Thursday, February 19, 2009

Mass Interview with Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated Artists

Night of the Living Dead: Reanimated (NOTLD:R) is a mass collaborative project in which artists from around the world are invited to select scenes from Romero’s 1968 cult classic and re-envision them through their artwork. These works are then collected, organized and curated by Mike Schneider into entirely new animated video track.

This approach allows each contributing artist to pull the film in their own direction and in turn questions how films are made. We at feel it apt to follow in their footsteps and question how films are covered. In the spirit of the project itself, we posed our questions to all of the project’s artists and this is the assembled results of our mass interview.

[Note: 33 of the over 500 NOTLD:R artists participated in this mass interview. Their responses have been edited together into the article which you see here. No one response speaks for all of the artists however all of the artists together speak for the project.]

The artists involved in NOTLD:R are approaching the project from a range of backgrounds. Some are from comic book illustration such as Cavaletto, Chrisoulis, Kunkel, Lall, and Nursalimsyah. Others are designers and illustrators such as the traditional Guadiana, Rivera, and Rodrigues and the digital Alexander, Cooper, Houston, Kessman, and Voxie. There are those hailing from the fine arts traditions of drawing/ painting like Bond, Kirchberg, Madhiya, Rodriguez, and Voodoo, pen and ink like Goodman and Francz and mixed/varied media like Bartrand, Cooper, Duvivier, and Loisel. What would the reanimation be without the animators? With stop-motion work by Iwasyszyn and Lefebvre, Flash by Fitzgerald, 3D by MacAskill, 2D by Adlon and Hoerner and the traditional animation by Schneider, it’s clear that the film is opened to artists of all media.

What work are you most known for?

Andrea Cavaletto: The graphic novel “Holy Murder Masquerade” made with the metal band Impious.

Calum MacAskill: Lurking about in the Edinburgh Dungeons dressed as a cannibal freaking out the public for pitiful sums. Also my short animated film “Collection”.

Carla Rodrigues: My illustrations depicting pop-culture character with a twist of my own, and also for my love of drawing zombies (I even zombify pop-culture animated icons).

Con Chrisoulis: Comic book creator and singer-songwriter of post-punk/glam band Autodivine.

Don Kunkel: Zombie of the Month, a comic book to be released again soon from and Vigilante Granny released by Braindead Comics.

Geff Bartrand: Probably my black and white horror movie tributes and my “Black Ink Horror” magazine illustrations.

Jag Lall: Most probably my culture/peace related work, my comic Death’s Door: Ignorance Likes Company broke some grounds as a comic book being used as a teaching tool. But my career is still very much in the ‘green’ faze.

Larry Adlon: I am partially known for wacky animations and ‘cartoon violence’ visual effects.

Matthieu Lefebvre: I’m most known for my music (electro-industrial) and my videos (YouTube as matmixx).

Mike Schneider: Organizing and working with groups of artists as well as adapting animation techniques so that anyone from children with special needs to professional artists can animate.

Rhoda Voxie: For creating and editing an anime/manga fanzine called MAMEzine.

Scott Kessman: At the moment, I’m most known not for my art, but for my fantasy/folklore novel, The Tales of Tanglewood

Sean Fitzgerald: I mainly do metal and punk album covers and layouts for t-shirts, DVDs etc. for bands like Extreme Noise Terror, Coldwar and many others.

Yusuf N. Madhiya: As a cover artist for (now defunct) online comic magazine

What approach are you taking with the scenes you are working on?

Andrea Cavaletto: I used my traditional style of painting, using solvents on photos and a mix of traditional and digital paint.

Calum MacAskill: Vector tracing of light and dark in After Effects and interpreting the movement in the film in an abstract way.

David Goodman: I’m jumping all over the map. From realistic to graphic-novel-esque.  With a wide-open format like this, I’m just letting the creative juices drip all over the page.

Geff Bartrand: I did a couple different approaches. I painted over print outs of still shots from the movie. I also hand drew backgrounds and elements and assembled them in Photoshop.

Jag Lall: I want to illustrate the scenes so that fans of the film would be able to picture the events on screen without losing my individuality and without the audience wondering what is going on.

Jorell Rivera: I wanted to create a comic book version of the movie. I worked straight from the movie itself to maintain a similar look, only stylized.

Larry Adlon: I used digital paintings that I created from scratch in Photoshop, and assembled and animated in AfterEffects.

Sean Fitzgerald: Doing a fifties retro styled animation in Macromedia Flash.

Who/what most influences your work?

Andrea Cavaletto: Dave McKean, Clive Barker and Tim Vigil

April Guadiana: Tim Bradstreet…his attention to shadow and life like drawing has changed my style.
Ben Alexander: Daria, one of my favorite shows.

Calum MacAskill: The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari and Kids Story by Shinichirō Watanabe

Carla Rodrigues: I’m a huge fan of movies, comics, books, music, and I’m a little pop-culture sponge. Craig Thompson, Jim Mahfood, Mike Mignola…They are kings of their craft.

Con Chrisoulis: Jack Kirby. Jack Kirby. Jack Kirby

Eric Kirchberg: Frank Frazetta, Bill Sienkiewitz, Bernie Wrightson, Edgar Degas, Gustav Klimt, Alice Cooper, Terry Gilliam, Oscar the Grouch…

Françoise Duvivier: Life. Experiences are the main influence in my work.

Gregory Rodriguez: I fell in love with the lowbrow art scene here in Southern California, anything goes with the subject matter. Imagine that, art with no boundaries!

Jag Lall: Henry Moore’s drawings of the trenches were just sensational. Comic book wise, Frank Miller and Todd McFarlane. The Spawn books were an inspiration to me.

Jorell Rivera: I’m a comic book junkie, so most of my influences work in that field.

Kathleen Iwasyszyn: Ray Harryhausen, Tim Burton, Vincent Price, and the older Christmas animated movies.

Mathieu Lefebvre: My influences on my video work are lots of B-series (Z-series too!).

Mike Schneider: I am influenced by the Dada and Fluxus movements. These artists questioned not only their work but the nature of art and media itself.

Verena Loisel: Other cartoonists like Jhonen Vasquez and Jamie Hewlett and music, especially metal.
Yusuf N. Madhiya: Comic artist George Perez and Jerry Ordway

How do you feel about working with so many other artists on a project?

April Guadiana: It’s nice to be apart of such a talented group. I feel privileged.

Ben Alexander: When Mike first sent me an email about the project, I remember it being a fairly small amount of artists at the time. Looking at it now, the number of artists really has skyrocketed, and I’m really impressed at how the project has taken off. I’m happy to be a part of it, no matter how big or small.

Calum MacAskill: It feels great to be part of something so big and reminds us of just what’s possible with today’s age of the internet. A world in your living room. Long live the fiberglass cable.

Carla Rodrigues: I feel so positively about it! The more artists there are, then the richer the project will be. I think the diversity of art styles we have in this project will be one of its keys for success.

Françoise Duvivier: Happy but frustrated. We are separated by our mother tongue etc. Still, having seen this same movie, we’re joined by a similar enthusiasm, enjoyment thru a creative way.

Geff Bartrand: I think it’s great to work with so many artists from around the world. The mixing of styles and mediums should be an awesome visual experience.

Gregory Rodriguez: To me, I see it as a group art exhibit.

Jag Lall: Brilliant. Every artist has their own energies and passion showing through, there is a lot of soul and sweat here which really shows.

Nursalimsyah: I’ve learned a lot by seeing other artists’ work because we saw the same movie and it’s amazing how everyone came up with such different pieces.

Sean Fitzgerald: First I thought the idea was a bit out there. But said I’d get involved purely for something different. But the more I saw and heard the more it became clear of what a great concept it is.

Yusuf Madhiya: Humbled.

How do you feel about the project’s focal point, George Romero’s film Night of the Living Dead?

April Guadiana: It lacks the intense gore of today yet still manages to send chills down my body, and I adore horror films that can do that.

Calum MacAskill: The best of the “Of The Dead” series. The feeling of claustrophobia, increased tension and character development can still strike fear in the heart of today’s cg engorged public.

Carla Rodrigues: I think of it as a fantastic movie, and the one that set the tone for the zombie movies to come.

David Goodman: It’s brilliant and I hate it at the same time. I feel a little more like a flesh-eating zombie every time I watch it.

Jacquelyn Bond: I have always loved this movie, it is a piece of art in of itself being able to be part of it is an honor to me.

Mike Schneider: It’s a landmark film which changed the direction of modern horror. Though I love this film, though sometimes I’m not sure we went the right way. So with this project we’re go back to consider another route.

Jag Lall: I feel it has been a good choice because when you watch the film, it gives you lots of leverage to add layers with your own artwork.

Larry Adlon: It’s quite a good choice for this project, since it has a limited cast and location… making the many submissions have a common base.

Voodoo Velvet: Anything that is supposed to be dead but stubbornly won’t die is always a good subject for any art.

Tell us about the first time you watched Night of the Living Dead and your reactions to it.

Andrea Cavaletto: I was 6 years old and I was very scared by it. I remember it was a sunny midsummer afternoon and I watched it with my grandmother. Wow!

Ben Alexander: I remember it for being the first movie I saw with a “downer” ending. It was the first movie I saw that taught me that “hey, sometimes heroes die, too”.

Calum MacAskill: An ominously labeled VHS cassette on the shelf I was forbidden to watch. Sneaking a peak of it when my parents were out, I was instantly drawn in.

Carla Rodrigues: I was already 18 or 19 the first time I saw it. I’m thankful I saw it when I already had some maturity, otherwise the young me would have dismissed it for being old and in black and white.

David Goodman: It was like… wow. I checked all my windows and doors. It was the first zombie movie I ever saw.. and the best.

Kathleen Iwasyszyn: I was about 12 – 13. I loved it, of course it scared the crap out of me, but from then on I started watching more horror movies.

Larry Adlon: Oddly enough, as much of a zombie film fan as I am, I never really saw NOTLD fully until this project. I had always thought that it was done earlier than the 60′s because the b&w film stock, so I previously always filed it in my mind as ‘an old B&W film’.

Mike Schneider: I likely first saw NOTLD while still in the crib. Horror always used to sooth me.

Rhoda Voxie: I was taken back by the film’s ending – At the end of the day, everyone (including the protagonist) were just playing their wary roles.

Voodoo Velvet: It was the first time in my life I realized it would be a good idea to have an escape plan.

Most films are largely by people gathered in one or a few key locations. This project has people spread out all over the world. How do you feel this helps/ hurts the project?

Ben Alexander: It almost gives it an “It’s a Small World” feel. Just with zombies.

Carla Rodrigues: I feel it takes a little more work to coordinate everything, but Mike is handling everything wonderfully.

Françoise Duvivier: It makes the film stronger. This film awakens our collective unconscious…fear, death, war, impotence, loneliness, tragedy etc…It breaks the frontiers that the original film established.

David Goodman: It may add to the organizational issues, but Mike is amazing. I think he’ll pull it together. And if it wasn’t so spread out…I wouldn’t be part of it. How many artsy movies get made in Nashville?

Jorell Rivera: We’re living in a globalized world. Hundreds of people from around the world can work together without ever meeting each other in person.

Denzell Cooper: I think it helps that the whole project is being centrally coordinated by Mike. Without that lynchpin, it might well fall apart due to the huge distances between people both in terms of geography and style.  As things stand, I think it’s excellent that there are so many people working on the film from so many different parts of the world, it adds a diversity of approach that most animated films couldn’t possibly hope for.

Mike Schneider: As long as everyone keeps focus, the space allows everyone room to let their ideas develop independently… which makes for far fewer compromises in the work.

Ryan Hoerner: This is awesome. It gives a chance to see talents from all over the world. A total collaboration of inspired artists who are passionate about what they do.

Sean Fitzgerald: Well I’d be very lost without the internet to be honest. Where I live, we don’t even have a train service. I think there has been very good communication through Mike in regards to everything that’s happening.

Trevor Cooper: I think it’s a great idea. It brings together culture, creativity and styles from the minds of NOTLD fans around the world. It’s the ultimate tribute.

What is your favorite work that you’ve seen come out of the project so far?

Largely when the artists responded to this question they would simply reply with either joke or by saying that they’ve seen too many great and interesting works to decide. After some thought, a few of the artists let their preferences show.

April Guadiana: My favorite so far is a Barbra, seen done by the moderator himself [Mike Schneider (Hand Drawn Animation)]. It’s simple yet so well done, it motivated me to do an actual animation.

Ben Alexander: My personal favorite is titled “Revolution Part I”. [Grant Fuhst (mixed media)] That’s really the first piece I’ve seen that haunts me. I think it’s the eyes.

Calum MacAskill: Some of the work with puppets freaks me out [Evil Twins (Puppets)].

Denzell Cooper: I love the cartoon strip approach that someone has used for the graveyard scene at the beginning when the first zombie attacks Barbara. [Jorell Rivera (Comics)].

Eric Kirchberg: Not to stoke Mike’s ego, but I really like what he did with Barbra’s breakdown… [Mike Schneider (Hand Drawn Animation)]

Geff Bartrand: One of the most memorable for me though was the scenes with the dolls [Kathleen Iwasyszyn (Hand Made Dolls)] and the live action bit where the lips didn’t sink up with the words [Ryan Sigg (Stop Motion)]. Those made me laugh.

Jorell Rivera: The scene with the dolls is pretty amazing, and kind of ironic. Kids’ toys being used in a bloody zombie movie? Awesome. [Matthieu Lefebvre (Barbies)]

Matthieu Lefebvre: I like the videogame 3D animation [Dale Robertson (The Source)], because it adds a strange feeling on the scene.

Rhoda Voxie: From what I’ve seen, I like the puppet smashing the window of the car [Evil Twins (Puppets)] – so random and funny!

Ryan Hoerner: I like the seen with the Barbie dolls [Matthieu Lefebvre (Barbies)]! It’s hilarious and genius!
Verena Loisel: I liked the pictures on the NOTLD:R-homepage where Barb and Johnny are on the graveyard [Alisa Didkovsky (Illustration)] and that one where Barb screams [Mike Schneider (Hand Drawn Animation)] very much.

Mike Schneider: I like the juxtaposition. You put a lion in a cage or a kid in a playground and it’s good but predictable. You start to mix them together and then you’ve got a story.

Do you think the project is important? Why?

Andrea Cavaletto: Sure, I think that it’s an important project, It’s a new, fresh and different way to produce art.

Calum MacAskill: It’s a chance for fans to show the world how their eyes see the film.

Carla Rodrigues: It’ll hopefully bring this movie to the attention of new, younger horror fans and it’ll make older fans remember. It’ll be a new breath of life into the un-dead.

Devin Houston: An opportunity to “reanimate” a classic will not be passed up. The scope of the project has expanded significantly, and our efforts will not be overlooked.

Eric Kirchberg: Hopefully a project like this can turn the corner as it’s so much more than a remake, – it’s reanimation!

Gregory Rodriguez: It is important because it will be a great networking tool for us artists. It will expose our work to many more eyes to invoke conversation and interest.

Larry Adlon: I think it’s brilliant to gather artists around the world together to work on a common “base.” For me, it was a well-needed boost to inspire me to pick up my tools and create something that perhaps I would have put off otherwise. Mike, the founder, certainly has his heart in the right place for this. He is undoubtedly passionate about creating, in whatever form. He is a true artist, in a world sadly filled with people who do “art” just for quick money.

Matthieu Lefebvre: I think the project is important, because it shows that one passion can connect people from all over the world and create something incredible.

Mike Schneider: Anytime a project stirs people into action, it’s important.

Chris Francz: I think the most important thing about the project was that artists contributed to something bigger than themselves.

Scott Kessman: Definitely. It not only pays tribute to a great film in a way that nothing else has so far, but it allows so many talented artists to showcase their work to the world.

Kathleen Iwasyszyn: Yes. Not only is it Mike’s vision, but he’s given artists from around the world the opportunity to show their work. Some artists may not even of had a chance until now. It strikes a fire in people seeing something they love and given a chance to be a part of something big, I know it did me. It’s so hard nowadays to even get someone to take you seriously, or even see your work.

Do you think people will still be talking about the film years from now?

Carla Rodrigues: Absolutely. It’s such a refreshing idea, and it’ll look wonderful, so I can’t see how people wouldn’t be talking about it.

David Goodman: I have confidence in its cult-like staying power, yes.  If it doesn’t stick, I know that as the artists die they’ll return as the undead and force their victims to watch it.

Jag Lall: I like to think so. I think this film will be seen as a crack in the wall for other people to come in and smash the wall down, opening up a whole world of possibilities of animation/film. I hope other artists take advantage of such ideas because it’s exciting and full of opportunity.

Mike Schneider: We’re trying something new in style, media, approach, licensing and coverage. Even at its worst, there’s no doubt that we’re presenting a few new options for those who are willing to give them a try.
Nursalimsyah: Good classic movies will never really die. The art just helps to dig it up.

What words of wisdom would you give to any artists who are considering participation in this project?

When asked about giving words of advice, the responses showed a unanimous endorsement of the project. Simply put, they all seem to believe that if you are interested enough to consider it… then you should join in and be part of it.

Andrea Cavaletto: Be yourself and make a fucking good kickass work!

Carla Rodrigues: The more, the merrier.

Con Chrisoulis: Once in a lifetime opportunities should not be missed, so get off your asses …NOW!
Eric Kirchberg: Just do it. All the cool kids are doing it…

Mike Schneider: If you are interested, you owe it to yourself to take action. Every piece submitted only serves to make the project better for both the artists and the viewers.

Participating in this interview:

Con Chrisoulis (Greece)
Rhoda Voxie (England)
Jag Lall (England)
Denzell Cooper (England)
Nursalimsyah (Indonesia)
Françoise Duvivier (France)
Matthieu Lefebvre (France)
Andrea Cavaletto (Italy)
Sean Fitzgerald (Ireland)
Trevor Cooper (Canada)
Larry Adlon (Canada)
Carla Rodrigues (Portugal)
Ronel Pabico (Philippines)
Yusuf Madhiya (India)
Colum MacAskill (Scotland)
Verena Loisel (Austria)
Kathleen Iwasyszyn (Missouri, USA)
Eric Schock (Arizona, USA)
Gregory P. Rodriguez (California, USA)
Ben Alexander (California, USA)
Chris Francz (Pennsylvania, USA)
Mike Schneider (Pennsylvania, USA)
Don Kunkel (Pennsylvania, USA)
Voodoo Velvet (Pennsylvania, USA)
Jacquelyn Bond (Oregon, USA)
Scott Kessman (New York, USA)
Ryan Hoerner (New York, USA)
Jorell Rivera (New York, USA)
Geff Bartrand (Florida, USA)
Devin Houston (Georgia, USA)
April Guadiana (Texas, USA)
Eric Kirchberg (Massachusetts, USA)
David Goodman (Tennessee, USA)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Dead Like Me: Life After Death (2009)

When cult TV show Dead Like Me was unceremoniously yanked off the air after only getting through two seasons, fans were understandably upset. Questions were left unanswered and it just felt as if the show was somehow unfinished. Five years later we get Dead Like Me: Life After Death, a direct-to-DVD movie that revisits our favorite characters from the show and will hopefully bring some closure to the series.

After a brief recap of the show (a young woman named Georgia [George for short] Lass dies an untimely death at the hands of a toilet seat from space and becomes a Grim Reaper. She must never see or communicate with her old family again or make any human connections, just do her job taking souls as a Reaper) that is told in weird comic book format (perhaps trying to cash in on Heroes’ popularity, though they are a little late for that), we fast forward five years to pick up with the Reaper’s beloved meeting spot, Der Waffle House, burning to the ground. George (Ellen Muth) is joined by fellow Reaper’s Roxy (Jasmine Guy), Mason (Callum Blue) and Daisy (Sarah Wynter replacing Laura Harris). Their “boss” Rube (played on the series by the great Mandy Patinkin) is missing and taking his place is the rich and debonair Cameron Kane (Henry Ian Cusick). Things start going astray as the Reapers begin neglecting their duties under Kane’s care and all of Death’s secrets threaten to come unraveled after George’s sister Reggie (Britt McKillip) discovers George is a Reaper.

I was really hoping this would be the “series finale” that the show ultimately deserved, but now I think I would have rather have the open-ended season 2 finale as the absolute end of the show instead of this afterthought of a film. The film really wasn’t that bad, but it just felt like another (rather ho-hum) episode of the original show. There wasn’t any real conflict going on and I felt the script was much weaker than the script from the show’s best episodes. Plus, one of the many charms of the show were the eccentric characters, but not very much time is spent on any of them. I know those familiar with the show will miss seeing Mason’s zany antics or Roxy’s bad ass attitude, which seem to be missing from this film.

Also missing are Mandy Patinkin as Rube and Laura Harris as Daisy. Their presence and the dynamic they brought to the show are sorely missed. Sarah Wynter is horrible as Daisy and those that are familiar with Harris’ stellar performance in the show will cringe at Wynter’s portrayal of her character. Also, Henry Ian Cusick is a poor excuse for Mandy Patinkin, no matter how charming or handsome he may be. Bottom line, the filmmakers should have done more to reunite the entire cast for this film, because those missing would have definitely made this a far more enjoyable film to sit through.

Most of all, though, I think the film’s tone was off. The show always focused on death, but I feel like the movie focuses far too much on life. George is constantly building relationships with humans (her sister, her “reaps,” her boss at Happy Time – yup Dolores Herbig [Christine Willes] returns!) and dealing with “life” issues (like her sister’s secret-boyfriend’s coma) instead of “death” issues.  Also, the show always featured some pretty cool deaths (George and her band of merry Reaper’s specialties include accidents, natural disasters, suicides, etc.) but the movie feels very much lacking in that department. With the exception of the first reap by George (a suicidal contraption that reminded me of both The Goonies and Saw), the deaths flat-out suck. I mean a guy choking on some candy and dying two seconds later? C’mon!!

The only real fun I had with the film was seeing the people from the original show again. It was fun to see Muth, Blue, Guy, McKillip, Willes, and even Cynthia Stevenson return as George and Reggie’s mom. There is some luster of the original series left in this film, but it is dull in comparison with the series. The film doesn’t really add much and fails to wrap up any loose ends. In fact, I think the film created more loose ends than it actually wrapped up!

If you are a fan of the original series, stick with the series finale. It might be slightly unsatisfying, but at least it’s better than this messy film that asks more questions than it answers. If you are a newbie to Dead Like Me, for the love of Grim Reapers don’t start with the film! Do yourself a favor and watch the wonderful series, but don’t rush out to watch this film.

Available from Amazon!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Book Review: Sinister Landscapes edited by Alan Draven

Fog-shrouded cemeteries, crumbling old castles, eerily-burning candlelight and an unmentionable evil lurking in the shadows – don’t you miss Gothic-styled horror novels? Well, editor Alan Draven certainly has and comes to the rescue of those that like the gloomy atmosphere of these type of stories. Draven has compiled some utterly amazing stories for this anthology. From ghosts to demons to serial killers and beyond, Draven has collected some of the finest modern-day, Gothic-tinged stories.

The book features 18 chilling tales from new and up-and-coming authors, plus prologue from editor Draven (who also contributed one of his own stories to the anthology) explaining the genesis of this collection and a welcoming introduction from author Andrea Dean Van Scoyoc. After that it’s time to let the shadows envelope you as you enter Sinister Landscapes

My favorites include Thad Linson’s “Polite Society,” a Jack the Ripper story with a werewolf twist, Gordon Anthony Bean’s “From a Whisper to a Dream,” where two young brothers wait to have their souls eaten in their dark and foreboding house, Jeani Rector’s “The Spirit of Death,” where two teens steal a skull to perform a dark magic ritual for eternal life, Bret Jordan’s “Ghost in the Hardware,” in which a ghosthunter using the latest equipment to communicate with the dead gets more than he bargained for, “The Widow’s Curse,” by Jessica Lynne Gardner that adds a nice gothic-Asian flavor to the collection, and last, but certainly not least editor Alan Draven’s “Beyond the Doomed Cave.” Despite the silly sounding title, this is easily the best work in the anthology, as Draven expertly weaves a macabre web for the reader to get wrapped up in.

There are but a few stories that didn’t quite have the same caliber as the rest, but those didn’t really hamper my enjoyment of this anthology all that much. compared with the overwhelming talent contained in the rest of the collection, the less well-written stories are a minor quibble.

If you are looking for a horror anthology to give you the chills, Sinister Landscapes couldn’t come any higher recommended!

Available from Amazon!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Book Review: The Lobby by Christopher A. Durish


This opens Christopher A. Durish’s The Lobby, a novel that had me engrossed from beginning to end. It covers themes in religion like Heaven and Hell, damnation and salvation, sin and redemption and, of course, demons and the Devil. Durish’s novel has a strong story-telling style and is a fast-paced book that puts you smack-dab in the sinful shoes of the main character.

The Lobby tells the tale of Zachary Bell, a rising young star in the world of advertising and his trendy, often controversial commercials that are a direct reflection of his personal affairs. A married father of two daughters, Zach is anything but a family man. A blossoming career and a sordid lifestyle of infidelity and Hollywood-style parties are a common substitute for school plays and family picnics. One stormy September night, while driving home from a party with his co-worker and mistress Judith Sample, Zach falls asleep at the wheel. When he awakens a few seconds later, his car is careening out of control toward a steep embankment. As the car plunges over the hillside, it plunges Zach’s life into a realm of unspeakable terror. While in a comatose state, the result of trauma suffered during the accident, Zach experiences an evil only Hell itself could unleash.

The book gets off to a rocky start in the first chapter or so (it starts off a bit generic for me after the stunning prologue), but once you get past that bump in the road it is a fast-paced ride to Hell in a handbasket! Durish keeps the reader on their toes and never lets us know what is behind Bell’s suffering (though we all have a pretty good idea!). Like Bell, we aren’t sure if what he is experiencing is a nightmare, a vision of what’s to come or what has already happened…essentially we don’t know what is real and what isn’t. This creates a real thrill of tension throughout the book that had me racing through the pages to find out the Truth in the last few pages.

Bell’s anguish is also artfully articulated by Durish. The reader can almost feel his confusion and fear in response to what he has seen and experienced. Durish’s expansive imagination of Hell is also very effective and I liked that he didn’t just stick to “fire and brimstone” visuals. The first paragraph alone should give you a good sense of the tricks and treats you are in store for. The rest of the book is sure to give you plenty of chills and thrills as well (I know that’s what it gave me!). As mentioned earlier, I like the fact that the reader, along with Bell, is lost in what is seemingly a nightmare. This creates a disorienting, disassociated feeling that really ramps up the tension!

Christopher A. Durish’s The Lobby is definitely a place I wouldn’t mind waiting in…as long as you are okay with shadowy demon figures polluting your periphery and horrifying scenarios that drive you madder and madder constantly playing out right before your eyes.

Available from Amazon!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Book Review: Evil Ways by Justin Gustainis

It’s been a while since I’ve had the pleasure of reading a good occult-themed horror novel. Luckily my dry spell has been broken by Justin Gustainis’ Evil Ways, the second book in his Quincey Morris Supernatural Investigation series.

Quincey Morris and his partner, white witch Libby Chastain, are investigating a series of child murders where the victims’ organs are removed…while the children are still alive. These ritualistic murders are occurring throughout the country and obviously being perpetrated by an organized group of black magic practitioners. Equally troubling are the murders of many white witches throughout the United States.

It is obvious that those behind the ritualistic killings are extremely skilled in black magic and preparing to unleash hell on earth, unless Morris and Chastain, along with their allies, FBI agents Fenton and O’Connell and assassin Hannah Widmark, can stop them before they complete their ritual on Walpurgis Night.

Evil Ways is a quick read, made all the more enjoyable by Gustainis’ effective handle on prose, dialogue and characterizations. Gustainis wrote Evil Ways so that it stands on its own and you don’t have to have read the first novel in the series to grasp the characters’ relationships and motivations. The characters are fleshed out just enough for newbies, but not overly so where fans of Gustainis earlier work would feel like the information is repetitive. The writing style is quick and snappy, and filled with witty (and believable) dialogue between characters.

It is obvious that Gustainis did some pretty hefty occult research before writing the book. The novel is filled with spells, symbols, rituals, incantations that all operate under a certain set of rules (for example, white witches cannot harm anyone with their magic). Gustainis was extremely consistent with all the tenets of magic and because of this consistency made the novel that much more believable. It is hard to pull off a novel about witches, wizards and the occult without coming off as cheesy, but this is definitely one of the best fiction books I’ve read on the subject and was a definite joy to read. The spells cast and rituals performed got downright nasty (resurrecting victims as zombies and sending them to attack someone) and some were very inventive (conjuring a water sprite in the shower to attack some hit men).

I also enjoyed the wide variety of characters. There were many different storylines happening simultaneously to all the characters in the book that helped quicken the pace of the novel. Something was always happening to someone, whether it was the evil wizard Pardee preparing for Walpurgis Night, the white witches that were being hunted down, the hit men doing the witch hunting, investigators Fenton and O’Connell trying to get to the bottom of the child murders, badass assassin Hannah Widmark or the colorful Morris and resourceful Chastain. Even the characters that were only around for a chapter were well developed!

If you are looking for a fast-paced, intense, thrilling and fun book to read, look no further than Evil Ways. I am definitely going to keep my eye on Gustainis’ future novels and plan on going back to read Black Magic Woman!

Available from Amazon!
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