Tonight’s showing has to be one of the strangest selections within the sub-genre Creature Features. And it because it technically is very much a creature feature, its makes the very in your face metaphor all the more brilliant. Of course, I’m talking about The Stuff. Filmed with a 50’s sci fi B-movie in mind and with voice-overs worse than a Kung movie, we’re guided through a fairly simply story structure with a much complex core. Its a creature flick that begs the question, if we are consumers of the creature are we not in fact monsters ourselves? The Stuff, for all purposes, has lasted the test of time and remains one of the best 1980’s anti-consumerist flick. If you haven’t seen the movie, check out a trailer on YouTube and give it a chance. I’m not promising you’ll like it, The Stuff will require some patience, but if you’re a fan of horrible 80’s horror, or horrible horror in general, you might just enjoy yourself.
Are you eating it…or is it eating you? During the summer of 1985, director Larry Cohen introduced America to the discovery of a mysterious, yet delicious, white gooey treat. Found by a group of miners bubbling up from the earth, the Stuff quickly sweeps across the nation. Soon after, conglomerates pick up the Stuff and break record sales. Former FBI agent Mo Rutherford remarks, with some disbelief, that folks are willing to stand in line at two in the morning, just to buy some Stuff. Another protagonist, a young boy named Jason, refuses to eat the Stuff as he watches his family become addicted, turning into mindless drones– craving nothing to eat but the Stuff. In one of the oddest scenes (yes, there are a few) Jason is forced to watch his family slowly slip away from rationality and into…something else entirely. When an attempt to fool his folks into thinking he’s eaten some of the Stuff fails, Jason scarcely escapes, his father yelling out in the middle of the street, chasing after him, “It’s good for us, Jason…it kills the bad things inside us.”
What…you’ve never heard of this movie, The Stuff? I’m not shocked; unless you’re a connoisseur (see what I did there?) of obscure horror, The Stuff is by far one of the most obscure-ee horror movies I’ve ever seen. This very low-budget does take on, as other classic horror flicks such as Dawn of the Dead (78), American consumerism and consumption during the 1980’s. Some of the other films during this era, and some of my personal favorites of glorified 80’s consumerism, include Evil Dead 2, Friday the 13th part 8, and Videodrome.
Film critic Brian Dillard had this to say regarding The Stuff:
“…another 1980’s horror flick… mixed wit and gore with anti-consumerist ideology. On the surface, The Stuff is just an exploitation flick — a jumble of The Blob [and] Invasion of the Body Snatchers… full of amateurish special effects and hammy performances.”
If that’s what’s on the surface of the movie, cheesy effects and a hammy attempt at saying something, is there anything beneath? I’d point out all the random commercials that pop up during the movie which I think are brilliant parodies to everyday life. It almost calls out the audience (we) and asks if we can tell the difference. Are we that conformed to commercials that even fake ones seem real to us? This aspect really reminds of the appeal in Invasion of the Body Snatches, more especially the 1978 version as it focused more on the characters and their doppelgangers. Its about paranoia, almost, and The Stuff really brings that paranoia into focus. Can we trust anyone to be objective regarding a product that they are bought into? Can we trust a representative or legislator to be unbiased toward a private sector entity when (s)he get’s campaign donations from private corporations? Not to get political, but…have we become like Jason, being told to “eat it” because its good for us?
As the movie comes to an end, following the efforts of a few good men and women, and a boy, the public becomes aware of the vile intentions of the conglomerates pushing the fluffy white alien goo. People “wake up” and see how The Stuff is actually a living thing. Yet, as the credits roll, we (the audience) are left with the feeling that the profligate has been set back up as the company executives comment that “the Stuff seeps out from many places in the ground.” We are given a true nihilistic ending as anyone can get, that there will always be more Stuff.
If you’re screening The Stuff for the first time, it will time some getting used to the low quality in which the film was shot, unless you are already a member of the 80s splatter zombie corp and uber-obscure VHS demon flick rentals from Italy club. If that’s the case, then the low budget shouldn’t throw you off. The story is there if you’re willing to follow it. Low budget doesn’t necessarily mean low quality. Just look at Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead as an example of how low budget films can become The Stuff of legend (oh man, I kill myself).
My Rating: 4 out of 5
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 at a safe distance by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.
Revenge is a dish best served with BBQ!
Following the huge success with 13: An Anthology of Horror and Dark Fiction that released last October (keeping on the top charts for horror anthologies ever since), Limitless Publishing has decided to bring even more dark fiction and horror. 13: Déjà Vu (Thirteen Series Book 2) has just released and as one of the authors in the anthology, I couldn’t be any more excited. The authors you enjoyed in the first 13 book are back with brand new tales, most of which are either sequels or continuations in some way to the work done in the original 13, to include: by
For my part, you will find the next installment in my continuing Twin Pines Hotel stories, completely exclusive to the 13 Anthology Series. You witnessed Will Fenning’s strange demise in Room 313, now bear witness to the story of mass murderer Andy Derek and his confrontation with Room 249. iScream Books had this to say regarding the story:
A disturbing story of a cross country cold blooded murder spree. The murderer hides out in a unique hotel while the man hunt ensues. I found myself cringing and grossed out with this story but I also found it very unique and clever with its plot.
Pickup your copy today on Amazon for only $0.99!!!
Howdy, folks. Just wanted to drop a quick line. Lots of exciting things are going on. Anticipation of some new horror movies coming out later this year, monster flicks like the new adaption of Stephen King’s IT and the finally being released Dark Tower: The Gunslinger flick. 47 Meters Down looks freaky as hell, mostly because of my fear of deep ocean water and all the many monsters that live there. Wish Upon looks pretty good too, as does God Particle (a hush hush third installment in the growing Cloverfield franchise). There seems to be a ton of horror coming out this year. Not that I’m complaining. Summer is my second favorite season next to fall. Yeah, here in Texas we like to barbecue and we enjoy swimming and drinking a cold one during the summer, but this season of beach balls and camping tents also invites the macabre. October is without a doubt THE season for horror. Its just not the only one.
There is a strong argument that summer is just as nostalgic when it comes to that feeling of fright. One of my favorite slasher franchises is built around the summer. Friday the 13th is ALL about creating terror around the appeal of camping. Which is funny because most of the Friday movies were filmed off-season during the late fall, but still…the image, the idea, the invocation takes us to that seat around the camp fire, listening to tales of dread and misery. Jaws is another blockbuster film that is surrounded by middle-class incantations of summer and then ripping those good-times to shreds. And the list goes on and on.
So, as the clock turns to June 20th lets remember the reason for the season and celebrate by going to the movies to see a new horror flick, or hosting a late night get-together or have yourself a stay-cation and toss in an old VHS copy Friday the 13th part 6. Or Critters 2. Or The Evil Dead. Go ahead, have a blast.
As my way of celebrating the start of Summer Frights, I’ve marked down my latest publication with Shadow Work Publishing. FEAST, which started this Saturday, June 17th, 2017, will be marked down at the low price of $0.99 for the eBook version on Amazon until June 24th, 2017. You can download this gory book directly to your Kindle device or to your FREE Kindle reader app. These apps are available on your smart phone, tablet, or even on your computer.
All proceeds goes to my monthly royalty % which in turn feeds my own horror habits…so you know its for a good cause.
Between the rural Texas towns of Bass and Sat is one of the most popular barbecue restaurants in America. Big Butts Bar-B-Que has been the seat of power for the Fleming family since the Great Depression, but when tragedy and scandal beset Titus and his surviving transgender son Lavinia, deals are made to keep control of the restaurant. An arrangement that will put a father at odds with his legacy. As the table is set, is it just the keys to the barbecue kingdom some are after, or something else entirely?
“Classically Greek, Tremendously Twisted” -The Haunted Reading Room.
“Extreme-ly superb!” -Confessions of a Reviewer.
“I think Shakespeare would’ve enjoyed it” -Lydian Faust.
Don’t wait. Get your copy today.
Often called The Hemingway of Horror, Thomas S. Flowers secludes away to create 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 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 and hosts a gambit of guest writers who discuss a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can follow from Thomas at a safe distance by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.
You know, I’m fairly certain I’ve been a member of Netflix since the beginning, or at the very least since 2008, BEFORE the big streaming push and the demise of the video store. It happened slowly, I think. The takeover of streaming from home. There wasn’t much available to start. At the time, I still had the 2 DVD rental membership. Maybe it was around 2010 when we, the wife and I, did away with the DVDs. Why? Well…we didn’t need them. In fact, streaming became so much more convenient and affordable that we ultimately dropped cable television. My wife enjoys newer shows, but the ones she likes she streams from apps or catches up on Hulu. And for viewers like me, well…I’m more of a movie kinda guy to be honest, but the shows I do watch the most are typically…how do say…off the air. I watch old shows that have long since been canceled. There are a few newer ones that sometimes makes me wish we still had cable, shows like AHS and maybe a few others. However, if I’m patient enough, those very shows will eventually find their way onto Netflix’s monster cache of streaming availability.
But while newer shows have the glamour, I still indulge in older programming. We’re talking X-Files, MASH, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Star Trek, and yes even The Gilmore Girls (don’t judge!). But my number one favorite oldie to watch is without a doubt Rod Serling epic sci fi thriller The Twilight Zone. If you’ve never seen an episode…jeez…think black and white science fiction, but not just about space and rocket-ships, but also weird tales, time travel, magic even, or death itself. They’re also all moral stories, more or less, warnings and questions of our humanity, not to mention the consequences we could face given certain destinations. The other night I screened for the first time one of these consequence driven episodes, from season 5 episode 14, titled “You Drive.” And let me say, this was one of the more creepier episodes of the show with the most simplistic plot-lines.
It goes like this:
“After involved with a hit-and-run killing a child, Mr. Oliver Pope is haunted by his car.”
Now I can see where King and Straub and everyone else got their ideas from. Perhaps not as deranged as Christine, but no doubt the genius of those darker works of haunted cars that would eventually come out in the 70s and 80s. In “You Drive” businessman Oliver Pope is on his way home. He’s driven this route for years. He knows every turn. Every bump in the road. As it happens on this particular day, its raining, and maybe Oliver has had a long day at work, stressed over a new client or something. He’s distracted and as fate would have it accidentally runs over a young boy delivering newspapers on his bicycle. Now at this point, what Pope has done is nothing more than an accident, tragic certainly, but an accident all the same. He didn’t intentionally run down the boy. However, as Mr. Pope jumps out to check on him (the boy doesn’t look good) and notices no one around, he makes a choice.
Stay and face the consequences of his actions…
Consequences is what Mr. Oliver Pope is afraid of. Afraid of what people will think of him after they discover what he’d done. Not just running over and killing the boy (which we later discover died from his wounds), but running away, his cowardliness. This is perhaps the whimsical side of watching shows like The Twilight Zone, they show you an era in which people still gave a damn about character. And character is what Mr. Pope desperately clings to protect. He doesn’t want people to think less of him. Sure, we can get that, right? But what Oliver fails to understand is that it is our actions that define our characters, not what people perceive us to be.
Well, as par for The Twilight Zone, because of Mr. Pope’s horrible choice to runaway the natural order of things begins to bend. There’s something not right…with his car, the very one he killed the boy with. Pope wants to forget, to put the matter away, what’s done is done, etc etc. But the car will not let him forget. His car haunts him and everyone around him. It honks in the middle of the night. It stalls out when his wife attempts to drive it to the store. It appears back at home seemingly to have driven itself. Blaring its horn over and over. And when Mr. Pope refuses to drive it, the car follows him on his way to work. The car makes a show to run him down. It wont stop. It cant, not until…
Oliver Pope must decide.
Face the consequences of his actions.
Or be continuously haunted by his car.
“You Drive” is certainly a chilling allegorical story to be sure. Haunted by our mistakes, our poor choices in life, especially those that have or could have dramatic effects on the lives of others. And how the consequences of those mistakes cannot be forgotten, never completely. And there’s even a lesson about character here, if we care about such a thing anymore. Our character isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) defined by how people think of us, it is defined by our actions and our deeds, and it is by those deeds we will be judged.
My rating: 5/5
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.
My debut collection of horror shorts is now just $0.99!!!
The most foreboding title among the horror and science fiction lexicon, besides perhaps IT or They (which is just a cheap knockoff of the more impressive film we’re about to discuss), is the 1954 masterpiece known as Them! Among the many different creature features, be it swamp critters or critters from space or super mutant hybrids, bugs freak me out the most. As defined by the omnipotent Wikipedia, “Entomophobia (also known as insectophobia) is a specific phobia characterized by an excessive or unrealistic fear of one or more classes of insect, and classified as a phobia by the DSM-5. More specific cases included apiphobia (fear of bees) and myrmecophobia (fear of ants).” Now, that being said…I think my “fear” can be measured by mass. The smaller the insect, the less I get “freaked out.” Hence, small little pests like flies and mosquitoes are simply put…pests, easily swatted or shooed away. But on the other spectrum, the bigger they get, the more I’m apted to run away screaming. If someone were to make a monster movie with the intention of provoking the mass amount of fear from yours truly, Them! would be the quintessential experience.
But it cannot be done in a silly way. If you want a serious reaction, the movie will need to have a serious undertone. Them! is a perfect example of this. As a fan of most dubbed “classics,” basically timeless pieces of cinematic history, be it 1930s or 40s or 50s or 60s or even those in the Silent Era, I took double pleasure in the fact that this now 63 year old movie can still capture that tension, that wonderful feeling of dread so fantastically. Them!, not too sound too fan-girlish, is utterly amazing. By modern standards, Them! easily tops what producers consider to be blockbusters in not just storytelling and characterization, but also special effects. It makes me curious what original audiences thought when they first sat in their parked fin-tailed red and chrome Chrysler’s at the local drive-in, WITHOUT having been desensitized by years of modern computer generated graphics.
Alas, those day’s are gone forever.
All we can do now is cherish the time we had.
For those who have not had the pleasure, here is a quick synopsis of Them!
“The earliest atomic tests in New Mexico cause common ants to mutate into giant man-eating monsters that threaten civilization.”
Boom. You don’t really need anything more than that, do you? Needless to say, IMDb isn’t wrong. In a nut shell, those are the stakes. A mutated strain of ants are multiplying in the New Mexico desert and could very well threaten civilization. And not just any mutated ant species, but a mutation of the Cataglyphis genus, better known as Desert Ants. These sand dwellers are among the most aggressive of ant. The perfect bugs to supersize for a horror/science fiction movie, right?
One of the fun aspects of Them! is how the movie starts off and is treated more or less throughout the entirety as a “detective” story. The movie opens with a patrol car doing their normal patrol and pickup a little girl, no more than six years old, strolling through the desert alone dressed in a nightgown and cradling a broken doll. They try talking to her but she is catatonic, speechless, staring blankly out at the brown sand. That feeling of dread we talked about begins to weave slowly into the movie and as the policemen investigate a nearby trailer, finding it mostly destroyed, pulled apart from the outside (they deduce) the tension builds even further.
The next scene certainly adds to not only the mystery but also the horror when police sergeant Ben Peterson’s (played by the very awesome James Whitmore) partner “disappears” off screen investigating a strange sound. He get’s off a couple of shots and then screams, that kind of scream that sends chills down your spine. The sound the officer investigates permeates throughout the entire movie. A familiar nature melody for anyone living in suburbia or out in the country. The sound of cicada or crickets singing in trees or in tall grass. Come summer, that sound is still quite pleasant to me, despite this film’s attempt to ruin it. Though, there is a lingering feeling of “what’s really making that sound? Are they, Them! watching me?”
And I love how, despite the excellent movie art on the poster, knowing there will be giant ants in this movie, the story stalls the BIG reveal, forgive the pun, until the absolute right moment. And that moment, much how the newly brought on character, FBI agent, Robert Graham (played by man’s man James Arness), to its frustrating conclusion through the “comic relief” of sorts Professor Harold Medford (played by Santa himself Edmund Gwenn) and his “if a boy can do it a girl can do it too” daughter Dr. Patrica Medford (Joan Weldon). The Dr. Medord’s are not really that comedic, the old man is sort of how we might think brilliant old men are, a tad absent minded to every day tasks, but a genius in their preferred fields of study. And the female Dr. Medford, despite her strong grace of femininity, wasn’t overpowering or preachy. She was meek but smart and willing to go places most men wouldn’t dare go. In a decade before feminism really took off in America, it’s hard to place the purpose of her character. Regardless, I was and am very pleased with her performance, second to her father perhaps, how she was not the ditsy romance how most other movies place actresses. Harold may have been love struck, but everyone else called her Pat, a genderless name, and I prefer it that way.
The reveal was perfect, as I said. A sandstorm kicks up and everyone’s goggled and stumbling around for clues. Somehow Pat get’s separated from the group. That chilling buzzing, ringing, clicking cicada sound starts again, getting louder and louder, and everyone is looking around wondering what that noice is and where it’s coming from. Above Pat on a dune, emerges a large black head with giant orb eyes long furry antenna and large sharp looking mandibles. She screams, alerting the others who begin opening fire, destroying the ant’s antenna (to the suggestion of Dr. Medford). The ant is killed and while the others are staring at this impossible horror, Dr. Medford makes a statement, the inspiration and message of the entire movie, I think. He says, “We may be witnesses to a Biblical prophecy come true – ‘And there shall be destruction and darkness come upon creation, and the beasts shall reign over the earth.'” He says something very similar towards the end of the movie, stating, “When Man entered the atomic age, he opened a door into a new world. What we’ll eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict.”
The Atomic Age…
Full of sparking large logos and flashy gadgets and a new generation of fast food and drive-in theaters and modern jazz and rock-in-roll, but this was also an era of uncertainty. Hiroshima and Nagasaki awakened something in humanity. Something more than just awe and dread. Something darker and more pious than religion. The Atomic Age was this new fear of the bomb. Uncertainty over world powers, the growth of the Cold War, and a horizon in modern science to which many did not understand. Not knowing is the greatest fear of all, at least according to H.P. Lovecraft. The Atomic Age also gave birth to this very feature we find ourselves enjoying (hopefully), the birth of unnatural monsters such as Godzilla and Them! Better known as Creature Features.
Them! acts as a cautionary tale. Be warned, what will await us on the other side of the door. Will science bring upon us destruction and darkness? Will man’s ignorance? Them! isn’t about the dangers of real giant bugs, its about consequences. That in everything we do or strive to bring about, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, as Newton had once said. Its a message every new generation hears, right? Cautionary warnings from the old folks rocking on the porch, talking about how things used to be.
The rest of Them! takes on that similar detective story we were introduced to in the beginning. They hunt down the hive and destroy the giant ants with poison, only to discover a few queens had escaped prior. Now the once localized investigation turns into a global event. Hush hush, of course, to avoid widespread panic, the team with the added benefit of the military and select government officials quickly work to destroy Them! But the movie doesn’t end like some monster movies with the creatures being destroyed…there is a feeling of uncertainty, astute given the era, and we are left wondering if perhaps there are more giant mutated ants out in the desert thanks to atomic weaponry. And as Dr. Wedford said, “nobody can predict.”
My rating: 5 out of 5
Who doesn’t love a good story? From great works such as, All Quiet on the Western Front and Salem’s Lot, Thomas S. Flowers has a passion to create similar character-driven stories of dark fiction ranging from Shakespearean gore fests to paranormal thrillers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, Thomas has published several novels, including, Reinheit, The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, Beautiful Ugly and other Weirdness, Feast, and PLANET OF THE DEAD. In 2008, Thomas was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served 3 tours in Operation Iraqi Freedom as a Military Police Officer. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at http://www.machinemean.org, where he contributes reviews on movies and books along with a gambit of guest writers who discuss a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. Follow Thomas on his website www.ThomasSFlowers.com.
Discover BEAUTIFUL UGLY and OTHER WEIRDNESS eBook, paperback, or audiobook!!!
I don’t think I’ve seen so many new horrors as I have this year. AND IT’S ONLY MARCH!!! I’m not going to list off all of them, as at this time in the morning hours with only one cup of coffee to keep my brain functioning, cannot recall. Though some honorable mentions are due. XX, a 4 film horror anthology directed by Jovanka Vuckovic, Annie Clark, Roxanne Benjamin, and Karyn Kusama, was a stellar performance, despite some notes falling flat. Another one that was actually listed as a 2016 movie, but I saw in January, so it counts on my list for this year, and that flick was Split…which split critics while still bringing in rather respectable ratings from audiences, not just because it released (late Dec?) in January (the month movies go to die), but also because it was a return of sorts for M. Night Shyamalan. This last movie brings up a point that I’d like to address. Maybe I haven’t really been paying close enough attention, but when did Blumhouse start producing good horror movies? And back to back, mind you. As per our double feature review here of Get Out and The Belko Experiment (more on those to follow), add in Split, and that’s two out of three money making horror movies for the apparently expanding horror flick producer. No complaints here. Blumhouse’s wheelhouse has added a sort of balance for me and my comic book movie obsession. So…lets get into this and take a look at two horror flicks, both of which I had the pleasure of screening on back to back weekends.
Let’s kick things off with The Belko Experiment.
Produced by, you guessed it, Blumhouse, directed by Greg McLean. From IMDb, “In a twisted social experiment, 80 Americans are locked in their high-rise corporate office in Bogotá, Colombia and ordered by an unknown voice coming from the company’s intercom system to participate in a deadly game of kill or be killed.” I think it’s important to note that the screenplay was written by Guardian of the Galaxy director James Gunn who was originally asked to direct this movie but decided to step back for personal reasons. This was the most recent horror flick I’d gone to theaters to see, mostly out of having some free time come up and why not, right. I had a good feeling the theater would be empty and it pretty much was. Not for lack of trying for the producers. I’d seen a share number of advertisements both on the radio and on TV. And judging by said previews, the plot wasn’t hard to decipher. This wasn’t one of those kinds of movies. Here, there was no twist ending, and if the ending was supposed to be one, well…sorry buddy, I believe Joss Whedon already pulled it off in Cabin in the Woods. Not to get spoilerly here, as this is still showing in theaters. But you’ll get it when you see it, a very Cabin in the Woods kinda vibe. And that’s also not to say that Th Belko Experiment was bad. I actually enjoyed it. I didn’t have to think too much. It was a dark humorous action thriller with plenty of gore to please most horror fans. There were a few aahhs and ohhs from the audience when someone’s face got split in two with an ax, or when someone who’d been doing all the right things in a horror movie suddenly without much warning gets killed.
That can kinda sum up The Belko Experiment. A boiling pot of other movies and mixtures such as Office Space meets Battle Royal meeting Cabin in the Woods. People who came looking for a mystery to solve probably left feeling disappointed, as it seems many other movie critics and audiences had, given the poor showing on Rotten Tomatoes or how it was pretty much cast into the back of the theater on opening day. Hell, the theater I normally go had stopped showing it, forcing me to drive an extra five miles to the next theater. Bastards! For me, I knew before the movie started what it was going to be. I knew there’d be one or no survivors. I came for the nihilistic violence and nihilistic violence is what I got. The Belko Experiment wasn’t perfect, not by a long shot. The story seemed to falter against the easy to predict concept of the film. Too much attention was given to certain officer works battling internally over the dilemma of their humanity. I think if producers and director had turned the volume up on the violence, making it a sort of hyper-violent nihilistic movie, it would have been a shade better.
My rating: 3.5 of 5
Now…how about we Get Out.
It’s been two weeks since I saw Get Out. And while the movie had been out for at least a week if not more before I journeyed to the theater, if there were any doubts as to its popularity, let me say…my theater was not empty. Not at all. I’m rather certain it was plum full. The same happened to me when I saw Split. Packed theater. And for a horror movie no less, whether you liked the movie or not, should make you a little optimistic about the future of the genre, if you’re a genre fan, that is. Get Out was directed and written by comedian Jordan Peele (from Key & Peele and Wanderlust fame). And this was Peeles first go at directing, or directing a horror flick at the least. I can say without question that I wish upon a star that he returns to the director’s chair for another romp. For those who do not know, Get Out is about “a young African-American man who visits his Caucasian girlfriend’s mysterious family estate.” And that’s pretty much all you need to know. The plot is rather simple, actually. But the twist…oh my, it is almost too good.
Don’t worry. No spoilers here. I’d wouldn’t do that to you. But let me say for those who were told or believe that Get Out is an anti-white movie, you are DEAD WRONG. They (or you) couldn’t be furthest from the truth. In fact, I’d say this movie pokes more fun at white liberals than staunch racists. Racism is there, you can’t avoid it, just as you cannot avoid it in everyday life. But the real gem of this movie is the natural way it highlights the awkwardness between African Americans and Caucasian Americans. The scenes dealing with this phenomena are quite brilliant. And there are layers are weirdness that can only be described as such. And there are scenes that make little sense and/or do not add to the quality of the movie, nor do they take anything away. They’re kinda just….well…there. I’m assuming Peele’s way of appealing to traditional horror flick fans.
Also, don’t be fooled by those espresso hipsters, those fascist wannabes who think they know everything. Get Out is a horror movie in every definition. Just as there are multiple ways of horrifying audiences, when Get Out pulled out its heart-stopping end, I was truly terrified. When I allow myself to be put in his shoes and those who came before him, well…it kinda reminded me of some terrifyingly strange classic sci-fi flicks from the late 50s and 60s, with perhaps a touch of H.P. Lovecraft. Not to show my hand or anything, I’m trying not to spoil as the movie is still showing in theaters. You really do need to see this for yourself. Trust me. I had the assumption of what was going on and when I found out I was wrong, I was very surprisingly pleased. And it’s one of those surprise endings that make you think back over the course of the movie, and when you do, you’ll nod your head and say, “Oh, that’s why…” etc. etc. Get Out is by far my favorite horror movie of the year, thus far.
My rating: 5 of 5
Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of character-driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. His debut novel, Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, and his newest release, The Hobbsburg Horror. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging (coming soon), are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can keep up with Thomas and all his strange events by joining his author newsletter, at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.
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“First came the man: a young wanderer in a fatigue coat and long hair. Then came the legend, as John Rambo sprang from the pages of FIRST BLOOD to take his place in the American cultural landscape. This remarkable novel pits a young Vietnam veteran against a small-town cop who doesn’t know whom he’s dealing with — or how far Rambo will take him into a life-and-death struggle through the woods, hills, and caves of rural Kentucky.
Millions saw the Rambo movies, but those who haven’t read the book that started it all are in for a surprise — a critically acclaimed story of character, action, and compassion.”
FIRST BLOOD: published in 1972 by David Morrell
I’m ashamed to say that I had no idea First Blood was a book before it was made into a movie. Not a single clue. But, I’m glad to finally have this error corrected and was even more glad to have gotten the chance to read this amazing book. Now, there were some definite drastic changes from film to print or print to film more like. And that’s okay. I never expect the movie to be just like the film. There have to be differences, so long as the essence remains intact. For example, I had read Stephen King’s IT before attempting to watch the made-for-TV movie starring Tim Curry. I made it maybe 30 mins into the film before turning it off. TV movie IT was too far removed from the source material to be enjoyable. Whereas, as another example, Hellraiser was based on The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker, and it not only expands the story, it diverges from it regarding Cenobite leadership and other details. However, the difference between why IT as a movie failed and Hellraiser succeeded is that Hellraiser kept the essence of the original source material.
And for the most part, the essence of First Blood, be it Sylvester Stallone or just the imaginative projection from hearing how David Morrell describes John Rambo, is beautifully captured, more so I would say in the book because we are given the characters internal thoughts. The director and Stallone for his part did a great job conveying through action and struggle Rambo’s internal conflicts, but in the book, it becomes, even more, clearer. Did you know that when Rambo arrived in that pinewoods mountain town (called Hope in the movie), he had been kicked out, or “pushed,” as he calls it, at least a dozen times before? That is where the “pushed” thing comes from during the movie that doesn’t make much sense, but in the book it does.
No spoilers here, but the end is veeerrryyy different, and I’m not sure which one I like the most. I feel for Rambo in both scenarios, and I love that end scene monolog he has with his old unit commander in the movie. But in the book…dang…it’s just… I’ve said enough.
As far as veteran issues go, both film and book appealed to me and wrung the gauntlet of emotions. More so in the movie than the book, despite the benefit of reading Rambo’s internal thoughts. The movie seems to focus more on Rambo as a veteran, whereas in the book he’s more often referred to as “The Kid.” The book did, however, add a level of polarity to the conflict between the sheriff, a Korean War veteran, and Rambo, a Vietnam veteran, and how each of them refuses to surrender to the other, way more than what the movie offered. In the movie, the sheriff is more of a chump and doesn’t know what he’s walking into, and just seems to be a dick for no reason. In the book, he is more clearly defined. Especially with what happens during the first hunting party. DAMN is all I can say about that!
Overall, if you’re a fan of the movie, you may want to check out the book. I have few doubts you’ll be disappointed.
My rating: 4/5
Reviewing new movies here on Machine Mean is a rare opportunity. Typically, we keep to the oldies but goodies, and even oldies but not always goodies. Every now and then though a new box office movie will lurch across our spectrum. Since the previews for SPLIT started airing, I knew I had to see the movie. M. Night Shyamalan is a topic of many interesting conversations. Lots of love and hate floated his way, so much so that anything new he puts out is usually met with suspicion. Here’s a short history. In 1999, he wowed audiences with The Sense Sense, begging the question of many moviegoers, “Who the fuck is M. Night Shyamalan?” And for better or worse, we would soon find out. In 2000, he broke our expectations with Unbreakable (see what I did there?), and for many Unbreakable became an easy favorite. He gave us Signs in 2002, not just with the movie but also the precarious slip he would find himself falling into as a screenwriter and director. I find it very humorous that Shyamalan played the role of Ray Reddy, the drunk who killed Rev. Graham’s wife in an accident, his “falling asleep behind the wheel” is a somewhat prophetic scene given what he would eventually do to his own “self” created sub-genre, the “twist ending,” or the “Shyamalan Effect,” as it were. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Signs, but you have to admit the ending was kinda bullshit. In 2004, The Village wasn’t a bad place to visit, but you can’t really go back once you know the truth. 2006 is when it all came apart. Maybe it was ego. Maybe it was studio pressure of creating box office hit after box office hit…whatever it was Lady in the Water was probably one of the more arrogant films I’ve ever seen. In 2008, Shyamalan collapsed completely with one of the worst movies I’ve ever forced myself to watch with The Happening. It was a horrible story. And it had horrible acting. The premise was built on solid ground, but it spiraled and it spiraled hard. And as for The Last Airbender and After Earth…I’ve seen neither films nor do I care to.
There are two movies, however, not included above, both of which that I believe have brought about the return of M. Night Shyamalan. In 2010, Devil released to theaters. Not a lot was known about this movie. Shyamalan did not direct nor did he write the screenplay. According to IMDb, Shyamalan is only credited as a “story” writer. Overall, audiences were about so-so on it, as with horror movie nerds. But even with only about a 50% approval rating, still significantly better than Mr. Shyamalan’s previous movies. To me, Devil was his way, or maybe the studio’s way of “testing the waters,” so to speak. Shyamalan may not be credited for directing or writing the screenplay, but you can tell he had a part. There are plenty of Shyamalanisms present to know its one of his. And Devil’s partial success led to the start of his return. In 2015, he wrote and directed The Visit. Talk about a big risk. Late to the game of steady-cam pictures, The Visit was a surprise success among horror fans. Plenty of dread and suspense and it was topped off with his trademark Shyamalan Effect. Very risky, if you ask me, but one that paid off. After we were done Visiting grandma and grandpa’s, many of us (those who probably spend way to much time thinking about horror movies) were wondering when the next Shyamalan would be. Would there even be another?
Don’t worry, I’ll give fair warning whenever I’m about to spoil anything.
That being said, we need to talk about Split.
For starters, bravo to the team who had put together that trailer. Not too much was revealed; just enough to wet our whistle. Perfect balance of information and intrigue. Kevin (James McAvoy) has evidenced 23 personalities to his trusted psychiatrist, Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley). There remains a 24th personality who has yet to materialize. Compelled to abduct three teenage girls, Kevin reaches a war for survival among all of those contained within him…as well as everyone around him. With a synopsis like that, who could resist? Split dominated the box office over the weekend, pulling in some 40mil nationwide, but I wonder if a majority of those sales were from Saturday and not from Friday. As in, were movie goers cautious and when reports of how good it was surfaced on social media, people flocked to theaters the next day? Seems plausible. I for one went on a Saturday and every movie showing according to the board had been sold out.
Can you believe that? An M. Night Shyamalan movie selling out. When was the last time that happened? Had it even happened before? We’re probably talking Sixth Sense or Unbreakable era Shyamalan…which is interesting because that is the vibe of Split. I didn’t get new Shyamalan vibes, I got Unbreakable…borderline Sixth Sense vibes. Split wasn’t scary, per say, so don’t go into it hoping to jump out of your seats. And I actually appreciated the film more because of that. When the biggest horror movie to come out on a Friday the 13th is called Bye Bye Man, it makes me really fucking sick of the whole jump scare bullshit fad among younger audiences. Cheap thrills trumping solid storytelling and the artistic buildup of dread. And dread is exactly what the vibe was throughout Split. There were some def moments of lag, but that’s okay, or it’s okay if you’re like me and you enjoy getting to know the characters, glimpsing backgrounds and history that WILL play a larger role in the movie down the road. Not only is the storytelling really solid on this one, but the acting, oh my, the acting was freakishly great. And I mean great as in compared to Shyamalan’s previous work. Split isn’t groundbreaking, though it is certainly good. The loudest applause has to go to McAvoy. Even in the previews, I had a good feeling he was going to knock this role out of the park. He did NOT disappoint. Playing a character with multipersonalities can end up in two ways. Coming off as a big nasty stinking poop OR coming off as a big awesome creepy as hell pleasure to watch. If you haven’t yet indulged, I suggest you do, especially if you’ve seen and enjoyed his Sixth Sense, Unbreakable era films.
Now on to the SPOILERS.
I was satisfied with the flashback sense with Casey Cook, played by up and coming actress Anya Taylor-Joy. I found myself wondering throughout what her role was. She was set apart from the others. Her responses were different. From the get go we get a sneak peek at what her history may intel when she whispers hastily to one of her “friends” to pee herself as she’s being dragged off by one of Kevin’s more OCD personalities. That’s not really something someone would normally rush to blurt out unless said person had experienced some sort of similar situation before. I also thought for a little while if she was part of the kidnapping. But seeing her reactions, trying to escape, left me searching for other clues. And this searching aspect is a big plus for me, it invites participation. We’re not just witnesses, we’re players. However…there was no twist ending. There was only revelation.
The lack of a Shyamalan twist did not hinder my enjoyment of the film. It was still fun trying to guess what was going on. When more of Cook’s history was revealed, we learned why she was reacting differently from the other girls with her. We see this sweet little child who loves her father. But then we see her lifelong abuse from her uncle turned guardian, both tragic and heartbreaking. Yet in the end, her scars is what saves her from The Horde, the 24th personalities persona, who views the suffered as pure and those who have not suffered as impure. The Hordes logic is somewhat intriguing. Through suffering, we are made complete, evolved from a non-suffered, non-touched, non-spoiled perspective. The evolution of one’s character through suffering is a relatable philosophy, one that has a sort of religious connotation. This evolution is made manifest, according to The Horde, physically. For Cook, it was her scars, and not just her ability to survive, that thwarted The Horde’s advance. Throughout the movie, we’re also given this idea of near superhuman abilities multi-personality disorder patients can implement. Blind being able to see. A weak person becoming incredibly strong. Even the most minute, a diabetic personality in an otherwise non-diabetic body. For Kevin, while many of his personalities exhibit extraordinary “powers,” it is his final personality, The Horde, in which exhibits the peak of human evolution.
Who mouthed WTF when The Horde started climbing the walls? I certainly did. It’s another one of those intriguing thought exercises, that if The Horde is the peak of human evolution, why is he so animalistic? He behaves and feeds like an animal. And Shyamalan spared no time at the end showing us how much of an animal this personality is. Tying it off with the revelation that they were being kept in the maintenance tunnels below a zoo, provokes further thought and begs the question of mankind, are we more than beasts?
And I’d be amiss not to mention the cherry on top of this sundae. The last scene, at a dinner and the news, re-telling this crime, gives the name of the “still at large” murderer, calling him The Horde. People are talking and connecting the strange name to another infamous murderer. They can’t remember his name, only that he was in a wheelchair or something. And the camera pans to Bruce Willis who knows who these people are talking about, the name Mr. Glass. I couldn’t believe the connection. A very nice surprise to end the movie with. One I hope pans out to a sequel.
Split, for me, marked the return of M. Night Shyamalan. Everything made sense, even the extraordinary. There was nothing arrogant about the movie, in fact, it was actually kind of tragic in its own right, somewhat similar in a way to Sixth Sense. Split could have easily been his third film. It has that feeling of fitting in as an evolution to Unbreakable. This is of corse just my two cents. for those who’ve seen Split, what are your thoughts? Has Shyamalan returned? Or was Split another dud?
My rating: 5/5
Thomas S. Flowers is the published author of several character driven stories of dark fiction. He resides in Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter. He is published with The Sinister Horror Company’s horror anthology The Black Room Manuscripts. His debut novel, Reinheit, is published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein and Apocalypse Meow. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, both Dwelling and Emerging and Conceiving (coming soon), are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston Clear Lake with a BA in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he does author interviews and reviews on a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can keep up with Thomas and all his strange books by joining his author newsletter, at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.
You can get Reinheit for only $2.99 on Amazon!
Nothing is more alluring for both audiences and writers than dusting off old tropes. This is true. There is no argument against this statement. Resistance is futile. Boom. Done. Let’s pack it away, boys. No? Okay, I guess we could talk a little more about this very general statement I just made. And if I’m going to be talking about housekeeping motifs and tropes, do me the favor and humor me by nodding your head or something and when passersby asks why you’re nodding your head, you tell them about this brilliant piece you’re reading, as I delve into this odd analogy to FX’s dark horror show, The Strain. Let it be known now, while I may make mention of some of the newer seasons, my focus will mostly be with the first season, as it is the best and has one of my top ten TV/movies favorite openings/pilots. The only big let down with the second season is the new kid they got to play Zack Goodweather, as he plays a larger role in the second season, he became downright annoying and I’m secretly hoping something really bad happens to him. If that was the point then bravo to the writers cause I really do loathe that little bastard. Anyway, that’s not really why we’re here, is it? Tropes. That’s the term I used before and that is precisely what I want to talk to you about. Dusting off aged tropes is, in my humble opinion, an excellent method of storytelling. The classics for horror being Dracula, Wolf Man, Mummy, and Frankenstein, etc. etc, and how can we use these today? In this endeavor, The Strain is an excellent example we can learn from.
Before we scourge the graveyard any deeper, here’s a quick synopsis from our favorite source, IMDb:
A mysterious viral outbreak with hallmarks of an ancient and evil strain of vampirism ravages the city of New York.
Ladies and gentlemen, a round of applause, if you please, for another stunning synopsis from IMDb. Well, they’re not wrong. There is a virus going around, and it certainly creates hosts that act very vampiric. A very fresh take, I think, on the classic vampire trope. No. This isn’t Lestat. These are monsters, as well they should be. And I love this reimaging of the vampire. The Strain uses invokes classic myths, such as The Master, or “patient zero,” as one of the characters refers to him as, in a way of explaining the legend to a couple of non-beliving doctors. Silver and sunlight are also here too. But no longer crosses and garlic, both of which are hardly ever mentioned. So, despite that the fangs are gone and they have a “stinger,” a worm like tentacle, that the vamps use to “latch on” to their prey, it’s still very much in tune with the aged trope. Better, in my opinion. While we all love Bela, the dashing vampire is too tired nowadays, and xenophobia is more rapid and in your face for such subtlety. We need monsters. Vampires are not lonely outsider boyfriends that sparkle. They are killers, and worse. They are a virus, a scourge, a blight. Some films get it right. 30 Days of Night was good. And Let the Right One In was an instant classic.
What really sets The Strain apart is the use of some of the more classic character types that are largely ignored in modern vampire storytelling. Sure, you cannot have a vampire movie without the preverbal “Dracula,” and in The Strain, we get The Master, who is without question truly terrifying and oddly alluring. But besides the “Dracula” character, what else is offered. I’m going to start off with my favorite. Instead of Abraham Van Helsing, we get Abraham Setrakian, an aged, very aged professor now turned pawn shop proprietor. His history within the context of the show is very rich. Setrakain is a Holocaust survivor who was taught by his grandmother regarding certain “creatures of the night.” As a young man, Setrakian believed her stories to be just that, stories. For a young Setrakian, the Holocaust proved to have enough horrors of its own without the need of mythical monsters. However, as it would seem, the concentration camp, Treblinka, in which Setrakian is incurred is besieged by, not just from war and death and human injustice, but also by a physical parasite that moves about during the night. Witnessing the creature with his own eyes, his grandmother’s stories flood back and he works quickly at finding a way to dispatch this monster. He fails at this but survives the encounter and the war. He then dedicates his entire life at tracking down The Master and his creations and riding the world of the Strain.
The Van Helsing motif in Setrakian was very well thought out, taking the old trope and making it more, giving it more life and substance. For me, Abraham really makes the show enjoyable, especially during flashback episodes that show Setrakian’s evolution.
Another interesting twist with tropes is the Renfield motif found in not just one character, but two, each with their own set of motives that feel very parallel to each other. The first is a human named Eldritch Palmer. While Renfield in the film and Bram Stroker book feels both pathetic and sympathetic, Palmer takes that notion to a different level. Due to his disabling sickness, whatever condition he seems to suffer from physically does not hinder the power of his will, his sheer determination to get whatever it is he wants. And what he wants most of all is to live. This desire seduces him in aligning with The Master and helping the Strain spread over New York. We feel bad for him, as we do with Renfield, for the kind of life he must have had, never knowing which breath would be his last, while at the same time we are appalled by his greed for life and uncaringness towards others. The second Renfield character is in the person of Thomas Eichhorst, played wonderfully by Richard Sammel. Eichhorst is, for lack of a better word, the Master’s right-hand man, but in reality, he’s more of a puppet than anything else and is in fact used quite literally as a puppet whenever the Master feels like “speaking” through him. But his character is more alluring for me than Palmer is. Palmer is just pathetic, especially in season 2. An old groveling to maintain his authority. Eichhorst has an interesting history that is connected with Setrakian, making the motivations for their rivalry very believable, and solidifying Eichhorst as a fan favorite baddy.
There are other characters in the show, a lot of hunters and community leaders, most do not necessarily correlate to classic Dracula trope. We could say that Dr. Ephraim Goodweather could be a close match to a Jonathan Harker motif. But Harker wasn’t really a well thought out character in the movie, perhaps more so in the book. There is one character though that needs mention. The part of Kelly Goodweather as a trope for Mina Harker. While the Master’s fascination with her still begs the question, her role is without a doubt very much Mina-like. When she is turned, she is used, more or less, as a tool to find her son, Zack Goodweather, and in turn to stop Eph and the merry band of vampire hunters. The Master’s interest in Kelly seems to only relate to his interest in stopping the good doctor, perhaps using Kelly and keeping her around just to taunt him.
Have you ever heard the statement, “There is nothing new under the sun?” It’s a saying from Hebrew scripture, Ecclesiastes 1:9. I’m often fond of saying it, especially when fellow writers pitch me their book or story idea and ask if it’s too much like another story. I’ve done the same as well, wondering if this “new idea” is too much like something else. Recently I published a short story with Matt Shaw is his release of Bah Humbug! An Anthology of Christmas Horror Stories. My story is called “Happiness U.S.A.,” and is “inspired” by a classic Twilight Zone episode titled “Garrity and the Graves.” The basic concept is a con artist that travels through an old west town and cons the town into thinking he can resurrect the dead. The catch is that the people in this old west town do not want their dearly departed returned to them, and so to put them “back in the grave” they have to pay Garrity more money. This is one of my favorite shows and one of my top favorite episodes. It’s both cheeky and disturbing, as many Twilight Zone episodes are. And I wanted to do my own take on Mr. Garrity and this old west town. But my version, my dusting off of the classic trope/motif was asking myself, what if Garrity wasn’t really a “con” artist per say, what if he could really bring back the dead. What kind of person or being could do something like that? An angel…or devil? So I took that concept and made my town of Happiness a small Texas oil town back in the mid-1970s. And the price the people of Happiness will have to pay will be much steeper than gold or silver.
This feels like a long way around to basically say, it’s okay to resurrect old trope, give them a good dusting, and retell the story in a new and exciting way. The Strain just so happens to be my favorite example and I wanted an excuse to talk about the show. I’ve started in on the novel the show is based on. There are some differences, but the meat and potatoes are pretty much the same. So if you need a recommendation, you’ve got it. Give this show and book a go. You will not be disappointed.
AND if you happen to be curious about that Christmas anthology I mentioned, follow the image below.
And if perhaps I can tempt you with one more book. I’ve got a new novel that released this week. Conceiving (Subdue Book 3). “…an evil [is] biding its time…waiting for them all,” Conceiving can be read as both a standalone or as part of the series. You can find out more about the book here. Or you can check it out on Amazon. Currently, the book is marked down to $0.99, but only for a limited time. Available for both kindle (or kindle apps) and on paperback.
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….
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
And thus we have arrived. Sadly, I must say, The Mummy’s Curse will be the last of the Mummy movies to be reviewed here on this series. It is very sad. The mummy character has been one of my favorites during Universal Monsters in Review, starting of course with Boris Karloff as the original Mum in The Mummy (1932). The Mummy’s Curse (1944) is certainly not the last we’ll see of the cursed Egyptian priest. Lest we not forget, there was a resurgence of classic monsters back in the 1960s and 70s with those darling UK Hammer productions staring, typically, Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing. Marvelous films those were. On today’s agenda, of course, we look back to the last time Lon Chaney will be forced through hours of prosthetic makeup and wardrobe. As with The Mummy’s Ghost, also released in 1944, the performances were kicked up a notch, as was the storytelling. The Mummy’s Curse was set upon a simple and easy to follow trajectory. No lazy appearances this time around, the mummy is actually unearthed from the swamp in which he fled at the end of The Mummy’s Ghost. Along of course with damsel the stereotypical damsel in distress Amina Mansouri, played by the beautiful Ramsay Ames in the last film, now replaced by Virginia Christine, in which he took with him into a watery grave. If you remember, at the end of The Mummy’s Ghost, Amina was kidnapped by the mummy and used to resurrect the soul of Princess Ananka, or she was a reincarnation of her, its hard to say exactly. Here we find the same tragedy, Amina is not quite herself, nor is she quite Ananka either. And for this, I applaud The Mummy’s Curse, for the curse is not really so much about the mummy Kharis, but rather, about Amina Mansouri and Princess Ananka, an innocent bystander who is thrust into this nightmarish world, and with Ananka, a princess who died naturally. There are some other elements with The Mummy’s Curse that I have not seen, or have seen rarely, in other Universal films during this era. What I’m referring to is Napoleon Simpson playing the role of Goobie (ugh), a very stereotypical “massa” and “sho’ ’nuff” style African American. His character was not comedic, nor was he useful in carrying the plot. Only in so much as screaming and running around crying for help. But again, we have to remember the era in which this film was made. Segregation was still the law, aka Jim Crow. And women could not vote. Homosexuality was also considered a crime. It doesnt make it right, but we also cannot expect to take a 1940s American film and judge it by modern standards. When looking at a historic film, one must remain (as much as possible) objective. Okay…I’ve seemed to ramble on quite a bit here. Let us venture forth and see what our esteemed guest has to say regarding The Mummy’s Curse.
The Mummy’s Curse (1944)
By Pembroke Sinclair
I’ve been struggling with where to start this review. It’s not that the movie was terrible, but it wasn’t exactly stellar, either. This film was pretty short, coming in at 1 hour long. Not a whole heck of a lot happened in that time, except that the mummy rose from the dead, killed a few people, then was defeated. There wasn’t much time for characters to be fleshed out, so I didn’t really feel for any of them.
Racial stereotypes ran rampant throughout the film, although my first impression was that I was impressed that several different cultures were portrayed. The film takes place in the swamps of Louisiana. Of course, the white man has come in and is planning to drain it for irrigation purposes, and when the workers refuse to work because of rumors about the mummy, he takes on an I-know-best attitude to get them to finish. As you can imagine, this leads to death and murder.
From a surficial viewing of this film, it wasn’t anything special. There weren’t any jump scares, and the storyline actually confused me just a bit. Kharis (the mummy) was punished in his previous life (thousands of years ago in Egypt) because he was trying to raise his love (Princess Anaka) from the dead. I couldn’t really follow the story of his punishment, but some slaves were killed and he was buried alive and forced to be the guardian of the princess’s tomb.
There was something about special leaves that could bring the dead back to life, and that was what Kharis stole from the gods to bring Anaka back. After he was caught, they buried him with those leaves—and I’m not really sure why. I mean, if they have that power, why make it readily available to someone who might have inclinations to raise the dead? But when does horror always make sense?
Anyway, this story takes place 25 years after Kharis sunk in some quicksand (I’m assuming this happens in a previous movie, but I didn’t see it, so I don’t know). Kharis is raised from the dead from some priests so that he can find his princess, who also happens to be buried somewhere in the swamp. (She’s unearthed later by a bulldozer.)
So, in addition to the workers who are trying to drain the swamps, there are also archaeologists who are looking for the sarcophagi so that they can go to a museum. But one of these scientists (Ragheb) is looking for them so he can send them back to Egypt so that the dead can rest in peace. He’s the one who raises Kharis so that he can find Anaka. It sounds noble, for sure, but t becomes violent because Ragheb tells Kharis that he can kill whoever gets in his way while looking for Anaka. And, as you can imagine, people do, so they get strangled.
I became confused about a couple things. 1) Why did Princess Anaka retain her beauty after bathing in the river? Why didn’t she looked like hammered hell like Kharis? 2) If she was Kharis’s true love, why was she so afraid of him? There were indications that she was looking for him also—she would fall into a trance and repeat his name over and over—but when he showed up, she would freak out and run. 3) The love story between Dr. Ilzor Zandaab and Betty felt tacked on. I get that it needed to be there as a juxtaposition between Kharis and Anaka, but it needed to be developed.
This also might play into the point about the film, however. The title is The Mummy’s Curse, and he was punished because he was trying to reunite with his true love. In this film, he can’t resurrect himself, and humans have to intervene by giving him his potion of leaves. In a sense, he becomes a pawn to be used by whoever resurrects him. And perhaps Anaka not recognizing him and running away in fear is also part of his curse. He’s forever trying to possess something he can’t have.
Sure, he kills and is a walking corpse, but is he really that bad? Would he kill if he wasn’t instructed to? Is he truly the monster in the film or is it the others around him?
There were a few things that surprised me: the women in the film had some stereotypical roles (fainting and needing to be rescued), but they also had some powerful roles. For example, Betty on multiple occasions talks back to her uncle and lets him know how she feels about things. Anaka is shown using a microscope and expresses her knowledge about ancient Egyptian culture—mainly because she had lived through it, but she doesn’t remember that at the time.
While this film isn’t something I’d watch again for pure entertainment, I believe that there are some deeper meanings hidden within the text. Like all horror films, there is social commentary buried beneath the surface, and I’d watch it again to find these commentaries and figure out what they are saying.
Pembroke Sinclair is a literary jack of all trades, playing her hand at multiple genres. She has written an eclectic mix of fiction ranging from horror to sci-fi and even some westerns. Born in Rock Springs, Wyoming–the home of 56 nationalities–it is no wonder Pembroke ended up so creatively diverse. Her fascination with the notions of good and evil, demons and angels, and how the lines blur have inspired her writing. Pembroke lives in Laramie, Wyoming, with her husband, two spirited boys, a black lab named Ryder, and a rescue kitty named Alia, who happens to be the sweetest, most adorable kitty in the world! She cannot say no to dessert, orange soda, or cinnamon. She loves rats and tatts and rock and roll and wants to be an alien queen when she grows up. You can learn more about Pembroke Sinclair by visiting her at pembrokesinclair.blogspot.com. You can follow the very talented Pembroke on Facebook Amazon Twitter Or at her blog.