Thursday, October 30, 2008

Interview with Author David Wellington

David Wellington is the fantastic author of such horror novels like Monster Island, Monster Nation, Monster Planet, 13 Bullets, 99 Coffins and web serializations like Frostbite and Plague Zone. If you are a horror fan and haven’t read any of David’s books…you are definitely missing out on one of the genre’s finest and most exciting authors. David has tackled zombies, vampires, werewolves and more…and with each book has made these familiar horror villains new, dangerous and scary again.

It was my absolute pleasure to interview David about where his love for monsters came from, why he offers his books online to readers for free and about his upcoming book Vampire Zero.

Fatally Yours: David, what made you want to write horror novels? Was there a cataclysmic event that got you into the genre, like an influential book or movie, or did you always have a morbid fascination with the dark side?

David Wellington: My mom read about ten books a week when I was a kid. This was back in the ‘70s and she read all the Stephen King and Peter Straubs she could get her hands on. When she finished a book she would put it on the coffee table for me to read.  She was-and is-a staunch supporter of freedom of speech. When she finished a really nasty horror novel she would put it on the table but before I could grab it she would say, “You can read anything you want to, but I don’t think you should read this.  It’ll give you nightmares.” So of course those were the books I wanted to read the most! They did give me nightmares, definitely, but that secret thrill of reading something that was forbidden stayed with me. The monster stories always resonated with me the most, as well. I was kind of a social outcast as a kid-we moved in the middle of my kindergarten year and I had a hard time making friends in the new town, so stories about creatures that could never fit into human society really spoke to me.

Fatally Yours: You’ve mentioned in other interviews that you have other numerous books you tried to have published before Monster Island. Were these also horror-themed? Do you have any plans to go back and try and get those published?

David Wellington: I started writing when I was six, and published my first novel at thirty-five. I’d written at least a million words by then, most of them just plain unreadable. I have a ton of novels on the hard drive of my computer that will never see print-and most of them, deservedly so. As far as I know, that’s one of only two secrets of learning how to write a good book: write ten bad ones, first. There’s plenty of horror in there, but also science fiction, fantasy, the occasional mystery or spy story or who-knows-what. That’s the other secret to writing well: write down every idea that comes into your head, and don’t worry about which shelf it would go on in the bookstore.

Fatally Yours: Why did you decide to publish Monster Island online?

David Wellington: To be honest, I just couldn’t get published any other way! It’s tough, trying to break into publishing, and whatever talent I possessed could only get me so far. Most editors don’t even look at unsolicited manuscripts, something I learned only after wasting hundreds of dollars in postage and printer paper over the years. After so long trying to get published with nothing to show for it, finally I went to a friend of mine who had a blog, and together we came up with the idea to publish the book as a series of blog entries. At the time I had no idea how to write a blog post so I just wrote chapters and posted those. It seems to have worked out.

Fatally Yours: How did you react to the popularity and ensuing book deal that came from serializing the novel online?

David Wellington: My friend, the one who had the blog, claims he always knew it would come to that but I really had no idea. I was just excited, happy, grinning like a maniac for days. Then I got the contract and it was all real and suddenly I had a job, the job I’d been training for my whole life. I was very worried I wouldn’t be able to handle the business side of writing-especially the promotional stuff. I’m still that shy outcast kid I was when I read my first monster stories. But it turns out if you really believe in a book, if it comes from your heart, it’s easy to talk about it. It’s actually fun to go out there and explain to people why they need to read this thing.

Fatally Yours: What were the pros and cons of getting instant feedback from readers?

David Wellington: Oh, I loved that-I learned more about writing in the five months it took to serialize Monster Island than I had in the two years I spent at Grad School doing writing workshops and reading books on writing. You can’t get defensive when somebody online tells you that they didn’t understand something you wrote, or that your facts are wrong. You just have to accept the criticism and move on-otherwise you spend all day shouting down the critics. On the other hand, when somebody says they like what you’re doing, you feel-well, it can be tough, when you’re just sitting in front of your computer writing a book, and you can see all the things you did wrong. It’s tough to stay motivated. That’s why it’s so easy to start a novel and so hard to finish one, I think. If you have a couple hundred readers standing behind their shoulders saying, “oh, that part is really cool,” or “I totally get this character”, you have a very good reason to keep going. I don’t think there are any real cons to the instant feedback the internet provides. It can be painful at times, when somebody just keeps telling you your book sucks, but that’s extremely rare and there are ways to handle it. More often than not the fans handled it for me, shouting down the trolls. If somebody really doesn’t like the book, usually they just won’t read the next chapter-and they certainly don’t bother telling you why.

Fatally Yours: Were the sequels Monster Nation and Monster Planet always planned, or did you decide to write them after the popularity of Monster Island?

David Wellington: The sequels came out of the feedback I got from my readers, actually. I had put in a throwaway line in Monster Island. The smart zombie, Gary, is talking to his mentor, an Irish bog mummy and he asks if there are any others like himself, zombies who have retained their intelligence after death. The mummy tells him there are two of them, one in California and one in Russia. At the time I just thought that was a cool way to stress Gary’s isolation. There was no way he could ever meet those others. The fans started asking questions, though, right away. They wanted to know the stories of those other monsters. So I had to write two more books to please them. Though I was having so much fun at the time with the serialization that I was definitely planning on doing more serials anyway, I just didn’t know that it would become a trilogy.

Fatally Yours: Why did you choose zombies for your villains? 

David Wellington: Zombies have always been close to my heart. I grew up in Pittsburgh, where George Romero made his zombie movies. I used to shop at the Monroeville Mall-the setting of Dawn of the Dead. I had written a short zombie story when I was a teenager but it seemed weird to try to shove this cinematic monster into prose, so I never took the idea anywhere. When I moved to New York in 2002, though, I started thinking about zombies a lot. If you want to get all psychological about it, the zombie represents our fear of other people, especially in an urban setting where you’re surrounded all the time by crowds of people you don’t know, whose lives are complete mysteries. My first few months in New York felt an awful lot like I was trapped in the middle of a zombie uprising-though nobody tried to eat my brains, of course. To be fair New Yorkers are some of the nicest people on earth, and very welcoming to newcomers (yes, really-if you’ve never been here, you should come visit) but there are just so many of them, and your idea of personal space really changes when you move here. So in a way Monster Island is a sort of twisted reflection of my exploring New York and learning to live here, a kind of survival story of its own.

Fatally Yours: Besides Monster Island and its subsequent sequels, you’ve also tackled vampires with 13 Bullets, 99 Coffins and your upcoming novel, Vampire Zero. Why did you choose to write about vampires after writing about zombies?

David Wellington: When I was a kid and I read Dracula for the first time, it scared me. So did ‘Salem’s Lot. These days when you read a vampire novel you’re not supposed to be scared. You’re supposed to be turned on. That… does not appeal to me. I think about the Bloofer Lady or Mr. Barlow and-just forget it. I read so many vampire romance novels that I felt I had a need to react to them, to try to make vampires scary again. I had an idea for a very short vampire story and I wrote it down. Then, as I always do when I finish a story, I thought, what happened next? The story became the first three chapters of 13 Bullets.

Fatally Yours: Of course, after zombies and vampires you released the online book, Frostbite, about werewolves. Are you going through all the monster archetypes?

David Wellington: Yes, very much so, because I love all those stories and I love playing with them, changing them just a little, adding my own take. The one I can’t do-for a variety of reasons-is Frankenstein’s Monster, which burns me up because he’s the one I’ve always identified with the most. I love all kinds of monsters and I love the fact that while they have so much in common (supernatural powers, a craving for human flesh, bizarre weaknesses, nocturnal habits) they actually come from such very different places. The werewolf has always been about our fears of our own dark sides. That goes back to the original werewolf stories, which weren’t novels or even fiction at all, they were court transcripts. Tens of thousands of people were burned at the stake in France and Germany during the Renaissance. And you know what? A significant fraction of them turned themselves in. They really thought they were transforming by night and terrorizing their friends and families.

Fatally Yours: Who are your favorite horror characters (vampires, zombies, werewolves, etc.) from film and/or literature, excluding your own creations?

David Wellington: Frankenstein and his monster, definitely, in every form they’ve ever taken, in books, plays, movies. There’s something about those two that always works, no matter how much they’re abstracted or how carefully we stick to the original book. I think everyone who has ever lived can identify both with the mad scientist who really, really wants to know what happens when you push the big red button, and also the creature who doesn’t understand, can’t understand, why he was created.

Fatally Yours: Who are your favorite characters from within your own works?

David Wellington: I really liked writing lines for Jameson Arkeley, the sort of Van Helsing stand-in in 13 Bullets and 99 Coffins. He’s such a bastard, and he doesn’t care what you think of him. And I’ve spent so much time with Laura Caxton, his apprentice vampire hunter (and star of the series) that I feel like she’s my best friend. Of course, that doesn’t stop me from creating problems for her and destroying her life…all in the name of good drama.

Fatally Yours: Tell us about your new novel, Vampire Zero, in which the hero from 13 Bullets turns into a vampire…

David Wellington: It’s extremely violent, with lots of action and gore.  One vampire is bad enough and hard enough to deal with. They have superpowers and once they drink blood they become nearly invulnerable, even bulletproof. The real fear, though, is that the bad guy will turn into a “vampire zero”. In an epidemic, “patient zero” is the one who passes on the virus to everybody else. A vampire zero is a vampire who passes on his curse-making it that much harder for everyone to survive. Laura Caxton gets a new badge and some spiffy new guns to play with, but she’s never had to fight a vampire like this one before. He knows all her tricks, since he taught them to her-but she has a creeping suspicion that maybe there are some things he never got around to teaching her, things only he knows. She ends up going way over the line in her desperation, doing things she would never have considered before-and she pays the price.

Fatally Yours: How involved are you with the Monster Island movie, helmed by director Stephen Susco? Do you have any updates on the film?

David Wellington: I know he wants to make it huge. A big, epic zombie apocalypse movie. I can’t wait.

Fatally Yours: Are there plans to make any other of your novels into films?

David Wellington: They’ve all been optioned, but that’s just the first step in a very long process.

Fatally Yours: What are you working on next?

David Wellington: There’s going to be a fourth vampire novel, and I’ve just sold Frostbite, so it will be printed as a book.  I’m revising it thoroughly, and then I’m going to write the sequel, which will be called Overwinter, which picks up literally the second after Frostbite ends.

Check out Vampire Zero on Amazon!

Visit David Wellington’s Official Website!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Interview with Director Jack Messitt

Jack Messitt is the writer and director of what we called “one of the best movies of the year,” Midnight Movie. Midnight Movie was Jack’s directorial debut, and what a debut it was! Besides earning accolades from us, Midnight Movie recently won Best Feature at the Chicago Horror Film Festival! Jack has a lot to be proud of, so we were happy to chat with him about his career, his love for movies and how Midnight Movie came together.

Fatally Yours: You started your career lensing films and TV shows like Bones and American Idol. What made you want to make the move to directing? 

Jack Messitt: The project was already greenlit and they were looking for a director. I read the script – and frankly, thought it needed a lot of work. So I had a meeting with the producers and told them just that. I pitched my ideas of what I would do to make it better and they called a few days later and said that I was the guy for the job.

That’s when it was decision time. I was doing quite well as a cameraman and directing would derail that for at least a year. But I figured, why not? What’s the worst that happens? The movie is terrible and I go back to shooting – a job I already love. So I took on the challenge.

Hopefully, the movie isn’t awful and I will have the opportunity to direct again if the right project comes along.

Fatally Yours: Do you think you’ll pursue directing in the future?

Jack Messitt: While my next project is as a DP, I have several new projects as a director already in the works. Directing was a lot of work, but a lot of fun. I truly enjoyed every step of the process and look forward to trying it again.

Fatally Yours: Midnight Movie was also the first time you wrote a script (co-written by Mark Garbett). What was this experience like for you?

Jack Messitt: Actually, I have been writing for some time. Like everyone else in Hollywood, I have a dusty drawer full of unproduced scripts.

But just before Midnight Movie, I was a script consultant on Irreversi, a feature I shot in Hong Kong. This entailed rewriting a lot of the script with the director. But since there were already 5 writers credited on the project, I decided on a script consultant credit instead.

And earlier this year, I sold an original script to Insight Film Studios/TF1/Really Real Films. Trust is in the middle of production with Jamie Luner (Heat Wave, CSI), Nels Lennarson (Good People Bad Things, Smoke Jumpers), and Brendan Beiser (Something Beneath, The Sandlot 3).

Fatally Yours: How did the idea for Midnight Movie come about?

Jack Messitt: Sean Hood’s original script was written for a specific castle in Belgium. But when that location was no longer a necessity for funding, the script was rewritten by Mark Garbett. It changed to something much closer to what you see on the screen. Really, the only thing that was kept from the original script was that there were people watching a movie that they ultimately become the stars of.

Then, when I came on board, it went through a lot more changes, mainly to the movie within the movie. When I signed onto the script, the movie within the movie wasn’t very defined. It was written to be a mish mash of images, like the video tape in The Ring. I didn’t think that this worked for the movie audience in our film, so that was one of the first things I wanted to tackle.

As I worked with Mark, we went through a couple of different phases. The first was creating the movie in the movie in a 1930s style horror film. The problem was that, to today’s audiences, the 1930s horror film doesn’t really hold up. In their time, they may have been terrifying. But today’s audiences are not going to have the same reaction to that style.

So when I wrote my draft of the script, I updated it to the late 60s early 70s horror films because films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Night of the Living Dead still hold up today. I think they are legitimately creepy. They portray a world that I would not want to be stuck inside. That was what Midnight Movie needed, so The Dark Beneath was born.

Fatally Yours: Why did you pick a horror film as your first film to direct?

Jack Messitt: Who wouldn’t want to direct a horror film? I mean, come on… Going to set is great. With 21 days of shooting and 18 kills, I showed up every day, looked around at the cast and asked, “Alright, which one of you is dying today?” How much fun is that?

Fatally Yours: You definitely sold me! Since you’d had no experience with writing/shooting horror before, how did you prepare yourself for Midnight Movie?

Jack Messitt: While I had not worked on a horror film before, I have plenty of experience with thrillers.  To me, they are a lot alike. At least, they are basically put together the same way.

But I did my research. In the past two years, I have seen countless numbers of horror films. Some good, some bad. In fact, I think you learn more about how to make a horror movie from the ones that don’t work so well. You see what is missing and the pitfalls. And when you see a good one, you can see the formula that works.

Fatally Yours: Are you a fan of horror movies? If so, which ones are your favorites?

Jack Messitt: There is nothing better than a good horror film! I think The Shining is still my favorite. Still, really creepy. But as you watch Midnight Movie, you’ll see winks to my other favorites: Silence of the Lambs, the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Psycho. I think my favorite horror movies all have that strong thriller edge.

Fatally Yours: The story of Midnight Movie is very original, while still paying homage to horror films like Demons, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and ‘80s slashers. What influences do you yourself cite as inspiration for the film?

Jack Messitt: I wanted Midnight Movie to be the fun ride I remember the 80s slasher films to be. I think that we tried to update that formula to work today, but you can’t help but see both the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street series in our film.

When it came to The Dark Beneath, the movie in our movie, it is based on several films from the 60s and early 70s. Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Night of the Living Dead and Psycho were the main influences.

Fatally Yours: The unique look of the killer is part of the draw in Midnight Movie. How did you come up with his look, as well as his unique weapon? 

Jack Messitt: The mask is something we really struggled with. The script always had the killer in a mask. And masks have been done to death. To come up with something that is unique and scary was a huge challenge. So, we went through a lot of ideas and a lot of failed designs.

Then one night when I was really frustrated, I starting scouring the internet for ideas. I kept coming to these two iconic images. One is the Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn poster, with the skull and eyes. That has always stuck with me since that movie came out. The other image I kept going back to was Hannibal Lector’s restraint mask in Silence of the Lambs. So I started playing around, and I cobbled together the basic design of our killer. Lunar Effects took my ideas and defined them with a lot of the small details. In the end, I was really happy with how it came together.

The killer in Mark’s script was more supernatural.  He thrust his hands into the victim’s head and they turned to dust. I was worried about pulling off this effect well on our limited budget. And I thought that the repetition of the same kill over and over would get stale as the movie went on…

We needed a weapon.

Everything out there has been used in a horror film. We’ve seen the chainsaw, we’ve seen the butcher knife. You name it. So coming up with something that could be instantly identified with Midnight Movie was the challenge.

When we were toying with the movie in the movie being a 1930s style film, the killer used a fire poker. But when I switched gears on the style of the movie in the movie, the fire poker was lost and the search began anew.

One day, in a flurry of emails, my producer Jacque suggested a corkscrew knife. That’s when the lightbulb went on in my head! In college, I had written a serial killer novel where the killer had this implement that was this metal cone with a handle. You could puncture into someone’s chest with it, and as you pulled it out, it had razor sharp edges. It would pull out this chunk of flesh. So I took this 15 year-old idea and combined it with Jacque’s knife idea and our killer’s signature knife was born.

Fatally Yours: So many horror movies today lack tension or scares. How did you manage to invoke both in Midnight Movie?

Jack Messitt: To me, you can only have real scares and suspense if you care about the characters. So I worked really hard on making the people in the film as believable as possible. I wanted the audience to like them (or in Mario’s case, love to hate them). It is this connection that makes a moviegoer feel any of the thrills and chills you hope to set them up for.

Fatally Yours: Midnight Movie is pretty restrained in the gore department. Was this a conscious choice or just how the story flowed?

Jack Messitt: The steadily rising gore level in Midnight Movie is completely conscious. I wanted the kills to get better as the movie went on. If the movie’s marquee kill starts the film, it makes it tough because you have little place to go from there.

Too many films today start at such a level of gore that they peak with scene one, or set a level that makes the movie kind of plateau from then on. So I decided to set up the kills in the movie to mirror the history of horror. In the beginning, you see just before and just after, like early Hollywood. But as the decades moved on, Hollywood’s kills got more and more gory. So do the kills in Midnight Movie.

And we get all the way to today’s “torture porn” level… And while it is by far the creepiest scene in the movie, there is a surprisingly small amount of gore. Just goes to show you that the mind will fill in the blanks in a far worse way than a filmmaker can.

Fatally Yours: Were there any hardships that the cast and crew endured during production? What was the hardest part of the production for you?

Jack Messitt: Oh, where to start… Let’s just say that there were numerous times that we thought the film would not get finished. Those were the toughest times.

Fatally Yours: Do you think that you would ever write/direct a horror movie again?

Jack Messitt: I’d love to. Making a horror film is really making a movie. You get to have fun with effects, both on set and in post. And you get to say things like, “I need more blood!” It was really a lot of fun and I look forward to opportunity to direct another one.

Fatally Yours: What can you tell us about any future projects you are involved in?

Jack Messitt: I am just about to go to Vietnam to shoot a feature film as a DP. But I already have several irons in the fire for my next directing project.  I am talking to several different production companies, both for horror films as well as other genres. We’ll see which project hits first.

Midnight Movie available from Amazon!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Stuck (2008)

When I first sat down to watch Stuck, I must admit I was skeptical of the film.  Surely director Stuart Gordon is a master of horror, having filmed such films like Reanimator, Castle Freak and Edmond, but a film that features a guy stuck in a windshield for most of its running time sounded rather dull to me, though the true story that the film is based on is downright chilling. Just see the Wikipedia entry on it below:

Chante Jawan Mallard is an African American woman from Texas who was convicted and sentenced to 50 years’ imprisonment for her role in the death of a 37 year old homeless man, Gregory Biggs.

The incident occurred on October 26, 2001 when Mallard’s car struck him; at the time Mallard was believed to have been driving while intoxicated by drugs and alcohol. The force of the impact sent Biggs flying through the windshield, lodging him there.

Mallard then drove home, leaving the injured Biggs stuck in her windshield, and parked her car in her garage. She then went inside, had sex with her boyfriend, and over the next day or so checked on the man still stuck in her windshield. After the accident Mallard did not notify the police or get Biggs any medical attention. 
The film follows the true story pretty accurately with the exception of characters changed and a very different conclusion to the true life tale. Brandi (Mena Suvari) works in a nursing home and is on the verge of a major promotion. She goes out that night to celebrate with her drug-dealing boyfriend and best friend, but parties a little too hard and while under the influence of drugs and alcohol, hits down-on-his-luck Thomas Bardo (Stephen Rea), who is crossing the street. Bardo crashes through her windshield and remains lodged there. Panicked, Brandi heads home and leaves the bloodied Bardo stuck in her windshield for the night…Though she promises to get help, Brandi tries to figure out a way to get rid of Bardo while Bardo tries to escape.

Stuart Gordon is back to fine form with the exquisitely gripping Stuck. It is a suspenseful and horrifying film that is unrelenting from its first few scenes to its explosive finale. I didn’t have high expectations of this film going in, but it thoroughly impressed me with its conflicted, well-developed characters, stellar acting and fast pacing.

First off, the characters are very well rounded out and presented as extremely sympathetic. First, you have Thomas Bardo who is currently unemployed and has been kicked out of the skeevy hotel he was staying at. At an employment office he waits for hours for an appointment before being told he isn’t in the computer so they can’t help him. With no place to go and no money, he tries to sleep on a park bench but he is kicked out by a police officer. As if his day couldn’t get any worse, he is then hit by Brandi and sails through her windshield. While Brandi is set up to be the villain in this film, we can’t help but feel for her too. She is genuinely sweet to her patients at the nursing home and really cares for them. When she hits Bardo she has the very human reaction of covering up her mistake instead of ‘fessing up to it. We also feel bad for her when she is reprimanded by her slimy superior. When Brandi and Bardo go head-to-head, you really are at a loss as to who to root for, because both are sympathetic characters. Of course, Bardo wins our sympathies in the end because Brandi is basically just letting him die.

As for the acting, that is the absolute highlight of the film. I’m not a big Mena Suvari fan and I wasn’t diggin’ the whole ghetto-fabulous-wannabe/corn-row look, but she played the character of Brandi just right, with the perfect balance of sweetness and venom, cluelessness and resolve. The actor that really stole the show, though, was Stephen Rea as Thomas Bardo. Without him, I don’t think the film would have been as effective. He absolutely captures the forlorn desperation of Bardo and makes it easy to root for him.

While I thought this film’s storyline would be its weakest point, it actually impressed me. Gordon paces the film so that it’s packed with suspense and there isn’t a second to be bored. There’s always that tug-of-war between Brandi and Bardo that keeps things tense, but other characters added to the mix, like Brandi’s boyfriend Rashid (Russell Hornsby) and her friend Tanya (Rukiya Bernard), really give the movie additional depth and complexity. There is also plenty of black humor that will have you chuckling throughout the horrifying ordeal.

And horrifying it is…the fact that the story is rooted in reality adds to the ugly truth of human nature and shows us just how nasty we can get when it comes to our own preservation. Not only that, but there are several cringe-worthy scenes, including the car crash in slow motion, which shows Bardo’s leg snapping against the grill and him going through the windshield, many of which are drenched in blood. Though the film probably won’t satisfy gorehounds out for a cheap thrill, the gore portrayed is very realistic and works extremely well for the film.

Stuck is an unrelenting and thrilling cinematic horrorshow that shows us just how low people are willing to go to save their own skin and that your bad day can always get worse…

Available from Amazon!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

My Top 10 Halloween Movies

When the wind grows colder, orange leaves start dropping from the trees and stores start adorning their windows with ghouls and goblins, I start getting giddy because I know it’s the season for Halloween!

Of course, sometimes the sights of the season aren’t enough to spark the spirit of Halloween and I need a little help with eerie inspirations. A few good Halloween movies usually do the trick for me, so today I’m going to share with you my top 10 Halloween movies that really get me in the groovy mood for Halloween!

Keep in mind, not all my picks are strictly horror themed. Since Halloween-time really makes me feel like a kid again, I’ve decided to include some family-friendly films on my list. Despite their PG rating, these choices never fail to get me in the ooky-spooky spirit!

Also, I don’t watch just any old horror movie to get me in the scary spirit…my picks all predominately feature Halloween or autumn. In my book, just because a movie is frightening doesn’t make it perfect for Halloween…it needs costumes, trick or treating, pumpkins, and orange and red leaves adorning sidewalks!

So, sit back and enjoy my top 10 Halloween movies! Maybe they’ll become some of your holiday favorites as well!

Click the title of the film for a review or click the BUY ME! link to buy the DVD for cheap!

1.) It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (1966) BUY ME!

This is just a classic, hands-down. The whole Peanuts gang gets dressed up to go trick or treating (“I got a rock.”) and attends a Halloween party…except for Linus, who spends the chilly night in the dark pumpkin patch, waiting for the Great Pumpkin to appear. This movie immediately gives me Halloween spirit! I get the warm fuzzies watching it, because it reminds me of being a kid again and the excitement surrounding Halloween.

You’d be a blockhead not to watch this around Halloween!

2.) Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) BUY ME!

This much-maligned horror flick is actually one of my favorite Halloween series flicks. While there is no Michael Myers lurking about, I still love the storyline about a big Halloween mask maker that has plans to kill all the children on Halloween with his popular masks. The trick or treating kids throughout the film always get me revved up for the holiday, as does the Silver Shamrock song. “Two more days ‘til Halloween, Halloween…” It just doesn’t feel like Halloween until I hear that song…

3.) Trick or Treat (1986) BUY ME!

With its metal soundtrack and disaffected teen who conjures up the vengeful spirit of a satanic rock star Halloween night, Trick or Treat is a definite MUST SEE for Halloween. Though it’s a bit slow towards the beginning, the film picks up speed like a kid on a Pixie Stix sugar high. It also boasts cameos from Gene Simmons and Ozzy Osborne along its wicked cool soundtrack. If you want to raise hell this Halloween, this movie will definitely set the sinister mood!

4.) Donnie Darko (2001) BUY ME!

This is one mind-bender of a movie, featuring time travel, space-time continuums, worm hole theories, fate vs. free will and a plethora of other themes to make you think. At its heart, though, I think it’s about love and two star-crossed lovers, one of which sacrifices it all for the other. It’s a very dark film whose themes and amazing score capture the dark side of the season. Why would I choose this as a Halloween movie? Well, besides the malignant feel the film has, it is set around Halloween and features some great Halloween costumes, including one very creepy bunny costume.

5.) Night of the Demons (1988) BUY ME!

Night of the Demons is just a plain fun Halloween movie. A group of teens decides to break into a supposedly haunted funeral home on Halloween to have a party, but instead unleash some nasty demons. Ok, so if Peanuts reminded me of being a kid again, Night of the Demons reminded me about being a teen and wrecking havoc on Halloween night! The whole breaking-into-a-haunted-house-on-Halloween-night story always reminds me of being a teenager and trying to scare the crap out of my friends.

6.) Hocus Pocus (1993) BUY ME!

Another fun one, but this one is kid-friendly! In 1693 in Salem, three witches were sentenced to hang, but beforehand they promised they’d be back…300 years later a teenager who is a virgin unwittingly conjures them back. Now it’s up to him, his girlfriend and his little sister to stop the three witches before they suck the life out of all of Salem’s children.  I was 11 when this first came out, and I absolutely LOVED it. It perfectly captures the feeling of Halloween with its creepy cemetery, festively decorated houses, fabulous witches’ costumes…and even a zombie called back from the dead! Watching this flick is a definite Halloween tradition for me, no matter how silly and Disney-fied it is.

7.) HellBent (2005) BUY ME!

Going from Disney territory to more X-rated territory, HellBent is a hotter than hell film that’s set at West Hollywood’s wild Halloween street party. This film features tons of hot guys and gory kills, but it’s the crazy Halloween party that appeals to me in the movie. The atmosphere of the party is just electric, filled to the brim with lots of flamboyant, scary and hot costumes, and just makes you wish Halloween was year-round.

8.) Monster House (2006) BUY ME!

You remember when you were a kid and your parents didn’t believe you when you told them there was a monster under the bed or the dog ate your homework or the old lady living down the lane liked to eat children? Well, Monster House, about some kids who discover that the house across the street is a living, breathing, EATING entity, will take you back to those days…It’s a great film not only for kids, but groan-ups as well and features plenty of fall foliage to put you in the mood for Halloween, not to mention the cute trick or treating scene at the end!

9.) Satan’s Little Helper (2004) BUY ME!

This little-seen horror film is an absolute gem that more people should seek out! It features a creepy serial killer wearing a twisted goat-devil mask who is befriended by a reality-challenged young kid who is obsessed with a video game called Satan’s Little Helper. When he meets the serial killer he thinks he’s found his own personal Satan and that that basically his video game has come to life. This is a darkly humorous movie with plenty of shocking violence…and fun Satan costumes!

10.) The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) BUY ME!

Do I really need to explain this one? If there is one movie that exemplifies the Halloween spirit (other than the classic Halloween, of course, which I’ve elected not to include on my list because I watch it year-round!), then The Nightmare Before Christmas is it…Featuring a town called Halloweentown populated by monsters and other spooks and tons of catchy songs you can sing year-round, The Nightmare Before Christmas is fun for boils and ghouls of all ages!

Well, as I settle down with some pumpkin bread and spiced cider to carve some pumpkins, I hope you have enjoyed my list and seek out some of these films to put you in the spooky Halloween spirit!

Interview with Underland Press Founder Victoria Blake

Victoria Blake recently launched Underland Press, a publishing house that specializes in dark fiction. Before founding Underland, Blake was editor for Dark Horse Comics, one of the largest independent publishers of comic books and fiction. She worked on series like Aliens, Predator, Lankhmar, and Playboy, as well as original fiction titles.

Blake left her editorial job at Dark Horse to start her own publishing house specifically for weird and dark fiction. Current debut authors for Underland Press include: Bram Stoker Award winner Kealan Patrick Burke, Edgar Award and International Horror Guild Award nominee Brian Evenson, two-time World Fantasy Award winner Jeff VanderMeer, multiple award winner Will Elliott, and husband and wife writing team Berry Verhoef and Esther Verhoef (writing as “Escober”).

Blake and Underland Press are also poised to revolutionize the online publishing world with the “wovel,” a serialized novel whose chapters are posted week by week as the readers decide where the story will go. It’s the choose-your-own-adventure book for the digital age! Underland’s first online-only interactive “wovel” is Bram Stoker Award winner Kealan Patrick Burke’s The Living.

Victoria Blake was gracious enough to take a break from her busy schedule and chat with us a while about Underland Press and her love of dark fiction!

Fatally Yours: Victoria, it certainly is a pleasure! Can you tell us about the most significant book/comic/film that got you into dark fiction/horror in the first place?

Victoria Blake: Oh, that’s easy. Flowers in the Attic. It was a formative book in my childhood.

I was recently at a lecture in which the speaker said that men have a common language in comic books, but that women don’t have the same source texts. No way. Who among our generation hasn’t read V.C. Andrews?

Fatally Yours: How did you get your start in the business?

Victoria Blake: I knew two things when I graduated from college: that I wanted to write, and that I wanted to be able to pay my bills. Those two things led me to journalism, which led me to Portland, which led me to Dark Horse and to prose books.

Fatally Yours: Working for a comic book company like Dark Horse would be a dream for many of our readers! Can you tell us about your time there?

Victoria Blake: It was great fun. For instance, one of my jobs was to make sure that the Predator books were consistent with the rules of the Predator universe. There are big “bibles” of rules for each universe… Star Wars has one and Aliens, etc. Anyway, one of the books had a scene in which the Predator took off his visor and saw in infrared. So the question that occupied my day was: Is infrared vision a product of the visor, or do the Predators see in infrared naturally? I ended up asking Randy Stradley, one of the gurus. He set me straight.

But I don’t want to glamorize the job. I sat at a desk, in a cubicle without windows. I worked on great projects, but I didn’t choose which projects were mine. I was a production editor.

Fatally Yours: How did your time at Dark Horse help prepare you for launching your own publishing house, Underland Press? In what ways were you unprepared?

Victoria Blake: I worked under Rob Simpson at Dark Horse. He taught me everything. He was incredibly generous with his time and his knowledge. I learned by keeping my ears open, being in as many meetings as I could, and asking Rob as many questions as I needed to. I’m very grateful to Rob.

How was I unprepared? Well, I wish I had spent three years in the accounting department, and three years as a printer’s apprentice, and one as a binder’s apprentice, and three years in law school. I wish I had worked at a bookstore during my teenage years instead of at a restaurant. I wish I knew more agents in New York, and that I’d gone to at least twelve more conventions. But I don’t think you can ever be completely prepared. What you need more than anything else is the ability to learn along the way.

Fatally Yours: To you, what is the definition of the kind of dark fiction that Underland Press specializes in?

Victoria Blake: Underland publishes weird, strange, odd, and unsettling fiction. I chose those words to get at the quality that Underland is interested in, not necessarily the marketing niche. The gold standard for the kind of books I publish and want to publish is Brian Evenson’s Last Days. It’s almost flawless, both structurally and stylistically. Brian is a master.

Fatally Yours: With what criteria do you consider novels for publication with Underland Press?

Victoria Blake: First, the book needs to be well written. I can tell within a page or two if the author has control over language. If she doesn’t, I put the book down. Second, the book needs to keep me interested enough to read it after a day at my desk. I do most of my submission reading when I get home, between dinner and bed. Lastly, I need to know how I’d market the book. It does nobody any good if the book is brilliant but I don’t know how to get it into the hands of the readers.

Oh, there’s something else, and something unique to Underland. I also consider how willing the author is to do work online-web serials, ebooks, blogs, podcasts, reader-suggested graphics, etc. Underland aims to be an integrated in print, online publisher. In order to do that, we need authors who understand the power of the web, and want to work within the new rules of the 2.0 world.

Fatally Yours: What are some of your upcoming releases?

Victoria Blake: Brian Evenson’s Last Days! That’s coming out in February. It’s followed by Will Elliott’s The Pilo Family Circus, which is an absolutely crazy read involving a trio of psychotic clowns and an otherworldly circus. It’s fantastic, and I’m not just saying that because I’m the publisher. This is a book I’d be recommending to my friends if I stumbled across it in the bookstore.

We also have a great thriller by Escober called Chaos. This book is Escober’s introduction to the American readership-the book is a bestseller in Dutch, but not yet in English. It’s a fantastic read, very fast and fun.

I’m really looking forward to Jeff VanderMeer’s Finch, too. He’s working on finishing the novel now. I can’t wait to read it.

Fatally Yours: All of those sound great! Cannot wait to check them out myself! With Underland Press you’ve created the “wovel” or web-based novel. How did this idea come about and were you surprised to be the first publishing house to do it?

Victoria Blake: The central idea behind the wovel is to allow readers a stake in the plot. The author posts an installment every Monday. Each installment has a binary plot branch point and a vote button at the end. Readers vote on which direction they think the story should go. The author writes over the weekend, and the new installment is up in time for work on Monday. Response so far has been tremendous. The first installment of Kealan Patrick Burke’s The Living attracted 1,000 readers. We’ve built our standard mailing list to about 600 in just four months. And these are vocal readers, too! I get at least one email a week from somebody with a thought, or who just wants to check in. I love it. I love the community the wovel is building, and I love the twists and turns that the wovel itself has taken.

Am I surprised that Underland is the first to try this? No, not really. It seems to me that book publishing is where the music industry was in 1996-pre-Napster, ready for a change. I expect that publishers will be trying to figure out how to work with the web for a long, long time, and I expect that the innovations will come from my generation of publishers, and the publishers coming up after me. Technology natives. Is that what they call us? But you know about this, as a blogger…

One thing I have to mention here: We have a new wovel starting on November 4-Firstworld by Jemiah Jefferson.

Fatally Yours: In your opinion, what are some recent horror novels and/or authors that have been overlooked yet deserve to be discovered by dark fiction/horror fans?

Victoria Blake: I really like Stefan Petrucha and Paul Whitcover. They both wrote monster books for Dark Horse, and the books were both great. Elizabeth Hand is also fantastic, one of my favorites. She does things I see very few other writers doing.

Fatally Yours: What are you currently reading?

Victoria Blake: Currently reading Joe Landsdale, Yvonne Navarro, Weston Ochse, and Jemiah Jefferson.

Fatally Yours: Do you have a favorite subgenre in dark fiction?

Victoria Blake: I find vampires more interesting than zombies, and serial killers more compelling than aliens, but I think a good story could be made out of any of them. Plus, if I say “vampires,” aren’t I going to piss off the zombie folks?

Fatally Yours: What was the last great horror movie you saw?

Victoria Blake: I know which one I’m about to see…Teeth, the one about vagina dentalis. I don’t know how I missed it, and I don’t know why it took me so long to rent it.

Fatally Yours: Where do you see Underland Press in a few years? What are the goals you hope to accomplish?

Victoria Blake: My main goal is to do right by my authors, to treat everybody I work with well, to keep publishing books I believe in, and to make enough money to keep going. I hope to expand my title list by about two books a year. When I get to twenty titles a year, let’s talk again. I’ll be full of big plans then…

Visit Underland Press’ Official Site!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Satan's Little Helper (2004)

I love a good Halloween horror movie, and I’m not talking about your usual haunted house flick. No, I’m talking about movies that put you in the spirit to spook, movies that haunt your dreams with visions of Halloween and really inspire you to get in the season.

One such gem of a Halloween film is Satan’s Little Helper, part perverse satire, part vicious horror film and a whole lotta fun!

Young Dougie (Alexander Brickel) is obsessed with a video game called Satan’s Little Helper, in which a character helps Satan send people to Hell. It’s Halloween day, and Dougie and his kooky, spacey mom (Amanda Plummer) are picking up Dougie’s sister Jenna (Katheryn Winnick), who is back home from college just so she can take Dougie trick or treating. Problem is, Jenna’s brought her boyfriend Alex (Stephen Graham) home for the holiday and Dougie is pissed…so he storms off to wander the neighborhood alone, clothed in his own Satan costume.

Dougie comes upon a creepily masked serial killer who is going house-to-house, killing people and then re-arranging them on front lawns and porches as macabre Halloween decorations. Dougie thinks he’s finally found his Master and brings Satan home to meet mom and sis. They think the person under the mask is Alex, trying to please Dougie, so they think nothing of the weird behavior. Dougie goes on a crime and killing spree with “Satan,” thinking it is all just a game…until his “Master” attacks his family that is.

Satan’s Little Helper is a fun, darkly humorous flick that borders on satire. You’re never quite sure if director Jeff Lieberman (who has created other cult classics like Just Before Dawn, Squirm, Blue Sunshine) meant it as a social commentary on kids being desensitized to violence or if he just wanted to have a bloody good time, but whatever the case he succeeds in creating a cult classic!

Though the character of Dougie is unbelievably naïve at times (what kid, no matter how desensitized, would think that an old lady being hung out of a window is all part of a game and not real?), I couldn’t help but get sucked into the imaginative story. The whole Halloween setting really helps with the story, especially due to the fact that everyone is in costume and things are expected to be gruesome. The killer, whom we never learn much about, has it pretty easy since no one can see his face and no one really takes the dead bodies he leaves in his wake to be real. My favorite part is when “Satan” gruesomely kills a black cat (very cringe-worthy in of itself!!) and uses its blood to write “BOO” on the side of a house he’s already decorated with a very real body. A lady with her two trick or treating kids asks our killer to pose for a picture, which he obligingly does!

Now, this is by no means a perfect film. For one, the character of Dougie does grate the nerves with his stupidity. For another, the acting at times isn’t all that great. The film also has a low-budget look (it was shot on digital in 2004) that will turn some viewers away. The story is engaging, but towards the end it starts to drag a little bit. Still, despite these flaws Satan’s Little Helper is an extremely fun and clever horror movie.

Available from Amazon!

Friday, October 10, 2008

Interview with Shriekfest Film Fest Founder Denise Gossett

The warm and friendly Denise Gossett is the founder of Shriekfest, a horror and sci-fi film festival that runs every year in October in Los Angeles. Founded in 2001, Shriekfest has just wrapped up its eighth year of celebrating independent horror and sci-fi films, and we have Denise to thank for that! Besides being the festival organizer (and so much more!) for Shriekfest, Denise is also an accomplished actress who has worked with Dennis Hopper, Kristin Bell, Will Patton and many others!

We had a chance to chat with Denise about her passion for film and how Shriekfest began…

Fatally Yours: Denise, how and when did you start Shriekfest? Why did you think there was a need for a horror/sci-fi film festival?

Denise Gossett: Shriekfest just finished it’s 8th year. 9 years ago I starred in a horror film and wanted it to be put in festivals, but at the time, there really weren’t any, so I came up with the idea and told my sister in law my idea and she loved it. 2 months later we held our first festival.

Fatally Yours: How do you prepare for the annual festival each year? 

Denise Gossett: Well, we have judges who narrow down the best films and screenplays and then we have another set of judges who pick the winners. Parties have to be planned as well. Press releases must go out. It really has become a full time job.

Fatally Yours: How are the films for the festival chosen? Do you make the final decision on which ones will screen at Shriekfest?

Denise Gossett: Well, Todd Beeson, my partner, and I try to stay out of the voting as much as possible. We will help settle a tie if there is one, but really we leave all the judging to the judges. It’s really the fairest way to do it.

Fatally Yours: Besides running Shriekfest, you are also an accomplished actress that has appeared on many TV shows, theatrical productions and films. What has been your favorite experience and why? 

Denise Gossett: Well, I absolutely loved doing the TV show The New Adventures of Old Christine, it was very professional and the entire cast and crew were a blast! I’ve also enjoyed every other project I’ve worked on. They are all a little different, but I come to life when I’m on a set. I adore acting. It has been my love for many years.

Fatally Yours: Has it always been your life-long dream to act? Do you ever want to try to write, direct or produce? 

Denise Gossett: Acting has been my dream since I was a little girl. I have tried writing and I just don’t enjoy it like I do acting. Directing, I did in college and everyone said I was great at it, but  I’m a perfectionist, so I didn’t really enjoy directing either. Producing…probably some day, I know I’d be good at it, but for me to be passionate about a project, I’d have to be acting in it as well.

Fatally Yours: At what point in your career did you realize, “Wow! I’ve finally made it!”?

Denise Gossett: That’s funny, I’m not sure I’ve ever felt that. I always feel the need to go farther, do more, discover more. That’s the beauty of this business.

Fatally Yours: Going back to Shriekfest, what has been an especially fond memory for you?

Denise Gossett: Every year there are fond memories just by meeting all of these new people and catching up with the regulars. This year, we had an especially memorable memory! Right before our awards show the power went off in the theatre! There were a few emergency lights, but that’s it. We weren’t sure how we were going to pull it off, but everyone that had video cameras brought their lights up on me so I could do the awards show! It was the coolest thing…it gave a great mood, got many laughs out of everyone and showed exactly what I think the horror community is…loyal and loving. I think everyone in this genre is really giving and loyal.  It was the best awards show yet! Thank you to everyone for their help and patience in that crazy situation.

Fatally Yours: What is the hardest part about planning a film festival? What has been the biggest obstacle you have overcome?

Denise Gossett: The hardest part is the logistics of everything…there really is sooo much involved to make a festival work. I really hate rejecting people…it just breaks my heart, because everyone puts their heart and soul into their work and lots of great projects don’t  make it in the festival because of time constraints or another film scored higher. I would say that is my biggest obstacle…getting passed wanting to give everyone an award.

Fatally Yours: Being a woman in Hollywood and in the film industry, how do you feel women’s roles are changing? How about women’s roles in the horror genre?

Denise Gossett: I think there are more and more women out there doing every aspect of this industry. People are seeing that women can handle any position. It’s very exciting to be in the business in this day and age because you might have a female casting director, director, DP [director of photography], writer, grips, etc all on the same set! Women in horror are making leaps and bounds too…more directors, writers, producers, etc and the roles for women are even better…women aren’t always that weak little ditzy woman who takes her clothes off. Now, there are strong roles where the women fight back and win! It’s very exciting…this change I think has made the horror genre more enticing to a female audience as well.

Fatally Yours: What films are you most excited for people to see at this year’s Shriekfest?

Denise Gossett: I think everyone should definitely check out our winners Bane and Alien Legend. But, all of the shorts and the rest of the features all have something wonderful about them and deserve recognition as well.

Fatally Yours: Anything else you’d like to add or mention?

Denise Gossett: If you have a dream, don’t ever give up on it…pursue it until you get it or realize you don’t want it anymore. Be passionate, be loyal, be honest, and be determined!

Visit Shriekfest’s Official Site!

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer (2008)

We’ve seen a lot of horror homages these past few years, from Hatchet to Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon. These kind of films relish in winking at the audience, nudging them with past horror movie references and trivia. It is rare for these films to actually transcend their self-referential nature and actually become the films they are emulating.

Now, another film that pays homage to old school monster flicks and Evil Dead-style demonic possession movies has been released…and that film is Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer, directed by Jon Knautz and written by the team of Knautz, Jon Ainslio, Trevor Matthews (who also plays the titular role) and Patrick White. The difference between Jack Brooks and other types of “tribute” films is that Jack Brooks actually stands on its own as a bad-ass horror-comedy, action-packed film!

Small town plumber Jack Brooks (Trevor Matthews) has anger issues. He is seeing a shrink, but his sessions don’t seem to be helping much. You see, when Jack was a young boy he saw his whole family ripped apart by a strange creature that can only be described as a monster. Ever since then he has blamed himself and hasn’t been the same. He is enrolled in a biology night class with his nagging girlfriend Eve (Rachel Skarsten), but only because she insisted upon it. One night, he helps his professor (Robert Englund) with some plumbing problems at a crumbling old house the professor is renovating.

The house itself has a sordid history, but the professor finds out exactly how nasty it is when he unearths a large crate in his backyard that contains a skeleton and an intact black heart that supposedly belonged to a demon…that is still beating. The professor just isn’t the same after that encounter and is slowly turning into something monstrous…

Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer is one of the most fun horror films I’ve seen in quite some time! It packs a sympathetic hero, a great performance from Robert Englund and lots of CGI-free demon-looking monsters into a fantastic storyline that sucks you right in!

The writing team of Knautz, Ainslio, Matthews and White really hit on some great ideas here. I loved the flashback sequences to Jack’s childhood as well as the back story on the black heart. Jack’s character development is also very important and I loved seeing his interactions with his therapist and his aggressive outbursts were hilarious! While it is true that the real “monster slaying” doesn’t take place until the last part of the film, it certainly doesn’t make the first part of the film any less interesting! The story is so cleverly told that the pacing is just perfect! I was enthralled from beginning to end with the fast-paced tale.

As for the acting, it is wonderful across the board! From Jack’s harried therapist (played by Daniel Kash) to his bitchy girlfriend (played by Rachel Skarsten) to the professor (played by Robert Englund who is finally in a good movie!) who’s going through some strange changes, every single actor does a spectacular job. And as for Trevor Matthews who plays Jack Brooks, well, people are right to call him the next Bruce Campbell. While Matthews opts for the Everyman act instead of embracing the campy style of Campbell, the result is still the same…pure awesomeness! You root for Matthews the entire time, whether he is punching out a douchebag scheming on his girlfriend, yelling to his therapist about his anger issues or killing monsters!

As for the blood and guts, there are plenty of sickening scenes. Robert Englund pukes all over himself, for one. Then there are the amazing practical effects. As far as I can tell, little or no CGI was used in the film. The final monster is all prosthetics and/or a man in a rubber suit and it’s a nice throwback to old school monster movies. Everything still looks slimy and gory, especially the monster’s students-turned-demons servants. The final showdown, showing the explosive effects of unstable sodium (hey, they are in science class…knowledge is power!) is extremely satisfying!

I can see Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer spawning several sequels that could actually be good if people take notice of this amazing film. Its throwback to old school monster/demon possession movies will make you feel like a kid again! Jack Brooks is finally a hero we can actually cheer for!

Available from Amazon!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Wicked Lake (2008)

Lipstick lesbians Mary (Carlee Baker), Helen (Eryn Joslyn), Jill (Eve Mauro) and Ilene (Robin Sydney) head to a lakeside cabin retreat for some skinny dipping and fun. Little do they know, but a college classmate of one of the girls has followed them and brought his sick and twisted family along for the ride. The family, consisting of the effeminate, unicorn-drawing classmate Caleb (Marc Senter), older brother and leader Palmer (Will Keenan), Grandpa Jim (Frank Birney) and half-idiot brother Fred (Justin Stone), humiliate and abuse the girls until about midnight, when everything changes and the tables get turned…

Meanwhile, cops Jake (Tim Thomerson) and Ray (Michael Esparza) are hot on the trail of some supposed killers…Things sure are about to get messy…

If boobs and blood are your weapon of choice in a horror film, look no further than Wicked Lake to please you! Of course, it has much more to offer than just those two things, like original characters, a unique storyline and plenty of the red stuff! In between the nudity and gore you’ll be treated to quirky characters, which are what made the film work for me. The film opens with the awkward Caleb (played by the fantastic Marc Senter) trying to sketch the naked Ilene (Robin Sydney) in an art class and their strange ensuing conversation after class. After those first scenes you are just hooked! We are further entertained by the over-the-top viciousness of Caleb’s family when they invade the girls’ cabin and the banter between the two cops as they close in on their killers’ location. Other unique characters you’ll encounter on this trip of a movie are a pair of hilarious hillbillies (one played by our good friend Luke Thompson) who nearly steal the show with their short screen time!

Then, of course, are the beautiful girls, who appear mainly in various states of undress throughout the movie. All you guys out there will be drooling over this quadruplet. My only pet peeve with the women characters is that we don’t know much about each individual and the two brunettes of the group (played by Carlee Baker and Eve Mauro) are almost indistinguishable because no time is taken to develop the characters. Still, this doesn’t stop the fact that you’re still rooting for the women the entire time.

It was also smart for writers Chris Sivertson (story) and Adam Rockoff (script) to add the cops into the story. Their part of the plot broke up the overall film and helped with the pacing. It also made for a pretty cool ending! Some people will have a problem with not exactly knowing just what the girls are supposed to be (witches? vampires? werewolves??)…but this didn’t really bother me. What did bother me was that the film could have seriously been trimmed a bit…probably of much of the previously mentioned nudity and makeout scenes (one scene of the four girls making out goes on for about 6 minutes…I’ve even heard from guys that this scene is overly long). These scenes feel like they belong in a sexploitation flick, not in a horror movie…

As for the grue, there is plenty of the red stuff splashed around on-screen. From bashed-in heads to severed penises to brains sucked up through a straw, Wicked Lake has you covered…in blood! The effects seriously look great and are very realistic. I especially loved the sucking-the-brain-through-a-straw scene…one of the most creative death sequences I’ve seen in quite some time!

Wicked Lake is a fun film that still has flaws, especially with finding a balance between its weird vibe and its bloodthirsty nature. At times it felt like an erotic Jean Rollin or Jess Franco film or the original Wicker Man because of its misplaced nekkidness and slightly mystical vibe, but its nastier bits made me recall films such as Last House on the Left and House on the Edge of the Park. It also had many intentionally funny moments, especially featuring Caleb (he does spend most of the movie impaled to a door with a fire poker, but is still alive and able to make the audience giggle). So, to say Wicked Lake is a bit of a hodge-podge, unfocused film would be an understatement…Still, it continually entertained me and sometimes that’s all you can ask for.

Available from Amazon!

Book Review: Moonlight by Keith Knapp

Keith Knapp’s novel Moonlight takes the post-apocalyptic zombie story and turns it on its head, giving us a fresh and exciting new voice in horror fiction.

First, the electricity goes out. Then people find out that cars, cell phones, portable radios, watches and clocks have improbably stopped working. A darkness soon begins spreading across the Chicago area and surrounding suburbs. People are turning aggressive, violent and homicidal…and when they are killed, they just get right back up and attack again, moaning “No more room.”

With modern society crumbling, a dark man in a trench coat appears, intent on turning the world into his own personal playground of hell. A few survivors, including an alcoholic writer, a mayor, a psychiatrist, an artist and a pregnant woman, band together to try and stop the dark man from spreading his darkness any further…or is it already too late?

Moonlight is a very enjoyable and quick read, despite the seemingly long page length (the novel is 500 pages, but the spacing and font are pretty big, so no worries). Also, instead of taking a clichéd look at a post-apocalyptic world, Knapp shakes things up a bit with a different story that features plenty of twists. Also, the villain is very intimidating and the “zombies” (if you want to call them that, though these reanimated corpses are organized, retain their memories, can talk to and manipulate people and are basically puppets of the dark man in the trench coat) are vicious and scary, not at all like the aimless, shambling dead you’re probably used to.

The gore is also nicely done. Knapp uses very effective and descriptive passages to describe the ever-present carnage. The book if pretty graphic, so hardcore horror fans won’t be disappointed!

As for the characters, Knapp has the main characters developed enough so that you actually care about them. I found myself rooting for the rag-tag team and actually concerned that they make it out alive. There are also a few twists with some of the characters that will definitely surprise you! I also liked the realistic reactions the characters had to the world’s impending doom. No one had any easy answers and many characters made bad decisions that resulted in others’ deaths.

The story is well-written and expertly paced. There is never an instance of boredom and everything moves at a quick clip. I did feel like the big showdown at the end was a bit rushed and anticlimactic, but I was still pleased with the book overall.

My only other complaint isn’t with the story itself, but with the novel’s title, Moonlight, which doesn’t really make sense in the context of the story. I hate that it makes an otherwise excellent book sound like a teenybopper vampire novel!

Other than those quibbles, Moonlight was a very entertaining read! I highly recommend it to all horror fans that want quick and breezy reading material that doesn’t skimp on the gore.

Available on Amazon!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Dark Reel (2008)

In attendance at the annual Shriekfest Film Festival this year, I was lucky enough to catch the quirky and enjoyable Dark Reel, helmed by first time horror director Josh Eisenstadt and written by Aaron Pope. Dark Reel managed to both skewer big-studio politics as well as thrill viewers with some wonderfully nasty kills!

In the ‘50s, a starlet named Scarlett May (Alexandra Holden) was horrifically butchered during a screen test. Her case garnered notoriety over the years for the brutal nature of the crime, as well for the fact that the killer was never caught. Fast forward 53 years and down-on-his-luck horror movie fan Adam Waltz (Edward Furlong) has just won a walk-on role on the horror film Pirate Wench, starring none other than his favorite scream queen, Cassie Blue (Tiffany Shepis). Once legendary but now struggling studio head Connor Pritchett (Lance Henriksen) and his head of marketing Harris Briggs (Emmanuel Xuereb) hope that the walk-on roll will boost publicity for the film.

They get plenty of publicity, but of a more gruesome sort than they expected. People involved with the production start dying grisly deaths at the hands of a masked killer. As more and more die, Adam’s role in the film keeps getting bigger and bigger, giving Detective Shields (Tony Todd) and his partner Detective LaRue (Rena Riffel) a suspect with a motive.

Yet, the detectives also suspect the director of Pirate Wench, Derek Deeds (Jeffrey Vincent Parise), when he becomes jealous of Adam and his relationship with Cassie. Also acting suspicious is the eccentric Connor Pritchett, who has plenty of motive as he is under pressure to make a profit on Pirate Wench…and some morbid publicity could very well help him achieve that goal.

There also may be a supernatural explanation…has Scarlett May come back to seek revenge? Adam sure thinks so when he thinks he sees her ghost on-screen…Whatever the cause, people are getting hacked to bits and Adam and Cassie seek to discover who or what is behind the murders before its Cassie’s final bow as well…

Dark Reel is a darkly humorous and bloody horror movie that’s one hell of a good time. While it has its flaws, it is still a highly enjoyable flick that delivers with its excellent cast and well-written story.

First, let’s talk about the stellar cast. We’ve got Edward Furlong, Lance Henriksen, Tony Todd, Tiffany Shepis. Mercedes McNab and even FX maestro Rick Baker in a small part! The cast is amazing, and they all do a spectacular job with their characters! The characters, by the way, are all very quirky. For example, the male lead of Pirate Wench, Rhett Johnson (Jake Grace), is an English gentleman that especially fancies eating onions (much to the chagrin of his leading ladies) and who hates all paparazzi, giving any he meets a good thrashing. Edward Furlong’s character Adam is sardonically obtuse, not letting much get under his skin (even though he just went through a bad breakup, is the main suspect in the killings and has managed to snag the affection of scream queen Cassie Blue). Cassie Blue, played by Tiffany Shepis, is a sweet scream queen who hasn’t let fame go to her head and takes a special liking to Adam. This is Shepis’ best role to date and she just shines! It is so nice to see her in a more developed role that requires more than just looking pretty and taking off her clothes (though, don’t worry, she still does both in this film!). Lance Henriksen nearly steals the show as the eccentric Connor Pritchett, who is constantly stealing ideas and taking credit for them and abusing his young assistant. The rest of the characters are equally neurotic and interesting…kudos to writer Aaron Pope for capturing the feel of those within the film industry as well as horror fans (Gnome Killer is a riot and an added bonus!!). Pope pokes fun at both these kinds of people in a hilarious, it’s-funny-because-it’s-true kind of way that will make you laugh out loud!

The story is your typical supernatural/slasher set-up, but while the story is simple it never feels tired or stale. The set-up is inventive and the memorable characters and quirky situations will keep you on your toes! The masked killer is also very iconic, as she/he wears a creepy skeleton mask topped with a mane of honey-blonde hair. The first reveal of the character is pretty shocking, because while we see it coming we don’t know exactly what to expect…and the killer’s “look” is very unexpected and surprising!

I also loved the look of the film overall. It opens in grainy black and white to a flashback in the ‘50s, but then takes us in full color to the filming of Pirate Wench on an old ship. It also explores the seedy Los Angeles neighborhood where Adam lives, the hip Hollywood bars where the cast and crew for Pirate Wench hang out and the well-appointed bungalows up in the hills where the starlet’s live (and die). Director Josh Eisenstadt crafts a film whose visuals pay homage to Hollywood and Los Angeles while at the same time satirizing the whole film “scene.”

The special FX are pretty impressive as well, with limbs getting chopped off left and right and plenty of blood splatter to satiate the thirstiest of horror fans! There’s even a scene where a victim gets carved from their belly button up to their chest cavity! Throats get slashed, heads get blown off and decapitated, not to mention all the hacked up body parts!

My only complaints were with the editing and the overall run-time of the film. The editing feels choppy at times, like a vital (or at least a transition) scene was left on the cutting room floor. Also, the film runs a little long, begins to feel repetitive after a while and stagnates towards the middle. I also think more could have been made with the Scarlett May storyline. Instead of focusing on the supernatural element of the story, more time is focused on the slasher side of it.

Despite this, Dark Reel is still a very worthwhile film to see. Its satirizing humor on the film industry, memorable characters, fresh storyline, bloody kills and iconic killer make Dark Reel one you won’t want to miss!

Available from Amazon!

Friday, October 3, 2008

Rest Stop 2: Don't Look Back (2008)

When I first saw Rest Stop, I was severely disappointed. To me, the movie had no redeeming value, was unmemorable and was an absolute chore to sit through. So when I heard a sequel had been made, I expected it to suck just as epically as the first one had (if not more so). Surprisingly, I found that Rest Stop: Don’t Look Back, while not a “must-see” horror flick, got things much more right than the original.

Tom (Richard Tillman) is on leave for 10 days from Iraq. He decides to take his time off to search for his little brother Jess (Joey Mendicino) who disappeared with his girlfriend Nicole (Julie Mond, replacing Jaimie Alexander from the first film) on their way to California. He takes his bitchy, alcoholic girlfriend Marilyn (Jessie Ward) and his goofy friend Jared (Graham Norris) along with him for the ride. On the border of California they find an old gas station attendant that remembers Jess and points the trio to the Old Highway where he and Nicole were last seen. Pretty soon the three friends are back at the same rest stop Jess and Nicole disappeared from and the driver (Brionne Davis) of the beat-up yellow truck with license plate number KLZ 300 is after them…

Rest Stop: Don’t Look Back was a surprise to me. It’s not the best or most memorable movie in the world, but it is far superior to its predecessor. My main praise stems from the fact that the story is much more fleshed out, though the script feels rushed and gloms over some new developments. For example, we learn more about the ghostly driver’s backstory and about an Indian legend that says if your eyes are plucked out and you are buried without them, your spirit is doomed to wander the earth. Still, neither of these plot points are developed very well, giving us just enough to kinda make sense of what’s going on. Also, the creepy fanatical family is back for a few scenes, though I’ve always thought using the religiously crazy in films shows a lack of creativity on the writer’s part. Despite these issues, I enjoyed the more developed supernatural story in Rest Stop: Don’t Look Back. 

The creepiest scenes (there weren’t any really scary or even tense ones) involved our protagonists’ interactions with ghosts…however these apparitions were very real and you could even reach out and touch them (ask Jared!). They would be there and in an instance they would just disappear. This kept you on the edge of your toes and towards the end you weren’t quite sure who was alive or dead…giving you some nasty and nihilistic surprises near the end.

As for the characters, they were all pretty shallow and unlikable. Tom is your typical buff hero, Jared is your typical goofy sidekick and Marilyn is your “typical” bitchy girlfriend. I say typical in quotes because I don’t know how anyone could stand her constant complaining and meanness. Not to mention she hits the bottle between every other breath. Why can’t anyone write a believable, likable female character?? Despite this, the characters redeem themselves towards the end, when we do start caring for them, but I think by then it’s a little too late.

Also, they sure show The Driver (that’s how he’s credited) a whole lot towards the last half of the film…perhaps a little too much. When they reveal the killer, showing his entire face and body, he loses some of the mysteriousness as well as his scare factor. I think they should have kept him shrouded in the shadows or just show bits and pieces of him, like in the original (wow! one thing the original did right!). Yet, actor Brionne Davis does a great job bringing The Driver to life by just using subtle facial expressions and not saying one word (unless you count the flashback in the Winnebago).

The rest of the acting in the film is pretty solid, even though the characterizations are shallow. No one really stands out as being either very good or very bad, so there isn’t much to say about the acting except for the fact that it works.

Despite being a supernatural slasher movie, Rest Stop: Don’t Look Back doesn’t have that more gore. Sure, there are freshly-plucked eyeballs, body parts drilled and hammered with nails and some bloody corpses, but most of the action is off-screen or obscured within the scene by people or things standing in the way of the money shot. Nonetheless, the lack of explicit gore actually helps the film and it doesn’t become just another run-of-the-mill “torture porn” movie.

Rest Stop: Don’t Look Back is a much better film than its predecessor, Rest Stop, but that doesn’t automatically make it a great film. It has its flaws and it’s not an entirely memorable movie, but for one night of mindless fun you might want to pull over and pick up Rest Stop: Don’t Look Back.

Available from Amazon!

Book Review: Read by Dawn Vol. 3

Horror anthologies have always been a treat for my horror-hungry heart, showcasing a wide range of different spook stories and introducing me to talented new authors. Most people don’t realize it, but it takes a lot of hard work to assemble a well-rounded horror anthology. The editor must be in tune with horror fans and be able to deliver a book that’s fresh and will stand out.

Luckily, the new horror anthology from UK’s Bloody Books, called Read By Dawn Vol. 3, definitely stands out with its startlingly scary stories. Read By Dawn Vol. 3 (I haven’t had the pleasure of reading the first two volumes) benefits from a knowledgeable editor, Adèle Hartley, who is also the festival director for Scotland’s annual International Horror Film Festival. Hartley definitely knows good horror when she sees it, because this anthology is packed with 25 frightening short stories from excellent authors!

These short but (bitter)sweet stories all have their own distinct styles, but I guarantee that all of them will send you diving under the covers with fright! I don’t think there is one bad story in this anthology, which is rare because there are usually a few clunkers in these kinds of collections. However, I do have some favorites, among them “Dead Frogs” by Josh Reynolds where a health inspector finds a shallow, watery grave in a diseased irrigation ditch. Reynolds will have you drowning in dread in the few short pages of the sinister story.

Another of my favorites is “Treats” (just in time for Halloween, no less!) by author Samuel Minier. In this surreal story Minier presents us with a macabre trick or treating ritual. Extremely disconcerting and nightmarish, you’ll definitely be asking for seconds when you’re finished with “Treats.”

In “What Will Happen When You’re Gone” by Jeffory Jacobson, a young couple chances upon one hell of a deal for a farmhouse, but when they visit the old lady who lives there, they realize that the house comes with some frightening and furry fiends. You know something is coming in this story, but when it finally springs you’ll be caught unawares!

Author Rebecca Lloyd gives us “Shuck,” painting us a picture of a decaying town with a dark presence that is plaguing a woman’s sister. The portrayal of the presence made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end! I also enjoyed the descriptions of the crumbling town.

There are many other stories (pretty much all 25) that will give you a fright, but instead of me describing them all for you do yourself a favor and go pick up Read By Dawn Vol. 3. And while you’re at it, pick up volumes 1 and 2 as well, like I’m planning on doing! If Vol. 3 is any indication, the other volumes will also contain enough stories to curl your toes and send you scurrying to the safety of your bed!!

Read By Dawn is also an excellent indicator that horror fiction is going strong and that there are many talented authors out there to keep an eye on. If you want a taste of the macabre future of horror, look no further than Read by Dawn Vol. 3, one of the best horror anthologies in recent years!

Visit Bloody Books Online!

Buy Read by Dawn Vol. 3!
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