtful. They were taking care of Terry, you see, and are heartbroken to discover that she killed herself, though Roman states he is not entirely surprised as Terry was known, according to him, to get “deeply depressed every three weeks or so,” which I can only assume is a quip to the menstruation cycle. Perhaps, given the rest of the story, Terry was incapable of conceiving a child, which also begs the question…did she know?
Fast-forwarding a little, after accepting a dinner invitation, following another passed over the part for our husband Guy, the Woodhouse’s are being entertained in the apartment home of the Castevet’s. The dinner was actually entertaining to watch, even more so for a second or third screening of the movie, looking for those clues where the betrayal took root. My guess is the scene following Rosemary helping Minnie in the kitchen washing dishes, and Guy and Roman sitting on the couch together, Roman looking nondescript, smoking a pipe, while Guy glares at him mouth agape. Roman is a very warm character, despite the things he does or eventually does. Sidney Blackmer did a fantastic job with that role, from charming to near-homicidal/comical shouting to the (forgive me) heavens, “The end is near! Satan has won!” But not yet, not until the end.
Things begin progressing, sometimes fast, other times slow. One distinct thing is for sure, Guy is beginning to act differently. Sometimes his indifference is pointed out to us, mostly by Rosemary, who complains they are not talking to each other like they used to, or that he doesn’t look at her anymore. The biggest different, for obvious reasons, happens soon after Guy lands a huge acting part, a part given to another actor who mysteriously is blinded. Guy tells rosemary he wants to make a baby. Rosemary is beside herself with joy. Date night. Dessert delivered by Minnie, a dessert with a strange aftertaste. And as the night progresses things begin to get a little dark and strange. Stuck between a dream world and reality, Rosemary drifts between being on a boat to being stripped nude and surrounded by a crowd of naked strangers, and not so strangers, such as the Castevet’s and her husband, Guy. And then, she thinks her and Guy are having sex, but Guy’s face becomes…something else, something beastly and demonic. There are a few religious notions sewn into the movie, the Pope shows up, and we know that Rosemary had been brought up catholic, but I do not think religion is the focal point of the story. The focal point is the as the title suggests, Rosemary’s baby, and of course, Rosemary herself.
Now, I’m going to have to really speed things up here to the end. The movie is actually quite long and I would think it unfair to force any of you fine folk to read something equally as long.
As you can guess, following the deranged night of naked cultism, Rosemary is pregnant. And then we get our next montage scene, and Rosemary goes from newly pregnant to full blown balloon. And Guy, well, his behavior remains strangely distant, in fact, when the baby kicks inside her womb, he withdraws his hand rather quickly, as if he’s afraid. In the interim, Hutch, suspicious of the Castevet’s and Rosemary’s condition, had slipped into a coma and has now passed away. But he doesn’t go quietly in the night. He left behind a book for Rosemary, a book that fuels her own suspicions about not just the Castevet’s, but her husband as well, titled, “All Them Witches,” a phrase she repeats towards the end.
Positive that her husband is involved with the Castevet’s in a plot to steal her baby for some kind of cult ritual, Rosemary runs to her doctor, someone she believed she could trust. Discovering her obstetrician is a member of the coven, Rosemary runs to her original doctor, a very quaint farm boy looking fellow, all-American and down to earth. He pretends to believe her wild claims about witches trying to steal her baby and asks her to rest while he gets her checked into his hospital. But, the kind warm face betrays her, intentional or not, and calls Guy and Dr. Sapirstein to collect her.
Rosemary attempts to escape again but is given a sedative. Under the drug, she goes into labor. The next, she wakes and baby is delivered. She’s told it’s a boy and everything is fine. Still sedated, she falls asleep. Next, she’d told the baby has died and goes into hysterics. Again, Rosemary wakes, this time hearing the muted sound of a baby crying somewhere in the apartment house. She’s told it’s a new neighbor that has moved in but does not believe the lie. Discovering that the once barricaded closet is actually a secret passageway, she creeps into the Castevet home, knife in hand, readied to take back what is hers, her child. What she discovers is a celebration, of sorts. Neighbors are gathered, some new, some we’ve seen before, sharing drinks and toasts around a coal-black basinet.
No one stops her, which I found to be chilling. They know, somehow, she will not harm the baby. Peering inside the bassinet, Rosemary smiles and then cringes with a look of heart-stopping horror. “My baby, my baby, what have you done to my baby? What have you done to its eyes?” she utters, stumbling backward, dropping the knife to the floor. To this, Roman says matter-of-fact, “Nothing. The boy has his father’s eyes.”
Here we finally discover, the actual parentage of Rosemary’s baby. The Devil, not Guy, is the real father. Some theatrics follow. Roman’s shouting jubilation. Others are toasting and smiling and conversing with one another. Later, Roman suggests Rosemary be a mother to the boy, stating the other women are too old for such a thing. Rosemary cringes again at his suggestion, “That’s not my child,” to which Roman quips, “Isn’t it?”
In the end, we see one of the most memorable scenes in horror history, Rosemary stands and walks to the bassinet, dismissing one of the older ladies, and begins to rock the cradle. And what was once a cringe, turns suddenly into a smile of warmth.
Then the movie ends.
And if you’re like me, watching this for the first time perhaps, as the end credits roll you’re thinking, “What the heck did I just watch?” Which is part of the beauty of Rosemary’s Baby, right? The plot is non-complicated. In fact, it’s downright simple. The mesmerizing thing about the movie are the characters and the actors that played the roles. Everything was believable, so much so that even when the unbelievable end came, it no longer mattered, we were a part of the story, no turning back. Her rejection of the cultist devil worshipers is expected and warranted, but so is her eventual acceptance of her own child, regardless of what it is, in this case, the Anti-Christ. And then the movie pans away, showing us again this panorama view of the city and that same (now utterly) chilling lullaby, “la-la-la,” as if to say, the horrors of the world lay hidden behind the curtains of modernity.
And isn’t this what Rosemary’s Baby ultimately does? It forces us to question that even in a city as sprawling as New York, sin, evil, darkness, whatever, is, perhaps not in the dark alleyways, but present in our everyday lives and typically behind the faces of those we thought we could trust? In a carefully crafted way, Polanski asks us just what are our hopes and dreams and how exactly do those desires play into the future of not just for ourselves but society too. As we’ve seen time and time again, change, be it for good or bad, is always inevitable and nothing, absolutely nothing, is for certain.
Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character-driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. He is published with The Sinister Horror Company’s horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. His debut novel, Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein and Lanmò. His paranormal-thriller series, The Subdue Books, including Dwelling, Emerging, and Conceiving, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a BA in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he does reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can check out his work on the altar of Amazon here.
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