horror, Movies

This Is It Follows

It Follows is a love letter to early horror.  David Robert Mitchell knows his stuff, and certainly knows his influences.  Carpenter’s style and tone are all over this thing alongside Hooper, Craven, Cunningham, and Raimi.  It Follows proudly displays it’s late 70s, early 80s roots.  Every detail in the film is a part of this time capsule from the filter to the costumes to the décor to the music to the strange almost out-of-place wrongness to the It following.  As a result, the entire experience has a feeling of a lost era about it, a sense – strange as this sounds as I type it out – of mothballs and mummies buried low beneath the ground.  The texture is perfect, simultaneously familiar and displacing.

Horror has a long history with disbelief, a history It Follows is a proud part of.  Little time is spent explaining the threat of It Follows, a fact which works in the film’s favor forcing audiences to either get on board or wonder just what in the world is happening.  The immediacy of “this is what you’re dealing with, there it is, now run” has an interesting juxtaposition to it given how jolting the realization of what’s happening is when laid against the steady pace of the “creature” itself.  Where a fair amount of modern horror relies on the quick scare, It Follows relishes in the breath you think you’re catching.  You will lower your guard, and it will always be at the wrong time.

There are very few missteps.  One of the main characters could be removed entirely and you wouldn’t notice.  A second main character could be removed entirely and you would nearly not notice.  Without giving away much of anything, the supporting cast exists solely to enforce the film’s mechanism with little in the way of development or purpose.  And, though I loved it, the music too can be off-putting, a nod to the era it’s inspired from without Carpenter’s more delicate guidance.

It Follows is the best horror film I’ve seen since Let The Right One In.

Books, horror

This Is The Family Buried

Last of the trio.

The Family Buried is not quite autobiographical, though like most written-of moments, it was inspired by a handful of real-life events.  My wife and I once owned a farmhouse creeping close to two-hundred years old, a place ripe for such imaginings, and though nothing occurred so sinister as the unfolded plot, there were a handful of moments which worked their way in.

Recommended, obviously.

You can find the short story over on Amazon HERE.  If you’re a member of Kindle’s Unlimited program, you can download it for free (instead of the staggering price of one dollar).  If you’re a member of Goodreads, you can download it for free there as well.

I’ll get back to less narcissistic reviews next week.

Books, horror

This Is One Day October

One Day October is my first novel, published a little over two years ago.  The goal was to go back to horror roots in a way, focusing on classics like vampires (non sparkly), werewolves, and haunted houses.  In an effort to connect them, the book takes place over the course of a single day and is told through six short stories all intersecting at a number of points.  From the synopsis:

Every building, every tree, every piece that takes up space on this earth leaves a residue. An imprint.

James Jeni found that out when he moved his family into the home on Creekside. It’s a beautiful place with all the room a young family could ask for. But when he begins renovations, James discovers a diary that warns of the house’s dark secret, and of the family who disappeared within.

Father Abraham Ferraro is no stranger to dark secrets. He’s been battling the undead longer than most of us have been alive. When his protégé Professor Jonathan Landers brings him news on a string of murders, Abraham’s worst fears are confirmed. Maybe he’ll get lucky and the killer won’t be the creature he dreads most. Maybe today won’t turn out to be his worst ever.

Today is the best day of Allison Jane’s life. Sure she has to work for one of the most terrifying women in the city, but after getting a raise and a promotion, what’s not to be thankful for? Of course, if she knew she was going to die before the clock struck twelve, well, Allison might be a little less celebratory. Francis didn’t mean to kill her. He doesn’t even know what he is, only that when the moon is full, like it is tonight, he changes.

Set over the course of a single day, a series of six stories bring together the miraculous and the mundane. Some people will wake up. Have breakfast. Kiss their loved ones good bye. And others, like James and Allison, must meet the incredible with unflinching eyes.

You can find the novel HERE.

As always, thoughts are welcome.

Books, horror

This Is The Man In Christopher’s Closet

A little over a year ago, I won Writer’s Digest’s 9th Annual Popular Fiction contest with my short story The Man in Christopher’s Closet.  In starting to write these reviews, I realized I hadn’t yet shared my fiction work here, and I thought doing so might be a good change of pace.  There are three I’d like to share which should cover this week, starting with Christopher.

You can read the story on Writer’s Digest’s site HERE .  In keeping with the theme of the site, I’d like to hear your thoughts – good and bad – either in a comment or a PM.  Maybe sometime down the road, I’ll compile them for a user review.  For my part, I’d say “Recommended”, though that should be a given.

Board Game, horror

This Is Elder Sign

I’m a fan of Lovecraft.  His mythos, along with the help of August Derleth, is among some of my favorites.  I’ve always been drawn to the idea of hidden worlds, uneasy truths at the corners of our vision.  There’s something startling about a force so much greater than ourselves which can upend reality with a thought or a word (or a look) which we, in our smallness, can do nothing about.  Lovecraft thrust ordinary people into the presence of these impossibilities, the results of which are never good.  Always interesting, but never good.  There’s The Festival, a long walk through the darkness of Kingsport.  The famous The Call of Cthulhu.  My personal favorite, The Colour Out of Space, reminds me of my youth in the strangest way and forest behind my house I refused to go in.  These Lovecraftian Things hit the world like a thunderclap, and the people they encounter are swept easily with their coming like so many pieces of flotsam.  How does one rise against Azathoth?

With dice.  Obviously.

I’m a fan of board games.  Not traditional ones, necessarily – though they have their place – but more, say, thorough choices like A Touch of Evil, Cosmic Encounter, or Battlestar Galactica.  I love Arkham Horror, a Lovecraft inspired battle through the streets of Arkham and other worlds, but it’s cumbersome.  Ridiculously.  With all of the possible expansions laid out end-to-end and shuffled together – and I’ve got them all – you spend more time setting up than you do playing, and it’s a four plus hour game.  It’s a shame, because it means it rarely hits my table.  Even then latest Eldritch Horror curbs this some (and is amazing), but the set-up and gameplay of it can take a while too.

Thankfully, there’s Elder Sign, a dice game with all of the Lovecraft and none of the mess.  Very little mess.  The game takes place in Arkham’s museum where the players, known as Investigators, solve riddles, navigate cosmic portals, and do battle with Star Spawns, Nightgaunts, and Cultists.  Players choose an available encounter, often a particular room within the museum where an event is taking place, and roll dice to complete various patterns found on the encounters.  For example, one encounter may force you to roll a skull-skull-magnifying glass pattern (in a single roll), where another is two eldritch symbols, represented by a cluster of tentacles.  Of course.  Players can use items found throughout the museum to help with these encounters, some in the form of health, others in the form of special red or yellow die which ups your chances of getting the symbols you need to win.  The main thing you’re looking for are Elder Signs – symbols in the mythos which look like this – these helping you seal the gateways the chosen Ancient One is using to breach worlds.

That’s the entire goal: for Investigators to stop the Ancient One from awakening and doing very-bad-things.  Sometimes eating the universe.  Sometimes driving everyone insane.  Sometimes making the DMV a year-long process.  Every Ancient One affects the overall tone of the game in a unique way.  Take Yig, for example, the Father of Serpents.  The two main resources an Investigator has is Health and Sanity.  If any ever hit 0, the Investigator is devoured (dramatically), and removed from the game.  Those necessary Elder Signs I told you about a paragraph ago?  Yig takes one away should any Investigator be devoured, or if Investigators ever defeat a Cultist.  Cthulhu, however, reduces everyone’s base stamina and sanity by 1 making it that much easier to start chewing your tongue.

I know rolling dice doesn’t sound super exciting, but I love it.  There’s a very strong risk/reward mechanic which makes me feel like I’m playing a game of Press Your Luck, minus the Whammies, and a number of decisions you need to weigh when choosing what encounters to tackle and when.  Rounds are marked with a timer in the form of a clock, and after each turn, it goes from midnight to three, six, nine, and back to twelve.  With each new “day” a new set of parameters come into play – much like how the Ancient One will change things up – some giving Investigators breathing room, others pushing the big bad that much closer to tearing a hole in the fabric of reality.  So, do you take things slow, chipping away at “known” victories, or do you head for more dangerous encounters, arming yourself with a Tome and a Shotgun, while praying to whatever god you believe is merciful to get you out alive?

Great with friends, great solo.  So completely recommended.  There’s nothing better than being driven to the edge of madness and having one roll of the die left to either save or engulf the world.

As a brief aside, you can also get Elder Sign for Android or iOS.  A bit of a different experience, but the core is similar.  Though you can form your own narrative with the physical game, the digital version focuses a bit more or storytelling, and that’s something I really enjoy.  Also recommended.

horror, Movies

This is Critters

Welcome to Halloween week, also known as Horror week, also known as just week in my home.  If it is some other time of the year when you happen to stumble upon this blog or post, try and tie Halloween into whatever you have going on in your life as best you can in order to find these topics applicable.

First up: Critters.

In light of last week’s The Monster Squad review, I got to thinking of the movies I loved when I was younger, and the ones I hadn’t seen in a long time.  Critters was near the top of that invisible list, holding space alongside Hellraiser, Poltergeist, Gremlins (yes, Gremlins counts as horror), Fright Night, Child’s Play, Pumpkinhead – you get the idea – with Critters in the end being the only one I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen.

I may have not been aware enough at that age to realize horror-comedy was a thing.  There’s always some laughs or ridiculousness which puts the audience at ease – something A Nightmare on Elm Street was masterful at – but actual comedy there right alongside the scares was, to me then, rare as far as I remember.  It’s possible, and very likely, I took Critters at face value, ignoring the science fiction elements, ignoring the humor, focusing instead on these rolling creatures the size of a Popple who fly spaceships, eviscerate cows, shoot poisoned quill-things, swear (a lot), push over bikes menacingly, and generally terrorize a poor family who just wanted to go to a bowling tournament.

Small side rant/thought.  Jay, the dad in the film, spends a good chunk of the movie in his team’s bowling shirt.  It’s a pin made to look like the ghost from Ghostbusters, complete with the logo, and the name Pinbusters fanned out beneath.  I bowled when I was little.  It’s the only “sport” I’ve ever found myself somewhat competent in, and growing up, there wasn’t much else to do in my town.  I remember there being a Pinbusters team.  I remember there also being a Gutterdusters, who I’ve found at a number of other bowling places over the years.  A part of me wonders, even hopes, bowling team names are a piece of the universal condition, like morality, etched onto our DNA and imprinted in stardust, where perhaps, perhaps, when we find life millenia from now in some far arm of the galaxy, they too will have bowling teams, and they too will be the Pinbusters and the Gutterdusters.

This is my dream.

Okay back.  There is a music video which seems to be the only thing playing on the television anywhere in this sad Kansas town.  Not only is it a great excuse for hair metal, it actually acts as a strange plot piece.  The bounty hunters sent to track down the Critters (also known as Krites) and destroy them are faceless, glowing green-skinned human shaped things, which I suppose works well for blending in with the locals, unless the locals happen to reside in a very small place where everyone seems to know everyone else, and they grow suspicious when Reverend Miller is suddenly dressed in a leather duster and holding a giant cannon/shock vac nuking the inside of a church.  Johnny Steele – the musician – has his video seen by Ur – one of the bounty hunters – because of course that’s what you watch during interstellar travel, and Ur chooses to take Johnny’s face and use it as his own.  The effects of the face-swap is pretty good for 80s standards, and still holds up (in fact, most of the movie does), and acts as a bit of a fun element with the other bounty hunter, who seems to have no name, constantly morphing from person to person, presumably to find the best fit.  What I love as an adult is the strangeness of the film universe.  There really is no premise – Krites escape from (I think) prison and the hunters are sent to chase them down – though there are nods to a more fleshed-out mythology.  Maybe it’s explored in the other 3 Critters flicks, I don’t remember, but I want to say they went the way of so many other franchises and chose straight-up comedy, which leads me to believe not.  Still: some cool elements I’d actually like more of.  Heck, I’d even take a reboot or a new, legitimate, entry, and that’s something I never say.  More sci-fi bits please.

Anyhow, coming back to it twenty-some years later was a great thing.  It’s cheesy, yes, but so many of the films from that time are, which is something I love about them.  They almost act as guilty pleasures without crossing over that narrow line into awful.  I known I’d show it to my wife and she’d frown at me the whole time, and rightly so, but for someone predisposed to liking this sort of thing, it checks out, and manages to be both creepy and fun.  Still.

You should watch it.  If the above doesn’t sell you, it also features Billy Zane with a fantastic set of broccoli hair and nub ponytail, who (spoiler) gets gnawed on by a Critter for a good minute.  Doubly recommended as a result.

horror, Movies

This Is The Monster Squad

A quick prologue for you by way of a story.

When I was younger, I had to have a few teeth removed.  I want to say this was around third grade or so, which puts me close to ten.  Post-“surgery”, I’m hungry, and it’s dinner time, so mom makes me some spaghetti which I put on a T.V. tray – our family’s version of a dinner table – and stuck The Monster Squad into the VCR.  My copy was rough, beaten down already by dozens of viewings, and recorded off of the television which gave it those lines of static blipping through the screen like a heart monitor.  About ten minutes in, if that, long enough for Van Helsing to send the crystal shooting through time and space, but not long enough for Rudy to come riding in on his bike, I look down, and find myself covered in noodles and sauce.  To cross-film pollinate: my chest is a scene from Alien.  This is important for two reasons, both of which explain my mother to you and, in turn, me.  One: she thought it would be funny to feed me spaghetti with a face still dentist-numb.  I, trusting her, took my food without thinking ahead.  And two: my love of horror.  This too was her doing, my dad not being a fan and her having no one to watch movies with.  In the same way dad taught me chess to have someone in the house to play against, mom indoctrinated me to Leatherface early.  Earlier than might be safe, even.

So The Monster Squad was my dream scenario growing up: kids my age forced to fight (and thwart) evil, saving the town from Dracula, The Wolf-Man, and Mummy (and Creature from the Black Lagoon and Vampire Brides, for good measure).  Frankenstein’s Monster is in the mix too, though Frank is good people here.  An innocent kid at heart.  Though the adventure is less grand, this is a horror-esque Goonies, kids thrown into a scenario where their imaginations are at play and, unfortunately, working to kill them.  It’s the classic set-up where they’re the only ones willing to believe what’s happening around them, and adults coming too late to the party.

And though the film is thick with cheese – a trait I would argue makes it better – the monsters are actually pretty faithful to their original counterparts.  At least Hollywood counterparts.  Dracula looks like Dracula and he’s entirely unkind.  He dresses the part which is a dead give-away to anyone paying attention, can turn into a bat, and drives a car (maybe a hearse) with a catchy skull hood ornament.  I’m not sure where he found the car, in a town that small, as he happened upon the Squad by way of falling bat-like from a plane, but it’s conveniently there and Draculanian.  New word.  Also, and maybe most important, he doesn’t glitter.  At all.  Well, his fangs do when he hisses, because he’s a vampire and they’re supposed to do that.  The Wolf-Man is more Lon Chaney than David Naughton, down to the ripped pants and shirt and desire to be upright.  More man-wolf than wolf-man, oddly, but there we are.  According to IMDB, Jon Gries who plays the role is known as “Desperate Man”, having no official name which I think is accurate, and making for a reluctant Werewolf, which I like.  He manages to be both terrifying and sympathetic.  Also, thankfully, I don’t think he’s ever shirtless.  At least not shirtless for the sake of being shirtless.  That’s nice.

I’ve graduated from VCR copy to DVD, and it holds up.  Still watch it at least once a year, same with Goonies.  It’s maybe a strange comparison, but both films are what I wanted my life to be when I was younger and living in a small(ish) town.  Invaders From Mars convinced me the air conditioning unit outside my bedroom window was a ship landing whenever it would come to life.  Critters had me second-guessing the basement.  Everything had me second-guessing the basement, I suppose, but that one stands out.  The Goonies made me believe there was a world behind this one, where the strange and the extraordinary exist right under the surface, hidden beneath the floorboards of an abandoned house or a wishing well and, in a number of ways, The Monster Squad did the same.  Even now I have my bouts of What-If, whenever the moon is up and I’m walking somewhere alone be it woods or field or street.  There are more possibilities in the dark, and as a kid, that’s all the world really is: unknown and unseen outside a small bubble.  Maybe that’s why it’s easier to believe then, and harder now.  I don’t know.

Recommended.  If you haven’t seen it, do.  If it’s been a while, track it down.  I have a buddy who hasn’t gone back to it because he was afraid Today-Him wouldn’t line up with Then-Him, and I personally find it an unwarranted fear.  Some things absolutely fall into that trap (Masters of the Universe, for starters, though I’ll admit to still having a Gwildor sized spot somewhere in me), but The Monster Squad isn’t one of them.  Closing in on 30 years later – vomit – the importance of friends, adventure, and silver bullets are just as relevant, and just as good.

In fact, I’m going to watch it tonight.