Helloween Day Four: Final Prayer

October 4, 2016 0

 

A late addition to my list, Final Prayer also goes by the title of The Borderlands. This movie is another recommendation of British horror writer Adam Nevill. The article in question is here, and well worth reading. Final Prayer is a British found-footage movie, available to rent on Amazon Prime for $3.99 (cheap!).

The plot: a priest records a paranormal experience in his church during a baptism (which turns out to be important). The Vatican’s spook squad gets called in, so I guess the priest isn’t Anglican. The boys from Rome send in an investigative team to debunk the video. They’re the anti-miracle squad, I guess.

The team consists of Deacon, a Scottish priest; Gray, the tech guy; and Father Amidon, who hates Deacon. The priests are skeptics, which makes sense considering that 99% of the cases they investigate are utter bullshit. Unfortunately, this case is the other 1%.

The town is in the middle of nowhere, a place where the local kids light sheep on fire for fun. The investigators must wear head cameras for the duration of the investigation to establish a timeline. The priests think their fellow priest is making the whole thing up; Gray, who isn’t religious, believes him.

Gray puts video cameras and microphones all over the church. Most of the phenomena he records is auditory, creaks and groans and bumps and crying children. We learn that the church is built over a pagan worship site, where the locals worshipped things that came to Britain before Christ.

Is Final Prayer scary? I got through it without too much of a problem, although I did let out a few shrieks that startled my cat. There are jump scares. The acting is good. We come to know and like Deacon and Gray, although neither is all that likable at the movie’s start.

I got confused a little at Final Prayer’s climax, because two of the characters wear glasses and I got them mixed up. Apparently, the ending is controversial. I’m not sure how I feel about it, myself. I guess I’d need to see the movie again.

Final Prayer is worth a view, especially if you like found-footage. The best line of the movie comes during a pub conversation between Gray and Deacon, where Gray says (paraphrasing) – ‘the pagans worshipped things that were there. You worship something that’s not there. If your god and their god fought, I know who I’d put my money on.’

Not as scary as Across the River, but still good. Recommended!

Helloween Day Two: Across the River

October 2, 2016 0

Adam Nevill, one of my favorite horror writers, recommended Across the River. The link to the article is here. The movie’s in Italian with English subtitles, but that doesn’t matter because there’s almost no dialogue. I watched it for free on Amazon Prime.

The plot: Marco catches, tags and then releases animals back into the wild. I don’t know why he does this because I’m not an ethologist myself, but driving around in an RV, trapping beasties and mounting cameras on their backs so he can watch videotape of them skulking around in the dark seems pretty cool.

Marco sees something odd on video that makes him follow one of his ‘charges.’ He drives his RV across the river, which is dangerously high because of the flooding, and ends up in a deserted village in the middle of the woods. Except the village isn’t really deserted. There are the animals…it must be the animals that scream in the night. Then he sees a thing that’s not an animal, but by then it’s too late. The river has risen.

He’s trapped. But he’s not alone…

Set in Italy, Across the River features beautiful scenery and an atmospheric soundtrack. The abandoned village is creepy as hell, and the director knows how to milk the dread from a scene. The first half is better than the second. I didn’t find Marco’s actions unrealistic; he makes a mistake, but he’s just a guy doing his job, which makes what he goes through that much worse.

There’s a lot to like about Across The River. Depending on your temperament, this will either be unbearably boring or a brown underwear movie. The Blair Witch Project comes to mind, although this isn’t a found footage movie. The first part of the movie also reminded me of “The Ritual,” the Adam Nevill novel.

Did Across The River scare me? Yes. It made me abandon my ‘no remote’ resolution. If you like your horror movies atmospheric and scary, check this one out; if you prefer lots of action and gore, skip it.

 

Halloween Day One: Lips of Blood!

October 1, 2016 0

lips-of-blood

 

Lips of Blood is a 1975 movie directed by Jean Rollin. The first time I heard of Jean Rollin was on Neil Gaiman’s blog. Gaiman used the phrase ‘Euro Trash,’ which made my ears prick up. I didn’t know what Euro Trash meant, but there’s no denying I liked the sound of it. After watching a few of Rollin’s movies I decided Euro Trash meant sleaze, violence, gore and gratuitous sex & nudity. You know, the good stuff.

Lips of Blood is set in Paris, although the Eiffel Tower is nowhere to be seen. It’s in French with English subtitles. I saw it for free on YouTube, and the picture quality wasn’t great. Anyone familiar with Jean Rollin’s work will be unsurprised to learn that this movie features lots of female vampires.

The plot: 32 year-old Frederic sees a photo of a castle at a wine & cheese party, a photo that triggers a repressed memory of a twelve year old Frederic meeting a beautiful young girl at that selfsame castle. Frederic decides that he must return to the mysterious castle because he’s still in love with the girl, but dark forces – led by his Mom! – are hell-bent on stopping him.

At one point the ghost/projection/vision of the beautiful young girl leads Frederic to a tomb, where he accidentally frees four female vampires. These fetching creatures of the night wear fake-looking fangs and not much else. At one point they drink the blood of the night watchman while the camera focuses on their bloody lips. Thus, the title!

Is Lips of Blood scary? No. There are lots of naked women, though, which means this flick would probably earn an X rating if it were shown today. The creepiest scene occurs when Frederic enters a tomb to find a life-sized mannequin of a praying Virgin Mary, which I kept expecting to reanimate and leap into the air.

Lips of Blood is like all the other Jean Rollin movies I’ve seen. No budget, but eye-catching imagery and an interesting premise kept me watching until the end. Rollin directed over fifty movies, and my favorites – made in the late 60’s, early 70’s – all have the word ‘vampire’ in the title. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him on a best-of horror list, which is a shame because I like his movies. They’re cheaply made, badly acted with awful effects, but I can never shake the feeling that he’s better than the material he’s working with.

Or maybe it’s all those female vampires with fake fangs.

Animosity #1 by Marguerite Bennett and Rafael de LaTorre

September 29, 2016 0

Animosity is published by Aftershock comics and is the latest work from Marguerite Bennett, featuring stunning art work by Rafael de La Torre. There’s a richness and a texture to the drawings that would render them almost storybook quality.

Except that this is a horror comic. Undisputedly.

You might know Marguerite Bennett’s work from DC Bombshells, an interesting spin/retcon of DC heroines. This isn’t that.

On page two, all the animals in the world of Animosity become consciously sentient, capable of judging right and wrong. They become, well, like humans think of themselves as being. And they have all the same issues with being used or eaten or enslaved that you think they might. There’s a sequence which shows several very short stories of the animals gaining sentience, and it is a horrific four pages, tiny stories of immeasurable sadness or anger or horror or love. The rest of the comic is good, but it doesn’t measure up to all of those tiny stories.

The main story centers on a bloodhound, Sandhor, who awakens to realize how much love he has for the little girl who spends the most time with him, Jesse. In a world where animals want revenge against humans for many, many wrongs, Sandhor decides to protect Jesse as though she were his family. The comic will follow them through this new landscape. I am very interested to see what happens next, and heartily recommend the comic to you.

You can still get in on this limited series, but it’s hot. I understand it’s going back for a 4th printing. That’s good news for Aftershock and its creators.

Helloween: 31 Nights, 31 Movies

September 28, 2016 0

I love horror movies, even though I have trouble watching them. So why am I planning to watch thirty-one horror flicks I’ve never seen for Halloween? I do watch horror movies around Halloween, but it’s always stuff I’ve seen before. Halloween, The Exorcist, Dracula, The Wolf Man, Dawn of the Dead. All the old stand-byes…

((BTW, Jaws is one of my favorite horror movies, but you have to watch it during the summer. There’s a rule about that.))

As the years have rolled by, I feel like I’ve gotten stodgy and staid. I’ve seen these movies so many times they aren’t even scary anymore. So this year I’m trying a different approach. This year I’m challenging myself!

Here’s the details: I have a list of thirty-six movies, below, and I’m using a Random Number Generator to determine what movie I’ll watch. This adds uncertainty to the mix. Also, if I can’t finish a movie, I have five alternates. I’m also going to lose the remote control. No fast forwarding or pausing. I will be watching the movies between September 28th and October 25th. I’m traveling towards the end of October, so I won’t be watching anything at that point.

((I will be live-tweeting some or all of the movies, using the following hashtags: #nameofthemovie and #helloween))

How did I choose? Recommendations from friends, best-of lists, stuff like that. I don’t think there are any sequels, and I’m limiting myself to one movie per director. I’m trying to be eclectic, although these flicks do conform to my tastes. I don’t like torture porn, although I think at least one of the movies on the list might qualify (Cannibal Holocaust). There’s also a shaky cam flick (REC), even though they make me dizzy. I spent most of The Blair Witch Project nauseous and annoyed at the characters bickering about that stupid map.

I’m sure most of these movies have jump scares. I have an unfortunate history of shrieking in movie theaters. There’s a scene in Night Breed, hardly a horror classic, where one of the characters opens the fridge, whereupon I gave out a great shriek. The resulting laughter from my fellow audience members defused the actual jump scare. Luckily, the walls of my apartment are thick enough so that nobody will hear me scream…

I think I’m up for this! Thanks to Pokémon Go, I’ve lost twenty pounds so I think my heart can deal with the strain. I’ll post an article the next day detailing my reactions, any bad dreams, seizures when the cat jumps me in the dark, taps on the windows, chest pains, whether I slept with the lights on, etc. Oh, also whether I liked the movie.

Just so you know…my favorite horror movie is The Exorcist. I saw it at my local theater when it was rereleased a few years ago. Sitting in a darkened theater with a bunch of teenagers, I was shocked that they spent most of the movie laughing.

Did they think this was funny?

Was I getting old?

Anyway, here’s the list:

Babadook (2015)
Berberian Sound Stage (2012)
Beyond (1981)
Brood (1979)
Cannibal Holocaust (1980)
Changeling (1980)
Conjuring (2013)
Dead Snow (2010)
Devil’s Backbone (2002)
Don’t Look Now (1973)
Event Horizon (1997)
Ghostwatch (1992)
Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2015)
House of the Devil (2009)
Hunger (1983)
Innocents (1961)
Insidious (2011)
It Follows (2014)
Ju-On: The Grudge (2002)
Let the Right One In (2008)
Lips of Blood (1975)
M (1931)
Mulholland Drive (2001)
Near Dark (1987)
Others (2001)
Possession (1981)
REC (2009)
Salem’s Lot (1979)
Silence of the Lambs (1991)
Sinister (2013)
Spring (2014)
Suspiria (1977)
We Are What We Are (2013)
The Witch (2016)
Tucker & Dale vs. Evil (2010)
Wolfen (1981)

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.

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