Tag Archives: horror

Welcome to Night Vale

61b0tVzWgaL._SL300_In a first for me, I listened to an audiobook that I had not previously consumed with my eyes. I don’t expect to repeat the experience, but Welcome to Night Vale is a special case. I’ve been listening to the podcast for about two years now, after hearing it evangelized during New Year’s 2014, and when they announced the book, they also announced the the audio version would be narrated by the same person who has performed as community radio host for Night Vale lo these many years.

So, anyway: obviously the performance was dandy. If Cecil were not good at his job, I never would have gotten far enough down the rabbit hole to be aware of this book. (I mention performance mainly because I might listen to reruns of books in the future, and it will be more relevant for books not based in part on someone’s voice.)

As for the story… I’m not sure how accessible it was (or was meant to be) to a new reader, but to be fair, the podcast is barely accessible, unless you just love it right away. It tells the story of a couple of previously named bit characters as they interact with each other, the town, and a mysterious, previously unnamed major character. Which I think was the best way to handle it. Give the fans something to chew on while giving the newcomers people who have never really mattered before, so they can come in fresh.

Overall: it’s a good book, about time, family, parenthood, and the different ways these things affect each other and also, of course, how they affect people. Plus, there are terrifying librarians and tarantulas and video stores to contend with. There’s no good reason why you wouldn’t like this book. But then, there’s no good reason for anything, really.

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams

81fc9NgRyuLThis is the first King short story collection I’ve really liked in quite a while. My first instinct is to claim it’s because the last couple, I had seen a lot of the stories in other publications, and so they were old hat to me. But then I think, no, I’ve read other, older collections lately and my familiarity with those stories bred no contempt. Plus, also, I’d already read a handful of these as well.

So, what makes The Bazaar of Bad Dreams a return to form? Man, I wish I knew. I’m so terrible at reviewing short story collections; it is pretty much my greatest weakness as a reviewer[1]. But here’s what I’ll do. Looking at the table of contents to refresh myself[2], I remember and actively like more than half the stories. Ur (originally published as a Kindle exclusive and which only briefly flirted with being a paid advertisement, right at the beginning) has possibly the coolest conceit a consumer of fiction could imagine, but even the stories whose ideas did not blow me away, I am nodding in fond memory of.

Or maybe he caught me on a good day. But I’m pretty sure this is a solid collection instead.

[1] Well, besides inability to get paid and sometimes falling days or weeks behind on reviews. Not this time, though. I finished the book in line for Star Wars, and I’m writing the review in line for Star Wars. (This should not be taken as a contractual obligation to provide a timely Star Wars review. ….but maybe?)
[2] The book took me most of a month to read, which is a reflection on how well I’ve been reading lately and not on the book. I mean, short stories have natural breakpoints between them, y’know?

Krampus

MV5BNDc0ODk4MjMzNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNjU3NzkzNzE@._V1__SX1859_SY893_Bavarian Alps folklore speaks of a being who, rather than merely dumping coal into stockings, takes a more… biblical approach to the annual judgment of naughty children. Fast forward a few hundred years and cross an ocean to where the super-jerky versions of the Griswolds and their in-laws are preparing to deck the halls and/or each other in stereotypical horrible family style, and who wouldn’t expect Krampus to drop in for a visit? Well, besides most of these folks, and boy are they in for a shock!

The confusing thing about this movie is that by all rights it should be terrible. It felt like, and bear with me here, because this next statement defies legitimacy. It felt like Troll 2, except if that movie had a talented acting pool and a script that made sense. To which there are three possible responses, I think. Lack of reference knowledge, disbelief in the possibility of those words existing in that order, or realization of what very high praise that is, in the unlikely world where it’s possible to be said. Mostly, if you’re lucky, lack of reference knowledge.

Long story short: as Christmas horror goes, this rises well above the pack. I don’t even resent the PG-13 rating, except for how it would have allowed more realistic language if rated R.

The Walking Dead: Life and Death

81CYT1T10KLSo, uh, it’s been a while, right? I was in the middle of a move, and early in that process (so, like, late September / early October) I read two books. Since then, I’ve slowed way down on my reading, with no time for movies in ages, and I haven’t even unpacked a game system yet, which means I’m not as far behind as you’d think, even though I am massively out of date.

That said, I’m not sure you’d have gotten much a review of the latest Walking Dead out of me regardless. Because Life and Death proves what I’ve been saying for more than a year now: this series is over, it’s just continuing to shamble forward like an implausibly on-the-nose simile of some kind. Something something new high stakes enemy that is the same as all the previous high stakes enemies that I used to care about? Blah blah Carl is still cool, and I’ll keep reading, but man. This should have ended after All Out War, period.

A thing that’s more interesting to me is why I forgive this kind of behavior from superhero comics. There’s no reason why The Walking Dead can’t be an open-ended series in which new threats continue to emerge, challenge our heroes, and fade away. Contrariwise, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t bother me that superhero comics follow this exact same formula, only on a more repetitive track. I started to say that, well, tWD is more realistic, and that’s why it bothers me, because realistic stories are more obliged to have conclusions. But, um, worldwide zombie apocalypse does not actually fall under the realism category. It might seem like I’m that far gone, but I’m not. (Or maybe I am, and that’s the answer? Disappointing, if so.) I guess I could be trained by expectations for superhero stories to last forever, so they get a free pass because it’s always been that way. Or maybe I’ve been trained by other graphic novels I’ve read over the past ten years that do have endings, and would not have cared if this was yet another in a series of ongoing plots.

Whatever the case, Kirkman definitely missed his chance for a graceful exit, and while I’m not exactly hate reading these yet, it’s definitely hard to recommend them as any good. They’re, you know, fine? I’m just not sure I care that much anymore, and that’s sad when you consider how good it used to be.

Last minute new theory that I should test with future books: maybe I get bored with post-apocalypse once it doesn’t feel like an apocalypse anymore. There’s just a substantial difference between people on the run from undead and human menaces at every turn, and people who are plotting a war with a large-scale enemy while also holding a giant weekend trade days flea market.

Hack/Slash: Dark Sides

71Fg3NXPbBLAmong many reasons for my quest to stop being behind on ongoing series is how much I hate unavoidable incidental spoilers. Example: since I have purchased ahead on volumes of Hack/Slash (habit from when the Amazon gold box used to offer random small discounts on things I was likely to buy anyway), I know that the series is drawing to a close.[1] This presents certain problems with my ability to justly detect foreshadowing.

I like to think, for example, that if I had seen the destruction of Cassie Hack[2]’s ubiquitous nail-studded baseball bat with “Kiss It” burned into the shaft at the hands of a maniac wielding a flaming sword, I would have maybe speculated that it was a sign that the odds eventually run out. But then again, I wouldn’t have, because Dark Sides was an anthology edition with multiple stories authored by people other than series creator Tim Seeley, so really I would have just expected to see it back in action next book as an at most side-mentioned replacement, more likely as an ignored continuity glitch.

But, you know, none of the stories were too bad and all of them advanced the main plot that has been building over the last two or three books (Vlad’s history and Cassie’s, er, complicated relationship with the harder-than-usual to kill Samhain, I explain as though anyone actually cares), so I can’t complain. Well, I can complain about yet another crossover with a differently-skinned cheesecake vs. monsters comic, because those never entertain me much or convince me to check out whatever comic is being crossed over with, and are instead just a huge waste of my time. But that was only one issue out of five, so.

[1] Well, sort of. Apparently it’s also starting back up again? But that’s more or less beside the point.
[2] I point this out in basically every review, but: you remember her? Gothy pin-up girl who wanders the country with her partner Vlad killing supernatural bad guys, like a parallel comics version of the Winchesters if Dean were hypersexualized and Sam stood around looming over people.[3]
[3] Ah, Supernatural jokes that maybe two people reading this will appreciate. I kill me!

Zombeavers

MV5BNTMzMzc4ODc1M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMTM0MTgxMTE@._V1__SX1859_SY893_A thing I like about monster movies is everything you need to know is presented up front and boldly in the title. I Was a Teenage Werewolf? I think you know how that film is going to go down. Sharknado? Piranha 3D? I’m just saying. Easy peasy.

Which brings me to Zombeavers, a film I first learned about when it popped up on Netflix sometime last month. Literally everything you need to write the script for this movie is contained in the title. Thing 1: these are radioactive chemical zombies, a la Return of the Living Dead. This is a foregone conclusion, because how else would it only affect beavers and not everything else, except if it was somehow tied to a limited geographic area? Thing 2: this is a college kids trapped in the woods movie, a la Evil Dead. This is also a foregone conclusion, because how else do you get the victims near the zombeavers? Ah!, you ask, but why college kids? Because it’s a one word title. Zombie Beavers, you might have some leeway, but with Zombeavers, you need people who are young enough that you know they’ll be naked sometimes, and old enough that this is permissible. The pun is just too on the spot for anything else, and also, man, the poster you are seeing here is unfortunately not the one I see on Netflix.

So, why should you watch a movie about college kids in the woods vs. zombie beavers? Because, despite everything I’ve just told you about the inevitability of the flick, this is the most subversive horror movie I’ve seen in years. Explaining how would be a spoiler, so I won’t do it here. But if anyone asks, I can definitely elaborate in comments, and in the meantime, if you have even a slim percentage of amusement in the base concept, you must see this movie. Like, yesterday.

Z 2134

z-2134-coverIn the afterword to the book, the two authors discuss how, in the wake of a few successful turns as serial authors (a la Dickens, Doyle, or once, briefly, King), they decided that a good idea for their next plot would be, “What if The Hunger Games had zombies in it?” And, you know what? Yep, that is exactly the book they wrote.

Okay, that’s unfair in at least two ways. 1) The teenage female character is nowhere near as unlikeable as the book version of Katniss Everdeen. 2) The authors developed a world that is… okay, look, neither this world nor the Hunger Games one hangs together very plausibly if you actually start staring at the underpinnings. But this world makes at least as much sense after correcting for the zombies, and honestly maybe a little bit more, even.

Still, though. You cannot really define derivative more precisely than a book whose authors gleefully admit they combined a different successful book with a pop-culture staple. And as much as I’m a sucker for Rube Goldbergian arena combat to the death, that wasn’t even more than a third of the focus of the book. I guess I actually liked the characters and the premise enough to want to know how things turn out? Huh. Okay.

Warning: Z 2134[1] has two sequels and ends on several cliffhangers. Anti-warning: I think maybe there are only two sequels? And they’re all published, so. I know it sounds like my standards have plummeted here, but a) let’s be honest, they were never really so high as that, and b) it’s always nice to have a mindless book to read at a burn.

[1] Oh, also, the title is super-imaginative, right?

The Walking Dead: Whispers into Screams

81+TMcOUkvLBravo, Kirkman. You’ve done it again.

That is to say, he has lived up to and/or refused to live up to (depending on your perspective) the immortal words, Set me free, why don’t you babe? Get out my life, why don’t you babe? Woo-oo-oo-ooo. ‘Cause you don’t really love me, you just keep me hanging on. 

So, it’s like this. I still believe that he has reached the natural end of his story possibilities like two books ago, and that all of this is superfluous at best, wasted opportunities at worst. That said, I will continue reading the Adventures of  Carl Grimes and His Incredible Hat until the cows come home, and that was about 75% of the focus of Whispers into Screams. So, y’know, that’s cool I guess? Or incredibly diabolical, again depending on your perspective.

Unfriended

MV5BMTUwNzg3Mzg1OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDY2NTAwNDE@._V1__SX1859_SY893_Friday morning, bright and early, time for an Aven-. Wait. Uh-oh. Yep, it’s like that. I watched a movie like two Tuesdays ago, and its review has sat languishing in my brain ever since. In my defense, I’ve been swamped between work and social time and trying[1] to watch a stupid amount of TV before the release of that other movie I’m not reviewing yet. Mostly work. And commuting to work. I miss not commuting to work, or at least I miss my commute not being from the bedroom to the TV room.

Enough about me. This is about Unfriended, a movie that does its level best to remind you that it’s time to trim down your facebook account by at least a third[2] of the people in it that you have not thought about in the past year. Well, it’s probably only tangentially about that? What it is about is a very rough night experienced in approximately real time by a group of highschoolers whose classmate committed suicide last year due to cyberbullying. Probably also regular bullying, but the cyber part is certainly more relevant in a modern movie about antisocial media.

Plotwise, it’s a by-the-numbers revenge mystery, which, y’know, cool enough. What makes it stand out is the format, which is entirely comprised of a first person perspective of the main character’s computer screen. There’s still plenty of footage and people/events to look at, because, after all, skype is a thing. But I find that the focus on chat windows, music programs, web research, troubleshooting, and so forth was very cinéma vérité in a way that so few films with computers have ever been[3]. These kids live on their computers, and the movie was made for that audience, by someone who knows exactly what it looks like. By-the-numbers horror or not, that’s a hell of an accomplishment.

[1] And failing.
[2] AT LEAST. If this is untrue, you are either lying or you really have basically no #friends. Or no facebook account, which I applaud.
[3] It is a tragedy that the blonde kid in Jurassic Park has been so roundly mocked for saying, “This is a UNIX system. I know this!” I mean, it straight up was, and hardly anyone else has gotten computers on screen right before or since.

It Follows

MV5BMTUwMDEzNDI1MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzAyODU5MzE@._V1__SX1859_SY893_I’ve been looking forward to this movie for several weeks, and no lie, both because it seems like the only horror movies lately have been possession oriented and also because it doesn’t seem like any at all came out in February as is good and proper. And then lots of other people saw it before I did, and I’ve already been reading and internalizing reviews, which I hate it when that happens, but here we are nonetheless.

It Follows is a very succinct title, in that it gives you like 80% of the knowledge necessary to understand the movie. Because there’s this person-looking thing, right? Different people at different moments, but always there (and only you can see it!), walking toward you. Always. Which means you can drive away and escape, right? Yes, but you have to sleep or let your guard down sometime, and it doesn’t. It only, y’know, follows.

What’s great about this movie is the lessons in fear that we have all learned over the past thirty or forty years of film-making. Because, I think anyone reading this knows full well that Michael Myers, for example, has never run a yard in his life. But he’s still just a slasher in a mask, whereas this thing was a little bit terrifying. In the audience, without the slightest inkling of a stake, I could not stop myself from looking for every single person walking with purpose toward the camera (or the heroine), because until they identified who else could see the walker, it might have been… the follower, I guess.

So, that’s that, pretty much. If you like quiet, moody, atmospheric dread that does not hold your hand and lead you from plot point to plot point, where even the frequent nudity is more terrifying than titillating, this movie is for you. Not quite nightmare-inducing, but definitely nerve-wracking. I dug it. Also, a quick spoiler-filled social commentary paragraph in the first comment.