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Sep 30 18

Halloween is fast approaching and I’ve already started my nightly horror movie marathon leading up to October 31st. Last month I listed thirteen of my favorite ghost story films. This month it’s all about the vampires. Here are my thirteen faves:

LET’S SCARE JESSICA TO DEATH (1971) – Directed by John D. Hancock (shares writing credit with Lee Kalcheim); starring Zohra Lampert, Barton Heyman, Mariclare Costello

Jessica (Zohra Lampert) has recently been released from a mental institution after suffering a nervous breakdown, and her husband decides she needs a change of scenery away from the hectic city. They move to a supposedly haunted country farmhouse near a remote little town, and right away Jess notices odd things about the locals, and begins to experience unusual encounters. Is it all in her mind?

At first, this movie appears to mix genres and has a surreal feel. I enjoyed the eerie moments. Viewers have to decide for themselves if Jessica lost her grip on her sanity once again, or if the monsters were real.

DRACULA (1979) – Directed by John Badham; starring Frank Langella, Sir Laurence Olivier, Donald Pleasence, Kate Nelligan

This version differs greatly from Bram Stoker’s novel. It’s 1913, and an ailing Mina Van Helsing witnesses a shipwreck off the English coast. She finds a lone survivor washed up on the shore and he is none other than Count Dracula of Transylvania, come to take possession of Carfax Manor. Soon, Mina succumbs to her illness, but with other strange symptoms. Her best friend Lucy (Kate Nelligan) is distraught and notifies Mina’s father, Professor Abraham Van Helsing (Olivier), who rushes to England. In the meantime, Lucy begins to fall under the spell of the enigmatic Count.

I would say Frank Langella is one of my favorite actors to play Dracula on the big screen. He first appears on the scene like a rock star, with charm and swagger – sensual and sinister at the same time. The ending of the film is different in this version as well. It made me hope that the Count could have survived after all.

THE HUNGER (1983) – Directed by Tony Scott; starring Catherine Deneuve, David Bowie, Susan Sarandon

This erotic horror film involves a love triangle and immortality – with a catch. John (Bowie) is the long-time lover of the beautiful vampire Miriam (Deneuve), his sire. He believes he’ll also live forever, but Miriam has kept the truth hidden. Her “offspring” will never share all of her gifts – and what awaits them is a fate worse than death. John begins to deteriorate and becomes desperate when Miriam seeks out a new companion. She finds Sarah (Sarandon), who becomes quite unhappy when she discovers the plans that Miriam has for her.

This unconventional vampire movie was panned by critics and stalled at the box office. I like it anyway, perhaps because I always believed that David Bowie could do no wrong. I also enjoyed the soundtrack quite a bit.

FRIGHT NIGHT (1985) – Directed by Tom Holland; starring William Ragsdale, Chris Sarandon, Roddy McDowall, Amanda Bearse

Don’t judge me, but I still love this movie – and for a moment I was offended when I heard they were filming a remake (I changed my mind about that – see below).

In the beginning, Charley Brewster (Ragsdale) is a horror-loving teen whose greatest concern is getting his skittish girlfriend (Bearse) to go all the way. But then he discovers that Jerry Dandridge – the handsome new neighbor who’s charmed his mother – is actually a murderous vampire (Sarandon – wasn’t he married to Susan at some point?). When his mother and his friends refuse to believe him, he tries to enlist the aid of TV’s Fright Night host and former “vampire hunter” Peter Vincent (McDowall). Of course, Vincent is also disinclined to believe Charley’s claims, and the teen realizes it’s all up to him to stop Dandridge.

The humor, the plot and the excellent cast are what make this movie fun for me. (The Evil Ed character is a fave, played with glee by Stephen Geoffreys.)

NEAR DARK (1987) – Directed by Kathryn Bigelow; starring Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton

When he falls in love with a pretty girl he meets at a bar, happy-go-lucky cowboy Caleb Colton (Pasdar) complicates his life in an unexpected way. Mae turns out to be a vampire looking for a forever companion, and she wastes no time putting the bite on Caleb. He realizes that to keep his family safe from his blood cravings, he has no choice but to join his girlfriend’s wandering band of vampires – who wreak havoc wherever they go.

I never get tired of watching this flick either. It’s worth seeing just for Bill Paxton’s performance as the evil, batshit crazy Severen.

THE LOST BOYS (1987) – Directed by Joel Schumacher; starring Jason Patric, Keifer Sutherland, Corey Haim, Corey Feldman, Jami Gertz, Dianne Wiest

After their parents are divorced, teens Michael (Patric) and Sam (Haim) move with their mother to Santa Carla, California. Michael soon falls for a beautiful, mysterious local girl named Star (Gertz), who has a dark secret, and Sam befriends the Frogs, a pair of comic-book nerds who claim their town is infested with vampires. Things get crazy when Michael goes head to head with a gang of vampires led by David (Sutherland), who has Star in bloodthirsty transition and under his thrall. Michael has to rely on Sam and the Frog Brothers to rescue both him and his girlfriend.

This flick is on my list of Top Five favorite vampire movies. It’s another one I never get tired of seeing. (And yeah, I’ll admit – I still listen to the soundtrack these days.)

BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1992) – Directed by Francis Ford Coppola; starring Winona Ryder, Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins, Keanu Reeves

Coppola’s blood-soaked vision of a gothic romance, this version is sensuous, surreal at times, and blessed with the uniquely dichotomous performance of Gary Oldman as Vlad the Impaler. (Depending on the scene, Oldman is either sexy or repulsive.)

The setting and time period is in line with Stoker’s novel. Vlad is a 15th century Transylvanian prince who, having lost his lovely young wife to suicide, has been cursed to live forever off the blood of humans due to his loss of faith. Jonathan Harker (Reeves) is a lawyer from London who is sent to Dracula’s remote castle to handle a real estate transaction. When the Count happens to see a photo of Harker’s fiancée, Mina Murray (Ryder) – who is the spitting image of his late wife – he imprisons Harker and sets off to England to find Mina, who he believes is the reincarnation of his lost love.

In London, we are introduced to vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing (Hopkins), who is quite delightful. (Thank goodness he was around to lighten the mood with the film’s only intentionally humorous scenes.) And of course, Mina’s best friend, Lucy (Sadie Frost), is on hand to give an over the top performance that I rather enjoyed.

I’m still not sure how I feel about the ending. I think I would have preferred a more traditional one, to be honest, but I knew going in that this movie would be anything but conventional.

INTERVIEW WITH A VAMPIRE (1994) – Directed by Neil Jordan; starring Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Kirsten Dunst, Antonio Banderas, Christian Slater

Based upon the novel by Anne Rice, who also wrote the screenplay, this gothic horror tale centers on two eighteenth century vampires, Louis de Pointe du Lac (Pitt) and his sire, Lestat de Lioncourt (Cruise). It begins in present day San Francisco with a melancholy Louis pouring his heart out to a reporter (Slater), recounting the story of his life, death and rebirth – and all the guilt and betrayals that followed.

Anne Rice fans (including me) had high expectations about this film. When it was announced that Tom Cruise had accepted the role of the blond “Brat Prince” Lestat, Anne and the majority of her readers (including me) were greatly disappointed and loudly voiced their displeasure. But when the movie was released, even the author admitted she had been wrong. Cruise did the part justice.

And wow – child actress Kirsten Dunst nailed the character of Claudia and stole nearly every scene she was in.

It’s not perfect, but I believe the film does the book justice as well – being sensual, mesmerizing, darkly humorous and frightening.

BLADE (1998) – Directed by Stephen Norrington; starring Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff, Kris Kristopherson

I suppose you could call this a superhero horror film. It’s based on the Marvel Comics of the same name, which I have never read. The plot captured my interest right away. Blade, played by Snipes, is half-human and half-vampire, having a vampire’s strengths without any of their weaknesses. His mother was attacked by a vampire while she was pregnant with him, and Blade is out to avenge her death and rid the world of evil vamps – aided by his mentor Abraham Whistler (Kristopherson). In the meantime, one of the evil vamps, Deacon Frost, has a plan to bring about the Blood Tide – a ritual that will turn every human into a vampire.

This is one of those flicks I can’t resist watching whenever I find it on a cable channel.

LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008) – Directed by Tomas Alfredson; starring Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson

Also on my Top Five favorites list, this Swedish horror film (with English subtitles) is unique and far superior to the American remake. Details about this character-driven story lingered on my mind for days.

Based on the novel by John Ajvide Lindqvist, who also wrote the screenplay, the movie held my interest from the start. Twelve-year-old Oskar feels neglected by his mother and is bullied at school. When a girl his age moves into his apartment building, who also seems to be a misfit, they quickly strike up a friendship. But her appearance in his town coincides with a series of grisly murders in the area, and Oskar comes to realize that Eli is no ordinary girl. She confesses, “I’ve been twelve for a very long time.”

FRIGHT NIGHT (Remake, 2011) – Directed by Craig Gillespie; starring Anton Yelchin, Colin Farrell, David Tennant, Toni Collette, Imogen Poots

I wasn’t impressed with the idea of a remake, and the only reason I went to see the movie was to see David Tennant on the big screen (he had recently given up his role as the tenth Doctor Who, and I already missed him). I didn’t think Colin Farrell was a good casting choice, either, but I changed my mind about that. Farrell proved to be charismatic, oozing a menacing sort of sex appeal. (And I loved the cameo by Chris Sarandon – the original Jerry Dandridge.)

Anton Yelchin is excellent and adorable as Charley Brewster (but not as adorable as he is playing Chekov in the new Star Trek franchise). I still can’t believe a freak accident took him away from us at such a young age.

And Tennant didn’t disappoint me in his role as Peter Vincent. A little over the top at times, but the movie didn’t suffer for it. Besides, the remake is set in Sin City. Everything is over the top in Las Vegas.

I thought the screenwriter, Marti Noxon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer fame, did an awesome job of blending the old version with the new.

ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (2013) – Directed by Jim Jarmusch; starring Tom Hiddleston, Tilda Swinton, Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin

As it begins, Adam and Eve (Hiddleston and Swinton) – two vampires who’ve been married for centuries – are now living on opposite sides of the planet. Adam, who lives in a Victorian home in Detroit, is a famous musician who fears exposure and is becoming more and more reclusive. Eve is hanging out in Tangier. They both fear contaminated human blood in the twenty-first century, and so must rely on other ways to obtain their food.

Adam becomes so despondent that he contemplates suicide, and has his devoted fan, Ian (Yelchin), procure a wooden bullet for him. When Eve realizes how depressed he’s become, she comes to Detroit to comfort him, and they resume their relationship. But the unexpected arrival of Eve’s younger, out-of-control sister Ava (Wasikowska) causes their lives to become far more  dangerously complicated.

A little artsy and off-beat, I enjoyed it because it was much different than I expected – and I’m a huge Hiddleston fan (Team Loki!).

30 DAYS OF NIGHT (2007) – Directed by David Slade; starring Josh Hartnett, Melissa George, Danny Huston, Ben Foster

Based on the horror comic book miniseries by Steve Niles, this vampire flick has a clever premise and is quite suspenseful. I can’t say if it stays faithful to Niles’ series, not having read those three issues, but I enjoyed the hell out of it.

As Barrow, Alaska enters into a 30-day long polar night, the town is besieged by a nomadic gang of vampires. The local sheriff (Hartnett), who has been distracted by the break up with his wife (George), must figure out how to stop them.

There is nothing romantic or noble about these blood-thirsty monsters. Humans are merely prey to them and they take great joy in playing with their food. If you’re the squeamish sort, this movie isn’t for you.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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:


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.



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.


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?


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.”



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….