The Eclipse, Part 1: My Review of Gerald’s Game

When one thinks of horror, often one thinks of horror movies.

You have your classic horror movies, such as Friday the 13th, Halloween, Poltergeist, Nightmare on Elm Street, etc.

Or, for a little more modern fare, you can always watch films such as Horns, or Get Out.  Those are good for a fright as well.

These movies are fantastical in some ways.  We all know that someone cannot possibly be shot 23,889,209 times and still get up to chase sexually precocious teenagers and kill them in inventive ways (although that is a good way to burn that free 100 or so minutes you may have that day.  More if you watch the cut scenes on the “extras” menu.)

But often, real life can contain plenty of horror…

And no, I am not talking about the latest American Horror Story, aka the Drumpf presidency, although the survivors of the Bowling Green Massacre may not agree with me on that alternative fact!

But seriously, just turn on the news any given night, and tell me that man’s inhumanity to man is not the most horrific thing out there?

And there is one guy who understands this very well, and who has written some compelling literature on the subject, as a matter of fact…

You guessed it, we are talking about Stephen King!

*insert shocked look right about here*

King has been called The Master of Modern Horror (but you can call him The Master for short), and for good reason.

I mean, a killer clown that hunts kids?

Check!

A vampire that effectively turns a town into a ghost town that any sane person would want to avoid at all costs?

Check!

A rabid St. Bernard that makes you want to avoid car trouble at all costs?

Check!

An evil entity that haunts a town, and forces you to agree with the statement “Dead is better?”

Check and mate!

While most of the above horrors are not actually “real horrors,” one of King’s greatest strengths as a writer is his ability to include elements of realism in his writing.

The Shining is a prime example of this.  Most of us have at least seen the Kubrick adaptation, and quite a few of us have probably read the book as well.

So we associate The Shining the famous phrase “Redrum” (spell it backwards, for the uninitiated), along with a haunted hotel and a scary lady who is a permanent residence of a room with a famous number

There is also the matter of the guy in the dog costume…

Well, back to my point.

Which is that King can insert reality into his works.  The Shining is a great example of this, because it deals with alcoholism, unemployment, child abuse and the list goes on.

In other words, we can relate the above list, since we have all experienced at least one of those things in our lifetime.

And that is what makes the story so terrifying:  since we can relate to those topics, it is not that far out of left field that there may be a haunted hotel somewhere out there, where we avoid room 217 (or 237), along with the hedge animals and fire extinguishers, because if it can happen to the seemingly normal Torrance family, it sure can happen to us.

King writes about people.  These people may be placed into extraordinary situations, but they are still people, who could, at least theoretically, be any one of us.

And these people do not always fight supernatural monsters,  Often, humans are the monsters, and what a human can do to a fellow human is far worse than what a haunted hotel or even a rabid St. Bernard can do to us.

One of King’s books that deals with man’s inhumanity to man (or, more appropriately, woman) is Gerald’s Game.

Gerald’s Game contains hardly any elements of the supernatural, but it is still a frightening read.  The monsters in this book are human, so the scenario is one that is plausible for anyone.

So strap in (but don’t handcuff yourself), and get ready for the ride that is Gerald’s Game.

As always:

Continue reading

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Welcome to the Inscape: My Review of NOS4A2

Lately, confusion seems to be rampant in our world.

As in, we are confused as to what the difference is between between the beast that we call a fact, and the lesser known distant cousin of the fact, otherwise known as an “alternative fact.”

Since I myself am a survivor of the Bowling Green Massacre, let me educate you on the difference between facts and alternative facts.

kellyanne-1

The following information is brought to you by BARF (Bureau of Alternative Real Facts.)

Fact:  Killer Klowns from Outer Space is a classic movie, and should be required viewing for all school age children.

killer klowns 3 - Copy

Alternative fact:  Jupiter Ascending is classified as a film.  And one that people are allowed to watch, to boot.

Fact:  The Colts are the coolest team in the NFL and Andrew Luck and co. are never given the credit that they deserve.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Indianapolis Colts

Alternative fact:  The Patriots have won their fifth Super Bowl under Tom Brady and a now a dynasty.  As a Colts fan all I have to say is #notmySuperBowl, dammit!

And now, for the factiest fact that you ever facting heard, motherfacters!

Joe Hill is a bad ass.  A motherfacting bad ass, in fact.

Joe Hill 2

And if you don’t agree with me, well then fact off, you facter!

In other words, I just finished reading NOS4A2, written by The Master 2.0.

And I assure, I survived my trip to Christmasland, although, between you and me, the inhabitants of that place are kind of hostile.  In fact, they will suck the life right out of you…

So, gear up your Rolls Royce Wraith, strap in and get ready for the recap and review of NOS4A2.

And, as always:

Homer spoiler

 


Synopsis

The story begins by introducing the reader to a nurse named Ellen Thornton.   Ellen works in a prison infirmary, where most of the patients are comatose and unresponsive to any form of human contact.

One of these patients is a man named Charlie Manx.  Manx is extremely elderly, and was also convicted of terrible crimes:  he was convicted of kidnapping and murdering young children.

One night, as Ellen is making her rounds, something unexpected happens:  Manx appears to awake from him comatose state, and speaks to Ellen.  He specifically refers to Ellen’s son by his full name, and makes references to some place he calls “Christmasland” and someone named the “Gas Mask Man.”

Ellen calls for the doctors, as she is badly frightened.  However, Manx exhibits no sign of consciousness once the doctors arrive, and Ellen is not believed, despite the fact that Manx grabbed her hard enough to leave bruises, and the fact that Manx referred to her son by his full name.

The story then switches to the perspective of a young girl named Victoria McQueen, also known as Vic.  Vic’s father Chris also calls Vic The Brat.

At first, Vic seems to be an ordinary young girl.  However, we find out that Vic is anything but ordinary.  Vic possesses the ability to teleport herself between faraway places.  Vic does this by riding her bike, and envisioning a bridge she calls The Shorter Way Bridge, which seems to magically appear when Vic wants to find a lost object.  The bridge takes Vic to the place where the object was lost, and then takes her back to her original location.  However, Vic’s talent also comes at a cost:  she experiences headaches and becomes extremely ill when she uses this ability.

We are then introduced to a troubled man named Bing Partridge.  One day, as Bing is leafing through some old magazines, he comes across an ad promising employment in a place called “Christmasland.”  The ad is not specific in regards to the job details, but Bing is enchanted, as he loves celebrating Christmas, which brings back happy memories for him.  Bing sends away his application for employment in Christmasland, desperately hoping that he gets a response soon.  We also learn that Bing killed both of his parents as a child, and spent time in a mental institution before he was released.  Bing is employed as a janitor, and has access to certain kinds of gases that can turn a person into a zombie, along with his own gas mask.

Almost immediately, Bing begins to have visions of past Christmases with his parents, and begins to dream of Christmasland.  However, days go by, and he does not get a response to his application.

Bing also begins to see a mysterious vehicle circling his work place.  The vehicle is an old Rolls Royce Wraith, and is black.  However, the driver of the vehicle continues to remain a mystery.

One day, Bing finally meets the driver of vehicle, who introduces himself as Charles Talent Manx.  Manx convinces Bing to go for a ride in the vehicle, so he can describe the opportunity that awaits Bing in Christmasland, if Bing chooses to accept.  Once he is in the vehicle, Bing begins to feel sleepy.  Manx tells him that is okay, as Bing will be entering another reality of sorts.

Manx tells Bing that he saves children from a life of pain and abuse by taking them to an alternate reality he calls “Christmasland.”  In Christmasland, the children never have to grow up, and it is always Christmas, every day, all year.  Manx says that the children are his, but that Bing can do what he wishes to any parents or any other parties that may need to be subdued, as most will not want Manx to take their children away.  Bing eagerly accepts the employment opportunity, and he and Manx get to work.

Over the years, several children vanish under mysterious circumstances.  In many of these disappearances, a mysterious Rolls Royce Wraith is spotted.  However, none of the disappearances are ever connected.

Vic is now a teenager.  She has used her bike many times to create the Shorter Way Bridge, so that she can locate lost objects.  Vic is also a budding artist who has received recognition for her work.

One day, Vic uses her talent to locate a missing photograph.  In doing so, she badly startles the school janitor, who relapses back into alcoholism.  Vic feels extremely guilty and begins to question her use of this ability.  The Shorter Way Bridge makes another appearance, and Vic rides her bike through it.

The Shorter Way Bridge deposits Vic in a library somewhere in Iowa.  There, she meets a young woman named Maggie, who seems to have been expecting Vic to make an appearance.  Maggie dresses in a colorful manner.  Maggie is also afflicted with a bad stammer, which makes her speech difficult to understand.

Vic is bewildered, but Maggie attempts to reassure her.  Maggie tells Vic that while her abilities may be a bit unusual, she is not alone in being gifted with these abilities.  According to Maggie, many highly creative people (Vic is an accomplished artist and Maggie is gifted in the use of language and also an accomplished Scrabble player) possess the ability to alter reality.  Maggie compares this to someone who uses a knife to make cuts in various objects, and refers to these altered realities as “inscapes.”

We also learn that Maggie has the ability to create her own “inscapes” and alter reality.  Sometimes, Maggie’s Scrabble tiles will spell out sentences on her own.  This is how Maggie knew to expect Vic:  her Scrabble tiles told her of “The Brat” (but not Vic’s name, as no proper nouns are allowed in Scrabble.)

Maggie also states that her Scrabble tiles have indicated that Vic can find someone or something known as “The Wraith.”  Vic demands to know who or who “The Wraith” is, but Maggie tries to change the subject, telling Vic that The Wraith is bad news and dangerous to Vic.

At Vic’s insistence, Maggie breaks down and gives her what information she has on The Wraith.  According to Maggie, The Wraith is another person who possesses abilities similar to hers and Vic’s.  However, The Wraith uses his abilities for evil, as he kidnaps children to steal their souls so that he may achieve immortality, trapping the children in an “inscape” of his own creation.  Maggie then sends Vic back home, warning her once again to stay away from “The Wraith” as he is dangerous.

When Vic returns home, she becomes extremely ill as a result of her latest journey.  Her parents become extremely worried, and confiscate her bicycle, as they believe she has an unhealthy fixation.  Vic eventually recovers, and resumes her normal, every day life.

In the meantime, more children disappear.  Once again, a Rolls Royce Wraith is spotted when some of these disappearances take place, but the cases are never connected.

Vic grows into a troubled teenager,  When she is fourteen years old, her parents divorce, and her father abandons Vic and her mother.  Vic acts out, turning to alcohol and drugs.  Her grades in school are mediocre, although her art teacher notes that Vic has a talent for art, although Vic does apply herself.

One day, after an argument with both of her parents, Vic sneaks back into her house and falls asleep.  When she awakens, she searches for some of her belongings that were confiscated by her mother, and finds her old bicycle.

Vic begins to ride her bicycle, and remember happier times during her childhood.  However, it is not long before the bicycle leads her to trouble, which happens to be the lair of Charles Manx, or The Wraith.

Almost right away, Vic realizes that something is not right.  She encounters what she thinks is a young child, but the creature only resembles a child in name only, as it has sharp teeth and appears to be breathing some sort of vapor or smoke when it speaks.

Vic also encounters Charles Manx, who attempts to entice her.  When Vic refuses, her Shorter Way Bridge vanishes, leaving her stranded.  Manx also sets fire to the house, intending to trap Vic in the house so that she will perish from the fire.

However, Vic escapes the house.  She is assisted by man named Lou Carmody, who happens to be in the area, riding his motorcycle.  Lou takes Vic to a nearby gas station, so that she can attempt to get help.  Vic realizes that she is actually in Colorado, instead of her home of Massachusetts, and that she has been missing for two days.  Vic indicates that she has been kidnapped, as she knows that no one will believe her story about the Shorter Way Bridge.

As Vic is telling her story, Charles Manx and his vehicle make an appearance at the gas station.  The men at the gas station attempt to apprehend Manx, and a fight ensues.  However, Manx is apprehended in the end, and arrested for his crimes.  The official story is that Vic was kidnapped, and there is no mention of any of the stranger elements to her story.

Some years later, Vic moves back to Colorado, under the pretense of attending art school.  She pursues a relationship with Lou Carmody, and the two have a child together named Bruce Wayne Carmody, who they call Wayne.  Vic loves Lou and Wayne, but is afraid to admit, as she feels that she is not good enough for either of them.  Vic also receives troubling phone calls from children who state that they are residents of Christmasland.  These phone calls frighten her, but she does not tell anyone about them.

Bing Partridge is never apprehended by the authorities for his role in Manx’s crimes. and anxiously awaits the return of Manx, as he believes that he will receive his eternal reward in Christmasland.

Vic notices that when she engages in some kind of creative active, such as painting, that phone calls from Christmasland stop.  She keeps herself busy by painting motorcycles and also by writing and illustrating children’s books.  However, the mysterious calls start again, and Vic’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic.  Lou moves out of their house, taking their son with him, but he is worried about Vic.  Vic then burns down her house in an attempt to silence the calls from Christmasland.

In the meantime, Manx’s vehicle has been purchased at an auction by a man and his daughter.  One day, the vehicle comes to life, killing its new owner, as Bing has found it, so that he may reunite with Manx.

Charles Manx is thought to be deceased, but his body goes missing from the mortuary.

Vic is institutionalized for her erratic behavior, and comes to believe that her experiences with the Shorter Way Bridge and mysterious telephone calls are simply vivid hallucinations caused by her abuse of alcohol and other drugs.  When she is released from the mental hospital, she temporarily moves back to Massachusetts to spend some time with her mother Linda, who is dying of cancer.  Vic also makes plans to spend the summer with her son Wayne, as she feels that she has failed him as a mother.

Tragically, Linda passes away just as Vic is able to secure a cottage for the summer.  However, Vic still makes plans to spend time with her son Wayne, and Lou sends him to his mother for the summer.

In the meantime, we find out that Bing has managed to steal the body of Charles Manx, who is actually still alive, although barely.  Bing sets up camp in the house across the street from Vic’s childhood home, killing the home’s owners, and placing Charles Manx in the bedroom.  Bing waits for Vic, as he intends to murder Vic, and hand Wayne over to Manx.

Vic returns to her childhood home sometime in July, as Lou has arrived in town to spend Fourth of July with his son.   Vic is greeted by a face from her past:  Maggie, the woman from Iowa whom she met as a child.

While Vic recognizes Maggie, she is not happy to see her, as she still believes Maggie to be a delusion from her past.  Maggie begs Vic to help her stop Charles Manx, who she insists is alive and on the hunt for Vic and Wayne.  Maggie hands Vic a file containing some paperwork on Manx, but Vic chases Maggie away from her house, and threatens to call the police.

Later, Wayne finds the folder on Manx and peeks at it, as he is curious.  Bing spots Wayne from the house he is commandeering, but is unable to do anything, as Lou arrives, and Bing does not want to be seen.  Bing realizes that Vic is in the neighborhood, and makes preparations to capture Vic and Wayne.

That evening, Vic speaks to Lou, and finds out that Wayne has mentioned Manx to his father.  Vic tells Lou about her childhood experiences with the Shorter Way Bridge, and the real story of how she encountered Charles Manx.  Vic recognizes that she may be delusion, and indicates this to Lou.  Vic also tells Lou that she thinks Maggie was a patient at the mental hospital, who is sharing in Vic’s delusions.  Vic makes plans to move back to Colorado that fall, so that she can be closer to Wayne.

Wayne believes that Charles Manx is nearby, and becomes frightened, even though he thinks that he is imagining things.

Vic and Wayne work on a motorcycle that was left at the summer cottage, fixing it up and giving it a new paint job.  Vic decides to take the bike for a spin, and tells Wayne that she will return shortly.

Vic rides the bike, and is able to conjure the Shorter Way Bridge, just as she had been able to do as a child.  However, Vic continues to believe that she is delusional.

Wayne waits at the house for his mother.  He hears a knock on the door, and encounters Bing and Manx, who tell him they need to use the phone, as they have run Wayne’s dog Hooper over with their car.

Bing and Manx then proceed to kidnap Wayne.  Wayne shouts for his mother, who is just now returning from her trip and does not realize what has happened.

However, Vic soon does realize what has happened, and runs to the car in an attempt to rescue Wayne.  She fights Manx, who attacks her with a hammer.  Bing shoots at Vic, but misses Vic and hits Manx in the ear instead.  The men then escape, with Wayne trapped in the car.

Lou is at the airport, awaiting his flight.  Lou receives a panicked call from Wayne.  Wayne tells his father that he has been kidnapped, and then hangs up the phone.  Lou then collapses, due to a sudden heart attack.

Wayne tries to escape, but Bing douses him with gas so that he cannot think and becomes very sleepy.  Manx tells him that he is going to Christmasland, and that he will never see his parents again.

Vic meets with the authorities at her mother’s house.  The FBI has been brought in, as the authorities believe that Wayne’s kidnapper may cross state lines.  Lou also meets with Vic and the authorities.  Vic’s mental illness is brought up by a FBI agent, Tabitha Hutter, who does not agree with Vic in regards to Manx returning and seeking vengeance.  Vic also describes her earlier experience with the Shorter Way Bridge. Lou tells Vic that he believes her, and Vic tells Lou that she will do whatever she can to rescue their son.

Manx drives his vehicle through his inscape, giving Wayne a glimpse into Christmasland.  Wayne falls into a trance, and becomes excited about living in Christmasland.  However, the ghost of Wayne’s grandmother soon appears in the vehicle.  She appears to be speaking in reverse, and gives Wayne a cryptic message before she vanishes:  he must speak in reverse.

Manx then stops at Bing’s house so that he can rest and recover from his wounds.  Wayne then notices that the vehicle has peculiar properties:  objects seem to vanish and then reappear.  Wayne also finds some Christmas ornaments.  He becomes fixated on one that resembles a moon, but has a face.

Wayne is then questioned by Manx, who promises him a phone call to his mother.  Manx tricks Wayne into giving him some information about Maggie, along with Vic’s new motorcycle, and does not allow Wayne a call to his mother.

At her home, Vic is growing more and more worried about her son.  Lou is attempting to fix her motorcycle for her, so that she can conjure the Shorter Way Bridge and rescue Wayne.  Vic receives a phone call.  The caller is Maggie.  Maggie tells Vic that her son is still alive, and that she will help however she can.

After Vic hangs up the phone, she is confronted by Agent Hutter, who has heard the entire conversation.  Hutter attempts to arrest Vic, but Vic escapes from the house, and uses her motorcycle to drive away.  Eventually, she is able to conjure the Shorter Way Bridge, and is able to arrive at the house where Wayne was being kept.

In the meantime, Manx leaves with Wayne in his vehicle, promising that he will take Wayne to Christmasland.   Manx does not allow Bing to come with them, as he says that Bing has failed in his duties. Wayne’s personality is beginning to change, as he is horrified to remember that he pulled the wings off of a butterfly.  Wayne is also fixated on his Christmas ornament, constantly touching it.

Vic realizes that Wayne and Manx have left, and becomes upset.  A man allows her to use his phone.  Vic does not realize that this man is actually Bing, until he attacks her.

Wayne continues to travel with Manx.  He sees visions of Christmasland and is anxious to arrive.  However, he receives a visit from the ghost of his dead grandmother, who again tries to warn him that he must think in reverse.  However, Wayne dismisses the old woman’s ghost, as his personality has begun to change.  Wayne has also begun to loose some of his teeth, and appears to be growing small fangs in their place.

Vic fights Bing.  She manages to escape, but sets the house on fire.  Before she escapes, she receives a call from Manx.  Vic pleads with Manx to release Wayne but Manx refuses.  Manx allows Vic to speak to Wayne.  Vic senses that Wayne’s personality is changing due to his exposure to Manx, and tells Wayne that he must fight Manx, and that she will do whatever it takes to rescue him.

After she speaks to Wayne, Vic then speaks to Lou and Agent Hutter over the telephone.  She tells Lou that she has a plan to stop Manx and rescue Wayne, but that she will need a large amount of explosive material to accomplish this.  After Vic hangs the phone, Lou suffers from a heart attack and is rushed to the hospital.

Vic uses the Shorter Wayne Bridge to locate Maggie.  She arrives at Maggie’s library in Iowa, which was destroyed by a flood a few years back.  However, Maggie is there, and Vic recounts the events of the past few days.

Maggie tells Vic that Manx does possess the same abilities that they possess, but that he uses his abilities for evil.  She tells Vic that Manx’s car must be destroyed in order to destroy Manx.  Maggie also tells Vic that the use of their abilities comes at a cost: Maggie’s stammer has worsened, Vic’s brain has been damaged and Manx has lost all of his empathy, and now revels in the suffering of his others.  The children Manx has kidnapped have also been stripped of their humanity, as they exist for pleasure only, and do not comprehend the suffering of others.

While Vic falls asleep asleep due to exhaustion, Maggie consults her Scrabble tiles for information in regards to Manx.  As she does this, a young boy enters the ruins of her library with firecrackers.  At first, Maggie thinks that it is a local child playing a prank, but realizes that the boy is Wayne, who is acting under the influence of Manx.  Wayne utters some incomprehensible words (his human side knows that what he is doing is wrong) and lures Maggie out to Manx and his car.

Manx immediately attacks Maggie with his vehicle.  Maggie puts up a fight and refuses to give any information about Vic, who is still asleep inside.  Maggie is killed by the impact, and Manx exits the scene.

Lou has been hospitalized due to his heart attack.  However, he escapes in search of his son.  Agent Hutter and her partner are aware of the escape, and plan to use Lou to track down Vic, who they still believe to be responsible for her son’s kidnapping.

Vic arrives at her father’s house.  Lou and her father are waiting for her, with the explosives that she has requested.  However, the FBI agents have tracked down Vic, who refuses to surrender.  Agent Hutter realizes that there may be something to Vic’s story, but her colleagues do not, and open fire on Vic and her family.  Vic’s father is shot, but Vic escapes with Lou on her motorcycle.

Once again, Vic conjures the Shorter Way Bridge.  She leaves Lou in handcuffs, as she feels that this a job for her only.  Vic then makes her way into Christmasland, via her motorcycle and the Shorter Way Bridge, to confront Manx and rescue her son.

Manx sends his children after Vic, and they attack.  Vic fights back and is stabbed by one of the children.  The explosives go off, causing mass destruction.  Wayne realizes that his mother has come to rescue him, and escapes from Manx, hopping on the motorcycle with his mother.

Vic escapes Christmasland with Wayne.  Manx follows her, but his vehicle (and there Manx himself) is destroyed by a flock of bats that emerge from the Shorter Way Bridge.

Finally, Vic emerges with Wayne back into their world.  Her job done, Vic perishes from her wounds and the effects of creating the bridge and traveling to Christmasland.

Several months later, Wayne is living with his father.  Lou has lost weight after angioplasty procedure, and is in a relationship with Tabitha Hutter.  However, Wayne knows that something wrong with him, as he is aroused by anything violent and even thinks that he can feel an extra set of teeth in his mouth.

One day, Lou and Tabitha take Wayne for a ride.  They arrive at the house Manx had used to keep his children captive.  Lou realizes that Wayne’s soul is trapped in one of Manx’s Christmas ornaments.  Lou, Tabitha and Wayne begin smashing the ornaments.  Several children that Manx had kidnapped emerge, restored to their human selves.

Eventually, the ornament containing Wayne’s soul is destroyed.  Wayne sobs with relief, happy that his humanity has returned.


My Thoughts

Okay, let’s talk to Captain Obvious for a moment.  So, just bear with me.

Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son, in case your head has been buried under a rock for…oh…the past 10 years or so.

Stephen King mit Katze "Clovis", tierischer Held des Films "Schlafwandler". Der Meister des Horrors wird am Sonntag (21.09.1997) 50 Jahre. Mit 50 hat er mehr als 30 Romane veröffentlicht, ein Sachbuch, fünf Geschichtensammlungen und neun Drehbücher. dpa (zu dpa-Korr vom 17.09.1997) nur s/w

(And hey, no judgement, being buried under a rock can be pretty comfy sometimes!)

And while I like to evaluate Joe Hill on his own merits, let’s be realistic.

Let’s get it out of our system, and talk about how he is the son of Stephen King.

Well, writing-wise that is.

We can leave the family drama for those better equipped to handle it, and not put TMZ out of a job.

Other than the fact that NOS4A2 reads a bit like an older King novel, in that it has build and will scare you into a change of pants, it is the novel that most screams:  I am the son of the master of modern horror, and if you dare to forget it, well, let’s not even go there!

NOS4A2, in other words, has tons of Stephen King Easter eggs.  In fact, this book may have even more King Easter eggs than some King books.

easter eggs 1

First of all, the obvious connection.

I am speaking of the one to Doctor Sleep, the follow up novel to The Shining (both written by The Master himself, but you knew that.)

Rose the Hat

I can tell you that I definitely sleep better knowing that Charles Manx and The True Knot have some silent truce between themselves, that they both can go on (literally) sucking the life out of children and if one gets found out, we know that the other did not rat on them.  Definitely useful information to have.

And, oohhh, direct reference to Derry, along with Pennywise’s Traveling Circus!  Again, whenever I have trouble sleeping at night, I can rest in comfort knowing that Manx and Mr. Bob Gray were likely on a first name basis at some point!

balloon2

Vic yelling “Hi-yo Silver!” as she jumps on her bike was added bonus.  Not that I am complaining, although a few tears did spring to my eyes as I recalled some fond childhood memories of murderous clowns…

Then there is the similarity between The Sleigh House (geez, these jokes kill me sometimes) and Black House, another house in a King novel of the same name.

black house 1

The way the children start coming out of the house at the end of both books is so similar, not to mention the fact that Charles Manx is pretty similar to Charles Burnside, another villain who gets his rocks off on kidnapping and hurting kids.

I can also take comfort in the fact that Maggie’s “creatives” (more on that later) may be able to travel to the world of our friendly neighborhood gunslinger.

gunslinger

Is Jake Chambers one of Maggie’s creatives?  An interesting question, but one for another day.

And don’t let me forget the nod to The Stand (and the Dark Tower series) when Bing utters those famous words:  My life for you.

Trashy 1

Oh, and apparently Bill Hodges and company had to hunt down a certain missing vehicle that just happened to be a Rolls Roy Wraith…funny how that works out!

Well, now that it is out of our system (feel better?), let’s talk about Joe Hill and NOS4A2 on their own merits.

So sorry, Uncle Stevie, you have been relegated to another blog entry!

One thing about NOS4A2…it is one scary book!

Well duh, it is written by Prince of Modern Horror, who is the son of the King of Modern Horror.  So we shouldn’t be surprised by scary, right?

Yes and no.  Am I entirely surprised that it’s scary?

Christmasland 1

No, I am not.

What is shocking is the fact that NOS4A2 is essentially a vampire story, but modernized.

After all, who isn’t familiar with Dracula?

Dracula 1

Or Kurt Barlow from ‘Salem’s Lot?

Well, now we can add Charles Manx to that list of fictional vampires.

'Salem's Lot 2

Now, Manx is not like Barlow or Dracula, at least on the surface.

He’s old, but not centuries old.

His victims are usually kids.

Charlie Manx 1

He drives a bad ass vehicle.

nos4a2-3

Somehow, I don’t think a rosary or garlic would phase him very much.

(Did anyone else think of this guy when Manx was introduced, by the way?  Or is it just me?)

phantasm 2

But, back to Manx.

He may not drink blood, like Barlow and Dracula.

But he is still a vampire, nonetheless.

His preferred food is not blood, but the souls of children.  Since he is all modern-like.

As a bonus, like Barlow and Dracula, he has a human familiar in Bing, who may be even more demented than either Straker or Renfield, if that’s possible.  At the very least, he holds his own.

bing-1

And Manx does not need to be able to fly or even move quickly, as he has a vehicle that allows him to travel to back and forth between realities.

Who said that newer necessarily means inferior?

Manx can hold his own!

Speaking of holding one’s own, let’s talk about Vic for a moment.

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Now, there is is someone who can hold her own and then some.

One thing I have noticed about Joe Hill is that he writes female characters extremely well.

Harper (The Fireman) was a great example of this.

Even Georgia and Merrin (Heart Shaped Box and Horns, respectively) were well written characters, despite the fact that that Georgia is the girlfriend of the main character in Heart Shaped Box, and Merrin is the dead girlfriend of Ig in Horns.  Even though we mainly see them from the eyes of a male, both are fascinating and sympathetic.

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But, Mr. Hill decided that having a woman as the interesting girlfriend of a main character just wasn’t good enough.  And then Vic was born.

To put it simply, Vic kicks ass.  There is no way around that statement.

While Vic may not always be easy to like, it is understandable as to why she may be unlikable at times, due to her upbringing (watching your dad wash his hands because they were bloodied due to beating your mom may cause a girl to have some issues.)

Vic’s character has a great arc.

She starts off as a spunky girl, morphs into a rebellious teenager, turns into a still troubled adult and then transforms into a mother who will stop at nothing to save her child from a vicious predator.  And I loved every minute of it.

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One of my favorite parts of the book is when Vic handcuffs Lou, leaving him behind so she can venture forth into Christmasland to save Wayne.

Vic was no damsel in distress.  She knew that she had to be one the one to save (and ultimately sacrifice herself) in order to save her son.

Now, NOS4A2 may be a scary book.

But, like the books of dear old dad, it is so much more than that.

I love what this book has to say on art, artists and the creative process in genera.

I may be a bit biased, as someone who spends so much time creating her own “inscapes” but bear with me.

In fact, I love the idea of an “inscape” itself.

Because that is exactly what happens when someone creates something:  it is actually an escape from the “real” world into an entirely new one, whether that is a painting, a book, a song, etc.

And let’s not kid ourselves.  Those made up worlds become “real,” especially if the creator uses enough love and care in the creation of these worlds.

Middle Earth, Mid-World, Hogwarts.  How are those not “real,” along with the Harry Potters, Roland Deschains, Aragorns, and so forth who live in them?

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And when something happens to the people who populate these worlds, is the effect not felt in ours?  When Harry Potter realizes that Voldemort has been resurrected, for example, did the reader not fear for him, and join him in his grief for a lost friend and classmate?

So it stands to reason that there are “creatives” out there, whose gift is especially powerful (like Joe Hill, his father, JK Rowling, Tolkien and countless others) who can use their knives to cut reality (in Maggie’s words) and create new realities.

And the knife is just the tool, like Maggie so eloquently stated.

Sometimes, the knife is not harmful, and results in children’s books, paintings, etc.

But sometimes, some sick individual (like Charles Manx, who is actually all too plausible) will create a new reality.

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But this new reality is terrible, and only brings hurt to others.

And this is not uncommon, as so many predators who are similar to Charles Manx exist in our world.  They believe that what they are doing is actually a good thing.

It is then up to someone (a Vic McQueen, if you will) to try to put a stop to it.

Sometimes, that is successful.

Sometimes, it is not.  And that knife continues to cut, leaving blood behind.


Well, I am still a bit confused on what is a fact, and what is an alternative fact.

But I do not need an agency such as BARF to tell me that Joe is a fantastic writer, and that he will (hopefully) continue to churn them out, for many years to come.

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So that’s it for NOS4A2.  Join me later this month as we delve back into the world of dear old Dad, as we read and dissect an oldie but goodie, aka Christine!

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Top 10 Women in Horror Movies

So, guys and ghouls, it is that time of year again…

Oakland Raiders v Indianapolis Colts

Well, yes it is football season, but that was not what I was referring too.  I mean, do you think I want to be scared into a change pants?  Come on, now!

Well, actually I do.  And watching Indianapolis Colts football is one way to be scared, although many other emotions tend to be involved, which include extreme anger, exhilaration, puzzlement, denial, bargaining and resignation.

But, there are lots of other things that I can watch, other than Colts football, if I don’t want to experience the different stages of grief in a four hour setting (NFL math is funny that way:  one hour of football somehow turns into four hours yelling myself horse (you are welcome for that one) in front of my TV.)

In other words:  horror movies.  Horror movies everywhere…

At this time of year, I feel that autumn is right around the corner.  And this starts right after Labor Day, when the Christmas merchandise at the stores is on display!

And to counter the sight of Christmas decorations when the temperature is still at least 90 F, there is only one thing we can do…

That’s right, watch some horror movies.  Or maybe lots of horror movies.  All right, a metric shit ton of horror movies!

And so many movies to choose from.

We have our classics, like Carrie, Halloween and Friday the 13th.

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Or “new school,” like Horns.  You gotta admit, seeing Harry Potter as the devil is fun!

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Or, we don’t have to limit ourselves to movies.  There are plenty of good, horror themed shows not titled American Horror Story to chose from.  And most are available via the miracle of the 21st century otherwise known as Neflix.  Cable schmable, right?

Now, one thing about horror movies:  they seem to have an audience.  And no, not necessarily horror junkies.

Let’s face it:  most horror movies are geared towards white males.  That is often who your horror movie protagonist is, with a few exceptions, like Night of the Living Dead, which was decades ahead of its time for featuring an African American guy as its protagonist.

And it’s not to say that those movies are not good movies.  In fact, movies like Phantasm (I dare you to cross The Tall Man, boooyyyy!), The Shining, Horns and many others are either classics, or on their way to becoming classics.  And I have no problem with that, they are great movies and deserve their accolades.

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But, I feel like I am missing something when I watch certain movies.  In fact, I feel like I may be missing at least half of something…

That’s right, where are my ladies?  I mean, we make up half the population, right?  So where are we?  Where are we in one of my favorite movie genres?

Well, it turns out that if take the time (after all, rushing us is bad, on so many levels, haha) and look, you can find us ladies in horror movies.  And some bad ass ones at that!

In recent years, we have become even easier to find in the horror, genre and science fiction categories.  After all, Game of Thrones, anyone?  Plenty of kick ass women there!

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And The Master and The Master 2.0 have gotten in on the act, as both Stephen King and Joe Hill have managed to write convincing female characters, who have an identity beyond the wife or girlfriend of the guy who winds up kicking ass.

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So, if you look, we are there in horror movies.  Sometimes we get horribly victimized.  Sometimes we victimize others.  But other times, we throw down some serious shade, and you do not want to meet us in a dark alley!

With that being said, here is my list of top 10 women in horror (both on television and film.)  Keep in mind that this is my opinion only, and could be subject to change at any moment…

And, as always:

Spoiler alert


10.  Sally (The Nightmare Before Christmas)

Well, I may be a little biased with this statement, but I will say it anyway:

Gingers rule!

And as soon as we have enough freckles, we plan to take over the world!

Okay, I am kidding (you hope.)

But this entry on my list has earned her spot on it.  And yes, she just happens to be a ginger.

Guys and ghouls, I bring to you…Sally!

Now, Sally may literally owe her existence to a man.  However, do not underestimate her, as she is tough, smart and resourceful.

After all, a chic who clearly knows her poisons.  Who would want to cross her?

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Sally is a love interest in the movie The Nightmare Before Christmas (and one half of one of one my favorite onscreen couples ever), but to me, she is so much more than that.

For most of her life, Sally is held in captivity by her creator.  She understands that that she may be selling herself short, and she works to build a life for herself beyond captivity, and to connect with the outside world in a meaningful way.

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Sally also brings a message of self-acceptance.  After all, she literally falls apart, but that doesn’t stop her from picking herself back up and continuing on with her life.  That message of self-acceptance is one that Jack Skellington badly needs to hear, as he finally accepts that it is okay to be the Pumpkin King, and leave “Sandy Claws” to those who are better qualified for that job.

Is it a Halloween movie?  Is it a Christmas movie?  It’s an existential crisis!  But an awesome existential crisis!

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9.  Mrs. Vorhees (Friday the 13th)

Every movie needs a good guy (or bad girl.)  This is especially true of horror movies.  After all, where would we be without The Tall Man, Pennywise the Clown, Reverend Kane, along with many other bad guys that make these movies memorable?

Well, we can add Mrs. Vorhees to that list as well.

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When I bring up Friday the 13th, most people think of the guy in the hockey mask.  I then have to gently remind him that he is the protagonist in the 19 or so sequels that the franchise has generated, along with the awesomely bad crossover where Jason and Freddy meet…spoiler alert:  they don’t meet for Netflix and chill!

So, let’s go back to the beginning.

In other words, the infamous Camp Crystal Lake.  And a few horny teenagers.  And of course, the campers.

And…the camp’s cook?

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Yes, the camp’s cook.  And the mother to Jason Vorhees, who (supposedly) drowned due to the horny camp counselors not doing their job, due to fact of being…well…horny.

Again, Jason is a non-factor in the first film of the franchise.  We do see the “Jason half” of Mrs. Vorhees personality, as she rationalizes killing teenagers, but Mrs. Vorhees is responsible for all the blood and guts.  All.  The.  Blood.  And.  Guts.

All of it!

I personally love a lady vs. lady show down.  There is something much more fierce about those, and so primal.

Well, I got my wish when I watched Friday the 13th, in one of the most epic onscreen lady vs. lady show downs in the history of film and television!

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It doesn’t get much better than that, folks!


8)  Sidney Prescott (Scream)

When I watched Deadpool, I found it amusing that the title character seemed to be self-aware.  He knew he was in a movie, and made reference to that fact throughout the movie.  It was good for plenty of yuks!

The movie Scream also uses the concept of “self aware”, and perhaps one of the best uses of that concept.

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After all, Scream constantly makes references to horror movies throughout the movie.

In fact, in the opening scene, the killer begins by asking trivia questions (see the above entry.)  And that is just the beginning.

Scream pokes fun at the horror genre.  A lot.  After, we now all know to never say, “I’ll be right back?”  Or to drink or have sex in a horror movie, as those acts also mean certain death.

However, underneath the humor, Scream is still a horror movie.  With a protagonist who kicks ass.

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And oh yeah, this protagonist just happens to be a girl!

Sidney’s plight is something that is all too familiar:  her mother was raped and murdered.  The murderer was supposedly caught and put in jail, but Sidney is struggling to come to terms with her mother’s death, and the repressed emotions that come with the trauma.

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And then people start getting killed.  Sidney is still struggling with her trauma, and is now unsure of who she can trust.  Sidney is also now unsure that she did correctly identify her mother’s killer, and fears that she may have put the wrong man in jail.

Throughout the movie, Sidney shows herself to be a fighter.  From the reporter who will not stop harassing her to her friend and boyfriend who turn out to to be the killers, Sidney proves that she is resilient, and a force to be reckoned with.

Processing trauma and coming out on the other side is difficult, but is rewarding when it is finally accomplished.  The character of Sidney Prescott is a wonderful example of this.

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7.  Nancy Thompson (A Nightmare on Elm Street)

Often, I joke (well, sort of) that I am in a relationship with…my bed.

Hi, my name is Leah, and if I don’t get my sleep, I will cut a bitch!

In other words, my bed is a refuge, as is my sleep.

Well, sleep usually is.  Although sometimes I am given to having nightmares…

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But I am lucky in the fact that my nightmares, no matter how real they seem (that one featuring the Tall Man and strange Lovecraftian creatures was certainly a doozy), are just dreams in the end.

They can’t hurt me.

The subject of this particular entry, however, was not so lucky.

Poor Nancy.

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Falling asleep became dangerous for her, so no refuge for her.

I mean, she dozed off in class and nearly got killed for it.  Makes the detention one would normally expect seem kind of mild, right?

However, Nancy sleeps on it (see what I did there) and decides to do something about the evil creature who has been tormenting her and her friends in their dreams.

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First, she recruits her boyfriend, Glenn, to help her catch Freddy. But when that doesn’t work, she doesn’t give up, and instead persuades her father to help trap Freddy.

Nancy just will not take no for an answer, and will stop at nothing to destroy Freddy Kreuger for good (or at least until the next sequel, at any rate.)

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She will not go down without a fight, and I have always loved her for it.

Freddy Kreuger may be one of my favorite horror movie villains of all time, but let’s face it, without Nancy, he would be nothing.  And that is not just because he needs dreams from teenagers so that he can exist.

The fact that my favorite horror villain has to face off against a woman is just icing on the cake.  Wait, I take that back.  Nancy is the cake, icing and all.

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6.  Willow Rosenberg (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

Now, I often tell people that high school was hell for me. And it was.

I spent most of my time isolated.  And being isolated was actually the good part.  When I was “only isolated,” I considered myself to be lucky, as least I wasn’t being tormented.

The lesser of the two evils, I suppose…

But what was that saying that I heard way back when, about a guy with no shoes who meets a guy with no feet and gets some kind of new perspective?

In other words, I should be lucky that my school was not built on a Hellmouth, right?

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Isolation and bullying is one thing.  We can talk about the lesser of two evils and so forth…

But when your school is built on a Hellmouth, and when you have to deal with vampires, werewolves, and all kinds of other Big Bads, I think we are beyond the discussion of the lesser of two evils.

In fact, you may just piss one of those Big Bads off by referring to him/her/it as “lesser.”  And that would be dangerous indeed.

And in the midst of all this…well…Hell, we have Willow Rosenberg.

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Now, Willow may be a classic “sidekick” to Buffy, who had the fortune (or is it misfortune?) of moving to Sunnydale, CA, where her destiny as The Slayer awaited her, but make no mistake about it:  Willow is also a bad ass herself.

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Not only did she fight along Buffy’s side (along with Xander, Giles and a few others), Willow also, like so many of us, struggled to find her identity in the Hell otherwise known as high school.

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As a result, one of the most fascinating character arcs in television history emerged.

How often do you see someone go from high school computer nerd, to fledgling witch, to full fledged witch, all the while never losing her integrity, making the arc seem so natural?

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Oh, and Willow also came out as a lesbian somewhere in there too, making her one of the first major characters in a TV show to be openly gay.  And it was all so natural too.  When Willow finally coupled up with Tara, it seemed so right, and to be true love, as opposed to some kind of fetish.  Her friends accepted her as gay, and nothing really changed between them…I loved it!

Oh, and any time I think any of my break ups were bad (along with my high school experience), I just think what was done to poor Willow in the name of entertainment for the masses.  I think this is where that term ugly cry comes into play.


5.   Carrie White (Carrie, 1976)

Yeah, see above…

I will say it once and I will say it again:  High school, aka government babysitting is overrated at best.  At worst, it is Hell.  And the high school in question does not even need to be built on a Hellmouth to suck.  High schools do that quite well on their own, thankyouverymuch.

And again, my high school experienced sucked.  It sucked bunches.  My best memory, other than finally graduating, was getting a 100% on a calculus test.

The teacher must have though I was a freak…

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Well, I am a freak.  But I actually think my freakage is pretty mild, compared to this particular entry.

Meet Carrie White.

On one hand, Carrie is your typical high school reject.  At best, the other students ignore her, and she is invisible to pretty much everyone.

But the at worst part is just horrible.  Getting pelted by tampons, while you are having your first period at age 17 and thinking you are dying…well, I think I would trade going to high school on the Hellmouth for that one!

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However, on the other hand, Carrie is not your typical high school reject.  For one thing, she has a religious fanatic for a mother at home, who shames her for getting her period, getting asked to prom, and pretty much shames her daughter for existing.

Carrie also possesses telekinetic powers.  And this turns out to be bad news for everyone.  When a high school prank goes horribly wrong, and Carrie is humiliated at prom, everyone is at the brunt of Carrie’s revenge.

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Carrie’s powers are unleashed, and the results are epic, to say the least.

I have always said that the villains in this movie are Margaret White, along with Carrie’s cruel classmates.  Carrie is the most innocent among all the characters.  How could you expect her not to finally retaliate, after the happiest night in her tormented life is ruined?

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I shed more than a few tears when Carrie died (see the part above about the ugly cry.)

And for the record, my high school classmates should be lucky that I did not possess telekinetic powers…

Very lucky…

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4.  Lydia Deetz (Beetlejuice)

“Well, I’ve read through that handbook for the recently deceased. It says: ‘live people ignore the strange and unusual”. I myself am strange and unusual.”

Oh, the above quote…

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When I first heard it, there were so many emotions to process…

Happiness was one of them, of course.

And, believe it or not, relief was one of them as well.

I may have fallen in love a little that day, with a fictional character.  I have a bad habit of doing that, it seems.

Of course, I am speaking of Lydia Deetz.

As a 90’s kid, “Goth” was a thing.

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We all had them in at least one class.

The kids who wore all black, even in the summertime.

Often, they loved horror.

They had an affinity for creepy things.

Their taste in music was cutting edge, to say the least.  Nine Inch Nails, anyone?

Lydia Deetz started the Goth culture.

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She rocked the all black and pale-face make-up before it was cool (I mean, I was pale-face before it was cool, but no make-up needed here.  Gotta love being a soul stealing ginger, AmIrite?)

In case I have not made this clear, I was not a kid who fit in.  In fact, I didn’t really belong anywhere.

Growing up, I felt like a ghost.  Sometimes I wondered if I was actually dead, and everyone knew it but me and forgot to tell me.

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And like Lydia, I lived in a world of my creation.  I loved to read and write, and create art.

Those interests don’t exactly make one’s phone ring off the hook on Friday night, but I tried to remain true to myself.

That was the thing I admired most about Lydia:  she remained true to herself.

She preferred the company of ghosts over people (well, I preferred the company of animals, but close enough, right?)

Things that repelled most people attracted Lydia (to this day, my parents still think I am some kind of literary leper for loving Stephen King.)

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Being different is a good thing.  But often, it is lonely.

Characters like Lydia Deetz remind us of how awesome different is, and make the journey a little less lonely.


3.  Eleven (Stranger Things)

“She’s our friend and she’s crazy!”

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Stranger Things is my show and it’s awesome!

Now, no matter what else happens in 2016 (and we still have the presidential election to get through, so the season finale is still a bit far away), we can at say, “At least we had Stranger Things.”

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And there so many things to love about Stranger Things.

It is a tribute to all things 80’s.

It pays homage to all kinds of horror, including John Carpenter films, Wes Craven and even H.P. Lovecraft.

It is a gold mine for Stephen King fans.  The story line of people with PSI abilities is classic King (Firestarter, anyone?), not to mention the fact that The Master’s name is lovingly brought up in an episode.

I could go on and on, actually.  Lots of reasons to love Stranger Things

At least eleven, I would say…

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Oh, right.  Eleven.  The subject of this entry!

If you told me that the show Stranger Things centered on the subject of four friends (who are boys) and their entrance into adulthood, along with the loss of innocence they experience, you would be correct.

On the surface, that is what Stranger Things is about (along with a monster christened Mr. Tulip-Head and his band of merry slugs.)  That statement would not be incorrect.

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But, like the books written by a certain famous writer, Stranger Things is so much more than that.

Enter Eleven, everyone’s favorite waffle loving, bald-headed escapee from an evil government lab run by the creep known as Dr. Pedophile.

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And oh yeah, Eleven possesses PSI abilities, along with being on the run from “Papa” (shudder.)

At first, Eleven serves as kind of homing beacon, to help Mike and his friends try to find their missing friend Will, whose disappearance just happens to coincide with Eleven’s appearance.

However, the boys, especially Mike, grow to like Eleven on her own merits.  A friendship develops, and Eleven becomes fiercely protective of her new friends (see the opening sentence to this entry.)

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Through their friendship with Eleven, the boys mature, and also come to the realization that the world is not a safe place, nor is it always a fair place.  Eleven brings out the best in Mike, who begins to fall in love with her.

The realization that the world is not a safe or fair place comes in the final episode, when Eleven (seemingly) sacrifices herself to the alternate dimension known as the Upside-Down, when she battles the monster that was responsible for kidnapping Will.

Out of all the characters on the show, Eleven proves herself to the most selfless of the bunch, who takes the meaning of friendship to a new level, when she sacrifices herself for another child who she does not even know.  She also proves herself to be a tough fighter, in her journeys to the Upside-Down and her battle with the extra-dimensional monster.

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And a fierce protector of Eggo Waffles everywhere.  Do not, I repeat, DO NOT mess with that girl’s waffles, if you know what’s good for you!

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2.  Vanessa Ives (Penny Dreadful)

I love Eva Green

Oh, how I love Eva Green!

Eva Green is the bomb.com!

Did I mention that I love Eva Green?

Okay, just wanted to make my point clear.

And the reason I fell in love with Eva Green was her portrayal of Vanessa Ives on the show Penny Dreadful.

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I have problems.  I really do.  Sometimes they feel like they number around 99, although I am really not sure if a bitch accounts for more than a few (although my crazy dog could be put into that bitch category.)

But then, I can go watch the period horror/drama known as Penny Dreadful, and I get some perspective.

In other, my problems are pretty damn mild.  Or maybe even non-existent, really.

After all, I don’t have the Devil Himself after me.

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Or Dracula, for that matter.

I may have guys hit on me and give me unwanted attention, but at least they aren’t evil incarnate.

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(On a side note, no one has ever seen my ex and Lucifer in the same room together.  Fun fact of the day!)

Nor am I harassed by a coven of witches who are willing to hand me over to at least one of the above.

Oh, and I don’t live in Victorian London, where women are limited to only a couple of roles, and if they don’t fit in, then well, that’s just too bad, isn’t it?

I have just described a day in the life of Vanessa Ives, the main character of the show Penny Dreadful.  Yikes much?

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But somehow, despite all of the horrors she has to endure throughout her life (both supernatural and non-supernatural), Vanessa Ives is able to maintain a kind of grace that one rarely sees even in people who have not been cursed by an unknown evil force.

Vanessa makes everyone around her better.  Her influence is something to behold, as she brings out the best even in those who may not be the best humanity has to offer (Victor Frankenstein and Sir Malcolm being prime examples of this.)

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Vanessa’s influence even extends to the ‘non-human” characters in the show, including Caliban (otherwise known as The Creature) and Ethan, the werewolf.

Caliban, in particular, benefits from his friendship with Vanessa.  Even before he became “The Creature,” Caliban was in danger of his losing his humanity due to his employment with the Banning Clinic.  However, when he is forced to care for Vanessa, he begins to see his patients as individuals, as opposed to numbers, and realizes that his employer is in the wrong in its treatment of its patients, and that he can no longer work for them.

Eva Green as Vanessa Ives and Rory Kinnear as The Creature in Penny Dreadful (season 2, episode 5). - Photo: Jonathan Hession/SHOWTIME - Photo ID: PennyDreadful_205_1509

(Another side note:  anyone who watches the episode A Blade of Grass without tearing up at least a little bit has ice water instead of blood in his/her veins, and we cannot be friends.)

Even after Caliban is transformed into The Creature, Vanessa extends her friendship to him, reminding Caliban that he is more than a corpse stitched together and brought back to life as a science experiment.

Vanessa’s character serves to make the ending even more poignant, as she sacrifices herself so that others may live.

Vanessa’s friends mourn her death, but it is clear that she lives on in each of them, as her influence continues, even after her death.

Rory Kinnear as The Creature in Penny Dreadful (season 3, episode 9). - Photo: Jonathan Hession/SHOWTIME - Photo ID: PennyDreadful_309_3066


And now, for my number 1 woman in horror…

drum-roll-please

I give you…


Dana Scully (The X Files)

OK, let’s get one thing straight…

That’s Dr. Scully to you!

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Now, in case it wasn’t clear, I was a nerd growing up.

I liked math and science.

I read books on theoretical physics for fun.

A wild day for me consisted of visiting the library and finding five books.  OR SIX BOOKS.  SIX BOOKS!

So, as you can imagine, my social calendar was clear until approximately February 30th, 2087.  Although these days, I’m a little more booked, because that calendar is clear until May 32nd 2072, although if you need something, I may be able to shuffle things around and pencil you in.

But, in the fall of 1993, things began to look up.  Well, a little bit, at least.

For that is when we had the debut of The X Files.

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Before I watched The X Files, I did not see a lot of representation of women in my world, aka the world of nerd.  Now, this did not necessarily bother me much, at least on a conscious level.

However, deep inside, I knew that something was missing,  I could not tell you what, but I knew that my world was lacking.

But then Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully made their entrance to the screen.

And right away, it became evident of what my world was missing.

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You see, the world of horror and general nerdiness had been waiting for a woman like Scully.  Finally, she arrived.

And she did not disappoint.

Scully was smart (see the opening sentence to this entry.)

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Not only was Scully smart, she could throw down some serious shade.  And usually, she was wearing heels of at least three inches while doing that.

And her autopsies were so cool!  They almost made me want to go to medical school, just so I could throw around medical jargon like that.  Almost.

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Scully also kept her partner Mulder grounded.  Mulder could get a little nutty at times with his (literally) out of this world theories, but Scully was able to reign him in, and was the yin to yang.  They made a great team.

While Mulder often had to rescue Scully from cannibals, a death fetishist and a few other horrors (both human and supernatural), Scully often often rescued Mulder.

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I loved seeing her storm in with those heels, pointing her gun and flashing her FBI badge.  Sometimes her efforts backfired, and Scully would end up in a dire predicament as well.  But many times, Scully was able to get Mulder out whatever predicament he found himself in, and the two could go on to kick ass for another episode.

Scully also faced the same sexism many of us in the “real world” have to face on regular basis.  Sometimes people were reluctant to respect her, or would ignore her in favor of her male partner.  But Scully always handled that so well, and could silence her naysayers with a single look or sentence.  And I loved her for it.

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And I have one thing to say:  Representation matters.  I am someone who has spent her life feeling invisible and ignored.  And its not fun.  I do not wish that on anyone.

But when we create characters such as Dana Scully, the world becomes a little brighter.  And a little less lonely.

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At last, someone gets us.  And the journey becomes exciting,  At last, we begin to see the hope.


Well, that’s it for my top 10 ladies in horror.

I am sure I missed a few, but compiling this list was not an easy task.  So a shout out to any I may have left out:  You are not forgotten!

So, if you don’t feel like being horrified by Indianapolis Colts football, pop in one of these movies, or tune in to Netflix and watch one of these shows.

At the very least, you can kill a few hours.  Or maybe, just maybe, you can appreciate one of these films or TV shows in a new light, after seeing some kick ass ladies!

Happy watching!

 

My Top 10 Horror Movies

For many years, horror has been a big part of my life.

And for the record, I am not talking about my marriage to my ex husband…

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Actually, I don’t think I was married to a psychotic clown living in the sewers.  However, no one ever saw my ex and Pennywise in the same room, so this remains open to debate.

No, I am talking horror in books and in movies.

I am huge Stephen King nut and I have been reading his books off and on since I was twelve years old.  Twenty six years, for you nosy folks!

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Of course, Stephen King was not the only thing in my horror diet.  I love pizza, but I can’t eat that every day.  And I love Stephen King, but my literary diet does need at least some variety, lest I suffer from vitamin L deficiency (literary deficiency, for the uninitiated.)

So, I read other writers.  Joe Hill does nicely in a pinch.  And I’m not saying that just because I consider him to be The Master 2.0 (I may be just a little biased, but oh well.)

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And of course, Clive Barker, Michaelbrent Collings, Joseph Duncan and quite a few others supplement my literary diet quite nicely, so I don’t have to worry about any deficiencies.

I can also turn to the screen to pick up some variety too.  In other words, there’s always movies and television.

I will be an X Phile for life.  I also love Penny Dreadful and am still officially in mourning because the series ended earlier this year.

And horror movies.  Who can forget horror movies?

Is there a better way to spend an afternoon, or perhaps an evening, than watching a good horror movie?

Maybe you snuggle up to your man and bury your head on his chest when the scary parts come on, but still peek anyway.  Or maybe you just have dogs for company, although burying your head on a dog may end up squishing the dog instead.  Or result in said dog moving REALLY far away.  REALLY FAR, maybe as much as five feet away from you!

Watching horror movies is fun.  The adrenaline rush is fun.  And horror movies tend to have some comedy in them, so you get the laughs too.  Or perhaps at least some soft core porn, since sex is usually a big part of most horror movies.

And there are so many horror flicks to choose from.  You have ones based on Stephen King books, like Carrie, Children of the Corn and that mini series with that really scary clown dude…hold on, I will think of It

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And classic slasher films.  Who doesn’t love Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre or the escapades of goofy old Michael Myers?

Or perhaps your bag is more dark fantasy, and you get in the mood for some Horns!

At any rate, there are lots of good horror movies out there.  And after thinking about it for awhile, I decided to write a blog post, listing my top ten horror movies.  It took a few tries, but I have whittled it down to ten, so here goes nothing!

Reminder:  this is one blogger’s opinion only.  I am aware that I probably left your favorite movie off, but I really don’t care.  And if you are going to roast me, go with slow heat, the flavors will be more developed that way.

And, as always:

Homer spoiler


10.  Killer Klowns from Outer Space

Well, we all have to start somewhere, right?

And my somehow happened to be a movie where people died.

Lots of people died, in fact.

And in really inventive ways.

And klowns were responsible.  Killer Klowns.  And these Killer Klowns were from outer space!

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If I remember correctly, Killer Klowns from Outer Space was the first horror movie that I watched.  And it set the stage for me.

Yes, the movie is just ridiculous.  I mean, cotton candy somehow became a weapon…c’mon, man!

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And acting?  What acting?  Although, to be fair, it didn’t require much acting to die at the hands of the Killer Klowns who killed in inventive ways.

Shortly after I watched this (alternating between sort of hysterical laughter and gross out noises that only a 12 year old girl can make), I began to explore horror, in both books and films.  I became a Stephen King addict.  I started watching Alfred Hitchcock too.

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And, as they say, the rest is history.

Killer Klowns should be labeled a gateway movie.  Because it was, at least for me.

It was a gateway.  A gateway into the horror genre.  And I can’t think of a better (or is it horrible) movie to receive that honor.


9.  Candyman

Often, horror movies deal with morality…

Ok, now that you are done choking on your coffee (or whatever other beverage you may be imbibing at the moment), let’s talk about this.

Of course, sex is a theme in a lot of horror movies.  There is a direct correlation to how many clothes come off and the proximity to home base and how quickly one dies in a horror movie, it seems.

But many horror movies deal with other kinds of issues that actually don’t have anything to do with teenagers having sex.

One of these movies is Candyman.

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The villain in this movie, Candyman, was actually the son of a slave, who had become a well-known artist.  However, the man makes the mistake of falling in love with a white woman, and (literally) all hell breaks loose.  He is attacked by a white lynch mob, which cuts off his painting hand and replaces it with a hook.  The mob then smears the man with honey, chanting “Candyman”, as he is stung to death by bees.

Of course, the man continues to live on, even after death, as Candyman. a spirit who can be summoned when someone looks into a mirror and says “Candyman” five times.

Since this is a horror movie, there is someone stupid  brave enough to do just that.  And lots of people get murdered.  Lots and lots of people.  So that’s disturbing.

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But the movie is disturbing for more than just the fact that a guy can come out of a mirror and kill people.  It turns out that 26 people, all of whom were residents of the notorious Cabrini-Green housing project in Chicago, have been murdered.  And the police have put forth no effort to solve the murders.  Some of these victims are children.  All of the victims are African American.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  In other words, just turn on the news, and something similar will likely pop up at some point.  Maybe.  Tragically, many people of color are murdered in this country.  If the victim is lucky, the media acknowledges the murder, and someone puts forth the effort to bring justice to the victim and his/her family.  However, more often than not, just like in this particular movie, the crime is ignored.  Or worse yet, the victim’s so-called criminal record is on display, and he or she is vilified, rubbing salt into the wounds of an already grieving family.

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Race plays a huge factor in murder, the solving of murders and policing in general in this society.  Often, there is more than enough real life horror to go around, and a ghost with a hook is nowhere nearly as frightening as our fellow man.


8.  Wes Craven’s New Nightmare

Often, the line between reality and fiction is blurred.

School shootings are tragically common in this country, and some shooters have stated that the Richard Bachman book, Rage, was their inspiration for the crimes committed, for example.

But what if a fictional character can somehow come to life?

I will admit, I spent a whole summer being frightened of storm drains after my responsible camp counselor took it upon herself to enlighten us about Pennywise the Clown.  So ten year old me spent a summer assiduously avoiding being in the bathroom by herself for too long, along with jumping at every shadow…good times, in other words!

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But luckily, Pennywise never came to life, and I was safe.  Although I still stand by my statement about never having seen my ex and Pennywise in the same room, but that’s another story!

Sometimes, characters that are created become all too real.  We mourn their deaths as we would the death of a friend or family member.  Or we shake our heads when a TV show or book character makes what we think to be terrible decisions, and we feel their pain at the consequences of those decisions.

Or, these characters scare into a change of pants, and they haunt our dreams…

Like Freddy Kreuger.

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The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise has become a bit of a joke, with all the sequels and even a reboot in 2010.  But when you get down to it, Freddy Kreuger is one scary motherfucker…and I will stand by that statement until my dying day!

The fact that Freddy Kreuger is believable is bad enough.  After all, guys murdering kids and our justice system letting them off on a technicality is something that happens, unfortunately.  And if I were a parent, I wouldn’t be above murder, in the interest of keeping my child and others safe from a monster like that.

Wes Craven’s New Nightmare takes things up a level, and could be considered meta fiction, as Wes Craven and Heather Langenkamp both play themselves in the movie.  The movie also stars Robert Englund, who plays himself, along with an even more horrifying version of Freddy Kreuger.

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It turns out that Freddy is indeed real, and after Heather, because she defeated him onscreen.  And no one is safe, including her family.

Works of art can often have an effect on the creator, along with anyone else who may be influenced by that particular work of art.  This is a fascinating theme that New Nightmare explores.  The deaths are gruesome, and the entire film has a strange, dreamlike quality, which makes this movie even scarier than its “source material.”


7)  Freaks

It is no secret that people fear what they don’t understand.

As someone who spent much of her life being bullied for her looks and well…for just being herself, I have first hand experience with this.  I have had people makes assumptions about anything and everything about me, even questioning my intelligence, because of how I looked.  In fact, I had few friends when I was in high school, and did not even kiss a guy until I was 19 years old.  And most of this was due to my feelings of how I looked.  And I have come a long way, but even today, I am uncomfortable with almost any kind of comments in regards to my looks, even though no one has told me I am ugly in a long, long time.

In fact, I think I dreamed of joining the circus for a time.  But since that was not a practical solution, I did the next best thing:  I rented the movie Freaks.

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Freaks deals with quite a few hot button topics, but it really boils down to is one thing:  man’s inhumanity to man, along with the fact that you can’t really judge a book by its cover.  Oh, and karma is a real bitch!

This movie is controversial to some, because of how it depicts those who may suffer from disabilities.  However, when I watched this movie, the so-called “freaks” were the ones I rooted for, and the ones who actually behaved in a humane (well, sort of, given what they have gone through in their lifetimes) manner.  However, the so-called “normal” folks were the enemies, especially the beautiful woman who tried to trick one of the “freaks,” so she could get access to his money.

I thought of the “beautiful one” as one of the mean girls in high school who was only nice to me when she wanted something (like answers to the math homework) and who would talk about me behind her back any chance she got.  However, someone finally gave her what she deserved, and she got to take a walk on the other side…

Again, karma is a bitch!

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6)  Carrie

While we are on the topic of high school and the mean girls who rarely get what they deserve, let’s talk about the movie Carrie.  For clarification, we will be discussing the 1976 version.

I have mixed feelings about onscreen adaptations of Stephen King novels.  Some, like The Green Mile, are straightforward adaptations that remain almost word for word to the source material.  Others, like 1408 and 11.22.63, are not straightforward adaptations, but still remain faithful to the spirit of the books.  And of course, there are others, like The Running Man, that share little in common with the source material, other than the title.

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Carrie is one of those adaptations that fall into the second category:  it is not a slavish adaptation to the source material, but anyone familiar with the novel can still “see” the novel when watching the movie.  The changes add to the story, rather than detracting from it.  Additionally, the performances in the movie, especially by Piper Laurie and Sissy Spacek, are outstanding, and bring the movie from good to phenomenal.

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The title character in the movie Carrie is one many of us can sympathize with.  I also rooted for Carrie when I read the book and watched the movie.  And I understood why Carrie “snapped”:  there is only so much abuse one can take from her peers before she decides that enough is enough.  Carrie’s treatment at the hands of her peers cut me to the core, as I had to deal with bullying for most of my school career, and that bullying pretty much ruined my life for years to come.  And Carrie’s death was most upsetting, although I was glad that her bullies got their just desserts.

One of the changes from the novel in the movie was the ending.  Sue Snell (who had tried to help Carrie) dreams that she is visiting Carrie’s grave, which has been defaced.  Sue attempts to place flowers on the grave, but a hand suddenly comes up from the ground, grabbing Sue.  Sue then awakens in hysterics, and is seemingly still in the dream.

That scene gets me.  Every.  Single.  Time.

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5)  Jacob’s Ladder

My father was drafted during the Vietnam War and actually saw time in Vietnam.  We don’t talk about his experiences much, but, not surprisingly, Vietnam has been a huge shadow over my life.  I am also an 80’s child, so Vietnam is also a huge theme in many movies that I grew up watching, including Rambo, Forrest Gump and Full Metal Jacket.

In high school, I read Dante’s Inferno.  I was fascinated with the concept of Purgatory:  there is a stage between this life and the afterlife, where you are doomed to repeat all the worst moments in your life, before you finally figure it out, and move on to the next level, whatever that may be.  And some poor souls never figure it out, and are doomed to repeat their mistakes for all eternity.

The movie Jacob’s Ladder combines commentary on the Vietnam War, along with the concept of Purgatory.  The title character, Jacob, is troubled by horrible memories of his time in Vietnam, where he believes that he was drugged and committed atrocities.  Soon, he is unable to tell the difference between dreams and reality, as he begins to see odd things in his daily life that he cannot explain.  Jacob’s visions escalate, and he fears that he is going mad.

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Well, it turns out that Jacob is (literally) a lost soul.  See the part about Purgatory.  In other words, that creepy fortune teller is right:  Jacob is already dead.  He was placed in a body bag in Vietnam, but never accepted his death.  So he has been stuck in Purgatory and is haunted by his past sins.

It is only when Jacob faces the truth about what has happened to him, that he is able to move on.  He is led by his deceased son to whatever the next level of life is.  It is noted by the doctors that Jacob seems to now be at peace.

Like The Inferno, Jacob’s Ladder is a great metaphor for being able to let go and not hold on to something that no longer serves any purpose in one’s life (or afterlife.)  It also brings attentions to the horrors of war, and manages to still be a scary, effective horror movie.

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4)  Horns

Sometimes, we create our own monsters.  And the monster within is far more frightening than a bloodsucking vampire or a clown that lives in the sewers.

Horns explores the concept of the monster within in depth.  Based on a book by Joe Hill, this movie deals with many other themes other than “the monster within,” including family, friendship, first love and just who (or what) can be considered evil.

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One morning, Ignacio M. Parrish (note the initials), or Ig, wakes up and finds he has grown a pair of horns.  These horns are invisible (almost) everyone else, but Ig finds out that people will confess their darkest desires (and sometimes even act those desires out, having lost all inhibition) to him, as the horns seem to exude some sort of influence on (almost) everyone around him.

We also learn of Ig’s first love, Merrin, and that Merrin was murdered nearly a year prior.  Ig was accused of the murder, and no one in town believes that he is innocent.  For the rest of the movie, Ig struggles to understand what he has become, and to solve Merrin’s murder and clear his own name.  Ig also finds out that those he called friends and family are really anything but, and that he stands alone in his desire to bring justice to Merrin.

Horns appears to be a horror movie, and it is, but it is so much more.  It is a love story, a cat-and-mouse detective story and even a dark fantasy, with a lot of religious allegory.  In other words, a little something for everyone.

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3.  Burnt Offerings

Move over, The Amityville Horror  and The Conjuring.  There’s a new (well, not really) haunted house movie in town, and it goes by the name of Burnt Offerings.

Burnt Offerings may not be the movie one thinks of when anyone brings up the subject of the haunted house movie.  And that would be a grave oversight, as this movie is the movie I believe should represent the haunted house movie category.

In many ways, Burnt Offerings is your standard haunted house movie.  There is a nice young family, which includes the sweet old great aunt Elizabeth (played brilliantly by Bette Davis.)  The nice young family gets a deal for a summer home rental that is probably too good to be true.  The mother of the nice young family doesn’t listen, of course, and that spells doom for everyone.

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However, in many ways, Burnt Offerings is NOT your standard haunted house movie.  For one thing, ghosts are not a major of part of the movie. Instead, the movie relies on “real life horrors” (like a father trying to drown his child) and the house itself becomes a character, exerting its evil influence on the inhabitants.  The film also uses psychological horror, invading the minds of the inhabitants and terrorizing them with unpleasant past memories.

Oh, and before we move on to the next entry, let’s hear it for the chauffeur.  In other words, one of the many reasons I need to spend some quality time in my therapist’s chair, even as an adult.  He may have also been responsible for a soiled pair of underwear, but I can neither confirm nor deny that rumor.

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2.  Phantasm

In any horror movie, you have to have a good villain.  After all, a good horror movie is nothing without a guy (or girl, or creature) that you love to hate.

For a long time, Pennywise the Clown was that creature.  Could anything be scarier than a homicidal clown who lives in the sewers and eats kids?

Well, I think I found someone to give good old Pennywise a run for his money (or is that a run for his souls?)

Enter The Tall Man, the villain from the movie Phantasm.  Again, I can neither confirm nor deny a rumor that this man may also have been responsible for a pair or two of soiled underwear.

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Phantasm may be old (only a year younger than yours truly…yikes!) but surprisingly, it stands the test of time.  I watched this movie recently, and it scared the crap out of me all over again…yikes!

As I have said before, Phantasm is all about the villain.  The Tall Man is definitely someone I would not want to meet in a dark alley (and I will pass on his dwarfs too, thank you.)  However, I was also struck by the movie’s use of ordinary objects to elicit a sense of foreboding and outright fear.  I think I can rightfully make the statement that this the only movie I know of that managed to make a guitar tuning fork frightening.  Along with the inside of the funeral home, although those are pretty frightening anyway.  Even Mike’s bedroom was frightening, although that may have just been the 1970’s decor (something that thankfully has NOT withstood the test of time.)

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It should be noted that while I generally have no use for sequels, especially with horror movies  (Carrie 2: The Rage anyone?), I think that Phantasm II is also very good and worth watching, although it seems to be more of a continuation than a sequel.


And now, for my favorite horror movie of all time…

drum-roll-please

Poltergeist (1982)

Yes, I have chosen Poltergeist as my favorite horror movie of all time.  This may seem like an odd choice, but roll with me on this, ok?

Poltergeist, on the surface, is not your typical horror movie.  There is no violence.  There is no sex.  There is hardly even any swearing…I believe that the worst word someone uses is “damn”, and there are certainly no f bombs.  In fact, the movie is rated PG, which is, again, unusual for a horror movie.

In fact, at points, this movie could be mistaken for a Disney movie…thank you, Zelda Rubinstein!

However, Poltergeist is one fucking scary movie.  I will mince no words:  this movie scared the shit out of me when I first saw, and still continues to scare the shit out of me to this day.

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Like I said before, this movie could almost be mistaken for a Disney movie.  At first, the hi-jinks of the ghosts haunting the home of the Freeling family are sort of amusing.  Chairs move on their own accord.  Drinking glasses break.  Furniture cannot stay still.

But slowly, the hi-jinks become a little more sinister.  Carol Anne’s pet bird mysteriously dies.  And then is the matter of that tree outside the bedroom window that is not as nice as it appears…

Then, we get to disgusting, as one of the parapsychologists who pays a visit to the Freelings helps himself to leftovers one night, and finds out he is not eating chicken…

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Very quickly, things go from benign to sort of disturbing to outright fucking terrifying, as Carol Anne is kidnapped and trapped in some sort of alternate dimension, between the living and the dead.

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But the nice medium pays a visit, to help the family.  And Carol Anne is rescued.  Dad finds out that the house was actually built on a graveyard (more on that in a minute), and the family decides to pack up and move.

Case closed, right?

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Well, no.  The last 15 minutes or so of Poltergeist is the biggest roller coaster ride in any movie, as literally all Hell breaks loose.

Turns out, there is a technicality.  So…a forgetful person not only built the house on a graveyard, but kind of forgot to move…you know…the DAMN BODIES that were buried in those graves!

In other words, we are FUBAR, ladies and gentleman!

Of course, all ends well (except for that television set, but I can’t blame Dad on that one).  But the suspense came close to killing me the first time I watched this movie as a teenager…would everyone survive, or would the spirits win?  And even as an adult, those last 15 minutes get the old heart rate up…

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The other thing I like about Poltergeist is that it was made long before CGI was even an idea, so Steven Spielberg had to rely on other things to tell the story, like props, makeup, acting and oh yeah…good writing and storytelling!  There is a reason why so few movies after, oh say, 1995 are on this list:  CGI has made for lazy storytelling and has been responsible for the decline of modern horror, in this humble blogger’s opinion.

Oh, and a side note:  I may have referred to Pennywise the Clown quite a few times in this blog post, but I think that Pennywise would do well to bow down to the Poltergeist Clown, as I believe this clown should take home the honor (or is horror?) of All Time Scariest Fucking Clown in a Movie Ever.

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Well, that’s it for my all time favorite horror movies.  It was hard to whittle the list down to just ten, and I am sure a few really good movies were left off.  What it is it that they say?  Always a bridesmaid, never a bride, right?

So, check some of these flicks out if you haven’t already.  I promise you, none of them are as scary as that thing they call the Republican National Convention, but at least the makeup job on the villains is much better than the makeup job on Donald Trump!

BOCA RATON, FL - MARCH 13: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a thumbs up during his campaign rally at the Sunset Cove Amphitheater on March 13, 2016 in Boca Raton, Florida. Mr. Trump continues to campaign before the March 15th Florida primary. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

And with that note, adios!  Happy viewing!

 

 

 

 

 

Burnin’ For You: My Review of The Fireman

It should be no secret that one of my favorite books of all time is The Stand, written by The Master.

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I have read this particular book more times than I can count (and seen the movie, too.)

The themes resonate with me, and I just love the story line.  I also love the characters, as they are unforgettable.  Stu Redman, Tom Cullen, Nick Andros, Nadine Cross, Harold Lauder…they are forever etched into my brain.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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So imagine my excitement when I heard about a “new” The Stand.  Not better or anything like that (as if, right?) but another re-imagining, if you will.  The same kind of story, just told in a new way.

Sign me up, I said!  I’m there, no questions asked!

Well, after the months of anticipation, I finally got the “new” The Stand, aka The Fireman.  And The Fireman is written by none other than The Master 2.0, aka Joe Hill.

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I have read everything that Joe Hill (the son of The Master, aka Stephen King) has ever written.  And he has quickly established himself as one of my favorite writers.  He comes by the moniker The Master 2.0 honestly.  Joe is certainly a chip off the old block, and may (gasp) even do some things better than the old block, although only time will tell on that statement.

So, without further ado, here is my recap and review of Joe Hill’s latest novel, The Fireman.

And, as always:

Homer spoiler


Synopsis

At the beginning of the novel, we are introduced to a young woman named Harper Grayson.  Harper is a school nurse, and loves her job.  We also learn that there is a massive epidemic that is slowing taking over Harper’s world.  The doctors and scientists refer to this plague as Draco Incendia Trychophyton.  To the general public, it is known as Dragonscale.  Anyone afflicted with Dragonscale first develops black and gold marks across his/her body.  At some point, the person afflicted with Dragonscale bursts into flame, dying an agonizing death.  There is no known cure for Dragonscale.

One day, Harper and several of her students witness a man burst into flames, due to the effects of Dragonscale.  This is a traumatic experience for Harper.  She returns home later that night and speaks to her husband, Jakob, who insists that she not continue working at the school, as Jakob is deathly afraid of becoming infected with Dragonscale.

Some months later, we learn that Harper is volunteering at a local hospital that mainly houses patients with Dragonscale.  The job is hard, as so many have died from the effects of Dragonscale, but Harper sticks with it.

One day, a man in a fireman’s suit brings in a little boy who is very ill.  The man becomes belligerent, stating that the boy’s case is an emergency.  After some arguments with the head nurse, the boy is examined and found to have a ruptured appendix.  It is also discovered that the boy’s name is Nick, and he is deaf.  The doctors operate on the boy, and he stays in the hospital for three days.  On the fourth day, the boy has disappeared.  The staff at the hospital is puzzled over this, as his room was located on an upper floor, and there are no signs of any forced entry.

While volunteering at the hospital, Harper meets a woman named Renee.  Renee is positive and upbeat, doing her best to make sure that those afflicted with Dragonscale get some happiness during their last days.  Renee reads to the children, and is not afraid to comfort the dying.  Harper becomes friends with Renee, and is devastated to learn that Renee is infected with Dragonscale.  One day, while reading to the children, Renee realizes that she will be overcome by the Dragonscale, and makes an exit from the hospital.  It is presumed that Renee passes away from the disease, but her body is never found.

Shortly after Renee’s death, the hospital where Harper is volunteering burns down.  Her husband, Jakob, offers her comfort, and tells her that he is determined to enjoy life, even if there is not much of that remaining for them.  That night, Harper and Jakob make love, and conceive their first child.

Harper soon finds out that she is pregnant.  Shortly afterwards, she she also finds out that she has somehow contracted Dragonscale.  Upon learning this news, Jakob becomes hysterical and leaves their home.  Jakob also begins to pressure Harper to end her life, even though Harper is opposed to this, as she is pregnant.

As the weeks pass by, the hysteria mounts.  Infected people are rounded up and put into concentration camps.  Some people take it upon themselves to rid the world of infected people, and resort to violence to do so.  Harper even receives a visit from some mysterious people in Halloween costumes, who somehow know that she is pregnant and offer prenatal vitamins to her.  Harper sees a man in a fireman costume when she sees these people.

One day, Harper makes the call to her brother Conor to let him know that she is pregnant and also infected with Dragonscale.  Conor and his wife become very upset at the news, but Harper begs them to take care of her baby, as she is convinced that she can still deliver a healthy baby.

Shortly after the conversation with her brother, Harper receives a visit from Jakob.  Jakob is hysterical and is convinced that he has contracted Dragonscale, even though Harper is not convinced of this.  Harper is frightened of Jakob, as he has come armed with a gun.

Jakob attacks Harper, but she retaliates by attacking him with a wine glass and is able to escape.  She then encounters the mysterious fireman she first met at the hospital, along with a woman named Allie who is wearing a Captain America costume.   The fireman fends off Jakob, and Harper realizes that he is also infected with Dragonscale.  However, the fireman appears to be able to control the effects of Dragonscale, and is even able to use the affliction as a sort of weapon.

The fireman and Allie lead Harper to a refugee camp that has been set up for those afflicted with Dragonscale.  There, Harper encounters Renee, the nurse who she thought had died from the effects of Dragonscale.  She also meets a man named Tom Storey, who is referred to as Father Story.  We also learn that the fireman’s name is John.  Harper is treated for her fractured ankle at the camp, and others also tell her that the Dragonscale can be controlled, and that death is not automatic.  Harper also learns that Nick, the deaf boy who was suffering from appendicitis at the hospital, is also a resident at the camp.  She also meets a woman named Carol, who is the daughter of Father Storey.

Later on, Harper speaks to Renee, who tells her the story of how she survived the Dragonscale and learned to control it, as opposed to letting it control her.  It appears that the Dragonscale responds negatively to distress and positively to happier emotions.

As the months go by, Harper struggles to adjust to life at the camp.  The camp begins to run low on supplies, and begins rationing food.  Harper also learns that the members of the camp were forced to kill another member, Harold Cross, who was going to betray them to the outside world.  This would allow the Cremation Squads, a group of people who have taken it upon themselves to destroy those who are infected with the Dragonscale, to find the camp.  Harper also begins to exhibit signs of infection, such as smoke coming from her skin, but still is not able to control the effects of the Dragonscale.

One morning, Harper awakens.  Her clothes are burning and she begins to feel that she is going to succumb to the Dragonscale.  She heads outside for a walk, and thinks that she hears John, the fireman who secludes himself from the rest of the camp, telling her not to give up.  This encourages Harper, and she returns to the camp, feeling somewhat at peace with herself.

Harper volunteers for kitchen duty the first day the rationing comes into effect.  She feels a joy when she realizes that people are volunteering to skip a meal so that others may eat.  She begins to sing a song from Mary Poppins, and feels a sort of euphoria that is so intense that she even temporarily forgets her own name.  At this point, Harper has learned how to control the effects of the Dragonscale, and begins to feel more optimistic.

It is soon revealed that someone is stealing items from women’s dormitory.  Father Storey makes a plea for that person to come forward, but no one does.  Harper becomes a victim of the thief, who steals the care package that she has made for her unborn child.  However, Harper momentarily forgets about the thief, when the fireman, John, makes his way into the camp and tells Harper that he needs her assistance, as there are two more refugees who have made their way into the camp.

While searching for medical supplies to assist the refugees, Harper finds a notebook that had been kept by Harold, the traitor who was killed a few months earlier.  Harper puts the notebook aside for the moment, and makes her to the rescue mission.

The rescue mission proves to be difficult, as the group is attacked by a Cremation Squad, which is a group of people who have taken it upon themselves to kill anyone who they believe is infected with Dragonscale.  John the fireman is able to distract the squad, and is able to escape with Harper’s help, even though he is injured.  Harper notices her husband Jakob on the squad, but he does not recognize her.

Harper helps John back to his cottage, and does her best to tend to his injuries.  She is summoned back to the main camp, however, because Tom Storey has also been badly injured.  Harper attempts to save Father Storey with her makeshift equipment.  He does not die, but does slip into a coma for two months.

The two convicts are accused of attempting to kill Father Storey, despite the lack of evidence.  Harper and Renee speak out against this, stating that keeping the men as prisoners in inhumane conditions is wrong.

Harper then heads back to her house, as she needs supplies.  She is surprised by the appearance of her husband, Jakob, and two fellow members of his Cremation Squad.  One of these men is the Marlboro Man, who is also a conservative radio talk show host.  Harper is able to hide from the men, and heads back to the camp several hours later.

After she returns to the camp, Harper heads over to John the fireman’s house.  She treats him for his injuries to the best of her ability, and learns the story of how he came to know Carol’s sister Sarah, who was the mother to Allie and Nick.  Harper begs John to teach her how to control the Dragonscale, but he refuses.  John tells Harper that he can use the Dragonscale to provide a distraction, so that she can obtain some desperately needed medical supplies.

When Harper returns to the camp, she finds out the other residents are angry with her, as they feel she could have betrayed their secrets.  Carol has punished Allie for neglecting her duties and letting Harper leave by placing a stone in her mouth so that she cannot speak.  Harper tells Allie that she will not accept the punishment, and Allie doesn’t have to either.  However, Allie ignores Harper and continues to play martyr.

Harper speaks to Renee, and the two worry about the direction that the group is taking, as they feel that Carol has become a dictator.

The next day, Harper is brought to Carol.  She also encounters one of the convicts who was previously rescued, named Gil, in Carol’s quarters.  Gil tells the story of how he and his friend Mazz escaped from prison, as they realized that people who were claiming to help them actually intended on killing them, as they witnessed several infected prisoners being shot.  Carol tells Gil that he still must remain in the camp’s prison, as she believes that Mazz was actually responsible for injuring her father and that Gil was an accomplice.  Harper also outlines John’s plan for obtaining medical supplies.  Carol is reluctant, but still tells Harper to put the plan in motion as soon as possible.

After the confrontation with Carol, Harper is attacked by group of girls, who pelt her with snowballs and force a stone into her mouth as punishment.  Allie is among the group, but does nothing to stop the attack.

The attempt to obtain medical supplies turns violent when the group hijacks an ambulance.  Several people are murdered and injured.  Harper attempts to help the injured, but is rebuffed by other members of the group.  Harper and her group are then attacked by a group led by Jakob and his friend the Marlboro Man.  Several members are killed, but Harper and a few others manage to escape, as what appears to be a phoenix shows up at the right time.

When Harper returns to the camp, she finds out that Father Storey has a close call with death but is still alive.  Carol is distraught, and tells Harper that she is only allowed to stay at the camp to care for her father.  Carol tells Harper that if Father Storey passes away, she will be forced to leave the camp.

Harper then receives a letter from Allie apologizing for her actions.  She speaks with another member of the camp, Michael, and learns that it was Allie who told the John the fireman what was happening when the group hijacked the ambulance, and that John sent over the phoenix to distract the Cremation Squad.  Michael talks of leaving the camp with Harper, Allie and other members who are unhappy with Carol’s rules.

Harper then visits John, and finds out that he has pneumonia.  She talks of leaving the camp, but tells John that he should lead that group, as she feels that she needs to stay to give birth to her baby.  Harper administers what treatment she can to John, and learns the story of how John, Allie, Nick and Tom learned to control the effects of the Dragonscale through singing.  However, John does not give any details as to how Sarah, who was never infected with the Dragonscale, died.

Back at the infirmary, Harper reads the journal of Harold Cross, the man who was thought to be a traitor.  She learns that there is an island for those infected with Dragonscale, known as Martha Quinn Island.  An internet search on a contraband cell phone confirms that this island is real.  Shortly after Harper digests this news, she receives another surprise:  it appears that Tom Storey has awakened from his coma.  However, Harper is not able to get any information from Tom, as he appears to go back to sleep.

John, Harper and several other members meet at John’s cottage one night to discuss plans for a possible escape from the camp.  Harper is chosen to be the leader of the group, due to her calm manner.  Harper stays behind when the others leave.  She shares a kiss with John, and learns the full story behind Sarah’s death.  Apparently, Nick had figured out how to fully control the Dragonscale, and taught John how to do so.  Sarah deliberately infected herself with Dragonscale, as she considered it a blessing, and not a curse.  However, Sarah did not allow for the infection to be in her body for a long enough time (according to Harold Cross’ notes, one needed to be infected for at least six weeks before the Dragonscale spread to the brain) and burned to death before she could control the infection.  However, not all of Sarah burned, as a part of essence remains in John’s cottage.

When Harper awakens the next morning, she finds out that Tom Storey has regained full consciousness.  And Tom has news to share:  he tells Harper that Carol, his daughter, deliberately set up Harold Cross to be murdered by a Cremation Squad, in order to make an example of him.  Father Storey asks that John be brought back to the camp, along with Allie, Nick and Carol, so that he may have his family by his side.

After receiving this information, Harper pays a visit to John’s cottage, and brings him back to the camp, so that he can speak to Tom Storey.  However, they are attacked by Michael, who actually is on the side of Carol and is not interested in fleeing the camp.  Michael also set up Harold Cross to be murdered by the cremation squad.  Michael also attempted to have Harper killed, as he was the one who set the Cremation Squad upon her when she returned to her home for medical supplies.  Michael has killed Tom, and plans on framing Harper for the murder.  He forces Harper to inject herself with insulin, to make it look like a murder and attempted suicide.

When Harper awakens, she faces Carol, along with an angry mob.  Harper, John and their followers are accused of conspiring to kill Tom Storey with intent of turning the camp into a prison camp.  Mazz, one of the rescued prisoners, also comes forward as a double agent.  The mob then begins to pelt John with stones.

Harper begins to fight, and finds that she can use the Dragonscale to do so.  She is able to rescue John, and she, Allie and John attempt to escape.  They realize that Nick, the young deaf boy, is also helping them, as Nick uses the Dragonscale to create a giant hand that is termed the Hand of God.

However, all is not well, as Nelson Heinrich, thought to have been killed in the heist of the ambulance and medical supplies, has led a Cremation Crew to the camp.  Harper, John, Allie and the rest of the members take shelter in the empty church.  There, Carol and her followers commit a sort of mass suicide, going up in flames while singing.

Renee and Gil find a firetruck, and use that to defeat the Cremation Squad, which includes Harper’s ex husband Jakob, and the Marlboro Man.  However, Gil is shot in the process and loses his life.  Nick leads Harper and the rest of the survivors to a sandy pit, and confesses that he was the thief who had been stealing supplies.  John does not come along, but promises Harper and the others that he will meet up with them in a day or two.

At the hideout, Nick tells the story of how Michael tricked him into stealing the items.  Shortly afterwards, John the fireman returns.  John makes another trip to gather food and supplies, and the survivors also hold a funeral for Gil.  John and Harper make plans to leave for Maine for Martha Quinn Island, as there are still Cremation Squads hunting the group.

The next morning, John, Harper and the rest of the survivors head for Maine via a truck, in an attempt to get to Martha Quinn Island.  Renee sees a cat that she thinks to be her cat, Mr. Truffles, and the group votes to bring the cat along, although John is not happy about this, as he feels the cat may be a danger to them.  After a tense inspection, the group passes a checkpoint and arrives in Maine, which has been destroyed by the Dragonscale.

The survivors are then attacked by Harper’s ex-husband, Jakob, who has tracked them down to Maine.  Harper battles her ex-husband, and is saved by a woman of flames, who is the essence of Sarah, Nick and Allie’s mother.  Jakob is literally burned alive. John also survives the attack, but is badly hurt.  The essence of Sarah bids her goodbyes to John, Nick and Allie, and then literally winks out of existence.

Harper and her friends continue on their way to Martha Quinn Island.  However, Harper grows increasingly worried about John, who contracts pneumonia in addition to the rest of his injuries.

As the group makes its way to Martha Quinn Island, they find supplies and provisions along the way.  However, the healthy people greet them with mistrust, and do their best not to make any contact with those infected with Dragonscale.  Someone also leaves antibiotics for John, who then begins to show signs of recovery.

Finally, the group makes it to Martha Quinn Island.  However, on the boat ride to the island, Harper finds out that they have been tricked:  there is no island for survivors.  Instead, the infected are euthanized, in attempt to rid the world of Dragonscale.  John confronts Jim, the captain of the boat, and is shot in the stomach.  However, John uses the power of the Dragonscale to burn the boat and their attackers, saving Harper and the others.  The group is then rescued by Don Lewiston, another survivor from Carol’s camp who had previously gotten a head start to Martha Quinn Island.  Once they are on Don’s boat, Harper gives birth to a baby girl.  The baby is also infected with Dragonscale.  Harper names her Ashley.

Don speaks of other islands for those infected with Dragonscale, and Harper and her friends agree to set sail for them, in the hopes that they will be able to survive in the new world they now inhabit.


My Thoughts

Well, let me just say this much:

Joe Hill, you are on fire!

Joe Hill 1

Seriously, this book was smoking, and fanned the flames of my love for Joe Hill and his writing!

Ok, we got that out of the way, aka the obligatory fire puns that I intended to burn you with (see what I did there.)

So, let’s get something else out of the way…

As I have said before, Joe Hill may be the son of The Master, but he is definitely his own man.  And I love that about him.

However, there were so many nods to The Master, and I had so many fan girl moments…

So let’s talk about those…

First of all, the homage to The Stand.  My favorite King book of all time.  So of course, the fan girling was intense.

For instance, a deaf kid who just happened to be named…Nick?!  You bet!  My number one book boo exists on the Joe Hill level of The Tower…who knew???

Nick

The many references to Watership Down!, and the guy who claimed he couldn’t get into into a book about rabbits, but loved the book anyway…sound like our favorite redneck from East Texas, anyone?

watership down 1

A character named Harold Cross?  Is he the unfortunate lovechild of the couple we loved to hate in The Stand?

And the homage went way beyond even The Stand

Nozza-la, anyone?  Hey, you gotta take what you can get, you can’t be picky about soda in the post apocalyptic world.  Now excuse me while I take a look at my Takuro Spirit, can’t seem to find anyone to service this particular vehicle for some reason…

Oh, and a scary guy with a croquet mallet?  Now I’m craving “red rum”…hope that’s something you can “overlook!”

redrum

The mention of Tom Gordon…a girl can love him, right?

Ok, enough with the bad jokes…time to take a stand against them…haha!

I also loved the references to pop culture in this book, along with the humor.  Someone is definitely a chip off the old block.

I mean, he had Glenn Beck catch fire and burn to death…giggle snort…this brought a much needed smile to me that day!

Although he was bit harsh on JK Rowling.  But somehow, it’s fitting that the masses would turn on her for trying to help those who contracted the ‘scale…

Harry-Potter-Prequel

And the pod people had taste in music…they sang U2’s One…swoon!

Time to talk about Harper Willowes, our main character.

This book may be titled The Fireman, but make no mistake about it:  this is Harper’s book (sorry John, you are still awesome anyway!)

We have Arya Stark.  We have Beverly Marsh.  We have Robin Martine, from Malus Domestica by SA Hunt.

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And now we have Harper Willowes.

In other words, Harper is a bad ass woman. Extremely bad ass.  And she did most of this bad assery while she was pregnant…mind = blown!

Anyone who escapes from an abusive relationship is a bad ass, in my book.  And Harper did that, relatively early in the story, when she got away from Jakob (really, this guy should top a list of book douches.  Beats women and listens to conservate talk radio…real winner right there!)

While John the Fireman may be the camp’s X Factor, Harper Willowes is really the camp’s heart.  Her fellow survivors come to depend on her, and not just for her nursing skills.  Harper is able to remain calm and rational, when most people are not.  She is even able to remain calm and rational in regards to her child, whom she considers turning over to adoptive parents once he/she is born, so she does not pass the ‘scale on to her child.

Harper is someone you want on your side at any time (although I will skip the Mary Poppins, thanks), but especially in a time of crisis.  There is something to be said for someone of that nature, as I can think of few people that I know personally whom I could trust in a time of crisis…makes me actually wish Harper was real.

Joe Hill did a good job with his previous female characters, such as Georgia (Heart Shaped Box), Vic (N0S4A2), Merrin (Horns) and now Harper (The Fireman.)  Finding a good female character in any book can be a problem, but so far, Joe Hill is stepping up to the plate nicely in this regard.

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So, let’s talk about the structure of this book, and the ending.

Especially about the ending, but more on that later.

A prevailing theme in this book was the fact that our greatest enemy is…well…us.  I was constantly reminded of that old Pogo cartoon, where one character tells another that he has met the enemy, and the enemy is us.

pogo 1

This book did not need an evil wizard (although there is nothing wrong with those) in order to be scary.  Nor did it need need an infectious horrible disease that kills people in horrible ways (nothing wrong with that though, either, natch.)

Instead, humans were the bad guys in this book.  We had the members of The Cremation Squads.  Just the name of that is horrible enough.  They also carried out that first word, burning those believed to be infected with Dragonscale, in the name of keeping everyone else safe.  So definitely pretty horrible.

But we also had fanaticism, aka “Mother” Carol and her band of zealots.  And these guys were supposed to be on the side of the good!  However, their treatment of those who had the nerve to disagree with them was almost as bad as what the Cremation Squad did those infected with the ‘scale.

Fanaticism is something that comes up often in the works of Papa King, and Mr. Hill seems to be a chip off the old block in that regard as well.  I was constantly reminded of Ms. Carmody in The Mist, and how her religious fanaticism was almost as big a threat as the inter-dimensional monsters.  Her fanaticism was also about as useful as Carol’s fanaticism when the big showdown came, and both women ultimately proved themselves useless in the fight against the greater enemy.

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Joe Hill spent a great deal of time discussing how those infected with Dragonscale were treated, and the parallels I drew were disturbing, to say the least.

Throughout time, there has always been some sort of threat.  At least, we are led to believe we need to be afraid of something.  After all, if there is not someone or something to fear and persecute, then what good is being human, right?

We have had Ebola virus.  The internet gets really interesting, when it finally becomes public knowledge that there have been people infected with Ebola who have been traveling in and out of our country (and others) for decades.  Suddenly, everyone becomes an expert in biology and obtains medical license, and knows the best way to handle those infected (hint: it usually involves something much more inhumane than offering the sick chicken noodle soup.)

There is the Islamo-phobia that Glenn Beck, Donald Trump and the rest of the Faux News crowd is intent on perpetuating.  After all, if I am not in constant fear of a terrorist attack by Muslims (since white Christians never commit those, natch), then I am just not a good American!

Way back when, we had the Jewish refugees.  Many requested refugee status when things started to go south in Germany, and were denied.  Or if they did manage to migrate here, they were shunned, almost as if they had a disease that people feared because most did not understand it.

Sounds pretty familiar, huh?  I have said it before and I will say it again:  human fuckery is the worst kind of horror there is.  And Joe Hill drives home that point again and again, in The Fireman.

Ok, let’s talk about the ending to this one.

I admit it, I grew complacent.

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What can I say, it was last week…I was naive back then!

This ending has left me to conclude that Joe Hill is a genius.  Seriously, he needs to win a Pulitzer prize!

Now, I should have had a clue.  They were calling the so-called sanctuary “Martha Quinn Island”, after all.  Not that there’s anything wrong with Martha Quinn, but she is sort of a relic (gah, I just got old.)

Joe Hill was born in 1972, and is only six years older than I am.  In other words, we are of the same generation.

And my generation tends to idealize the 1980’s, in much the same way that my parents continue to idealize the 1960’s.

So naming the so-called sanctuary after an 80’s icon is just somehow fitting.  We want to believe that the 1980’s were a simpler time, in much the same way that we want to believe that there just has to be a sanctuary somewhere that will take care of in our time of need.  How could there not be?

I was struck by how easy it was to lull (most) of the survivors, once they had escaped Carol, along with the defeat of the Cremation Squad.  It reminded of the rabbits in Watership Down! who are actually captives of a farmer who raises them for food, but they don’t know they are captives.  Like Harper and the other survivors, they become complacent.  And of course, they don’t come to a good end.

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Honestly, the ending shocked me a bit, but in the end (see what I did there), I was not entirely surprised by this ending.  And I believe that this ending was the only ending and therefore the right ending.

Unfortunately, nothing is ever so cut and dried in “real life.”  We want to believe that there is still good out there, and that there are people who have our best interests at heart.  Oftentimes, we allow ourselves to be fooled, even though we know that we should be more aware.  We don’t want to believe that we will lose that job that we have had for years.  We get married, and think that we will live happily ever after.  We don’t want to believe that anyone we love can die, much less die before their time.  And we would like to believe that if there was a plague that resulted in us contracting a disease that could potentially result in a painful death, that there would be people out there dedicated to possibly curing the disease, as opposed to simply eradicating those afflicted with the disease.

But again, human fuckery rears its ugly head.  It probably started with human fuckery, and then it ends with human fuckery.  Joe Hill reminds us this yet again.

But with this ending, Joe Hill also gives us something else:  hope.  After all, Harper safely delivers her baby.  And she will keep her baby, as the baby is also infected with Dragonscale.  Harper may have lost John, but Nick, Renee, Allie and the others survive.  And if they survived, along with their rescuer Don, there may well other survivors.  And maybe, just maybe, there will be a chance to rebuild.

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Fire can be used to destroy.  But like almost everything, fire has a dual nature.  Fire can be used to create as well.  And sometimes, everything must be destroyed, if we are ever to have a chance to emerge from the ashes, much like a phoenix, and attempt to rebuild.


Stephen King has said that if he passes away and leaves any unfinished manuscripts, he is not worried because he knows that Joe Hill is more than capable of finishing those manuscripts.  And this is a comforting thought, indeed.

And it’s also a comforting thought that Joe Hill is just getting started, and that we are only at the beginning of a great writing career.  And I can’t wait to find out where that career will lead.

 

 

Special Delivery: My Review of Heart Shaped Box

Oh, hangovers…

They are the worst!

You have fun, you party hard and life is good!

Until you wake up, and can’t piece together your night, and find out later that you had some wild shenanigans with your friends and maybe even got married the previous night…

Hangover 1

Well, maybe its not quite that bad, but they are no fun.  No fun at all.

Yeah, nothing like reading an awesome book series, going crazy and having all kinds of fun…

Until you are done reading those books.  And then the payback…oh, the payback…

Yes, I am referencing a book hangover.  I have had my share of the other kind of hangover, but given that this blog is devoted to all things nerdy, I thought I would acknowledge book hangovers…after all, the struggle is real!

If you have been following this blog at all over the past 6 months or so (and I truly thank both  all of my devoted fans), you would know that I just finished reading all eight (all eight!) Dark Tower books.  I read the revised edition of The Gunslinger!  I even read The Wind Through the Keyhole!

And this series is epic…it was penned by The Master, after all!

Stephen King mit Katze "Clovis", tierischer Held des Films "Schlafwandler". Der Meister des Horrors wird am Sonntag (21.09.1997) 50 Jahre. Mit 50 hat er mehr als 30 Romane veröffentlicht, ein Sachbuch, fünf Geschichtensammlungen und neun Drehbücher. dpa (zu dpa-Korr vom 17.09.1997) nur s/w

But so much epic-ness has a consequence.  And the past six months were an epic party:  I felt invincible.  I chugged shots  books like no one’s business.  And I am sure if there was a literary equivalent of a keg stand, I did that too.

But all good things must come to an end, and that includes my read and review of The Dark Tower series.  And I have been nursing that hangover for a couple of weeks now.  Like in my younger partying days, I have been averse to light and noise.  And just looking at food  books has made me feel pretty nauseous…

So I needed a cure.  The literary equivalent of a comfy couch, gallons of Gatorade and a carb filled breakfast to settle my insides…what was a nerd to do?

Well, after much searching (actually not that much searching), I found my cure…

No, not the hair of the dog that bit me!

Cujo

A much better cure.  A cure that offers a long term solution:

Joe Hill 1

No, I did not wear a pair of Horns on my head!

I am talking about the man behind the horns himself…

None other than Joe Hill!

As most people know, Joe Hill is the son of Stephen King.  And he writes scary stories.  And he has a wicked sense of humor.  A regular chip off the old block, in other words.

But the comparisons end there.  Make no mistake, Stephen King is Stephen King (and I don’t want it any other way).  And Joe Hill is Joe Hill.  I don’t want that any other way, either.  He can write a scary story like Dad, and sculpt interesting characters that the readers become invested in (again, just like Dad).

Again, make no mistake about it:  Joe Hill may have some similarities to his old man (and his stories may also link with Dad’s and could be considered a part of Dad’s universe), but his style is all his own.

And I love it.  Its refreshing.  Kind of like the literary equivalent of a comfy couch, gallons of Gatorade and a carb filled breakfast to settle your insides…

In other words, I found the perfect (literary) hangover cure: Joe Hill.  And reading his work is much better than trying to ingest some of the hair of the dog that bit me!

So, I chose the book Heart Shaped Box to help ease my hangover.  And it was perfect:  scary, great characters and great setting.  In other words, just what I needed to ease the pain, and make me a little less grouchy.

And without further ado, here is my review of my hangover cure, aka the book Heart Shaped Box!

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Synopsis

The book begins with an introduction to a man named Judas Coyne.  We learn that Judas is a musician for a heavy metal band who has been moderately successful.  We also learn that Judas has a penchant for collecting macabre souvenirs:  a snuff film, a piece of artwork from a serial killer, and a few other unusual items.

One of these items is a ghost.  Jude receives an email offering the ghost of a man who has recently died for sale, and promptly pays the $1000 asking price.  The “ghost” arrives at Judas’ home a few days later, and is actually a suit that was owned by the dead man, Craddock McDermott.

Almost immediately, Judas begins to notice odd occurrences that coincide with the arrive of his “ghost.”  His girlfriend Georgia (whose real name is Marybeth), pricks her finger on one of the pins that holds the suit together, and her finger becomes infected.  Judas’ dogs, Bon and Angus, become aggressive in the presence of the suit.  Judas begins to have odd dreams.  And worst of all, Judas begins to see an apparition of what can only be the dead man, whose eyes resemble squiggly lines.  The ghost also carries a razor on a silver chain and brandishes it as a weapon.  This causes his girlfriend Georgia to recall an incident from her childhood, when she also encountered a ghost: Georgia glanced out the window of her grandmother’s house, and saw what appeared to be a little girl, who also had eyes that looked like black squiggly lines.  Georgia later finds out that this is the ghost of her grandmother’s sister, who disappeared as a child and was never found.  Judas becomes frightened, as he realizes that he is actually being haunted and that this ghost does not have good intentions.

Judas makes a phone call to Jessica, the woman who sold him the suit.  He then finds out that Jessica is actually the sister to one of his former girlfriends, Florida (whose name is really Anna).  Jessica tells Judas that Anna committed suicide, and blames Jude’s breakup with her for Anna’s death.  The “ghost” is actually the girls’ stepfather Craddock McDermott, and Jessica reminds Jude that he has paid for the ghost of the old man, and will forever be cursed.

The odd occurrences continue.  Judas’ assistant Danny realizes that ghost intends to kill everyone associated with Jude, and resigns from his position immediately.  Judas later receives an odd late night phone call from Danny, who has actually committed suicide.  Judas falls asleep in one of his vehicles, and nearly dies from carbon monoxide poisoning.  The ghost continues to torment Judas, even after Georgia burns the suit.  Judas sees an old pick up truck that belongs to the dead man.  The ghost continues to taunt Judas, flashing the razors that Anna used to commit suicide.  Georgia becomes frightened, and encourages Jude to leave town with her.

Judas has a final confrontation at his home with the ghost, but is saved by the intervention of his dogs.  He theorizes that dogs can act as familiars and are therefore able to fight the ghost.  Judas leaves his home with Georgia and the dogs, and heads to Louisiana to confront Jessica.  Georgia insists that they stop and visit her grandmother, and also tells Judas that they may need to raise the spirit of Anna to fight the ghost of Craddock McDermott.

The next morning, Jude awakens in the hotel room with a particular tune in his head that he plays on his guitar.  Jude notices that the ghost is not present when he is playing the tune on his guitar.  However, the ghost reminds Jude and Georgia of its presence when they venture out of the hotel room, without the dogs or the mysterious tune.  Georgia nearly commits suicide per the suggestion of the ghost of Craddock McDermott.  Jude and Georgia then hightail it to Georgia’s grandmother’s house.

Jude and Georgia arrive at Georgia’s grandmother’s house, and use Georgia’s old Ouija board to summon the spirit of Anna McDermott.  They are successful, and receive a plea from Anna to stop the ghost of her stepfather.  Later on Jude sees the ghost of Georgia’s grandmother’s dead sister, and actually speaks to her, telling her to to not leave with her kidnappers.  Georgia’s grandmother tells Jude that this may put the spirit to rest, as someone has shown some concern about her fate and attempted to speak to her.  Despite the pleas from her grandmother, Georgia and Jude continue on their journey.

Before he leaves Georgia’s hometown, Jude stops at a local used car lot, and confronts the man who molested Georgia as a teenager.  Jude punches the man in the face, and takes one of his loafers as a souvenir, so that Georgia may have some closure.

Judas and Georgia then confront Jessica at her house.  Jude tells Jessica that Anna did not kill herself, but was rather hypnotized by her stepfather, who actually cut her wrists.  Jessica and Anna had both been abused by their stepfather, and McDermott continued the abuse with Jessica’s daughter.  Anna had threatened to go to the police and press charges, and her death was an attempt to keep her quiet.  A bloody fight then ensues at the house, and McDermott’s ghost returns and turns Jessica’s daughter Reese against Georgia and Jude.  Reese is able to shoot Jude with a gun, which results in the loss of Jude’s finger.  Reese also shoots Jude’s dog Bon and mortally wounds her.  Georgia and Jude escape, but barely.

Once Georgia and Jude escape to their vehicle, Judas has a vision where he witnesses the final confrontation between Anna, Jessica and their stepfather.  Anna does indeed threaten legal action, and Jessica and McDermott blame her changed behavior on Jude, and cover up Anna’s death with a staged suicide.  Jude awakens from his trance, and the ghost of Craddock McDermott speaks to him on the radio, again telling Jude that this confrontation will result in his death.

Judas and Georgia then reach their destination:  Jude’s childhood home.  However, Jude’s other dog, Angus, passes away on the journey, leaving Jude with no protection from the ghost.

The ghost returns to Jude while Jude tries to recuperate from his injury.  The ghost possesses the body of Jude’s dying father.  Georgia has a show down with Craddock McDermott, and shoots Jude’s father, killing him.  The ghost vacates the dead body, but Georgia is able to channel the spirit of Anna, who calls Craddock McDermott back to the afterlife and away from the corporate world.  However, this causes Georgia to become trapped in the afterlife.

Jude is able to bring Marybeth back from the afterlife, and the two spend some time in the hospital recovering.  Georgia and Jude return to New York and eventually get married and adopt new dogs.  Jessica is arrested by local authorities for abusing her daughter and faces a lengthy prison sentence.  Several years later, Jessica’s daughter Reese hitchhikes to New York and visits Jude and Georgia, thanking them for their actions.  The couple sends Reese on her way, giving her money and a ride so that she may build a better life for herself.


 

My Thoughts

I will not compare Joe Hill to his dad.

I will not compare Joe Hill to his dad.

I will not compare Joe Hill to his dad.

I will not compare Joe Hill to his dad.

I will not compare Joe Hill to his dad.

I will not compare Joe Hill to his dad.

I will not compare Joe Hill to his dad.

I will not compare Joe Hill to his dad.

I will not compare Joe Hill to his dad.

I will not compare Joe Hill to his dad.

I will not compare Joe Hill to his dad.

I will not…

Oh, wait…ah, screw it, I’m human and the comparison is inevitable, dammit!

Simpsons SK

But although I may compare Joe Hill to Dad (a lot, hey I am human, at least the doctors tell me that…haha), I still want to emphasize that Joe Hill is Joe Hill…

And like Dad (damn comparisons), there is so much to love about Joe Hill…

One thing I love about a Joe Hill is that he is close to my age (six years OLDER than me, in case you cared).  So many of his references are…well…recognizable.  In other words, I don’t have to turn to Google (much) to get them…

Even the title of this book:

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Yep, it seems the title of his book is a tribute to the guy above.  Someone who colored much of my adolescence (and Joe Hill’s too, I am sure), and who still continues to influence my generation (and beyond to this day).

And there is the character of Jude himself…

And how can Jude NOT be a tribute to this guy:

HOLLYWOOD, CA - AUGUST 01: TV Personality Ozzy Osbourne arrives at the premiere of Columbia Pictures' "Total Recall" held at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on August 1, 2012 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Maybe we have a Twinner, ladies and gentleman!  Jude biting the head off of a bat does not actually seem that far fetched, if you think about it…

Oh, boy…and speaking of Jude…

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Judas Coyne has to be one of the most complex characters in any book I have ever read…

In fact, he may even rival our friendly neighborhood gunslinger!

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When I read this book, I am just not sure what to do with Judas.  Sometimes, I just want to Tombstone him (although he would probably enjoy that, and that would actually be kind of fitting)!  But then he beats the living shit out of the man who molested his girlfriend as a child…

Jude takes Georgia’s (Marybeth’s) word for it, and hunts the man down.  And pummels him.  Hard.  Really hard.  And then I just wanted to give him a big old kiss, tongue and all.  Won’t the first time a literary character has gotten me hot.  Nor the last…

And speaking of sexual abuse:  I spent the first half or so of this book being petrified…

I mean, there was a guy with squiggly marks for eyes and a silver razor for a weapon who kept appearing and wouldn’t go away (well, except he hated dogs and haunting guitar melodies, apparently).  And the fact that Jude owned him because he paid for him (really, we need more disclaimers on these online purchases):  shudder.  Burning the suit didn’t stop, he just hopped into his ghastly truck and continued his campaign of terrorism that way.  He even had the power to give poor Marybeth (Georgia) a nasty infection on finger…eek!

But the second half of the book was different.  I was no longer scared.  Not scared at all.  Instead, I got pissed.  Righteously pissed, in fact!

As Hill began to reveal more about what was really going on, i.e. the abuse suffered by poor Anna, Georgia’s molestation and even the abuse suffered by Jude, who had to make adjustments so that he could continue playing guitar, the ghost with the squiggly eyes took a backseat.  My fear was replaced with anger:  how can people you are supposed to trust (parents, your friends’ parents, etc) be so…well…shitty?  What on earth is wrong with people?  How can you abuse your own stepdaughter, and then treat her in such a condescending manner when she (understandably) sinks into to depression?  How can you, when you were abused by your stepfather, along with your sister, allow your stepfather to do the same to YOUR daughter?

In other words, Heart Shaped Box is something beyond a ghost story.   This is not to diminish the ghost story, which is creepy and terrifying in its own right.  But there is so much more to this story than ghosts with icky looking eyes. It is a story of abuse, obviously.  Nearly every single character, including Judas, was a victim of abuse at some point.  And the effects of that abuse were felt for a long, long time (including the effects on Jude, whose father’s abuse took quite the toll on him and likely affected his adult life, such as his decision to not have children, his divorce, etc).

Heart Shaped Box also deals with betrayal.  Nearly every single character has been betrayed by some he/she was supposed to trust, or betrayed someone who trusted him/her.  Jude was betrayed by his father, who abused him, and his mother, who did not protect him from the abuse.  Georgia was molested by a family friend.  Anna was abused her stepfather, and Reese was abused by the same man.  Both women were also sold out by Jessica, the sister and mother who should have protected them.  Jude also does his share of betraying:  he turns Anna away when she needs him most, sending her back to the hornets nest, which ultimately leads to her death.  And Jude nearly betrays Georgia, as he puts her life at risk in order to defeat the ghost of Craddock McDermott.

However, Heart Shaped Box is also a book about redemption.  The characters may have suffered abuse and betrayal, but many are able to obtain redemption.  Georgia is able to confront her abuser and obtain some closure, which allows Anna to help her and Jude from beyond the grave.  Jude is also able to obtain redemption, as he is able to save Georgia, unlike Anna.  Jude also obtains redemption because he and Georgia are able to turn Reese’s situation around for her, so she does not suffer the same fate as her aunt.  Even Anna obtains redemption.  Although she is dead, she is still able to defeat her stepfather and save her niece from her stepfather’s evil influence.  And Reese is perhaps the most redeemed character of all:  she is able to escape from her family and finally begin to build a normal, happy life.


Well, I am starting to feel a little better…

The literary hangover is slowly dissipating…

Turns out a bit of the old Joe Hill was just what I needed…

So thank you Joe Hill.  Whether I am hung over, or have been stone cold sober for days on end, you are just what the doctor ordered!

Joe Hill 2

Snakes and a love story told in reverse: a review of the movie Horns

Now, I usually hate movies that are based on books.  What can I say, I am a purist?  I nit pick EVERYTHING when watching a movie based on a book, and most don’t measure up.  Books are simply better most of the time, and most movies fail to capture the magic of the books and don’t even come close, for the most part.  Exceptions would be The Hunger Games, The Shawshank Redemption, Stand by Me and The Green Mile.

But now we can add another movie to the exception list: Horns.  I watched it last night, and I was extremely impressed.  Not only is the adaptation very good, the movie is just a really good movie.  Those seem to be few and far between lately.  There is a reason why Hollywood keeps remaking movies:  the idea pool has gotten pretty shallow as of late and not much decent material to draw on.  However, Horns is on my top list of movies released this year, and may even end up being one of my favorite thriller movies ever.

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Horns is based on a book written by Joe Hill of the same name.  As we all know, Joe Hill is the son of Stephen King.  He has published three full length novels:  Heart Shaped Box, Horns and N0S4A2.  He has also co-authored some work with his famous dad and has published a collection of short stories titled Twentieth Century Ghosts.  The parallels between Hill and King are inevitable and it is natural to draw comparisons.  After all, he is the son of perhaps the most recognized and widely read writer on this planet.  But make no mistake about it:  Joe Hill is Joe Hill and Stephen King is Stephen King.  I personally would not want it any other way.  Both writers have their own merits and should be enjoyed on their own merits as well.  Hill has distinguished himself from his famous father, and Horns is proof of that.

To summarize:  Horns centers around main character Ignacio M. Perrish aka Ig or Iggy (the initials spell out IMP…we see what you did there, Mr. Hill).  One morning, Ig wakes up to discover that he has grown a pair of horns on his head.  And somehow, most people do not find this a problem.  In fact, people open to Ig and confess their deepest, darkest and sometimes nastiest secrets to him.  This is helpful to Ig, as his girlfriend was murdered a year ago and Ig is the main suspect.  Despite the lack of any real evidence, the townspeople and even those closest to Ig have deemed him the killer and tried and hung him.  The love story between Ig and his now deceased girlfriend Merrin is told in reverse, and Ig uses his newfound powers to find the real killer and seek revenge on those who have wronged him.

In the movie, Ig Perrish is played by Daniel Radcliffe (cue the Harry Potter-Horns memes right about here).  This was a smart casting choice, as Radcliffe is able to sympathetically play the character and give him the nuances needed.  However, Radcliffe never makes Ig pitiful at all.  Iggy is seen as a man who has undergone extreme hardship in losing Merrin, who was probably the best part about him.  Ig is seen as a “monster” but Radcliffe never loses the humanity in the character, and we are left rooting for him the entire way.

Juno Temple and Joe Anderson play Merrin Williams (the love of Ig’s life) and Terry Perrish (Ig’s shady, drug addled brother) respectively.  We mainly see both of these characters through Ig’s eyes, and both actors do an admirable job, especially Juno Tempo.  We get to know Merrin through Ig’s flashbacks, and Juno Temple is able to bring a kind of sweet innocence to Merrin, but never makes her into a martyr.  Joe Anderson does a wonderful job with Terry Parrish, portraying him to be the chump that he is, but still bringing a bit of sympathy to the character.  All of the actors seemed to have a kind of chemistry with each other, bringing believability to the dynamic.

What impressed me the most about this movie was how much of the book was kept intact.  There were some minor changes, such as the change in location.  The movie takes place in the Seattle area; the book takes place in New Hampshire.  However, the cinematography was gorgeous.  The camera work allowed for many shots of forest and bodies of water, which really added to the film.  The overcast skies and appropriately placed rain showers also added to the film.  The film also did a good job of keeping the dark humor that was so prevalent in the book.  When Ig discovers his newfound, unwanted powers, mayhem ensues.  Ig attempts to seek help at the doctor’s office and has the misfortune of running into a woman and her bratty daughter.  The woman confesses her infidelity and true feelings about her bratty child to Ig.  The bratty daughter describes, in gleeful detail, how she is plotting her mother’s demise.  The doctor and the nurse confess their true feelings for each other to Ig and start having sex right there in the doctor’s office.  The reporters hounding Ig confess that they really need a breaking story and will stop at nothing to get it.  Then the reporters end up fighting each other in brawl that resembles a WWE Royal Rumble match.  These scenes are disturbing, but the film is able to capture the dark humor in them, and that comes across very well.

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However, I did have a couple of minor problems with this movie.  The character of Glenna, played by Kelli Garner, was simply flat.  I think this is more to blame on the writers as opposed to the actress.  Glenna had much more depth in the book, and the film was just not able to capture this.  The film also failed to capture the true maliciousness of Lee Tourneau, played by Max Minghella.  This is likely because films do not spend much time delving into back stories like books do.  The book contained plenty of history between Ig and Lee, so we see how their relationship develops over the years and how Lee manipulates Ig.  The film simply did not show this, and Minghella was unable to showcase his character’s true capacity for evil.  However, the overall acting job of the cast was able to cover these flaws, and Horns still came across as a movie with supreme acting.

ig and lee

Often, movies based on books are mediocre on a good day, and complete failures on a bad day.  But with right director, producer and actors, movies can be wonderful adaptations of books, literally bringing characters and locations previously only imagined to life on the big screen.  Horns definitely falls in this category, and is a superb adaptation of Joe Hill’s terrifying, haunting novel.

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