Friday, December 26, 2014

A Low-Priced Horror Bundle for that New Kindle or Nook - Holiday Deals

Got a new Kindle? Crossroad Press is offering a 20-book  horror bundle called A Haunting of Horrors for just $2.99. It includes my book Gnelfs, in which cartoon characters turn deadly, plus books by great writers including John Farris, Elizabeth Massie, Yvonne Navarro, Chet Williams, David J. Schow, Ronald Kelly and others.

It's a great bargain for a new device, and it's available on Nook too.

Look for A Haunting of Horrors 2 also  from Crossroad and a A Murder of Mysteries as well including a Janek thriller by William Bayer.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

A look at The Babadook

Since The Babadook's been scaring a small army of film critics and The Exorcist director William Friedkin, I started to search for local showtimes. Wasn't even at the local indy venue, but I happily discovered it on streaming on Amazon and sprung for a rental last night.

It didn't absolutely terrify me. Perhaps I wasn't able to get into quite the right mental place while sitting in my living room, but it manages some sustained creepiness, delivers just enough on the monster front and mixes in psychological thriller elements and strong characterizations.

I think the fact that it ventures out of safe and cookie-cutter horror territory is responsible for much of the hoopla. I aslo think the accolades are well earned.

The tale's not template free. A middle section bears some resemblance to Roman Polankski's Repulsion, as critics have noted, and there's a touch of The Exorcist and other terrors, but it stirs the mixture enough to make things new and different.

Directed by Jennifer Kent, who's also an actress, the tale focuses on Amelia (Essie Davis), a single mother who works mind-numbing shifts in a nursing home to support her son, Robbie (Daniel Henshall). The performances are incredible. Really.

Amelia's husband was killed in an accident while driving her to a hospital for the boy's birth, and she's never allowed a party on the child's calendar birthday. As the story begins, Robbie's acting out at school and amid relatives, and Amelia's struggles and challenges are clear.

A wonderfully creepy pop up book turns up to complicate things or perhaps reflect the state of affairs. Mr. Babadook literally leaps off the page to become a boogie man who haunts the shadows and the imagination. He's a great, understated figure.

Is it all real or is Amelia snapping from the pressure? The tale treads that grey territory deftly, and things grow more and more jittery as Amelia seems to become possessed and thus more threatening to Robbie than Mr. Babadook.

The story becomes at once a creepy tale and a metaphor for family difficulties.

Will it scare everyone? Probably not. Will its subtleties be lost on some audiences? Probably so.

Does it represent the new face of horror? Maybe not totally, but the genre could do with more films that attempt what The Babadook does. More Amelia's, fewer dead teens!

I'd definitely say it was worthy my time and the rental fee.  

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Family Affair Hosts Oklahoma on Thanksgiving

I don't find much information about it on the web, but once upon a time the debut of a 15-year-old movie on network TV was a big deal. Things didn't turn up on TNT 15 minutes after a run on HBO in those days.

One Thanksgiving, Wikipedia says it's 1970 and that I believe, CBS rolled out Oklahoma, hosted by the cast of Family Affair.

The memory's not green, as Isaac Asimov might have phrased it. In fact, the memory's a little fuzzy, but it's not completely lost. While I can, I'd like to set the record straight on a few things.

Wikipedia by way of IMDB trivia contends that the cast hosted in character. That's not how I recall it, and I think I'm right.

First of all, they weren't on the Family Affair set, playboy architect (Christine reminded me he was a civil engineer, I knew he was always building stuff) Bill Davis's Manhattan apartment. I think it was supposed to be Sebastian Cabot's house. He played Uncle Bill's gentleman's gentleman, Mr.

I don't recall why he was baby sitting Johnny Whitaker and Anissa Jones in the scenario, but that seemed to be the case. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I recall that things seemed off to my young brain because he wasn't referring to them as Buffy and Jody. We'll call that Roman numeral II in the case of Wikipedia being wrong.

As the movie progressed, and commercial breaks ensued, Cabot popped pop corn for the kids and they settled in for viewing Rodgers and Hammerstein with the rest of America.

Then on another commercial break, there came a knock at Sebastian Cabot's door. He urged Johnny Whitaker not to answer, wanting to watch Rod Steiger perform Pore Jud without distraction, I guess.

Johnny was already up with popcorn bowl in hand, and who should be at the door but Kathy Garver, Cissy on Family Affair?

She'd been watching in her own home when her TV blew out. If she was in character, she wouldn't have had her own place. "When the `Surrey with the Fringe on Top' went `clip flop' my TV went flip flop," she said. Or something like that. Letter C in the case against Wiki accuracy.

IMDB and Wikipedia also claim Brian Keith, Uncle Bill, was on hand as well. I don't recall that being the case, unless he dropped by Seb's crib late and I'd dozed off or something. I didn't usually doze off watching TV then.

Since I believe the whole Family Affair show worked around his movie schedule, it would make sense that he wouldn't have signed for the Thanksgiving special, but I have not proof.

That's about the extent of what I recall. Anyone else with recollections, feel free to send me a message. Or, if anyone interviews Kathy Graver or Johnny Whitaker anytime soon, ask them for the record and for history. 'til then that will have to do.

Coming soon to my blog: The differences between Johnny Whitaker's Napoleon and Samantha the film and the Gold Key movie-tie-in comic book.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Oh Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad - An Audible Holiday Ghost Story

The British tradition of telling ghost stories on Christmas Eve isn't quite as well realized on the U.S. side of the pond.

Sure, about a million versions of A Christmas Carol get air time over the holidays, but otherwise it's not really a familiar practice as we yanks gather around the fireplace on December 24.

Audible may raise a little more American awareness of holiday chills with their free holiday download of David Suchet reading "Oh Whistle and I'll Come to You, My Lad" by M.R. James.

(A free e-text version is here.)

I like to tell my students James (1862-1936) was sort of the Stephen King of his day, offering up tales of ghosts, demons and curses set in the everyday world of his time rather than say, the Castle of Otranto.

"Oh Whistle" from 1904 provides a great taste of James with building mystery and menace. Suchet's most famous for his Hercule Poirot portrayal of course, but it's his more natural British voice and not his affected Belgian accent here. 

Assuming multiple characters while narrating, he seems the perfect voice for a James story. If you can settle back and shut out the world around you, he'll take you softly and subtly along with young Professor Parkins. 

At the request of a fellow teacher, Parkins agrees to inspect local ruins in the little seaside town of Burnstow, where he takes a room at the Globe Inn, in spite of warnings that ghosts might be about.

He makes interesting discoveries as he prowls the ruins and grows more engrossed in historic finds. Of course he finds a whistle. 

What happens when you blow an ancient whistle? If you listen carefully and with imagination unleashed, you'll scary things.

Happily this is just one of several recordings of Suchet reading James. Great tales including "The Ash Tree" and "Casting the Runes," basis for the classic Night of the Demon, are also on hand. 

Get into the holiday spirit with a listen, and for more on the Victorian ghost traditions check out this Guardian article

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

What Serial Has to Teach Writers of Fiction

The This American Life Spin Off, Serial, has hooked a lot of listeners, and I think it can remind all writers of an important point.

Its longform focus on a 1999 Baltimore-area murder case and the teen convicted of the crime has fans watching the clock on Wednesday nights as they anticipate each new Thursday download.

A sub-Redditt devoted to analyzing the evidence and exploring ancillary articles has become an expansive resource for discussion and second-guessing. Slate has launched a special Spoiler Special series to discuss the storyline and the journalistic decisions of each episode.

Did Adnan Syed kill his girlfriend Hae Min Lee in a Best Buy parking lot midday in January 1999, or is someone else responsible? Who do you believe?

Once I discovered the show, I binge-listened, and I was struck by how the podcast illustrates well something all writers know in theory. Character is important. Every character textbook states it. We need characters we care about.

Serial is like a refresher course on that front, a reminder or a near perfect example of that point. Since it's real, there are no stick figures. Everyone's almost painfully quirky and unique.

Sure, whodunit is important in a crime story. I think the audience engages heavily in a did-he-do-it? game with Adnan, who Serial's reporter and narrator Sarah Koenig puts on stage through recorded phone interviews.

But mingling with the minutiae of timelines, cell tower pings and alibis are details about Syed and Lee's worlds in 1999, about the lives of friends, witnesses, cops and even minor players.

First of all Syed and Lee are from immigrant families. Syed's from a strict Muslim family, while Lee's Korean. They're sort of star crossed at the outset and drawn to each other in part from their understanding of family cultures and the need to slip around them. Getting caught together at a homecoming dance is a cause for turmoil and upheaval.

Adnan and Hae aren't the only ones who are fully realized as individuals as the story unfolds, Friends, witnesses, bit players all emerge and are revealed.

The guy who finds Lee's body buried in Baltimore's notorious Leakin Park has a complex history of his own. I won't spoil the way Serial doles out the secrets of Mister S, but suffice it to say he's more than a walk on.

Then there's Adnan's original attorney, Cristina Gutierrez, a powerhouse litigator plagued by health problems. Eventually they shattered her career.

The finger is pointed at Adnan by Jay. He calls himself the "criminal element" of the kids' high school, and he may have helped bury Lee's body. But there are nagging little variations in his re-telling of things.

There's a girl who's almost an alibi,  Hae's friends, Adnan's pals, and you get to know almost all of them as individuals.

The true life tale is like a road map for the kind of characters that need to populate fiction as well as non-fiction stories.

While it's a tragic story that deserves reverence, it's a picture of the same landscape fiction must explore in its attempts to replicate and contemplate the world.

In fiction, why have a guy with no back story wander through your tale if he can have a history that makes him suspect too, at least for a while.

Why not shade the motives of peripheral characters and build in quirky contradictions as the complexity of the heart is probed?

Give Serial a listen, and learn.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Godwin's Law

(I received a review copy of Godwin's Law, the second book in the Internet Tough Guys series by Bernard Maestas as part of the prep for our interview for The Big Thrill newsletter.)

Godwin's Law is a page turner that follows its bantering protagonists from a first stop in Germany on a globe- hopping run to keep a young woman out of a dangerous cult's clutches. 

Interestingly-paired ex-commando Alex Kirwan and hacker Ted Reagan have been hired as the tale opens to extract a young American woman from a powerful cult that has its own paramilitary arm. 

Freeing her is just the first hurdle in a really trying trip home for the two as they realize the cult's not willing to give her up easily. In fact, the villainous cult leader's ready to channel powerful resources to get the girl back. 

What's so special about Gwen Kane? The answer to that's the heart of the book and giving too much away would spoil part of the mystery that fuels all of the mayhem the tough guys traverse. 

Maestas has a real knack for funny banter and fast-paced action. As I mentioned in my article for The Big Thrill,  Law is an action film in print with a relentless pace and fabulous set pieces.

The title is a tip of the hat to author Mike Godwin's contention that if online conversations go on long enough, Nazi comparisons will result, regardless of the topic.

If you enjoy rollicking adventure thrillers, Godwin's Law should be of interest. 

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Horror Writing Guest Post

I did a guest post over at the Five Writers blog for Halloween.

I offered a few thoughts on turning readers' imaginations against them.

Check it out here.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Netflix streaming titles that have scared me lately

I've found a couple more Netflix titles disturbing of late. You know, in a good way.

I've learned that for horror films to be most effective for me, it helps if I watch in the dark without distractions, other than the nagging demands of my brain for sleep.

So propped on my pillow with my iPad recently, I screened In Fear and Mr. Jones, both 2013 releases.

Modestly budgeted, they made great use of suggested peril and creepy atmosphere to give me a shiver. The storylines are quite different. The buttons they push are similar.

In Fear, from Ireland and featuring Downton chauffeur Allen Leech, had the biggest impact. Ever get lost on a road trip? The film suggests one of the worst possible scenarios for what might happen when an Internet printout map fails you.

Of course there's no mobi coverage once Tom and Lucy (Iain De Caestecker and Alice Englert) leave the main road and follow the signs toward the inn they're seeking. Soon they're driving in circles, and as darkness settles, they grow increasingly nervous while their situation seems to grow more and more bleak.

Occasional stops, to don parkas or make other car checks, begin to suggest someone might be lurking in the shadows.

The ambiguity, for me, produced a growing sense of unease mingled with flashes of real eeriness as a figure in a white mask lurked in the shadows, never quite fully defined.

Tom and Lucy aren't quite as interesting as characters as Leech's Max, who might be a savior or might be more sinister, and the tale may wind up in familiar territory for horror viewers, but the journey's dark and chilling enough to make the trip worthwhile.

The first hour or so of Mr. Jones also delivers some chills coupled with an intriguing premise tied to a Lovecraftian dreamscape.

Another young couple here, Scott and Penny (Jon Foster and Sarah Jones of Alcatraz), head to the wildness to work on a documentary. That sets up found footage possibilities with one twist. Scott's rigged his camera for a FaceTime-like view of the operator's face.

Shocked expressions mingle with what the camera's main lens sees. Just as Scott's plans and inspiration begin to crumble, he stumbles on odd nature sculptures by his neighbor, a shadowy and trench-coated figure who never quite comes into focus. Makes him scarier, just like the guy in white mask, though he prefers black.

Penny recognizes the sculptures as the work of Mr. Jones, an unknown artist who once shipped nine of his odd totems to various art dealers and others across America. Clearly she and Scott have stumbled on his studio.

Scott heads to New York to conduct interviews with Mr. Jones authorities including David Clennon who plays a gallery owner, recipient of one of the first sculptures. A more cynical recipient warns strange things transpire once a sculpture is received.

Meanwhile Penny's exploring Mr. Jones' studio and taking note of new work plus strange nooks and crannies. She gradually develops a theory that Mr. Jones sculptures may have a purpose.

When Scott returns, things begin to get more and more surreal. Whether it's because he's stopped taking medication or because something mystical is afoot, the final third of the film kind of explodes into an open-to-interpretation excursion.

Does the conclusion live up to the tantalizing possibilities the mysterious sculptures pose? Perhaps not. Maybe the last half hour's a little too overwhelming, but the building creepiness and the intriguing look of a scene created in Mr. Jones' underground lair kept me engaged for much of the film's length.

Above all, in spite of my jaded and desensitized perspective, a few ripples of fear crept through me. That made the films stand out.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Insidious Chapter 3 Trailer

The new Insidious Chapter 3 trailer raises lots of questions like "Can a prequel be Chapter 3?" and "Does Tucker really have a Mohawk?"

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Witching and Bitching - Halloween Horror Insanity Streaming on Netfix

It's weird, offbeat and yet somehow, for me, the zany Witching and Bitching has a nice old school gothic feel that resonates and compensates for some narrative bloat. It's a different  Halloween-season excursion, and I ran across it because Netflix thought I might like it.

Originally titled Las brujas de Zugarramurdi, the Spanish film comes from Álex de la Iglesia, who's done such diverse flicks as Dance with the Devil, The Oxford Murders and The Last Circus.

It focuses on Jose (Hugo Silva) who, with young son in tow, stages a daring heist of a gold exchange in Madrid in order to pay back alimony.

Jose, dressed as a silver-coated mime version of Jesus, leads a band of misfits dressed as mascots, mimes or ad icons. The robbery nets a bag of wedding rings and garners a police tail as Jose and friends flee for the French border with a hostage cab driver.

The bitching comes in the form of commiserating over failed relationships, leading the cab driver to throw in with the gang for the long haul.

As heists-gone-awry so often do, this one leads the heroes into the lair of a family of witches, who are on the eve of a major conjuring, despite contention in their ranks. Jose's son seems to be their chosen one, so witchy festivities are in order.

Their spooky old house fronted by a roadside restaurant holds many dark corners and secrets including a man who lives under the restaurant toilet and an array of witches ranging from iconic crone to sexy, seductive young witch (Carolina Bang).

Escapes and misadventures unfold, all leading the gang into a nightmarish, over the top Heironymus Bosh-like vision with grotesque flourishes.

It's  not for all tastes and it clocks in just under two hours, but it's not something you've really seen before.

If you watch, keep the remote handy for pauses. The dialogue moves fast, so if you're reading subtitles, it can be challenging otherwise.

Here's a taste:

Monday, October 20, 2014

Halloween Reading: Night in the Lonesome October by Richard Laymon

I read some Richard Laymon including The Cellar while he seemed to be a well-kept secret in the horror community, more popular in Great Britain than the U.S.

Sadly he passed away too soon, at age 54, in the early aughts with several books still in the publishing pipeline.

I picked up some of his titles as they appeared in U.S. paperback editions, but someone I missed Night in the Lonesome October until Googling information on A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny as I prepared for my re-read.

The Laymon title's great Halloween season reading. It's almost like Haruki Murikami wrote a horror story. It's not quite as surreal as The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, but it's got a bit of that kind of flavoring, though there's no spaghetti-eating.

Night is narrated by Ed Logan, a college kid who's just been jilted by his girlfriend Holly who met a guy named Jay over the summer break and decided not to come back to school.

Despondent, Ed takes long walks in the little community of Wilmington near his school's campus. On a long hike through various neighborhoods on his way to the all-night Dandi Donuts, he's captivated by a girl who seems to be sneaking back into her house following a late-night assignation.

Hoping to learn more about the girl, Ed soon gets distracted by Eileen, Holly's sorority sister who thinks Holly treated him shabbily.

Soon things are steamy with Eileen, though Ed's not willing to give up on the wandering girl. Continuing searches connect him with a degenerate named Randy who's spotted Eileen and would like to have Ed lure her into his clutches.

When Ed escapes from Randy, his world gets progressively weirder. Is there something about October in Wilmington?

What's up with the homeless figures under the bridge? And what's up with the girl who Ed soon learns slips into different houses each night.

With some genuinely chilling horror scenes and a heart-pounding finale, Night is a fabulous, moody excursion with well-realized characters and a creepy town for them to exist within.

Not to be a prude, but my one quibble is that even for its strangeness, there's a bit at the end that leaves dreamlike and edges into male fantasy territory. So be it.

Overall the tale's rich, atmospheric, chilling and exciting.

Friday, October 10, 2014

A Night in the Lonesome October Re-Read

It's hard to believe it's been almost 20 years since I picked up the paperback edition of A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny. I just ran across it in a Barnes and Noble, or possibly a B Dalton, my curiosity piqued by the cover art -- Holmes, Dracula, Frankenstein's monster and others all at a gathering.

It turned out to be a fun excursion, a  Lovecraftian tale told through the eyes of Snuff, a dog who happens to be Jack the Ripper's familiar. Jack is just one of many players in an ancient game that
revolves around opening gateways to let Old Ones back into the world.

Some want to open. Others want to keep things closed.
Avon Edition

As the cover art promised, Holmes and Watson and many other figures from Victorian literature and Victorian reality people the book. Some Universal Pictures horror figures show up too.

It's rather handily told in brief chapters, each corresponding to a date in October. Snuff struggles to find out who the players are and what their goals are and really has a lot resting on his shoulders as Oct. 31 approaches.

I'm doing a re-read this year, as I've been intending to do for a couple of years, mostly since reading this essay by Dr. Christopher S. Kovacs in the Lovecraftzine which notes:

A cult tradition has evolved to re-read the book each October, a chapter a day, and to attempt to deduce the identities of the tantalizingly familiar characters. For the book is rich with borrowed characters from real life and classics of literature and screen. Some are obvious, but others are not.

Kicking myself for letting my original paperback edition go, I tracked down a good used hardcover for less than a fortune. And finally this year, I remembered close enough to Oct. 1 to play the game.

It's been long enough since that initial reading, that it's new to me again, and it's a blast to step back into Zelazny's blend of the Gothic, Lovecraft, the Victorian and the Universal horror cannon. It's almost like one of those late entries in the Universal series such as House of Frankenstein, where all of the signature monsters were thrown in.

I've been told there were once plans to throw Basil Rathbone's Holmes into those mixes, so the book's a bit like a Universal film that never was.

I'm happy to take a few minutes each night to join the game. It's a perfect Halloween season venture.

I was also happy to discover a couple events serendipitous to my re-read. Chicago Review Press has brought out a new edition of the book, which had grown hard to find, and the Twitterverse has become involved in the re-read game.

There aren't a lot of tweets so far, but the hashtag #GoodDogSnuff has been deployed. Perhaps the cult will grow, and the universe is expanded in Issue #18 of the Lovecraftzine with new tales from many authors. Read the back issue free online here.

It's just Oct. 10, so there's time to join the game.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Booktaker - a Nameless Detective Story

A Nameless Detective title greeted me when I dropped over to Audible the other day. I thought at first The Booktaker was one of the novels, and it reminded me I've lagged behind on the tales by Bill Pronzini, who for decades has steadily put out a book a year featuring his San Francisco P.I.

I used to read those almost as steadily, with a burst of back-to-back reading of volumes here or there, but somehow I let myself get out of touch with Nameless. (In the tradition of Dashiell Hammett's The Continental Op, the cases unfold in first person with only personal pronoun references for Nameless and never a proper name, except in one crossover title with Collin Wilcox in which he's referred to as Bill.)

I was delighted to discover the Audible offering was A.) Free at the moment and B.) A free-standing novella featuring Nameless. It seemed to be a great way to get back into the tales, and that proved true.

In the story, Nameless is hired by the antiquarian bookseller who sold him a collection of pulp titles once upon a time. Collectible maps are disappearing from his shop's secured rare books room in spite of careful security measures and an alarm system.

Taking on a false persona involving the surname Marlowe in tribute to Philip, Nameless goes undercover at the bookshop and begins an assessment of the premises and the employees.

A nice and twisty 90-minute tale unfolds with glimpses into Nameless' personal life, tips on the antiquarian book trade and a bit of action.

Nameless put the pieces together a couple of minutes ahead of me, though I was going "Of course" when he revealed the facts had been before me all along.

All in all it was a great little find, and a 90-minute mystery is a friendly listening length. The story is narrated by Nick Sullivan, perhaps a bit matter-of-factly for a first person story, but it gets the job done.

If you've never met Nameless, this is a good entry point, with a blend of the hard boiled flavored with affection for pulps and literature alike.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Mine Games 3D Art Reveal

I received a bit of news from the folks at Phase 4 films, the ones who gave me an early U.S. look at the Patrick remake, now streaming on Netflix.

They have announced a September 16 DVD bow for Mine Games, the latest film from  filmmaker Richard Gray who'll be helping the Audition remake, and starring Briana Evigan of the Step Up Films.

It's the tale of friends who discover an abandoned mine, and inside they unleash a deadly force which turns their excursion into a fight for survival.

It also stars Alex Meraz (The Twilight Saga), Julianna Guill (Friday the 13th), Ethan Peck (In Time), Rafi Gavron (Snitch), Lindsay Lamb (1108), and Joseph Cross (Untraceable) star.

Thursday, July 24, 2014


You were working.

I was pausing from a walk in that same patch of lavender.

You dived into petals.

I looked on for just a moment.

You never noticed, too busy seeking nectar.

But I had a little time to ponder our brief passing.

And the wonder that you are and of it all.   

Monday, July 14, 2014

Midnight Eyes - Louisiana-set mystery thriller 99 cent special price

Crossroad is running a special on my novel Midnight Eyes at the moment. It's available on just about every e-book platform for 99 cents.


Barnes and Noble


The talk focuses on former FBI profiler Wayland Hood who's summoned back to his Louisiana hometown to help his estranged father solve a series of brutal murders.

Events seem to be tied to a beautiful and mysterious woman, and Wayland and his father, Sheriff Ty Hood, have to put old differences behind them to get to the heart of the mystery buried deep in Louisiana swamp country.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Lovecraftian Serial

My story Lovecraftian story "Sleepers" is being serialized over at Paper Tape.

It began when I was thumbing through vinyl albums one afternoon in an antique store. I ran across a Broadway cast album for a show I'd never heard of, and my mind started turning that over.

What if there was a show that had opened and closed very quickly, and what if most materials related to it such as the sheet music disappeared?

What might be behind that?

I started playing with the notion, and I started to think about Aubrey Slater, a woman employed to find obscure items that couldn't be located on ebay.

What if the only remnants of a lost play could be found in London, where the original version was staged in the fifties in the West End?

I sent Aubrey to find out, feeling for her the whole time as I realized she was a mother estranged from her child for a variety of reasons, some her fault, some not. But she was also a researcher on a quest, with clues gradually pointing to more than a failed musical of interest to a few fans.

The result starts here and will continue in four parts over the next four weeks. It's kind of fun to be doing a little literary experiment like this. Check it out if you get a chance. 

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

John Schneider's Smothered

John Schneider's comedy Smothered stars Kane Hodder and a host of other horror icons, who find themselves in a Most Dangerous Game-style situation after a failed convention appearance.

It filmed in Louisiana, which is kind of cool. John Schneider of Dukes of Hazzard fame has a production company based there.

Happy to see cool things happening in my native state. Here's the trailer:

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Eric Van Lustbader Interview

My Q& A interview with Eric Van Lustbader about his new novel, Robert Ludlum's The Bourne Ascendancy, is now live on The Big Thrill Website.

He discusses the continuation of the Bourne series, Bourne's new job as a "blacksmith" and much more.

In this outing, Jason Bourne is asked to pose as a government official at a summit. When gunmen storm the event and whisk Bourne to a terrorist's lair, his problems are just beginning.

Take a look here.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Joston Theney Interview Re: Axeman

I spoke with Joston Theney, the writer director of the new horror thriller Axeman recently for Fear on Demand.

The text version of that interview is now available on the online literary magazine Paper Tape.

Joston talks about his love for '80s-style slasher films and how Axeman came about.

He also discusses working with scream queens including Brinke Stevens.

Check it out, and get a look at the Axeman trailer over at the Paper Tape site

Thursday, May 22, 2014

My Writing Process - A Blog Hop Stop

Roland Mann from Roland's Ramblin' Web Log asked me to play in this bit of internet tag, so here goes. It's a blog hop called My Writing Process.

What am I working on?

I'm editing a short novel called Dark Hours. It's an expansion of a short story I wrote several years ago.  OK, a lot a years ago.

The original story was called "The Exclusive," and it appeared in Cemetery Dance.

Not long ago, a confluence of events made me realize there was perhaps a little more to the story.

A book of mine, New Year's Evil, now available on Kindle and other platforms, was optioned for a pitch to The Hub network, and that got me the opportunity to at least talk with Hollywood agent types. That's like saying, "I was given the opportunity to rip my frickin' hair out," but that's another story. Good things can come out of ripping your frickin' hair out.

One agent seemed more comfortable with a spec screenplay than shopping the rights to other books.

So, I wrote a  screenplay version of "The Exclusive," expanding the story and hitting all of those Save the Cat! beats.

The original short story ended with a revelation that was a bit open ended. I realized there were a number of incidents that might happen after that point. The short was just the beginning, Act 1, you might say.

The agent and I  danced a bit after that.  I think we may be waiting the band to come back for another set, but I never let myself get too excited about Hollywood stuff. Fun if it happens. Life goes on if it doesn't.

In the meantime, I decided to write the novel version of the newly expanded story. Raymond Chandler used to do that. "Red Wind" found its way into Farwell, My Lovely etc. etc.

Nah, I'm not Chandler, but I'm pretty pleased with the tale.

It's the story of an ambitious student reporter who pursues an interview with a possible killer. She finds herself trapped in the school library's basement documents depository after hours, the dark hours, and she finds out the killer's not who she thinks he is. And he wants to play twisted little games.

The tale really focuses on her ordeal and fight to survive.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I hope it has a little character depth and thematic complexity you might not find in every dark thriller. As I was writing it, I read about some contemporary events that concerned me, and those threads wove nicely into the fabric of the story. It's aimed at being a compact thriller, but it deals with some issues schools are always wrestling with, and some things that the world is starting to realize need to be corrected.

Why do I write what I do?

It's a gift, or it's my cross to bear. I'm a bit of an optimist, but tempered with a dark sensibility. My stories tend to explore the shadowy side of the world. There are a lot of theories about why people write and read dark tales.

I don't really know why I write them. That's just where the muse takes me. Or the cliff the muse shoves me off.

How does my writing process work?

I write every morning. I have to work it around giving my cat subcutaneous fluids, but I'm back to having a schedule that lets me get some things done. My teaching schedule really begins at 9 a.m. if I have a morning class, and I'm an early riser. I work before I have to go anywhere, but not before I have a cup of coffee.

It's kind of the reverse of my early days when I wrote late at night and into the wee hours. I start writing now around the time I once went to bed. Well, maybe a little later than that.

Who’s next in My Writing Process Blog Hop?
Next up on the blog hop is my buddy and co-worker Tom Lucas, who is the author of Leather to the Corinthians and other tales. Drop over to his blog, Read Tom Lucas and check out his poetry and more.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Hillbilly Horror Show

Had a fun chat with some of the folks involved in this show yesterday. The skits are wrapped around some cool, festival-winning horror films. More info's on their website here.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Fear on Demand Interview Excerpt: Patrick Re-Make Director Mark Hartley

I recently got to see Patrick Evil Awakens and chat briefly by phone with the director, Mark Hartley. Mark is also the director of Not Quite Hollywood: The Wild, Untold Story of Ozploitation, a documentary about Australian horror and thrillers from the '70s and '80s, and he'll soon deliver what he says is his last documentary. That's a look at Cannon Films which delivered many Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris films in the eighties.

Hear the audio version on the Fear on Demand Podcast.

Sid: I watched Patrick last night, and I thought it was really good and visually creepy. I’m glad to talk to you today.

Mark Hartley: A pleasure. I’m glad you thought it was creepy.

Sid: I’m guessing the decision to do a remake grew out of your documentary Not Quite Hollywood, but tell us how everything came about. Why Patrick Evil Awakens? Why a remake?

Mark Hartley: When we were doing Not Quite Hollywood, Justin King, who was the researcher on Not Quite Hollywood, and I were sitting around. It was at the time when I think every single film that had played on one screen in America in the last hundred years was getting remade. We said, “If you got to choose any film in Not Quite Hollywood to be remade, what would it be?” One of the main ones was Patrick just because we both thought the central premise was so timeless. A guy with unlimited powers but very, very limited ambitions and all he wants to do is focus his powers on making this nurse fall in love with him. We thought that was such a great idea. We thought if we could do something different from the original, make it a lot more atmospheric and make it even more of a throwback to an old style Gothic chiller it would open up a lot of possibilities to make a pretty interesting horror slash suspense film. Tony, the producer, really liked the idea and thankfully he found some money to do it.

Sid: You mentioned giving a lot of attention to the atmosphere, the visual style. I’ve read that you had some thoughts about Hammer Films influence. What was the creative process like in planning the look of the film and the feel, the atmosphere?

Mark Hartley: I think the Hammer sensibility kind of came by accident. Gary Richards, the cinematographer and I wanted this film to seem like it was a Gothic chiller made by Hitchcock protégés. We wanted to reference Argento and De Palma and we also loved the sensibilities of the Spanish horror films like The Orphanage and Julia’s Eyes. They were kind of the blueprints for the feel of the film, and I think things just grew from there. Since we were making an old style horror movie, obviously there are certain tropes that go along with that that just lend themselves to being a lot like Hammer. I think the difference between Hammer and this film—obviously the colors are really intense in a Hammer Film, the reds, the blues. Our color palate is a lot more subdued than that.

Sid: True, true. 

Mark Hartley: We certainly wanted to evoke films from the sixties and the seventies.

Sidney: Kind of the Gothic feel. There’s really a richer feel than the original had, I think.

Mark Hartley: Yeah, in the original, the lack of atmosphere is the biggest thing about the original. It’s a city clinic in broad daylight, and we certainly didn’t want that. We wanted our set well away from prying eyes, down the coast in a fog-bound kind of atmosphere. As soon as you do that, you’ve got atmosphere to burn.

Sid: Absolutely. It looked wonderful as I mentioned. You also had a wonderful cast, Sharni Vinson, Charles Dance, Rachel Griffiths. I read that you really, at the script stage, worked to make it a project that would attract a great cast. You were working with Justin King, the screenwriter. What went into the script to make it really draw that talent?

Mark Hartley: The script was incredibly overwritten. It was verbose. We wanted to somehow attract a prestige cast. We thought if we just went out with an ordinary horror film, it would just seem like a dumb movie. We wanted the script to read like a smart dumb movie. We really overwrote it. Happily that appealed to Charles and it appealed to Rachel, and we were very, very lucky to get both of them. They both worked together a decade earlier on a film called Hillary and Jackie. That got Rachel an Oscar nomination, so I think that was part of the appeal. Charles and Rachel to get to work together again. Charles obviously got to come to Australia during our summer and escape the English winter. Rachel had loved the original Patrick when she was a kid. I think that was part of the appeal as well, to re-imagine Julia Blake’s role from the original.

Sidney: I thought Charles Dance was just great as the doctor, really, really wonderful. He can be so villainous. You were on a really tight shoot schedule…

Mark Hartley: We were. We shot it in 25 days. There’s a lot of setups in that film, and we didn’t have a lot of time for rehearsals or takes. Thankfully they just got it. Charles was great. He has to be sort of vaguely inspirational at the start of the film. Then he can just switch to … insane, it’s amazing. I said to him one day, he said, “Have you got any notes?” I said: “I’m just delighted to hear you bring this dialogue to life.” It was a wonderful experience watching those two work.

Sid: It was absolutely great to watch. You have a couple of cameos or at least one cameo from the original film?

Mark Hartley: Yeah, there are nods to the original, and obviously there are key scenes that are taken from the original. We had Rod Mullinar and Maria Mercedes turn up from the original. There’s original props. There’s original costumes. There’s original locations. If you’re a crazed fan of the original, there’s certainly lots you’ll notice in the remake that harkens back to it. … Films like this, I don’t think they’re made that often with this sensibility. We were lucky enough to get Pino Donaggio, famed Italian composer, who did things like Don’t Look Now, Dressed to Kill and Carrie to do the score. I know that his score certainly evokes and announces the film’s sensibility from the first frame. If people are willing to go along with that and buckle up for an old school ride, they’ll enjoy it.

My review of Patrick is here.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Review: Patrick Evil Awakens

Back in the days of perusing the VHS shelves, I was never enthusiastic about Patrick (1978). The cover art depicted a guy in a hospital bed with glowing eyes. A male variation on Carrie, I thought. Never grabbed me.

When I learned of a re-make, I thought: Why?

Now I see it's because a nicely moody and atmospheric horror thriller was waiting to be born.

The film grew out of director Mark Hartley's Not Quite Hollywood, a documentary about Australian exploitation films. Asked which ozploitation film he'd like to remake, Patrick came to mind.

After the carefully executed shock of the film's opening moments, the new version, Patrick Evil Awakens, establishes a wonderfully grim, near Gothic style.

Events are  set in a creepy seaside facility for coma patients that offers plenty of dark corners. Even the gray and almost anachronistic uniforms for the nurses help established the feel and the chills.

Once that mood is established, Hartley exploits the central idea deftly.

Patrick (Jackson Gallagher) is a non-responsive patient possessing fierce psychic abilities. He's unresponsive but not unaware, and he falls deeply and possessively in love with his  new nurse, Kathy (Sharni Vinson).

Kathy's compassion for the patient invites his influence into her life outside the institute. A suitor begins to exhibit strange behavior, and an ex-lover who's still in pursuit becomes a target.

Danger and darkness escalate as Kathy clashes with the institute's director, Doctor Roget, who's played with devilish verve by Charles Dance.

Conscious of his own aging, Roget's driven to complete research he sees as his life's work. He's not above unethical measures to hurry things along, even when they are physically harmful to patients.

He's backed in his endeavors by the institute's matron nurse, a grim and sterile Rachel Griffiths of Six Feet Under.

A few incidents strain character credibility, but those are forgotten, especially as Patrick's power is unleashed in a fast paced and violent third act.

Patrick's opening in some markets March 14 and due on Blu-Ray shortly. It's worth a look for horror and thriller fans.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Visual Writing Prompts: A Board of Moody Inspiration

The allure of Pinterist was lost on me at first. Christine embraced it for decorating and cooking ideas long before I decided to log on.

Lately I've found it a bit more addictive.

I've been building a board of moody images, offering inspiration for horror storytelling .

I've tried to choose carefully, not offering tales with obvious directions or answers, just a certain mood and mystery.

I'm working on a crime and mystery board as well, but it's still growing.

Drop by here for the horror.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

The Big Thrill Interview - Karen Rose

I'm serving for a while as a contributing editor on The International Thriller Writers newsletter, The Big Thrill.

My interview with Karen Rose about her new book Watch Your Back appears in the February issue.

It has an intriguing premise. A Baltimore cop learns her husband's death in a convenience story robbery wasn't just a coincidence, and when she seeks to learn more, she becomes the target of a psychopath who wants the past to stay buried.

It's part of an interconnected series of stand-alone-novels from Ms. Rose. Her books tie together as you can see on her website.

You can take a look at the interview here.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Watch Instantly Watch: Wait Until You're Blindsided aka Penthouse North

Something's hidden in the apartment of a young blind woman, and dark criminal types turn up to look for it and glean any knowledge from her they can.

That's the plot of Wait Until Dark (1967)of course, based on the stage play of the same name by Frederick Knott who also penned the play that became Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder.

The premise gets an updating in both pace and timeframe in Blindsided aka Penthouse North, now streaming on Netflix with some airings on Lifetime as well. It's penned by David Loughery and directed by Joseph Ruben (Sleeping With the Enemy.)

In Wait Until Dark, the heroine is Audrey Hepburn, the MacGuffin a doll filled with heroin. Thugs led by Alan Arkin attempt a con game to finesse details such as the combination of a safe where the doll might be stored. Things progress to brutality. 

The brutality comes sooner in Blindsided. Michelle Monaghan is a photojournalist who's lost her sight to a suicide bomber while in Afghanistan. Three years after the incident, she's living happily with a significant other in an expensive Manhattan penthouse. 

It's more like the film I thought Wait Until Dark was going to be when I was a kid, before I saw it the first time. 

The original film is a slow burn. Arkin, Richard Crenna and Jack Weston trick Hepburn's husband into leaving then try to convince her he's involved in an affair and murder with the doll he brought home from a trip. It's the item that can time him to the whole matter, so she's urged to produce it, even though she doesn't know where it is.

Things turn brutal much quicker in Blindsided. Monaghan's Sara comes home from picking up the final touches for New Year's Eve to find her boyfriend dead. The thug that knifed him's still on the premises, and he's joined after a few twists by his boss, Michael Keaton, who's back in Pacific Heights territory. He seems like the more gentle of the two, but of course…

There's no con game, just an escalating effort to terrorize Sara until she reveals what she knows about money on the premises and more. Even a little water boardings worth a try.

It's a Wait Until Dark for our era, I suppose, with a punches contemporary audiences will appreciate, clocking in just under 90 minutes. 

There are still twists and turns, and a little does-she-know? or doesn't-she? mind play, with one moment of: "If she knew, why would she let that happen?" 

It's also interesting, if you're familiar with original, to see how Keaton and Company deal differently with issues Arkin's band tackled years ago. They're a little more heavy handed today.

Keaton's good , always love Keaton, but I think Arkin's twisted psychopath is still a little more chilling. 

Check both for yourself and see what you think. It might make for an interesting double bill on an evening at home.

Sunday, January 05, 2014

The Maze - 1953 Atmospheric Horror


A friend's post on Facebook recently pointed me to the 1953 film The Maze, an atmospheric thriller with a Lovecraftian feel.

The story is based on the novel of the same name by surrealist Maurice Sandoz and was directed by William Cameron Menzies. 

I liked it. There's plenty for a contemporary viewer to take exception to, but if you're in the right mindset, it's a moody and interesting little ride, originally offered in 3D.

The story focuses on Kitty Murrary played by Veronica Hurst. She and her aunt are hanging out on the Riviera with her fiancé Gerald (It Came from Outer Space's Richard Carlson). They're obviously beautiful people of the day, those people Tom Ripley would love to hang out with.

Gerald's unfortunately called home to the old family castle when his uncle dies just weeks before he wedding date. 

In one of the obvious 3D moments, a bellman thrusts a cable at Kitty a short time later. Gerald writes that he can't marry her, though he promises to always be faithful to her. Have a nice life.

Kitty's not one to let a fiancé off that easily, so with her aunt in tow, they head to the cable's return address to find Gerald greying at the temples, a sure sign he's been under a good deal of stress.

He's not particularly welcoming, but Kitty offers enough excuses for an overnight stay, then connives to get a letter out inviting friends including a physician to come for a few days. The mysterious male servants lock people into their rooms at night, but otherwise it's an interesting spot for a few days' stay.

Oh, and the castle overlooks the maze of the title, a network of hedges where at least one female servant's perished under mysterious circumstances.

Without spoiling too much the plot points toward the payoff in the third act, so the journey is in the buildup. Your enjoyment of the film will be affected by your ability to accept that style of storytelling as well as your ability to tolerate classic Doctor Who-style special effects.

If you can reset just enough, the shocks are kind of fun and creepy, and, well, again if you're in the right viewing mode, kind of shocking.

If you like atmospheric horror and you have a little patience, check it out.

Aside with mild spoilers

The novel upon which the film is based is apparently inspired by the legend of The Monster of Glamis, also inspiration for Joseph Payne Brennan's "The Horror at Chilton Castle."

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