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Posts tagged “TV shows

Lovecraft Country: book in review

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The critically acclaimed cult novelist makes visceral the terrors of life in Jim Crow America and its lingering effects in this brilliant and wondrous work of the imagination that melds historical fiction, pulp noir, and Lovecraftian horror and fantasy.

Chicago, 1954. When his father Montrose goes missing, 22-year-old Army veteran Atticus Turner embarks on a road trip to New England to find him, accompanied by his Uncle George—publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide—and his childhood friend Letitia. On their journey to the manor of Mr. Braithwhite—heir to the estate that owned one of Atticus’s ancestors—they encounter both mundane terrors of white America and malevolent spirits that seem straight out of the weird tales George devours.  Continue Reading

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The Strain (TV Series 2014- )

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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Have you ever heard the statement, “There is nothing new under the sun?” It’s a saying from Hebrew scripture, Ecclesiastes 1:9I’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.

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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.

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Fright Fest: Ash Vs. Evil Dead (2015- )

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PREVIOUSLY, ON ASH VS EVIL DEAD… So last season, I wrote a review of Ash vs. Evil Dead for The Ginger Nuts of Horror, (mostly) singing its praises. My few criticisms of the first season were the Scully character (do we need one of these in every show with a slight whiff of paranormal? let’s just do without them from now on, please) who eventually evened out and became interesting (right before she was killed),and the sometimes jarring tonal shifts. (You can read said review here)

 

Spoilers ahead, though (duh) it’s a review. We should all be used to this by now.

The ending of last season polarized fans. Some thought it didn’t make sense for Ash to hand his quest to rid the world of Deadites over to Ruby, though perhaps those viewers hadn’t been watching the same series I was. It’s always been an inner struggle for Ash between being a hero and being a hard-partying slacker—the whole season hinged on that. That, in the end, he gives up the Necronomicon to spend the rest of his days drinking and womanizing in Jacksonville fits perfectly with Ash’s M.O. prior to meeting fellow “ghostbeaters” Kelly and Pablo. That he does it under the guise of “saving” his new friends gives the decision a bit of emotional weight. We feel that even though he’s regressed, he’s at least grown in that he no longer sees himself as a lone wolf.

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AND NOW, THE CONCLUSION

(Although not really. We’re only 5 episodes deep.)

Season Two starts out with the pedal to the metal. No setup required. We already know Ash is partying hard in Jacksonville, and we could already guess Kelly and Pablo would be growing bored and restless, tagging along, likely waiting for Ash to come to his senses. What we probably didn’t guess is that Ash is a popular attraction. Everyone seems to love him. At first, I thought Jacksonville might be some sort of parallel dimension, but I suppose everyone is just drunk enough to find him and his chainsaw entertaining. When Ruby realizes she can’t fight the demon Baal on her own—she finds a picture of Ash in the Necronomicon—she then reneges on her part of the bargain, drawing Ash back to Elk Grove, where he grew up. (I suppose they changed his hometown from Dearborn, Michigan to Elk Grove for the same reason they changed S-Mart to Value Stop, due to a rights issue.) Everyone in Elk Grove knows him as “Ashy Slashy,” the crazy man who violently murdered his friends and sister in a cabin in the woods. It’s his biggest shame and plays into his hero/guilt complex brilliantly.

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The gang meets Ash’s dad, Brock Williams, who Ash told them was dead. (Ash’s dad told people Ash was dead, turnabout being fair play.) He’s played brilliantly by Lee Majors, a hard-drinking, hard-partying perv just like Ash. He doesn’t believe Ash’s story about the Necronomicon, and Ash is tired of trying. Or at least, he pretends he is. Their rivalry alone makes the first four episodes worth watching if nothing else. Though there is a lot to love in Season Two.

Firstly, it ups the ante with wild scenes of gore and brutal deaths. You’ve probably seen the NSFW clip that’s been making the rounds, and if not I won’t spoil it here. (You can watch the clip here if you’re really interested: http://bloody-disgusting.com/tv/3410013/nsfw-ash-vs-evil-dead-clip-everyones-talking. Or you can just watch the series, and you really should be watching it if you can.) It’s this kind of over-the-top stuff that makes the second season really shine. You can’t find anything else like it on TV, mostly because of a thing called Standards and Practices.

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Two, the jokes and interplay between characters are still on-point. There’s a scene where they’re discussing why Ruby is unable to find the Necronomicon and Ash “can’t fart without tripping over it”–it works so well because of the characters’ reactions, and Bruce Campbell’s gleefully stupid portrayal of Ash. I’ve watched it about a dozen times, and it makes me laugh. Every. Single. Time.

Third, Pablo and Kelly have their own storylines. Pablo, after having had his face torn off to adorn the cover of the Necronomicon, has now been seeing visions of possible futures. The book also calls to him, and he’s more susceptible to its allure. And Kelly is recruited by Ruby to find and kill her “spawn,” which she hopes will make it easier to send Baal back to Hell. Kelly is eager to prove herself, especially once Pablo reminds her of how much she doesn’t care that her life sucks.

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And lastly, Ash vs. Evil Dead burns through plotlines as quickly as Ash burns through beers. The second a new thread is introduced, the one leading up to it is burned (usually violently). Nothing grinds my gears more than a series that hinges on one minor plot point for an entire season, or half of one. It’s lazy writing and makes for damn boring TV.

Ash vs. Evil Dead Season Two keeps the twists coming fast and ferociously. So far, it’s better than the first season in almost every way, and I can’t wait for more.

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Duncan Ralston was born in Toronto and spent his teens in small-town Ontario. As a “grown up,” Duncan lives with his girlfriend and their dog in Toronto, where he writes dark fiction about the things that frighten, sicken, and delight him. In addition to his twisted short stories found in GRISTLE & BONE, the anthologies EASTER EGGS & BUNNY BOILERS, WHAT GOES AROUND, DEATH BY CHOCOLATE, FLASH FEAR, and the charity anthologies BURGER VAN and THE BLACK ROOM MANUSCRIPTS Vol. 1, he is the author of the novel, SALVAGE, and the novellas EVERY PART OF THE ANIMAL and WOOM, an extreme horror Black Cover book from Matt Shaw Publications. You can read Duncan’s work on the altar of Amazon b(u)y following this link here.

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