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Conceiving (Subdue Book 3): Special New Book Announcement Extravaganza

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If you’re subscribed to my newsletter or have been following my feed on Facebook, then you’ve probably already heard the news. The next installment in my growing Subdue Books Series will release next week with Limitless Publishing LLC. This new title is called Conceiving, and in this post, I’d like to tell you a little bit about the new story. Before that, though, maybe I should recap what happened in the previous books…without giving away any spoilers for anyone who has not read either Dwelling (Subdue Book 1) or Emerging (Subdue Book 2).  What I’ll be giving then is general information while avoiding major twists and such. And let it be made know, to follow along in Conceiving, you do not have to have read the other books. Okay…let’s begin.

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away….

Just joking!

At the beginning of Dwelling, we are introduced to Johnathan and Ricky who are both in the U.S. Army serving in Iraq during the 2006-ish years, basically Operation Iraqi Freedom era. While on guard, Johnathan thinks he sees something…unnatural during a sandstorm. The event is juxtaposed with an actual attack on the Iraqi Police station they were guarding. Johnathan and Ricky’s trunk is hit with an RPG. And…no spoilers here as it is made very abundant in the beginning, Ricky is killed instantly, while Johnathan suffers the loss of a limb. This is how Dwelling opens. From here, we fast forward one year from the attack that claimed Ricky Smith and we are introduced to some other major characters.

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Bobby Weeks (one of my favorite characters), who also served in the U.S. Army during the Iraq War, is now a homeless veteran. He wanders the streets out of necessity, or so he imagines. Bobby believes, due to a particular curse, he has to keep away from those he loves, his family and his friends. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone. Bobby has a secret, a curse he contracted in Kurdistan when the moon is full he blacks out and wakes the next morning either naked or nearly, and covered in blood and grime. A strange woman finds him in a field and tells Bobby what he is and offers him a place of safety, to keep the beast within him away from the public at large.

Jake Williams is another character we meet. He is a Presbyterian minister with a dark conscience. Like Johnathan, Ricky, and Bobby, Jake also served in the U.S. Army, but not as a combatant. Due to his strict religious observance, Jake was a chaplain’s assistant. Something happened over there, something Jake had witnessed, something strong enough to weigh heavy on his guilt, powerful enough to fracture his faith in God. In the book, Jake struggles with his faith as he fills his religious void with sex. Eventually, his guilt manifests in haunting ways and a soldier he believed dead returned.

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Maggie Smith is our last of the group of childhood friends known as Suicide Squad (I know, the name was picked before the movie made the comic popular again!). Maggie is the widow of Ricky Smith and we get to know her one year following the death of her husband. She’s still on base housing but will be forced to relocate. During her house hunt, she is reminded of one of the summers her childhood friends (Johnathan, Bobby, Jake, and Ricky) had come across an odd old farm house in Jotham, TX. Said house, she discovers, is for sale. Maggie quickly buys the house and moves in almost immediately. This wouldn’t be much of a thriller book if the house was normal, would it? And as such, the House on Oak Lee is anything but normal. She begins to hear things at night, crawling, scratching behind the walls. Then she begins hearing sounds, like footsteps, coming down the hall. Haunting or hallucinations, we do not know, but they are escalating. Fearing she is losing her mind, Maggie writes to her childhood friends, hoping to bring them back together, to visit her at the House on Oak Lee.

The House could certainly be another character. It has a strange history, which is revealed through the chapters with Augustus Westfield. If you enjoy historical fiction, I’ve been told these chapters were the favorite for some. But, most of what happens in the House happens in the next book, Emerging. Since Dwelling and Emerging are so closely related, there is no need for new character introductions. Emerging picks up where Dwelling left off. The once childhood friends, Johnathan (and his wife and step-daughter), Jake, and Bobby reunite in Jotham, Texas at Maggie’s house. Adding to Jake’s fear, Maggie looks…different, strained almost…sickly. Johnathan is struggling to keep his marriage together. Seeing one’s dead best friend talk to you in a public restroom can change a man.

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Bobby agrees to go, but only if Jake promises to take him back to Houston before the next night. There’s a full moon coming and Bobby has no intention of putting his friends in danger. However, none of the others know about Bobby’s curse, and thus, especially with Johnathan, treat him as an eccentric selfish recluse. It has been years since the childhood friends were together. And things don’t smooth over that first night. The next morning, Bobby goes missing. The gang attempts to find him in town.

Unable to locate Bobby, and after being visited again by Ricky’s rotting specter, Johnathan and Jake become desperate to get Maggie out of the house. They don’t really know what’s really going on or what the house really is. All they know is that their friend is in danger. Her body seems to be wasting away before their very eyes. As the danger intensifies, trust is elusive, and betrayal is certain…

So…that’s a pretty good sum up of both Dwelling and Emerging.

Now for the “good stuff.”

Conceiving…if you’ve read the ending to Emerging…you may be wondering “how the hell do you go from there?” While keeping to my nihilistic style, Emerging still had some very finite conclusions. Things happened that you cannot write around or walk away from. However, that being said, I felt that there was still more to be told. Me? I’m a fan of developing characters. Sometimes they start out as minor and vaguely important. And sometimes they can grow and become much more influential to the story. Luna Blanche is one of those characters. She was in Dwelling and Emerging, but only in a minor role, attached to Bobby’s arch.  In Conceiving, her role is much bigger. Though separated from Bobby, she can still “see” him telepathically due to her unique gifts. But the Mississippi Delta woods are limiting her visions, isolating her even farther from what she loves. Her garden. Her grandfather’s house in Hitchcock. And Bobby.

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The cabin in the Mississippi woods is quiet. There are no other family members to help Luna take care of her ailing grandmother. No friends. Nothing but the sound of the trees swaying in the wind and a dark presence she can feel hiding in the woods. To add to the strangeness, her grandmother seems disconcerted by her prognosis and instead seems both urgent and hesitate to share with her some sort of secret, some family sin Luna will eventually inherit. If you recognize the name Blanche, especially the name Ronna Blanche, your suspicions are true. Ronna Blanche, now Memaw, is a holdover character from another story of mine called Lanmo. Lanmo was based in the 1960s when Ronna was a young voodoo priestess. Now she is aged and sick. And feels compelled to warn Luna, that she must get her granddaughter to understand why she did the things she did before she dies because her sin, the family sin, has not gone away but remains, hiding in the woods. I don’t really want to spoil anything here, but if you have read Lanmo, you can pretty much guess what that “sin” is.

The only major holdover from Dwelling and Emerging is Bobby Weeks. I don’t want to say too much about Bobby, as it may inadvertently give away something from the previous book. However, I will say that Bobby is attempting to move on with his life. He gets a job. Makes a real go at being normal, despite his curse. Poor Bobbs. Nothing ever seems to pan out for the guy. Eventually, he will spiral and be consumed with revenge, set on a trajectory back to Jotham.

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There are a lot of new characters, but the most important ones are Boris and Neville Petry. And yes, Neville is a girl. And I love these two people. I know I wrote them, but that doesn’t make them mandatory to love. And yet, I do. They represent, for me, a young American couple seeking a piece of the American Dream. Boris is a history professor who is offered a job teaching at Baelo University, an obscure little school on the outskirts of Jotham, Texas. Neville, while reluctant to leave behind their life at Ole Miss, agrees, hoping in part that the change will maybe help cultivate the family, the child, she so desperately desires. Weeks following a faculty party, it seems her wish has come true. But dark nightmares plague the happy pregnancy…as does her husband’s strangely distant behavior towards her.

I could say more…but why spoil the fun!

And there you have it, folks. The low and dirty of Conceiving. Plenty of dark twists and history and story to unraveled. And again, you do not need to have read Dwelling and/or Emerging to follow the plot in Conceiving. It certainly helps, especially in understanding Bobby, but the guilt he carries is made pretty clear within the pages of this new story. I am really excited about this one. When I wrote it and turned it into my publisher, I immediately started working on Book 4…which is finished and contracted with Limitless. News on that one to follow soon. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this new book. Lots of horror to devour. Voodoo priestess. Werewolves. Cults. Extra-dimensional insectoid creatures. Strange pregnancy. And my own personally take on the Frankenstein monster. Plus all the human drama and humor we love to feed on.

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Conceiving is now available for preorder. Due to release on November 29, 2016.  You can get your copy here. Or if you fancy getting a paperback, you can order that here. And if you are curious about my other books, you can find them on Amazon by following this link here. And as always, you can connect with me on Facebook here, where I post new book info and other horror related topics. Thanks for reading everyone!

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Deathdream (1974): in review

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There is something very intimate going on in Deathdream. Something very personal is being shown to us. Perhaps this feeling has to do with the film’s low quality, the early 70s B-movie vibe, and dang near grainy steady-cam picture, or maybe the intimacy in question has to do with the atmosphere, the utterly believable world we’re entering as the movie starts, as it is likewise chilling and raw, in which a part of you doesn’t want to exist, but it does. Just ask your parents or grandparents, or maybe you know something yourself of this era of fear. Mostly, the credit of the realism is thanks in part to the incredible cast of actors and actresses, all unknowns, taking on the role of characters that are mirror images of people walking the streets in small town America, a place that very well could exist, because it probably does, somewhere out there. And this is the vibe, the feeling we get as the reel begins to hum. This movie is real. This is real life. And when the supernatural takes hold, turning our blood to ice, we’re caught off guard. These things that transpire cannot happen. The dead stay dead, those are the rules. But for Andy Brooks, the protagonist (or is he the antagonist?) in this story, those rules no longer apply. Andy has come home. And I think this is the root of the intimacy. Andy, by all accounts of the rules of reality, should not have come home, because sometimes, given differing situations, we cannot come home. The life we lived or the life we’ve known can no longer exist because the other self, the past self no longer exists.

Okay…before we get anymore metaphysical, lets talk about the movie in question.

Here’s a synopsis in case you missed out on watching:

“A young man killed in Vietnam inexplicably returns home as a zombie.”

Boom…

Jeez, you gotta love those IMDb descriptions!

In a nut shell, yes. This is the movie. But, for clarification, I don’t think Andy is a zombie. He’s something…else.

Lets take a look.

As the movie opens, we’re shown a quick clip of Andy’s supposed death in Vietnam and then movie pans to the second most important scene, into the kitchen of the Brooks family. Mother. Father. Sister. Everyone is merry, or as much as they can be with a loved one deployed to Vietnam. They make small talk. They laugh. Everything will be okay, this scene tells us, so long as they remain strong, for Andy’s sake. And then someone knocks on the door. Who is it? They don’t know. It’s awfully late for a neighbor to stop by. The mood drops temperature. Two uniformed soldiers are standing at the door. It’s a telegram, the worst kind, the one no one at home wants to receive. “I’m sorry to inform you,” the Class-A dressed solider announces, “but your son is dead. Killed in action.” Shock. Cold pricking goosebumps. “My son? Dead?” Its laughable, how could their son, brother, Andy be dead? These things don’t happen to them, they happen to other people, people on the news, people far away from the safety of the dinner table. No, not Andy. Not their Andy.

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The grief here at the dinner table is very raw and heartfelt. The mother weeping. The sister in shock. The father…doesn’t want to accept the news. I’m not sure how you are taking this scene, for me, this moment in the movie is very real. After serving almost 7 years in the Army, and having deployed three times to Iraq, watching the Brooks family is how I might imagine my own family reacting to the news of my death. I believe this is what the director and screenwriter wanted. Hence the name, Deathdream. Yes. It’s a horror movie. A 70s horror movie at that. But it is more. It’s real. And director Bob Clark wanted you believe as much. He wanted you to become one of the Brooks family.

Now, what happens next is where things get a little odd. There’s a knock at the door. The family, just getting to bed after hearing the terrible news, tread the stairs thinking, “What now?” The father answers. There’s a buildup of suspense, as if something really horrifying is going to be at the door. It’s Andy. “It’s Andy!” they all shout. Everyone is overcome with joy. There must have been a mistake. “Can you believe, they actually told me my son was dead?” the father says. Everyone is happy, and rightly so, but there’s something…wrong with Andy. Something he’s not saying. He’s pale and stoic. He doesn’t want to be around crowds, not even friends or family. Again, they recall the evening’s event, nearly hysterical, “They sent a telegram telling us you were dead.” And Andy answers with, “I was.” And here we get a glimpse of the horror to come, the Brooks family doesn’t know how to react. Andy is different

As stated before, the above is the second most important scene in the movie. The strange homecoming. As the film progresses, we’re given other little snippets of post-war life. Andy, though we’re not too sure (we weren’t privy to his life before the war), but we’re given the impression had been at some point a very happy go-lucky sort of chap. All the neighborhood is abuzz with the news of Andy’s return, even the local kids want to stop by and say hello. But Andy isn’t the Andy they remember. He doesn’t want to play. He doesn’t want to interact. And everyone is taken aback. They don’t know what to make of this new Andy, in fact, they don’t even want to see Andy as being different. The father gets mad, retires to the local bar, and gets drunk. The mother, keeps vigil, maybe Andy will get better, she promises herself. The sister hides amongst her friends. And the neighborhood kids? Well, they all run away screaming.

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I won’t get into all the detail, you really ought to watch this film for yourself, but speaking personally, this scene, among others, also resonates with me. Am I the same Thomas Flowers that existed before the war? Not at all. I’m different, and through the years have come to learn how my experiences have changed me, and I’m still learning, every day. Andy doesn’t have that luxury. Andy isn’t your typical veteran. He’s a ghost. A memory of a shadow, made of stolen blood that somehow keeps him whole, walking amongst the living. His character isn’t going to learn anything or develop or change. There is only one progression for Andy, the ultimate progression you might say. And so, you might be asking, “What’s the point of the story?” Well, being careful not to take the movie out of context, this is a 1972 (74 maybe?) story. Being drafted into the Vietnam War is a huge fear in the minds of most American families, especially for those with sons, brothers, uncles, and husbands already deployed in combat. But, there is also an ambiguous question clawing its way out the grave. What is it, you ask? What is the question?

Let’s talk about another important scene, though certainly not the most important one. When Andy’s father seeks outside help to discover what is amiss with his son, Andy ends up following Dr. Allman, the gentleman who had been working with Andy’s father, trying to solve the proverbial mystery of what was “wrong with him.” Andy confronts the good Doc in his office, stating, before draining him of his blood, “I died for you, Doc. Why shouldn’t you return the favor…? You owe me…” And then, in a scene mimicking the escalation of drug abuse common among combat veterans, Andy “shoots up” the drained blood with a hypodermic needle. This scene, for obvious reasons, is full of dark ambiguous questions. But it’s not the most ambiguous scene. This scene simply lays on another series of questions.

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Here we are. Finally. The most important scene. Before we move on, I need to mention the ending. I know, spoilers and all, but I need to talk about what happened. Throughout the movie, Andy is slowly decaying. He’s becoming what he already is, dead. After a few murders, the truck driver and Doc Allman, and I think perhaps one more (I can’t quite remember), the cops are now on to him. Delirious, Andy’s mother agrees to take Andy away, but during the chase, Andy directs her to the town cemetery. Cemetery? Why there? The sirens are wailing. Tires screeching. Guns drawn. Will there be a final showdown, man verses monster? No. We are denied such luxuries of simplicity. In the final moments of screen time, Andy, nearly dissolved of energy and flesh, crawls to a grave he had prepared for himself sometime previously. He lowers himself, clawing the dark rich earth, covering his body. His mother watches, in tears, protesting, “Why? Why?” And Andy, unable to speak, gestures to his impromptu tombstone. “Andy Brooks, born 1952. Died 1972.” Slowly she realizes that her son is in fact dead, and helps cover his body. The cops arrive on scene shortly before the final act, pistols in hand, ready to slay the creature. But the creature is already dead. They’ve been robbed this battle of archaic man, of Stone Age man, but their faces are not disappointed, their faces are full of question. And this is why the final scene is the most important scene in the movie. Why? Because it deals with a mother and her son. It deals with our children, the future generations and the things we’ll ask them to do. No. Deathdream doesn’t answer any of these questions. The answers to all these ambiguous questions are up to the viewer. As witnesses, we will have to answer for ourselves.

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With a face only a mother could love, Thomas S. Flowers hides away to create character-driven stories of dark fiction. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was soon published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can hide from Thomas by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.

“This is an intense book, and it definitely doesn’t pull any punches. This is Flowers’s first foray into extreme horror but I have to say that his lack of experience does not show in the least bit. He manages to bring an expert balance of extreme, and restraint. The challenging moments happen at the precise moments in the story where I thought they were called for. And there was no point where I felt he was being gratuitous. What gross and disturbing scenes were there felt like they were serving a purpose” -Confessions of a Reviewer.

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$2.99

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what the heck is EMERGING (Subdue Book 2)?

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With the recent release of Emerging, book 2 in The Subdue Series, I thought it would be a nifty idea to talk a little bit about what the book is about. Nearly a year ago, I dreamed up this magnum opus of sorts for what I deemed to be a telling of “my war experience.” But not just my own experience, my inference of war and what it can do to people, how war changes people as traumatic experiences typically do. When I had finished, I ended up with a massive 150,000 or so manuscript. Initially, I wanted to keep the series together as one book. I had shopped the book around to several publishers. Without turning this into some long publishing story, suffice to say I had stumbled upon Limitless Publishing, LLC, through a writer resource page. I heard back from LP about a month after submitting my book. And…not to brag or anything; they loved the story. The only problem was that it was too long. Most publishing houses, if not all, try to keep books to a 100K maximum. This has nothing really to do with the author in so much as it has to do with marketing/publication costs. If you’re a big time writer, like Stephen King, you can write whatever or however long you want! For me, I had to go smaller. Instead of deleting parts in the book, I agreed to turn Subdue into a series, thus Dwelling (book 1) and Emerging (book 2) were born. As luck would have it, Subdue had a natural split in the middle of the story. Book 1 (Dwelling) was a character focus book, where I spent most of my time letting my readers get to know the characters and their wounds and motivation, if any. And because there are four central protagonists, I pretty much needed to take up an entire book just to talk about them! So, if Dwelling is a character focused story, what’s Emerging about?

Great question!

Emerging is a situational focused story. With Dwelling you were able to get to know the cast; with Emerging you’ll get to see what happens to them. Characterization is still key. With anything I write, I focus on characters. I believe, as I was brought up reading the likes of King and Barker and Bradbury, if you can create believable characters and make people care about them, you’ll create one hell of a book. Even if what happens is totally implausible. So long as the characters are human being, as in real humanity motivational type stuff, everything else is fair game. The Subdue Series is fictional, paranormal, perhaps maybe even a little horrific, or dear me, do I even suggest…literary? I’d like to think so. But I’ll let me readers be the judge of that! Because book 2 is situationally driven, the pace I think is faster. The book is longer, but I doubt it feel that way. Or at least not in my own head.

As Dwelling ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, Emerging picks up a few months after the events at the end in book 1. Without spoiling anything, I can say that a majority of the focus is with the house in Jotham and the characters interaction with the house that drive the plot in this second Subdue book. I’ve received some positive comments regarding some of the “flashback” characters. Don’t worry, Augustus and the Fetcher family make a minor appearance in the continuation. Questions about the house are answered, to a degree. Some mysteries are better left unsaid. You might also catch a Lovecraftian vibe in book 2. As with situation, I delved a bit more in mythology creation and mood. For those readers who’ve read Dwelling and have commented on how much you have come to love those characters, I cannot promise not to break your heart. As with life and war, some damages are unchangeable.  There is an apparent theme about suicide, and I hope as you read you find some of those motivations or justifications. I’ll say nothing more on the subject.

Yes. Emerging was equally hard to write. Both books were. But aren’t the best stories worth sharing difficult to write? Consider H.P. Lovecraft’s short story, “The Outsider,” as a superb self-examination of personal fears and anxieties of how the “outside” world sees us. Or consider up and coming author Duncan Ralston’s debut novel, “Salvage,” a classic ghost story that doubles as an examination of depression and overcoming fears of not only our place in society, but of our past. Or even Clive Barker’s excellent novella, “Cabal,” where he talked thru mythos, his fears of how society views and too often mistreats homosexuality as some monstrous thing. I’m not saying mine is as good as these, but I think it fits within the same category. Below you’ll find some more info about Emerging, including Synopsis and purchase (wink wink) links.

EMERGING by Thomas S. Flowers | @machinemeannow

Publisher: Limitless Publishing | @limitlessbooks

Subdue Series, Book #2

Release Date: Dec. 15, 2015

= = SYNOPSIS = =

Traumatized by war, friends gather for a reluctant reunion…

A historic house in Jotham, Texas harbors a malevolent force, and as her fear grows, widow Maggie Smith pleads with three lifelong friends to gather in her home. But will their presence combat the darkness…or feed it?

Minister Jake Williams fears Maggie has had a breakdown…

Feeling he has no choice, Jake locates the other intended guest, Bobby Weeks, who agrees to go with him but struggles with keeping his lycanthropic curse hidden.

Jonathan Steele, a wounded veteran battling PTSD, arrives with his disgruntled wife. After drinking too much at dinner, Jonathan insults the homeless Bobby, and Bobby is missing from the house the next morning.

The dark past of Maggie’s home awakens in the present…

Jake, whose faith is in doubt, confides in a local priest while he and Jonathan search for Bobby, and Ricky’s ghost makes another visit to Jonathan, causing him to become fixated on saving Maggie from the evil that surrounds her.

As the danger intensifies, trust is elusive, and betrayal is certain…

Maggie might be lost, Bobby confronts a terrible choice, and Jake and Jonathan fight to save them all—before they become more victims of the horror emerging beneath the deadly house in Jotham.

= = #OneClick = =

KINDLE: http://amzn.to/1Ov63qK

Check out book 1 in the Subdue Series, DWELLING: http://amzn.to/1Ov68Ld


NEW BOOK COVER REVEALS (DWELLING & EMERGING)

Fresh off the press, I’m very excited to share with you the cover reveals for both books in my new Subdue Series, Dwelling and Emerging. These novels have been penned from the heart, not to sound so literary. But its true. Each character has been weaved and sown from my experiences and those that I’ve served with, compelled with research and good ole fashion storytelling. I’ve included below an full book cover image and synopsis. Thank you all for the support while these books have been in production and for your continued support as we release them out in the world.

Dwelling (Subdue Book 1)

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Synopsis:

A group of inseparable childhood friends are now adults, physically and psychologically devastated by war…

A horrifying creature emerges from a sandstorm just before Ricky Smith dies in battle. Forced to leave base housing, his widow Maggie buys a home on Oak Lee Road in the town of Jotham. Maggie is isolated in the historic house…and disconcerted by strange clicking sounds inside the walls.

Jonathan Steele attempts to drink the painful past away…

Jonathan was wounded in that fateful battle and now suffers from PTSD. He wants to put the nightmare behind him, but when Ricky’s ghost appears with cryptic warnings about Maggie’s house, he begins to question his sanity.

Bobby Weeks is a homeless veteran struggling with a lycanthropic curse…

Afraid of bringing harm, Bobby stays far away from those he loves. But after a full moon, a mysterious woman approaches him and reveals a vision about a house with a sinister presence, and he realizes staying away might no longer be an option.

Minister Jake Williams lost his faith on the battlefield…

While Jake will do anything to reconnect with God, he turns to vices to fill the religious void. But a church elder urges him to take a sabbatical, and a ghost tells him to quit the ministry, and his life is more out of control than ever.

When Maggie wakes in a strange subterranean cavern, she can’t deny her home harbors dark secrets. Desperate, she sends letters to her old friends to reunite in Jotham, and events conspire to draw them all to the house…unaware of the danger awaiting them.

The friends have already been through hell, but can any of them survive the evil dwelling beneath the House on Oak Lee?

Emerging (Subdue Book 2)

Emerging FULL

 

Synopsis:

Traumatized by war, friends gather for a reluctant reunion…

A historic house in Jotham, Texas harbors a malevolent force, and as her fear grows, widow Maggie Smith pleads with three lifelong friends to gather in her home. But will their presence combat the darkness…or feed it?

Minister Jake Williams fears Maggie has had a breakdown…

Feeling he has no choice, Jake locates the other intended guest, Bobby Weeks, who agrees to go with him but struggles with keeping his lycanthropic curse hidden.

Jonathan Steele, a wounded veteran battling PTSD, arrives with his disgruntled wife. After drinking too much at dinner, Jonathan insults the homeless Bobby, and Bobby is missing from the house the next morning.

The dark past of Maggie’s home awakens in the present…

Jake, whose faith is in doubt, confides in a local priest while he and Jonathan search for Bobby, and Ricky’s ghost makes another visit to Jonathan, causing him to become fixated on saving Maggie from the evil that surrounds her.

As the danger intensifies, trust is elusive, and betrayal is certain…

Maggie might be lost, Bobby confronts a terrible choice, and Jake and Jonathan fight to save them all—before they become more victims of the horror emerging beneath the deadly house in Jotham.

Dwelling releases on Dec 8th. Available for presale now on Amazon here.

Emerging releases on Dec 15th. Available for presale now on Amazon here.


DWELLING …coming soon!

Following months of mentions and hints and little morsels of information, I finally have some news I can share! AS you may or may not know, my current foray into the writing world (Subdue) was picked up by Limitless Publishing LLC. After some careful courtship, we both agreed that Subdue was just too long for a book all its own. We decided the best course of action (because not only of the size of the book, but also my desire to continue the story) was to create an entire book series based on the characters and events. The series is called Subdue, keeping to the original title of the project. Book one, will be titled Dwelling. Book two, Emerging. Book three is currently under construction (wink wink). But, as you can tell by the titles, there is a implied theme for each book. Let me stop here and give a little shout out and big thank you to Lori Whitwam, the managing editor, and Jennifer O’Neill, the CEO of Limitless Publishing, for their collective genius. In the spirit of transparency, I’m horrible at creating titles. I love storytelling, but I suck at the marketing aspect of writing. So, needless to say, I’m very thankful for my Limitless home.

Okay, so without further ado. Today, I’d like to share a little it of the premise of Dwelling, book one in The Subdue Series.

DWELLING…coming soon!

A group of inseparable childhood friends are now adults, physically and psychologically devastated by war…

A horrifying creature emerges from a sandstorm just before Ricky Smith dies in battle. Forced to leave base housing, his widow Maggie buys a home on Oak Lee Road in the town of Jotham. Maggie is isolated in the historic house…and disconcerted by strange clicking sounds inside the walls.

Jonathan Steele attempts to drink the painful past away…

Jonathan was wounded in that fateful battle and now suffers from PTSD. He wants to put the nightmare behind him, but when Ricky’s ghost appears with cryptic warnings about Maggie’s house, he begins to question his sanity.

Bobby Weeks is a homeless veteran struggling with a lycanthropic curse…

Afraid of bringing harm, Bobby stays far away from those he loves. But after a full moon, a mysterious woman approaches him and reveals a vision about a house with a sinister presence, and he realizes staying away might no longer be an option.

Minister Jake Williams lost his faith on the battlefield…

While Jake will do anything to reconnect with God, he turns to vices to fill the religious void. But a church elder urges him to take a sabbatical, and a ghost tells him to quit the ministry, and his life is more out of control than ever.

When Maggie wakes in a strange subterranean cavern, she can’t deny her home harbors dark secrets. Desperate, she sends letters to her old friends to reunite in Jotham, and events conspire to draw them all to the house…unaware of the danger awaiting them.

The friends have already been through hell, but can any of them survive the evil dwelling beneath the House on Oak Lee?


FIRST BLOOD: a 33 year review

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Understandably, when people hear “First Blood,” they initially think “Rambo.” Rambo is this 1980s visage of the ultimate warrior, supreme bad ass, take no prisoners kind of guy. There was a short-lived cartoon based on Rambo back in 1986 called “Rambo: The Force of Freedom.” It was a short-lived series. There was also a video game, released in 1987 and a sequel, released in 1988. There were also lunch boxes with matching thermos. And let’s not forget the action figures and tee shirts with the logo “No Fear, No Regrets” written beneath these soul-glow wavy haired maniac holstering an M60 machine gun. Rambo is very much a pop icon, I often wonder if audiences really grasped the intelligence and emotional rawness of First Blood. Sometimes I feel that audiences who adore “Rambo” as the action hero pop star have abandoned if not totally ignored the character from the first film. John Rambo certainly does his fair share of ass whooping in First Blood, but ultimately, he’s a tragic character, scarred, not just physically but emotionally. He’s been traumatized and doing his best to live with the memories he carries with him. What kind of memories? Well, consider this little snippet from the end of the film (I know, I know, big bad SPOILERS…whatever, get over yourself, this movie has been out for 33 years!). In this scene, John has pretty much laid waste to the small town of Hope, Washington. Colonel Sam Trautman, his former commander, has arrived to attempt to talk John down. Confused, John tries to make sense of everything. He shares a particular memory with Trautman, who being an officer, was probably removed from most of the violence in Vietnam.

John Rambo says:

“We were in this bar in Saigon and this kid comes up, this kid carrying a shoe-shine box. And he says ‘Shine, please, shine!’ I said no. He kept askin’, yeah, and Joey said ‘Yeah.’ And I went to get a couple of beers, and the box was wired, and he opened up the box, fucking blew his body all over the place. And he’s laying there, he’s fucking screaming. There’s pieces of him all over me, just… like this, and I’m tryin’ to pull him off, you know, my friend that’s all over me! I’ve got blood and everything and I’m tryin’ to hold him together! I’m puttin’… the guy’s fuckin’ insides keep coming out! And nobody would help! Nobody would help! He’s saying, sayin’ ‘I wanna go home! I wanna go home!’ He keeps calling my name! ‘I wanna go home, Johnny! I wanna drive my Chevy!’ I said Why? I can’t find your fuckin’ legs! I can’t find your legs!”

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When a quote like this comes out of a guy, covered in sweat, grime, and blood, laying on the floor, half whimpering, half screaming, it’s hard to look at First Blood as nothing more than an exploitative action-violence movie. First Blood is more than that, despite all the lunch boxes and action figures and tee shirts. This movie has substance. First Blood was a movie about PTSD before PTSD was even considered a counterpart with war trauma. First Blood also discusses very “in-your-face” regarding the treatment of Vietnam veterans in America culture. The small mountain woodsy town is called “Hope” for crying out loud. Stallone wanders through Hope finding nothing but abuse and then so he rips the decorum off “Hope” through a series of wanton destruction, almost laying the sheriff’s office flat, the supposed symbol of justice. This all, of course, begs the question: What justice is there in any of this?

Here’s a quick-fire synopsis:

“Vietnam veteran and drifter John J. Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) wanders into the small Washington town called Hope in search of an old friend, but is met with intolerance and brutality by the local sheriff, Will Teasle (Brian Dennehy). When Teasle and his deputies restrain and shave Rambo, he flashes back to his time as a prisoner of war and unleashes his fury on the officers. He narrowly escapes the manhunt, but it will take his former commander (Richard Crenna) to save the hunters from the hunted.”

Janet Maslin from the New York Times reviewed First Blood back in ’82. She said, “The emphasis is clearly on toughness and versatility, as a battered, bloody Mr. Stallone demonstrates a wide range of scouting skills, from building traps to exploring a pitch-black cave; he is also able to slaughter wild animals and give himself stitches. He corners the sheriff’s men a number of times, and invariably he is good-hearted enough to let them go. The movie tries hard to make sure that Rambo will be seen as a tormented, misunderstood, amazingly resourceful victim of the Vietnam War, rather than as a sadist or a villain.” On this part, I’d agree with the movie critic, though understandably as a combat veteran myself, the movie affects me perhaps a little differently. There is no denying the simplistic quality to the script. There’s nothing complicated with the dialogue. Miss Maslin’s comment regarding Rambo being “the good boy scout” was interesting to me. This connotation connects Rambo to another Vietnam movie, The Deer Hunter. Yes, while The Deer Hunter is most certainly more complex in story, the character Micheal Vronsky, played by the impeccable Robert De Niro, is represented as the ultimate outdoorsman, a man’s man, the ultimate boy scout if you will, who becomes this mythological Superman of Vietnam. In a strange way, perhaps we could look at Rambo as the continuation of Vronsky’s story. Or perhaps I’m reaching a bit here! 

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To be fair, First Blood does reach a bit toward the end, despite the powerful last scene mentioned earlier in this review. While personally, I  focused on Rambo as the suffering veteran, some portions of his dialogue leave one wandering the wasteland of Hope, pondering just who cost us the Vietnam war? Rambo laments about the “hippie scum” who spit on him at the airport or the liberal politicians who “wouldn’t let us win.” These thoughts would be more fleshed out in the next installment, Rambo II, as Rambo returns to Vietnam in search of those we “left behind.” But all of this begs, even more, questions: “Just who did we leave behind?” “Who lost the war?” “How did we lose?” “Did we need to bomb more villages?” “Did we need to send more men?” etc. etc. This sadly leaves one with a very surface level understand of the war. If we were to pull back and look at John Rambo as the suffering veteran, could we even afford to send more into the hell pit that was Vietnam? Or any war for that matter? Yet, intermixed with the convoluted “stabbed in the back” attitude, there are glimpses of real problematic cultural relations with society and combat traumatized veterans. Here is another quote from John Rambo for you to chew on.

Rambo states:

“Nothing is over! Nothing! You just don’t turn it off! It wasn’t my war! You asked me, I didn’t ask you! And I did what I had to do to win! But somebody wouldn’t let us win! And I come back to the world and I see all those maggots at the airport, protesting me, spitting. Calling me baby killer and all kinds of vile crap! Who are they to protest me, huh? Who are they? Unless they’ve been me and been there and know what the hell they’re yelling about! …For me civilian life is nothing! In the field we had a code of honor, you watch my back, I watch yours. Back here there’s nothing! …Back there I could fly a gunship, I could drive a tank, I was in charge of million dollar equipment, back here I can’t even hold a job parking cars!”

As I said, very provocative. Beautifully so, I think. 

Okay. Moving beyond the social-political undercurrent. First Blood had a great pace and mood that was very captivating and entertaining. While there was some cheese-crusted acting by some of the supporting roles, I felt Stallion did a rather impressive job as a sober, traumatized character. If you haven’t seen this one yet or skipped it (FOR SHAME!), you need to watch it. Netflix recently released all the trilogy on instant viewing. 

My Review: 5/5


From Combat Veteran to Horror Writer

Before we get into this, there is a quote from Michael Herr in his book, Dispatches, that I’d like to share. It’s a long quote, so bear with me. Herr says:

“I keep thinking about all the kids who got wiped out by seventeen years of war movies before coming to Vietnam to get wiped out for good. You don’t know what a media freak is until you’ve seen the way a few of those grunts would run around during a fight when they knew that there was a television crew nearby; they were actually making war movies in their heads, doing little guts-and-glory Leatherneck tap dances under fire, getting their pimples shot off for the networks. They were insane, but the war hadn’t done that to them. Most combat troops stopped thinking of the war as an adventure after their first few firefights, but there were always the ones who couldn’t let that go, these few who were up there doing numbers for the cameras… We’d all seen too many movies, stayed too long in Television City, years of media glut had made certain connections difficult” (Dispatches, 1977).

My reasoning for sharing this quote from Herr is because, in more ways than one, his voice sums up my own feelings regarding my experiences in the Iraq War, OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom for those in the know), and writing/living with those memories today. Allow me to explain.

There seems to be a surge of “war stories” finding their way into the media nowadays. I’m in no way saying this is a bad thing; I wish there were more veteran writers. However, I have to be somewhat suspicious when I see books marketed as “another action-packed heroic tale of contemporary military service.” Such as from a Navy Seal’s perspective or some high ranked officer sharing their “retelling” of command with low fidelity storytelling. I’m not trying to be quip here, nor am I trying to call out any one individual. What I am trying to call out is similar to what Herr stated in the quote shared above. There seems to be this carnivorous appetite for war stories, but not war as it really is, rather war from a heroic narrative, or worse, war stories where soldiers are nothing more than pawns in a Mad Hatter’s political chess game. I feel these kinds of stories are for people who do not have a genuine interest in the reality of war from the perspective of, say, Joe-Shmoe from Littlerock, Arkansas. These kinds of stories are for people who want to be entertained, not enlighten to the cruel banality of combat.

For a long time, I didn’t write much about anything. A few poems, here and there, but nothing I was willing to share with anyone, under any circumstance. Well…except for maybe in death, if I was dead then I guess I couldn’t really do much about someone reading my work, could I?

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I signed up for the U.S. Army in Sept 2001 and was honorably discharged in February 2008. Roughly seven years of service, including three tours in Iraq, 2003-2004, 2004-2005, and finally 2006-2007. The last tour was probably the hardest, not only was my deployment extended for the great 2007 Iraq War troop surge (Operation Arrowhead, I think), but I took more hits than in any of my previous two tours, and on top of that, I had someone other than my parents waiting for me at home. My wife and I had just met a few months before I deployed. She stayed with me the entire deployment. We wrote dozens of letters to each other, we chatted on the phone and on the internet, and that’s if circumstances made it possible. She supported me, with more than just care packages, but by giving me focus, reminding me that I was more than just a soldier. Being away from her was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Let me say, I don’t mean to sound callous towards my parents, I love my parents very much, but with my wife it was different. For the first time, I couldn’t imagine myself dying and not being afraid. Not just for the circumstance (bodily suffering) but for the recompense of leaving her behind (emotional suffering). I didn’t want to die. I didn’t want to be robbed of this imagined life we could’ve had together. I didn’t want to lose that. And I didn’t want her to suffer for my loss.

 

In 2008, after being pushed by family to get into college, I finally agreed. I’m glad I did. College helped with more than just furthering my career. Slowly, through the course from 2008-2014, I began to open up. I didn’t really want to at first, again, back to the “glamorization of war,” I feared any attempt to recount my experience would be a cheapening of it, a cheapening of other veteran’s experiences by attempting to sell my own. I didn’t want to do that, but I felt drawn to write something.

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My first attempt was during a creative writing class into my second semester at San Jacinto Community College. The assignment was to write a short narrative story. I wrote, “There will be Ghosts,” which was my ode to both my experiences and the Tom Cruise Vietnam movie, “Born on the Fourth of July.” From there I dove head first into fiction-writing. I began a little science-fiction piece which never came to fruition, and probably never will. I consider these first works to be a learning curve, not something I’d want to see published. A dabbling, if you will, in the creative cosmos, finding my voice and all that fun stuff. When I left community college to enter the university (University of Houston-Clear Lake), I had to put my fictional writing on the back burner and focus almost exclusively on my history studies. While this may seem like a setback, I do not see it that way. In fact, I believe these two years of hardnosed historical study gave me an element lacking in my previous fictional-writing attempts. Dedicating myself to my studies gave me a depth I wouldn’t have been able to include in my work otherwise. My studies focused on 20th century Germany, namely the Weimar Republic and Nazi eras. I also took  Vietnam War history classes, Texas history, and the Civil Rights Movement, each class taught from the ground-up. This is a somewhat relative new way of teaching history. Traditionally, history is taught from the top, that is, from famous generals and presidents or other such impressive folk. From the bottom-up, history is taught from the Joe-Shmoe perspective, the everyday lives of everyday people. It was fantastic. A new way of looking at our world and the people that fill it by giving them relevance. In 2014 I graduated from the University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelor of Arts in History…now what?

 

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Suddenly I found this huge pocket of empty space. My mandatory studies were over with nothing to keep my mind focused on. I decided to get back to fictional writing no longer for term papers, but something that would keep my mind busy, keep me sane, and present a challenge. I wrote two short stories soon after graduating. “Hobo: a horror short story,” and “Are you hungry, dear?” Both are of the horror genre. And before you ask, “why horror,” let me be brief and just say that I’ve always been a fan of horror and dark fiction, ever since my big sister let me watch “Night of the Living Dead” one Friday night. And even before then, I read Goosebumps and then grew into Stephen King. It made sense for me to gravitate to the genre that I felt more comfortable in. And besides, horror gives us the most honest and straightforward media for social commentary…sometimes we need that ugly non-decorum. And Hobo was as direct a social commentary piece I’ve ever written. Through storytelling, I discussed this growing issue with perspectives and homelessness and then threw that into a gory tale of cannibalism. Perhaps over-the-top…but it was fun to write! “Are you hungry, dear?” I was thinking about this problem with identity, are we who we are because of what we have done in the past, or can we be better. This, of course, was told in thru a story basically about a witch who performs a dark ritual on a pizza!

While these shorts were fun, they also gave me some traction toward my first full-length book, Reinheit.

Reinheit was published originally under Booktrope’s horror imprint Forsaken, and now currently resides with Shadow Work Publishing, was, to be frank, the most serious thing I’ve ever written, other than my wedding vows. But let me be clear, this was not my “Iraq War” piece, though, as a writer you have to draw emotion from somewhere, and it would seem a lot of my emotion still streams from my experiences in Iraq. I think some of that bled into Reinheit. As for the story, I tapped into my history studies and focused on Nazi Germany. I didn’t want this to be just a historical fiction piece, I wanted to say something about some of the issues going on in 2014, in the media, and on social websites, such as Facebook. The total disregard for looking at people as simply that, people. Reinheit drew from real history, but the story was really about the here and now. A school teacher dealing with an abusive husband, an SS officer pushing himself to carry out his ghastly orders, a thug of a husband who views the world from a very narrow hall, an old man looking for redemption, and of course, a curious armchair with a very dark purpose.

While penning Reinheit, I was able to develop my, what authors call, “writers voice.” When you read a lot, which is a must if you want to write, you kind of take on the voice of the authors you are reading. You need to write to chisel away all those voices, and hopefully find your own in the process. I think this is intended to be an ongoing thing. The more you chisel, the more defined your voice becomes, until maybe reaching some point when your aged and withered and giving lectures to a new generation of writers. Obviously, I haven’t reached this milestone yet. I’m still having fun with it. So, yes, writing Reinheit helped define my own voice and gave me the necessary encouragement to take the next step, writing my “war story.”

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Again, I couldn’t write something heroic, though I know a lot of whom I consider to be heroic. I didn’t want to pass the war off as some grand adventure. I wanted to rip the decorum off war, the shininess of it. I wanted to bring audiences into the preverbal trenches of “All Quiet on the Western Front.” I wanted to bring an air of hardnosed poetry as Philip Larkin had done for his own generation with his masterpiece, “MCMXIV.” And above all this, I wanted to be direct and honest, no matter how difficult or depressing that may be. Even for myself, rehashing brutal memories. With my pile of one-subject notebooks (yes, I write everything longhand before MS Word), a set out on this endeavor. What I had titled Subdue was inked in about nine months, from paper to MS Word, and has recently been picked up by my new publisher. I cannot go into too many details about the book just yet, but I can say that within those pages are real, raw, and utterly difficult subjects. While hopefully still entertaining, because of the relationships between the characters, it was not written to entertain, it was written to discuss the reality of war and living with the memory of war, I wanted to talk about PTSD, anger, war-guilt, and suicide because these are discussions that need to happen by getting away from the myth of superman and disconnect of high-adventure combat by focusing on the naked ugliness of it and how we can live with those memories through expression…and the sad gut punching fact that many cannot live with the memories of war…

While there will always be “those” books that do not give much substance to the echoes of war, I’ve been seeing more and more veteran writers coming forward from the trenches, unabashed by unrepentant honesty. BRAVO! There was a recent Vanity Fair article called, “The Words of War” that included a few of these up and coming writers of poetry, novels, and screenplays. I felt encouraged reading it. Seeing fellow veterans picking up the pen and expressing themselves. I’m proud to be part of this “Lost Generation,” for as Elliot Ackerman, one of the veteran writers mentioned above, puts it, “it might have been better to be part of the ‘Lost Generation’ than the lost part of a generation.”

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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 paranormal/miltary series, The Subdue Books, 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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Horrible Women, or my favorite women in horror

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With February being Women in Horror Month, I thought I’d do my part in honoring the many women who’ve made the genre I love so bloody fantastic. Women who have broken boundaries and defied not only gender clichés, but also social and cultural as well. Now, in all honesty, horror is not with its own stereotypical tropes, but in fairness, horror has also done more to mangle down those grey stone walls of truism. Slasher movies for one have a nasty habit of typecasting women into weak character roles. Yet, looking at it from another angle, you might notice that as said slasher movie victim is running around bumping into dead things and screaming at the top of her lungs, she survives while typically every single if not 99% of the male character population parishes in some grotesque way. At the very least, perhaps even slasher movies are saying that when the shit hits the fan, women are survivors. 2013’s home invasion horror movie You’re Next may or maybe count as a slasher flick (we’re going to roll with it), but in the film while there are a few damsels in distress, Erin Hanson (played by the beautiful Sharni Vinson) utterly dominates the movie, chewing bubble gum and kicking ass, taking no prisoners. To say the only contribution women have made for horror is to play its victim is a gross generalization. In movies where women are intended to be the victim, they survive. And then there’s the other side of the road. The villains. The most creepiest characters and monsters of horror, in my humble opinion, have been women. Consider Kathy Bates in Misery and you tell me if her portrayal as Annie Wilkes didn’t creep you the F out! Lets all be honest here, lets put aside our egocentric macho bullshit and come clean. Lets admit it, women have done more for horror than men. So, without further ado, here are a few of my favorite horrible women!

Lina Leandersson as Eli in Let the Right One In (2008):

Lina Leandersson as Eli, Let the Right One In, 2008.

Let the Right One In released in our most desperate hour, during a very strange and scary time for vampire tropes. I hate to mention here on my blog, but it needs to be said, in 2008, vampire lore had been polluted with Twilight-esk glowworm sparkle making me want to scream for trying to ruin a classic horror monsters! Yuck! And thank Zeus those days are over. Let the Right One In was an welcomed breath of fresh air, an absolute amazing horror flick. And Lina Leandersson playing the century’s old vampire Eli was magnificent. She was so innocent until she wasn’t. The best scene has to be at the pool when Oskar is confronted with some rather violent bullies. You do not see her inflict the carnage, but when Oskar comes out of the pool and you see all the gore surrounding this small adolescent girl, it is a utter chilling moment in horror history. Her portrayal as his protector was totally believable. The American remake was decent, but for this list I have to go with the original Swedish version. It was by far the superior.

Gillian Anderson as Special Agent Dana Scully  in The X-Files (1993-2003, 2008, 2016):

Gillian Leigh Anderson as Agent Scully, X-Files (1993-2003).

What can really be said about our favorite doubting Special Agent? The X-Files had a huge impact in my life growing up. And the show is still good. Better than most of what passes as TV nowadays, not to sound like some bitter old man. Gillian Anderson’s portrayal as Dana Scully is interesting. She’s the yin to Fox Mulder’s yang (not to sound dirty). She was the rational part of the relationship, Mulder was the wide eye dreamer who jumped at any and all shadow that spelled conspiracy or extraterrestrial or both. She was a skeptic, sure, but she had to be to level out Mulder’s eccentricism. She was also the scientist, the doctor, the brains of the operation. Her portrayal is interesting because its a role typically played by men. Are men not the more rational? DON’T ANSWER THAT! (cough-cough, wink-wink).

Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley in Aliens (1986):

Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley in Aliens, 1986.

Though the first time Miss Weaver portrayed Ellen Ripley was in Alien (1979), she did not feel to me as strong of a character as she was in its sequel, Aliens. She was a survivor, for sure in Alien, but in Aliens she kicked some major xenomorph ass! In James Cameron’s epic sci-fi horror, Ripley was easily the strongest character not only because of what she did, but the fact that she did it while struggling with PTSD, struggling with the memories of the traumatic events from the first film. She was a protector when at times you felt she was the one needing protection. Hell, she came out on top while every single one, save Hicks, of the supposedly badass Colonial Marines gets bush whacked! She even goes toe to toe with the “get away from her you bitch” queen bee! Aliens is an excellent movie for many reasons, but the best is watching Ripley transform from traumatized survivor to tuff-as-nails She-Ra!

Jane Levy as Mia in The Evil Dead (2013):

Jane Levy as Mia in The Evil Dead, 2013.

I have no idea what some nerds have against this movie. It is absolutely fantastic. It wasn’t a reboot, it wasn’t a remake, it wasn’t a continuation; 2013’s The Evil Dead was simply another cabin-in-the-woods movie cast in an Evil Dead universe. The mood from the very beginning is grainy and dark, given the subject matter of Mia’s rehabilitation with drug addiction. And it just gets darker. And her struggles felt real. And when the table turns and her inner-demon, as they say, comes out…her creep factor goes sky high! It was fun watching Mia start off playing the victim of the demon that had taken hold of her, and then in actuality becoming the monster (and scary one at that!). And it was satisfying seeing her, by the end, transform into a person willing to literally and metaphorically come out swinging. Mia was not some Ash trope, she was her own character, and a strong and realistic one at that.

Gaylen Ross as Francine in Dawn of the Dead (1978):

Gaylen Ross as Francine in Dawn of the Dead, 1978.

While I struggled between Gaylen as Francine in the original and Sara Polly as Ana in the 2004 remake, because I feel both characters and women were strong in each of their respective films, in the end I had to go with Gaylen Ross. Blame it on my favoritism to the original classic or on my love for Romero or whatever you want. Regardless, who can deny the magnetism in Ross’ portrayal as Francine? She was a lone woman surrounded by male machismo and was still able to keep her voice heard over all the grunts and farts. From the very get-go, when they land at the mall and she states “Stephen, I’m afraid. You’re hypnotized by this place. All of you! You don’t see that it’s not a sanctuary, it’s a prison! Let’s just take what we need and get out of here!” Yet, while being overruled by the male majority, she remains patient and lets it slide until her prophecy becomes reality. Of course, her best line is when the boys hatch a plan to secure the mall without consulting her and she confronts them with her own demands, telling Stephen mostly to never leave her without a gun again because (she states mockingly) “I just might know how to use it.” And what’s more interesting is that she is not only the lone woman in the group, but also pregnant. That in itself says something to the strength of her character to deal with these boys and keep her cool in the midst of a zombie apocalypse.

Linda Blair as Regan MacNeil in The Exorcist (1973):

Linda Blair as Regan in The Exorcist, 1973

As horror director and visionary Tom McLoughlin put it (and I’m paraphrasing here) Linda Blair as Regan was everything sugar and spice and everything nice, and she was set up so beautifully pared with her mother, but when she turned on us she became is absolute terror because while she is being victimized by the demon (or demons if you have read the book) she is also the monster, this evil thing that is in total control. Linda Blair did such a marvelous job with her role that The Exorcist is without argument the scariest movie ever made. But it was not just Blair and Regan that made the movie sensational, it was also Ellen Burstyn as Chris MacNeil, a strong independent single mother, balancing a profitable career and parenthood. Both actresses deserve mention as this list.

Ashley Laurence as Kirsty Cotton in Hellraiser (1987) & Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988):

Ashley Laurence as Kirsty Cotton in Hellraiser, 1987.

I wanted to give Ashley Laurence’s portrayal as Miss Cotton credit in both films because she was pretty much the same character types in both films, though you can imagine that in Hellbound she was struggling more with the hellish (no pun intended) events in the first movie. Miss Cotton was a believable loving daughter who did what she could to love her step-mother, but as they classic trope demands, her step-mother was quite wicked and unlovable. I love Cotton’s character. She’s not weak necessarily. She is a survivor. And she most certainly has her wits about her during times of tribulation. Consider the moment in Hellraiser when she first opens Lemarchand’s box (aka The Lament Configuration, aka The Puzzle Box). When the cenobites first appear, though terrified, for obvious reasons, she is still able to keep her cool and hatch a plan to trade her life for Frank’s. And at the end, when the cenobite attempt to alter the deal she sends each and everyone of them back to hell via solving the puzzle box. In Hellbound, though traumatized, she not only confronts the return of her wicked step-mother, Julia, but manages to humanize Pinhead (Doug Bradley) and the other cenobites, turning them back to their original self’s. Clare Higgins also deserves mention here. I was not impressed with her portrayal as Julia in the first Hellraiser, her character was too needing of Frank to stand on her own. But in Hellbound, the gloves came off!! She was a strong and dominate villain, blood thirsty and seductive, even without skin. Yet, despite strong acting from Higgins, I’m more favorable toward Laurence as Cotton. She was smart and foul mouthed, a perfect combination.

Well, there you have it folks! Just a few favorites from the numerous women who have not only embraced, but also defined horror. Who are some of your favorite women in horror?

Thomas S. Flowers creates character-driven stories of dark fiction ranging from Shakespearean gore feasts to paranormal thrillers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His veteran focused paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served three tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books and hosts a gambit of guest writers who discuss a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can follow Thomas by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.

A tale of revenge and BBQ!!!

$2.99…..eBook

$5.99…..paperback

$13.08….audiobook

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Is Robocop (2014) a political movie?

Robocop, 1987.

Is Robocop (2014) a political movie? This is my question that I want you to consider as we discuss certain reoccurring themes throughout the film. For starters, yes I know I’m way behind the curve here for a movie review. What can I say? I missed Robocop in theaters and was only able to finally sit down and watch it over this past weekend. And to my surprise, this was not the 1987 version of Robocop. Sometimes remakes go to far to re-imagine or recreate the nostalgic feel of the original, and while this Robocop has certain 80’s-esk qualities, it is in itself, its own movie. The 1987 Robocop was…well..to put it bluntly a 1970’s grindhouse picture filmed in the 1980’s. Grindhouse (or savage cinema) is all about random acts of violence, but not any ole violence; grindhouse overexposes the audience to violence in order to send a cultural/political message about the time in which the movie was made. In the 1970’s, it was about Vietnam and Watergate and all that mess and disillusionment. The 1987 Robocop was giving a magnificent nod toward the over-consumption, over-consumerism, over-cooperated culture America had entwined herself during the 1980’s with over the top, albeit grotesque, hyper-violence. As film historian William Latham has noted, “seeing a corporation as the ultimate savior and the villain at the same time, where a man becomes a product, gave [Robocop] a special meaning in the 1980’s.” If we boil it down, the message of a grindhouse picture during the 70’s is the same as it is during the 1980’s, which is to say: Does the end justify the means? My question before you today is if Robocop (2014) is still a political movie? We’ve left behind the 20th century, some fourteen years now. Does the same message of justifiable means linger on in the 21st century? Do our ends justify our means? Instead of going through the entire film (which would take a while to digest), we’ll discuss two of the most powerful themes dominate in this new Robo-endeavor.

pat novak

Robocop starts off with Samuel L. Jackson, not a bad way to start a film, playing the part of Pat Novak, a television talk show host (something similar to what you can find on Fox’s Bill O’Reilly Factor) giving a discussion over the use of a unmanned police robots in the United States. His stance is very clear, stating: “Omnicorp law enforcement robots are being used in every country of the world, except our own….why are we [Americans] so robophobic?”  To prove his point, Jackson’s character, Novak, cuts from his monologue to a film crew broadcasting from a Iran-esk country where Omnicorp “peacekeepers” are demonstrating a live-action sweep of a recently pacified neighborhood. Novak’s positive position is juxtaposed with close ups of the neighborhood population whose faces are a combination of fear, resentment, confusion, violation, and anger. As the film crew continues their broadcast, we discover that not everyone has accepted pacification. There is a small group of suicide bombers that are planning to strike back. Their attempt fails, obviously, but just when we’re thinking the end justifies the means, the young son of one of the suicide bombers runs out into the street to join his father carrying a kitchen knife. One of the larger bipedal tank-like drones warns the boy “to drop his weapon.” Out of fear, no doubt, the boy refuses and as the camera pans away, we hear gun fire in the background. Pat Novak will tell you, very bluntly that the ends justify the means, because “those droids just saved my coworker,” but did they? His comment about the safety of the film crew is another juxtaposition, this time against the death of the young boy with the kitchen knife. This scene may have a different ambience for you; for me the message is about our current use of unmanned drones in foreign operations and the current debate on drone use over U.S. soil. The beginning scene here begs the question: does the use of drones to keep soldiers safe a justifiable end to the means of using drones in foreign and domestic operations were the loss of innocence could have been avoided?

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We cut away from Pat Novak’s lingering lament for our robophobic culture and arrive in a near-future Detroit. Corruption abounds and sets the main catalysts in motion setting up the creation of Robocop. Raymond Sellars’ argument before a legislative committee, that drones do not feel anger or resentment or prejudice, but act according to the limits of the law. And on the other end of the pendulum is Senator Hubert Dreyfuss whose sole purpose throughout the film is to defend the legislation in place that prevents the use of unmanned drones in police duties because, according to Sen. Dreyfuss, machines cannot experience what it is like to kill. They have no feeling toward killing and as such cannot conduct themselves in a manner in which life has value. This back and forth is somewhat of a dual allegorical picture of our current political situation and the “means justifying the ends” question throughout the film.

robocop organic

While all this is contemporary and interesting, it does not compare to the second most powerful scene in Robocop (2014). Ignore Alex Murphy’s  flat superhero-esk character for a moment and focus on his resurrection as Robocop. There is really a lot to chew on here, lots of ethical questions and metaphysical ones to be sure, such as the meaning of free will and the illusion of it and all that jazz, but what I want to look at is the imagery of amputees, especially wartime amputees, that becomes a bigger more meaningful part of the movie. When we get to the “lets put a man in a machine” part we’ve all seen in the trailers and Keaton’s spectacular acting, we open up in one of the research and development/rehabilitation areas within Omnicorp. We know its Omnicorp because of the technicians and doctors and the fancy sign on the door, right? But take all that away and limit this to single image and we get the feeling we’re in an army rehabilitation hospital. This could be a familiar scene at Walter Reed Medical Center or Brooke Army Medical who provide rehabilitation for OIF/OEF casualties who have sustained amputation or burns. The “man becoming a product” message William Latham commented on for the 1987 movie is still there, but for me it is not the most dominant message. This also is a major disconnect from the original film. In the 1987 version Alex dies from his wounds and is brought back to life via Omnicorp salvaging his brain and transplanting, along with his face, into a machine. No one knows about the operation until everyone knows about the operation. In the 2014 version, the transformation between man and machine is liken to extreme prosthetics. Alex Murphy did not die, he was saved with the operation. Now, the “saved” part comes under question when his wife (who must sign permission for Omnicorp to do this operation on Alex) asks “what kind of life will he have? You say you can save him, [but] what does that mean?” This, in my opinion, is a very power question, especially when it becomes juxtaposed with the image of the dissembled Murphy. In order for Murphy to face the reality of his situation, Dr. Dennett Norton, with the use of a mirror, begins to take away the robotic parts of Murphy, leaving only his organic self, which is basically only his face, brain, one hand (no arm, just the hand and nerves), and his heart and lungs that are contained in a sac like substance. And at the end, in a very horrific moment, Murphy cries out, “Jesus…there’s nothing left…there’s nothing left of me….”

Bride of Frankenstein, 1935.

 

The extreme amputation and prosthetic becomes a major issue throughout the remainder of the film. Even the vengeance quest is extremely short compared to the longevity of how Murphy deals with, or badly deals with, his new life as a man with prosthetics. Instead of a vengeance as justifiable means to an end, Murphy is put through the ringer of a post-Iraq/Afghanistan world. In many ways, Robocop (2014) becomes one of the first movies to actually question and illuminate PTSD, amputation, post-war family dynamic, legislation, political talk-show mongrels, and corruption. The piecing together of man and machine is a classic horror motif that draws all the way back to Frankenstein (1931) a movie that dealt with similar issues for a different post-war generation. As film historian David Skal has commented on the form of Frankenstein, the symbolization of the monster that represents “displaced, suppressed, and reshaped humans to conform with the machine world. Whale’s film depicted a monster squarely in the grip of this confusion, a pathetic figure caught, as it were, on the barbed wire between humanism and mechanism.” The “pathetic” tug we feel in the new Robocop is Alex’s self image or how he sees himself. After being shown what remains of his organic form, he demands never to be shown himself again, especially not to his wife. This self-loathing in a post-war image is another throwback to an earlier horror monster from another time, consider The Phantom of the Opera (1911), when Gaston Leroux writes, “Look! You want to see! See! Feast your eyes, glut your soul on my cursed ugliness!”

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Assume the credits roll here. What did you think of the movie? Was it political? And most importantly, did the ends justify the means? Answers are never clear-cut. However, movies like Robocop help us deal with the mental processes we continue to struggle with, even though we may never arrive at same agreed upon destination. Its worth pondering and coming to our own conclusions.

With a face only a mother could love, Thomas S. Flowers hides away to create character-driven stories of dark fiction. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was soon published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can hide from Thomas by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.