Tag: horror

Look, everybody, it’s ME!  I’m back.  Okay enough about my blog hiatus.

I’ve been watching vampire movies, and that calls for a post. Helloooooo!!! This year I actually quit watching The Originals and The Vampire Diaries (still love those shows, but who has time?). Of course that didn’t stop me, and I ended up watching Only Lovers Left Alive, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, and What We Do In The Shadows this very month! Oh – I also watched Vampire Academy, but…that one was mostly while I was folding laundry and doing the dishes and meh – other than Claire Foy, a bit of a letdown.

I have to rank Only Lovers Left Alive at the next-to-bottom of this vamp-pile, because despite Tilda and Tom, the film was booooooring and way too in love with itself. Get over your own perceived hipness, Jim Jarmusch. I love Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, too. Some haunting lonesome forlorn cinematography of rundown nighttime Detroit, but otherwise blahhhh, big effing deal that your vampires can dig on science and poetry. Spooky action at a distance? You’re not impressing me.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night – YES. Not just because we’re talking Persian vampires, not just because it’s got some of the creeeeeeeepiest vampire stalking scenes ever, not just because black and white arty done right –  but because it’s beautifully shot, it’s got a Westside Story gritty glam romance to it, and hey….the awesomeness that is Mozhan Marnò. You can see her in this movie gem on Netflix streaming!

And then there’s What We Do In The Shadows. I didn’t realize until I saw this movie that I wanted a hilarious vampire film. I do! I so do. I don’t think I ever want to see a serious vampire anything ever again. How does it get better than Jemaine Clement as Vladislav the Poker saying “I’m going for a look that I call Dead but Delicious.” Yaahaaahahaaha.

Pretty much everything is outrageously funny in What We Do In The Shadows. Everything. I was giggling and snort-laughing the whole time. Have you ever had roommates? Were they vampires? I guarantee even if you’ve had regular human roommates you will find something to identify with here. And laugh your ass off. And then…slowly…realize you’re watching a reality TV show that’s more human than most.

Wait – I didn’t answer my original question. Vampires – why bother? I don’t know, it’s up to you, what you do in the shadows. “Just leave me to do my dark bidding on the internet.”  “What are you bidding on?”  “I’m bidding on a table.” HAaaaa! Let’s put the dead back in deadpan!

Photo By Screenshot from “Internet Archive” of the movie Dracula (1958) http://www.archive.org/details/HorrorOfDracula-Trailer, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11740931

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I don’t often write short stories, because when I write I’m verbose and have trouble breaking up with my characters. BUT I do dabble in doorstopper novel-writing, and sometimes when I’m knee-deep in a book, characters show up unannounced. That’s pretty much one of the best things in the world, as far as I’m concerned, and it happened with my protagonist Tracy Hawthorne. She’s the alter ego I never knew I had, and my short story “Roundheels” features her in one of her first “paranormal detective” encounters.

Tracy’s not 100% a supernatural PI, she’s a singer and a guitar player and a sailor-mouthed burlesque dancer and somebody I’d love to hang out with. She’s tough and funny and she’s got this gift for tapping into the ethereal plane, so I just let her run with it. She steals the show in two novels I’ve written, and I hope you enjoy her in “Roundheels.” I can now say I’m published in Canada, woohoo! and you can buy the 100th issue of On Spec here (featuring some seriously killer Cthulhu cover art by James F. Beveridge).  I hope you’ll check it out and support this wonderful magazine of speculative fiction.

 

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I know, a reading list about scary books in time for Halloween has nothing to do with quantum physics’ spooky action at a distance, but I couldn’t help using it for a post title. Indulge me.

I’m a cruelly picky reader, so putting together a list of recommended reads is always a difficult task for me – especially books with a theme. The following is a selection of novels that fulfilled my threefold hardcore criteria: 1) Couldn’t put it down (or hated pressing pause on the audiobook so I could do necessary self-maintenance like sleeping and showering); 2) Gave me major chills or laughs or both 3) I wanted to be friends with the heroines and heroes of the book.

The Quick There’s all this stupid whingeing scattered over the internets about the “twist” of this book – there’s no twist. It’s a book about vampires. I’m not ruining anything by telling you this. And I insist that it’s one of the best vampire books I’ve read. And you get two poignant love stories, two resourceful, sharpwitted female characters, and some seriously creepy monsters – human and otherwise.

 

 

 

Mayhem – Stephen Crossley’s narration is audiobook listening at its most sublime. He simply is Dr. Bond, and that’s that. A brief digression: Stephen King wrote a fantastic review of the audiobook version of James Ellroy’s novel Blood’s A Rover, telling how he listened to Craig Wasson’s narration while driving and it was soooo damn good it was a privilege to be in a car. That’s how I felt listening to Mayhem – I never wanted to hit the pause button and return to real life. There are plenty of books out there riffing on Jack the Ripper, but this is one of the best – for me, probably due to the supernatural element. A synopsis can’t do justice to the nuances of Mayhem‘s story and cast (yes! there’s a sequel with these wonderful characters). Read it.

London Falling  A cop caper with gritty, snarky dark magic on the streets of modern-day London. A quartet of constables gains some magic mojo enabling them to see ghosts and various other nasties, including an ancient witch obsessed with football (you know, soccer) and murder. Somehow it really rocks, and these coppers are great company.

 

 

 

Midnight Riot aka Rivers of London This is another urban fantasy (of the gore and ghosts and angry Old Gods variety, not fluffy unicorns and fairies) that has humor, horror and heart (most still beating) and a delightful protagonist, PC Peter Grant.  Apparently there’s some controversy about the American version of the book, which I wish I’d known before reading – grab the UK edition if you can. Heck, grab the UK edition of almost anything, as far as I’m concerned.

 

 

 

Murder as a Fine Art  I wasn’t sure about a book that twists history into fiction by using Thomas De Quincey (Confessions of an English Opium Eater) as a revamped fictional hero and would-be Sherlock, but this absolutely worked, and the character of De Quincey’s daugher and protegé Emily is worth the entire read. And say WHAT – the author is David Morrell, who wrote First Blood. Yes, Rambo.

 

Even more suggestions (some I can endorse, some I haven’t read yet) can be found on my goodreads Gaslight list – including the wonderful Lyndsay Faye, Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January books, and Stephen Gallagher’s Sebastien Becker series.

I guess I can include spooky watching herein as well, since Hulu finally got Season 4 of Whitechapel, definitely the strangest and most ghosty of the series, and oh my wailing and lamenting that this show was cancelled. You might also enjoy Copper, Ripper Street, and Elementary. Also my guilty pleasure of late: Witches of East End.

 

“1790-church-gravestones-autumn-leaves – West Virginia – ForestWander” by http://www.ForestWander.com. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 us via Wikimedia Commons

book reviews

I have a poem in Strange Horizons! This is the best thing ever. Strange Horizons is one of the greatest literary magazines for speculative poetry. I am still pinching myself. I think I’m qualified for membership in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America now. Cross that off the bucket list.

Last year, actually right about this same time last year – I was on the road from Shelton, Washington to Tucson, Arizona. On my way to the Southwest from a writer’s residency at Hypatia-in-the-Woods, cruising down the California coast, I stopped off for the night at Bodega Dunes Campground – one of the Sonoma Coast State Parks beaches.

B3D08C2B-5285-462F-B576-4FBA90106E22I was traveling alone. The day was grey, surreal, salty. I was trapped at the edge of the earth: the plunging sea, the leaden sky, the lonely beach. There were loud tripped-out campsite parties raging until late in the night, too-bright public restrooms, drunk men with huge Bowie knives yelling about country music, midnight wanderers stumbling past my tent (one of whom was startled by the hulking shadowshape of my bike on top of my car – “Oh my God what the hell is that!!??”). I slept fitfully and had bizarre dreams. Thanks for the memories, Sonoma Coast!

Needless to say, all of this morphed into a poem. Something like HP Lovecraft meets Hilda Doolittle. HP and HD, together on the west coast and in my crazed brain.

You can read “Bodega Dunes” here, if you’re not scared. Also – my reading of the poem will be part of the Strange Horizons podcast later this month. Yes – you can hear me read my own work. I’ll post a link to that when it goes live.

 

Photograph of the Pacific Ocean near Bodega Dunes Campground by me.

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Usually for my documentary watch project I choose flicks based on social, environmental or artistic impact. This time I just reeeaally wanted to see Room 237. Well, I guess this 2013 film falls in the artistic impact category. It’s basically an hour and half or so of commentary on Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining, interspersed with clips, stills, and frame by frame analysis. It was directed by Rodney Ascher, whose upcoming documentary The Nightmare actually interests me more than Room 237, because it’s about sleep paralysis and I’m obsessed with (and often plagued by) that phenomenon.

After two decades of consideration, I’ve decided that The Shining is not only my favorite Stephen King book, but the best he’s written. It works on so many levels – as a terrifying ghost story, a powerful character study of a family destroyed by alcoholism, and a chilling portrait of an innocent boy’s supernatural powers. But – that’s the novel. Stanley Kubrick’s film version is quite different. Usually no matter what, a book is better than its film adaptation. The Shining works for me as movie and novel – I think of them as separate entities. The book haunted me, most particularly because of young Danny’s precognitive visions – so frustratingly muddled and misunderstood because of his age and his inexperience. The movie frightened me – I mean eeeggghhhh – the creepy woman in the tub!!

I’m not a big Kubrick fan, but I don’t think anybody else could have filmed The Shining (or 2001: A Space Odyssey, for that matter) quite so…unnervingly. Seeing The Shining dissected in this documentary confirmed that – for a horror movie junkie like me – it’s always fun to watch slow-mo clips and look (okay, sometimes dig) for symbolism and subliminal images. There’s lots of excited jabbering about the designs in the hotel carpets, numerology digressions (42!!), and some intriguing maps of the (sometimes physically impossible) hotel set.  I kind of agree that a major underlying theme in Kubrick’s film is that of genocide – particularly of Native Americans and Jews, with the main character serving as the archetype of white male insanity and weakness/dominance. In the novel, I felt much more sympathy for Jack Torrance as a human being – abusive and abused, used up and washed out, redeemed in the end. In the movie, we’ve got Jack Nicholson and his crazyballs acting, which in part makes the film so different from the book. There’s a great clip in Room 237 of Nicholson getting into character for the infamous “Heeeeere’s Johnny!!” scene – he’s rampaging around the set grunting and practice-swinging his axe, almost knocking down one of the crew.

I do think that some of the commentators (I don’t know who any of them are and I’m not really interested in knowing – we never see them, we only hear them) went WAY overboard with some pretty laughable semiotics, attributing too much to what I think were simple continuity errors (sure, Kubrick = Genius but that chair wasn’t in the second shot because somebody forgot to put it back, period). I had a good time jumping off the deep end (a poster of a downhill skier somehow looks like a minotaur….i.e. from the hedge maze…okaayyyy); and then I had a good laugh at the wacko discussion of how Kubrick helped fake the Apollo moon landing footage. Whatever!

I enjoyed Room 237 mainly because it’s brimming with examples of patterns and creative symbolism, and pattern recognition is hardwired into my human brain – whether it’s beneficial (survival, creativity) or silly-but-striking (conspiracy theories, superstition – like my fascination with sleep paralysis, known cross-culturally by many names, such as The Old Hag). A nifty illustration of pattern recognition is this clip from Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, showing the relationship between the Heike crab, Samurai warriors, and artificial selection – and also a fun opportunity to hear Sagan pronounce the word humans…yooouuumans. Oh, Carl.

 

“Stanley in Snow” by Sgerbic – Own work. Licensed under CC0 via Wikimedia Commons  

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I grew up watching both good (Alien) and bad (Mausoleum, anybody?) horror movies.  And reading horror novels – King, Koontz, McCammon, Barker – the big dawgs.  As I’ve matured (Ahem…I really have….matured.  I swear), I am still as picky as I was in my youth.  I can’t handle torture-porn slasher movies, but I do like to be scared shitless for weeks after seeing a well-done frightmare (Insidious I’m thanking you…but not your sequel).

Why do I watch horror movies?  They’re better than caffeine if you need to stay wide awake all night because you’re writing a novel or trying to finish some bookkeeping projects.

And also, because horror done right – whether it’s a gothic ghost story or a full-on terrorfest – sure is cathartic.  I like my horror best served with side dishes of humor, smart n’ feisty heroines, jump-scares and twisty plots.

Here’s a list of the top scary movies I’ve seen in the past year, all streaming on Netflix.  If you don’t have Netflix you can usually watch on Amazon Instant pretty cheap – just click the pics.

Housebound  The reason I wrote this blog post.  Never have I laughed out loud so hard and been so wigged out at the same time.   Best line:  “You can’t punch ectoplasm in the face!”  Thank you, New Zealand!

 

 

 

 

Tucker and Dale vs Evil   Outrageous.

 

 

 

Hellraiser  This one was a rewatch – because of course I saw it immediately when it came out in the 80’s.  Still great, still gross.

 

 

 

Pontypool  Here’s a prime example of indie budget horror that hits all the right crazy buttons – a virus that transforms people into imploding gibberish-talkers, and it’s transmitted by human speech.  Where else should a spectacle like that unfold, but at a small Canadian radio station in the dead of winter?

 

 

The Machine  I’m putting this in the horror bucket because even though it’s sci fi, the mood and tension had me bouncing off the walls.  Caity Lotz deserves more leading roles.

 

 

 

Banshee Chapter   I was totally surprised by how much I liked this X-Filesy extra-dimensional beings paranoia-fest.  And I was completely freaked out.  The washed-up guru character played by Ted Levine is worth the whole movie.

 

 

 

Oculus   Absolutely riveting ghost-busty first half, with smart, obsessive Karen Gillan getting ready to avenge her dead parents and defeat a malevolent mirror.  The second half descended into predictability, but watch it anyway.

 

 

 

Absentia   Another low budget indie horror film that deserves to be seen.  A pedestrian tunnel in a suburban neighborhood becomes a portal for doom.  Unsettling and almost too real for comfort; highly original.

 

 

 

Grabbers  As I said, I like a splash of humor in my horror.  What could be better than a bar full of drunk Irish fighting off tentacly sea monsters?  F’ing brilliant.  And Richard Coyle.  Yes, please.

 

 

 

The House at the End of Time  One of the best supernatural thrillers I’ve seen.  This Venezuelan ghost story does everything right, taking what seems like a conventional haunted house tale and recrafting it into a spooky mystery that’s also a poignant family drama with a twist ending and a tribute to motherhood.

 

 

 

The Innkeepers/The House of the Devil   People either love filmmaker Ti West or ignore him.  He’s never let me down.  Ti one on and enjoy a double feature.

 

 

 

The Returned  I’m referring here to the film, not the also-excellent French television series.  Here’s a classic example of how a “zombie” movie both utilizes and transcends tropes to come up with a suspenseful and meaningful story.  Also – it stars everyone’s favorite werewolf (or at least, mine) from Lost Girl, Kris Holden-Ried.  AND Shawn Doyle.  What!?  I know.  2 fer 1.

 

 

 

Spooky Trees Photo from Unsplash

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This week’s roundup of random links I learned from and enjoyed!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!! 

 

Studying the evolution of a virus can help find a cure.  This time, it’s of course Ebola.

 

Here’s a classic sci-fi short story, one of my favorites because it’s all dialogue.

 

Climate change is no lie, and it affects us all.  Climate change means we need to change.  I’m trying.

 

A little science about spiders, just in time for Halloween.

 

Here’s an excerpt from a new book I’m very keen to read.

 

Spider photograph courtesy of Pixabay.

 

grab bag

book reviews

It may not be fair to say that the sci fi, fantasy and horror genres aren’t taken seriously, no matter what the medium.  Well, actually it is fair to say that – but maybe the playing field is changing.  I’ve never been more aware of this than I am when I’m watching some of the brilliant speculative TV of the last five years.  Still, I wish the women who carry the shows would receive MORE recognition.  Here’s my list of seven incredible actresses who are so fantastic, they should have awards not simply bestowed upon them, but created in their honor.
Tatiana Maslany
What rock are you living under, that you haven’t seen this amazing and versatile actress portray multiple clones so well, you’ll forget she’s only one woman.
Jaime Murray
I loved Ms. Murray as HG Wells on Warehouse 13, but on Defiance, she is like no creature on earth – literally.  Her fierce portrayal of Stahma Tarr is breathtaking in its otherworldliness – frightening and poignant all at once.
Nicole Beharie
You can’t watch this show without falling for Lt. Abbie Mills – kickass cop with a troubled childhood ready to battle demons – I love her resilience and sly humor, and Beharie’s fantastically controlled facial expressions.
Carrie Coon
Nora Durst – wow, what a role, and Coon really chews it up.  Every scene she’s in is a revelation – pun intended.
Keeley Hawes
Keeley Hawes can do anything better than anybody, and with a stellar Brit accent.  It doesn’t get much better than watching Bolly Kecks square off against Gene Hunt.
Anna Silk and Ksenia Solo
These two ladies are so inseparable and so wonderful as BFF’s that I had to nominate them as a pair.  Sure, Lost Girl is thrilling and funny and all about the fey underground, but at its heart, the real story is the friendship between Kenzi and Bo.

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Rebecca Alexander’s The Secrets of Life and Death reminded me of Phil Rickman’s Merrily Watkins novels – and that’s a compliment.  Alexander’s novel isn’t a doorstopper like a Rickman book, but it’s a suspenseful supernatural mystery with charming yet flawed characters, and even an old cottage in the country (here, it’s Devon).  I wanted to put on a wool sweater, brew a pot of black tea, and tuck my feet up next to a cozy fire.  And then start looking over my shoulder!

It’s difficult to pin down a genre though, for The Secrets of Life and Death.  The title is somewhat generic – it doesn’t tell you at all that inside these pages you’ll find a fictionalized account of real life alleged serial killer Countess Elizabeth Bathory, who may have murdered hundreds of young women and girls in Eastern Europe from 1585 to the date of her imprisonment in 1610.

In this novel, it’s the occultist Edward Kelley who, within the harrowing pages of his journals, recounts the story of how he and his mentor Dr. John Dee saved the young Countess from a deadly sickness, only to make her into an immortal monster – a vampire who derives superhuman strength from human blood.  Kelley and Dee were real historical figures, both of whom studied the full gamut of metaphysical and alchemical lore in the late sixteenth century.  These men were equally at home discussing algebra and astronomy or magic and divination, and saw no division between magic and science.  Edward was said to have the ability to channel angels, a talent – or self-deception – evident in this novel.

Edward Kelley’s story parallels the present-day events in the lives of Jackdaw Hammond and Professor Felix Guichard.  Jack too, is undead, but far from a monster.  She and her friend Maggie use their knowledge of magic and Enochian sigils to save young women from tragic deaths, in the same way Jack herself was saved years ago.  The price the women pay for life is to be metaphysically chained to the power of the protective symbols they must wear on their skin; they become revenants, and their blood carries the power to extend life.

When a disbelieving young girl in Jack and Maggie’s care runs away, only to suffer the fate from which she’d been rescued (an overdose of drugs), her body is found on a train, her skin covered in strange symbols that the police believe must be satanic or black magic.  Professor Felix Guichard, an expert in belief systems outside the mainstream – his degree is in West African sorcery – is called in to evaluate the scene.   In this, the book reminded me too of Michael Gruber’s excellent Jimmy Paz novels, though Gruber is more adept at weaving his research into a narrative.  Nonetheless, Felix, intrigued by the symbols, seeks out Jackdaw, who has recently found a new young girl to save, Sadie.  But something else is hunting Jack, too.  And in 1585, Edward and John are about to make a terrible mistake that will have consequences far in the future – Jack’s future.

It’s the characters that carry this book.  Tormented Edward; fierce Jackdaw, kindhearted Felix, feisty Sadie.  As Jack and Felix’s relationship deepens in the midst of chaos, as Sadie accepts her reality with dignity, and as Edward understands the consequences of his actions, we can reflect on not so much the secrets of life and death, but the ideas of good and evil.  It’s never been completely undisputed that Elizabeth Bathory committed all the atrocities of which she was accused – she was a powerful woman with enemies.  In the novel, she chooses to become cursed.  Jack is given the same choice, but she is not the same kind of person as Bathory.  I wondered why Alexander gave her female character a man’s name, but I think the point is more that she bears the name of a bird – the small black crows – daws – of England and Europe.  Jack means ‘small,’ yet this woman is anything but.  Alexander is currently penning the third book in this trilogy; I can’t wait for Jackdaw to carry more light through darkness.

I received this book as a free ARC from Netgalley.

 

book reviews