Archive for July, 2014

Films That Haunt Me: “The Fog” (1980)

Posted in Films That Haunt Me with tags , , , , , , , on July 22, 2014 by smuckyproductions

Directed by John Carpenter
Starring Adrienne Barbeau, Janet Leigh, and Jamie Lee Curtis

This may be an unusual choice, especially from the endlessly terrific filmography of John Carpenter. But there’s something about this film that I’ve never forgotten, and will always love.

“The Fog” is Carpenter’s followup to his 1978 indie megabeast, “Halloween,” which everyone and their grandmother has seen. I love that film for not only its incredibly disturbing villain, but also for the thick-as-blood atmosphere that begins oozing into you in during the opening credits. So, I thought, what can it hurt to seek out his next film? 

In many ways, “The Fog” is a more complex film, and a more old-fashioned horror story. It follows the disconnected lives of several townsfolk preparing to celebrate the 100th birthday of their little seaside village… just as strange things begin to happen. In a gleefully spooky opener, we learn the dark history of the town – that it was built on the gold of murdered men – and that this history is doomed to repeat itself. It’s your usual campfire tale fare, a group of dead souls return from their watery grave to get revenge on those who wronged them. Add Carpenter’s genius for soundtrack and creeping atmosphere, and you’ve got this film.

There are plenty of opportunities for this film to become just another ghost-zombie-kill movie. And to a lot of people, I’m sure it is. But this film played ruthlessly on my childhood love for a good spook story, and even worse, on many of my primal fears. I’m a huge sucker for movies that have the aura of Halloween around them, and Carpenter seems to nail that atmosphere perfectly. Pile on to that the wonderful depiction of a quiet small town on the brink of supernatural horror, and you’ve got me hooked.

I can’t ignore the cast, either. Any film that has both Janet Leigh and Jamie Lee Curtis, plus a few veterans from Halloween, can’t lose. And that is yet another thing that elevates this film above the standard fare for me – its characters are simple but fully realized, and played well by the cast. That’s rare in horror, especially in the 80s. 

“The Fog,” like I said, also plays on so many basic terrors. The titular fog always conceals more than it reveals, rolling in slowly around houses and followed by slow knocking on doors and windows. The ghouls are also great – simply designed and never fully seen, but classic in their rotting-seaweed design. These elements all sizzle together, met with Carpenter’s score (rivaling his first in my opinion), and explode into a suspense-ridden nightmare that is as fun as it is terrifying. This is one of the only films to make me verbally express fear. I hold that in high regard.

All of these things – score, imagery, classic story, setting – add up to the perfect horror experience for me. There is no attempt to be flashy or wild in this film; Carpenter allows his story to speak its own language and express its quiet terror without interference. It’s a pure and simple horror, something nearly impossible to find now, and because of this it works beautifully. This is the perfect film for an October night, when you’re looking for something that touches on the otherworldly. 

So, is it Carpenter’s best? Not by any means. But this is the one that comes to my mind most often, when the air is just calm enough that you could imagine a fog rolling in.

For the previous installment of “Films That Haunt Me,” CLICK HERE.

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Night Film: Review

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on July 16, 2014 by smuckyproductions

Author: Marisha Pessl
Published in 2013
Rating: 8.5/10

I did not expect to be reviewing this book on a horror blog – especially considering Pessl’s first novel reads as a coming-of-age dramedy/mystery. I was a huge fan of “Special Topics in Calamity Physics,” though it was a bewildering read, and when I saw that Pessl had come out with a new novel after 7 years, I was extremely intrigued. I’m not a big fan of mystery/thriller novels – the masculinity of their prose is usually too much for me – but I had to see what it was all about. I couldn’t have been more surprised, and obsessed.

“Night Film” is centered around the world of Stanislas Cordova, a cult director with the reputation of Lynch, Kubrick and von Trier combined. He’s reclusive, brilliant, and his films are terrifying; shrouded in mystery and rumor. But there’s something strange about him – something dark. Scott McGrath, a journalist whose last attempt at uncovering Cordova’s secret left him disgraced, has never given up on his story; and when Cordova’s daughter is found dead, he has an excuse to pick up the mystery once more. This time, though, the stakes are higher – McGrath might not only lose his job, but his sanity.

It starts off how you’d imagine, with a cynical investigator met with a confounding case. It doesn’t stay typical for long, though. Pessl fabricates a mind-bending reality for Cordova, evoking his films brilliantly, as well as his obsessive and cult-like fans. Add in a few wonderfully painted quirky sidekicks, and you’ve got an intriguing premise. The reader is led through McGrath’s search for answers step by step, uncovering little bits of evidence that range from weird to disturbing. As he hunts for clues with his two assistants, both of whom were connected to the dead daughter, he is drawn into a surreal Lynchian underworld – one that soon becomes deadly, and perhaps even supernatural.

The brilliance of “Night Film” lies not in its story or its writing, but in the little details it brings to life. Pessl fills the book with fake Internet pages from Cordova’s secret fan sight (full of eerie urban legends and creepy pictures), and as the book goes on, with anecdotes from those who were involved with him professionally or intimately. The stories begin to pile up into a horrific painting of an occult family, harboring disturbing and demonic secrets in their Gothic mansion (which plays a big role in the novel as well). The book reads flawlessly like an ultra-long Lynch film, complete with surreal characters and hints at dark magic. As the clues are uncovered and McGrath becomes more paranoid, the novel transforms beautifully from a typical thriller to a bizarre horror-mystery-psychological dissection.

I became obsessed with this novel very quickly, once the real story began to unfold and the horrific elements came into play. The mystery is so complex and unsettling that I found myself looking over my shoulder at the slightest sound. I have rarely been so involved in a book as this one – an apt comparison would be “House of Leaves,” which is undeniably more intelligent, but has the same documentary quality that seeps into your brain and convinces you that what you’re reading is real. I was attached to the characters, fascinated by Pessl’s imagery, and desperate to get to the ending.

There are flaws, of course – the ending being, for a moment, one of them (I won’t give it away, but I do encourage readers to keep faith while reading the conclusion) – but I was able to overlook them due to the intensity and morbid beauty of the tale. It inhabits the world of cult arthouse horror perfectly, and by the end, feels like one of Cordova’s fictional films. If Lynch, Fincher and Argento were to become one person, their first work would be something like this – a colorful, atmospheric, Gothic, and deeply human thriller of epic proportions. It’s not for everyone, surely,  but I recommend it highly – so long as the reader knows they will stay with it through its 600 pages until they have reached the ending.

Films That Haunt Me: “Carnival of Souls” (1962)

Posted in Films That Haunt Me with tags , , , , , , , , on July 14, 2014 by smuckyproductions

Directed by Herk Harvey
Starring Candace Hilligoss

A brief explanation – I’ve decided to start a series of reviews centered around horror films that I find to be pure, beautiful examples of the genre – films that haunt me. To begin, there’s no better film to discuss than “Carnival of Souls.”

I first saw this film when I was 14, during a time when all I watched were horror movies. Being in the public domain, this was an easy one to find, and the semi-underground buzz around it made it intriguing enough. Though I was watching it on a tiny computer screen in broad daylight, this film had an undeniable effect on me, and I’ll never forget the atmosphere that so completely immersed me in the experience. 

For those who don’t know, “Carnival of Souls” follows a young woman who is plagued by visions of a strange, ghoulish man after she almost dies in a car crash. She finds herself drawn to an abandoned carnival near her small town, which soon begins to consume her life. The story is certainly influenced by the Twilight Zone, but the imagery and the oozing atmosphere are what set this film apart. It engulfs your psyche and dunks it into the woman’s world, which becomes increasingly nightmarish as the story nears its disturbing conclusion.

Watching this film, to me, is like wandering through an empty building at twilight. Everything is a little bit foggy, a little unreal, and the whole time you feel as if something is following you. The film is so low-budget that it almost feels as if it isn’t happening – the imagery is that disjointed and distinctive. It feels as elusive as the haunted carnival itself, evoking that unique feeling of walking through an empty, forgotten place. Though the sound is poor and the acting unusual, the flaws add up to a massively unsettling whole, and by the end it’s hard to remember exactly what happened – except for the singular moments of horror throughout. (In particular, the organ scene – fans of the film will know what I’m talking about.)

So, why is this such a perfect example of horror? It’s all in the images. This film, though lesser known, influenced such genre giants as “Night of the Living Dead” with its portrayal of ghouls and the undead. The spectral photography of the abandoned carnival, either empty or filled with these creatures, is stunningly creepy. Few films have utilized a natural location so well as this one. The film conjures images of poetic dread which, coupled with the eerie organ score, are impossible to shake away after the running time has ended. The simple story becomes more than it appears to be because of this – the very frames of the film feel haunted. 

Though it isn’t a great film in the traditional sense, “Carnival of Souls” ranks for me at the top of celluloid nightmares – films that make you feel, somehow, that you dreamt them. It is a master class in unsettling atmosphere and terrifying imagery. Watch this film on a calm summer night, just as the sun is setting – I guarantee you’ll never forget the experience. 

Your House Is on Fire, Your Children All Gone: Review

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on July 9, 2014 by smuckyproductions

Author: Stefan Kiesbye
Published in 2011
Rating: 7/10

I stumbled across this book totally by chance, but the description – and, of course, the infamous cover – ensured that I wouldn’t forget it. (For those who don’t know, the cover is printed with a sneaky message only revealed under the right angle of light. Go to Barnes & Noble to see what it says.) A few months later, I was finally able to read it.

The jacket compares this short novel, made up of disparate stories connected by narrators and the location, to Shirley Jackson and The Twilight Zone. It tracks the coming-of-age experiences of a group of children who live in Hemmersmoor, a sinister backwoods village untouched by time or modern logic. The village is full of superstition and dark secrets, from the eerie manor on the outskirts to the haunted mill. As the children navigate this perverted, insular world, they accumulate secrets of their own – some of which are too horrible to say.

The premise of the novel, and the atmosphere it manages to construct around the village, are terrific. The world is disturbing and ugly, but it’s impossible to leave it until its secrets are unveiled. Its stories and style borrow heavily from Jackson in their detached point of view, describing awful events without understanding that they are awful. Some of the tales are extremely disturbing – one involving a circus particularly frightened me – but as the novel goes on, they become more and more normal. There is no real sense of climax, and the pieces add up to a hollow whole. This is, in a way, in keeping with the themes of adulthood – the world seems a little less special and exciting with each year you age – but it is a betrayal of the promise to the reader, which is to build to an ending.

That being said, the moodiness and evocation of the setting are worthwhile in their own right. It’s a disturbing joy to spend time in Hemmersmoor, even if its secrets don’t live up to the comparison of Shirley Jackson. It’s a fun read for an autumn evening, when everything is just a little bit spookier than usual.

Interview with Ben Larned about “Fool’s Gold”

Posted in Updates with tags , , , , , , , on July 8, 2014 by smuckyproductions

Blood Moon Rising Magazine’s editor D.W. Jones recently interviewed Ben Larned, and reviewed his novel, “Fool’s Gold.” 

Click here to see the interview, and here for the review.

Sweet nightmares, and happy reading!