Your source for retro horror movie and book reviews

Posts tagged “gritty

Book Featurette: Where the Monsters Live

wherethemonsterslive

WARNING: contains mature content and violence not suitable for all readers.

When police fail to find the man responsible for raping a six-year-old girl, her father leaves home on a harrowing undercover journey into Miami’s sex offender colony under the Julia Tuttle Causeway to hunt down the “Rabbit Man,” and put him in the ground. Vengeance is a monster that lives within our own hearts.

What readers are saying about Where the Monsters Live:

“Efficient, powerful prose in a short story that delivers about as much emotion and punch as a book ten times its length. It’s a challenging character and his actions really need to be evaluated and thought over by the reader, which I think all good art should do. I have been a fan of Ralston’s work for some time now, and this one did not disappoint. Check it out if you are looking for a good, fast read.” -Chad Clark, author of Down the Beaten Path and Behind Our Walls

“Who knows what lies in the hearts of men? Duncan Ralston certainly does in this dark fast paced horrific read. Read it in one sitting.” -Amazon Reviewer

“While the subject matter, sexual abuse, may indeed be too traumatic for some audiences, this story tackles the difficult subject deftly. The protagonist, a man driven to hunt down a monster, must struggle not to become a monster himself. A quick and thoroughly engaging read.” -Lydian Faust

“I’ve been reading Ralston since Salvage. I feel that this is one of the best stories, he has told, so far.” -Kurt Thingvold.

You can get YOUR copy of Where the Monsters Live for $0.99!!!

buynow

 

DuncanR

Duncan Ralston is no stranger to Machine Mean. He has previously reviewed for us The Invisible Man (1933) and Ash Vs. Evil Dead. Mr. Ralston is not just a wonderful human being, but also the author of gruesome tales like Salvage: A Ghost Story, and the horror collection, Gristle & Bone. He’s been published in a various of anthologies, including The Black Room Manuscripts, The AnimalEaster Eggs and Bunny Boilers, and VS: US Versus UK. His latest book will sure to knock your socks off, Woom. You can follow and chat with him at  www.facebook.com/duncanralstonfiction and www.duncanralston.com. You can read his review on Invisible Man here.

Advertisements

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

 

rosemary1

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.

rosemary2

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?

rosemary3

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.

rosemary4

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.

rosemary5

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.

rosemary6

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.”

rosemary7

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.

rosemary8

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.

 

Tommy_Bride

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.

Did you like what you read here? I sure hope so. If you did maybe you’d also be interested in signing up for our little newsletter too? Oh, it’s mighty good fun. Keep ahead of new reviews and specials and all kinds of good stuff. OH! And the best part, you get a free book out of the deal too. Do you want Dwelling? Emerging? Reinheit? Strange Authors? Lanmo? All you have to do is click on the “Free eBook” link below, sign up, and I’ll email you regarding your FREE book. From there, you just tell me which book you want and its yours, all for just signing up for the newsletter. Pretty cool, huh? I thought so.

freebookposter


Fright Fest: Squirm (1976)

squirm1

Jeff Leiberman’s killer worm movie from the Seventies, Squirm, is more than your basic eco-horror film. It’s a taut Southern gothic tale, filled with sexual tension and bizarre symbolism, making it more than worth your time to watch. Squirm isn’t really a “nature gone mad” flick. It’s more like a “nature extremely irritated” movie. When a tremendous storm hits the isolated rural town of Fly Creek, GA, downed power lines send bazillions of volts of electricity into the ground. This shocking turn of events takes its toll on the underground population of bloodworms, a grosser-than-normal kind of tubular critter that has the ability to bite. Nobody is safe from the killer nightcrawlers, but the biting bait functions more as a symbol than a mindless mass of slimy flesh-eaters. Yeah, it’s disgusting, and there are a couple of scenes in this movie that will give you bad dreams. It’s legitimately scary, but underneath the millions of worms lies a story of repressed passions and unfulfilled promise.

 

Our heroine, Geri (Patricia Pearcy), has invited her friend Mick (Don Scardino) down from New York City to stay the weekend. Geri lives with her sister and her widowed mother. Since the power is off, the whole place is hotter and moister than usual. The entrance of Mick into this situation sets strange events in motion.

Mama hasn’t had a man since Big Daddy died and having Mick roam around the house shirtless activates her nethers in a way she hasn’t known for decades. The same things are happening to young Geri, who follows Mick around like that old cartoon character with red pigtails and a gingham dress, eyes bulging out and steam flying out of her ears, screaming “A MAY-UNNN!”

squirm3

Mick’s arrival also sets off the competitive nature in local man Roger (R. A. Dow), the simpleton son of a worm farmer who has his eye on Geri. To be fair, Geri does use her feminine wiles to get Roger to do things for her. Let me borrow your truck, Roger. Bait my fishing hook, Roger. He’s just a poor puppy dog, hoping to get his belly scratched. This does not happen.

There’s so much pining in this movie, it may as well have been filmed in the fjords.

And where do the worms come in? Besides being naturally phallic-shaped, embodying all the slippery sexual tension in the family, they also represent what’s been called the New South. This is a South that has gotten past the Civil War, embraced the Industrial Revolution and tries to fit in with the rest of the country without a chip on its shoulder. Mama represents the Old South, especially as far as etiquette goes. She hates Mick for disrupting her small matriarchy with the threat of Penis, his sexuality being another form of Northern aggression, and yet she can’t help but stare at him longingly. Her eyes travel him up and down in a delightful reverse of the male gaze. She can’t admit it, but Mama is ready to fraternize with the enemy.

squirm4

The worms, as the New South, attack from all sides. They rise up from the ground, like the ghosts of Confederate soldiers. They devour the citizens. They invade the homes. Eventually, they destroy Mama’s house with her in it. She has no choice but to succumb. It’s no coincidence that much like Atlanta after Sherman’s March, they’re going to have to rebuild.

The person who fights hardest against the invading worms is poor dumb Roger, who works on a worm farm! He’s been raising these things, and they turn against him in the most horrific of ways, like ungrateful children. Imagine being a die-hard Yellow Dog Democrat all your life, then finding out your kids voted for the godforsaken, quasi-Communist Green Party. Betrayal! Obi-Wan and Anakin level betrayal!

squirm5

They used to call stories like this “pot-boilers,” simmering with sex and heat and passions that must not be spoken aloud. This one also happens to have killer bloodworms that scream like sodomized baboons. Believe me, if you want the gross-out factor, it’s here. Just the shot of worms oozing their way out of a showerhead is enough to give me the heebie-jeebies from hell to breakfast.

But Squirm is a great example of horror being the genre where you can explore anything. You can’t explore the lingering effects of the aftermath of the Civil War and misplaced, toxic sexual desire and repression in a romantic comedy. How would the audience react to Christina Applegate getting the meat stripped off her bones by thousands of insane electrified bloodworms after her first awkward date with Paul Rudd?

Squirm is a B-movie treasure, loaded with winning performances and subtext out the O-ring. Not only is it a tremendous movie, it’s a great film deserving of greater appreciation.

jefferymartin

Jeffery X. Martin is no stranger to Machine Mean. After reviewing for us The Wolf Man (1941) and The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944) and Revenge of the Creature (1955), Mr. X has brought us to a new level of terror with Squirm. When he isn’t being pestered by me to write movie reviews, he also writes books and is an avid podcaster. Mr. X has published several stories that are sure to shock, including those in the Elder’s Keep universe and Tarotsphere. He also has a fantastic tale in The Black Room Manuscripts Vol 1. His latest novel, Hunting Witches, is now available on Amazon’s blood-soaked altar. You can find his work on Amazon. When Mr. X is not writing creep mind-benders, he’s the host and/or contributor to several podcasts and blogs, including, but not limited to, Pop Shiftier and Kiss the Goat. You can read his previous review on Wolf Man here.

And as always, if you enjoyed what you’ve read here on Machine Mean, please subscribe to our author mailing list by clicking on the FREE BOOK image below to not only receive updates on sales and new releases, but also a free anthology of dark fiction.

freebookposter

 

 

 

 

 

 


Fright Fest: The Howling (1981)

 

thehowlingposter

First things first, The Howling is my favorite werewolf movie. It’s creepy, it’s sometimes bizarre, it’s sexy, and it’s violent. From the tension-filled opening with Karen White and Eddie Quist to the burning –down-the-house attempt to destroy the fine people of The Colony, and the final change before a live televised audience, The Howling brings it. Released back in 1981, The Howling is based on the novel of the same name by Gary Brandner released in 1977 (the year I was born).

“We should never try to deny the best, the animal within us…”

While there are plenty of similarities between the novel and the film, the final screenplay turned in for the movie decided to take the film adaptation in its own direction. The book starts out with the main character getting raped in her apartment and features a similar “cabin in the woods” setting for her and her husband to go to recover and heal. The husband is also pursued and seduced by the local shopkeep/temptress. For the adaptation, screenwriter, John Sayles, a psychology major in college, decided to lean heavily on the psychological angle. In the book,  the town, Drago, just so happens to be a town filled with werewolves, whereas the screenplay has it all set up by the doctor (Dr. Waggner). Sayles did something I believe all good writers do when treading familiar ground—borrow what you like and make up the rest!  For werewolf folklore, he chose to go with silver bullets and fire to kill his beasts, as well as a bite to pass the curse along but threw out the full moon cycle of the werewolf. Instead, he chose to go shapeshifter with the creatures being able to shift at will, day or night.

“You can’t be afraid of dreams…Turn around, Karen…”

From the psychological standpoint, we get to see Dee Wallace deliver an excellent performance as Karen White. After being attacked by and catching a glimpse of Eddie in his werewolf form, she is sent to The Colony, a “place to recharge her batteries” and run by Dr. George Waggner. The Colony is a place where everyone is known to howl at the moon. It’s there that Karen and her husband, Bill, meet Marsha Quist and a number of others.  Karen battles her nightmares of Eddie, reliving the moments with her stalker in her dreams and during her sessions with Dr. Waggner at The Colony.

howling2

Her husband, Bill, tries to wait for her to let him touch her again without reliving her attack. Marsha sees her opportunity and sets her sights on him. It doesn’t take long for her “animal magnetism” to lure Bill in. One bite and Bill is all hers. This leads to one hell of a sex scene in the woods between the two.  I mentioned the sexy thing in my introduction, right? Well, that is definitely brought on by Elisabeth Brooks in her role as Marsha, aka Marsha the Man-Eater. Her wild mane, perfect body, and relentless sex appeal speak to the beast in us all.

“Whoever is bitten by a werewolf and lives becomes a werewolf himself.”

The true highlights of the film are the spectacular transformations. Watching the werewolves come to life without the help of today’s special effects crutch (CGI) is a fantastic thing to behold.  After killing off Karen’s friend, Eddie comes face-to-face with the object of his desire and we bear witness to the change of all changes as Eddie goes from man to beast before the screen. Watching his eyes alone is amazing. Add that to the work and hours it must have taken to get the snout just right, that’s the good stuff. I can’t imagine how amazing this must have been to see for the first time in 1981.  Those of us who were spoiled by the effects of the ‘90’s and the 2000’s have earned a new appreciation for moments in the film like Eddie’s transformation.  I think of movies like John Carpenter’s The Thing, And John Landi’s American Werewolf in London (which was also released in 1981), and even Michael Jacksons’s “Thiller” video (also directed by Landis), or even Jeff Goldblum’s wicked evolution from man-to-fly in The Fly. It must have been a thousand times better for actors to stand in front of a tangible creation rather than whatever stand-ins they use today for the CGI monsters.

“You can’t tame what’s meant to be wild…”

The Howling, along with Silver Bullet, forged an unforgettable bond in my mind between me and the werewolf. For older folks, it was probably The Wolf Man (1941) with Lon Chaney, for younger kids maybe it’s something like Dog Soldiers (2002) or the Underworld films (hopefully not Twilight!). In the eighties, my older brother shared these films with me and it was for this reason I dedicated my werewolf novel, Blood, and Rain, to him.

howling3

It should also be mentioned that director, Joe Dante, was at the helm of a number of great films that followed, namely, The ‘Burbs (1989) with Tom Hanks, and Gremlins (1984). While both The ‘Burbs and Gremlins contain plenty of humor to go along with the horror, The Howling, for the most part, maintained its dark edge. Although, if you look close enough, you can find spots of Dante’s appreciation for humor between the lines of the film, as well. Next time you watch it, keep your eyes on the televisions in any given scene.

To this day, The Howling remains my favorite werewolf film. The dark, sleazy, psychological aspects in the opening remind me of Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1971). It maintains that psychological thriller tone (presented magnificently by screenwriter Sayles) throughout which makes the horror that much deeper. You combine the writing with the special effects, the visual beasts, great direction, and a superb cast of actors and you get the equivalent to a great novel—a full, well-rounded story and presentation.

howling4

Final note: Gary Brandner’s novel, The Howling, is also terrific. In fact, film sequel, The Howling IV: The Original Nightmare (1988), is a more faithful adaptation of the original novel. It is easily my second favorite of the movies that followed in the series.  For werewolf flicks that I also love, check out American Werewolf in London, Silver Bullet, Wolf (1994), The Wolfman (2010), and Wolfen (1981).  You can go ahead and add Teen Wolf (1985), as well.

Whatever your horror flavor, I hope you’ll make some time for one or more of these excellent films this Halloween season.

Aaarrrrroooooooo!

glenn

Glenn Rolfe is an author, singer, songwriter and all around fun loving guy from the haunted woods of New England. He has studied Creative Writing at Southern New Hampshire University and continues his education in the world of horror by devouring the novels of Stephen King, Jack Ketchum, Hunter Shea, Brian Moreland and many others. He and his wife, Meghan, have three children, Ruby, Ramona, and Axl. He is grateful to be loved despite his weirdness. He is the author of Blood and Rain, The Haunted Halls, Chasing Ghosts, Boom Town, Abram’s Bridge, Things We Fear, and the collections, Out if Range, Slush, and Where Nightmares Begin. You can get your paws on Glenn’s work on Amazon.

And as always, if you enjoyed what you’ve read here on Machine Mean, please subscribe to our mailing list by clicking on the FREE BOOK image below where you will not only receive updates on articles  and new book releases, but also a free anthology of dark fiction.

freebookposter

 


Fright Fest: The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)

the-texas-chainsaw-massacre-1974

My review comes from two viewpoints: first, there is me—ten years old, watching The Texas Chain Saw Massacre for the first time, and then there’s me—thirty-something years old, re-watching with a fresh pair of modern, adult eyes. I have no problem remembering the first time I saw this movie, even though it was a long time ago. If you waited until almost 2am then tiptoed upstairs, you could adjust the rabbit ears on my parents’ awesome 32-inch box TV, flip it to channel 6, and get a fuzzy view of the Showtime channel. The best part about sneaking TV at 2am on an “adult” channel, was that you never knew what you were going to get, like a prize at the bottom of a cereal box (only much, much better). At 3am (on a school night, mind you), following a bizarre clown movie called Blood Harvest, I was just drifting off to sleep when I heard and saw these words: “The film which you are about to see is an account of the tragedy which befell a group of five youths…”

Immediately, I was glued to the screen, watching a movie called the Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and I wholeheartedly believed what I was watching was true. It didn’t help that the opening credits had these creepy flashes of what appeared to be crime scene photos, either. I watched the movie from beginning to end, not moving from my spot, and hiding my eyes at least a dozen times. I was HORRIFIED by it. Permanently scarred. And for the record, I don’t advocate watching this movie until you are at least a teen.

texaschainsaw1

After my first viewing of it, I secretly checked the TV guide in the newspaper every single Sunday to see if, and when, it was coming on again.

Anytime it was on, I would write down the time and date in my diary, then stay up as late as I had to on the designated day in order to watch it, even if it meant not sleeping at all before I caught the bus the next morning. And each time I watched it, I dared myself not to close my eyes. And here’s a funny side note—one day on the school bus I overheard some older kids talking about how it was “banned”, and for a while, I wondered if the police would bust in and steal my TV set. But I digress…

Now, fast forward twenty years…I’ve seen bits and pieces of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre since my childhood obsession, and I’ve seen the sequel and most of the modern reboot versions of it. But now I’m watching it with a critical eye, because I knew I had to write this, and just like old times, I’m sneaking around in the dark at 2am to do it, only, this time, I’m trying to hide my movie choice from my own kids.

I expected to be unimpressed this time. I expected to fall asleep. I expected to have some bad stuff to say about it…

texaschainsaw2

Instead, I’m shocked by how fabulous this movie still is. Unlike modern horror films with tons of bad language, impressive stunts, special effects, nudity, known actors, and lots of gore—this one is simply brilliant because all it does is scare the bejesus out of you. No tricks, no flashy stars…just pure terror.

The fact that it’s low budget and gritty lends to the scare factor and the whole “true story” facade, in my opinion. No wonder I believed it was real as a kid—some of the filming looks like a jerky, homemade movie. And the sound effects—random camera shutter sounds (you know what I’m talking about—that bizarre flash bulb sound that has been recreated in haunted houses everywhere) and the amateurish banging of cymbals or drums in a serene, calm section of the movie, are ridiculously effective, for some reason.

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is loosely based on Ed Gein, who did, in fact, wear human skin on his face like Leatherface did in the movie. But that’s where most of the similarities end. The people were just actors, the details filled in…but the effect is still the same.

texaschainsaw3

If you haven’t seen it (first of all: what’s wrong with you?) here is the general gist:

Five hippie teens are driving in rural Texas in the seventies. They like to smoke pot and talk about astrology. Their goal? To check on some family property after Sally and her disabled brother, Franklin, find out that their grandfather’s gravesite may have been desecrated. The whole purpose of the trip is a little vague and turns out to be of little importance once they get there, honestly. Things get creepy when they pass by a slaughterhouse, have a discussion about the delectability of “head cheese”, and then pick up a psycho hitchhiker. The guy has a knife and is bat shit crazy, and they finally throw him out of the van. Sally, Franklin, and three of Sally’s friends (I say SALLY’s friends because although they seem to tolerate Franklin, they don’t seem to like him much), make their way to the family’s homestead, low on gas and supplies. The relationship between Sally and Franklin is strange. When she’s around her boyfriend or friends, she’s a total jerk to him. But she seems to soften when they are alone, and it’s obvious that he thinks of her as a mother figure.

I can remember the first time I watched this movie, thinking that Franklin was whiny and obnoxious, but I felt sorry for him this time. The property isn’t wheelchair friendly, and while all the attractive, self-absorbed teens race up and down the stairs, and talk about going for a midday swim, he’s stuck downstairs all alone, panting as he tries to finagle his wheelchair around. This time around, I was totally rooting for the guy to be the sole survivor of what’s to come.

texaschainsaw4

Franklin also seems to be the only one with any sense—while the other teens treat the visit as a fun retreat, he’s the only one still worried about the psycho hitchhiker and what happened near his grandfather’s gravesite.

Now enter a family of cannibals next door, and a creepy guy with jacked up teeth and a creepy skin mask, and oh yeah—he’s wielding a chainsaw. And beauty is made!

The sheer sound of the chainsaw and the first scene when Leatherface comes running out of the room in that initially quiet scene was just as shocking as the first time I saw it.

I didn’t know it the first time I saw this, but this film cost almost nothing to make and these actors were inexperienced. Maybe it is for that exact reason that the movie seems so terrifying. It looks and feels like something that could happen in your own backyard to everyday-looking people. Plus, living in a small town myself…crazy killers in a seemingly quiet, rural setting using everyday power tools to kill people makes it that much more shocking. And the kids on the bus were right about one thing—the movie was initially banned in countless theaters.

Surprisingly, the acting is pretty good, in my opinion. Their fear and shock seemed genuine, the scenes unrehearsed and random.

texaschainsaw5

This movie is brilliant and the things that happen to the teens are so unexpected and horrifying that this movie will never lose its horror appeal in my opinion. If anything, its age just makes it that much creepier now.

This movie is a cult classic and inspired a new breed of slasher films, and horror as a genre in general. Let’s face it—everybody knows that the haunted houses without chainsaws in them suck. And most bad guys in books and movies will always be second best to the chainsaw wielding psycho we know and love.

To this day, I run in the house when I hear a neighbor start up a chainsaw. The sound itself triggers an uncontrollable fear reaction from me, and I don’t think I’m alone in this.

Unfortunately, seeing it at a young age sort of dulled my senses and ruined subsequent movies that I normally would have found frightening. While I’m at it, I also blame the movie for my crazy horror obsessions AND my chronic insomnia that started at an early age.

But one thing is certain…it was all worth it. And watching it again just confirmed what I already knew—this movie is the gold standard of horror and slasher flicks. And critics can say all they want about it—it’s untouchable in terms of criticism, in my book.

image-12

Carissa Ann Lynch is the author of the Flocksdale Files trilogy, Horror High series, Grayson’s Ridge, This Is Not About Love, 13: An Anthology of Horror and Dark Fiction, and Dark Legends: A Collection of 20 Paranormal and Urban Fantasy Novels. She resides in Floyds Knobs, Indiana with her husband and three children. Besides her family, her greatest love in life is books. Reading them, writing them, smelling them…well, you get the idea. 

Connect with Carissa by following her and checking out her work on the following places:

Website: CarissaAnnLynch.com  

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CarissaAnnLynchauthor 

Goodreads: http://bit.ly/1J8uk2Y 

Newsletter sign up: http://eepurl.com/chb46z 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/carissaannlynch 

Amazon Author Page: http://amzn.to/2bKQCyz

 

And as always, if you enjoyed what you’ve read here on Machine Mean, please subscribe to our author mailing list by clicking on the “FREE BOOK” image below to not only receive updates on sales and new releases, but also a free anthology of dark fiction.

freebookposter


The Evil Dead: a 34 year review

samraimiandbrucecampbell

Before we walk through the woods and enter the cabin, I’d like to take a moment and recognize Sam Raimi. Today is his birthday. Born this day in 1959, Sam has held a distinguished career. He’s directed numerous horror pictures adored by many twisted people and non-twisted people alike, worldwide. He’s got a fan base reaching from the dark Necronomicon fueled world of Evil Dead (1981) all the way past Darkman (1990) into the comic book world of Spider-man (which is still considered by many as the best film adaption to date). He’s even directed a little known western called, The Quick and the Dead (1995). He’s dabbled in television, and I’m not just talking about the highly anticipated return of everyone’s favorite chainsaw welding sassy hero in Ash Vs. The Evil Dead (2015), but also the short lived 90s shows, M.A.N.T.I.S and Legend of the Seeker. And he has also produced some amazing and totally underrated horror flicks, including both 30 Days of Night (2007) and The Possession (2012). And this is just a tip of the iceberg. Sam Raimi, in my humble opinion, is an amazing storyteller, not without his faults. His vision has a unique blend of terror and comedy that is often precarious to mix. Many couldn’t quite jive with his return to form with Drag Me to Hell (2009) with its strange formula of laughs and jolts of absolute fear…well, all but the true die hard fans. I actually loved Drag Me to Hell. It was wonderfully sadistic! In celebrating the macabre directors birthday, I thought it was high-time I reviewed his most legendary and longest lasting cult film, The Evil Dead (1981).

Longest lasting cult classic…? What does even mean? More to point, longest lasting, as in a franchise property in which is still being watched, talked about, and continued, to date. Sam’s Spider-man days are over. There are no more westerns. No more trips to hell. No more over the top 90s television action. No more blown apart scientists with one heck of an anger management problem. His one true lasting cult creation, is Ash and those demon bastards in The Evil Dead. I’m sure you’re thinking, “What a sec? Wasn’t there a remake of Evil Dead?” And though this as nothing to do with our discussion, I do have this to say, there was and there wasn’t. Confused? Good!

We can debate this all day long, and I’ve been in a few conversations on social media about this subject, but in my opinion, Evil Dead (2013) was not a remake or reboot. It was simply another “cabin in the woods, kids find Necronomicon” movie. The 2013 misadventure kept to the familiar themes of the original while maintaining its own story arch and more gritty vibe. To me, that spells continuity, the continuation of the “Evil Dead” mythology through a new cast of characters. Hell, it was even rumored (and still is) that Ash will team up with Mia in some future (probably never going to happen) film. How could they team up if Mia’s story was a reboot of the original? They couldn’t, simple enough. Thus, Evil Dead (2013) was not a reboot of The Evil Dead (1981).  It would be easier to argue The Evil Dead 2 as a reboot of the first film then it would the 2013 film. Just saying…stop arguing with me!!!

Again…I’m getting really far off topic here. Can we talk about just The Evil Dead (1981) for a moment?

Okay then!

evildeadposter

The Evil Dead first released to theaters in October 1981. It was a low budget film with a no name cast of teenaged-twenty-somethings, shot on 16mm film in the woods of Tennessee for around $350,000. Though not the first “cabin in the woods” horror movie, you could probably give that credit to either Equinox (1970) or The Red House (1947), but you could make a strong argument that The Evil Dead solidified “the cabin” as a pop trope in horror stories.  The plot is easy to follow. A group of friends head out to a lonely cabin in the woods for a little R&R. The place is dilapidated, albeit cozy.  Its a celebration of friendship and perhaps even a little romance, despite the third wheel. But there’s a eerie presence in the cabin. Strange sounds in the cellar. The boys investigate and discover a nasty looking book and a tape recorder, among other things (including a poster of The Hills Have Eyes on the wall). They play the recording and the archaeologist on the tape recites some of the words he’d translated from the Necronomicon. His incantation awakens something dark and demonic in the forest surrounding the cabin. One by one, Ash (Bruce Campbell) watches his friends get possessed. Before daybreak, he must find a way to survive…or meet the same fate as his friends.

The Evil Dead captures, for me, the potential for horror. I’m talking more in film probably then storytelling, though in storytelling itself you cannot find a more perfect and basic trope to work with than the “cabin in the woods.” As for film, though, The Evil Dead demonstrates the power of low-budget horror with a list of no-name actors but over-the-top effects. I guess today we’d call these indie films, or independent to be frank. Horror, in its long life, seems to have thrived better as independent and low-budgeted. Directors and cast members and producers have to rely on cost effective means, focusing on mood and tension, and maximizing production budgets as much as humanly, sanely possible. And when it comes to horror, such as this film, at a glance they’d need to used more of the budget on practical effects than anything else. The effects for me are what count. Good storytelling, that’s a given. But you’re trying to sale me on horror, you gotta bring the practical gore.

Some might say the effects in The Evil Dead look cheesy, and maybe some parts do nowadays. But in my book, given the budget restraints, The Evil Dead looked and still looks amazingly graphic. Shaky steady-cam and all the buckets of blood. A fantastic wonderland of dark imagery and terror and perhaps even a little humor.

The story isn’t complicated and that’s a good thing. It is friendship and love pitted against the fear of the unknown, the evil taking possession of those closest to us. Not every horror story needs to have some complex AHS plot. Add the practical gore with the simple story, and that’ll give you one hell of an entertaining need to watch movie.

My Rating: 5/5