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13 GHOST STORY FILMS I LOVE THE MOST

Aug 30 18

Like many of my friends, I’m counting down the minutes until Halloween – my favorite holiday of the year. Therefore, my blog posts for August through October will be about my favorite supernatural/horror movies.

First up – my favorite ghost story films of all time. (I managed to narrow the list down to thirteen, oldest to newest.)

Here they are:

THE UNINVITED (1944) – Directed by Lewis Allen; based on the 1941 novel by Dorothy Macardle; starring Ray Milland, Gail Russell, Ruth Hussey

This black and white movie was based on Dorothy Macardle’s novel, and tells the story of a composer and his sister who fall in love with a beautiful English seacoast mansion called Windward House. They soon find out why it sold for such a reasonable price: the house and the cliff side property are haunted by two entities – one benevolent, one malignant. Eventually they discover the truth about the long ago tragedy involving a love triangle that ended badly for all concerned. (But…when do love triangles ever have a happy ending?) I like the fact that there’s more than one decent plot twist in this old-fashioned story, and some genuinely eerie moments to enjoy.

THE HAUNTING (1963) – Directed by Robert Wise; based on the 1959 horror novel by Shirley Jackson; starring Julie Harris, Richard Johnson and Claire Bloom

Based on the excellent novel by Shirley Jackson – The Haunting of Hill House – this creepy black and white film is about a team of paranormal investigators who decide to “conquer” Hill House, infamous for its lurid past of violent deaths and insanity. Unlike the book, which Jackson considered to be purely supernatural, the screenwriter decided to also turn it into a psychological horror flick, playing up the vulnerable female character’s mental instability.  Needless to say, all hell breaks loose on the team and the consequences are disastrous.

THE SHINING (1980) – Directed by Stanley Kubrick; based on the 1977 horror novel by Stephen King; starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers

Stephen King made it known that he hated this movie version, unfaithful to his novel of the same name, and he eventually had it turned into a TV mini-series (1997), which he approved. He thought Jack’s performance was over the top, and he disliked Shelley’s wimpish portrayal of her character. Oh, well. It’s scary fun, in my opinion (although I also liked the TV version). You probably already know this story well: A couple, John (“Jack”) and Wendy Torrance, and their young, psychic son, move to an isolated hotel (The Overlook) in the Rockies, where they must spend the entire winter. The alcoholic dad has the job of caretaker, and he soon falls under the influence of the evil entities haunting the huge place. I love the twin girls – and the “lady” in the tub. The scene where the young, psychic Danny encounters her in Room 217 gives me chills to this day.

THE CHANGELING (1980) – Directed by Peter Medak; starring George C. Scott, Melvyn Douglas, Trish Van Devere

Classical composer John Russell relocates from NYC to Seattle, trying to get over the sudden death of his wife and young daughter in a car accident. His new friend, Claire, talks him into renting a monstrously huge mansion, and it doesn’t take long for John to realize he’s not alone in the house. To quote writer M.R. James, I felt “pleasantly uncomfortable” pretty much all the way through this film. I also felt moved to tears on occasion, not just from the grief displayed by John due to the loss of his family, but by the terrible secret he uncovers about the child entity that haunts the mansion. Spooky stuff. (Incidentally, the screenplay is based upon events that writer Russell Hunter claimed he experienced while he was living in the Henry Treat Rogers mansion in the Cheesman Park neighborhood of Denver, Colorado in the late 1960s.)

GHOST STORY (1981) – Directed by John Irvin; based on the 1979 horror novel by Peter Straub; starring Fred Astaire, John Houseman, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Melvyn Douglas, Alice Krige

Four elderly, successful gentlemen (Ricky, Ed, John, Sears) have a private club they call “The Chowder Society” – they meet every week to tell horror stories. For fifty years, they’ve also shared a horrible secret. When they were young, they were all in love with a beautiful, mysterious woman named Alma. A tragedy unfolded, and now they must pay the price. Alma: “I will show you things you’ve never seen, take you places you’ve never been. And I will see the life run out of you.”

POLTERGEIST (1982) – Directed by Tobe Hooper and written by Steven Spielberg; starring Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Heather O’Rourke

I never get tired of this one. A subdivision was built over top of a cemetery, and the unscrupulous businessmen didn’t bother to move the bodies. Tsk, tsk. The Freelings must be punished first, apparently, and things really get serious when their young daughter is “ghost-napped.” Good scares (I really hate clowns), and I also appreciate the humor throughout the flick. “They’re heeeee-re.”

LADY IN WHITE (1988) – Directed and written by Frank LaLoggia; starring Lukas Haas, Len Cariou, Alex Rocco, Katherine Helmond

The first time I watched this movie, I was haunted by it for days afterward. Horror writer Frank Scarlatti returns to his hometown and remembers the extraordinary events that occurred when he was nine years old in the fall of 1962. It all starts when Frankie is locked in his school’s cloakroom after hours on Halloween night by bullies. He sees the apparition of a little red-haired girl as she’s attacked. Later that night, the masked man who attacked her shows up looking for something in the cloakroom and tries to get rid of Frankie by choking him, but he’s interrupted and flees. The janitor is wrongfully accused. Frankie soon learns there have been eleven children attacked in the area by a mysterious killer. The little red-haired girl, Melissa Montgomery, was the first, and her grief-stricken mother (the Lady in White) jumped off the cliff where her body was found. Frankie knows the spirit of Melissa will lead him to the truth.

THE OTHERS (2001) – Directed by Alejandro Amenabar; based on the 1898 horror novella by Henry James; starring Nicole Kidman, Chris Eccleston, Fionnula Flanagan

Inspired by Henry James’ novella, The Turn of the Screw, this movie entertained me all the way through and was genuinely creepy and intriguing. A devout Catholic woman, Grace, lives with her two young children on an isolated estate located on the Isle of Jersey. WWII has just ended and Grace is waiting on the return of her husband, Charles. She’s under a lot of stress – she’s lonely and must take care of her son Nick and her daughter Anna, who are both severely allergic to the sun. With the arrival of three servants (Bertha, Ed and Lydia), she thinks things will get better, but mysterious things begin to happen right away. Grace thinks the house is haunted, or perhaps she is going insane. I definitely won’t give away the big twist at the end.

THE GRUDGE (2004) – Directed by Takashi Shimizu; starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jason Behr, Will Mapother, Bill Pullman

This movie is a remake of the Japanese film, Ju-On, which is also worth seeing. Until this flick was released, I hadn’t seen a lot of Japanese-inspired horror. I was completely creeped out by the look and feel of the ghosts and the jerky camera-work. Lots of eerie moments and there were many scenes that had me jumping in my seat. Set in Tokyo, the story is about an exchange student named Karen who is studying to be a social worker. She offers to take over for a nurse who didn’t show up for work, and proceeds to care for an elderly woman in a house that turns out to be haunted. And wow – is it ever haunted! (What did I say earlier about love triangles and tragedy and revenge?) In this case, the grudge is also a curse that passes on to different people. I enjoyed it – and not just because I have a girlie crush on Sarah Michelle Gellar.

THE MARSH (2006) – Directed by Jordan Barker; starring Gabrielle Anwar, Forest Whitaker

Claire Holloway is a stressed out children’s writer who’s afraid she’s about to have a mental breakdown. She decides to take a vacation in the country, and when she notices an ad for Rose Marsh Farm, which strongly resembles the place she’s been seeing in her nightmares, she feels compelled to visit the property. Claire almost immediately senses something amiss with the old house, and when she begins seeing the troubled spirits of a little girl and a teenage boy around the nearby marsh, she contacts a paranormal expert to help her solve the mystery.

THE ORPHANAGE (2007 – Spanish, with English subtitles) – Directed by J.A. Bayona; starring Belen Rueda, Fernando Cayo, Roger Princep

Made in Spain (El Orfanato), this movie not only creeped me out, the ending moved me to tears. It was so much better than I was expecting, mixing chills with a compelling plot. Laura, a former orphan, buys the old orphanage where she once lived for a while as a child, planning to turn it into a facility for disabled kids. She brings her husband and young adopted son, Simon, there, and soon Simon tells her he has made friends with the spirits of five children who are trapped there. The ghost children tell Simon that he is adopted and that he will die soon. Not long after that, Simon disappears. Laura is determined to find her son and unravel the terrible secret that has been hidden at the orphanage for thirty years.

INSIDIOUS (2011) – Directed by James Wan; starring Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Barbara Hershey, Lin Shaye, Ty Simpkins

I was a little upset by the ending when I first saw this movie, since I didn’t realize James Wan planned to continue the story with several sequels. I liked the original anyway, however, since it had many spooky moments that made me squirm in my seat. Renai and Josh Lambert move into their dream house with their sons, Dalton and Foster, and their baby daughter. One morning they find Dalton in a comatose state, and realize he’s become a vessel for the ghosts who reside in an astral dimension. Apparently, Dalton has inherited his father’s ability to astral project during sleep. Only this time, the boy has become stranded in the astral plane known as “The Further.” Dalton is guarded by a red-faced demon, and many other tormented souls who are determined to escape – including the “shadow woman” who once haunted his father.

THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012) – directed by James Watkins; based on the 1983 Gothic novel by Susan Hill; starring Daniel Radcliffe, Ciarán Hinds

Arthur Kipps (Radcliffe) is a widowed barrister striving to make ends meet and raise his young son. Still grieving the loss of his wife, he agrees to leave London and travel to a remote village to put a recently deceased client’s affairs in order. Her estate is located on a small island and Kipps must travel to and from the village, on occasion being cut off by the rising tides and left alone and isolated.

Strange tragedies begin to occur, and it becomes clear that everyone is hiding a terrible secret from him. Kipps is told that the client’s decaying mansion is haunted by the spirit of a woman who suffered a great loss and betrayal – and no one, not even the children, will escape her wrath.

Many goosebump-inducing moments. This one would make my Top 5 favorites list. And so would the book.

A QUIET PLACE – DVD REVIEW

Jul 30 18

“If they hear you, they hunt you.”

It’s a simple idea that leads to loads of tension and suspense in a horror/sci-fi movie made for (nearly) the whole family. A Quiet Place has a PG-13 rating, which is the main reason I waited for the DVD. I thought it might be too tame for my taste.

But the opening scene captured my attention right away. Minor spoilers are ahead.

Silence means survival for Lee (John Krasinski) and Evelyn (Emily Blunt) Abbott, who live with their three children in an isolated farmhouse. We first see them scavenging for medicine in a small town within walking distance – and then traveling home barefoot on trails covered with sand.

Lurking in the shadows are huge insect-like creatures that are blind – and they are always hungry. We are never told how these monsters came to conquer the world. I think it’s safe to assume they are alien in origin.

There is very little dialogue in the film. The Abbotts already have experience communicating non-verbally. Their oldest, daughter Regan, is deaf and the entire family knows sign language.

But getting back to that first scene on Day 89… When it was over, I wanted to nominate Lee and Evelyn for Worst Parents of the Year. After that, the movie skips ahead 400+ days. Evelyn is heavily pregnant (please tell me this wasn’t a planned pregnancy). If I were them, I would have moved house a lot closer to that thundering waterfall Lee and his middle child like to visit when they need a father-son moment. “Louder noises cancel out smaller ones.”

Instead, they build a special box (reminded me of a coffin) for the baby, complete with an oxygen mask. I was thinking, “What’s their plan for the terrible twos?”

Admittedly, I had a problem with some of the characters’ decisions and actions and other little details, but the film wasn’t boring in the least. How A Quiet Place truly succeeds is by instilling every scene with nerve-wracking tension and making the viewer feel like they are anything but a passive observer in this terror-filled world. Even the silence becomes horrific. And we know from the beginning that a careless moment can mean a life lost.

Lead actor John Krasinski also directed the hour and a half film, and shares a writing credit along with Scott Beck and Bryan Woods. I found no fault with the acting – Emily Blunt, especially, gave a stellar performance.

For nit-picky horror fans like myself, I must give the flick three out of five goblins. But for everyone else who loves suspense and creature features, I’ll give it four.

CARGO – NETFLIX HORROR MOVIE REVIEW

Jun 30 18

Kick back and watch Cargo and you’ll see some of the usual tropes you’d expect to find in a zombie flick, but (forgive me) it has both brains and heart, being unusual for its character-driven plot. The pace is slow at first, but picks up when the tale expands from being about a family struggling to stay together during a pandemic to an even more desperate father-daughter journey.

Directed by Yolanda Ramke (who also wrote the screenplay) and Ben Howling, this Netflix original movie stars Martin Freeman as Andy, a father who has become infected with the virus after being stranded in rural Australia with his infant daughter, Rosie.

Andy knows he has less than two days to find someone who is willing and able to care for his baby, while he struggles to protect her from his own changing nature. And as he searches for help, he must protect them both from those who have already turned – and from humans who are worse monsters than the zombies.

Giving him hope is an Aboriginal girl he ends up rescuing, Thoomi (Simone Landers), who has been trying, in vain, to protect her own turned father. Thoomi joins him in his agonizing quest to save Rosie.

Martin Freeman is brilliant, as always, and Simone Landers gives an impressive performance as well. I love horror films, but they rarely move me. By the time I watched Cargo’s inevitable ending, I was a little shocked at my emotional response. (The only other time I’ve gotten teary-eyed during a zombie apocalypse tale was when I saw The Girl With All The Gifts.)

So I can’t help it … I must give Cargo four out of five goblins.

THE RITUAL – NETFLIX MOVIE REVIEW

May 27 18

A small group of friends decide to go hiking in the wilderness to get away from the stress and hassle of the big city. But danger is lurking in the shadows and not every man will make it out alive. Sound familiar?

This popular plotline shows up once again in The Ritual, a Netflix original movie (based upon the novel by Adam Nevill). Four mates mourning the loss of a good friend head to the dense, dark forests of northern Sweden to honor his memory. The Brits are carrying along a lot of baggage – and I don’t  mean camping equipment.

Their history and collective trauma adds weight to what could have been a forgettable horror movie. Warning signs of the unknown danger they will soon face become apparent as soon as they leave the hiking trails for what they hope will be a shortcut back to civilization. Guilt and resentment are extra burdens the men must carry as they fight for survival.

Who or what is stalking them? Butchered offerings are left high in the rune-covered trees, and every once in a while one of the men sees a glimpse of a creature both huge and mythical. They hear it’s blood-curdling screams at night, and when they sleep it invades their minds – forcing them to relive their worst nightmares and failures.

I liked the monster. I found it unique to the genre.

The Ritual is darkly atmospheric and suspenseful until the last scene, and all of the actors give stellar performances: Rob James-Collier, Rafe Spall, Arsher Ali, Paul Reed and especially Sam Troughton. His annoying character, Dom, got my vote early on for “Dude I Want to See Die First.”

So, how many goblins does this flick deserve? 3.5 out of 5 … at the very least.

A REVIEW OF RAMSES THE DAMNED: THE PASSION OF CLEOPATRA

Apr 15 18

Not long ago I reviewed Stephen King’s collaboration (Sleeping Beauties) with his son, Owen, and remarked on how noticeable the difference in style was compared to SK’s solo work. Oddly enough, 2017 also saw another such partnership, this time between Anne Rice and her son, Christopher: Ramses the Damned: The Passion of Cleopatra. Whereas I had never read any of Owen King’s previous novels, I was already a fan of Chris’ body of work.

Anne and Christopher have similar enough writing styles to make their collaboration appear seamless. Still, I could detect his influence and I found it to be positive (“No, Mom, we don’t need to spend two or three pages describing one room – no matter how magnificent it is.” Don’t get me wrong – I adore Anne.)

I was surprised and delighted that a sequel to The Mummy: Ramses the Damned had finally been penned after nearly a thirty year wait. While it isn’t necessary for readers to be familiar with that first book in order to enjoy the second, I would still recommend they devour it before the sequel. The Mummy is one of my favorite Anne Rice novels. It wouldn’t be a chore to start at the beginning of the tale, even if you’ve read it before.

The Passion of Cleopatra picks up right after the events of the first novel: In 1914, the mummy of Ramses the Great is discovered in Egypt due to the efforts of shipping magnate Lawrence Stratford; Ramses simply reawakens after his body is discovered, having consumed an elixir that made him immortal before his voluntary slumber beneath the desert; Ramses is transported to England and falls in love with Stratford’s daughter, Julie (who is already engaged to Alex – the son of a family friend); Ramses becomes the toast of London under the assumed name of Reginald Ramsey, and we learn that he was once the consort of Cleopatra, Queen of the Nile. As such, he offered her the elixir, but she refused it, pleading with him to give it instead to Marc Antony so he could create an invincible army. When Ramses refuses, Cleopatra kills herself.

The sequel has many elements of the first book – a bit of soap opera mixed with the constant rivalry, battles and inevitable betrayals of the blue-eyed immortals who are trying to track down more of the elixir, which is in the possession of Ramses II, a.k.a. Reginald Ramsey. The biggest new development is the repercussions of a rash act committed by Ramsey on a visit back to Cairo in the first book. When he sees Cleopatra’s lifeless mummy displayed in a museum, he is filled with remorse and brings her back to life with the elixir. Cleopatra goes on to wreak havoc.

In the sequel, the question as to whether the Queen has a soul is debated. At times the matter can be confusing, since her mind and memories have been linked to those of an American author named Sybil Parker. Is Sybil the reincarnation of Cleopatra?

Another major character who complicates the plot is Bektaten, the queen of an ancient African civilization who first discovered the elixir. She and her backstabbing former adviser Saqnos (who has forever been trying to steal the formula for immortality), along with throngs of other immortals, follow Ramsey back to England, where he and his fiancée Julie are to attend an engagement party. All hell breaks loose, of course. And unsurprisingly, the ending leaves enough questions unanswered to justify a trilogy.

I’d be happy to read a third installment. I’m giving Ramses the Damned: The Passion of Cleopatra four out of five goblins.

MOCON 2018

Mar 31 18

It’s back! After a two year hiatus, my favorite small writers’ convention will return to Indianapolis the weekend of May 4 – 6. Founded by author Maurice Broaddus in 2006, Mo*Con attracted quite a bit of attention over the next decade, and for the reason why, read his description below:

IMAGINE A CONVENTION THAT’S NOTHING BUT A BARCON.
WRITERS, ARTISTS, PUBLISHING PROFESSIONALS,
AND FANS HAVING GREAT CONVERSATIONS
WHILE ENJOYING GREAT MEALS.

The new venue will be at The Switchboard in downtown Indy in the Fountain Square District (735 Shelby Street). Guests of honor will be award-winning editors, artists, authors, agents – and you!

Join us for panels, stimulating discussions and debates, great cuisine and memorable after-parties.

Click here to register.

 

STOKERCON 2018

Feb 24 18

Celebrate horror’s premiere event, StokerCon 2018, March 1 – 4 at the historic Biltmore Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island.

Special guests include:

Ramsey Campbell, Craig Engler, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Victor LaValle, Elizabeth Massie, Sam Weller and Jeff Strand.

Events include:

Horror University (Learn about the craft and business of writing.), Final Frame Film Competition, Bram Stoker Awards (Enjoy a gala banquet as writer/emcee Jeff Strand presents awards for Superior Achievement in Horror Writing.), Ann Radcliffe Academic Conference (Present your horror-themed paper.), Librarians’ Day, Programming (panels and workshops, readings and signings, pitches and presentations, and, of course, parties!)

Register here.

FREE FLASH FICTION TALE: HIGH PRIORITIES

Jan 21 18

It’s the dead of winter and I’m trying to find ways to cheer myself up while I wait for spring to arrive. In case others are feeling the same way, I thought I’d offer up a free humorous story about two knights, a dragon and a damsel in distress. Are YOUR priorities in the right place?

HIGH PRIORITIES by Debbie Kuhn

It was on the road to Glastonbury that things went awry for the two knights.  When they crested a steep hill and gazed out across the sun-splashed meadow below, the scene before them caused both men to rein in their horses and stare in astonishment.

Sir Reginald lifted a bushy eyebrow.  “Aren’t dragons scarce in this kingdom?”

“I heard they’d all been killed.”  Sir Simeon shook his head.  “Rotten luck.  I suppose we’ll have to DO something about this before we continue on?”

“It is our duty, I’m afraid.”

They sighed in unison, watching as the dragon tramped across the field of daisies towards a golden-haired maiden.  The young lady struggled in vain to free herself from the ropes that bound her to a tall post, situated right at the edge of a forest.

She screamed, and the knights drew their swords, urging their impatient steeds forward.  At the bottom of the hill, they jumped a crumbling stone wall into the meadow and then pulled up to assess the situation more thoroughly.

The dragon lumbered into the center of the field.

Sir Reginald spoke up.  “The beast does not seem fierce at all.  I daresay that one of us could dispatch it without much effort.”

“It does seem rather ponderous.  However, it could still fly.  There’s no sense in us both risking the loss of our finest swords and armor just to rescue a maiden that, from this distance, does not even appear to be beautiful.”

“Agreed.  I shall wait here for you, then.”

“Beg pardon?”  Sir Simeon looked offended.  “Surely you realize that I have the superior weapon, therefore, you should be the one to take this risk.”

Sir Reginald brandished his sword in the air.  “I think not.  This blade was tempered with the blood of twelve royal virgins.”

“Weak, simpering females, more like.”  Sir Simeon held up his own sword for inspection.  “A weapon forged with sweat and urine from the ten bravest dragonslayers who ever lived.”

The maiden’s screams intensified.

“Dash it all, we’ve no time to argue.”  Sir Reginald pointed to the ruined wall that surrounded the meadow.  “I say we stone the creature and frighten it away.  It seems almost timid.”

“Yes, it hasn’t even breathed fire at us yet.”

The dragon paced back and forth in front of the frantic maiden, making odd sounds in the back of its throat.

The knights charged across the meadow.  Sir Reginald dismounted near the wall while Sir Simeon freed the struggling prisoner with one expert slash of his sword.  The maiden picked up her green velvet skirts and sprinted into the dark woods without uttering a word of thanks.

“Ungrateful wench.”  Sir Simeon dismounted and joined his friend, who was now lugging stones at the beast from behind a heavy shield.  The rocks bounced harmlessly off the dragon’s bluish-green scales.

“Shoooo!  Go away, you annoying, incompetent creature!”

The dragon had ceased its pacing.  It just stood there quietly, batting its long eyelashes and looking confused.

“Buttercup!  Come along now, Buttercup, there’s a good girl.”

The gruff male voice emanated from the forest.  The dragon perked up and obediently trotted off towards the sound, disappearing behind some dense foliage.

The knights soon found themselves surrounded by scores of men, women and children, all carrying weapons.  Some possessed crudely made spears, others held pitchforks or hatchets, and many carried hunting knives.

Sir Reginald addressed the motley gathering.  “Good citizens, we have just rescued a fair maiden in distress.  Please explain your hostility.”

Hearty laughter filled the air and then died down as the crowd parted to make way for a finely dressed, blue-eyed youth with golden hair.

“The maiden was in no danger, kind sirs.”  The young man smiled.  “And neither was the dragon, it seems.”

The knights were assaulted with riotous laughter.

“My name is Prince Thaddeus,” the youth said, stepping aside to reveal the golden-haired maiden.  “And this is my sister, Princess Honoria.”

“Sweet, harmless Buttercup,” said the princess.  “She thinks she’s a cow.”

Sir Reginald flushed crimson.  “We demand an explanation for this duplicitous act.”

“It is very simple,” Princess Honoria stated.  “We used the dragon to lure you into our midst.”

“For what purpose?” Sir Simeon asked indignantly.  “To rob us?”

“To insist on a charitable donation,” Prince Thaddeus replied.  He pointed past the knights to a hill in the distance.  “See yonder castle?  It belonged to our father, King Cedric, before the invaders destroyed it.  Honoria and I must repay these loyal villagers for their efforts in rebuilding it.  Our home will soon be completely restored.”

The princess smiled.  “We’ve collected many fine donations this week, thanks to the festivities in Glastonbury.  But we are not greedy.”

The crowd murmured its agreement.

“Quite so,” Prince Thaddeus said, nodding.   “We require that both of you give up only one of your prized possessions for our cause.”

Sir Reginald and Sir Simeon exchanged incredulous glances.

“Our horses or our swords?” Sir Reginald asked.  “Ridiculous.”

“We can’t possibly give you either,” Sir Simeon added.  “My friend and I are on our way to take part in King Adrian’s weeklong celebration.”

Sir Reginald brightened.  “Perhaps we could come to another arrangement.  I’d be willing to delay my journey and help these kind villagers by laboring beside them for a day.”

“Well, I suppose that would be acceptable.”  Prince Thaddeus turned to the other knight.  “What say you?”

Sir Simeon squirmed.  “I’m afraid I cannot be delayed.  My part in the ceremony is too important.  We’ll have to think of a different solution.”

*****

“I say,” said Sir Finnegan, reining in his white steed, “I didn’t think any dragons still existed in this country.”

“Just our luck, isn’t it?”  Sir Harry muttered.  “I suppose we’ll have to rescue the lady before we travel on?”

“It IS our duty.”

The damsel in distress let out a guttural, extremely unladylike screech.

Sir Harry shook his head. “I must say…that is the UGLIEST maiden I have ever laid eyes on.”

 

AUTHORS WHO ARE ON MY BOOKSHELF

Dec 16 17

The holiday season seems like an excellent time to give a shout out to the writers I know and admire. Most people have heard of Stephen King, Anne Rice, J.K. Rowling and Neil Gaiman, but there are also many successful, less famous authors out there who are worthy of attention.

And why not buy their books to read and give away to others as gifts? (Oh, and taking the time to write an online review somewhere is another present any author would undoubtedly appreciate.)

Here is a list of writers (in no particular order) I highly recommend for those who love speculative/genre fiction:

Joe Lansdale (Horror/Mystery/Humor)

Tom Piccirilli (Horror/Noir/Fantasy)

Brian Keene (Horror/Comics/Fantasy)

Wrath James White (Extreme Horror/Poetry)

Maurice Broaddus (Horror/Fantasy/Middle Grade)

Ray Garton (Horror/Suspense)

Ronald Malfi (Horror/Thriller/Literary)

Nicole Cushing (Extreme/Cosmic Horror)

Michele Lee (Horror/Paranormal Romance)

Vanessa Fewings (Romance/Erotica)

Tim Waggoner (Horror/Fantasy/Thriller)

Amy Grech (Horror/Mystery)

Nicholas Kaufmann (Horror)

John Hornor Jacobs (Horror/Fantasy)

Laird Barron (Horror/Noir/Dark Fantasy)

Christopher Golden (Horror/Fantasy/Suspense/YA)

Willie Meikle (Horror/Supernatural)

Jeremy C. Shipp (Horror/Fantasy/Sci-Fi)

Joe McKinney (Horror)

Jonathan Mayberry (Horror)

Nancy Holder (Horror/Fantasy)

Jeff Strand (Horror/YA/Humor)

Fran Friel (Horror/Fantasy)

Weston Ochse (Horror/Sci-Fi)

Yvonne Navarro (Horror/Sci-Fi/Fantasy)

Scott Nicholson (Horror/Fantasy/Mystery)

Mary SanGiovanni (Horror)

Sarah Pinborough (Horror/Fantasy/Thriller)

Gemma Files (Horror/Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Poetry)

Alethea Kontis (Fantasy/YA/Children)

Lucy A. Snyder (Horror/Fantasy/Poetry)

Gary Braunbeck (Horror/Fantasy/Mystery)

Douglas Clegg (Horror/Fantasy/Suspense)

Cullen Bunn (Comics/Fantasy/Horror)

Lincoln Crisler (Horror/Sci-Fi/Comics)

Gina Ranalli (Bizarro/Horror)

Chuck Wendig (Sci-Fi/Fantasy)

Bryan Smith (Horror/Crime)

Kealan Patrick Burke (Horror)

Neil Davies (Horror/Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Mystery)

Nancy Kilpatrick (Horror/Erotic Horror/Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Mystery)

Chesya Burke (Horror/Dark Fantasy)

Amber Fallon (Horror)

Steve Rasnic Tem (Fantasy/Horror)

Jeff Vandermeer (Horror/Weird Fiction)

Joe Hill (Horror/Fantasy)

Paul Tremblay (Horror)

Bracken McCleod (Horror)

Bentley Little (Horror)

Ramsey Campbell (Horror)

Simon Clark (Horror)

Graham Masterton (Horror/Extreme Horror/Mystery/Crime)

Greg F. Gifune (Horror)

Gregory Lamberson (Horror)

John Scalzi (Sci-Fi)

Jim C. Hines (Fantasy)

Chet Williamson (Horror/Sci-Fi/Fantasy)

F. Paul Wilson (Horror/Sci-Fi)

Lee Thomas (Horror)

Ed Kurtz (Horror/Crime)

Armand Rosamilia (Horror)

Garry Charles (Screenwriter of Horror & Fantasy)

Pamela Turner (Horror/Fantasy)

Michael West (Horror/Fantasy)

Bob Freeman (Horror/Fantasy)

John Everson (Horror/Erotic Horror/Dark Fantasy)

John Urbancik (Horror)

Edward Lee (Horror/Extreme Horror)

Richard Laymon (Horror/Splatterpunk/Suspense)

J.F. Gonzalez (Horror/Extreme Horror)

Jack Ketchum (Horror/Extreme Horror/Crime)

John Skipp (Splatterpunk/Horror/Fantasy)

Simon Wood (Thriller/Mystery/Horror)

Carlton Mellick III (Bizarro/Horror/Fantasy)

Deborah LeBlanc (Horror)

K.H. Koehler (Horror/Sci-Fi)

Tracy Devore (Horror/Gothic Romance/Non-Fiction)

Erin Hart (Mystery/Crime)

Brian R. Hill (Fantasy/Thriller)

Tim Lebbon (Horror/Dark Fantasy)

 

I’m sure I’m forgetting someone…but this is a good start. Happy Hanukkah, Happy Yule, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa….  

SLEEPING BEAUTIES (Stephen & Owen King): A REVIEW

Nov 13 17

What would the world be like if all the women disappeared? What would happen to our planet if the only inhabitants were female?

Both of these questions are answered to a certain degree in Stephen King’s latest novel, Sleeping Beauties – co-written with his youngest son, Owen.

In truth, I’d been thinking about the aforementioned questions long before reading this father and son collaboration (and especially after seeing Wonder Woman). The news headlines get more depressing every day. I’ve always loved to read, but more and more lately I find it (and watching comic book movies) necessary for my mental health – an escape from the horrors happening in America.

Sometimes I daydream about living in a society seriously (or completely) lacking in testosterone. Would there be wars waged due to greed, megalomania or religion? I doubt it. Crime would still exist, since women aren’t perfect human beings, but the earth would be a safer place to live in so many ways. (Alas, it takes both sexes to keep the human race going, of course.)

Now…back to the book I’m supposed to be reviewing. I admit when the hefty novel arrived in the mail, I was a little disappointed. I was hoping for a shorter read than 700+ pages. These days I prefer novellas due to my hectic schedule. Also, most of the time, I find lengthy tomes fail to hold my attention because they should have been more ruthlessly edited. (For this reason, I failed to tackle two of Stephen’s previous novels, Duma Key and Under the Dome.)

Sleeping Beauties could have been shorter and would not have suffered from an omission of certain characters and their extensive characterizations. I’ve never read any of Owen King’s previous work. Bringing characters to life in extreme detail is a talent his father has always possessed (and some critics believe he goes too far). I understand that a cast of hundreds is sometimes necessary to bring a story to fruition, but it can be hard to keep all of them straight in my head. (There’s even a fox running around in this tale with his own point of view.)

With Owen’s contribution in descriptions and dialogue, the novel did have a different feel than other King offerings. I’m curious to know which one of them thought up the premise – an idea I immediately found intriguing.

The setting is an Appalachian town not far from Wheeling, West Virginia. One seemingly ordinary day in Dooling, it’s discovered that women who fall asleep cannot wake up. The scientists call the world-wide sickness the Aurora virus. The females are wrapped in mysterious cocoons while they are at rest, and when the fibrous covering is forcibly removed, the women awake in a rage. Before returning to their slumber, they try to kill the person unwise enough to disturb them.

A lot of the action takes place at a local women’s prison. Several of the main characters either work there or are inmates. The jail’s psychiatrist, Clint Norcross, is a key figure, as is his wife Lila, who happens to be Dooling’s sheriff. And then there’s Eve Black – a beautiful young woman who is arrested for murder and whose special abilities convince people she must be a witch.

Of course, I immediately thought of the Biblical version of Eve. Some of the comments she makes early in the book reinforce that portrayal – along with these lines from the prologue, set in an Eden-like clearing complete with exotic animals and a mammoth tree:  “Evie doesn’t trust the snake, obviously. She’s had trouble with him before.”

It becomes apparent that Eve is responsible for the malady that has befallen the female population. She is unaffected by the sleeping sickness. But what’s her motive?

Well, perhaps she’s trying to right a wrong. “I think it may be time to erase the whole man-woman equation. Just hit DELETE and start over.”

She’s set the plan in motion. What happens to the women after they fall asleep? They wake up in what looks like the same world, albeit a post-apocalyptic version many years in the future where all the men have disappeared. Eventually they name their haven Our Place. It’s not a utopia, but the women have a fresh start in a world that has gotten safer.

But what happens to a woman there when she dies in the real world? If she perishes in Our Place, what happens to her cocooned body? Answer: something bad.

In the present, men are having a hard time adjusting to life without the womenfolk – and some idiots even decide to begin torching the sleeping women to prevent the spread of the virus. (I was surprised there were no attempted rape scenes – and no mention of husbands missing their conjugal rights more than the cooking and housekeeping services wives tend to provide).

Chaos begins to reign, and a small faction of Dooling’s male population come up with the idea of storming the prison so they can force Evie to reverse the pandemic.

Is there truly a way for the women to return home? Can the world revert back to normal?

I found the first half of the book to be faster-paced than the second half. As I expected, the denouement was rather open-ended. I wish the enigmatic Eve’s identity and motivations had been more fully explored and revealed. She’s a pivotal character, but we know next to nothing about her and the authors choose to let her origins remain a mystery.

I’d be perfectly willing to give Sleeping Beauties four out of five goblins if it weren’t for its unnecessary lengthiness. I think three and half will have to do.