Ash Versus Evil Dead. Groovy.

September 16, 2016 0

The husband and I  have been eagerly awaiting the release of Ash Versus Evil Dead Season One from Starz Original. It was released and promptly sold out at every local outlet we checked. A shout out to the Barnes and Noble that I am writing in THIS VERY MINUTE for getting us our copy of the 10-episode series.

Now, I know technically this would be a better review to post NEXT month, but I understand that things are gonna get crazy like Halloween woah around here next month, so I thought Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi deserved to get a little loving early, and you might want to hunt this series down, and yeah, it’s gonna take some advance warning and leg work on your part, because it’s immensely popular.

For those not in the know: Sam Raimi, now a fairly well-known director started his career making horror films, notably Evil Dead and its remake Evil Dead 2. His buddy from high school, Bruce Campbell, was Ash, the less than brilliant hero of the classic “Don’t go into the woods, kids, unless you want to unleash unspeakable evil” movie. Campbell and Raimi are artists who started humbly, and are cult figures to many fans. Raimi went on to direct Hercules and Xena and the initial 3 Spider-Man films. Campbell has starred in Brisco County Junior, Jack of All Trades, and Burn Notice. And yet…

…the thing these two guys have been asked all the time is this: Why haven’t you made another Evil Dead film? Hey, wasn’t Army of Darkness enough? Apparently not. How about that other Evil Dead movie those other guys made with Raimi’s blessing? Close, but no cigar, we hear. So, okay, fine. But instead of a movie, isn’t a series better? Especially when that series has already been renewed for season two?

The answer appears to be a resounding yes. I keep telling people I’m not a horror fan, especially of films where people get carved up regularly by a man with a chainsaw arm. That said, yeah, Ash Versus Evil Dead is about as good as this genre can get. It’s pure, unadulterated camp. Since the events of the previous film, Ash has been laying low, continuing his gainful employment at ValueMart and trying to avoid the Deadites that could crop up in his life. One night while smoking marijuana, Ash makes a bad judgment call to impress the woman he’s with, and reads from the flesh-covered Necronomicon, which he’s been keeping in his trailer. Evil awakens, and Ash goes on the run, first to destroy the book, and then to do what he does best–fight evil.

Ash is not alone on this journey. With him is Pablo, played by Ray Santiago, his buddy from ValueMart who has natural brujo talents; Kelly, played by Dana DeLorenzo, a new ValueMart employee upon whom Pablo has designs; and Jill Marie Jones as cop Amanda Fisher, whose partner is killed early on by the Deadites. Lucy Lawless ducks in and out of the plot as the mysterious Ruby Knowby.

So, there’s lots of Karo syrup colored red to look like blood, and plenty of goofy jokes, lots of chainsaws grinding, and hapless people turned into Deadites. No one except Ash is truly safe in the show, and there are a few twists and turns, one that even made me gasp because I didn’t see it coming. It’s pretty good stuff, if you like your slasher films to be parody. Do they capture the magic? Yes. Ash is older, but in his essentials, he remains the same. Pablo and Kelly are loyal to Ash, some might say to a fault, and Amanda eases into the show as the comedic straightman, but comes into her own.

If you like comedy, horror, or the original Evil Dead, you’re probably gonna want to see this. If rationed properly, that’s 10 nights of quality Halloween month viewing in your future.

Book Review: The Phantom Killer: Unlocking the Mystery of the Texarkana Serial Murders

September 6, 2016 0

I learned about the Phantom serial killings after watching Killer Legends, a horror-documentary that examines the origins of various urban legends. The director, Joshua Zeman, also directed Cropsey, a documentary well-worth seeing. The book came to my attention when James Presley, the author of The Phantom Killer, was interviewed in the documentary about the murders.

Here are the basic facts: a person or persons unknown attacked eight young people in the Texarkana area, targeting couples necking in cars in lover’s lanes. He killed five people; three escaped. This was in 1946, decades before Robert Ressler coined the term serial killer. The author does a fine job detailing the investigation, which by today’s standards was shoddy. The lawmakers in question had never dealt with serial killings and focused on motives like robbery or revenge, trying to locate enemies of the couples. This was the wrong approach, as most serial killers do not know their victims.

A man named Youell Swinney was picked up by the police and immediately became the Number One Suspect, for reasons I still don’t quite understand. It seems that one of the investigators came up with the theory that the killer might be using stolen cars, and Swinney was a known car thief who operated in the area. Investigators placed Swinney near the crime scenes on the nights of the murders. However, they had nothing more than circumstantial evidence on him.

Peggy, Swinney’s wife, gave a statement to the effect that her husband was the Phantom, claiming that she witnessed two of the murders, but as his wife Texas law forbade her from testifying against him. From the author’s account, it’s doubtful she would have made a good witness. Eventually, Swinney was convicted as a habitual offender – he had a long list of crimes, ranging from petty theft, burglary and counterfeiting and escalating to assault and car theft – and given a life sentence (Texas had a three strikes and you’re out law). He was released in 1973 and spent the rest of his life in and out of jail.

The first half of The Phantom Killer is by far more interesting. Mr. Presley paints a vivid picture of Texarkana in 1946 and gives us a detailed description of the crime and subsequent investigation, conducted by a number of colorful lawmen. The second half of the book lagged, focusing on Swinney and how investigators attempted and ultimately failed to build a case against him.

The obvious question is whether Swinney was indeed the Phantom. The author is convinced he was. Please note that Mr. Presley’s uncle was a sheriff deeply involved in the Phantom case, so he can hardly be called unbiased. After reading this book, I wasn’t convinced. Lawmakers never had anything more than circumstantial evidence against Swinney, and it seems doubtful a jury would have sent him to the electric chair on that basis. The other question that comes up is whether Swinney had adequate legal representation, which is perhaps of greater interest to legal scholars.

I drew three conclusions from reading The Phantom Killer: 1. Swinney could have been the Phantom; 2. Lawmakers couldn’t prove Swinney was the Phantom; 3. Swinney was sent to prison – fairly or unfairly – for a number of lesser crimes using laws then on the books.

I’m still unsure why Swinney suddenly became the main suspect. To me, it looks like lawmen decided that the killer was also a car thief, which automatically made Swinney – a known car thief – their number one suspect. Strangely, they never had two of the survivors try to pick Swinney out of a lineup, even though one of them said her assailant had a voice she’d never forget.

And then there’s Peggy Swinney’s statement. Actually, statements would be more accurate. Her first account of the night of the double murder is full of inconsistencies. Her revised statement, made months later, is much more coherent, mentioning a number of crucial details she’d omitted in her first account. Amazingly, Ms. Swinney’s memory of the events of that night seemed to become clearer with the passage of time; either that, or she was coached, picking up salient details over the course of multiple interrogations.

The Phantom Killer contains a fair bit of psychobabble about why Swinney was such an unpleasant character. It is undeniable that Swinney was a sociopath, displaying violent and antisocial tendencies. He could have been The Phantom, and the murders ceased after his imprisonment. It is also undeniable that lots of people in Texarkana –by the author’s own admission, a hotbed of crime – had similar psychological profiles and could have been the Phantom also.

So did the Phantom Killer escape justice? It’s hard for me to believe that he just stopped killing, although apparently sometimes serial killers do. My feeling is that he either killed himself or was jailed for another crime. Was the Phantom Killer Youell Swinney? He fits the profile, but we’ll never know.

Book Review: Beyond Your Touch and A Hold on Me by Pat Esden

August 29, 2016 1

Pat Esden’s books are my first foray into New Adult fiction. I held a stereotype that New Adult is largely a soft porn delivery system. Now, Pat’s work is in fact very steamy and very humid.  Not only is her work satisfying on that front, but also it delivers a story punch as well.  Both A Hold on Me and Beyond Your Touch are published by Kensington.

So…spoilers about the first book. Be careful here.

Pat’s series starts with A Hold on Me, in which our heroine, Annie, discoveries that her past has been altered to protect her from knowledge of how her father’s magical family is involved in a war fighting djinn. As a child, Annie did not warn her family about how her mother was being visited by a djinn, and she feels responsible for her mother’s kidnapping. All of this is revealed against a backdrop of Annie’s father’s possession, cure, and reconciliation with his family. Also, there’s this guy named Chase, who happens to be half-ifrit, half-human, and all hot.

The next book, coming out in September, is Beyond Your Touch. Annie and Chase are now in a full-fledged, torrid and sexy relationship. Tension is introduced in two ways–a rescue mission will be launched to the djinn realms to rescue Annie’s mom, and in order to go to the djinn realms, the assistance of a magical flute player, Lotli, is required. Annie is convinced that something is up between Chase and Lotli, especially after Chase cools it with Annie so he can concentrate on the mission. Annie discovers more about her new family and her role in it. The mission to the djinn realm does not go as planned, and the book ends with the stakes higher than the book began.

If you’ve never read New Adult and you’d like to give it a try, I would recommend Pat Esden’s books. The story and the hot sex are co-conspirators in a partnership that pulls you in and keeps you moving through the story. Whether you are a lover of romance, or adventure, there’s plenty here to satisfy both those interests. I particularly found the subject matter interesting, as I have done some research regarding djinn and Solomon for my own work, so it’s nice to see how someone else interprets it.

A Hold on Me is available now. If you act very quickly, you may have just enough time to finish it before Beyond Your Touch arrives at your local bookstore.

Book Review: Hostage to the Devil!

December 27, 2015 0

Say-tan take my hand

One of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time. According to the author, Say-tan (one of this book’s many gems is learning the correct way to say the Devil’s name in case you’re ever at a Black Mass) has been a busy boy. Among other things, the author believes that the Satanic Ritual Panic of the early 80’s really happened; one of the many signs that far from writing a serious religious treatise, he has penned a crackpot New Age book. There is quite a bit of material about the Satanic Scare of the 80’s written by psychologists and law enforcement agents. The author either didn’t bother doing his research or just chose to ignore it. This is not surprising. I get the impression that he will pretty much believe anything, as long as it’s couched in religious jargon.

Most of this book is spent railing against the fact that the Earth has entered the 21st century. Goddamn kids these days are such easy prey for Say-tan. The stories of the exorcisms are pretty much pure fantasy. I’m not belittling what these people (if they even exist) went through, because mental illness isn’t a funny thing. I seriously doubt they were possessed by anything, although the author himself harbors no such doubts.

Mr. Martin would have been a great horror writer; and I mean that as a compliment, not an insult. He pulls off the neat trick of linking the exorcists with the possessed; in these ‘case studies,’ the victims aren’t even important. They are set pieces to test the exorcists’ faith. For example: one of the exorcists blasphemously believes in evolution. The demon uses this crack in his holy armor to hammer at his faith. Luckily, the exorcist discards this belief for something more suitably Middle Ages, and all is well again!

My only quibble with this book is that the author’s prose sometimes flies off into flights of crapulastic verbal ecstasy, making one worry that he himself has been possessed by a bloviating devil.

Say-tan would be so proud!

1 3 4 5