Publisher: Cemetery Dance Publications
Publication Date: Early 2013, Pre-orders available online
“With the possible exception of Twi-hards, there are no more obsessive fans than horror fans,” frequent Stephen King film adaptor/director Mick Garris states in the introduction. “And the King fans are a possessive and vociferous lot.” (Yes they are—this reviewer still hates a good chunk of the adaptions in this book!) However, there's no denying many good films have been born out of King's imagination; from Carrie (1976) to Bag of Bones (2011), they're all here. Yes, even The Lawnmower Man and Sometimes They Come Back....2. Also included are bonus chapters on the Children of the Corn sequels, Stephen King the Actor, King Redux (movie sequels) and Dollar Babies (short films based on King stories wherin the rights sell for a buck). The book features over 1,000 questions and is filled with some great (50+) pieces of Glenn Chadbourne artwork, all of which are worth the price alone. Glenn has really grown as an artist which each subsequent Cemetery Dance book he works on; check out the artwork for Dreamcatcher for some alien goodness, or The Mist's piece to see his take on an ending creature. It's all organized very neatly too, the pages aren't crammed with questions, the font is just right and the layout is pleasing to the eye. There's very little substance here, but it's all stylized very nice. King (or horror movie) fans looking to kill some time should enjoy the book's many offerings, but it should be noted that many of the questions are tough--many aren't the kind that immedietely just jump into memory. Included below are some sample questions of varying difficulty:
What is Carrie's special power?
Which actor, who had only one prior screen appearance to his credit, played the role of Jordy Verrill?
a) Stephen King
b) Leslie Nelson
c) Ted Danson
d) Ed Harris
What canned food does Mrs. Reppler hurl at Mrs. Carmody's head?
NIGHTMARES AND DREAMSCAPES
"Battleground" is a story which bears resemblance to Richard Matheson's story "Prey", whose adaption appeared in a previous [televised] anthology, Trilogy of Terror. Matheson's son, Richard Christian Matheson, wrote the screenplay for "Battleground", and, perhaps as a way of recognizing the connection between the elder Matheson's and King's tales, this object appears both in the adaptions of "Prey" and "Battleground":
a) A cane
b) A Zuni Fetish doll
c) Parachuting toy soldiers
d) A stuffed alligator
This reviewer got three out of four right, how did you do?
Correct answers: c, a, a, b
NOTE: You can buy a Lettered Edition of the book from Cemetery Dance Publications that includes one of the original Chadbourne pieces, if you're into cool stuff like that.
The latest Brian Keene offering from Deadite Press, The Cage was originally published as a standalone book in the Cemetery Dance Novella Series, long sold-out. Now Deadite gives it to us complete with the amazing (hands!!) Alan M. Clark cover intact--and three bonus stories. Upon re-reading it in this edition, I found I liked the bonus shorts, and I still like The Cage--everything but that ending.
You see, like Stephen King, Brian Keene has a "mythos". It's called the Labyrinth, and all of his stories wind through it much like many of King's run through the Dark Tower. The Labyrinth is home to "The Thirteen", deities that humankind both fears and worships. In Keene's The Conqueror Worms, one of them, "Behemoth", wreaks havoc. In The Rising, "Ob" brings the dead back to life. Darkness On the Edge of Town details what would happen if "Nodens" (featured in Dark Hollow and Ghost Walk) did win a battle against a character (Levi Stolfus) from Ghost Walk and A Gathering of Crows--in an alternate reality. It even features "alternate" versions of characters from other books! Now if that didn't slighty confuse you...
I'm sure the hardcore Keene fan would appreciate all that in a novel but most readers, myself included, aren't hardcore Keene fans. For the most part, I love his short stories/novellas, but too often now his novels end up like Darkness On the Edge of Town--books that leave the reader feeling like they just missed half the conversation. DotEoT was just the second Keene novel I had ever read, and after looking up all of the above information regarding it I couldnt help but feel left out. A reader should never have to go searching for answers outside of the book itself unless they read the third books in a series or some sort. Although Keene repeatedly states in interviews: "The inherent danger in a mythos is that you risk turning off new readers who would otherwise try your work. Therefore, knowledge of one of my books is not required to enjoy another. And yet, the connections are there—I just keep them subtle."
One night at Big Bill's Home Electronics a lone gunman named Simon bursts in, shoots, and traps the six remaining workers in the "cage"--the locked, fenced-in area where the store's most valuable items are stored. One by one he takes them out to use for his nefarious reasons as the main character, Jeff, can only fear what happens when Simon takes him. For the most part Keene builds tension nicely, giving the characters realistic, down-to-earth dialogue while they wait to be chosen. The dissapointment kicks in when Jeff finally is chosen in the conclusion, and the reader learns what is really going on. It's a non-ending, and even if you do kind of understand the mythos like I do now, it's still dispiriting. Although the mythos in the story (clarified by Keene himself) is not tied to any past or future mythos, what could have been a neat Twilight Zone-ish ending is turned into something you'd see on Lost; an ending that just raises more answers than it does questions. It was simply too vague for my tastes.
Still, Deadite's edition doesn't leave the reader with an ending like that: we get three more short stories. "Marriage Causes Cancer In Rats" and "Lest Ye Become" are both early Keene works, yet still are enjoyable. Even over a decade ago, Keene still wrote like Keene, and really knew how to hone his writing style. The last tale, "Waiting for Darkness", is not even a page long, but it's one of my favorite Keene shorts ever. It definitely packs a punch, and the twist is much more satisfying than The Cage's.
Bottom Line: at the low price of 8 bucks, Keene's latest is worth it, albeit a slight let-down. Keene can write, but needs to work on being even more subtle with the mythos. (There's a reason King's stand-alone latest, 11/22/63, got better reviews and recognition than any Dark Tower mythos-related book of his ever did.) Keene has said that everything he's ever written runs through it, but as a reader, it feels unneccesary. Not everything needs to somehow tie in! In The Cage's case, it just feels pointlessly tacked-on: a much better ending could be written if taken away from the mythos. Recommended for fans.
Natsinet: An ex-nurse who's tired and repulsed by all the patients at the city hospital. The patients who come in to the emergency room riddled with bullets and cuts from getting into some gang fight, the patients who come in wounded from particapating in drive-bys, the patients who come in overdosing on the latest drug. She's sick of it, sick of her city becoming a warzone. So she leaves the hospital (after "accidently" stitching a scapel into a wounded thug in the memorable prologue) and becomes a hospice worker, taking care of the elderly...
"You are entirely dependent on me now, to eat, to go to the bathroom, to get your medications, to wash your stinking black ass."
Adelle: A famed African-American civil rights activist who's fallen victim to a nasty stroke that leaves her incapacitated...and in need of a live-in nurse. Guess who she gets? Natsinet arrives and quickly establishes who's in charge--adding in the point that she hates black people, and especially hates Adelle for all her rights work. Like really, really hates her, to the point where in the span of a week, cattle prods, handguns, overdoses, blowtorches and any and every other means of general brutality will be used against an immobile Adelle who can't do anything to stop it.
"Your life depends on me."
The simplistic plot is aided by the strength of these two characters, and while all others tend to come off as sterotypes, the collaborators really flesh out their leads. Natsinet comes off as truly crazy, and while she sometimes slips into ridiculousness with her ranting, the reader is never taken out of the story--instead, it's more like watching a car crash--you just can't help but stare and keep reading. You truly care for Adelle, and you truly want her to make it out alive. The story also makes it a point to dig deeper into Natsinet's pysche rather than just call her racist, but I won't go into spoilers.
"You piss me off and by tomorrow you’re gonna wish I was dead."
I do have to bring in the elephant in the room though: yes, Stephen King's Misery is still a more effective novel. Instead of a crazed fan, it's a judgemental nurse--but the novel's slim 160 page size keep the reader from really digging too deep into all the character's motivations. The conclusion is also rushed to the point that we see it the bulk of the action from the point-of-view of a character on the ground who can't truly witness all the action, leaving the reader slightly underwhelmed. The novel is all a build-up to the ending smackdown, and we only get bits and pieces. Still, we get a touching (if slighty Lifetime-ish) epilogue, and a fitting end for our villian. (Although, if you didn't like the way Scream 4 stretched on into the hospital...) The novella moves quick and is overall a pretty entertaining read, complete with some fitting social commentary on race and gangs. White and Gonzalez don't really flex their splatterpunk muscles much here, but the book's just fine without it. (One scene does suddenly go over-the-top, but it's not so much it takes you out of the story.) Previously only available in an out-of-print edition, Hero is better than it should be, and provides ample entertainment for a few hours.
"By the end of the week, you’re gonna wish you were dead.”
"Think you're hardcore? Think again. If you've handled everything Edward Lee, Wrath James White, and Bryan Smith have thrown at you, then put on your rubber parka, spread some plastic across the floor, and get ready for Ryan Harding, the unsung master of hardcore horror. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. Harding's work is like an acid bath, and pain has never been so sweet."
- Brian Keene
Going in with that praise (and a rave introduction from Splatter King Edward Lee that includes lines like "Harding’s work will...turn you into a tramp. It will transfigure you into an object for use–a receptacle for all the animus, loathe, and maleficence the human mind has generated, a drain-can for the filth of all the abominations of the earth, and then? It will knock you up. I feel confident that you will be provocatively moved by this book."), one would think GENITAL GRINDER would practically hark the second coming of splatterpunk. Yet one would be dissapointed upon finishing the collection of seven stories; there are a few gems, but they are squandered amongst their unworthy surroundings.
The main problem with the collection isn't that author Ryan Harding cannot write, it's that he fills half the book with two of the most inane characters ever put to page: Von and Greg. Featured in "Damaged Goods" (the opener), "Genital Grinder: A Snuff Film in 5 Acts" and "Genital Grinder II: Dis-Membered", the two characters are sick--and not in that good ol' fashioned Ed Lee way. Not even a Keene or Ketchum way--they're just plain out stupid. The characters read like throw-aways from a better Ed Lee novel; with terrible dialogue and "adventures" that lose their taste and rapidly become repetitive, every story featuring the duo becomes lost in a sea of the most pointless bile ever upchucked. Every tale with the two were written for specific gross-out contests (the World Horror Con Annual Gross-Out Contest for the first two, an online one for the sequel), and I would normally excuse them seeing their simplified intentions, yet Harding makes it point to say that they were expanded/updated in the story notes. Maybe he could have expanded some more character development, and less pointless shock?
But I know, I know--by now many horror fans would be thinking "Oh no, he just doesn't get it. Well, here are my credentials: Ed Lee's Extreme Lovecraft novels, The Bighead, his collections, other assorted novellas by him...most of Ketchum's work (including The Woman and The Girl Next Door)...a ton of Laymon works (including his collection, Madman Stan & Others)...a ton of Keene works (including his Lee tribute Urban Gothic and the Laymon tribute Castaways)...and a ton of other "extreme" genre work ranging from the Hot Blood series to the recent Necro Files anthology. The Von and Greg stories simply don't work for one reason: the characters. Harding, in his quest for gore-martyrdom, spends so much of these stories filling them with gross-outs, he ignores the lead men and leaves the reader bored. (Lee on the other hand, makes you care about/relate to his people before throwing them down the sewer.)
"So", you say, "what about the other four stories?"
One is bad, one tries but falls flat, one is good, and one is...fantastic. The latter, "Development" is Harding's tribute (literally, it was included in the Richard Laymon tribute collection In Laymon's Terms) to the late horror maestro, and, simply put, Harding is an excellent Laymon chameleon. He can't imitate Lee, but he sure as hell can Laymon--everything about the story felt like his writing, right down to the satisfying twist. The characters, the atmosphere, the shock--all brilliantly done. I'd love to see more Laymon-like writing from Harding; the collection is worth the price just to read this. Really, really well-done.
"Emissary" is another good one. Not great like "Development", but good--the twist in this one is predicatable, but it's also tinged with a Laymon-like flair for shock. It works, and it's still fun to see the story progress. "Sharing Needles" on the other hand is the polar opposite--a mess of a story that's both confusing and mediocre. Its "twist" is forgettable, and the journal format annoys rather than serves. Skip it. The last story is "Final Indications", and it's Harding's attempt to blend smart thoughts into extreme horror. Lee and Ketchum can do it great, but injecting commentary and philosophy into horror takes plenty of maturity from the writer--and Harding just doesn't have it all yet. The story falls apart by the end, but does start out strong. It's basically the stage Harding, as a writer is currently at: he can write and he has plenty of talent, he just needs to hone it. With some more practice and follow-ups Harding could come to be a genuine extreme horror writer capable of a great collection--Genital Grinder just isn't it.
The debut collection certainly has a couple bright spots, but too often Harding succumbs to mere gross-outs. Still, the signposts for a great horror writer are all there: Harding just needs to follow them.
On Halloween: “Halloween has always been my favorite holiday, it is a childhood joy I've never outgrown.”
On his new collection: “With DARK TREATS, I wanted to bring the fun and darkness back, to remind people how exciting and titillating and wickedly fun Halloween is.”
Horror author Mark Allan Gunnells (Asylum, Ghosts In the Attic) is certainly well versed in the language of Halloween and in DARK TREATS he speaks it clearly and fluently, using all sorts of slick slang to breathe life into a collection that could have easily grown tiresome quickly. When every motif in your book involves the horror holiday, you have to take great care in crafting stories that all remain original and interesting; for the most part Gunnells succeeds in never repeating himself amongst the five tales presented. This leaves the reader with some great seasonal reading—and a nice chill down their spines, too.
Opener “Halloween Returns To Bradbury” is a solid start, giving the reader a nice introduction to some of Gunnells’ recurring themes. (Small towns, children, etc.) The story is straightforward—in the small town of Bradbury, Halloween simply isn’t “scary” enough—so the Devil himself pays a visit one Halloween night. The writing is simple and atmospheric, and the plot moves along at a brisk pace. It’s nothing too memorable, but nothing too shabby either.
The second story, “The Neighborhood That Halloween Forgot” is the weakest link here—generic and ultimately forgettable, it’s nothing a horror fan hasn’t seen a hundred times already. (The plot has been done much better in James Newman’s recent novel ANIMOSITY).
Mid-tale “My Last Halloween” lifts the collection back up with a twist ending that’s both mildly shocking and memorable. This is why kids shouldn’t sneak out of the house, folks—they might discover secrets better left unspoken. The writing really comes alive here for the first time, and the story nearly drowns in atmosphere and mood. The first of two highlights in the collection.
The other highlight is my personal favorite, and I suspect will be many readers’ too—creature tale “Treats” is both dark and fun; it doesn’t feature the heavy-handed tone of the former story, but it chugs along and never loses steam. The ending could have used a bit more punch and/or violence to it, but paired along with “My Last Halloween”, it’s a winner.
Closer “Family Plot” is also good, but like “Treats”, could also use some a slightly better ending. It’s a more-than-decent tale of family tradition, although slightly predictable. Note that this story is not in the eBook edition.
Still, the collection, now available from Sideshow Press, comes Recommended! Halloween is over now, reader, so relax and take a bite of this Dark Treat...
October walked alone through the graveyard, his sneaker-clad feet shuffling along the paved pathways. Vibrantly colored leaves scuttled past him, making scritchedy-scratchedy sounds on the pavement. He reached down and snatched a large maple leaf that resembled a crude hand, its pigment a deep red with golden highlights along the edges. Even in death, October thought, beauty can be found.
A morbid and rather philosophical thought for a boy of only twelve, but October wasn’t a typical twelve year old boy. He sometimes wondered if his parents had somehow known he would be a bit odd and that was why they gave him such a peculiar name. Or had it been the other way around, the bestowment of the name leading to October’s oddness? It was one of those chicken-and-egg dilemmas.
He would have liked to have been able to ask his parents about his name, but that wasn’t possible. They had been killed in a car accident when he was only four. He didn’t really remember them at all, just a vague impression of warmth and the loving hum of a voice he thought had belonged to his mother. He had been raised by his Aunt Sylvia, who did not like to talk about her late sister and brother-in-law. A few times she’d referred to them as “hippies” in a tone both disapproving and affectionate, but other than that she was very tight-lipped on the subject of October’s parents. The one time he’d worked up the nerve to ask Aunt Sylvia if she knew why he’d been saddled with such an unusual name she’d just smiled wistfully and said, “It was Lynn’s favorite month,” then quickly changed the subject, although not before October had noticed the dampness around her eyes.
October made his way deeper into the graveyard, occasionally throwing glances over his shoulder to make sure none of the other kids had followed him. It seemed they had tired of picking on him and gone about their way. Still, he would hang out in the cemetery for a while before heading home, just to be sure the coast was clear.
He knew where his parents’ graves were, but he avoided the plot. He didn’t like to be reminded of that which he’d never had to opportunity to have, and he could question the joint stone all he wanted and never get any answers. Instead he made his way to a fountain in the center of the graveyard, an angel holding a trumpet to her lips, a stream of water erupting from the instrument instead of music. Marble benches encircled the fountain, and after brushing crisp leaves from one of them, October had a seat.
He stared at the water shooting up in an arc to land in a pool by the angel’s feet, trying to empty his mind, and yet he could still hear the taunts of the other kids echoing in his ears. They’d followed him after school, calling him names like “Jack O’Lantern” and telling him his parents had named him after the Halloween month because they knew he was going to be a freak. Terry Blackwell, the meanest kid in October’s grade, had shouted that line from the Charlie Brown Halloween special, “I got a rock,” and started throwing rocks at October. One hit him in the small of the back, not hard enough to hurt anything but his pride.
Deviating from his normal route home, October had sought refuge in the cemetery, half-afraid the other boys would follow him in and continue their torment of him. Much to his relief, after one last taunt—“Yeah, go join the rest of the ghouls in the bone-yard, Halloween Boy”—they had let him be.
Not for the first time, October wondered why he was always the sacrificial lamb. It had been so since kindergarten, his stature as class freak, as whipping boy, seemingly predestined. It couldn’t just be his weird name; after all, there was a Penelope in his class and even a Milo, and they didn’t take the kind of flak that October did. It was like there was something inborn about him that singled him out as a target, but nothing that could be seen by the naked eye; maybe a scent the more predatory kids picked up and sent them into a rabid frenzy of bullying.
October shivered as a chill breeze sent leaves whirling around him like a cyclone. The sky overhead was a dull gray, promising rain in the near future. He hoped to be home by the time it started, secure in his room with his comics and video games where he could forget the world outside and all its cruelty.
But still he did not move, as if his encounter with the bullies had sapped him of all his energy, leaving him weighted to the bench. He had forgotten his jacket at school, his thin shirt offering little protection against the air’s autumnal bite. He wrapped his arms around himself and tried not to cry.
October nearly fell off the bench, he was so startled by the voice. For the briefest of seconds, he thought one of the bullies had pursued him into the graveyard after all, but the voice was feminine and held no malice. He turned to find a girl surely no older than himself standing just a foot away. She had red curly hair and freckles on pale skin, wearing a dress of light blue. In her hand was a vanilla ice cream cone, her pink tongue poking out every few seconds to lick at the swirly white mound that rode the waffle cone like a silly top hat.
“Where’d you come from?” October said.
The girl giggled, the sound like wind chimes. “I was just walking, getting to know the neighborhood. My Dad said it was okay as long as I didn’t go too far. I live just on the far side of the graveyard.”
“Yup, that’s it.”
October stared at the girl for several seconds without speaking, as if he were looking at an apparition, a mirage that would soon dissipate. “How old are you?” he finally said.
“Eleven and a half.”
“How come I’ve never seen you around school?”
“We just moved into town. I won’t start school until Monday.”
New girl, October thought. In a small school, a new girl would be big news indeed, and October had the scoop before anyone else. Usually he was the last to know. And she was so pretty, why was she even bothering to talk to him?
But of course he knew the answer to that one. Because she was new and didn’t yet know that he was Jack O’Lantern, the butt of everyone’s jokes. Once she started school next week and learned who he really was, she wouldn’t dream of speaking to him lest she commit social suicide.
So better enjoy it while it lasts.
“Do you want to sit down?” October asked.
With a shrug and a lick at her ice cream, she sat on the bench next to October. “So what are you doing hanging out in the graveyard by yourself?”
“Just like it here. It’s peaceful.”
She nodded and smiled. “I think so too. What’s your name?”
“Ocerbill,” she said with another musical giggle. “That’s one I haven’t heard before.”
Blushing, October looked down at his shoes and said, “My name’s October.”
“Like the month?”
“Yeah, like the month.”
“That’s a pretty cool name.”
He shot a quick glance at the girl, suspecting she was making fun, but her face held nothing but sincerity. “You don’t think it’s weird?”
“That’s what makes it cool. Makes you unique, special.”
October blushed again, but for entirely different reasons this time. “Thanks. Most people don’t see it that way.”
“It’s been my experience that most people are kind of stupid.”
October found himself laughing easier than he had in…well, his entire life. “You’re right about that.”
“Say, my folks drove me by the school earlier today to show me where it was. I was going to head on over and play on the swings. You wanna come with?”
Fidgeting like a spastic, October said, “I don’t know, there’ll probably be other kids there.”
“I’m…well, the thing is…I don’t really have any friends.”
The girl didn’t say anything for several minutes, and October expected her to start laughing. Instead she licked at her cone contemplatively then held out her free hand. “You have one now. Let’s go.”
October tried to speak but couldn’t. It was as if he had a plug in his throat, keeping his voice wedged down inside. Which was probably a good thing; anything he said would probably just sound lame and ruin the moment. Silently, he took the girl’s hand and let her start leading him back in the direction of the school.
“Want some?” she asked, holding out her cone.
October leaned forward and tentatively took a lick of the ice cream; it was the most delicious thing he’d ever tasted. “You know, I don’t even know your name.”
Another trilling giggle then, “It’s June.”
Above them, the clouds broke and a single beam of sunshine fell down upon them light a spotlight, warming their skin. Holding hands, October and June walked out of the graveyard.
Mark Allan Gunnells
Mark Allan Gunnells has been writing since he was 10 years old. His first book, A LAYMON KIND OF NIGHT, was published by Sideshow Press in 2009. Since then he has put out two more books with Sideshow: the two-novella WHISONANT/CREATURES OF THE LIGHT combo, and a short story collection entitled TALES FROM THE MIDNIGHT SHIFT VOL. I. He also has put out the novella ASYLUM with The Zombie Feed, and a digital collection entitled GHOSTS IN THE ATTIC with Bad Moon Books. He still lives in his hometown of Gaffney, SC, with his partner of 10 years.
*NOTE: You can find this story in the eBook collection GHOSTS IN THE ATTIC, published by Bad Moon Books/Crossroads Press.
Last week, many horror websites swarmed Mark Allan Gunnells looking to get an interview. Why? Because his new Halloween anthology DARK TREATS has just been released, and people are dying their get their hands on it. Literally, although many interviews tried, none lived to tell the tale.
THIS IS THE TALE OF ONE OF THOSE INTERVIEWERS.
Horror Drive-In: All right, to start off, a little background info on you: you work as a security guard, correct?
Mark Allan Gunnells: That is correct.
HD-I: Got any action-packed chase-down-the-bad-guys tales to tell?
MAG: Actually no, it's quite a boring gig really. My duties mostly involve paperwork. It does, however, allow me time to write.
HD-I: For a boring gig, it sounds like it's influenced you: your security guard-influences are featured prominently on the cover of your Sideshow Press collection TALES FROM THE MIDNIGHT SHIFT, right?
MAG: That was Tom Moran's idea. He knows that I spent four years working security on third shift, and that is where I wrote most of the stories in the collection, which is why I wanted to call it TALES FROM THE MIDNIGHT SHIFT. What I like about Tom's cover is that while it doesn't depict a particular story in the collection, it draws from who I am and how the stories were written and I think perfectly captures the spirit of the book.
HD-I: So the "third shift" is generally the "midnight" shift?
MAG: At least in my case, my shift started at midnight and I worked through the night. I've moved up in the world since then and get to come out in the sun again.
HD-I: Do you think working in that sort of atmosphere made the stories in that collection darker? Edgier?
MAG: I do think that something about the experience--sort of isolated in my little guard booth, the quiet of the night, the blackness, the stars and the mood--had an effect on the stories.
HD-I: Going back to Sideshow Press, you got your first real attention in their chapbook series with A LAYMON KIND OF NIGHT--published in a set alongside established authors like Edward Lee! How did that feel?
MAG: It was the thrill of a lifetime. The opportunity literally just fell in my lap during a time when I was struggling to get anything published. And to be alongside writers like Lee and Brian Knight and Kurt Newton...I felt like the low man on the totem pole but was so ecstatic to be allowed into the company.
HD-I: It sounds like a very cool opportunity! How did [Sideshow Press showrunner] Tom Moran pick you to be the fourth author in that series?
MAG: Years before that, Tom Moran had published a story of mine in his magazine Black Ink Horror, and we ran into each other on a message board. He commented on how much he liked that story and suggested I sumbit something else for the magazine. I sent him a few stories to choose from, and next thing I know he's emailing and asking if I want to do a chapbook. Just like that.
HD-I: Nice and easy--not something most authors, especially new horror authors--get to feel! How did the "Laymon" aspect of the chapbook come along? Was that something that was planned by Tom, or did you simply look at the stories you had and see the influence?
MAG: Well, I had written the title story "A Laymon Kind of Night" a couple of years before, my loving homage to Laymon whose novels I think are such delicious fun. Tom really seemed to gravitate toward that story and decided to surround it with some other pieces that had a "Laymonesque" feel.
HD-I: A lot of your tales do have that feel to them, that simple yet effectively good feel. Other than the ones in A LAYMON KIND OF NIGHT, do you have a particular story readers looking for the same Laymonesque feeling can go to?
MAG: I think there are a few in TALES FROM THE MIDNIGHT SHIFT that have a bit of that feel. "God Doesn't Follow You into the Bathroom," "The Barter System," "The Gift Certificate"...they aren't carbon copies of Laymon tales (at least I hope not) but I think they do strive to capture a bit of the spirit of his works.
HD-I: So what's your favorite Laymon story (or novel) then?
MAG: Hmm, it's hard to pick one. Island was the one that made me a rabid fan, it was just so much fun. Quake is another that I think really showcases the zany enjoyment of a Laymon novel.
HD-I: As a sucker for creature-features, I personally love his shorts "Bad News" (the one with he creature in the newspaper) and the slasher "The Hunt" (the one with the laundromat, and the ridiculously awesome forest chase scenes). Actually, your short story "Treats" (in which a Halloween treat grows into a rabid monster) reminded me a lot of "Bad News"...
MAG: Thank you, I'm nowhere near the master, but I appreciate the comparison.
HD-I: ...I don't think you've ever done a true slasher like "The Hunt" though. Got any plans for one?
MAG: I wrote a short slasher novel several years ago called SEQUEL, a homage of sort to those slasher flicks I grew up on. It hasn't seen print yet, but I'm hoping some day...
HD-I: The words "slasher flicks" were in there, so it automatically was my attention! Can you elaborate on the novel?
MAG: It revolves around a low budget horror film that develops a cult following over a ten year period, and then a big-name director decides to film a sequel. Only someone doesn't want this sequel made...
HD-I: Sounds like SCREAM 3. (Actually, sorry about that...)
MAG: It was written BEFORE Scream 3, but trust me when that movie came out I thought, DAMN IT! (laughs)
HD-I: You've published many short story collections. Chapbooks, Trade Paperbacks, eBooks, Limited Hardcovers--your tales have seen the light of practically every format. What's your personal favorite way to have your work published?
MAG: Well, I am embracing the digital format, but I'm still a real book kind of guy. Something about the object itself, the feel and look and even smell of a book, really heightens the experience for me. Plus I never need to recharge the batteries in a paperback and if I drop a hardcover on the floor I don't need to buy a new one. (laughs)
HD-I: As someone who's dropped his iPod numerous times, I've gotta agree with you! Still, you've seen a lot of eBooks go out with your name attached, including the recent eBook-original collection GHOSTS IN THE ATTIC, published by Bad Moon Books and distributed by Crossroad Press. It was Bad Moon Books' first-ever original eBook--how did that come along?
MAG: I had recently fulfilled a lifelong dream by putting out my first full-fledged collection with Sideshow Press, but I couldn't seem to get any other publishers interested. I was constantly told collections don't sell, especially by unknowns. But I continued to solicit publishers, and Roy and Liz over at Bad Moon seemed enthusiastic and asked me to put something together, so I did. And much to my delight they seemed to love it. The problem was they are so backed up that it would have been possibly 2 years before I could get on the publication schedule. I knew that they were just entering the digital game, having put out some eBook reprints of previously published works. I suggested GHOSTS IN THE ATTIC could become their first original eBook. And they went for it.
HD-I: Last I heard, GHOSTS IN THE ATTIC is (sadly) underperforming. Do you think Bad Moon Books handled publicity well on their part? I know Crossroad Press publishes a TON of eBooks; it's easy for your release to get lost in the shuffle....
MAG: I can't fault Bad Moon Books on anything. There is a boom in digital books lately, and I think it's very easy for a book to get lost in the mix. Especially one that is a collection by a relative unknown like myself. I'm hoping to generate some positive word of mouth, which I think could be very helpful to a writer like myself.
HD-I: Folks, GHOSTS IN THE ATTIC should be every horror fans' digital library! Mark, do you have anything to say about “A Boy Named October”? What's its origin?
MAG: "A Boy Named October" is one of my non-horror pieces. I thought of the title when a friend of mine gave his son the middle name of October, and it just popped into my head: "A Boy Named October." I love stories of alienated youth and this was my attempt to put my stamp on it.
HD-I: Speaking of alienated youth, you are an openly homosexual horror writer. How do you think that affects your image? Your publicity?
MAG: You know, to be truthful I rarely think about it...and that is perhaps to my detriment, I'm not sure. I just believe very strongly in being true to who you are. Being gay isn't all that I am, but it is a major part of who I am, and therefore I am very open and honest about it. Does it possibly lose me readers? I would like to think not, but I'm realistic enough to know it's possible. Still, I don't know any other way to be but open and honest about all aspects of my life.
HD-I: That's pretty solid advice. Do you have any more advice for a gay author? A new author?
MAG: My advice to any writer is to just write what you love, write the stories you want to read, what you are passionate about. It isn't very business-minded, but I'm not a writer who thinks about marketability when creating a story. I feel thinking too much about that sort of thing leads to formulaic and lifeless fiction. If you are enjoying what you are writing, that becomes the main reward—and everything else is just gravy.
HD-I: While we are talking about marketability, have you ever run into publishers who won't publish your work simply because of homosexual content? (For example, your novella ASYLUM, a zombie tale set in a gay bar)
MAG: Never anything so overt. I did have trouble finding a publisher with ASYLUM, but I don't know if it was necessarily because of the heavily gay content, though I did wonder sometimes. I have had publishers caution me however that I didn't want to be known as a "gay horror author." I don't necessarily see why that would be so bad. It's better than being known as "just some other horror writer." (laughs)
HD-I: Yeah, I would rather be known as someone in a unique niche like that! (laughs)
Switching topics, you have a new collection that has been just released by Sideshow Press (featuring "Treats") the Halloween-themed DARK TREATS. First of all, why so many collections?
MAG: Well, I am a writer with an undying passion for short stories. I guess in my heart of hearts I have a dream of really bringing more attention and respectability to the short form. I love to read novels, but when I write, I am drawn to shorts. It actually thrills me to have so many collections under my belt, and I hope that people find my shorts satisfying and enjoyable. Not that I don't work on longer pieces, I've published a few novellas and just sold a novel to Evil Jester Press.
HD-I: Yes, I love the short form as well—but I'm sure by now that readers want something beefier. This novel is titled THE QUARRY, correct?
MAG: That's correct. It's a college campus horror, set on the campus of my alma mater Limestone College.
HD-I: Looking forward to it! Going back to DARK TREATS: like A LAYMON KIND OF NIGHT, it features a universal theme. Halloween has been featured in a countless number of horror collections; explain what makes your stories stand out.
MAG: Halloween has always been my favorite holiday, it is a childhood joy I've never outgrown. Over the past couple of years though, at least in my area, the holiday seems to be dying a slow death. It doesn't seem to be the joyous experience for children today that it was when I was coming up. With DARK TREATS, I wanted to bring the fun and darkness back, to remind people how exciting and titillating and wickedly fun Halloween is.
HD-I: Yeah, I understand—every year Halloween seems to stale more and more in my neighborhood. But with titles like "Halloween Returns To Bradbury" and “My Last Halloween”, I think readers will enjoy DARK TREATS! Any plans to make a Halloween collection an annual tradition? I think publishing one of these through Sideshow every October would be neat!
MAG: I would love to, and I don't lack for material. Every October it is a tradition with me to only read Halloween themed books and collections and to only write Halloween stories. I'm about to start a Halloween novella, which I'll call "October Roses”. It is an idea I'm excited about. There are no guarantees of publication, but I do have a publisher who has expressed interest in reading it when I'm done. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
HD-I: We will too--I'm sure it'll turn out great. Thank you so much, it's been great talking to you here at the Drive-In! Have a Happy Halloween!
MAG: Thanks a lot. I've enjoyed talking to you. [Stabs interviewer with large butcher knife; transmission ends here]...
Mark Allan Gunnells has been writing since he was 10 years old. His first book, A LAYMON KIND OF NIGHT, was published by Sideshow Press in 2009. Since then he has put out two more books with Sideshow: the two-novella WHISONANT/CREATURES OF THE LIGHT combo, and a short story collection entitled TALES FROM THE MIDNIGHT SHIFT VOL. I. He also has put out the novella ASYLUM with The Zombie Feed, and a digital collection entitled GHOSTS IN THE ATTIC with Bad Moon Books. He still lives in his hometown of Gaffney, SC, with his partner of 10 years.
FEATURED CREATURE: "Over 45 different species of shark..." although we, the audience only actually witness about five species. Go figure.
THEATRICAL REVIEW (Rated PG-13)
Ultimately the most ridiculous and nonsensical movie of summer 2011, SHARK NIGHT 3D can be an entertaining thrill ride—provided you aren’t throwing your popcorn at the screen in disbelief.
The movie starts off with gory opening credits set to industrial music heavier than anything you’d every hear on the radio. It's actually a pretty nifty start, as the audience gets to see some cool shark footage; the letdown is that the soundtrack is darker in tone than anything in the actual movie. The credits shift into an obvious JAWS homage in which a bikini-clad blonde is dispatched by a shark while her boyfriend is distracted--by playing his rock music too loud. (This happens again when a distress flare is ignored by a Sheriff sitting in his squad car...playing heavy metal too loud.) Still, JAWS' opening scene is executed with much more flair...and for a movie called "Shark Night", why does the first kill take place in blaring sunlight? JAWS put the viewer is the water after midnight, letting the darkness create suspense to hide the shark; SHARK NIGHT gives us bright sunlight and bad editing. What else does it give us? Let's see...
This is a movie where the black guy gets attacked first.
This is a movie where, almost magically, still no one gets cell phone reception. (A fact they repeat twice.)
This is a movie where (admittedly bad CGI) sharks ram boats, and can swim faster than jet skis. They can also launch themselves (practically fly) out of the water, directly at the audie—ahem, victim.
This is a movie where “over 45” species of shark roam around a lake...because an “ocean overflow” during Hurricane season caused them to swim into it. First of all, what ocean on this earth has OVER 45 DIFFERENT SPECIES of shark just swimming close to shore, waiting to be washed into unsuspecting lakes? (Remind me never to go to that beach.)
It makes this reviewer’s head hurt just trying to make sense of the movie...as a potential viewer, it would actually just be much better to sit back and watch the (actually decent) actors get picked off in typical intensity-free PG-13 ways, one by one. Sara Paxton (THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT), Katherine McPhee (American Idol?!?), Dustin Milligan (SLITHER) and Joel David Moore (AVATAR, HATCHET) lead the pack, and all do capable jobs. Nobody really stands out, but they all manage to look scared enough. Moore also manages to do his "comedic sidekick" thing for about the 537th time in a movie, too.
So who will survive Shark Night? Anyone who manages to stay after the credits, watch the 3D rap video, and still say they had fun. No, seriously.
*NOTE: Once again, Director David R. Ellis proves he sucks at 3D. It was just gimmicky and pointless in THE FINAL DESTINATION, and it's just as gimmicky and pointless here. I've seen AVATAR, now I expect some good depth with my 3D--not some stupid shark randomly jumping out of the water. SHARK NIGHT, sans a handful of shots, completely lacks any sort of depth in its 3D. Whereas RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE had it's gimmicks, it gave us good depth. So did FRIGHT NIGHT. Good horror movies in 3D can be done! This just isn't it.
Hello there. Hi. I'm Max. [Specimen 278] I think I'm Specimen 313. Glad to meet you...
Had you ever eaten a human before? Not whole. So never live ones? Oh, I've eaten them alive. The doctor removed somebody's arms and legs and fed me his torso. Nice. He screamed a lot. That's understandable.
Taken from the upcoming monster's-point-of-view-only horror anthology The Monster's Corner as a sort of preview, readers can get this Strand-infused eBook for FREE on both their NOOK and Kindle! While the reader can read the story in the physical book come September 27, the stand-alone story is an excellent taste of what's to come. Like the author himself, the tale is both strange, horrifying, and humorous. It tells the story of Max (#218) and Jenny (#313), two man-eating Venus Fly Traps. Complete with the usual crazed mad scientist, Strand takes us for a ride as we see the two plants bond. (Yes, bond). Somehow Strand (Dweller, Pressure) keeps the story grounded, providing both heart and laughs. It's a winner, and if it's any indication of how good The Monster's Corner will be, it's a darn good sign.
The cover of the FREE eBook edition, which contains the first of three stories in the collection.
FEATURED CREATURE: Mysterious Dr. Sibley
Norman Prentiss is both a high school English teacher and a Bram Stoker award winner, and in FOUR LEGS IN THE MORNING, it shows. Number Nine in Cemetery Dance's acclaimed Signature Series (home to such fantastic reads as Simon Clark's "Butterfly" and Brian Keene's "Scratch"), Prentiss shows here that he truly deserves the "Signature" in Signature Series. Blending constant literature-related influences and themes (the classic Greek play Oedipus Rex is constantly referenced, reading or knowing about the play before makes for a much more satisfying reading experience) with a taste for quiet horror a 'la the late Charles Grant, Prentiss then drenches his stories in heavy mood and atmosphere, creating shorts that hit hard, yet go down like a fine wine. Every one is to be savored, and none are to be quickly forgotten upon conclusion.
FOUR LEGS IN THE MORNING consists of three short stories; all can be read as stand-alone shorts, but all work together to combine into something greater. To accurately describe would be a feat in itself, but all the reader needs to know it that it works beautifully. Each story is attached to one man: the insidious Dr. Bennet Sibley. He could be related to several people suddenly leaving their jobs, he could be invading his student's dreams with old magic and storytelling-wizardry, he could have sent you to a cabin alone in the woods to be hunted by creatures only an ancient riddle could understand. In every story the main character finds himself suddenly under attack by Sibley...but in a sly, undermining way that is only revealed at the end of each story. These characters never directly provoke Sibley, but anything that goes against Sibley's classical mode of teaching and philosophy is immediately taken as a threat that needs to be removed. Sibley's motives are picked apart by each of the three story's main characters, but he is never fully understood; even the reader is left with many questions regarding him.
Prentiss almost never goes out and tells the reader; as an author he's like a real-life Sibley, deconstructing ideas, spreading them out amongst the story, and leaving the reader to pick them up and put them back together again. If Sibley is Humpty-Dumpty, then we the readers are the horsemen desperately trying to make the story whole again. The reader may read the first story (title story "Four Legs in the Morning") and find him/herself a bit confused, then read the next two and suddenly the first seems whole again. Or you may read the second story ("Flannel Board"), and find prefaces to it in the first; allusions to it in the third. The final story ("The Mask of Tragedies") is emotionally the strongest; whereas the first two tales are great, everything comes full-circle here to provide the best story overall for the reader. In it, Prentiss finds ways to make Sibley more menacing than he looks...or is it the other way around?
FOUR LEGS IN THE MORNING keeps that question hanging over every story, just like every story is literally packed with art galore. I've yet to see a Sig Series book filled with such a variety of artwork; art takes up full pages, art takes up half pages, art sits in the middle of the page, heck, art is even used to separate scenes. Though I read an ARC, I can tell this is one book will not disappoint production wise. The Signature Series is known for its art-orientated, production-heavy books, and the three stories, each illustrated by Steven Gilberts, (who also did artwork on Clark's "Butterfly") deserve nothing less then the elegant treatment they get here.
Come December 2011, you will not want to miss this book!
NOTE #1: This being a Signature Series Book, it's practically guaranteed this will sell-out pre-publication, which is why we are reviewing it so early! Cemetery Dance will be publishing it at the end of the year, but they will be announcing it soon! With their tiny print runs (550 S/L/#), this one is gonna go fast! NOTE #2: As mentioned above, you can read the first story in the book for free. It's available on the Cemetery Dance website! If you're on the edge about paying 35$ for such a slim book...you won't be after you read "FOUR LEGS IN THE MORNING".
Can anyone blend horror and humor in a novel better than Jeff Strand? With his latest, the fast-paced and gory Wolf Hunt, Strand proves he is the undisputed King of the horror comedy. Just like Ed Lee is the master of the extreme, Strand is the master of wit; his brand of sarcastic humor and edge-of-your-seat terror/suspense go together like chocolate and a good glass of wine. Simply put, no one does it better than him.
In Wolf Hunt, he quickly sets up the (ridiculously enjoyable) premise with glee: two mobsters, George and Lou, (although they prefer not to be called that, that's really what their job description comes down to) have to transport a werewolf (though he prefers not to be acknowledged as one, because he's an innocent human being led to his death) across Florida. Why? Because (go figure) some crazy person wants to be bitten by a werewolf, therefore being turned into one. Why that person wants to do that is beyond George, Lou, and Ivan, as is the fact that Ivan REALLY IS a murderous werewolf. (Well, that fact isn't really beyond Ivan.) Ivan quickly escapes the mobster's clutches, and the bloody rampage begins. Ivan can shift into werewolf mode whenever he pleases, and can even make dogs in his radius blood-thirsty monsters, causing some serious problems pretty rapidly for George and Lou. (Early on in the novel, Strand gives readers the best viscous dog attack this side of Cujo; he makes Resident Evil's zombie Dobermans look like puppies!) The body count mounts, and soon George and Lou are following a trail of blood trying to stop the beast...
Although Strand starts the action rather early, he sets up characterization with a pro's eye, breathing life into every character though a series of witty conversations. Seriously, if Tarantino is the master of screenwriting dialogue, Strand is the master of fictional dialogue. Each piece is funny and thoughtful; Strand cuts no corners when it comes to character sayings. An example:
"Watch the potty mouth," said George. "My partner doesn't appreciate foul language around women."
[Ivan] "Yeah, well your partner can go f*** a duck-f***ed pony from F***sville."
[George] "I don't even know what that means, but I'm going to quote it every chance I get."
The writing itself is always darkly funny too; Strand pushes the limits of humor in horror in every Wolf Hunt. And no, that is not a bad thing!
The man screamed.
Ivan laughed at him, a low, sexy growl of a laugh that the ladies found ever so alluring.
Wolf Hunt, though over three-hundred pages, is literally always moving; every time the novel appears to be loosing focus Strand throws another obstacle at George and Lou. Though I don't think I've ever read a novel faster-paced than this, therein lies my only complaint about the novel: it does become a tad bit repetitive. On more than one occasion George and Lou are trapped in one location facing off against Ivan, and after seeing Strand be so incredibly creative with his dialogue and characters, you can't help think he could do better than throw our favorite mobsters in yet another werewolf face-off situation. Though every one is exciting, had the novel been trimmed a little, it could have been the perfect rampaging beast it wants to be. But for now, Strand will have to settle for nearly perfect.
NOTE: WOLF HUNT is Highly Recommended! But sadly Leisure Books, who were originally going to publish the book to the masses it so deserves to be acknowledged to, aren't in the publishing business anymore. (That's a whole 'nother story though...) You can pick up an eBook version for cheap, or order a Trade Paperback from small press Dark Regions!
Edward Lee is known for his strange and humorous love of Rednecks. In many of his works they are the stars of the show, doing their demented deeds with a glee only Lee could come up with. Whether it be the deformed Creekers (of...Creekers fame) or the sick psychos of Header (from Header, Header 2, You Are My Everything), Lee has covered just about every redneck aspect there is to cover. But here in Family Tradition, Lee pushes the limits even further, introducing his infamous love of cooking into the mix...and of course, what's a good Lee story without a collaboration from John Pelan (Goon, Splatterpunks)?
Still despite having everything (rednecks: check. John Pelan: check. Cooking: check. A touch of Lovecraft: check. Never-ending gross-outs and non-stop raunchiness: double check) needed for Family Tradition to be Lee's grand opus of redneck horror, the simple truth is that the story is just not up to par with most of Lee's work. Being a huge fan of Lee's, this should have been a great read, but sadly, the book just feels like it was rushed. The plot is simple enough: a bunch of different people, (including some suicidal teenagers, a chef and his twin brother, their girlfriends, AND a rival chef seeking to get rid of his competition) all converge in the area of Sutherland Lake one day. The only problem: the entire Lake's population is after them. Of course the population of the Lake is only two people, but when those two people are Esau and Enoch, two crazed rednecks, you've got a problem. You see, Esau likes to cook...and his favorite ingredient is HUMAN. Cue plenty of sick cooking humor involving human recipes, courtesy of Lee.
The book tries to throw shock after shock at the reader, and for the most part it works. Lee and Pelan are masters of the Gross-Out, and they craft some truly wicked and original scenes of depravity here. The problem is that by the end of the book, the reader is so desensitized it doesn't really matter anymore. Some beginning scenes of shock definitely work well and had me gagging, as did some in the middle, but by the end...well, the ending of the book leaves so much to be desired that all the gross-outs just stopped working altogether. You see, Edward Lee, even when collaborating, has certain traits that all of his work features. One is the constants gross-outs. Two is the constant level of extreme violence and depravity. Three is the ever annoying fact that almost all of his book's endings feel slapped together and rushed. Family Tradition features all of these traits, but the third is the most important one. The book's conclusion zooms by, and it left me so confused I had to re-read it just to catch everything. I love it when scenes move fast, and most scenes here do, but the conclusion is literally blink-and-you'll-miss-it fast. I remember being mere pages from the end (with about three plot lines to still tie together) and wondering how Lee and Pelan where going to pull everything into one conclusion; then they do it and you're like "What?!?!" Goon had the same kind of ending, as did Monstrosity, as did The Golem, as did Slither, as did The Bighead, as did...While I'm a fan of Lee's, I tend to forget most of his novel's endings. Family Tradition, while I'll always remember some of the more original scenes from it, continuous this tradition.
When was the last time you really remembered any of a movie's score walking out of the theater? For this reviewer, it's been awhile. A movie's soundtrack should work along with the movie--and lately, in action/fantasy movie's more often than not, their soundtrack's have ultimately become generic and stale. Movie scores too often choose to play it safe, relying on bland music that serve as nothing more than background music to be forgotten as soon as the scenes changes. While that may be fine for any dumb summer blockbuster, it isn't something every movie should be doing, especially when your movie is filled to the brim with mind-blowing action sequences like this one is. Does Sucker Punch's soundtrack fall into the trap?
ABSOLUTELY not. Simply put, Sucker Punch comes loaded with some of the best music to ever grace the big screen, and the soundtrack captures every explosion perfectly. Though every song on the album is either a cover or a remix, the soundtrack comes off as being entirely new and fresh. No two songs sound alike, and every song has its moment--including any song featuring Emily Browning. Yes, Sucker Punch's lead actress lends her vocals to three songs on the soundtrack: "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)", "Asleep", and "Where Is My Mind". All are covers, (of the Eurythmics, The Smiths, and The Pixies) and she shines on every one. Her voice makes "Sweet Dreams" and "Asleep" all the more haunting, (in a eerily beautiful way) and her cameo on "Where Is My Mind" is practically welcomed with open arms after her other two songs.
Other covers include an excellent rock/pop-ish sounding version of Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" done by Emiliana Torrini (my personal favorite song on the album), a better-than-the-original version of The Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows" sung by Carla Azar, and a rock/indie version (complete with a fantastic intro) of The Stooges' "Search and Destroy" by Skunk Anansie. The two remixes, both of which could have bombed but come out strong, are the tech-heavy Sucker Punch remix of Bjork's "Army of Me" and a mash-up of Queen's "We Will Rock You" and "I Want it All". The latter features rapping by Geddy over the mash, something that sounds horrible on paper but is accomplished well upon listening. (It shouldn't have worked...but the song combines the two songs and rapping into one big, loud, most importantly enjoyable remix.)
The last song on the soundtrack, kind of the odd one out, is a cover of Roxy Music's "Love Is the Drug", and it deserves some special attention. It is nothing like any other song on the soundtrack, and it immediately feels like it deserves top billing. The song, sung wonderfully by cast members Oscar Isaac and Carla Gugino, (who still comes in character, complete with Russian accent!) feels like it belongs in some million-dollar musical, not a hyper-stylized movie like Sucker Punch. Yet played over the movie's end credits musical numbers (or just listening here alone), the song feels strangely at home, content in being the strange one...and that's what makes it all the better. If you are a fan of Broadway musicals, you can't go wrong at least checking this one song out.
Overall, there isn't a bad song in the bunch. Though it only has nine tracks, the soundtrack is loaded with more variety than ten average soundtracks, and it works along with the movie like no other has done before. (The soundtrack works on a Tarantino-level of musical perfection...that's how good it is!) Even if you didn't care for the movie itself, the soundtrack is a must-buy for any music fan and already has my vote for Soundtrack of the Year. It's gonna take a lot to trump this beast.
The wonders of 21st century Internet: nowadays, anyone can put up anything on Youtube, regardless of how good it actually is. A "director" can simply gather up a group of "actors", grab a camera, and film what they call a "movie". Upload it to Youtube, get a couple hits, and suddenly you can call yourself a "success". Is that really what this generation's idea of filmmaking has boiled down to?
The wonders of 21st century gaming: nowadays, anyone can just pick up a remote and be transported into a world where they can remain unchained for hours on end, a world where aliens, zombies, monsters, etc. are fodder to their mind. First Person Shooters let players grab a gun and take matters into their own hands; the problem being that almost every gamer is now permanently jaded toward the concept of death. Is that really how we want today’s generation to see things?
…Because that’s how Director’s Colin and Conner McGuire see things. That is NOT a bad thing here though: taking an obvious fondness for the violent and gore-heavy Left 4 Dead video games, they’ve taken their fandom to the next level, and created a short viral film that takes elements from the video games but is ultimately its own movie. Somehow it all works too; what could have been an amateurish, wannabe mess is instead an enjoyable and entertaining romp through a low-budget zombie apocalypse.
Marketed freely through Youtube, both Parts 1 & 2 of the short film can be seen on the site, but only Part 2 is being reviewed here. Why? Simply because Part 2 is a much stronger and competent piece of genre filmmaking; the directors have obviously grown creatively in the almost 8-month gap between 1 & 2. (Part 1 looks almost shoddy in comparison.) Part 2 can also be viewed as a standalone short; the set-up and introductions are all there, leaving no viewer confused if they do choose to skip straight into the second part.
Choosing empty, desolate, and often eerily haunting locations, Part 2’s plot revolves around a duo trying to find a safe-haven from the dead. They think they’ve found it in the form of a radio broadcast from a nearby military base—but are warned by other survivors not to go there. Pretty soon the zombies are descending, and the duo realize they’ve made a mistake getting too close to the now-overrun base. . .And yes, the blood does flow freely. While a lot of the blood is CGI, the zombie effects are for the most part practical, which always scores points in this reviewer’s book. The zombies look nice and nasty, and some of the original video game’s sound effects are blended in nicely into their screeching vocals. For example: mid-way through during a Hunter attack, (a Hunter is a “special”-type zombie, on that can leap like Tarzan but has all the ferociousness of a rabid monkey. They are lean, mean, and fast, and can tear apart a person in seconds) the Hunter’s roars are lifted directly from the video game’s sound mix, adding to the scene’s mood.
Overall, while the CGI can get a little shaky at times, the practical effects and sound design of the short feel professional. There’s a particularly notable scene during the short’s action-crazed end where the bass is pumped up and the video is slowed down as the lead survivor blasts away some zombies; slow-motion shells fly through the air as a rousing score beats to the on-screen mayhem.
But what of the acting? Low-budget films, (especially low-budget short horror films) aren’t exactly known for their actors…but lead actor Josh Pudleiner immediately stands out, commanding a screen presence and lending his vocals to the short’s narration. The problem is that he is the only stand-out—the weak script and dialogue does not really give any other actor a chance, good or bad. Pudleiner may be able to make his every line sound better then it really is, but it’s sadly a trait that the short’s other actors lack.
Going back to the script, it’s really where the short’s sole problems lie. Even for a short film the script moves way to fast, bouncing along from scene to scene with a seemingly blind disregard to any sort of characterization. As an audience we can immediately connect with Pudleiner only because we recognize that he’s the best of the bunch, but every other character isn’t given much else to do except either look scared or die. The first part of the film does try to give some characterization, but it is mostly in the form of clichéd dialogue, rendering it all moot. By the time the action starts, there’s little dialogue, and the viewer only cares about seeing more action, when they should be focusing on the character’s survival.
The short does show that the young directors (both are about to graduate from high school) know the technical and visual aspect of filmmaking, and know how to create a competent short film. Had the script and dialogue been revised before shooting, LEFT 4 DEAD may have been one of the horror shorts to see online…but for now it will have to settle for being simply entertaining—nothing more, nothing less. And sometimes, that’s good enough.
Featured Creature(s): Dragons, Orcs, Steampunk Nazi Zombies, Sword/Bazooka/Machine-Gun wielding Ten-Foot-Tall Samurai, Robots, Lobotomist's, Scott Glenn
THEATRICAL REVIEW (Rated PG-13)
Ah, the joys of an IMAX screen: everything is louder, crisper, and better. The screen is bigger, the sound is surround, and the volume is pumped up to the point where any movie longer than Avatar and your ears would start to bleed. Having watch it on an IMAX screen, it is safe to say that watching an action/fantasy movie like SUCKER PUNCH in IMAX is quite the experience it promises. Director Zack Synder makes his movies ultra-stylish and filled to the brim with crazy slo-mo scenes, and on that front SUCKER PUNCH is his most Synder-ish film to date--making it a perfect fit for IMAX. (If you are watching this film solely for the visuals, watch it in the format!)
Alright, shameless advertising moment over: basically taking everything he has perfected in past movies (slo-mo: check, long takes: check, unbelievably off-the-wall action: check) and ramping everything up to the next level, SUCKER PUNCH features some of the neatest visuals this reviewer has ever seen in a movie. Though knowing 99% of it is all CGI does somewhat hinder the effect, SUCKER PUNCH deserves the title of a visual masterpiece. Yet besides the awesome scenery, what else does the movie have to offer?
The honest answer: not much else. SUCKER PUNCH is Synder's first movie that is not based on previous material, (300 and Watchmen were both based on graphic novels, Dawn of the Dead a remake, and Legend of the Guardians based on a series of children's novels) and it is obvious that without something to work up from, Synder's stories suffer. While the script's originality may let Synder roam unchained visually, SUCKER PUNCH's story and characters are pretty much left out in the cold.
The story chronicles Babydoll's (a *great* sign of characterization is when all of your main characters have stripper's names instead of real ones, right??) plot to escape both the insane asylum she is literally trapped in and the brothel she imagines she is trapped in. Her descent into the madness of her mind (sort of like Black Swan, except without all of the, you know, GOOD WRITING) has three levels: the "real" circa-1960's era world where she is to be lobotomized in five days, the glamorous brothel world she retreats into, and the insane action set-pieces she goes further into every time she dances in the brothel. You see, Babydoll's dancing is so beautiful and hypnotic that when she dances, the viewer's eyes are instead privy to some random action scene, unrelated to the story and only there because the trailers promised something cool. Every dance brings her and her hot friends (cleverly named Blondie, Sweet Pea, Rocket...you get the idea) into a different "world", whether that be a WWI setting where Nazi zombies roam the trenches or an Orc-infested castle guarded by a huge Mama dragon. These worlds are home to some absolutely mind-blowing cinematography, sound mixing/design and CGI...but they have nothing to really do with the true story, which doesn't even really bother to kick in until the final thirty minutes. By then, most of the audience just does not care to see anything but the visuals anymore...and by then, they're all over.
The actors do try their best to keep it manageable, (Abbie Cornish brings an exceptional range of emotions to Rocket, and stands out among the girls) but some of the dialogue they are given is truly cringe-worthy. Hearing Scott Glenn say one-too-many painfully vapid and cliched one-liners can only go on for so long. Vanessa Hudgens should be noted for trying out a much different kind of role after the High School Musical films, but she feels underused here, as does Sorority Row's Jamie Chung. Carla Gugino stood out in Watchmen, but the Polish accent she's forced to talk with here is almost laughable. Oscar Isaac almost succeeds at being truly villainous, but the audience in my theater giggled more at his lines then anything else. (Are you starting to get the point?)
The dialogue is not the only foe here either: all back-story is told dialogue-free in the film's opening scene. Playing out just like a music video, the scene, set to a cover of "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)" and describing Babydoll's plight, is haunting and beautiful--until you realize that it's all the characterization you are going to get for her. It is a shame, because Synder does show a lot of promise in the opening. (Actually, the film gets one more star simply for that opening...in retrospect, it really does shine compared to other aspects of the film.)
Still, I can't help but think the real reason SUCKER PUNCH feels so...off is due to its rating. The story obviously calls for a lot more explicitness and explanation, but numerous cuts and edits were made to the film in order to obtain the disappointing PG-13 rating. When one of your film's main settings is a brothel for crying out loud, a PG-13 doesn't quite cut it. Cuts to the film include the removal of musical numbers, (three of them can be seen in glimpses during the colorful end credits, but they play out like teasers of what we could be seeing instead of the final product), Babydoll's dancing, (which we never actually see in the film, only the very beginning/end of each dance) a Babydoll/High Roller love scene, (well...that's understandably cut) a rape scene between Babydoll and Bleu, (hinted at in the movie, but drastically toned down in the final edit) and almost twenty more minutes of action scenes alone. For a film with so many exploitative roots, seeing SUCKER PUNCH with an R-Rating as it was meant to be should be a real treat--a true "sucker punch" to the viewer.
As beautiful as the visuals may be, the film just feels watered-down, a ghost of what it could be. (Guess we'll have to wait for the Director's Cut.) Definitely go see SUCKER PUNCH for the ride--but for now, don't expect anything more than a quick thrill.