Monday, April 25, 2011

The Scariest Movie I Have Ever Seen.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="240" caption="Image by LaryCrews via Flickr"]insidious-movie-title (2)[/caption]

If I were to choose the scariest movie that I have ever seen, then I would choose "INSIDIOUS".

"INSIDIOUS" successfully avoided so many common pitfalls in the horror movie industry.  The haunting started almost immediately, and very quickly grew in horrifying intensity.  At first, objects were moved around the house (sheet music box in the attic, books moved off a shelf onto a floor, etc.) and quickly became  more frightening and threatening (bloody footprints, loud voices, visions, etc.)  All of this was done without the use of excessive blood and gore.

The next pitfall that "INSIDIOUS" avoided is more my own personal pet peeve than anything.  I don't like to mix sex scenes and horror movies.  I have found more often than not that when a horror movie is lacking in scare power, it makes up for it with a skin show.  If the sex adds to the story, fine, whatever - but I don't like when it's thrown into the story for no apparent reason.  Both writer and director did a great job of showing Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson's love for each other without having them bare it all on the screen.  Horror should be the focus of a horror movie, not the actor and actresses' spare bits.

The story centers around a couple and their three children.  They move into a new house and immediately strange things begin.  At first, books are moved from the shelf onto the floor, and a box of sheet music goes missing.  Then, as things start getting worse, Renai (played by Rose Byrne) hears a horrifying voice on the baby monitor.  She runs upstairs to find that her baby is alone in its room, and she can't find the source of the voice.  A few days later, her son falls into a coma which the doctor's can't seem to explain.  Her mother-in-law (Barbara Hershey) decides to call in the help of psychic Elise (Lin Shaye) in order to help with the haunting.  Josh (Patrick Wilson) doesn't believe his wife or mother about the nature of the haunting until he finds evidence in his comatose son's room.

I'm not going to spoil the movie by giving your further details, but I promise you - you've never seen a movie like this!  I have not come across the basic idea of this movie in any book I've read or movie I've watched until now.  "INSIDIOUS" is a welcome change from the horror reboots that Hollywood seems to enjoy inundating the theaters with - it relies on a very strong story and an equally strong cast.  If you see one movie that is in theaters now - go see "INSIDIOUS".

Some interesting "INSIDIOUS" trivia:

* writer Leigh Whannell starred in the film as part of Elise's team of paranormal investigators (he is the guy with the thick glasses)

* actress Lin Shaye appeared in "Snakes on a Plane"

* actress Rose Byrne was in "Knowing" and "Sunshine"

The Lost Lansdale !

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="186" caption="Cover of Dead in the West"]Cover of "Dead in the West"[/caption]

For a few years now I have been searching for the book "Dead in the West" by Joe R. Lansdale.  The first edition was published in 1986 - my birth year - and, to my knowledge, it is the first zombie western.

For Easter this year my boyfriend and I exchanged gifts, and I told him that first and foremost on my list of books was "Dead in the West".  He found me a mint condition 2005 edition that is SIGNED by Lansdale.  I almost died when it arrived.  (Incidentally, he builds computers - so I bought him some parts he wanted).

No lie, I read that book in three days.  Cover to awesome cover.

The story revolves around a Reverend named Jebidiah Mercer, who has lost his faith in God due to some shenanigans from his younger days.  He feels that he is unworthy of being the Lord's servant, and has resorted to holding prayer services specifically to get money to fuel his alcoholism.  He wanders from town to town and ultimately winds up in Mud Creek.  Mud Creek is a seemingly boring little town.  That is, until he finds out about the mob that attacked an Indian medicine man and his wife.  The mob hangs the man and does far worse things to the wife, and moments before dying the man vows revenge on the town.  It appears that Reverend Mercer has arrived just in time for the bloodbath that follows when the dead rise.

I can't say enough about how great I think "Dead in the West" truly is - Lansdale is a master.  At times the story is funny and at other times its heartbreaking, other times I thought I wasn't going to be able to turn out the light for fear of the images playing on my eyelids.  There is one scene in particular that caught my interest.  The good town doctor is in his study in the dark listening to the body of a deceased man come after him.  As he watches by the light of a single match, the body pieces itself together - all the parts crawling independently across the floor.  As usual, Lansdale adds humor when a nose decides to settle on a wayward finger instead of the face.  That notwithstanding, the whole scene felt very Lovecraftian to me.  It felt like it could have been straight out of "Herbert West: Reanimator".

If it is at all possible for you to track down this book and read it, then you should.  "Dead in the West" will make you a rabid page-turner.  With every page the story gets more interesting, and more frightening.  If you're not already a fan of Joe R. Lansdale, then this is the book to try.  He's one author you don't want to exclude from your horror collection!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Now for some watery terror !

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Cthulhu - tentacles and all.  Image via Wikipedia "]An artist's visual representation of the Elder...[/caption]

What a fabulous book!  "Beneath the Surface" was an amazing book!  Judging by the Cthulhu looking beauty on the cover, I thought these stories would be all about the ocean.  I was really off-base with that assumption, and all the better for it!

Almost every story in this book was a blast.  "Thorguson" by Scott Christian Carr started the anthology.  It details a submarine captain in his ship at the bottom of the ocean.  His whole crew is dead, but they're walking around and banging on the sides of the ship.  We never find out why they died, but we do find out what they're up to, and it's not too pretty.  The story is written from the point of view of the captain as he faces his horrible end.  Great story!

Next up is "Raw Materials" by Derek M. Fox.  After reading this story, I will never go for a road trip.  Not an unplanned road trip, nor a planned one.  Nor will I stay in a hotel that isn't run by a chain.  As one couple finds out, the kindly but slightly odd proprietors may just be after your hide!  All around creepy story.

"Stone Creek Station" by Scott William Carter provides an interesting look into a wish most people have at one time or another in their lives.  His character decides to go on a road trip after his wife leaves him, and he winds up in a little town with a big secret.  He follows the town elders out to a train station seemingly in the middle of nowhere.  As it turns out, the train station is for the dead, who come and visit periodically.  Wouldn't everyone like to talk to their deceased loved ones?  After reading this story, I know I changed my theory.  This story is both thought provoking and sad, and certainly not one to be missed.

Marie Brennan puts an evil twist on the Walt Disney Sleeping Beauty tale in "Kiss of Life".  I'm not going to say anything else, excepting that it's a times a riot and at times a terror, but it's definitely a story you NEED to read.

Angeline Hawkes delivers an interesting look at the power of relices in "The Relic: Father Santiago's Bones".  It's also an interesting look into why we choose the relics we do.  The father in question is actually part of the Inquisition.  He allows the rape, torture, and murder of an innocent girl in front of her own mother.  The mother curses him, and when Father Santiago dies his bones become relics.  However, they are not the good kind that grant prayers or heal babies.  They are cursed, and when certain people touch them, a terrible thing happens.  (I can't tell you, because it will ruin the story.)  This story is also a must-read!

To be honest, I liked the book so much that I almost wrote a summary for every story.  If there is one book you buy this month, you need to buy "Beneath the Surface."  It includes all the stories mentioned above, plus a money tree that punishes it's finder, a sadistic and hungry mattress, a nameless and ancient horror about to be unleashed, and a witch who steals souls.  There are many other stories in the book - and you NEED to read them all.

The verdict is in.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Crop Circle - Image via Wikipedia"]A crop circle in the form of a triskelion[/caption]

I finished "The Middle of Nowhere: Horror in Rural America" a few months ago and have been staunchly refusing to review it since then.  It took me forever to finish the book because I couldn't get into reading it.  Some of the stories were uninspired, some were predictable, and some were just downright boring.  I think my greatest pet peeve, however, was the editing (or severe lack thereof).  In one story alone, I stopped counting the errors when I reached 15.  Errors like words running together, misspellings, names that weren't even in the story, all of that should have been fixed because I bought the Anniversary Edition.  (My theory being that when you re-release something you make it better.)

Ok - so I've bashed the book sufficiently to give you my opinion of it as a whole.  Now I'd like to take a few moments to single out some of the authors whose work was pretty good.

Jacob Henry Orloff delivers an interesting take on alien abduction in "Crop Circles".  A man living alone on a farm starts to see circles in his crops, and he decides to stay on his farm.  The aliens arrive and all hell breaks loose, with a creepy ending.  What makes this story even more interesting is that it's written in first person as a letter to the man's parents, telling them what is going to happen.  He's writing urgently because he's sure that any moment will be the moment the aliens come for him.  An overall interesting take on abduction.

Alison Seay adds yet another creepy child to the annals of horror fiction with "A Hopeful Mother".  This story centers around a little girl who has an affection for bugs that goes much deeper than her parents think.  As it turns out, the girl understands bugs (as in, can hear them).  As the little girl grows up, her ability to live with humans decreases, and she's sucked further and further into her own bug-world.  Her mother is desperate to have a normal relationship with her daughter, and they decide to go on a hike.  The hike, however, reveals just how far the girl's bug obsession goes.

Michelle Bredeson's story "Lone September Night" has very little action, save for the sound of a scream that keeps repeating at odd intervals.  What makes it creepy is that there are three teenagers stranded in a house in the middle of the country with nothing but a shotgun.  (I mean nothing - they leave the house to figure out what the noise is, and somehow the door gets locked behind them, their car doesn't work, the power and phone go out.  Absolutely nothing but each other, a gun, and the dark.)  They wind up hiding in a barn.  We never find out what exactly is terrorizing them, and I think that only adds to the terror of the story.  Instead of opting for a lame ending with a predictable monster, Bredeson opts to remind us that the most frightening thing isn't what we know, it's what we can't see or explain.

My favorite story of the whole bunch was "Push" by Lucas Pederson.  As it is the last story in the book, I'm really glad that I kept reading.  It's really frustrating how little I can tell you about this story since it's all based on surprise.  Suffice it to say, I read the story and then went back and read it again.  It's tragic, thought-provoking, and has a few well-timed scares.  Overall, it's a very well written story that isn't predictable in the least.  What I will tell you is that it centers on a girl, her brother, and a dog alone in a house at night.

To be fair to the publishing house, I bought a few more of it's books for my Kindle, just so that I could give it another try.  I don't like condemning a publishing house or author based on one not-so-good book.  Therefore, you will see some more Pill Hill books up here as soon as I read them (or perhaps a little after).  This book can be rough to get through from time to time, but it has some interesting stories.  Overall, I'd say it was a so-so book, and as always I'm going to recommend that you read it (not immediately, but do get around to it) and then let me know if you find some more gems that I left out.