horror

REVIEW: “Bent Heavens” by Daniel Kraus

bent heavensI don’t normally review YA novels for the sheer fact that they so rarely appeal to me. I’m not a huge fan of a lot of the typical fare they cover (teenage drama, lots of romance, etc) so I tend to stay away from them. But I’ve read some of Daniel Kraus’ previous work, the most recent being his adaptation of The Shape of Water, and really enjoyed it. So, when I saw that he had a new book coming out and read the book’s synopsis, I was definitely intrigued. It sounded like the kind of thing that might be right up my alley (being an avid lover of Science Fiction and Horror), so it seemed like a fun book to look into. Having now finished it, I can say that it was a good decision on my part. It’s a really well-written story that does its damndest to defy the normal constraints of its genre. I really enjoyed it and I think it’ll be a good read for a number of different audiences – including, but not limited to, the YA crowd. (Mild spoilers may follow.)

Bent Heavens by Daniel Kraus
Liv Fleming’s father went missing more than two years ago, not long after he claimed to have been abducted by aliens. Liv has long accepted that he’s dead, though that doesn’t mean she has given up their traditions. Every Sunday, she and her lifelong friend Doug Monk trudge through the woods to check the traps Lee left behind, traps he set to catch the aliens he so desperately believed were after him.

But Liv is done with childhood fantasies. Done pretending she believes her father’s absurd theories. Done going through the motions for Doug’s sake. However, on the very day she chooses to destroy the traps, she discovers in one of them a creature so inhuman it can only be one thing. In that moment, she’s faced with a painful realization: her dad was telling the truth. And no one believed him.

Now, she and Doug have a choice to make. They can turn the alien over to the authorities…or they can take matters into their own hands.

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REVIEW: “The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek” by Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal

bleak creekI’ve been a fan of Rhett and Link’s for a while now. Their content is so wholesome and enjoyable – and they grew up fairly close to where I live – so it’s hard for me not to enjoy their stuff. My love of Rhett and Link is what led me to their first novel, The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek. Were it not to have been written by them, it likely would have never made its way onto my radar. But, with its connection to these YouTubers, I eagerly awaited the publication of the book, unsure of exactly what to expect. Well, having read The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek definitely feels like a first novel. And I don’t really mean that as an insult, but an author’s first novel is often very imperfect and that’s exactly what The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek is – imperfect. There are a lot of really good ideas and characters scattered throughout the book, but it’s all a bit hampered by too-few pages and uneven pacing. (Mild Spoilers for The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek follow.)

The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek by Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal
It’s 1992 in Bleak Creek, North Carolina—a sleepy little place with all the trappings of an ordinary Southern town: two Baptist churches, friendly smiles coupled with silent judgments, and an unquenchable appetite for pork products. Beneath the town’s cheerful façade, however, Bleak Creek teens live in constant fear of being sent to the Whitewood School, a local reformatory with a history of putting unruly youths back on the straight and narrow—a record so impeccable that almost everyone is willing to ignore the suspicious deaths that have occurred there over the past decade.

At first, high school freshmen Rex McClendon and Leif Nelson believe what they’ve been told: that the students’ strange demises were all just tragic accidents, the unfortunate consequence of succumbing to vices like Marlboro Lights and Nirvana. But when the shoot for their low-budget horror masterpiece, PolterDog, goes horribly awry—and their best friend, Alicia Boykins, is sent to Whitewood as punishment—Rex and Leif are forced to question everything they know about their unassuming hometown and its cherished school for delinquents.

Eager to rescue their friend, Rex and Leif pair up with recent NYU film school graduate Janine Blitstein to begin piecing together the unsettling truth of the school and its mysterious founder, Wayne Whitewood. What they find will leave them battling an evil beyond their wildest imaginations—one that will shake Bleak Creek to its core.

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REVIEW: “Headshots” (2019 Film)

HEADSHOTS2019AmzPoster3to4You never know what you’re gonna get with an indie/low-budget horror movie. You could get a movie that’s super charming and works really well within the constraints forced upon it (by budget/time/available talent/etc) or you could get something that’s truly appalling and devoid of any entertainment value whatsoever. Or you could get something somewhere in between, where it’s clear that a lot of love went into the creation of the film but some element of its making went catastrophically wrong. That’s the joy of looking into a low-budget horror movie. For every gem (like Rubber), there’s an enjoyable-yet-bad film (like Attack of the Killer Tomatoes), and at least three films that are too awful to watch (like Thankskilling, half the Troma catalog, or Birdemic). So, where does Headshots fall in this breakdown? Well, much to my surprise and enjoyment, it falls within the first camp. Headshots is a charming film that makes the most of its constraints and brings an interesting twist to its premise. (Mild spoilers follow!)

Headshots (written and directed by Chris O’Neill)
HEADSHOTS follows a young British actress who goes to LA to be a movie star- only to cross paths with a serial killer in her acting class.

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REVIEW: “Zombieland: Double Tap”

zombieland 2To say the first Zombieland film was a pretty solid horror-comedy feels like an understatement, but that’s what it was. At the time of its release, it felt groundbreaking as hell. Sure, it wasn’t the first comedic horror film (or even the first comedic zombie film), but it was one of the first films of its ilk to be as scary as it was funny. Audiences hadn’t really seen such a well-executed horror/meta-comedy since the days of the first Scream film and it hit pop culture with a splash before fading into obscurity. A sequel has long been requested, with the writers and director all saying they were working on one but didn’t want to make it until they felt they’d cracked the story. Well, it’s a full ten years after the release of the first film, and I guess they’ve cracked the story as Zombieland: Double Tap releases in theaters today. The two questions on everyone’s mind are: “is it good?” and “how does it compare to the first film?” Unfortunately, the answers to those questions aren’t too positive. (This review will be as spoiler-free as possible, but any elements that have been shown in trailers may be discussed.)

Zombieland: Double Tap (written by Rhett Reese, Paul Wernick, Dave Callaham; directed by Ruben Fleischer) 
A decade after Zombieland became a hit film and a cult classic, the lead cast (Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, and Emma Stone) have reunited with director Ruben Fleischer (Venom) and the original writers Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick (Deadpool) for Zombieland: Double Tap. In the sequel, written by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick and Dave Callaham, through comic mayhem that stretches from the White House and through the heartland, these four slayers must face off against the many new kinds of zombies that have evolved since the first movie, as well as some new human survivors. But most of all, they have to face the growing pains of their own snarky, makeshift family.

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REVIEW: “Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun” by Guillermo del Toro & Cornelia Funke

91ygin4voqlNovelizations of movies can really be a hit or miss affair. The best ones take the events that happen within a film and expand upon them in ways only a novel can do – bringing readers into the thoughts of the characters within a film and showing those same events from a different angle or with extra bits that the film might not have had time to show. Unfortunately, most film novelizations don’t do that – they to just be fairly strict prose conversions of the script. So, it’s with that mindset that I approached this “novelization” of Guillermo del Toro’s award-winning Pan’s Labyrinth – I hesitate to call this book a novelization because Pan’s Labyrinth came out thirteen years ago and most novelizations come out around the same time as the film they’re novelizing. With that context, it might be best to consider this book a retelling of the story featuring in the film – a screen-to-page adaptation, if you will, by a talented author – Cornelia Funke. As is always the case with any adaptation, does the story still work when transferred to this new medium? In the case of Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun, the answer is yes and no.

“Pan’s Labyrinth: The Labyrinth of the Faun” by Guillermo del Toro & Cornelia Funke
Oscar winning writer-director Guillermo del Toro and New York Times bestselling author Cornelia Funke have come together to transform del Toro’s hit movie Pan’s Labyrinth into an epic and dark fantasy novel for readers of all ages, complete with haunting illustrations and enchanting short stories that flesh out the folklore of this fascinating world.

This spellbinding tale takes readers to a sinister, magical, and war-torn world filled with richly drawn characters like trickster fauns, murderous soldiers, child-eating monsters, courageous rebels, and a long-lost princess hoping to be reunited with her family.

A brilliant collaboration between masterful storytellers that’s not to be missed.

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REVIEW: “Child’s Play” (2019 Film)

child's playThe Chucky/Child’s Play franchise is a really interesting one. It started off with a pretty standard horror film about a creepy doll before it devolved into a series of sequels that grew more and more comedic, eventually coming back around to more serious horror once again with the latest few sequels. But with so many sequels, the continuity of the series has become a bit difficult to follow. So, perhaps it was about time for a reboot to happen. Could new life be breathed into this old franchise by some new creatives? Or would it just end up being another in a long list of subpar remakes of classic horror films? With this new Child’s Play, it’s a bit of both. (Mild spoilers follow!)

Child’s Play (written by Tyler Burton Smith, directed by Lars Klevberg)
A contemporary re-imagining of the 1988 horror classic, Child’s Play follows Karen (Aubrey Plaza), a single mother who gifts her son Andy (Gabriel Bateman) a Buddi doll (voiced by Mark Hamill), unaware of its more sinister nature.

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REVIEW: “Alice Isn’t Dead: A Novel” by Joseph Fink

coverI’ve been a fan of Welcome to Night Vale, the podcast cocreated by Joseph Fink – author of this novel, Alice Isn’t Dead – and Jeffrey Cranor since around about 2013. It’s a lovely little podcast that perfectly mixes together a whole bunch of genres into its own little piece of brilliance. When it was announced that Fink and Cranor would launch an entire podcasting network, named “Night Vale Presents”, with a brand new podcast written by Joseph Fink, I was immediately interested. And then… I never got around to listening to it. It had a cool premise and seemed really intriguing and spooky, but I just never quite found the time. Then, it was announced earlier this year that Joseph Fink was going to turn that podcast, Alice Isn’t Dead, into a book that, essentially, told the same story as the podcast and I figured I’d just wait for the book to come out and experience the story in that medium. Months passed and I’ve now read the book and, I gotta tell ya, it’s really, really good.

From the New York Times bestselling co-author of It Devours! and Welcome to Night Vale comes a fast-paced thriller about a truck driver searching across America for the wife she had long assumed to be dead.

“This isn’t a story. It’s a road trip.”

Keisha Taylor lived a quiet life with her wife, Alice, until the day that Alice disappeared. After months of searching, presuming she was dead, Keisha held a funeral, mourned, and gradually tried to get on with her life. But that was before Keisha started to see her wife, again and again, in the background of news reports from all over America. Alice isn’t dead, and she is showing up at every major tragedy and accident in the country.

Following a line of clues, Keisha takes a job with a trucking company, Bay and Creek Transportation, and begins searching for Alice. She eventually stumbles on an otherworldly conflict being waged in the quiet corners of our nation’s highway system—uncovering a conspiracy that goes way beyond one missing woman.

Why did Alice disappear? What does she have to do with this secret war between inhuman killers? Why did the chicken cross the road? These questions, and many more will be answered in Alice Isn’t Dead.

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REVIEW: “You Might Be The Killer”

You Might Be The KillerWho doesn’t love a good scary movie around Halloween? I’m a bit of a wuss, so I like my scary movies to not be too scary. I enjoy being spooked but not being scared so far out of my wits that it’s unpleasant. Because of that, it’s often hard for me to find good, new scary movies to watch since so many modern horror movies rely on jump scares that just make me anxious to a degree that’s entirely unenjoyable. Then along comes You Might Be The Killer, written by Brett Simmons, Thomas P. Vitale, and Covis Berzoyne and directed by Brett Simmons. Based on a viral twitter thread from authors Chuck Wendig and Sam SykesYou Might Be the Killer is a horror-comedy where Sam (Fran Kranz) finds himself trapped at a summer camp, being hunted by a masked killer, and calls his friend Chuck (Alyson Hannigan) for help.

A camp counselor suffering from blackouts finds himself surrounded by murder victims. He turns to his horror movie enthusiast friend for advice, and to contend with the idea he may be the killer.

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REVIEW: “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Seek” by Anthony O’Neill

dr-jekyll-and-mr-seekThe Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson, was one of the only books given to me as assigned reading in high school that I actually enjoyed. It’s a wonderfully macabre Gothic novella that explores the duality of man within a really interesting sci-fi scenario. I enjoyed the book so much in high school that it actually led to me watching the fantastic BBC series Jekyll (a show that actually ended up being a really interesting sequel to the original story). So, naturally, when I saw that Anthony O’Neill’s Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Seek, a sequel to the original Jekyll & Hyde, I was immediately interested. The question is: how good is this book? Is it a worthy sequel to such an amazing original? The short answer is: no, not really. But it’s more complicated than that.

In this dark, atmospheric sequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s timeless classic, the strange case continues with the return of Dr. Jekyll . . .

Seven years after the death of Edward Hyde, a stylish gentleman shows up in foggy London claiming to be Dr. Henry Jekyll. Only Mr. Utterson, Jekyll’s faithful lawyer and confidant, knows that he must be an impostor―because Jekyll was Hyde.

But as the man goes about charming Jekyll’s friends and reclaiming the estate, and as the bodies of potential challengers start piling up, Utterson is left fearing for his life . . . and questioning his own sanity.

This brilliantly imagined and beautifully written sequel to one of literature’s greatest masterpieces perfectly complements, as well as subverts, Stevenson’s gothic classic. And where the original was concerned with the duality of man, the sequel deals with the possibility of identity theft of the most audacious kind. Constantly threading on the blurred lines between reality and fantasy, madness and reason, self-serving delusions and brutal truths, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Seek honors the original Stevenson with a thrilling new conclusion.

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REVIEW: Welcome to Night Vale (season 4) by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

Standing and Breathing

Fan art I made using the poster for “Ghost Stories”

As script books have only been released for the first two seasons of Welcome to Night Vale, all further reviews of the podcast itself will be based solely on the content of the podcast and the plots therein. In season four of Welcome to Night Vale, Night Vale faces a threat so terrifying that there seems to be nothing they can do to defeat it: a terribly cute beagle puppy and his army of tall, faceless strangers who only stand and breathe. Hiram McDaniels faces trials for his crimes against Mayor Cardinal, Desert Bluffs and Night Vale become one city, and all of Night Vale is under threat from one cute puppy who may not be all that he seems.

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