Autodidact: self-taught

Apr
12
2014

Undead Survival Show

by V. L. Craven

Undead Survival Show

So let’s say the zombie apocalypse is brought about by a virus. And all of the people who have it can be contained in large areas. They don’t have to be killed–it would be difficult to do so–they do still look like humans, after all. That seems plausible, right? More plausible than the entire human race being overtaken by the undead, who, let’s be honest, aren’t exactly masterminds.

So you quarantine them in places called Red Zones. And the uninfected would go about their lives in Green Zones. But people would still be obsessed with entertainment and, therefore, someone would inevitably step up to produce a reality show during the zombie apocalypse. (Seriously, no matter what’s happening to humanity, someone is going to want to cash in on it.)

Undead Survival Show  is an upcoming webseries about just that. The protagonist is Chainsaw Martin who is an ex-Special Forces survivalist who puts himself in insanely dangerous proximity to the undead hoardes and shows the viewers at home how he gets himself out again. From the website:

“Undead Survival” is a show within a show.  It is a series of 9-to-12-minute action-comedy programs with a dark twist.  As it follows the making of television’s most popular program, actual viewers see a world separated into two zones.  The Red Zone is an abandoned wasteland where the undead reign.  Entire cities lie in ruin. Streets crack, spontaneous fires rage out of control, and buildings are nothing more than hollow tombs where the walking dead shamble in their never-ending walk. With places like New York and LA in ruin, the Green Zones are massive, walled-in city sanctuaries speckled throughout the country with names like Shreveport, Evansville, and Dayton.  The new capital of cool however, is the city of Louisville, Kentucky, where new trends are defined and excitement is always at hand. It is also where the network responsible for the creation of “Undead Survival” and several other popular programs runs its corporate offices.

Inside the Louisville green zone, the living try to spend their days as if the apocalypse was nothing more than a pesky flu.  People hold jobs, shop at the grocery, go to bars, surf the net and of course… watch television.  Still, the reality of what lies outside the walls is very present.  It has worked its way into the mental and emotional lexicon of everyone now living inside the walls.  Newscasts give daily undead reporting, businesses hock the latest zombie-wear, manufacturers produce things like Zombie-load shotgun shells and undead repellant and of course the television networks churn out series after series of undead storylines. The most popular of these is Undead Survival.

This sounds to me like the most accurate portrayal yet of what would happen during a zombie apocalypse. The show is still in pre-production, but give them some love if you can, as it sounds like an intriguing concept.

A teaser:

The YouTube channel is going to have new content coming up soon, and there’s an email list for exclusive content, as well. Check out Explosivo (the production company’s) website and Twitter for more info.

Apr
10
2014

Inside No. 9

by V. L. Craven

Inside No. 9

Inside No. 9 is the newest show from two of the four members of the League of Gentlemen , Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton.

Each episode is stand-alone and, being a British show, there are only six episodes. The action of each episode occurs in a different place with the address of No. 9. All are residences save one, which is dressing room number 9.

As you’d expect from these two, there are a host of creepy characters–some are in bizarre situations, others in are seemingly ordinary situations that turn surreal. All of them are original and surprising. The second episode was particularly creative, as there’s no dialogue.

Inside No. 9

The first episode ‘Sardines’, concerning a party game in a mansion that seems just a bit…off, dragged a bit, but turned out to be a nice start to the series. It fell firmly into the average people in a slowly devolving into a sinister situation sort of episode. It was also one of the funniest of the lot. Some of the guest stars in the episode were Anna Chancellor, Julian Rhind-Tutt, Katherine Parkinson and Anne Reid, which kept things interesting.

Inside No. 9

The second episode ‘A Quiet Night In’, as mentioned above, has no dialogue. Background music supplies all of the commentary about what’s going on. It concerns two hapless criminals (Sheersmith and Pemberton) who are trying to steal a piece of modern art from a house whilst the owners are in and out of the room and also in the midst of a domestic crisis. Tension is built nicely and the viewer finds themselves rooting for the ‘bad guys’, as their evening is definitely not going to plan.

Inside No. 9

The third episode ‘Tom and Gerri’ (‘her last boyfriend was Ben’) was the strongest both plot-wise and in terms of characterisation. Sheersmith is a teacher who really wants to be a writer. One day when his actress girlfriend, Gerri (Gemma Arterton), is at an audition, he has an interaction with the homeless man (Pemberton) who lives across the street. Then everything goes a bit funny and not in a ha ha sort of way.

Inside No. 9

This is followed by the weakest episode ‘Last Gasp’ about a little girl with a terminal illness who has asked the Wish-Maker charity for a visit by her favourite singer (David Bedella) for her birthday. When he dies while blowing up a balloon for her there becomes a power struggle between the adults (Pemberton, Tamsin Grieg, Sophie Thompson, Adam Deacon) over what to do with his last breath. This one never comes together. The characters felt incomplete. But I’ll forgive anything with Grieg in it.

Inside No. 9

‘The Understudy’ was the penultimate episode. The titular character (Sheersmith) is hesitant to push his luck with the overbearing lead of the company he’s in (Pemberton). His girlfriend (Lyndsey Marshal) is more ambitious for him–knowing he has more talent than he gives himself credit for. When Pemberton breaks his long sobriety our man assumes his girlfriend is to blame, but as with the play the company is performing–Macbeth–things do not go well and there is blood indeed. Julia Davis is hilarious as the lesbian stage manager.

Inside No. 9

I think my favourite episode was the final one, ‘The Harrowing’, which was of the extraordinary characters in a surreal situation type. It was about a teenage girl asked to baby-sit for an evening whilst two Poe-like characters (this is even acknowledged, much to my delight) have one of their very rare evenings out. The female character is played my Helen McCrory, who played Narcissa Malfoy in the Harry Potter films and was perfectly cast in the Madeleine Usheresque role. The girl brings her friend along, which is fortunate because the house is absolutely terrifying, with art depicting all the torments of hell. The girl is informed that she’s really there to house-sit as their older brother doesn’t actually need anything most of the time. But she’s there ‘just in case’. It was somewhat less developed in some ways, and the only one that seemed like the main characters could go on to be in other sketches. Or perhaps that was my wishful thinking.

Whether they appear in the next series or not–bring on series two, please.

Apr
04
2014

Dancing Skeletons Life and Death in West Africa

by V. L. Craven

Dancing Skeletons Life and Death in West Africa

Katherine Dettwyler is an anthropologist who’s been working and conducting research in Mali for decades, focusing on childhood nutrition. Dancing Skeletons: Life and Death in West Africa is a collection of her observations. In it Dettwyler introduces us to the social conventions of the region–including an extended greeting that must be got through for every person you meet that makes the obligatory, ‘Good morning, how are you, hope your weekend went well’ look like a snub.

Dettwyler has been there long enough she’s treated less like a tourist and more like an honoured guest–at times being brought special (if stomach-churning to Western palates) foods and feted at dances–at other times she’s treated like just another person walking around. There’s clearly a mutual respect between the woman and her subjects. At times, they’re more than just subjects.

Other stories are heartrending. Mali is a country with less-than-adequate medical facilities and education on the best practises for proper healthcare. This leads to higher rates of childhood disease and death. Malaria, for example, can even be drug-resistant. Something Dettwyler finds out first-hand, unfortunately.

Overall, the attitude of the people Dettwyler met was one of accepting life as it was–whether it was the child who had what we’d call Down’s Syndrome, or the woman who had such severe mental disabilities she was going to allow her child to die from malnutrition. In the Down’s Syndrome child–no one ostracised the child in anyway–she simply went about her life as happy and carefree as possible–something that wouldn’t happen in the West. In the latter case–social services would take the child from the mother immediately. But in Magnambougou there was an acceptance that some children die from malnutrition and this child would be one of them.

The most challenging chapter was probably the one about female circumcision. It follows on from the acceptance in that, when asked about it, people said it was simply the way it has always been. They usually did it when the girls were six months old so they didn’t remember it and all the girls had it done. The boys were all circumcised, as well, so it only seemed right that the girls were, too. When Dettwyler (an American) said she wasn’t circumcised, the woman she was speaking with was shocked. After all, if everyone you know. And everyone in your entire culture has forever done something, how absolutely bizarre is it to find someone who doesn’t? And then to be asked, well, why don’t you?

It’s a slim volume, but is a fascinating look into a culture quite different from the one Westerners are accustomed to. Though it’s somewhat academic, I’d still recommend it for fans of Mary Roach or people interested in anthropology in general.

Apr
03
2014

Vampires in the Cold

by V. L. Craven

Vampire films, as a genre, don’t particularly hold my interest. Immortality seems boring–humans would whine about the same problems every century–and having sex with a room-temperature body (vampires are corpses) is stomach-churning, so their sex appeal is similarly lost on me. I’m not against watching a film about vampires, but there has to be some other draw.

In this case, it’s cold climates–the beauty of a frozen landscape will get me to watch a lot of things. So this week’s film review is a comparison of two films about vampires in cold climates: Let the Right One In and 30 Days of Night.

Vampires in the Cold

Let the Right One in is based on the Swedish novel of the same name by John Ajvide Lindqvist and is about a boy who befriends his unusual new neighbour–a girl of twelve. The girl advises him to fight back against his bullies and even offers to help. Much of the story is about the budding friendship between the two young people and the boy learning to stand up for himself.

The backdrop to all of this are the horrific killings that have been happening–one man was found upside down, drained of blood; and another was attacked and murdered in front of a witness, who swore it looked like the attacker was a child.

This film is much more atmospheric and subdued than most vampire films, which was refreshing. There was also very little blood and onscreen violence, considering the trend of horror films in general. Several tropes common to vampires were handled cleverly–trusting the intelligence of the audience rather than relying on special effects. I would recommend this to fans of vamp flicks who were looking for something a bit out of the ordinary, as well as to people who simply liked a good story. I’ll definitely watch it again.

Vampires in the Cold

The premise is that the town farthest north in the U.S. experiences thirty days of darkness once a year and someone (or something) has cut them off from civilisation even further by stealing and destroying all the mobiles amongst other things. Once no one can get in or out or can contact the outside world, things start picking off the humans. Yummy, yummy humans. 

I’m going to admit that I wasn’t expecting much from this one. It looked like pretty standard fare so I just came for the pretty scenery. However, some genius in casting had Danny Huston as the lead vampire. And he had a sidekick who rather looked like Marilyn Manson, which amused me greatly.

Vampires in the Cold

‘Why do people keep asking me to sing Beautiful People?’

This one was better than I was expecting, but I’d only recommend it to people who like vampire films. It had plenty of blood and action and one very cool shot of the town that (along with Huston) made it worth the watch.

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.

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