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January 31, 2016

Late one night, a couple of months ago, I received a text from a friend of mine.

"You've got to watch this movie I just saw. It's...it's...I'm not sure how to describe it exactly, but you need to see it."

He wasn't the only one who thought so, and I finally got around to viewing it recently.

"Bone Tomahawk" is hard to describe because it's a mix of different genres. A horror-comedy-western? The off-beat entertaining dialogue had me thinking I was watching a film influenced by the Coen Brothers. (And also, two of the actors had appeared in Season Two of "Fargo.")

I'm not a big fan of westerns. But the very first scene let me know this movie wasn't going to be typical of the genre. Get ready for some gore. (However, a viewer tuning in after the opening scene could be fooled into thinking they were about to watch a gentle western with amusing characters.)

The main premise is a familiar one: Against great odds, a noble, weary sheriff (Kurt Russell) leads a small posse into the desert to search for a few townsfolk who have been kidnapped by Indians.

Except the natives are cave-dwelling, cannabilistic savages who frighten even the most war-like tribes. And the posse consists of a "back-up" deputy who's an old-timer with a gift for gab (Richard Jenkins), a cowpoke with a broken leg (Patrick Wilson), and a charming gunslinger with a superiority complex (Matthew Fox).      

The screenplay by novelist S. Craig Zahler (also the director) is unique and not half bad for a debut. I think ten minutes could have been shaved off the final product and it would have had better pacing, but the superb dialogue and stellar cast make up for that particular flaw, in my opinion. (Even Sid Haig has a memorable cameo.)

A couple of scenes in the first half hour hint at the extreme violence to come in the last half hour. I'll never forget the "wishbone scene" near the end. Normally, I'm not that faint-hearted, but I was tempted to skip over it.  

So, I'd recommend "Bone Tomahawk" to hardcore horror fans everywhere. It gets three out of five goblins.        




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December 31, 2015

In interviews, Guillermo del Toro insisted that he did not consider his latest film Crimson Peak to be a gothic horror story, but a gothic romance. After seeing it last fall, I have to agree. I've been a fan of del Toro for several years now, and I typically enjoy his subtitled foreign films better (The Orphanage, The Devil's Backbone). I can never resist a ghost story.


While I was watching Crimson Peak, I couldn't help being reminded of a film I'd seen back in 1995: Haunted, based on the novel by James Herbert. Both films involve romance, incest and murder. I was able to guess the major twist in Crimson Peak partly because I recollected the story by Herbert. Both are set close to the turn of the century and both use decaying English mansions as a major character. Haunted actually has two major twists, and though the first is fairly easy to see coming at a certain point, the second was not (for me, at least). I think Herbert's story comes closer to being a gothic horror tale than Crimson Peak.    

Guillermo's film is beautiful to look at and the actors are all superb - especially Jessica Chastain. I love Tom Hiddleston, and I especially love to see his characters suffer, since he does it so admirably.

Haunted is stark and dreary in comparison. Aidan Quinn is excellent in the leading role of David Ash - a skeptical parapsychologist who is asked to investigate a supposedly haunted mansion belonging to the Mariell family. (Ash was drawn into the field at an early age due to the untimely death of his twin sister, Juliet, for which he blames himself.) The three Mariell children, along with Nanny Tess, believe the late Mrs. Mariell has returned to walk the halls of Edbrook. David is seduced by Christina Mariell (Kate Beckinsale), much to her eldest brother Robert's dismay. While investigating the eerie happenings at Edbrook, David keeps seeing his dead sister, who appears to be trying to warn him away from the Mariells. Nanny Tess also seems to be afraid of something other than Mrs. Mariell's ghost, but she is intimidated into silence. 

In del Toro's film, the lead character, Edith Cushing, also receives ghostly warnings from a late relative, her mother: "Beware of Crimson Peak." She does not understand these warnings until it is too late. Edith is a budding novelist of the supernatural and until she meets the mysterious, handsome Sir Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), she has no interest in men or marriage. Her father, wealthy American businessman Carter Cushing, is completely against the romance, for he is not fooled by Sir Thomas' charm. Sir Thomas has come to America with his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain), to get funding for his clay-mining invention. Carter is not about to help Sir Thomas or approve his proposal of marriage. Shortly after Sir Thomas breaks off the romance, Carter is murdered - although it is ruled an accident.

A grieving Edith is free to marry Sir Thomas and move to England into Allerdale Hall, the Sharpes' dilapidated mansion. But the sister and brother are not who they seem. My favorite quote from the movie is by Chastain's character, Lucille: "This love burns you and maims you, and twists you inside out. It is a monstrous love, and it makes monsters of us all."

Guillermo's ghosts are always creepy, but I didn't find too many genuine scares in Crimson Peak. Sometimes it moved along too slowly and predictably for my taste. Especially since I guessed the major twist early on. However, although it had minor flaws, I was never bored with Haunted.

If you had decided last fall to wait for the DVD release of Crimson Peak instead of seeing it at a cinema, I think you made a wise choice.  





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November 30, 2015

Arnold Schwarzenegger is back in a surprising role, one his fans have probably not seen him attempt before. In Maggie, Arnie plays Wade Vogel, a grieving father who is trying to find a way to save his teenaged daughter after she has become infected with the "Necroambulist Virus." This isn't your typical zombie apocalypse movie. Viewers who prefer intense horror and gore will probably be disappointed. Maggie is dark and quiet and has more in common with recent young adult tear-jerker tales than it has with a George Romero flick.

But I still liked it. Schwarzenegger shows a poignant sensitivity I didn't know he was capable of pulling off, and Abigail Breslin's performance as his suffering daughter, Maggie, is admirable. In most other zombie movies, a person is bitten and turns within minutes or hours. But in this story, the virus takes several weeks to kill its victim.

Vogel has brought his runaway daughter back to their midwestern farm to take care of her, sending his wife and two younger children away to protect them from whatever might happen as Maggie goes through her inevitable transformation. They cling to hope while dealing with the fear and prejudice of neighbors who want Vogel to put Maggie in an institution where the infected are corralled and abandoned to their hideous fate.     

Once home again, Maggie reconnects with her ex-boyfriend, Trent, who has also been infected and is closer to the end of his tranformation. Sometimes while watching them together - teens dealing with terminal illness - I couldn't help but think of The Fault in Our Stars. Emotions run high in nearly every scene. Maggie must confront her own premature demise, and so must her loving father - who dreads what he might be forced to do after the virus takes its toll. 

I give Maggie three out of five goblins.

Check back here next month for my review and comparison of Crimson Peak and my favorite gothic ghost story movie, Haunted







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October 31, 2015

Happy Halloween weekend!

If you plan to be in the Louisville area in November, you might want to consider attending Wizard World's Comic Con, the 6th through the 8th (Friday - Sunday). The cast of The CW's Arrow (Stephen Amell, John Barrowman, Katie Cassidy, etc.) and Fox's Gotham  star Ben McKenzie will be there, along with Bruce Campbell, Jason Issacs, and too many others to name. 

The event will take place at the Kentucky International Convention Center in downtown Louisville. 

Visit this link for more details. Other activities include cosplay, and a floor full of artists, exhibitors and retailers.  

Also, in November, check back here for a review of a very unusual zombie flick, "Maggie." And my review of "Crimson Peak" (as compared to my favorite gothic horror movie, "Haunted").

Everyone have a wicked little Halloween - but stay safe! 



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2016 Stanley Hotel Writers Retreat

September 13, 2015

Happy autumn! I'm looking forward to Halloween, of course. And I'm already looking ahead to a special event in October of 2016 as well, which I hope I'll be able to attend - finally!

The Stanley Hotel Writers Retreat will be held at the historic place in Estes Park, Colorado that inspired Stephen King to write "The Shining." Author R.J. Cavender has started a contribution site on Indiegogo to fund the convention for writers, readers and artists alike. 

Go here to check it out and contribute.

Save the dates: October 20 - 23, 2016. One special guest will be novelist Chuck Palahniuk. Other events taking place during that weekend will be the Murder Mystery Dinner and the Shining Masquerade Ball.

Info excerpt from the website:

Your registration does include all our group discount perks, select editing packages, inclusion on any outings/trips over the weekend, author events, and a guaranteed party in Room 217. Starting this year all Stanley Hotel Writers Retreat guests who purchase an editing package will also receive a FREE TICKET to our special late-night ghost hunt and writing exercise, The Overnight Paranormal Write in the haunted Concert Hall at The Stanley Hotel. Stay through Sunday, write with ghosts!

It all sounds fabulous to me. Take my advice and start planning your trip today!




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