Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Comics Catchup

I make no pretense of being caught up or well-informed about comics these days. There are too many great titles, and too many temptations for an eclectic like myself.

I bounce around among the titles that capture my interest. I've read some of the New 52, and bit of the Red Hulk and other Marvel goings on, and I'm a fan of Locke and Key and much more.

Lately a few other things have grabbed my attention, and a mention on a friend's Facebook timeline sparked some discussion last night. So, some things I've liked recently on my iPad via Comixology include:

Dark Shadows/Vampirella
Crossovers are inevitable in comics, and when characters from different corners of my youth converge, it's hard to pass up the adventure.

Barnabas Collins, the Maine blue blood vampire meets the girl from Draculon in this outing, that pits them against Elizabeth Bathory, she who bathed in the blood of virgins. Liz has enlisted the help of Jack the Ripper, and they're both alive in contemporary Manhattan.

They're responsible for some deaths, and they've kidnapped and caged several victims as well. One of those is the descendant of a woman Barnabas destroyed before he learned to control his vampirism, so he owes a debt.

Barnabas is portrayed as a bit unhip, having been penned up in a coffin for a few hundred years, so venturing from Maine into New York City is challenging. His werewolf cousin Quentin is happily on hand to help out, and then there Vampi.

The fight, as heroes, or even antiheroes must in crossovers, but then they team up and face off against the real evil. Dracula has a place in Vampi's world these days, but Bathory is so evil, he's not an obstacle as this five-issue arc builds to its climactic battle.

It's penned by Marc Andreyko who created Torso, based on the Cleveland's Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run, and it really had me flipping through the frames.

Army of Darkness vs. Re-Animator
Lovecraftian meets Lovecraft in more ways than one in this entry in this entry of the ongoing Army of Darkness crossover series, and it's a bit of a brilliant mix.

Ash from Army gets committed after his return to the S-Mart where shotgunning an ancient sorceress isn't viewed with the understanding film viewers might be willing to grant the one-armed stalwart. Who should be at work at the institution where he's housed but Lovecraft's Herbert West himself, the Herbert of the Re-Animator films at least.

He's still up to his efforts to thwart death with obstacles still plaguing him, but he's also assisting those bent on opening doorways to Lovecraft's Elder Gods.

Hideous, tentacled beings abound, and Ash must avert cataclysm in his usual style.

Sherlock Holmes and the Liverpool Demon
Who said Sherlock in his own time couldn't be successful today? Updatings Sherlock and Elementary get all the attention. Well, I suppose the Robert Downey Jr. movies are true to period, but this series gives us Holmes and Watson almost as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's readers know them.

Their challenge is sensational, a series of murders in which the victims are clawed by what many believe to be the Springheel Jack of legend.

But the series remains true to the spirit of Doyle's original stories  throughout. Holmes and Watson are in Liverpool wrapping up a case, and soon become involved in the murders. A homeless man's one of the victims, and he seems to have ties to other things afoot. Is the supernatural at play, or is a gangster's imported panther alone the culprit? The way things wrap up with various plot threads converging in the final issue makes this mystery mini-series enthralling.

These titles plus a news series from Marvel featuring Michael Morbius, who I used to read in black and white in the Vampire Tales days, have been keeping me busy.

I know some who dismiss the digital age of comics, but I find it handy. There's not a worry about missing an issue at the drug store when every title's just a download away.




Sunday, December 08, 2013

Fear on Demand Interview Excerpt - Scream Queen and Movie Producer Jacqui Holland

I had a fun an interesting conversation with scream queen and now movie producer Jacqui Holland recently via Skype.

Jacqui doesn't just star in horror films, including several that are in post production. She's also a fan, grew up as a bit of a geek and has started her own production company to create the kind of horror she enjoys.

As the name of her production company suggests, that's films that, well, okay, it's called Mind Fuk, so you get the idea. She enjoys movies that keep viewers guessing, pondering and contemplating, so watch for some cool flicks in the future.

Jacqui's credits include Sorority Party Massacre, Monsters in the Woods and upcoming flicks including The Mangled. She's been seen on television in things like How I Met Your Mother, Suburgatory and Desperate Housewives. Listen to the full interview in Fear on Demand Episode 11 or read on.

Sid: I understand that before you were an actress and a model, you were a bit of a geek. 

Jacqui: Laughs.

Sid: Tell me a little about your formative years. What were some of your early influences? 

Jacqui: Well, as a kid I was definitely a little nerdy. I was kind of heavyset when I was younger. I watched a lot of Nickelodeon. I was always watching them and putting on shows for my parents in my basement and always doing little things like that. I had a National Clean Your Room Day that I would pretend was going. I was alway creating little projects in my head since I was very little.

Sid: And you were a fan of films like The Craft? Did I read that you had a dog named Damien?

Jacqui: I did. I did. I've always loved horror films, ever since I was really little. With my dog, I was really into The Omen, so I named him Damien. He was a little black Pomeranian. The Craft was one of my favorite movies. I saw that over and over again.

Sid: And now, you loved those growing up, now you're acting in some horror, producing some horror. Let's talk about acting first … What have you have found are particular challenges about acting in horror movies.

Jacqui: I think the biggest challenge of acting in horror films is usually the climate, because there are a lot of night scenes. Most of the time my characters are usually scantily clad, and so I'm running through the woods, you know, like being killed or something in barely nothing. It's freezing. I just shot a movie in Massachusetts, and it was like 40 degrees out, and I was wearing pasties and a thong. I was like: "Oh, God, this is horrible." It's worth it in the end. It's totally worth it.

Sid: … Does it help that you were a genre fan first? Do you feel kind of fulfilled being in the roles you once watched as a fan. 

Jacqui: Totally, totally. I like excitement in my life. I feel like in every horror film you're going to get something exciting. Either I'm going to be killing somebody, or somebody's going to be killing me, but there's a lot of blood and it's just a lot of fun.

(Hear about Jacqui's inspiration from Barbara Stanwyck-star of Double Indemnity and Baby Face and later as the tough matriarch in the Western series The Big Valley-in the full audio interview.)

Sid: Speaking of strong female leads with Barbara Stanwyck, with things like American Mary and to some degree Jennifer's Body, we're seeing some interesting developments for women in horror. The genre seems to be moving to some degree beyond victimization. … We're seeing the quote unquote Final Girl turn the tables more and more and even move into the villainy realm. Do you think it's an interesting time, and do you think there's a female audience that has not been reached with horror?

Jacqui: I do, I actually do think and that's what I want to do with my production company. I want to make horror films that have strong female leads. And so, if it's either the woman being the victim, she's a strong female lead. I also like for women to be the killers. I just got to play a killer in a couple of different movies, and I'll tell you, that was more fun than I've ever had.

Sid: Kind of the dark side?

Jacqui: It kind of scared me. I did this one called Dead Ringer. That was the first time that I've actually I've ever played a psycho, just like a creepy psycho woman, and I was: "Oh my God. I'm really good at this. This kind of scares me."

Sid: Tell me about how your production company came about. We do have an explicit tag on our podcast, so you can name your company. Tell me about Mind Fuk and how it came to be.

Jadqui: (Laughs) Well, the name Mind Fuk, it's spelled F-u-k, so it's nothing too dirty. The idea of it is I want to make films that are really good and thought provoking. Yeah, they've got sex and gore and violence in them, but after you're done, you kind of feel like: "My mind just got screwed up." You're still thinking about it the next day. That's what I really want. That's where the name Mind Fuk came from. The film that I did this past September, Two Faced, where I did play a bit of a sociopath…that film, one of the producers on there, Ken Tayloe, and the AD, Ben Rotast, we formed a little team afterwards.

We're thinking: "We want to keep making these films. This is what we want to do." So we just started building this production company and finding scripts and working with writers. Hopefully in 2014, we'll have a few more movies to add from Mind Fuk.

That includes a zom-com called Walking With the Dead to be filmed in Texas, sort of a funny version of The Walking Dead.

Hear more including Jacqui's thoughts on working with horror icon Tony Todd, Candyman himself, in the full audio interview.





Monday, November 11, 2013

The Advocate - A Twisty Script Shores Up an Indy Drama

(I received a free screener of The Advocate.)

The Advocate is a twisty little courtroom thriller with a ripped-from-the headlines case plus a dose of Dexter-style justice in the mix. It's an indy, and there's a look and feel of indyness to it that kind of makes you wish the filmmakers  had had a few more bucks for noir cinematography and production design, but if you focus on the core story, it's intriguing and well wrought.


Ray Shekar (Sachin Mehta) is an attorney whose fiancé was murdered just after he was able to buy their dream house. The loss has left him with a dark sense of justice.

His job may occasionally mean getting guilty offenders off, but he's not inclined to let the worst of the worst get away.


Enter Allyson Dougherty, played by Kristina Klebe of Rob Zombie's Halloween. She's the wife of a wealthy man who may or may not have been pushed off a cruise ship. Shekar's asked to represent her and to defend her if necessary.

It is. There's money involved. She was having an affair.  Ray has a challenge. Marshaling the forces of an assistant, his private investigator and a mock jury, he sets out to preserve Allyson's freedom, even as he wonders about her guilt and his own sense of absolute justice.

Oh, there are some nosey cops following him to keep his life complicated. Seems they're suspicious about Shekar's sleazy ex-client who's nowhere to be found.

As  an acquittal looks iffy, and Shekar allows himself to become enraptured with Allyson, he has tough decisions to make if he's going to be able to convince a jury she's not behind her husband's death. Just stressing that there's no body, doesn't seem to do the trick.

The story is the flick's strongest feature. It features a solidly crafted plot, and it uses Shekar's complex personality and back story to good effect.

Mehta is an interesting lead attorney as well. At times his delivery may seem a little flat, but overall he's a refreshingly atypical lead.

Yes, there's one obvious breech of courtroom procedure for dramatic purposes, but overall, the way the story's put together makes for a passable hour and a half or so, and surprises persist until the credits roll.

Friday, November 08, 2013

A New Fear on Demand Episode featuring fiction and an interview with House of Bad Director Jim Towns


An all new episode of Fear on Demand, Episode 10, is now live and ready for download or listening online. It should be available on iTunes soon as well. It features a bit of flash fiction from Avery Debow, a longtime blog roll friend and author of the novel Resonance. (Read the featured story "Walk of Shame" here.)

It also includes an interview with Jim Towns, co-writer and director of the new film House of Bad, due on DVD and VOD Dec. 3. It's the story of three sisters who rip off a drug dealer and then hide out in an old family home where dark memories lurk. What could go wrong?

It was a real blast to get to chat with Jim, who shares a lot of my interests. He grew up with the Universal Monsters, and he was plagued by some of the same problems I was.

In the day before readily available home video, you read about the flicks and wished you could see them. My local TV station had shown them when I was very young and unappreciative, but by the time I discovered Famous Monsters of Filmland, re-broadcasts were nowhere to be found.

Here's an excerpt from the interview:

Sid: Before we talk about House of Bad, I understand that you were a fan of the Universal Monsters and that they fueled your interest in horror films and monsters early on. What was your first Universal monster film to see, and how old were you when you saw it?

Jim Towns: I think it was the Lugosi Dracula. You know, when home video, VHS came out, I was probably in fifth or sixth grade, something like that. So, even at a younger age, second or third grade or so I got interested in makeup. My uncle Jim McGiffen, had given me a makeup kit because he had done work on stage, and I just had this natural draw toward this kind of monsterific kind of stuff.

So, my mom, because you couldn't really see the films, much before video became more prominent, I was interested in this thing I couldn't see, so my mom had found a couple of books at some flea markets about the old, classic Universal stuff. Frankenstein, Dracula, The Wolf Man, Phantom of the Opera. I read the voraciously over and over. Tried to do all the makeups with little success in most cases.

In fourth or fifth grade, right around Halloween, the Bela Lugosi Dracula from 1931 was on. I think it was on like two in the morning on a Saturday night, some kind of late night horrorfest. My mom let me stay up. I was like nine or something, and I made it through all the stuff in Transylvania, and then once they got back to England, I just passed right out. It took a few years before I saw the rest of the film.

Sid: Very strong lasting impression then. That led ultimately to some mask making and some early horror film work for you?

Jim Towns: Yeah, yeah, you know in high school, my friend, Mike, and I who'd both grown up loving films, old horror movies, loving Star Wars, we did what every young kid who's into monsters does. We got hold of a camera. In our case it was a VHS camera. We made kind of knock off stuff of The Evil Dead and Friday the 13th. The stuff that was going on right then that was really popular.

Then we did a film when we were about 16 called Breakfast at Denny's. It was the only kind of thing we did and finished and actually completed as an actual film. Back then, you started something one afternoon and then you'd lose interest.

Breakfast at Denny's was about a group of kind of wacky cultists who resurrect the one member of the cult who has died. They want to bring him back to life, but he only kind of half comes back, so he's a bit of a zombie.

The idea was that they had to take him to Denny's and get him an egg breakfast to bring him back to a full human state. That was the idea, and it was about a half hour long. We all had such good time, and now I'm doing this. My friend, Grant, who was in the film does films with the American Cinematheque, and Mike is still making films back in Pittsburgh too. I'm writing some stuff for him, so that was sort of the genesis.

Sid: Very cool. Very cool. Could be a nice Denny's ad, huh?

Jim Towns: If they'd want it. One of these days we're going to put it as an extra or an Easter egg on one of the DVDs. It's a little bit of a fun ride.

Hear more of the interview including Jim's thoughts on the importance of understanding the history of the horror genre to todays filmmakers. The full podcast is here

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

House of Bad Coming Soon

I'm inches away from having a new episodeof  Fear on Demand ready. As always episodes will feature horror and suspense audio fiction, and from time to time, I'll now be doing interviews with creative talent from the horror and suspense arena.

Today, I was fortunate to get to talk to Jim Towns who directed House of Bad, a film that blends horror and suspense genre elements.

Here's a trailer from the flick. Follow House of Bad on Twitter @houseofbad for details on release and VOD showings.




Thursday, October 31, 2013

Happy Halloween Y'all

Two e-book shorts of mine are free today:

Soul Fire - the story that grew into my novel Gnelfs.

and

Watched - a YA short set in the world of my Pembrook High novels written under the name Michael August.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Beckoning Review

Got a free review copy of an interesting tale, possibly some good Halloween reading if you're in the mood.

What happens when a psychically gifted young woman is lured into a religious cult? The Beckoning answers that with eerie supernatural imagery and hints of science.

The tale focuses on Matt Brannigan whose daughter, Briony, exhibits powerful psychic abilities. She’s so exceptional that she’s seen many experts, including Brother Desmond, the charismatic leader of the Zarathustrans.

When Briony’s mother, Helen, is killed in a strange incident in the family’s new home, she’s lured into Desmond’s clutches as Matt reels from the misfortune.

While struggling with the question of whether his daughter might be better off among the Zarathustrans, Matt seeks the help of Reuters investigative reporter, Clarissa Pike. Clarissa’s a touch psychic herself and is also Briony’s godmother.

Clarissa’s level head helps guide the effort to free Briony. But as she and Matt storm Brother Desmond’s castle, it becomes clear Desmond is harnessing Briony’s awesome abilities and channeling them toward dark ends.

Only a nightmarish journey through a surreal landscape can set Matt and Clarissa on a course for averting the triumph of evil.

Paul Collins has crafted a thoughtful, intense and exciting tale in The Beckoning, and it covers the landscape of the unknown in chilling and compelling fashion.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Nevermore needs more backers

I've wanted to see the stage play with Re-Animator's Jeffrey Coombs as Poe doing an evening of readings that gradually degrade as the author gets drunker.

Stuart Gordon's Kickstarter hopes to make the play into a film, but more backers are needed as the clock ticks. It's at least as cool as many of the things that have pulled in big bucks.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Favorite Short Stories: The Hospice by Robert Aickman

I've discovered a new favorite thanks to a friend on Twitter.

It's one of those tales that keeps you pondering while causing a subtle touch of eeriness.

It perhaps delivers that kind of imaginary fear Stephen King dubs "the terror" in Danse Macabre. That's the feeling that comes not when a machete is raised but when, as King notes, a tingling wisp of breath tickles the back of your neck. You turn around to find no one there.

I'm speaking of "The Hospice," a tale by the late Robert Aickman, British purveyor of horror without definition.

 It should come as no surprise to me. I read "The Swords" in Cold Hand in Mine years ago, and its final lines have lingered with me ever since, proving the collections epigram: "In the end, it's the mystery that lasts and not its explanation."

It's a thought not unlike Kelly Link's answer to the first question on her FAQ. Why don't your stories have endings? With an ending, you might find satisfaction. With a question, a mystery, you keep pondering.

I've done that with "The Swords" since about 1978. I may not have as many years left in me to ponder, but I'll mull "The Hospice" for a while thanks to Jared Sandman aka @JaredSandman.

I shared a "favorite short stories" post with the Twitterverse, and we got into a "that story reminds me of this story" conversation.

He mentioned a Joseph Payne Brennan story I'd cited from Shadows 7 made him think of "The Hospice" found in the hefty Masterpieces of Terror and the Supernatural.

Happily I owned that volume, so I pulled it out and read the Aickman tale.

It's strange and ambiguous, of course. A British traveling salesman named Maybury is forced by an associate to take one of those short cuts that never work out.

Lost and low on gas, he happens upo the hospice of the title and opts to stay the night. It's no run of the mill road side rest stop, but it's not Hostel either.

Before long, Maybury's sitting for a meal and discovering the staff's not happy when you don't clean your plate even though they're delivering substantial portions. Coffee they're short on, however.

Things only get stranger. There's no phone for Maybury to call his wife when he determines he'll have to stay the night, and when he stays over, rooming with a longtime resident, he hears mysterious cries in the night and experiences other eeriness. Was that his roommate that returned after a wee hours departure or someone else?

The reader can make an obvious choice about the hospice and about Maybury's fate, especially since there's deep symbolic suggestion in the final scene, but Aickman does not connect the dots.

He leaves it all for the reader to contemplate, just as he does the meaning in "The Swords." That resonates and delivers a little more satisfaction than an ax murder. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Favorite Short Stories: The Calamander Chest by Joseph Payne Brennan

Once upon a time, I was asked to read a scary story for a grade school class. I think I'd written some young adult stories by then, but I didn't think I had anything appropriate for kids in single digits.

I set out to find something suitably spooky that might chill without traumatizing. I took a trip to the library and browsed collections in the children's section until I ran across Thrillers and More Thrillers edited by Robert Arthur. I honed my reading skills on the Arthur-created The Three Investigators, so I was drawn to his name.

Thumbing through the pages that promised to present phantom stagecoaches and more, I ran across Joseph Payne Brennan's "The Calamander Chest."

I'd read Brennan but never that tale, which appeared first in Weird Tales. Perhaps the illustration of a ghostly hand caught my attention first.  I took the book home and curled up with the story, and I soon decided it should work well for what I needed.

It told  of Ernest Maxx who, while browsing a second hand shop, happens upon a chest of "genuine Calamander wood" from the Indies. The proprieter seems happy to part with it for a pittance, but Maxx dismisses that hint, thinking the next time he changes housing, the chest will prove useful.

Never, never, never buy a mysterious chest the shopkeeper wants to get rid of. Before long, Maxx is awaking in the wee hours to notice a ghostly hand slowly rising from the box:

"He sat motionless, overwhelmed with sudden horror, his eyes riveted on this appalling object.
It just hung there unmoving, a long, pale finger with a heavy knucklebone and a black nail."  

It happens again and again until Maxx, angered at first by the intrusion, eventually tries to fight the finger and then to get rid of the chest. He ultimately must learn of the dark secrets it once contained.

What's Maxx's fate? To say more would spoil the fun.

The image of that ghostly hand tweaked my imagination, and it enthralled the kids in the classroom when I read it as well, and I revisit the tale from time to time.

With my imagination engaged and most of the lights turned out in the room, it can still bring a shudder.

It's a great choice for Halloween reading whether you're a kid or not.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

A Halloween Story: Watched - YA Horror Thriller Kindle Exclusive

For a while, I've been meaning to revise a short story I wrote in the universe of the Michael August novels.

Those YA books are all set at Pembrook High, and in the original outlines there was more of a unifying thread. My editor at the time decided against recurring characters, so the tales are loosely connected. Sometimes characters from one book pass through the pages of another, but each novel stands alone.

One Halloween, around the time those were new, I wrote a short story for a newspaper's youth section.

It focused on Brianne Pratt, a creative young woman who had to deal with a stalker while planning a big Halloween bash for Pembrook High.

When Crossroad Press began reissuing the Michael August novels, I knew I wanted to revisit that story. Newspapers don't have a lot of room for word count, so the original version was brief. I wanted to expand it a bit, but other things kept getting in the way.

It bubbled up in my memory last year when a producer expressed interest in possibly adapting the Pembrook High stories into a series of TV movies in the vein of Pretty Little Liars with a little more Goosebumps flavor.

All of the Pembrook storylines came into the discussion even though New Year's Evil, with a holiday theme, would have been the first to be filmed. One thought was to have all of the stories set on holidays, so "Someone's Watching" would have fit in nicely.

Sadly, Hollywood didn't get a chance to twist and mangle the novels the way say Stanley Kubrick did The Shining. Financing was not available from the cable network to which things were pitched. They had too many other spokes spinning at the moment. Those dollars were needed as the foundation for foreign rights sales and other revenue sources that would have made everything possible.

So it goes. Figured it was a long shot.

At least I'd pulled my original story out of the file cabinet. I began expanding a little, focusing on more of Brianne's ups and downs with parents, teachers and school administrators. While forced to look over her shoulder constantly, she also had to deliver a Halloween dance that wouldn't come off as lame to students while not offending sensitive parents. And of course, the stalker just wouldn't go away.

It was fun to visit Pembrook High again and walk those halls anew. It was almost like a nostalgic trip back to a school I really attended.

The new tale is now available in a Kindle exclusive, just in time for Halloween, of course. Get it here for Kindle, and of course, if you don't own one, it can always be read online with Amazon's Cloud Reader.

Purchase here.

Friday, September 13, 2013

What's Up with The Final Girl?

The tables turn in slasher films. Bad guys may ultimately rise after defeat to leave sequel potential open, but usually there's a culmination in which someone, almost always the "final girl," stops the killing.

Carol J. Clover named the archetype in 1992 in Men, Women and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film, not terribly long before Kevin Williamson delivered the self-aware Scream which turned the plot tradition into a plot twist.

You know the story, the virginal, studious teenager in the character mix rises to the occasion. See: Laurie Strode in Halloween etc.

I could be wrong, but I think now the final girl may be moving in a new direction, given a shove in that direction by slasher's evolutionary cousin torture horror.

Jeremy Morris--in an essay in Thomas Fahy's The Philosophy of Horror, "The Justification of Torture- Horror: "Retribution and Sadism in Saw, Hostel, and The Devil's Rejects"--observes a "transformation of torturers and victims" as far back as Last House on the Left (1972, remade 2009) .

The parents of a  murdered young girl exact revenge in brutal fashion on her killers. In Virgin Spring, which inspired the tale, Max Von Sydow takes up a sword after exfoliating, but it's not quite as gritty as a microwave death or the biting off of  genitals of the Last House films.

The trend of victims becoming torturers, Morris notes, continues in the films mentioned in the essay's title.

A trend evolves?
The final girl type seems to be changing along similar lines. Some of the DNA from torture horror seems to have dropped into the archetype gene pool.

In a number of recent neo-slasher films the final girl's a force to be reckoned with. It's perhaps most obvious in the "Tuesday the 17th" segment of the anthology film V/H/S, directed by Glen McQuaid.

Wendy (Norma C. Quinones) leads new friends on a camping trip, gradually revealing she is the final girl from a previous outing in which campers fell prey to a slasher who can't be captured on video. That makes inspired use of the film's handheld point of view.

Wendy's now out to kill the entity. Spoiler warning: She succeeds, only to become possessed by the spirit at the open-ended tale's conclusion.

Mary Mason in American Mary from Jen and Sylvia Soska isn't a slasher victim but is the survivor of a roofied date-rape. The experience transforms her from a medical student to underground body modification surgeon who ultimately kills. The arc is tragedy, but the Soskas know horror and slasher territory well.

Mary the victim becomes the antagonist as the tale marches forward.

I haven't seen it yet, but that appears to be the direction things are headed in Anna: Scream Queen Killer. 

It's interesting to watch the edges of the box cave in and to see things take on new freshness. There's always a new twist, and it's good to be reminded. Don't mess with the final girl. 

Interesting Addendum

If this project, The Final Girls, comes about for ABC Family, it looks like final girls will be working for good by channeling their experiences into fighting evil under the guidance of Laurie Strode herself, Jamie Lee Curtis. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Return of the Wicker Man


Someone once asked why I thought The Wicker Man was so chilling. They seemed perplexed.

It can be hard to convey the deep chill of a psychological terror film to those who watch it passively without deeper contemplation of the story implications.

I think the chill comes in part because of the "it could really happen" feel. It's not ghosts but humans at the heart of the story, but it's also that disturbing notion that there are moments and places where the rules of contemporary society don't seem to apply.

It happens in brutal terms in Deliverance as city men inadvertently tread on the territory of grim others who don't appreciate their presence.

And it happens to Edward Woodward's Sgt. Howie in subtle then increasingly barbarous terms as he prowls an island in the Hebrides where strange practices seem to be in place. The old ways.

He grows increasingly nervous that a missing girl may be the subject of a sacrifice, but there's even more horror planned for the pious policeman.

I read first of the tale in an issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine because it is a tale of mystery and detection as well as horror.

It took a long time to finally get to see it since it didn't play in many theaters. I finally got to watch via satellite some time in the '80s, though it's made the cable rounds and can be had on DVD.

It's interesting to learn that lost footage is being restored and that the true director's cut will be making the theatrical rounds again soon.

I read about it probably in 1979. It's been a long wait. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Anna: Scream Queen Killer

Since we were just talking about slasher pics, I have news of a new horror thriller, Anna: Scream Queen Killer that's streaming on Amazon. It's from Chemical Burn, and it might be extreme.

The producers are calling it a "sexy horror exploitation film with a twist." It sounds like it might be in the vein of American Mary.

Here's the official synopsis and trailer. From here it's really up to you. (Trailer contains some nudity.)

The ultimate in actress exploitation, Scream Queen Killer takes you on a journey into the world of indie grindhouse film auditions with a mind bending twist. Anna is a young actress desperate to make it in the movies. She is invited to a series of filmed auditions, playing out various scenarios on camera. The problem is, the director is a perverted psychopath with only one thing on his mind. As Anna progresses through an ever more bizarre series of roles she slowly realizes that something is horribly wrong with this audition. Forced to strip and perform carnal acts in the name of the art, she eventually flips and takes matters into her own hands. A scenario many actresses may recognize in the industry, Scream Queen Killer is brutally realistic and superbly acted by Melanie Denholme (Lady of the Dark). How far is too far? And how far would you go to get the role?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

RIP Elmore Leonard


I picked up Unknown Man No. 89 by Elmore Leonard sometime in the eighties. I was a young reporter, covering the police beat on occasion and intrigued by his take on cops and criminals.

I zipped through Unknown Man about a process server who gets embroiled in crime and moved on pretty quickly to 52 Pick Up and Split Images. Great reads in that easy-going prose that took you into the minds of good guys and bad guys alike.

Gold Coast, The Switch, Swag aka Ryan's Rules, Stick. I can remember cracking them open late at night after my 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. news gig ended and reading into the wee hours.

I can vividly remember opening The Switch as the night air grew a little cooler that autumn, the window cracked just a little to let in the breeze.

On the radio, Toney Carey's "A Fine, Fine Day" about an old gangster getting out of prison after a long stretch, seemed like a perfect sound track for Leonard.

I've read many of Leonard's novels since, Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Rum Punch and some of the Westerns, but there's a special chunk of my reading life that I'll always remember as Leonard time.

It seemed like he'd go on forever, churning out great stories.

RIP,  Mr. Leonard. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Watch Instantly Watch: Donner Pass

I don't usually get enthusiastic when a horror film's premise involves a group of teens going anywhere or doing anything. It's a template that's served often and reached a fine meta place with The Cabin in the Woods and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil. OK, there's the "Tuesday the 17th" segment of V/H/S also.

But I've seen it enough. I was a little sad that framework provided the underpinning for Dead Snow with its hordes of Nazi zombies.

I'm not sure why I clicked on Donner Pass as a Netflix watch instantly. The description warns it's about teenagers on a ski trip. Maybe the name Donner Pass spurred the override. That incident inspired the brilliant "A Child of the Golden West" from Dennis Etchison after all.

I was mildly curious, and the film opened with a historic scene giving an alternate version of the Donner Party's demise. George Donner went a little crazy when the wagon train became snowbound, we learn.

Flash forward to that aforementioned ski trip. Four, just four?, kids are headed to the mountain cabin belonging to the parents of the creepy Thomas (Erik Stocklin). He's a fifth wheel in a four-person party, but he's got the cabin.

A highway worker delivers the requisite warning of a person of interest in the area, and everyone forges ahead anyway.

They're soon  joined by friends of the terminally unfriendly Nicole (Adelaide Kane), upping the potential body even though Kayley (Desiree Hall) asks them to leave. She's the good girl.

People start to die. It all looks cookie cutter for a while, and then, suddenly it's not quite. Twists and a few additional ideas are woven late into the second act, and suddenly, with infighting and double crosses, everything gets more engaging than you'd expect.

Yes, it's one more slasher, one more band of dead teens, but there' just enough departure from template to keep things moving.

Of course there's cannibalism, but it's never overwhelming on the gore side, and, well, you'll find out more if you watch. I'm not pushing, but as those movies that bubble to the top of the Netflix "Now Available For Streaming" listings go, it's not a terrible hour and 26 minutes with credits.

There's some interesting music over those, a tune called High Ground by Orenda Fink.

Sid says, do whatever you want.


Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Favorite Short Stories: The April Witch by Ray Bradbury

Long before paranormal romance had been named, Ray Bradbury imagined his Elliott family, a clan of supernatural beings that rings a little like the Adams Family with a deeper tinge of melancholy. The tales are collected in From the Dust Returned. 

I read a while back--all right it was a year ago, time flies--that a movie might be developed from the stories.

That might be fun.

The tales are filled with Bradbury's special magic, which can be at its best when sadness is acknowledged as a part of all things.

In "Homecoming," a core piece in the cycle, there's sense that once frequent reunions are becoming sporadic for the Eliotts, and bits of decorative black crepe paper flutter through subsequent stories, suggesting remnants of grander days as we learn more about the winged Uncle Einar and about the magical Cecy.

She's often pivotal to the tales but never more so than in "The April Witch." Told that the family can't marry humans without a loss of magic, the teen Cecy is devastated. She wants more than anything to be in love.

Since her abilities allow her to inhabit humans and things, she decides she'll experience love second hand.

As a leaf, she flutters into the world of Ann, a young woman in a farming community. Then, leaping into Ann, she forces a rekindling of interest with a young man named Tom.

Ann's resistant, to any romance, even to an outing, but with effort Cecy is able to override some decisions. That means a dance and enough proximity to Tom for Cecy to fall in love,  if it doesn't work for Ann.

The longing impels the story toward a culmination as poignant as Bradbury's other small masterpiece "The Foghorn."

It's fantastical, odd, eerie, offbeat and wonderful, a contemplation like no other of a "what might have been."

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Monty Update

Monty is home and has had his first dose of insulin. He's eaten well today, but his back legs are wobbly. Apparently that's a common problem in cats with diabetes.

Hopefully regulating his glucose will help on that front in time.

At the moment, he's sleeping in his favorite spot, a spot that actually became a favorite perhaps at a time that his diabetes was developing. It represented a move from the sofa, long his domain.

We weren't sure what brought the change. At the time, he could still hop up onto it as he chose, so I'm not sure what the move meant. At any rate, he's comfortable.

It's good to have him home, good to be able to brush his coat and offer comfort. I'm hopeful medication and care will give him a little more time.

I've always been cognizant of the fact that the pets don't live forever, but even if you are aware of the passage of time, you can't slow it down.

Vacations pass too quickly, even though you will each day to last longer, to stretch and be all it can.

It's not just vacations. All of life ticks by faster than we'd like.

What can you do but try to stay alert to that and keep moving?



Thursday, August 01, 2013

Monty's Illness


I haven't mentioned my cats much on the blog in a while. Monty, seen above looking up as a flight carrying people to DisneyWorld passes over, has been a bit sluggish of late. I took him to the vet on Tuesday, and they've determined he's developed diabetes.

He's sixteen, which, in cat years, is the same as pretty old to you and me. I was able to win his release from the pound around 1998 where he was incarcerated over what he describes as a big misunderstanding.

He remained quite robust until a couple of months ago, but then he began to slow down a little.

We had his teeth cleaned and his blood checked, wanting to make sure there were no issues with his eating. They shaved some patches on his legs looking for a vein for the IV at the time. He did not find it amusing when we called him Boots or made poodle references.

The cleaning and a round of antibiotics seemed to help for a while, but earlier this week his heart just didn't seem to be in it when he tried to steal my dinner.

This time the blood test along with some calculations by the vet of some past readings confirmed he's going to need insulin injections.

I learned to give Miss Daisy, who still abides,  sub-q fluid treatments, so I guess I'll be learning give shots as well.

He'll love me for it, I'm sure, and I know I can count on his cooperation.

Update - 8-2-13
Here's a pic of Mon at the vet. He should get to come home after one more day. The IV's really helped his coat, and he issued verbal complaints when I visited today.


Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Design Trends I Hate - Slide Shows

Let me put on my curmudgeon's cap and jersey for a moment, and discuss a web design and content trend I really hate. That's slide shows. They're ubiquitous it seems, and often they have information that sounds interesting. "10 Facts About Happiness," "15 Underrated Horror Films," "Best Celebrity Cellulite Solutions."

It's getting to that information that's the challenge. You can get Number 15, but moving to Number 14 is another matter, especially with the variety of devices we have to access the web.

If you're viewing the web in, oh, a browser, slide shows become time consuming.

The #$%)&*_&^%$#$%^%ing *&+#@!%^ *&^%$ button is never located conveniently to the copy. It's usually somewhere up near the address bar, and the text is somewhere down below an image.

For me it invariably means scrolling down to read the content then back up to find the button to advance. Then it's scroll down again to read.

When I was talking about this on Twitter, Robin Ashe added a good observation. There's often an ad link in the mix that looks like the button you ought to click.

Gets the website a click through and you even more delay in reading and moving on.

Add to that the fact that they're not really slide shows a lot of the time, just separate web pages THAT HAVE TO LOAD.

I know why this is all like it is. I know it's a clever scheme, nay, a conspiracy for click throughs, but it's annoying as hell.

I think I'm going to declare a moratorium on browsing web slideshows. I won't need facts on happiness then. I'll just be happy not clicking and scrolling so often.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Storage Wars Meets Area 51 - A Kickstarter

Wes Locher was an up and coming comics writer before he took a class from me, but I mention that he's a past student in the interest of full disclosure.

I wanted to share news of his Kickstarter project regardless. Yeah, he's a former student, but it also looks cool.

It's comedy sci-fi hinging on an interesting and humorous high concept. Here's the word on his Unit 44:


Oh, and contributors can earn cool rewards. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Horror Trailer: The Caves - Killer Vikings Awake

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Got a kind note from Jack Delaney, the director of a new horror feature film called The Caves. Be warned, the trailer's a bit bloody, but it looks interesting.

Vikings awake in the present day, and they're dangerous.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Blackhouse by Peter May - An Immersion in Character and Culture

 Once in a while you pick up a book and find it far exceeds expectations. I was intrigued reading the jacket flap of Peter May's The Blackhouse. It summarized the story of a Scotland detective called back to his childhood home in The Hebrides to investigate a murder similar to a case he's recently dealt with in Edinburgh. It sounded like an engaging procedural.

I didn't get from that how rich in character and setting the tale would be.

The Blackhouse scrutinizes the life of Fin Macleod, both in the present as he proceeds through his investigation, and in the past, through first-person remembrance.

Fin has known tragedy. He's almost plagued by tragedy. He lost his parents at a young age. He's just lost a son and seen his marriage unravel in the aftermath. He's also been party to a good deal of misery either dealt out by harsh circumstances of island life or from nature itself.

The case he's called on to investigate opens old wounds and revisits jagged relationships, many swirling around the victim, Angel Macritchie, a bully as a boy and as a man.

Macleod's past is inextricably linked to the murder. Those detailed relationships and past regrets channel him toward answers, shocks and heightened regrets.

Many are linked to the island's annual guga hunt, an almost ritualistic culling of gannets on a rock island. May, who lived in the Hebrides while film a television series there, offers a fascinating look into life and culture and the role of the hunt to island life.

The components converge in a thrilling and tortured climax in which Fin confronts present, past, himself, and, of course, the killer.

It's a well plotted mystery, a study of a man and a voyage to a unique and intriguing place. It reminds me a bit in its combinations of Jane Campion's New Zealand in Top of the Lake.

It's well worth the time to turn the pages. Has Fin been party to almost too much tragedy and has he seen too much first hand? Perhaps one red herring's a bit of a stretch, but it generally fits, and the whole is a solid, intricate work.

Happily, though it took the book a while to find a home, it's the first in a trilogy, that I hope to continue reading soon.

Peter May discusses the road to publication for The Blackhouse:

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Three Graves Full - A Crime Drama

In this debut novel, Jamie Mason introduces a compelling group of characters then puts them through sometimes comic, sometimes tragic and sometimes suspenseful paces.

I suppose the central conceit requires a little buy-in from the reader, but it's not terribly hard with Mason's smooth narrative touch.

Jason Getty has killed a man and buried him in his yard. 

After a period of fretting about that circumstance, he hires a crew for lawn maintenance lest an overgrown homestead draw undue attention.

In the midst of their cleanup, they stumble on an unmarked grave.  No wait, two unmarked graves. Neither is occupied by the guy Getty buried.

It seems a pair of bodies were planted on the property before he moved in and sunk another.

Just accept it.

From there, the story unfolds in a nicely paced and quirky manner as Getty encounters a pair of decent and conscientious local cops who solve the murders in short order but find Jason acts a little suspicious.

CSI determines another death might have transpired in Jason's house, which makes them curious  and means Jason's going to need to move his former friend Harris to a new location.

Jason's the most compelling character in the cast, and the extended flashback in which we learn the circumstances of the killing he committed is engrossing. It builds empathy for his milquetoast spirit. He's a widower after all, and good intentions  entangled him with a biker and burglary ring leader, who doesn't like to be called Harris, who drove Jason first to despair then dire deeds.

When Jason starts to unearth his victim for transport prior to the police bringing in cadavar dogs, things really get complicated as the suspect for the other killings, the fiance of one of the victims and others converge on Getty's house.

Jason's faced with trying to protect himself, help one of the good cops and somehow makeing an ally of a woman he's instinctively brained with a shovel.

I think it's safe to say you haven't seen this all before. Mason really delivers a fresh voice and a fresh perspective to the crime novel.

Three Graves Full is a fast and exciting excursion, and you'll probably be surprised at how things turn out.


Monday, June 24, 2013

RIP Richard Matheson

I was sad to hear today of the passing of another of the favorite authors of my youth. Richard Matheson has gone. 

Before I could read,  The Incredible Shrinking Man aired on local television. I was under my grandmother's care on school day afternoons.

God bless my grandmama. She didn't see any harm in letting me watch a story of a man showered with a strange substance that made him smaller and smaller, until he was menaced by his house cat and a tarantula.

It was all fascinating stuff. Imagination rich and wonderful.

It was just the first of many hours with Matheson's work. I read his short stories in horror collections starting when I was 10 or eleven, but no one who's been alert the past 50 years or so has escaped Matheson.

 From Poe adaptations to Twilight Zone to Somewhere in Time, his mark is on our consciousness.

Sad to see him go.

Here's a post from a few of years ago about my fond reading of his collection Shock Waves. 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

What's on the iPod - Miami Purity - Feminine Noir

I'm not sure how I missed Vicki Hendricks' dark, noirish Miami Purity (1995), often dubbed a feminine The Postman Always Rings twice, but I was happy to discover the audiobook recently. That's due to a mention in a Salon article about what to read after Gillian Flynn's brilliant  Gone Girl.

Miami is brilliant also, a steamy--in more ways than one--and grim crime excursion told by the protagonist, Sherri Parlay. She's a former stripper who's maintained a vestige of innocence in spite of her rough thirty-six years and a deceased husband. He's deceased because she clipped him with a boom box while he was being abusive.

After her husband's death and some suspicion about it by the cops, Sherri lands a job in a Miami cleaner  called Miami Purity. She's hired by the owner, Brenda Mahoney.

Before long she's discovered the owner's son, Payne,  and fallen deeply into lust for him before she learns Brenda doesn't really care for Payne having a love life.

Things spiral downward as Sherri pursues Payne anyway and catches his interest. Once she's fallen for him, she learns just how twisted his relationship with Brenda is. With the best of intentions, she smothers Brenda with a plastic bag.

Things tumble around after that like towels in a dryer as Sherri strives for a healthy relationship with Payne that, as astute readers know, just isn't going to happen.

The question is, of course, how are things going to fall apart and what's going to happen with Sherri who has an affection for drink and men?

To say more would spoil the fun of the second part of the tale, but it unwinds nicely with a fairly intricate plot and plenty of twists and surprises.

The audio version is nicely suspenseful, and it's well narrated by Linda Borg, who invests Sherri with just the right mixture of sultry and innocent.

It's profanity-laced and loaded with graphic sexual descriptions, so be warned, but it's a great, seedy crime excursion.

Extra
A blogtalk radio interview with Vicki Henricks

Thursday, June 13, 2013

A Stranger in My Grave by Margaret Millar - Domestic Thrills and Murder

I read most of the Ross MacDonald Lew Archer novels when I was a kid, and in the back of the Bantam editions the "About the Author" page noted MacDonald was "... Kenneth Millar in private life." Those sections also mentioned that  his wife, Margaret Millar, was also a mystery writer. I kept an eye peeled for her work as well, but in the book stores and news stands I frequented, nary a Margaret Millar title showed up. (I've mentioned before those days before the interwebs when you were at the mercy of paperback spinners and used book stores  to find books.)

Happily I ran across an edition of A Stranger in My Grave (1960) a couple of years back, and I was reminded of that when her name kept coming up in relation to Gillian Flynn's brilliant page turner Gone Girl. 

Grave certainly feels a little like a literary cousin of Gone Girl. It's a domestic thriller that revolves around an interesting quandary from Daisy Harker, a young wife, who in 1959 or so dreams of a tombstone with her name on it, and a death date four years earlier. Dec. 2, 1955.

Someone, Daisy reckons, must have done her psychic harm on that date:

"...No interpretation is necessary. It's all quite clear. On Dec. 2, 1955, something happened to me that was so terrible it caused my death. I was psychically murdered."

Her husband Jim would rather she leave that notion alone. So would her mother, who's supported by Jim's generosity and thus has a vested interest in the couple's domestic bliss.

Daisy's determined however, and when her deadbeat father, Stan Fielding, calls for help in paying off a bail bondsman, she sees an avenue to find answers. His bail bondsman, Steve Pinata, has detective skills as well.

He agrees to reconstruct that relevant Dec. 2, and it soon becomes clear Daisy's buried a few things deep in her memory. She recalls snow-capped mountains but not the reason she left the clinic where she worked that year, and something's up with Jim and his lawyer.

Her dad Stan Fielding is up to something as well, hitching back into town to look into the world of a waitress named Juanita. She's volatile and may be connected to the man really buried in the grave Daisy dreamed about.

Swirling pieces converge and begin to make more and more sense as the pages turn.

A Stranger In My Grave is not so much a novel of detection as a tale of mystery and murder that allows events to unfold once the trigger of memory is pulled.

On the  journey, Daisy moves outside the protective parameters of Jim and her mother who have controlling agendas. The truths are twisted and startling as they are revealed.

I suppose the memory loss is a conceit that the reader is expected to accept a little too easily, and there are a few other abrupt emotional developments for characters, but ultimately Stranger offers a compelling study of family, deception, dark deeds and a domestic era that's at times appalling yet also familiar.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

What's on the iPad? - Haunting Melissa



I think I maximized my viewing experience of the new app-based serial Haunting Melissa last night. I put in my ear plugs as I lay me down to sleep and I powered up the first installment. The lights were out, all else was quiet, and I was immersed.

The set up is generally familiar. We see things unfold through hand-held cameras and web chats.
The Melissa of the title is staying alone in a big, old house. There's a locked room, not sure what's in there. Voices and other strangeness abound, and Melissa and her friend begin to investigate. What could go wrong?

In spite of the familiarity, watched in total darkness, there were some eerie chills. I'm intrigued and waiting for installment two. That can be earned by a Facebook share, though I suppose future installments will come at a price. You wanna find out what happens, you must pay.

The project comes from New Edelstein, a producer on the The Ring and The Ring 2 and other projects, and it's well done. I think I will stick with it for a while.

I hope Part 2 arrives quickly. I want to see what happens next.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The 39 Steps as Improv


Improv techniques superimposed over the plot of John Buchan's 1915 spy novel made for great fun in the performance of The 39 Steps that Christine and I attended yesterday as part of the Orlando Fringe Festival. 

The trailer above gives as good a taste of what's in store as I could summarize, and it makes for an interesting blend of comedy and spy intrigue. 

Even before the show begins, performers in character collect random suggestions from the audience by way of surveys, secret messages dropped to "the man in the trench coat" and ideas written on chalk slates, the way a spy might scrawl a surreptitious detail. 

Those suggestions help direct the plot, which updates Buchan's pre-World War I story to the era of the Cuban missile crisis. Richard Hannay (or Rachel if needed) can be played by any one of the improve performers, based on a vote from the audience. 

It's all funny to be sure, but the core spy story and chase elements from the novel are  woven through the tale, and it all builds to Hannay in a desperate situation. 

I found it fresh and fun, and it was a good look at how genre gems can be given fresh life. 

The concept stems from Ryan Price of Orlando's Invisible Frisbee, and it's under the direction of Rebekah Lane. Check out the slide show of the production and more on their website



Saturday, May 18, 2013

It's Alive - by Loren D. Estleman

Somehow I missed the Valentino series from Loren D. Estleman until browsing the other day and hitting on the latest book, Alive!

Happy to be aboard.

Valentino is a film archivist for UCLA, and he becomes embroiled in murder mysteries that swirl around lost films. We're talking things like Eric Von Stronheim's Greed or, happily, the lost screen test of Bela Lugosi as the Frankenstein monster in Alive!

The screen test is real and really lost, cleared away to make storage space in a time before its importance and value were recognized at Universal Studios. But Estleman imagines a world where the footage still exists, two reels shot with Lugosi hot off the success of 1931's Dracula and targeted for a role in the next big Universal monster movie. Of course the role went to Boris Karloff, but collectors and film fans would love to see what might have been, or what went wrong.

Estleman offers up an interesting blend of film history and fiction as Valentino races to find the lost footage after he realizes it's at the core of an old friend's murder.

His pal, a washed up star with addiction issues,  has come upon the footage, but criminal elements are involved. There's also a collector who's an homage to the late great punster and editor Forrest Ackerman of Famous Monsters of Filmland.

Estleman's imagined a rich world of supporting characters for Valentino including an intern who's into Steampunk and a department secretary from hell plus a fun pair of San Diego detectives. They're fun for the reader, not so fun for Valentino. The bad cop of the duo is on bad cop overdrive.

There's a nice and fairly twisty mystery plot woven through the tale, and tension builds as Valentino strives to solve the case and keep the film footage from decaying in a police evidence room.

The tale's also a fabulous look into film preservation with even a few contemplations on Steampunk's importance. Van Helsing qualifies, and Valentino's intern and friends watch with the sound turned down for the enjoyment of the production design.

All in all, it's nice mystery read and great book to pick up if you're an aficionado of Universal Horrors.

Must check out the other tales in the series as well including a collection of short stories. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Watch Instantly Watch: Messages Deleted


It's not quite The Cabin in the Woods or Scream, but I recently ran across an interesting 2009 thriller with meta touches on Netflix.

Messages Deleted is from the pen of Larry Cohen, screenwriter for a host of memorable thrillers and B-movies including Q, Phone Booth, It's Alive and Captivity. 

Messages
stars Matthew Lillard, Shaggy in the Scooby Doo films and now pretty much the voice of Shaggy in Scooby animated films. He's Joel Brandt, a screenwriting instructor and struggling screenwriter.

Things start to go awry when he discovers a message on his home answering machine from a guy with a gun to his head.

Soon, Joel's embroiled in the investigation of a string of murders that mirror movie cliches.

Of course he becomes a suspect, and of course he has to begin to unravel a puzzle that seems to tie his past to an escalating series of murders.

It has a lot of elements we've seen before, but Lillard's always interesting, and he's helped along by Deborah Kara Unger as a detective on the case and Gina Holden as a student and ally.

The body count rises, Brandt grows frantic and with the help of his student, he realizes the events seem to be reflecting a screenplay written by a former student.

Death implements of variable sorts, movie coverage talk and other mayhem unfurl before the reveal.

It's not quite stupendous, but it's an interesting exercise especially if you're a bit of a film buff.


Monday, May 13, 2013

James Spader has a Blacklist

There aren't a lot of new dramas on NBC's fall lineup. While I'm reluctant to invest time in shows that might not last, I'm intrigued by The Blacklist. It's from Joe Carnahan who did The Grey and Smokin' Aces among other.

James Spader stars as a master criminal who has a list of really bad guys. He turns himself in to the FBI with an offer to help catch the evil doers.

He gets a Clarice Starling-like agent (Annet Mahendru) to work with, but it really appeals to me a little more than Hannibal has so far.

Here's hoping it has the legs for a good run,  the trailer looks pretty cool.


Saturday, April 27, 2013

Songs to Play at My Funeral

Don't let the title bring concern. The last checkup was decent, and other than some mild allergy annoyance as April slides toward May, I'm feeling pretty good.

But trouble at my undergrad alma mater's had an interesting side effect, of late. It's caused me to at least have passing contact with some friends from way back. Some of 'em look old on Facebook, I'm not gonna lie.

Seems I blinked and thirty years have passed. Not sure how that happened. It brought the notion that I'd like to choose the songs that are played when I've done the Off the Mortal Coil Shuffle. Hopefully that's not for another 30 years or at least not until the fish oil stops working.

But whenever it occurs, I'm starting the playlist. Somebody out there see that this happens, hold Christine to it.

Doesn't have to be this version, but for the sheer irony of it, I think I need a rendition of Simple Gifts, the shaker hymn. My corporate communications day gig of twelve years was at a company that used the tune as its theme song. I've mulled requesting Lord of the Dance, a later song with the same tune, but I think in needs to be the original.




The great Warren Zevon died in 2003, same year my old man passed. I knew "Werewolves of London," but a buddy in my newspaper days prompted me to purchase a Zevon album, and I've stayed a fan forever. This tune from his farewell album would be a nice touch.




I was a fan of the British series Cracker when it aired in the US in the '90s. Christine and I watched on A&E. When Fitz, the lead character, lost his mother, they played Loch Lomond at her funeral. I always liked that and found a version when I was working at the library.

In the show,  they had a choir boy singing it, but I'd settle for the version from Runrig. My roots, on both sides of my family, are in the British Isles, so it's appropriate. I'll probably come up with a few more, but that's a start.



"Don't muffle your drums and play your fifes merrily,
 Play a quick march as you carry me along, 
And fire your bright muskets all over my coffin, 
Saying: There goes an unfortunate lad to his home."
                                 -- The Unfortunate Rake
                                    Folk ballad

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Reading Lessons Cover Reveal


Carole Lanham, who once featured me in her Apron Hall of Fame, asked me to share in the joy of the cover reveal on her new book The Reading Lessons. (View The Making of The Apron Pic post)

It's really beautifully done artwork as you can see above.

Sounds like a really interesting Southern novel. Here's the synopsis from the publisher, Immortal Ink,  and you can view the trailer below:

Mississippi 1920: Nine year old servant, Hadley Crump, finds himself drawn into a secret world when he is invited to join wealthy Lucinda Browning’s dirty book club. No one suspects that the bi-racial son of the cook is anything more to Lucinda than a charitable obligation, but behind closed doors, O! she doth teach the torches to burn bright. What begins as a breathless investigation into the more juicy parts of literature quickly becomes a consuming and life-long habit for two people who would not otherwise be left alone together. As lynchings erupt across the South and the serving staff is slowly cut to make way for new mechanical household conveniences, Hadley begins to understand how dangerous and precarious his situation is.

The Reading Lessons follows the lives of two people born into a world that is unforgiving as a Hangman’s knot. Divided by skin color and joined by books, Hadley and Lucinda are forced to come together in the only place that will allow it, a land of printed words and dark secrets.

It's coming Summer 2013.


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Book Learning: True Crime Florida

Update
Gilbert King was awarded the Pulitzer Prize April 15, 2013, for his book Devil in the Grove 


Christine and I popped over to the University of Central Florida for the UCF Book Festival Saturday. A host of authors and vendors were on hand, and I met several local scribes.

We didn't plan carefully. We just popped over to get a taste of the events, but we managed to be browsing when a panel with true crime authors kicked off at the campus Barnes & Noble.

It was an interesting session featuring three authors who'd penned books on Florida crime.

 The diversity of local law breaking proved intriguing and rivals Louisiana's, I believe.

Craig Pittman of the Tampa Bay Times was on hand to review his account of orchid smuggling and the fallout when a rare Peruvian orchid turned up at Marie Selby Botanical Gardens in Sarasota.

Apparently the twists and intrigues were greater than he expected at the outset, and the characters were as colorful as the flowers involved.

I saw Adaptation once upon a time, but apparently that was just the tip of the stamen.

Pittman said the man who discovered the rare orchid asked that it be named for him, and that was like hanging out a sign that said come indict me. Raids, court cases, international incidents and more fallout followed.

A darker crime is the focus of Trout from The Orlando Sentinel's Jeff Kunerth. He actually began the book as part of a master's program, and chose to focus on teens and the issues about trying juveniles as adults.

The account focuses on a 1991 murder at a store called Trout Auto Parts. Three teens were forever linked by a murder for hire scheme that unfortunately cost the wrong man his life.

Kunerth spoke of prison interviews with the three men, now approaching middle age, and of trying to discern the truth from the various accounts.

The non-Floridian of the group was Gilbert King, author of a historic true crime account from Lake County.

Devil in the Grove explores a 1949 case that eventually brought Thurgood Marshall to Florida to face the Ku Klux Klan and other dangers swirling around rape allegations against young African American men. It was a time when orange growing was big business, a brutal Southern sheriff ruled the county with an iron hand and the Klan active and brutal.

King spoke of drives deep into rural Georgia and other research efforts including FBI files and more.

As panels do, this one made me want to read all three books, and it gave me a little more perspective on Sunshine State crime.

It really is Carl Hiaasen and John D. MacDonald country.


Saturday, April 06, 2013

Thursday, April 04, 2013

The Horror Haiku Series From Seraph Films


I've been enjoying the short  flicks in Seraph Film's Horror Haiku series. They're impressive, eerie and concise with a mixture of monsters and more.

 This is the teaser. Visit their You Tube page for all entries plus some other short films. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The White Forest

I'm intrigued by mystical Victorian novels like The Night Circus, so when I ran across The White Forest by Adam McOmber on the bookstore shelf, I couldn't pass it up.

It makes good use of the period setting while following a heroine with an intriguing magical ability. Jane Silverlake can discern the souls of objects. She can sometimes prompt objects to reveal things as well.

As the novel opens, we learn that the ability may have been passed down from her mother, who may have died as a result of the ability. Jane and her father now live together in a crumbling British estate.

Much, besides her mother's death, has transpired before page one. Jane and her friend Madeline Lee have had a lengthy friendship and near rivalry over Nathan Ashe, another neighbor who was so intrigued by Jane's ability he was driven to mystical pursuits.

We learn he joined the army in order to travel to distant shores for research in to Jane's aptitude, and upon returning to London he joined the ranks of a cult leader known as Ariston Day. While involved with Day, he disappeared.

As the novel opens, Jane and Madeline are working to find the missing Nathan, while Jane is a suspect of Vidocq, a great French detective who's on the case.

Slowly, Jane learns more about Day's cult and his minions, called Fetches, and she begins to unravel new secrets about her abilities as well.

Flashes of surreal memory portray Nathan as a stag, subject of a hunt by a mysterious red queen in the mysterious and otherworldly White Forest of the title.

Was Jane responsible for his disappearance, or is there more to the mysterious white forest of her vision?

The reveals are strange and offbeat, building to a surprising and fantastical conclusion.

I liked the novel quite a bit, though I suppose I found the entry point into the story a little abrupt. Overall, it's a complex and intriguing historical fiction with a compelling and innovative heroine.

If you enjoy Victorian gothic narratives, you may enjoy it too.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Facebook Author Page

I'm not sure exactly why, but I delayed having a Facebook author page for a long time. First I had a page devoted to Midnight Eyes only. 

A recent big blog hop and a couple of other incidents sort of necessitated I cave, so I morphed the Midnight Eyes page into a Sidney Williams books page. 

If you are of a mind to, drop by and give it a like here.


:-)
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