Welcome to debbiekuhn.com

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.

GUILTY PLEASURES IN FILM: Monsters & Aliens

Jan 9 21

I admit to having plenty of guilty pleasures when it comes to film, and I’ve already blogged about disaster movies, ghosts stories, and vampires flicks. Now I’m ready to move on to ten of my favorite films about monsters and aliens.

CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954) – Directed by Jack Arnold; starring Richard Carlson, Julia Adams, Richard Denning, Ben Chapman (Creature on Land), Ricou Browning (Creature Underwater)

This classic black and white 3D film launched quite a successful horror franchise and influenced a good many directors and writers. (Proof: Guillermo del Torro won an Oscar recently for his take on a Gill-Man falling in love with a human – The Shape of Water).

Eerie and oddly romantic, this tale begins with a group of scientists in the Amazon jungle who are studying fossils when they discover something infinitely more interesting: an amphibious humanoid creature. They manage to capture the Gill-Man but he escapes, only to return soon afterwards to kidnap his obsession – Kay, the beautiful fiancée (Julia Adams) of one of the scientists.

All of the underwater scenes are impressive, sometimes even enthralling. And as is the case with these types of movies, I’m always on the side of the creature…but they usually don’t survive.

INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (1978) – Directed by Philip Kaufman; starring Donald Sutherland, Brooke Adams, Jeff Goldblum, Leonard Nimoy, Veronica Cartwright

After alien seeds from deep space find their to Earth, pods began to grow in and around San Francisco, replicating the citizens one by one – and eradicating their human emotions.

“Sleep…sleep and be born again into a world without fear and hate.” (Looking around at this planet’s happenings lately, I’m not sure I’d turn that offer down. Or…I’d at least have to think about it for a minute.)

This is a remake of the 1956 film (same title), which is based on the book by Jack Finney, titled The Body Snatchers. Okay, so the special effects are better in the 1978 version, but the main reason I end up watching this again on various weekends at midnight is because I love all the actors involved.

And now I have to mention The Invasion (2007), since it was originally meant to be another sequel to Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but the writers changed the story in significant ways. It stars Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig and is set Washington D.C. I think this sci-fi film has been terribly underrated. If you’re a fan of the Snatchers movies, you will probably be entertained by this suspenseful version as well.   

SWAMP THING (1982) – Directed by Wes Craven; starring Ray Wise, Adrienne Barbeau, Louis Jourdan, Reggie Batts

Based on the Vertigo/DC Comics character, Swamp Thing tells the story of a brother and sister scientist team, Drs. Alec (Wise) and Linda Holland and their discovery of a plant-based serum and a hybrid plant and animal cell. After another scientist on their team is killed, government agent Alice Cable (Barbeau) arrives to investigate. She discovers a paramilitary leader, Anton Arcane (Jourdan), is out to steal the discoveries for nefarious reasons.

During an attack, Alec is covered by the explosive plant-based serum and cells and becomes a hybrid creature. Alice sets out to help Alec with the aid of a young gas station attendant named Jude (Reggie Batts – who steals the show on more than one occasion).

What a campy delight. Lots of giggles for me, but the film has heart, too.

STARMAN (1984) – Directed by John Carpenter; starring Jeff Bridges, Karen Allen, Charles Martin Smith

So…you never knew that horror icon John Carpenter had directed a sci-fi romance? I was surprised, too. And I love pretty much everything about this movie – the cast and their stellar acting (pun intended), and the oddly touching storyline. (Original screenplay by Bruce A. Evans and Raynold Gideon.)

It begins in Wisconsin with the crash of a UFO (caused by the military). Jenny, a young, grieving widow (Allen), is terrified when an alien life form invades her home and uses her late husband Scott’s DNA to create a human body – identical to his – in order to survive.

It turns out the Starman (Bridges) traveled to Earth after finding the gold record on board the Voyager 2 space probe, no doubt thinking it was an invitation. But of course, the government just wants to kill him (after studying and torturing him first). So he forces Jenny to set out on a road trip to Arizona, where he expects to be rescued at the Barringer Crater. Along the way, Jenny is amazed at the magical things the alien can do. She lets go of her fear, especially when she realizes that his human body is already dying. Thanks to an understanding SETI scientist (Smith), they have help in evading government officials and the U.S. military.

Jeff Bridges was nominated for an Oscar for his portrayal of an alien life form stuck inside a human body. No matter how many times I watch the film, I’m always impressed by his performance. (It was even sexy in a strange kind of way.) I admit the special effects don’t hold up well, but that’s the least important thing about this story.       

TREMORS (1990) – Directed by Ron Underwood; starring Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Finn Carter, Michael Gross, Reba McEntire

How can you resist Tremors? I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen this movie. Humor and horror can go together quite well. Although the film spawned a bunch of sequels, I’ve pretty much remained faithful to the first one.

It’s just another boring day in Perfection, Nevada – an isolated desert town east of the Sierras. Handymen Val (Bacon) and Earl (Ward) decide to move on to greener pastures, but as they are leaving Perfection, they come across another resident, perched atop an electrical tower. They discover he died of dehydration. When they find the head of a sheep farmer buried in the sand, they decide a serial killer must be on the loose and they head back to town to warn the remaining citizens. Too bad the construction crew they passed didn’t heed their warnings. When Val and Earl attempt to leave again, they find the road blocked by an avalanche of boulders. And the phone lines are down.

Now the fun really begins. With the help of a seismologist named Rhonda (Carter), the pair learn that at least three giant underground snake-like creatures (later named “Graboids”) have invaded the area and are responsible for all the killings. Any movement a person makes gives away their location, making escape highly difficult. And of course this makes the film more interesting to watch – how will they outwit the monsters? I particularly enjoyed any scene featuring the survivalist couple, Burt and Heather Gummer (played admirably by Gross and McEntire), who think they are prepared for any type of danger until a Graboid crashes through their basement wall.    

Even though movie critics were kind from the beginning, Tremors barely grossed more than its $11 million budget. But it has gained a strong cult following through the years, earning an 85% “fresh” rating on the website Rotten Tomatoes.     

SPECIES (1995) – Directed by Roger Donaldson; starring Natasha Henstridge, Michael Madsen, Ben Kingsley, Forest Whitaker, Alfred Molina, Marg Helgenberger

This sci-fi/horror flick was met with mixed and negative reviews, but it was still a box office success, spawning three sequels.

When SETI scientists begin receiving alien transmissions sharing knowledge of how to create an endless supply of fuel, they assume the species is peaceful. They carry out instructions on how to splice alien DNA with human DNA to create a female hybrid. (Why does anyone ever think this is a good idea?)

Sil (Henstridge) looks human, but she begins to age much more rapidly than expected. She also begins to have violent fits that scare the doctors so badly they decide to destroy her with cyanide gas. But Sil is stronger and more intelligent than they imagined and she breaks out of her containment cell and escapes. She matures rapidly and finds her way to Los Angeles, where she is driven to find a mate and create more of her own kind.     

The government assembles a team to track Sil down and kill her. It’s not as easy as they expect. I appreciate a lot of the dark humor and special effects in this film, and I think Henstridge (in her debut role) does a fabulous job of playing an alien nymphomaniac.

SLITHER (2006) – Directed by James Gunn; starring Nathan Fillion, Elizabeth Banks, Michael Rooker

Another sci-fi/horror film, and even though Slither received positive reviews, it was basically a box office bomb. But, much like Tremors, it has grown a strong cult following over the years.

A meteorite hiding an exceedingly unfriendly alien life form lands near a small town in South Carolina, and soon the parasite causes chaos by infecting the citizens, turning them into zombie-like creatures. It’s up to police chief Bill Pardy (Fillion) to come up with a plan to save humanity.  

I love Nathan Fillion in any role – especially if there’s humor involved. This felt like a tongue-in-cheek homage to several horror films of the 80s. (Although some people objected to its plot being way too similar to the 1986 film Night of the Creeps.)

COWBOYS AND ALIENS (2011) – Directed by Jon Favreau; starring Daniel Craig, Harrison Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell, Keith Carradine, Abigail Spencer; based on the 2006 graphic novel by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg

I think this might be the only sci-fi/western movie I’ve ever seen. I was drawn to the unusual premise, and the leading men involved.

The setting is the New Mexico territory in 1873. The town of Absolution falls under attack from alien spacecraft – and an unlikely band of citizens must join forces to rescue the kidnapped townsfolk: amnesiac outlaw Jake Lonergan (Craig), wealthy cattleman Colonel Dolarhyde (Ford) and a mysterious traveler named Ella (Wilde). 

The film received mixed reviews and was a financial disappointment at the box office. I remember some of my friends complaining that the plot and premise were too ridiculous and they didn’t like the genre mash-up, but I enjoyed the movie a great deal. I always find Daniel Craig quite appealing, and I’m still a fan of Harrison Ford. The cast and special effects are superb. I won’t give any other details away, in case any skeptics who haven’t seen it decide to check it out.      

SUPER 8 (2011) – Directed by J.J. Abrams (who also wrote the screenplay); starring Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Riley Griffiths, Jack Mills, Ryan Lee

What makes me love this film enough to include it in my list of top five sci-fi/horror films of all time? Nostalgia – the warm, fuzzy kind of feeling I used to get watching a Stephen Spielberg film from the 80s, mixed with the suspense of a Stephen King novel like IT. I’m not saying it’s a flawless movie, but I was enthralled by this story from beginning to end. Many people agreed with me – the film was a box office success and was praised by critics for the acting performances, plot and special effects.  (The detractors complained that it was merely a sentimental homage to blockbusters of the past, but that’s one reason I liked it so much.)

The opening scene takes place in February of 1979 in the small town of Lillian, Ohio. Teenager Joe Lamb is mourning the loss of his mother. His father, Jack, a deputy sheriff, blames his wife’s alcoholic co-worker for the industrial accident that took her life. Neither Jack nor Joe know how to deal with their grief, which makes things uneasy between them.

That summer, Joe decides to help his friends make a Super 8 zombie movie to enter into a competition. Joe has a crush on the only female in their group, Alice – who happens to be the daughter of the co-worker his father hates. While they’re filming a pivotal scene by the railroad tracks, a truck deliberately crashes into a train, causing a derailment. Narrowly escaping with their lives, the teens flee the scene and swear not to talk about the experience with anyone else. But Joe realizes he’s seen something he can’t explain – a strange creature that may have escaped into the night. And it might have a connection to one of the unusual objects he stole from the accident site.

It’s not long before weird occurrences begin to happen all over town. The monster is revealed at a gradual, suspenseful pace. And then all hell breaks loose on the town of Lillian.

PAUL (2011) – Directed by Greg Mottola; starring Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Seth Rogan, Jason Bateman, Sigourney Weaver, Kristen Wiig, Blythe Danner

This irreverent sci-fi comedy tickled all my funny bones. And I probably would have ignored the movie if I hadn’t noticed that Simon Pegg and Nick Frost were its stars as well as its writers. (Because Shaun of the Dead is my favorite horror-comedy film.) The movie got mixed reviews and was moderately successful in the U.S. Some critics thought it was simply a parody of other famous science fiction films. I thought it had a clever script and the cast and acting were topnotch.

British geeks Graeme (Pegg) and Clive (Frost) travel to America to attend the annual San Diego Comic Con International. After the convention, the two hit the road in a rented RV to visit the most famous UFO hot spots in the western states. While driving one night on a lonely desert highway, they witness a car crash and stop to help. That’s how they meet Paul (Seth Rogan’s sarcastic voice), an extraterrestrial on the run from the FBI.   

For the past sixty years, Paul has been held prisoner inside the top secret Area 51 military compound. Now that he’s escaped, he needs the Brits’ help in finding a mother-ship to take him home. What follows is pure craziness as the trio (who accidentally abduct a young fundamentalist woman) try to keep ahead of several determined federal agents and the fanatical father of their kidnap victim.

Who’s up for a close encounter?

Have Yourself a Scary Little Xmas

Nov 28 20

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.

Horror Films of the 1970s

Oct 18 20

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 DVD Review: WILDLING

Sep 18 20

After watching this dark fantasy/horror movie from first-time filmmaker Fritz Bohm, I couldn’t help but think that it reinvented the werewolf story the same way that Let the Right One In reinvented the vampire tale.

Her whole life, Anna (Bel Powley) has been kept hidden away in the attic of the house she shares with a man she calls “Daddy.” Every night, Daddy (Brad Dourif) reminds her of why she can’t leave her room. There’s a wicked creature in the dark forest outside – the Wildling hides in the mist, just waiting for a chance to devour her. “His teeth are sharp…and so are his nails. He ate all the other children – you’re the last one left.”

When Anna is around twelve, Daddy begins giving her injections of “medicine” for her strange malady – he tries to delay puberty from changing her for as long as possible. It’s no wonder that by the time she reaches the age of 16, Anna has become very ill. She asks Daddy to end her suffering. After losing consciousness, Anna wakes up in a hospital in a frightening, unfamiliar world.

Ellen, a sympathetic small-town sheriff (Liv Tyler), takes Anna home to live with her. Ellen and her teenage brother Ray (Collin Kelly-Sordelet) try to help Anna adjust to her strange new life…and puberty. She begins changing in so many scary ways – and curiosity and an intense attraction draws her closer to Ray.

Soon, Anna begins to realize the truth. Daddy was a wolf hunter, and she is the “monster” he had warned her about. Her new life quickly spirals out of control.

British actress Bel Powley is riveting in the role of feral, innocent Anna. She has an otherworldly, primal screen presence. One can’t help but root for Anna to survive being hunted long enough to accomplish her dream of seeing the Northern Lights.

Wildling is a worthy “fairy tale” – I give it four out of five goblins.

Guilty Pleasures: Disaster Films of the 1990s

Jul 31 20

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.

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap

Jun 30 20

Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap – a short story by Debbie Kuhn (Free for the holiday weekend.)

Alaina’s internal clock hadn’t readjusted to L.A. time yet.  It was Friday the thirteenth, eleven p.m., and she felt wide awake and anxious, due in part to the aftereffects of dealing with a delayed flight home, followed by bone-jarring turbulence and the presence of an incessantly screaming toddler.

She had other things on her mind, too.

Her husband, Ian, had finished moving out that morning while she’d been carrying out her duties as guest speaker at the University of Chicago.  It should have felt strange coming home to a big, empty house – but Ian had rarely spent any time with her in the last five years.  Their tenth anniversary was ten days away, and he couldn’t wait to flush a decade of marriage down the toilet.

Alaina left the ultra modern kitchen with a highball in hand and walked into the airy living room, with its cocoa-colored leather furniture and brass fixtures.   She set her drink down on the glass coffee table, not bothering to use a coaster. 

Ian had always nagged her about that habit.  She had constantly complained about his smoking.   

Alaina eyed the crystal ashtray on the table with disgust.  A ton of stinking cigarette butts.  And he was a surgeon, for Christ’s sake.

She grabbed the ashtray and stalked back into the kitchen.  Just as she dumped the cigarette butts into the trash can, a cell phone started ringing.

But it wasn’t her phone, or Ian’s.  Someone had picked a Britney Spears tune as a ringtone. 

Alaina set the empty ashtray on the counter and rushed back into the living room, zeroing in on the source of the frantic pop music.  She searched around the sofa cushions and found a hot pink cell phone. 

Dr. Ian Hardisty was calling.  Imagine that.

She answered the phone with a whispered “Hi.”

“Hey, love, can you talk right now?”

Alaina’s throat tightened.  Ian never called her “love.”

“No,” she said, keeping her strained voice low.

“Fine, just listen then.  I wanted you to know I’ve kept my word.  The deed will be done tonight.”

What deed?  “Um, okay.”

“Don’t worry.  The bloke is a pro.  We’ll have to wait a little while, to be safe, but I promise we’ll be a real couple soon.”

Ian mistook Alaina’s slight gasp as a sigh of relief.

“I told you I was serious about us.  And just so you know – I’m keeping the house, since you like it so much.  It would probably be hard to sell anyway, under the circumstances.”

Alaina nearly choked.  “Shit.”

“What’s the matter?  You need to go?”

“Yes.”

“Okay – I’ll contact you again tomorrow morning.  I love you, sweetheart.”

Ian hung up without waiting for a goodbye.  Alaina stood frozen to the spot with the phone to her ear, listening to the dial tone.

“You are one lucky redhead, Professor.”

Alaina dropped the phone and whirled around with a screech.

The intruder had on black from head to toe and was holding a switchblade.  He couldn’t have been much older than twenty. 

“Don’t you be lookin’ so terrified, now,” he said, smiling. “Things might turn out better than you expect.  I’ve been havin’ second thoughts about killin’ you all week.”

An Irish brogue.  Dimples and dark curls to go with the brilliant blue eyes.  He looked familiar somehow.

Alaina swallowed hard and managed to find her voice.  “Don’t I know you?”

“Anthropology class.  First row.  My name is Seth, by the way.”

“You’re a college student, and a hitman?”

“Hmm, not exactly.  Haven’t been in school for many, many years, but I like to study my marks.  The hitman thing is kinda new – my talents are quite diverse, really.”

Alaina’s heart skipped a beat and she found it hard to breathe.

“My husband…wants me dead.”

“Well, what he really doesn’t want is to pay out for a divorce.  And he’s been seein’ a young blonde lass, too, but I think you’re far lovelier – if it makes you feel any better.” 

Alaina shook her head, then swayed on her feet.

In an instant, Seth was by her side, gripping her arm. The knife had disappeared.

 “You’re lookin’ a wee bit pale.  Sit down here and I’ll fetch us something to drink so we can finish our chat.”

He steered Alaina over to the couch and she sank onto the cushions.

“Do you happen to have any champagne?”

She stared up at him.  “No.  There’s red wine on the kitchen counter.  Vodka and gin in the liquor cabinet.”

He noticed the highball on the coffee table.  “Oh, already picked your poison, eh?  Guess I’ll pass on the drink, since there’s no champagne.  The bubbly stuff makes me giddy anyway.”

“Are you going to kill me tonight?” 

He must have heard the tremor in her voice, for his expression softened.

“Death isn’t always the end, Professor.  I’m about to change your life, whether you agree with me or not.”

Seth plopped into the overstuffed armchair across from her and crossed his legs. 

“Here are the facts: 1. I need money, 2. I’m no ordinary hitman – meaning I can offer you an option better than mortal death, 3. I don’t think you deserve to be murdered, 4. There’s a way for us both to get what we want.”

The guy was insane.  Or maybe he was high on drugs.

Seth noticed the skeptical look on her face.

“No, I’m not a madman, or an addict.”

Alaina couldn’t help but steal a glance at the hot pink cell phone lying on the carpet, almost within arm’s reach.

Seth moved so fast he was a blur.  He kicked the cell phone across the room and it shattered against the wall.

“Okay, let’s cut to the chase.  I’ll show you what I really am, and then you have to decide if you’d rather die or become like me – undead.”

Alaina’s mouth dropped open.  He sounded serious.

“Fine, then.  Prove to me you aren’t a crazy liar.”

A moment later Alaina found herself dangling in midair.  Seth had one hand around her throat, and he was baring an impressive pair of fangs.

His eyes glowed like hellfire.  “I could snap your neck like a twig, but I’d rather suck your blood.  A vamp’s gotta eat.”

Alaina wanted to scream, but couldn’t.  She had to be turning blue.

Seth suddenly released her and she dropped back onto the couch cushions, gasping.

“Anything worth having is worth waiting for, but I can’t wait much longer.  You need to make your decision now, Professor.”

Alaina burst into tears.  “But…I still can’t believe this.  I can’t believe any of this is happening.”

Seth let out a sigh.  “Do you honestly need more convincin’, woman?  I’m a bleedin’ vampire – and a hitman. Your husband is a greedy bastard, so you’ll be dying tonight one way or t’other.  Whether or not you’ll rise from the dead afterwards is up to you.”

***

On the third night after her mortal death, Alaina woke to find herself in an unfamiliar room, wearing nothing but a black satin sheet.  Blood was the first thing she thought about, thanks to the brutal hunger that twisted her insides.

Seth was sitting next to the four poster bed in a creaky rocking chair, reading an issue of Rolling Stone.  When she moved, he looked up at her and smiled.

“Sleeping Beauty awakes – and I bet she’s thirsty.”   

He tossed aside the magazine and opened the cooler at his feet.  A few seconds later Alaina grabbed the bag of blood out of his hand and tore into it like a savage.

Seth chuckled.  “Glad I didn’t forget to visit a butcher shop today.  This isn’t the good stuff, but we need to play it safe for the next couple of nights while you transition.”     

Later, Seth explained that Ian had wanted to have her cremated, so he’d had to steal her body from the morgue before it could be released to a funeral home.  By that time, Ian had seen her corpse, shed his crocodile tears, and had met Seth to hand over the “blood money.”

Alaina had been reborn in a mansion not far from her own home.  The former residents had recently been foreclosed upon and the place still had power and furnishings.

Over the next few nights, she learned quickly what myths were true and which were false.  Sunlight was indeed quite deadly, but she was relieved to find she still had a reflection. 

Feeding proved to be a tricky, messy task.  Seth took her hunting amongst the city’s undesirables and after a half a dozen tries, Alaina figured out how to stop herself in time to keep the victim from dying.  After that, “glamour,” or hypnosis, erased their memories – easy as pie.

A week passed, and she began feeling restless.

“You can’t stay in Los Angeles, Alaina,” Seth told her.  “You need to start a new life somewhere you’ve never been before, and keep movin’ around.”

“How do you feel about Florida?  Maybe I could be your partner in crime.”

He grinned.  “Ya don’t think I’m too old for ya, then?”

“Eighty is the new forty.  And you’re quite well preserved.”

Alaina thought he might kiss her, but then his cell phone started blaring AC/DC’s heavy metal classic, “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.”

He grimaced.  “Time to get a new phone.  It’s your husband again, Professor.  Should I answer it this time?”

“Yes.  And keep him talking for a while.”

Alaina could easily hear Ian swearing and demanding to know what had happened to her body.

“Don’t know why you think I’d nick your wife’s corpse.  I ain’t into necrophilia.”   

Alaina slipped out of the house and melted into the darkness.  Minutes later she was standing on Ian’s back deck watching him pace up and down the family room, puffing on a cigarette.

No blonde in sight.  Too bad.

He yelped like a scalded pup when she suddenly appeared before him.  The cigarette dropped out of his mouth and landed on the Oriental rug. 

She snatched the phone out of Ian’s hand and put it to her ear, enjoying the shocked expression on his face.

“Thanks, love,” she said to Seth. “I’ll take it from here.”

Alaina tossed the phone away and bared her fangs.

“Happy anniversary, darling.”

One Last Night at Waverly Hills

May 31 20

One Last Night at Waverly Hills – a flash fiction tale by Debbie Kuhn

The sudden spray of watery blood stained the skirt of Nora’s crisp, white uniform.  She caught the glass as it fell and laid a comforting hand on her patient’s shoulder.  When the violent coughing spell had ceased, Mrs. Davidson met Nora’s sympathetic gaze with tear-filled, sunken eyes.   

“I’m so sorry, hon.” 

“No need to apologize.  I’m quite used to it.”

The fragile, middle-aged woman only had a few more weeks to live.  Nora recognized the signs. 

“What was I saying?  Oh, are you leaving Waverly to get married?”

“No,” Nora said, smiling.  “I’m transferring to a regular hospital.”

“Well, you’re young and attractive.  You should find a husband to take you away from all this suffering and death.” 

Nora didn’t bother to reply.  She covered her patient with a clean white blanket. 

“Goodnight, Mrs. Davidson.  I’ll be back to check on you soon.”

Nora’s twelve-hour shift – her last – had begun five hours earlier at 6:00 p.m.   She would take a break around midnight and run back to the dormitory to change her uniform.  Bloodstains upset her littlest patients.

The children – they were the reason she had to leave Waverly Hills Sanatorium.  She couldn’t bear to watch any more of them waste away and die from the “white death” that was tuberculosis. 

At midnight, she left the third floor nurse’s station and headed down the hallway to the elevator, her soft-soled shoes making no noise on the red and black tiles.  It was quiet now except for the occasional hiss of a radiator, or the sound of a patient coughing. 

Nora rode the elevator alone down to the first floor.  When the doors opened, a hideous screeching noise assaulted her ears.  She stepped out and looked to her left.

At the end of the dimly-lit corridor, the heavy metal door that led to the draining room was standing wide-open.  A little girl with long, black hair appeared from behind it.  She was dressed in a white hospital gown. 

Katie Hanson? 

It couldn’t be.  Eight-year-old Katie had died on the operating table two weeks before.  It had been a last-ditch effort to save the orphan’s life.  Nora had been off-duty at the time and had not had a chance to say goodbye.

No, it must be Molly, Katie’s friend.  The two had looked incredibly alike.

Nora watched in horror as the little girl entered the draining room. 

She sprinted down the hall.  No child should see what was in there, and no adult could remain unaffected by the sight.  The room was the last stop for infectious TB victims before they were carried through the death tunnel to waiting hearses. 

Nora paused in the doorway, gasping at the sight – and the overwhelming stench. 

Two bodies – one male, one female – hung upside down from metal poles.  They’d been sliced open from groin to sternum.   Little rivers of blood, mixed with other bodily fluids, snaked across the sloping, cement floor to trickle down one drain.

Nora caught a glimpse of the little girl behind one of the hanging corpses.

“Molly, honey, you should be in bed.  We can’t stay here.”

It was Katie’s voice that replied – accusatory and full of unshed tears.  “They cut me, Miss Nora.  You promised me you wouldn’t let them.”

“Katie?” 

The overhead light flickered and went out just as the metal door slammed shut behind Nora.  She screamed and threw herself against it, pummeling the unyielding surface with her small fists.

“No!  Please, let me out!”

“Don’t leave us, Miss Nora.”

Nora felt little hands tugging on the bottom of her skirt.  The pitch-dark room was filled with the sound of labored breathing.

She let out a blood-curdling shriek and fell forward as the door suddenly opened.  She shielded her eyes from the light and looked up into the stern face of a security guard.

Nora didn’t give him a chance to speak.  She brushed past him and flew down the hall to the lobby.  She leaned against one of the wooden pillars for several minutes, catching her breath, trying to think rationally. 

One last night at Waverly Hills – she’d get through it somehow.  Stress, guilt, and grief had led to that horrifying hallucination.  It was that simple.  She’d take a break and then get back to her rounds.

***

On her walk back from the dormitory, Nora noticed a light shining in Room 502.  Only mentally ill TB patients were kept up there.  They didn’t like to sleep.  She would check on them and see if someone needed a sedative.

Nora took the elevator to the fifth floor, which was essentially the rooftop.  Room 502 was isolated in the center and the open space around it was used by patients to take in the healing rays of the sun. 

She crossed the roof.  It was a chilly March night, with only a whisper of a breeze.  She fished the room key out of the pocket of her sweater.  The door was unlocked.

Nora entered cautiously and was met with silence.  All ten patients were awake, sitting on their beds.  The men and women stared at her with blank, pale faces.

Except…there should only have been nine.

Nora’s hands began to tremble as a tall, gaunt-faced woman stood and faced her. 

No.  It was Alma Hanson, Katie’s mother. But she was dead.  She’d committed suicide rather than watch her daughter die.

“You can’t leave us, Miss Nora.”

Nora whirled around, stifling a scream.  The front of Katie’s gown was soaked with blood.

“Mama knows how to make you stay.”

Nora felt an ice-cold entity invade every fiber of her being, and realized she no longer had control of her limbs. 

The spirit of Alma was inside her. It made her walk towards a darkened corner.  Nora could see a wooden chair, a white sheet draped over one of the ceiling pipes – and the noose.

She tried to scream, but couldn’t. 

The ghost forced her onto the chair and slipped the noose over her head.  Nora’s stiff, white cap tumbled to the floor.  Hot tears streamed down her face.

“Don’t worry.”  Katie looked up at her with an innocent smile.  “Mama says it’ll only hurt a little.”

Alma kicked away the chair.