Wednesday, December 31, 2008

My Best and Worst Horror Films of 2008

Was 2008 a good year for horror? Some people might argue that the deluge of PG-13 “bubblegum horror” (Prom Night remake, Twilight, The Haunting of Molly Hartley, etc.) damaged horror’s reputation, but the fact can’t be denied that there were also some mighty fine horror movies released this year that scared the pants off people.

Whether you think 2008 was a good or bad year for horror, I’ve compiled my picks for the best and worst horror films of 2008.

(I’ve tried to be accurate with release dates, but with some films it’s a slippery slope when trying to pin down an exact release date (limited theatrical vs. DVD release, foreign releasing, etc.), so please give me some wiggle room…I'm only trying to showcase the very best (and worst) films that caught my eye this year.)


10.) The Strangers – One of the only movies that genuinely creeped me out this year! Its subtle horror gets under your skin and I love the creepy music that was used. The first appearance of one of the villains in the house (oh, so subtle) had me holding on to the arms of my chair for dear life! A tension-filled, expertly filmed horror movie.

9.) Brutal Massacre – This is just a plain hilarious farce on horror filmmaking. The dead-pan, dry humor had me rolling on the floor, along with the situations the characters found themselves in. The actors were pitch-perfect, including Gunnar Hansen who stole the show as a creepy local.

8.) Re-Cycle – A whimsical, visually-stimulating piece of fantasy-horror cinema from the Pang Brothers. Re-Cycle is absolutely stunning to look at, but it also features an engaging, mysterious and touching storyline. I also love how it skewers the typical Asian horror film in its opening scenes, but it quickly moves into its fantastic fantasy world filled with zombies, abortion babies, ghosts and crumbling, abandoned cities.

7.) Poultrygeist – No movie this year has made me simultaneously laugh and gag as much as Poultrygeist. It’s ultra-low brow humor, musical numbers, copious gore, offensiveness and social commentary made it one of the most entertaining horror films of the year. I’m not even a big fan of Troma films and I think this is one of their best ever! This is a fowl, gross-out movie that super-sizes the fun and comes with an extra side of AWESOME!

6.) Cloverfield – The most scary monster movie of the year, period. Cloverfield perfectly captures the immediacy, confusion and emotion of disaster and really gives us a taste of what have must have been like on 9/11 and other major, big-city catastrophes. This is the one film of 2008 that utilizes the hand-held, “shaky cam” technique the best and in a way that makes the most sense. The monster and its mysterious appearance also adds to the fear factor.

5.) The Orphanage – Haunting, unsettling and heartbreaking best describe this beautifully scary film. If you haven’t seen it yet…do yourself a favor and see it now!

4.) The Signal – An intelligent, gritty, comedic love story peppered with intense bouts of gore. It has three separate “transmissions” (each directed by a different director) that each focus on a different character and carry a slightly different tone.

3.) Red Velvet – I saw this film at Fango in April and was blown away by its originality, horror-movie smarts and witty dialogue. It also boasts a killer creation of a horror movie killer…but is he/she real or just in the imagination of the storyteller? Hopefully more people will get to see it in 2009…I hear it already has a distribution deal!

2.) Let the Right One In – This movie is like an otherworldly, transcendent experience. After watching it you are changed and look at the world in a wholly different way. Everything from the stark atmosphere to the touching relationship between the two main characters to the bouts of violence we see entrances us and pulls us into the film and story even farther.

1.) Midnight Movie – Both an homage to old “midnight movies” (and horror movies in general) and an entirely original storyline about a killer in a film that can move beyond his celluloid prison and stalk and kill the patrons of an old movie theater. Instead of being a standard hack ‘n’ slash movie, there is a great supernatural twist to the proceedings that just adds so much! Everything from the production values to the acting and the gore is top notch and my eyes were glued to the screen for the film’s entirety. Not to mention that the film creates an iconic killer that could stand up there with Leatherface, Freddy, Jason or Michael!  Ever since I saw this movie it has been on my mind and I can’t wait until more people are able to view it when it hits DVD in January.


10.) Automaton Transfusion – With the exception of its gore, I felt that this indie film did everything wrong. Huge inconsistencies, big plot holes, unbelievable circumstances and overuse of the shaky cam irked me enough to include it in my worst of. Plus, the fact that it was so over-hyped but failed to deliver anything new, different or entertaining to the zombie genre really pissed me off.

9.) Diary of the Dead – Heavy-handed social commentary and a lame-o storyline with detestable characters really killed this for me. Incredibly boring with social commentary about as fresh as the rotting corpses surrounding the characters.

8.)  Killer Pad – Feel like torturing someone? Look no further than Robert Englund’s return to directing, Killer Pad. It tries for Dude, Where’s My Car humor, but fails miserably. It is an embarrassing film to watch knowing Mr. Englund was involved, especially with the bad 13-year-old-type dialogue that this turkey is stuffed with, not to mention the unlikable characters, plot holes and the sheer stupidity of the script. After this movie, I might be convinced that Englund should stick to acting…

7.) Pathology – Ok, so I wasn’t expecting much from the writers of Crank, but c’mon! What ever happened to believability in a flick?! This film shows how a regular good guy can turn tail and become a murdering, adulterous druggie, throwing his whole life and future career away. Why, you ask? Because someone triple dog dared him, that’s why! Besides the ridiculously ludicrous plot, it has bad acting (does actor Milo Ventimiglia seriously only have one expression?), little gore and horrible logic. Plus, it lacks the killer autopsy scenes I was expecting to see…This one is definitely DOA.

6.) Asylum – This movie was so forgettable that I’ve had to look at my review TWICE to remind myself what the hell it was about. Stupid characters (each with a deep dark secret…how convenient) find out their dorm used to be some old mental hospital with a craaaaazy doctor performing experiments….yada yada YAWN. Not even the silliness of the doctor’s character can pull this one out of the dregs. Totally unmemorable except for the fact that it’s so forgettable.

5.) Catacombs – I love Shannyn Sossamon, but girl needs a new agent! She was in the awful One Missed Call remake (luckily I didn’t sit through that one) and this atrocious mess of a movie. This film had the coolest and creepiest setting ever (the cavernous catacombs of Paris, though it wasn’t even filmed there – strike one!), but quickly turned to merde with the most annoying characters ever created, a predictable plot, zero scares and a cop-out ending that makes everything you’ve just watched not count for anything. Shannyn, either stay outta the horror genre or land a gig for a film that’s actually good!

4.) Women’s Studies – This indie film, about murders in an all-girls college, had me intrigued when I first heard about it. Like Teeth, it seemed to promise strong feminist values, but, again like Teeth, it failed to deliver. Instead, I was forced to suffer through stereotypical depictions of  “feminists.” According to this movie, feminists are all man-hating, hippie lesbians. Add a plodding, boring storyline, more stupid characters and horrendous dialogue and all that you’ll be studying while watching this film is the ceiling…because the ceiling is far more interesting than Women’s Studies.

3.) Teeth – This movie makes me seething mad. I can’t believe how many people fell for its “feminist horror flick” shtick when it’s just the opposite. The storyline may be original, but the execution was all wrong and downright insulting, especially the end when marriage was presented as a “cure-all” for the main character’s “problem.” Teeth took what could have been a strong woman-centric message but instead decided to shove patriarchal values down our throats instead. Just pathetic. This movie can bite me.

2.) Lost Boys 2: The Tribe – This movie felt like an episode of The O.C. with rich kids in a California beach town driving their expensive motorcycles/cars and throwing massive parties while two outsiders, a brother and sister (though they seem creepily incestuous), try to fit in. Little sister falls for the “most popular guy” and big brother tries to stop this romance…oh, and there are vampires in there somewhere. A complete and utter letdown…I don’t even think your 12-year-old sister would be caught dead watching this.

1.) Return to Sleepaway Camp – I would rather gouge out my own eyes with rusty nails than see this insulting, unfunny and stupid sequel again! Fans of the original Sleepaway Camp films will be appalled at this Return, from the dialogue that sounds like it was written by a five-year-old that got dropped on its head to the horrible, unlikable characters and mediocre deaths. Even a last-minute (and last-ditch) appearance from Angela herself and cameos from actors from the original film couldn’t save me from the painful experience.

Friday, December 19, 2008

My Top 5 Christmas Horror Movies

Happy Horror-days, fatal fiends! I want to bring you plenty of season’s bleedings, er, greetings, so I’ve compiled a handy list of holiday horrors for this horrendous holiday season!

So grab a glass of egg nog and a slice of fruit cake and settle in for some holiday fear with the following Fatally Yours’ approved Christmas films!

5. Two Front Teeth – This is a campy and tongue-in-cheek indie flick that celebrates the season with killer elves, a trio of nun assassins under an oath of silence called the “Silent Knights,” an evil tooth fairy posing as Santa Claus and “X-mas Files” journalist Gabe Snow trying to piece the mystery of the crash of flight 1225 together. Though this low-budget film has its flaws, its witty Christmas references make it memorable and will put you in a holly-jolly mood!

4. Christmas Evil – A Christmas cult classic, this film came out before the notoriously boycotted Silent Night, Deadly Night, even though it has the similar theme of a man snapping and doning a red Santa suit to instill Christmas fear in anyone who he deems as being “naughty.”

Though the first half of the film is a little slow, the action picks up in the last half as the lead character, Harry, finally snaps and begins taking people out with killer toys that he’s hand-crafted. A stand-out performance from Brandon Maggert (Fiona Apple’s dad!) and the film’s dark tone make Christmas Evil a memorable holiday film.

3. Marcus – Complaining about having to spend time with your dysfunctional family this Christmas? After viewing the bleak and disturbing indie film Marcus, I’m sure you’ll stop your bitching and have a newfound appreciation for your own family. The claustrophobic atmosphere of the film creates a tension that is only matched by the family members’ distrust and deceit.

2. Silent Night, Deadly Night – Poor Billy…he saw his parents get murdered by a maniac dressed in a Santa suit when he was young and has been traumatized ever since. Just a glimpse of Santa can set him off…Years after being raised by nuns in an orphanage Billy gets a holiday job at a toy store, but snaps when he has to play the store’s Santa Claus. He demands “punishment” for all who’ve been “naughty” and chops his way back to the orphanage where he grew up to have his revenge on the nuns.

This is probably the most notorious Christmas movie because of the controversy it generated when it was first released. Though Christmas Evil came years before and had a similar premise of a killer Santa, people still protested Silent Night, Deadly Night because of its portrayal of a killer dressed as Santa Claus. Watching it now you don’t really understand what all the fuss was about, but its still a pretty solid horror film and it even boasts a topless Linnea Quigley in an early role!

1. Santa’s Slay – An over-the-top, action-packed, hilarious holiday horror movie! Not very many people have heard of this film, but it is well worth hunting down. It features wrestler Bill Goldberg as an evil Santa Claus whose 1,000 years of spreading good cheer and delivering presents are up and now he’s in a killing mood…

There are so many great holiday references and gags in the film (death by menorah, Santa taking out a group of carolers, festively dressed strippers, etc.) and the film has an overall black comedic tone that makes it laugh-out-loud hilarious! If you haven’t seen Santa’s Slay before now, it will definitely become a new holiday tradition!

Book Review: Shadows by Joan de la Haye

Sarah is struggling through her estranged father’s recent suicide while trying to maintain her relationship with cheating boyfriend Kevin. Unbeknownst to Sarah, Kevin is seeing Denise, who in turn is seeing Kevin’s sister, Carol. Things get complicated in the love triangle when Denise asks something of the siblings that is unfathomable to most people.

Meanwhile, Sarah is falling into despair at Kevin’s neglect of her in her time of need. She falls further into a downward spiral when she starts hallucinating and starts seeing a demon that shows her horrible scenes of carnage. The lines between reality and fiction become blurred as Sarah is tormented by the demon.

Shadows is from South African author Joan de la Haye, and it’s fun to read the Johannesburg slang that pops up in her writing. The rest of the book is just as engaging, making it a quick, nail-biting read that is hard to put down!

I really enjoyed the two storylines, one told from Sarah’s first-person perspective and the other alternating from Kevin, Carol and Denise’s perspectives, but all told in third person. The switches in voice made things interesting and let you know right away whose perspective you were seeing things from.

The characters, while not remarkably likable (the cheating, incestuous Kevin is especially vile), are all very engaging and you can’t wait to see how they will unravel next. The calculating Denise is almost as bad as Sarah’s demon, manipulating both Kevin and Carol at the same time. Carol has her own motives, but follows wherever Denise leads. And Sarah is a needy, dependent woman who gains the readers’ respect later in the book when she decides not to take it anymore and fight back! Sarah’s demon is quite entertaining, though I definitely wouldn’t want to get on his bad side!

The issues in the book are appropriately disturbing as it deals with everything from rape, suicide, incest to poor healthcare systems. Sarah’s demon takes gruesome delight in tormenting her, showing her effectively gory scenes of bloody death of her loved ones. There are plenty of passages filled with grue in the novel, but these never overpower the truly scariest aspect of the novel, which is the cruelty that people can inflict on each other and themselves.

Author Joan de la Haye has crafted a darkly entertaining book with Shadows and I can’t wait to see what she has in store for readers next!

Available from Amazon!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Frostbitten (2006)

The last good vampire film I saw was Let the Right One In, but before that I can’t remember the last good vampire film I saw. I love the mythos behind vampires, but I hate how Hollywood usually translates them as being suave, sophisticated beings that sip blood from crystal goblets and lounge about sumptuously appointed mansions. I miss vampires being vicious, cunning and bloodthirsty!

Yet, even when vampires are envisioned as completely feral beings, things can still go wrong…just see 30 Days of Night, which had a killer concept but failed devastatingly to deliver. Luckily, the Swedish film Frostbitten (or Frostbiten in its native tongue) is a fun vampire film that melds the old vampire mythos (an aversion to garlic and crosses, not being able to see their reflection and not being able to control their blood lust) with the new (a genetically engineered vampire that is superior to both “old” vampires and humans, red pills that turn users into vampires), creating a fresh and entertaining vampire film.

Saga (Grete Havnesköld) and her mother Annika (Petra Nielsen) have moved to a small Lapland town so Annika can work alongside the famous geneticist Gerhard Beckert (Carl-Åke Eriksson) at a medical facility. They’ve arrived at the time of year in winter when the town has 30 days of night, and both must adjust to the continuous darkness as well as being in a new place. Also, when they arrive there are a series of odd deaths that occur. Some seem like accidents, but the victims have puncture marks on their necks.

Meanwhile, Saga makes a quirky new friend at school named Vega (Emma T. Åberg) while Annika becomes intrigued by Professor Beckert and his only patient, a young coma victim whom he treats with mysterious red pills. A young resident, Sebastian (Jonas Karlström), who also goes to Saga’s school, steals a red pill from the Professor, mistaking it for a street drug. When he takes it he get violently ill but has a strong desire for more red pills…so he breaks into the medical facility and nixes a whole box full of the pills from the Professor.

Vega manages to get her hands on the pills after Sebastian fails to score any drugs for an upcoming party. The pills end up at the party where all the teenagers of the town are boozing it up and partying like rock stars. Saga ends up there too, and pretty soon after popping the red pills the teens are transforming into bloodthirsty vamps.

Back at the medical facility Annika has discovered Professor Beckert’s secret after being bit by his patient…

With 30 days of night ahead of them, can mother and daughter unite to stop the vampires before it’s too late?

That synopsis may seem a bit long and convoluted, but luckily the movie doesn’t come off that way. Though the film has wide assortment of characters, it takes the time to develop them just enough so we know who everyone is. The characters are all likable and the film is infused with a contagiously fun energy. There is plenty of humor throughout the film, but also plenty of grue to satisfy! Its films like Frostbitten that really renew my love of the horror genre and prove there still are hidden gems out there!

The script and the pacing of the film are both near perfection. Though the beginning starts a bit slow with not too much blood loss, you are still sucked into the storyline by the characters and their different situations. Writers Daniel Ojanlatva and Pidde Andersson, along with director Anders Banke have created a fluid narrative that encompasses many different points of view from different characters. They also made sure there are laughs a-plenty, from a funny and awkward first meeting between a boyfriend and his girlfriend’s parents as he’s turning into a vampire (the father is a priest wearing a cross and the mother has made some garlic-encrusted fish dish) to the witty banter between teenagers (though perhaps a little dated by American standards). I also loved the backstory that opens the film, complete with Nazi soldiers being picked off by a vampire.

Surprisingly, the 30 days of night theme isn’t really touched on except for a line uttered towards the end of the film, but the night is ever-present and neither the audience nor the characters get any relief from the darkness. The night is used wisely by the director and cinematographer (Chris Maris) in creating a foreboding atmosphere. We are never quite sure what is hiding in the blackness beyond the street lamps, and that tension keeps us on the edge of our seats for the entire film.

The special FX used in Frostbitten are pretty impressive, especially when the red blood is contrasted against the white snow. It’s just bloody gore-geous! The Professor’s “transformation” at the end was also impressive and cool-looking! Usually CGI annoys me, but here it is done right and I barely even noticed it! I also enjoyed Sebastian’s gradual change and the vampire’s blood-red eyes! There were also buckets of blood used towards the end of the film, even one scene where an entire interior of a house is coated in the red stuff! Also, I have to note that death-by-lawn-gnome was one of the most inventive ways to kill a vampire I have ever seen!

With Frostbitten, Sweden has released one of the best modern vampire movies I’ve had the pleasure to see. Filled with witty repertoire, funny characters and buckets of blood, Frostbitten comes highly recommended from yours truly!

Available from Amazon!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Interview with Mycho Founder MJ Dixon

Mycho is an independently run production company based in Northern England specializing in low-budget horror, horror-themed events and even their very own horror band, Hockey Mask Heroes. A true lover of horror, founder MJ Dixon runs Mycho not to make money but because of his dedication to the genre.

We had a chance to chat with MJ Dixon about Mycho, the horror genre, his inspirations and much more!

Fatally Yours: How and when did your love of horror begin?

MJ Dixon: I can’t really pin point the moment that it began, as long as I can remember I was always attracted toward anything macabre. But the first time I ever remember being scared was watching Universal Studios’ The Mummy when I was about 7 years old, that when my obsession began, and I spent the most part of my childhood drawing red ink on the TV paper circling the weeks horror movies. It was only when I was about 11 that I saw Halloween and from that moment I knew that I wanted to spend my life making Horror Movies.

Fatally Yours: Can you tell our readers something about your production company, Mycho?

MJ Dixon:  Mycho is based in the North of England and focuses purely on creating original, entertaining Horror films. In addition we put on Events like the House Of Mycho as an outlet for the films and music that we create. The most important thing is that it’s all done completely on no money and lots of love.

Fatally Yours: What led up to you starting your own production company?

MJ Dixon: Mycho was created from many factors combined, When I left high school at 16 (Over 10 Years ago) I began to work on small independent productions in my area. There wasn’t a lot going on so I grabbed hold of any opportunity that I could. But it was rare that any of them were Horror films and trying to get my own stuff out there was proving increasingly harder in the North of England where people only wanted to see Kitchen Sink dramas.

I realised that if was going to get to work on Horror Films I would have to make them myself and so I set up a production company and shot my first film Destination. There was a bit of buzz about it on various Horror Boards and I knew I was on the right track. Then money became involved and the people I was running the company with got greedy. They stop thinking about what we would make next and more how much they would get paid, I decided to get out at that point.

I had learned a lot of lessons from that first film and decided that I would create, not only a production company, but a film making philosophy, and so I created Mycho. Mycho was about making movies for the love of movies and focused purely on Horror, my biggest love.

Fatally Yours: What are all the duties and roles that you perform for Mycho?

MJ Dixon: I take care of almost everything, I take on cast and crew as I need them, although I have picked up a few like minded characters along the way who have become regulars. But my duties mainly are putting together every project from start to finish. I spent a long time training myself to edit so that I could take care of that and studied composition and sound design at University as well as screenwriting and anything else you could think of.

Fatally Yours: Tell us about what youre working on now
MJ Dixon: Well at the minute we’re in pre production on Creepsville which will be Mycho’s debut feature film. It’s been in development for years and I decided that now was the time to go for it. The past year or so has been spent tightening up every aspect of Mycho’s productions and I think now its time to take on something big. It’s scary as the film has no real budget, its all based on the “beg, borrow, steal” philosophy, which is nothing really new to us.

Fatally Yours: If you could put together your dream cast and crew for a horror film (or even to host one of your events), who would you choose and why?

MJ Dixon: Well funnily enough I’ve been writing a film with Troma star Trent Haaga in mind for about 6 years and during trying to raise funds we actually shot a micro cameo with Doug Bradley of Hellraiser fame. It’s a high budget affair really so it’s been very hard to ever get it up and running, but I’m a big fan of Trent both as an actor and a writer and well, I grew up as a huge fan of Hellraiser, so trying to get Mr Bradley fully on board would be a dream come true.

As for events well I would love to have Alice Cooper play, I’m a huge fan of the band and Mr Cooper himself. Mycho actually has its own band Hockey Mask Heroes, that record our soundtracks and such, that is very much in the same vein as what Cooper was doing in the 80′s and 90′s.

Fatally Yours: What have been some of your favorite horror films of 2008?

MJ Dixon: There’s been some really strong Horror this year, Inside was one that stands out, the French don’t give us horror very much, but when they do it always hits me hard. Teeth was another, it just had such originality and really entertained me and the string of people I’ve shown it to. I also loved Jack Brooks – Monster Slayer, it just took me back to the first time I saw Evil Dead 2. I hope those guys get a sequel.

Fatally Yours: Whats your favorite horror film of all time?

MJ Dixon: That’s always a hard question, I get asked that a lot, I would say it’s between Halloween, The Hitcher and Hellraiser. They are three films that I can watch again and again and they never lose any impact. It’s a shame that the remakes of the first two were a little lacklustre, I’ve got nothing against Hollywood remaking films, but I wish they would look at why the originals were so scary. Let’s just hope they get Hellraiser right.

Fatally Yours: What do you think modern horror movies today are doing wrong? What do you think they are doing right?

MJ Dixon: It’s strange, we have grown more acceptant as an audience these days, so what would have scared us many years ago now has little or no impact. I was watching the making of Constantine the other night and the director used the term “Popcorn scare” and I think it’s that mentality that is causing the problem. There’s no sense of dread in most commercial, modern horror, its all just mediocre jump scares that are instantly forgettable on leaving the theatre or turning off the DVD player.

There are people out there getting it right though. All The Boys Love Mandy Lane for example was something fresh and new and I got a lot from it as a viewer. With people like Adam Green and Eli Roth out there I feel that Horror is at least in safe hands. Saw had it right for a couple of years, but I think by now they know that we’ll hand our money no matter what crap they put on the screen.

Fatally Yours: What is the one thing you hope people come away with after seeing one of your films or attending one of your events?

MJ Dixon: I want people to be entertained, that’s why I started doing this and that why I’ve never stopped. I spent a lot of time around people making art films, but of course no one wanted to watch them and these people pass that off as the audience being ignorant. But the simple fact is that film is there to entertain, that’s its main purpose, if you don’t give the audience something for their time they are just gonna be pissed off.

Fatally Yours: You are based in the UK, but do you have any plans to expand into other countries, perhaps even the United States?

MJ Dixon: Yeah, I think with any kind of business you have to look to expand in any way that you can. The move to LA is inevitable, after all the film scene in England is not really geared toward Horror. There have been some classics in recent years The Descent, 28 Days Later, Shaun Of The Dead, but they all still had American studio backing. I plan to do as much as I can here in the meantime, but eventually LA is gonna have to happen.

Fatally Yours: Can you tell our readers about Mychos parties and events?

MJ Dixon: We run an event every month called House Of Mycho, its basically a themed night, always revolving around Horror, for example our New Year’s Evil party on December 31st. We get some awesome bands to come and play, people dress up and we show Mycho movies and play awesome music and just generally have a great time and give Mycho some much needed exposure as a label and as a movement.

Fatally Yours: What are your plans and goals for Mycho in the future?

MJ Dixon: Well after Creepsville, I would want to do a Christmas Horror I think. I don’t really know why, but I’ve always loved Christmas-based Horror films. So I think Mycho could quite possibly be releasing one for next Holiday season. Other than that Hockey Mask Heroes will be releasing our debut E.P this Christmas and we’re planning to tour with that next year and aiming to get some label interest.

Plus the short films will keep coming in the meantime and obviously the House Of Mycho events will keep coming every month. I would really want to keep Mycho independent, that’s probably my main goal. That way we can make Horror that we know people want to see and not this O.C. generation of Horror remakes like April Fools and Prom Night. Mycho’s overall goal though, is to entertain Horror fans and I think we can do that as we’re Horror fans ourselves.

Visit Mycho’s Official Site!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Book Review: Dying to Live - Life Sentence by Kim Paffenroth

Poignant zombie novels that really make you think are hard to come by. Most z-books focus on zombie attacks, blood, bodies being ripped limb from limb, blowing stuff up and so on. If any emotion is involved it is usually the gruff and macho kind that lasts only for a few sentences. Not to say that there’s anything wrong with those books. Lord knows I love a violently visceral zombie book as much as the next girl, but it’s nice to come upon a book that has brains as well as zombies!

Dying to Live: Life Sentence is Kim Paffenroth’s second novel in the Dying to Live series. While Dying to Live took place during the immediate fall out from the zombie apocalypse, Life Sentence takes place 12 years later where people, both alive and undead, have begun adjusting to their tough new world. Chapters switch back and forth between the story of Zoey, a child raised in the post-apocalyptic world going through the rites and rituals to become a full-fledged member of her community, and the story of Truman and Lucy, two smart zombies who can understand humans, read, play musical instruments and don’t randomly attack humans. As both Zoey and the zombies grow within their new roles, their paths and fates become intertwined.

The smart zombie storyline was intensely interesting and I kind of wish the whole novel had been focused solely on Truman and Lucy. I loved how they learned things and were able to read and even play the violin! It brought a whole new human element to the zombies and really made you think, just what if zombies had feelings and emotions and memories? The characters of Truman and Lucy had so much dimension and depth that truthfully I liked them more than some of their human counterparts!

Then of course was Zoey, who really grew on me as the book progressed. Though only twelve, she behaved like a well-trained soldier. She was born after the zombie apocalypse (or pretty much smack dab in the middle of it) so she never got to experience the luxuries of the old world, like ice cream and television, many of her elders talked about. Also, she never really got to experience childhood. In a way, she is almost like the zombies because she was robbed of a normal life (or normal death in their case). The parallels Paffenroth draws between her and the zombies elevate the novel into something much more intelligent than the standard zombie gorefest.

Besides the intriguing new characters, Paffenroth peppers the book with characters from Dying to Live, including Milton, Jack, Will and so on. Despite the many returning characters, the nice thing about Life Sentence is that you don’t have to read the first book to comprehend what is going on (though reading the first book helps you understand how much the survivors have gone through and gives you a deeper understanding of each returning character).

The book has a few grisly scenes, but its focus really isn’t on the gore but on characters’ interactions with the world around them. There are quite a few exciting stand-offs between zombies and/or other survivors and even a scary attack on Zoey and other women by a group of bandits that more than make up for the lack of viscera.

Dying to Live: Life Sentence is a satisfying read that you won’t be able to put down! Despite a few typos and the misuse of the word ‘til, I really have no complaints. Kim Paffenroth’s writing transports you to the desolate corner of the world where the book is set and really challenges you to contemplate more deeply on humanity. The message of hope is hard to miss here, but in a predictable pool of zombie novels that think gore is enough to entertain, Dying to Live: Life Sentence’s poignancy is more than welcome.

Available from Amazon!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Gingerdead Man 2: Passion of the Crust (2008)

After the ridiculously good time I had with Gingerdead Man, I had to check out this year’s sequel, Gingerdead Man 2: Passion of the Crust. While the sequel kept the Full Moon gags coming, I found Gingerdead Man 2 to be even more disjointed than the first go ‘round. However, I did enjoy how Full Moon, in all their self-deprecating glory, poked fun at themselves by setting the film in a failing independent studio that makes bad horror movies. Of course, all the low-brow, toilet humor helped too.

The enthusiastic Kelvin (K-Von), son of the late founder of Cheatum Studios, is trying to keep the family company relevant by staging a comeback with their latest production, Tiny Terrors 9: Purgatory of the Petite. Besides the Tiny Terrors’ ninth sequel, Cheatum also has several other productions simultaneously filming with hopes they will rescue the company from financial ruin…Except crew members and cast alike are all starting to bitch about not getting paid by the studio. In the midst of threats of revolt, Kelvin must play host to a terminally ill young man whose last wish was to be given a tour of Cheatum Studios. More trouble arrives when the gingerdead man is brought on set (seemingly unharmed from the previous film) in a box of sweets. As the killer cookie cuts his way through cast and crew, Kelvin must find a way to stop him before production at Cheatum Studios is halted…permanently.

Plot-wise Gingerdead Man 2 doesn’t have a lot going for it, though it introduces a big cast of characters (you’ll definitely see some familiar faces like cameos from special FX wizards Greg and Frank Nicotero, John Carl Buechler, Kenneth J. Hall, and directors David DeCoteau and Adam Green). These characters are all pretty broad stereotypes of people within the film industry – we have the effeminately gay makeup artist/hairstylist, the first-time actress who got her role because of a BJ (or two), the slutty, ex-famous actress who is now the caterer, the grumbling crew members, the prima donna directors and so on…

The one-line jokes are pretty corny and usually lame, but I still found myself giggling at some of them. While the first film was witty in parts, the sequel relies mostly on toilet humor or silly gags for laughs. The humor that works has to mostly with the independent film industry and Full Moon essentially poking fun at themselves and their own films. The Tiny Terrors movie, in all its awfulness and hilarity (how can you not laugh at a gross “haunted penis” puppet??), is a perfect example of the films people generally expect from Full Moon.

While there are some laughs to be found, it’s surprising that the gingerdead man takes a backseat to all the gags. It takes him a while to start slicing and dicing again and when he does there aren’t very many memorable kills (except for when the gay makeup artist takes a curling iron up the derriere). Also, this time around the gingerdead man isn’t voiced by Gary Busey, but by Krusty the Clown sound-a-like John Vulich, so the killer cookie loses some of his charm.

Still, despite the fact that the Gingerdead Man 2 is a half-baked, I found myself enjoying it! You’ll find yourself rolling your eyes more than once, but its not as bad as everyone has made it out to be. And, of course, it least it features some self-deprecating humor that lets you know that yes, the filmmakers do realize it’s a crappy movie! Still, it is definitely a film that’s not for everyone. Lovers of silliness, randomness and cheese rejoice, but those looking for something that is cohesive need to look elsewhere!

Available from Amazon!

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Gingerdead Man (2005)

Looking for a distraction from the baking and cooking that needed to be done for Thanksgiving, I sat down to relax and watch the Full Moon feature The Gingerdead Man. If anything could inspire me to bake, it would have to be a killer reincarnated in a gingerbread man cookie, right?

Well, though I was disappointed that this wasn’t a more Christmas-y film (as the name implies) and it does have many flaws, I still found myself enjoying The Gingerdead Man.

After her father and brother are gunned down by heartless criminal Millard Findlemeyer (the inimitable Gary Busey), Sarah (Robin Sydney) testifies against him and he is sentenced to death. When he fries in the electric chair, he vows revenge on her, even if it means he has to come back from beyond the grave…

Sarah is working in her family’s bakery when she receives a strange package of gingerbread seasoning. She makes a large gingerbread man using the seasoning, not realizing she is bringing back the murderous Millard as a gingerbread man!

He seeks revenge on Sarah by stalking and killing her friends and family. Can Sarah stop him before he kills her? Revenge never tasted so sweet!

To answer your question, yes, this film is cheesy and ridiculous, but it is still entertaining! The biggest plot problem the film has is keeping the victims in the bakery, even though they are free to go get help whenever they please! But do they? Nope, they just sit around, even when a few people need medical attention, intent on stopping the malicious Millard themselves! It’s pretty unbelievable to think that they would just stay there when a frickin’ gingerbread man is stalking and killing them? I would be the first one out the door to try and find a phone to call the police! Despite this major problem, I was able to suspend my belief and just enjoy the film.

Despite the characters’ stupid decisions, they are still inherently likable. Sarah is a strong female lead and she has our full attention and sympathy from the beginning as she deals with her father and brother’s deaths as well as running the struggling family business. Actress Robin Sydney, who I just saw in Wicked Lake, really brings Sarah to life. Though she could have easily been a one-note character, Sydney makes her multi-dimensional and relatable. Busey is also fun to watch as the killer cookie and really hams it up as only he can. The rest of the cast is also impressive and there isn’t one bad actor in the bunch.

The special effects were a bit cheesy at times, especially the look of the gingerbread man, but overall they were decent. The film doesn’t have a lot of gore, but we do get a man sandwiched between a wall and a car, a knife through a head and someone getting baked to a crisp. So not really a lot of blood in the film, but what is shown works.

The Gingerdead Man is only a little over an hour long, but I think it could have been shorter if some unnecessary scenes were cut. Plus, it did get repetitive with the only location being the bakery. I also think it would have made a more lasting impression had the filmmakers utilized Christmas and the holidays into the storyline.

Despite its flaws, The Gingerdead Man is a fun flick that just might make you think twice about what’s in your cookies this holiday season!

Bon Appétit!

Available from Amazon!

Book Review: After Twilight - Walking with the Dead by Travis Adkins

Travis Adkins’ After Twilight: Walking with the Dead is his 2008 follow-up to last year’s Twilight of the Dead. Though I haven’t yet read Twilight, Walking with the Dead is a very enjoyable, fast-paced book that can almost stand on its own.

Years after the zombie apocalypse a group of survivors have holed themselves up behind the fortified walls of Eastpointe, which used to be a resort. People live there in relative safety and comfort. The community has its own farmlands, people live in their own houses and they’ve even established a kind of government to keep order. The community utilizes a special ops unit called the Black Berets when they need to go out into the zombie-infested world for supplies. The Black Berets are skilled in combat against the flesh-eaters, but when they don’t come back from escorting a mysterious doctor to retrieve a cure, people start to worry.

Yet one Black Beret is slowly making his way back to Eastpointe…with a plan for revenge against those that nearly cost him his life.

Travis Adkins has a very clear, very direct style of writing that makes reading Walking with the Dead a pure pleasure. The pacing of the novel is very quick and once you start reading it is hard to stop! I also liked the way Adkins introduces the characters and shows us just who they all are. This makes it easy for readers who haven’t read his previous work to familiarize themselves with his characters. I also enjoyed how we get glimpses of different characters’ pasts, which gives us a better understanding of who they are and what they believe in.

Adkins dialogue is very realistic and most of the characters’ actions are believable. With that being said, the only character’s actions I didn’t find believable were Vaughn’s. Since he is such an integral part of the story, this is a huge problem. Perhaps his motivations and his personality were better explained in the first book, but his actions just didn’t ring true in Walking with the Dead.

There were also some plot holes that never got wrapped up, unless of course they were already covered in the previous novel. The storyline involving Vaughn’s sister/lover never really goes anywhere and is dropped towards the end of the book. Perhaps Adkins is waiting for his third book to resolve this and some of the other plot points.

On the plus side, the villainous betrayal of Eastpointe and the infiltration of its walls by the moaning hordes of zombies is quite exciting and will keep you on the edge of your seat! The gore is vividly described and the narration of the fight scenes is expertly done!

Despite its flaws, After Twilight: Walking with the Dead is a highly enjoyable, fast-paced and exciting z-novel that’ll have you drooling for more!

Available from Amazon!
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