Saturday, February 23, 2013

Hell Manor by Lisa Morton
Reviewed by Anthony Servante

Summary of book:
"Jack Lichtner is the genius behind Hell Manor, America's most successful Halloween haunted house. Mazes, scare zones, live actors, special effects, crazy gore...Hell Manor's got it all. But Jack gets in over his head when he hires Maeve, a mysterious woman with a penchant for bloody magic and murderous kin who want her back. This Halloween, Jack must use all his powers of illusion to fight off the real magic of the ancient tricksters who have invaded Hell Manor." Lisa Morton is a multiple Bram Stoker Award winner and one of the world's leading Halloween experts. Her last book for Bad Moon Books, MONSTERS OF L.A., earned her a seventh Bram Stoker Award nomination, and the American Library Association's READERS ADVISORY GUIDE TO HORROR recently named her one of the top five female horror writers. She has also written THE HALLOWEEN ENCYCLOPEDIA. She lives in North Hollywood, California, and can be found online at .

Review of book:

The choice of first person narrator got my attention right away, for as you know the story will revolve around the narrator. So he better be good. Well, he is. Jack Lichtner loves Halloween and he loves scaring people. With his partner Greg, he has put together the Halloween Haunt, Hell Manor, a series of mazes, props, and actors in disguise whose sole purpose is to frighten the annual attendees to the dark holiday attraction. The Manor has become so popular in fact that the local news is covering its creative spin on the haunted hotel theme.

Lisa introduces us to the locals, mainly young folk from the college, who are trying out for a part as an actor in the creep show. Her gift for simple descriptions of her characters for optimal effect shines right through as she paints each applicant: “A Goth girl had mumbled through the lines, and then asked if she could just stand in a corner and scream.” Lovely the way she captures characters by pointing out simple foibles. We get a big picture with a minimalist description—a sign of a writer who trusts her readers’ intelligence and doesn’t write down to them.

The arrival of Maeve MacCumhail creates mixed signals for Jack, who is both attracted to the pale, white-haired girl and distressed. You see, she kills a participant in her magic routine on her first day. Well, the college jock isn’t really dead, or was he? The line between supernatural and natural is blurred for the attendees of the act, and so, too, for the readers of Morton’s story. It’s a neat trick.

Let me digress a moment to discuss this dichotomy in the story by citing a parallel example. Harry Anderson, a magician/illusionist, best known as the judge on TV’s Night Court, had a trick in which he drove a long hat pin through his arm; the audience gasped. But Harry reminded us it was all a trick, that he was a magician, an illusionist. Then he tugged the needle in his flesh from side to side to assure the audience that it was just a trick. Blood poured from the wound. Harry feigned concern, then tasted the blood. Karo Syrup, he assured the audience, and removed the needle from his arm. The trick has become known as the Anderson Needle in Illusionist circles. He wasn’t tricking us with an illusion; he was toying with our suspension of disbelief.

So, too, does Morton toy with us readers with Hell Manor. It is a story of the illusions/tricks of Hell Manor until we are made to believe it is real magic when real magicians show up and we learn the truth about Maeve. That’s the best kind of horror, where the twists and turns mess with your head as well as your intellect. Jack describes this feeling of being toyed with: “It just felt wrong; it was like being in a hurricane where you could hear the wind roaring and see things whirling around you, but the air felt perfectly still. Or like standing at the bottom of the sea and being able to breathe.” Later, he adds: “I had no doubt that every single one of us watching [Maeve’s “illusion] knew, in some instinctive, irrational way, that we weren’t watching a mere trick. This was no sleight-of-hand, no clever stage illusion.”

In the final battle between Jack and the three “magicians” seeking Maeve, it is a contest between the dark art and Jack’s trickery, the same creativity that built Hell Manor. Jack senses the same dread for these three deadly visitors that he first felt when Maeve’s illusion seemed too real: “Looking at them, I felt the same sense of everything being tilted, being wrong.” Even the three albinos who’ve come for Maeve admire Jack’s work at creating illusion. It’s only fitting that their talents for scaring people be tested against one another. But Jack has a secret weapon. You see, he has read The Halloween Encyclopedia, lucky devil. I wish I had, but the file was too big for my poor little laptop.


There are many references to the book (no doubt). Maeve means she who intoxicates. That’s true: Jack does fall for her quite suddenly. MacCumhail is derived from the landless warrior/bandits, led by Fionn, meaning white or blond. Finn (Fionn) is the leader of the three magic folk sent to capture Maeve. Then there’s the Samhain, the pagan holiday that became Halloween: “Samhain (like Beltane) was seen as a time when the "door" to the Otherworld opened enough for the souls of the dead, and other beings, to come into our world” (Wiki); it’s a more sinister version of our trick or treat and explains the magic of our three villains.

When Jack explains his use of illusion, after seeing the murderous use of magic by our three unwelcome pursuers: “It’s just play. People like to be scared when they know they won’t be hurt; they pay for it. We provide a safe environment, and that’s why they like it.” Although his three opponents admire his work, their opinion of illusion has a deeper, scarier purpose: “Oh, we like to scare as well. But we’re a bit more truthful than you; we know that our tricks can give bad dreams, anxious feelings. We can make someone fearful for the rest of their life.” Jack’s belief stands in the way of their mission, and so the battle begins.

The result of the battle is anticlimactic. In other words, it’s a trick ending. Quite apropos, I thought. I pictured a young Bruce Campbell in the role of Jack. This entertaining novella spends most of its time on the killing spree of the three albinos, the battle between Jack and our three Good Neighbors, and the story never lags. Hell Manor treats us to the ultimate tale of Halloween, and lucky for us readers, we get both a trick and a treat.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Cinema in the Dark Double-Feature
Love and Death: Beautiful Creatures (2013) & Warm Bodies (2013)
Reviewed by Anthony Servante

In Beautiful Creatures, our narrator Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich) dreams of leaving his hometown of Gatlin, South Carolina. When his ex-girlfriend tells him to go to hell, he responds that he intends to—after making a stop in New York. It’s quips like these that drew me to the main character. In the first fifteen minutes of the film, we are treated to allusions to Naked Lunch, Slaughterhouse Five, Charles Bukowski, and Boo Radley. Our narrator is no literary slouch.

Then the new girl Lena (Alice Englert) joins Ethan’s class, and he is charmed. You see, Ethan has been dreaming of the girl for weeks and voila! she appears. A quick romance and the secrets start to be revealed. Firstly, Lena is a Caster (they don’t care for the name “witch”, which she likens to a smart person being called a geek), and in a few months, on her 16th birthday, she will have to choose the good of evil side of casting. It’s bad enough that Casters cannot fall in love with mortals, but it is Ethan who is the lynch pin in her choice.

Cue the supporting players.

On one side we have those who would have Lena choose the dark side: Serafine (Emma Thompson having a hoot of a time between playing a God-Fearing church mom and the powerful dark Caster trying to add Lena to her little group of evil-doers); and Ridley (Emmy Rossum), Lena’s cousin who chose the dark path on her Sweet 16 and has been leaving a trail of dead male admirers ever since, and she has her eye on Ethan.

On the other side we have the good guys: Mason Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons, stealing scenes and sinking himself into the pivotal role in the storyline), the family patriarch who wants to keep Lena away from the dark side, and Amma (Viola Davis), a Seer who communicates with the dead and has a secret connection to the casters; she also takes care of Ethan as his father who is mentioned quite a bit never seems to be around or seen throughout the movie.

The special effects are minimal, with good cause. This is not a movie focused on impressing the audience with its CGI budget; the effects are modestly worked around crucial scenes and thereby enhance the storyline. One scene, for example, has Lena and Ethan having an argument which explodes into a passionate kiss against the Gatlin sign on the road out of town; the sign bursts into flame as they kiss. In another scene, Ridley seduces Link (Thomas Mann, recently in Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters) in an alleyway under a spotlight where she is filmed as a black and white femme fatale—dressed like Jessica Rabbit; as they make out, the film switches back to color. Or just a simple spell to make it snow in a very poignant moment. The story always came first and there were no superfluous effects just for show. An impressive feat for a film budgeted at 60 million bucks.

Ethan though is the glue that holds this film together. His charisma and witty charm disarm the troubled Lena who falls in love with the lad even as she knows she may very well be dooming him. The actor Alden Ehrenreich reminded me of Leonardo Dicaprio’s evil twin brother by way of the Great Gatsby (whom Dicaprio is playing in the 3D film). Initially, I was a little put off by the voice-over narration by Ethan, but we soon learn that he is the focus of the movie and he sustains it against a superb supporting cast. Damn if we don’t root for him to make it to New York. But first we must see how his own family, especially his dead mother, fit into the whole Ravenwood curse.

Those filmgoers expecting a copycat version of Twilight, only with witches instead of vampires and werewolves, are in for a disappointment. Beautiful Creatures is a character driven story, and the love story has twists and turns that keep the viewer off-balance, at once in laugher, and the next in tears. And no stinkin’ special effects was going to ruin that story, only underline it. The final scene with Ethan yelling is an instant classic.

Grade: A


Warm Bodies postulates the question: Can love bring the dead back to live? The answer is yes. But first let’s talk a little about these dead. There seems to be degrees of decomposition and mental faculties. On one side of the spectrum there are the rambling corpses who feed on the living (we also learn why they like brains so much, and it ties nicely to the overall plot) but who communicate via grunts and one-word sentences; on the other side there are the “bonies”, skeletal black creatures presumably the ultimately rotted corpse without flesh and without conversation.

Which brings us to our love birds.

R (Nicolas Hoult), so called because he only remembers his name starts with R, rescues Julie (Teresa Palmer) from his fellow zombies in the one and only flesh-eating scene in the movie. After munching on Julie’s boyfriend, R whisks Julie off to his pad, an abandoned airliner, where R lives like Wall-E, hoarding curios he has picked up from his raids and massacres around the city. The longer he spends with Julie, the more human he becomes: his heart begins to beat again, and his facial blemishes and scars begin to heal. Even his fellow zombies begin to feel that certain something when they see R holding hands with Julie rather than eating those dainty digits.

Julie goes home to a town reminiscent of The Walking Dead’s Woodbury on steroids. This place is protected by a small army led by Grigio (John Malkovich), Julie’s dad, who’s been killing zombies ever since he lost his wife to the “disease” of death. R is heart-broken and he, too, returns home to encounter his friend M (Rob Corddry, who has all the best lines and acts like it) who has gathered a huge following of zombies who are also undergoing a similar change in the beating heart department.

M tell R that the bonies are looking for him and Julie because they want to stop this newfound “life” that the undead are experiencing. R must find Julie and warn her. The bonies are headed for Julie’s home. Grigio hears of the zombies and bonies (he refers to them as skeletons) heading his way and prepares his inadequate army for a final stand.

So, the final battle between the bonies, humans, and zombies should have been quite spectacular. Maybe they didn’t have the budget for it, but it was above average. After all, the movie was really about R and Julie, right? Maybe not. When the story turns to what makes a person alive and where is the threshold, the line back into the living after being a corpse, the movie gets damn interesting. When the zombies start sleeping and dreaming, we want to see more of the psychological side of their change as well as the physical. But maybe they didn’t have the budget for it.

Strangely, the movie has a clear-cut ending. No sequel bait here, although a good (or bad) screenplay writer could whip up something, I’m sure. But Warm Bodies as a stand-alone gets high marks for delving into territory I’ve not seen before in books or movies. A few hiccups here and there: a few zombies increase their vocabulary quite quickly as they change back to life, but the rest remain tongue-tied—probably due to budgetary constraints; and the bonies are never explained (my assumptions above are my own). But no biggies. Warm Bodies delivers an interesting point of view quite unique for this genre. It is touching, funny, and believe or not, quite philosophical.

Grade: B+

Monday, February 11, 2013

Serpent Girl by Ray Garton
Reviewed by Anthony Servante

The Summary:

"Steven Benedetti's work has him traveling the country, and driving dark, lonely highways.

But tonight, he passes a carnival and decides to stop - for a break, to be around others... just for something different.

At this carnival, Steven Benedetti meets the Serpent Girl, a woman who stirs him like no other woman has, a woman who, like Benedetti, has a secret.

They hit the night roads together and begin a journey that will change Steven Benedetti forever."

Ray Garton

Author bio:

Ray Garton (born 2 December 1962 in Redding, California) is an American author, well known for his work in horror fiction. He has written over sixty books, and in 2006 was presented with the World Horror Convention Grand Master Award.

The Review:

I always look forward to reading a Ray Garton book. He knows Southern California, and this background works well with his Noir novels. From the desert to Laurel Canyon, the story moves along swiftly as the characters are developed and the plotline thickens.

Carmen, the femme fatale, is brilliantly realized. Hardcore and hardboiled. Steven Benedetti, a retired hitman, just may have met his match, in bed and in blood. Steve stops at a carnival stop to try to recapture his childhood memories, but the rides are rundown and shoddy, the first disappointment that he picks up from the carnival. The next thing he picks up is the beautiful Carmen, a snake dancer who has a violent argument with Lenny, her boss and ex-boyfriend. As Steve escorts Carmen to his car, Lenny warns him that he’ll regret his decision to help the seemingly helpless girl. This warning constitutes the climax of the book.

On the road to Los Angeles, Carmen and Steve play a game of cat and mouse as they both have secrets that will soon be revealed in the first act of the story. Trouble is, who’s the cat and who’s the mouse? When we learn their secrets, the second act begins. Steve and Carmen have sex everywhere and anytime and intensely. Thanks to the use of condoms, the book avoids an X rating. The book in fact can be rated R. The secret for both our lovers is that they are killers, but two very different kinds of killer. This difference leads to the conclusion of act two.

Act three is all about revelations and horror. That difference distinguishes sane killing from insane. Then all the metaphors and symbolism emerge to signal to the reader that all hell is about to break loose. Keep in mind that Carmen is the Serpent (as in the Garden of Eden) and Benedetti means “blessed” in many languages. The climax takes place in the Devil’s Playground, a lush spot in the desert, and Carmen sings along to Highway to Hell by AC/DC as they drive there. But symbols aside, that inevitable conclusion was forthcoming since the first time Steve felt that first red flag waving in his head. All that sex they had had different meanings for both of them. Try to keep your lunch down when you learn of that difference.

The story reminded me of the movie Detour (1945), which had a similar femme fatale. Only in 1945, there was only so much the censors would allow. Ray Garton has brought the Crime Novel to modern times with an uncensored vengeance. Serpent Girl is a Noir Classic for the new Millennium.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

In commemoration of
February 10th, 1906 - July 12th, 1973.

Reprinted from The Black Glove March 4, 2012

The Tradition of Terror
An Interview with Ron Chaney, Jr.
Heir to the Phantom of the Opera and the Wolf Man
By Anthony Servante

Ron Chaney
Great-grandson of Lon Chaney, Grandson of Lon Chaney, Jr.

CEO/President of Chaney Entertainment, Inc.

Anthony Servante: Hello, Readers. The Black Glove would like to welcome Ron Chaney, Jr. to our online magazine. Good evening, Mr. Chaney. It’s a pleasure to make your acquaintance.
Ron: Thank you for having me.

Anthony: Just to warm up: Which is your favorite monster from yesteryear and from today?
Ron: I may be a little bias but I’d have to say the Wolf Man. It is and always will be my favorite. After all, I am one.

Anthony: Who was the strongest monster: the Frankenstein monster, Dracula, or the Wolf Man (notice I left out the Mummy—anyone can beat up the Mummy)?
Ron: I’d have to say, Frankenstein was the strongest, the Wolf Man was the quickest and Dracula the most cunning.

Anthony: Could the Wolf Man beat up the Alien creature, you know, Ridley Scott’s monster?
Ron: Of course! He’d severe his neck and rip his lungs out if he had any!

Anthony: Enough warm up: Can you tell us about yourself?
Ron: I’m a contractor by day and monster by night…but of course, only when the moon’s full and bright.

Anthony: What kind of childhood did you have with such a famous surname?
Ron: Most of my friends were unaware of the relation. It didn’t seem to help when I got in trouble, but as I got older more people started putting the connection together.

Anthony: So, when was it that you decided to carry on the legacy of your family name?
Ron: I’ve always had an interest in following in their footsteps but the genesis came prior to my grandmothers passing. My brother Gary and I were moving our grandmother and found some old boxes that belonged to my grandfather. It was the early framework for a book titled, “A Century of Chaneys.” I remember him working on it when we would visit. I knew from that moment it was my time to pursue the family business. How…was my biggest question and the mission. I’ve managed to be involved in several successful campaigns bringing attention to the Chaneys but the ultimate goal is to create new Chaney films for the next generation.

Anthony: What are some of your favorite memories of growing up a Chaney?
Ron: Spending time with my grandfather hearing various stories from his life, playing cards and games with him. He was also an excellent cook.

Anthony: Your great-grandfather is an icon of Horror movies; what can you tell us about him? And how did he change the face of Horror, so to speak?
Ron: Lon was a very private man totally dedicated to his craft, the art of acting, make-up and pantomime. He utilized these abilities by creating characters that scared folks but also evoked sympathy. These early characterizations in film forever influenced the Horror genre; many still look to the master today!

Anthony: Your grandfather also appeared in some comedies, poking fun of his iconic roles in horror. What did you think of this side of his career? (I loved him in My Favorite Brunette with Bob Hope).
Ron: He had a comedic side to him and a great sense of humor. He was a gamer and a pro.

Anthony: Where do you fit in the Chaney legacy? How do you want Hollywood history to remember you?
Ron: Well, hopefully the final Chaney script hasn’t been written yet and that I did my best to preserve and perpetuate the family legacy while discovering my own creativity in the process.

Anthony: Let’s talk Horror. How do you feel about the genre? When I spoke with Sara Karloff, she informed us that she was no fan of the gory movies of today. What’s your take on the subject?
Ron: There are a lot of scary movies out, in some way to real, I prefer a good story over excessive gore.
Anthony: Speaking of Sara Karloff: You and she are part of the group known as “The Monster Kids”; can you give us some background on the nickname and who comprises the group?
Ron: Don’t know too much about that but it’s cool! James Michael Roddy ( is the person’s whose project it is. We’ve also been called children of the night. Not sure how that looks on a resume.

Anthony: Picking up where we left off on the Horror theme: Are there any Horror movies you like? [If not, What movies do you like?]
Ron: I’m all over the map on films. I like all genres old and new but tend to like action films. The projects I’ve developed or worked on usually have a horror/action angle. It’s obviously in the blood.

Anthony: With all the trends in horror today, Monster Lit (e.g., Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter) and Zombie Apocalypse, to name a few, what do you think your grandfather and great-grandfather would have thought of them compared to horror in their day?
Ron: Don’t quite get that one. He was one of our greatest presidents. Times certainly have changed but in regard to my grandfathers, I’m sure they would embrace the new technology, adapt and do their best to elevate the film in some capacity. 

Ron Chaney

Lon Chaney, Jr.

Anthony: How do you like going to the conventions honoring the legacy your surname represents?
Ron: I get to hear many wonderful stories and fond memories from the fans, and the impact my grandfathers have had on so many. I’ve also met some of the most wonderful people but I generally only attend one or two a year.

Anthony: What’s the next convention for you?
Ron: Monsterpalooza, April 12th-14th in Burbank, CA. My daughters and I enjoy the show every year and they have some amazing and talented artists that attend. So many wonderful exhibits are on display and it’s a great way for us, “Monsterkids,” to get together.

Anthony: Website/facebook?
Ron: Please visit us at or on Facebook (search Ron Chaney).

Anthony: An amazing story. And an amazing family. From The Black Glove and its readers, thank you for your time. It’s been a real pleasure.
Ron: Thank you.

We have been visiting with Ron Chaney, Jr. Thank you, Readers, for joining us today.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Parker (2013) starring Jeremy Statham, Jennifer Lopez, Michael Chiklis, Bobby Cannavale, and Nick Nolte.
Reviewed by Anthony Servante

Summary: A thief with a unique code of professional ethics is double-crossed by his crew and left for dead. Assuming a new disguise and forming an unlikely alliance with a woman on the inside, he looks to hijack the score of the crew's latest heist.

Parker needed a lead actor with a stronger presence. Jason Statham makes a great action hero, and he held his own as an actor in The Bank Job (2008), but Parker could have used someone more weather-worn by time (Sean Bean perhaps) to pull off the hard-boiled character. And Jennifer Lopez brought the movie down a notch. Every noir flick needs its vixen, but JLo was not it. The story was well-plotted but long-winded, which was ok, as there were many interesting supporting characters. Only they didn't stick around long enough for us to get to know. The "mob" presence was discussed at length but aside from the hit-man, there was no Chicago ties evident, so there was no sense of impending danger.  Michael Chiklis was wasted, but when he was on the screen, he was menacing. Bobby Cannavale, who was so good in the third season of Boardwalk Empire, plays a cop who has a crush on JLo; his character disappears when a police presence could have added some oomph to the plot. The gore was quite creative, especially that knife scene with the hit-man, but the director went with more shots of JLo butt than bad-guy blood. I hope this weak attempt to put Parker back on the screen does not prevent the franchise from continuing. Parker is the type of character that fans would love to see again. Grade: B-