Autodidact: self-taught

Apr
01
2014

Back into the Swing of the Pendulum

by V. L. Craven

Back into the Swing of the Pendulum

Get it? A Pit and the Pendulum reference. I’m witty. I’m also apologising for being so remiss in posting.

This winter, which, with any luck, may possibly end at some point in the next six months, has been a difficult one for a variety of reasons.

Back into the Swing of the Pendulum

Seriously. Look, I live someplace warm to avoid this nonsense.

Anhedonia , about which I’ve written before, and other personal events have got in the way of (or even feeling like) writing much of anything. Or really doing much of anything other than play Legend of the Cryptids and 2048.

And faff about on Tumblr. My site there is called Bookish and Macabre , where I post book-related or spooky or Gothic sorts of things.

Back into the Swing of the Pendulum

Or, sometimes, a combination of those.

There’s also the occasional Sherlock, Hannibal or Harry Potter gif. And soon I’ll be posting book and film reviews that don’t necessarily fit with the theme of this blog. I’ll still be posting here, though, as well.

It may take me a bit to get completely back into things, but here goes.

And when I came in to write this post, I was greeted by this:

Back into the Swing of the Pendulum

Which was immensely cheering, I can tell you.

See you on Thursday with a comparative film review of 30 Days of Night and Let the Right One In.

Mar
06
2014

A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss

by V. L. Craven

A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss

In 2010, Mark Gatiss ( Crooked House , League of Gentlemen, that show about Sherlock Holmes with that Cumberfellow) did a three-part series for the BBC about the history of horror in the cinema.

The first episode (Frankenstein Goes to Hollywood) starts with the Phantom of the Opera and is a paean to Lon Chaney, Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff and other pioneers in horror cinema. Gatiss travels to Hollywood to see Chaney’s make up kit and visit locations and people involved in early horror films like Dracula, which was the first horror film with sound. And Frankenstein, where he visits both the sound stage village and the lake where the monster met the little girl. One of the people he talks with is Barbara Steele, who appears in other episodes of the series.

The episode also covers quite a few early horror films that haven’t garnered as much attention, though deserved more than they received. There’s also a bit about the classic Freaks, which disturbed young Mark.

A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss

The Count looks a bit unsettled, as well.

The second episode (Home Counties Horror) begins with the Hammer films, which were filmed in Britain. We’re onto the colour era of films, which made blood—which they actually showed—that much more terrifying. The first colour horror film made in Britain was The Curse of Frankenstein and starred Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. Then we get on to the Hammer version of Dracula, where Lee takes over the Lugosi role.

There’s also discussion about the prudishness of the British film board that asked for cuts to avoid sexually suggestive material. This episode also has a fantastic story from Gatiss’ childhood as a young horror-lover whose weekly compositions where about such delight subjects as decapitations. There’s also a touching ode to Peter Cushing.

This one covers the Corman films based on Poe stories, as well, which are sort of the U.S. versions of Hammer films. Gatiss talks with Corman and talks about Vincent Price as a centrepiece of those.

The second episode  goes from the Gothic era to the English country sort of horror like the Wicker Man and Witchfinder General.

A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss

imagine opening a cupboard and seeing that. Gah.

The third episode (The American Scream) concerns the revival of horror, which takes place back in the States, beginning with The Night of the Living Dead. Gatiss interviews George Romeo and Tobe Hooper. Hooper, of course, directed Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Once those independent films began making money, big production companies began making films. Including Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist. And the first horror blockbuster, The Omen, which was a sort of U.S./U.K. combination film being written by an American, but starring many English actors and being filmed primarily in England.

Gatiss also visits lesser-known films like Romero’s Martin about a teen boy who may be a vampire or may just not be able to talk to women with any aplomb. Cronenberg and his love of body-horror is then discussed. Then back to Romero and Dawn of the Dead.

The final section is on slasher films, which was properly ushered in by Halloween. Gatiss sits down John Carpenter about his inspiration and philosophy of filmmaking. Then our intrepid host carries on about where horror is going.

A History of Horror with Mark Gatiss

Terrifying, terrifying places.

Gatiss is clearly an enormous horror fan—at the start he admits that the films he chooses to highlight are his personal favourites. There’s a great love for the works and humour throughout. And bits and bobs of trivia—prior to playing Frankenstein’s monster, Karloff had been in eighty films, yet he was still virtually unknown for example–keep the viewer interested.

This is an excellent introduction to horror for people curious about the origins of the once again popular genre. It’s also sure to please devoted fans, who will no doubt find a friend in the engaging Gatiss. Tomorrow I’ll be reviewing a book entitled British Gothic Cinema, which will appeal to a similar audience. So be sure to check back in for that.

[Update: the British Gothic Cinema review will be next Friday]

Feb
27
2014

Seven Psychopaths

by V. L. Craven

Seven Psychopaths

 

Hans (Christopher Walken) and his associate, Billy, (Sam Rockwell) ‘borrow’ dogs and give them back to their grateful owners after they’ve posted lost dog posters with rewards offered.

Marty McDonagh (Colin Farrell) is a writer working on a screenplay called Seven Psychopaths . The problem being that he only has an idea for one psychopath and that one is a Buddhist who doesn’t like violence. With the help of his good friend Rockwell he changes the idea to include, you know, seven actual psychopaths.

Farrell still has the problem of only coming up with other psychopaths, though. His buddy has a plan–he’s the sort of person who always has a plan. These people are really best to be avoided.

That would make for a boring film, though, so through his friend’s rather questionable methods, Marty meets psychopath no. 6, Tom Waits, who is just as spectacular as you’d expect.

Then psychopath no. 7 (Woody Harrelson) loses his beloved Shih Tzu, Bonny, to psychopath no. 3. It’s never a good idea to take the sweet doggy of a lunatic with a penchant for guns and henchman like Kevin Corrigan and Zeljko Ivanek.

Meanwhile, someone is killing criminals and leaving playing cards in his wake. Dun dun DUN.

From the first scene you’re drawn into this dark, twisted comedy (the best kind). The dialogue is sharp and witty (the real Martin McDonagh deserves a slow clap), the plot genuinely surprising with layers that will give the viewer something to think on days afterward. This is the kind of film you quote with your friends and watch when you need cheering up. Highly recommended. 

Feb
21
2014

Immortal Memories by Michael Hibbard

by V. L. Craven

Immortal Memories by Michael Hibbard

Immortal Memories is a collection of short stories set in the Waking Dream universe, meant to be read after the first book in the series, Devlin, which I reviewed last year . I also had the opportunity to interview the author, Michael Hibbard .

Because the main characters in Devlin can time travel, the stories in Immortal Memories take place in different time periods, and tend to also have their own atmosphere, which is a testament to Hibbard’s agility with language.

A couple stories are set in Devlin, Virginia, though in 1958 and 2012, but the others are in places as diverse as Bavaria, New Orleans and Baltimore. Each story has its own feel and there isn’t a weak one in the bunch but my personal favourites are:

The Black Heart in Madness: [Bavaria, 1886] Taking place in and around Neuschwanstein Castle , and featuring Ludwig II, this one concerns the mysterious Black Heart. The description in this one was excellent. There was a coldness that was appropriate to the location.

The Fairy in Red: [New Orleans, Louisiana, 1919] As cold as the previous story felt, this one felt hot and sticky, which was fitting, as it was set in New Orleans. The style put me in mind of Fitzgerald–very Jazz Age–and was about a writer who’d caught a glimpse of a dancer once and he only wanted to dance with her again. He gets his wish, but it goes a bit differently than he expects.

What Rough Beast: [Richmond, Virginia, 1995] Anne Rice-esque BDSM erotica, where we meet a character who reminded me of Patrick Bateman, who plays host to an entity that allows him to have everything he most desires. An the entity asks very little in return. Just a little sin eating here and there. You don’t want to know how he gets the sin. Or you probably do.

The Charnel House: [Morgantown, Pennsylvania, October, 2010] This one will please Lovecraft fans. You know those horror films where some teens go into an old house and everyone’s shouting at the screen, ‘Don’t go in there, you tits!’ Well, an axe murderer would have been a blessing compared to what they actually come up against.

Immortal Memories by Michael Hibbard

Don’t you just want 14?

Blood Dolls: [Devlin, Virginia, 2012] Little voodoo-type dolls given special powers in order to do their maker’s bidding. The ritual involved here was particularly interesting and it made me want a bunch of little dolls scrambling around on my behalf.

The Place of the Sisters: [Devlin, Virginia, 1958] This reminded me of the ghost stories I used to love to read as a child that would make me frightened to be alone in the house–it gave that sort of delicious thrill of fear.

All of the stories are well-written and expand on what we knew from Devlin. They explain a bit about many characters and subplots that make the reader want to know more about the Waking Dream universe. This was definitely an enjoyable read and primes the reader for the next novel in the series The Unkindness.

Feb
20
2014

Some Guy Who Kills People

by V. L. Craven

Some Guy Who Kills People

Ken Boyd (Kevin Corrigan) has recently been released from a mental hospital and his best friend has helped him get a job at an ice cream parlour. One by one, Ken’s enemies–the one’s who tortured him when he was younger are suddenly being knocked off in gruesome ways.

The sheriff (Barry Bostwick) is dating Ken’s mother and, as goofy as he is, isn’t a complete doofus, and begins to suspect Ken of the murders.

During all of this, Ken’s eleven-year-old daughter (Ariel Gade) from a one-week fling shows up and moves in, hoping to get to know her father. And a new woman, Stephanie (Lucy Davis) shows an interest. Perhaps Ken’s life is getting back on track.

So it would be something of a shame if he was  Some Guy Who Kills People . On the other hand… bitches gots to pay.

This was definitely a fun one. Well-written, well-acted, an all-round good time. John Landis was the executive producer and it shows–it’s a blend of horror and hilarity perfect for fans of Shaun of the Dead and Tucker & Dale vs Evil.

Feb
17
2014

An Interview with Gary Glass

by V. L. Craven
An Interview with Gary Glass

Gary Glass author of The Nirvana Plague

 

Last Friday I reviewed the excellent Nirvana Plague by Gary Glass and I’ve recently had the opportunity to ask him a few questions about his novel.

The novel takes place in 2027 and technology has progressed, as it does. How did you decide which way technology would go? For example, one character’s phone looks like a pen, whereas right now, the trend is for phones to be able to do to more and more, etc. Did you do any research or read any futurists?

Mostly I just imagined how I’d like things to go. For example, I’m sick of tapping with my fingers, but if part of my phone was shaped like a stylus then I could use it to write on a screen or a projected surface. Or again, sharing screens or information between systems: it ought to be easy, so I decided it would be.

Setting is really important–how did you settle on Chicago rather than, say, Boston or New York (or other East Coast cities, which was important to the plot)?

It was pretty cold-blooded actually. I wanted a big city that I was fairly familiar with. I grew up in Terre Haute, Indiana, and I’d been to Chicago many times. At the time I wrote the book I was living in northern Virginia but I couldn’t use DC because I wanted DC to be the place the protagonist goes away to because that’s where the NIH is. So, Chicago.

The book is psychiatry and psychology-heavy. I’m not a professional, but I’ve read a goodly amount about psychology/iatry, and a lot of it read believably. Do you have a background in those fields and if not, what sort of research did you do?

My wife has a masters in psychology, and it’s a field I’ve always been interested in. We’re the sort of people who own a copy of the DSM-IV! Also, many years ago I trained and worked as an RN, and did a psych rotation, which was one of my favorites. And, of course, I have had a life-long interest in spirituality and consciousness transformation.

The one thing that I felt I elided over for the purposes of plot is that psychological illness is very real and commonly has structural or chemical etiology, particularly when we’re talking about schizophrenia and psychosis. It’s not the sort of thing you can just get over with a change of heart, however profound. On the other hand, I wanted to talk about something that concerns me: the social and cultural aspects of mental illness. As Theodore Roszak said, it isn’t healthy to be well-adjusted to a sick-making society. To dramatize the latter point, I didn’t do justice to the former.

I liked the way you demonstrated that by showing the society that saw the ‘sick’ people as being angels. As being more enlightened. In our society we do tend to dismiss those who talk about oneness as being hippies or naive, but in other cultures it’s the height of awareness. What planted the seed of making Enlightenment a sort of, well, plague?

It has been said the most radical thing you can do in our culture is embrace joy. Political power feeds on fear. Suppose they gave a war and no one came? There’s a scene in Lost Horizon where Conway, who is about to become the new British Foreign Secretary, says he plans to disband the army: “Then when the enemy approaches we’ll say, ‘Come in, gentlemen – what can we do for you?’ So then the poor enemy soldiers will stop and think … to themselves – ‘Something’s wrong here. We’ve been duped. This is not according to form. These people seem to be quite friendly, and why should we shoot them?’” – If people were to embrace peace, love, and understanding as a regular way of life, wouldn’t it just knock the old world order on its ass? Wouldn’t it hit them like a plague? – You say want a revolution? You better change your mind instead!

Another thing you seem to have a great deal of understanding of (from a civilian point of view, at least) were the operations of the military and government operations in war zones and under a bio-threat. Do you have military experience? What percentage was research versus writer’s license?

I don’t really know anything about the military aside from what I see in the movies. Also an online acquaintance from Readerville and BookBalloon ( David Abrams , author of Fobbit) was kind enough to answer some technical questions for me (so I named a hospital in his honor). The rest was Google and imagination. Oh, and a Marine Corps field manual I picked up in a yard sale somewhere!

Your cover art is spectacular for a self-published book–or for any book, really–who did it and how did you find them?

Another online friend from Readerville and BookBalloon is a notorious graphic artist, so I approached him about doing a cover. He couldn’t take it on but he recommended another friend of his, the talented Mr. Jeremy Lehman , who put up with my endless niggling and dithering over the art. Jeremy has done two covers for me now, and they’ve both been completely unlike anything I had imagined, and they’ve both been terrific.

And finally–Do you have anything else in the works?

I’m currently working on a private detective tale, set in contemporary Boston, that takes a turn toward the surreal. Our hero, Christian McBride, is drawn into a dangerous game of cat and mouse between two apparently identical twins. I’m calling it “The Brothers Brown and Gray.”

Thank you so much for your time–I look forward to The Brothers Brown and Gray!

Thanks for reading it and telling your readers about it!

Feb
14
2014

The Nirvana Plague by Gary Glass

by V. L. Craven

The Nirvana Plague by Gary Glass

It’s 2027 and one of Dr Carl Marley’s most combative schizophrenic patients, Roger Sturgeon, has suddenly become remarkably peaceful. After being committed to a psychiatric hospital his symptoms seem to spread to other patients–no matter their previous psychological history. This is unprecedented and Marley publishes a paper on his findings. The result of which is a no-nonsense Colonel in his office, taking him to Bethesda posthaste where he learns the disease he thought he’d discovered has actually spread far and wide in U.S. troops.

The military wants this problem fixed, pronto, as soldiers overcome by feelings of oneness with the universe aren’t exactly keen to kill the enemy (what is an enemy, anyway?) and fly Marley and a task force to a war zone to meet several troops who’ve taken ill. To say things go badly would be an understatement and the illness begins to spread…somehow.

Marley and the task force are supposed to work out what it is and how it’s spreading, which is difficult enough with a new disease, but it’s hard to know if the government and the CDC are working for or against them with some of the decisions they take.

Meanwhile, Sturgeon’s and Marley’s wives are in the dark about where their husbands are. Once back in the States Marley’s allowed to make the occasional phone call and the women work out the two of them must be in Alaska. They set out on a road trip, but due to federally sanctioned quarantine, they have to take back roads to avoid detection. Then they get into a wreck near the Canadian border…

The Nirvana Plague has everything you could want in a suspense novel. The plot is inventive and fast-paced, the characters well-rounded. I highly recommend it and would absolutely give this book as a gift. Not just to people who enjoy action, but also simply well-written books.

You can get your copy here . Next Monday I’ll be interviewing the author, Gary Glass so be sure to check back then.

[I was given a copy of this to review but was under no obligation to give a positive review.]

Feb
13
2014

Threads

by V. L. Craven

Threads
In 1984, after rising tensions between the Americans and Soviets nuclear war breaks out.  Threads is a documentary-style film about the events leading up to the warheads, the chaos during, the nuclear winter and rebuilding efforts afterwards in Britain.

The plot initially revolves around a couple in Sheffield, Ruth and Jimmy, who have decided to marry after accidentally falling pregnant. It then expands to include the emergency operations staff, which has been sent down into a bunker.

The real story is about what would actually happen prior to and after a nuclear attack, should you survive. The writer (Barry Hines) clearly did his research–every step taken by the government before and after seems terrifyingly likely. The list of people consulted includes Carl Sagan, as well as loads of other very smart people so I’ve no doubt it’s as accurate as possible. Which makes this all the more terrifying.

If you’re looking for a horror film that has a very real basis in reality, then here you are. You may want to have something by Pixar in the sidelines for afters, though.

You can watch the entire film here  for free and I highly recommend it. It’s grim as hell, but thought-provoking. I’m glad I watched it, but will not be watching it again.

From the Wikipedia page:

[The director Mick] Jackson later recalled that unlike most BBC productions, which once finished airing would immediately result in phone calls of congratulations from friends or colleagues, no such calls came after the first screening of  Threads . Jackson later “realised… that people had just sat there thinking about it, in many cases not sleeping or being able to talk.”

Jan
02
2014

Skeleton, Inc.

by V. L. Craven

Skeleton, Inc.

Skeleton, Inc. was supposed to be a reality television series about the Villemarette family and their business, Skulls Unlimited International , but it was deemed too graphic and disturbing. Still, at least we get the pilot, in which they render a Barbary Lion from recently deceased carcass to a fully articulated skeleton. It’s pretty impressive. And not for the faint-of-heart or weak-of-stomach.

And if you think a fully-grown lion is scary, a skinned one looks like something Clive Barker wishes he could invent.

Skeleton, Inc.

See you in your nightmares.

In the show they don’t hold back–we see everything from the skinning process, where they remove the entire hide in one piece, to the disemboweling, the flensing (removal of muscle from bone), the boiling (the way you remove most flesh from bone) and Dermestid beetles  (the scavengers that will get whatever’s left after flensing and boiling). They also talk about the challenges of working with dead things in a place like Oklahoma, where the heat is trying to decompose your subjects as fast as possible. (If maggots bother you, be forewarned. Someone leaves something out in the heat and…it doesn’t go well.)

The only bit that got to me was the way the brains were removed, which involved a heavy-duty suction device and was not a pleasant thing to witness. As stomach-churning as that bit was, the machine was invented by the owner of Skulls Unlimited, Jay Villemarette, so I still had to admire the man’s ingenuity, you know, whilst holding down my lunch.

Skeleton, Inc.

Way to go, Jay! Now pass me a bucket.

The majority of the people featured were Villemarettes–there are three sons and then one daughter who works in the office with their mother. I was a little bummed out that the daughter wasn’t more into it, as it would have been fantastic if she’d been right up to her shoulder in lion entrails with her brothers, but perhaps that would have happened if the show had been picked up  for an entire series.

Also in the pilot episode the family had to repair a cracked Humpback Whale pectoral fin. They were clearly trying to inject some sense of urgency into the situation, which was a little awkward, but it was still interesting to watch people wrestle with something so massive.

There was only a little information on the actual company, but I would have been interested to learn more. There’s some info on the site, but it would have been cool to have a tour of the warehouse in the show, especially of all of the human skulls they have. They ship all over the world and have an incredible number of specimens, some one-of-a-kind, some educational reproductions of extinct species and all sorts of other things.

I highly recommend checking out the episode (I saw it on Netflix) and browsing around their site.

Dec
26
2013

Misery

by V. L. Craven

Misery

Christmas was a special kind of hell for me as a child. I was expected to socialise for extended periods of time with lots of loud people who wanted to hug me and be in my personal space. As a young, raging introvert , severely lacking in the ability to express my feelings, this was not something I relished. So in 1990, when I saw the teaser poster for Misery:

Misery

I laughed and thought, ‘ Every Christmas there will be misery.’ Then I bought the poster.

The film is based on a Stephen King novel of the same name . It’s about a writer. I wanted to be a writer so that captured my interest straightaway. It had a woman named Kathy Bates in it. I hadn’t heard of her before, but I thought someone with a last name like Bates was perfect to play a psychopath.

Misery

I mean, right?

So Annie Wilkes (Bates) is a delightfully balanced woman whose favourite writer, Paul Sheldon (James Caan), is in a car crash and she nurses him back to health and isn’t at all obsessive or terrifying.

Misery

I mean, is that the face of a pure sociopath? I ask you.

Yeah, no.

Actually, she finds him after the car crash because she was stalking him in the first place. Then, while she’s taking care of him–he has multiple broken bones in his legs and a broken arm so he’s not going anywhere–the final book in the Misery Chastain series is released. When she reads it and discovers he’s killed off her favourite character she’s rather…displeased. Considering that her mood swings wider than an articulated lorry the man was lucky to survive her initial reading. After forcing him to burn the novel he’s just finished (because it has too many swear words in it) she has him to write another book in the Misery series that she loves and that he absolutely despises.

So, there’s mental and physical torture. Just like my Christmases.  This film spoke to me on such a level, I can’t tell you.

Then there’s, you know, the scene.

Misery

And now, Ms Bates will demonstrate the key features of the latest in our line of sledgehammers.

Certain scenes stay with you forever. That’s one of them.

For those of you who haven’t seen the film–Bates does an interpretive dance with the sledgehammer and a four by four. It’s remarkably moving and entirely unforgettable. Bring a tear to your eye, it will.

From what I’ve heard about James Caan, there were probably more than a few people in Hollywood who would’ve liked to have swung that hammer themselves. You know, in interpretive dance.

There’s also a deleted scene where Annie kills a policeman by running over him repeatedly with a lawnmower, but it was cut, as Rob Reiner thought it would make people laugh. Apparently Bates was disappointed by the removal of that scene, and holy moly would I love to see it.

Anyway, this one wasn’t so much of a review as a One of My Fav Christmas Films and Here’s Why. But you should see it.

I know today is the day after Christmas– Boxing Day in Commonwealth countries (which has nothing to do with pugilism)–but if you’re sick to the back teeth of your relatives for one holiday season, then pop this one on and laugh and laugh and laugh.

And think of me when you do.

Dec
19
2013

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

by V. L. Craven

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

If you’re not a huge fan of Christmas films then  Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale  may be the sort of thing you can stand. It’s about the real Santa Claus, who was from Finland and was captured by angry villagers (he kept killing the naughty children because Old Saint Nick used to take the ‘naughty’ part of ‘naughty or nice’ hella serious.) Once captured he was frozen and buried in a mountain.

In the present day, some Americans come along and get him out to bring him back to the States because America. This goes about as well as you’d imagine.

Three reindeer hunters go after their source of income only to find something else has got to it first. One of the hunter’s sons, Pietari, knows what’s going on, but no one listens to him because he’s a kid and because adults. Once the bizarre occurrences begin piling up (all of the radiators have been stolen for one), Pietari’s father takes him more seriously. He’s the one who has to save Christmas, by dealing with the real Santa Claus. And the real Santa Claus don’t play.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Pictured: Not. Playing.

Based and filmed in breath-taking Korvatunturi  in Finland, the setting is a character in itself. And for good reason. From the Wikipedia page:

Korvatunturi is best known as the home of  Father Christmas  (or  Joulupukki  in Finnish). According to Finnish Folklore, this land is the location of Father Christmas’ secret workshop, where toys, trinkets and gifts are made and eventually wrapped by  gnomes . Known for their good natured demeanor and their role as guardians of homes, these gnomes are also responsible for analysing weather patterns for the yearly gift-giving trip around the world.People have also said that the ear-shaped structure of the fell allows Father Christmas to hear the wishes of every child on Earth.

For post to Father Christmas Korvatunturi has postal code  99999 Korvatunturi , even though all post sent to this address will actually be carried to  Santa Claus Village  at  Rovaniemi .

So there you are. Google Earth didn’t need to go through the trouble of inventing Santa’s workshop at the North Pole, because it’s actually in Finland.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Still so incredibly Not. Playing.

Though there is definitely an overall sense of uncertainty of what’s going to happen, and kids are in danger at times, it’s still a Christmas film and it’s safe for kids to watch. Ten and over, I’d say, perhaps even eight and over. It is still darker than what American audiences are used to at the holidays, which is why I liked it (and I would have loved it as a child.)

If I had children, this would be a tradition in our house, definitely. Mostly because there are great moments of laugh out loud humour. At times, it’s only a few paces away from an Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg/Nick Frost film. I’m usually against English-language remakes, but if it does happen, that’s the team that would make me grumble least. So you guys have at it.

Dec
15
2013

Plague Inc.

by V. L. Craven

Plague Inc.

Have you ever wanted to destroy the world? Of course you have–it’s the holiday season. But who has the time, really? Well, with Plague Inc , you can do people in in a variety of ways without getting off of your sofa! Or whilst riding public transport! Or whilst hiding from your relatives during enforced get-to-gethers!

The goal is the kill the entire world (which has 7 billion people in it) by evolving transmission routes and improving symptoms, as well as evolving resistance to cures once the scientists are onto you.

You start off with bacteria being unlocked and can unlock the other types by beating the game on two levels– of which there are three:

Casual: No one washes their hands; Doctors don’t work; Sick people are given hugs,
Normal: 67.3% people wash their hands; doctors work three days a week; Sick people are ignored
Brutal: Compulsive handwashing; Doctors never go home; Sick people are locked in prison

Plague Inc.

Then you name your plague (my husband and I always go with Stupidity) then you choose where you want to kick off the fun by tapping on the world map. It’s always a good idea to start in a poor country because, let’s face it, rich countries cure their problems quickly.

There are a couple extra viruses–the Necroa Virus that turns the dead into zombies and the Neurax Worm that takes over the host. Those get their own graphics and are just a blast.

Plague Inc.

I don’t even care about zombies and this was great

There are also extra scenarios. Oh, the extra scenarios. One of which is Mirror World, which make currently hot countries cold and cold places hot, rich becomes poor, etc. Which meant I got to kick off my plague in the States for once.

Plague Inc.

You also get the Black Plague, which was interesting to re-release on the modern world. Other real world diseases are Swine Flu and Smallpox, neither of which I’ve played yet.

Other extra scenarios included a mini Ice Age and Global Warming, which effect world-wide temperatures, impacting your plague; Who Cares and Xenophobia make it where countries don’t give a toss about what’s going on in other countries, whereas Created Equal and Golden Age are the opposite–everyone has great healthcare and takes care of everyone else. There are also a couple that impact transmission routes–by sea and air, so you have to pay attention and plan accordingly.

You can play all of the viruses in all of the scenarios on all of the levels so it will be a very long time before you tire of the game.

Anyway, once you’ve made all of those decisions, you start trying to infect people by evolving your transmission rates using DNA points. You collect those by tapping on orange and red bubbles that pop up indicating infection rates.

Plague Inc.

Plague Inc.

You can also evolve your symptoms, though these will often mutate of their own accord, if you focus on transmission rates. Handy.

Plague Inc.

Finally, those damn do-gooder scientists will eventually start trying to find a cure and you’ll need to head them off my making your plague drug resistant or impervious to heat or cold or likely to mutate its own DNA.

Plague Inc.

As you complete more levels, you unlock genes that you can apply to your beginning gene to give you an advantage, which is the only way I can imagine winning on a Brutal setting.

After a round ends, there are several graphs to view and see how things progressed. For example, once people contracted the Black Plague they pretty much died instantly. During gameplay it’s also interesting to see how air and water routes disperse difference types of plagues to different places.

Plague Inc is available from iTunes and Google Play for .99, which gets you Bacteria unlocked. The other main seven viruses shown above can be unlocked by beating two levels with bacteria. Other features can be unlocked for smaller amounts of money. But if you go for the $11 unlock, like I did, which gets you all of the plagues (including the Zombie and Neurax Worm), and the extra scenarios you get all future expansions for free.

One warning, this is one of those, ‘One more round… just one more… no really, one more…is that the sun coming up? How did that happen?’ games.

I would like to thank/curse Amelia Addams @batty_babe on Twitter for the recommendation. My productivity has dropped significantly since she’s recommended it. Cheers, darling!

Dec
12
2013

Becoming Santa

by V. L. Craven

Becoming Santa

No, you’re not on the wrong site. Do not adjust your monitor. This is a non-ironic, non-horror related post about Christmas. Just occasionally, something that would touch a Normal makes it through and gets me. Fear not, tis but a blip. But what a wonderful blip it is.

Becoming Santa  is a documentary about Jack Sanderson who decided to be Santa for one holiday season. He grew out his hair and beard and dyed it white then had a suit specially made. He attends  Santa School  to be certain he’s doing it right. That section is hilarious. A great portion of the documentary is laugh out loud funny. Sanderson himself is very personable and insightful (if you’ve ever wondered what Phillip Seymour Hoffman would look like as Santa, here’s your chance to find out.)

After the physical preparation, Sanderson takes various gigs (not jobs, because it’s all volunteer) on the Polar Express, and at a surprise (to him) tree lighting, and being a rock star in a parade. He even does a few ‘sneak and peeks’ where families have him put presents down and they wake up their kids to see Santa in the house.

Another big part of the film is the history of Santa Claus, which is presented by various authorities on the subject and is interspersed between sections of Sanderson’s transformation process and Santa gigs around the country. They even get into Black Pete  which somehow  still exists in 2013.

One of the authorities is Ernest Berger from Santa-America , which is a fantastic organisation that provides highly-trained, committed Santas for unhurried visits to children with autism or in hospice or in other complex circumstances. Check out their site. They do good work.

Another group that came up later was Letters to Santa , which takes all the letters in a certain city that arrive at the post office addressed to Santa and helps kids get the gifts they need. One child asked for a special needs wheelchair that cost $20,000, their family couldn’t afford it, but the organisation put an ad in the paper and the next day they had the chair for the child for Christmas. The group originated in New York, but several other cities participate now, as well. The link above will tell you how to help if your city has one or how to set one up where you live.

I genuinely enjoyed it. At the very end some onion cutting ninja broke in for a bit because it reminded me of being small. When you’re young enough to believe in Santa you’re also young enough to not see all the things wrong at home, and for me it was just before my brain chemistry went doolally. So he signifies happy ignorance (which is generally happy, but go with me). I miss that sometimes. The expression on some of those kids’ faces, man… they’ll remind you. They are looking at the embodiment of happiness, of sheer joy and it shows on their faces. And if you’ve experienced that for yourself it’s difficult not to relive it when watching Becoming Santa. The experience changed Sanderson more than he expected and it’s easy to see why and how that happened. It would have changed even me.

Well, in Whoville they say that the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.

Dec
11
2013

Gifts for Geeks

by V. L. Craven

This post is for the geeky folks on your list. If you frequent this site, you probably have a bit of the geek about you, but if you found us through a search through your preferred search engine (welcome!) then have a gander at a selection of things that shall hopefully please the geeky someone(s) on your list.

Gifts for Geeks

Don’t, dang it!

Don’t Forget to Be Awesome Mug ($12) DFTBA.com. From the home of Nerdfighters, that bastion of geekitude, comes a mug that will remind you, in the face of those less geeky to not forget to be awesome. All the while providing you with your favoured beverage of choice.

Gifts for Geeks

BWHAHAHAHAHA!

Everything is Dead t-shirt , ($18 also on DFTBA.com) modelled by Emily Graslie from The Brain Scoop , which you should be watching. Why they don’t have something that says ‘It still has brains on it’ I don’t know, but they don’t. Still, ‘Everything is dead’ absolutely works for this site, I think. Nay, I know. Geeky and macabre. I like it.

Gifts for Geeks

Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun is available from Amazon for $18. I’m not doing a separate review of this because I haven’t read it, but several friends of mine, whose judgement I trust, swear by it for getting kids engaged in the world around them. It’s 350 pages of how-tos, trivia, and all sorts of fun and useful things. Intended for ages 10-13, but I know some grownups who wouldn’t mind a copy. Ahem.

Gifts for Geeks

The Doctor Who TARDIS Tea Infuser $19.99 from ThinkGeek. It has the sonic screwdriver as the bit that dangles out of the cup. I mean, really.

ThinkGeek is a really good place to check in general (for the people who aren’t geeks) for the ones who are, you probably had the tab open before you came to this site. They have items from various fandoms, tools for geeks, exclusives to their site, things for kids, things for cube dwellers to personalise their workspaces…

Speaking of,

Gifts for Geeks

PixelBlocks available on Amazon (price varies). PixelBlocks are small, translucent blocks that can be used to create 2D or 3D sculptures. I have a set and they’re great fun. Like Lego, there are different size sets, so the prices vary based on how many pieces are in your set. Each one has suggestions for things you can make, but you can also design whatever you’d like.

Gifts for Geeks

And we’re back to the Noble Collection. I chose the Targaryen House Crest Wall Plaque  ($55) just because, you know. I needed a place holder for this entry. Right. Yeah. FIRE AND BLOOD.

Sorry. Where was I? Oh yes. The Noble Collection makes replicas and original pieces for franchises like Harry Potter (as mentioned in an earlier post ), Game of Thrones , Lord of the Rings , The Hobbit and The Dark Knight Rises . They have faithfully recreated prop replicas that are definitely not for play and will most definitely please ardent fans of shows and films.

Gifts for Geeks

Just showing you the quality of their work with this Targaryen Sigil Pendant , which happens to be $59. They also have pieces from other houses, in case you’re interested in those for some reason.

Gifts for Geeks

If you’re anything like me, you have multiple gadgets and you live in horror of one of them dying and you having to…shudder…converse with the people around you. Actually, if you’re anything like me, you never leave the house so you’re never more than eight feet from an electrical outlet, but I digress, The New Trent iGeek 11200mAh External Battery Charger for Smartphones and Tablets  is for the serious geek on-the-go. After its initial charge, it will hold it’s own charge for weeks, it can charge two devices at once, and it can charge a wide range of devices from phones (smart and dumb) to tablets to gaming devices. Check out the link for all of the info. The list price is $80, but Amazon generally has it for less (whilst writing this it was $61.92).

Gifts for Geeks

And if you want to be super cool and geeky and macabre and support the site all at once (look at you multitasking), you can get something from The Autodidact in the Attic’s Zazzle shop.

There are a few shirts and a hoodie and a couple stickers at the moment. A few other little things are in the works. If there’s something you’d like, let me know and I’ll whip it up for you.

My personal favourite thing is the Morph Mug, which is $23.95. I use mine nearly every day. It’s an excellent way to know if your tea has gone cold before you get that mouthful of the dreaded Cold Tea. There are a couple other, less expensive mugs in the shop that are equally nice, but the colour-change one is worth the extra bit for the coldness warning factor alone. Here is a video I made of it doing its thang.

Dec
06
2013

Interview with Christian Baloga

by V. L. Craven
Interview with Christian Baloga

Baloga signing at Barnes and Noble

Recently, I reviewed Wake the Wicked: Thirteen Twisted Tales by Christian Baloga and really enjoyed it. Today I’ve had the opportunity to chat with Christian about the stories.

Hi, Chris. First, I really enjoyed Wake the Wicked. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read it.

I’m so happy you enjoyed it! Thank you for your early interest in Wake the Wicked and your substantive, sincere, and thought-provoking review. It’s everything an author could wish for!

How long have you been writing and when did you realize you were interested in writing professionally?

I started crafting my own short story books and comic books sometime during early elementary school. I wrote, illustrated, and manufactured them out of inkjet paper, glue, magazine cut-outs, and staples.

I can remember the exact moment I realized I’d one day become a published author. It was after reading the last page from the book “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark” by Alvin Schwartz. I was in third grade. My best friend at the time had just finished reading it. He saw my interest in the illustrations and passed it on to me. It’s wonderful how a simple gesture of kindness such as that could shape a person’s future. I’m so grateful.

Interview with Christian Baloga

You mention your interest in the illustrations–they’re changing those illustrations for the updated editions of the books. The publishers think they’re too frightening for children. What are your thoughts on that? Personally, when you look at things like Struwwelpeter or the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales, what kids see and hear today are pretty tame.

I was devastated to hear about the removal of Stephen Gammell’s illustrations. This is a prime example of why I chose not to publish traditionally. I couldn’t imagine being forced to alter my creative visions to please a few prudes.

Most of your stories involve animals and nature in some way–do you find animals and nature personally frightening?

I’ve spent my whole life surrounded by nature and animals and feel a deep connection to both. On a subconscious level, I imagine the involvment of these subjects stem from the old adage “Write what you know.”

What does scare you?

Seeing or hearing others suffer.

You switch pretty easily between male and female narrators–how do you decide the gender of your protagonist?

Apart from the characters based on real people, the decision of gender is completely intuitive. For each narrative, I let the characters channel through me. They come as they are.

Some of the stories (like the one about the twins) are reminiscent of J-horror. Are you a fan?

I’m thrilled that you noticed the nuances of J-horror in the book! Yes, I’m a fan. It’s my weakness.

Interview with Christian Baloga

Junji Ito

Who are some of your favourite J-horror authors or works and why? What would you recommend to people new to the genre?

Two of my favorite J-horror authors, Junji Ito and Junko Mizuno, both write and illustrate their own books and appeal to me in very different ways. I was drawn to Junji Ito’s work for its tenebrous eccentricity. The way he tells a story is downright haunting and unlike anything I’ve experienced before.

I was drawn to Junko Mizuno’s work for its unapologetic blend of psychedelic cuteness, gore, and eroticism. Her new versions of old fairy tales are hard to put down.

Above all, what I love most about these authors is their unmistakable courage to tell stories without compromising their artistic visions.

In addition to the authors above, for people who are new to the genre, I’d suggest watching “Demon City Shinjuku” and “Vampire Hunter D.” They’re both classics!

Wake the Wicked was self-published but it’s not obvious from looking at the paperback, which is unusual. What process did you take to have that done? The cover, especially is very high quality, which is often an indicator of a self-published book. Tell me about the cover art, as well.

I graduated with a bachelor’s degree specializing in graphic design. The skills I gained during college, in the workforce, and on my own were key to helping me design the cover.

I wanted the cover art to reflect the stories within. Instead of trying to jumble all thirteen tales into one cover, I focused on one story, “Ripped to Ribbons,” and one character, the vagrant. I borrowed my reluctant friend, applied special effects makeup and tortured him, I mean, photographed him for the cover jacket. He’s a great sport. I’m thankful.

Do you listen to music when you write?

Yes. I listen to instrumental movie soundtracks to help enhance my emotions when writing. In particular, Halloween soundtracks that foster fear, dread, and panic are my favorite to write to, as you can imagine.

What are you reading now or have read recently that you loved?

Right now I’m reading “Frankenstein” by Mary Shelley. I recently finished “Tales of Edgar Allan Poe.” Although I’ve read the stories in this collection before, this particular book incorporated illustrations I hadn’t seen. It’s amazing how these same stories can be enhanced or altered by adding visual elements.

Are there any other stories or novels in the works?

Yes, a novel is in development.

Any hints on what your novel is about?

Things are bound to change since I’m still outlining, but it’s a lighthearted-horror comedy that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Horror-comedy is some of my favourite. I look forward to reading it. Thank you for taking the time to chat with me!

My pleasure. I hope we can do this again!

 

Chris’ official website is here . You can also follow him on Twitter and check out his Facebook page Dancing with Death .

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