Book Review: WORMWOOD

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1-29 - Book Review: WORMWOODPoppy Z. Brite
Dell
1994

In an old car rocking down a North Carolina highway with the radio on so loud you can’t hear the music… Behind a dusty Georgia carny show… In a mausoleum in Baton Rouge, or in an alley in Calcutta… Here wanderers come to rest, the lost and lonely press their bodies up against each other, the heat rises, flesh yields, bones are barred, blood spills. This is the landscape of today’s most brilliant young horror writer, Poppy Z. Brite. Now, in a collection that sings like cutting edge rock n’ roll and shows the deft touch of a master storyteller, Poppy Z. Brite weaves her unique spell of the erotic, the frightening, and the forbidden…

Early on, Poppy Z. Brite’s style of modern Southern Gothic horror rivaled that of fellow New Orleans dweller Anne Rice, but never seemed to find as big a reader base. Which is a shame, as during Brite’s horror period presented stories that didn’t shock you so much as it slithered over your skin and burrowed deep into your brain like a parasite that slowy made you go insane. Yeah, it was that kind of horror fiction.

This collection of short stories began life in the UK under the title Swamp Foetus. Although it’s the third publication for the author, it’s worth noting that the stories are early works, written between 1986 and 1992. With them, you can see the progression of the writing style that would eventually typify the full-length novels.

Of note, there are a couple of stories here–“Angels” and “How to Get Ahead in New York”, the later of which is quite the black comedy pun–that feature the appearance of Steve and Ghost, characters that are familiar to those who have read Lost Souls and Drawing Blood, and since I read Lost Souls before rescuing Wormwood from the Goodwill I spotted this in, it was a bit of a squee on my part. Yeah, I admit it. This is also the first place I read the now-classic zombie story “Calcutta, Lord of Nerves” (if one is to judge “classic” standing by how many times it’s been included in other anthologies).

Overall, Wormwood (as is the version I got, in mass-market paperback) was a very engrossing collection of early short dark fantasy fiction by Poppy Z. Brite. It shows the flashes of brilliance the author would unleash on future novels; if you happen to come across this, pick it up and curl up for a few hours of creeping horror goodness.

Movie Review: BLACK WATER VAMPIRE

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1-29 - Movie Review: BLACK WATER VAMPIREImage Entertainment
2014
NR

What sick-minded killer brutalized four women and left their blood-drained corpses by Black Water Creek? Andrea Adams wants to know, and she’s taking her film crew to find out the truth. What they find there can only be told by the footage left behind. Blood-wrenching, soul-shattering terror waits for those who dare ends these woods.

I remember, back in the late summer, early fall of 1999, when the movie The Blair Witch Project was released. All of you kids out there who only know the Paranormal Activity movies as the “innovative found footage” type horror movies have this one to thank for that. While there wasn’t as many found footage horror movies that popped up as much as after Paranormal Activity, for a while any type of found footage movie was referred to as a “Blair Witch rip-off”. Mind you, that had more to do with aping the filming style, and not actually lifting the direct story with different tweeks to be “totally different.”

Black Water Vampire, on the other had, is a Blair Witch Project rip-off, not only as a found footage style horror movie, but it liberally uses the same premise and beats, only swapping out the location of Burkitsville, MD with Black Water, WA, and changing Witch to Vampire. There are some differences thrown in, which I will get to in a bit. But for the first two thirds or so, it’s hard to not shake off the feeling that you’ve seen this all before.

So, we got four amateur film makers driving out to the remote woods of Black Water Creek, to document the legend of the titular Black Water Vampire. While doing so, weird things start to happen to them, and then they get lost, and things get weirder, and then the point comes to where they find out if the whole vampire legend is real or not.

And this is where the film deviates from just being a Blair Witch rip-off. See, where The Blair Witch Project never bothered to show the actual witch (just some purported evidence of the supernatural effects of the witch herself, or whatever it was they made up on the spot while filming it), Black Water Vampire at least gives us the vampire. And boy howdy is the payoff a good’un. We also have a nifty angle where the townspeople are in on the conspiracy, and then the movie ends on a bit of a Rosemary’s Baby ripoff. Which, in this case, was actually rather good.

Now, the big difference between this and the movie(s) it borrows heavily from is that, for me, I went in expecting crap from beginning to end, and ended up actually enjoying the movie in the third act. Yes, the first couple of acts were kind of hard to sit through, as the acting was rather bad, and the characters themselves were of the type that you wouldn’t be able to stand riding along inside a vehicle for any length before wanting to quell your mental images of stabbing them repeatedly with a sport to MAKE THEM SHUT UP. Sorry. Once they start getting picked off by some mysterious…thing, and when they run into the vampire itself (which is a nasty-looking, actually scary Nosferatu-like creature, very well done), well, darned if my amusement level just went up.

Overall, if you can make it through the first parts, Black Water Vampire’s payoff is pretty decent. It probably won’t be the first choice for a horror movie fest, but it’s worth maybe a curious look-see. You could do worse.

Book Review: The TAINT AND OTHER NOVELLAS

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1-28 - Book Review: The TAINT AND OTHER NOVELLASBrian Lumley
Solaris
2008

A collection of thrilling tales inspired by H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos from one of horror’s biggest legends. This volume contains the very best of Brian Lumley’s Mythos novellas spanning the entire breadth of his illustrious career. From “Rising With Surtsey” through to the eponymous “The Taint”, these tales plumb the very depths of horror and show Lumely at his twisted best.

Going through the history of the life of H. P. Lovecraft, it was pretty much not only known that he didn’t mind other authors playing around in the nightmarish Mythos Cycle playground he created, but at times actually admitted to certain other authors handling the creations better than he could, giving freely to others the right to tinker with these concepts.

In case you were wondering what all of that has to do with this review of an anthology book by Brian Lumley, then let me take the time to welcome you to the world of horror fiction, and one of the more prolific of the Extended Mythos writers.

Just a very brief bit on Brian Lumley: He first discovered H. P. Lovecraft’s stories while he was serving in the British military, happening upon a well-loved paperback copy of reprints of his stories from Arkham Press. Shortly thereafter, he began to write his own stories which borrowed heavily from the world that Lovecraft created (and which so many others happily play in), and over time amassed a rather prolific collection. It wasn’t until recently, though, when his work began to find an audience here in the United States, after his Necroscope series exploded, and his older works began to be reprinted here for our reading pleasure. Even now, though, it’s kind of a fun hunt-and-peck game to find anything by Lumley that isn’t somehow associated with the Necroscope series. Fortunately, some are easier to find than others.

The Taint and Other Novellas happens to be the first in a two-book collection of short stories and novellas of those stories that were specifically written in the Lovecraft Mythos Cycle. After an introduction, the stories contained are “The Horror at Oakdeene”, “Born of the Winds”, “The Fairground Horror”, “The Taint”, “Rising with Surtsey”, “Lord of the Worms” and “The House of the Temple”. These stories represent works that Lumley did while still a Military Policeman, and not yet writing full time, and date from between the 1960s and 1980s. I’ve always kind of found Lumley to have an unabashed pulp style to his writing, and it doesn’t get much pulpy than his earlier Mythos stories, as showcased in this collection.

Overall, I found the collection…interesting. As I mentioned, there’s a raw, pulpy style to the writing, and probably due to the fact that these were early outputs, seems a bit more purple in prose than his later established work. The standouts were “Born of the Winds” (which was set in Canada and dealt more with a Windigo type creature) and “The Taint” (which, was actually written in 2002, 2003 and is the most recent story in the collection), which took a deeper look at the curse of Innsmouth. Titus Crow makes an appearance again in the story “Lord of the Worms”. I must say, though, the stories didn’t really stick with me much, which is not a slam to the quality; there just wasn’t much as far as doing something fresh with the concepts that Lovecraft left for us to mess with. Again, they’re early stories, and he got better with age. I would say, The Taint and Other Novellas is a collection for completists who are trying to collect ALL of the Mythos stories. Which is why I have this still. Otherwise, novice curiosity types could stand to hold off for a bit.

Movie Review: V/H/S Viral

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1-28 - Movie Review: VHS ViralMagnet Releasing
2014
R

A police chase after a deranged ice cream truck has captivated the attention of the greater Los Angelese area. Dozens of fame obsessed teens flock to the streets with their video cameras and camera phones, hellbent on capturing the next viral video. But there is something far more sinister occurring in the streets of L. A. than a simple police chase. A resounding effect is created onto all those obsessed with capturing salacious footage for no other purpose than to amuse or titillate. Soon the discovery becomes that they themselves are the stars of the next video, one where they face their own death.

The third entry in the V/H/S series, and I couldn’t wait to check this one out the moment I discovered it was available on VOD. As a horror anthology series that utilized the “found footage” style of format, these have been of better watchabilty than other full-length movies of the same variety. Maybe the found footage style is meant for bite sized bits of scariness, I don’t know. However, I found some time, and did the watchin’. And here’s the blow-by-blow of the shorts:

We start off with a wrap-around film that works as a buffer in-between the individual shorts, called Vicious Circles; a young man is wanting to make a video that will go viral (oh, I see what they did there), and manages to happen on something that would make his wish come true…at a great price, when we get to the payoff in the end. While he chases down his dream (and his abducted girlfriend), we’re treated to these short films…

“Dante the Great”
A two-bit illusionist discovers a cloak that grants him the power to perform real magic, which he uses to become the greatest illusionist alive. He just needs to regularly sacrifice his assistants to the cloak to maintain its power. What’s not required is videotaping the violent deaths of said previous assistants, which the current assistant finds. Wackiness ensues.

“Parallel Monsters”
An amateur inventor named Alfonso gets his dimensional portal in his garage to work, and opens up a parallel dimension where his alternate self has opened things up on his side as well. After shaking hands (and somehow not imploding both realities into antimatter), they both agree to briefly explore each others’ respective realities. Alfonso Prime notes that the reality of Alfonso Alternate is nearly identical…until he realizes that everyone there worships Satan and sport genitalia dreamed up by H. P. Lovecraft. Wackiness ensues.

“Bonestorm”
A handful of skateboarders and their video guy travel to Tijuana to videotape an amateur skating video, and inadvertently conjure up zombies for a Mexican death cult. Um, wackiness ensues.

As it stands, I understand that V/H/S Viral wasn’t as well enjoyed as the previous two entries in the anthology series, and I can understand why. This time out, there were only three shorts included, with a wrap-around that initially didn’t make much sense to me at first, which lead me to have to do a bit of research to find out what was going on with that. As far as the individual shorts go, I rather enjoyed them. Sure, they maybe didn’t have the same effect on me as, say, that Indonesian cult one on the second movie, or even that “I like you” girl from the first one (still have chills about her just thinking about it, now…which is why I bought her likeness on a shirt). But, they were still effectively chilling, and had nice EC Comics-level fun with the twists. If I had to choose, I would say Parallel Monsters was the best (you talk about a Freudian nightmare), followed by “Bonestorm” (which managed to make things creepy in broad daylight), with “Dante the Great” coming in at a distant third.

Overall, V/H/S Viral may be the weakest of the three collections, but not by much. Very much worth a look-see, and definitely watch this along with the others, back-to-back.

Movie Review: V/H/S/2

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1-27 - Movie Review: VHS2Magnolia Home Entertainment
2013
R

Inside a darkened house looms a column of TVs littered with VHS tapes, a pagan shrine to forgotten analog gods. The screens crackle and pop endlessly with monochrome vistas of static-white noise permeating the brain and fogging concentration. But you must fight the urge to relax: this is no mere movie night. Those obsolete spools contain more than just magnetic tape. They are imprinted with the very soul of evil. From the demented minds that brought you last year’s V/H/S comes V/H/S/2, an all-new anthology of dread, madness, and gore. This follow-up ventures even further down the demented path blazed by its predecessor, discovering new and terrifying territory in the genre. This is modern horror at its most inventive, shrewdly subverting our expectations about viral videos in ways that are just as satisfying as they are sadistic. The result is the rarest of all tapes–a second generation with no loss of quality.

The second anthology film of found footage style horror shorts after the surprisingly good first one, continues on in the style of wrap-around story while watching original shorts that the first movie did. Why mess with a proven formula? Here, it works just as well, if not a bit better. Let me give you the run-down:

With a wrap-around story called “Tape 49”, involving a couple of private investigators checking out the disappearance of a college kid, who seems to have a rather odd videotape producing obsession; one goes to find the kid, while the other checks out the video tapes. It doesn’t end well by the end of things, as you may have surmised by now. In between the wackiness, we’re treated to four short films in the kid’s collection…

“Phase I Clinical Trials”
A young man receives an experimental cybernetic implant to replace his right eye that he damaged after a car accident. That night, he notices one of the “glitches” the doctor warned him about: he can now see dead people in his apartment. The next day, a red-haired lady shows up, claiming that she had the same kind of experimental implant for her ear to restore her hearing, and that she can hear dead people. And the dead don’t like the idea of being noticed by living people. Wackiness ensues.

“A Ride In The Park”
A cycling enthusiast is riding his bike one lovely day through a state park, when he’s attacked and bitten by a zombie. He reanimates and begins a delightful romp through the suburbs, all the while capturing everything on his Go Pro. Wackiness ensues.

“Safe Haven”
Four members of a news crew are filming a documentary with a mysterious Indonesian cult, when the “time of reckoning” arrives. Wackiness ensues.

“Slumber Party Alien Abduction”
Um, a bunch of kids having a slumber party are abducted by aliens. It’s there in the title.

Overall, I think between the first one and this one, they run neck-and-neck to how much I enjoyed them, but I would have to concede that as far as stick-in-your-brain quality, V/H/S/2 has the slightly better collection. “Safe Haven” is hands-down the best one on the list, followed closely by “Phase I Clinical Trials” for a good effective supernatural ghost story. “A Ride In The Park” is a fun take on the somewhat-exhausted zombie genre. And “Slumber Party Alien Abduction”…well, it didn’t falsly advertise. It didn’t suck, it’s just kinda…eh, whatever. Regardless, I would definitely recommend checking this one out, along with the others in the series.

Book Review: The RESORT

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1-27 - Book Review_ The RESORTBentley Little
Signet
2004

The Reata is an exclusive spa isolated in the Arizona desert–a perfect getaway from the city for people like Lowell Thurman and his family booked for a relaxing five-day retreat. But what unfolds is anything but tranquil: unnerving encounters with strange employees, wild parties in empty rooms, something unspeakable in the pool. Then, one by one, guest begin disappearing. The Thurmans are afraid because out in the middle of nowhere, with no escape and no one to hear them scream, they’re left with only one terrifying choice: unlock the dark secrets of the Reata themselves before the real carnage begins.

My enjoyment of the works of Bentley Little have been well-documented, so I don’t think I need to bore you with yet another opening paragraph of how much I enjoy the works of Bentley Little (SPOILERS: A whole bunch). Saying that, I understand that there will be several moments where I would have to stop reading, shake my head and say to myself, “Self, that ain’t right.”

The Resort happens to hit all of the classic “that ain’t right” notes. This isn’t so much a haunted house type horror movie, as the titular resort in question just seems to be the chosen apex for the supernatural shenanigans that are going on.

The story revolves around a middle-aged husband and father who, in a grab to avoid going to his impending high school reunion, decides to take the entire family on holiday…er, vacation (sorry, I have this nasty habit of using British coloquialisms at times) at a rather posh remote hotel resort in the Arizona desert. And the place is gorgeous, what with the desert scenery, the swimming pool, the golf course, the theater and excercise room, not to mention the five-star restaurant. And such luxurious rooms. Totally a better idea than some kind of soul-rushing reunion with former classmates, right? But, since this is a Bentley Little story, things start going wrong the moment they all settle into their sweet suites: first the car breaks down. Then, because they had to be relocated to a different room than what was booked, the supposedly empty room that’s being renovated next door sounds like there’s all sorts of parties going on nightly there. Then the employees of the hotel start acting rather…badly, while the manager seems to be loosing his mind. Then, the hotel starts to rapidly lose its luster, literally, while the residents themselves start joining in on the insanity, which includes a rousing game of Bloodthirsty Gladiators. The answer behind all of this madness is rather mind-bending. And the resolution ends things in your standard Bentley Little style. Meaning, if you’re a fan of the happy ending, you’re going to be so very disappointed, here.

Yeah, reading this made my skin crawl. Very effective usage of the visceral hardcore horror devices. It lulls you into a false sense of security with its rather normal opening setup, but then hits you with the standard salvo of gleefully twisted and warped supernatural happenings that will stick itself into your brains long after you’ve finished all 400 pages of this mass-marketed paperback. The weird thing is, The Resort isn’t even the most extreme example in Bentley Little’s output.

Movie Review: RAGAMUFFIN

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1-26 - Movie Review: RAGAMUFFINDuality
2014
PG-13

Ragamuffin is based on the life of Rich Mullins, a musical prodigy who rose to Christian music fame and fortune only to walk away and live on a Navajo reservation. An artistic genius, raised on a tree farm in Indiana by a callous father, Rich wrestled all of his life with the brokenness and crippling insecurity born of his childhood. A lover of Jesus and a rebel in the church, Rich refused to let his struggles with his own darkness tear him away from a God he was determined to love. As he struggled with success in Nashville and depression in Witchita, Rich desired most of all to live a life of honest and reckless faith amidst a culture of religion and conformity.

Well, now. Here’s a rarity: A Christian film that I was actually looking forward to watching. This one being a dramatic biopic of CCM’s favorite hippie, Rich Mullins.

If you’re not familiar with Rich Mullins, he’s the guy who inadvertently wrote all those youth group campfire worship songs you were forced to sing. He was second only to Kieth Green as far as ironically being embraced by CCM culture while actively and vocally despising it himself. And like Keith Green, he too was taken from us tragically at too young an age.

As far as I go, I do have an appreciation of the man’s music. I mean, I happen to be one of those part-time WGWAGs that accompanies the the youth group in singing “Awesome God” ad nausium. Although, I do have a bit of a liking for more of his “screw the Christian Industry” period, as I did actively own A Liturgy, A Legacy, And A Ragamuffin Band at one time. Lost in the shuffle. Haven’t replaced it yet. Waiting for it to come out on vinyl. Carrying on…

Long story short, I was anxious to watch Ragamuffin, not because I’m a big fanboy of his music (I’m not), but more because I’m a fan of what he had to say about his faith and his interaction with other Christians in this world, and more to the point, what he had to say about the Christian culture and industry he found himself in.

After an opening where the movie Rich Mullins is talking on-air with a radio DJ that looked more like Rich Mullins than the actor did (because the DJ was played by Rich’s brother Dave), we go through Rich’s life growing up a farm boy who looked at things a bit differently, much to the chagrin of his old-fashioned father. He then heads off to college, where he meets up with like-minded friends, share a house, and start playing music in various churches and coffee houses. He finds himself pursued by CCM suits due to Amy Grant wanting to record one of the songs he wrote; he’s hesitant at first but then relents and goes to Nashville, where he at first works with Amy Grant, then manages to start a solo career. The response is lukewarm at first, but then he writes “Awesome God” which explodes and becomes his most famous song he never wanted to play live again. The CCM execs want more, but then Rich gets sidetracked by wanting to voluntarily live in poverty teaching music to Navajo children. All the while, he’s wrestling with God and his faith in a world he views as superficial and draining, his depression starting to get the best of him, until he happens upon a copy of The Ragamuffin Gospel. Then he gets into an accident and is killed. The end.

I know, I know, it sounds like I’m doing one of those sarcastic irreverent reviews, but I assure you I am not. As a matter of fact, I would like to say that Ragamuffin was one of those Christian movies that happens to be the exception that proves the rule: This movie did not gloss over things and presented a shiny, happy portrayal of the artist. Neither did the movie seem to over-exaggerate the more controversial aspects to the story for the sake of sensationalism. It did a great job in presenting a man who was a broken servant of Jesus, struggling with his faith in a very real way. There’s a scene here where Rich, in the midst of a depressive swing and crushed with lonliness in Nashville tries to call his parents and his friends, but just misses them as they leave right before the phone rings, and he finally collapses in the phone booth in tears. I actually had to pause the movie more than a couple of times, due to the emotional response this movie had on me. Well played, movie. Well played.

On the other hand, though, I don’t think the movie really captured Rich Mullins’ sense of humor. Mind you, I never met the man and cannot claim to personally know this, but from what I’ve read from people who did know him, that’s the one universal complaint from them: that they didn’t capture Rich’s sense of humor. And I have to admit, much of the time the movie Rich just comes off as more cynical and angst-ridden. And maybe as an unintended contrast to that, the end credits have a video of the real Rich Mullins on stage telling a story which ends in a punchline that had me laughing pretty good.

That said, Ragamuffin is a great movie, it doesn’t gloss over things that I myself have been open about struggling with, and is a movie I think every youth group in America should be forced to watch at least once. Bring the snacks and the tissues.

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