Friday, February 26, 2016



The Boy (2016) 
Reviewed by Anthony Servante




Director: William Brent Bell
Screenplay: Stacey Menear
Stars: Lauren Cohan (The Walking Dead) and Rupert Evans

Summary: A young American named Greta (Lauren Cohan) takes a job as a nanny for an 8-year-old boy in a remote English village. To her surprise, Greta learns that the child of her new employers is a life-size doll. They care for the doll as if it was human, which helps the couple to cope with the death of their own son 20 years earlier. When Greta violates a list of strict rules, a series of disturbing and inexplicable events bring her worst fears to life, leading her to believe that the doll is alive.

The Review: Thanks to the Gothic screenplay by Stacey Menear, The Boy strides the thin thread between Horror and the Supernatural with the finesse of a high wire act aerialist. Greta, played by Lauren Cohan of The Walking Dead, is hired by Mr. and Mrs. Heelshire, an older couple who require a nanny for their "son", who it turns out is a porcelain doll. A very eerie figure throughout the movie. Greta is provided with a list of specific instructions for taking for Brahms, the name of the boy. After the couple leaves, Greta does not take the list seriously and takes to drinking wine and reading magazines. 




Until the strange voices begin at night and the porcelain doll begins to appear in different places throughout the house. 

The grocery delivery man, Malcolm, who is smitten with Greta, tells her a bit about the boy each time he drops off groceries. Initially we learn that the boy was "odd" and died in a fire at the age of eight, twenty years ago. The doll appeared after the boy's death and the Heelshires treated the doll like their son all this time. However, over the past year, they've begun trying to hire nannies unsuccessfully to care for Brahms. It is only when Brahms "wants" Greta, Mrs. Heelshire informs her, that they can finally take a long needed vacation. And as Greta learns more about the doll and the real Brahms, she begins to take the strange occurrences in the house more seriously. She begins to follow the list of instructions more closely as she believes that the doll is alive. It doesn't help matters that her requests to the doll get fulfilled.




Meanwhile, we also learn that Greta has moved to England to avoid an abusive ex-boyfriend who is following her. And as her romance buds with Malcolm, the doll's actions (which all appear off-screen) become more threatening. The final act of the story is a collision between Greta, her ex, Malcolm, and, of course, Brahms. 

No spoilers here. What I can tell you is that this is a classic Gothic story. Big scary mansion. Spooky doll. Dark corridors. Could have used a couple of storms, but that may have been overkill. As it is, it is quite effective in getting to that satisfying ending. You may or may not see it coming, depending on how well you know the Gothic form. If you don't, you should have a great time. If you do, you can watch the traditional form of suspense and danger unfold before you in three tight acts. I can't wait to see what Stacey Menear comes up with next. All I suggest, move on to something a bit more horrific and say no to The Boy Part II.  


Sunday, February 21, 2016

Fright Mare--Women Write Horror (2016),
Edited by Billie Sue Mosiman



Reviewed by Anthony Servante


Review:


In the Romantic Era, the literature often associated with women were Gothic novels, thanks in part to authors Ann Radcliffe (1764-1823) and Mary Shelley (1797-1851). Although the genre was created by a male writer, Horace Walpole (1717-1793), women introduced elements of the supernatural to the gothic tale. The undead, ghosts, demons, necromancy, witchcraft and the dark arts, and even satire are some such elements introduced by women writers of this period. In "Northanger Abbey", Jane Austen mocks the trappings of the traditional "male" gothic by placing her heroine "Catherine" in the mundane setting of the Abbey where danger and intrigue are expected but nothing transpires. Imagine a Gozilla movie without a giant monster. Austen gave us the first gothic tale without any gothic elements. Women could always be counted on to add layers to traditional literature. 

It is always a thrill to read what new takes women will devise for the genre of Horror. Which brings us to FRIGHT MARE--WOMEN WRITE HORROR (2016), Edited by Billie Sue Mosiman. 

Fright-Mare is an anthology of horror stories written by women, and as much as I'd love to say these women writers bring something new to the genre, just as the Romantic women helped the Gothic novel to evolve, that isn't the case here. What has been accomplished here in this anthology compiled by Billie Sue Mosiman is that these horror stories hold up on merit alone. It is not a case of a gender specific story base. These are not "women stories"; they are primal examples of terror, subtle horror, and base fears--elements not uncommon to any good tale in this male-dominated field. As such, that makes these stories all the more noteworthy. We are not here to say these stories compare favorably to male-written stories of horror. Not at all. We are here to say that this anthology does not need comparison between genders. Fright Mare stands above comparisons. It is simply a frightening selection of stories that will scare you on so many levels that you'll wish you had chosen a less threatening male-written horror anthology.

In her introduction to the book, Billie Sue writes, "I hope you enjoy these works and spend a few hours in reading pleasure. That’s what all writing is about anyway. Not who wrote it. Not the gender of the author. It’s the story. It always was and always will be." No one ever says that a woman wrote "Frankenstein". Fans merely point out that it is a great book. That is what we have here--a great book. And Ms. Mosiman has accomplished exactly what she set out to do with this anthology. She captured the Horror, and it is indeed sublime. 


The Authors and Their Stories:

Contance Craving - Raven Dane
The Goblin Box - Hillary Lyon
Tintype - Elizabeth Massie
The Whole of the Wideness of Night - Nina Kiriki Hoffman
Snow Angel - Amy Grech
Secrets of the Sargasso - Morgan Griffith
The Ouroboros Bite - Marie Victoria Robertson
Here I Lie - Lorraine Versini
Sakura Time - Loren Rhoads
Promises, Bliss, and Lies - Rose Blackthorn
Backslide - K. L. Nappier
City Girl - Kathryn Ptacek
What Storms Bring - KC Grifant
Pegasus - Mara Buck
Third Time’s a Charm - Tonia Brown
Ballerina - Sarah Doebereiner
One Hour Before the Dark - Mary Ann Peden-Coviello
Dead Messengers - Lucy Taylor
Sin - C.W. LaSart
Sense Deprived - Kristal Stittle

Editor: Billie Sue Mosiman


****************************

New from Autumn Christian



Book Description:

New on Fungasm Press.
"The gene-splice baby of Philip K. Dick and Poppy Z. Brite." -- John Skipp, from his introduction.

WARNING: THIS BOOK IS A PSYCHOACTIVE SUBSTANCE.

From the moment you start to turn the pages, it will soak into your central nervous system, subtly and subversively reprogramming you at the DNA level. Each of these ten stories is engineered to disrupt a different psychic threshold. Pierce the layers between dimensions. Unleashing visions, demons and demiurges of the deepest collective unconscious, both beautiful and terrible.

From deeply haunted Southern gothic strangeness to interplanetary quests of illuminating doom and profound cosmic transformation, Ecstatic Inferno is a heroic dose of hallucinatory modern speculative fiction, uncut and unforgettable.

So taste the brain of Autumn Christian, where every line of idea-drenched, intoxicating prose bleeds with razored wit and revelations so sharp they poke holes in the night. Side effects may include: flashbacks, unshakeable awe and terror, the sense that your reality will never be the same.

ENJOY YOUR TRIP!


Biography: 

Autumn Christian is a fiction writer who lives in the dark woods with poisonous blue flowers in her backyard and a black deer skull on her wall. She is waiting for the day when she hits her head on the cabinet searching for the popcorn bowl and all consensus reality dissolves.

She's been a freelance writer, a game designer, a cheese producer, a haunted house actor, and a video game tester. She considers Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury, Katie Jane Garside, the southern gothic, and dubstep, as main sources of inspiration.




Monday, February 1, 2016

American Nocturne
by Hank Schwaeble

Reviewed by Anthony Servante







Biography:
Hank Schwaeble is a thriller writer and attorney in Houston, Texas. His debut novel, DAMNABLE (Berkley/Jove 2009) won the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel. 

A graduate of the University of Florida and Vanderbilt Law School, Hank is also a former Air Force officer and special agent for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. He was a distinguished graduate from the Air Force Special Investigations Academy, graduated first in his class from the Defense Language Institute's Japanese Language Course, and was an editor of the law review at Vanderbilt where he won four American Jurisprudence Awards.

Hank is an active member of the Horror Writers Association and the International Thriller Writers Association. In addition to reading and writing, Hank enjoys keeping in shape and playing guitar. He is currently working on his next novel.



Summary:
American Nocturne is a tour de force of dark fantasy from two-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author Hank Schwaeble, a collection of original, first-time stories of horror and noir alongside a select number of his published short fiction combined in what Edgar Award-winner Robert Jackson Bennett describes as "a hardboiled journey into the spectral nightscape at the edges of Americana."
A merging of Sin City and LA Confidential, with a touch of Twilight Zone for added spice, American Nocturne includes what could be the LAST authorised Carl Kolchak/Night Stalker novella.
Featuring a rousing Introduction by NY Times best-selling author Jonathan Maberry, AMERICAN NOCTURNE is a feast for the imagination, a smorgasbord of stories for those who like their thrills dark and dangerous. 



Review:
American Nocturne (AN) is a masterpiece of the Grotesque with a capital G. Hank Schwaeble draws the Grotesque from his exploration of religion and the thin veil separating heaven from hell. Evil has its roots in demonic influences, while good manifests itself as the opponent which staves this influence. Here are the roots for Hank's Jake Hatcher series (DAMNABLE, DIABOLICAL, et al), the beginnings of his creativity with hellish creatures and earthly evils that we see more fully realized in his novels. Which makes the short stories all the more fascinating to read.

Note: Beauty and Horror combined as such formulate the Grotesque in Romantic Period works of Gothic, Supernatural, and Horror fiction. 

In the tradition of E.T.A Hoffmann (the fatalism of THE SANDMAN), Ludwig Tieck (the "unresolved ambiguities" of DER BLONDE ECKBERT), and Samuel Taylor Coleridege (the narrative structure of RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER), Romantic Era writers of Horror, Hank Schwaeble "suspends a disbelief" of horror, that is, he invites the reader to enter his dark world of horrors and terrors with a friendly nod to the conventions of classic literature. He does this by using a narrative that is sympathetic for the reader. In other words, the reader accepts the fantastic elements that Hank provides in his wicked stories without question or doubt. He combines fatalism, ambiguity, and narrative drive to propel the storylines. Whether it's a "bogey" (a demon) or a monster slouching eastward, AN's veritas can be found in the unification of the beauty and horror (or good and evil) forming each story. 

Without treading "spoiler" territory, I'll simply say that these unified conflicts provide the impetus for many of the stories, if not all (depending on your interpretation of "evil"). For our argument here, evil can be viewed as the corruption of good intentions, for our stories do not always allow for a clear definition of goodness. It is this very ambiguity, especially with the O'Henryian endings, that seals the union of good and evil as one, thus creating that Grotesque element born of the two in conflict. The reader internalizes the conflict, thus forming the "sympathetic correlative", the pleasure of rooting for the bad guy, in a sense. Each story provides a narrator or protagonist who is more anti-hero than hero, thus making the "victim" the victor, the character or creature we root for ultimately. Therein lies the fatalism of the "hero" that advances the tales. That's half the fun of these stories. They play us and our expectations of the foreshadows that are merely tricks of the eye.   

Impressive, too, is how Schwaeble utilizes a diction that is built for such supernatural thrillers. In each story, he controls the pace of each narrative with rapid-fire images that drive the story in unexpected directions. That union of good and evil is drawn out in twists and turns in the stories. The reader cannot predict just where the story is leading. The tales are pleasingly structured for maximum surprises like O'Henry's tales on steroids. Each story contains layers of action and conflict that are peeled away with mounting suspense. The readers are constantly having their breath taken away.

AMERICAN NOCTURNE meets the requisites for a short story collection of Grotesque Romanticism in the tradition of the German and English writers of Horror and Supernatural classics. They incorporate fatalistic tendencies of the hero, ambiguity between good and evil, and a narrative structure hell-bent on leading you astray. Whether you're a Jake Hatcher fan or a new arrival to the Bram Stoker Award writer's works, this collection is an excellent place to acquaint yourself with the nocturnal beginnings of the Hank Schwaeble Grotesque. You will be glad you suspended your disbelief for a visit to the dark side of literature and entered the pages of a whole new world of Noir Horror.