Guest Post: Glenn Rolfe’s Top 8 Alien Movies

boom town

One of the highlights of last month’s HorrorHound Cincinnati was getting to meet people I’d only known from profile pictures and pithy comments on Facebook. Author Glenn Rolfe was one of them. Glenn’s relatively new to the Samhain stable, but it took him no time to throw himself into the community and start making an impression (a positive impression, helping a lot of authors behind the scenes, liaising with Samhain staffers, he’s been a big help to many).

Since HorrorHound is a predominantly film-focused, in spare moments where I wasn’t trying to sell people books, conversation behind the table was often turned to movies.

Glenn will freely admit that he’s not as much of a movie guy as he is a book guy. And I will less-freely admit that I may have had a bit of fun at his expense when he fell out of the conversational loop and couldn’t keep up with nerds like Kristopher Rufty and I.

Flash forward to this week when he asked if I’d be interested in letting him guest here on my blog. I’m fairly easy-going with this kind of thing (I don’t have guests often, I’ve got to like an author’s work and like them on a personal level to let them come shill at my shilling place), so I just said: yeah, write up whatever you want and I’ll throw it up.

The guy who I’d been giving a hard time about not knowing movies wrote a movie post!

And it’s not bad! Not bad at all! I mean, I’d move Alien up to tie with The Thing and I’d certainly throw Mars Attacks!, Contamination, and  Galaxy of Terror on there (Signs out the airlock, for me), but ya know: not my list.

So find that below and enjoy. One last thing, before we get to that, is that Glenn’s here promoting his new novella, Boom Town. I haven’t read it yet (I do have it pre-ordered, though), but I know Rolfe can write and ain’t lying when I say I’m looking forward to what he does in this sub-genre. Book’s out April 7th and you can order it right here. And if you want to find out more about the guy (and punk singer!) you can find his website here.

Glenn, take it away:

8. Predator– Arnold takes on one bad ass body heat readin’ creature from another planet. This one creeped me out when I was a kid. I actually feared for Arnold’s survival.

7. Invasion of the Body Snatchers– Starring Donald Sutherland, Jeff Goldblum, and Leonard Nimoy, among others. This one is a classic that had a hand in my Boom Town story. When aliens start wearing humans, it gets pretty damn scary.

6. The 4th Kind- I totally thought this was a real thing. I mean, I knew it was a movie, but I watched it late at night by myself and when I heard the alien speak in Sumerian…the hair stood on the back of my neck. I didn’t want to see another white owl again.

5. Alien– Another classic. My numbers 2-5 could all be tied. I actually never saw this from start to finish until I rented it like three years ago. It’s scary and gross in all the right places. Sigourney Weaver is awesome and I want to watch it again right now.

4. Close Encounters of the Third Kind– I’m sure this one had the effect on people of my generation that the early black and white movies had on kids in the fifties. Close Encounters…really made me want to know about aliens and UFOs. When Richard Dreyfuss is sitting in his truck and everything goes haywire and we see the ships fly by–it’s awesome. His obsession on the screen was absolutely palpable. I think we were all on this journey with him and up on the mountain, too.

3. Signs– M. Night Shyamalan was still riding high off The Sixth Sense (minus a slight dip with
Unbreakable) when Signs came out. The first time I watched it, I knew it would stick with me. There are so many things going on in this movie that I admire. For instance, the tragedy that Graham is dealing with raising two kids after a drunk driver hits and kills his wife. He is a reverend at the time of the accident and gives up on God in the aftermath. I love the scene where Graham and his brother are chasing the alien around the house thinking it’s the troublesome skull brothers. Another aspect that really resonates with me is his children: “Daddy there’s a monster outside my window, can I have a glass of water?” and the section when Graham is in the field and the sheriff says “what’s wrong?” and he replies, “I can’t hear my children.” I love the scene when he goes to the drunk driver’s house and finds the alien in the closet. I like the invasion, and the alien’s coming, and the family gathering to have their last meal. Pretty much all of it works for me…except for maybe the aliens just retreating, but I love the rest of the film so much I let that go.

2. Fire in the Sky– The true story of the abduction of Travis Walton. This is the best abduction movie. Period. Travis is abducted when he and his tree chopping co-workers see a red light spread out in the woods before them on their way home. When they see the source of the light, they stop dead in their tracks. Travis gets out, ignores his co-workers’ demands for him to get back in the truck, and gets hit by a beam of light from the ship in the sky. The police think one of the co-workers killed Travis, until Travis calls Mike (the foreman and Travis’s best friend) from a payphone. Travis is back, but he’s not the same. Traumatized and paranoid, Travis struggles to deal with the flashbacks haunting him, while at the same time trying to get back to his normal life. It’s in these flashbacks that we see the hell these beings put him through. These are some of the creepiest scenes I’ve ever watched. To this day, I flinch and squirm at the images on the screen: the goop they stick in his mouth and the instruments they use on his throat and his eyes. Then, there’s the weird casing they use to hold him in place. It’s a horrifying experience that perfectly, if uncomfortably, transfers off the screen to the viewer. I had nightmares after seeing this movie for the first time. Creepy. Awesome. And a word to the wise: If you see a large spacecraft overhead, DO.NOT. GET. OUT. OF. THE.VEHICLE!

1. The Thing– The ultimate in alien terror! What other movie could top the list? John Carpenter’s 1982 masterpiece is terrifying, suspenseful, and outright gory in just the right spots. The classic special effects in this movie are amazing. There’s something much more real, much more organic about effects done without CGI. I wish more modern, bug budget films would go back to the art of special effects. It seems everyone has watched this movie and has their favorite scenes. I’m particularly fond of the kennel scene, the part when they discover the weird two-faced, frozen man at the Norwegian camp, the scene where Kurt Russell’s character has the rest of the guys tied to chairs as one-by-one he checks their blood (the suspense!), and of course the nasty scene when the doc tries to use the defibrillator only to have it end HORRIBLY. The Thing’s secret is really the psychological horror that’s happening. No one can be trusted. People are acting strange, but in a fucked up situation like this, who the hell wouldn’t be? Combine the great screenplay, the terrific acting, and just the overall look of the film and this movie has everything you could ever want in a Horror/Sci-Fi film. Unless you’re looking for a hot chick alien thing…then I guess you can rent Species. The Thing is the best.

There you go. My top 8 favorite alien flicks. I hope you’ll all check out my new Horror/Sci-Fi novella, Boom Town, from Samhain Publishing when it comes out this Tuesday, April 7, 2015.

And thanks to my friend, Adam, for having me on his blog!

Cheers!
-Glenn

EXPONENTIAL Audiobook Giveaway!

Exponential300

Exponential is now available as an audiobook!

This is a little bit of a surprise. I knew it was in the process of becoming a reality, but didn’t know when. For right now it’s available here, and I’ve been told it should be migrating to Audible (where I get my audiobooks, as I’m sure many others do) at some point soon.

Over the last couple days I’ve listened to the book and I’ve got to say that I’m very pleased with the quality. Kudos to Audio Realms and narrator David Stifel for doing such a great job.

Something else that’s cool: I now have three (3) free download codes to give away. So if you’ve been curious what exactly a crime/road novel mash-up prominently featuring a giant monster looks like, but haven’t read the book yet: now’s your chance.

Over the last few years I’ve tried all different ways of doing contests. I’ve used no purchase necessary models, I’ve done creative competitions that were labor intensive for both me and participants, I’ve done promotions to incentivize verified Amazon reviews, I’ve done Goodreads giveaways, I’ve done social media hashtag stuff, but for this one (partly because I’m pretty busy) I want to do something a little more straight-forward:

If you’ve ever bought a single one of my titles in ebook or print (yes, I’m even counting collaborations. And ebooks you bought while they were on sale for cheap. I mean, I’d prefer you buy one of the titles I’ll get more money for, but it won’t harm your odds of winning): you’re eligible to enter the contest.

BUT, if you pre-order my new novel, Mercy House, you’ll be three times more likely to win.

Here’s how to enter: if you want to redeem an older title for an entry, you can either dig out the proof of purchase email you got from the vendor or, if you bought the book in person at HorrorHound or a brick-and-mortar store, send along some kind of proof that you bought it: either a scan of your receipt, a picture of the book next to a local paper, selfies with you holding the book (along with your dog, I always like pictures of dogs), whatever, I’m not picky.

This method only counts as one (1) entry, regardless of how many books you own. For example, you might have The First One You Expect, Video Night, and The Summer Job, but providing proof of purchase for all three still only counts as one entry.

If you want three (3) entries, you need to go to this page, choose your favorite retailer (last I checked, Amazon and Google were the cheapest options), pre-order Mercy House in ebook, and then email me the order confirmation code/number so I can make sure it’s legit.

All entries should be sent in a single email (don’t forward me your receipt and then send along another email, it’ll cause confusion) to adamcesare [at sign] gmail dot com and have the subject “Exponential Audiobook” in the heading. I’ll use a random number generator to choose the winners on April 10th 2015 and will contact those winners via the address they use to enter.

Make sense? Sound fair? Cool. Good luck.

Now that that’s out of the way, a quick update:

Horrorhound Cincinnati was great, sold a lot of books and met a lot of new readers. Exponential was the first title to sell out, due in large part to the fact that people I had sold books to in September in Indianapolis came out to this show and wanted to pick up something new. There are few things I can think of that make me happier than that: the fact that I was not only able to sell people my silly books, but the fact that they liked them well enough to come looking for more. Helps me feel less like a snake oil salesman. I also had a great time hanging out with fellow Samhain authors (meeting co-author Kristopher Rufty for the first time was a real highlight) and staffers.

Alternate poster by Richey Beckett.

Alternate poster by Richey Beckett.

Upon returning from Ohio, I had a really good movie-going week. For the majority of my life I’ve been the kinda guy who tries to go to the movies at least once a week, but it’s recently gotten so that life has gotten in the way of that (with months-long dry spells where I barely have time to sit for a full movie on Netflix). Not last week, though, as I saw three flicks! All of them good! I took in the vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows, British war thriller ’71 (it’s not horror, but it’s the feature debut for Yann Demange, who directed all five episodes of the fantastic zombie miniseries Dead Set), and genre festival darling It Follows. I can honestly say that I loved all three movies, and seeing any one of them probably would have made my month under normal circumstances. If you’re near a theater playing any or all of these: get in your car and go now.

I feel like I may never be able to match the good luck of that movie-going run, but I will keep trying, for science.

The Waiting (Or, Why You Should Attend HororHound and Pre-Order Mercy House)

mh cover

Six months ago I wrote not one, but two posts about my experience selling books at HorrorHound Indianapolis. One was beforehand, kinda self-pitying and the other was after, in the triumphant glow of having moved a few of my novels to new homes.

During the show I kept marveling to the Samhain staffers and my fellow authors, telling them how surprised I was at how enthusiastic con attendees were to pick up some books. In response, all they kept telling me was that Indy was the smaller of the two HorrorHounds and that I should get a load of the Cincinnati convention.

This time next week I’ll know if they were right or not. I won’t say “I can’t wait” for March 20th-22nd because I am able to, that would be a lie, but I do know that waiting is hard.

If you’re within driving distance, I urge you to come down and check out the show. And if you’re going to be there: please stop by the Samhain booth and say hi. Of course I will be ruthless in giving you the hard sell*, but after that we can just chill and take selfies if you want.

If you need extra incentive, I’ll be joined by fellow authors Glenn Rolfe, Jonathan Janz, Tim Waggoner, Brian Pinkerton, Matt Manochio, and Kristopher Rufty (who I’m really looking forward to meeting for the first time!).

Even if you don’t pick up a book to put this remarkable bookmark in, if you come within swiping distance of the table odds are you’ll be handed one of these:

IMG_2301

That layout and printing was done by author Scott Cole and those quotes are 100% real pull-quotes from Goodreads reviewers who received an advanced copy the book via NetGalley and were not fans.

I’ve had the cover and link up on the sidebar for a few weeks now, but let’s back up and get a little info about Mercy House.

A year and a few months ago, I got a message from someone with an @randomhouse.com suffix on their email address asking if I would be interested in working on something with them. Needless to say, I did a standing backflip and then answered back in the affirmative.

The result was Mercy House.

Not that I’m a big enough deal to do a FAQ, but here are the answers to a few questions I’ve been asked more than once:

What’s it about?

Don and Nikki are bringing Don’s aging, deteriorating mother to an expensive rest home, the titular Mercy House. Upon arrival an unknown phenomena turns all of Mercy House’s elderly residents into monstrous killing machines.

What flavor of horror is it?

In interviews and on this site, I’ve talked about my desire to hop around to horror’s different subgenres and this book is no different. Just yesterday a reviewer (who liked the book) described Mercy House as “survival horror” which, despite being a genre I would normally associate with video games, is pretty much right on the money.

Although there are no zombies in sight, Romero’s Dead films were a clear touchstone for me, and they ended up being mentioned in my initial phone conversations with Random House. There are also DNA strands from sources as disparate as J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise,  Daniel Keyes’ Flowers for Algernon, Cocoon, Richard Laymon’s The Cellar, and Dead-Alive (for its splatschtick), so hopefully I’ve woven them into something worthy of your attention.

I think I have.

Is it a novel or novella?

Mercy House is my fourth full-length novel. In fact—if you’re one of those people that likes to buy their fiction by the pound—it is comfortably my longest novel by a few thousand words. What a value!

All wise-assery aside, I truly believe this is my best novel, and with the might of a big publisher behind it, MH could end up selling literally tens of copies.

Did you have to “tone it down” for a major publisher? (I know, this is a question that sounds like I made it up in a totally self-serving and humble-brag-y way, but no joke: I’ve been asked this exact thing by at least three different people on Facebook and twitter)

I guess I’ve somehow acquired the reputation of being a hardcore horror writer. I’m guessing it’s the online social circles I run in (God damn you, Shane), more than it is anyone actually reading my books, but I would contend that my most “extreme” titles (Tribesmen or Jackpot for content and The First One You Expect for general bleakness) would get me laughed at by fans of Edward Lee, Monica O’Rourke or Wrath James White. I enjoy the extreme sub-genre, but I certainly wouldn’t label myself among their ranks. I’m too tame.

That said, Mercy House certainly isn’t me “toning it down.”

If anything there are sequences here that are way more hardcore than any of my previously published stuff. While I was writing the first draft of Mercy House I had similar concerns about whether the editors would be cool with the “mature” content meant for the horror-faithful, but after handing in the manuscript the only recurring creative note I recieved was: “can we make this darker?” And I was more than happy to oblige.

That link in the sidebar is only for the ebook, when does the paperback come out?

Never, probably. This is an ebook-only release.

I realize that a lot of my readers are old-school and enjoy reading physical books, but there is no planed paperback release of Mercy House and, as much as I’d like one, I have zero influence over that. If the book becomes a runaway success then it isn’t impossible that one day in the distant future there will be a hardcopy, but I’m not holding my breath and there are no plans to do that.

Warning, here’s where I begin to grovel:

Unbeknownst to me, at the same time Random House Hydra was approaching me they were also getting in contact with bizarro legend Carlton Mellick III to do some work for the label. The result was Clownfellas and it’s already being heralded as Mellick’s best work to date (which is saying something, considering how much the man has done).

Look. You can be the reader who doesn’t like ebooks or you can be the reader who votes with their dollars and helps send big publishing the message that you want literary weirdness/sickness and are willing to pay for it.

If you are the least bit interested in checking out Mercy House (or CM3’s book), I urge you to pre-order.

I know it sounds counter-intuitive to pay for a book you’re not getting until June, but pre-ordering not only helps to show the publisher that there is interest for this kind of thing, it helps Mercy House become more visible to people who might not otherwise hear about it.

Here is a link that includes all possible pre-order destinations: amazon, B&N, Kobo, and even a few I haven’t heard of. Most of those places don’t charge you until the book comes out and will credit your card with the difference if the price should happen to drop before press time. A huge thank you to anyone who pre-orders or wishlists the book, I look forward to hearing what you think.

As I’m finishing wrapping up this post there are 2 months, 24 days and 54 minutes until the Mercy House is released. Not that I have a countdown clock on my phone or anything strange like that.

The waiting is the hardest part.

*Just a reminder that, since Samhain is hosting me at HorrorHound, I will only be selling copies of Video Night, The Summer Job, and Exponential. If you want any of my other books signed then you’ll have to bring them from home. Which would be amazing.

“El Gigante”: A Giant Short Review for a Giant Short Film

El gigante poster

Think of an author you enjoy.

Now, if applicable, think of a film adaptation of their work that badly missed the mark.

What did the filmmakers get wrong?

No, I don’t mean that unfilmable plot-point they had to change to make the movie work, don’t be so basic.

Yeah, you’re second answer was correct: sometimes adaptations just don’t feel right.

They can stick closely to the plot, even end up transposing whole swaths of dialogue to the screenplay, but something about most adaptations just doesn’t live up to the movie you had in your head.

In a little over ten minutes Luchagore Production’s “El Gigante” feels right-er than almost any film adaptation I can think of.

It would be very easy to describe McKenzie’s novel, Muerte Con Carne, as The Tex-Mex Chainsaw Massacre. Plot-wise Hooper’s film is an obvious touchstone for the book and McKenzie doesn’t hide that, but it’s the differences in tone and focus that makes Carne so great.

The title character of the short, El Gigante, is an attempt not to mimic the mythic status that culture has built around Leatherface, but to reproduce the phenomenon. The way he’s described in the book is as cartoonishly large (to give you an idea: he tangles with a car at one point…and wins). Although that doesn’t seem like it would work on film (or at the very least would make casting the part difficult), the Luchagore team takes that exaggerated feel of the character and builds a film around him, so that by the time the world is established it feels only natural that El Gigante and his family could inhabit it.

Directed by Gigi Saul Guerrero (with a co-director credit given to D.P. Luke Bramley), “El Gigante” is polished to the point of absurdity. It’s colorful and art-produced to the nines. These filmmakers went all out to replicate the gonzo opening to McKenzie’s novel and it’s the detail that makes the picture.

With minimal dialog and entirely in Spanish, “El Gigante” is the result of plucking the prologue off of the novel and filming it with very few alterations. With the exception of a new character, a creepy child in a monkey suit (the inclusion fits, in fact it retroactively seems integral to sell you in the heightened world), nothing else I picked up on is different here. The film was partly financed via Kickstarter, the stated goal of which was to have a short film that could be used to raise funding for a feature.

It doesn’t feel like test footage. The ten minutes of “El Gigante” are their own thing, complete with a (very bleak) arc for our protagonist. But I guess it does work wonders as a proof-of-concept reel because all I wanted to happen when it was over was for the rest of McKenzie’s novel to unfold onscreen.

It feels weird to be reviewing what could sound on paper like promotional footage, but the film really does stand on its own and I encourage you to track it down when it becomes available to the public. I’m sure the Luchagore team will let you know when that is on their Facebook and, in the meantime, you can check out the source material here.

*So. A disclaimer, I guess. I know Shane McKenzie and I’ve co-authored a couple of novels with him. Back in October of 2012, I was even a pre-reader on Muerte Con Carne (not usually a responsibility I relish but I remember that the book made it easy).

But believe me: if I didn’t like this movie I probably would have saved myself the trouble of typing up a review and just shot Shane a disingenuous: “Sure, man. It was really good. Loved the lighting…” via Facebook messenger and have been done with it.

A Big Night

I doubt that number still works but what's the harm in trying?

I doubt that number still works but what’s the harm in trying?

I was fifteen when Brian Keene’s The Rising came out and I’m pretty sure I read it within the first month the Leisure mass market edition was available.

I say this not to bolster fifteen year-old me’s street cred, that ship sailed a long time ago, but to give you some context as to how old I am (not very) and how long I’ve been into horror fiction (a good percentage of my life).

Without someone to show you where you’re supposed to be starting as a reader interested in this stuff, I imagine a lot of people my age took a similar path through the genre. It starts maybe a little precociously, with Stephen King when you’re too young to appreciate him.

Screw ‘appreciate’, I was too young to string a few pages of King together when the man’s legend first struck my interest. In grade school I took out a slim biography on King from the library (large print and lots of pictures, a biography clearly meant for younger readers. Which is really a bizarre target demo, if you think about it) and used it as the basis for a book report. How young was I? I don’t quite remember but the “report” took the form of a clothes hanger mobile, if that gives you an idea.

So, realistically, reading King was still a few years away but the great thing about the early-to-mid 90s for a kid with this specific interest was that R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps series existed as a placeholder to guide that transition from The Poky Little Puppy to Cujo.

Not to knock Stine, but I remember feeling like I was outgrowing Goosebumps even while I was consuming (read: freebasing) them. It was both that magnetic pull of King and that weird inferiority complex that I felt as a young boy getting his books from the children’s section of Borders when I just knew that I was meant to be browsing the “grown-up” shelves.

When my ability caught up with my will, I started with the short story collections, taking little bites, experimenting with books on tape (Nightmares & Dreamscapes, I distinctly remember Whoopi Goldberg reading about a teacher shooting a roomful of little kids and it broadening my definition of horror), and wading into the pool.

Okay, I’m digressing a lot, we’ve got to move this along. Where does a young horror reader of my vintage go after King? Well if you’re like me and you have parents who were into reading but not into reading horror, you go for another big name: Poe. Which, again, proves difficult, even once you’ve got modern style and diction down and are blazing through King and a surfeit of tie-in paperbacks based on movies (I vividly remember reading the novelization of 1998’s thriller Disturbing Behavior and the passage beginning “[female character’s name] knew what guys liked”) and games (Warhammer 40k, natch).

Finally, once a few years pass and you gain an awareness of branding and publishers, you notice that two of the books on the “New in Paperback” endcap at Waldenbooks* have similar looking covers and boom!: you’re in deep with the Leisure horror books line. At that point, if you hit it at just the right time, you were set. Trying to keep a correct chronology is tough looking back now, but within a three to five year window those paperbacks exposed me to Jack Ketchum, Richard Laymon, Edward Lee (his “tamer” stuff which isn’t really tame at all), Ray Garton, John Skipp and Cody Goodfellow (which made me go back to the Skipp/Spector years, I guess I’m part of the first generation who can make that claim, which is cool because Goodfellow’s still kicking all the asses), Tim Lebbon (Berserk, mmmmm::Homer Simpson drool::) and, (I’m pretty sure) my gateway author into the line: Brian Keene.

Wait wait wait, why is this post called “A Big Night” again?

Give me a second, I’m getting there.

Photo courtesy of Scott Cole's dogged reluctance to turn his phone off during the presentation.

Photo courtesy of Scott Cole’s dogged reluctance to turn his phone off during the presentation.

Last night my buddy Scott and I attended a reading and signing at the Free Library of Philadelphia. The guests were Laura Lippman and Duane Swierczynski** and they were both excellent.

Since I’m such a class act and unwilling to perpetuate stereotypes about twenty-somethings, I turned my cell phone off during the presentation. By the time I turned it back on my Facebook messages were ringing off the hook.

“You’re on Brian Keene’s Top Ten of the Year list!” was the gist.

Whoa, back up (again).

So the night before this I’d been tagged by buddy (and generous, tireless pre-reader) Tod Clark into one of Brian Keene’s facebook posts. He alluded to the possibility that a few other authors and I would be getting a mention on the next episode of his podcast, The Horror Show. As someone who’s been listening to the show this bowled me over, as you can expect, but I figured the mention would be in passing.

For about as long as I’ve been reading Keene’s work he’s been making yearly top ten lists and (even if they don’t stretch back that far, his various blog posts and non-fiction pieces were quick to name-drop seminal works) I always take his recommendations seriously, especially in the time before I was thinking about writing and looking to broaden my genre reading.

It’s surreal to hear him (podcast link and full list complete with book links reprinted here) put Deadite’s 2014 re-issue of Tribesmen on a list with Bryan Smith (another Leisure author I was reading!), Stephen King, Laird Barron(!!!), friends John Boden and Jonathan Janz (dopey picture with Janz here), and a few other writers I clearly need to check out.

It feels real good, but still surreal, especially when taking into account the reverence with which Keene goes on to discuss editor Don D’Auria later in the show.

It feels weird because, well, throughout high school and college I wanted to be one of those Leisure authors. It was my main goal, while living in Boston I had discussed as much with Nate Kenyon (a Leisure author I tracked down and harassed into having lunch with me), and my first novel, Video Night, was written with that market in mind. It was a goal that began as a wouldn’t-it-be-cool-if? pipedream as a kid, worked its way into a vague well maybe when I’m a lot older… in my late teens and then became a schucks-I-guess-we-won’t-know-how-that-would-have-turned-out bummer when the publisher folded in 2010.

Things, clearly, turned out well (and much sooner than expected) in the end. I got to work first with John Skipp (still my spirit guide), then with Don D’Auria at Samhain, then everything came full circle as that first book with Skipp was re-printed with a rad cover and I’m on this list and oh my god I need to go lay down it was a big night.

Huge thanks to Mr. Keene.

*Whoa, bookstores in malls! Remember that? Ever notice how the spot that used to be the Waldenbooks in your mall is, like, cursed now? Mine was a Journeys shoes for a hot minute. I think it’s now an As-Seen-On-TV money laundering front.

** Yup, both crime writers, and if I’ve learned anything it’s that you’ve got to diversify your genre reading, yo!

Smashing Spirits in the Face with HOUSEBOUND (2014)

housebound

In its two hour runtime, Gerard Johnstone’s Housebound has a lot of plot, a lot of ideas, a robust cast of characters, and a lot of gags (both of the splattery and ha-ha varieties, sometimes with significant spillover). This density is part of what makes it a great, refreshing film, but it’s also what makes it a hard film to discuss without spoiling.

The story takes several unexpected digressions, each of them feeling like a riff on a different sub-genre. While never feeling disjointed, this is still a film that can accurately be said to evoke Poltergeist, The People Under the Stairs, and Peter Jackson’s early splatschtick (probably a hacky comparison that every blogger has made, this being a New Zealand production, but not a comparison that’s untrue. In a few shots the blood even has that Dead-Alive pinkness to it, something in the water, maybe?).

Possibly the best, spoilerphobic, way to describe the film is as the ultimate skeptic’s haunted house movie.

The film starts with a botched ATM robbery and concerns a twenty-something screw-up (Morgana O’Reilly) who is court-ordered to (haunted?) house arrest with her kooky mother (Rima Te Wiata) and step-father. While stuck there she does some investigating into the house’s mysterious past. That’s about all the plot synopsis we need to get into.

Housebound is keenly aware of horror tropes and at constant work to subvert them. Take for instance our protagonist. Kylie (O’Reilly, who’s wonderful here) doesn’t hide from threats, she attacks them head on. On paper Kylie may sound reminiscent of You’re Next’s cunningly competent Erin (Sharni Vinson), but this being a straight-up horror-comedy, Kylie’s agency blows right past “strong” and into the realm of “pathologically aggressive.” This virtue/flaw is fun, and even something another character comments on late in the film.

The subversion of horror clichés doesn’t stop with the characters and their upheaval of archetypes, sometimes a joke is made out of strict adherence to clichés. There’s a great bit right near the climax of the film where the pace halts so Kylie’s psychiatrist can define “dissociative personality disorder.” It’s a scene we’ve seen so many times that its inclusion in a film as savvy as Housebound (and where it’s located)becomes something that made me laugh out loud.

It’s important to note that while a comedy, Housebound is not a parody. What sets it apart from something like Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil or Cabin in the Woods (both movies I like a lot, so don’t take that as a dismissal) is that Housebound’s aware of horror tropes, but its comedy and plot is not shackled to them. The film is never too in-jokey, never does disservice to the story or characters in order to service something “meta”, and never feels like a movie your friends who aren’t “into” horror wouldn’t get.

The film’s broader slyness is perfectly encapsulated in the character of Amos (Glen-Paul Waru), Kylie’s personal rent-a-cop security detail and, it turns out, a paranormal investigator in his spare time. It would be easy for the film to treat Amos like a total joke, and the first scene where he whips out his tape recorder and tries to sweep the house for EVP is very funny in a “get a load of this guy” kinda way. But Johnstone grants Amos a usefulness, sweetness, and competency that it’s hard to give real-life reality show “ghost hunters” (even if the film is totally against the idea that the cosmic mysteries of the universe will somehow be cracked wide open by a bunch of guys with chinstraps and cassette tapes).

Are there some jokes that don’t land? Some moments that clunk? Certainly, but what’s remarkable in a film that feels this quietly ambitious is how much of the material works. And for a debut feature to have this much going for it, I can’t wait to see what Johnstone does next.

See it before the (already announced) remake so you can feel superior.

P.S. Saw this while doing a little editorial research and it’s a pretty sick burn:

If Housebound sounds up your alley (especially if you want the right to some guilt-free whining), drop the couple bucks to see the film legitimately.

P.P.S. Now that I say that I must say: I bought this via Xbox’s Xbox Video app (because it was slightly cheaper than Vudu) and the streaming was AWFUL. The service froze at key moments, the audio continuing, so I had to rewind several times. It really kills the momentum of a movie and if streaming is truly the future of content distribution these services have got to sort crap like this out.

Then, to doubly kick myself, I saw that the movie was already out on blu-ray (as an amazon retailer exclusive, which is a new one on me) for just a couple bucks more than my sub-par digital purchase. If you’re going to go the route of buying over renting: go with the disc. Support physical media because streaming is the devil.

Take My Wife, Please: HONEYMOON (2014)

honeymoon

A lot of modern films, sometimes much to their detriment in a Screenplay 101 kinda way, take Chekhov’s rifle extremely literally.

But few films display the discipline that Leigh Janiak’s Honeymoon does while turning every single prop introduced before the 45-minute mark into its own Chekhov’s rifle, poised to explode in the second half without the audience knowing quite where it will fit in.

Rope? That’s going to get some use. The idiosyncratic call-and-answer pet-name the protagonists repeat? That comes back. The camcorder? Double yup, both for its form and for its expositional content. The skewer used to cook s’mores?

Not even s’mores are sacred in Janiak’s world.

All of this planting and revisiting is necessary, because the best way to describe Honeymoon without spoiling it is that: it’s a horror movie that’s fond of sci-fi but it likes to use the native language of the mystery to communicate.

Wait, that was all confusing, let me start again.

Every horror fan likes to whine, but they’re not often specific enough when they do their whining to effect change.

Well then, you ask: I’m a horror fan, so what’s my biggest problem with genre cinema, even when you get to its more edgy and indie fringes?

Answer: I’m annoyed by horror’s propensity for using the most broad-based, over-used fears to work with. I think that whole “find a universal fear to exploit so everyone can relate” tactic is garbage.

Fear of the dark, claustrophobia, fear of the “other” (whether they be bumpkins or whatever), fear of histrionic bodily harm. Those fears all get a lot of play and it’s not that Honeymoon doesn’t touch on any of them, it does, but those aren’t the main interest.

Fear of intimacy? Fear of commitment? Fear of starting a family? Fear of second-level betrayal, a violation of who you thought someone you loved was? Those are the kind of paranoia deep-cuts that don’t get a lot of play in modern horror cinema. What Leigh Janiak (who not only directs but co-writes Honeymoon) understands is that specificity does not always upend relate-ability.

I am not married, but I understand getting into a fight with my girlfriend. I have not had the displeasure of discovering my girlfriend cold and lost in the Canadian wilderness, but I can understand that sick double-edged sword of fearing for both her vulnerability and possible culpability in the act. And that’s what a well-made, confident film can do: it can use the emotions its audience has experienced as analogues for the emotions it hasn’t.

Why am I being so vague and so wordy when talking about Honeymoon? Well, mostly because I’m such a spoilerphobe that I don’t think I’m capable of discussing the specifics of Honeymoon’s plot without completely giving up the ending.

Honeymoon is a movie that would lose all power, may even fall prey to being called “predictable” if it wasn’t capable of subverting your expectations. But subvert expectations it does, even with its first line of dialogue.

Honeymoon is the rare horror film where the actors are tasked with doing most of the heavy-lifting. Harry Treadaway and Rose Leslie are not only the stars of Honeymoon: they are the only actors on screen for 98% of the film.

What’s interesting about these stars is how I (and I’m guessing a lot of other American viewers) perceive them before the movie begins.

These are two of the most British/Scottish actors I can think of. Leslie rose to prominence in a supporting, but memorable, role in Downton Abbey, but later traded in her maid’s uniform for furs when she moved beyond The Wall to join the Free Folk as Ygritte on Game of Thrones. Likewise, Treadaway plays Victor Frankenstein in Showtime’s (unbelievably good, so much better than its premise should allow) Penny Dreadful.

Picking up the Blu-ray and looking at the above-the-title stars, I just assumed that Honeymoon was a British movie, one of those flicks that is prefaced as having been “awarded funds from the National Lottery.” That British-ness brings with it a surfeit of preconceptions. I was prepared for some folk horror, maybe some Hammer/Amicus-tinged Gothic melodrama.

But the film’s not British and doesn’t fall into either of those catagories, it’s a movie about Americans (Brooklynites, at least for Treadaway’s character, Paul) who go honeymooning in a remote lakeside cabin in Canada.

It’s that kind of displacement that starts a movie that has, at its core, a “are you really the person I married?” mindfuck. So touché, film, I officially don’t know whether I’m supposed to criticize your star’s accents or not. Their inconsistencies (and even a few egregious ADR inserts) could very well be part of the text, could be what Janiak wants. But even that stuff doesn’t matter because, whether it’s the performances or the script, I buy Leslie and Treadaway as a couple.

If any of the stuff above sounds at all like I didn’t like Honeymoon: it shouldn’t. I enjoyed this movie as a whole and loved the last fifteen minutes so damn much. In fact, it’s one of those movies I’m really sad I was asleep at the wheel for its theatrical/VOD release, because it has a handful of stylistic and thematic links with Starry Eyes, so much so that would I really have to think about which movie I prefer.

Many debut feature films feel like debut features. Even when they’re great that greatness often feels like it’s carrying an asterisk. They have indulgent dialogue, deep flaws in logic, and stylistic flourishes that have to be overlooked as soon as the director makes a newer, superior film, but here Leigh Janiak has made a movie that doesn’t possess any of those blemishes. She’s honed Honeymoon into a sharp one hour and twenty seven-minute blade, a blade that’ll make audiences feel the shock of its body horror (easier, when the gag is right) and the sting of loss (a much more advanced maneuver).

Without spoiling it: damn are a few of those last bits good.

Guest Post: THE NIGHTMARE GIRL Playlist

Things would be so much easier if Jonthan Janz was a jerk.

Because, even though I don’t want to be, in the most base and reptilian sector of my lizard brain I am completely jealous of him.

Why? Well, first of all he’s a talented writer, one who is able to write with an earnestness, a sobriety, that’s very reminiscent of the glory days of mass market horror fiction. He’s also incredibly prolific. Volume-wise he’s able to write circles around me, if his release schedule is to be believed. Last of all, since he’s like six five and jacked: when you’re standing next to him at a convention it suddenly becomes way harder to sell books.

janz and adam

I don’t often feel sort.

But the problem is that Jonathan Janz is not a jerk, he’s incredibly gracious and affable.

So how could I turn down a chance to have him guest post here? So buy his new book, The Nightmare Girl, and then sit back and enjoy his playlist. When you’re done here, my own musical choices for Exponential are over on his site.

nightmaregirl-the-h

Hey, all. You might know me, you might not. But if you’re hanging out at Adam Cesare’s blog, you’re probably half-unhinged anyway and won’t hold my eccentricities against me.

My brand-new novel is called THE NIGHTMARE GIRL. Before I tell you some songs I either heard or played in my head while reading and researching the story, let me share the synopsis with you:

Playing with fire has never been more dangerous.

When family man Joe Crawford confronts a young mother abusing her toddler, he has no idea of the chain reaction he’s setting in motion. How could he suspect the young mother is part of an ancient fire cult, a sinister group of killers that will destroy anyone who threatens one of its members? When the little boy is placed in a foster home, the fanatics begin their mission of terror.

Soon the cult leaders will summon their deadliest hunters—and a ferocious supernatural evil—to make Joe pay for what he’s done. They want Joe’s blood and the blood of his family. And they want their child back.

In other words, it’s a nice, wholesome, family kind of story.

My tastes in music are eclectic, which’ll be expressed in the below playlist. So without further preamble…

  1. Not to Touch the Earth,” The Doors: There’s a fire at the end of THE NIGHTMARE GIRL. A big, terrible fire. There’s chaos and carnage, bloodshed and madness. Jim Morrison’s hypnotic vocals and the rest of the group’s frenetic discordance perfectly capture the insanity of my finale.
  1. Concerto in G minor for 2 Cellos, Strings and Basso continuo, RV 531; I. Allegro,” by Vivaldi (Performed by Yo-Yo Ma): Yikes! With a title like that, you might ask, how on earth can a song be enjoyable? Well, as mentioned already this is a song by Vivaldi played by Yo-Yo Ma. And when you combine two masters, the results are going to be fantastic. This song is intense. It’s also classy, elegant, and at times, foreboding. This song doesn’t really remind of the story so much as it reminds of the writing of the story. I would often play this one first to get my mental engine primed. Then the words would catapult onto the page.
  1. George Strait’s “Carried Away”: The love between husband and wife is crucial to this story, and this has long been one of my favorite George Strait ballads. And before you judge me, yep, I enjoy country music sometimes. Especially George Strait’s music, which I connect to in a number of ways.
  1. “Disposable Heroes,” Metallica: The lyrics of this song have nothing to do with my story (It’s a war song, after all), but the frantic, punishing aura of the music has everything to do with THE NIGHTMARE GIRL. It’s a book that flies by (in my opinion), and when bad things start to happen, that already brisk pace doubles and triples in speed. When re-reading my novel during the editing process, I would often try to capture the speed of this song. It’s up to you to decide whether or not I did.
  1. “I Saw God Today,” by George Strait: Sorry to include two songs from the same artist on here, but yeah, this guy tends to sing songs with heart, and this one is no exception. One of the primary elements of many of my novels is a dad’s love for his kids. In THE NIGHTMARE GIRL, Joe Crawford cares deeply about his own daughter and the boy he tries to save from an abusive home. The aforementioned song is all about the transcendent love a dad has for his kids, and it would echo in my mind from time to time as I thought about my characters.

That’s all for now. Thank you, Adam, for having me here. And if any of you happen upon this post and have not yet read Adam Cesare’s work, you need to amend that as quickly as possible. EXPONENTIAL or THE SUMMER JOB would be great places to start.

I was going to trim that last part where he talked me up, but I didn’t want anyone crying censorship.

On Anniversaries and the Viability of ‘Old’ Work

T-Shirt Art by Nick Gucker

T-Shirt Art by Nick Gucker

This week marked the book birthdays for Video Night (two years old) and The Summer Job (one). I’ve been thinking about that.

Warning. Mushiness ahead:

Browsing Goodreads, cyberstalking myself as I’m wont to do, I came across a recent review for Video Night that maybe made me a little weepy. It’s a 4/5 star review, and it’s in no way one of those hyperbolic “oMg best book evar” kinds of reviews (although I’m cool with those and certainly enjoy receiving them, please go post any kind of review you want on amazon), but something about it struck me.

Here’s the review and here is the guy’s conclusion (his name’s Joshua P., he’s not someone I’m connected with on Facebook or twitter so I didn’t know if it would be cool to post his full name*):

“It would have been easy to just pile up the body-count and cast it with unlikable characters whose bellies we can’t wait to see burst by ungodly, spiny-backed monsters, but the author manages to believably render even minor characters with a warmth typically uncharacteristic of the genre. The movie references are also minimal and avoid the trap of becoming masturbatory and self-indulgent. VIDEO NIGHT may not be innovative, but its crafted with care and I look forward to reading more from this author.”

That’s an honest, fairly in-depth review from someone (I’m assuming) who found the book way after it was published. I mean, it’s not a blurb, no publisher would be cool with putting “not innovative” on the back cover. But in a lot of ways, if I weren’t biased, I think that paragraph would “sell” me on the book better than most blurbs.

Why did that review make me weepy? Well, a few reasons, I think. Video Night was not only my first full length novel published, it was the first long work I ever completed. Tribesmen was released first (in mid-2012), but it was written for John Skipp while VN was a final draft and sitting in Don D’Auria’s slush pile, waiting to be discovered.

I don’t know how it is for other writers, but for me that first book took a long ass time to gestate. Although I’d written a decent amount and had short stories published before starting my first novel, it was finishing Video Night, a book I had poured a lot of ideas and enthusiasm and youthful vigor into, that made me feel like a writer for the first time. That’s not to say that my work after has lacked enthusiasm, I think the majority of it is better in many ways, but I can honestly split my life into two halves: before and after Video Night. Everything I had stored up, from the movies and books I loved growing up to the movies and monsters I thought I was going to make before I caught the writing bug, it’s all in there. It was a weird exorcism of pent-up creativity, and I think that’s what makes it my “happiest” book.

There are those reasons and then there’s the clincher:

I don’t think about my backlist.

As someone who is trying to make an honest go of writing full-time, I’m only ever really concerned with three books. There’s the book I’m working on currently (this can, in fact, be multiple books, if I’m stupid and end up working on two projects at once), the book that was most recently released or is about to be released (for that one I’m doing social media hustling, trying to hunt down possible review outlets, doing guest posts and interviews), and the hypothetical book I could be writing (which has me sending out pitches and cold emails for freelance work, sending warm and re-heated replies to the editors kind enough to want to talk with me).

So, while Video Night was released a scant two years ago, I haven’t really thought about it with any depth or affection since I was promoting it in the beginning of 2013. It’s not that I don’t like it, I guess I love it, am so proud of it, but I do fall into the trap of often thinking of it as “less-than.” Why? Because those years since its release are two years that felt like five.

When I have a new release, I always default to that when I’m asked to recommend a starting point. That thinking’s two-pronged: my most recent work is frequently my favorite and I want to put my best foot forward for any prospective readers. And I also want sales momentum to continue, as my most recent work is usually the one doing best in sales (unless it’s Tribesmen, which is still doing consistent business even though it’s technically my oldest release, but most of the credit there goes to Matthew Revert’s beautiful new cover).

I’m not the greatest mathematician but by my calculation I’ve written nearly half a million (usable, publishable) words since I wrote the epilogue to my first novel. Spending that much time thinking about other work has a way of erasing the memory of the material that came before it.

To hear Joshua use the word “warmth” multiple times in his review triggered something in me, made me remember that “oh yeah, that was a pretty positive book, written with pretty positive, optimistic intentions.” And yes, I recognize the schmaltziness (an unpalatable amount for you, maybe, sorry) inherent in the author of a book that edges up against wallowing in nostalgia engaging in nostalgia for a book that’s only two years old, but whatever!

I struggled whether to put this up or not, it began as a throwaway Facebook post that grew too big. I see posts similar in tone pass through my newsfeed sometimes, and yeah they can feel self-congratulatory and possibly a bit foamy or even out of touch, but you know what? I’m proud of my work.

And not just the new stuff. It may have been a younger version of me writing VN, but I trust little me. If I thought it were inadequate I wouldn’t have sent it to a publisher (and if it wasn’t up to a certain level of quality that choice wouldn’t have been in my hands at all). It makes me so damn happy when people enjoy something I worked hard to make, when I see a post or get a private note from someone who liked what I did, wants to ask where they can get more, if there’s going to be a sequel (which is the most mindblowing, to me).

Does this post have a point or an arch? I don’t know, maybe. What do you say: when you’re checking out a writer for the first time do you go for their old titles or their new hotness? Or do you go with the critical consensus Or do you shop by subgenre and intuition? I guess I don’t know what I do, a bit of all the above.

Or maybe it would just be best to end with more warm and fuzzies, something to bring this full circle:

Yup. That’s my future backlist in this month’s Rue Morgue, a magazine I’m just young enough to have grown up reading and goddamn it now I’m getting mushy again…

*wrote this yesterday, woke up to find Joshua had followed me on twitter, so now we’re connected.

The LATE PHASES (2014) of the EXPONENTIALly Growing BABADOOK

Okay. This post is mainly going to be about Adrián García Bogliano’s Late Phases, but some housekeeping has to be done, so let’s get that out of the way first.

dook dook

Last week I had the opportunity to see Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook on the big screen. I love the ease of ordering movies VOD, but I wish there were more opportunities to see films like this outside of the festival circuit.

The thing about The Babadook is: everyone is right about The Babadook.

It’s really great. A metaphorical horror film that can be engaged at whatever level the audience wants, high or low, and still be both incredibly satisfying and entertaining.

Why am I not saying any more? Well, frankly, I feel like other people have said it first and said it better. It’s a movie that deserves the positive buzz and one I wish had a wide release.

Either rent The Babadook or track down a theater showing it. Seeing this film is basically your civic duty as a horror fan.

The second piece of business on the agenda is strictly self-promotional. I’ve been getting some good press for Exponential and it would be a shame not to link it all over.

First up, I did two interviews to promote the book. There was one with Bizarro’s favorite son, Gabino Iglesias, over at Bizarro Central. Gabino asked some pretty cutting questions. He came at me all Barbra Walters cagey and sinewy and tried to ask questions that would shake me to my core. I hung tough, though. He even bullied me into taking pictures with my shelves, so click over there if you want to see that.

And then there was a far more cordial discussion with Gef Fox where I ended up talking about bad writing advice when asked to give good writing advice.

The reviews for Exponential have started to trickle in as well.

Today there was a great one posted up at Ain’t It Cool News by Blu Gilliand, who used to cover my stuff over on FearNet (RIP). HorrorNewsNet’s Sean Leonard also got in on the action here. And Craig McNeely’s blog The Pulp Chronicler just finished up a month-long review retrospective of my stuff leading up to Exponential, which Craig calls “Cesare’s best book to date, hands down.”

I’ll take it.

Okay. Business done. Late Phases.

phases bannner

The difficult thing about writing up Late Phases* is: if you’re anything like me, all you will ever need is the elevator pitch.

“Late Phases is Rolling Thunder meets Blind Fury meets The Howling.”

I mean, do I even have to continue with this charade of a review? Can you honestly tell me that you didn’t just tab over to amazon, Vudu or itunes to give them your money?

There was a lot I didn’t know about Late Phases going in, but the opening credits got me way more excited than the good word of mouth.

First there was the reveal that Tom Noonan was in this movie. And who doesn’t love Noonan? And the next was that it was from director Adrián García Bogliano. I greatly enjoyed his last film, Here Comes the Devil, and I ended up liking this one even more.

Late Phases begins with our hero, Ambrose (Nick Damici), a recent widower, being moved into a retirement community (think less rest home, more gated housing development). You see, Ambrose is blind and he’s got a strained relationship with his son (and, of course, his son’s wife). But don’t feel too bad for the guy, he’s an army vet who served five years in Vietnam and, outside of the loss of eyesight and his going hearing: he’s kept in pretty great shape.

When Ambrose and his guide dog are attacked on their first night in their new home, finding and killing the creature that tried to kill him becomes Ambrose’s new raison d’être.

It’s worth mentioning that Damici looks and sounds so much like Charles Bronson that, once it becomes clear that his character will be soon doling out justice, his appearance (that mustache!) can be categorized as deliberate homage.

It’s not really a spoiler to let you know that the creature Ambrose has a Death Wish for is a werewolf. Bogliano doesn’t play that piece of information like a reveal, and he lets us see a good bit of the creature during the first attack, mere minutes into the movie.

What is played as a mystery is the identity of the beast. Which is not to say that Late Phases is a tightly plotted who-done-it. No, there is no werewolf break in this film, but the final reveal will satisfy viewers well enough. It’s what happens after that reveal, the third act, where most of the gory fun is anyway.

Unlike Here Comes the Devil, Late Phases takes a much more earnest effort at trying to color inside the lines of its chosen sub-genres (the werewolf film and man on a mission flick, natch). Unlike Here Comes the Devil, Late Phases is no kitchen sink horror movie.

Late Phases feels comfortable in its own (hirsute) skin. There is restraint, character work and patience on display and even when the plot presses up against abject silliness (which it admittedly does quite a few times, especially in the second half), Bogliano and his actors seem to know that they’re reaching and keep a steady hand on the throttle.

The final monster showdown is satisfying, not only in its blocking and cinematic execution, but because we know the stakes. We know that even though Ambrose is a badass, he’s also completely blind.

To add to the film’s attraction there’s also a really great werewolf transformation scene, presented through clever editing and practical effects rather than an abundance of CGI.

Less impressive are the werewolves themselves. The bipedal creatures have a cool animatronic face (ala American Werewolf in London), pointy The Howling-esque ears, but may look a little too man-in-suit (only Cursed is called to mind, unfortunately) for some.

I kinda dig the effect of the not-wonderful werewolves, though.

The look of the creatures let us know that: yes, Late Phases may be a far above average written, acted, and shot monster movie, but it also isn’t some simpering post-modern revisionist monster movie that’s afraid to go the full monty when it comes to its werewolves.

No, Late Phases goes very far out of its way to deliver the goods. So far that the greatest iron lung gag since The Big Lebowski and Larry Fessenden selling headstones become just icing on the cake.

*I can’t tell if amazon is right or not, but they list the film’s full title as Late Phases: Night of the Lone Wolf.  I absolutely refuse to refer to the film by that name. Late Phases, full stop, is such a great title. Adding the “Night of the Lone Wolf” subtitle is a crime.