Movie Review – Hunger (2009)

Movie Review – Hunger (2009) – Rated R – Directed by Steven Hentges. Starring: Lori Heuring, Linden Ashby, Joe Egander, Lea Kohl, Julian Rojas, and Bjorn Johnson

Five strangers wake up in an isolated cave with no memories of how they got there. With the discovery of large barrels of water, a makeshift toilet, and a scalpel but absolutely no food, they soon realize they are part of an experiment in survival, murder, and cannibalism.  Their captor watches from a series of hidden cameras, taking notes on every move they make. Through flashbacks we learn he survived an automobile accident as a child by eating the flesh from his mother’s corpse. This seems to be his motivation.

With the exception of the cave’s stone walls, that reminded me of one of my favorite childhood shows, Land Of The Lost, this movie was surprisingly good. The acting was decent and the plot kept me more than interested with some twists popping up that I didn’t see coming. Suspense built slowly but surely, in pace with the rising tension between the characters, their environment, and their kidnapper all the way to the very end.

The five hostage characters, three men and two women, were somewhat generic; Doctor, Voice of Reason, Paranoid-Whiner, Trouble Maker, and Outsider.  Their psychopathic captor remains calm, cool, and totally enthralled in the suffering of his subjects, like a cat watching the half dead mice its caught, but isn’t quite ready to put out of their misery just yet.

“Hunger” is one of the better low-budget (at only $625,000) movies I’ve seen on Chiller. It was part of the Fangoria FrightFest series which tend to be not so frightening and all too often, not so good. All things considered, not bad, not bad at all. Not GREAT, but certainly a nice little bite of horror to keep a person entertained on a dark and stormy October night.

3 out of 5 Ravens

Movie Review – The VVitch

Movie Review – The VVitch (2015) Directed by Robert Eggers – Rated R – Starring Anya Taylor-Joy, Ralph Ineson, and Kate Dickie.

As the 7x-great grand niece of Rebecca (Towne) Nurse, the 71-year-old woman accused and executed in Salem Village for witchcraft in 1692, movies and books dealing with the topic of witchcraft in New England hold a certain appeal to me.  The trailer looked promising anyway.

We begin with William (no surname), his wife Katherine, and their four children being banned from their Puritan village for reasons I was completely unclear about. They leave the village and go off and set up their own homestead some miles away. Their 5th child, a son named Samuel, is born shortly after and while under their daughter Thomasin’s watch, goes missing. It’s assumed instantly that the Witch of the Woods had taken him though William insists it was a wolf despite the unusual circumstances.  Next, their eldest son, Caleb, also gets lost in the woods only to return ‘bewitched’. The blame turns towards Thomasin when her youngest siblings, twins Mercy and Jonas, accuse her of being a witch. Thomasin returns the favor by accusing them based on the way they talk to and play with the family’s black Billy goat, Black Phillip.

This film is a very dark, both literally and figuratively. In that way it works well to convey an authentic atmosphere of what it may have been like to live during these earliest days of American history. You really feel that sense of doom, gloom, poverty, hardship, and religious fear. During the all too brief hours of daylight, hope tries to return, but with little success. The darkness comes again, night after night, and the light simply can’t penetrate the curse that hangs over the heads of this family and the evil lurking in the woods nearby.

What did not work was the use of the Old English dialogue and the tendencies of the characters to mumble their lines. It made the conversations difficult to follow and that’s why I was so unclear about why the family had been banned in the first place. There is indeed a witch in the woods, but there’s no kind of back story or understanding or rumors expressed by anyone along with way to indicate where she came from or who she is or why the family thinks she’s there to begin with; at least none that I caught perhaps due to the aforementioned dialogue. A lot of what happens goes unexplained like what happened to Caleb while he was with The Witch, why or how the twins communicate with Black Phillip, and Katherine’s encounter (dream??) involving a baby turned raven. At least Thomasin’s transformation at the end sort of made sense. Sort of.

It all left me scratching my head, feeling like I’d missed some sort of vital element to what was going on.

It wasn’t horrible. It wasn’t great. It was entertaining and atmospheric.

3 out of 5 Ravens

Movie Review – “How To Kill A Zombie” (2014)

Directed by: Tiffany McLean. Genre: Horror-Comedy. Starring: Bill McClean, Ben McClean, Hannah Perry, & Sheri Collins

Armed-survivalist Mack Stone (Bill McLean) and his son, Jesse (Ben McClean) are on a training expedition in the woods of Maine when news comes over the radio that some sort of riot has broken out in a nearby city. Being hours away from the event, the two decide to call it a night and check it out come morning. Turns out this isn’t just any riot, it’s zombies and the closer Mack and Jesse get to town and to their at-home bunker, the more creatures they encounter. Jesse quickly starts taking notes on the various ways they are able to kill zombies that don’t involve a proper firearm. After rescuing a girl (Hannah Perry) armed with a shovel (which becomes #3 on Jesse’s list, by the way), the trio chances upon a building where a small group of trapped people are calling out for help. And this is where the story gets even better.

After “Killer Biker Chicks”, which was so bad I didn’t even bother to post a review for, I was pretty skeptical about “How To Kill A Zombie”. I was pleasantly surprised! Considering the subject matter, it’s very family friendly. There are some gory scenes, of course, but they are well done and not overdone. Whoever did the zombie make-up did an incredible job! The comedy is genuinely funny. We had many laugh-out-loud moments with the one liners and visual pranks. Best of all, there was a PLOT! Though far from professional, the acting was quite tolerable. It was pretty clear these people were having a lot of fun making this movie and I think that’s maybe what helped it along so much. They were having fun so we, the audience, had fun, too.

This movie really is some good, old-fashioned, low budget Zombie Apocalypse fun.

Raven Rating: 4 out of 5

Movie Review – Cabin In The Woods (2012)

Directed by Drew Goddard. Rated R.  Starring: Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, and Jesse Williams.

If you think this is just another tale about a handful of stupid college students heading off to an isolated cabin in the woods for a weekend to be slain one by one by some maniac, you’d be wrong – well, sort of.

I hesitate to go into too much detail with this review, lest I give away too much of what this movie is really about. Yes, there are five college students who decide to head off into the woods to spend the weekend at a cabin one of their cousin’s has recently acquired. Yes, there’s a creepy dude at the creepy gas station who tries to warn them. They don’t listen, of course. But, then there’s the two-way mirror hidden behind a painting of some sort of gruesome wild killing going on in the woods. And, let’s not forget the basement. Oh, yes. That’s where the real madness starts as one would imagine in a creepy basement in a creepy cabin in the creepy isolated woods. The basement is chock FULL of goodies for our intrepid students to discover and all bets are locked in (literally) at what item will trigger the insanity that has only just begun.

I’d not put Cabin In The Woods as one of my top ten, but it was entertaining and different enough to keep me guessing and watching what would come next. There are some pretty gruesome kills and lots of blood spattering goodness to be had here. I liked the twist on what has become a predictable genre, though I found the ending a bit on the outlandish side. Definitely worth the rental, but glad we didn’t pay theatre prices to see this one.

Keep in mind I’m leaving A LOT of the plot details out because I don’t want to spoil it for those who decide they want to watch it. It’s good enough that I don’t want to ruin it for you.

And with this movie review, I’m going to introduce Raven Ratings instead of Stars… because, that’s just how I roll.  Cabin In The Woods gets …

3.5 Ravens out of 5.


What Scares You? Reading, Writing, & Watching Horror

As some of you may know, I’ve been reading Stephen King’s Dark Tower series almost exclusively since last August. I’m over halfway through the final book of seven. Yesterday, the damn thing had me crying into my Ramen noodles at lunch time. Seriously, tears fell into my bowl of Ramen. I mentioned this to one of my fellow car poolers, Jean, who has also read the series and she smiled and nodded. As I’m still not done with the series, I’m going to hold off on a lengthy review just a little while longer, but at the mention of Stephen King the other car pool lady, Irene, piped up about King being scary. We explained that these particular King novels aren’t really all that scary. They are more adventure-scifi-western-weird creature-fantasy-love story type things. Irene then asked if King, in general, scared me. After a moment’s pause I said, “No, not particularly. I’m pretty hard core.”

There has only been ONE book that ever truly scared me to the point I had to stop reading it at night before bedtime. That book was The Owlsfane Horror by Duffy Stein. I’ve been reading all sorts or mysteries and thrillers and horror for as long as I can remember, so it’s not like reading a ghost story novel was anything new to me while I was in high school. I still have that very same book sitting on my bookshelf. I really should read it again after all these years to see if it’s as frightening as it was 30+ years ago. The only other book that has left a long-lasting creepy impression on me was Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. I’d read the book before I saw the movie and, well, damn. The original adaption, The Haunting made in 1963, is just downright insane and ranks as my #1 favorite horror movie of all time. Seriously, don’t bother with the 1999 remake. It blows. It blows hard and in a very bad way.

All this got me to thinking about why I read, write, and enjoy horror, thrillers, and mysteries so much. Obviously it’s not as cut and dry as liking to be frightened because if there are only two novels that have done that, why do I keep reading it if it doesn’t truly scare me? It’s not for the gore because I’m not a fan of slasher stuff at all. It’s much more subtle than that. It’s the build-up of events, the leading me into a darker and darker place as far as the human psyche goes. Scary things can happen in broad daylight just as well as in a dark, hidden back alley. Show me what is normal and then twist it around and show me what happens when things start going horribly wrong. And, as if we humans aren’t cruel enough to each other, add some element of the paranormal in there to drag me even deeper. When I finish a chapter, make me lean back and think, “Damn, now what are they going to do? How are they going to get out of this mess? What exactly is going on here?” Those are the questions that make me want to keep reading! And because those are MY questions, they are also the ones I try and leave my readers with as I wrap up each chapter.

As I work my way through the first draft of DARK HOLLOW ROAD, I’m finding and exploring some very dark elements of what it means to be human. This is why I call it Taboo Horror. When people are raised under terrible, abusive circumstances, to what lengths will they go to survive? What happens when everything they have done to try and keep their sanity intact is taken away? What if people, completely oblivious and innocent, find themselves in the cross hairs of that sanity no longer kept in check?  My kind of Horror happens, that’s what.

I ask myself a lot what scares me. If it scares me, surely it will scare someone else, right? I can’t be alone in my fears so that’s what I try to write about. SECRETS OF THE SCARECROW MOON takes on scarecrows. Yeah, I’m not a fan of those at all. THAT’S WHAT SHADOWS ARE MADE OF deals with a paranormal entity that has freaked me out, not to mention fascinated me, for decades, Shadow People or The Hat Man. This fall will see the release of NO REST FOR THE WICKED which explores my love of the classic haunted house and the story behind what generated the hauntings to begin with. You’ll get a look inside the minds of the ghosts themselves as some try and tell their stories while others work like hell not to be ratted out. With DARK HOLLOW ROAD I am trying to take that concept a little bit further and a little bit darker.

I’d love to know what scares you. What draws you to read horror or watch horror movies? If you’re a horror writer, what attracts you to the process?  Do you actually enjoy being scared or is it something else?

Movie Review – Let Me In (2010)

Movie Review: Let Me In (2010). Directed by Matt Reeves. Rated R.
Starring: Kodi Smit-McPhee, Chloe Grace Moretz, Richard Jenkins, and Elias Koteas

Not only must twelve-year-old Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) endure the nightmare of his parents going through an ugly divorce, he also faces the tortures of being the main target for the school bully. Owen keeps to himself and has no friends until a new family moves into the apartment next door. He meets barefooted Abby (Chloe Grace Moretz), who says she’s also twelve, more or less, at the apartment complex’s playground one night. She’s not particularly friendly and tells Owen they can’t be friends. When he asks why, she only shrugs and says, “Because that’s just the way it is.”  Despite this, their mutual sense of loneliness and need for a companion, draws the two children together.

Anyone who knows me, knows how much I adore vampires! I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula when I was very close to the same age as the two main characters in the book. My book shelves once housed well over 100 vampire novels and non-fiction titles dealing with the undead. Christopher Lee’s version of the Count enthralled me through my impressionable teenage years. Over the years you start to crave something unique. It’s all well and good to be about vampires, but a new spin is always welcome. Let Me In, a remake of the 2008 Swedish film, Let The Right One In, certainly puts a new spin on things yet remains true to the classic Horror idea that vampires are monsters! Abby doesn’t sparkle, that’s for sure.

Abby’s father (Richard Jenkins) knows all too well the price of loving her. She’s blood thirsty and feeding that animalist hunger can only push the boundaries of those who love her to the breaking point. When he realizes that Abby had made friends with the boy next door, he makes his disapproval very clear. However, he’s helpless to end the relationship blossoming between the two. No one is safe from Abby’s thirst: not her father, not the policeman (Elias Koteas) investigating the strange Cult-like slayings in the area, not the other neighbors in the complex, not the bullies that torment Owen, and maybe not even Owen.

The performances by Kodi and Chloe are amazing. Kodi, especially. When he’s on the phone trying to talk to his father you could feel the torment and fear in his voice. His expressions begged for help. His rage at the bullies was palatable. His young love for Abby was pure bliss and yearning. I’ve already recommended this movie to several people over the past week since seeing it. Great film!

5 stars out of 5!

Movie Review – IT! (1966)

IT! (aka Curse of the Golem) (1966) Directed by Herbert J. Leder. Starring Roddy McDowall, Jill Hawthorn, Ian McCullock & Paul Maxwell

When a London warehouse burns to the ground, an unattractive stone statue is found unscathed amidst the rubble. It’s removed and taken to another museum under the care of assistant curator, Arthur Pimm (Roddy McDowall). On closer inspection, it’s found to be the 16th century Golem of Judah Loew ben Bezalel. Though the statue was meant to be used for good, the insane Pimm, finds the secret to bringing it to life and uses it for his own selfish and deadly reasons. He eventually regrets his mistakes and tries to destroy the Golem. In doing so, he loses what little control he had over it in the first place.

I am a lifelong fan of Roddy McDowall and love to watch him in anything and everything he’s ever been in, but this movie has a lot to be desired. It’s a shame his talents were wasted on the nonsense presented here. The first three-quarters of the film are actually not too bad, with McDowall playing the very Norman Bates-like character, complete with the dead corpse of his mother he talks to and keeps at his home. His unrequited love for Ellen Grove (Jill Hawthorn) and his clear jealousy towards the NY curator, Jim Perkins (Paul Maxwell) could have been used with a lot more depth, yet other than kidnapping Ellen at the end, Pimm really does nothing about any of it. And I’m still not sure why Detective Wayne (Ian McCullock) believed in the power of the Golem so easily and quickly. He took it as just a matter of fact almost without question. His by-the-way, Pimm-has-brought-this-thing-to-life attitude just feels very off and unnatural for a police officer.

The last fifteen minutes are lame and contrived. It was as if the director just ran out of ideas, dropped the ball and made a break for it, leaving the cast and crew to make up their own contrived and ludicrous finale. Sorry, Roddy. You know I love you, man, but this movie would have been best left off your list of acting credits. You’re better than this!

Three of Five Stars for Roddy’s performance. The rest is pretty much rubbish.

The A-B-C’s of Sweet Dreams, Horror Style!

Sometimes it’s hard to fall asleep at night. You lie there with your mind running a mile a minute with, what a friend of mine calls, Hamster Brain. I could never get into the whole counting sheep thing. Sometimes I’ll turn the TV on to our local ads channel and turn the volume down just low enough so I can hear the soft elevator music they play. That works pretty well. My fiancé counts backwards from 100. I’ve tried that, but usually start at 200-300. Sometimes that works, too. For some reason I lose track of the numbers around 287 or 187 or 87, get confused and restart at 290, 190, or 90. Now my little hamster brain is trying to do math which is not always conducive to the goal of falling asleep.

In the past couple months I’ve devised my own method to induce sleep using the alphabet. I’m a person of letters and words, not numbers. First, I select a theme; a types of food, wild animals, movie stars, friends, songs, band names, professions, and the like, whatever floats your boat. Last night it was Horror Movies. Don’t give it a lot of thought, just use the first thing that pops to mind and move on to the next letter. The point is to keep your mind focused on one somewhat meaningless and monotonous task. I fell asleep around the letter O or maybe it was N. In either case, it works like a charm for me. I seldom make it through the whole alphabet before I’m out. Here’s what I came up with last night, at least as well as I can remember.

A – Amityville Horror

B – Beetlejuice (Technically not a horror movie, but that’s what came to mind first.)

C – Carrie

D – Dracula

E – Evil Dead

F – Frankenstein

G – Godzilla

H – (The) Haunting (original version, of course..)

I – I Spit On Your Grave

J – (had to pass on this one, nothing came to mind)

K – Killer Klowns from Outer Space

L – Let’s Scare Jessica To Death

This is where things start to get fuzzy. I’m sure I had a movie for M but I can’t really remember what it was.

M – ??

N – Night of the Living Dead

O – (The) Omen

And that was it. I was snoring by the time young Damien was shoving his mom over the upstairs railing. Sweet dreams are made of this.

I’m curious. What would your Horror Movie Dream List look like? What methods of sleep induction have you tried? I’d like to hear if one of you actually tries this and if it works as well for you as it does for me.