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
The simple fact that I have to write this disclaimer is a testament to how uber-critical we horror proprietors can get. We get caught up in the haves and haves not’s, the that’s and this’, we forget how to unplug and enjoy a movie on the sole basis of watching a movie. Our brains are at a constant state of flux. And we judge everything. Actor performance. Dialogue. Setting. Mood. Plot. Storytelling. And of course, meaning. While all these are important, I fear we’ve allowed the benchmarks of our business to eclipse the most important aspect…entertainment. There are some movies that are pointless to pick apart because they’re not movies with great plot or have terrible actors or more often terrible scripts. Some require such a single scoring method. Some simply beg the question: Was the movie entertaining? And thus we must answer. Yes or No. You can keep your own opinion on the subject. If a movie is in a series, especially, you may regard with disdain without ever having watched it, stating, “Ugh, I hate that series.” And this is okay. Its your opinion, isn’t it?
I am not innocent of these charges. I’ve been there, said that. For example, a buddy of mine asked if I wanted to go see this new Vin Diesel flicks, The Last Witch Hunter. I impudently turned him down, saying something akin to, “ugh, that movie looks lame. Its going to be awful.” I made this assumption without ever stepping into the theater. Why? Well…its a reasonable assumption, right? Judging from the previews, it looked kinda stinkerish, correct? Maybe so, maybe the acting would be terrible. Maybe the plot would be silly. Maybe the dialogue would feel cheesy. Maybe… there’s lots of them. But what about the most important aspects…? Was the movie entertaining? I wouldn’t know, and never will, unless I watched it.
If we want to judge a movie, we must first watch it, then judge.
What does all this have to do with my review for Insidious? Well, I’ll tell you. Over the weekend, I stopped by our local Redbox to pick up Pitch Perfect 2 for the wife. Lo and behold, Insidious: Chapter 3 was available as well. At first, I scoffed at the idea. “Horror series’ are lame,” and all that. But then I got to thinking…”why not?” It only added $0.50 cents to my cost. Why not? And I’m glad I got it. Because even having already judged the movie because its part of a series, and most horror series’ are lame, I found Insidious: Chapter 3 to be…what’s that magic word…? Oh yes. Entertaining. Sure…the character relations got a little sloppy, at the beginning. The relationship between father and daughter seemed catawampus, at best. Was there an over abundance of “jump scares?” Sure. Maybe they could have dialed those back a nudge. But the movie was highly entertaining. How entertaining you ask? Well, while screening the movie, I never once opened my tablet to check Facebook. Boom. That’s how entertaining it was. Enough to keep my attention, despite whatever short coming it had.
Here’s a quick fire synopsis:
When teenager Quinn Brenner (Stefanie Scott) senses that her late mother is trying to contact her, she seeks help from gifted psychic Elise Rainier (Lin Shaye). However, Elise’s tragic past makes her reluctant to use her abilities. After Quinn is attacked by a malevolent entity, her father (Dermot Mulroney) pleads with Elise for help. With support from two parapsychologists, Elise ventures deep into The Further — where she finds a powerful demon with an insatiable craving for human souls.
And there you have it…
AND we can dig a little deeper, if we want. We’ve already established the flick was entertaining enough to garner our short attention span. What else was there? Well, the movie seemed to focus a lot on the loss of loved ones. Not only did character Quinn lose her mother, to cancer I think. But psychic Elise also lost her husband (suicide). And not just her, but a well known neighbor had also passed away too (unknown causes) and we get to watch the uncomfortable “gee, wiz, sorry to hear about your loss. If you need anything, anything at all, please don’t hesitate” conversation between the bereaved and clumsy father, Sean Brenner. To say that Insidious: Chapter 3 dealt with the meaning of loss and separation and coping with death would be an understatement. Following the plot felt like strolling down the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance) in one form or another, between all the characters, not just Quinn and Elise. Besides the expectant “jump scares” that accompany such as movie, the mood and tension was very well tuned. It started in slow and then built from there. The tar footprints were a lovely touch. And the fact that, given this is a series, the story moved away from the “dream walkers” to something more akin to possession and…looking for the right word here…hmm…the closest I have is paranormal slasher. Kinda like “It Follows,” but better. The “demon” doesn’t want to enter the world of the living, according to Elise. It wants to take souls back with it to its own world, back into the darkness, or as they coin, The Further, which I find to be even more creepy than the plain Jane possession. To be possessed seems short term. You’ll either be saved or die, in which case you will likely be free, assuming as much anyhow. With the “paranormal slasher,” you’re not just possessed, but you’re also possessed, forced to kill yourself, and then stolen for eternity to this dark nightmarish underworld. For me, thanks in part to my oh so lovely fundamental religious upbringing, the “eternal punishment” aspect sets the creep factor pretty high!
Insidious: Chapter 3 may seem like a flick unworthy of your time. But I hope my review here has changed your mind on this. It was a great break from the previous storytelling, whilst keeping true to its shared universe. And I think “paranormal slasher” is a budding horror sub-genre that needs farther exploring. While we most certainly can nit-pick at the things the movie suffers from, Insidious: Chapter 3 was still highly entertaining movie. And in the end, isn’t that what truly matters?
My Review: 4/5
When reading such works as Pet Sematary, one often wonders if, as King states, “the most terrifying question of all may be just how much horror the human mind can stand and still maintain a wakeful, staring, unrelenting sanity.” Pet Sematary invokes such fears of the human threshold for terror. Everyone has there own stigmas and taboos. The trick, I guess, is finding just the right spot to tickle. For me, Pet Sematary invokes that dark passageway, the images are heartbreaking and grotesque, and the storytelling is faultless. The characters are absolutely believable, and once you start off on page one, you’ll never stop. Pet Sematary, obviously, is one of my all-time favorites and is the 17th novel written by Stephen King between Feb 1979 and December 1982, the book was preceded by Christine (of which I’m reading now), and, as some of have called, a return to King’s typical format of storytelling. I think the latter is a critic response to a return to a Shining-esk format, as not many of those blowhards favored Christine. I’m not sure why, Christine is, thus far in my reading (and I’m nearing the end at the moment) a suburb story. But, we’re not here to talk about demon cars, we’re here to talk about another kind of demon. Shall we…?
The story follows…
Louis Creed, a doctor from Chicago, moves to a house near the small town of Ludlow, Maine with his wife Rachel; their two young children, Eileen (“Ellie”) and Gage; and of course the lovable cat, Winston Churchill, or Church for short. Their neighbor, an elderly man, and best character in both the book and film, by the name of Jud Crandall, who warns Louis and Rachel about the highway that runs past their house; it is used by trucks from a nearby chemical plant that often pass by at high speeds, and has “used up many family pets,” hence the trail leading to the Pet Sematary behind the Creed house.
Jud and Louis become fast friends. Since Louis’s father died when he was three, his relationship with Jud takes on a father-son like quality. A few weeks after the Creeds move in, Jud takes the family on a walk in the woods behind their home following a well-tended path which leads to a pet cemetery where the children of the town have been burying their deceased animals, most of them dogs and cats killed by the trucks on the road, for decades. A heated argument ensues between Louis and Rachel the next day. Rachel disapproves of discussing death and she worries about how Ellie may be affected by what she saw at the cemetery. It is later explained that Rachel was traumatized by the early death of her sister, Zelda, who suffered from spinal meningitis — as her sister grew more deformed and mentally unstable from the disease, she began to lash out at her family, eventually dying in the back bedroom of their house. Rachel had been left alone by her parents to take care of her unstable sister and the sordid experience obviously scared her for life. Louis is furious at the thought of Rachel’s parents’ neglect and promises to have a better understanding of Rachel’s attitude toward death. This becomes one of the first clues to the relationship between Louis and his in-laws who had never looked favorably on each other.
On Louis Creed’s first day at his new job, a traumatic experience ensues at the University of Maine’s campus when Victor Pascow, a student who is fatally injured after being struck by a car. Pascow will soon play a pivotal role as a semi supernatural guardian in the Creed story. On the night following his death, Pascow’s ghost visits Louis and leads him to the cemetery and refers specifically to the “deadfall”, a dangerous pile of tree and bush limbs that form a barrier. Pascow warns Louis not to “go beyond, no matter how much you feel you need to.” Louis wakes up in bed the next morning convinced it was a dream, but discovers his feet and the bedsheets covered with dirt and pine needles. Louis dismisses the episode as a result of stress caused by Pascow’s death coupled with his wife’s anxieties about death. He accepts the situation as a bout of sleep walking. This situation is really what gives the book credence. It’s a very real situation, is it not? How often do we come across something strange and unusual or maybe even something possibly traumatic and rationalize the event into nothingness?
Louis is forced to confront death during Halloween, when Jud’s wife, Norma, suffers a near-fatal heart attack. Thanks to Louis’s immediate attention, Norma recovers. Jud is grateful for Louis’ help, and decides to repay him. A month later, during Thanksgiving while Rachel and the kids are visiting the dreaded in-laws, Jud discovers the crumbled corpse of Church, obviously run over by a truck. Louis is struggling over how to break the news to Ellie. Jud decides to make good on his promise to “repay” Louis and takes him to the pet cemetery, supposedly to bury Church. Instead, the elderly easterner leads Louis a few miles beyond the deadfall, the very one Pascow warned Creed about in his “dream” to “the real cemetery”: an ancient burial ground that was once used by the Micmacs, a Native American tribe ingenious to Maine. Following Jud’s instructions, Louis buries the cat and constructs a marker of sorts out of the small pile of stones he took out of the impromptu grave.
The next afternoon, the cat returns home. However, while he used to be vibrant and lively, he now acts strangely and “a little dead,” in Louis’ words. Church, who had started acting a tad lazily after having his “manhood” snipped, now after returning from the grave hunts for mice and birds much more often, and much more furiously, ripping them apart without eating them. The cat also gives off an unpleasant odor. Louis is disturbed by Church’s resurrection and begins to regret his decision. Jud tells Louis about his dog Spot, who was brought back to life in the same manner when Jud was twelve. Louis asks if a person was ever buried in the Micmac grounds, to which Jud answers vehemently no. And goes on to give us one of the best quotes in the entire book when he states, “Sometimes, dead is bettah…”
Fast forward several months later, Gage, who has just learned to walk, while playing in front of the Creed house, gets away from the family, almost sprinting towards the main road. Louis gives chase, but comes up short. Gage is tragically run over by a speeding truck. I believe this part in the book gives most parents a cringe. The thought of not being able to protect our kids, to save them, is a horrifying thought. In the story, Rachel sinks into a deep depression; Ellie becomes depressed as well. At Gage’s wake, Rachel’s father, Irwin, who never respected Louis or his daughter’s decision to marry him, obviously very drunk and bitter, berates Louis harshly, blaming Louis for the boy’s death. Louis snaps and the two fight in the funeral home’s viewing room, accidently knocking over the casket; Rachel witnesses the fight and becomes hysterical, seeing the cold arm of their dead baby, fall lazily from the coffin. Exposed.
Overcome with grief and despair, Louis considers bringing his son back to life with the power of the burial ground. Jud, guessing what Louis is planning, attempts to dissuade him by telling him another story of the burial ground that of Timmy Baterman, a young man from Ludlow who was killed charging a machine gun nest on the road to Rome during World War II. His father, Bill, put Timmy’s body in the burial ground, where he came back to life, and was seen by terrified townsfolk soon thereafter. Jud describes Timmy’s behavior; he’d acted much like Church had, wandering listlessly along the road near his home, unable to speak and having a haunted look on his face.
Jud and three of his friends had gone to the Baterman house to confront the pair, but Timmy confronted each of them with indiscretions they had committed, sins Timmy should have had no way of knowing, thus giving the impression that the resurrected Timmy was actually some sort of demon who had possessed Timmy’s body. Jud and his friends flee the house horrified, and Bill shoots his son and burns his house to the ground, killing himself.
This is the part in the story in which we find ourselves begging the question: What if what comes back isn’t the deceased, but something else?
King craftily injects some possible clues for us to follow. Namely using Jud and his rationalized guilt, assuming that Gage died because he showed Louis the burial ground. There are also hints that at some point the burial ground was used for victims of cannibalism and that it became the haunt of the Wendigo, a terrible creature of the forest, whose mere presence gives men a taste for the flesh of their own kind. Through Louis, we later get a glimpse of the creature, but nothing really salable. What I got from all this was, in Jud Crandall’s words, the “ground had gone sour” and now acts as a conduit to a darker place, corrupting any animal or person buried there, and possessing the deceased with some sort of demonic presence.
Despite Jud’s warning and his own reservations, Louis’ grief and guilt spur him to carry out his plan. Louis has Rachel and Ellie visit her parents in Chicago again, not telling them his intentions. Louis meticulously exhumes his son’s body. This scene is one of the more powerful ones, the slow progression of madness mixed with the tragedy of losing a child. It was an equally heartfelt moment as it was a horrifying one. Finished with his work, Luis takes his son’s corpse to the burial site. Along the trail, the Wendigo nearly scares him away but Louis’ determination, combined with the power of the burial site…or perhaps his own creeping insanity, keeps him moving.
In a strange twist in the story, Ellie has a nightmare featuring Victor Pascow on the flight to Chicago. In Chicago, again Ellie has a seemingly precognitive episode, something very similar to Danny Torrance in The Shining, and something that King uses in most of his stories, including The Stand and Doctor Sleep, which I find to be interesting. Rachel, in her own mind, agrees with her daughter that something is strange regarding Louis’ behavior. She fears Louis may be planning suicide. Convinced something is amiss, Rachel attempts to fly back to Maine, but misses her connecting flight at Boston and decides to drive the rest of the distance. On the road, she passes the infamous Jerusalem’s Lot, and is pledged with “car problems,” as if some dark entity were preventing her from reaching Louis in time to stop him.
Louis buries Gage at the burial ground. Later, Gage returns as a demonic shadow of his former self, suddenly gifted with the ability to talk with intelligence. He sneaks into his old home and steals a scalpel from Louis’ medical bag — Louis, in a deep sleep after returning from the burial ground, is repulsed by Gage’s foul odor while unconscious but strangely does not wake up.
Perhaps something dark is at work here?
Across the street, Gage breaks into Jud’s house and taunts Jud about his wife’s implied infidelity, again displaying knowledge Gage should know nothing about, giving the audience the impression that this is not Gage at all, but something else entirely. Gage then brutally kills Jud with Louis’ scalpel. When Rachel arrives at Jud’s house, Gage kills her also (and, it is implied, partially eats her corpse). Louis, upon waking, see the footprints of his resurrected son and his open medical bag and missing scalpel. Louis, wanting to put an end to everything, kills Church and gives Gage a fatal doses of morphine, and then grieves for his son by sitting and rocking with the corpse in the corner of the hallway.
Discovering the body of his wife, Louis, now utterly out of his mind, burns down Jud’s house, then carries Rachel’s body to the burial ground, saying that he “waited too long” with Gage but is confident that Rachel will come back the same as before. After being interrogated by investigators about the fire and revealing nothing about his involvement, Louis waits until nightfall for Rachel to return. Playing solitaire, he hears his resurrected wife walk into the house. A hand falls on his shoulder and his wife greets him with “Darling…” with the sound of gravel and dirt in her mouth.
Bringing the story to an absolutely chilling end.
The reviews for Pet Sematary are mixed. The New York Times in 1983 considered it to be an unlikely choice as “most frightening book.” But it was, very much so. Skillfully crafted from the mundane experiences of the American family, the mood thickens in a chilling and subtle way. King invokes the old short story, “The Monkey’s Paw,” by W.W. Jacob, where an old couple wishes upon a talisman to conjure up their dead son, who was mangled in a factory accident. It is a credit to King’s talent during this era to be able to keep the attention of readers with a story so banal, so ordinary…until it’s not. There is even a behind the scenes rumor that King did not want to publish Pet Sematary because he thought he’d gone “too far.” Did he? I don’t think so. In fact, I believe it is a writer’s responsibility to push boundaries in storytelling, as long as it is done in an thoughtful, provoking, and intelligent way. And Pet Sematary certainly fits all three criteria. Personally speaking, Pet Sematary has influenced me greatly in my own work. Pushing boundaries through situation-driven characters. Keeping true to the cast and fleshing them out as real people, and not meta-bland humans. Surrounding the mundane and banal with supernatural forces that cannot be fully explained and certainly do not glitter in the sunlight, but rather shriek from it, laying hidden in the shadow of the human heart, asking the hard question what would we be willing to do at the loss of love, life, and the pursuit of happiness.
My rating: 5/5
Thomas S. Flowers is an Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom Army veteran who loves scary movies, BBQ, and coffee. Ever since reading Remarque’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” and Stephen King’s “Salem’s Lot” he has inspired to write deeply disturbing things that relate to war and horror, from the paranormal to his gory zombie infested PLANET of the DEAD series, to even his recent dabbling of vampiric flirtation in The Last Hellfighter readers can expect to find complex characters, rich historical settings, and mind-altering horror. Thomas is also the senior editor at Machine Mean, a horror movie and book review site that hosts contributors in the horror and science fiction genre.
PLANET of the DEAD and The Last Hellfighter are best-sellers on Amazon’s Top 100 lists for Apocalyptic Fiction and African American Horror.
You can follow Thomas and claim a free book by going to www.ThomasSFlowers.com