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Have Yourself a Scary Little Christmas

Nov 30 21

And once again, the holiday season is upon us. Like many of you who celebrate Christmas, every year when I hear that Andy Williams song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” I always wonder about the lyrics that say, “There’ll be scary ghost stories and tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago.” Christmas isn’t usually a time for horror tales, but there are movies and TV shows that beg to differ. I’ve decided to post an updated list of my favorites.

“And All Through the House” – Tales From the Crypt (British TV Series/1972)

The first time I saw this old episode on late night TV, I couldn’t help but be impressed. Joan Collins stars as a wife without good cheer who murders her husband with a fireplace poker on the night before Christmas. As she’s trying to dispose of the body, an escaped homicidal maniac dressed as Santa tries to break into her house. Alas, she can’t call the police because she’s just committed a dirty deed. Love it!

Black Christmas (Movie/1974)

Directed by Bob Clark and written by A. Roy Moore, this Canadian film is widely believed to be one of the earliest slasher flicks, and supposedly influenced the making of Carpenter’s Halloween.  Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder and John Saxon have starring roles. A deranged killer hides out in the attic of a sorority house, stalking and murdering the sisters one by one. I liked this film a lot better than Silent Night, Deadly Night. 

Gremlins (Movie/1984)

Everyone is probably familiar with this flick. A salesman (Hoyt Axton) buys his son Billy (Zach Galligan) a magwai for Christmas. But the cute, furry little creatures have a very dark side, and if you feed them after midnight or get them wet, you will find out how much trouble they can be. Of course, Billy can’t follow the rules, and his town soon suffers the consequences. Phoebe Cates also stars as Billy’s girlfriend. (Her story about her dad’s odd, gruesome death struck me as funny, though it wasn’t meant to be.)

A Christmas Carol (TV Movie/1984)

Yeah, I know. Dickens isn’t scary, really, but there are some spooky moments in the beginning, when Ebenezer Scrooge (played by George C. Scott) is visited by his late business partner, Jacob Marley. I love this movie despite the sentimentality, and this is my favorite version out of all of them. But still, I often ask myself why I let Tiny Tim gut me like a fish every December.

“How The Ghosts Stole Christmas” – The X Files (TV Series/Season 6, Episode 6/1998)

The X Files is one of my favorite TV shows of all time. In this holiday offering, agents Mulder and Scully end up investigating a house on Christmas Eve that’s supposedly haunted by a pair of doomed lovers who killed themselves eighty-odd years before. Ed Asner and Lily Tomlin are wicked and delightful as the ghost couple, Maurice and Lyda. The two string the FBI agents along, while providing insights into Mulder and Scully’s relationship and personalities. This episode is in my top ten favorites.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale (Movie/2010)

This is a Finnish film, based on the premise that Santa Claus has always been evil. (Think of the early European myth of the horned Yule Goat who demanded gifts on Christmas Eve, and who worked with a sidekick called Krampus – a half-goat, half-demon creature who punished naughty children.) Trouble starts when an archaeologist digs up Santa’s old tomb. Now no one in the Finnish village is safe. This flick is a mix of horror, fantasy and comedy – definitely off-kilter.

Krampus (Movie/2015)

Written and directed by Michael Dougherty, this one seemed like a cross between Gremlins and the Finnish film A Christmas Tale. There was no gore to speak of, due to its PG-13 rating, but I did enjoy its dark humor.  (Especially from “Aunt Dorothy” – played by Conchata Ferrell. Toni Collette and Adam Scott also have leading roles.) When his dysfunctional family clashes over the holidays, young Max (Emjay Anthony) is disillusioned and turns his back on Christmas. Little does he know, this lack of festive spirit has unleashed the wrath of Krampus: a demonic force of ancient evil intent on punishing non-believers. All hell breaks loose as beloved holiday icons take on a monstrous life of their own, laying siege to the fractured family’s home and forcing them to fight for each other if they hope to survive. This film isn’t something I’d plan on watching every year, but it’s worth seeing at least once.

And there you have it. Speaking of the supernatural, if you like reading otherworldly tales, please check out my eBook release (a collection of previously published short fiction), available on Amazon and other online stores, called “The White Death and Other Ghastly Ghost Stories.” It definitely isn’t for kids!

Hope all of you have a safe and happy holiday season.

GOT GHOSTS? 13 Films I Love the Most

Oct 31 21

No matter the time of year (it doesn’t have to be Halloween), I’m always up for a good ghost story (books or movies). I’ve loved them since I was a small child, when my grandmother would entertain me with “real tales” of terror during her visits.

Below is a list of my favorite ghost story films of the last century. (I’ve managed to narrow it 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.

Horror Films of the 1970s

Sep 30 21

Needless to say, I watch a lot of different horror films throughout the month of October. I always include a good number of the ghost story and vampire movies that I’ve listed in previous blog posts. But I also watch psychological horror, possession and classic slasher films from the 1970s.

Here are my favorites:

THE EXORCIST (1973) – Directed by William Friedkin; based on the novel by William Peter Blatty; starring Ellen Burstyn, Linda Blair, Max von Sydow, Jason Miller and Mercedes Cambridge (the voice of the demon).

Some people argue that The Exorcist is the greatest horror movie ever made, and I’m not going to disagree with that assertion. The possessed twelve-year-old, Regan, scared and repulsed me more than any other character on the big screen. (Thank heavens I first saw it on a TV screen.) I can’t recall any other movie causing me to have such traumatic nightmares. It’s worth watching for the special effects alone.

When young Regan begins acting strangely and numerous doctors can’t find anything physically wrong with her, her worried mother reaches out to a priest for help. Father Damien soon becomes convinced that the only way to help Regan is by sanctioning an exorcism. Soon, Father Merrin arrives to do battle with the demon.

And, oh, what a battle it is…

THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) – Directed by Tobe Hooper; starring Marilyn Burns, Gunnar Hansen, Paul A. Partain

Sally and her paraplegic brother, Franklin, are worried when they hear a rumor that their grandfather’s grave has been desecrated. They head out on a road trip with three of their friends to investigate. But when they reach their family’s Texas homestead, they come to realize that Grandpa’s neighbors are insane cannibals – led by Leatherface, who wears a mask of human skin. The monsters are determined to include them all in their feast’s  main course.

Yeah…I’m wondering if I can actually claim to have watched this movie, since throughout most of its runtime I had my hands covering my face. I have to admit that extreme gore isn’t my thing, but I liked the IDEA of watching a movie this disturbing. (Seriously doubt it was based on “true events” – but you never know…)

THE REINCARNATION OF PETER PROUD (1975) – Directed by J. Lee Thompson; starring Michael Sarrazin, Jennifer O’Neill, Margot Kidder

When California college professor Peter Proud starts having dreams and flashbacks about people and places he’s never known, he begins to suspect he once lived before. He tracks down that other past from the 1940s and is led to a town in Massachusetts – and the lake where his previous self was murdered.

This movie haunted me for a while after I first saw it. I would say more, but I don’t want to give away the ending.

THE OMEN (1976) – Directed by Richard Donner; starring Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, David Warner, Harvey Spencer Stephens

Robert, an American diplomat, ends up “unofficially” adopting Damien when his wife gives birth to a stillborn infant. He keeps this secret to spare Katherine the pain. For the first few years everything is hunky-dory for the couple – they lead an idyllic life in England. But then strange, awful things begin to happen, and gradually Robert comes to realize that his son may be the Anti-Christ.

A stellar cast lured more people into cinemas to view it than were probably expected – you don’t often see lead actors like Peck doing a horror film. I love the story and the special effects are awesome.

(The creepiest kid ever… I wonder what Harvey Spencer Stephens is doing today.)

BURNT OFFERINGS (1976) – Directed by Dan Curtis; starring Oliver Reed, Karen Black, Bette Davis, Burgess Meredith

Ben and Marian Rolf decide to move into a grand Victorian summer home, where they hope to rekindle their marriage. They can’t help but wonder why the rent is so reasonable, and they soon find out that the house has a life of its own.

This is a strange movie in many ways, and I found the casting and acting to both be superb.

THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE (1976) – Directed by Nicolas Gessner (Initial Release in Sweden); starring Jodie Foster, Martin Sheen, Scott Jacoby

Thirteen-year-old Rynn Jacobs lives a quiet, reclusive life in a coastal New England town. Whenever the landlady comes calling, asking to see her father, Rynn tells the nosy woman that he’s away on business. But when the landlady’s creepy son begins to pry into her life, refusing to leave her alone, Rynn enlists the aid of her teenage neighbor, Mario, to help hide her dark secret.

Even when Jodie was a kid, she always gave an excellent performance. And Martin Sheen is fantastic in his role as the highly disturbed Frank.

AUDREY ROSE (1977) – Directed by Robert Wise; starring Anthony Hopkins, Marsha Mason, John Beck, Susan Swift

Bill and Janice Templeton lead a contented life in Manhattan with their young daughter, Ivy. But things get complicated for them when a man named Elliot Hoover shows up on their doorstep. He’s just returned from a trip to India, and he tries to convince them that Ivy is the reincarnation of his own daughter, Audrey Rose, who died several years before. Hoover’s arrival causes supernatural events to wreak havoc in their lives.

I was quite young when I first saw this movie on late-night TV, and it bothered me a great deal. I don’t think another horror movie has ever made me feel that sad.

HALLOWEEN (1978) – Directed by John Carpenter; starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, P.J. Soles, Nancy Kyes, Nick Castle, Tony Moran

On Halloween night in 1963, six-year-old Michael Myers stabs his teenage sister, Judith, to death. He is committed to an institution, and fifteen years later, on Halloween Eve, he escapes and returns to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois to unleash some fresh hell. I love the soundtrack, composed by director John Carpenter.

This is the movie I always save until last – it’s a tradition for me to watch it every Halloween night and recite the dialogue (“Totally…”) while I hand out candy. And no, I haven’t seen the latest reboot. I’m sure I will before long, though.

I need to add that I quite often include “Friday the 13th” (1980), “Rosemary’s Baby” (1968), “Jaws” (1975), “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984) and “Halloween II” (1981) to my October movie marathon.

Hope everyone has a spooktacular Halloween!

Netflix Horror Movie Review: BLOOD RED SKY

Aug 31 21

When I first saw the previews for Netflix’s Blood Red Sky, I dismissed the flick because it reminded me of Snakes on a Plane and I doubted it would hold my interest. Vampires on a transatlantic flight? Not much action there…

Then a writer friend of mine went on Twitter to say that despite his misgivings, he actually enjoyed the film. I’m glad I decided to give it a try – I’ve never seen a vampire movie like it before.

Nadja (Peri Baumeister) is a German widow who seems to have a mysterious illness similar to leukemia. When she hears that an American doctor might be able to help her condition, she books a flight to New York with her young son, Elias (Carl Anton Koch). Nadja relies on injections to control, or suppress, her illness.

Not long after the flight takes off, terrorists, aided by a co-pilot, kill the air marshals and take over the plane. Nadja’s need for her injections leads to a violent confrontation with one of the terrorists, who (and this has long been a cliché) seems to be a loose cannon with no self-control when it comes to his sadistic tendencies. He shoots Nadja and everyone assumes the woman is dead.

The film has many gory moments and what I thought might turn into cheesy action scenes were instead quite entertaining – I did not always predict exactly what would happen next. The story is, at its core, about maternal love and what lengths a mother will go to protect her child.

What Nadja wants most is to go back to being normal and not be a threat to her son. Flashbacks reveal how she ended up widowed and how she became a vampire against her will. In order to save Elias and the other passengers, Nadja must stop taking the injections and let herself transform into the monster she has always resisted becoming.

Even so, humans are the worst villains of all.

I’m giving this film 3.5 out of 5 goblins.  

Guilty Pleasures: Disaster Films of the 90s

Jul 31 21

In the recent past, I’ve talked about my top picks from the first big wave of disaster films to hit cinemas in the 1970s. Now I’m listing my favorite movies that were released during the second wave in the 90s.

ARMAGEDDON (1998) – Directed by Michael Bay; starring Bruce Willis, Ben Affleck, Billy Bob Thornton, Liv Tyler, Steve Buscemi

A humongous asteroid is hurtling towards Earth, and NASA is desperate to come up with a plan to stop the collision. The answer, they hope, is a team of blue-collar deep-core drillers, led by Harry Stamper (Willis). Will they be able to set off an explosion on the asteroid to divert its course?

This movie was a little hard to resist, once I saw the all-star line-up. (And I wasn’t the only one to feel that way – it was the #1 movie of 1998.) I expected all action and little to no characterization. But I was pleasantly surprised. Humor is always a great ingredient, and there were even a few genuinely touching moments in the film. The actors prove they deserve to be stars.

DANTE’S PEAK (1997) – Directed by Roger Donaldson; starring Pierce Brosnan, Linda Hamilton, Charles Hallahan, Elizabeth Hoffman

The quaint, picturesque (fictional) town of Dante’s Peak, Washington is suddenly threatened with destruction when a nearby mountain turns out to be a volcano. (I hate it when that happens!)

Dr. Harry Dalton (Brosnan) is the volcanologist who tries to warn the inhabitants, but of course, no one takes him seriously. When all hell breaks loose, he tries to help his new friend, the town’s mayor, (Hamilton) escape with her children. The special effects were (mostly) quite good and I definitely had no complaints about the actors involved.

I’m a huge fan of Brosnan’s, but I suppose the main reason I was drawn to this movie is because it likely could happen at some point in the future, affecting a populous city (unlike Mount St. Helens).

DAYLIGHT (1996) – Directed by Rob Cohen; starring Sylvester Stallone, Amy Brenneman, Viggo Mortensen, Danielle Harris

What do you get when a caravan of trucks carrying toxic waste collide with a stolen car used in a jewelry heist inside the heavily traveled Holland Tunnel? Impressive explosions – and the perfect vehicle for Sylvester Stallone to use to achieve more box office success.

Stallone is excellent in the role of Kit Latura, an ex-medical services chief turned cab driver who witnesses the collapse of the tunnel and springs into action to help the trapped victims. On the inside, among the survivors, sporting goods retailer Ray Nord (Mortensen) takes charge and tries to lead everyone to safety.

I found the movie a little exhausting to watch, there are so many ups, downs, close calls and triumphant moments. And the special effects are convincing, too.

DEEP IMPACT (1998) Directed by Mimi Leder; starring Téa Leoni, Robert Duvall, Elijah Wood, Vanessa Redgrave, Morgan Freeman, Maximilian Schell

Earth is being threatened by a comet so large it could cause a mass extinction. Scientists and governments around the world try to find a way to destroy it, and somehow prepare for the worst.

Stellar acting all the way around and a more realistic ending, with moments of genuine emotion, helped hold my attention. Most of the special effects take place towards the end, of course.

This movie didn’t fare as well at the box office as Armageddon, which was released just a few months later. However, astronomers claimed that Deep Impact was more scientifically accurate (if you care about that sort of thing).

And…Morgan Freeman as the President of the United States? I’m all for it.

INDEPENDENCE DAY (1996) Directed by Roland Emmerich; starring Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Mary McDonnell, Judd Hirsch, Randy Quaid

Finally! A good old-fashioned alien invasion! With fabulous special effects and a killer cast. Loved the action, the humor, the touching moments, the failures…and especially the triumphs. It was the highest-grossing film of 1996. Will Smith can do no wrong! (At least not back then.) And it doesn’t hurt my feelings that the story begins on July 2nd – my birthday.

SPEED (1994) Directed by Jan de Bont; starring Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock, Dennis Hopper, Jeff Daniels

I liked the premise of this movie. And I don’t care what you say about Keanu Reeves, he’s one of my favorite actors.

LAPD cops Jack Traven (Reeves) and Harry Temple (Daniels) are tasked with saving the lives of civilians who are trapped on a city bus rigged to explode if the speed drops below 50 mph. Naturally, Dennis Hopper is superior in the role of bomber Howard Payne. When the bus driver is wounded, Annie Porter (Bullock) takes the wheel.

The story has a nail-biting beginning, introducing the bomber and the cop he’s obsessed with, Traven. Trapped people on a sabotaged elevator always freak me out. The suspense holds on throughout the entire movie.

TITANIC (1997) Directed by James Cameron; starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Billy Zane, Kathy Bates, Jonathan Hyde, Bill Paxton

Why do I feel the need to apologize for putting this one on the list? (Oh, right…guilty pleasure.) If you are as fascinated as I am by shipwrecks and any mention of the Titanic disaster, if you fancy doomed romances between couples from different social classes (DiCaprio and Winslet), and you adore jealous, devilishly handsome villains (Zane), then I see no reason why you wouldn’t want to watch this lengthy film at least once. And if all of that isn’t enough, the special effects showing the sinking of the Titanic are worth waiting around for.

TWISTER (1996) Directed by Jan de Bont; starring Bill Paxton, Helen Hunt, Cary Elwes, Jami Gertz

The story begins in the summer of 1969 in Oklahoma. Young Jo and her family are in the direct path of an F5 tornado. The family takes refuge in the storm shelter as all hell breaks loose. In the chaos, Jo’s father is killed and the girl is traumatized.

Flash forward to the 90s and Jo (Hunt) is now a meteorologist (obsessed with tornadoes). One day her estranged husband (Paxton), who was once a weather researcher, shows up with his new sex therapist fiancée (Gertz) to get Jo to sign their divorce papers. Instead, Jo sucks him into a storm chasing adventure.

I’ve probably seen this movie more times than any of the others. I would never chase them, but I’ve always been in awe of tornadoes (having been one street over from one during a storm many years ago in Ohio).

This one has it all: crazy action and special effects, humor, romance (and a love triangle), good guys, bad guys, emotional drama and Bill Paxton (love me some Bill, and I can’t believe he’s already gone).

VOLCANO (1997) Directed by Mick Jackson; starring Tommy Lee Jones, Anne Heche, Don Cheadle, Gaby Hoffman

The fact that this film was released two months after Dante’s Peak could have something to do with its mixed reviews and lower box office draw. I had to give it a chance because I’m a fan of Tommy Lee Jones.

And the premise is different – no mountain explodes in this movie, like you’d expect. Instead, Los Angeles is struck by an earthquake that leads to a volcanic rift opening in the middle of the city, near the famous La Brea Tar Pits. Mike Roark (Jones), the head of Emergency Management, is forced to work with geologist Dr. Amy Barnes (Heche) to come up with a plan to save as much of Los Angeles as they can.

Jones is always a pleasure to watch in any role. And there are some really good performances in this film. The action and special effects are admirable, too.

Bouchercon 2021

Jun 30 21

The largest American convention for mystery/crime fiction returns to New Orleans this year from August 25 through 29. The event will take place at the Marriott Hotel at 555 Canal Street.

Join authors, fans, publishers/booksellers, editors and reviewers at the 2021 World Mystery Convention. (If for any reason the event cannot be held in person, all of your money will be refunded.)

The Bouchercon Guests of Honor will be Michael Connelly, Steph Cha, Craig Johnson, Charles and Caroline Todd, Alafair Burke, Ali Karim and Jonathan Maberry. There will be book signings, readings, panels and a special auction, both live and silent (proceeds go to a worthy charity chosen by the Bouchercon Committee).

To register and find out more information, click here.

2021 World Fantasy Convention

May 30 21

The 2021 World Fantasy Convention will take place November 4 – 7 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada at the Hotel Bonaventure Montreal. The theme of the event will be Fantasy, Imagination, and the Dreams of Youth.

Special Guests of Honor will be Owl Goingback and Yves Meynard. Other Guests of Honor: John Picacio, Andre-Francois Ruaud and Nisi Shawl. The Toastmaster of the event will be Christine Taylor-Butler.

Event activities include panels, workshops, readings and author signings. The World Fantasy Awards ceremony will occur during the event as well. The judges for 2021 have now been empanelled.

Click here to register and learn more.

Readercon 31

Apr 30 21

Readercon 31 will be virtual this year – hosted online from August 13 – 15. Registration will open in early June. Guests of Honor will be Jeffrey Ford and Ursula Vernon, with authors, editors, critics and luminaries from around the world joining the events.

Programming will include panels on both the heart of reading and the art of writing, author readings, talks and performances. Two award ceremonies will take place: Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award and the Shirley Jackson Awards. There will also be access to a Bookshop online, where attendees can purchase new and used books from small press and independent booksellers.

Click here to learn more and to register.

Readercon is run completely by volunteers. Individuals who volunteer this year and work a minimum of eight hours will receive a free membership to Readercon in 2022.

Gen Con 2021 Postponed

Mar 31 21

Since 1968, Gen Con has been bringing people together to connect over their shared love of table-top gaming and geek culture. It’s the largest and longest-running convention of its kind, occurring annually in Indianapolis, Indiana.

This year the event has been moved from summer to fall – the new dates being from September 16 to 19. The hybrid format will include Gen Con Indy, Gen Con Online and Pop-Up Gen Con running concurrently to provide in-person and online experiences. The main event will still be held at the Indiana Convention Center at 100 S. Capitol Avenue in Indy.

Click here to visit the website and see a list of Frequently Asked Questions.

StokerCon 2021 Goes Virtual

Feb 28 21

The Horror Writers Association recently announced that StokerCon 2021 would be shifting from an in-person event to a virtual one from May 20 through 23. The convention was to be held in downtown Denver at The Curtis, and this will be the location in 2022.

Several announcements regarding this change are forthcoming. Attendees will be offered a full refund or they will be allowed to roll over their registration to next year’s event from May 12 to 15.

The officers and trustees of the HWA Board are striving to make the event resemble the original programming as closely as possible, with panels, author readings, presentations, interviews and ceremonies like the Bram Stoker Awards. Also included will be the Ann Radcliffe Academic University, Librarians’ Day, Horror University and the Final Frame Film Competition.

Guests of Honor include Joe R. Lansdale, Maurice Broaddus, Seanan McGuire, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Lisa Morton and Steve Rasnic Tem.

Click here for more details and updates as they become available.

UPDATED 3/2/2021: StokerCon 2021 (Virtual Event) is now open for registration here.