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Posts tagged “Foreign Films

Fright Fest: [REC] (2007)

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[REC] (2007)

Directors: Jaume BalagueróPaco Plaza

Writers: Jaume Balagueró (screenplay), Luiso Berdejo

Release Date: 23 November 2007 (Spain)

Since its release back in 2007, REC has since become something of a modern horror classic, and is no doubt destined to be in the pantheon of greats in the many years to come. Like it’s found footage forebear The Blair Witch Project it elevates its limitations to enormous strengths – creating a building and palpable tension throughout that will have you creeping closer, and closer to the edge of your seat as it reaches its horrifying conclusion.

Co-written and directed by Jaume Balagueró and Paco Plaza, REC presents itself as ‘real’ footage recorded when a local TV reporter Angela Vidal (Manuela Velasco) and her cameraman Pablo (Pablo Rosso) cover a fire crew about their day-to-day lives, and join them when they respond to a vague emergency call about an elderly lady in a local apartment building.  Continue Reading

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Creature Features in Review: Godzilla (1954)

 

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Godzilla is one of the best examples of how science fiction and horror can relate certain fears within society and that they (the movies) are not just kids movies or nonsensical. I mean, sure, there are plenty of nonsensical movies out there, especially within the genre of horror and science fiction, but if I could be so brash as to say that a majority actually do serve a purpose. Storytelling has always been our way of relating concern or passing on wisdom, teaching the new generation our fears and our struggles and what threats, missteps, whatever, to look out for. Watching the original televised trailer for Godzilla (1954), it definitely begs the question of what Godzilla really symbolizes. The very first screenshot shows audiences a “once peaceful city of Tokyo, now laid in ruins…,” but given the historical context, I had to ask myself just what city was I really looking at, a fictional Tokyo, or a literal Hiroshima or maybe a literal Nagasaki? What is it that Japan seems to be afraid of? Thankfully, our guest author is here to help explain some of these things in his review. Please welcome, Kurt Thingvold.

Two notable things stand out in World War II: the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the attacks on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Why should they stand out? Easy, they were the beginning and the end point in our conflict with the Japanese. Both conflicts ended in multiple deaths, a beginning, and an end to the horrors of war. Millions dead—countries in shambles. America recovered, Japan recovered, but not before having to surrender their military forces in order to prevent Japan from re-arming and starting another war. This marked the end of World War II, the world remained in peace.

When Japan surrendered their forces it made the country feel weak and they feared invasion, while the invasion would never come—the fear remained—only in the last twenty years, or so have the Japanese fought to regain a glimmer of military presence. A second horror remained in the eyes of the Japanese people.  Two Atomic bombs had obliterated their fellow countrymen and woman.  The horrors of the war had never escaped the small country. Even through the decade following the war—the fear of nuclear weapons haunted their dreams—who was to defend their country, now, that a small defense force was in charge of keeping the invaders out, what if, they had to deal with a situation that had never become the small country?

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In the1950’s, a Japanese film company wanted to make a film about the horrors of war— the original idea never came to fruition (based on the invasion of Indonesia, the Japanese refused visas).  When producer Tomoyuki Tanaka was flying back to Japan after failed negotiations with the Indonesian government to shoot the film, he looked out at the ocean, and thought about a monster that comes from the sea and attacks the mainland! While the idea seemed to be a ludicrous idea, it would serve the film company well. The film company was known as Toho Studios.  The Film would come to be known as Gojira (Godzilla).

The movie starts out in the ocean, we see a boat,  the crew seems to be having a grand old time, singing, dancing and joking around, suddenly, a flash of lights, the boat begins to sink in a fiery mess, slowly, sinking below the ocean floor.  Shortly after the sinking, a second boat is sent to investigate, the same flashes are seen, and the second boat has a meeting with the ocean floor, with few survivors. A fishing boat from the nearby island is also destroyed, causing the residents of the nearby island to venture into Tokyo to seek aid and relief as the fishing near the island have plummeted down to near threatening levels. Once the locals arrive they describe a large creature destroying their villages, the Japanese concerned they decide to send renowned paleontologist Dr. Kyohei Yamane to investigate the islander’s claims.  Once he and his team arrive on the island– they discover the village in almost ruins—Dr.Yahmane discovers a giant footprint of the massive creature, with a trilobite embedded within the footprint, which turns out to be radioactive. The village bell rings out and the creature finally reveals itself—the villagers dub it Gojira (Godzilla). After this horrifying discovery Yamane returns back to Japan and presents his findings that “Gojira” is a remnant of dinosaurs slumbering beneath the waves and the testing of atomic bombs have disturbed his sleep.  The Japanese government responds by sending a fleet of ships to deploy bombs and try to destroy Godzilla. Which, causes the creature to rise and head towards the mainland.

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Dr. Yamane’s daughter Emiko, who is engaged to a colleague. Dr. Serizawa, she does not love the man as she loves a young trawler operator Hideto Ogata, a young reporter arrives to interview Serizawa and he refuses.  He does show Emiko, a secret project he is working on. In which, the air is removed from the water, causing fish and sea life to disintegrate.  This Horrifies Emiko.  “Gojira” begins to attacks the mainland, after a few short minutes the attack is over and he returns to the ocean.  After the attack, the government consults with the Japanese Self-Defense Force (JDSF) to build a 100 ft. electrical tower to kill the creature. Dr. Yamane is distraught that they plan to kill the creature rather than studying it. Emiko and Ogata are waiting for her father, so they may have permission to wed. Ogata and Dr. Yamane, engage in a fierce vocal battle about the fate of the creature and Yamane orders Ogata to leave.  “Gojira” Emerges again in Tokyo bay and attacks the city a second time.  Ripping through the trap the JDSF had set, breathing his radioactive, melting the steel like wax. Godzilla continues his rampage destroying and killing thousands of citizens. After, the attack, we are introduced to the horrors of the previous night. The dead and wounded overcrowd the hospitals. Emiko runs to Ogata and tells him of Serizawa’s weapon the “Oxygen Destroyer” Both go to Serizawa and plead with him to use the Oxygen Destroyer on Godzilla and stop him once and for all. Serizawa hesitant to use the weapon, he decides to use the weapon, but not before destroying the documents.  Ogata and Serizawa travel to where Godzilla was last spotted, both of them dive to the bottom of the ocean. Once they spot Godzilla, Serizawa plants the bomb, he motions for Ogata to surface. Serizawa cutting his own oxygen supply detonates the bomb. Destroying Godzilla and the secrets to the weapon with him.

We catch a glimpse of Godzilla rising from the ocean as he melts away.  We are left with a quote from Yamane, as they mourn for their friend, Serizawa.

“I can’t believe that Godzilla was the only surviving member of its species… But if we continue conducting nuclear tests, it’s possible that another Godzilla might appear somewhere in the world again.”

While the plot may seem silly, it portrays its dark tones rather well—Godzilla being an allegory for nuclear threat/invasion, the characters interact with the creature with either horror or admiration. And a key scene that plays into this is where Yamane is describing the creature and its possible origins, and why it is so intent on destroying Tokyo. While, other players in that scene want it destroyed with no question. We see people struggling in awe on how to deal with a threat that seems new, but now have to deal with it at half their normal strength. Another scene that shows a real struggle and emulates of the idea that something of this magnitude (using nuclear technology) is where Emiko tells her father she plans to marry Ogata, and he agrees that Godzilla should be destroyed.  These two scenes show a man struggling to convince others that what he wants is for the best. Knowing the power of what has occurred and what could occur. A nuclear attack was still a possibility in the 1950’s—not by intention, of course. Americans were still close enough to the country to accidentally cause more damage, an incident did occur, The Lucky Dragon No.7 was close enough to Bikini Atoll during a test to receive fallout from the explosion, causing major concern for the Japanese. (The first boat attacked in the movie was based on Lucky Dragon No.7). Another scene, which, we should play close attention to is when Godzilla first starts attacking Tokyo, setting the buildings on fire, destroying everything in his path. The JDSF is useless in stopping him. This plays homage to the attacks on Nagasaki and Hiroshima; there is even a brief mention of the attacks. A mother holder her children and trying to comfort them tells them in sobbing words. “We will be with father soon.” Indicating he was one of the victims of the bomb. Godzilla is a powerful force that relentlessly attacks the people of Japan, and themselves feel useless in stopping him.

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Two years after the first film was made—an Americanized version of the starring Raymond Burr was released. While this version of the film feels is not as dark as the Japanese version. It still shows the horror of the Atomic bombs through the view of an American reporter, while the plot is the same, this version is still rated highly. The American version is a great companion, for a different view of the film. Just two years ago, we released another American Godzilla film, dealing with a different nuclear threat, plants going into meltdowns—this version also plays into the social effect of how we as people are ignorant to the dilemmas and threats that happen across our globe on a single day.

The music also emulated the themes of the film. Heroic and dingy sounds to expand the scenes, and draw you into the moment. While most of the music is accompanied by the monster’s roar, and footsteps it has the rare ability to summon the emotions and fears of the viewer. (Akira Ifukube went on composing for the series up until the mid-90’s).  The scores themselves are memorable and are a joy to listen to on their own.

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Godzilla is a movie everyone should see, regardless if you’re a historian or film buff.  The movie portrays a lot of themes dealing with the atomic age and war, in general. While Godzilla has spawned off from the original message and horror of the first film, it still portrays a message of anti-nuclear weapons.  During the sixties and seventies, the Godzilla films took over as a protector of people.  All Godzilla films portray a message whether it’s from one of the sillier movies, or the dark depressing atmosphere of the first: We need to find a way to protect ourselves, we need to take a look at what we do on a daily basis and think about how it is going to affect ourselves, or the land and people around us. Overall, Godzilla may have changed over the last sixty years, but the message itself still remains the same.

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Kurt Thingvold, no stranger to Machine Mean, was born and raised in IL. He finds passion in writing, that helps calm his demons. He grew up in a tough household that encouraged reading and studying. He spends his time writing in multiple of genres. His published short story, Roulette, can be found on Amazon. When not writing he can be found playing games, reading, or attempting to slay the beast known as “Customer Service”, which, he fails at almost every day. As mentioned, Kurt is a frequent flyer here on Machine Mean, you can also check out his previous review on Ridley Scott’s legacy movie Alien here.

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Commentator Featurette: Kim McDonald

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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.


Fright Fest: HAUSU (1977)

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Some films you watch because you want to, they’re your usual type of fare. Be it horror, action or zombie films, we all have a certain type of film that irrespective of what we’ve heard from other people, we’ll watch. Then there are the ones that you get from recommendations, they’re not that frequent, and usually go one of two ways. You either love them, or hate them, and cut the aforementioned person from your life. Cos, let’s face it, no one needs that kind of person in their lives.

Then…and there is a point to my rambling, honest, there are the films that offer you a glimpse of something a little different. This is where HOUSE, or HAUSU steps through the doorway, and waves at you, whilst brandishing a bloodied cartoon knife.

I was first alerted to its existence whilst looking through a list of bizarro horror films. From the two paragraph synopsis, I knew that I had to see it. For the avoidance of doubt, this is the Japanese film, called HOUSE, not the 1986 American version. If you’re expecting something on that, well…yeah, you’re in for a number of WTF moments.

See, there is another type of film you watch, and these are the rarest of all, they’re the ones where they are an ‘experience’. Horror films, in the main, don’t really appeal to me. I find that they tend to be filled with tropes, and just aren’t really my bag. But you watch zombie films I hear you cry!

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Yes, yes I do, but see rule number 1. They are my bag, I love them, and I don’t care that you have to watch three or four to see something even remotely different, because of well…zombies.

HAUSU though, well, nothing can quite prepare you for the spectacle you’re about to witness. Reading about it, the film itself was greenlit by Toho studios for TWO YEARS, before it was made. A whole assortment of directors severed it, mainly because they thought it would be their death knoll. This is in part due to the fact that a lot of the film came about as a result of the writer’s daughter.

Yeah…

And to be honest, it shows.

Let’s get the bad out of the way now, lest it cling to the hull of our already heavily barnacled rowboat, and capsize us. The acting is so wooden, it makes enough to form a whole fleet of rowboats. The plot, if you can call it that, is utter BS. The animation, terrible, effects in general, utter shonky, yet none of that matters one jot.

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HAUSU is one helluva odd film to watch, one that you need to switch off that little piece of your brain, which tries to ground what you’re seeing into any semblance of ‘normal’.

So what the hell is it about? A bunch of school girls prepare for a summer way, except one, Angel, who is looking forward to some time away with her father, who has been working in Italy on film scores. He returns, with joyous news! They will be going with his new squeeze, Ryoko, who has a permanently waving scarf, and a penchant for stiff handshakes. Well, this does not please Angel, who scurries off to her room and reminisces about her dead mum. In the process, is reminded of her auntie, who, as luck would have it, lives in a big house all by herself.

Casually inviting herself and her mates for the summer, she waits eagerly by the post-box, with a white fluffy cat, that turns up out of nowhere. Her aunt replies and says she would love to see them all. So off they go…

What follows is the girls disappearing one at a time. Conveniently, they are all called things like Prof (wears glasses), Mac (eats a lot), Fantasy ( a bit of a daydreamer) and Kung Fu, which I bet you’ll never work out what she does.

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The way they go missing is just so comical, that you’re not sure if it actually happened. Obviously, with it being nigh on forty years old, it looks dated, but the director intentionally made the effects bad. I mean, that’s taking pride in your work to a whole new level. I don’t even know that I would still have a job if I applied that logic to my own vocation:

WORK: “So…Duncan, we called you into this meeting today, as we asked you to do this urgent database update.

ME: “Uh-huh, yep, you sure did.”

WORK: “One which was necessary to stop us losing our entire book of business.”

ME: “Oh yes, I felt really humbled that you asked me to do that, pretty big honour, I have to admit.”

WORK: “So, why did you debone a swordfish and play a medley of Ska songs on its skeleton?”

ME: “Well, thing is, I wanted it to be so bad, that instead of me keeping the business afloat, I wanted it to be really silly.”

WORK: “But you-”

ME: “Like, really silly. I think I managed it, don’t you?”

It just wouldn’t work, would it?

Or would it…I’ll save that for another day.

Kumiko Oba ("Fantasy")

Anyway, it is an unusual approach, and in any other film, it would have made it ridiculous. But HAUSU, is already light years ahead of you, presiding in the Ridiculous nebula, part of the Ridiculous galaxy. How might you ask? Well, you have a man fall down stairs, slide around on the floor, stop-motion style, before having a bucket stuck on his arse. This serves as his reason as to why he can’t drive the girls to the house.

How the hell can you try and make that shit legitimate?

You just can’t, so the only thing you can do, embrace it, know what you’re doing is so utterly mental, that all you can do, is push the envelope some more until it ruddy well works.

THAT is the beauty of this film. So many scenes are just filled with my internal monologue going, “What the actual fuck is going on?” I’m not gonna list them, as you really do need to spend some time and watch it for yourself, even if it’s just the once.

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As for horror, the effects kybosh any real chance of building up suspense or dread, and the sharp left turns, which make little sense, also remove any shock value. Again, though, it doesn’t matter. If you come into this film expecting a tight narrative, kickass effects and gasping shocks and turns, you chose poorly.

So why the hell should you watch it? I get ya, your time is precious, you have a million and one other things you could be doing. There are pigs to scrub down, flame wars to ignite on social media, Machiavellian plans to hatch. I will ask you but one question…do you want to watch something which is genuinely different than 95% of the other films you will watch during your life? If you do, then give it a crack. Revel in its awfulness, laugh at the effects, but most of all, just enjoy a film that will live long in your head.

HAUSU is like that one person you know, who you see only fleetingly, but for the brief time you do, you see how wonderful true strangeness can be.

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Living in a hollowed out pumpkin, Duncan P. Bradshaw finds October the most troublesome of months, as people become intent on sticking flaming candles into the midst of his happy abode. In fact, the only good thing to come about from it is the copious amount of candy that he steals from passers-by. When they have all sodded right off, he retires to the tip of the stalk, which affords him excellent views of the neighbourhood. As the rest of the street slumbers, he writes down the weird and wonderful thoughts that have built up during the day, like the plaque. Find out what he writes down, by checking out his website http://duncanpbradshaw.co.uk/ or follow him on Facebook, where he does all manner of things https://www.facebook.com/duncanpbradshaw/

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Universal Monsters in Review: Drácula (1931)

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Swooping down from the Carpathian Mountains comes…Senior Drácula…. HOLD UP! You may be wondering, “But Thomas, haven’t you already published a review on Dracula?” Oh yes. I certainly have. If you’re brave enough to search the catacombs of Machine Mean, you’d be likely to stumble across a few. From memory, I’m fairly certain I’ve written a review on the Roxy Theater initial release of Dracula. I’ve written a post on Dwight Frye who played Renfield. And I’m pretty sure I’ve written a post celebrating Bela Lugosi, who we all know and was in fact buried as Dracula. But now comes the time, my friends, when we finally get to review the Spanish version of Dracula. According to film historians and most of everyone else in the biz, it was not uncommon for Universal Studios and most of Hollywood to produce Spanish or French or even German adaptations of their films. The unique thing about Drácula is that the Spanish version was filmed during the night on the same set and during the same time as the one we’ve all come to love and adore. That’s right folks, Dracula and Drácula were filmed at the same time, the American Todd Browning directed version during the day, and the Spanish George Melford during the night. The only real difference being the director, the cast, and subtle differences in wardrobe. In fact, according to Lupita Tovar, the Mexican-American actress who played Eva (love interest of both Harkin and Drácula), in the new introduction offered in the Universal Classic Monsters: Complete 30-Film Collection, said that because the Spanish film was done on the same set as the American version, the actors used the same markings on the floor that directed them where to stand while being filmed. In this way, Drácula is a near perfect shot-for-shot version of the original.

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Now, given the near perfect similarities between the two films, there’s been a rumor among horror fanatics and run-of-the-mill fans alike. The rumor is that the Spanish directed Dracula is better than the American shot version. There is no secret of the troubles Todd Browning’s version faced. Watching the movie even now, one can see how it seems pieced together with more than a few mishaps on stage. The one saving grace was the powerful magnetism of the cast of actors, mostly Bela Lugosi and Dwight Frye (if you ask me). In transparency, I must confess, last night as I inserted the DVD, my thoughts went back to those rumors, of how the Spanish version was superior to the original. And after watching the wonderful Lupita Tovar give the introduction, one would think certainly the rumors were true. Well…I’m sure you’re asking by now, “Was it? Was the Spanish version better than the American?” Before we get into that, let’s back things up for a moment and fill in some gaps for those readers who have not yet watched Dracula or even read the Bram Stroker novelisation (poor souls).

Here is a synopsis of the American film:

The dashing, mysterious Count Dracula (Bela Lugosi), after hypnotizing clerk Renfield (Dwight Frye) into his mindless slave, travels to London and takes up residence in an old castle. Soon Dracula begins to wreak havoc, sucking the blood of young women and turning them into vampires. When he sets his sights on Mina (Helen Chandler), the daughter of a prominent doctor, vampire-hunter Van Helsing (Edward Van Sloan) is enlisted to put a stop to the count’s never-ending bloodlust.

And here is the synopsis of the Spanish film:

Soon after beginning work for Conde Dracula (Carlos Villarias), the clerk Renfield (Pablo Alvarez Rubio) learns that his employer is, in fact, a vampire who lives on human blood. Now under Dracula’s spell, Renfield helps his master travel to London, where the vampire takes another victim (Carmen Guerrero). Dracula also has eyes on the lovely Eva (Lupita Tovar), but her fiancé, Juan Harker (Barry Norton), and a wise professor named Van Helsing (Eduardo Arozamena) seek to stop him.

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Some slight differences but otherwise pretty much the same. As it should be, given they’re both working with the same script. One of the biggest differences that I noticed right away was how much more easily it was to follow along with the plot of the Spanish version of Dracula. If that was more of my familiarity with the subject or not, I cannot say for certain, but I did find it easier this time around. And even though the Spanish crew was using the same sets as the American one, those sets seemed to have better lighting, maybe this has to do with them filming at night rather than during the day, but the mountains and rooms and villages looked brighter and I enjoyed getting another perspective of the uniqueness and craftsmanship of those designs. The costumes looked mirror image to those of the American version of the film, the one difference (that I noticed) was the design of dresses Eva and her friend wore, which is to say, a little more low cut in the breast region. Lupita Tovar comments on the same during her introduction of the film, quoting that the director had told her the dresses made them look sexy. Watching the film today, the design feels on point to what we normally see in more classy movies, however, I can imagine watching this back in 1931 during a more conservative film era.

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The real nitty-gritty for me boils down, not to stages or costumes or scripts or lighting, but the actors themselves. Did the Spanish-American actors outdo the originals? Perhaps I’m bias, seeing how I’m a huge fan of the original…that being said, I had some qualms with some of the performances in the Spanish version. The biggest star of Dracula will inevitably be Dracula. In the original, we were introduced to Bela Lugosi, a very exotic actor (at the time). With Drácula we were introduced to Carlos Villarias. Both actors were largely unknown, and both were recent immigrants to California, Lugosi hailing from Belguim and Carlos from Spain. Despite Carlos’s advantage of being able to act while speaking his native tongue, Bela to me was the better of the two Draculas. It is even more amazing when we consider how Bela was not yet proficient with the English language during the time when Dracula was being filmed and recited the script phonetically from memory. Now, I’m not saying Carlos was a bad actor. He was good, it just…his portrayal as Dracula felt very comedic to me. His facial expressions were, to be frank, hilarious, and thus it was hard to take him seriously.

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Secondly, both versions of the lawyer/clerk Renfield were played marvelously by both Dwight Frye and Pablo Alvaerez Rubio. They both felt very empathetic and loathsome…however, again perhaps due to my bias as a fan of the original, Dwight Frye gave the role the extra added creepiness that brought the movie to a whole other level. I was completely fine with Pablo as Renfield until the boat scene with the dock crews searching for survivors and discover the poor clerk below deck. That image of Fyre looking up from the staircase and his maniacal giggle still gives me chills. All Pablo offered was laugh like some loon. And there were a few other scenes, like when Renfield crawled on the ground toward the fainted nurse, Dwight seemed to me like a spider, Pablo…well, I don’t know what he was doing.

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Third, the only other really important character to get right would be Professor Van Helsing. In the American version, we are treated to the likes of Edward Van Sloan. In the Spanish version, we get Eduardo Arozamena. Both performances were pretty much the same, in fact, both actors even looked a lot alike. The only difference being the subtle charismatic acting of Van Sloan versus a more pragmatic acting by Arozamena. For me, personally, again perhaps due to my bias, I prefer the American version of Van Helsing. As for the damsel, a truism for most Universal Monster movies during this era, again both Mina (Helen Chandler) and Eva (Lupita Tovar) were very well done. But, looking closer, a think I prefer Lupita Tovar’s performance over Helen Chandler’s. She was not only more exotic, but she was also more sympathetic, in my opinion.

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So…who was better? Dracula or Drácula. Were the rumors true? No, and yes. There were many aspects of the Spanish version that I enjoyed. The sets. The more developed story structure. Even some of the acting. But, I think, there is more to love with the original Dracula. Bela and Frye, for starters. And despite the issues with filming, Todd Browning brought a sort of stylization and his own strange vision to the quality of direction in Dracula that George Melford did not have. That’s not saying Drácula is not good. It certainly is and ought to be screened by any fan of horror or fan of the Universal monsters. I’m actually really happy the creators of the 30-movie boxset included this version. Otherwise, I may have never given the movie a chance. But when compared to the Dracula filmed during the day, there just are no substitutes.

My review: 3.5/5

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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 new Subdue Series, including both Dwelling and Emerging, 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.

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