Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Vampire Party (2008)

Equally quirky and entertaining, France’s Vampire Party (aka Les Dents de la Nuit or The Teeth of the Night) is a horror spoof that keeps the jokes and action coming fast and furious. What it lacks in gore (there’s really not that much worth mentioning) it definitely makes up for in laughs. Its official synopsis compares it to both Airplane! and Shaun of the Dead, though Vampire Party plays up more of the oblivious comedy of Airplane! than the clever cinematic references of Shaun. While it is never as funny as its influences, this French import is still a very entertaining film that’s worth a look.

Vampire Party tells the tale of three friends, party animal Sam (Patrick Mille), aerobics instructor Alice (Frédérique Bel) and banker-with-a-wild-streak Prune (Julie Fournier), who happen to get their hands on invitations to a very exclusive party that’s gone down in urban legend. The party is so secretive that they are flown to the remote location, an old castle perched on the mountains, by helicopter. There they meet fellow partiers Edouard (Vincent Desagnat), a young but nerdy man, Serge Krinine (Sam Karmann), a “famous” dentist and Jessica Conti (Hélène de Fougerolles), an oblivious socialite. While hundreds of partiers get their groove and drink on, several dozen vampires await in the adjoining V.I.P. room for their leader, Le Duc de Journiac (Tchéky Karyo), to announce the human buffet open. Pretty soon, carnage ensues and the remaining characters must find a way out of the castle before they become a midnight snack.

Vampire Party is a short film, clocking in at less than 80 minutes, so it’s very fast-paced and there is always constant action. The jokes come pretty quick too, one after the other, and while some of them play with genre conventions (there is a reoccurring scene involving the famous scene from Titanic where the two lovers are on the bow of the ship and “on top of the world”) it would be a stretch to call Vampire Party a spoof. Instead, it has the random humor and sight gags of comedies like Airplane!, Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles. For instance, after a vampire is vanquished, a character remarks that “the goose is cooked” and in response another character quips something along the lines of “what a strange time to be thinking about food!” The same airheaded character tears up the dance floor with some awful moves before saying about the techno music, “I love reggae!” That is the kind of silly comedy employed by Vampire Party, but even I, one who usually loathes horror comedy unless they are very well done, really enjoyed the film and its off-kilter humor!

First off, the characters are extremely likable, even the slightly odd ones, like the photo-obsessed Edouard and over-eager dentist. The film doesn’t spend a terribly long time on character development, but from the quick introductions you get a feel for all of the characters. It also bears mentioning that the entire cast did a fantastic job and all were believable in their roles. I especially liked the three main actors – Patrick Mille, Frédérique Bel and Julie Fournier – who played Sam, Alice and Prune respectably. They gave us characters to really cheer for! I also must say that I enjoyed the villain as well, played by Tchéky Karyo. His obsession for caring for his hair as opposed to chasing down victims was a fun sight to behold.

Secondly, the film was just fun to look at. From the beautifully illustrated and Fearless Vampire Killers-influenced opening credits to the clever introductions of Sam, Alice and Prune at the beginning of the film to the decadent party at the castle, there was never a dull second. The film also isn’t afraid to break the “fourth wall” and shows a character who uses a sound guy’s boom microphone to fight off a vampire while the film crew looks on incredulously.

My only complaint with the film is that it felt a bit rushed and the ending offered little resolution. Yes, the plot is clichéd, but that is the point of the movie and it shakes things up a bit with its hilarious humor, but I felt that with the ending a.) directors Stephen Cafiero and Vincent Lobelle didn’t know how to vanquish the villains or b.) they wanted to make a sequel. Whatever their intentions, the ending doesn’t quite work and left too many unanswered questions, even for a horror comedy.

Despite that flaw, I found Vampire Party to be a swinging good time and highly recommend you RSVP for this horror-comedy!

Available from Amazon!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Book Review: Dead America by Luke Keioskie

Dead America is nitty-gritty look at the stitched-up underbelly of America after there’s no more room in hell and the dead are forced to walk to earth. Except these zombies don’t like to eat brains and aren’t just shambling hordes of rotting flesh. These undead want equal rights and to be treated the same as people who are alive. This is now a world where embalming is a required surgical procedure and rich Dead Americans have plastination procedures to keep themselves looking alive. Yet relations between the living and the undead are shaky at best. The living think the “necros” or “neccers” are stealing their jobs and don’t deserve the same rights as those still breathing. The dead, on the other hand, feel like they are being used and abused, especially since it’s not a crime to kill an undead and necrophilia is legal. And now to top it all off someone has turned up dead (really, truly dead, not “undead”) further straining relations between living and dead Americans.

Take a look at the book’s description:

Life is tough in America. Especially when you’re dead.

Faraday thought finding a runaway girl would be easy money. But when the girl turns up dead – the first American in decades who hasn’t revived as a zombie – Faraday must hit the streets to find her killer.

Standing in his way are undead gangbangers, a police fore rife with bigotry and lifism, and the zombie crime lord of Harlem. But with the help of a necrophilic pathologist, a severed head named Dorothy and a reporter that would literally give her right arm for a story, Faraday must discover why the dead girl didn’t come back to life. And he better be quick before the animosity between the living and the dead sparks a riot that could burn New York City to the ground. 

In a country where afterlife is the same as life before death, can anyone really live at all? 

There are tons of zombie novels out there, but none that I have read have been as unique as Luke Keioskie’s Dead America. Besides its clever take on zombies, it’s got witty, quick-paced dialogue, memorable characters and the grittiest setting of all, New York City! It reads like a hardboiled, gumshoe noir novel but has the added intrigue of a world where Death lives next to the living every day!

I loved the political and social commentary Keioskie infused into the novel. It covers everything from crooked cops to racism, bigotry and intolerance to corrupt corporations and so on. Yet these messages never feel heavy-handed, they are just facts of life in the brave new undead world Keioskie has created.
Besides the nice touches of social relevance in the book, there is also unlimited action! From Faraday’s battles with two hulking twins named Dutch and Butch, to his clever quips with undead reporter Alison Kastle and and run-ins with both the cops and undead gangster Grandpa Hob, there really isn’t a dull moment in the fast-paced book! I also enjoyed all the colorful characters like unsavory forensics expert Conroy who enjoys leering at undead women, vicious undead gangbangers called z-boys, an undead witness who is nothing but a severed head, a gorgeous undead wealthy woman who hires Faraday for another case and so on. The book is just filled to the brim with memorable characters!

Dead America is a wonderfully peculiar read, combining a gritty detective story with plenty of dark comedy and gruesome set pieces. If you love zombie stories but are craving something besides the same stale old brains, you owe it to yourself to check out the revolutionary Dead America!

Visit the Dead America website (worth the visit just for the fake ads alone!!)!

Buy it on Amazon!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Best and Worst Horror Films of 2009

Well, horror fans, it’s another end to another year and I’ll bet most of you are glad to see 2009 go! The year has been a long one for most of us, and with all the economic sh*t hitting the fan, horror fans needed some well-deserved escape with our films this year. Lucky for us, 2009 offered lots of great horror, from the comedic Zombieland to the nostalgic Trick ‘r Treat to the horrific Grace.

We here at Fatally-Yours wanted to recognize the year in horror films, both good and bad, so I have compiled my annual lists for the best and worst horror films of 2009, presented here for your pleasure!

Besides the obvious picks for the best horror films of 2009 that may be included in my list, I also wanted to share with you some possibly lesser known titles you might have missed this year. Movies that shocked, delighted and scared me. Movies that got me through the worst and the best of times of 2009. With the good comes the bad, though, and 2009 certainly saw its fair share of stinkers, also represented on my "worst of" list!

While it is true I haven’t seen every horror film (good or bad) that was released in 2009, I think that my lists will give you excellent insight on the best and worst this year and lead you to discover some hidden gems as well as fondly revisiting some of the best horror of 2009 (just avoid the "worst of" picks!). As with any list there will be varying opinions, so please recognize that this isn’t a definitive list by any means, but merely my personal favorites and least favorites from 2009.

I am glad to see 2009 go, but am also grateful for the many amazing horror films that were released this year and I am eagerly anticipating to see where the horror genre goes in 2010!

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

10.) The Burrowers – Horror movies set during the Old West are far and in-between, so I was anxious to check out J.T. Petty’s ambitious film about a posse of cowboys and cavalry looking for a missing family who come up against creatures the Native Americans call “the burrowers”. The Burrowers is Western horror done right, featuring creeping dread, beautiful panoramas and a unique storyline. This came out on DVD way back in April and was one of the first horror films of 2009 I truly loved!

Buy it on Amazon!

9.) Fever NightFever Night was made by a skeleton crew of three and took over two years to complete on a shoestring budget, but nonetheless the result is stunning. Featuring weird, trippy visuals, great performances by its three actors and a spooky story about Satan-worshippers who encounter the Devil himself after performing a black magick ritual, Fever Night had me enthralled from beginning to end. This psychotic and psychedelic satanic indie film managed to unnerve me far more than horror films with 100x its budget. Keep an eye on co-writers/co-directors Jordan Harris and Andrew Schrader, because they are the kind of raw talent that horror so desperately needs!

8.) Laid to Rest – One of the few slasher films in recent history to actually be decent! Sure, it didn’t try to reinvent the slasher genre, but it did manage to make slashers fun again! Instead of stereotypical characters, writer and director Robert Hall gave us likeable characters and a menacing and actually scary villain. Add loads of mind-blowing gore and you’ve got yourself a surprisingly good slasher that stands head and shoulders above all the wannabe’s released this year. Gory, gory hallelujah! This is how a slasher should be done!

Buy it on Amazon!

7.) Dead Snow – Nazi zombies…do I really need to say anymore? Well, ok…besides the Nazi zombies, this Norwegian film is full of self-referential humor and some of the most entertaining kill scenes all year! It is the perfect balance between slapstick and splatterfest and one of the most fun films to watch with a large group of friends.

Buy it on Amazon!

6.) Grace – I love horror flicks that focus on women characters and their dilemmas. After being stunned at Paul Solet’s short film Grace, I was thrilled when I heard it was being made into a feature film. This year it was finally released and I couldn’t be more pleased with the film! This is one disturbing horror film that is sure to ruffle both female’s and male’s feathers! A pregnant woman is determined to carry her dead baby to term, but when it’s born it miraculously comes back to life. Soon, it because obvious the baby isn’t normal and needs human blood to survive. This kind of film could have easily dissolved into the silliness of It’s Alive, but Solet’s writing and direction, plus a convincing performance by Jordan Ladd, keep things tense and serious. A truly shocking and unique take on the demands of motherhood and the extent a mother will go to protect her offspring.

Buy it on Amazon!

5.) Sweatshop – Another independent production to top my list, Sweatshop is pure gothic grittiness from indie filmmaker Stacy Davidson! It’s like an old school slasher, filled with colorful characters who are throwing an industrial rave in an old abandoned warehouse but soon realize they are sharing the space with a sadistic killer. Sure, it doesn’t sound like anything new, but what makes Sweatshop special is the way it’s executed and the strong performances from its actors, namely Jeremy Sumrall, who puts on one of the most menacing performances from a killer I’ve seen all year! Plus, it boasts some of the most insane gore this side of Laid to Rest and a killer soundtrack of industrial and EBM beats.

4.) Zombieland – Ok, this is an obvious choice for most horror fans, but it’s an obvious choice with good reason! First of all, do you know anyone who has seen this movie and didn’t like it? I didn’t think so…Zombieland is a rootin’ tootin’ good time, chock full of zingers, quotable lines and “rules” to live the apocalypse by (better get started on that cardio training…), with a very healthy dose of gore!

Buy it on Amazon!

3.) Jennifer’s Body – Maybe it was the women-centric themes that made fans avoid or dislike Jennifer’s Body, but as a woman horror fan I absolutely loved it. Many other women I’ve spoken to loved it as well, so it makes me wonder if males didn’t connect with this film because it featured strong women as the main characters and revealed how in control women are when it comes to sex. I’d take a guess that this film made most men uncomfortable, even if they didn’t realize it, and this led them to dislike it. It is a pity this film was overlooked by the majority of the horror community, because not only was it entertaining and sexy, it was smart! Diablo Cody’s clever writing and Karyn Kasuma’s sure-fire direction along with stellar performances from both Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried made this one of my most fun theater experiences of 2009.

Buy it on Amazon!

2.) Drag Me to Hell – Still, THIS was definitely the most fun I had in a theater in 2009! Sam Raimi’s rambunctious Drag Me To Hell was a pure delight to watch. His triumphant return to horror was filled with groddy set-pieces, ominous atmosphere and one of the year’s best villains – “You have shamed me!!”

Buy it on Amazon!

1.) Trick ‘r Treat– What else can I say about this masterpiece that hasn’t already been said? As a spooky kid, I am always for more Halloween-themed horror films (not the shitty kind like The Pumpkin Karver), so I had high expectations when this was FINALLY released to horror fans this year. My expectations weren’t only met, but exceeded with Trick ‘r Treat’s entertaining and intertwined anthology. This is an instant Halloween and horror classic, and in my opinion has even surpassed Carpenter’s Halloween as the best Samhain-themed movie ever!

Buy it on Amazon!
I make it a mission to avoid as much bad horror as I can (I skipped most of this year’s remakes and/or sequels – H2, The Uninvited, Sorority Row, etc. – as well as insipid looking big-budget “horror” – Orphan, The Unborn, Twatlight – New Moon, etc.), so barring any horror that my gut told me was already going to be bad, I present to you the bottom of the barrel horror I was unfortunate enough to witness this year.

10.) Afterdark Horrorfest III/Ghosthouse Underground 2009 Releases: Some of my least favorite horror films were released by these two companies. With Afterdark Horrorfest you have the trivial and boring Perkins 14, Autopsy, The Broken, Dying Breed, etc., etc…(most of which I didn’t review because they were so bland and forgettable) not one of their releases that I saw did I like. Ghosthouse Underground’s direct-to-DVD titles The Children, Seventh Moon and Offspring did little to impress me. The only one I sorta liked was The Thaw. When three out of four of your releases suck, it’s pretty much time to reevaluate your horror cred, kiddos.

9.) Dead in 3 Days – Unoriginal film from Austria that cribs the U.S. slasher formula and does ABSOLUTELY NOTHING NEW WITH IT! Pointless and a waste of time…

Buy it on Amazon!

8.) Plague Town – Normally, I think kids are creepy on their own, so I’m a sucker for evil kid flicks. I was definitely a sucker when I got sucked into watching this…because this film just plain sucked. More generic story-telling (a family stuck in the middle of nowhere, odd townfolk, etc.) and stupid decisions made by characters made me want to catch an actual plague to put me out of my misery from watching this flick.

Buy it on Amazon!

7.)  I Know How Many Runs You Scored Last Summer – I was actually looking forward to this Down Under indie flick, expecting some tongue-in-cheek humor and vicious kills, but all I got was a lousy migraine from this uninspired slasher. It may have a catchy title and a cool premise (a killer cricket player…brilliant!) but it fumbles the ball big-time by sticking to the stereotypical slasher formula and not offering up any humor or even memorable kills.

Buy it on Amazon!

6.) Nature’s Grave – This remake of the Australian cult classic Long Weekend held none of the original’s suspense and the hammy performance by Jim Caviezel was embarrassing to watch.

Buy it on Amazon!

5.) Killer Shorts – Low budget pictures can be a joy to watch, but some can be downright excruciating. You certainly don’t need a big budget to make a good film, but by God you need solid storylines and somewhat competent actors and direction. Unfortunately, Killer Shorts had none of these pertinent components and was an absolute travesty. Unbelievably terrible and one of the worst low budget pictures I’ve ever seen.

4.) Autumn – I had high hopes for this film, based on David Moody’s acclaimed book, but the film failed to capture the urgency and human emotion of the novel. Instead, it plodded through its running time and was a drag to sit through.

3.) Surveillance – Jennifer Lynch attempted to follow in daddy David Lynch’s footprints for this one, but instead she made a boring and predictable genre flick. It was filed with such banality that I didn’t even bother to write a review for it.

Buy it on Amazon!

2.) Amusement – What a horrid mess of a movie! Riddled with plot holes, inconsistencies and characters making boneheaded decisions, this film had me rolling my eyes so many times I thought I’d go blind!

Buy it on Amazon!

1.) Friday the 13th – Where to I even begin with this awful, awful remake? Out of all the horrid remakes coming out of Hollywood, this ranks up there as the absolute worst. Unlikable characters, a pathetic Jason, gapping plot holes and some of the most forgettable kills of all the Friday the 13th movies left me feeling dirty and used by Platinum Dunes and seeking vengeance on those that made this piece of poo.

Buy it on Amazon!

Dead Air (2009)

If you’ve ever been involved in any sort of disaster, natural or man-made, I’m sure you remember the details vividly. From the unsettling first seconds to the terrifying moments that seem to stretch on forever to the panic that settles in once the dust cleared, any kind of catastrophe is hard too forget! For example, I can clearly remember being in a large earthquake as a kid (it was freaky!) and I’m sure everyone remembers where they were on 9/11. There is just no way to ever forget those feelings of dread and fear.

Well, the film Dead Air taps into the feelings of panic, loss and chaos that occur during a sudden catastrophe. Except that this catastrophe isn’t just any natural disaster, but an organized terrorist bio-attack in every major city in the United States that infects its victims and turns them violent and dangerous. Did I mention it also has the power to bring them back from the dead?

Enter shock jock DJ Logan (Bill Moseley) as he hosts another late-night show on the air. He is joined in the studio by his co-host Gil (David Moscow), producer Lucy (Patricia Tallman) and tech Burt (Joshua Feinman). In the midst of their broadcast, they begin getting strange calls from listeners saying that all hell has broken loose. Apparently, terrorists have targeted major U.S. cities and released some kind of bio-toxin into the air, turning victims extremely violent and even resurrecting them after death. As Logan grapples with the severe situation unfolding outside and across the U.S. while delivering any information to his listeners, he also must face that fact that he is separated from his family by hordes of the infected. He doesn’t only have the infected to fear, though, because the terrorists who released the toxin in his city are converging on the radio station as well…

Dead Air is directed by Corbin Bernsen, probably best known in horror for his role in The Dentist. Bernsen delivers a tense, smart and scary horror film that taps into American’s fears of terrorist attacks. Though the infected in the film are vicious, fast and blood-thirsty, the action is more focused on Logan and what happens inside the radio station. This gives the film a more psychologically terrifying feel as we listen to callers who talk to Logan as beg for help while they are chased by zombie hordes. There is also a whole angle on Logan trying to reach his wife and child on the phone, hoping that they are safe, while debating to leave the safety of the radio station to go search for them. I also enjoyed the side story that followed the terrorists who planted the bomb in Logan’s town as they sought refuge in the radio station building. Kudos to writer Kenny Yakkel, as all of these different tenets led to a very suspenseful, enjoyable film.

Also adding to the success of the film was Bill Moseley’s layered performance as Logan. He first comes off as a prick, as most shock-rock DJ’s are wont to be, but when the excrement hits the fan he shows compassion and concern for his fellow Americans. We also see his strong dedication to his family and how well he performs under pressure. The rest of the cast do a great job as well, and it was a joy seeing Patricia Tallman (Night of the Living Dead remake) in a genre film again! I also enjoyed David Moscow’s portrayal as Logan’s slapstick sidekick and how his demeanor went from kooky to courageous as events unfolded.

Of course, your first reaction to hearing zombies and radio station under siege is to think of the great film Pontypool, but though their descriptions are similar Dead Air is slightly different in terms of tone. Dead Air tackles some heavier issues of discrimination, racism and our biased views on Muslims and people of Middle Eastern lineage. It also plays upon our fears and paranoia (an issue that Logan is discussing on-air when all hell breaks loose). Unfortunately, while this social relevance to current issues really amped up my interest in the film, some people may find the messages somewhat heavy-handed. And by the third act of the film it becomes so heavy-handed that it feels like someone is bludgeoning you with a phone book. I, for one, enjoyed the social commentary, though, and even the bland third act couldn’t really disrupt my love for this movie.

Dead Air is an intelligent horror film that really shouldn’t be overshadowed by its shallow similarities to Pontypool. It offers many smart observations on people’s motivations and human nature in response to chaos and keeps you on your toes with its engaging storyline and varied characters. I’m not sure why its release was delayed so long (it was supposed to see a nation-wide theatrical release in 2007 but was only just released straight-to-DVD recently), but it’s well worth your time!

Order it on Amazon!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Top 5 Unusual and Underrated Christmas Horror Movies

It’s that time of year again when all the horror sites out there make their top whatever lists of holiday horror films to watch…and all the lists are pretty much the same. Aren’t you sick of being recommended for the umpteenth time to watch Silent Night, Deadly Night, Christmas Evil and Black Christmas? Are you looking for some new holiday horrors to spook your holiday spirit?

Well, look no further because I have compiled a very unique top 5 list of lesser-known and lesser-recognized holiday-themed horror movies that are sure to knock your stockings off!

5.) Wind Chill

It’s a snowy Christmas Eve and a college student who is trying to get home for Christmas is ride-sharing with a stranger. They are in an accident that leaves them stranded and then freaky stuff starts to occur. This is a more psychological horror film than anything else, though the strange stuff that happens to the stranded girl and guy is definitely eerie. Just don’t watch it before you have to travel for the holidays!

Order it on Amazon!

4.) A Christmas Tale

Part of the DVD set “6 Films to Keep You Awake” from Spain, A Christmas Tale is about a group of childhood chums that stumble upon a thief dressed as Santa who has fallen into a hole in the forest. After learning she is a criminal who has recently stolen a bunch of money, the kids sadistically torture her with hopes they can get their money on the cash. Eventually, they think they’ve killed her, but the woman manages to escape and starts viciously hunting down the children to get her revenge. This is an extremely well-done and tense film, but also throws in some laughs with the Goonie-like group of kids and many ‘80s pop culture references.

Order it on Amazon!

3.) Inside

It’s Christmas Eve, and pregnant Sarah is due the next day. She is tragically all alone after losing her husband in a car accident, but that’s about to change as she hears a knock at the door. A mysterious woman appears who eventually tries to break into Sarah’s house to kill her and her baby. Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past couple years, you’ve definitely heard about this ultra-violent and uber-gory French import. Not only is the gore fantastic, but I also love the performances by the two actors and the eerie isolation of Sarah’s home.

Order it on Amazon!

2.) P2

A lot of people maligned this movie when it came out, but I actually enjoyed it. A woman fights for her life in her building’s parking garage when a lonely security guard who is obsessed with her decides that she’ll be spending Christmas with him this year. I was surprised how enjoyable this flick was, from the festive holiday dinner scene to how hard the main character actually fought back, and while it does have its flaws (the whole water in the elevator scene is a wee bit laughable) overall it was an entertaining holiday flick!

Order it on Amazon!

1.) Sheitan

Beware the dangers of Christmas Eve! A group of twentysomethings meet a seemingly sweet and innocent woman at a club on Christmas Eve, who invites them back to her family’s run-down farmhouse in the French countryside. Once they arrive, the kids realize that the “family” is slightly off…Sheitan another uncomfortable French film and is probably the must disturbing and strange movies of the bunch. Not only does the film make you feel uncomfortable, but there is plenty of nasty violence, incest, sex and devil worship to shock and satiate even the most jaded of viewers.

Order it on Amazon!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Book Review: Demon Days by Richard Finney and D.L. Snell

Demon Days offers up a hearty serving of end-of-the-world conspiracies, Biblical prophecy to the End Times, a clever spin on near death experiences and plenty of political intrigue. And after reading Demon Days cover-to-cover in one sitting, I was asking for seconds.

While on a romantic vacation, journalist Sandy Travis and fiancé Tom are in a deadly helicopter accident and Tom has a terrifying near death experience. When Tom finally comes to, he tells Sandy that he was spoken to by the “Angel of Light”, who told Tom his work on Earth isn’t finished.

Meanwhile, Sandy is covering the attempted assassination of a high-ranking official who is being championed for trying to bring peace to the war-torn Middle East. As she delves deeper into the mystery of the assassin, a man she once knew, she uncovers a horrifying correlation between her husband’s story and the assassin’s.

With the help of Catholic priest Father Olsen, Sandy uncovers a plot of prophecy and possession that is moving toward triggering the End of Days. Can Sandy stop certain events from happening before they set off Armageddon or is she already too late?

This novel by authors Richard Finney and D.L. Snell is one fast-paced thrill ride! One part church-conspiracy novel, one part assassin thriller, one part possession horror story and one part gum-shoe noir, Demon Days is an intense and gripping read. I was so engrossed in its fast-paced story that I finished it in one sitting! Not very many books can hold me in their thrall like that, but Demon Days completely sucked me in.

I especially liked the sinister stance the authors took on near death experiences. The idea that the “light at the end of the tunnel” could actually be evil rather than good is a unique perspective I’ve never seen explored before! I love the concept of demons being able to possess people through near death experiences and think that Finney and Snell have introduced a very scary scenario with this idea.

It’s not only the intriguing story with its many twists and turns that enthralled me, but also the well-developed characters, all of whom I came to care about. There is a shocking and grisly death that occurs in the book that completely caught me off guard and was genuinely upsetting. It happens to a character we’ve come to love as much as the main character Sandy loves, so it’s quite startling when the death occurs.

Speaking of deaths, there are a few gruesome ones that happen in the book, but don’t expect a blood-soaked story. Demon Days works on a more psychological level, though the characters do suffer some rather violent attacks. One of the creepier scenes happens when Sandy discovers a hidden underground lair of the assassin, which is covered in excrement, vomit and other bodily liquids. Her descent into this dark pit of inequity was truly hair-raising! There is also a demon-possessed boy stalking Father Olsen (who happens to be blind) and his sudden appearances always got my pulse racing! The end boasts a mind-numbing twist that I did not see coming and sets up for the sequel, Demon Days: Angel of Light, which I eagerly await!

If demon-possession, near death experiences and church prophecies about Armageddon intrigue you, then I wholeheartedly recommend Demon Days! It is expertly written by Richard Finney (The Wind Raider) and D.L. Snell (Roses of Blood on Barbwire Vines) and is a nail-bitingly good novel that is hard to put down.

Order it on Amazon!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Slaughtered (2009)

Slaughtered has quite an interesting story behind it. It was written, produced and directed by Kate Glover in her native Australia when she was just 22 years old. While Glover was in college, she worked at an isolated pub in an area where real-life serial killer Ivan Milat hid the bodies of his British backpacker victims. She was inspired to make a film after hearing this story and seeing a creepy razor-edged saw hanging in the cellar. After Glover held some fundraisers with the local drinkers at her bar along with selling bottles of blood red beer, she had enough to hire a cast and crew (most under 25 years old) to make her film!

The gory slasher, simply put, is about the employees and patrons of a bar being terrorized by a masked killer one night.

While it isn’t the most original or complex of stories, Slaughtered still delivers some solid scares and is an impressive effort considering what little experience filmmaker Glover had when she first started. For the most part the direction is clear and you can always see the action going on, even in darker scenes. The pub scenes are appropriately dingy and create a believable atmosphere of a true backwoods dive bar. Even when the film kicks into high gear and the action comes fast and fierce the direction is still crisp.

Surprisingly, the acting on this low budget flick is pretty decent. All of the actors do a great job and I enjoyed watching all of them. No cringe-worthy performances here! Plus, it also didn’t help that it was a very attractive cast, filled with both eye candy for girls as well as guys!

The gore in the film was quite impressive, again taking into consideration that this was a low budget film. Kills were gory and gruesome and the blood flowed thick and fast! The killer went around with a brutal looking saw and hacked people up left and right! As for the killer’s design, he looked downright menacing wearing a black hooded robe and a gruesome death mask.

My only complaint about the film is that it started to feel a bit generic and repetitive when the “final girl” figured out there was a killer on the loose. The story just didn’t try hard enough to differentiate itself from all the other slashers out there and needed a little something extra to be memorable. Not even the nicely done twist at the end could liven things up.

Nevertheless, Slaughtered was an impressive first effort from filmmaker Kate Glover, who should be proud of herself and her cast and crew for creating this film. Despite its flaws, it was still an entertaining slasher to watch and makes me look forward to what Glover does next. Word is that her production company Red Sparrow is prepping The Bone Orchard, set to be directed by the legendary John Landis.
For more info, visit Red Sparrow Productions’ Official Site!

Book Review: The Black Act by Louise Bohmer

The Black Act by Louise Bohmer is a novel that opens a brand new whimsical world for fantasy and dark literature lovers. This novel establishes a whole new exciting mythology full of new creatures in a unique world.

The book explores the themes of forgiveness vs. condemnation, the strength of family vs. the strength of fate and doing what is right vs. the pull of the forbidden. The black acts discussed in the book span many generations of a particular witch family and show how one particular “black act” has cursed them.

The present day story opens with young witch, or Wise Women-in-training, twins Anna and Claire. They are being raised in the sacred valley of the mythical Wood People to learn how to use their inherited magical gifts for good. Yet a shocking ancestral secret threatens to unravel their peaceful existence. Anna starts having violent visions of her past kin while Claire starts acting out more and more and even starts secretly seeing a satyr in the woods.

As Claire threatens to bring the era of the Wise Women to a violent end through her actions, we get the backstory of the twins’ ancestors and see what black act marred their lineage and what exactly must be done to stop the curse.

Bohmer has created an enchanting and intriguing new world with the novel The Black Act. I love how she revisited many mythological creatures, like satyrs, and magically inclined humans, like witches, but added her own unique spin on them. The satyrs became these mysterious creatures literally made out of the elements of the earth, like bark, vines, dirt, moss and mushrooms. The witches had their own complex history of how and why they came to be and their own set of sacred oaths. I particularly loved the history of the whole land and how the Wood People (the mythological creatures) and the Dalthwein Clans (the humans, including the Wise Women) had fought many battles because of the hatred from a long ago human king before forming the fragile peace they have now. The rich history really wraps the story together and pulls you further into the complex mythology.

The novel is written deftly by Bohmer and she enthralls you with not only her unique mythology but also her engaging writing style. Her highly detailed descriptions of the Wood People make them both fascinating and frightening and her human characters are so developed that you feel like you know them. The book pulled me in from the opening pages and I finished it in merely two sittings!

The only thing I wasn’t too fond of was the last part of the book, where the two main characters of Anna and Claire, whom I cared about and emotionally invested in, are suddenly dropped and the rest of the tale is told by their descendant. Plus, the villains of the book, the ghosts of the two evil men who committed the first black act and started the curse, just don’t suffer enough for all the turmoil and death they’ve caused. I wanted their ends to be sweetly satisfying, but they get off far too easily and didn’t satiate my hunger for their blood!

Despite this issues, I still thoroughly enjoyed The Black Act and think that fantasy and dark literature fans will be enthralled with Louise Bohmer’s debut novel. I cannot wait to see what Bohmer does next with the memorable mythology she has created!

Order it on Amazon!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Hurt (2009)

So, Hurt’s poster, with a woman peeking out from a dilapidated building, makes it look like another run-of-the-mill slasher horror movie, but I can promise you it is nothing like its poster makes it appear to be. Instead of the typical balls-to-the-wall horror flick, Hurt takes its time building up its dramatic story. Instead of a psycho slasher it’s filled with equally dark and devastating family secrets. It’s always nice when a horror film decides to take the more psychologically terrifying route as opposed to the in-your-face blood and guts approach.

After her husband’s untimely death, Helen Coltrane (Melora Walters) and her two teenage kids, Conrad (Jackson Rathbone) and Lenore (Johanna Braddy), are forced to move in with her brother-in-law Darryl (William Mapother). He lives in the middle of the desert in a dilapidated junk yard, so suffice to say the kids aren’t exactly thrilled, especially Lenore. It also doesn’t help that Darryl is a little odd and seems to have the hots for Helen. And yet, the family is stuck there until they receive a settlement from their late father and husband’s death.

Things get even more complicated when Helen brings home Sarah (Sofia Vassilieva), an abused foster child that her husband had been keeping an eye on before his death. When Sarah arrives the tense atmosphere of the household escalates as sinister “accidents” begin happening. When these accidents become deadly in nature, it is not long before dark family secrets are revealed.

I was immediately pulled into Hurt from the opening sequence of the titles moving fluidly through the dry desert landscape to a mysterious car wreck. The photography was stunning and the setting of the desolate desert really mirrored the Coltrane family – dry, withered, empty. Hurt shows the fragility of family relationships but also the frightening strength love can give, whether it is for good or for bad.

Hurt may not be a traditional horror film, but it’s psychological twists and turns make it for an excellent, low-key thriller.

Though I pretty much suspected from watching the trailer who the bad apple was, it still didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the film. In fact, I just wanted to know why and how the perpetrator committed the heinous acts (one particularly hard scene to watch is when a pet duckling is found with its neck broken). When the motivations are explained it all makes perfect, tragic sense.

My only problem with the film is how the “bad guy” went from a charmed life to being a manipulative and crafty villain in the span of just weeks. The divide just seemed far too wide for a regular person to cross in such a short amount of time, but then again, I suppose the need for revenge can change anyone.

The actors soon helped put these quibbles to rest with their stunning performances. Melora Walters as the weepy, wounded mother just oozed vulnerability, while Johanna Braddy as daughter Lenore brought some backbone to the family. Braddy portrayed Lenore as grieving, but also determined to move on and live her life. She is also the first person to suspect that all isn’t as it appears to be. The wonderful William Mapother played Uncle Darryl with just enough skeeviness to creep me out, but also with a few tender moments to make you rethink him as a monster. Sofia Vassilieva as the not-so-innocent Sarah gave a solid performance. Her character made me uneasy, but it wasn’t until halfway through that I really knew if she was good or evil. When she decides to take that path, though, there is no turning back for her and it’s a joy to watch the transformation!

Just what happens to the Coltrane family? Well, at first beloved family articles go missing or are destroyed. A beloved pet duckling is killed. Things become more sinister as medications are switched, people are impaled on rusty pipes or crushed by the abundant parts of metal in the junk yard and wild wolves zero in on the prey. The villain messes psychologically with the family’s heads, getting them to blame and turn on each other, before waging an all-out brutal revenge scheme on them. Don’t go into this movie looking for blood and guts, but it does have several nice moments. Overall, though, it’s much more about the psychological terror caused by all the first few subtle acts that begins to rip the Coltrane family apart. By the time they realize who is behind the sabotage it is far too late.

Directed by Barbara Stepansky (who also co-wrote the screenplay with Alison Lea Bingeman), Hurt is a tense, psychological thriller that I really enjoyed. Ignore the misleading poster, because Hurt offers much more than its poster shows.

Order it on Amazon!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Basement Jack (2009)

Last year we reviewed Evilution, the first film in a planned trilogy from writer Brian Patrick O’Toole. The three films are set to revolve around the strange Manager (played by Nathan Bexton) of a creepy apartment complex called the Necropolitan. Basement Jack only has a few nods towards Evilution (it featured the same apartment complex and sinister Manager) and it is a very different film from Evilution. Instead of zombies, we get a seriously bad ass slasher movie.

Eleven years ago, Karen Cook (Michelle Morrow) survived a massacre perpetrated by then seventeen-year-old Jack Riley (Eric Peter-Kaiser), nicknamed by the media “Basement Jack” for his penchant to hide in family’s basements before slaughtering them. The killing spree began when Jack killed his domineering, insane suburban mother (Lynn Lowry) after she tortured him one too many times with electrical shocks and then he moved on to killing whole families headed by blonde matriarchs that were mommy look-alikes.

Yes, boy definitely has mommy issues.

After Karen stopped him, Jack was tried for his crimes, but his lawyers got him off on temporary insanity. A year ago he was released and has started killing again, though no one seems to realize it except for Karen. Karen tracks Basement Jack to the small town of Downer’s Grove, where she hooks up with bumbling rookie Chris Watts (Sam Skoryna) to try and stop the vicious killer.

Basement Jack is a fun throwback to ‘80s slashers but is unique enough to stand on its own. It didn’t need to fall back on familiar and stereotypical slasher tropes (well, except for a few – the killer always comes back to life!) and was unique enough to keep my attention throughout its entire running time.

First off, the film looks great! It was easy to forget I was watching an indie film because it certainly doesn’t look low budget! Everything looked professional, from the lighting to the direction (by Michael Shelton) to the cinematography (by Mathew Rudenberg). Even the score (by Alan Howarth) was excellent and accompanied the action perfectly.

Secondly, Basement Jack has a great story, written by Brian Patrick O’Toole. Some people might complain that too much time was spent focusing on Jack’s childhood and back story, but I thoroughly enjoyed being exposed to his horrifying upbringing. The character of his mother is definitely one for the horror history books! The story also kept things interesting with the inclusion of the cops’ perspective (among them was Tiffany Shepis in fine form!). I will say that things became a bit repetitive with Karen going to the cops, them not believing her and thinking of her as a suspect for the murders – over and over again. Other than that, though, I enjoyed the story and the characters very much.

Plus, with a few exceptions, the acting was pretty solid. There were a few stiff performances here and there, but all the main characters did an amazing job. My favorite performance was from Lynn Lowry who played Jack’s electrifying mother. “Momma loves you with a cuddle and a kiss!” has never sounded so…wrong and disturbing. Eric Peter-Kaiser played a very menacing killer, though he likes to twirl his machete a bit too much and is dressed like a Ramones reject. Regardless of those facts, I found his portrayal of Basement Jack utterly convincing and intimidating. Also, Michelle Morrow put in a lot of talent and energy into the character of Karen and made her very relatable to the audience. And Tiffany Shepis puts on a good show (and keeps her clothes on) in a small role as a cocky cop. It’s always a pleasure to see Shepis, who always brings a certain spark to her roles!

The film boasts some pretty respectable gore effects, too, though a few are on the distractible CGI side. However, Basement Jack slices and dices his way through many a victim, and most of the time it’s gory goodness. And not only does he just make mincemeat of people, he also arranges them in grisly tableaus satirizing the perfect, all-American family that he wishes he had had growing up. This vicious visions are the most disturbing next to Jack’s flashbacks of his cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs mother, that is!

Overall, I found Basement Jack to be a highly entertaining throwback to the ‘80s slashers we all hold dear. It has a few flaws here and there, but nothing to really dampen my enjoyment of it. Basement Jack is one of the better modern indie slashers I’ve seen and it’s nice to know that the familiar slasher formula can be updated and tweaking in such a way where it can still be enjoyable.

Order it on Amazon!

Everything I Needed to Know About Zombies I Learned from the Movies (2008)

Think about it…where did you learn about zombies? Most likely all you know about zombies you learned from the movies. The mother of all zombie movies, Night of the Living Dead, taught us plenty about gut munchers, like how they are usually slow shamblers who are drawn in hordes by flesh. They are the reanimated dead and have no emotions or recollections about their past lives, they can’t communicate and all they live to do is to feed their insatiable hunger for human flesh.

Well, what if everything we learned from movies about zombies was wrong?

In writer/director/producer’s Sherezada Kent’s five minute short film Everything I Needed to Know About Zombies I Learned From the Movies, she humorously explores our misconceptions about zombies.

The short begins with three people trapped in a basement during the zombie apocalypse. They finally decide to escape despite the zombie threat outside, but are surprised to find that their assumptions of zombies have made asses out of them.

Everything I Needed to Know About Zombies… is a delightfully fun short that put a big smile on my face and made this jaded horror reviewer giggle, which can be quite a feat for any horror comedy to do! I found the premise clever, charming and original. I was expecting just another smartass zombie short, but I was truly surprised at the direction this short took.

I also loved the acting in the film, especially from the three lead zombies. I can’t say any more without giving too much away, but I will say that for a low budget film the acting was pretty solid and extremely entertaining!

If you ever get a chance to see Everything I Needed to Know About Zombies I Learned From the Movies, I highly recommend you do yourself a favor and check it out!

Visit the film’s Myspace page!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Carriers (2009)

Am I sick of zombie movies? Well, truthfully, kinda. With the exception of a few entertaining ones this year (Zombieland!), I really wasn’t feeling the gut-munchin’ sub-genre in 2009. It’s not that I hate zombie movies (I in fact LOVE them) but nowadays it seems like everyone is churning out a formulaic film with the same gory set-pieces I’ve seen a billion times before.

So, I was kinda iffy on Carriers, even if “technically” isn’t really a zombie movie (like 28 Days Later, the victims are called the “infected” and have a virus). Like I really need another unoriginal post-apocalyptic movie to put me to sleep! Luckily, Carriers surprised me with its intelligent and emotional take on Armageddon.

Carriers tells the tale of four survivors, two brothers and their two girlfriends, who are making their way across the desolate American landscape after a virus has annihilated most of the population. The virus is extremely contagious and once you are infected and there is no cure and you’re as good as dead. There is not much else to the plot, which pits the survivors mostly against themselves and other humans who are simply trying to survive in a world gone topsy-turvy. There are no big chase scenes, no hordes of infected pursuing the survivors, but, to tell you the truth, I thought this take was refreshing. I liked how the action focuses on the drama that occurs between the still-living characters instead of on the infected.

You can’t go into Carriers expecting it to be another 28 Days Later, Land of the Dead or even Zombieland. It can barely be compared to zombie films, because it really isn’t one itself. There is no breakneck action and it is a very slow moving, quiet film whose intent is to show the horrors of being alone in a world where most people are dead or dying. Writers/directors Alex and David Pastor have created a movie that shows how frightening that loneliness really is.

The direction by the two directors is breathtaking. There are lots of shots of the wide-open road, desolate towns and stretches of empty land as far as the eye can see. When the characters enter buildings that may contain the infected or other squatters, the directors build dread and unease with the claustrophobic and dark settings. They even managed some effective jump scares scattered throughout the film!

The acting is top notch as well. You’ll recognize Chris Pine from this year’s Star Trek as tough older brother Brian as well as Piper Perabo as his girlfriend Bobby. His younger, Ivy League brother Danny is played by Lou Taylor Pucci and rounding out their rag-tag group is Kate, played by Emily VanCamp. Christopher Meloni plays a survivor looking for help for his infected young daughter, but other than a few other people the cast is extremely small. Most of the action is directed towards the four survivors, and they all do a fantastic job portraying a weariness that seems far too heavy for them to endure at their young age.

I know some will complain that nothing happens in the film, but I preferred the horrific drama unfolding with the survivors rather than suffer through another brainless (hehe) zombie/killer virus/end of the world flick. This movie will make you think, could I do that if my life depended upon it? It will make you ponder how scary isolation really is and make you wonder if you could leave your loved ones (or even kill them) if they became infected. How far would you go to survive? Carriers really shows the brutality of the human race but how that callousness comes with a price, even when it is necessary.

Carriers is not your typical horror movie, but in a genre over-saturated with insipid zombie flicks and over-the-top end of the world movies, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. A downbeat, bittersweet film to be sure, Carriers is something to check out if you want something a little deeper than the typical brainless horror movie.

Order it on Amazon!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

SyFy's Alice miniseries (2009)

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass have always fascinated me and I’ve always wanted to take the tumble through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole to explore Wonderland. So when I heard an adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classics was being done by the SyFy Channel, I was excited…as well as a little nervous. We are all familiar with SyFy’s uneven record when it comes to their films, but trailers for Alice actually looked pretty interesting and promising. And you know what? After catching the miniseries on SyFy the past two nights I was left pleasantly surprised! Alice has a great vision and gives the Alice in Wonderland story a marvelous modern twist!

Writer/director Nick Willing has modernized Alice, making the titular character a woman who chases after her mysterious love interest, Jack, after he gives her a mysterious ring and is shortly thereafter kidnapped by the sinister White Rabbit organization. She ends up falling through the looking glass and ending up in the strange world of Wonderland. Here, The Queen of Hearts rules with an iron fist and is kidnapping humans so they might be drained of their emotions, which are then used as liquid currency among the populace. The Queen uses the humans’ bottled emotions to control her populace and make them complacent. As Alice tries to hunt down the man she loves and return home, she encounters many different personalities that try to help or hinder her quest. On her side are Hatter and The White Knight, as well as “The Resistance” that wish to stop the Queen. Against her are The Queen of Hearts, her minions called “Suites”, evil Doctors Dee and Dum and many others who seek the ring that Alice possesses. Can Alice find Jack and return to her own world or will she lose her head in the process?

This was a delightful adaptation of a classic! I especially enjoyed the clever placement of characters from the original book and how they were updated for this modern take. For example, The Caterpillar is actually an old man (wearing a green coat that closely resembles the original Caterpillar’s skin) who is a leader of The Resistance against the Queen. We even get the flamingos from the book, but this time they are mechanical flying machines that look like a flying Vespa. The infamous Jabberwocky even makes a memorable appearance in its full glory! I loved the modern take on all the characters and appreciated how Willing kept them in the story while still twisting their appearances and characters.

The world that Willing has created is absolutely stunning – from the Queen’s casino where humans are being drained of their emotions to The White Knight’s fallen kingdom and everything in between, Alice is a visual treat! Sure, the CGI is a bit hokey-pokey when Alice is falling towards Wonderland or when they are riding the motorized flamingos, but none of it really affected my overall enjoyment of the miniseries and overall, I think they did a pretty decent job with all the special effects. I thought the Jabberwocky was especially impressive!

The story has a lot more going for it than one would think, too. With corrupt corporations, a wicked Queen, refugees and humans being basically milked of their emotions, not to mention all of the emotional turmoil Alice goes through with her family history and her long-lost love betraying her, this is one story that has quite a bit going on. Yet, it never once feels convoluted or weighed down. On the contrary, all of these different aspects make it feel more cohesive and seamless. Willing did a fantastic job updating the story for modern audiences and adding many pertinent, modern-day issues to it. Plus, he also kept the original humor and absurdity that laced Carroll’s original work.

Of course, the acting assisted in getting me invested in the story. Caterina Scorsone was fantastic as a modern-day Alice, kicking butt and taking names. She also showed the perfect amount of vulnerability without ever losing her edge. Kathy Bates was perfectly cast as the hot-headed Queen of Hearts, Andrew Lee Potts was adorable as Hatter (and a bit more helpful and even-keeled than Carroll’s Mad Hatter), Matt Frewer was entertaining as the cavalier yet confused White Knight and all the other actors did equally amazing!

I had my hesitations about watching SyFy’s Alice, but Willing has created a delightful yet dangerous Wonderland that’s all grown up. I dare say it might even turn out to be better than the wildly overblown look Tim Burton is going for in his adaptation (I still love you, Burton!). So have your own tea party and try to catch a repeat of the miniseries when it plays again on SyFy or when it is released on DVD!

Check it out on Amazon!

Interview with Artist Shane Ryan

Shane Ryan is an artist who crafts gritty, realistic tableaus of terror and is gaining popularity in the horror community. Hailing from Australia, Ryan specializes in intricate hand-drawn depictions of horror. Besides creating works on art on paper and canvas, Ryan also specializes in creating tattoo art. He has won prestigious awards for his art, such as the Guild Of The Golden Owl and Scepter Of The Goblin King Judges Award 2008. His bizarre and dark artwork has been selected for fine art shows both at home in Australia and in the US.

We recently had a chance to chat with Shane Ryan about his love of art, his influences and what draws him to the darker aesthetic. Read on for the interview!

Fatally Yours: How did you discover your talent for art and how long have you been creating art?

Shane Ryan: I started of drawing roughly at the age of 5, like most kids my age I began scribbling my favorite cartoon and comic book characters and have never stopped drawing since. I guess what began as a normal childhood activity quickly became a fascination and I was soon dragging my trusty crayons and scrap paper with me where ever I would go. Drawing is something that’s been with me my whole life pretty much but it wasn’t until I started school, particularly art and writing classes, that I truly discovered I had something a little special going on with my art skills. Especially when all my classmates started getting me to illustrate all there stories for them! I’d say I’ve been creating art for about 25 years now.

Fatally Yours: What inspires and influences your art?

Shane Ryan: There are so many things that inspire and influence my art, such as horror films, music from all styles and genres whether it’s Cradle of Filth, Circle of Tyrants, Hellraiser or some freaked out creepy opera. Music and art are closely related in what motivates their creators and I often find myself blasting tunes that fit the atmosphere and style of the piece that I’m working on or about to start, as well as true crime and the real sick shit that goes on in our world everyday…something mainstream artist’s seem to shy away from for some reason.

Fatally Yours: What draws you to the darker aesthetic?

Shane Ryan: The emotional reaction you can give people viewing your art for one. You just can’t get that sort of play on the human emotions from mainstream art. Ever since I saw my first horror film and the reaction it had on those watching it with me I knew that was what I wanted to achieve from art – to be able to grip people in intrigue and suspense and hopefully scare the crap out of them is a priceless reaction to see from something you’ve created. Also, I’ve always been interested in criminal psychology. That darker side that lurks hidden away in us all is something I’ve always been interested in exploring through my art work.

Fatally Yours: Would you ever consider creating a piece of art that wasn’t necessarily horror-themed?

Shane Ryan: Absolutely not…. no just joking! Dark horror subject matter is most certainly my chosen type of art and were I believe I excel, but I have done a number of non-horror pieces for commission for tattoo designs, fine art, murals, etc., ranging from traditional medieval fantasy art, street art, cartoony type stuff.  I’ve actually been working on a tattoo design at the moment which is a Harley Davidson, bikey themed piece which isn’t necessarily horror-themed but thankfully still has a dark undertone. As long as what I’m working on has some dark element to it I find I can put my heart and soul into it, but when I comes to drawing pixies and unicorns it’s just not happening.

Fatally Yours: Did you have any schooling or are you self-taught?

Shane Ryan: I have done some schooling in the past, namely arts at high school and visual arts at tertiary college, both though I never really learnt much from. My high school teacher couldn’t draw a stick man and anyone that showed more artistic talent and skill than her was treated with abandonment. As for my visual arts studies, the teacher there at least admitted there wasn’t much she could teach me but I still learnt some things from her, mainly mixing and using oils, how to use pastels that type of thing. Basically all the techniques I use today I’ve taught myself, so I defiantly consider myself self taught. I’m actually working with the Australian Arts Council to try and get self taught artist’s to be considered for the Australian Governments Art Start funding. As it stands the funding is only available for university graduates, which I feel is plain wrong not just because I’m missing out but because there are so many talented artist’s out there that are self taught and have just at much potential as any and more then some uni’ graduates. If any of your visitors/readers are self taught artist in Australia and would like to join me on my quest to get us funding let me know.

Fatally Yours: What have your latest projects been?

Shane Ryan: Lately I’ve been doing quite a few custom tattoo designs, which have mainly been horror orientated. One I’m especially proud of which is a full arm piece done in the style of my “Nightmares and Twisted Thoughts” pieces. The way it all come to together as one piece wrapping around his whole arm I’m particularly happy with and hearing back from the client how wrapped he is and that he’s still noticing things in the design that he hadn’t noticed at first is also a buzz. I’ve always enjoyed art where you see more in it the more you look into it and that’s what I aim for with these types of pieces. To hear I’ve succeeded in what I was trying to achieve with the design is very rewarding.

Fatally Yours: What makes your artwork unique?

Shane Ryan: Firstly pieces such as “Nightmares and Twisted Thoughts”, the structure and form of these pieces isn’t something you tend to see everyday. The way in which I form all the contorted heads in such a way that they almost have a abstract edge to them but still remain plausible in there form and structure is something I’ve always worked hard at doing and are particularly proud of being a unique part of my art style. Also I’d say my shading technique is something that’s fairly unique to my work which has often been mistaken in the past as air brushing, which is a compliment really but can also be frustrating when people won’t take your word on it.

Fatally Yours: What is the role of the artist in society? What is the place of your work in society?

Shane Ryan: An artist’s role in society in large is what the artist themselves believe it is. Whether it’s providing people with an insight into something they wouldn’t normally know about or understand, sharing your interpretation of issues and events, inspiring others to achieve or in my case freaking people out, teaching them not talk to strangers and to lock their damn doors at night I guess.

Fatally Yours: Which is more important to you, the subject of your painting, or the way it is executed?

Shane Ryan: For me personally both go hand in hand, you can’t have one without the other, I believe the subject matter is what first draws someone to your work and plays on the viewers emotions and imagination, but it’s the way that it’s executed that keeps them drawn in, the fine details draw people to look into the artwork further and is what I believe turns a good concept into a truly great work of art.

Fatally Yours: Do you prefer a perfect smooth technique or a more energetic expressive technique and why?
Shane Ryan: Most of the time I like to approach my work with a smooth fine technique as I’m a fiend for realism and fine detail rather then a more expressive look which to me lacks the realism I enjoy creating, although on some pieces I have tended to use a slightly more rough, expressive technique to capture a more gritty, grainy feel to the particular piece, such as both my “Tribe” pieces and “Unhappy Campers” which are the more macabre settings of my work and seem to be more at home in a less polished style.

Fatally Yours: How do you get the word out about your art?

Shane Ryan: The best thing anyone can do for getting their art out to the world is networking, networking and more networking. The more people out there you can meet and let know what you do the better, you never know who knows who, whether you do this in a psychical form attending art and films festivals, visiting galleries, talking with people in the industry, getting involved in group shows or through on line methods such as having a site for your art and networking using sites such as Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, linkedIn, forums that are relevant to your art style, genre magazines and, of course, doing interviews with awesome horror sites such as the one I’m doing now.

Fatally Yours: What are your favorite horror movies?

Shane Ryan: For films some of my favorites would be George A. Romero’s Dead films, Dario Argento’s Demons 1 and 2, slasher films from the 80′s such as Friday the 13th and Rosemary’s [Baby], Feast, but really I don’t have a sub genre of horror that I prefer or anything as long as it’s done well, and is freaky enough I’ll get into it, although these days originality is something that I find is lacking in the genre, the remake bandwagon that the genre seems to be stuck on at the moments certainly not helping and I believe is risking horror films becoming to predictable and thus mundane, so come on producers take a gamble and make something original and keep the industry alive.

Fatally Yours: Who are your favorite artists?

Shane Ryan: I’d have to say H.R Giger, whose detail and realism is just awe inspiring and has certainly been a huge influence on my work when it comes to creating works with intricate detail, and Clive Barker – his concepts and style I’ve always been a huge fan of ever since I first watched the original Hellraiser. But with the current boom in the horror industry, including the horror art it’s nearly impossible to have favorites these days, there’s so much awesome talent out there and so many different styles and takes on the horror genre that I find I nearly have new favorite artist each week.

Fatally Yours: What upcoming projects are you working on?

Shane Ryan: I’m currently working on a new fine art piece called “Infection” which is a fusion of my realism and abstract styles, taking my out-of-this-world abstract work/style and getting it to make sense in a real world environment, which I have achieved by depicting a break out of a mutant infection inside an emergency quarantine medical ward, resulting in the once were humans in the ward becoming contorted twisted freaks. Also the bikey themed tattoo design I mentioned earlier, plus a number of other fine art pieces that I’m currently throwing ideas around the darkest corners of my imagination for, which I’m going to be putting to paper over the next few months. I also have some possible film contracts for story boarding and concept art on the horizon that if they turn into reality I will be starting work on real soon.

Visit Shane Ryan’s Official Site!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Book Review: On Monsters - An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears by Stephen T. Asma

What do you think of when you hear the word “monster”? Do you think of what could be lurking in the shadows or do you think of the latest murderer to pop up on the news? Are our fears governed by the unknown or the ever-present threat that a monster could be living next door? Where do our fears of monsters even come from?

Stephen T. Asma’s masterful and whimsical tome, On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears, seeks to answer these questions by giving a comprehensive account of all kinds of monsters and their changing roles in society. Asma takes on through different eras to show us how monsters were perceived and how humans tried to explain and rationalize them. He covers five different parts with his book, starting with ancient monsters (griffins, Cyclops, gorgons, etc.) to Biblical monsters (Behemoth, Gog and Magog, demons, etc.) to scientific monsters (where seemingly supernatural or abnormal “monsters” were explained and rationalized by science) to the more modern “inner” monsters and examining their psychological aspects to the final part of the book which examines monsters today and tomorrow (terrorists, technology, etc.).

Asma’s expansive book seeks to examine monsters from the past and present and exactly pin point how and why each era’s monsters so terrified its denizens. The book explores how monsters were handled and how some became incorporated into scientific rationality while some defied (and continue to defy) logic.

On Monsters is an amazingly insightful, educational and even humorous book and begins with detailing some of the oldest recorded writings on monsters. Asma presents all the facts, then postulates on whether ancient monsters were actually real or just embellished accounts of extraordinary animals. He continues to do this across each era he examines, presenting more and more monsters that have been written about through the centuries. On Monsters would be a fascinating read if it were merely a catalog of monsters, but Asma goes much, much further than cryptozoology and examines the philosophies of many different cultures when dealing with “monsters”. For example, Asma delves into the philosophies of Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, Darwin, Freud and many, many more to try and discern their views on the monstrous and how monsters fit into their world views.

Asma accompanies his cultural and philosophical studies of monsters with his many detailed drawings along with reprinted photographs and pictures from other texts. These add to an overall comprehension of the monsters and each era’s apprehension about them. It’s so great to be able to see interpretations as to how certain by-gone monsters looked (griffins, Cyclops, manticores, Behemoth, the dog-headed version of St. Christopher, sea monsters, etc.) as well as more misunderstood “monsters”, including people with medical conditions that were put into side shows (Fedor Jeftichew – the “dog-faced boy” and William Henry Johnson – “Zip the Pinhead”) and medical anomalies like the so-called “headless children”. Asma’s own drawings are extremely detailed and really look like sketches one might find in old scientific texts on supposed “monsters”.

On Monsters is an insightful and wondrous book packed to the gills with the history of monsters and how views on monsters have changed across time. Yet, each era will have its own examples of monsters and the monstrous can never be fully eradicated. Asma shows us that if we learn to live with our “monsters” our lives might be all the better for it.

Order it on Amazon!

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Curse of Micah Rood (2009)

The Curse of Micah Rood is a short film based on an old and true Connecticut legend of cursed apples that have a pattern that looks like a blood stain in their center. The legend dates back to 17th century Connecticut, and the variety of apple was available up until the 1930’s.

Filmmaker Alec Asten has stayed true to the original legend of Micah Rood and constructed an eerie short film on the supposed true events.

The film begins in 17th century Connecticut and hard-working farmer Micah Rood. Rood is obsessed with his apple orchard, which yields some of the sweetest fruit in New England, and he is convinced the townspeople are stealing from him. Because of this, he distrusts pretty much anyone and has become a recluse. His suspicions are further aroused when a traveling peddler comes to his farm and seeks shelter. He seems overly interested in Rood’s apples, putting Rood on the defensive. The next morning Rood discovers that the peddler has stolen apples from him and exacts swift and brutal justice underneath his prize apple tree. Obsession and madness soon follow when the apples are discovered to be tainted in their middles with blood-like splotches.

Filmmaker Alec Asten has crafted a taut and intriguing short film that is also visually rich. The unique story, with the screenplay by Nick Checker, is one that hasn’t been explored before and it makes for an eerily haunting film. The fact that the film is based on a true story makes it that much more interesting. The Micah Rood apple, with its distinctive bloody spot in its middle, mysteriously appeared in conjunction with the legend, but the last known variety of the apple tree was destroyed by a hurricane in the 1930’s. Still, its strange markings have never been scientifically explained and there have never been any other apple varieties like it.

Besides the rich story, the film is wrapped in an ominous tension that keeps building until the startling finale. The cinematography by Marc Wishengrad is filled with stark tones, flickering shadows and splashes of vibrant color, all which help build suspense and create a spooky atmosphere. I especially loved the shots of blood dripping from the apple trees.

The acting was also surprisingly good, especially for a low-budget film. Ron Palillo, best known for playing “Horshack” in the ‘70s show Welcome Back Kotter, does well playing Micah Rood, though sometimes the character’s thick Scottish accent gives the short an unintentionally comic feel. Some of the dialogue feels a bit heavy-handed and melodramatic at times, but other than those two problems I enjoyed this short very much.

The Curse of Micah Rood is an excellent short film that relies on psychological thrills as opposed to copious blood and gore. If you dig historical horror stories that are based on true legends, The Curse of Micah Rood is a very engaging film to check out!

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Friday, December 4, 2009

Deadline (2009)

A good haunted house movie is an extremely rare find. Perhaps the most well-done and well-known haunted house movie among hardcore horror fans is Robert Wise’s 1963 film The Haunting. This is a film that still manages to creep under my skin as the ominous Hill House seemingly becomes a character itself and terrorizes the characters with strange noises and odd occurrences.

I am always excited to watch haunted house/ghost movies because they are one of my favorite sub-genres of horror, even though I usually end up disappointed that the film failed to scare me. So, I settled in to watch the new release Deadline with excitement yet trepidation…hoping it would utilize its atmosphere to the max but ready to be disappointed.

Was Deadline a rare haunted house movie that actually entertained or was it another flop? Read on to find out…

After an unexplained traumatic event, Alice (Brittany Murphy) retreats to an old Victorian house in the middle of nowhere to finish her screenplay under an encroaching deadline. Though isolation is what Alice was initially seeking, she soon feels as if she isn’t alone in the house. Strange noises, wet footprints and an ominous atmosphere start to make her feel paranoid. In the attic she finds videotapes of the house’s previous occupants, a newlywed couple (Marc Blucas and Thora Birch), and she soon finds that their damaged relationship mirrors her own tragic past. Are their ghosts haunting her or is it merely her own damaged psyche playing tricks on her?

From the synopsis you can tell this isn’t a terribly original movie, and yet the first few scenes pulled me into the story. The mystery surrounding Alice’s past and the beautifully gloomy Victorian house held my attention for the first 20 minutes or so, but from there the film treads familiar “haunted house” territory. There’s the obligatory spooky sounds (dripping water, strange creaking, etc.) a bathtub that seemingly fills itself in the middle of the night, lights that turn on and off, things that fall over and so on. While most of us would be calling the closest cab to get us out of there, Alice seems more intrigued than frightened. Even after discovering watery footprints leading up to the attic, she still takes the time to go through the previous occupants belongings, unbelievably not worried that an intruder might be in the house! There are several far-fetched instances like this throughout the film, where suspension of disbelief is pushed a bit too far.

The film is also peppered with several plot holes or unresolved plot points. We eventually find out that Alice was in an abusive relationship and she is scared her significant other has or will track her down. And yet, I don’t feel this part of the story was exploited enough for tension and scares. It kinda drops away, forgotten, until the last part of the film and even then it’s not utilized to its potential. Also, Alice’s closest friend Rebecca (Tammy Blanchard) gets calls regularly from a freaked out Alice, but never pays her a visit to make sure she is ok?  As for plot holes, the couple that lived there previously to Alice was reported missing, but the police never found the tapes that Alice discovered that would have explained their disappearance? And why didn’t Alice watch the “final” tape to start with? If she had, she would have been out there lickity split (but we wouldn’t have had a film, which actually might have been a good thing!).

The familiarity of the story in addition to the niggling plot problems really dragged this film down for me. It started fairly strongly, but soon became repetitive and even boring. There was little suspense or tension, and I really feel that more should have been done to make it scary. A lot of important plot points (like Alice’s abusive ex) were just left on the backburner, when they could have been used to really crank up the tension. Plus, the big finale was a real let-down and you can pretty much see it coming (and Alice should have seen it coming, too).

One of the film’s only good points was the evocative score, which really added to the overall gloomy atmosphere of the location. Also, the cinematography by Ross Richardson was stunning, capturing the dark shadows of the old house and making it a character onto itself. I also appreciated that there weren’t many cheap jump scares and director/writer Sean McConville relied on atmosphere over shocks. I just wished he had pushed it a little further and capitalized more on Alice’s turbulent past and fragile mental state.

Horror fans will most likely not enjoy Deadline. It is too by-the-numbers to keep the interest of well-watched horror fans. However, it may appeal to those with little experience in the horror genre and more mainstream audiences.

Order it on Amazon!
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