Movie Review: The HOUSE WITH A CLOCK IN ITS WALLS

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The House With A Clock In Its Walls movie posterUniversal Pictures
2018
PG

“Be a dear. Fetch a knife and stab me in the ears.”

Ten-year-old Lewis goes to live with his oddball uncle in a creaky old house that contains a mysterious `tick tock’ noise. He soon learns that Uncle Jonathan and his feisty neighbor, Mrs Zimmerman, are powerful practitioners of the magic arts. When Lewis accidentally awakens the dead, the town’s sleepy facade suddenly springs to life, revealing a secret and dangerous world of witches, warlocks and deadly curses.

The House with a Clock in Its Walls was a young adult Gothic mystery that was written by John Bellairs and published in 1973. I’ve never read anything by John Bellairs. I even went through his bibliography to make sure I didn’t inadvertently read one of his novels in grade school and just didn’t remember doing so. I was a voracious reader, even back then, and gravitated towards mysteries with a solid spooky supernatural feel to them. Weird as a kid, weird as an adult. But, no, I hadn’t read any of his fiction, which is odd, as they would have been right up my alley.

Anyway, The House with a Clock in Its Walls was the first in a series of books staring protagonist character Lewis Barnavelt, and proved to be a hit with the readers. It was adapted once before as one of three segments in the television anthology Once Upon A Midnight Scary, which was hosted by none other than Vincent Price back in 1979. Then, it was adapted into a full-length feature film in 2018 staring Jack Black.

The first thing I want to point out about this adaptation is that, this is directed by Eli Roth. Yes, that same Eli Roth who gave us the movies Cabin Fever and the Hostel series. He also did the cannibal horror film The Green Inferno, helmed the Death Wish remake, and stared in Inglorious Basterds. I’m not criticizing his movie choices; I’m merely pointing out that Eli Roth’s name isn’t exactly in the Top Five of names that pop up when we’re discussing family friendly fantasy films.

Also, I didn’t mean to use alliteration like that. Totally unintentional.

Second, did we really need to use the lettering style in the title to be a rip-off of the Harry Potter film series titles? Derivative, smacks of desperation, shows a lack of confidence on the studio’s part for letting this movie stand on its own. Ultimately, a pointless gripe. Moving on…

As a movie, I believe that Eli Roth has a bright future with young adult family dark fantasy films, if The House With A Clock In Its Walls is any indication. This movie is right up there with personal favorites like the Addams Family movies and the classic Tim Burton flicks. Jack Black is his usual fantastic self here, playing the roll as the eccentric warlock uncle Jonathan Barnavelt kind of subdued to his normal manic style. He plays off well with Cate Blanchett’s Florence Zimmerman character, the longtime neighbor and friend who is constantly trading barbs with Jonathan. Owen Vaccaro is also rather good as the child character of Lewis Barnavelt, the nephew that is brought into the world of magic, starts to learn magic himself, and then resurrects the dead to impress his friends. As you do.

It’s dark, it’s whimsical, it has some great visuals as well as a good Gothic atmosphere, and it doesn’t shy away from the darker aspects of the story. The House With A Clock In Its Walls is a great movie, thumbs up all the way. Check it out if you haven’t done so already. Recommended.

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Movie Review: The HOUSE THAT WOULD NOT DIE

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house that would not die, theAaron Spelling Productions / ABC
1970
NR

A few years back, I bought one of these 20 Horror Movies for $5 packs from Wal-Mart. Among the list of titles included was this old gem, The House That Would Not Die.

Originally broadcast as an ABC Movie Of The Week in 1970, The House That Would Not Die is one of those made for TV horror movies that really are a different beast all together. I have a soft spot for these kind of horror movies, as it is a bit of a challenge to produce an effectively made horror flick within the confines of the acceptable broadcast television rules. Meaning, drafting something with talent rather than relying on cheep shock value. Some rather good Gothic ghost stories have come from these Movie Of The Week formats. So, how does The House That Would Not Die fare?

The story revolves around a house (duh) that was built during the Revolutionary War in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, that is said to be haunted by the spirits of the original inhabitants. The house is inherited by one Ruth Bennett, who moves in with her niece Sara. The aforementioned spirits don’t take too kindly to this invasion of their personal space, and so the wackiness does ensue, thus leading to the two living beings and a local professor to delves into the history behind the house and deal with the scandal that lead to the haunting. Oh, and Sara and the professor get possessed by the spirits as well at one point.

The House That Wouldn’t Die, despite the cheeseball title, is actually a pretty decent old fashioned ghost story that works more on the atmospheric level than the visceral scare level. I’m not saying The House That Wouldn’t Die is a great movie. It’s really just okay, having that early 1970s broadcast television quality to it. No effects beyond superimposing film image for that “ghost possession” look, the film quality grainy, and the acting reminding me of an episode of Little House On The Prairie. It’s worth a rental, at the very least.

Movie Review: The AWAKENING

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the awakeningCohen Media Group
2011
R

“It’s never darker than when we close our eyes, and yet we keep them shut. Why is that?”

The year is 1921, and author Florence Cathcart is a famous debunker of supernatural tomfoolery and the bane of charlatans in England. She’s contacted by a teacher from a boys’ boarding school, where there have been sightings of a ghost of a young boy at the school, which may have contributed to the death of one of the living boys. He wants her to investigate, to which she initially refuses…but, then she gets all soft-hearted because she, too, was an orphan once, and all that. So, she arrives at the school, and sets up her various equipment she uses to prove whether or not there’s a haunting. Doing her best detective work, she deduces the real culprit in the death of the young boy…and it’s not a ghost. Surprise, surprise. But, even though her job is done and she’s about to leave, something happens that causes Florence to question her sanity and remain at the school a bit longer during the holiday break. She’s beginning to see things, things that may tie back to her past. And also question whether or not there really is a ghost that wanders the halls of the school.

Overall, I found The Awakening to be an interesting old school style Gothic ghost story that has the same slow-burning feel of The Others and The Woman In Black, has a very creepy atmosphere and heavy bit of tension, and unravels as a pretty good supernatural mystery. Rebecca Hall is mesmerizing as the skeptic with a sad past, and I may have developed a bit of a fanboy crush. It tends to happen. I do admit that the way the story unraveled was a bit on the predictable side, adhering to the early 20th Century ghost story formula, but that’s kind of par for the course. The Awakening was a good movie, a decent way to kill a rainy Autumn afternoon (for effect).

Movie Review: Edgar Allan Poe’s The LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER

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eap the lighthouse keeperThunderhead Entertainment
2017
NR

A young man awakens alone on a remote beach, marooned there by a violent storm. Above the rocky crags, a lighthouse stands like a sentinel. The man seeks the help of Walsh, the enigmatic lighthouse keeper. Walsh insists they are the sole inhabitants of the peninsula. But the man is haunted by fleeting glimpses of a beautiful young woman, and plagued by visions of hideous phantoms reaching out from the depths. As this horror tale races toward a mind bending finale, the man must confront the grotesque denizens of the night, or heed the lighthouse keeper’s cryptic warning to “Always keep a light burning.”

In the pantheon of Edgar Allan Poe stories, The Light-House is a rather controversial one, mainly because it’s been disputed as a genuine Edgar Allan Poe story. It being an unfinished fragment (two pages) that was written in the final months of his life, “The Light-House” has the same themes that Poe was famous for, but it’s been pointed out that the writing style wasn’t consistent with his previous work.

So, logically, this was used as the basis for a full-length feature movie. It happens all the time, really. The question remains, though: Can it be pulled off?

Kind of. Sorta.

The movie starts off with a young man washing up on the shore of an island after a storm, unable to remember his name or where he came from. After seeing a lady run off into a nearby cave, he gets knocked out from a fall and wakes up in the bed of the lighthouse on top of the cliff on the beach. This remote lighthouse is curated by a cantankerous old salty man who’se none too happy to have surprise visitors, and tell the young man that the only ferry off of the island arrives in two weeks. While he waits, the young man helps out with the general upkeep and maintenance of the lighthouse, as he also puzzles out the mysterious past of the old man. Soon, though, he runs into the lady he first saw on the beach (despite the old man claims to him being the only one dwelling on the rock) and soon they hit up a bit of a romance. The young man is smitten, and vows to take this lovely young lady with him when the ferry comes. But then zombie ghosts of dead sailors start appearing at night coming after them, and before you can say “overACTING!”, the dark secret past of the old man is reveled, along with his ties to the young man, with the zombie ghosts overtaking the lighthouse and the young man managing to escape in a rowboat, only to be caught up in a twist ending. The end.

On the one hand, The Lighthouse Keeper works on a certain level as a slow-burning, Gothic style tale, full of atmosphere textured with heavy dollops of dread and madness-inducing claustrophobia. Think of it as an ultra-low budget The Others-style ghost story.

And unfortunately, it’s that lack of a budget that works against it where it counts. It’s shot on video, which gives it a PBS show quality, and features effects right out of the Spirit Of Halloween stock. It’s not for lack of trying, but the zombie masks do take me out of the movie, there. The acting is…wooden. I don’t know if it was chosen deliberately for that Victorian overacting style for the period, or if they were just local theater production actors who’ve never acted in a movie before.

Overall, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Lighthouse Keeper isn’t really all that bad. If you can get past the cheep effects and the acting, the movie is a pretty good ghost story with a decent twist at the end. It’s worth a rental for a look-see.

Book Review: HELL HOUSE

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Book Review HELL HOUSERichard Matheson
Tor
1971

For over twenty years, Belasco House has stood empty. Regarded as the Mount Everest of haunted houses, it is a venerable mansion whose shadowed walls have witnessed scenes of almost unimaginable horror and depravity. Two previous expeditions to investigate its secrets met with disaster, the participants destroyed by murder, suicide, or insanity. Now a new investigation has been mounted, bringing four strangers to the forbidding mansion, determined to probe Belasco House for the ultimate secrets of life and death. Each has his or her own reason for daring the unknown torments and temptations of the mansion, but can any soul survive what lurks within the most haunted house on Earth?

One of the books that seems to be on everybody’s list of Top (ENTER NUMBER HERE) List of Horror Novels, not only from regular horror literary geeks, but from some of the bigger names in horror fiction. Notably, I read Stephen King refer to it as “one of the most brain-freezingly frightening haunted house novels of the 20th Century…”. That carries a bit of weight for me, as far as recommendations on what to snuggle up with on a dark and chilly night, to tantalize my imagination. Which also had the adverse effect of being a bit daunting to actually pick up and read. Not because it would be “too scary”, but like every other thing I’m hesitant to read, what if it turns out to be not as good as my brain hyped it up to be?

Fortunately, that didn’t stop me from picking up a copy of Hell House and reading it. My copy, with the cover art itself in the upper part of this review, is one of the many reprints that have been made of this, in case you’re some how curious about things like what was on the cover printing. I wouldn’t know why, but I’m sure there are people like that out there. Anyway…

As far as haunted house stories go, I have to admit that I agree that Hell House is one of the better ones written. If you’re familiar with Richard Matheson’s style of writing, then you know that he doesn’t necessarily write straight horror stories. He has said as much himself. They are horror, yes, but there’s also a heavy dose of science fiction that ties it down a bit more to earth rather than the supernatural. That isn’t to say there wasn’t a lot to cause my skin to crawl and want to turn on more than just one lamp while reading this, mind you. Such is Matheson’s style.

The story of Hell House involves a very old, very rich man hiring four people in different specified areas of research to investigate an old mansion that is rumored to be the site of many depraved orgies and debaucheries and death, and is now considered one of the most famous of haunted houses in the world. The old man wants to find out, once and for all, whether the nicknamed Hell House really is haunted, and if so by what, or if there’s actually a rational scientific reason behind the failed investigations done decades prior. To this end, he has hired a scientist and his wife to assist, a spiritualist, and a survivor of a previous investigation into the house that ended in a deadly disaster, who is tormented by his psychic abilities. Together they will stay inside the house for several days, attempting to determine if there really is something sinister behind the building’s facade, or if it’s something else with foundationally speaking. See what I did, there? I made architectural jokes. Yeah, whatever. Anyway, things start going wacky pretty much on the first day they arrive at the house, and everyone struggles to keep from going mad while sorting out the mystery behind the house itself. Or, you know, try not to die doing so.

This being written in the very early 1970s, there’s a bit more of, shall we say, an adult orientation to the story. And by that, I mean there’s a rather violent scene featuring necrophilia at one point, as well as some squeamish descriptions of possession and poltergeist manifestations going on. Add in some rather effective dark Gothic imagery with the house, and you really do have a spine-chilling supernaturally-tinged Gothic ghost story mystery that doesn’t end on a very up note.

I understand that there’s a movie adaptation made of this. I haven’t seen the movie, or even sought it out. But, I am glad I got around to reading Hell House, and seeing why everyone seems to hold it in high esteem. Recommended reading, my fellow horror hounds.

Uncle NecRo’s TOP 100 CHRISTIAN ALBUMS FROM THE 1990s, Part 3: 60-41

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Part Three of this list of Top 100 Christian Albums Released In The 90s. Continuing on, then:

deliverance-river-disturbance60 – River Disturbance (Deliverance)
…in an interview with Deliverance main man Jimmy P. Brown on a podcast, he mentioned that, after he recorded this particular album, producer/artist extraordinaire Terry Taylor told him he just recorded his Rubber Soul. Sure, why not.

saviour-machine-saviour-machine-ii59 – Saviour Machine II (Saviour Machine)
…basically a continuation of the first album, only more orchestral and grander in scope. Eric Clayton sounding as pretentious as ever.

bride-scarecrow-messiah58 – Scarecrow Messiah (Bride)
…I remember this being some great hard rock. Others remember this as the album where Dale Thompson cut his hair. Good grief, people.

disciple-this-might-sting-a-little57 – This Might Sting A Little (Disciple)
…before they transformed into another modern rock band indistinguishable from the others, Disciple played hard and heavy southern fried rock and metal, and this one here was the best of the bunch.

dead-artist-syndrome-prints-of-darkness56 – Prints Of Darkness (Dead Artist Syndrome)
…my favorite of all the DAS releases, as it’s also the darkest one going. Helped me through some really dark times. On my Existential Meltdown playlist.

detritus-if-but-for-one55 – If But For One (Detritus)
…second and last release by the U. K. heavy metal group. Even in the early 1990s, you had to import the good stuff.

mortification-1995-primitive-rhythm-machine54 – Primitive Rythm Machine (Mortification)
…essentially “Steve Rowe & Friends”, this one was tuned to a brighter Standard E, but still retained the heavy.

saviour-machine-saviour-machine53 – Saviour Machine (Saviour Machine)
…not the first Gothic rock album in the Christian market, but definitely the first time I was amused by the CCM industry lose their collective do-do over this oddball group. The album is pretty good, too.

ethereal-scourge-judgement-and-restoration52 – Judgment & Restoration (Ethereal Scourge)
…this could very well be the first death metal praise & worship album I’ve come across. Pity there was only this one full-length release.

deliverance-camelot-in-smithereens51 – Camelot-In-Smithereens (Deliverance)
…bit more metal than the previous release, a lot more somber, and the last Deliverance album we got until the new Millennium.

minier50 – Minier (Greg Minier)
…great crossover thrash from the guitarist for The Crucified.

detritus-perpetual-defiance49 – Perpetual Defiance (Detritus)
…a woefully underrated thrashy metal album from the U. K. Also, the production doesn’t do this justice.

circle-of-dust-circle-of-dust48 – Circle Of Dust (Circle Of Dust)
…the first release by the second industrial band I discovered. This was remixed and re-released in 1995. Either way, it was groundbreaking for its time.

mortification-1994-blood-world47 – Blood World (Mortification)
…even when toning down the death metal influence and adopting more of a groove and less growled vocals, this was still heavier than anything else that was being released then.

strongarm-atonement46 – Atonement (Strongarm)
…really good hardcore album.

zao-where-blood-and-fire-bring-rest45 – Where Blood And Fire Bring Rest (Zao)
…at a time when actual good metal was sparse, we had to make due with the metalcore that was beginning to come out. This was one of the least painful.

deracination-times-of-atrocity44 – Times Of Atrocity (Deracination)
…why these guys didn’t get as big as fellow Aussies Mortification is beyond me. The “Atrocity” referenced in the title has to be the really low production, otherwise this would have been a rafters-shaking classic death metal release.

metanoia-in-darkness-or-in-light43 – In Darkness Or In Light (Metanoia)
…some some really good death metal from the Land of Down Under that isn’t named Mortification.

zao-liberate-te-ex-inferis42 – Liberate Te Ex Inferis (Zao)
…one of the more tolerable of the early metalcore releases in my collection. Also, Event Horizon reference.

strongarm-the-advent-of-a-miracle41 – Advent Of A Miracle (Strongarm)
…pretty decent hardcore album. Again, it’s what we had to subside on until the bookstores and record shops started carrying metal again.

::END TRANSMISSION::

Uncle NecRo’s TOP 100 CHRISTIAN ALBUMS FROM THE 90s, Part 2 (80-61)

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Hey everybody, I’m back now with Part 2 of the Top 100 Christian Albums from the 1990s. If you missed it, Part 1 is right here. Now, without further adeu, here are picks numbers 80 through 61:

chagall-guevara80 – Chagall Guevara (Chagall Guevara)
…that one time that Steve Taylor fronted an actual band that was pretty good, but nobody noticed because it was 1991 and they weren’t from Seattle. Bummer, that.

77s-pray-naked79 – Pray Naked (The 77s)
…as alternative music goes, this one’s pretty good, but let’s face it: any band that can make the American Evangelical communities flip their collective lids over a title that encourages the listener to come before God with no pretensions, transparent and vulnerable has a place in my collection, regardless of the genre.

aunt-bettys-aunt-bettys78 – Aunt Bettys (Aunt Bettys)
…speaking of artists that consistently manages to piss off the American Christian subculture without even trying to do so, I present you Michael Knott’s woefully underrated side project, Aunt Bettys. ‘Nuff said.

scaterd-few-sin-disease77 – Sin Disease (Scaterd-Few)
…sorry to say that I was a bit late in the game in appreciating this particular album. It’s a classic, yes, and one of those albums that was controversial for many reasons, but mostly because they weren’t safe like certain other so-called “Christian punk” bands at the time. Incidentally, “Kill The Sarx” is where I got the inspiration for my online persona, The NecRoSarX. Now you know.

holy-soldier-last-train76 – Last Train (Holy Soldier)
…a bit more bluesy, quite a bit more mature than the first released. Kind of like Cinderella’s second release after Night Songs. You get the idea. I hope.

fear-not-fear-not75 – Fear Not (Fear Not)
…what is essentially the former Blonde Vinyl band Love Life, given the ol’ Elefante slick production makeover. Big, bombastic 80s hair rock, and a guilty pleasure indeed.

scaterd-few-jawboneofanass74 – Jawbonofanass (Scaterd-Few)
…this may seem like blasphemy, but I actually prefer Jawboneofanass over Sin Disease. I don’t know why, other than it flows a bit better, maybe? Is that pretentious-sounding enough?

deitiphobia-clean73 – Clean (Deitiphobia)
…contrary to popular belief, there was an underground contingent of Christians producing industrial back in the 1980s, but they mostly didn’t get noticed until around the time Trent Reznor showed up. Or something like that. Anyway, this is a good album.

dead-artist-syndrome-devils-angels-saints72 – Devils, Angels & Saints (Dead Artist Syndrome)
…”gothic rock”, “post-punk”, “gloom rock”, whatever, sometimes you gotta throw this one on with the lights off and stare at the wall.

bride-drop71 – Drop (Bride)
…stylistically different than the previous two heavier releases, more of a throwback to the Kinetic Faith release yet more mature than that one.

dig-hay-zoose-magentamantalovetree70 – MagentaMantaLoveTree (Dig Hay Zoose)
…released back when the word “Alternative” was thrown around like a brand name, this release saw Dig Hay Zoose as the spiritual successors to scaterd-few. Too bad it was to be their final studio release.

deitiphobia-lo-fi-vs-sci-fi69 – Lo:Fi Vs. Sci:Fi (Deitiphobia)
…a electronic industrial sci-fi concept album. Enough said.

lsu-this-is-the-healing68 – This Is The Healing (L. S. U.)
…dark, introspective, with an underlying twisted sense of humor. Probably one of the first instances of discovering it was okay not to be a shiny-happy Christian.

dead-artist-syndrome-happy-hour67 – Happy Hour (Dead Artist Syndrome)
…this was sold in Christian bookstores. It started with a song called “Young Sexy & Dead” (sure, it was listed as “Y.S.D” on the CD, but still), and has another song referencing the Church body as a psychotic knife-wielding back-stabber. That’s called “irony”, folks. Delicious irony.

bride-kinetic-faith66 – Kinetic Faith (Bride)
…hard rock with a southern twinge, and a total 180 from the hair metal they played previously.

zao-the-splinter-shards-the-birth-of-separation65 – The Splinter Shards The Birth Of Separation (Zao)
…at the time of this release, good quality metal was hard to come by, especially in the so-called Christian market. This had to due until some came around.

crashdog-cashists-facists-other-fungus64 – Cashists, Fascists, & Other Fungus (Crashdog)
…one of my favorite punk albums, it has all the hallmarks: raw, crusty, and probably the first instance of outspoken Christians protesting the G. O. P.

12th-tribe-livin-in-babylon63 – Livin’ In Babylon (12th Tribe)
…Run DMC style rapping paired with some metal riffs provided by Jimmy P. Brown of Deliverance? Yes, please.

index62 – Blood (Red Sea)
…a collaboration between the guitarist from Fear Not and the vocalist from Die Happy, and it’s a monster of a bluesy metal rock album.

wedding-party-anthms61 – Anthems (Wedding Party)
…basically Saviour Machine with all the beautiful richness without all the unnecessary pretentiousness. And a better singer.

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