Saturday, June 30, 2012
A BAD DAY FOR VOODOO by Jeff Strand (2012 Sourcebooks / 266 pp / tp and eBook)
Tyler and his friend Adam are high school sophomores. Adam plans a way for them to get even with their strict history teacher, Mr. Click: he buys a voodoo doll, and despite Tyler being skeptical, things go overboard when they stick a pin in the doll's leg (during class) and Mr. Click's leg blows off and turns the classroom into a gruesome blood bath. Afraid Tyler will rat him out, Adam buys a voodoo doll of Tyler for insurance, but it gets stolen, sending our two buddies and Tyler's cute but tough girlfriend Kelley on a cross-city race to track down the voodoo doll before Tyler looses any body parts...or worse.
A BAD DAY FOR VOODOO is Strand's second YA novel, and is easily one of his all-around funniest. A cab-chase scene had me in stitches, as did the cab's insane driver, and when our young friends come across a demented family of multi-religious fanatics, you'll have a hard time not laughing out loud regardless of where you might be reading it (this one isn't recommended for doctor office waiting rooms).
Despite being a YA title, there's still plenty of over-the-top comic sarcasm, violence and situations Strand's fans have come to expect, and the author's prose has never been smoother. A total blast from start to finish regardless of what grade you're in (or out of).
Friday, June 22, 2012
A REQUIEM FOR DEAD FLIES by Peter N. Dudar (2012 Nightscape Press / 280 pp. / tp)
Lester MacAuley decides to take a brief break from his peachy private school teaching position to help his brother Gordon build a distillery at their late grandparents' farm. Gordon has dreams of brewing his own bourbon for a living, and Lester feels it's his duty to help him...but for more reasons than the physical work involved. Despite being in their early 20s, the MacAuley brothers are haunted by a deep, dark past, particularly one summer they had spent at the farm as young boys, where their grandmother's dementia nearly cost them both their lives.
Dudar's debut novel is a psychological ghost story with plenty of family drama, revealed in tight layers as Lester recollects his life from a mental institution. The bond shared bewteen him and Gordon is both loving and tragic, and the more we learn about their grandparents, the more everyone's sanity comes into question.
A REQUIEM FOR DEAD FLIES is a fine look at family secrets, the bond of brotherhood, and is a refreshing take on the classic ghost story. Just make sure to have some bourbon (and a fly swatter) on hand for maximum effect.
Tuesday, June 19, 2012
THE LAST KIND WORDS by Tom Piccirilli (2012 Bantam Books / 320 pp / hc)
One of the most rewarding things as a reader is to see a writer you admire continue to get better. With his latest crime noir novel, THE LAST KIND WORDS, Tom Piccirilli proves he has not only mastered the genre, but also made it his own.
After leaving his family in Long Island five years ago to work out west as a ranch hand, Terry Rand is called back home two weeks before his brother, Collie, is scheduled to be executed after being convicted of a brutal killing spree. While Collie has admited to murdering seven people, he inisists he wasn't responsible for the eighth. He's not looking for mercy or pity, but wants to be cleared of the eighth victim for his own reasons. Terry is relucatantly dragged back into the New York underworld to discover the truth, sending him into a violent and emotionally-charged tale of gangsters, thieves, and the power of family ties.
The scenes between Terry and his 15 year-old sister Dale rank among Piccirilli's finest writing, while his cast of crooked cops, health-in-decline old men, stupid young punks, new-school gangsters and sexy newswomen make the pages fly by at a frantic pace. The sense anyone can snap at anytime keeps the tension at full throttle, even during the quieter moments.
The Rands are a family of thieves who have survived for generations relying more on their craftiness than their seldom-used weapons, and like Mario Puzo's classic GODFATHER saga, here's a family of undesirables we can't get enough of and often find ourselves cheering for. Even the family dog (an American Staffordshire terrier, taken during one of Terry's father's heists) has more character than most humans you'll find in popular crime fiction.
I can't recommend THE LAST KIND WORDS enough, and can't wait for its forthcoming sequel. This is one of Piccirilli's finest novels.
Saturday, June 16, 2012
REDSHIRTS by John Scalzi (2012 TOR / 317 pp / hc)
Like a couple of the author's previous novels, REDSHIRTS begins with a bunch of newbies becoming part of an intergalactic spaceship crew. Weird stuff starts happening to them, and in the case of the crew of the Intrepid, the newbies seem to be the first (and only) ones to die on away missions. Ensign Andrew Dahl eventually discovers that his crew--his ship--and his entire life has been written in the 20th century by a hack scifi writer on a bad scifi TV show.
Unlike the author's previous novels, REDSHIRTS is a parody of the scifi genre, and although it brings films like GALAXY QUEST and THE PURPLE ROSE OF CAIRO to mind, it has its own flavor. The newbie crew of the Intrepid kidnap one of the Intrepid's main officers and time travel back to 2012 where they plan to confront the writer of the show, in hopes they won't die in their all-too real future. The back-in-time section reminded me of STAR TREK IV: THE VOYAGE HOME, albeit much funnier. This is quite entertaining, and is told in three codas, one from the point of view of the screenwriter, one showing the outcome of the screenwriter's ill son, and the final from one of the future character's pretend wives (which ends the novel on a serious but satisfying note).
REDSHIRTS takes a while for the laughs to kick in, but is never slow. I was expecting it to be funnier considering some of the blurbs on the back cover, but even so still recommend this solid spoof of scifi TV geek culture.
Thursday, June 14, 2012
The HAPPY BOX has arrived! I'll have some trade editions of my novella, THE APOCALYPSE OF PETER, for sale (at about $3.00 off the list price) with me at NECon (July), Horrorfind (Aug/Sep), and at various author signings/readings this summer. The title is also available at amazon and at the Damnation Books website in eBook and trade editions.
Tuesday, June 12, 2012
In 1983, I managed to obtain a copy of a horror magazine titled DEMONIQUE at a local comic book shop (see cover below). It only ran for 4 issues, and this last issue featured an article on a 1975 Italian film titled SALO, or THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM. At the time I was 15 years old and was fascinated by what I was reading: surely a film this demented couldn't exist...could it?
It wasn't until around 1988, during the heyday of the underground VHS-trading craze among many horror film fanzine publishers (of which I was one) when I finally received a copy of Pier Paolo Pasolini's notorious film. The bootleg transfer was terrible, the English subtitles barely readable. I also found the film a bit slow (but then again what 20 year old wouldn't?) and despite some of the disgusting sequences, I was actually a bit let down. Don't get me wrong: SALO features some truly gross images, but after the DEMONIQUE article perhaps I was expecting even more? Regardless, I still felt the need to shower when the film ended.
FLASH FORWARD to the late 90s, when I rented a professional VHS copy from a local Palmer Video store (which I found in their foreign section). Being a bit older and not really caring how "sick" the film was, I watched it for a third time and was impressed by everything a younger film-viewer misses the first time around. SALO is actually beautifully shot and features some great-looking scenes. Pasolini has said he wanted to create a film that no one who saw would ever forget...and he has done so not only by the graphic images, but by the more subtle ones, too (some early shots of the Italian countryside are quite breath-taking, and the villa where the victims are tortured looks like anything but a glorified concentration camp).
I've recently added the Criterion Edition DVD of SALO to my collection. It's full of some fantastic extra features and an informative essay booklet, not to mention a nearly flawless transfer of the film.
And on June 11, 2012, something I never thought would happen did. SALO played in New York City at the IFC Center in a rare, 35mm screening. You might ask, why would anyone want to see such depravity on a huge screen? I guess I'm either a glutton for punishment or felt I was somehow completing a strange journey that began back in 1983 with a simple magazine article. Over the past few years, I've attended many retro-film screenings and have often felt like I was seeing the films for the first time...or in some cases, like seeing a film the way it was MEANT to be seen.
SALO is one such film, very loosely based on a book by the Marquis de Sade.
For those who don't know, the "plot" is simple: It's post-Mussolini Italy, 1944-5. Eighteen teenagers are kidnapped by Nazis and forced to live in an isolated villa under the rule of four fascist men (and their female counterparts). They're told that no one knows where they are, and that they now exist soley for their pleasure. Those who disobey their rule book will be punished harshly, and no pity will be shown or tolerated. The opening sequence, subtitled "The Antechamber of Hell," is a grim set up for what's to follow. We then go through a few "circles" of various torture, featuring all kinds of sexual atrocities and fetishes, to physical torture, brandings, and amputations. Opposite-sex relationships are not tolerated, although the fascists make one traditional couple marry for their own dark purposes. The prisoners spend their days listening to the four women tell tales of childhood sexual escapades; in turn, the four fascists are turned on and take various victims into a back room to fulfill their own desires. The stories get more intense (and perverse) and so do the actions of the men...as well as the punishments for those who disobey their commands.
Director Pasolini has stated, "Clearly, the motivation came from the fact that I detest the power in today’s world, which manipulates the body horribly, and rivals Himmler and Hitler in every way. It manipulates the body by transforming it into conscience, establishing new values that are alienating and false. Consumerist values that fulfill what Marx calls a genocide of vital and real earlier cultures. For example, it destroyed Rome. Romans no longer exist.”*
A similar comment was also recently made by director Srdjan Spasojevic about his equally-as-disturbing A SERBIAN FILM (2010).
Was Pasolini (and Spasojevic) serious, or were they simply trying to shock audiences in ways no one else had up to that point? I guess we'll never truly know, especially since Pasolini--shortly after the Italian premiere of SALO in 1975--was run over (repeatedly) by a car and killed. Apparently his film struck more chords than he had intended...
SALO, or THE 120 DAYS OF SODOM is an enigma. It's not an easy film to watch, and at times I still find some of the "story" sequences to be redundant (and--good grief--does the excrement-eating segments go on for WAY too long). Even as a young man, I didn't find any of the violent scenes "fun" in a way you'd find the violence in a standard horror or action film fun. And now at 44, I'm still wondering what my attraction to this thing is. Watching SALO unreel in a sold-out theater at least let me know there are many others out there fascinated with this film, perhaps some of them with similar stories as mine. I do consider SALO a work of art...a dark, disgusting, depressing, and depraved work of art...and a film unlike any other. I can't look at it too often, but when I do I'm put into a place few other films can put me in.
And for that, SALO is worth sitting through. At least once...
One of the 4 fascists barking orders
NO--that's NOT Gwenyth Paltrow! But it IS a disobedient victim...
One of several eye-catching shots that highlight SALO's artistic design
During one dinner sequence, the captors reveal their disease
No--that's NOT the Frank Sinatra fan club. They're just your run-of-the-mill fascist, sexual perverts looking to have a good time at YOUR expense!
For having the "nicest buttocks," one poor teen has his tongue cut out. Hmmm...shouldn't they have sat his bare ass down on a hot out-of-the-oven pizza pie?
(*From a Pasolini interview on the Criterion Edition DVD supplement material)
Thursday, June 7, 2012
STARVELINGS by S.D. Hintz (2012 Aristotle Books / 58 pp / eBook)
A bestselling horror writer (!) and his family move from the city to an isolated part of the country. Their dog goes missing and the young son thinks a weird creature he swears he saw in a barn on their property is responsible. Before long the Paget family is up against two menacing figures who look like white-washed, malnourished skeletons.
STARVELINGS is a standard horror romp with an over-used plot, but Hintz makes it fun and even gets the goosebumps going a few times. Cool creatures and a fast pace make this a fun and quick--if familiar--read.
CLOWN IN THE MOONLIGHT by Tom Piccirilli (2012 Crossroads Press / 137 pp / eBook)
I'm always happy when Piccirilli takes a break from his current crime noir tales to deliver a horror story...ESPECIALLY when it's an occultic one.
Based around the events of infamous "Acid King / Satan" killer Ricky Kasso that went down in Long Island in 1984, Piccirilli's tale centers around a mysterious protagonist who hangs around Kasso's crew and a few of his girls. In section one there's some brutal happenings in the unnamed protagonist's life that lead up to Kasso's suicide, then he's haunted by Kasso's ghost in the second part, and in the strange final act, we learn he has become a cop. While I found the short finale a bit strange here, everything leading up to it will thrill fans of the author. The writing is crisp and tight with plenty of tension and the sense ANYONE can fly off the handle at any moment.
I think this could have easily been stretched into a novel, but I'm happy with the little chunks Tom tosses his horror fans now and then. Good stuff.
Wednesday, June 6, 2012
THE WICKED by James Newman (2012 Shock Totem Publications / 342 pp / tp)
The Little family--in an effort to rebuild their lives after a sexual assault--move from New York City to the small town of Morganville, North Carolina. David's a popular book-cover artist, his wife Kate both pregnant and taking care of their 7-year old daughter Becca. Kate's nrother Joel had moved there a few years earlier and is now the town's coroner.
Almost as soon as they move in, bodies begin to pile up, some victims of strange insect stings, others in brutal car crashes. And when a department store Santa gets a little too close to young Becca, the idealic town of Morganville begins to reveal dark secrets that drag David, his family, and their elderly, ex-Marine neighbor George into a dark world of occultic violence and ancient mysteries.
THE WICKED is James Newman's homage to the generic horror novels of the 80s, and in the hands of a lesser author this could have been a real cheese-fest. But Newman manages to give the tired old "Evil in a Small Town" thing a real kick in the pants, placing both children and religious institutions into frightening peril that's anything but campy. The blood flows as freely as any classic Laymon or Garton novel, but unlike many stories THE WICKED pays tribute to, there's a real sense of impending doom throughout, as well as two protagonists we truly care for. The compulsively-readable prose yanked me through it's 325 pages in 2 manic sittings.
Shock Totem's gore-geous retro-80's-looking cover design made me yearn for my teenage years, and Newman's bonus short, 'Boaracle,' is a fine way to top off what is easily going to be the most fun-to-read horror novel of the year. Even those who read the limited edition hardcover from Necessary Evil Press a few years ago will want this nifty, extras-packed edition.
Saturday, June 2, 2012
THE APOCALYPSE OF PETER is now available at both Amazon and the Damnation Books website as an eBook. The print edition should be ready sometime next week.
And check out a GREAT review over at HORROR WORLD: The Apocalypse of Peter HORROR WORLD review