Tuesday, November 27, 2012

TV Review: American Horror Story Season 1

Several of my friends have become enamored with American Horror Story: Asylum. As it is the second season of the show, I didn’t want to jump in without seeing the first, although seeing the first is apparently not necessary. American Horror Story has quite a unique concept, as it is a horror anthology show like no other. As opposed to your typical anthology show, where each episode stands alone, American Horror Story has each season stand alone. Every season is a stand-alone mini-series, featuring recurring actors and actresses in new roles. Despite this, I still refused to watch season two (Asylum) until I had a chance to view season one (Murder House).


The first season of American Horror Story is something I have very mixed feelings about. It seems to be a show that hopes to equally mix horror with drama, and sometimes it works but other times it doesn’t. The big problem for me was that it was the horror aspect that interested me the most. And with that said, the first few episodes do not disappoint. There are plenty of scary scenes to be found early in the series, and it was enough to grab my attention and pull me along for the ride. The horror falters though, and so did my interest in the show, a few episodes in. One reason is that in the beginning not much is known, but as the show goes on it attempts to lend answer to its many mysteries. The problem is that the “fear of the unknown” evaporates, and the horrors can be understood, which in many cases in the show leads to those horrors no longer being horrors. Also, as a longtime reader/viewer of horror, I have a pretty good imagination, so most of the time when these horrors are revealed I just felt disappointed (I’m looking at you man-in-the-rubber-suit and creature in the basement). 

The drama aspect of the show sometimes feels quite soap opera-ish, and as the horror fades and the drama takes the forefront, I just didn’t find the show to be nearly as interesting. Sure, some of the characters are interesting, but not too many are likeable. It’s hard to sympathize with the husband Ben, because he decided to cheat and brought many of his problems on himself. Violet is perhaps the most likeable member of the Harmon family, but as the troubled teenager she often seems too much of a stereotype.

Anyone who was a fan of LOST was most likely pulled into it because of the many mysteries. This show has quite a few of its own mysteries, but only one season to wrap them up. In this, the writers mostly do quite a good job, and many viewers would be pleased to have everything answered. I was still left for wanting, though, as I felt some questions were raised that seemed to be forgotten. Earlier on in the season, we see that new men in the household are awoken at night by whispering, and seem to follow the same pattern. They sleepwalk to the stove, turning on all the burners, as if seeking warmth, and then go light the fireplace. There’s obviously a dark force at work, affecting their behavior. Also throughout the series, a greater darkness within the house is hinted at, one that seems to generally affect certain characters behavior. As the show continues, we see all the former inhabitants, even as far back as the first family to live in the house. All of their stories are tragic, yet none really have that underlying evil. They are all simply flawed human beings. I found it disappointing that as the season went on, the individual spirits came to the forefront, and whatever “malevolent force” I was led to exist seemed to not matter anymore. The horror fiend in me found that to be quite disappointing.

One of the show’s concepts is that it wishes to convey horrors both supernatural and natural. The natural horrors being things we deal with in everyday life that are horrific or cause anxiety. This can be seen in a recurring theme throughout the season: infidelity. The entire reason the Harmon family moves into the house (and across the country) has to do with infidelity. Vivien gives birth to a stillborn, and a few months later finds her husband Ben cheating on her with one of his students. The show examines the after effects of such an event, and it’s quite evident that Ben’s infidelity has broken the entire family. The entire family is effected in many ways, the wife is distant, the daughter alienated. Ben struggles to keep it all under control. The Harmons are not the only ones suffering from the effects of infidelity, as the couple that lived in the house before them also suffered several problems dealing with cheating. Cheating is something that is a real fear for many. It’s also, unfortunately, something that seems quite common. I think it would be safe to say that anyone feeling their significant other might be cheating with someone else would feel fear and anxiety, so although there is nothing supernatural about infidelity, it is a real enough horror. Other real life fears are also explored throughout the show: school bullying, school shootings, physical danger at the hands of real psychopaths, fear of losing family, and the fear of being alone.

Random Highlights include:
-        Jessica Lange as Constance, the neighbor. Constance is crazy, and you never quite know what’s going on or what to expect with her. Lange plays the part to perfection, she was easily one of my favorite parts of the show.
-        The “cold opening” of the episodes. Every episode opened with a vignette from the past, adding another piece to the puzzle of Murder House. It worked very well to set up each episode.
-        The opening title sequence .
-        The maid – appearing young, sexy and seductive to men, and appearing old, unattractive and matronly to women.
-        Tate was a very interesting character, able to solicit sympathy in one scene and revulsion in others.
-        The “anthology series” concept.

All in all, I can’t recommend this to just anyone. If you’re looking for a horror with drama elements, move on. If you’re looking for a drama with horror elements, then you would enjoy this. As much as I loved the first few episodes, the show hit a point where I felt let down. I continued it, because I had to play it out, but I wasn’t nearly as interested as I was after the second or third episode.  I hear that season two is quite an improvement, and I really dig the concept of each season standing alone, so I just may give season two a chance.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

In The Pipeline

It's been a busy week, which explains the lack of postings. I thought it would be a good time to let everyone know what to expect in the next few weeks.

Book Reviews

- The Book Of Cthulhu II - edited by Ross E. Lockhart

- Fungi - edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Orrin Grey

- The Strange Dark One: Tales of Nyarlathotep - by W.H. Pugmire

- A Pretty Mouth - by Molly Tanzer

Film/TV Reviews

- Gates of Hell trilogy (City of the Living Dead, The Beyond, House By The Cemetary) - Lucio Fulci

- American Horror Story season 1

Also keep eyes peeled for some author interviews, and other fun stuff. Any ideas of books or authors you'd like to see, please let me know.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Film Review: Forbidden Zone (1982)

When it comes to midnight movies, the cult classics that are best seen at a late night screening with friends, Forbidden Zone would be a contender for the top prize. This film was directed by Richard Elfman (brother of famous film composer Danny Elfman) and also acts as a project of their band, The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo.

First, I should get this out of the way before continuing: Forbidden Zone is trash. It is by no means what anyone with taste would ever call a “good movie”. Also this is where I should state that I loved it. I had an absolute blast watching this film. There were times I laughed so hard I had tears in my eyes.

Watching Forbidden Zone is like watching bizarro fiction on the screen. Coming out a few years after the most famous of midnight movies, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Forbidden Zone is another attempt at a zany musical film. Rocky Horror was a studio film, with great music, and a much tighter plot, and completely deserves the popularity it still has today. Forbidden Zone is a much more independent effort, with only one actor actually receiving pay for his work. It’s absurdity is at such a level as to make Rocky Horror look tame and normal.

Everything about this movie is zany, over the top, ridiculous and campy. The plot is basic and nothing special: in the basement of the Hercules household is a portal to the Sixth Dimension. Frenchie Hercules decides to explore and is kidnapped by the royal family. Her brother and grandfather attempt to rescue her, with help from the school dork Squeezit Henderson.

 The Sixth Dimension itself is never really built upon, and from what is seen is simply a world of caves populated by the royal family and chained up slaves. There seems to be a recurring dice motif, but they don’t play any role besides decoration. Slaves are everywhere, chained to the walls, in cells, and even in a torture chamber. Not much else of the Sixth Dimension is really seen, and it doesn’t come off as a highly populated place at all.

The characters are what really make the movie, and there really isn’t a single one approaching “normal”. Frenchie studied abroad in France and now speaks in a French accent, her brother Flash is a middle-aged man in a Boy Scout uniform and propeller hat who likes to hump every woman he comes across, Squeezit Henderson is a wimpy and pathetic chicken-boy, Rene Henderson is a masochistic tranny prisoner, King Fausto is a 3 ½ foot King who is obsessed with Frenchie, the Queen is a jealous amazon, the Princess runs around topless and whipping everything she can, Bust Rod is a frog-headed butler who constantly capers around, Satan is a sharply dressed Danny Elfman, and if the cast of characters doesn’t sound bizarre enough wait until you see the school classroom. Susan Tyrrell (playing the Queen) and HervĂ© Villechaize (King Fausto) seem to be the just about the only professional actors in the film (although Joe Spinell makes a cameo), but Tyrrell has the best performance, although it is way over-the-top (which is completely intended).

There are a few fun musical numbers in the film, the standouts being a song or two by the Queen and Satan singing an old Cab Calloway tune. The music doesn’t play as big as a role as I expected, and is a slight disappointment compared to the Rocky Horror Picture Show’s outstanding soundtrack. It’s still enjoyable in its own, more avant-garde way, but most of the music doesn’t stick with the view like Rocky Horror’s more normalized tunes. The biggest disappointment for me is that Elfman only appears as Satan in one scene. It’s an awesome scene, maybe the best in the movie, but afterwards he’s not seen again, with only a throwaway reference to him. This wouldn’t be a problem, except that in his scene it is made out that he will have an important role in things to come.

Besides the goofy characters, and the few weird musical numbers, what makes this film really catchy is the cartoonish feel of the entire movie. Most of the sets are painted on the walls, the slapstick is punctuated with cartoon sounds, and some scenes are actually cut-out animations reminiscent of Monty Python. Overall the effect is that of real actors living out a cartoon, albeit a twisted one that is definitely not for the kids.

So why did I enjoy this movie, even though it was trash? It was the laughs, and the sheer weirdness. In one scene a bigger, goofy-looking man in a Mickey Mouse hat (the slaves/prisoners seem to have to wear them) stands and sings, although the mouth doing the singing obviously belongs to someone else and has been superimposed onto his face, which is completely blank. What really happened was that the kid playing the part forgot his lines and just froze during shooting, and the director decided to superimpose another actor’s lips on his face, inadvertently creating a hilarious effect. In one scene Flash spins his propeller hat and soars into the air. Squeezit, who walks around like a chicken most of the movie, is decapitated only for his head to grow chicken wings and fly around for the rest of the film. You don’t often get weirdness like this that also manages to be so laughably entertaining.  


Overall, from a critical standpoint, it could be very hard to find many positive aspects of this movie. But if you are looking for a fun, completely insane movie to watch with your friends, Forbidden Zone just might be the perfect movie. Tons of laughs will be guaranteed, and it’s safe to say that finding a movie that approaches it in weirdness would be no easy feat.

 Arrow Films has an amazing blu-ray edition, which includes the original black and white version of the film, along with the 2008 colorized version. Definitely a nice edition if it’s a film you’re looking to own.

Have you ever been to the Sixth Dimension? What were your thoughts on this film? Comment below.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Review: Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

Joe Abercrombie is one of the finest fantasy authors currently writing. He is at the forefront of a current trend in fantasy to write gritty, cynical novels that take place in a world of grays as opposed to the traditional black and white. In his novels you will not find a farm-boy meeting his destiny as world-savior. You will not find noble knights, or even much nobility at all. What you will find is conflicted characters, highly flawed but well meaning individuals, and outright scum. As opposed to the typical black/white morality of typical epic fantasy, Abercrombie's world is grey leaning towards black.

With that being said, Abercrombie has managed to find success, and has so far provided readers with his First Law trilogy (The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged, and The Last Argument of Kings), followed by three stand-alone novels (Best Served Cold, The Heroes, and Red Country) all set in the same world and even featuring some of the same characters. I discovered him in late 2010, when I read his short story “The Fool Jobs” featured in Swords & Dark Magic, a sword and sorcery anthology released that summer. It was short, featured an interesting motley of characters, and had some of the best written action I've ever read. It left me hungering for more, and right before The Heroes was published in February 2011, I sat down and read straight through all of his books, unable to put them down.

Red Country is his latest novel, following the revenge themed Best Served Cold, and the war themed The Heroes. Red Country follows the similar pattern of mashing together fantasy and another genre, in this case a favorite of mine; the Western. Here's the official blurb:

"They burned her home. They stole her brother and sister. But vengeance is following. 

Shy South hoped to bury her bloody past and ride away smiling, but she’ll have to sharpen up some bad old ways to get her family back, and she’s not a woman to flinch from what needs doing. She sets off in pursuit with only a pair of oxen and her cowardly old stepfather Lamb for company. But it turns out Lamb’s buried a bloody past of his own, and out in the lawless Far Country, the past never stays buried. 

Their journey will take them across the barren plains to a frontier town gripped by gold fever, through feud, duel and massacre, high into the unmapped mountains to a reckoning with the Ghosts. Even worse, it will force them into alliance with Nicomo Cosca, infamous soldier of fortune, and his feckless lawyer Temple, two men no one should ever have to trust…"

Fans of Joe Abercrombie will find much to like here. The title perfectly describes the setting, a lawless frontier where violence is commonplace. Violence means that Abercrombie's smoothly written action scenes will abound. The sharp and witty dialogue he is known for writing is also pasted on every page, this time delivered with a Western twang.

The characters are all quite interesting as well. Several characters from previous novels appear, some better and some worse off than before. Nicomo Cosca manages to be the scene-stealer he always was, although his character is definitely at a low point, and at times not nearly as likeable as before. It is apparent that with age he has only sunken lower towards the selfish, mercenary scum he can be. Logen makes his long-awaited return and seems very much like an older version of the Logen readers fell in love with: a man trying to escape from his violent past. The theft of the kids forces Logen to abandon the life he has previously been living, and revert back to the Logen of the past. Although not a POV character, Logen remains as interesting a character as before, and is a perfect picture of a man at conflict with himself. His return is everything it should be. Eyes should be kept open for several other cameos throughout the novel.

The new characters are also wonderfully written. Shy South is a leather-tough younger woman with a past she is ashamed of. She is willing to do whatever it takes to recover her siblings, although she takes no joy in any of the violence, revenge not being as important as the recovery of the children. She is very likeable, and despite the shady past she seems to mostly be cut from good cloth. Temple starts as Cosca's lawyer, and is perhaps the most interesting of the new characters. He is yet another character with a shameful past, but his past is mostly regrets as opposed to the violent past of many of the other characters. He has a low opinion of himself, a quick wit, and seems to always take the easy way, although as of late his conscience seems to bother him. He wants to do right, but is not confident in himself enough. He is the one who truly finds himself on the journey across the Far Country. Also of note is a mysterious man they travel with, named Savian. His description as a grizzled, wiry-older man with squinty eyes, a calm and quiet demeanor, and a rough voice all point towards this character being Clint Eastwood himself making a cameo.

As for the mash-up, a lot of fans were wondering what to expect from a fantasy-western. Red Country definitely is more akin to a Western, in it's tone, language, and themes. Instead of six-shooter's however, we get knives and swords. When it comes to the sources that Joe drew inspiration from, I think it's rather apparent. Deadwood, Unforgiven, The Wild Bunch, and every spaghetti Western by Leone can all be seen as influences, as it was definitely these gritty, violent outings that gave the most inspiration. There are carriage chases, battles with savages, crime-ridden frontier towns, an abundance of outlaw scum, double-crosses, a duel with a description that would make it feel at home in any Leone film, and characters that ride off into the sunset. All together, that makes this book about as Western as Western gets. 

The book's plot is pretty straightforward: Shy and Lamb have their family stolen, so set across the country to retrieve them, gaining allies and enemies along the way. Cosca and his mercenary company are also traipsing across the land, employed by the Inquisition to hunt down rebels. Mix this dubious job with a mercenary's lust for treasure, and it's not hard to imagine the trouble that follows these men. This is a book where even the "good folk" are scoundrels, so a reader who desires an innocent and righteous protagonist is sure to be disappointed. 

Fans of Abercrombie's previous works should scoop this up immediately. Fans of both fantasy and Westerns might find a lot to love here, although it's vastly more rewarding to read all of his books in sequence as opposed to jumping in this late in the game. Overall, this book is highly recommended, and any fan of fantasy who has not already done so, should put down the book they're reading now, go to the bookstore, and scoop up every Abercrombie title. You can thank me later.  

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Free Fiction: Frontier Death Song by Laird Barron

I should probably start by saying that Laird Barron is a favorite around these parts. His name alone is enough to sell me on an entire anthology.

Barron writes visceral, hard boiled horror. There is a smokey-noir feel to several of his stories, and quite a few feature tough, whiskey swigging protagonists. The dread he manages to cultivate is the kind of dread that sticks with one long after reading. Shadows will take on even more ominous overtones, and sleep will not come easy.

Several of his works riff on the cosmic horror of Lovecraft, or the horrors of Pagan gods and deep, dark woods a la Machen. The more he writes the more he experiments with other sub-genres of horror, and he has not once penned a story that has not made it onto my list of favorites.

With all that being said, he has a new story over at The Nightmare Magazine. It's a gloomy, grisly take on the major folklore concept of The Wild Hunt.If you're unfamiliar with Barron, this free story might be a good place to start. For those already familiar with Barron, it is interesting to see a story that seems much more autobiographical than most of his others.

The story can be read HERE

Enjoy the story!!!!!!!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Horror News: Adam Nevill's New Novel and Book Deal

Good news to be had for fans of supernatural horror. British author Adam Nevill (Banquet for the Damned, Apartment 16, The Ritual, and Last Days) has recently signed a new book deal with Pan McMillian. 

His next book, titled House of Small Shadows, is due to come out in May. Thanks to the Tor blog, I am able to share with you an initial blurb:

    Catherine’s last job ended badly. Corporate bullying at a top antiques publication saw her fired and forced to leave London, but she was determined to get her life back. A new job and now things look much brighter. Especially when a challenging new project presents itself – to catalogue the late M. H. Mason’s wildly eccentric cache of antique dolls and puppets.

    Rarest of all, she’ll get to examine his elaborate displays of posed, costumed and preserved animals, depicting bloody scenes from World War II.

    When Mason’s elderly niece invites her to stay at Red House itself, where she maintains the collection, Catherine can’t believe her luck. Until his niece exposes her to the dark message behind her uncle’s "art". Catherine tries to concentrate on the job, but M. H. Mason’s damaged visions raise dark shadows from her own past. Shadows she’d hoped therapy had finally erased. Soon the barriers between reality, sanity and memory start to merge. And some truths seem too terrible to be real...

I grew up with younger sisters, and I must say, I’ve always found dolls to be creepy. In Nevill’s capable hands I’m sure they will become terrifying. Also, the May publication date is for the UK version of the novel, so the US released will most likely be a few months later (all of my copies are for the UK editions – I simply couldn’t wait for the US release for any of them).

And the official press release:

Pan Macmillan acquires two new horror novels by British author Adam Nevill

Julie Crisp, Editorial Director at Pan Macmillan, has concluded a world rights deal for two further horror novels by British author Adam Nevill with agent John Jarrold. The deal also involves re-publication of Adam’s first novel, BANQUET FOR THE DAMNED, as a Pan paperback. The new books will be published in 2014 and 2015.

Adam Nevill’s novels APARTMENT 16, THE RITUAL and LAST DAYS have already been published by Pan Macmillan, with HOUSE OF SMALL SHADOWS due for publication in May 2013. THE RITUAL won best horror novel at this year’s British Fantasy Awards and the Guardian recently dubbed Adam ‘Britain’s answer to Stephen King.’

Julie Crisp said: ‘I’m absolutely thrilled that on the perfect day for it – Halloween – we’ve acquired the next two books from Adam Nevill. We have a proud tradition of publishing horror at Pan Macmillan and Adam is a shining example of brilliant – and terrifying – British horror writing!’

Adam Nevill said: ‘I am thrilled about this opportunity to keep building a body of work with a terrific publisher, and one with such a significant legacy in the field of British horror fiction. On Halloween too. Perfect timing. In celebration, sacrifices will be made to strange gods.’

For further information, contact Chloe Healy at Pan Macmillan:
00 44 20 7014 6186

I’ve read all of Mr. Nevill’s novels, and overall I was more than pleased, although they were not perfect. A Banquet for the Damned was mostly a solid debut novel, but there were times it dragged out and the main characters could have used a bit more work. However, it offers enough creepiness to make it worth reading, even if it is his weakest work. Apartment 16 suffered from some character flaws (the main female character wasn’t really developed at all) but overall offered an original, creepy tale of an apartment building where something is terribly wrong. There were truly several frightening moments throughout the novel. In The Ritual Nevill takes us to new territory, the Scandinavian wilderness, in a tale of two distinct halves. Nevill’s character work has greatly improved, and what begins as a creature feature becomes something much more. The second half is probably longer than it should be, but it could very well be his best book to date. His latest novel, Last Days, follows a small film crew as they make a documentary on a creepy cult that had met a bloody end. Of course, the bloody end was not really an end at all, and the horrors ensue.

Nevill is definitely a talented, young horror author. He also seems to improve with every novel he’s written, which makes me that much more eager for his next book. If you are a fan of supernatural horror, and you have not read any of his novels, then you are truly missing out.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Film Review: Zombie (1979)

Zombie, known as Zombi 2 overseas, was the film which revitalized Lucio Fulci’s floundering career, and was the first film on his pathway to being dubbed “The Godfather of Gore”. It should be noted that George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead was released in Europe under the title Zombi, and although Fulci’s film is billed as Zombi 2, it is in no way related to Romero’s series, being simply a marketing ploy.

Zombie opens with a bang (literally), as the opening scene features a corpse tied and wrapped in a sheet starting to rise from a cot until it is stopped with a bullet in the head. The mysterious gunman, who is hiding in the shadows, then states that the boat may now leave. This leads to the title credits, and another scene in which the boat is seen entering New York with no visible crew on board, and upon investigation it is revealed that a zombie is stowed away.

Although the film has an exciting opening, the film does slow down for a short period, as we meet the main characters: a British journalist, the daughter of a scientist from the island, an American couple on vacation, and a doctor doing research on the island. Something is very obviously wrong on the island, as zombie attacks occur more and more frequently, although it is not known why.

The film suffers from a weak plot, as overall not much really happens. The four protagonists travel to the island, and zombies start to attack en masse, then the survivors leave. This isn’t the only film by Fulci to suffer from plot problems (City of the Living Dead has quite a confusing, bizarre plot) but anyone watching the film is probably not doing so for the story. The characters are not really developed much either, and some of them are really quite bland. 

What Zombie lacks in plot, it more than makes up for in makeup and gore. Coming out only a year after Dawn of the Dead, the makeup in Zombie far, far surpasses the makeup quality in Romero’s film. The zombies in Dawn of the Dead look like regular people with blue makeup. Watching the film today, Romero’s zombies look really dated, silly, and in no way scary. The zombies in Zombie actually look like filthy, rotting corpses. They are grimy, bloody, and terrifying to behold. One of the more memorable scenes involved a conquistador zombie slowly rising from the earth with an eye full of worms. This zombie’s terrible visage has been used as the movie’s poster and subsequent DVD and Blu-Ray covers. Although the film was released over three decades ago, the look of the zombies more than holds up today, which I found to be quite impressive.

The gore in Zombie is unbelievable. Throats are ripped out, zombie skin is ripped off, splinters enter eyeballs, heads explode, and a zombie arm is torn off by a shark. The gore often looks realistic compared to the oftentimes bright, paint-like blood of Dawn of the Dead. Blood in this film looks like blood is supposed to. The scene where a group of zombies is found eating a body is one of the best “zombie feasting” scenes in cinema.

Being a zombie film, gore is a must-have, and if the merits of a good zombie movie are measured on gore alone, then Zombie would definitely be a contender for the number one spot. It is pretty clear what Fulci intended this movie to focus on. For gorehounds, zombie fans, and fans of Italian horror in general, this film is considered a must-see. Casual horror fans are encouraged to also give the film a try. Anyone with a weak stomach when it comes to gore, should stay far, far away, or attend the film with a “barf-bag”, as the trailer humorously suggests.

Did anyone else enjoy Zombie, or was the weak plot too much of a hindrance? How would you rank this film on your list of favorite zombie movies? Comment below.