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Film Review: Crimson Peak

I don’t think I have ever been this excited to see a ‘horror’ movie before and man was it a disappointment.

*WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD*

crimson

Judging by the trailer, this film was going to be a campy, Gothic horror-fest complete with a haunted house on the bleak British moors and buckets of faux-blood. Actually, I was most excited for this film because it didn’t look all that terrifying (I’m a total wimp when it comes to horror) but looked more Gothic and grotesque, which I adore! So, off to the cinema I went.

Firstly, I remember now why I stopped going to the cinema and would rather wait for films to come out on DVD/streaming-sites. The inconsiderate asses behind me talked non-stop and even took photos of their popcorn (I just can’t even!!) with flash during the freaking movie!! My irritation at the selfish imbeciles behind me no doubt eroded some of the pleasure I might’ve derived from the film.

That said, it took almost an hour’s worth of two-hour run time to even get to the titular Crimson Peak! I thought the entire film was set in this rotting estate replete with bleeding walls, but nope, first we had to endure a bunch of back-story and long-winded set-up. By the time we got to the blood-soaked house, I was almost bored despite the charming good-looks and distinguished awesomeness that is Tom Hiddleston when he plays aristocratic British characters.

Now the house itself was spectacular and well-worth the wait, but what I thought was blood from the trailer was in fact red clay and iron ore leaching into the ground and turning it red – somewhat anti-climactic. And the horror of the house, combined with the appropriately unexpected frights courtesy of ghosts so grotesque they were more humorous than frightening, was pretty much all this film had going for it. I expected a lot from the story. I expected the house to be more, I actually expected it to be sentient. I expected the siblings to have a lot more going on in their past than an almost justified murder of a cruel mother and illicit love affair. Siblings falling in love is no longer as shocking as it used to be. Blame the Lannisters maybe, but this revelation wasn’t a revelation at all and the sort-of love scene between Tom and Lucille was barely a love scene at all, so the whole thing just fell flat for me. The only part of this story that horrified me was that Lucille murdered their mother at 14 when the mother found out her children were lovers. When Lucille was 14, her brother was 12. And they were lovers. People, THAT’S the true horror story!

Despite the underwhelming plot and predictability of the scares, the acting was on point for this penny dreadful-esque story and the cinematography was spectacular. Seriously, I would watch this film again (the second half) just to ogle the scenery and that delightfully dilapidated house.

Perhaps I went into this with my expectations far too high. I may or may not have confused Guillermo del Toro with Terry Gilliam, and when you go into a film thinking Brazil and Tideland only to be met with the guy who did Pacific Rim, well, it was my own fault really. That said, it was still reasonably enjoyable, although I don’t think this will give horror fans the frights they want, and won’t be nearly sinister enough to satisfy Gothic fiction lovers. Basically, Crimson Peak is little more than a flirtation with the macabre that’ll keep yours eyes entertained while you chew on popcorn. A disappointing 2.5/5 ink splats for this.

2.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2015 in Reviews, Video Reviews

 

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Review: Stuck on You and Other Prime Cuts by Jasper Bark (Crystal Lake Publishing)

Hey everyone, Dave here, and I’ve got a new review for you – that of a short story collection from an author I’m now a huge fan of!

This is collection featuring stories from a storyteller who should be spoken of in the same breath as Stephen King and Clive Barker. Very few storytellers, especially in the difficult and harrowing genre that is Horror, have managed to grab me from the get-go, and Jasper succeeded.

stuck

STUCK ON YOU

The first tale blew me away and made my gorge swirl in my mouth. It describes the fate of an utter asshole as he travels across the border to help his girlfriend. One thing leads to another and a while later he has been lightning-struck and … well, I’m not spoiling it, but fuck.

I was astounded by what this guy went through, even more so by the way Jasper describes it all – pulling no punches, thrusting the reader into the mind, terror and pain of this character to such a degree that trying to tear myself away was like, well, fiddling with a very fresh scab. By the end of the tale I was breathless, shaking my head over and over, and hoping to hell that I never find myself in the kind of situation the character found himself in.

TAKING THE PISS

Damned fine tale that, in my mind, asks the question: ‘If you could right a wrong, and in doing so caused a lot of pain to someone, but could get away with it, would you do it?’ By the end of this tale I was cheering on what had occurred – a mean feat, considering just what it is that happens, but Jasper has a way, man…

THE CASTIGATION CRUNCH

The Catholic in me *loved* this tale, and if any stock-broker, insurance-broker, tax-guru type reads this then I’m pretty sure they will, too – long live Suchs! 😉

ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT

A tale that plays with your expectations right until the end while it explores the notions of betrayal, love and obsession in a twisted, horrifying manner. Also one of the ‘hotter’ tales in the collection. 😉

HOW THE DARK BLEEDS

This tale surprised me – in the beginning I thought I knew who the victim was and how that victim had been wronged, but as the tale progressed I was pleased to have been proved wrong. This tale also explores something entirely new when it comes to blood-rituals, so the crazier among you will definitely enjoy it. 😉

MOUTHFUL

Remember that scene in Hannibal (the novel and the movie adaptation) where Hannibal feeds a character his own brain? I never thought I would read something that would trump the horror of that scene. Not until I read this tale.

HAUNTING THE PAST

This tale was chilling and hard-hitting (not that the others aren’t), and follows how a man trapped in a house after a terrible event begins to understand just where he is and what he is doing. You might struggle to sleep after this tale, folks.

END OF THE LINE

A tightly-plotted and awesomely explored take on a couple of tropes, those being The-Guy-Who-Can’t-Remember-a-Thing and The Maze – didn’t see the resolution coming, and neither will you.

DEAD SCALP

Probably the very first Horror-Western I’ve read, this tale takes a whole bunch of ideas and mashes them together – coherently and masterfully written, it builds mysteries and characters until the very end. Damned good tale!

***

Taken together, these tales are shocking, brutal, utterly creepy and, in at least a part of every tale, beautiful. Jasper explores many different themes and ideas, pushing imagery into the mind and causing physical reactions while reveling in the settings his characters explore. There’s a seamless blending of physical settings and mind-scapes in these tales, and even though I sometimes didn’t want to be dipped into the various character’s minds I just couldn’t put this collection down.

If you’re looking for something that pushes many, many boundaries, this is it.

10 / 10

stuck

This collection was published by Crystal Lake Publishing and is available from Amazon for both your Kindle and as a paperback. The collection also features excellent illustrations by Rob Moran (who also did the cover), so those looking for a ‘book with pictures’ can’t complain. 😉

Remember to check out Jasper’s site and keep on eye on Crystal Lake Publishing for future tales from Jasper.

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Guest post: The Difference Screen- and Novel-writing

Today I’m handing over to Glenn Benest, an award-winning horror writer whose screenplays have been directed by the likes to Wes Craven. Now Glenn Benest has teamed up with Dale Pitman, co-writing a horror novel called Ink. Here’s the blurb:

 

His studio has become his refuge and his prison – a place of boundless imagination and lonely isolation. Brian Archer, creator of a series of successful graphic novels about a vengeful supernatural being called “The Highwayman,” 
has become a recluse after the adoration of a female fan turned to rage and violence.
 
But all that changes when he meets a renowned and beautiful illustrator, A.J. Hart, who carries emotional scars of her own. Their work together is fueled by the unrequited passion they share and a mysterious bottle of black ink that arrives one day at Brian’s doorstep.
 
The impossibly dark liquid has mystical properties, making their characters appear so real they eventually come to life, reigning terror on those who mean them harm and if not stopped—threatens to unleash an apocalypse on all mankind. Brian must break free of his self-imposed exile and solve the mystery that allowed these terrible creatures into the world.

 

art1

Buy the Book

The difference between writing for film and writing fiction
by Glenn Benest

 

As you may know, I’ve been a professional screenwriter for many years with seven produced screenplays, including two scripts I wrote for acclaimed horror director Wes Craven.
 
We started this project as a screenplay and though we won a number for awards for the screenplay we never seemed to get it over the finish line. Our manager, Mary Louise Gemmill at Writers Ascending, thought all along it was better suited as a novel and with her encouragement, that’s what we did.
 
The difference between these two art forms is enormous, as my writing partner, Dale Pitman, and I discovered. For one thing you have to decide who is telling the story. Do you do it in the first person, the 3rd person, an omniscient point of view? This takes time and probably some failed attempts until you get it right.
 
But the great joy of writing fiction is that you can delve much deeper into the characters you’re writing about. You can expose their thoughts, something you don’t have the luxury of doing in film.  As a result, you really can get under their skin, what they’re really thinking when they might be doing completely the opposite of what they’re really feeling or contemplating. 
 
The other great luxury you have in fiction is that you can delve into the characters’ backstories in a way you can’t in film and television. We call this in screenwriting – exposition. And it is the hardest thing in the world to hide the exposition you’re trying to get in (i.e. what happened five years ago).  The reason for this is that screen story really bogs down when you go into some long-winded explanation of the backstory of your characters. You have to keep the story moving.
 
But in fiction you don’t have that problem. The reader is much more willing to let you write a chapter about what happened five years ago as long as it’s interesting and has conflict. The backstory brings so much more dimension to the characters than you will ever achieve in film.
 
This is probably why most people don’t like films made about their favorite books. It’s because the books were so much richer and had greater depth of character and texture than you can achieve in a film.
So was it hard to go from screenwriting to the writing of a novel? Absolutely. Was it rewarding? More than I can say.

 

Get in touch with the authors:
Glenn Benest
Twitter: @glennbenest

 

Dale Pitman
Twitter: @DalePFT
 
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Posted by on August 4, 2015 in Guest Post

 

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New Release: Through a Mirror, Darkly by Kevin Lucia (Crystal Lake Publishing)

Hey everyone, Dave here!

Released today, Through a Mirror, Darkly is Kevin Lucia‘s second short story collection, following Things Slip Through.

Mirror final cover

 

 

Arcane Delights. Clifton Heights’ premier rare and used bookstore. In it, new owner Kevin Ellison has inherited far more than a family legacy, for inside are tales that will amaze, astound, thrill…and terrify.

An ancient evil thirsty for lost souls. A very different kind of taxi service with destinations not on any known map. Three coins that grant the bearer’s fondest wishes, and a father whose crippling grief gives birth to something dark and hungry.

Every town harbors secrets; Kevin Ellison is about to discover those that lurk in the shadows of Clifton Heights.

Through a Mirror, Darkly is a Supernatural Thriller collection masked as a novel. With elements of mystery, suspense, and otherworldly horror,Through a Mirror, Darkly successfully delves into the worlds of Lovecraft, Grant, and the mysterious Carcosa.

Through a Mirror, Darkly serves as Kevin Lucia’s early-warning system to the horror field – Brace yourselves, folks.” – Gary A. Braunbeck, Bram Stoker Award-winner of To Each Their Darkness, Destinations Unknown, and the forthcoming A Cracked and Broken Path

“Kevin Lucia writes my favorite kind of horror, the kind not enough folks are writing anymore.” – Kealan Patrick Burke, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Turtle Boy and Kin.

Order your copies on Amazon and then head over to Crystal Lake Publishing’s website to see what else is waiting for you. 🙂 You can also add the book to your shelf on Goodreads, follow the Board on Pinterest, and don’t forget to check out more awesome work from the cover artist, Ben Baldwin.

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

 

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Book Review: The Phantom Cabinet

Once again, I find myself writing a horror review when horror really isn’t my preferred genre. I didn’t quite realize how horrific this book was though, going into it, otherwise I might’ve reconsidered. Incidentally, I’m really glad I did read this one!

*For the sake of full disclosure, please note I received a review copy from the author of this title. This has in no way affected, influenced or otherwise coloured my perception of said book though*

phantom cabinet

WHEN HEAVEN AND HELL DON’T EXIST…WHAT DOES? Space Shuttle Conundrum collides with empty atmosphere, passing from known reality into the realm beyond life. At the same time, a dead newborn is resurrected amidst a hospital-wide poltergeist infestation. What connects these ghastly occurrences, and how can the fate of humanity rest on a single boy’s shoulders? As the haunted Douglas Stanton spends his adolescence an outcast—his only friend the ghost of a long lost astronaut—a porcelain-masked entity lurks in the shadows, planning Douglas’ demise. Because Douglas is the key… the key to the door… the door between what we know and what we fear. And when the key is turned…realities will come crashing together. Step into The Phantom Cabinet…

What made me want to read this novel was that cover! It instantly reminded me of Faceless from Spirited Away, while the shiny moth-man eyes called to mind the bunny from Donnie Darko, and lastly, that text is just so retro, the cover seemed to promise a bizarre and intriguing read. The Phantom Cabinet was certainly both bizarre and intriguing.

Imagine if the film Event Horizon (which gave me nightmares for weeks!) met The Ocean at the End of the Lane in a dark alley one night and their tryst produced a literary love child. The offspring of that union would be this book, a bizarro novel that serves up gruesome horror with a liberal splatter of pitch black humour. The opening scene, reminiscent of Event Horizon, had me simultaneously chuckling and cringing. In fact, the humour in this book only hightlights the horror, making the truly bleak moments all the more soul shattering. That, or I have a seriously warped sense of humour.

Okay, but what is this book about?

Our protagonist is Douglas Stanton who, like Cole Sear, can see dead people in all their gory detail. Douglas is haunted but unlike Cole ‘I see dead people’ Sear, he is also a conduit, allowing restless spirits to pass through from the afterlife, termed in this novel The Phantom Cabinet – which may or may not be a sly reference to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari wherein the big bad manipulated an innocent to commit atrocities. Something similar happens to Douglas as the third person narrative tells his story – via disembodied ghost voice – starting from his miserable birth and following Douglas into adulthood. In this way, the novel is a twisted coming of age story, dealing with middle school issues such as playground bullying and learning to talk to the opposite sex, to teen problems like underage drinking and doing more than just talking to the opposite sex. Of course, while all this relatively normal stuff is happening, a lot of increasingly abnormal stuff is happening too, leading the reader inexorably closer to the novel’s fated ending. I won’t spoil anything for potential readers, but I will say that there was really only one way this story could end. While somewhat predictable, it was a satisfying conclusion to this strange, sometimes poignant, often hilarious, always horrifying tale.

As far as the horror goes, things get pretty gruesome and Thompson certainly doesn’t shy away from detail. (Consider yourself warned!) The writing is quite magnificent with some turns of phrase that made me take a moment to simply appreciate the syntax. I’m not talking overly purple prose here, but rather a frank yet creative way of setting the scene and describing characters.

This book was heading for a fine five ink splats given its unique and enthralling plot, and fabulous writing, but there was one thing about the writing that bugged me. Now I know how boys can talk to one another and that teasing and ragging can be taken to exquisite new heights when it comes to name-calling and playground denigration. While I’m all for authenticity in voice and authenticity in character, the number of times femininity was used derogatorily – like a boy telling another boy not to be such a girl or such a bitch – became annoying after a while. I don’t think this was the author’s attempt to sneak in some kind of misogynistic agenda, but I did notice these references and they irked me. Even more likely to offend, however, were the multiple uses of the word ‘faggot.’ Now again, I’m all for authenticity, so if this word had been used by a specific character because that character was an asshole – or genuinely wanted to call people a bundle of twigs – I’d understand, but this word was used a little too liberally for my sensibilities. Perhaps it’s just a part of the book’s greater irreverence, but I know it might offend some readers.

I didn’t expect to enjoy The Phantom Cabinet as much as I did. This book was a pleasant surprise and I recommend it to anyone who enjoys bizarro fiction or to readers of horror who are looking for something a little different. It gets 4 ink splats from me.

4 inksplats

 
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Posted by on June 2, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Film Review: Dracula Untold

I’m a total sucker for vampires (no pun intended) especially when they involve the King of Blood-drinkers, Lord Dracula. Despite my better judgement, I have often found myself watching movies I know are going to be terrible because they’re about my favourite monsters. As soon as I heard about this film, it was a foregone conclusion that I would eventually end up watching it because a) vampires b) The Bard from The Hobbit and c) Vlad Tsepes, better known as Dracula. So, I finally got to see this movie and here are my thoughts about it.

*Mild spoilers ahead. You’ve been warned*

dracula-untold-poster

The trailer gave me chills – most probably thanks to that incredibly cool song by Lorde – but also because it seemed to give Dracula a more heroic role instead of having him in skulking in the shadows. I was really excited to see Dracula some into his own and be unapologetic for being a badass. Having scene the film and rewatching the trailer, I’m disappointed because there are scenes and details shown in the trailer that just don’t appear in the film. Other than that, the trailer also shows some of the coolest parts of the movie – typical – thus rendering the actual film experience somewhat anti-climactic.

Now onto the film itself. Of course, it starts off with a voice over and cinematography that seems heavily influenced by Zack Snyder, ala 300 style, only somewhat less impressive. Considering this is the director’s first feature film (according to IMDB) he still did a fairly decent job and I found the film rather pleasing to the eye, if utterly predictable. The predictability of this film might be because I’m overly familiar with these tropes as a writer myself or might be because just about every super-hero and monster movie has employed a variation of these ideas in recent times. Aside from the voice over, my biggest peeve with this film is the glaring historical inaccuracies. I’m married to a Transylvanian, I have been to Romania, and have been to the real Castle Bran (the legendary Dracula castle that is more fortress than Disney.) With every iteration of the Dracula story that gives the monster-legend a historical context – like this film tries to – I always hold out vain hope that they’ll get it right. While this film does build upon a foundation of fact – yes, Romanian children were given to the Turks and used as child soldiers – the history is so watered down and over-simplified. Basically, it gets the Hollywood treatment, and so does our anti-hero Dracula. Can’t have a hero being too evil, now can we?

Dracula in this film is a man with an inner darkness – pretty much Vlad’s penchant for impaling his enemies – and turns to even darker means (does it get any darker than Tywin Lannister?? Charles Dance is in this!) in order to save his immediate family from the Turkish threat. We are repeatedly told about the darkness within Vlad without really being shown it – feeling nothing about how much blood you shed on a battlefield isn’t the same as being a sadistic bastard who revels in eviscerating children, and that’s what I wanted, a film so much darker and scarier than this. Most of the time I wanted to give the guy a hug and tell him everything would be all right, not run screaming in fear. Also, they gave Vlad some pretty awesome superpowers, which he then absolutely squanders and seems to spend more time sulking than kicking Turkish butt. Several times I wanted to reach into the screen and slap him upside the head for wasting time. The climax of this film could’ve been averted had Dracula not dilly-dallied for no apparent reason. Sigh. I guess they needed to manufacture the tension somehow so the anti-hero could reluctantly step-in and save the day by doing the wrong thing for the right reasons.

I saw the ending coming a mile away and predicted the outcome almost exactly for the historical part of the film. Then something unexpected and pretty amazing happens, and the last few minutes of the film are definitely the best, giving me hope for what might come next in this franchise, if a sequel ever gets the green light.

In short, if you’re looking for the Gothic romance of blood-drinking and velvet-clad vampires, you’re better off watching Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Interview with a Vampire. If you’re looking for a more historical take on the vampire legend then you’re definitely better off watching Dark Prince (a criminally underrated series about Vlad Tsepes – still taking liberties with the facts though), and if you want swashbuckling, monster-fighting adventure, you’re probably better off watching Van Helsing. Given the slew of vampire movies and an abundance of those dealing with Stoker’s villain, Dracula Untold simply doesn’t bring anything new or exciting to the table. While it isn’t a terrible way to spend 92 minutes (there are some fun scenes, there’s also some artistic camera work, and did I mention the Luke Evans eye-candy?), I think the film would’ve been far more interesting had it started where it ends. 2.5/5 ink splats from me.

2.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on March 10, 2015 in Reviews, Video Reviews

 

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Book Review: Sing Me Your Scars

Firstly, an enormous THANK YOU to Apex Publications for giving me the ARC of this title and letting me have the privilege of reviewing what is a most outstanding short story collection from an author I think every speculative fiction fan should have on their radar.

sing

Sometimes a thread pulled through the flesh is all that holds you together. Sometimes the blade of a knife or the point of a nail is the only way you know you’re real. When pain becomes art and a quarter is buried deep within in you, all you want is to be seen, to have value, to be loved. But love can be fragile, folded into an origami elephant while you disappear, carried on the musical notes that build a bridge, or woven into an illusion so real, so perfect that you can fool yourself for a little while. Paper crumples, bridges fall, and illusions come to an end. Then you must pick up the pieces, stitch yourself back together, and shed your fear, because that is when you find out what you are truly made of and lift your voice, that is when you Sing Me Your Scars.

In her first collection of short fiction, Damien Angelica Walters weaves her lyrical voice through suffering and sorrow, teasing out the truth and discovering hope.

It’s rare that a blurb truly does a book justice and this one definitely does, capturing the essence of this collection in as poetic a way as the stories themselves are written.

Sing Me Your Scars is a collection of speculative short stories – from two page flash fiction to longer, more substantial pieces. While every story is its own, they all share common themes.The one that stood out the most for me is that of abuse and the painful journey victims must endure in order to overcome the damage inflicted upon, to take ownership of their lives and regain lost agency. There were several stories dealing with abuse, but each was rendered in such a unique way that the recurring theme never got stale. Walters explores the various forms of suffering and how this affects different people through poetic prose and vivid imagery, at once alarming and exquisite. I will, however, say that this collection tends more toward the horror genre and is probably not for the squeamish, or for those who may be triggered by reading about the trauma associated with abuse.

One of the biggest problems I usually have when reading short story collections, is being irritated that the story I’m enjoying ends too soon. I often experience a sort of literary whiplash reading anthologies and collections because I feel catapulted from one story to the next without being able to truly connect to the characters or settings. I never experienced this in Sing Me Your Scars. While there were definitely many stories I would happily read as novels, the continuity of style provides seamless transitions between stories which focus more on character and imagery than setting and plot. That’s one of the reasons I loved this book so much. I felt immersed in the story world from cover to cover despite the constant change of characters, countries and even eras. I was also delighted to see the inclusion of LGBT+ characters in this collection.

There are two writers I hold in extremely high regard and am happy to call my favourites: Poppy Z Brite and Neil Gaiman. I have read and loved short story collections by both these authors and I would happily shelve Sing Me Your Scars right alongside Wormwood and Fragile Things. Like Brite, Walters brings beauty to the grotesque with devastatingly exquisite images of both the brutal and macabre. This is a skill I envy as an author and am definitely going to be rereading passages from Sing Me Your Scars as I have reread passages from Lost Souls and Wormwood. Like Gaiman, Walters weaves subtle magic through her stories, sometimes tantalizing with a mere mention of the bizarre while the story remains firmly rooted in the real. Other times, Walters creates a lush fantasy world in which the reader becomes quickly immersed despite the limited word count of these stories. I am in awe of this author’s ability to achieve so much in so few words.

Until I read this collection, my favourite short story was, of course, one by Gaiman (‘Cold Colors’ from Smoke & Mirrors), but Girl, with Coin by Walters absolutely blew me away and left me reeling for days (I still can’t stop thinking about this story!). Of all the brilliant, beautiful and powerful stories in this collection, Girl, with Coin had an immediate and lasting impact, and this story has just become a new favourite – I loved it even more than works by Brite! – tied with Cold Colors and ear-marked as a story to which I plan to return time and again.

If you enjoy your speculative fiction dark and introspective, exquisite and chilling, beautiful and bloody, then this is the collection for you. I cannot recommend it enough. 5/5 glorious ink splats for this amazing book!

5 inksplats

If you’d like to find out more about the author, please head over to my blog to read an interview with Damien Angelica Walters about Sing Me Your Scars and her forthcoming novel, Paper Tigers.

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2015 in Reviews

 

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M.D. Thalmann / Satire and Sci-fi

M.D. Thalmann, a novelist and freelance journalist specializing in satire and science fiction, lives in Phoenix, AZ with his wife, children, and ornery cats, reads too much and sleeps too little.

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