Last Ones Left Alive: Bleak and painful

Last Ones Left Alive by Sarah Davis-Goff

Orpen is a young woman who lives with her mother and Maeve, her mother’s partner, on an island off the coast of Ireland. As she is growing up, as far as Orpen knows, they are the only humans left alive. Orpen wants to go to the mainland to see if she can find any other people, and to search for the legendary female paramilitary force that is rumored to be fighting the skrake, vicious zombie-like creatures that hunt and kill humans. Her mother and Maeve warn her against this, but finally Orpen finds the opportunity to set out on her quest. She will need all of the survival and fighting skills that her two mothers taught her.

As Orpen journeys through a bleak and desolate (but sometimes beautiful) landscape, she uses flashbacks to very gradually enlighten us about the world and why she began her quest. We also gradually become aware of the horrible origins of the skrake. We witness Orpen’... Read More

The Twilight People: Kalahati Tao, Kalahati Hayop

The Twilight People directed by Eddie Romero

The 1959 film Terror Is a Man was the very first horror picture to be made in the country of the Philippines. A very well done but uncredited reiteration of H. G. Wells' classic 1896 novel The Island of Dr. Moreau, the film was gorgeously shot in B&W, featured stylish direction by Geraldo de Leon and (again, an uncredited) Eddie Romero, as well as an intelligent script that was punctuated by interesting speculations on the nature of man and beast. Over the next 10 years, Romero worked at a fairly furious pace, eventually carving out for himself a place in the world's pantheon of great horror directors by coming out with his legendary Blood Island trilogy: Read More

La Nuit de la Morte (Night of Death): French toast

La Nuit de la Morte (Night of Death) directed by Raphael Delpard

OK, I'm gonna go out on a limb here, and make the assumption that any person who might be interested in reading a review of the 1980 French film La Nuit de la Morte! (Night of Death!) is already aware that it is very much a horror picture (as if that morbid title, capped with its exclamation mark, could possibly leave any doubt). And that's important, because any discussion of this seldom-mentioned rarity is almost impossible without divulging at least one key plot twist, which transpires around 20 minutes in. I was first alerted to the very existence of this Gallic obscurity by the excellent reference volume DVD Delirium 4, which describes the picture as "good, disreputable, down-and-dirty splatter with a unique French twist," and indeed, the film really might be a pleasant surprise for the jaded horror fan who is seeking out something different... Read More

The Night Digger: A stroke of very bad luck

The Night Digger directed by Alastair Reid

Not precisely a horror movie, a murder mystery, a slasher film, OR a domestic tragedy, The Night Digger, a British film that was initially released in May 1971, yet combines elements of all those genres into one truly sui generis experience. A largely forgotten film, The Night Digger (or, as it was originally released in the U.K., The Road Builder … an inferior title, as it turns out) is perhaps best known today — for those who know of it at all, that is — for its leading-role performance by the great Kentucky-born actress Patricia Neal, as well as for the contributions of screenwriter Roald Dahl and composer Bernard Herrmann. As the story goes, Neal, after suffering from a series of debilitating strokes, while pregnant, and following her appearance in 1965's In Harm's Way, was nursed back ... Read More

Blood Thirst: Maganda!

Blood Thirst directed by Newt Arnold

For those connoisseurs of foreign horror films who are desirous of seeing the 1965 Filipino obscurity entitled Blood Thirst, their only recourse, it would seem, is the DVD currently available from those maniacs at Something Weird. The picture in question shares the disc with another relatively unknown film, the similarly titled Bloodsuckers, and it was to see this British product of 1970 that I initially rented out this DVD. But Bloodsuckers turns out to be a terrible mess of a film, despite the participation of Peter Cushing and Patrick Macnee; an ineptly put-together head scratcher that suffers even more in comparison to Blood Thirst, a surprisingly good, well-made little chiller that manages to satisfy on all levels. Released in America six years after its Filipino debut, the film features gorgeous B&... Read More

The Mighty Peking Man: Hong Kong King Kong, OR Kraft cheese

The Mighty Peking Man directed by Meng Hua Ho

Well, I suppose I didn't do adequate homework before venturing into Meng Hua Ho's 1977 camp classic The Mighty Peking Man. For some reason, I had thought the titular protagonist was a man-sized survivor of the Paleolithic Age; a caveman type; a troglodyte displaced in time. But as most psychotronic-film fans have long since discovered, this is hardly the case at all, and the film in question turns out to be nothing more than a cheesy Hong Kong rip-off of 1933's King Kong ... or, perhaps, more specifically, a cash-in "homage" to the Dino De Laurentiis travesty of the preceding year. A production of the Shaw Brothers, whose Infra-Man of 1975 had proved to be so memorably jaw dropping, the film is a goofy, fast-moving and wholly enjoyable experience, with better production values than you might be expecting, and lovably ersatz sp... Read More

Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror: Bark just as bad as his bite

Burial Ground: The Nights of Terror directed by Andrea Bianchi

The impact that George A. Romero's seminal Night of the Living Dead (1968) had on the future of the so-called "zombie film" was so enormous as to practically constitute a sea change. Up until then, in pictures such as White Zombie (1932), Revolt of the Zombies (1936), King of the Zombies (1941), I Walked With a Zombie (1943) and even as late as 1966's The Plague of the Zombies, these creatures had been presented as essentially harmless beings; hypnotized or drugged, living automatons who carried out the commands of their masters. The Romero film transformed the zombies into ravenous gut munchers; the revivified dead, hungry for human flesh. Since Night of the Living Dead, many films have played on this concept with varying success and degrees of imagination, the be... Read More

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde: Gothic horror at its best

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Despite being a slim novel of only ten chapters, this novel packs a punch. The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) is an unsettling, nerve-inducing exploration of what it is to give into your base desires, and the inability to escape them once you have succumbed.

The tale is largely narrated by Mr Utterson, a lawyer. His good friend Dr Jekyll has been acting strangely of late, and our story opens with Mr Utterson and his cousin Mr Enfield discussing the matter of their mutual acquaintance.

It transpires that a certain Mr Hyde has been terrorising the streets of London. Mr Enfield tells of how he saw the man trample a girl's head and has been seen causing mischief around the area of Dr Jekyll's residence. He later beats a man to death. Mr Utterson is horrified to discover that his friend, Dr Jeykll, has named Mr Hyd... Read More

Queen of Blood: A green-blooded gal on the Red Planet

Queen of Blood directed by Curtis Harrington

In November 1966, television audiences were introduced, via the two-part Star Trek episode entitled "The Menagerie," to a green-skinned, hypnotically beautiful alien woman, an Orion dancing girl played in an unforgettable manner by the great Susan Oliver; a character who made an indelible impression despite not having a single line of dialogue. (Indeed, the excellent, 2014 DVD biography of Oliver's life would be called The Green Girl, a tribute to one of her more fondly remembered roles.) But this was not the first such olive-toned alien siren to appear on screens that year! In March '66, in the Curtis Harrington-directed, AIP film Queen of Blood, audiences had been exposed to another such character, but this one was of a far, far more inimical variety. As the story goes, producer/director Roger Corman had acquired some footage from two earlier Russian sci-fi epics, 1959's Nebo Zovyot Read More

Let the Right One In: Bye, bye, Blackeberg

Let the Right One In directed by Tomas Alfredson

The winner of at least 50 international film awards and a popular and critical favorite, the 2008 Swedish film Let the Right One In is, as it turns out, highly deserving of all the many accolades it has received. Adapted by John Ajvide Lindqvist from his best-selling novel of 2004, the film introduces us to a 12-year-old boy named Oskar, who lives with his mother in a suburb of Stockholm, and who is more than effectively played by newcomer Kare Hedebrant. Oskar's life as a friendless soul who is helplessly bullied at school takes a turn for the better when some new neighbors move into his apartment complex. Eli, who is apparently his age, initially tells Oskar "I can't be friends with you ... that's just how it is," but the two ultimately DO bond, although Eli later reveals that she has been 12 "for a long time." In point of... Read More

Small Spaces: A delicious autumn read

Reposting to include Tadiana's new review:

Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

I fell in love with Small Spaces (2018) from the first paragraph. Before I even realized this was the same Katherine Arden whose adult fiction I’ve been meaning to read for years, and before I got caught up in the richly drawn characters and the spooky plot, I was smitten by this:
October in East Evansburg, and the last warm sun of the year slanted red through the sugar maples. Olivia Adler sat nearest the big window in Mr. Easton’s math class, trying, catlike, to fit her entire body into a patch of light. She wished she were on the other side of the glass. You don’t waste October sunshine. Soon the old autumn sun would bed down in cloud blankets, and there would be weeks of gray rain before it finally decided to sno... Read More

Beast of the Yellow Night: Not quite “walang kwenta,” but close

Beast of the Yellow Night directed by Eddie Romero

During the 10-year period 1968-'77, Filipino director Eddie Romero collaborated with American actor John Ashley on no less than 10 motion pictures. First up was the little-seen Manila, Open City, to be quickly followed by the so-called Blood Island trilogy (Brides of Blood, The Mad Doctor of Blood Island and Beast of Blood), and then the film in question here, Beast of the Yellow Night (AND, later on still, films with such titles as The Twilight People, The Woman Hunt, Beyond Atlantis, Savage Sisters and Sudden Death). Nowhere near as pulpy or as fun as the Blood Island trilogy, Beast of the Yellow Night is something of a labor to sit through, sports a confused and confusing story line, and never adequately an... Read More

The Frozen Dead: Elsa uses her head

The Frozen Dead directed by Herbert J. Leder

The film career of Mississippi-born Dana Andrews seemed to undergo some kind of metamorphosis as the actor entered his third decade before the cameras. During the 1940s, the characters that Andrews brought to life were in the main sympathetic and likeable, whether they were such all-American Joes as in The Ox-Bow Incident, State Fair and The Best Years of Our Lives, or troubled cops as in Laura and Where the Sidewalk Ends. He managed to maintain that sympathetic demeanor throughout the '50s (I particularly like him in the exceptionally fine 1957 horror film Night of the Demon), but come the 1960s, and as Andrews entered his 50s and his features coarsened a bit, his roles gradually segued into personages who were alarmingly less sympathetic.

In 1965, in the sci-fi thriller Crack in the World, his Dr. Sorenson character was s... Read More

The Head: Ood-les of Fun

The Head directed by Victor Trivas

No, this isn't the psychedelic Monkees movie from 1968; that one's just called Head. Rather, The Head is a West German horror production from 1959 – and a very good one, as it turns out – that tells a freaky story of a wholly different kind. As The Psychotronic Encyclopedia of Film so astutely reminds us, the film was released in the same year as the similarly themed American film The Brain That Wouldn't Die, and is just as way-out an experience.

In it, Michel Simon – French star of such classic '30s films as La Chienne, Boudu Saved From Drowning and L'Atalante – plays a scientist, Dr. Abel, who has devised something called Serum Z, which will allow human and animal tissue to survive independently of their donors' bodies, thus making possible organ transplants and other innovations (this, eight years ... Read More

Death Curse of Tartu: Good Grefe

Death Curse of Tartu directed by William Grefe

I see it every time I fly down to Ft. Lauderdale to visit my family: the dividing line between civilization and the primeval. As the plane banks west from over the Atlantic, one can view below the sprawling metropolis of the city and its suburbs ... until one's eye hits that dividing line. The line is drawn straight as a rule for as far as the eye can see, the line separating the habitations of Man from the greenish-gray expanse that is the Everglades. The demarcation never fails to impress, no matter how many times one makes the trip. And from my two personal experiences into the Everglades, as a casual tourist, I can tell you that I cannot imagine a more hellacious environment in which to be lost or stuck: almost 2,000 square miles of empty sawgrass prairie, freshwater marshland, mangrove swamps, pinelands, hardwood hammocks, and sloughs. But not quite empty, of course; the area just teems with all sorts of wildli... Read More

The Toll: Priest breathes creepy, swampy, glimmering life into Southern Gothic

The Toll by Cherie Priest

Cherie Priest’s 2019 Southern Gothic novel The Toll delivers the creeping terror, the strangeness and the surprises I’ve come to expect from her, since she is the queen of this subgenre. From the weird, dying little town of Staywater, Georgia, to a house haunted by dolls, to “granny women” and ghosts, to that thing in the swamp, The Toll builds and delivers on a mood that progresses from shivery to biting-your-fingernails suspenseful.

As a character in the book (and the back cover blurb) points out:
State Road 177 runs along the Suwannee Rover, between Fargo, Georgia and the Okefenokee Swamp. Drive that road from east to west, and you’ll cross six bridges. Take it from west to east, and you might find seven. But you’d better hope not. Read More

Starfish: A scary deep-sea biological horror story

Starfish by Peter Watts

In a future overpopulated and under-resourced Earth, a geothermal energy plant has been constructed in a trench thousands of miles under the Pacific Ocean’s surface. The humans of the maintenance crew who live and work in and around the power station have been genetically engineered to withstand the harsh deep-sea environment. But the only people who are willing to undergo this biological manipulation and unpleasant living situation are outcasts, misfits, the psychologically damaged, and criminals.

We meet them aboard the Beebe station where they live together in a cramped environment that can be tense, not only because of the difficulty of their job, but also because of the personalities involved. Ratcheting up the tension is the presence of the unearthly creatures that inhabit the deep trench and the crew’s realization that, in some ways, they are more akin to those monsters than they are to the human... Read More

Walking to Aldebaran: Literary musings in an alien cavern of horrors

Walking to Aldebaran by Adrian Tchaikovsky

I never know what to expect from Adrian Tchaikovsky, but he’s always entertaining. Walking to Aldebaran (2019) is unlike anything I’ve read from Tchaikovsky to date, a powerful, literary SF novella with an edgy, dark sense of humor and a strain of horror that gradually intensifies until its shocking ending.

British astronaut Gary Rendell is part of an international space team sent from Earth to explore a moon-sized, alien-made object ― officially called the Artefact, unofficially called the Frog God because of its appearance in photos ― that a space probe has found lurking in the outer reaches of our solar system. Through a series of events that are gradually unfolded to the reader, Rendell is now wandering alone inside the cold, endless, crypt-like tunnels i... Read More

Dead Voices: I’m hooked on this series

Dead Voices by Katherine Arden

I loved Small Spaces, Katherine Arden’s first foray into children’s horror, and so I jumped right into its sequel, Dead Voices (2019). A few months have passed since Ollie, Coco, and Brian outsmarted the Smiling Man who wanted to turn them, and all their classmates, into scarecrows. The ordeal left them with recurring nightmares, but also made them best friends. It’s December now, and Ollie’s dad has won a stay at Mount Hemlock, the new ski lodge a few hours outside of town. He’s taking all three kids, along with Coco’s mom.

I didn’t fall in love as immediately this time, and I think I’ve distilled that down to two reasons. One is that, from an adult perspective, it seemed... Read More

The White Road: (to Nowhere)

The White Road by Sarah Lotz

I’ll admit it — I’m pretty scared of Mount Everest before you populate it with ghosts. Ever since I read Jon Krakauer’s riveting nonfiction book Into Thin Air, I’ve felt a little shudder at the very thought of climbing it. So when I heard about The White Road (2017), a horror novel set on Everest, I figured it was guaranteed to freak me out in epic fashion.

Simon and his friend Thierry run a website dedicated to creepy things. The White Road begins with Simon teaming up with a sketchy older man, Ed, to explore a Welsh cave system. Some spelunkers died there years ago, and their bodies are still in the cave; Simon hopes to get footage of the corpses for the website. Simon and Ed get into trouble in the cave. Simon nearly dies, an... Read More

Strange Toys: An odd, creepy novel

Strange Toys by Patricia Geary

Strange Toys is an odd, creepy novel. It won the Philip K. Dick Award in 1987, though apparently Patricia Geary hadn’t actually intended it as science fiction at all. I found it while exploring the labyrinthine basement of a local used bookstore, but it was reprinted in electronic form in 2018.

The heroine, nicknamed Pet, is the baby of her family. (We never learn her real name.) She is nine years old as the book begins, in the late 1950s. Her twelve-year-old sister, June, bullies her. Her sixteen-year-old sister, Deane, is worse. Deane is in some kind of unspecified trouble with the law (she’s into the occult, too), and the girls’ parents leave home abruptly with Pet and June because they fear retribution from Deane’s criminal friends.

What follo... Read More

The Brink: Superficial and implausible SF horror

The Brink by James S. Murray & Darren Wearmouth

Human monsters take precedence over the creature type of monsters in The Brink (2019), the sequel to last year’s SF horror novel Awakened. (Some spoilers for the first book are in this review, but are also in the publisher’s blurb for this book, so they’re nearly impossible to avoid.) Awakened was pulpy fun if you like SF horror and mysterious, murderous threats lurking beneath the surface of the earth. The Brink mostly gives us Albert Van Ness, a diabolical mastermind of dubious sanity who was apparently imported straight from an old James Bond movie. The creatures are still there, but in a diminished r... Read More

Awakened: Camera-ready SF horror adventure

Awakened by James S. Murray & Darren Wearmouth

Grady McGowan has been logging lots of overtime, running a tunnel-boring machine beneath the Hudson River for the massive Z Train subway line extension that will link New York City to New Jersey with an underground express train. They’re even building a state-of-the-art underwater Visitors’ Pavilion in the middle of the Upper Bay. It’s hard work for Grady, but everything is going well … until a huge hole opens up underneath Grady and his machine.

Three years later, the mayor of NYC, Tom Cafferty, is in the Pavilion, presiding over the opening ceremony and inaugural run of the Z Train. The President of the U.S. is a surprise guest (though not a welcome one from Cafferty’s point of view) and Cafferty’s wife Ellen is one of the honored guests on the Z Train heading to the Pavilion from Jersey City. There’s a delay. A shriek over the loudspeaker. And then the train slowl... Read More

Ghost Wall: These are not the good old days

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

Silvie’s summer vacation is a nightmare. She, her abusive father, and her browbeaten mother have joined a college professor and his three-person Experimental Archaeology class in the northern woods of England, where they are trying to live like the ancients. For the class, it’s a learning experience and something of a lark, at least at first. For Silvie’s father, it’s deadly serious; he’d love to live like that all the time, as he imagines Iron Age Britain to be the world of his racist and sexist dreams.

Things get worse when Silvie’s father and some of the others become obsessed with the grislier aspects of the olden days: the titular ghost wall — a fence topped with skulls that was meant to magically repel invaders — and the human sacrifices preserved in the peat bogs. Meanwhile, Silvie is both drawn to and terrified by Molly, one of the students, who refuses to allow Silvie to keep seein... Read More

The Invasion: This Hugo finalist has some issues

The Invasion by Peadar O’Guilin

The Invasion (2018), a finalist for the 2019 Hugo Award for Best Young Adult Novel, is the sequel to Peadar O’Guilin’s The Call, which you’ll need to read first. (This review will spoil some of the plot of that first novel.) Once again I listened to the audiobook version (Scholastic Audio) which was nicely performed by Irish actor Amy Shiels.

At the end of The Call, our hero, Nessa, had been changed by the Sidhe. They made her fireproof. Because of her crippled legs, nobody expected Nessa to survive her Call, so now she’s un... Read More