Book Review: COLD PRINT

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cold print
Ramsey Campbell
Tor Horror
1987

  • What grotesque abomination lurks in the abyss beneath the cold stone flooring of the church on High Street? What is the inhabitant of the lake…that putrid, pulsing monstrosity watching from the ebon depths of the stagnant water? What colossal midnight evil is unleashed from deep within the hillside by the moon lens?

Ramsey Campbell is one of the names in horror fiction that is easily one of the masters of the 20th Century boom, and should come right to mind with the likes of Stephen King, Clive Barker, Robert Bloch and Peter Straub. Sadly, not to many people I’ve talked to concerning matters of horror fiction have heard of him. Pity. This is an author that was given his own section in Stephen King’s Danse Macabre.

As for myself, I’ve read a couple of handfuls of his short stories in the past, usually in collections and anthologies, like with The Monster Book of Zombies and 999 in the Book Review sections of this blog. It was high time that I begin rectifying the lack of Campbell on this blog, and what better way than with a collection of his own short stories based on the Lovecraft mythos from back in the day, entitled Cold Print.

After an introduction where Campbell recollects discovering his first H. P. Lovecraft book at the back of a sweet shop in his youth, which sparked his own interest in writing strange fantasy fiction, as well as his early attempt at imitating Lovecraft’s style (and the resulting criticism by August Derleth), we then go into the collection of short stories that were inspired by that chance discovery. These date from the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Let’s go through them, shall we?

“The CHURCH IN HIGH STREET”
After receiving a telegram from a distraught friend, Richard Dodds visits the town of Temphill, where he discovers the terrible, horrible secret behind his friend’s disappearance…

“The ROOM IN THE CASTLE”
A researcher comes across a legend of an ancient demon-thing that resides in the hidden sub-cellar of a long-abandoned castle, and he decides to check it out himself to see if the legend is real…turns out, yeah…

“The HORROR FROM THE BRIDGE”
After a couple of generations, the son of a reclusive guy manages to finish up his late father’s hobby of trying to release the unspeakable horrific monsters that are trapped underneath the town bridge…

“The INSECTS FROM SHAGGAI”
A traveler investigates a bit of lore told to him at a hotel’s bar, about a mysterious large metal cone in the middle of the local forest, and the unfathomable horror that dwells within it…

“The RENDER OF THE VEILS”
A man follows an occultist he met in a taxi home one rainy night, and gets a crash-course in the entity known as Daoloth, the titular “render of the veils”…

“The INHABITANT OF THE LAKE”
An artist takes up residence in a secluded house by a lake that’s purportedly haunted, and is either slowly losing his mind, or there may actually be an other-worldly malicious entity that’s dwelling in the lake…

“The WILL OF STANLEY BROOKE”
Before his death, a miserly old man reworks his will to include his best friend that everyone never knew about before his death, and turns out to be a literal pale imitation of the man himself…

“The MOON-LENS”
Late one night, a medical doctor receives a visit from someone who is requesting euthanasia. He then tells him the tale of the literal life-changing trip that lead to his decision to end his life…

“BEFORE THE STORM”
A gentleman who is clearly suffering from some mind-bending feverish ailment stumbles into a tax building before literally falling apart…

“COLD PRINT”
One cold, wintry afternoon, a bibliophile on a quest to find books at out-of-the-way shops, comes across a special rare tome that the shop owner will let him have, provided he agrees to become his new priest of his mad cult…

“AMONG THE PICTURES ARE THESE:”
Here, Ramsey Campbell describes in detail a bunch of drawings he did in several notebooks back in the day that he once came across while cleaning…it’s interesting, to say the least…

“The TUGGING”
A newspaper reporter has been following reports of a small rogue planet that has entered the solar system, and suspects it might have something to do with the dreams he’s been experiencing, dreams he once had as a child…and shared with by his father…

“The FACES AT PINE DUNES”
In the wooded area near the RV park which a restless teenager calls home, something horrible, as something out of an LSD-fueled nightmare dwells; something that calls his parents out until the wee hours of the morning; something his new girlfriend wants to see…

“BLACKED OUT”
A man on holiday in a small German town discovers that the locals are a bit odd…especially that one knockout blonde that is leading him to the dilapidated church to be discovered by an ancient thing…

“The VOICE OF THE BEACH”
A writer that is dwelling at a bungalow by the beach is visited by a friend, and they both begin to succumb to the horrible, mind-bending secret of the beach itself after happening upon the journals of someone who once lived in a nearby forgotten ghost town…

Overall, I found this collection to be fairly interesting. Rather than just reuse the famous fictional deities that Lovecraft originally came up with, Campbell adeptly created some of his own original nightmare fuel, with the likes of Gla’aki (“The Inhabitant of the Lake”, the multi-volume grimoire Revelations of Glaaki, mentioned in various of the stories, much like H. P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon), Eihort (“Cold Print”, “Before The Storm”), Daoloth (“The Render of the Veils”), and the particularly nasty-looking Y’golonac (“The Faces at Pine Dunes”). My favorite tales from this collection were “The Insects from Shaggai”, “The Render of the Veils”, “The Moon-Lens” (which has a strong “Shadow Over Innsmouth” feel to it), “Before The Storm” (madness from the point of view of the one going insane intrigues me), and “The Tugging” (the concept of rogue planets also intrigues me, what can I say?). For a bunch of tales rooted firmly in the playground that Lovecraft built, this is one of the better collections. The drawback here is that, as is usual with stories that play in the mythos, some of these follow a rather predictable formula that, if you’re up on your Lovecraft, is familiar enough to follow in your sleep. But, perhaps that’s the point of these kind of stories. Anyway, for someone whose extra-Lovecraft readings have been of this and Brian Lumley, and believe me I’m looking to expand upon the bibliographies of other luminaries in the mythos, I would rank Campbell to be the better writer. That’s no slight to Lumley, either. Recommended for lovers of both Lovecraft and good spooky nightmare fuel.

Movie Review: EXTRAORDINARY TALES

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extraordinary tales
Gkids
2013
NR

“I don’t want my work to be lost forever. My work is eternal. I want that eternity. I want to be sure my words will survive me, that they will never be lost in time.”

  • Five of Edgar Allan Poe’s best-known stories are brought to vivid life in this visually stunning, heart-pounding animated anthology featuring some of the most beloved figures in horror film history.

Edgar Allan Poe. Any aspiring fan of the dark and morbid tales of yore know the name. I’m pretty certain that a collection of his short stories and poems are issued to you the moment you show any interest in the Goth subculture. I know I was. I remember the first time I encountered the stories of E. A. Poe: it was 7th grade Lit.*, and my teacher Mr. Wilberding describing the story of “The Tell-Tale Heart”. Of course, these stories are golden oldies trotted out every Halloween season; I, however, think that–like Halloween itself–these should be celebrated and read year-round.

Which brings us to the anthology movie Extraordinary Tales. This is a movie that takes five well-known Edgar Allan Poe** stories and animates them, each of them with a different animation style, and narrated by a different actor who has ties to the horror community as well. As a long-time horror enthusiast, I felt obligated to give this thing a watch.

There’s a wrap-around story involving a raven (of course) that supposedly represents the spirit of Edgar Allan Poe, having a bit of an existential discussion with a graveyard statue, worrying about whether his stories will live on long after he’s dead and gone. We then begin with “The Fall Of The House Of Usher”, which is narrated by the late, great Christopher Lee. The animation is flat, with CGI that looks like the finest a Playstation One game can provide. It’s not bad, just “eh”. The second story is “The Tell-Tale Heart”, which is narrated by none other than Bela Lugosi. How did this happen, you may ask? After all, as the song goes, Bela Lugosi’s dead. He’s dead, he’s dead, he’s dead. A long time ago, I might add. Well, this sounds like an old recording he did reading the story, and the old lo-fi scratchy sound of the recording actually enhances the animation style employed on this one. “The Facts In The Case Of M. Valdemar” is a nice creepy and ghoulish tale that is narrated by Julian Sands, who was in the movies Warlock and Arachnophobia. This one’s animated style recalls the classic pulp comics, with the main character animated to look like Vincent Price. Neat. “The Pit And The Pendulum” is narrated by Guillermo del Toro, and if I have to explain who he is, you’re reading the wrong blog. The animation style is standard CGI, and to be forthright, this isn’t my favorite short story of his to begin with. I realize Edgar Allan Poe took liberties with historical accuracy with this story (who doesn’t, really), but the situations still make no sense to me no matter how many times I read this. The visuals here didn’t help things. And finally, we end with perhaps my favorite of all of Edgar Allan Poe stories, “The masque Of The Red Death”. Here, there’s no narration, but does feature the voice work of one Roger Corman as Prince Prospero, in the tale of the rich and prosperous locked inside a castle and partying while a nasty plague ravages the country. Given that I happen to be writing this at the height of the Coronavirus pandemic and all the panic that comes with it, this has the added bonus of being a bit close to home.

As adaptations go, they’re pretty standard. I should point out that the stories themselves were truncated, so you don’t really get the full stories. And neither do the adaptations have enough time to let the stories breath, like with Roger Corman’s famous adaptations from the 1960s. But, Extraordinary Tales works as a good perfunctory introduction to the works of one of the more legendary American authors of the Romantic Gothic period. And anything that works as a gateway drug to becoming a reading junkie gets my enthusiastic support.

[*kids, back then, that was short for “Liturature”, and not “exciting”, or “excellent”, although for nerds like myself, you might say Lit. class was actually “lit”]

[**you can’t just say “Poe”; you need to say his full name for full effect]

Book Review: FROM A CERTAIN POINT OF VIEW

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from a certain point of view

  • In honor of the fortieth anniversary of Star Wars: A New Hope, this collection features Star Wars stories by bestselling authors, trendsetting artists, and treasured voices from Star Wars literary history. More than forty authors have lent their unique vision to forty “scenes”, each retelling a different moment from the original Star Wars film, but with a twist: Every scene is told from the point of view of a background character. Whether it’s the X-wing pilots who helped Luke destroy the Death Star or the stormtroopers who never quite could find the droids they were looking for, Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View places the classic movie in a whole new perspective, and celebrates the influence and legacy of the unparalleled cultural phenomenon, Star Wars.

As I’ve mentioned in previous Star Wars book reviews, I started reading the expanded universe novels around 2001, on the insistence of my friend Nex. This was long before Disney bought out Lucasfilm and Star Wars, rendering the novels to be what I like to call “professional fan-fic”, aka Star Wars Legends. Personally, my favorite ones that I liked to read were the three that contained short stories from the point of view of the peripheral characters: Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina, Tales of the Bounty Hunters, and Tales from Jaba’s Palace. I’ve always been intrigued by what the minor characters you see in movies, experiencing what’s going on, were thinking or doing that lead up to that moment. These books really scratched that imaginative itch I had.

Of course, now that those have been regulated into the Legends category, it was a wait to see if anything like those books would appear in the new official Disney canon. Lo and behold, in 2017 there was published the anthology From a Certain Point of View, a collection of short stories that were written by several authors, based on certain peripheral characters that were in the background of everything going on during the run of the first Star Wars movie, A New Hope. This was released in conjunction with the movie’s 40th anniversary since its release back in 1977, and since it features 40 stories (one for each year, I presume), I need to stop yammering on and get to the stories contained within this tome. Shall we? We shall…

“Raymus” (Gary Witta)
It’s the story of Raymus Antilles, the captain of the Tantive IV, taking place from essentially the tail end of Rogue One, when they launch out of the Star Cruiser Profundity, to when he’s choked to death by Darth Vader after their capture over Tatooine. Basically, this bridges the small gap between the end of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope…

“The Bucket” (Christie Golden)
This one deals with Stormtrooper TK-4601, who is the one who manages to nab Princess Leia on the Tantive IV, right after she sticks those Death Star plans into some random astromech droid that I’m sure has no bearing on the overall saga whatsoever. Oh, and the “bucket” in question refers to the stormtrooper helmets. You’re welcome…

“The Sith of Datawork” (Ken Liu)
A brief yet amusing look at the bureaucratic side of the Galactic Empire, specifically the paperwork involved for a certain gunnery captain that ordered his subordinates not to fire upon some escape pod that didn’t have any life signs…

“Stories in the Sand” (Griffin McElroy)
Here, we have a story about a Jawa named Jot who likes to hide in his secret space on the clan’s sandcrawler and watch the “stories” taken from the memory cores of the droids they find before they’re wiped for resale. Then one day, he happens upon the memory core of a recently acquired R2 unit, which shows him clips from the Prequel Trilogy, among other things…

“Reirin” (Sabaa Tahir)
A young female Tusken Raider outcast wants to leave Tatooine (couldn’t imagine why), so she’s tasked with finding a shiny stone held within the Jawa sandcrawler that happens to be selling a couple of droids to a moisture farmer and his plucky nephew…

“The Red One” (Rae Carson)
That’s right, there’s a story about the R5-D4 unit that was the Owen’s first pick from the Jawa’s swap meet. This goes into things a bit into detail as to why it fritzed out like it did…

“Rites” (John Jackson Miller)
Hey, you remember the part in A New Hope, with the Tusken Raiders who ambush Luke while he’s trying to find R2? This is a story about those guys. This one has a bit which alludes to the part in Attack Of The Clones, where Anakin slaughters a camp of Tuskens for killing his mother. Continuity, yay.

“Master and Apprentice” (Claudia Gray)
An existential bit of a discussion between Obi-Wan and the force ghost of his old master, Qui-Gon, during that part where Luke goes back to find his aunt and uncle kind of sort of not well…

“Beru Whitesun Lars” (Meg Cabot)
This is a short but rather interesting story narrated by the title character, Luke’s Aunt Beru, all about raising Luke and her thoughts on that. Given the ending of the story, it does raise more questions, here…

“The Luckless Rodian” (Renee Ahdieh)
Of course, there’s going to be a story about Greedo, the green-skinned bounty hunter that NEVER SHOT BECAUSE HAN SHOT AND THAT WAS IT…sorry. Deep breaths, here. Anyway, this is what led up to that confrontation, and it appears there was a woman involved that horked Greedo off in the first place…

“Not for Nothing” (Mur Lafferty)
Presented as a chapter from a book of memoirs by one of the members of Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes (that band in the cantina that plays a style of music that elicits giggles by myself immature man-boys when spoken of), this sheds a bit of light as to why a band comprised of Bith (a species with pink sensitive skin and big, lidless eyes that are unable to secrete tears) would be on a planet like Tatooine in the first place…

“We Don’t Serve Their Kind Here” (Chuck Wendig)
Now we take a look at the cantina bartender Wuher, who is grumpy but affable, going about his day trying not get involved with everything going down around him. Which includes the arrival of some farm kid and an old guy in robes with a couple of darn droids on the day that his droid detector is not working properly…

“The Kloo Horn Cantina Caper” (Kelly Sue DeConnick / Matt Fraction)
Kind of a wacky story involving Muftak and Kabe, the two aliens that…well, Google ’em, you’ll know them when you see the images. Anyway, this involves a sought-after Bith instrument, where the rent monies went to, and various other instances involving Greedo that demonstrates that the continuity between the stories are a bit off…

“Added Muscle” (Paul Dini)
And here we have a bit of a Boba Fett inner monologue involving that Special Edition scene where Jabba the Hutt confronting Han Solo in Docking Bay 94 with a bunch of other bounty hunters to collect on Solo’s debt. This one was written by long-time television writer Paul Dini, and let’s just say he doesn’t really nail Boba Fett at all. He sounds more like Lobo, from the Superman: The Animated Series which he has worked on. Really could have used K. W. Jeter handling Fett…

“You Owe Me a Ride” (Zoraida Cordova)
This one is about the Tonnika sisters, the two females that were seen maybe a split-second in the movie. Here, they head off to Jabba’s palace for a job, then decide to steal the Millennium Falcon to get off planet and…do stuff. Things don’t go as planned, obviously…

“The Secrets of Long Snoot” (Delilah S. Dawson)
This one’s about that steampunk clad snitch Garindan ezz Zavor, who lead the stormtroopers to Docking Bay 94. Goes a bit into why he was on Tatooine, and how he was trying to get back home…ah, who cares? He ratted out our heroes, guys…

“Born in the Storm” (Daniel Jose Older)
A rather amusing story told in the form of an Imperial Incident Report form, from one of the stormtroopers that happened to be in the group that were on Tatooine searching for a couple of droids…

“Laina” (Wil Wheaton)
Yes, that Wil Wheaton. Here, he pens a story about a rebel soldier on Yavin IV videotaping a message to his 2-year-old daughter, whom he’s about to send away with a couple of aunts off-world for safty’s sake. This one had me shouting, “THAT WAS MY JOKE GUESS, YOU BASTARD!” at the end…

“Fully Operational” (Beth Revis)
Here we have a story taking place shortly before and during that meeting on the Death Star where Tarkin informs everyone that the Senate was disolved and that chokey-chokey thing happened between Vader and an Admiral. This is from the point of view of General Tagge, not the guy getting choked, but the one who was concerned about the Rebels finding a weak point in the Death Star from the stolen plans. Interesting bit, here…

“An Incident Report” (Mallory Ortberg)
Taking place directly after the previous story, this is the rather angry incident report filled out by the guy who was force-choked by Vader, one Admiral Motti, Chief of the Imperial Navy. He doesn’t seem too happy about the incident, it seems…

“Change of Heart” (Elizabeth Wein)
This is from the point of view of…um, Unidentified Imperial Navy Trooper, who was the guard of Princess Leia while she was prisoner on the Death Star, and was present at her interigation by the hands of Vader, and on the bridge when Alderaan got blow’ed up…

“Eclipse” (Madeleine Roux)
Things are getting rather dark, as now, right after the previous story, we have one about Leia’s adoptive mother, Breha Organa of Alderaan, experiencing her final hour or so on the planet before getting blow’ed up…

[It’s right around here, where I had to pause and look at pictures of kittens for about ten minutes before continuing on with the book]

“Verge of Greatness” (Pablo Hidalgo)
Didn’t think we would skip a story featuring our favorite galactic despot, Grand Moff Tarkin, did we? Here, we get a glimpse of his black, icy soul as he contemplates the power of the Death Star, his acquisition of said Death Star, the destruction of Scarif and thoughts on Director Krennic, all while preparing to take out the rebellion once and for all…

“Far too Remote” (Jeffrey Brown)
This is a single panel comic involving stormtroopers and an Imperial officer (turns out it was General Tagge) searching out Dantooine for that rebel base…

“The Trigger” (Kieron Gillen)
Okay, so, here we have a story involving one Chelli Lona Aphra. As someone whose fandom of Star Wars only covers the movies, a handful of cannon novels, and The Mandalorian series, I had to look up this character. Seems that Aphra is a scavenger that is mentioned in a lot of comic book stories, and apparently appears here because it involves the obligatory search of Dantooine by Imperials, and her running into them while scavenging the abandoned Rebel base. Decent story, though…

“Of MSE-6 and Men” (Glen Weldon)
And here we have a story told from the point of view of the MSE-6 repair droid aboard the Death Star, some time before the destruction of the base above Yavin IV. You know, that thing on the wheels that skittered away freaked out by Chewbacca? That’s the one. Only, the majority of the story concerns the hook-up between a stormtrooper and an Imperial officer, as told by way of the recorded information stored within the droid. Like an episode of Queer As Folk in space…

“Bump” (Ben Acker / Ben Blacker)
Now we have a story about that one Stormtrooper that famously bumped his head on the threshold of the control room where C-3PO and R2-D2 are hiding out in the Death Star. You know the one. This is a story about what happened leading up to that moment, and what happened directly after…

“End of Watch” (Adam Christopher)
This is a story about an administrative Imperial officer in charge of the Death Star’s Station Control West, who is about to get off of duty for the night, when wouldn’t ‘cha now it, there’s an unscheduled arrival of some old YT-1300 light freighter named the Millennial Falcon messing up the traffic…

“The Baptist” (Nnedi Okorafor)
Hey, do you remember that eye-stalk that pokes out of the fetid water of the trash compactor, conjoined to that thing that drags Luke down into the water with it? Presumably to eat him? This is the story of that creature. Turns out it’s a “her”, her name is “Omi”, and she wasn’t planning on eating him after all, really…

“Time of Death” (Cavan Scott)
Finally we have a story about Obi-Wan Kenobi, told from his point of view…just after he’s killed by Darth Vader. Buncha flashbacks in this interesting story, which features a 3-year-old Luke Skywalker at one point…

“There Is Another” (Gary D. Schmidt)
Hey, a story involving Master Yoda. Who wasn’t a part of A New Hope. Eh, whatever. Here, he’s getting ready to plant some seeds for food, takes on some Imperial probe droids, and senses the death of Obi-Wan. It also seems Yoda would rather train Leia rather than Luke as a Jedi, as Obi’s force ghost tries to convince him otherwise. Also, there’s a cooking pot…

“Palpatine” (Ian Doescher)
Okay, so, this one was written by the guy who has written the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars book series, so this story is also written in iambic pentameter. And, true to the title, this one is from the point of view of Emperor Palpatine, after hearing news of Obi-Wan Kenobi at the hands of Darth Vader. He goes from gloating, to worry about other Jedi that may have slipped the Jedi Purge, right back to gloating again…

“Sparks” (Paul S. Kemp)
This one focuses on Dex Tiree, one of the pilots in Gold Squadron, and his thoughts on things as he goes through the briefing on the Death Star schematics, and his favorite R5 unit nicknamed “Sparks”, going on the run on the Death Star…kind of ends on a downer, this one…

“Duty Roster” (Jason Fry)
And here we have a story from one of the other starfighter pilots that didn’t partake of the run on the Death Star due to some anger issues, mostly due to the Empire ravaging his home world, but also having the nickname of “Fake Wedge”…

“Desert Son” (Pierce Brown)
A story told from the point of view of Biggs Darklighter, Luke’s friend from Tatooine. This focuses mainly on his perspective of the trench run on the Death Star, and what’s going through Bigg’s head, up until it was his windshield…

“Grounded” (Greg Rucka)
Here’s something from a mechanic on the Rebel base on Yavin 4, named Nera Kase. We get a look at the situation and tension at the base as the battle of Yavin takes place over the radio broadcast, and the weight that the deaths have on the ground crew…

[again, I had to pause to look at kitties…man, this is taking more out of me than expected…]

“Contingency Plan” (Alexander Freed)
And now, a story of Mon Mothma, another character that didn’t appear in A New Hope. Anyway, in this story, it’s explained why she was absent during the Battle of Yavin, and delves into the inner turmoil she was experiencing after Alderaan was destroyed. It gets kinda dark, this one does…

“The Angle” (Charles Soule)
Another story involving a beloved character that didn’t really appear until one of the later movies. This one involves Lando Calrissian, having a friendly game of Klikklak interrupted by an Imperial officer and a handful of stormtroopers, and then witnessing a holovid of the Empire’s Death Star being blow’ed up with the help of his former ship, the Millennial Falcon…

“By Whatever Sun” (E. K. Johnson / Ashely Eckstein)
The penultimate story in the collection (I just wanted to write the word “penultimate”), and it’s another one featuring a periferal character that originated outside the movie proper: Captain Miara Larte, one of the few survivors of Alderaan, along with her crew are standing front-and-center of the celebration at the end of the movie. We get a glimpse of what’s going through her head as she witnesses Leia awarding medals to Luke and Han, totally snubbing the Wookiee…

“Whills” (Tom Angleberger)
And finally, we have a very brief, but utterly amusing story dedicated to the unseen Whills of Star Wars legend that watches and chronicles the epic sprawling story of Star Wars, explaining where we get the opening crawl, and also where we got the Star Wars Holiday Special…

Well, now. This was quite the trip. For the most part, the stories here managed to take something about the movie that didn’t seem important to the overall story, and make it far more interesting than it should have been. The handful of nit-picks that I have concern the stories that involved Greedo in one way shape or form, as they didn’t necessarily jive with the continuity with each other. With the ones that took place in Mos Eisley, I had to remember these weren’t part of the Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina book, and thus didn’t share the same explanation of who and what the characters’ motivations were. Some stories resonated more for me than others, but I’m not really going to go into detail about those, mainly because these are subjective, and I’ve already gone a bit long with the review of this.

Overall: I’ve only read a small handful of what you would call the “New Canon” of Star Wars books, From A Certain Point of View included. I liked this collection. It told entertaining bite-sized stories from a galaxy far, far away, as expected. Also, none of the authors got paid to do this; they all agreed to have the proceeds go to a reading charity. So, for those of you who like that warm fuzzy self-righteous feeling to go with your rank consumerism, there you go. Recommended.

Book Review: CTHULHU’S REIGN

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cthulhu's reignDarrell Schweitzer (Editor)
Daw Books, Inc.
2010

  • Some of the darkest hints in all of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos relate to what will happen after the Old Ones return and take over the earth. In “The Dunwich Horror,” the semi-human half-breed Wilbur Whateley speaks in his diary of travelling to nonhuman cities at the Earth’s magnetic poles “when the Earth is cleared off,” and hints at his own promised “transfiguration.” Very few Mythos stories have ever touched on this. What happens when the Stars Are Right, the sunken city of R’lyeh rises from beneath the waves, and Cthulhu is unleashed upon the world for the last time? What happens when the other Old Ones, long since banished from our universe, break through and descent from the stars? What would the reign of Cthulhu be like, on a totally transformed planet where mankind is no longer the master? It won’t be simply the end of everything. It will be a time of new horrors and of utter strangeness. It will be a time when humans with a “taint” of unearthly blood in their ancestry may come into their own. It will be a time foreseen only by authors with the kind of finely honed imaginative visions as those included in Cthulhu’s Reign.

When it comes to H. P. Lovecraft, one of the more admiral traits of the man–once you get past his laughable form of racism that could have only existed in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries–was that he was more than willing to let others play in his literary sandbox. And why not; his Cthulhu Cycle of stories and the vast mythos that erupted from that is fertile ground for both science fiction and horror. Numerous collections and novels have resulted from this; and this is my rather awkward way of leading into this look into this particular short story collection, titled Cthulhu’s Reign.

This collection does have a theme running through it: Stories that tell of humanity’s life on Earth after the stars re-align, and Cthulhu finally awakens and summons forth his horrible minions and transforms the world in his nightmarish image. Rather intriguing concept, I would say. Really, the book had me at “Cthulhu” when I spied it on the shelves at the local Half Price Books, but a concept is a concept. Let’s look at what we have, shall we?

“The Walker in the Cemetery” (Ian Watson)
A handful of tourists are trapped inside Italy’s famous monumental cemetery of Staglieno when the return of Cthulhu happens, and one by one they seem to be played with and picked off by some unseen entity…

“Sanctuary” (Don Webb)
A young man travels to a nearby abandoned Texas town to find and pick up a special Bible that isn’t really a Bible, in an attempt to keep him and his daughter safe from succumbing to the madness of the new gods that have taken over…it doesn’t end well, let’s just say…

“Her Acres of Pastoral Playground” (Mike Alien)
It’s a normal morning on the farm, where a man has built his own kind of safe haven against the horror of the Star Spawn’s invasion, when he begins to realize that maybe his defenses aren’t all that effective…

“Spherical Trigonometry” (Ken Asamatsu)
A billionaire industrialist commissions a special fortress to be built, one that features no angles whatsoever for the Old Ones to invade his space, only to realize too late that humanity is the oldest form of angles there are in the world…

“What Brings the Void” (Will Murray)
A glimpse into the reality of a couple of survivors of the invasion and mutation of humanity, as things get desperate, and one of them happens to be about to give birth to something not exactly human…it doesn’t end well…

“The New Pauline Corpus” (Matt Cardin)
Less a short story and more of a fiction discourse discussing the fall of Judeo-Christian ethics in the wake of the return of the Old Ones…

“Ghost Dancing” (Darrell Schweitzer)
A guy infiltrates a ceremonial human sacrifice to the Star Spawn to free the sacrifice…it doesn’t end well…

“This is How the World Ends” (John R. Fultz)
A glimpse into the reality of a couple of survivors of the invasion and mutation of humanity, as things get desperate, and one of them happens to be about to give birth to something not exactly human…it doesn’t end well…

“The Shallows” (John Langan)
A man tells the tale of his life before the coming of the Old Ones to a crab that helps him tend to his garden…I have to take a moment to let sink in what I just wrote…

“Such Bright and Risen Madness in Our Names” (Jay Lake)
A bunch of mutated humans gather together underground to plan their next desperate upheaval against Cthulhu’s reign on earth…, kinda bleak and nihilistic, there…

“The Seals of New R’lyeh” (Gregory Frost)
A couple of petty thieves that survived the Cthulhu Apocalypse steal some seals that purportedly are supposed to bring back all of the Old Ones from beyond their dimensional plane. and one of the thieves just happens to have the correct translation of the Necronomicon to bring that about…

“The Holocaust of Ecstasy” (Brian Stableford)
A college professor–sorry, former college professor awakens to find he is merely now a head hanging from a tree where conscience human heads are its fruit, and the land seems to be a nightmarish landscape designed by the Star Spawn themselves…and then things get weird as said former professor ponders the existential ramifications of his new situation…

“Vastation” (Laird Barron)
A rather mind-blowing jaunt back and forth through the history of reality through the eyes of a sociopath immortal-ish quasi-deity…gads, my head hurts now…I couldn’t look away, I had to finish it or go mad…moreso…

“Nothing Personal” (Richard A. Lupoff)
A science exploratory space vessel accidentally sets off a massive antimatter explosion on a planet of Old Ones, and they retaliate by turning Earth into a black ball of antimatter goo…do I even need to state that this doesn’t end well?

“Remnants” (Fred Chappell)
The last three humans alive on Earth race to a rendezvous point where aliens who oppose the Old Gods are going to take them to a place of safety…this actually ends well, nicely done…

Overall, yeah, Cthulhu’s Reign was a pretty good collection to read through. Pretty consistent theme going, different takes on what would happen after the Old Ones finally take over the place, all keeping things at a pretty decent clip, and ending with a story that has a glimmer of hope at the end. Nothing mind-blowing but yeah, I would recommend picking this up if you happen across it.

Movie Review: RETURN TO HORROR HOTEL

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return to horror hotel
Indie Rights
2019
NR

  • Anthology of twisted tales spanning horror/sci-fi/suspense. Giant attacking bed bugs, a magical charm turns girls into beauty queens, a WWII sailor who hasn’t aged, and the terrorizing severed hand of dead magician Harry Houdini.

So, here we are again, taking a second dip into the collected shorts gleaned from the Horror Hotel web series, Return To Horror Hotel. Look, I understand that I’m obligated to watch the sequel to one of the more painful horror anthologies I’ve had the displeasure of watching; if you know me, you understand that I have something of an almost irresistible urge to watch the sequel to any movie I’ve seen, regardless of how awful and/or painful it might have been. It’s the same thing with books and television shows. I may need to seek professional help.

Anyway, in Return To Horror Hotel, we’re once again reminded of the definition of “misnomer” as we visit the seedy motel in the middle of nowhere with four shorts: “Sleep Tight”, where a couple of young kids check in with the World’s Worst Aunt and have to spend the night staying safe from giant bed bugs that were mutated by the blood of a steroid using body builder. “Guillotine” has a beauty pageant contestant with a personality that would make Cardi B look like Mother Teresa trade her car for a pendant made from a piece of wood from the guillotine used on Marie Antoinette that supposedly makes the wearer irresistibly beautiful. “No Time For Love” finds a young woman delivering a book to a reclusive World War II Naval vet who seems to have not aged a day since taking up residence in the motel. And finally, “Houdini’s Hand” ends things with a couple of petty thieves who have stolen the titular hand, said to give whoever possesses the mummified hand the ability to get into any locked location, and of course they soon discover they got more than they bargained for, especially when the original owner demands that they return the item.

I have to admit that, unlike the first Horror Hotel movie, there is actually a bright spot hidden within here: “No Time For Love”, which actually plays things relatively straight, resulting in an actual thought-provoking and effective Twilight Zone-style short. Mind you, the premise seems to have been borrowed from the 1992 movie Forever Young, but still–a seed of potential, this one. Give it the ol’ spit-n-polish in the production and acting, and we have something memorable.

As far as the other three go, however, Return To Horror Hotel is more of the same kind of bad acting, bad scripting, bad production and ultra campiness that made watching the first Horror Hotel so painful. “Sleep Tight” was far too busy for its own good, and when the child actors are the least annoying things in your short, that really says something about the acting quality. Also, how come we never got more of that motel manager? I want more of him, please. Him and his ever-present bucket of chicken. Here’s your unofficial mascot/host of the series, guys. Anyway, “Guillotine” was just annoying, and apart from a few unintentional chuckles I got from “Houdini’s Hand”, that one was rather forgettable.

Overall: Return To Horror Hotel is another disappointing check-in. You can find much better horror anthology flicks out there. Pass this one up.

Movie Review: A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY

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a christmas horror story
Image Entertainment
2015
NR

No Elves were harmed in the making of this film.

  • It’s the season of joy, peace, and goodwill…unless you live in Bailey Downs. Last Christmas Eve, two teens came to a grisly end in a school basement. Now, one year later, a new set of horrors has come to town. As three friends explore the site of the massacre, a malevolent spirit is determined to keep them there forever. One of the first cops to the scene of the bloody murders has new complications as his seven-year-old son exhibits terrifying and violent behavior. And when a local family seeks reconciliation with an estranged aunt for the wrong reasons, they suddenly find themselves running in terror from Krampus, the demonic anti-Santa Claus. Not even St. Nick is immune to the terror as he fights back against a horde of zombie elves. This is destined to be a holiday no one will ever forget…

If you’re like me, and prefer something a bit more dark and sinister mixed in with your Christmas cheer, then you probably gravitate more towards the Christmas movies that fall under the “horror” section of the movie streaming service that you prefer. I used to say, “Video Store”, but who even remembers those nowadays? Besides us old people. Get off my lawn.

Anyway, there’s been some pretty good Christmas horror movies that have come out this past decade–Rare Exports, Sint, Krampus, Anna And The Apocalypse. One movie that somehow escaped my notice when it first came out in 2015 was A Christmas Horror Story. It came out before the movie Krampus the same year; I recall watching Krampus in the theater, whereas A Christmas Horror Story received a very limited theatrical run, before being released to VOD and DVD shortly thereafter. I had to check it out on VOD, and I’m rather glad I did so.

A Christmas Horror Story is an anthology film that features four short horror stories, all tied together with a wrap-around that features William Shatner as an alcoholic radio DJ pulling a late shift on Christmas telling the tales. I could just stop the review right here, and leave it at “You had me at William Shatner”. But, I’d be remiss if I didn’t go through with the review, here.

So, there are four stories: the first one deals with a bunch of stupid teenagers breaking into their school after hours to check out the place where two fellow students were found murdered a year prior, then they’re terrorized by a bloody ghost (no, I wasn’t going for British slang, the ghost is rather bloody); the second story finds one of the police officers that was involved in the investigation of the murdered students the prior year on administrative leave, deciding to take his wife and son out to chop down a live Christmas tree, only to come home to discover the son was replaced by a changeling; the third story finds a family visiting their elderly–and very rich–aunt for all the wrong reasons, finding themselves terrorized by Krampus; the fourth and final story finds Santa himself discovering that his elves and Mrs. Claus have turned into zombies, and having to take them all down, leading to a final showdown with Krampus…and then a big twist that I won’t go into here, as I want to have you watch this yourself to find out.

Overall: A Christmas Horror Story was a rather enjoyable watch. It his all the cravings I had for the Christmas spirit as well as my love of the horror genre, with the segments done very well, and the wrap-around story and eventual conclusion that tied everything together working very well. William Shatner as a drunken and sullen radio DJ is worth the price of admission alone. But, we also get the original voice of Beast on the 1990s X-Men cartoon playing Santa Claus, which was a good casting choice. Equal parts entertaining and chilling, grab some eggnog, hot chocolate, and Holiday kettle corn, turn down the lights and enjoy some Christmas horror goodness.

Book Review: GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST

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ghosts of christmas past
John Murray Publishing
2018

  • A present contains a monstrous secret. An uninvited guest haunts a Christmas party. A shadow slips across the floor by firelight. A festive entertainment ends in darkness and screams. Who knows what haunts the night at the dark point of the year? This collection of seasonal chillers looks beneath Christmas cheer to a world of ghosts and horrors, mixing terrifying modern fiction with classic stories by masters of the macabre. From Neil Gaiman and M. R. James to Muriel Spark and E. Nesbit, there are stories here to make the hardiest soul quail–so find a comfy chair, lock the door, ignore the cold breath on your neck and get ready to welcome in the real spirits of Christmas.

Now that it’s December, and the whole Thanksgiving season is in our collective rear-view mirrors (if you happen to be living in the United States, that is), we are now firmly ensconced in the Christmas season part of the yearly Holiday Clusterbomb. The lights are up, the trees and houses are decorated, the seasonal music is playing, and if you happen to be dwelling in the northern hemisphere of this planet of ours, the days are getting darker far earlier every night now. It’s a fun fact that this was the traditional season to be telling ghost stories around the fire at Christmas time, and I for one wish to continue this grand tradition started in the Victorian era. It’s a very Gothic time for me, so it’s in that spirit of the season in which I purchased this electronic tome of spooky stories set during Christmas to liven up the nights. Let’s take a gander at the stories carried within Ghosts of Christmas Past, shall we?

  • “The Story of a Disappearance and a Reappearance” (M. R. James)

Beginning with one of the masters of literary ghost stories, a man relays, through a series of letters dated December of 1837, his travels to a town to investigate the disappearance and possible murder of his clergyman uncle, and having a nightmare involving a Punch and Judy puppet show.

  • “Dinner For One” (Jenn Ashworth)

Narrated from the point of view of the ghost of someone who is still haunting their significant other, kind of disproving the whole “death do us part” bit of a relationship.

  • “The Shadow” (E. Nesbit)

Fun Fact: Ms Nesbit was primarily an author of children’s books, and only messed around with ghost stories and such on the side. Anyway, after a grand Christmas party at an old house, the housekeeper of this story’s narrator’s aunt stops by the room where there are girls telling late-night ghost stories by the firelight, and she’s invited to tell a chilling tale of her own–one that turns out to be all too real.

  • “This Beautiful House (Louis de Bernieres)

The narrator of this story sits outside one picturesque Christmas night, admiring the lights of a Christmas tree inside the old house he grew up in, prompting memories of Christmas past, and why the ghosts of his family keep pestering him.

  • “The Leaf-Sweeper” (Muriel Spark)

A story that answers the question: What happens when you surpress your Christmas spirit for too long?

  • “Christmas Eve on a Haunted Hulk” (Frank Cowper)

A gentleman visiting a friend over the Christmas holidays finds himself stranded on a wreaked and long-abandoned ship while duck hunting, and encounters something foul overnight. No pun intended. As a side note, this story references the 17th Century Gothic novella “The Haunters and the Haunted”, one I was not familiar with and is apparently available for free online. Nifty.

  • “The Step” (E. F. Benton)

An unscrupulous business landowner evicts a poor family from their residence, then begins to get the paranoid feeling of being followed at night. I’m sure the two incidents are unrelated.

  • “The Vanishing House” (Benard Capes)

A drunken banjo (that wasn’t a typo) retells the tale of when his gran’pappy and his mates came across the Devil one snowy night…I think. This was a weird story.

  • “Someone in the Lift” (L. P. Hartley)

A young boy of six keeps seeing a man in an hotel lift (that’s what they call elevators in Britain, gov’nah) that isn’t there, then has a dream on Christmas Eve involving his father dressed as Santa Claus on that very lift.

  • “The Visiting Star” (Robert Nickman)

A famous stage actress arrives in a small town to put on a play, and brings along her two companions who turn out to not be who they appear to be.

  • “Nicholas Was” (Neil Gaiman)

A very, very brief, yet very chilling look at Santa Claus in a whole ‘nother light.

  • “The Ghost of the Blue Chamber” (Jerome K. Jerome)

While visiting family, a man’s uncle tells the tale of the history of the ghost that haunts a room in the house called the Blue Chamber every Christmas Eve, from Midnight to when the cock crows; so obviously the nephew decides to sleep in said room, and discovers the ghost is very much real…and he makes a new friend that night…

  • “The Lady and the Fox” (Kelly Link)

A pretty good dark fantasy involving a girl noticing a strange man standing outside whenever it snows on Christmas Eve, looking in the window of her godmother’s house every year, which results in her growing love of the man and her plans to finally free the man trapped by the magic of a lady. Good way to end the collection of stories, very C. S. Lewis in scope and feel, here.

Overall, I have to say that Ghosts of Christmas Past is a pretty good collection of classic and modern stories. Of course, the two authors that I recognized right off the bat were M. R. James and, of course, Neil Gaiman; the stories each had their own particular tone and style going on, making all of the stories enjoyable; however, I have to say that the standouts for me were “The Story of a Disappearance and a Reappearance” (always a sucker for a good M. R. James tale), “Dinner For One” (even though the whole “twist” was rather evident early on in the story), “This Beautiful House” (touching yet unnerving), “The Leaf-Sweeper” (more of humorous than spooky), “Someone in the Lift” (has a dark Robert Bloch feel to the story), “Nicholas Was” (and not just because I’m a Gaiman fanboy, trust), “The Ghost of the Blue Chamber” (again, more humorous than spooky), and the ender “The Lady and the Fox” (for the same reasons I gave in the section, there).

Whether you go all out for the atmosphere and read a hefty copy of this by firelight in a tall-backed Victorian chair on a cold winter night, or–like me–you’re reading this by the light of a Kindle, Ghosts of Christmas Past is indeed a good way to get into the Christmas spirit in the only way people like myself know how: by giving ourselves a jolly good fright. Recommended.

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