Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Interview with Indie Filmmaker Andrew Schrader

Recently I had the stellar opportunity to view one of the most inventive and original indie horror flicks I’ve had the pleasure of seeing this year. Fever Night aka Band of Satanic Outsiders blew me away with its hallucinogenic story of Satanists lost in the woods. It was a real throw back to ’70s acid trip movies, and I mean that in the best way possible!

Made over two years on a minuscule budget, Fever Night is a triumph in indie filmmaking! Recently, I had a chance to talk with co-creator Andrew Schrader about he and fellow creator Jordon Harris’ mini masterpiece. Both Schrader and Harris wrote, directed and basically acted as the entire crew when making Fever Night. Since Fever Night was one of my favorite indie films of 2009, I had a bunch of burning questions to ask Andrew!

Fatally Yours: Hi Andrew! I was seriously blown away by your first film, Fever Night aka Band of Satanic Outsiders. What is the backstory on the film and why did you and co-creator Jordan Harris decide to make it?

Andrew Schrader: Thank you. I don’t know where to start, really…college was coming to an end and we figured it was either make a movie or just find a shitty industry job and jerk off our bosses like everyone else. Originally, the plan was to move to the middle of nowhere to start an artist commune where we were going to experiment with method acting.

But one night, [I] was having a breakdown in the shanty out back where [we] lived, and Jordan came in to talk. We basically decided right then and there that we were going to make a horror movie, and that was the end of it. So, on graduation day, we met up at eight in the morning, got really drunk, graduated, and left for San Diego to start pre-production. All we knew when we started (on Jordan’s mom’s living room floor) was that we were going to make a 1970s acid movie about Satanists. It would be shot in the woods, lit with flashlights. And we knew what the last shot was going to be. That’s it.

Fatally Yours: You mentioned that it took two years to complete the film. How did you manage to have the willpower and passion to see it through to the end and keep inspiring the cast and crew to work on it?

Andrew Schrader: Even at the lowest points, we always said the movie was going to get done. We just resigned ourselves to the project and to the lifestyle, because as long as it took to make it what it needed to be, we knew that it would get done. Sometimes it was really hard to work on the movie, and some times it was all we wanted to do (usually not both of us at the same time). We got really lucky and were able to find actors who had a lot of faith in the project and in us, and genuinely loved the whole process. It definitely helped that we all lived on a bare cement floor in the woods for a month to kick it off – it created a sense of solidarity. Over time, we became close friends; they often inspired us to work harder.

We were two-thirds of the crew, the other was Steven Isaac Getz. At times, he really held the production together – it really helped having a third voice in the mix. He is an awesome guy; he also shot (and is currently making) the feature-length behind-the-scenes doc. He shot something like 60 hours of footage.

Still from Fever Night

Fatally Yours: What were your influences and inspirations when making Fever Night?

Andrew Schrader: Other movies, most of them shitty ones. We wanted to make a really indie film that wasn’t gonna fuck around, and that wasn’t going to have any of the aesthetics of the contemporary horror flicks that were and are still popular.

Shitty movies are the best inspiration because they make filmmaking appear more accessible. You watch a great film like The Shining and think I could never make something like that. Watch Surf Nazis Must Die! and you think, I could make a better movie than that one.

We love watching propaganda and bizarre television, like Fox News. We also saw Crispin Glover’s latest movie, It Is Fine, Everything is Fine which was real cool. That was one of the best movies we’d seen in years. Super messed up, but really awesome. A movie like that could only be made once – I mean, at one specific point in history. Soon after, the main character (a palsy victim) died. Check it out!

Fatally Yours: The look of the film is very hallucinogenic and distinctive. How and why did you decide upon such a stylized palette for your film?

Andrew Schrader: We honestly don’t remember. We had originally written the acid trips as series of images of snakes and fire – just cutting from one to another, like in 70s acid movies. But then we edited a cut or two of the movie and realized we had to do more with it. It didn’t really flow right…

The rape scene was originally edited much differently, but after the hallucinogenic style had been established, we changed it to fit with the rest. We have many different cuts of that scene.

Really, we just wanted to make a cool Satanic acid movie, a new wave horror film. As we reached the next stage in production – whether it was the writing, or the filming, or initial editing, etc. – the movie was constantly changing. It turned out to be a great process for this movie. Very organic.

Fatally Yours: Not only is the film stylish, but it also has a very professional feel to it, despite its low budget and the fact that it is your first directing gig. Did you or Jordan have any formal schooling or training before filming or did you just go for it?

Andrew Schrader: Thank you. We went to UCSB. I was a film and media studies major; Jordan did honors art studio work. There is not really a film program there in terms of production, so in school I focused on film history, theory, and analysis. Essays and such.

We wrote scripts and made shorts on the side. We had written several features. Jordan’s short film work was awesome. I saw a 16mm film he made and told him we should live together the next year.

So came the Bad People commune house in Isla Vista. Six lived there – but the backyard or living room was always buzzing – we would basically just make stuff and play music and write and drink. I think the most training actually came from each other, because everyone pushed each other to be better.

Fatally Yours: The actors in the film are phenomenal. How did you find them and how was it working with them?

Andrew Schrader: All the actors are fucking great, for sure. Trying to remember…we held several auditions. Phil [Marlatt, who played Warren] showed up late, I remember – at the very end of the day.
Peter [Tullio, who played Elliot] showed up as his girlfriend’s chaperone (who was auditioning for Terry). We liked his look and asked him to read. He had this cool greaser vibe going, like a fifties character. And the character was supposed to be a “greaser punk”, so yeah…

We had been drinking for about six hours when Melanie [Rose Wilson] showed up to audition for Terry. I think she was weirded out a bit, but she turned out to be really cool. Michael Q. Schmidt threatened us a bit and then talked to us about Hamm’s beer. Figured he’d be the one for the job. He’s cool, too.

Everyone was really awesome; that’s the thing. I was amazed when Melanie actually flew up to Shasta County, because she came about a week after Peter and Phil. I figured she’d back out – she was basically flying up to a nowhere town in the middle of the forest to sleep on a one-room concrete floor.

And everyone was totally down for whatever needed to be done. They are all the most awesome people to work with, and several of us have become real close.

Fever Night DVD with my quote on the back! :D

Fatally Yours: What were your favorite/least favorite experiences when filming Fever Night?

Andrew Schrader: We have no idea. I think we’re still in post-traumatic shock or something. The most interesting experience, though, might have been watching Michael Schmidt jerk off before his scene for, like, and hour and a half. In plain view. Staring at Vanity Meers. We were so busy setting up stuff, we didn’t think about how creepy it was until we checked out Steve’s behind the scenes footage!

Fatally Yours: What obstacles did you face making Fever Night?

Andrew Schrader: Everything. Money. Time. People. Girls. Money. Girls. Cops. Technology…

Fatally Yours: What advice would you give aspiring filmmakers?

Andrew Schrader: Produce ten times more material than you can actually use. 90% of what you make is going to be shit, so make sure you over compensate. Make sure you know what film you want to make and don’t let anything stop you until it becomes what it needs to be.

Fatally Yours: Are you working on anything else at the moment? What is next for you and your production company, Bad People Motion Pictures?

Andrew Schrader: We have lotsa scripts in many genres we want to do, but right now we’re in pre-production on a teenage melodrama called The Age of Reason. We started working on it in college before Fever Night. It was written for us to play the main characters originally because we thought that no one would want to work with us anyway, but now we figure it’ll be the only time we have the chance, so why the hell not? It’s gonna have a cool style, kinda like Clockwork Orange and a ‘80s PG “coming of age” movie.

Fatally Yours: I know people are clamoring for a DVD release of Fever Night; do you have a DVD release date yet or is there another way people can see the film?

Andrew Schrader: Unfortunately, not right now. There are distributor kits being sent out this week, but until it’s distributed, it’ll be tough to see. We have a lot of music in there, so things are tricky legally. There is, however, a way to see it online…

Fatally Yours: Thanks so much for chatting with us Andrew! 

Andrew Schrader: Thank you! Yer the best!

Visit Fever Night’s Official Site!

Visit Fever Night on Facebook!

Visit Fever Night on Myspace!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Book Review: Dark Delicacies III - Haunted edited by Del Howison and Jeff Gelb

In the third collection of short stories from Dark Delicacies, a Burbank bookstore that has all a horror fan could ask for, we are treated to new short stories from illustrious authors like Chuck Palahniuk, Mick Garris, Heather Graham, Simon Clark, Axelle Carolyn and even a new poem from Clive Barker! All the stories are unique, set in different locations with diverse characters facing their own horrors. Yet, after reading each and every one of the tales in Haunted that is the exact feeling you’ll be left with. You’ll be disturbed, anxious and a little spooked after finishing these stories, and those feelings won’t quickly dissipate. Instead, just like a ghostly apparition they will linger long after you’ve finished all the stories and closed the book. Are you ready to be haunted? Then keep reading…

With any Dark Delicacies book you know you are getting the cream of the crop in regards to authors, and Haunted is no different. All of the stories contained within the 300+ pages will knock your socks off! Kudos must be given to editors Del Howison (proprietor of the Dark Delicacies store) and Jeff Gelb (who gives us a fantastic intro) for compiling such talented contributors, whether they are well-known or not.

While all of the stories are absolutely stellar, I do have my personal favorites of the anthology. My absolute favorite is The Architecture of Snow by David Morrell, about an editor tracking down a reclusive author. While this is not an outright horror story and more of a personal journey of the lead character (though it does have its tension-filled and horrific moments), it is a very touching story that shows there are many different ways to be “haunted”. Morrell writes with a fluidity that sweeps you away and carries you into his imagination and  into the very story so you feel like you are standing alongside the characters.

Another two of my favorites deal with self-mutilation, with the first being Mick Garris’ Tyler’s Third Act about a down and out director who decides to make some money by giving the YouTube generation what they want…blood. Weaved throughout the story is also a cute love story…though it doesn’t end up so cute in the end. I loved the social commentary Garris offered with this tale, both about desperate people in the entertainment industry who are getting slammed hard by the recession as well as the public’s extreme view on what qualifies as “entertainment”. In a morbidly funny tale, Richard Christian Matheson tells us How to Edit. The author in the story keeps “editing” his life, continually cutting things out…including appendages he doesn’t think he needs. Matheson writes with a bitingly satirical tone that I just love!

Another favorite is Heather Graham’s Mist on the Bayou, about a touristy “haunted house” on the Louisiana bayou whose grisly tableaus of murder turn out to be a little more real than expected. And yet, wrapped up in that is also a very satisfying “haunted” story – of the haunted plantation house itself as well as a character in particular that doesn’t even realize they are being haunted. I loved Graham’s descriptions of the mansion, of each scarily themed room within the house and of the surrounding setting. Just the descriptions themselves give the story a spooky feel!

Starlets & Spaceboys by Joseph V. Hartlaub is one of the most bizarre and inventive pieces in the anthology. During a hot-air balloon festival in New Mexico, a teenager meets what she thinks is the man of her dreams. He tells her he is a manager for a band and they are testing out new type of music delivery technology – in pill form. If she takes the pills over the span of a week, she will begin to hear music in her head. Turns out, “swallowing music” is pretty bad and she soon finds the music drowning everything else out…not to mention her “dream man” turns out to be more like a nightmare. This story is truly one of the most original in the book and is so peculiar that it borders on bizarro.

I wish I had the space to go on to mention many of the other great stories, including Axelle Carolyn’s ghoulish Resurrection Man, John R. Little’s shocking The Slow Haunting, Maria Alexander’s elegantly stunning “Though Thy Lips are Pale”, Victor Salva’s satisfying The Wandering Unholy, Chuck Palahniuk’s inventive Fetch and many others. All of the stories within Dark Delicacies III: Haunted are phenomenal and not one of them is disappointing. Editors Del Howison and Jeff Gelb deliver yet another high-caliber and talent-packed anthology of terrifying tales. If you are looking for a guaranteed ghoulish time, this Haunted tome is sure to send shivers of pleasure (and fear) up your spine!

Order it on Amazon!

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Last House on the Left (2009)

Another week, another horror movie remake. This time around, it’s Wes Craven’s cringe-worthy classic, The Last House on the Left (which is loosely based on Ingmar Bergman’s The Virgin Spring), being remade by director Dennis Iliadis and written by Adam Alleca and Carl Ellsworth. Wes Craven’s original is a gritty and shocking film whose disturbing subject matter should at least be experienced once (that’s as much as I could handle). The remake, while competently made, lacks the down-and-dirty look and intense feel of the original. It is among one of the better reboots out there, but if you look at recent remade films out there like Friday the 13th, it’s not saying much.

Following the story of the original pretty closely, the remake tells the story of upper class family the Collingwood’s – doctor daddy John (Tony Goldwyn), overprotective mother Emma (Monica Potter) and 17-year-old Mari (Sara Paxton) – who are heading to their isolated summer house for a relaxing vacation. The first day there, Mari begs mom and dad to take the car into town to visit her friend Paige (Martha MacIsaac). They acquiesce, and Mari roars into town, looking to have some fun with Paige.

They meet twitchy Justin (Spencer Treat Clark), who invites them back to his motel room to get high. Once there, the impromptu party is interrupted by Justin’s dad and recently escaped convict, Krug (Garret Dillahunt), Uncle Francis (Aaron Paul) and Sadie (Riki Lindhome). Turns out they are all on the run after killing some cops and don’t want to leave the girls behind as witnesses. They drag Mari and Paige out to the woods, torture them, rape one of them, and leave them both for dead.

The quartet of killers seeks respite from a harsh storm in the nearby house of the Collingwood’s, not realizing that they are the parents of Mari. When the parents realize what they have done to their daughter, they seek swift revenge on the murderers.

This is a pretty cut and dry remake with just a few changes made to the script (well, and one big and glaringly evident change that you can see in the trailer). Nothing is really done to make it its own film or to make it a better film, period. I will credit the writers with not dumbing down most of the film (well, except for the dialogue) like other remakes, but they really should have risked a bit more with the script and written something different to make this remake stand out. Unfortunately, while it’s a well-made and watchable film, it is easily forgotten whereas the original will be seared in my mind forever.

As for the brutal rape scene, yes, it is graphic and seems to go on forever, but the rest of the girls’ tortures seemed easy and breezy in comparison. Where in the original film their entire ordeal was horrific and humiliating, in the remake it is the rape scene that is the most brutal. Why is this a problem? Well, with the rape scene being the most disturbing, all of the other scenes that are supposed to be filled with tension pale in comparison. The rest of the film is just easy to sit through, which made it rather dull. Even the blood-splattered revenge sequence, while ultimately satisfying (except for the SILLIEST use of a microwave this side of Microwave Massacre!), felt like it lacked viciousness.

Also lacking viciousness was the acting from Garret Dillahunt, who played Krug. He was about as scary as a box of kittens and didn’t have a glimmer of intimidation in his glare. As the leader, he was supposed to be the most frightening of the killers, but I was no way threatened by him and felt he did a poor job portraying a sadistic psychopath, especially when compared with David Hess’ unnerving original performance. Aaron Paul and Riki Lindhome did a much better job playing Krug’s thugs, Francis and Sadie, both giving creepy and menacing performances. I also thought Sara Paxton did a fantastic job playing Mari, with fantastic performances also coming from Monica Potter and Tony Goldwyn as her parents.

The original The Last House on the Left was a fantastic social commentary on the paranoia of the changing times (Craven was inspired to write the film in response to the atrocities going on during the Vietnam War), loss of innocence, not trusting strangers, and a “what if” scenario to see what people would do when pushed to their physical, emotional and psychological limits. The remake sticks to these original concepts, but doesn’t realize that times have changed and these themes have been done to death and that perhaps new, more current ones should be explored. Therefore, it brings nothing new to the table and is ultimately a forgettable movie. However, I will say that it is much better than the teeny-bopper, bubblegum horror remakes like Friday the 13th, Prom Night, etc. that the studios insist on putting out. If you have your mind set on seeing a remake, I would tepidly recommend this House…but not without reservations.

Order it on Amazon!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Gory Gear: Headstone City Horror Tees

With Halloween right around the corner, people like you are surely looking for some deadly duds to dress your dapper corpse! Problem is, most horror-inspired designs are just tees with boring ol’ movie poster prints ironed on them…and EVERYONE has one of those! I love classic horror movie posters as much as the next ghoulish girl, but with horror tees I want designs to stand out and be different than what everyone else is wearing!

Sometimes, it can be quite difficult to find new and exciting horror tee companies that deliver unique designs, but certainly not today! Today I bring you Headstone City, a clothing company that specializes in original designs that you won’t see anywhere else!

Founder and designer Damon Cassaro created the company because he had the same problem as many others with finding distinctive horror tees. So, he decided a solution to that problem was to start his own company where he could design all the shirts to ensure they were one of a kind. His shirts are inspired by all things horror, from movies to magazines and books, as well as a strong dose of rock ‘n’ roll thrown in for good measure.

Cassaro was gracious enough to send a big pack of amazing tees to review, which included Headstone City’s newest designs  “Gravedigger’s Local 552”, “Headstone City Cleaver”, “Your Name Here” and “Chiroptera of the Western Carpathians”. All of the t-shirts are extremely high quality – I always hate when companies use cheaper, flimsier shirts, but I didn’t have to worry about that with Headstone City! All of their tees are thick, yet still soft, cotton material.

Me wearing the Gravedigger's Local 552 tee (don't mind my kissy face; it's just cuz I love these tees so much!!)

My favorite tee is “Gravedigger’s Local 552”, a macabre black tee with stark white lettering that proudly proclaims the gravedigger’s union while a twisted skeleton adorns a spiderweb on the top part of the shirt. Besides the spooky connotation of “the gravedigger” I love the historic feel of the shirt. Even the description of the tee delves into the haunted history of this particular North Carolina union.

As you can tell, I am very amused

Another cemetery-themed t-shirt is the appropriately named “Your Name Here”, another bold design featuring a tombstone with, you guessed it, “Your Name Here” fearlessly etched onto its surface. Those that appreciate morbidly dark humor (like myself) will no doubt fall head over heels for this particular design.

“Headstone City Cleaver” offers a splash of blood-red color with the gruesome aftermath of a cleaver cutting off a hand. And who doesn’t like a little blood splatter on their clothes?

I'm batty for this "Chiroptera of the Western Carpathians" tee!

The girl’s tee “Chiroptera of the Western Carpathians” features one of my favorite animals – the bat. Only, this isn’t just any bat; this is the giant bat that terrorized the Carpathian Mountains in the ‘50s! No matter if this colossal bat ever existed, all that matters is that it looks creepy-cute on this t-shirt!

I love how each of the tees come with their own story – fact or fiction, they are all entertaining! Besides the amusing stories that accompany every Headstone City t-shirt, the tees are special because they are one of a kind, possessing a style all their own. As Cassaro points out, “There are a million shirts you can get with Freddy or Jason on them. But if you want a shirt that’s truly original, creative and avant garde then Headstone City is the place for you…Headstone City’s t-shirts appeal to the devoted horror fan, the passive horror fan and everyone in between.”

Headstone City tees are available on or at several horror conventions in the tri-state area, including Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors in NYC as well as the Horror Expo Saturday Nightmares, which will be held March 19-21, 2010, at the Landmark Loew’s Theatre in Jersey City, NJ. If you live in  Southern California, you can find Headstone City tees at Necromance on Melrose Avenue in L.A.

If you are looking for high-quality, unique horror tees, Headstone City should be one of your destinations!

Visit Headstone City’s Official Site!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fear Itself: Season One (2009)

It seems like the horror community pretty much turned its collective back on 2008’s weekly episodic horror series, Fear Itself, originally broadcast on NBC. Even I only watched a few episodes before basically forgetting all about it. In fact, only eight episodes actually aired before the network pulled the plug on the show during the summer of 2008. Now, the series has been released on DVD with all of the 13 episodes (some even with director’s cuts) included.

Though this Mick Garris-created series might feel like just another Masters of Horror (which he also created) with a different horror director (some well-known, others not so well-known) directing each episode, I was actually quite surprised at the high quality of some of the episodes. I might even dare to say that this is better than or at least on par with the Masters of Horror series! The only real difference is that on network TV filmmakers couldn’t get away with as much blood and guts as they could on cable. This actually works in favor on Fear Itself, though, because it makes the scares all that much creepier and able to crawl under your skin more as opposed to a visceral, one-time shock of a gore scare.

The directors gracing Fear Itself with their talent include Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, From Beyond), Mary Harron (American Psycho), John Landis (An American Werewolf in London), Darren Lynn Bousman (Repo! The Genetic Opera, Saw) and Larry Fessenden (The Last Winter, Wendigo). Some of my favorite episodes came from these well-known names, but a few lesser known names like Eduardo Rodriguez (Curandero) and John Dahl (Joy Ride) surprised me at their high quality episodes.

In fact, my favorite episode was probably Rodriguez’s “The Circle”. Set on Halloween night and opening with an eerie trick or treating scene, the episode quickly moves to a horror author and his friends holed up in a remote cabin…and two trick or treaters delivering a mysterious book where what’s written inside comes becomes horrifyingly real. This is one of the most stylish and suspenseful episodes of the series and really has some startling scenes. With the Halloween night setting exploited a bit more, this could easily turn into a frightening feature-length movie. Plus, it really makes me want to hunt down Rodriguez’s horror film Curandero.

My second favorite would have to be Darren Lynn Bousman’s twitchy end of the world episode “New Year’s Day”. This is an intense, suspenseful episode that throws you into the chaos of a mysterious catastrophe happening in the wee hours of New Year’s. The drama is heightened by jumping back and forth between the present and an earlier New Year’s Eve party our lead character attends. Though the spastic camera work and flighty editing is a bit much, overall the episode was very stylish and I loved the twist at the end!

In Larry Fessenden’s “Skin and Bones”, a rancher returns home to his family after being lost in the wilderness…but his miraculous homecoming is marred by the fact that he has become possessed by a wendigo. First of all, Doug Jones as the rancher was AMAZING! His gaunt, hollowed face was terrifying enough, but his mannerisms really sold the performance! This was a definitely creepy episode and kept my eyes glued to the screen for the entire running time!

I dug many of the other episodes, including Stuart Gordon’s “Eater”, Mary Harron’s “Community”, and Brad Anderson’s (Session 9) “Spooked”. A few of the episodes weren’t to my liking (Breck Eisner’s “The Sacrifice” was a bit too generic and “Something with Bite” by the relatively unknown Ernest R. Dickerson [Tales from the Crypt: Demon Knight] felt kind of hokey), but overall Fear Itself delivers quite a frightfully fun collection of bite-sized horror!

Don’t let Fear Itself go overlooked any longer, seek it out for some surprising and satisfying scares!

Order it on Amazon!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Book Review: Hellbound Hearts edited by Paul Kane and Marie O'Regan

Hellbound Hearts, edited by Paul Kane and Marie O’Regan, is an eerie anthology based on the Hellraiser films and the original novella The Hellbound Heart by Clive Barker. Inside the pages of Hellbound Hearts you’ll find short stories from such famous names as Neil Gaiman, Steve Niles, Sarah Langan, Mick Garris, Kelly Armstrong, Christopher Golden and many, many more.

The book begins with an introduction from the man himself, Clive Barker, who without none of this would be possible. He goes on to speak of the legacy his novella and ensuing Hellraiser films have left in their wake, but is wary to take credit for creating a “mythos”. And yet, here we are, with countless well-known writers eager to feed from this mythos and produce their own tales of pain and pleasure. As Pinhead might say, the Hellraiser mythos will be legendary, even in HELL (where it’s probably already quite popular!)!

All of the short stories contained within the anthology are truly splattacular, but I do have a few favorites that stuck out as noticeably as Pinhead’s nails sticking out of his cranium. My absolute favorite of the bunch was Sister Cilice by Barbie Wilde. Wilde is best known for her portrayal of the female Cenobite in Hellbound: Hellraiser II, but she is also an accomplished dancer, performer and writer. Her short story absolutely stunned me with its simplicity yet complex character. It tells of Sister Nikoletta, who though appears devout, has violent sexual fantasies and is slipping further and further away from the faith. She one day discovers an old tome called the Grimorium Enochia that tells how to call the Cenobites and enter their world of exquisite pain. The story sounds simple enough, but the character of Sister Nikoletta is so conflicted and perverse that I was just drawn into the story and it stuck with me long after I had finished the anthology.

Another of my favorites was Only the Blind Survive by Yvonne Navarro. This tale really stuck out because it is steeped in Native American lore. It tells of a Native American warrior that stumbles across an odd sand painting in the desert and runs back to his village to tell the elders as it is one of the signs that a gate to evil will soon be opened. Spirit warriors must face off against the evil that slithers from the gate, and the tribe’s people can only be saved if they cannot see the creature, which is known to feed on fear after someone sees it. This take on the demonic was probably the most unique of all the stories considering its far removed setting and Native American setting.

I also wholeheartedly enjoyed Kelly Armstrong’s The Collector, about a puzzle solver who gets herself involved with an online puzzle contest whose final test is solving a very peculiar puzzle box. The delicious twist at the end definitely made this one of my favorites! Other standouts included The Confessor’s Tale by Sarah Pinborough, Every Wrong Turn by Tim Lebbon, A Little Piece of Hell by Steve Niles and The Dark Materials Project by Sarah Langan.

It is truly amazing how Clive Barker’s work could go on to inspire so many different terrifying tales. Each and every one is worth reading and it was painful to try and pick out just a few to talk about when all of the stories are so stellar. Each of the authors captures the aesthetic and themes of the Hellraiser mythos, all the while tweaking it just enough to make it their own. What truly makes this anthology so exciting is how many different directions authors can go with Barker’s legacy. From Native American lore to the future of science behind “Shadow DNA”, there is really no limit to how writers can reinterpret and retell the Hellraiser mythos. And, yes, I disagree with Mr. Barker because he truly HAS created a mythos with distinct stories, rules and characters that are instantly recognizable and that I think will stand the test of time.

Horror fans that relish shocking literature as well as Cliver Barker and Hellraiser fans are sure to enjoy Hellbound Hearts. Don’t torture yourself, get your copy today!

Buy it on Amazon!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Grace (2009)

I’ve been looking forward to Paul Solet’s full-feature Grace ever since I saw his short of the same name. Grace deals with a lot of my biggest fears – pregnancy, children, motherhood, etc. As a woman, the prospect of pregnancy scares the poo outta me and is one of the many reasons I don’t want to have kids. Also, the alien nature of babies just creeps me out, what with their big googly eyes, babbling language, constant crying and incessant hunger, not to mention how much self-sacrifice goes into raising a child. Grace taps into these fears and more, but its not just to unnerve women…men will also be very perturbed by Grace’s turn of events.

Grace tells the story of Madeline (Jordan Ladd) and Michael (Stephen Park), a married couple trying to conceive a baby. When Madeline finally gets pregnant, she is determined to deliver the baby au natural with a midwife instead of going to a hospital, much to the chagrin of her meddling and traditional mother-in-law, Vivian (Gabrielle Rose). Madeline is also a committed vegan and is very eco-conscious, which irks Vivian even more.

Madeline and Michael joyously await the birth of their baby girl, but a tragic car accident leaves both her husband and her unborn baby dead. Against the wishes of her midwife, Patricia (Samantha Ferris), and mother-in-law, Madeline decides to carry the infant to term. When the baby is delivered, it miraculously comes back to life and Madeline names her Grace.

Madeline dotes on Grace, but she soon notices there’s something not quite right with the baby. Grace attracts flies, smells a bit funky, gets bleeding sores on her skin and seems to prefer human blood to breast milk…

Soon, Vivian starts to nag Madeline about seeing her precious granddaughter and even going so far as to send the family doctor, Richard Sohn (Malcolm Stewart), to check up on her. With Grace craving more and more blood, though, Madeline isn’t exactly ready to show her off. Patricia starts poking around too, concerned about her friend but more interested in putting the moves on the new baby momma. As Madeline deals with the mounting external pressure of intruders, she also tries her best to satiate the hungry Grace…but she soon realizes that her own blood will not be enough to satisfy the bloodthirsty babe…

While more subdued and slower-paced than the shocking short, this feature-length Grace still packs a punch. The woman-centric issues of pregnancy and self-sacrificing motherhood are rarely featured in horror, so it’s nice to see these addressed. The prospect of going through a pregnancy and giving birth to another person is scary enough, but think of if your baby was born…unnatural…how much would you sacrifice for them then? The bond between a mother and child are strong, so like Madeline, I’m willing to bet you would sacrifice everything and anything for them. Madeline breaks her own ethical beliefs to ensure that Grace gets what she hungers for…blood…and is prepared to stop anyone that would try to take her baby away. Sacrifice and a mother’s bond to her child are just a few of the many themes explored in Grace and are among the many intelligent layers to this intriguing film.

Though Grace isn’t your “typical” horror film, the script and story are smart and I squeamishly enjoyed its many different layers, including the “meat is murder” subtext that peppers the film (the real footage of animals being slaughtered/tortured will unnerve many). The character of Madeline was well-written as she was strong, resolute and firm in all her beliefs – beliefs that would soon be challenged by her bloodthirsty monster of an infant. And yet, the film never falls into being an exploitative “killer baby” picture, but maintains a somber, tragic and straightforward tone throughout its running time.

Jordan Ladd absolutely glows as Madeline. Her portrayal of a mother who will do whatever it takes to care for her child felt incredibly realistic, even though Ladd herself has never had any children. The fact that she was able to tap into such a maternal role is amazing in of itself, but she actually made us care about the heartbreaking tragedy of her situation. In fact, all of the women in the film portrayed very strong, maternal roles. Gabrielle Rose as mother-in-law Vivian had her own psychological issues, including being obsessed with being a mother and wanting to breast feed again though she was now a grandma. Rose played the condescending Vivian with a “mother-knows-best” vibe that will make your skin crawl. Even the knowledgeable midwife Patricia, in a commanding performance by Samantha Ferris, was concerned with Madeline and was constantly checking up on her, though most of that came from personal feelings she still had for Madeline; the two used to be lovers in college. Each and every one of the female characters was written to be a strong woman, which is quite refreshing for a horror film! The men, on the other hand, were mainly secondary characters or villains, as is the case with the creepy Dr. Richard Sohn, played by Malcolm Stewart, who almost orders Madeline induced early after she starts having chest pains…until Patricia intervenes. And Dr. Sohn gives Madeline one of the most intrusive and disturbing home exams I’ve been unfortunate enough to witness! It is always a pleasure to see a horror movie that features smart, caring women as the main characters instead of just relegating them to T & A shots or “scream queen” roles.

Besides excelling at writing a compelling script and engaging characters, Solet’s direction is also impeccable. The sharp contrast between the early scenes that are bathed in bright sunshine and warm colors and later scenes where shots are veiled in shadows, sickly greens and muted colors complements the accompanying action perfectly. There are also great shots showing Grace’s room adorned with fly traps and the birthing scene itself is quite traumatic.

Solet has taken a dramatic turn away from the current crop of immediate, in-your-face mainstream “horror” that scares with jumpy editing and fake frights. Instead, he has crafted a restrained film that manages to crawl under your skin and squirm there, increasing the discomfort until the satisfying finale. It’s not a perfect film by any means, and is definitely not for everyone, but it is a very well-done and quiet character study that shows off Solet’s skill as both as a writer and director as well as the amazing range of its actors.

Grace slowly gestates, until it ripens from quiet character study to full-blown horror show. If you can enjoy the slowly unfolding dread, Grace definitely delivers.

Order it on Amazon!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sweatshop (2009)

The anemic state of Hollywood “horror” is distressing for hardcore fans, but don’t fret, dear readers, for I have the cure! This remedy to all that is stale and trite with mainstream horror might take a little digging on your part, but the results are incredible! No more watered down gore, no more clichéd and boring characters, no more rehashed, reimaged or re-whatever ideas and no more disappointment! This cure that I speak of, my fiends, is to simply ignore the latest sad attempt that passes for horror at the local Cineplex and to look upon your savior, independent horror! I’ve said it a million times before and I’ll keep on repeating it; indie horror is where it’s at!

A perfect example of this would be today’s indie horror splattacular, Sweatshop. Written by Ted Geoghegan and Stacy Davidson and directed by Davidson, Sweatshop is every horror fan’s dream (or nightmare, if you prefer) come true! Though its storyline follows a mostly basic slasher formula (with a few kinks thrown in, of course!), the engaging script, fast pacing, excellent acting, stunning sets, gorgeous cinematography AND out-of-this-world brutality make it more enjoyable than 95% of the so-called “horror” big studios are churning out these days.

The film starts with a bunch of hot goths and punks descending upon an abandoned warehouse to set the stage for what promises to be a wild evening. The decrepit and musty space is slowly turned into a decadent goth discotheque, complete with flashing lights, fog and wicked cool beats.

Yet, the “wild evening” takes a decidedly brutal turn as they realize that they’ve invaded the lair of a hulking killer called “The Beast” and his two vicious minions. One by one, the would-be partiers succumb to some brutal deaths at the hands of “The Beast”.

As mentioned before, one need only look to independent horror productions for their chills and thrills, because Sweatshop delivers both (and more) in blood-red spades! Writers Geoghegan and Davidson intended Sweatshop to be a sort of ‘80s throwback and an homage to the slashers of yore that most of us grew up on, but while it sticks to the familiar slasher formula the film has its own unique vision and never feels like its treading on sacred ground. Sure, it has the standard clichés of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll that act as a prelude to the nasty killings, but Sweatshop stands apart from the usual hack and slash movies by taking the time to actually develop its characters. They all had complex relationships, pasts and secrets with each other, making the film even more intriguing to watch. Plus, these are the kind of cool characters you’d want to hang out with! The dialogue is also witty, humorous and realistic, making it fun to watch the characters interacting.

Sweatshop has a pretty big cast and, surprisingly for an indie flick, it is made up of very talented actors. I loved the larger-than-life characters, including good ol’ boy Wade, played to sleazy perfection by Brent Himes, Wade’s horny punk brother Scottyboy, played by the gorgeous Peyton Wetzel, and the adorably perky Miko, played by the entrancing Julin. My favorite performance, though, has to be Jeremy Sumrall, who played “The Beast”. He wears a welding mask and we never see his face, so all his emotions were conveyed through body language…an amazing feat for an actor! But Sumrall played it perfectly, even infusing some regret and lament into “The Beast’s” rage-fueled kills. Yet, I must stress again that ALL of the actors did an amazing job and if I had the space I would mention each and every one of their names!

I really loved the look of the film as well. Co-writer and director Davidson also served as director of photography and his shots certainly pop! The colorful use of club lighting combined with the dark shadows of the derelict warehouse created some truly awesome shots. This is one film that I could tell from the very first shot that its cinematography would truly set it apart from other low-budget productions. Right away you could tell that Davidson and his crew knew exactly what they were doing! The film itself looks like it had a much higher budget, especially since all of the scenes are crisp, clear, well-lit, atmospheric and professional. Yet, Sweatshop still has that gritty, grimy quality that is so important to its storyline!

Also adding to the atmosphere was the spectacular score and soundtrack! Dwayne Cathey handled the evocative score of the film, while goth, EBM and industrial bands like Combichrist and Genitorturers provided the soundtrack. The result is absolute perfection as the dissonant score sets you up for the kills while the soundtrack perfectly captures the party-like mood.

And, then, of course, we have the gore. And such gore it is!! This film may have been made on a low budget, but you never could have guessed that from the stellar special effects it features! From a jaw-dropping scene where “The Beast” pulls the lower jaw from a poor screaming girl’s face to his brutal smashing and bashing of legs, heads, torsos, etc. with his humungous sledgehammer weapon he’s created from metal pipes and an anvil block (seriously, it must be seen to be believed!), I’d say the grue here would delight even the hardiest and most seasoned gorehounds!

Then there are “The Beast’s” minions, two disturbing creatures that are bloody, veiny and haven’t seen the sun in quite some time. The backstory on them and “The Beast” is never explained, but I was so awestruck by the sheer brutality of the kills that where they came from and how they came to be such vicious killers didn’t end up mattering much and this “not knowing” added to the scare factor. As for the ending, well, it’s a sight to behold! Remember how the main protagonists were setting up for a party? Well, their guests eventually arrive…just in time to be mashed to bits by “The Beast”! Hearty acclaim must go to the special and visual effects departments, because they did an amazing job with such a small budget and created some truly mind-blowing and extreme kills!

Sweatshop and independent movies of its ilk are the answer for those seeking solace from the soul-sucking productions big studios keep forcing down the throats of those hungry for horror. Even if Hollywood was producing decent genre films, Sweatshop would still be a cut above the rest. Sweatshop is a relentless, entertaining and downright FUN horror film that defies expectations and will undoubtedly be my choice for one of the best horror films of the year!

Buy on Amazon!

Book Review: The Dark Verse, Vol. 1 by M. Amanuensis Sharkchild

The Dark Verse, Volume 1: From the Passages of Revenants is a collection of 26 fantastical short stories from the darkly imaginative mind of author M. Amanuensis Sharkchild. Sharkchild’s stories were first featured on his self-produced podcast “The Dark Verse” where he would release a fantastically horrific story every two weeks.

The podcast developed quite a following and led to the stories being collected into The Dark Verse Volume 1. This is a beautifully black-bound book with a silver foil cover and black dusting that contains some of the most bizarre and engaging stories I’ve ever come across. The tales tell of distant dimensions and unbelievable beings all the while oozing with an otherworldly atmosphere.

Each and every one of the stories drew me in with the eloquent and sophisticated writing of Sharkchild. Delving deeper and deeper into the great unknown, Sharkchild conjures visions of horrifying monsters and mysterious worlds beyond our own. He creates a window that peers into the black abyss, and the result is that things from the unknown start to look back.

Some would be quick to point out the similarities between Sharkchild’s esoteric style and H.P. Lovecraft’s writings, but though they appear similar I would argue that Sharkchild has a very distinct and unique way of unveiling his mysterious stories. I will say that like any good horror author, Sharkchild’s stories will leave you unhinged as you get a glimpse of the strange species that permeate his imagination and have scrawled themselves into this book.

For example, in the short story What the Flesh Cannot Keep the “Haunter Behind Space” is described by the poor mortal who sees it as “eyes that covered every surface, the souls within them, and the vulgar, detestable complacency of existence that saturated every ounce of its being”. Of course, seeing such a creature would prove fatal to any mortal…

One of my favorite stories is The Changing of the Feyth, told in two parts, about feyths, which are regarded as demigods in their realm. The feyth protagonist describes his race as such: “Our flesh is ash gray and its texture is that of leather. Our eyes are as black as coal and our teeth are as sharp as swords. Our ears are large and so are our noses. We grow to be tall as giants, but our bodies always keep the same slenderness, no matter what our strength or what we consume. Our only master is the Almighty of Shadows…” The story is about how one feyth turns against his brethren and is filled with bloody battle, ghosts and even fairies.

In the story titled Between the Corridors, a small child is haunted by the “Midnight Apothecary”, a nightmarish vision that invades his very mind. It perverts childhood innocence and memories of balloons and ice cream with a menacing and sinister parasitic creature that invades the child’s mind and won’t let go until he relinquishes it.

The book is filled with excellent stories such as those mentioned above, so it is hard not to talk about each and every single one as there is not a bad one in the entire collection. For space sake, I’ll have to keep it down to those mentioned above with hopes they give you a general gist of the fascinating tales told by Sharkchild.

All of Sharkchild’s stories are inhabited by grotesque yet sometimes wondrous beings who have managed to break forth into our own world. These unimaginably horrific monsters populate these short stories, and Sharkchild’s writing brings them to startling and shocking clarity. His stories exist on a different plane, a dimension where unspeakable horrors lie in wait, ready to assault and invade our own existence. These are tales that could reduce you to madness as you marvel at their complex simplicity. Horror lies in fearing the unknown, and boy, does Sharkchild ever have a grasp of how to scare us!

Besides the articulate and intelligent way Sharkchild tells his stories, I must also comment on the overall aesthetic of the book, which is absolutely gorgeous. The outside of the hardback book is wrapped in a faux leather with silver foil stamping adorning it, as well as black dusting on the edges of the pages. Its presentation is impeccable, but only gets better when you open the tome, for inside is stunning artwork by John F. Stifter. Truly, this is one of the most beautifully books I’ve ever reviewed and Armored Books did a fabulous job with its design. This book, though no doubt well-read, will adorn my bookcase for a long, long time.

The Dark Verse, Volume 1: From the Passages of Revenants is an elite collection of fascinating and frightening stories that is sure to impress any horror aficionado who is looking for more peculiar tales rather than the standard slasher/zombie/vampire/serial killer novels that tend to permeate horror fiction. Its high quality is a rarity and I, for one, will treasure this book for a long while.

Order it on Amazon!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Strange Behavior (1981)

Strange Behavior (aka Dead Kids) is a little-seen 1981 horror film that is probably best remembered for a zany party scene where a bunch of teens are dancing up a storm to some god-awful ‘60s music that sounds like it was better suited for Grease 2. And, yes, the teens soon join in for a choreographed number that’ll probably make you gag a little. Still, despite this and a few other glaringly out-of-place scenes throughout the film, I found Strange Behavior to be a surprisingly entertaining flick.

In the seemingly idyllic burg of Galesberg, Illinois, it seems that things aren’t so peaceful. Kids are getting murdered left and right, and top cop John Brady (Michael Murphy), thinks it has something to do with the strange behavioral experiments going on at the local university. Brady seems to have a history with the scientist in charge of the suspicious experiments, Dr. Le Sangel (Arthur Dignam), only problem is that the Doctor is long dead (though he still “teaches” college classes via archival footage), having been replaced by his protégé, the icy Dr. Parkinson (Fiona Lewis). Still, the experiments have continued, but now the kids who volunteer for the mysterious experiments are turning out a bit robotic and zombie-like…

Meanwhile, Brady’s son Pete (Dan Shor) enrolls himself in these experiments under Dr. Parkinson’s care in hopes he can make enough money to cover his college application fees. There he meets love interest Caroline (Dey Young), who is a clueless receptionist that knows nothing of what goes on behind Dr. Parkinson’s closed doors.

Do the experiments have anything to do with the rash of murders occurring in the sleepy burg? Well, you can bet your bottom dollar they do, but can Brady get to the bottom of them before his own son becomes a mindless killing machine?

Strange Behavior was definitely a fun film to watch, despite its few wacky scenes and offbeat humor. In fact, its goofiness made it even more fun to watch! The party scene is classic enough, but there is also a hilarious scene where an older deputy is going through files and files of college transcripts to try and find a “fat girl” that fits the killer’s description…really, just watch it and you’ll understand!

The sly humor used throughout certainly doesn’t underscore the gore, though, and there is plenty to go around. People get stabbed, limbs get hacked off, a victim’s body is strung up in a field like a scarecrow, people’s heads get bashed and so on. Certainly not the goriest of films, even by slasher standards, but Strange Behavior does a decent job spreading some crimson around.

The story, written by Bill Condon (who would go on to write/direct Gods and Monsters and Dreamgirls) and Michael Laughlin, does have its plot holes, namely not entirely explaining why and how certain people were targeted to be killed. Were some of the victim’s random or were they all selected to be killed? This was never cleared up satisfactorily for me. Also, the pacing in the beginning and the end dragged a bit for me. The beginning had a pretty typical opening that didn’t immediately grab my attention. Then the end felt unnecessarily drawn out…and what was it with the cheesy wedding scene at the end? There were definitely some parts that could have been heavily edited. I never really did get the connection between Brady and his love interest (played by Louise Fletcher), who I guess was the housekeeper…that part of the story added nothing to the overall story and should have been dropped from the script. It’s almost if Condon and Laughlin were trying to cram as much as they could into the story, but I wished they had focused a bit more on the murders rather than unnecessary characters.

The characters, for a change from most slashers, are well-developed and stay away from most horror movie stereotypes. You really could sympathize with Brady and his son Pete as they both try to make sense of what is going on. The cold character of Dr. Parkinson is also developed just enough so you know that deep down she’s evil. You even get a feel for the secondary characters, like Pete’s best friend Oliver (who disappears halfway through after donning a scary and oversized Tor Johnson-look-alike mask at the crrrrraaaazy costume party) and girlfriend Caroline (who wears one of the ugliest patterned pant and jacket sets I’ve ever had the displeasure of seeing).

Despite some flaws and a few wacky sequences, Strange Behavior is otherwise an entertaining way to kill an hour and a half. It seems that many people aren’t familiar with this diamond in the rough, either, but nonetheless this unique film just begs to be seen. Just promise you won’t bust out any choreographed dance moves while watching!

Order it on Amazon!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Book Review: Anoxic Zone by John G Rees

The term “anoxic zone” refers to “an oxygen-depleted region in a marine environment,” according to In this novel, the anoxic zone in question is in the Black Sea. According to author John R Rees, the anoxic zone “occurs naturally at depths greater than 200 meteres [and] has no oxygen to support life or accelerate decay. This creates a unique environment for the preservation of ancient shipwrecks, as well as modern day detritus.” 

When I first picked up Anoxic Zone I had no idea what the term meant or how it would be used within the context of the novel, but I have to admit I was definitely intrigued. I hadn’t heard about anything like it before so I was eager to dive right in (pardon the pun). Plus, the synopsis offered some supernatural hints as to who, or what, the main characters were. Take a looksie at the description from the back cover and see if you get an inkling as to what they are:

This is the tale of two men, who become service personnel for Megacorp, a multi-national corporation that operates under its own laws. The dark cadre is brought back to life to maintain the infrastructure of a narcissistic, self-involved culture at the end of the industrial age. Chosen for their skills, Jake, a commercial diver, and Johnny, a scientist, have been friends for over one hundred years. Human curiosity and human nature conspire to have our friends discover just what they are; the whys and hows of how they came to be.

In the course of this discovery they release evil that spawned their kind, which had been imprisoned and used by Megacorp in a most despicable manner.

Their adventure takes them from Hawaii to Romania and the Black Sea, as Jake and John struggle to accept what they have become while trying to keep the evil from the hands of Megacorp and return it to the darkness of its birth.

This novel definitely has a lot going on, from Jake and John’s initial discovery of what they are to their escape from Megacorp to encountering their “maker” to plotting how to destroy him. Don’t let the slim tome, coming in at just under 300 pages, fool you -  author Rees has packed a lot of action into this novel! That’s not to say it is convoluted, by any means. The pacing of the story is quick and just keeps drawing you in as you get further and further into the story. I ravenously drank it up!

I also love that author Rees has set the book in a not-too-distant future where people have become lazy and prefer that menial and/or dangerous labor be done by a part of the population called “reusables”…kinda sounds like the current state of things, no? Rees also borrows from several different genres to complete Anoxic Zone, too. There is futuristic sci-fi, a bit of noir, a lot of historical facts, a touch of romance, gore, action and horror…pretty much a little bit of everything!

The locations vary as much as the tone of novel. We start off in Hawaii, then move to the unearthly underwater world, then to the bustling ports of Romania and eventually to the Carpathian mountains…with many other stops in-between! Rees effortlessly captures the atmosphere of each location in the novel and brings them to life. I especially loved the descriptions of the crumbling, centuries-old castle in the most remote region of the Carpathian mountains.

I loved the characterizations of our two lead characters, Jake and John, and their transformations over the years as they embrace what they really are. If you haven’t guessed already by their old age, they are vampires, though I don’t think the word “vampire” is ever mentioned in the book! Megacorp has made them and many others like this, calling them “reusables” and using them for dangerous or life-threatening work. Jake can dive to depths far further than any human ever could and also go without air for longer. John can test out disease, viruses, etc. on himself to see their effects but won’t die from these experiments. Yet, when they both discover their true nature and the true extent of their abilities they attract the attention of a notorious (and historical) Count who spawned their race…and wants revenge on those that have used him. John and Jake go from lowly “reusables” to realizing their power and becoming the pupils of their “master,” until he takes things too far and John and Jake turn against him.

And the “master” himself is quite a force to be reckoned with. Rees draws from a well-known historical figure (the very ruler who inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula) to create a menacing and scary villain that still elicits awe from the two main characters as well as the reader.

Anoxic Zone is a very unique, nontraditional vampire tale that I couldn’t put down! It is a thrilling, exciting read that tries something new with the tired vampire genre…and succeeds! If you get a chance, I highly recommend picking up John G Rees Anoxic Zone!

Order it from Amazon!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Cat O' Nine Tails (1971)

Few who read this site need an introduction to maestro Dario Argento, the Italian writer/director who is famous for his distinctive style and crafting some of the finest giallo films ever committed to celluloid, such as Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Deep Red, Suspira and so on. Some people love his films while others hate them, but neither can deny the impact Argento has made on the film scene. Though The Cat O’ Nine Tails (Il Gatto a Nove Code) may be considered by some as one of Argento’s “lesser” works, I believe that it is one of Argento’s most straightforward and easily accessible films…but still boasts Argento’s signature style.

The film tells the tale of blind Franco Arno (Karl Malden), who one night walking with his young niece Lori (Cinzia De Carolis) hears two men arguing. Arno asks Lori to describe the men as one of them is speaking about blackmail. The next morning, it is discovered that someone has broken into the Terzi Institute, which is researching criminal behavior as it correlates to genetics, and espionage is suspected, though it appears nothing was taken. However, the man that Arno overheard talking soon turns up dead and Arno seeks the help of journalist Carlo Giordani (James Franciscus) to solve the case. Meanwhile, more people connected to the Terzi Institute start turning up dead. Can Arno and Giordani find out who the killer is…before they are next?

Many people don’t appreciate The Cat O’ Nine Tails, and while it doesn’t have the same flashy style of other Argento movies, I still believe it is a fine film. Its storyline is much more linear than most of Argento’s films and even people that gripe that his films are “style over substance” can enjoy the straightforward whodunit story of The Cat O’ Nine Tails.

Despite the more subtle nature of this film, it certainly isn’t without the usual Argento pizzazz. There are lots of intriguing camera angles and lots of fluid camera movement. It even features the killer POV and extreme close ups of the killer’s eye that are used in other Argento films. Though it lacks the vivid colors of some of Argento’s other films, there are plenty of weird camera angles, constant movement and beautiful shots to keep the viewer engaged…and there is never any doubt that you are watching an Argento film.

The acting in the film is excellent, from Karl Malden as the blind Arno to James Franciscus as the journalist Giordani and even Cinzia De Carolis as the young Lori. Even the dubbing didn’t ruin the fine performances! The actors all made us believe in them, even when it was revealed that one of the leads may be the killer in a chilling and tense cemetery sequence.

There isn’t much blood in the film, as the killer prefers strangulation, but this didn’t dampen the experience at all for me. There is one jarring sequence in which a victim is pushed in front of a train and his body tumbles as the train’s brakes screech, but this is the most disturbing the film gets. Despite the lack of gore, the scenes in which the killer is stalking his or her intended victim are tense and the attacks are sudden. It is also interesting to note that most of the victims are male, quite a rarity in most giallo films, which was refreshing to see.

Speaking of rarities, there is also a subtext of homosexuality running throughout the narrative…not something you see everyday in a ‘70s giallo. Yet, it also speaks to Argento’s style and his boldness to cover “taboo” (at least back then) subjects.

Also of note is Ennio Morricone’s jazzy score, evocative of the times and Rome locale. It added enough punch to the proceedings and was quite effective during exciting sequences, particularly a high speed car chase and the thrilling scenes leading up to the finale.

My only complaint was the “reveal” of the bland killer. There are plenty of red herrings throughout the film and you probably can’t guess who it is just because of the numerous suspects, but even so the surprise is a bit disappointing and the ending a bit lackluster compared to other Argento films.

All in all, though, The Cat O’ Nine Tails is another excellent Argento films that shouldn’t be ignored or even considered as being inferior to his other works. It might be without his typical over the top flair and a bit more “mainstream”, but it still delivers a taut storyline that will keep you guessing to the end. Check out this underrated and under-watched Argento movie!

Order it on Amazon!

Book Review: Evil at Heart by Chelsea Cain

Chelsea Cain books appeal to a wide variety of readers, from people who aren’t necessarily horror fans and usually read books like Tuesdays with Morrie to hardcore horror aficionados. Whichever camp you fall into, Cain’s “Beauty Killer” serial killer books promise to entertain and shock you.

The third novel in the “Beauty Killer” series, Evil at Heart, is no less tense than Cain’s previous two efforts – Heartsick and Sweetheart – and continues the saga of infamous and gorgeous serial killer Gretchen Lowell. As with all of Cain’s books, I could not put down Evil at Heart!

The book picks up two months after Gretchen Lowell escaped prison and Detective Archie Sheridan, who had a very complicated relationship with Gretchen, is in the loony bin. Archie is drawn back out after bodies, each with Gretchen’s signature hearts accompanying them, start popping up again. Joining Archie are Detective Henry Sobol and Oregon Herald reporter Susan Ward,  who discover that a network of Gretchen Lowell “fan clubs” have sprung up. Could there be a copycat killer or is Gretchen finally back to her old ways?

Evil at Heart is a relentless read that begs to be read from start to finish. The book opens with a bang as eyeballs and other body parts are found at a rest stop restroom outside Portland and it’s not long after that when bodies gruesomely start showing up at Gretchen’s old crime scenes. Cain definitely has some great tableaus of gore in Evil at Heart, gruesome enough for an old gorehound like me to be impressed!

Cain lessens these horrific scenes with humor peppered throughout the novel and a social commentary on how the media tends to glamorize villains. The book describes how Gretchen Lowell has become a media sensation – she is plastered over every magazine and newspaper, women get the “Beauty Killer” manicure (pink nails with blood red French tips), coffee cups that say “I’d kill for some coffee” with Gretchen’s picture on them are sold, women cut and dye their hair like Gretchen’s, tour buses take tourists to her crime scenes and there is even a movie being made about her. This makes for some darkly humorous commentary on our own society and our own anti-heroes we tend to sensationalize.

Many characters from the past two books return, namely detectives Henry and Archie and spunky journalist Susan, and it’s nice to see them all back. Gretchen isn’t featured as much in this novel, but her eventual appearance will leave you riveted! To understand the characters, it does help to have read Cain’s past two novels but even if you haven’t Cain takes the time to explain the relationships between the characters and some of their pasts so you get the general gist of the series. Cain also introduces some intriguing new characters, some who are into scarification, suspension and other body modification cultures – and she gives us plenty of squirm-inducing descriptions of these practices as well!

The story itself is fast-paced and entertaining. I really wasn’t joking when I said I couldn’t put it down – I so desperately needed to find out what was going to happen that I finished it in a day! Now, you may want to take your time and really drag out the suspense, but I just couldn’t wait! And the ending is quite a doozy, filled with a mysterious revelation that I can’t wait to see what Cain does with in her next book!

Evil at Heart is another “Beauty Killer” novel that will keep you on the edge of your seat and is highly recommended for all Gretchen Lowell fans, whether you’re a horror fan or not!

Order it on Amazon!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Live Evil (2009)

Vampire flicks are always a staple in the horror genre, though their popularity tends to go through ups and downs. I’ve always dug vampires, and I’m glad to see that their popularity is on the up-and-up at the moment…and no, I’m not referring to the retch-worthy Twatlight. I’m talking about the great indie flick Thicker Than Water: The Vampire Diaries Part 1, the wondrous Swedish import Let the Right One In and the addicting TV show True Blood. These films and TV show succeed because they put a different spin on vampire mythology to keep it fresh and interesting without watering it down. So, when I heard about Live Evil, a new independent vampire film that dealt with the issue of vampires starving because humans’ blood was becoming increasingly polluted by chemicals, drugs and other impurities, I was eager to check it out.

In Live Evil, the vampire population is struggling to stay alive after humans have slowly but surely been poisoning their bodies with alcohol, drugs, disease, bad food, polluted air and so on. Vampires can only survive on “pure blood”, so getting a good meal is increasingly hard to find. Additionally, since there is so much competition in the food chain vampires have formed clans or gangs that are fighting amongst themselves.

One such group of vampires, including leader Benedict (Mark Hengst), his girlfriend Sydney (Osa Wallander), wig-wearing Baxter (Gregory Lee Kenyon) and feisty Yeal (Eva Derrek), is fighting its way west to Los Angeles to hopefully find some pure blood and hole up with their friend Max (Ken Foree) in Hollywood for a while. Unfortunately for them, a cowboy hat-wearing, samuri-sword wielding, vamp-hunting priest (Tim Thomerson) is hot on their trail. It seems a past incident has left The Priest at odds with these particular bloodsuckers and he aims to wipe every last one of them out.

I wouldn’t call Live Evil one of the best vampire flicks I’ve ever seen, but it does a pretty serviceable job. I especially liked the unique idea of tainted blood that writers Lance Polland and Jay Woelfel came up with. If you think about it, what vamp would want to drink our blood with all the chemicals and pollutants going into our bodies? Also, the story was treated with just enough seriousness but it did have its moments of fun silliness (vampire babies, anyone?) plus some great one-liners (“Goddamn vampire babies…they’re the worst”). Most of the film played it straight, though, and took its time to build its own vampire mythos (for example, most of them can go out into the sunlight).

The only part of the writing I didn’t particularly like was the development of the characters. I guess we are supposed to be rooting for The Priest the entire time, but I found him too blah, even though the writers tried to give him a backstory about his vampiric encounter as a kid. Yet, I didn’t feel any sympathy for him and kept cheering on for the vampires to off the decrepit old dude…sadly, that didn’t happen. I also would have liked to learn more about the individual vampires’ pasts and would have liked to have seen the female vamps with more personality. It feels like most of the girls in the film were put there for just T&A, which is a pretty sad thing in this day and age.

As for the acting, it was a bit shaky at times but you could tell the cast had a blast with the film. I really enjoyed the strong performance Mark Hengst gave as the lead vampire, Benedict. The actor who stole the show, though, was Kimberly Sanders as The Priest’s sidekick, Roxy, whom he picks up in a bar and forces at gunpoint to drive him around, chasing after the vamps. Roxy was a spitfire and reminded me a lot of Tara (Rutina Wesley) from True Blood! The film also features tons of cameos from familiar faces in the horror industry, including Tiffany Shepis and Ken Foree! Keep your eyes peeling during a party scene, because you’ll see lots of regulars from within the horror community!

As for the special effects, this low budget film really impressed me! It has several car chases and car crashes that you usually don’t see in a production this small! Yet, they were impeccably filmed and looked absolutely stellar! Live Evil also features lots of gory moments, but one of the best is towards the beginning of the film when a vamps head is decapitated! Sure, the effects tend to look a bit low budget, but I appreciate the fact that they are all practical and not CGI…plus, they look pretty cool! There are also scenes that are bathed in blood, sure to satisfy your inner Bathory.

Live Evil is a solid indie undertaking with a new twist on the vampire story. While it has its flaws, its interesting twist on “tainted blood” ultimately won me over. It comes out in limited release September 18th and then on DVD and Video-on-Demand on November 3rd, so get ready to sink your teeth into this vampire tale!

Available from Amazon!

Transylvania Television: Season One (2009)

Saturday morning cartoons were always my favorite. I’d get up super-duper early, get myself a big bowl of sugary cereal, plop myself in front of the TV to wait until the early morning agricultural reports were over to watch some toons…until my parents harassed me to get outside and play in the sunshine.

I grew up on puppet shows like Sesame Street, The Muppet Show and Fraggle Rock and always marveled at the colorful and wondrous characters that were on the shows. Heck, I even thought they were real until my parents explained that they were puppets made to come alive by people. Despite the fact that I learned the puppets weren’t real, they still contained a certain magic for me. I still remember my giddiness and joy I had as a child watching these puppet cartoon shows.

So, when I received my copy of Transylvania Television: Season One the kid inside me was desperately clawing to get out. To satiate my inner demon child, I got myself a big bowl of cereal and plopped down in front of the TV to enjoy Transylvania Television.

Transylvania Television is a puppet comedy show that is populated by a bevy of colorful characters that run a television show out of a gothic castle in Transylvania. The characters include a vampire, a bat, a yeti and a Frankestein monster, among others! Here is the official synopsis:

A dysfunctional family of misfit monsters tries desperately to run an obscure television station deep in Transylvania, with worldwide broadcast power and the ability to reanimate dead TV shows.

The Vampire Le Shoc is king of his castle, but struggles vainly to maintain order while taking delight in the suffering of his motley crew of minions. And he ain’t your run of the mill Count, either, he’s a LeStat-dressin’, nosferatu-lookin’, Richard-O’Brien-from-Rocky-Horror-talkin’ creep with some serious issues.

Furry J. Ackermonster, the station’s new intern, is a bright orange yeti, who having recently graduated from an American college, is struggling with student loans, laziness, and a burgeoning pottery collection. Enjoys beer, snowboarding, and hairy chicks.

The station’s majordomo is Batfink, a surf-lovin’, kustom kar creatin’ bat. Think beach blanket beatnik with wings. He manages to keep the station running via the power of the Frankenstein Device, the same contraption that gave life to the Frankenstein Monster. When used to boost the signal of the station, it gives old shows NEW LIFE – and turns them into far-out parodies in the process.

They are joined by Dwayne Frankenstein, a fella who’s wired just a little bit differently than the rest of us. The Frankenstein Monster has been done to death, but you’ve never seen him like this: a brain-damaged, working-class Brit soccer hooligan made from 13 different people. He may sound dense but he’s not naïve, and has been known for moments of brilliance in the midst of an otherwise stupefying existence.

Tune in to Transylvania Television: the Retro Monster Comedy Series that’s really not for kids, not necessarily safe for work, and known to promote skull decay.

Watching Transylvania Television I got that same giddy, unbridled feeling from watching cartoons as a kid…only this time the jokes were dirtier and the language fouler. That’s not to say Transylvania Television has its mind in the gutter…I was expecting something along the lines of Avenue Q, but thankfully for my inner child the “adult content” isn’t that bad. And I still laughed my ass off. Creators Gordon Smuder, Michael Heagle and Clarke Stone have truly created something very special with Transylvania Television!

The look of the series is also great…anyone who loves The Munsters, The Addams Family, Groovy Ghoulies and old late-night horror shows will appreciate the gothic atmosphere of the meticulously decorated sets. Plus, the monster characters fit right in and are a riot! We have the old school Vampire Le Shoc who refuses to use computers…until he gets addicted to the Internet, the dull-witted Dwayne Frankenstein who uses a vacuum for landscaping, the Vampire Le Shoc’s right-hand man, Batfink, Furry J. Ackermonster (love the tribute!), a college graduate just trying to keep his neck and not have Fast Eddie’s House of Ax called on him if he screws up, and Esmeralda, the 90-year-old gypsy with her own variety show called Babushka Buzz. The look of the puppets and the performances of the actors behind them were all amazing. I really think this series deserves a spot on Adult Swim or one of the big horror/sci-fi networks! I would much rather watch the brilliance of Transylvania Television than the crap that is usually on TV!

I loved all of the short episodes included in the disc, but I also wholeheartedly enjoyed the extras! In the “Vintage” section we have older puppet sketches from the creators, including “Chasing Army” where two couch potatoes philosophize on who would win in a fight, the Tasmanian Devil or Animal, a hilarious Star Trek sketch called “Puppet Trek” where Spock keeps prank calling Captain Kirk and more! There is also a section called “Oddities” that features promos for upcoming episodes, contests and so on, plus a hilarious sketch called “Hey Hitler” where little demons are tormenting Hitler in Hell…with bad jokes. These extras are almost as delightful as the episodes!

Transylvania Television is a retro puppet show that is a whole lotta fun and will really connect with both horror and comedy lovers. It’s the perfect gift for yourself or that special someone right now, especially since it is so close to Halloween! You can buy a copy on Transylvania Television’s site!

So what are you waiting for? Put on your pajamas, grab that big bowl of Sugar O’s, sit down right in front of your television set and pop in Transylvania Television! It may not be kid-friendly, but it is Fatally-Yours-approved!

Visit Transylvania Television’s Official Site!

Follow Transylvania TV on Twitter!

Become a Transylvania TV fan on Facebook!
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