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Posts tagged “thriller

Fright Fest: Don’t Breathe (2016)

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When I went to watch Don’t Breathe, I went in blind. Do you see what I did there? That pun – fucking brilliant as it was…it wasn’t even intentional. That’s just the kind of genius I am and an early warning sign to the shite review you’re about to be hit with. Anyway – I went in not knowing much about the movie. In fact, all I knew were the following points:

  • It had a fit bird in it.
  • I knew these characters broke into a blind man’s house and he then set about fucking them up.

That was it. I knew nothing else.

If you plan on watching this film, I suggest you go in with that amount of knowledge too for you will find the film a lot more enjoyable. If you read too many reviews, little details will be given away which could take some of the enjoyment from the film. Not like this snippet of information I’m about to give you, though – this won’t ruin anything but…

The people breaking into the old man’s house are thieves. They’ve heard he has money and they see him as an easy target so, a decision made – rob the fucker. And here in lies the problem: How are you supposed to feel sorry for criminals? Yet that’s exactly what the filmmakers are asking of you, to feel sorry for these scumbags as they find themselves trapped in the blind man’s house and he is hunting them down, to kill them. So… I don’t feel sorry for the youths who’ve broken into his house and I don’t feel sorry for the blind man who is trying to kill them. Now I know they needed a reason to be in the house, I get that. But… How about this: They pass the house… He calls for help. They hear him and run into the house, the house goes into lockdown and he tries to kill them. Straight away I would feel sorry for the youths in the house. They had gone in there to try and help him and now their lives hang in the balance. And that’s without giving it much thought.

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Now I’m not saying Don’t Breathe isn’t a good film. It is a good film. Without going into details to spoil the film, I can say that it is very tense and there are some good twists along with some completely unnecessary ones. I don’t want to spoil the film for you so I can’t go into details but I’m sure you’ll see what I mean when you watch it. But some of the twists aren’t the only thing which damages the film. The ending is a let down too – in fact, it is such a let down that I watched the film two days ago and have already forgotten how it ended.

Straining my brain really hard, I just remembered and – yeah – it definitely is shit.

They could have ended the movie during one particular brutal twist scene. When you watch the movie – and it is worth a watch – you will sit up at one particular point and you will be on the edge of the seat. You might even mutter ‘WHAT THE FUCK’… Had they ended the film here, it would have been a much stronger movie and would leave people talking about it. It truly is a potentially nasty, nasty scene and yet, the film director (also wrote it) bottled it and made it go all Hollywood but then I should have expected something shit because this is the guy who right royally fucked up The Evil Dead remake. Seen it? Not a bad movie up until the end when The Evil Dead manifested itself as…. a girl. Fuck. Off. Let’s take a classic film which keeps the actual Evil hidden… And just try and make it gorier and turn the big bad beast into a pathetic little girl. No doubt the cunt watched The Ring or The Grudge and figured small girls are scary… Had he been sitting with me at the cinema, I would have tipped my popcorn on him. Let that be a lesson learned.

Jane Levy stars in Screen Gems' horror-thriller DON'T BREATHE.

Anyway, like I said, Don’t Breathe is hard to review because I don’t want to ruin the twists or give you too much information to ruin the story. It’s a tricky one but – know this – it is a good film. If I was rating out of ten, I’d give it a 6.5 or even a 7 but I’m not rating out of ten, so forget I said that. So what is so good about it? Well, there are some incredibly tense scenes (power cut to the house making the youths just as blind as the blind man being a standout moment). The acting is serviceable even if the blind man did have Batman’s voice mixed with Batman’s nemesis of Bane. But – with all of that – you have really effective music and, more importantly, lack of music. Why the lack of music? Well, the blind man relies on sound to hear people so… When the youths are creeping around being quiet – the music cuts out and we have nothing but silence and the little sounds they make… We hear what the blind man hears. It is also the quietest I have ever known a movie theater to be. So – kudos for that. The only thing which annoys me is… This film had the potential to be perfect but – like so many other horror films of late – it let itself down in a couple of places, most notably the final hurdle.

Still, it could have been worse… It could have another shitty remake…

Until next time, kiddies,

Matt, The.

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Matt Shaw is no stranger to Machine Mean, having reviewed for us The Invisible Woman (1940) earlier this year. Besides being bothered by me to write reviews for my site, Mr. Shaw is also the published author of over 100 titles – all readily available on AMAZON. He is one of the United Kingdom’s leading – and most prolific – horror authors, regularly breaking the top ten in the chart for Amazon’s Most Popular Horror Authors. Shaw is best known for his extreme horror novels (The infamous Black Cover Range), he has also dabbled in other genres with much success; including romance, thrillers, erotica, and dramas. Despite primarily being a horror author, Shaw is a huge fan of Roald Dahl – even having a tattoo of the man on his arm; something he looks to whenever he needs a kick up the bum or inspiration to continue working! As well as pushing to release a book a month, Shaw’s work is currently being translated for the Korean market and he is currently working hard to produce his own feature length film. Matt Shaw lives in Southampton (United Kingdom) with his wife Marie. He used to live with Joey the Chinchilla and Larry the Bearded Dragon but they died. At least he hoped they did because he buried them. You can follow Mr. Shaw and delve into his work by following his site at www.mattshawpublications.co.uk AND on Facebook at  www.facebook.com/mattshawpublications.co.uk. You can read his review of the infamous Invisible Womanhere.

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

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Fright Fest: Clean, Shaven (1993)

 

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The trailer for Clean, Shaven is brilliant – clocking in at a little over a minute, only a fleeting few seconds are devoted to footage from the film (choosing an extremely powerful moment near the end). It’s built up to with a string of critical accolades (red font against a black background), while an unsettling score drones. It bears noting that the critics’ blurbs state nothing about the plot. In an era where movies are regularly spoiled by their trailers – this summer’s Don’t Breathe being a recent example – the curiosity sparked by Clean, Shaven’s is not only a testament to its craftiness but the ambiguous mystery lurking at the film’s core. It alludes to a cinematic experience that will force the viewer to consider things from a different perspective.

But to discuss the mystery would lead into spoiler territory. (I realize I sort of shot myself in the foot with this one.)

When Thomas put out the call for reviews for his October Fright Fest, a couple titles crossed my mind, but Clean, Shaven sprung to the forefront. It’s a film that uses subjectivity not only as a character perspective, but as one of its core themes, as it chronicles an institutionalized schizophrenic’s release into the outside world, and the search for his estranged daughter juxtaposed against a detective’s pursuit of a child killer.

It’s also a film that – despite its glowing critical appraisal and inclusion in the Criterion Collection – I feel many are unaware of.

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Writer-director Lodge Kerrigan approaches the story as subjectivity shaping structure, instead of relying on a three-act thriller formula. Clean, Shaven doesn’t engender “excitement” in the traditional escapist sense – the intersections of characters and events are almost dream-like in their logic (or lack thereof), and the film creates a mood that feels paradoxically detached from reality, while simultaneously feeling “real” in a manner that many films do not.

Huh?

Peter Winter (Peter Greene – Training Day) is first seen huddled in the corner of a concrete cell with a high ceiling, arms pressed against his head as the invasive, overwhelming crackle of power lines sizzle and pop nearby; when he is released from the institution (with no narrative explanation given), he is plagued by overtly hostile voices on the radio; the glares of passerby; and the persecuting eyes of reflective surfaces (which he covers in newspaper). He scrubs himself clean with steel wool, and the act of everyday grooming – shaving and cutting hair – is rendered unsettling due to the severity of Winter’s condition.

And perhaps that’s where the fear and horror of Clean, Shaven comes into play.

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In hewing as closely as possible to Peter’s perception, the machinations of the plot are left to speculation, and part of the dread comes from not knowing the outcome. This creates an atmosphere of uncertainty that stems from a very true-to-life place. That we have no choice but to engage with the character is an invitation to discomfort, but also revealing of glimmers of truth that most filmmakers try to obfuscate with sentimentality or uplifting music. Hollywood often focuses on the rehabilitation or martyrdom aspect of iconic figures with mental illness, and the fact that Peter is an Everyman following his own internal compass makes him deliberately difficult to connect with.

Locations that could be considered bland – a library; a cheap motel room; a blue-collar bar – are transformed into places of potential danger; seemingly innocuous pictures in books become the stuff of nightmares; and a child’s swingset draws up queasy connotations to backyard abductions (which also ties into a recurring motif of missing children on milk cartons). The editing is sometimes abrupt, but – as with everything else in Clean, Shaven – serves a function that is synchronous to Peter’s state of being. For example, a seemingly out-of-nowhere sequence has him speeding down a dirt road, police sirens trailing behind; a face full of dread as he looks out the rear windshield, all the viewer sees is a thick cloud of dust. Is the police siren a mere invention of his troubled mind, amplifying feelings of unarticulated guilt?

In a Noir context, an antihero’s first-person perspective can possess traits of both heroism and villainy, depending on the circumstances. With the introduction of detective Jack McNally (Robert Albert), Kerrigan creates a puzzling wrinkle in the plot; while determined, confident, and skilled in his work, McNally is also not beneath sleeping with the adoptive mother to Peter’s daughter, Nicole (Jennifer MacDonald). The question of whether this is malicious, sleazy, or containing ulterior motives is left as ambivalent as everything else in Clean, Shaven – as viewers, we are unable to “judge” based on the backgrounds and perspectives of the characters. That the individuals populating this world are so impenetrable speaks to the skill of Kerrigan’s script and direction.

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Greene deserves high praise for his immersive performance. An underrated character actor best known for playing heavies in a string of well-loved ‘90s films (Pulp Fiction; The Usual Suspects; The Mask), it’s a testament to his ability that he is able to imbue Peter with such a sense of authenticity. For those who only know him as the shady, scene-stealing criminal, his acting here mines for depth in a brilliantly intuitive way.

Clean, Shaven approaches a level of intensity that makes for an appropriately unsettling, sometimes horrifying experience. It doesn’t keep the viewer at arm’s-length; nor does it use a John Williams orchestral score to “lead” the viewer into a particular way of feeling. Kerrigan doesn’t politely invite us to visit the mind of a schizophrenic; he aggressively foists it upon us from the very start, in as much as film can capture such an internalized state of being.

8 out of 10 stars

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No stranger to Machine Mean, Jon Weidler (aka Jonny Numb) works for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania by day and co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast by night. His reviews can also be found at Crash Palace Productions (crashpalaceproductions.com) and Loud Green Bird (loudgreenbird.com). Seek him on social media @JonnyNumb (Twitter & Letterboxd), if you dare. You can check out his previous review on Abbott and Costello Meet The Mummy (1955) here.

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

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Fright Fest: The Unborn (2009)

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Released in 2009, The Unborn stars Odette Yustman as Casey Beldon, a young woman who begins experiencing strange things after babysitting a young couple’s two small children. While babysitting, Casey thinks she hears one of the children stirring, so, of course, she goes upstairs to investigate. She discovers the four-year-old son holding a mirror in front of his baby sister’s face. When Casey confronts him, the boy casually looks up and says, “Jumby is ready to be born now,” before smacking her in the face. Supposedly, superstition dictates that an infant shouldn’t see his/her reflection until he/she reaches a year old, and if they do, it means the baby will die.

Does the baby die? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out.

Anyway, Casey has weird recurring dreams about finding a blue glove while she’s out jogging…a glove that belongs to a child. She picks up the glove and turns around to find a creepy little boy staring at her.

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She confides in her best friend, Romy, (played by Meagan Good) and her boyfriend, Mark, (played by Cam Gigandet) who tries to dismiss Casey’s fear with a number of various excuses. Meanwhile, one of Casey’s eyes begins changing color, which leads her to contact an eye doctor.

During her visit, the doctor suggests that Casey must be a twin, to which she replies that she’s an only child. More investigating leads her to question her father, who reveals Casey had a twin brother who died in utero when her umbilical cord became wrapped around his neck.  Although neither child was named that early in the pregnancy, the boy’s nickname was “Jumby.”

Now, what I’ve failed to mention until this point is that Casey’s mother committed suicide after an apparently bad episode of depression. Trying to find out why she killed herself, Casey begins exploring some of her mother’s things and comes across an article cut from a newspaper regarding a Holocaust survivor. Casey visits the old woman armed with a creepy photo and the newspaper article, to find out the connection between the two.

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The old woman, Sofi, freaks out when Casey shows her the photo and denies knowing Casey’s mother, but then calls her later on and says she was lying. After meeting with Sofie again, Casey discovers she’s Sofie’s granddaughter and that she too, was once a twin. Her twin brother died in a German concentration camp. Sofie reveals that the spirit of Casey’s unborn twin brother is caught between earth and Hell, and is trying to find a way to cross over.

Things become weirder as time passes and Casey learns that there is a spirit that preys on twins, and becomes progressively stronger from each being it passes through. It begins with insects, then moves on to small animals, larger animals, and well, you get the point. It’s looking for a twin who’s lost a sibling and will stop at nothing to get what it wants, even killing Casey’s friends and family.

Casey turns to a rabbi to help her. Rabbi Sendak, (played by Gary Oldman) agrees to perform a Jewish exorcism on the woman, and the procedure begins. As always, the demon is driven away, and although a few deaths occur, there is sort of a happy ever after.

Now, this is the part where I tell you what I thought of this movie. Before I begin, though, I have to disclose that my favorite horror film of all time is The Exorcist...the original exorcism film. All others tend to fail miserably, in my opinion. That said, The Unborn does have its moments.

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Some of the special effects in The Unborn were very well done. There is one scene, in particular, that stands out. The demon visits Sofie in the nursing home and inhabits a man who’s had a stroke. Normally, the old man is a prisoner in his own mind, unable to speak or move, but with his “visitor,” he chases Sofie around in a scene reminiscent of the spider walk in The Exorcist. Very creepy. Unfortunately, many of the special effects in the film were shown in the trailer, so there was little in the way of a “wow factor” during the film itself.

Let’s move on to the plot. Yawn. Oh, sorry. Did I do that out loud?

Since The Exorcist premiered in 1973, directors and producers have been trying to recapture that magic in exorcism movies, and, as I said earlier, most fail abysmally. Although the premise of this movie was somewhat original, (Can something haunt you if it was never born?) the story progresses quite predictably. The weirdness starts small and grows exponentially in the hour and a half film until the afflicted seeks outside help. The outside help, in this case, the rabbi, tries to tell Casey she’s got mental issues instead of believing her at first. He soon takes her side and agrees to help.

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I felt the exorcism scene in The Unborn was rushed, totally unrealistic, and completely unfulfilling. The demon bounces around from person to person kills a few people and is suddenly gone. Yawn. Been there, done that. Several times. Perhaps, if you’ve seen one exorcism film, you’ve seen them all.

The acting was mediocre at best. Nothing spectacular, and I did expect a little more from Gary Oldman. There are the gratuitous shots of Casey in her underwear and one subdued sex scene that I felt was necessary to show how close Casey and Mark were. At the beginning, Casey was a little wooden, a cookie cutter victim, but she got a little better as the movie advanced.

For those not quite as versed in horror as I am, you may like this film. There are far too many pointless scare attempts in this film for my taste, but some people like that kind of thing. It has a slightly creepy vibe throughout, but as for true terror, it falls flat. For those of us who struggle to find something to scare us, or, at the very least, creep us out, this film was a bit of a letdown. If you’re looking for a Jewish take on The Exorcist, this is it, although I’ve never heard anyone say, “Gee, what would happen if a Jewish rabbi performed an exorcism?”

All in all, The Unborn didn’t totally suck, but it’s not a movie I will watch again.

 

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Dawn Cano (aka The Queen of Extreme Horror) is no stranger to Machine Mean. Miss Cano has always been a fan of horror, she loves everything about the genre and has just begun her journey into the world of horror writing. When not pounding away at the keyboard, she can be found reviewing books and movies for The Ginger Nuts of Horror and wasting time on Facebook. Dawn has also started what will no doubt be a fantastic career as a storyteller. You can find her books, including Sleep Deprived and Bucket List, *Warning: Some Scenes May Disturb for both of these wonderfully gruesome tales. And you can check out her previous review of Frankensteinhere.

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

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Universal Monsters in Review: The Mummy’s Curse (1944)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.


Universal Monsters in Review: Invisible Agent (1942)

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OUT OF THE SKY…DROPS…AN INVISIBLE INVADER…TO TERRORIZE AN ENTIRE NATION..ONE MAN AGAINST A NATION ..SPYING.. FIGHTING.. DESTROYING.. STRIKING AT THE VERY HEART OF THE ENEMY! My apologies for writing in “all caps,” but I couldn’t help my enthusiasm. Just watching the trailer alone, my spirit feels jazzed enough to sock ole Hitler in the jaw. Yes. As it would seem, Invisible Agent came to Universal’s lexicon at a very precarious/interesting place in history. The world was once again at war. Pearl Harbor happened less than a year before (December 1941) the release of the film. And perhaps this makes Invisible Agent (July 1942) one of the more interesting footnotes in the Universal Monsters vault as the monster was no longer who we assume; but rather, the “enemy,” which in this instance was Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan. Invisible Agent is nothing more than a propaganda film, aimed to boost moral of the 1942 wartime audience, and it is hard to ignore some of the starch xenophobia concurrent throughout the movie. BUT we must also remember, Invisible Agent is a product of its time. When looking at historical pieces, we must consider the thoughts and motivations of the era in which the movie was made. For me, I was intrigued, not only because of the historical footnote, but also getting to watch Peter Lorre on screen. Ignoring (for now) the fact that Universal Studios cast an eastern European to play the role of Baron Ikito (a Japanese character), it was still worthwhile being able to watch Mr. Lorre act. He was cool and chilling. And an absolute pleasure. Well, I think I’ve yammered on long enough. Let’s welcome today’s special guest and allow him to bring on that sweet sweet propaganda!

 

Invisible Agent

By: Duncan P. Bradshaw

I must confess, that when Mr Flowers provided a list of the films he had left to review, I did the typical thing, and plumped for something I’d never seen before. It was only afterwards, when I read a bit of the background about it, and then, eventually, got my hands on a copy of it, did I wish that I’d taken the blue pill.

Where the previous iterations in the Invisible Man franchise were stories of horror and science fiction, Invisible Agent is a wholly different proposition. It bears H.G. Wells name solely as it was based on his eponymous novel. This film though, is purely a WW2 propaganda film, made to entertain those stuck at home, and to an audience now part of the global war.

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Released at the end of July, 1942, it is a mere seven months since the US were attacked at Pearl Harbour. With the need to demonise the Axis powers, in an age which didn’t have 24 hour news channels, or instantaneous reports from the other side of the world, films like this were churned out. Invisible Agent is a rote, by the numbers film, which lacks any real story or plot. Choosing to borrow elements of the mad scientist formula which so many films of that era subscribed to, there are few redeeming features to it.

First off, Jon Hall, who plays the titular character, must’ve been laughing his way to the bank, as he’s on screen for next to no time at all. After being threatened by a Nazi and a Japanese agent, he legs it, with the secret formula in his possession. Naturally, the US government asks, politely, and with no sense of menace at all, if he would share it. This is refused. You blink and literally, the scene fade out has barely finished, when he’s back again, in front of important looking blokes and generals, saying that Pearl Harbour has changed his mind. He’ll do it, damn your eyes, but with one condition, that he is to be the one to be injected.

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Right…at no point do they say that he’s a soldier, or some kind of badass, and these people, with national security on the line, are quite happy for him to go behind enemy lines and discover when the Germans are going to attack America. Yeah…that sounds…yeah…

What follows is a paper thin plot, where the Nazi’s are borderline incompetent. They’re only out to usurp their superiors and are easy victims to ridiculous slapstick routines, and chain smoking. Cedric Hardwicke, who plays the main bad dude, Stauffer, has barely finished a cigarette, when he’s using it to light another.

The effects though, given that we’re now rotund on a diet of CGI, is actually pretty good, with one exception. The plane models are awful, you’d have thought that there would be a shedload of stock footage they could have used. Instead you have wobbly wooden planes juddering all over the shop, it’s just odd given the lengths they go to on the invisibility side of things.

Speaking of which, the invisible effects are decent, if a bit predictable. He rocks up in Germany to meet his contact, but hey…how do we know where he is? He’s invisible after all. That’s okay, here have some coffee.

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WOOOOOOOOHHHHH, the glass is floating in the air. Wait a minute, he’s drinking the coffee! But it’s not falling onto the floor, it’s magic! Say…I fancy a cigarette, WOOOOOOOHHHH, look a floating cigarette and flaming match. Coupled with chair springs being depressed as he ‘sits’ down, it doesn’t veer too far from the tried and trusted. You can only see the wires a few times, but that is me being picky, overall I thought it was done pretty well, and easily the best thing about the film.

What did annoy me though, was the routine when he meets the female double agent played by Ilona Massey. He’s sweet-talking the pants off her, well, he was watching her get undressed until he wolf-whistled (Worst. Stalker. Ever.), but comedy Nazi number one turns up.

Eager to show the cinema goers what ruthless sods these Germans are, he starts showering her with gifts, plundered from occupied Europe. Though a diet of cheese, chicken, lobster and champagne is going to cause a blockage or two, downstairs, if you get what I’m saying. Cue five minutes of stuff being moved about, chicken being eaten, INVISIBLY, WOOOOOOOOOOOHHHH, and food and drink being tipped over the bearer of gifts.

There is nothing really appealing about any of it to be honest. You’ve got the legendary Peter Lorre completely wasted as Baron Ikito, a Japanese agent. Which, let’s face it, given the backlash against Scarlet Johansen appearing in Ghost In The Shell, would probably create a right storm nowadays. There’s just none of the scares or intrigue that you get from any of the other Invisible Man films, they’ve literally used H.G. Wells good name, slapped it onto an identikit propaganda film, and sent it out into the wild.

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He gets plans. People get captured and slapped about a bit, I’m beginning to nod off now, thinking about it. In fact, it would be the equivalent of me telling you how to suck an egg, explaining what happens. Suffice to say, they save the day, escape and get back to blighty. If this film was food, it would be a piece of plain white bread. What’s that? You want some peanut butter on it? NO! Have it dry, I don’t care if you would quite like to have some cheese in there.

So yeah, I can’t say I particularly enjoyed watching it, but…given that my knowledge to date of the franchise stopped with Invisible Man Returns, I can at least say I’ve watched it. Though I can categorically state that I’d not waste eighty more minutes watching it again, I’ll stick to the original thank you very much.

Duncan Bradshaw pic

Duncan P. Bradshaw lives in MIGHTY Wiltshire, with his wife Debbie and their two cats, Rafa and Pepe. Their barbershop quartet days may be behind them now, but they can still belt out a mean version of ‘Deepy Dippy’ by Right Said Fred when the mood catches them right. Duncan’s debut novel, zom-com, “Class Three,” was released in November 2014. The first book in the follow-up trilogy, “Class Four: Those Who Survive,” shambled into life in July 2015. Both have received glowing reviews. In early 2016, he released his debut Bizarro novella, “Celebrity Culture”, which has been well received, despite its oddness. Not content with resting on his laurels, Prime Directive blasts off in May 2016, a sci-fi/horror novella which pleased fellow founder J.R. Park. Before the main attraction…Duncan finished writing “Hexagram” in late 2015, a novel set over five hundred years, which follows an ancient ritual and how people throughout the years twist the original purpose to their own end.This is released on July 25th, hold onto your hats for that one.


Universal Monsters in Review: She-Wolf of London (1946)

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I sooooo wanted this movie to be amazing. And maybe it was and I just didn’t get it. I loved the concept, the idea of a woman werewolf, almost akin to 1942’s Cat People, in which by a curse, the person may transform into a large cat in the heat of passion. Movies like Cat People and The Curse of the Cat People and The Leopard Man (1943) are basically about suppressed sexuality and the notion of the time that if you explore such things you’ll be “transformed” by your passions to these lustful violent creatures. Maybe I had expected something like that with She-Wolf of London (aka THE CURSE OF THE ALLENBYS) because what is a werewolf story other than the idea of uncontrollable emotions coming out of us like wild things. I will give director Jean Yarbrough some credit in how he somewhat kept the “Greek tragedy” aspect in werewolf lore. Everything else seemed to fall flat. Painfully so. Even the very superb acting of June Lockhart, Don Porter, and Sara Haden could not salvage the film. There was too much expectation, and not enough fulfillment. But, these are just my own ramblings. Lets see what our honored guest has to say regarding She-Wolf of London. 

THE FOGGIEST FOG THAT EVER FOGGED

By: Michelle Garza

As a little girl my mom would always watch the black and white Universal classics with me and my sister, it was my introduction to horror. Being a child of the desert (I was born and raised in Arizona) I was always fascinated by the scenes, though they were created in a studio, of foggy locations. She-wolf of London did not disappoint in that aspect. It was some of the foggiest fog that ever fogged. There was only one time that I had ever seen fog like that in real life and it was created by a fog machine at a death metal show.

The tale takes place in London at the turn of the century. It follows the story of a young woman named Phyllis Allenby, she is set to wed a wealthy lawyer by the name of Barry but as a murder starts killing and mutilating innocent people not far from her inherited estate it brings to light the rumors of a family curse…one involving lycanthropy. She believes that the curse has caught up to her. Phyllis tries to call off her engagement, keeps to herself and only talks about her worries to her aunt Martha at first. The aunt is a shady hag to begin with who treats her house woman, Hannah, like a total bitch and won’t let her daughter Carol have a boyfriend if he’s not rolling in the dough. “Aunt” Martha secretly admits to her daughter that she is not really Phyllis’s aunt and if the young woman marries Barry Martha and Carol could lose their home in the Allenby estate. All the while Phyllis spirals into madness truly believing she is the beast when her Aunt’s dogs try to attack her and howl all night long it only points to her worst fear being true. She keeps a lantern outside of her window to ward away evil as told by an old Scottish wives’ tale, yet she keeps awakening to find her clothes muddy and her hands bloody. The thoughts of herself becoming a beast and ripping people apart eats away at her.

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Let’s talk about some things that might make a person laugh, those silly horror movie moments that in my opinion can add to the awesomeness of older flicks…the giggle factor. I am a lover of horror in all degrees from the super serious, scare the crap out of you, to the super cheesy b movies, to the classics that in their time were closer to the first mentioned, it was on these foundations that we built the majesty of the horror genre. For instance, she finds her shoes covered in mud, the shoes are super girly with heels, it made me laugh. If I was going out to eat people, I certainly would choose different footwear…yet I suppose the beast isn’t particularly worried about fashion or comfort when its howling to bust out and since it was the turn of the century that was the proper attire of a young woman no matter if a bloodthirsty beast dwelled within her. There are the typical investigators, one that thinks the killer is either an animal or deranged person while the second believes it to be a female werewolf, he meets a tragic end in his quest to prove the nonbeliever wrong. Carol, the supposed cousin, is in love with a man of lower station and so sneaks out during the night to tryst with him…leaving the audience thinking that she could be the she-wolf herself. It builds an old timey sense of suspicion, though later the ending doesn’t really come as a shock. What may come as a shock is you NEVER see a werewolf in this flick!!!!

Barry finally gets Phyllis to admit her worries, she confesses that she has terrible nightmares of pagan rites being performed and becoming a wolf. He won’t accept that his woman is refusing to get hitched because of some story about a family curse. He sits outside of her house one night to try to discover if she actually is a werewolf. He sees a woman draped in a cloak, her face is concealed. He follows her and loses her in the foggiest fog that ever fogged. A man cries out as he is attacked by a veiled woman, she escapes, he claims it was some psycho woman that growled like an animal, moments later Carol approaches the victim that happens to be her boyfriend and claims she was out to meet with her love in secret…even though there is a murderer on the loose.

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This part struck a chord within my werewolf loving heart and I recalled the book the were-wolf by Clemence Housman, it tells the story of White Fell, a beautiful stranger that comes between two brothers, she was tall and fair…and happened to be a werewolf. I’m not insinuating that Universal copied the story, I’m just noting that they are parallel. She was cloaked and stunning much like our She-wolf of London, spreading terror throughout a community, killing children and inciting strife between loved ones. A tale as old as time…beauty concealing the beast.

The figure is shown a few times during the movie, actually in the goriest scene of the film the veiled She-wolf stalks a member of Scotland yard, Latham, the only guy that believes in werewolves, and slashes his throat open. Though it is black and white you can see that his neck is bloodied. He tries to scream for the constable but it is too late, it must have been shocking for a film in nineteen forty-six. Movies like these opened doors for women characters, they could be more than just matronly or wholesome, they could be alluring, they could be deadly…they could be real. I love to see that in the older movies.

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Each time Phyllis hears the news about innocent people being murdered, then finds her clothes soiled the next morning she really believes that she is a monster, a ravening beast hidden beneath the layers of lace and silk. At last she confides in Carol and begs her to get the police because she wants someone to stop her from murdering people. While Carol is out of the house Martha comes to bring Phyllis a glass of warm milk, something she does nightly. By this point most people will already connect the dots and it is no shock to find out that her aunt has been going out at night and pretending to be a she-wolf. She had been drugging Phyllis (que old-school watery effect to the film that symbolizes being whacked out of your mind) and committing heinous crimes in hopes that Phyllis would be blamed because of the family curse and the poor girl basically tells her fiancé and her cousin that she is the monster in her hysteria. Martha then pulls a knife saying she would kill Phyllis and claim that she ended her own life.

Here’s where people should remember a few very important lessons that were probably already taught to them at some point in their life by either a parent or through their own foolish error…

Lesson number one: ALWAYS BE KIND TO THE STAFF. (This includes housekeepers, cooks, gardeners etc.) I was a custodian for fourteen years and believe me when I say the vengeance they can reap is quite dirty. Martha learns this the harsh way when she finds out that standing outside of the door while she confesses her crimes and then tells Phyllis she is going to kill her is the house woman, Hannah, the same woman that Martha treated like a walking turd. Hannah pushes the door open and Martha discovers that she is a witness to her confession. The old house woman tells her she has been watching Martha’s odd behavior and now threatens to fetch the police. Martha chases after Hannah, wielding a knife. They run down a sweeping staircase in the luxurious Allenby estate and Martha trips.

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Lesson number two: NEVER RUN WITH SHARP OBJECTS. Martha falls on her own knife; it is driven into her gut as she tumbles down the steps of the house that she coveted so much she would kill to get to keep living there. She dies as the housekeeper opens the door, revealing the police and Barry who just arrived with Carol so that Phyllis can confess that she was the killer. Hannah tells them that Martha is the she-wolf. The ending comes as Barry rushes to his woman’s side, she is drugged and frightened but he assures her that Martha will never kill anyone ever again.

Although I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see a she-wolf going through some awesome stop motion wolfing, I still enjoyed watching it. It was more about the psychological horror of a young woman believing that she was losing herself, becoming something so terrible that she just couldn’t continue with her life it happened to be true. I think at some point most people deal with that on some level and that, my friends, is why we need horror. Whether it scares you, grosses you out or makes you giggle, it forces you to see those dark things that lurk in the real world and you become stronger for facing them.

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Michelle Garza, one half of the writing team based out of Arizona. Her sister, Melissa Lason, and Ms. Garza have been dubbed The Sisters of Slaughter by the editors at Fireside Press. Since a young age they have enjoyed crafting tales of the dark and macabre. Their work has been included in anthologies such as WIDOWMAKERS a benefit anthology of dark fiction, WISHFUL THINKING by Fireside press and soon to be published REJECTED FOR CONTENT 3 by JEA. To be included in FRESH MEAT 2015 is an incredible honor for the sisters. Later this year, their debut novel, Mayan Blue, releases with Sinister Grin Press. You can keep track of Michelle budding writing career by following her on Twitter and Facebook.


Krampus (2015): movie in review

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December, the same for many of you I’m sure, is one of the busiest times of the year. With all the shopping and family functions, the gift wrapping and long distance phone calls, and Santa visits over at the mall, and festive Christmas lights or Hanukkah, depending on your jam, and Zoo Lights or whatever you’re local county folks do, and eggnog and TV specials…well, if feels almost impossible to fit everything in those special 24 days till Christmas. For me, even more so now that some of my publishing exploits have picked up pace since my start in 2014 and with the release of two new books in the same month, interviews and book tours…etc etc, well, it can all feel overwhelming. To keep from frying a circuit, its a good practice to unplug once and awhile from those blinking little tablets and cellphones and computer screens and traffic jams and enjoy the simple pleasures of going to the movies. And as chance would have it, I was able to venture out to the theater this past Saturday for the next to last showing of Krampus.  And I’m so glad I did!

Krampus is interesting. Not just the movie, but how this year it seems to be a rather proper resurgence of a very old folk story from Germany, where it is in fact celebrated still, once a year, in Christmas parades. I’d hate to make certain ties to our current political situation…but it seems (if this Krampus popularity is any indication) people are tired of all the hoopla. The media blitz. The Black Friday, ruin Thanksgiving shopping. The non stop ads (this recent season of South Park with PC Principle could also be a indication of this). Why else would a guy like Trump hold such popularity as a Presidential candidate? Jesus, I’d hate to think it was because people actually wanted him as president. Retaining my optimism with the human race, I’d wager Trump’s popularity was more about the overall attitudes with American politics nowadays. “Nothing ever changes” blah blah blah, or so people say, If nothing ever changes then why take anything seriously anymore? I think I’m getting off topic here, so let me rein it back in. What I’m getting at is perhaps this new found interest with Krampus is our “tiredness” with ignoring certain holiday traditions, as Krampus is the oldest of holiday traditions, it seems plausible. But this is all conjecture and maybe myself overthinking things, as I tend to do. Lets get back to the movie, shall we?

Here is a quick fire synopsis:

When his dysfunctional family clashes over the holidays, young Max (Emjay Anthony) is disillusioned and turns his back on Christmas. Little does he know, this lack of festive spirit has unleashed the wrath of Krampus: a demonic force of ancient evil intent on punishing non-believers. All hell breaks loose as beloved holiday icons take on a monstrous life of their own, laying siege to the fractured family’s home and forcing them to fight for each other if they hope to survive.

To be honest, I had little notions of what I was walking into last Saturday. I knew I would probably enjoy the movie, but I think in the back of my head I was expecting a little more dumb and a lot less smart; however, it seems the opposite to be true. Krampus is actually a very smart movie, but not over-the-top, despite the “black comedy” jive. The film opens perfectly. Bing Crosby or some other Christmas classic is playing. Everything is in slow-mo as we watch what we’ve all seen on YouTube, Black Friday shoppers duking it out over random unless objects. From teddy bears to rocking horses to TVs to popcorn tins to crying children with black-eyes to store security guards tazing would-be shoppers with a look of absolute glee. Your attention is not really on what these people are fighting over, its the expressions on their faces as the film is slowed down to a crawl, whilst some homely comfortable cheer is playing in the background. Its a fantastic opening and sets the mood for the entire movie with both hilarity and repulsion. If watching this beginning is any indication, perhaps the return of Krampus to America is long overdue!

I’d like to give my honest review without any spoilers, so I shall not mention too many things. The ending is off limits, but I will say that it was great…which is surprising, cause these kind of movies typically fall flat at the end. The ending so very much like the entire movie, where certain expectations are shot down for something otherly unexpected. One of my favorite scenes is when grandma Omi Engel (played by the very talented Krista Stadler) , who only speaks English once, here during a little flashback to her childhood, while in the rest of the movie she’s speaking in German. I loved this part. The movie has little to no exposition moments, which is great. This scene with Omi is fantastic. With things are getting pretty strange and an explanation of what the cause or causes may be, she steps in and offers her family and us a little more information on what Krampus really is. Her memory is told in a very creepy paper styled cartoon which reminded me very much of something Tim Burton would do. Surrounding this much younger Omi, a bombarded village, assuming this to be a German town just after WWII ended. People are desperate and forget the “meaning for the season,” as they say. Krampus visits the town and takes everyone away, all but for young Omi. She fears Krampus has returned. And as the family is picked off one by one, they soon believe her tale. But this begs the question: can they fight back? Can they survive Krampus and his minions?

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There are a few other “great” scenes, truly haunting ones and comedic as well. Whatever that thing was in the snow was pretty creepy. And the snowmen, while you never really see them move, somehow they slowly surround the house. Each time Max looks out the window, there’s a new one grinning back at him, more twisted then the last. The gun jokes and political humor gave me a good chuckle. And the death count was very surprising. Much like Gremlins (a movie many are comparing Krampus to), the death counts in many blockbuster holiday themed movies are typically low. Not in Krampus. Expect death. Lots of it.

Like I said before. I had certain expectations with Krampus. Those being a complete dumb movie, but a fun dumb movie, were altogether shot out of the water. This movie was smart as well as entertaining and fun. Krampus certainly does not take itself too seriously, while also giving us some serious moments. As far as labeling this as a “black comedy,” I think the comedy was actually more lite then most “black comedies.” This was a horror story, no doubt about it. And comedy has a special relationship with terror. Each blended marvelously. Krampus will no doubt be one of those movie that become tradition in the years to come, much like Die Hard or Silent Night, Deadly Night has.

My Review: 5/5


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.


FIGHT THE FUTURE: X-Files in review

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With all the hoopla going on, in anticipation of the return of Dana Skully and Fox Mulder in the 6 episode event starting up in January 2016, I though it’d be a good idea to revisit not just the television show, but also the movies. Here, I want to focus more or less on Fight the Future, the 1998 cinematic debut of the X-Files from boob-tube to movie theaters. Personally speaking, and I’m sure many of you will agree, the X-Files defined my 1990s television experience, introducing ideas in a compelling narrative about two FBI agents who couldn’t be further apart, but are yet drawn together through circumstance, all-the-while, the outside world seems to be encroaching upon them, where friends are rare and trust is precarious.

As the show airs in 1993, we are guided into the dark and deary basement office of one Fox Mulder who has been, more or less, red flagged for his strange and unorthodox methodology and theories. Fox, in his own words, believes he is “the key figure in an ongoing government charade, the plot to conceal the truth about the existence of extraterrestrials. It’s a global conspiracy, actually, with key players in the highest levels of power, that reaches down into the lives of every man, woman, and child on this planet, so, of course, no one believes me. I’m an annoyance to my superiors, a joke to my peers. They call me Spooky. Spooky Mulder, whose sister was abducted by aliens when he was just a kid and who now chases after little green men with a badge and a gun, shouting to the heavens or to anyone who will listen that the fix is in, that the sky is falling and when it hits it’s gonna be the shit-storm of all time” (Fight the Future, 1998). Dana Skully acts as his counterpart, the yin and yang so to speak, of the duo. She’s the rationalist, balancing the supernatural and keeping Mulder rooted. As Fox says regarding the relationship, “But you saved me. As difficult and frustrating as it’s been sometimes, your God-damned strict rationalism and science have saved me a thousand times over. You kept me honest. You made me a whole person. I owe you everything, and you owe me nothing. I don’t know if I want to do this alone. I don’t even know if I can” (Fight the Future, 1998). And as we can extrapolate from his tone in the 1998 movie, their relationship develops over time. Dana started out as an outside perspective, brought in by the higher-ups to report back on Agent Mulder’s case files, aka the X-Files, to basically debunk his work. But through the course of their investigations, she caught glimpses of things she (or science for that matter) could not explain. And let me say right here and now, Fight the Future and the show has some of the best scriptwriting I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching play out on screen . So, now that the players have been set up, lets talk a little about the movie and where it fits in the lexicon.

Fight the Future was released in 1998, fitting between the end of season five and six. The show aired by in 1993 with some of the more darker episodes and best creature features. With the show, we’re given a central story arc mixed with “filler” episodes, episodes which typically have nothing to do with the main story. While the main story plots are intriguing, for the X-Files, I’m more of a fan of the fillers, the go-betweens. In these episodes, you’ll find more of the scares, the darker stories intermingled in the global conspiracy ones. Some of the best in this category include: Home, Squeeze, Jose Chung’s From Outer Space, Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose, The Host, Die Hand Die Verletzt, Folie à Deux, etc etc, just to name a few (and these few are some of my favorite episodes). If you have a Facebook account, you can follow the day to day episodes on the official X-Files page. They’ve also included some very unique fan made mondo posters to par with each episode. Between “filler” and “central story,” Fight the Future was part of the main story arc. Its counterpart, I want to Believe, released in 2008, was the filler equivalent to the shows, which doesn’t mean it was bad because of it, though I don’t think it found much footing with fans in 2008. Maybe they were hoping for something more to the central lexicon than a filler, but as I said before…

Looking at Fight the Future as a stand alone would be confusing, I think. To watch this movie and understand what’s going on, you’d have to be a fan of the show. Though, Carter did throw in some clues here and there. Still though, I still think if I watched Fight the Future without ever having watched the shows, I’d feel as if I was missing some insider joke. I’m a really happy they did it that way, while not leaving a newbie out of the loop entirely, the movie was made for fans of the show. Consider Serenity, the movie based on the cult-loved Firefly. They made that movie so that anyone can walk in off the street and understand everything going on. Sure, they might miss a few relationship side jokes, but overall, the movie was a restart on the show. I feel it would have been better, had they ignored the noobs and made the damn movie for the fans. Does that make sense, or am I going crazy? Sure, maybe Josh what’s his name was just trying to finish his show knowing Firefly would never return to television and the story he came up with was the best he could do…

Back to the X-Files…

Fight the Future is a fast paced movie; which is rare, to be a 2 hour movie based on a television show which airs for roughly 45 mins. From the very start, we’re drawn in to this global event, from the Ice Age opening credits to the black blood virus to team Fox and Dana working the bomb threat in Dallas, all the way to the conclusion and those sinister bestial aliens the story whips us and keeps us glued to the set. There is a small lag near the middle, but even so, there you’ll find some damn fine writing, my favorite is with Mulder at the bar, as part of the quote above with him describing himself to the bartender and why he’s drinking so much. And then there’s the moment between Skully and Fox in the hallway when Fox tells Dana how he feels and they ALMOST kiss, an adolescent teen-girl expectation, I know, but one that had been built up over time…had someone walked in on the movie at that moment without ever knowing the events in the show, it would have seemed silly. But for those in the know, the romance between the two has been a slow and methodical build up, finally realized towards the end of the show and actually acknowledged in I Want to Believe.

If you haven’t seen Fight the Future, even if you’ve never seen the show, I think its a safe bet to assume there are enough clues for you to understand what’s going on. And if you’re a long time fan and haven’t seen this movie…well, I’m not sure what to say to you… FOR SHAME!!!

My Review: 5/5

 


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