Thursday, November 19, 2015

Final Girl - Interesting Take on the Maze and the Minotaur Trope

In the intro to Thrillers: 100 Must Reads, Lee Child observes that we, humans,  have a way of re-telling tales in veiled new forms, harnessing tropes from stories that have come before but redressing them in more contemporary fashion.

Theseus and the Minotaur becomes James Bond and Dr. No: Bad actor in isolated location perpetrates evil deeds until a nobleman from afar shows up to intervene.

I watched an interesting variation on that trope that gets there by way of the slasher genre and Carol J. Clover's final girl. It's called  appropriately Final Girl, and it's an intriguing and perhaps a bit eccentric thriller with Abigale Breslin and Wes Bentley.

Bentley's Williams, a man who's lost his family to killers. Breslin's the teen version of a character who faced similar horrors as a child and agreed to be reared as a trained warrior to take out other killers. Guess there's a little Hitgirl in there too.

In a town that seems to consist of woods and a diner, a group of young men perpetrate Most Dangerous Game-style mayhem. Dressed in tuxedos, they lure unsuspecting girls to the woods and pursue them in deadly hunts. The body count's pretty high, and one missing girl's the subject of local "unsolved mystery" fascination it seems.

It's a situation in dire need of Veronica's (Breslin) talents, which are considerable thanks to training from William. We get just a taste of that early on.

Placing herself in the role of victim, she sets off to do battle in a prom dress.

There's a bit of timelessness--helped by the fashions--to the setting that vaguely suggests a time few years back in the vein of Stoker. Or perhaps it's just an alternate universe. Either way it evokes an effective atmosphere, and things are engaging as the story builds.

Tension rises not with excessive brutality but with subtle touches like a game of truth or dare that winds the trap for battle.

The killers are a twisted and colorful band headed by Alexander Ludwig, who trained for the role by playing Cato in The Hunger Games. Cameron Bright is the most subdued of the bunch with leanings toward normalcy, while Logan Huffman's dark, giggling and wild eyed. His dance with his axe, Anna Belle, offers a standout moment.

It's definitely a striking refurbishing of its sources, directed by Tyler Shields and conceived by a number of credited writing contributors. A harsher judge might ask for more compelling traps, tricks or twists, but I liked it and found it a nice "something a little different."

In the VOD universe, it's a nice and dark little trail to wander down.

(I watched by Hoopla, but it's available on platforms including iTunes.)

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What's on the iPod: Locke&Key

I finished the adaptation of "Locke and Key" while on a walk this morning.

I got the free download from Audible a while back, and the 13-hour experience took me a while. It's a great way to re-visit the world of Lovecraft, Mass., and the Locke family envisioned by writer Joe Hill and artist Gabriel Rodriguez.

I say re-visit, because I think experiencing the comic/graphic novel in its original form is essential for full enjoyment of the audio. And it's a great horror-mystery excursion that really should be on any horror aficionado's "To Read" list. It's a saga in comics form that's comparable to Michael McDowell's "Blackwater" multi-part novel.

As a character notes in the opening of the tale, it's impossible to understand what's going on if you come in in the final chapter of a story.

As the story's protagonists, the Locke children Tyler, Kinsey and Bode, discover as the tale unfolds,  a lot has gone on in their ancestral home where they seek refuge after their father's murder. Relevant events stretching back years, even centuries.

Various mysterious keys and a dark and mysterious woman living in the house's well gradually reveal the details over six collected volumes of comics.

The audio follows that and all of the spooky encounters with giant shadow creatures, vicious wolf-creatures, demons and deadly possessed characters.

The power of audio to stimulate the imagination is true and grand, but at times that's where the audio falls down. At times it seems you're hearing powerful action in a dark room. You know something's happening, but you can't quite ascertain what's going on. Contemporary audiodrama writing eschews the old technique of having characters spell out their actions in dialogue: "I've reached the gate, Shadow. I'm aiming my gun at the lock." But at times just a little more guidance would be fun in "Locke and Key."

I think the ideal experience would be reading the graphic novels first. They're all available in book and digital forms. Then listen to the audio as a way of reliving and appreciating the intricate plotting and the finely crafted characters.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Speaking at Florida Writer's Conference 2015

A photo posted by Roland Mann (@therolandmann) on
Thanks to Roland Mann for a snapshot of me discussing subtle horror at the Florida Writer's Conference October 18, 2015. My presentation included an appreciation of W.W. Jacobs "The Monkey's Paw" and plugs for Charles L. Grant's Oxrun Station books, Black Fox Literary Magazine and Robert Aickman.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Weekend and Art Impulses

Christine and I went over to the Winter Park's Autumn Arts Festival on Sunday and wound up impulse buying some art including this piece:

It's called "Smiley" by Michael Nemnich. Christine was enamored of it on sight, so after walking around and mulling it over a bit, we back to his both and bought it along with a tall and narrow piece that should fit nicely on one wall or another in our downstairs hallway.

We had the interior of the house painted last year but haven't really had time to focus on putting things on the wall. We're trying to remedy that, and we reasoned in our discussions as we walked around Sunday that there's much better thing to impulse buy than a piece of art. If it speaks to you, there's something there.

We passed on a $2,000 work that struck us both, though I'm mulling over a print vs. original version of that piece for my office wall.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Dark Was the Night

I've always been fascinated by the story of The Devil's Footprints, that unsolved mystery of strange footprints in the snow in Devon England in 1855. Sure, there are skeptical views, but they marks offer a wonderful "what if" and induced a lot of anxiety in their day.

I've wanted to see Dark Was the Night since I read of the Blacklist script "The Trees" by Tyler Hisel and heard that it was finally being filmed. The story transplants those odd tracks to a small town north of a logging operation and pits a local sheriff suffering the bereavement of a child against a mysterious something disturbed in the forest.

Just in time for Halloween, the film is streaming on Netflix and is a nicely creepy and atmospheric monster movie that leaves the imagination plenty of room to play. Director Jack Heller seems to have a great sense of how to deliver a building sense of menace and read.

Frequent villain Kevin Durand is the sheriff and makes a great hero and a sympathetic grieving dad who's also coping with estrangement from his wife and remaining child. Lukas Haas is his ex-New Yorker deputy who's smitten with a local girl and looking to make a quiet home.

Huge and mysterious footprints, like the ones that were  in my upstairs closet when I moved into my current house, appear one morning, stretching the length of the town, and Durand as Sheriff Shields begins first to seek a logical explanation.

He gradually realizes he'd better prep for things worse than skeptics might have expected, and gets some chilling and tantalizing glimpses of what might be lurking in the shadows.

The story builds to an intense third act with the mystery and chills piling on. It's a pretty nice dark night viewing choice.

I'd say: Worth the time.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Night Out with Horror and Science Fiction Professionals

Christine and I decided not to sit home last night. It can be rough when a pet dies. Every corner holds a memory.

We decided to attend the monthly gathering of The Orlando Horror, Fantasy and Sci Fi Professionals group. Organized by Owl Goingback, who I've known since before we had gray hair,  the group was celebrating its one year anniversary.

It was at Eden Bar attached the the Enzian Theater, an open air spot Christine and I enjoy.

So it was a good evening, and I wound up chatting quite a while with Mitch Hyman. He's creator of Bubba The Redneck Werewolf and a veteran of publications like Cracked, the original magazine iteration.

He pointed out horror writers could learn from comedy writers, who are always building up to a punch line.

I agreed, since I'm often discussing with students how Stephen King's top level of fear, terror, as described in Danse Macabre, can be achieved in film or fiction. That's often by a buildup that allows the reader or viewer's imagination to work a while, I think.

It was nice to kick ideas around, and talk Cthulhu with people who know Cthulhu. And it was nice for Christine and I to have pizza and drinks under the stars with friends old and new.

And speaking of slowly building horror, Christine and I will be heading back to the Enzian in a few weeks for a revival screening of The Haunting, the 1963 version, you know, the good one.

I really need to get out more, anyway.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Monty is gone

Monty is gone. It's hard to believe. He'd been with us around six years when I started this blog in 2005 or so. I thought he'd go on forever, but that's not the way of the world.

Our last day together was a good one, peaceful and friendly, with him at my side much of the morning as I graded.

I dreaded the afternoon, but I petted him and talked to him and fed him whenever he wanted to eat.

He passed peacefully in his own bed with a blanket that had often served as curtains for him underneath a toadstool at the bottom of our cat fort.

He was between Christine and me, petted, whispered to and comforted. It came three weeks to the day after Daisy passed away.

We had no idea Monty had a brain tumor when she was diagnosed with lung tumors. In her final week, he seemed as strong and vibrant as ever, especially for a cat with diabetes.

I'm numb at the moment, but contemplating what it means. Daisy and Monty were a part of our married life so long it's difficult to remember life without them.

Pets occupy a special place. They are just there, filling a piece of our worlds.

I'll miss Mon and Dee forever.

Monday, September 21, 2015

And Now for the Bad News

Rain held up a semi-annual inspection of my roof on Saturday. The guy called and asked if he could come by Sunday morning.

I said "sure" and watched for him so I could avoid a ringing of the doorbell which disturbs Monty, my eldest male cat. It's been a bad week for Monty, around 18 or 19, who seemed fine, even robust leading up to Daisy's death a couple of weeks ago. He'd even spend time with her in the closet where she liked to rest those last few days.

His behavior changed a bit after she was gone, which we attributed to the loss of a longtime companion, even though they weren't always on the best of terms. Then other signs took me to the vet with him for some tests on Wednesday.

They determined his blood sugar was low and suggested we step back the insulin he's received for two years. Before that step back could happen, Thursday afternoon, he crashed.

I tried to get some food into him but wound up rushing him back to the vet after he lay prone on my living room floor, unable to move.

An IV drip got him perked up at our vet, and he spent the night at an all-night emergency vet where he could be monitored. He had a seizure around midnight. Then another the next morning as I drove him back to our vet for a follow up.

The seizures shouldn't be happening after drips that restored his blood sugar levels, our vet said. She said the symptoms aligned with a brain tumor. That also would help explain why he suddenly no longer needed insulin.

Christine and I talked and decided to bring him home for the weekend and evaluate our decisions.

It seemed unreal,  not because I didn't trust our vet but just because. Monty and Daisy have been with us since the late '90s. That's the newspaper clipping in the upper left that brought Mon and us together. Daisy had been with us about a year then.

To have both Monty and Daisy decline so quickly within a few weeks has staggered Christine and me.

So I meet the guy from the roofer's Sunday, and I tell him I'm trying to avoid ringing the bell. He tells me he understands. He had a cat who had a brain tumor, he volunteered. This is without me saying what was wrong with Monty. Then he proceeded to describe what are also Monty's symptoms and the experience he had in letting his cat go.

And I understood better what had seemed unreal.

Monty's eating, sitting beside me as I grade, sticking close and being himself. He's a little wobbly at times, but he's hanging in.

We will stick close to him the next few days and decide. And at least we have this time and some clarity to celebrate his life and our lives with him.

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