Book Review: The RETURN (Bentley Little)

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the return

Bentley Little
Signet
2002

His first memory was of Delaware Punch.

Springerville is famous for the legend of the Mogollon Monster.  Of course nobody really believes it.  It’s just a good campfire story, something to attract gullible tourists…until an excavation team unearths the figurine of a screaming woman, the jawbone of a deformed animal, and a child’s toy.  How odd that they were buried together.  Odd, too, is the foul odor lingering in the air, the strange noises at night, and the man’s face found hanging from a tree.  Now the locals are locking their doors.  Because after sundown, campfire stories can seem very, very real.

I’ve only read two of Bentley Little’s novels – this one, and The Town – but already the writer has caused me to harbor some apprehension for even considering visiting Arizona.  Or much of the Southwest area of this nation of ours, for that matter.

Take for instance The Return.  The novel is based on the disappearance of the mysterious Anasazi tribe, an ancient Pueblo peoples that existed and disappeared at the same time as the Aztecs and Mayans.  This isn’t the first time the Anasazi and the mystery surrounding their sudden disappearance has been used in fiction; the foremost – to me at least – being Louis L’Amour’s 1987 novel The Haunted Mesa.

Here in Bentley Little’s The Return, the story involves a University archeology dig that unearths something that may be a clue to the mystery behind the Anasazi, but something else much older than the ancient natives has reawakened, something that maybe had something to do with the ancient peoples’ sudden exit from existence, and now it’s doing the same thing to the modern day towns that have sprung up since its last appearance.  Next thing you know, the townfolk in the famed Four Corners area of the Southwest start acting weird…and by “weird” I mean savagely beating and killing outsiders like savages, natural disasters of Biblical proportions, and mass disappearances into an invisible quantum vortex.  And only a small handful of people seem to be immune to the ancient creature’s influence and must take a stand to bring it down.

Some of my favorite horror stories are based on native North American folklore.  And The Return isn’t my first exposure to the Anasazi in fiction.  The Return has a story that flows in a pretty good clip, save for a couple of slower parts.  The complaint that I do have, here, is that after a really great atmosphere building up on the tension and coming to a good head…the big climactic end confrontation is rather anticlimactic.  Matter of fact, there really isn’t much of an end conflict if you really want to get down to it.  The last ten pages itself will leave you thinking, “huh, that’s it?”

That said, otherwise, The Return is a pretty decent speculative horror novel that feels more organic than most. Check it out sometime, you may be surprised.

Book Review: HORNS (Joe Hill)

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horns

Joe Hill
HarperCollins
2010

Ignatius Martin Perrish spent the night drunk and doing terrible things.  He woke the next morning with a headache, put his hands to his temples, and felt something unfamiliar, a pair of knobby pointed protuberances.

Merrin Williams is dead, slaughtered under inexplicable circumstances, leaving her beloved boyfriend Ignatius Perrish as the only suspect.  On the first anniversary of Merrin’s murder, Ig spends the night drunk and doing awful things.  When he wakes the next morning he has a thunderous hangover…and horns growing from his temples.  Ig possesses a terrible new power to go with his terrible new look – a macabre gift he intends to use to find the monster who killed his lover.  Being good and praying for the best got him nowhere.  Now it’s time for revenge…it’s time the devil had his due…

Okay, so, here’s the thing.  I find myself a fan of Joe Hill’s prose work.  After reading first Heart Shaped Box, and then his short story collection 20th Century Ghosts, I was hooked on the guy’s style.  Now, after reading a trade paperback edition of his 2010 novel Horns, I must admit to being a full-fledged fan of the man’s output.  The problem is – his work on the comic series Locke & Key notwithstanding – there’s only the three books from him.  And I’ve read them already.  It’s not like when I got into, say (just picking it out at random, no reason at all) Stephen King back in the day, where after reading a couple there were still the plethora of novels by him to get my fix on, and…

Huh?  What’s that?  No, there was no reason I brought up Stephen King.  What?  No, you’re crazy. That can’t be right.  Feh.  Moving along…

Horns is Joe Hill’s second full-length novel, and let me tell you – he seems to have a very natural talent to tell a tale that is fantastical, yet in a way that seems quite plausible.  The characters, the dialogue between everyone, the entire scope of the story, everything seemed fleshed out and palpable without getting bogged down too much. The story kept on at a good clip, and though there were a couple of points where it may have dragged a skosh, overall this tale was over far too quickly.  Horns is a fantastic supernatural mystery thriller that kept me turning the pages, and lamenting the times where I had to put down the book for such mundane things as “working” or “sleeping” or “eating” and stuff like that.  Highly recommended.  Now, to wait for the next book.  This could be excruciating.

Book Review: The HOUSE (Bentley Little)

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The House

Bentley Little
Signet
1999

Five strangers are about to discover that they share a dark bond.  A haunted childhood.  A shocking secret.  A memory of the houses they lived in – each one eerily identical to the next.  From the remote foothills of the west to the green lawns of sunny suburbia, they are returning – to the past, to the unspeakable events they long to forget…to the house.  And their journeys are about to converge, in one terrifying challenge to confront their nightmares – or be trapped inside them forever…

Bentley Little is another author I just recently started to get into in the past year, mostly due to the recommendations of a Laundromat attendant I knew, if you can believe that.  Well, I guess it doesn’t really make that much of a difference if you believe me or not, as it doesn’t really alter reality.  Unfortunately.

As far as Bentley Little goes, yeah…this guy seems to have a direct tap into that mysterious source of dark imagination that lies on that borderline on the edge of nightmarish madness.  The same kind of thing that the likes of H. P. Lovecraft, Stephen King and Clive Barker dwell around regularly.  Only with Little, his fiction seems to blend together the real and the supernatural imaginings with a pretty talented hand, reminding me of Richard Matheson.

The House, Little’s tenth novel, is very fortunately not your usual haunted house kind of horror novel.  Yes, there’s the supernatural bleeding through to reality; yes, there are ghosts both malevolent and otherwise; and yes, there’s the whole mystery surrounding the questions of “why” and “how” that are addressed.  But, without giving away spoilers, it’s all handled with a unique-ish spin that kept me glued to the mystery of what was going on.  And let me just say, Mr. Little has a rather unassuming and twistedly disturbing imagination.  Not quite as dark as Clive Barker, but…yeah, it’s rather effective.

Overall, The House was a good, straight-forward horror tale, satisfying and inspired.

Book Review: NOS4A2 (Joe Hill)

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NOS4A2

Joe Hill
William Morrow
2013

The Brat was eight years old the first time she rode over the covered bridge that crossed the distance between Lost and Found.

Victoria McQueen has an uncanny knack for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions.  When she rides her bicycle over the rickety old covered bridge in the woods near her house, she always emerges in the places she needs to be.  Vic doesn’t tell anyone about her unusual ability, because she knows no one will believe her.  She has trouble understanding it herself.
                Charles Talent Manx has a gift of his own.  He likes to take children for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the vanity plate NOS4A2.  In the Wraith, he and his innocent guests can slip out of the everyday world and onto hidden roads that leads to an astonishing playground of amusements he calls Christmasland.  Mile by mile, the journey across the highway of Charlie’s twisted imagination transforms his precious passengers, leaving them as terrifying and unstoppable as their benefactor.
                And then comes the day when Vic goes looking for trouble…and finds her way, inevitably, to Charlie.
                That was a lifetime ago.  Now, the only kid ever to escape Charlie’s unmitigated evil is all grown up and desperate to forget.
                But Charlie Manx hasn’t stopped thinking about the exceptional Victoria McQueen. On the road again, he won’t slow down until he’s taken his revenge.  He’s after something very special – something Vic can never replace.
                As a life-and-death battle of wills builds – her magic pitted against his – Vic McQueen prepares to destroy Charlie once and for all…or die trying…

Ever since picking up a mass paperback copy of Heart Shaped Box with a Hasting’s gift card I got the Christmas before, I’ve found myself curiously hooked on the writings of Joe Hill since then.  From there I picked up and devoured both is 20th Century Ghosts collection, and his second proper novel Horns when I could find the time and the money.  So, when word came out that his third novel – the curiously titled NOS4A2 – was soon to be published, I suddenly found myself as giddy with fanboy anticipation as a lonely housewife awaiting the new Twilight installment.  Only, in this case, I was awaiting quality literary entertainment.

Okay, okay, that was too easy.  Let’s move on, shall we?

The week NOS4A2 was released to book stores, I did something rare: I bought the first edition hardcover. My sense of fanboy urgency trumped my sense of spendthrift, which hardly ever happens.  The question then remained – would NOS4A2 live up to the standard that Joe Hill set on his previous novels and short stories?  The short answer would be a resounding “oh, HECK yeah!”

NOS4A2 is yet another example of good, quality modern dark fantasy, exploring the concepts of dreams and ideas being made manifest in the real world, and the power the dreamer has to use this kind of creative manifestations for good or evil, and the consequences for both.  The story is not an easy one, like most any store worth the ink and paper it’s printed on.  It’s richly imaginative, densely layered, and quite frankly something that I didn’t want to end so quickly.  And this sucker’s 689 pages long, including the Acknowledgements page…and it’s strongly suggested by the author himself that you read the Acknowledgements page.

Point is, like his other books, it took me very little time indeed to read this lovely tome.  Fans of deliciously dark fantasy needs to check this one out post haste.

Movie Review: DEAD TONE (7eventy 5ive)

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Dead-Tone-Poster-small

Screen Media Films
2007
R

“Why aren’t we partying?  Hit the music, white boy!”

Finals at the prestigious University of Dreyskill are finally over and it’s time to party.  “The Crew”, as they are known by their peers and dorm mates, are invited to a rich classmate’s hideaway mansion high up in the hills of Colorado.  What was supposed to be a weekend of fun and relaxation quickly becomes a trip they will never forget…if they survive!  A simple game of prank scare phone calls becomes an intense game of survival and escape when one of the Crew members accidentally calls the wrong person. [IMDb]

Okay, so as you may have figured out by the subject heading up above, Dead Tone was originally entitled 7eventy 5ive.  Yeah, kinda glad they didn’t go with that one, there.  I do believe the whole numbers-replacing-letters-in-a-word thing has been played out by the time this thing was made.  The only other interesting thing about this movie is that it has Rutger Hauer – whom you may recognize from such better movies as Blade Runner, Sin City, and Batman Begins – as a detective who reopens the 10-year-old cold case to capture the killer.  Otherwise, Dead Tone is one of those by-the-numbers slasher flicks that stars the more annoying set of killer fodder I’ve had to sit through, and a soundtrack that was mostly rap and hip-hop.  Yeah, I was rooting for the killing to start about 30 minutes in.  Unfortunately, the red-n-frothy didn’t start flowing until nearly an hour into this.  Even then, the kills are very generic, using mostly an axe. No imagination went into the killer’s gimmick, just a hooded parka and he was good to go.  Yawn.  And once again, the big “twist” near the end failed to catch me off guard.

I’ll keep this review short and sweet: us veteran horror fiends can pass on Dead Tone.  Nothing new here.  Even the slashers of the 1990s had gimmicks going for them.  This one, while one of the better produced slasher flicks, fails to tickle my fancy.  I give this a good, hard “meh”.

Movie Review: ABRAHAM LINCOLN VS. ZOMBIES

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abraham lincoln vs zombies

The Asylum
2012
NR

“Kill all these zombies.”

While the Civil War rages on, President Abraham Lincoln must undertake an even more daunting task: Destroying the Confederate Undead.

It was inevitable.  With a movie that was getting as much hype has Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was, chances were good that there would be a mockbuster released beforehand.  And The Asylum did not disappoint at all.  In keeping with the long-standing and proud tradition, Abraham Lincoln Vs. Zombies is every bit the ultra-low budget flick we’ve all come to know and love from the company.

With a script that plays really fast and loose with actual history – at one point, a very young Theodore Roosevelt joins Lincoln’s zombie hunting party, and he does indeed walk softly and carry a big stick – acting that reminds me of the quality found in small town community play actors, and a budget that barely covered the zombie makeup and period clothing expenses, I would suspect there would be two opposite yet equally powerful responses to this movie: Disgust that someone would actually make something like this, or giddiness at the prospect of bad movie goodness to subject your friends to.  Take a wild guess as to how I responded.  Go on.  I dare you.

For those of you who like their low-budget horror flicks bad, there are several groaning face-palm moments, mostly from the acting and the dialog alone (“Emancipate THIS!”  Actual words uttered.  I had to do a rewind double-take to make sure it wasn’t my brain messing with me), though the quite visible spirit gum used on General Jackson’s beard kept me chuckling every time he was on screen.  Not to mention the worst Southern accents I’ve heard since Kenneth Branagh’s Dr. Loveless in that Wild Wild West abomination.  As far as the zombies go, I have to say I was impressed.  I wasn’t joking much when I said that most of the budget went to the zombie makeup effects.  It doesn’t take much to make a good zombie, but at least the makeup crew took their time and did something impressive with what they had.  Some of the zombie players didn’t seem to actually get how zombies move and act – there are some runners in here, folks – but for the most part they were fun.  There was one thing, though, which seemed a bit too convenient, and that was the “zombie death-sleep”, wherein they stand really still, unresponsive unless they hear a noise.  Which made some of the “escape” scenes anticlimactic.

Overall, though, the 90+ some minute run time coupled with what is essentially an historical melodrama with zombies made things a bit long in the tooth.  More than once I was checking the time to see how much longer there was to sit through, and that’s never a good sign.  Especially for a zombie flick.  Check it out for a good movie bashing party.  Or a zombie theme night.  Loves me some zombie theme nights.

Movie Review: AAAH! ZOMBIES!

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aaah zombies

Shadowpark Pictures
2007
NR

“I don’t feel like a zombie.”
“Yeah, well idiots don’t feel stupid but they are.”

Aaah! Zombies! is a low budget zom-com that I stumbled upon the Net Flix streaming at the House of Boz not too long ago. As always, the title itself intrigued me, so I figured I’d make it a Zombie Afternoon. Okay, so it was more like a late morning that went into afternoon.

Anyway, in Aaah! Zombies! (also known as Wasting Away…kinda prefer the former, there) a military experiment to create a Super Soldier serum goes awry, like they always do, and turn the test subjects into flesh eating zombies after they die from the injection, like they always do. There’s a mishap while transporting the zombifying juice (like they always do), contaminating a town’s dairy supply (okay, that normally doesn’t happen, I’ll admit), turning a couple of slacker bowling alley employees and their respective girlfriends into zombies.

Only, the undead don’t know they’re undead. And they’re left to wonder why everyone’s running away screaming from them, or shooting and/or beating them with varying blunt and sharp objects. And there are other things that are befuddling, like why that gaping chest wound doesn’t really hurt.

Like with any low-budget independent horror flick, I went into this not expecting much. Unlike most low-budget independent horror flicks, however, I actually enjoyed Aaah! Zombies! beginning to end. The concept of the zombies not realizing they’re zombies – as a matter of fact, they see themselves as normal – is a really good twist that was pulled off really well. When the film is in black and white, it’s the “normal” world, and when it switches to color, you’re seeing things from the perspective of the zombies.

The story was great, the acting tongue-in-cheek and hammy without going overboard, and the all-important zombie action was effectively very good. Overall, Aaah! Zombies! was a highly entertaining and fun surprise zombie find. Recommended, indeed…

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