Monday, April 30, 2012

Last Day: Z

April just went like water through my fingers and here we are now, facing the Z challenge. Unbelievable. I had a blast and hope you did, too. To all my new followers, I hope you continue to find interesting things among the many thoughts that compel me to write in this blog and I'll do my best to give you just that. To all the new friendships and bonds that the challenge gave me, I cherish you all. Thanks for extending me your virtual hand in a gesture of true kindness.

Movie.

Zombieland (2009)
Directed by Ruben Fleischer.

Plot: In the early twenty-first century when zombies have taken over America, a shy, inexperienced college student in Texas has survived by following his 30 rules. He then decides to travel to Ohio to see if his parents are alive. He gets a ride with a boisterous zombie-hating good-old boy headed for Florida, and soon they confront a young woman and her little sister who have survived by conning other survivors out of their food of getaway cars. An unlikely group, circumstances band them together in search of an LA amusement park they've heard is zombie free.

Review: This movie is neither small nor unknown but do forgive me, Z was an extremely difficult letter and my brain is not cooperating after a month long of heavy thinking. Zombie comedies are difficult to execute and hardly ever worth watching but Zombieland is one of those great exceptions. Part hilarious part scary, the movie has a touching backstory that makes sense and is developed with extreme subtleness but to great effect. The acting is superb and the dialogs are just brilliant. This move is up there with Shawn of the Dead and should not be missed.

Book.

World War Z by Max Brooks.
Published By Crown in 2006.

Blurb: The Zombie War came unthinkably close to eradicating humanity. Max Brooks, driven by the urgency of preserving the acid-etched first-hand experiences of the survivors from those apocalyptic years, traveled across the United States of America and throughout the world, from decimated cities that once teemed with upwards of thirty million souls to the most remote and inhospitable areas of the planet. He recorded the testimony of men, women, and sometimes children who came face-to-face with the living, or at least the undead, hell of that dreadful time.World War Z is the result. Never before have we had access to a document that so powerfully conveys the depth of fear and horror, and also the ineradicable spirit of resistance, that gripped human society through the plague years.
Ranging from the now infamous village of New Dachang in the United Federation of China, where the epidemiological trail began with the twelve-year-old Patient Zero, to the unnamed northern forests where untold numbers sought a terrible and temporary refuge in the cold, to the United States of Southern Africa, where the Redeker Plan provided hope for humanity at an unspeakable price, to the west-of-the-Rockies redoubt where the North American tide finally started to turn, this invaluable chronicle reflects the full scope and duration of the Zombie War.
Most of all, the book captures with haunting immediacy the human dimension of this epochal event. Facing the often raw and vivid nature of these personal accounts requires a degree of courage on the part of the reader, but the effort is invaluable because, as Mr. Brooks says in his introduction, “By excluding the human factor, aren’t we risking the kind of personal detachment from history that may, heaven forbid, lead us one day to repeat it? And in the end, isn’t the human factor the only true difference between us and the enemy we now refer to as ‘the living dead’?”
Note: Some of the numerical and factual material contained in this edition was previously published under the auspices of the United Nations Postwar Commission.

Review: I decided to go with this huge blurb because it depicts to perfection the style, voice, and mind behind the book. Narrated as a series of first person interviews, the book contains a hundred individual stories that paint a perfectly clear image of what it was to almost loose the war against zombies. I previously did an extended review of this book for Dark River Press, but suffice it to say it will hunt your dreams. World War Z is a tour-de-force that revived the zombie mythos in 2006, when it was dead and buried. Really zombies-que to bring them back like this, don't you think?

Friday, April 27, 2012

X Marks the Spot

Do you know how hard it was to find a book and a movie with the letter X? VERY hard. Actually, I didn't find any, so you'll cut me some slack if the following just contain an x somewhere and if they aren't really horror, right?

Movie.

The Experiment (Das Experiment, 2001)
Directed by Oliver Hirschbiegel.

Plot: The movie is based on the infamous "Stanford Prison Experiment" conducted in 1971. A makeshift prison is set up in a research lab, complete with cells, bars and surveillance cameras. For two weeks 20 male participants are hired to play prisoners and guards. The 'prisoners' are locked up and have to follow seemingly mild rules, and the 'guards' are told simply to retain order without using physical violence. Everybody is free to quit at any time, thereby forfeiting payment. In the beginning the mood between both groups is insecure and rather emphatic. But soon quarrels arise and the wardens employ ever more drastic sanctions to confirm their authority.

Review: The film is based on the infamous Stamford Prison Experiment and then taken to its logic conclusion had the experiment not being abandoned. For starters, the experiment in itself is very interesting and material for a whole thesis (which it is), so this movie is the ultimate trip for those interested in Psychology. It is deeply disturbing but not because there's blood, gore, or special effects, but because it seems plausible. There is violence but nothing gut-wrentching in itself, it is only when we think this is real and everyone of us can be trapped in these mind games where we might turn into ugly, cruel beings. I saw The Experiment about fifteen years ago and it left a lasting impression that echoes to this day. Whenever I feel like I want to kill an idiot on the street, I recall this movie and I'm afraid.

Book.

Deus-X by Joseph A. Citro.
Published by Twilight Pub in 1994.

Blurb: Two seemingly unrelated events set in motion a complex plot: In a secret government installation in California, a political prisoner is grotesquely executed. At the same time, on the East Coast, an elderly Vermont farmer vanishes, the victim of an otherwordly abduction. Three amateur investigators with divergent world views--a psychologist, a physicist, and a priest--join forces to discover the relationship between these two events. Stalked by a murderous psychopath intent on stopping them, they encounter UFOs, inexplicable religious phenomena, multiple personalities, and overwhelming psychic violence. They are drawn inexorably forward through the gothic halls of a Canadian hospital for elderly and demented priests to the locked chambers of a covert American repository for space-age weaponry, where they uncover a sinister application of computer technology.

Review: Again, not what I would call 'horror' but with certain horror elements. I would describe Deus-X more like a Sci-Fi book in the style of The X Files (hey, what do you know, an X!). Citro is a renown bestseller nonfiction chronicler of the occult. Putting to good use his ample knowledge of the theme, he adeptly adds symbols and paranormal occurrences that have gain the favor of many, including the Horror Writers Association who has labeled this book as among the one hundred best books ever written in the genre. Of all the books I have reviewed for the challenge, this is the one that can please the biggest audience. Lovers of mysteries with a touch of paranormal, psychological thrillers with a twist of religious horror, and plain old sci-fi will find their thirst quenched by this unusual gem.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Day 23: W

So, we can see the end line from here. After a month long marathon, the last few posts are on the horizon and some of them are really hard to figure out (X & Y anyone??). Let's give it a last sprint and hope for the best.

Movie.

From Within (2008)
Directed by Phedon Papamichael.

Plot: In a small Maryland town, the suicide of an outcast teenager triggers a string of violent suicides. These suicides seem to stem from a curse which spreads when any person, who witnesses the suicide, is possessed by an evil force that appears as the person's doppelganger that only they can see. A young teenager, named Lindsey, thinks there is a connection of the events to Aidan, the outcast brother of the first suicide case. But Lindsay must race against the clock when she witnesses her mother fall victim, and must try to find a way to stop the curse before it kills her too. Meanwhile the God-fearing townspeople, led by a fanatic preacher with a connection to the events also, form a vigilante group to take the law in their own hands.

Review: Another independent movie that was released without fanfare and mostly floated to oblivion. Though the movie isn't perfect, I loved the unusual and mysterious plot. I found this movie while cruising the channels looking for something worth of my time, I watched the first fifteen minutes and I was hooked. That's how effective the premiss is. The director does a great job at making fresh the old setting of religious zealots in the farthest corners of the US, and there's something on the imagery of seeing your doppelgänger about to kill you that just makes my skin crawl. From Within has suspense, a few gruesome deaths, some soul liberating laughs, and a nice final twist. The perfect engagement for a rainy day.

Book.

The woman in Black by Susan Hill.
Published by Hamish Hamilton in 1983.

Blurb: A classic ghost story: the chilling tale of a menacing specter haunting a small English town. Arthur Kipps is an up-and-coming London solicitor who is sent to Crythin Gifford—a faraway town in the windswept salt marshes beyond Nine Lives Causeway—to attend the funeral and settle the affairs of a client, Mrs. Alice Drablow of Eel Marsh House. Mrs. Drablow's house stands at the end of the causeway, wreathed in fog and mystery, but Kipps is unaware of the tragic secrets that lie hidden behind its sheltered windows. The routine business trip he anticipated quickly takes a horrifying turn when he finds himself haunted by a series of mysterious sounds and images—a rocking chair in a deserted nursery, the eerie sound of a pony and trap, a child's scream in the fog, and, most terrifying of all, a ghostly woman dressed all in black.

Review: I first came in contact with the story as a stage adaptation in Mexico city. After being mesmerized by it, I became obsessed with the piece and researched it. It turns out it has been on stage in the famous Fortune Theater in Covent Garden, London, since 1989! Various countries have their own adaptations running to huge success for five years--like Madrid--to twelve years--like Mexico--. Surprised? Well, you shouldn't be. The Woman in Black is a ghost story that relies on Hill's command over the language, whose narration is an example in containment, character development, and setting atmosphere. Her flawless style serves perfectly the post Victorian-early Edwardian time she selected for the novel. Even that serves to a greater purpose as we see MC Arthur Kipps torn between an age of rationality and the Victorian superstitions of the past, turning Arthur in more that a mere narrator just spewing a ghost story, but a flawed, unfortunate soul we deeply feel for.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A to Z Challenge. Letter V

Movie.

The Visitors (1988)
Directed by Jack Ersgard.

Plot: Frank, Sara and their two children have recently moved into the house of their dreams on the countryside. For a moment they seem to be living their dreams but then they notice strange happenings in the house; the tapestries start to fall off in one of the rooms, in another nothing 'feels' right, and Frank is disturbed by mysterious sounds. As help from the outside ends with tragic consequences, Frank embarks on a quest to find out the truth himself.

Review: This is an obscure little film that most don't even know it exists. A Swedish odd ball, the film is highly atmospheric and claustrophobic. The way the director works around having basically no special effects is to use darkness to create a sense of doom and it works like a charm. By no means this movie can be compared with the greatest horror movies of all times but it is worth a look if you're tired of beaten down plots, empty characters, lots of sex, and CGI feasts. Great acting, believable characters that react just the way most of us would, and an eerie set will make your two hours a well invested time.

Book.

The Vanishment by Jonathan Aycliffe.
Published by HarperPrism in 1994.

Blurb: It promises to be an idyllic vacation -- a lovely old house on the Cornish coast where Peter Clare can finish writing a collection of short stories and where his wife Sarah can paint -- a place where they can try to rebuild their troubled marriage. The spectacular cliff overlooking the sea, the wild gardens and woodlands. But from the moment they enter Petherick House, Sarah feels the dark menace surrounding them. Peter dismisses Sarah's fears without another thought, until she disappears without a trace. Now, Peter can see the shadowy figures in the night and hear a child's desperate weeping, but the nightmare has only begun.

Review: Tell me this isn't one of the best blurbs you've ever read. I dare you. Though I haven't read The Vanishment, I just couldn't pass the chance to let you all know about such a high praised book. Everywhere you look there are four and five stars all over it. From what I know, it is a ghost story that won't scare you to death but that packs a high emotional charge. Atmospherical and with a dash of the supernatural, this is a read for even those who doesn't like horror books. Hope you enjoy it!

Monday, April 23, 2012

A to Z Challenge. Letter U

Movie.

The Uninvited (1944)
Directed by Lewis Allen.
Plot: A brother and sister move into an old seaside house they find abandoned for many years on the English coast. Their original enchantment with the house diminishes as they hear stories of the previous owners and meet their daughter (now a young woman) who now lives as a neighbor with her grandfather. Also heard are unexplained sounds during the night. It becomes obvious that the house is haunted. The reasons for the haunting and how they relate to the daughter whom the brother is falling in love with, prove to be a complex mystery. As they are compelled to solve it, the supernatural activity at the house increases to a frightening level.

Review: The Uninvited is one of the rare Hollywood ghost stories that does not cop out with a "logical" ending. In fact, the film has more in common with British ghost tales of the period in that the characters calmly accept spectral visitations as though they were everyday occurrences. Based on the novel by Dorothy Macardle (with a few uncredited "lifts" from Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca), The Uninvited remains one of the spookiest "old dark house" films ever made.

Book.

Uncle Silas by J. Sheridan le Fanu.
Published by Dublin University Magazine in 1864.

Blurb: In "Uncle Silas", Sheridan Le Fanu's most celebrated novel, Maud Ruthyn, the young, naïve heroine, is plagued by Madame de la Rougierre from the moment the enigmatic older woman is hired as her governess. A liar, bully, and spy, when Madame leaves the house, she takes her dark secrets with her. Then Maud is orphaned and sent to live with her Uncle Silas, her father's mysterious brother and a man with a scandalous, maybe even murderous, past. Once again, she encounters Madame and her sinister role in Maud's destiny becomes all too clear. With its subversion of reality and illusion, and its exploration of fear through the use of mystery and the supernatural, "Uncle Silas" shuns the conventions of traditional horror and delivers a chilling psychological thriller.

Review: A Victorian Gothic Mystery-Thriller, this novel is one of the earliest and most notable examples of the 'Locked room mystery' sub genre. It does not delve into the supernatural but it isn't any less creepy because of that. The story, like all good gothic ones, is atmospheric and claustrophobic to its best, you feel the sense of danger and worry about Maud, the seventeen-year-old protagonist. Another great bonus of the book is that it is obviously catered to a Victorian readership and presents a very clear picture of the moral values and fears of the time. Though the scandals at the core of "Uncle Silas" won't scandalize anyone with our modern sensibilities, it is of great interest to realize what it took to rock the Victorian society to its core. Do not miss this jewel.


Horrors to the T

And the last week of the challenge shall commence with letter T. Enjoy!

Movie.

A Tale of Two Sisters (2003)
Directed by Jee-Won Kim.

Plot: Two sisters who, after spending time in a mental institution, return to the home of their father and cruel stepmother. Once there, in addition to dealing with their stepmother's obsessive and unbalanced ways, an interfering ghost also affects their recovery.

Review: Another old J-horror film that mostly nobody watched. A Tale of Two Sisters was latter given the Hollywood touch-up and released as The Uninvited but it failed to grab the attention of movie-goers. Why, you ask? Well, The Uninvited was a fair attempt and better done than most adaptations but A Tale of Two Sisters is based on a widely known Taiwanese folktale that has been adapted to cinema several times. Imagine a Bloody Mary movie for a Russian population who has never even heard about Bloody Mary. Half the fun is gone!

A tale of Two Sisters is the latest and more accomplished version of the tale. It is beautifully film. We see the events unfold through the eyes of the oldest daughter, who just got home from an extended stay on the hospital. This is the classic trick of an unreliable narrator used with extreme skill. The movie is confusing but it only adds to the thrill. It has been described as a psychological thriller, a ghost story, and a horror. Watch it and choose what works for you.

Book.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James.
Published byWilliam Heinemann in 1898.

Blurb: One of literature's most gripping ghost stories depicts the sinister transformation of two innocent children into flagrant liars and hypocrites. Elegantly told, it is a tale of unspoken horror and psychological terror that creates what few stories in literature have been able to do, a complete feeling of dread and uncertainty.

Review: If you like gothic literature, you have to read James' best known novel. It is a testament to his skill and a necessary book for every lover of classic literature. The open ending and paranoid feeling of the whole story is what has made it endure. There is not enough that can be said to make it honor. Just read it.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Saturday starts with S

The A to Z Challenge in partnership with this blog proudly brings to you, our recommendations for letter S.

Movie.

Shutter (2004)
Directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun

Plot: A young photographer, Thun, and his girlfriend, Jane, discover mysterious shadows in their photographs after fleeing the scene of an accident. As they investigate the phenomenon, other photographs containing similar supernatural images emerge and they find out that Thun's best friends are being haunted as well. As the supernatural surrounds them ever more threateningly, Jane starts to suspect her boyfriend has not told her everything. Soon it'll become clear to them that you cannot escape your past.

Review: First let me warn you: Stay away from the American version. I know, I know, Joshua Jackson is so cute, but trust me, not even his baby face and vulnerable eyes can salvage this disaster. With that in mind, let's talk about the Thai version. I saw this movie on the theater with a friend. The whole place was in utter silence, terrified to even put popcorn in your mouth. By the mid-point of the movie I was holding my legs and I didn't dare lower my feet even when I started to cramp, lest the monster under my seat grab them. Shutter is a wild ride full of surprises and a final twist to leave you horrified of back pain. I had a really hard time shaking that last image out of my mind.

Book.

Sineater by Elizabeth Massie.
Published by Pan Books in 1992.

Blurb: Winner of England's Bram Stoker Award, Massie's first novel works better as a convincing and original story about the potential horrors of backwoods religious fervor than as a traditional supernatural thriller. Young Joel Barker lives with a special stigma: his father, Avery, is the "sineater," chosen by their Blue Ridge Mountain religious sect to live alone in the woods and bear the sins of the community's dead. Though Joel is universally ostracized, Burke Campbell, the nephew of the sect's leader, Missy Campbell, befriends him in defiance of his aunt, whose mumbo jumbo he despises. When death and mutilation falls upon anyone who has dealings with Joel's family, Missy blames the sineater and mounts a crusade against him and his kin. The two boys set out to stop the sineater and to end the religious madness that is sweeping the town, only to discover that they may be seeking the wrong enemy.

Review: Sineater is an excellent novel deserving of the Bram Stoker Award recognition. Massie's storyline focuses on a tradition and is more realistic than supernatural. Religious fanatics like Missy Campbell really do exist in our world. Massie’s sharp eye for detail brings the characters alive. Sineater is not only a horror/mystery/coming of age novel that has a bit for everyone. The town must face the fact that their traditions are archaeic and unfounded. I travel quite a lot between Montreal and Southern Connecticut and we pass through many a small towns. The very detailed setting Massie protrayed made me avoid at all costs to drive at night on our last trip.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

To the A, to the B... and We're on the R

Another week has passed us by. Uhf! Can you belief we're getting closer to the end of the challenge? Well, here are my R suggestions:

Movie.

Reincarnation (2005)
Directed by Takashi Shimizu.

Plot: Nagisa Sugiura (Yuka) is a young Japanese actress who comes face to face with a slew of ghosts. These restless spirits begin to appear when she signs on to star in a horror film which tells the true story about a crazed, local professor whose murderous rampage at a hotel left 11 guests dead, including his young son and daughter. The movie is being filmed at the very site where the killings took place.

Review: Like a lot of Japanese horror films, Reincarnation isn't told in a linear way. The story seems fragmented and confusing but that's part of what makes it scary. There aren't graphic, bloody scenes and the suspense is built around the ambiance and things you think you saw out of the corner of your eye. Very unsettling. At the end everything makes sense and the story comes round leaving the viewer with no questions but quite surprised.

Book.

The Ring by Koji Suzuki.
Published by Vertical in 2003.

Blurb: A mysterious videotape warns that the viewer will die in one week unless a certain, unspecified act is performed. Exactly one week after watching the tape, four teenagers die one after another of heart failure. Asakawa, a hardworking journalist, is intrigued by his niece's inexplicable death. His investigation leads him from a metropolitan tokyo teeming with modern society's fears to a rural Japan--a mountain resort, a volcanic island, and a countryside clinic--haunted by the past. His attempt to solve the tape's mystery before it's too late--for everyone--assumes an increasingly deadly urgency. Ring is a chillingly told horror story, a masterfully suspenseful mystery, and post-modern trip.

Review: Just before starting with the challenge I did an extensive review on this book and mentioned I'll review each book of the series separately. For the sake of this post I'll resume things by saying that there are four books in the series, The Ring, Spiral, Loop, and Birthday. I've read all but Birthday and my favorite by far was the first. It is similar enough to the movies adaptations that you'll recognize the plot, but the second part of the book is significantly different. And much better. The are no loose ends by the end of the story, everything fits nicely and is explained away, unlike the movies. Suzuki is known like "The Japanese Stephen King" and with this series he proves it right. He builds suspense like a master and you can't stop turning the pages. A must read.

If you want to know more about the books, movies, and my opinion, click here.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Pain in the Q...

Alright, Q has given me extra headaches. Do you realize how unusual it is to find this letter in english? I could always try other languages but I don't think you'd appreciate that, so I'll resort to a fun game of horror trivia. Remember the old Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? Well, this is the A to Z version of it. The point is to go through the history of horror (my theme for the challenge) connecting one link to another (times six) with the particularity that all of the events have to be a 'first' at something (that would be the trivia part of the game). Let's see if I can pull this off...


SIX DEGREES OF Q


  • Quasimodo has the dubious honor of being the first monster in a movie. He is a fictional character who first saw the light as a character in the novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (1831) by Victor Hugo. Quasimodo, who was born with a hunchback, was feared by the townspeople as a sort of monster until he finds sanctuary in an unlikely love that is never corresponded and fulfilled only in death. The role of Quasimodo has been played by many actors of all trades, from Lon Chaney Sr. in 1923, to a Disney animated adaptation in 1996. In recent times, evidence has been found suggesting the existence of a real-life hunchbacked stone carver who worked at Notre Dame during the period when Victor Hugo was writing. They might even have known one another.

  • Lon Chaney is widely known as a fixture of early horror films and he is consider the first horror movie star ever. Less widely known is the fact that among Chaney's rich filmography--162 films!!--he only starred in five horror movies: The Penalty (1920), The Phantom of the Opera (1925), The Monster (1925), London After Midnight (1927), and The Unknown (1927), the last one being one of his most praised performances.

  • Tod Browning, director of The Unknown, is better remembered by horror fans for his harsh, creepy, and scary movie Freaks (1932) about a circus group of deformed outcasts and their dark secrets. However, it is in his film The Unknown where he first featured carnival life in a harsh, crude light. The film has being labeled by critics as his most intense and demented and was part of what is now known to horror historians as the Universal Horror Cycle.

  • Universal Studios started its fateful journey as 'Independent Movies Company' which only horror film was Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (1913). After the company adopted its present iconic name and during the 1920's, 1930's, and 1940's, the studio filmed a series of horror flicks that would become the essence of horror. The first movie considered part of the Universal Horror Cycle featuring monsters was The Hunchback of Notre Dame starring the aforementioned Lon Chaney, and last one was Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein (1948). As part of the cycle, Universal adapted three of Poe's stories: Murders in the Rue Morgue (1932), The Raven (1935), and The Black Cat (1941).

  • But it was Poe's The Pit and the Pendulum the one that would grab the honor of being the first story written by the author to be turned into a movie in the english language. The movie of the same title was directed in 1913 by the first female director in the motion picture industry, french-born Alice Guy-Blanche. She is considered to be the first director to systematically develop narrative filmmaking, and was known to employ especial effects in a time when no one else was. Along with her husband, they created the biggest pre-Hollywood studio in America, located in Flushing New York. After their divorce and given the trend of filming in the more cost-effective tempered weather of California, the studio closed its doors and she never filmed again but dedicated herself to give lectures and write books. Among the more than 700 films in which she was involved is La Esmeralda in 1905.
  • La Esmeralda was the first non-english adaptation of Victor Hugo's novel, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and the first time Quasimodo appeared on film.


Yay! I did it! It was a lot of work but it was fun. I hope you enjoy it as much as i did. Don't forget to leave your comments.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Horror by Letters: P

Movie.

Pontypool (2008)
Directed by Bruce McDonald.

Plot: In the small town of Pontypool, Ontario, the local radio station and its crew of three people start the day as usual, one sleepy story after another, but as the day moves on they receive reports of violence happening all over the region. This includes riots, people killing each other, and intervention from the Canadian Government. Soon they find themselves hiding in the station from the horror outside they keep reporting. If that was not bad enough, they can't figure out what's going on. 


Review: As we've been saying these days, modern horror seems to be all about blood and guts. Pontypool swerves away from that trend and goes back to the Jaws technique of not showing the monster. The whole first half we are left to guess what is happening and our imaginations run wild. Now, I like the resolution of the story but I know there are a lot of detractors who consider the second half to be awash, not me, though. I also give it even more credit for what they were able to pull off on such a short budget. Pontypool is claustrophobic, and scary. A true radio broadcast from hell.

Book.

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay.
Published by F.W. Cheshire in 1967.

Blurb: Part drama, part mystery novel, Australian author Joan Lindsay wrote it in only four weeks. The plot focuses on a group of girls at an Australian women's college in the year 1900 who vanish during a Valentine's Day picnic at the site of an enormous rock formation. The novel's ambiguous ending has ensured the survival of the piece through various debates through the years.


Review: This story is quite well written and mysterious but its most important value is as one of the best hoaxes in history. Up there next to Well's War of the Worlds broadcast, Picnic at Hanging Rock is, to this date, believed to be a real story by many who later have to confront the reality of its falseness. Hanging Rock does exist in the Australian wilderness and Lindsay was clever enough to feed the ambiguity of her story, thus perpetuating the lie. If you are interested in learning more about this clever author, her book, and the consequences the novel has had, click here. But I bet I've peaked your curiosity enough to read the book. Oh, and remember to look for "The Secret of Hanging Rock" which holds the last chapter in the book which Lindsay decided to hold unpublished until three years after her death. Talk about building suspense.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Letter O

I know most of you know what the A to Z challenge is, but for those who just have no idea what I've been talking about throughout month, here it is. Every day there's a letter of the alphabet and I did a whole  lot of research to bring you the best horror movies and books you haven't heard about. Now, the letters that correspond to a few of the following weeks are really difficult (I'm talking to you O, P, Q) so bare with me if the books or movies are not so obscure. I was desperate.

With you, letter O.

Movie.

The Orphanage (2007)
Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona.
Plot: When her old orphanage goes on the market, Laura and her family settle in and plan to re-open it as a home for special-needs children. Husband and wife initiate a series of works in the house while their seven-year-old son, Simon, starts talking about five invisible friends that Laura thinks are his way of adapting to their secluded new house. When Simon disappears without a trace, his parents contact the police but to no avail. Laura is haunted by odd noises and strange visions. She is convinced that they aren't alone in the old manor and whoever is with them holds the clue to her son's disappearance. Produced and presented by Guillermo Del Toro, The Orphanage bears a vague resemblance to the ghostly Devil's Backbone.

Review: An excellent movie. Bayona's imagery wraps us in the tragic story of this mother and the derailment of her life. The Orphanage is, at its core, not a ghost movie, but a story about how the love between a mother and her son knows no boundaries. I was surprised at the emotionally charged ending but cheer up, the movie does have its very creepy side.

Book.

Once again, I was turned between two great books and I couldn't bring myself to cut one.

1. The Other by Thomas Tryon.
    Published by Alfred A Knopf in 1971.

    Blurb: Holland and Niles Perry are identical thirteen-year-old twins. They are close, close enough to almost read each other’s thoughts, but they couldn’t be more different. Holland is bold and mischievous, a bad influence, while Niles is kind and eager to please, the sort of boy who makes his parents proud. The Perrys live in the bucolic New England town their family settled in centuries ago and now the extended family has gathered at their farm this summer to mourn the death of the twins’ father in an unfortunate accident. Mrs. Perry never quite recovered from the shock and stays sequestered in her room, leaving her sons to roam free. As the summer goes on and Holland’s pranks become increasingly sinister, Niles finds he can no longer make excuses for his brother’s actions.
The Other is a landmark of psychological horror, Thomas Tryon’s bestselling novel about a homegrown monster is an eerie examination of the darkness that dwells within everyone.

    Review: A genuinely frightening story, The Other sweeps away the reader to the tranquil life of a Connecticut country town where everything can be hiding behind the facade of normality. The subtle prose plays with our fears and maximizes the creepiness effect. The Other is one of the most influential horror novels ever written. Its impeccable recreation of small-town life and its skillful handling of personality transference led to widespread critical acclaim for the novel, which was successfully adapted to film with the author himself writing the screenplay.

2. An Occurrence at Owl Creek by Ambrose Bierce.
    Published by The San Francisco Examiner in 1890.

    Blurb: The condemned man stands on a bridge, his hands bound behind his back. A noose is tied around his neck. In a moment he will meet his fate: DEATH BY HANGING. There is no escape. Or is there?

    Review: One of the forefathers of horror in general and a master at quiet horror, An Occurrence at Owl Creek is one of the most influential stories of Ambrose Bierce. This short story told in a jumping timeline and with the original twist of an ending has been adapted as a Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents episodes and a number of movies, the most recent being 2008 The Escapist. You are missing a cornerstone if you haven't read it.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The N Details of Horror

The third monday of April is here and I can't believe we're past the mid-point of the challenge. Time is flying!! But I'll open the week with a bit of a trivia.

In recent years we have been inundated by the amount of remakes Hollywood has forced us to endure, usually in detriment of the original piece which often shares but a few threads with its 'newer' version. Well, it seems bad remakes were not invented by Hollywood. Here I share with you the first remake ever. The English version of The Haunted Castle, directed by George Albert Smith in 1897 and based on the French original of the same name. If you want to check the 1986 version, click here.



Movie.

Noroi: Te Curse (2005)
Director: Koji Shiraishi.

Plot: A documentary filmmaker explores seemingly unrelated paranormal incidents connected by the legend of an ancient demon called the "Kagutaba."

Review: You didn't really think I was going to forget about Japanese horror, right? Also know as J-horror its peak of interest hit around 2002, when The Ring exploited into western theaters and blew our minds. Recently it has been kind of forgotten, though it is still much well regarded. Noroi is a prime example of a good story that doesn't follow western standards for horror and yet delivers in scares and eeriness. Film as a mockumentary--another huge trend--it is an effective film that actually bothered with a story that makes sense.

Book.

Necroscope by Brian Lumley.
Published by Tor Books in 1992.

Blurb: From the undead vampire in the Romanian mausoleum, Boris Dragosani tries to draw an evil force so powerful he will gain supremacy in the ultra-secret paranormal agency he works for in Russia. His official job is as a Necroscope – his speciality is tearing secrets from the souls of newly-dead traitors.

And England too has her necroscope – her communicator with the dead. When Harry Keogh is recruited by the British Secret Service to take on the paranormal menace from behind the Iron Curtain, the stage is set for the most horrifying supernatural confrontation ever... 


Review: This is actually the first book in the series, a total of five widely popular books. Lumley style is quirky but interesting and makes you care for his characters. He has also develop a very intricate story surrounding his vampires--indeed, these are vampire books--making the collection one with the most complex backstories and mythology on the theme EVER.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

A to Z Challenge. Letter M.

And with letter M we have...

Movie.

Martyrs (2008)
Directed by Pascal Laugier

Plot: Fifteen years after a horrifying experience of abduction and prolonged torture, Lucie embarks on a bloody quest for revenge against her oppressors. Along with her childhood friend, Anna, who also suffered abuse, she quickly descends into madness and her own delusions. Anna, left on her own, begins to re-experience what Lucie did when she was only twelve years old.

Review: A warning for all interested in this canadian jewel; the movie is part of the extreme violent and bloody slasher movement. I wouldn't categorize it with the rest of the Torture Porn movies (Hostel anyone?) simply because there is a deep, profound story and a reason for the violence. The movie attempts, and succeeds in my opinion, to show the deep emotional pain and scars that torture/abuse leaves. It is a harrowing story that somehow manages to have a somewhat uplifting ending. This is not for the faint hearted but definitively interesting and thought-provoking.

Book.

Midnight by Dean Koontz.
Published by Berkley in 1989.

Blurb: Four people are the last hope of Moonlight Cove because one by one the rest of the citizens are changing into boogymen, werewolves, mythical creatures, or something entirely new. They are the New People; the willing victims of a seductive experiment in chemically induced evolution. They can transform their bodies at will and eliminate unproductive emotions, like grief and compassion. In fact, the only instinct left to the New People is self-preservation, and their only emotion is fear. And they want the rest of humanity to join them.

Review: After a very gory, crude recommendation, I have something lighter and entertaining for you. "Midnight" is set in a small town in Northern California, where an experiment is transforming humans and a small group of survivors, along with an FBI agent, band together to respond to the horror. There is a pervasive sense of eerieness throughout the story and although the book is not without violence, it is not stomach-churning. True to his style, Koontz generates suspense and terror more through implication than explicit description, so fret not my squeamish friends. Also, as usual with Koontz, the book reads more like a mystery with a supernatural twist. "Midnight" was a Bram Stoker nominee in 1990.


Now a little extra.
For those who asked me to include Lovecraft in the list I give you At the Mountains of Madness.
Published in Outstanding Stories Magazine in 1936.

Blurb: A novella, At the Mountains of Madness is a tale of terror unilke any other. The Barren, windswept interior of the Antarctic plateau was lifeless--or so the expedition from Miskatonic University thought. Then they found the strange fossils of unheard-of creatures and the carved stones tens of millions of years old--and, finally, the mind-blasting terror of the City of the Old Ones. 

Review: This is one of my favorite Lovecraft stories, mostly because I read it in my youth and got me so stoked I read everything with his name on the cover that came my way. I couldn't stop thinking about the Necronomicon for months. I actually believed it to be a real satanic book and searched sea and earth to find a copy. Back then there was no internet to tell me my search was futile because the book existed only in the brilliant mind of the author. My heart broke when I found out. =(

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Horrific Ode to Letter L

Movie.

Lake Mungo (2008)
Directed by Joel Anderson.

Plot: Sixteen-year-old Alice Palmer drowns while swimming in the local dam. When her body is recovered and a verdict of accidental death returned, her grieving family buries her. The family then experiences a series of strange and inexplicable events centered in and around their home. Profoundly unsettled, the Palmers seek the help of psychic and parapsychologist, RAY KEMENY. Ray discovers that Alice led a secret, double life. A series of clues lead the family to Lake Mungo where Alice's secret past emerges. Lake Mungo is a mystery, a thriller and a ghost story.

Review: Nine out of ten people will say Lake Mungo is a truly scary, yet relatable film and it's not me making up this numbers, you can check IMDb for many more satisfied customers. The australian film is yet another 'mockumentary'. It is a mystery with so many twists and turns you never know what follows, then you add a touch of supernatural and you have the recipe for success.

Book.

Lair of the White Worm by Bram Stoker.
Published by William Rider and Son Ltd. in 1911.

Blurb: The story centers around Adam Salton who is contacted by his granduncle in England for the purpose of establishing as the last two members of the family. Adam travels to Richard Salton's house in Mercia and quickly finds himself in the center of some inexplicable occurrences. The new heir to the Caswall estate, Edgar Caswall appears to be making some sort of a mesmeric assault on a local girl, and a local lady, Arabella March, seems to be running a game of her own, perhaps angling to become Mrs. Caswall. There is something strange about Lady March, something inexplicable and evil.

Review: Once again I travel the less known path. I could have easily suggested Dracula but you all know that is a classic and it awesome. Instead I offer you something more from the same great mind. Lair of the White Worm is every bit as dark and gothic as its predecessor. Just remember our sensibilities are quite different from those of the Victorians, don't expect a contemporary horror.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A to Z Challenge. Letter K.

Todays suggestions, sponsored by letter K, are:

Movie.


Kilometer 31 (Km31) (2007)
Directed by Rigoberto Castaneda.

Plot:  After the tragic death of their mother when they were children, twin sisters Agata and Catalina Hameran developed a special skill, a way of communicating without speaking, a "link" between them. After a mysterious accident on Kilometer 31, Agata falls into a coma. Catalina, thanks to their "link", feels the pain and tragedy her sister was going through at the time of the accident. Following a series of supernatural events, Catalina realizes that her sister Agata is screaming for help from her unconscious state. With the help of Nuño, Agata’s long time friend, and Omar, Agata’s boyfriend, they soon discover that not only is Agata in a coma, but she is also trapped between life and death, between reality and a terrible netherworld of evil spirits and ancient legend.


Review: I'm sorry for throwing you a curve ball with this movie but I couldn't find another 'K' movie that was worth sharing. This is an awesomely scary movie with great special effects based on one of Mexico's most prevalent legend: La Llorona (The Crying Woman). It won several awards and has been internationally recognized but finding a copy with subtitles in english is hard. If you do, watch it; you will not regret it. If you speak/understand spanish, then you are in luck my friend.


Book.

The Keep by F. Paul Wilson.
Published by William Morrow in 1981.

Blurb: “Something is murdering my men.” Thus reads the message received from a Nazi commander stationed in a small castle high in the remote Transylvanian Alps. Invisible and silent, the enemy selects one victim per night, leaving the bloodless and mutilated corpses behind to terrify its future victims. 
When an elite SS extermination squad is dispatched to solve the problem, the men find something that's both powerful and terrifying. Panicked, the Nazis bring in a local expert on folklore--who just happens to be Jewish--to shed some light on the mysterious happenings. And unbeknownst to anyone, there is another visitor on his way--a man who awoke from a nightmare and immediately set out to meet his destiny.
The battle has begun: On one side, the ultimate evil created by man, and on the other...the unthinkable, unstoppable, unknowing terror that man has inevitably awakened


Review: I first encountered this book when I was about twelve. One of my favorite aunts lend it to me with the warning that she hadn't been able to read past the first chapter. It terrified her. Needles to say, I jumped at my chance and read it in a week. I was scared as hell but completely fell in love with the story. About ten years ago I found the book again and remembered the story as being one of the scariest I've ever read, so I gave it a second chance and was disappointed. The story is truly scary and has influenced my style as a writer in many, many ways, but in my mind it had grown disproportionally to a status no author can accomplish. I think this is a great read for those of you who doesn't like hard core horror but are interested in trying something stronger than mysteries/thrillers. Don't read it close to drafty areas (wind is an important clue on the story) and do not read at night. Have fun!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The A to Z Challenge. Letter J.

This was a hard one but, after days of search over the net, I prevailed. My selections for the day:

Movie.

Jacob's Ladder (1990)
Directed by Adrian Lyne.

Plot: New York postal worker Jacob Singer is trying to keep his frayed life from unraveling. His days are increasingly being invaded by flashbacks to his first marriage, his now-dead son, and his tour of duty in Vietnam. Athough his new wife tries to help Jacob keep his grip on sanity, the line between reality and delusion is steadily growing more and more uncertain.

Review: A surreal psychological thriller masterfully done. With this movie nothing is what it seems and reality is but a term. We follow a traumatized Vietnam war veteran who is finding out that his post-war life isn't what he expected it to be and things get truly weird and scary when horned creatures in the subway attack him and his dead son stops by to say hello. This film will freak you out and leave you wandering what the heck just happened. Not to be missed.

Once more the embedded code is not working but for those interested in watching the trailer, click here.

Book.


The Journals of Eleanor Druse. My Investigation of the Kingdom Hospital Incident by Eleanor Druse.
Published by Hyperion in 2004.


Blurb: The newly built Kingdom Hospital in Lewiston, Maine, is one of the most technologically advanced hospitals in the country. Unfortunately, it was erected on the site of a terrible tragedy -- a textile mill fire that killed dozens of workers, mostly children. And it appears that beneath the sheen of the new construction and scientific innovations of The Kingdom, an indecipherable and primal evil lurks -- and the soul of a trapped and helpless child cries out for solace.

Review: I, like many, watched engrossed the Kingdom Hospital miniseries and though I loved it, I felt kind of cheated by the many questions left unanswered. I know the series was based on Lars Von Trier's "The Kingdom" (a Danish miniseries) and if you know anything about Von Trier you know he is anything but a conventional storyteller. So, an adaptation from another show... we have seen this before and we know the original is probably better, but where does the book feature, you ask? Well, Richard Dooling was the man responsible of the adaptation along with Mr. King. He also wrote this book as Eleanor Druse, one of the patients of the haunted hospital. Asking what was first, the book or the miniseries is like going through the chicken/egg thing. Not wise. But for those, like me, who enjoyed the series and can't get enough of it, this will be a nice little extra. You're welcome friends.

Monday, April 9, 2012

New Sponsor! Letter I

Our second Tuesday of the challenge has arrived and with it comes more A to Z horror. Hope you like it.

Movie.

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
Directed by John Carpenter.

Plot: With the disappearance of hack horror writer Sutter Cane, all Hell is breaking loose...literally! Author Cane, it seems, has a knack for description that really brings his evil creepy-crawlies to life. Insurance investigator John Trent is sent to investigate Cane's mysterious vanishing act and ends up in the sleepy little East Coast town of Hobb's End. The fact that this town exists as a figment of Cane's twisted imagination is only the beginning of Trent's problems....

Review: I saw this movie a long time ago and it fascinated me. It was the first time that a movie storyline reminded me so much of the bulk of Lovecraft's work. It is not based on any single story but the feeling of confusion and, to some degree, madness brought to my mind many of his great stories. It is not a horror in the sense that there are ghosts or demons; it is not a violent or gory movie; heck, it isn't even about a killer. It is simply the story of a writer and his books, and a matter of answering one key question: who created whom?

Book.

I am Legend by Richard Matheson.
Published by Gold Medal in 1954.

Blurb: Robert Neville is the last living man on Earth...but he is not alone. Every other man, woman, and child on Earth has become a vampire, and they are all hungry for Neville's blood. By day, he is the hunter, stalking the sleeping undead through the abandoned ruins of civilization. By night, he barricades himself in his home and prays for dawn. How long can one man survive in a world of vampires?

Review: Not so long ago I did an extensive review of this book, should you want more detail, you can click here. But let's go over the basics. Most of us remember the story from a Will Smith movie, right? I did enjoy the movie very much and that was what lead me to read Matheson's book. Then, of course, I found out that the book had nothing to do with the movie. And I mean nothing. First, it is not a zombie story. It is post-apocalyptic indeed, but Norman truly is the last man on earth and the story is more about that fact. How do you deal with loneliness, with being the odd one, how do you survive your own memories of the ones you lost. In Matheson's world, during the day Norman is king and a hunter, but by night he is the pray and an ant.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Our Sponsor of the Day: Letter H

To mark the start of week 2, I want to add a little extra for today. A little piece of trivia from the horror archives:

The first horror movie ever to be filmed was "The Haunted Castle" (Le Manoir du Diable) in 1896. This french jewel featured vampires, casted only two actors, and lasted a whopping 3 minutes. With you, the first horror/vampire film ever made.




And back to our usual programming...


Movie.


Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986)
Directed by John McNaughton.




Plot: Loosely based on the story of confessed murderer Henry Lee Lucas, the film follows Henry (Michael Rooker) as he selects innocent victims--occasionally with his roommate Otis (Tom Towles)--and kills them, capturing their murder on videotape.


Review: This is an extremely violent, not glamorized version of the life of a serial killer. Not for anyone indeed, it has been debated ever since its debut in different international festivals. Among its defenders are those who justify its brutality because of its uncompromising honesty in a world genre where most horror films cheapen death by trivializing it. Against those content the ones who consider it to be a reality we know of but that we don't need to watch to understand. The MPAA refused to rate the movie AT ALL and so it stands today, unrated. It is a thought-provoking film, very well written, with amazing performances but beware, I once heard a person say she wished she could un-watch this film as she had changed forever after seeing it.


Book.


My first selection was House of Leaves; the very complex, very debated, experimental Danielewiski horror book, but given its nature, I know it won't appeal to everyone, so I added another YA Post-apocalyptic story to the mix. Here you have both:


1. House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewiski.
    Published by Random House in 2000.


    Blurb: The story focuses on a young family that moves into a small home on Ash Tree Lane where they discover something is terribly wrong: their house is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Of course, neither Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Will Navidson nor his companion Karen Green was prepared to face the consequences of that impossibility, until the day their two little children wandered off and their voices eerily began to return another story -- of creature darkness, of an ever-growing abyss behind a closet door, and of that unholy growl which soon enough would tear through their walls and consume all their dreams.


    Review: Danielewski's claim to fame is the fact that "House of Leaves" is really two novels in one. What binds them together is the Nabokovian trick of running one narrative in footnotes to the other. The horror story part of it is a tour-de-force where Zampano, a blind Angelino recluse, dies, leaving behind the notes to a manuscript that's an account of a film called The Navidson Report. In the Report, Pulitzer Prize-winning news photographer Will Navidson and his girlfriend move with their two children to a house in an unnamed Virginia town in an attempt to save their relationship. One day, Will discovers that the interior of the house measures more than its exterior and, more ominously, a closet appears in a hallway. Will then contacts a explorer, Holloway Roberts, who mounts an expedition with his two-man crew. They discover a vast stairway and countless halls where the constantly changing building drives Holloway into a murderous frenzy. 


    What could very well represent the fall of the story, its patch-like structure, works in favor of the viscerally frightening experience, enhancing the horror of the tale. The second story, unfolding in footnotes, is that of Johnny Truant, the man who discovered Zampano's body and took his papers. He tracks down and beds most of the women who assisted Zampano in preparing his manuscript. Soon Johnny is crippled by panic attacks bringing him close to psychosis. 


     This novel is what Dali's body of work would be it it were made of books. Surrealist in the extreme, it has as many detractors as followers, but where so much is said by others, the only way to know the truth is to read it for yourself and create your own opinion. 


2. How I live Now by Meg Rosoff.
    Published by Random House Children's Books in 2006.


    Blurb: Fifteen-year-old Daisy is sent from Manhattan to England to visit her aunt and cousins she’s never met: three boys near her age, and their little sister. Her aunt goes away on business soon after Daisy arrives. The next day bombs go off as London is attacked and occupied by an unnamed enemy. As power fails, and systems fail, the farm becomes more isolated. Despite the war, it’s a kind of Eden, with no adults in charge and no rules, a place where Daisy’s uncanny bond with her cousins grows into something rare and extraordinary. But the war is everywhere, and Daisy and her cousins must lead each other into a world that is unknown in the scariest, most elemental way.


    Review: This multiple-award-winning book touches deep themes like the horrors of war and anorexia. Most of the reviews you'll find talk about the story being focused for young readers, but that doesn't mean adult reader won't enjoy it. It can take at tomes on elements of magical realism, like in Daisy's near psychic connection with Edmond and the scenes of her idyllic life in the English countryside, and then evolves into vivid realism as the protagonist is faces the horrors of starvation, exhaustion, and murder. Truly a story not to miss.

Friday, April 6, 2012

And then there was G.

First I want to wish you all a happy Easter. May the Easter Bunny bring you many eggs full of candies and new publications. =)

Here are the selections for the day.

Movie.

Grave Encounters (2011)
Directed by The Vicious Brothers


Plot: Lance Preston and the crew of "Grave Encounters", a ghost-hunting reality television show, are shooting an episode inside the abandoned Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital, where unexplained phenomena has been reported for years. All in the name of good television, they voluntarily lock themselves inside the building for the night and begin a paranormal investigation, capturing everything on camera. They quickly realize the building is more than just haunted - it is alive - and it has no intention of ever letting them leave. They find themselves lost in a labyrinth maze of endless hallways and corridors, terrorized by the ghosts of the former patients. They soon begin to question their sanity, slipping deeper and deeper into the depths of madness, ultimately discovering the truth behind the hospital's dark past...and taping what turns out to be their final episode.

Review: HOLY COW. This movie knocked my socks off. Another found footage film, and in the best Blair Witch style, the movie is claustrophobic and atmospheric. A perfect selection for a stormy dark night. If you like shows like Ghost Hunters, My Ghost Story, of Ghost Adventures, this will make your blood run cold.

Book.

Ghost Stories by MR James.
Published by Penguin in 1931.

Blurb: M. R. James is best remembered for his ghost stories which are widely regarded as among the finest in English literature. One of James' most important achievements was to redefine the ghost story for the new century by dispensing with many of the formal gothic trappings of his predecessors, and replacing them with more realistic contemporary settings.
According to James, a story must "put the reader into the position of saying to himself: 'If I'm not careful, something of this kind may happen to me!'"


Review: MR James is not very famous in America, however he was quite a figure of his times. He was an English medieval scholar and provost of King's College, Cambridge (1905–1918), as well as of Eton College (1918–1936). Beyond his social stature and fame at the time, the reason why he is mostly remembered these days is his ghost stories, regarded as among the best in the genre. James redefined the ghost story by abandoning the formal Gothic clichés of the time and using more realistic settings. His endurance would surely come as a surprise to him but the fact that he can still scare you from your iPad is prove that he is one of the best.


Thanks for commenting! I'll visit you all soon.