4

Click on stars to FIND REVIEWS BY RATING:
Recommended:
Not Recommended:

The Babadook: The horror from Down Under

The Babadook directed by Jennifer Kent

When the Australian horror film The Babadook was released here in the U.S. in November 2014, 10 months after its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, it was moderately successful at the box office and received almost universal praise from the critics. Somehow, I managed to miss the film back then (I happen to miss most new releases, actually, in my quest to see as many great classic/old films on the big screen as possible at NYC’s several revival houses), but have wanted to see it ever since, especially inasmuch as the film holds an almost unprecedented 98% approval rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website! A recent showing on one of the Showtime stations has finally enabled me to catch up with this truly frightening picture, however; one that has grown into something of a cult item and cause célèbre since its release six years ago. I knew absolutely nothing about the film when I sat down to watch it t... Read More

Black Sun: A strong start to a new series

Black Sun by Rebecca Roanhorse

Rebecca Roanhorse’s Black Sun (2020) introduces a new series set in an ancient Mesoamerica that is a mix of partly-familiar cultures and original fantasy elements, creating a heady brew that rolls along smoothly even as it moves back and forth in time and amongst a quartet of POVs.

Those POVs belong to:

Naranapa: the young Sun Priest based in the holy city of Tova, head of the religious order that has kept peace for three centuries.
Serapio: a young boy groomed since his childhood as the “vessel” of the Crow god, bent on vengeance for his people’s massacre in Tova years ago at the Night of Knives.
Xiala: a ship’s captain and member of the Teek, a (seemingly) all-female people who wield sea magic known as The Song.
Okoa: a youn... Read More

Ring Shout: The horrors of racism and hatred made tangible

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark

In Ring Shout (2020), P. Djèlí Clark melds two types of horror, Lovecraftian monsters and the bloody rise of the Ku Klux Klan in 1922 Georgia, as a group of black resistance fighters take on an enemy with frightening supernatural powers.

As Ku Klux Klan members march down the streets of Macon, Georgia on the Fourth of July, Maryse Boudreaux, who narrates the story, watches from a rooftop with her two companions, sharpshooter Sadie and former soldier Cordelia “Chef” Lawrence, a bomb expert. They’ve baited a trap for the “Ku Kluxes,” who are hellish demons that hide in disguise among the Klan humans, taking over the bodies of the worst of them. The trap works, but the silver pellets and iron slags contained in the bomb aren’t enough to kill the three monsters that rise out of the wreckage ... Read More

White Zombie: The original zombie film

White Zombie directed by Victor Halperin

As I mentioned in my recent review of the 1936 nonthriller Revolt of the Zombies, this film was a belated follow-up of sorts (it is hardly a sequel, as many claim) to 1932’s White Zombie, the original zombie picture, but whereas that original had been an artfully constructed wonder, the latter film was something of a labor to sit through; a movie about the revivified living dead featuring terrible editing, laughable thesping, risible special effects and, worst of all, not a single scary moment to be had. The contrast between the two films, despite the fact that both were products of the Halperin brothers (Arkansas-born director Victor and producer Edward), is a striking one; a contrast that was only strengthened for this viewer yesterday, after watching the 1932 film once again. Released in July of that year, Whit... Read More

The Couch: A chip off the ol’ Bloch

The Couch directed by Owen Crump

In November 1960, filmgoers were presented with a very unique film, Girl of the Night. In it, we meet a call girl/prostitute named Bobbie Williams, played by the great Anne Francis in the screen role that she would go on to cite as her personal favorite of all her many performances. We learn about Bobbie via her visits to the psychiatrist (Lloyd Nolan) who is treating her, and these intimate encounters are alternated with glimpses of the young woman’s sordid daily life. Flash forward around 15 months, and another film would be released with very much the same modus operandi, but in this later film, the subject was male, and his life is shown to be more disturbing, as well as a lot more dangerous to the populace at large, than Bobbie’s ever was. That film was indeed The Couch, a little-discussed film today (not to be confused with the Andy Warhol film of 1964 that was simply entitled Couch) ... Read More

Love Me Deadly: Daddy’s girl meets the Deadheads

Love Me Deadly directed by Jacques Lacerte

When C. M. Eddy, Jr.’s infamous short story “The Loved Dead” first appeared in the April/May/June 1924 issue of Weird Tales magazine, with its necrophilic protagonist, it so shocked and scandalized readers that — or so it is told — sales of the beleaguered pulp magazine rose dramatically, thus rescuing it from financial failure. The better part of a century later, the subject of necrophilia is no less taboo and discomfiting. I have reviewed several films on various film sites that I have almost been embarrassed to admit having watched (such as The Worm Eaters, The Double-D Avenger and Please Don't Eat My Mother, among many others), and I initially thought that the necrophilia horror film Love Me Deadly,... Read More

King of Scars: Battling mortal enemies and demons in the Grisha universe

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo

King of Scars (2019), the first book in Leigh Bardugo’s NIKOLAI DUOLOGY and part of the ongoing saga in her GRISHA universe, begins not long after the events in Crooked Kingdom. Readers should ideally have read both the original SHADOW AND BONE trilogy and the SIX OF CROWS duology before picking up this book; there are a lot of references to prior events and previously introduced characters. We return to the country of Ravka, setting of Shadow and Bone, where Nikolai Lant... Read More

Allison V. Harding: The Forgotten Queen of Horror

Allison V. Harding: The Forgotten Queen of Horror by Allison V. Harding

Unless you are an aficionado of the famous pulp magazine Weird Tales, or have read some of the many anthology collections derived from its pages, the chances are good that you are not familiar with the author Allison V. Harding. This reader had previously encountered the author in the 1988 collection Weird Tales: The Magazine That Never Dies, which contained what is probably Harding’s most famous story, “The Damp Man.” I had hugely enjoyed this chilling tale and wanted to read more by this nearly forgotten writer, but there was one problem: No collection of Harding’s work had ever been compiled, and her appearances in various collections are few and far between. And this is somewhat surprising, given that, during the peri... Read More

Master of Poisons: A challenging book

Reposting to include Bill's new review.

Master of Poisons by Andrea Hairston

Master of Poisons (2020) by Andrea Hairston is an epic fantasy set in an African-inspired world that is facing environmental devastation. Fertile land is turning into poison desert, and void-storms are a constant threat.

Djola is called Master of Poisons because, when both men were young, he saved the Arkhysian Emperor with his knowledge of antidotes. He was rewarded with the title and a place on the Emperor’s council. Now, he thinks he might be able to save the land with a legendary spell, but he needs to find it first — and in the meantime, he recommends that everyone live more simply, to put less strain on the environment.

Human nature being what it is, this goes about as well as you might e... Read More

The Strangler: See it for Victor

The Strangler directed by Bart Topper

I might be giving away my age here, but I am old enough to remember, young although I was at the time, the panic and news stories that were attendant during the scourge of the so-called Boston Strangler. Between June 1962 and January ’64, no fewer than 13 women, ages 19 all the way up to 85, were slain and, in some cases, sexually molested by the mad fiend. Finally, in October ’64, that fiend was apprehended and later confessed; a 33-year-old named Albert de Salvo. The incidents that shocked Beantown and the rest of the country would later be turned into a film, October 1968’s The Boston Strangler, starring Tony Curtis as de Salvo. But that had not been the only film inspired by the dreadful doings. In April ’64, a half year before de Salvo’s arrest and at the height of the Boston panic, another film was released that perfectly captured the unease of the period. That film was simply called The... Read More

The Cabin in the Woods: An over-the-top thrill ride with too few explanations

The Cabin in the Woods directed by Drew Goddard

When The Cabin in the Woods was released in April 2012, it almost immediately became something of a sensation, a hit both with the critics and the public, ultimately going on to gross around $67 million at the box office, after having been produced for $30 million. Despite all that, however, and despite the fact that I am an old fan of a good horror movie, well told, I managed to miss the film when it was first run, and only caught up with it very recently, at home. And now, I am most regretful that I did not run to the theaters back when, as this really is a film that would have benefited from being seen on the big screen. It is an eye-popping film, loaded with suspense, action, scares, laughs, and amazing special FX; one that would have been ideal for seeing with a good audience. Not since 1996’s Scream, perhaps, has a motion picture so knowingly and winkingly toyed with the conventions of the... Read More

Spider Baby: See it for Carol

Spider Baby directed by Jack Hill

When I was a wee lad, many decades ago, there were two female images that would inevitably give me the jitters as I lay down to sleep at night. The first was that of Vampira’s ghoulish character, advancing toward the camera with arms extended, in a nighttime graveyard, in the film that I much later realized was none other than Ed Wood’s notorious Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959). (This image was apparently frightening to other viewers besides myself; it was later used in the opening credits of the great television program Chiller Theatre back in the mid-‘60s!) And the other image that used to give the young me the willies was that of Carol Ohmart’s recently deceased Annabelle Loren character, noose around her neck and floating at the window, in William Castle’s baby-boomer favorite House on Haunted Hill (1959 again). Even today, decades later, those two images can manage to give me the... Read More

Innocent Blood: Add Marie to the Pantheon!

Innocent Blood directed by John Landis

It strikes me that your garden-variety vampires, as depicted on the big screen, usually have very few scruples as regards their diet of necessity, and the victims that they utilize to assuage those nutritional needs. Typically, vampires are shown sucking on the necks of any likely victim to come along … especially when that victim might be an especially lovely and, um, toothsome female. Ethical considerations and qualms of remorse hardly ever figure with these conscienceless creatures of the night. Thus, offhand, I cannot recall another vampire in cinema history who has chosen his or her prospective victims utilizing such clearly defined moral guidelines, only to regret one of those resultant food choices later on, as Marie, the French vampiress in John Landis’ hugely entertaining, very sexy and often remarkably gory Innocent Blood.

When we first encounter Marie (played by French actress Anne Par... Read More

The Thing: One of the few remakes that I prefer over the original

The Thing directed by John Carpenter

It is a debate that my buddy Jack and I have been having for decades now: Which is the better version of The Thing? The original classic from 1951, actually entitled The Thing From Another World and directed by Christian Nyby (and, it is conjectured, Howard Hawks), OR the 1982 remake directed by John Carpenter? People who know me, and of my love for all things pertaining to 1950s sci-fi, as well as my dislike of unnecessary remakes, will perhaps be surprised to learn that I have always been the champion of the latter film. The original, I have long maintained, is a slow-moving, overly talky affair that is only sporadically punctuated by a few bursts of excitement. Its overlapping dialogue, although realistic, is often incomprehensible, and its central monster something of a letdown, as played by James Arness with clawed hands. But perhaps my central attack on the film is the fact that it is hardly in keeping... Read More

A Sick Gray Laugh: A disturbing, metafictional, transgressive tour de force

A Sick Gray Laugh by Nicole Cushing

A Sick Gray Laugh, Nicole Cushing’s 2019 horror novel, is disturbing, at times disgusting. It’s surreal, it’s metafictional and it’s often hilarious. And, really, that’s about all I have to say about it. If you like any of those things, or all of them, you should read it.

Oh, what? I should tell you about the plot? Okay. Noelle Cashman, our first-person narrator, is an award-winning horror novelist. Recently, though, she has started medication for her struggles with anxiety and depression and now, faced with a book to write, discovers she doesn’t want to write another novel. While parts of her life are getting much better — she joined a softball team, lost some weight, is eating more healthily — Noelle is distressed and intrigued by the steady encroachment of th... Read More

Six of Crows: An exciting fantasy heist

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Leigh Bardugo, best known for her GRISHA young adult magical fantasy trilogy, explores a different corner of the Grisha world in her new young adult novel, Six of Crows. In the city of Ketterdam, an analog for Amsterdam, criminal gangs control the waterfront, and the surrounding area is a den of iniquity where everything can be bought and sold, including people. One of the gangs, appropriately called the Dregs, is led by 17 year old Kaz Brekker, nicknamed “Dirtyhands” because of his willingness to stoop to any level to maintain and grow his power and control. His young crew has been gaining in power and influence during the few years he’s been in charge of it.

One day a wealthy merchant abduct... Read More

Ink & Sigil: Starts a fun new IDC spin-off series

Ink & Sigil by Kevin Hearne

Fans of Kevin Hearne’s popular IRON DRUID CHRONICLES will be thrilled to learn that Hearne has a new spin-off series: INK & SIGIL. The first novel, Ink & Sigil (2020), introduces Al MacBharrais, an older widowed gentleman who has a unique talent. He uses special inks to create sigils that hack the brain through the ocular nerve. For example, the Sigil of Porous Mind makes the target open to suggestion, the Sigil of Certain Authority makes the caster appear to have the authority to do whatever they’re doing, and the Sigil of Quick Compliance makes the target want to do whatever the sigil writer asks.

Al is ready to retire, but every time he’s got an apprentice nearly trained up, the apprentice dies in some freak accident. As ... Read More

Driftwood: A strong story collection with a great setting

Reposting to include Jana's new review.

Driftwood by Marie Brennan

Driftwood (2020) is a charming, meditative, and often poignant collection of linked stories by Marie Brennan that mostly succeeds both in its individual tales and as a whole, though I had a few issues. But given that one of those is it was too short, it’s still an easy book to recommend.

The book’s general setting is the titular Driftwood. Think of it as a beach whose tide, instead of washing up the pebbles and the sea’s detritus, washes up instead dying worlds. Except instead of piling up on a sandy strand, the worlds just edge farther and farther inward, getting ever smaller before eventually disappearing forever. Or as one character explains to another whose world has just started the process:
Bits [of a world] just vanish. People die... Read More

The Time Stream: Will It Go Round In Circles?

The Time Stream by John Taine

After eight novels dealing with such venerable science fiction themes as lost races, weapons of superscience, the transmutation of elements, dinosaurs, devolution, crystalline life-forms and the creation of a superman, Scottish-American author John Taine finally tackled one of the most revered sci-fi tropes of them all, namely time travel, in his ninth novel, The Time Stream. Today, this book comes freighted with a double-edged reputation, as it is said to be the author’s strangest novel of the 16 he wrote between 1924 and ’54, as well as his finest; an irresistible combination for those who are game. The novel was released just two months after Taine’s Seeds of Life had appeared complete in the October... Read More

The Bone Shard Daughter: A fast-paced, enticing adventure

The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart

The Bone Shard Daughter (2020) by Andrea Stewart is a fast-paced, enticing read, with an attractive world and a magical system that grabs the imagination with both hands and doesn’t let it go.

Stewart’s debut is the first book of a series, THE DROWNING EMPIRE. In an archipelago empire, the imperial Sukai dynasty defeated the powerful Alanga, who ruled it. The current emperor, Shiyen, uses bone shard magic to protect his citizens from the possible return of the Alanga. Shiyen runs his empire using constructs, chimera-like beings animated by chips of bone taken from every citizen of the empire, usually when they are children. At events called Festivals, chips of bone are chiseled out of each child’s skull, sometimes with fatal results. Those chips, later implanted into constructs, animate them. The magic allows the creator of ... Read More

Drowned Country: An enchanting sequel

Drowned Country by Emily Tesh

Drowned Country (2020) is the second and concluding novella in Emily Tesh’s GREENHOLLOW DUOLOGY, following 2019’s Silver in the Wood. This review will contain some spoilers for Silver in the Wood.

When we last saw Tobias and Henry Silver, Tobias had become an ordinary mortal man, and had been reunited with Silver — who had been presumed dead, but instead had been saved by the Wood itself, becoming its guardian Wild Man in the way that Tobias once was. It turns out, though, that this idyll lasted only a few months before the two men fell out. Now Silver sulks alone in his manor house, using his powers to accelerate its ruin.

S... Read More

Seeds of Life: High Tension

Seeds of Life by John Taine

In the 1956 sci-fi “B movie” Indestructible Man, hardened criminal Butcher Benton, played by the always wonderful Lon Chaney, Jr., is put to death by the state, but is later revivified by a mad scientist using 300,000 volts of electricity. Benton becomes not only possessed of superhuman strength but is also, as events show, impervious to bullets. But if a certain novel of 25 years earlier can be believed, this was not the first time that a human being was subjected to a massive dose of juice, and with astonishing results. The book in question was Scottish-American author John Taine’s ninth novel, Seeds of Life, which features not only one scientist suffering from the side effects of a 2 million-volt exposure, but anot... Read More

Peace Talks: But wait, there’s more!

Peace Talks by Jim Butcher

Fans of Jim Butcher’s DRESDEN FILES have been waiting for the sixteenth novel, Peace Talks (2020), for six years. It's been so long that I actually had to go back and re-read the last few novels to get back up to speed on Harry's life.

Was Peace Talks worth the wait? The short answer is “No.” Though it’s entertaining and shows us what Harry’s life has been like since the previous novel, Skin Game, it isn’t quite enough. By this point in the series, readers are expecting a thrill ride and life-shattering events with each new installment in THE DRESDEN FILES. And after we waited six years for this novel, Peace... Read More

The Death of Vivek Oji: ”Beautyful” writing

The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi

On the same day a riot destroys the market in Ngwa, Nigeria, the body of Vivek Oji is left on his parents’ doorstep, naked except for a length of cloth. Gradually, through a variety of points of view, Akwaeke Emezi unfolds the story of Vivek’s life and death, and how that death affects Vivek’s loved ones — drawing some people closer together, driving faultlines between others.

Readers who’ve read Emezi’s earlier work might expect more supernatural elements than The Death of Vivek Oji (2020) actually contains. This short novel is mostly a realistic story, with two exceptions: Vivek occasionally narrates from beyond the grave, and it is implied that reincarnation exists. However, I think readers who enjoy Emezi’s “beautyful” writing (you’ll have to read the... Read More

The Bird King: Magic is woven throughout the book

The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson

G. Willow Wilson’s 2019 YA Novel The Bird King is a wonderful read: an exciting adventure with a complicated female protagonist, set in a time and place that may be unfamiliar to many of us. Magic is woven throughout the book, as young Fatima wrestles with the concepts of faith, freedom and leadership.

Fatima is the Sultan’s concubine in the last Islamic kingdom on the Iberian Peninsula. She holds a precarious place in the palace hierarchy. As a slave she’s powerless; as the Sultan’s concubine she wields, or could wield, great influence, especially if she bears him a son. Fatima, born into enslavement, dreams of freedom, but the closest she gets to it is the magical maps drawn by her friend, the royal mapmaker, Hassan. Hassan can map a place that exists only in his imagin... Read More