Monday, 23 December 2013

Nosferatu Re-Mastered

The re-mastered edition of the silent film horror classic Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror is now available. This film has a very interesting history. It was based on Bram Stoker's Dracula (the title "Nosferatu" derives from the name given to Count Dracula by the local villagers).  Stoker's widow fought a successful battle to have the film declared in violation of copyright. The judge ordered all copies of the film to be destroyed, but apparently a remaining copy was circulated and subsequently reproduced and distributed to become a cult classic.

The film was made in Germany by director F.W. Murnau and was released in 1922. The re-mastered version is available through Amazon.

If you're in the UK, Scream magazine is currently running a contest for subscribers to give away five copies of the film. See http://www.screamhorrormag.com/. 

Happy viewing, and to you and yours I'd like to wish a safe and happy holiday. Merry Christmas!

Monday, 16 December 2013

Alas, Poor Hershel

It's an unspoken tenet of fiction that you don't kill off dogs if you want to endear yourself to your readers ... or if you do, you promptly resurrect them (if you're Dean Koontz) or establish that it was just a bad dream. I'd like to add a second tenet: you don't kill off your elderly and wise characters in a leading television series. This is what the producers of The Walking Dead have done.

As fans of the series know, The Walking Dead has a particularly high casualty rate for lead actors. I've had no problems with other main characters being killed off because their deaths at least served some purpose in advancing the plot or their characters had simply run their course (and in some cases were getting a bit tiresome). In fact, I was finding the Governor storyline very tedious and was glad to see him go. But this season has me wondering if the show's writers actually know where they're going with the story. First Carol is banished by Rick (who previously in the season was incapable of making any major decision) and now they've killed off Hershel, the compassionate elder and the voice of reason. And they've killed him off in such grandiose fashion--with his head hacked off by the Governor--that (unlike Carol) there is simply no path for bringing him back.

For his part, Scott Wilson chose the high road and, when advised his character was about to meet his demise, remarked simply that he thought the producers were "making a big mistake". (See his interview with Entertainment Weekly.) I'm sure there are a lot of viewers out there who would agree with him.


Monday, 9 December 2013

The Christmas Devil

I have to admit that I only heard of Krampus this summer, and I thought at first that it was a gag. But lo and behold, Santa has a dark counterpart that originated in pre-Christian German folklore and continues as a strong tradition in Alpine countries. (Source: Wikipedia)

Krampus even has his own website, in which he is billed as the Christmas devil. He still figures prominently on Christmas cards, although his images tend to be cuter and more marketable these days. Krampus, who is known by many names (as is Santa), is responsible for identifying the naughty children, whom he carts off to his lair, supposedly to eat. (Talk about an incentive to be nice!)

And ... wait for it! Some fear that Krampus, like Santa, has become too commercialized. See The Christian Science Monitor article at http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Europe/2013/1205/Is-Krampus-the-Christmas-demon-becoming-too-commercial.

Who knew that Christmas could be so scary!!!


Monday, 2 December 2013

Christmas Gifts for the Discerning Lover of Horror

Anthony J. Rapino has an interesting and fun blog post on Christmas gifts for those who love horror. The suggestions range from hand-crafted horror figures to e-books and boxed movie sets.

To view his list of suggestions, please visit http://www.anthonyjrapino.com/2013/christmas-gift-guide-for-horror-fans/.

If you have a limited budget, here are some fairly inexpensive gifts:

- Record some of the free offerings on television and make a themed set of horror movies (e.g., killer clowns; exorcisms; haunted houses);

- Give a magazine subscription to a horror magazine or buy a horror-themed calendar;

- Take advantage of sales on t-shirts from printing companies which have no minimum purchase requirement and order a custom-made t-shirt for less (as low as $5-$7.50) with horror graphics downloaded from the Internet;

- Visit dollar stores and local flea markets to see if there are horror collectibles that are reasonably priced; or

- Give your own gift certificate for a night of horror movie viewing at your house or a Walking Dead festival (complete with costumes if you're up for it).

If you have some free reading time over the holidays, you might want to download the works of Poe (for free or minimal cost). If you like psychological horror, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House is also a natural.

Have fun!



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Monday, 25 November 2013

Disaster(rous) Movies

I have been watching some really bad disaster and horror movies lately: ones that are so bad that they're actually fun to watch. Many of them are made in Canada (because of tax breaks), and so Vancouver or Montreal usually doubles as the latest U.S. metropolis facing extinction from a natural or man-made disaster. Sometimes it's even funnier when they forget to edit out Canadian flags or mailboxes.

I've been trying to decide whether it's the dialogue, bad acting, or campy special effects that I enjoy most in these low budget, good bad movies, and I've decided it's one or a combination of all three. In one disaster movie I recently watched, a family is fleeing from a man-made catastrophe that could be classified under "misuse of science". The father is driving, the mother is a passenger in the front, and the teenaged son is in the back seat playing a Gameboy. The kid exclaims something to the effect of "Mom, mom, everyone's getting vaporized". The mother responds: "Play your game, dear".

Of course the stereotypes in the bad disaster/horror movies are also fun: the most obnoxious or incidental character will get killed first. Sullen teenagers will survive and bond with their parents. The pretty lead actress will no doubt survive the gorefest, but her not-as-pretty-and-perky girlfriend will expire. The handsome lead man will also usually survive, unless he is too cocky, in which case he may suffer the same fate as the other expendables in the movie. Women appear to fall down a lot in these movies, just as the bad thing/weather/vapourizer approaches, causing the hero to swoop in like John Wayne ("never mind, little missy") and save the day. And if it's a man-made disaster, there is the good "scientist" trying to get the attention of the POTUS, army, air force, or his ex-wife, while the evil scientist is like Scrooge McDuck, seeing only $$$ in the invention that has gone astray and is destroying the earth, but could nonetheless be profitable if anyone's left to buy it.

And just when I thought they had run out of meteorites, asteroids, space ships, and other stuff falling on the earth, my faith in endless bad movies was renewed. In the most recent one I watched, it was falling plasma destroying the earth, the acting and special effects were terrible, and the hero was a chubby and ordinary-looking video store owner who still managed to save the world!

More popcorn, anyone?

Monday, 18 November 2013

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the first airing of Doctor Who, the BBC's science fiction cult classic.

In honor of the occasion, here is some Doctor Who trivia you might enjoy:

The series was initially conceived as an educational, family-oriented program using time travel to explore science and revisit important moments in history. The historical element was later dropped in favor of the science element.

Among the show's many writers is Douglas Adams, the author of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

There have been eleven main actors portraying Doctor Who (my favorite being Jon Pertwee) with the twelfth slated to take over soon.

The blue police box which is Doctor Who's time travel machine is known by the acronym "TARDIS" (Time and Relative Dimension(s) in Space). These boxes were a common sight in England at the time the series premiered. In 1996, the BBC applied for a trade mark to use the TARDIS blue police box design in Doctor Who merchandising. The Metropolitan Police Authority filed an objection in 1998, but the Patent Office ruled in favor of the BBC.

The acronym TARDIS is recognized as a word in the Oxford English Dictionary, and is commonly used to refer to something larger on the inside than the outside.

(Source: Wikipedia)

For more trivia fun, you can visit the official BBC Doctor Who website and try various quizzes.




Monday, 11 November 2013

The Walking Dead: Soap Opera or Social Commentary?

Fans of George Romero's Night of the Living Dead and subsequent films, which owe a huge debt to Richard Matheson's I Am Legend, will recognize his influence on subsequent "zombie" films and specifically on the hit television series The Walking Dead. Like millions of others, I am a fan of the series, and I was surprised to read that Romero regards The Walking Dead as a "soap opera" and declined to become involved in its production. Romero indicates that his zombies were always used for satirical purposes or political criticism, and he sees this missing from the current series.

While I agree that there is an element of soap opera to the series in that viewers get hooked on what's coming next, I think the series is much more than that. For example, I compare the Rick of old, who apologizes to a crawling and mutilated zombie for what has happened to it and kills it as if wanting to end its misery (Season 1, Episode 1, "Days Gone Bye"), to the current Rick, who twice drives away and ignores the pleas of a hitchhiker for refuge and then stops to pick up his backpack after he has been destroyed by walkers (Season 3, Episode 12, "Clear"). I think the series is quite cynical in  regard to its depiction of humanity's capacity to become desensitized to violence in its efforts to survive. (In fact, the most recent episode in which Carol becomes an outcast because she has killed two members of the community  is entitled "Indifference".)

For the text of the article on Romero, please click here.

For an interesting article on Melissa McBride, who plays Carol, please click here.


Monday, 4 November 2013

The Latest from Dean Koontz

Fans of Dean Koontz will be pleased to learn that his latest novel, Innocence, is scheduled for release on December 10, 2013. It is described as the tale of two exiles who bond together in the face of impending catastrophe, one living "in solitude beneath the city, an exile from society, which will destroy him if he is ever seen." The other lives in seclusion, hiding from enemies "who will do her harm if she is ever found." From the book summary, it sounds similar to Dark Rivers of the Heart, one of my favorite Koontz novels.

Koontz published his most recent Odd Thomas novel, Deeply Odd, in May 2013, and has also recently published a short story entitled Wilderness (October 29, 2013). It is the tale of a young boy raised in an isolated home surrounded by a deep forest, who finds acceptance among the wildlife of the woods until he must confront terror in the wilderness.

If you're interested in other Koontz projects on the go, including a televised series based on his Frankenstein-adapted novels, please click here.




Monday, 28 October 2013

Halloween as a Kid

As the last of my Halloween-related posts, I'd like to share my guest post on the Horror Writers Association blog, Dark Whispers:

When I was a kid, the excitement leading up to Halloween night was second only to that of Christmas Eve. The leaves had fallen and made a wonderful noise when you tramped through them; summer was a memory but hockey season had begun; and it was cold out there with just a costume, but somehow as a kid I never noticed. The really rich kids had store-bought costumes, but I had more fun dreaming up my own. My mom and dad were always great sports: helping me out and proclaiming that this year's costume was even scarier than last year's.

The secret of which costume you would wear was, of course, guarded as closely as Fort Knox. There were also the stories--shared among friends--of past Halloweens: which houses had the scariest decorations or the meanest dogs; which neighbors gave out apples (to be avoided because they were healthy); and which people dished out the real goods (bags of chips and small chocolate bars that you could count afterward to see if you had surpassed last year's record).

Halloween Day seemed endless until the school bell rang and I grabbed my UNICEF box and headed home to “get ready”. Having graduated to bigger kid status, I could go out with some neighborhood friends. We timed it to avoid the little kids walking with their parents when there was still daylight, at one end, and the teenagers who came out when it was really dark, at the other. The mean ones would try to frighten you and steal your candy. I learned from experience to make a tight knot in the top of the white pillowcase my mom had sacrificed to the Halloween cause. Then I could run like heck when the teenagers approached, and the knot helped me avoid losing any of that precious candy.

Halloween was the Great Equalizer because you got neat stuff regardless of whether you were rich or poor (or had a “lame” costume). And you didn't even have to give up that carefully-guarded paper route money and buy gifts in return. Of course, there was the odd house with “old people” who wanted you to reveal who you were or sing a song for the candy, but a seasoned kid knew how to avoid these places.

And then when my friends and I were so tired that we decided to forgo the last of the houses, we would trudge back to our homes to examine our loot. I would proudly display the night's booty to my parents, who would then let me pick out some favorite treats and eat them before going to bed.

And if I was really lucky, I could make that stash last until that other great day came and my Christmas stocking brought more candy.

Happy Halloween, everyone!


Monday, 21 October 2013

Black and Orange Day: The New Halloween?

Although "Happy Black and Orange Day" doesn't  have quite the same ring as "Happy Halloween", the term has been adopted by a growing number of school boards across Canada, as well as some in the United States. Apparently, it is feared that the celebration of Halloween, with its pagan roots, may offend some religious groups (or, conversely,  be seen as "religious" in nature). So Halloween has now become Black and Orange Day, Orange and Black Day, Spirit Day, or Autumn Celebration Day. Many schools are banning costumes outright or suggesting that students dress in orange and black to celebrate the day.

Somewhere along the way, the fun of Halloween seems to have gone by the wayside in the name of political correctness. For my part, I have many fond memories of Halloween, and I would like to see children continue to have the opportunity to revel in the excitement and wonder of this time of year.


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Monday, 14 October 2013

Halloween Events

Happy Thanksgiving to those readers who celebrate the holiday today. I'd also like to advise you of some ongoing Halloween events in which I'm happy to participate.

 Halloween Haunts 

The Horror Writers Association (HWA) is once again sponsoring a month-long Halloween Haunts feature on their Dark Whispers blog at http://www.horror.org/blog/.

The HWA has also set up a Facebook event page at https://www.facebook.com/events/14177.... This page provides updates on Halloween Haunt posts and giveaways by your favorite horror writers.

If you're interested in sharing my reminiscences of Halloween as a kid, my post will appear in Halloween Haunts on October 16. I will also be giving away five digital (Kindle) copies of The Ghost Man.


Paranormal Palooza

The YA author Ruth Silver is hosting a Paranormal Palooza this month on her blog Write Away Bliss, featuring books which have a paranormal element to them. The Ghost Man will be featured on October 26 if you'd like to check out my submission. The weblink is http://writeawaybliss.com/.






 A special thanks to the HWA and Ruth Silver for making these features available to writers in the horror/supernatural genre!
Paranormal Palooza will feature books with a paranormal element to them, including but not limited to: werewolves, vampires, zombies, witches, warlocks, ghosts, bigfoot, and aliens. - See more at: http://writeawaybliss.com/paranormal-palooza-coming-in-october/#sthash.jeqKEyMk.dpuf





Paranormal Palooza will feature books with a paranormal element to them, including but not limited to: werewolves, vampires, zombies, witches, warlocks, ghosts, bigfoot, and aliens.
If you’re an author, please choose a button and add it to your website.
paranormal palooza
- See more at: http://writeawaybliss.com/paranormal-palooza-coming-in-october/#sthash.jeqKEyMk.dpuf

Monday, 7 October 2013

New Feature on Horror News Network

 

We're back after a short hiatus and getting geared up for Halloween! As our first post, we'd like to advise you of a new feature on the Horror News Network, which is one of the largest horror news and resource websites on the Internet. Please see the news release reprinted below:


New ‘Horror Map’ brings horror movie fans directly to the scene.

 SEYMOUR, Conn., September 17, 2013 – Horror News Network is happy to announce the launch of the ‘Horror Map’. This latest feature to the Horror News Network website allows horror movie fans to see exactly where their favorite films took place.

 “The Horror Map is a fantastic resource for fans of the horror genre,” said Rob Caprilozzi, owner of Horror News Network. “Our staff has pinned over 500 horror films to the map including favorites such as Rosemary’s Baby, Scream, Nightbreed, Friday the 13th, Halloween and more.”

 The map uses Google Map technology to provide viewers with easy access to the location of more than 500 movies from the Horror News Network database. Each location also provides an overview of the movie, including the release date and a brief synopsis. Registered users, fans and filmmakers are able to contribute to the resource by pinning the location of any movie that is in the Horror News Network database. For movies not already in our database, the registered user can easily add the movie before pinning it to the map.

 The map is available on HorrorNewsNetwork.net and can be accessed directly at the following link: http://horrornewsnetwork.net/horror-map.


A special thanks to Rob Caprilozzi for providing us with a copy of this press release.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Time for a Breather

I'm taking a break from my three weekly blogs, The Overnight Bestseller, Open Investigations, and Behind the Walls of Nightmare until about mid-October so I can start writing a new supernatural novel.

In the meantime, The Rainy Day Killer, the fourth Donaghue and Stainer crime fiction novel, is up and running on NetGalley. Our Plaid Raccoon Press is doing a soft release of the novel. It has been posted to Amazon as a Kindle selection, and the trade paperback version and other electronic formats will be available in October.

If you'd like to read and review the novel, I've posted information below on how to access it through NetGalley:

Here's your chance to read The Rainy Day Killer via NetGalley, an online site that provides digital galleys to reviewers, bloggers, media, librarians, booksellers, and educators. 
 
If you're not already a NetGalley user, you can register for free at www.NetGalley.com, create a profile, and browse their catalog to select titles. Then just hit the “Request” button for the title(s) you want. 
 
Once you request the title, you’ll just need to wait until the request is approved, and then the galley will appear on your NetGalley homepage (under “New Invitations to View Titles”). You will receive an email notification once your request is approved, so that you’ll know to log in to view the galley. 
 
You’ll have the option to download the galley to your computer or read it on a variety of devices. You can find step-by-step instructions for each here.

Be sure that you download Adobe Digital Editions (the program you’ll need to view our galley) first – it’s quick and free: http://www.adobe.com/products/digitaleditions/
 
If you have any questions, feel free to contact NetGalley: support@netgalley.com.

Monday, 26 August 2013

A Recent Book-Signing

Photo from the Kemptville Advance
I had the pleasure last weekend of doing a book-signing at Brewed Awakenings in Kemptville, one of the local-area shops carrying my books. I enjoy these events because I have a chance to chat with people and to offer advice to aspiring writers, such as the young man pictured in this photo, who wants to write supernatural fiction. It's always a pleasure to meet someone who is interested in writing, and I hope I can provide them with some encouragement.

The novel I am signing in the photo is The Ghost Man, a supernatural thriller set in Ontario, Canada. It tells the story of Simon Guthrie, recently widowed and trying to come to terms with his new life after spending months in a hospital recuperating from a head injury. I did a lot of research when writing The Ghost Man, and it has elements of the classic ghost story, while also examining other subjects, including near-death experiences and passive mediums.

If you'd like to read an excerpt from the novel, please click here. The novel is available electronically as a Kindle Direct Publishing selection and in trade paperback format. For the relevant purchasing information, please visit http://www.mjmccann.com/buytheghostman.htm or click on the buy link to the right of your screen to order the KDP Select version.

For those of you who are also interested in reading about crime fiction, please see my blog The Overnight Bestseller  and my Goodreads blog Open Investigations.





Monday, 19 August 2013

To Tell the Truth: A Review of Stephen King's Joyland

For those of you reading this who are old enough to remember the television show To Tell the Truth, you will recall that it presented three people, all of whom claimed to be a particular person. The panelists then had to decide which one of the three was actually that person. At the end of the questioning by the panel, the announcer would say: "Will the
real . . . please stand up?" Sometimes I feel like asking this when I'm reading one of Stephen King's novels: "Will the real Stephen King please stand up?" I'm never quite sure whether I'll be reading a coming-of-age story (The Body;"Hearts in Atlantis); a bona fide ghost/vampire/horror novel ('Salem's Lot; Pet Sematary); a struggling survivors' novel (The Stand; Cell; Under the Dome); a more "realistic" novel dealing with themes of spousal and child abuse (Gerald's Game; Dolores Claiborne); or a hybrid of any of these types. With Stephen King's novels, you're always kept guessing which turn he will take next.

So it is with Joyland, which sounds from the title and its tagline "Who dares enter the Funhouse of Fear?" as if it would be a reprisal of many of King's horror spooks (such as Pennywise the clown) from other novels.  The novel was published under the imprint of Hard Case Crime books and so purports to be crime fiction, which it is, of a sort, as the protagonist Devin Jones tries to solve an old murder case when he takes on a summer job at a carnival. The novel is also a "ghost story", as various persons in the novel (but not the protagonist himself) see the ghost of a woman who was murdered in the House of Horrors at the carnival: one of a series of unsolved murders involving young women. There is also the element of a whodunit as the reader tries to guess the murderer.

But all of these elements are backdrops to a coming-of-age story written in prose that at times is almost lyrical and tells of love lost and found and of a special friendship with a young boy whose body is wasted by disease. King, as he often does, uses the story as social commentary while underscoring the unfairness of life in taking away from us in premature death the best among us. This could be a trite theme, but isn't because of King's ability to create characters with whom his readers can empathize.

So if you were expecting a straightforward crime fiction novel, remember this is Stephen King who is doing the writing...

For an interesting review of the novel by Max Winter in the Los Angeles Review of Books that recognizes King's ability to "foil" genre, please click here.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Send In the Clowns

Anyone who has ever read or seen horror depictions of clowns can testify to the power of the clown as a figure of malevolence. To me, the clown has always been an ambivalent figure, more tragic than comic, but not usually downright scary. So I was interested to read an article on the history of the clown figure entitled "The History and Psychology of Clowns Being Scary".

The article traces the history of clowns from pagan times to the present day, noting the early clown was primarily a buffoon or mischievous imp. The image of the "tragic" clown is associated with Joseph Grimaldi in England, who was famous as a comic pantomime player on the London stage, known not only for his painted face but also his extreme physical comedy. Sadly, he had a tragic personal life and was also always in excruciating pain from his performances. His memoirs were edited by Charles Dickens, who did much to reinforce the tragedy behind the clown's mask and the image of an individual who would literally destroy himself to get a laugh.

A "sinister" figure behind the clown's face was Jean-Gaspard Debarau, known as Pierrot and famous for his pantomime and his clown's white face with red lips and black eyebrows. In real life, he killed a boy who ridiculed him, but was acquitted of his murder.

Later, in America, there were "hobo" clowns such as Emmett Kelly, who used slapstick humor for comedy but also expressed the underlying tragedy for the common man of the Great Depression (as did Charlie Chaplin, who isn't mentioned specifically in the article).

The article also references the deranged clown doll in Poltergeist (lampooned in The Simpsons' Halloween special); Stephen King's Pennywise in It; and Heath Ledger's depiction of the Joker, as well as various other permutations of the malevolent clown.

And, all clowning aside, these negative images of clowns have obviously been detrimental to the profession because "in the mid-2000s, articles began popping up in newspapers across the country lamenting the decline of attendees at clown conventions or at clowning workshop courses."

Of course, along the way there were some good clowns: think Bozo the Clown, for example. No, this isn't just a name you call someone who cuts you off in traffic: there actually was a beloved Bozo with his own television show, which most of us who grew up in the 60s watched faithfully.

And, as the Ringley Brothers' talent spotter (and former clown) indicates, "good clowns are always in shortage, and it’s good clowns who keep the art alive".


For the full text of this very engaging article, please click here.

 



Monday, 5 August 2013

The Vampires Among Us

There's an ongoing fascination with vampires and the Undead in both horror literature and films, and I recently came across an interesting article from the Smithsonian Magazine that talks about real-life events that prompted the various vampire scares in history. Vampire scares usually began when someone died of a contagious disease. With our present knowledge of communicable diseases, we recognize what prompted the subsequent deaths. But in those days, when others started dying of the same sickness, people thought it was the result of the (Un)dead coming back to drain their blood.

The practice of digging up graves to destroy vampires is thought to have begun in eastern Europe, spreading to France and England in the 1700s and to rural New England (which had a high incidence of death by tuberculosis), especially Rhode Island, in the late 1800s. As the article notes: “Often the vampire-hunters were not disappointed when they pried open the graves: many natural signs of decay, like bloating and bleeding from various orifices, looked like evidence of midnight feasts.” The means of “destroying” the vampire varied according to region, but included staking, beheading, and burning. (Fans of Bram Stoker's Dracula will remember that Van Helsing used the first two methods to destroy the undead Lucy so that she could rest in peace.)

What is particularly interesting about the Smithsonian magazine article is that it lists numerous historical figures believed by their contemporaries to be vampires, along with the circumstances of their deaths. 

There is also a related article on the New England vampire scare that you might like to check out. It makes for very interesting reading.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Spotlight on Stephen King

I recently came across an AMA (Ask Me Anything) in which Stephen King participated to promote the new television series Under the Dome, based on his novel and for which he is an executive producer. As usual, his comments were both interesting and humorous.  I've summarized some of his answers below:

The Favorite of His Novels - Lisey's Story

Best Portrayal of a Character in Movies Based on His Novels -  Kathy Bates in Misery and the four actors in Stand By Me, especially River Phoenix

Which Character He Would Enjoy Moving to the Real World - Danny Torrance of The Shining

Whether He Writes His Novels with Movie Versions In Mind - No, because it would constrict his writing.

How He Dealt with Rejection from Publishers When He First Started - "I just went on to the next story - there's no way to deal with rejection other than to continue on, banging on the door."

Whether He Plans to Write Sequels to Other Novels (as he has done with The Shining) - Probably not because he has too many new stories to tell.

Whether Digital Books Will Ever Fully Replace Printed Novels - "I like stories. The delivery system isn't as important to me as a good story. I will say this: if you drop a book into the toilet, it doesn't short out. And a lot of us read in the bathroom!"

All humor aside, it was amazing to see how many people commented on how Stephen King had inspired their love for reading or influenced their lives for the better. What more could a writer ask for?

For the full text of the AMA, please visit http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1gqzn2/i_am_stephen_king_novelist_executive_producer_on/.
















Monday, 22 July 2013

Roswell Revisited



This month marks the 66th anniversary of the Roswell incident where debris was recovered from what initially was thought to be a UFO, but was subsequently described by the US Army as a weather balloon.  There were later claims that witnesses saw alien bodies removed by the military and moved to Area 51, the widely-known but supposedly top secret military installation that is a remote detachment of the Edwards Air Force Base. A 1995 "documentary" entitled Alien Autopsy was aired by Fox TV. It purported to be the post-mortem examination of an alien found at the Roswell crash site. In 2006 the  "documentary" was revealed to be a hoax. The Independence Day movie also referenced Area 51 as a holding area for captured aliens.

Due to the constant speculation about what happened at Roswell and the numerous accusations of government cover-up, various documents were declassified and two reports issued by the US Air Force in the 1990s. The official explanation states that the debris came from the wreckage of a high-altitude surveillance balloon that was part of a then-top secret Cold War project called Mogul to ensure America's readiness to detect a nuclear attack. The aliens were supposedly human-like dummies (precursors of crash-test dummies) or were actual servicemen injured in flight tests.

The incident at Roswell has spawned countless books purported to be based on eyewitness accounts. For the town of Roswell, New Mexico, it's been a tourist boom, and each July there's a festival attracting enthusiasts from around the world. For the world of science fiction, fantasy and horror, the Roswell incident and other reports of UFO sightings have resulted in some very interesting series, including the X-Files Alien(s), and Men in Black.

Regardless of the true explanation of what happened at Roswell, our human fascination with the potential for life beyond earth continues.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Book Review of Warpworld by Kristene Perron and Joshua Simpson


Once again we are pleased to host a Tribute Books blog tour. Please welcome Kristene Perron and Joshua Simpson as we take an inside look at their novel Warpworld.


Warpworld Book Summary:

How far would you go…

On his first crossing through the warps, Seg discovers a world rich in vita – fuel to save his dying world. Cold, brilliant and desperate to prove himself as a Cultural Theorist, Seg breaks away from the recon squad sent to protect him, to scout out prime vita sources. But to find his prize he must face his biggest fear: water.

Fiery and headstrong, Ama receives an ultimatum from her people’s tyrannical overlords: betray her own kind or give up the boat she calls home, forever.  When a wealthy traveler hires her as a guide, Ama thinks her prayers are answered – until a violent murder reveals Seg’s true identity.

On the run, over land and water, hunted by a ruthless and relentless tracker, and caught in the schemes of a political powerhouse, Seg and Ama will have to strike an uneasy truce to survive.

The fate of two worlds is in their hands.

Formats: ebook and paperback
Paperback Price: $17.99
eBook Price: $7.99
Pages: 504
Publisher: Mint Publishers, Inc.
Release: October 2012

Amazon paperback buy link ($17.99):
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1551200503?tag=tributebooks-20

CreateSpace
paperback buy link ($17.99):
https://www.createspace.com/4001824

Warpworld.ca
paperback buy link ($17.99):
http://www.warpworld.ca/books.html

Kindle ebook buy link ($7.99):
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B009QRXHXK?tag=tributebooks-20

Nook
ebook buy link ($7.99):
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/warpworld-kristene-perron/1113483180?ean=2940015488579

Kobo ebook buy link ($7.99):
http://www.kobobooks.com/ebook/Warpworld/book-rxV3CfaIZ0mCD8--mzp7Pw/page1.html?s=p1Q6zAsAnEW5zRSuB5ImUQ&r=1

Lulu/iBookstore
ebook link ($7.99):
http://www.lulu.com/shop/kristene-perron-and-joshua-simpson/warpworld/ebook/product-20479094.html


Kristene Perron's Bio: 

Kristene is a former professional stunt performer for film and television (as Kristene Kenward) and self-described ‘fishing goddess’. Pathologically nomadic, she has lived in Japan, Costa Rica, the Cook Islands, and a very tiny key in the Bahamas, just to name a few. Her stories have appeared in Denizens of Darkness, Canadian Storyteller Magazine, The Barbaric Yawp and Hemispheres Magazine. In 2010 she won the Surrey International Writers’ Conference Storyteller Award.
 
Kristene is a member of  SF Canada. Her novel Warpworld is the first in a five-book adventure science fiction series, penned with her Texan co-writer Joshua Simpson.

She currently resides in Nelson, BC, Canada, but her suitcase is always packed.


Joshua Simpson's Bio:

A career nomad, Josh Simpson has driven trucks through the lower
forty-eight states, treated and disposed of hazardous waste, mixed mud as a stonemasonry laborer, failed abysmally in marketing, gotten on people's nerves as a safety man, and presently gets on their nerves even more using nerve release techniques in musculo-skeletal pain relief. 

He lives amidst the scrub and mesquite of West Texas, cohabiting with the writer's requisite minimum of two cats. Warpworld is his first published novel. 


Our Review of Warpworld 

Kristine Perron and Joshua Simpson have undertaken the co-authoring of a five-book adventure science fiction series. They are off to a good start. The co-authors have created two very engaging main characters in Seg and Ama. Their relationship develops slowly and carefully as their individual weaknesses find support in the strengths of the other. 

Additionally, the two worlds in which the action unfolds are convincingly drawn, the supporting characters are interesting and amusing, and the level of detail is just right to bring the whole thing off in a fun, entertaining read. 

Congratulations on your first novel in what promises to be an interesting series. Fans will be waiting anxiously for the next installment of the adventures of Seg and Ama, to be sure!


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Warpworld Goodreads:
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Kristene Perron Twitter:
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Kristene Perron Blog:
http://the-coconut-chronicles.com/

Kristene Perron Goodreads:
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Monday, 8 July 2013

Book Review of Ghostly Summons by John A. Karr


Behind the Walls of Nightmare is pleased to host a Tribute Books blog tour. Please welcome John A. Karr as we take an inside look at his novel Ghostly Summons.


Ghostly Summons: Book Summary

Lars Kelsen doesn’t believe in psychic phenomenon. To him, visions of murder victims are a form of mental illness. Once they begin, options are limited; he can try to ignore them or deal with them by exposing a killer. Only the latter provides any semblance of peace. Temporarily, anyway. Five years into his new life as a programmer, Kelsen—ex-crime beat reporter with a penance he can never fully satisfy—sees a victim.

In person. Upright. Staring.

Typical of such past "Visits" as he calls them, he doesn’t welcome this one. The nude form of a beautiful millionairess in his cubicle means murder has come to the vacation haven known as North Carolina’s Outer Banks. It means he’ll have to go places he'd rather avoid. See things he'll wish he hadn’t. Do things that don't come naturally, like in-your-face confrontation and bending the law. Actually, breaking the law ... but with good intent. It also means dealing with one very attractive county coroner, who pushes his buttons in a not entirely unwelcome way.

So begins Kelsen's return to investigative reporting—complete with attempts on his life, fights, deception, and all the technological tricks, such as GPS and computer hacking, at his disposal. And maybe even finding a new love interest.

Format: ebook and paperback
eBook Price: $3.99
Pages: 312
Publisher: Dark Continents Publishing
Release: March 14, 2013

Kindle buy link ($3.99):
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00BUT38VS?tag=tributebooks-20

Nook buy link ($3.99):
http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/ghostly-summons-john-a-karr/1114842051?ean=2940016384696

Kobo buy link ($3.99):
http://www.kobobooks.com/ebook/Ghostly-Summons/book-bpmT46S2dkKBvBsnJjtGE




John A. Karr: Biography

  John A. Karr believes fiction writing each day helps keep the demons at bay. Ghostly Summons is his first full-length novel for Dark Continents Publishing. DCP has also published his Weird West novella, Ujahwek. He is the author of a handful of other novels: Death Clause, Hippocrates Shattered (scheduled for reprint by World Castle Publications as Shattered), Rhone, and Van Gogh, Encore. His short stories have appeared on webzines Allegory, The Absent Willow Review, and Danse Macabre. More works are in progress and in the marketing queue.

Karr is an ardent believer in the quote by Carl Van Doren (1885-1950), U.S. man of letters: "Yes, it's hard to write, but it's harder not to."


Our Review of Ghostly Summons


John A. Karr has written in a number of genres with Ghostly Summons being described as a paranormal mystery. The protagonist Lars Kelsen is haunted not only by the remembrance of his son's death, which he was powerless to prevent, but also by ghostly Visitors seeking amends for their violent deaths. He can never right the wrong of his own son's murder, but he is able to gain some relief by helping other victims of violence. In Ghostly Summons, Kelsen encounters the ghost of a woman who is slain and whose body is dumped in the wilderness. He becomes her voice in the novel by exploring the past and telling her story in the local newspaper, as well as undertaking a trek to discover her murderer. In doing so, Kelsen confronts various dangers and is presented with a number of credible suspects, and we are left guessing to the end of the novel as to the actual killer.

The novel is built on an intriguing premise and will potentially appeal to readers of both the supernatural and mystery genres. Ghostly Summons could also lead to other ghostly adventures if the author decides in the future that there are more “Visits” in store for Lars Kelsen.

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Monday, 1 July 2013

The Legacy of Richard Matheson



Richard Matheson has died at the age of 87, but his literary influence will continue to live on. Ray Bradbury called Matheson one of the most important writers of the 20th century. In 2012 the Horror Writers Association bestowed a Bram Stoker Award on Matheson for the "vampire novel of the century", I am Legend. This novel had three screen adaptations, as well as inspiring George  A. Romero's 1968 classic,  Night of the Living Dead. Stephen King, who cites Matheson as his greatest influence, dedicated his novel Cell to Matheson and Romero. Harlan Ellison has acknowledged his huge debt to Richard Matheson, and the younger Spielberg was indebted to Matheson for writing the story and screenplay for Spielberg's 1971 film Duel. More recently, Joe Hill and Stephen King co-authored a story entitled “Throttle,” which was inspired by Matheson's story. Matheson adapted Edgar Allan Poe stories for film director Roger Corman and wrote 16 episodes of The Twilight Zone.  He also wrote the screenplay for the movie The Incredible Shrinking Man, which was based upon his novel, originally entitled The Shrinking Man. In addition to his well-known novels, he was credited as a writer on at least 80 film and television productions over his career, which spanned seven decades.

 Matheson saw the potential for horror in everyday life and once stated that there were "no crypt[s] or castles or H.P. Lovecraft-type environments [in his works]. They were just about normal people who had something bizarre happening to them in the neighborhood.”


For tributes to Richard Matheson, please see his obituary in The Guardian at http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/jun/25/richard-matheson-i-am-legend and the books blog at http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2013/jun/25/i-am-legend-author-richard-matheson.




Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Bram Stoker Award Winners

Each year the Horror Writers Association presents the Bram Stoker Awards for superior achievement in horror writing. This year's Bram Stoker Awards Weekend was held in conjunction with the World Horror Convention in New Orleans (in a hotel reputed to be haunted).

The following 2012 Bram Stoker Award winners were announced:

Superior Achievement in a NOVEL
The Drowning Girl by CaitlĂ­n R. Kiernan (Roc)
Superior Achievement in a FIRST NOVEL
Life Rage by L.L. Soares (Nightscape Press)
Superior Achievement in a YOUNG ADULT NOVEL
Flesh & Bone by Jonathan Maberry (Simon & Schuster)
Superior Achievement in a GRAPHIC NOVEL
Witch Hunts: A Graphic History of the Burning Times by Rocky Wood and Lisa Morton (McFarland and Co., Inc.)
Superior Achievement in LONG FICTION
The Blue Heron by Gene O’Neill (Dark Regions Press)
Superior Achievement in SHORT FICTION
“Magdala Amygdala” by Lucy Snyder (Dark Faith: Invocations, Apex Book Company)
Superior Achievement in a SCREENPLAY
The Cabin in the Woods” by Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard (Mutant Enemy Productions, Lionsgate)
Superior Achievement in an ANTHOLOGY
Shadow Show edited by Mort Castle and Sam Weller (HarperCollins)
Superior Achievement in a FICTION COLLECTION (tie)
New Moon on the Water by Mort Castle (Dark Regions Press)
Black Dahlia and White Rose: Stories by Joyce Carol Oates (Ecco Press)
Superior Achievement in NON-FICTION
Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween by Lisa Morton (Reaktion Books)
Superior Achievement in a POETRY COLLECTION
Vampires, Zombies & Wanton Souls by Marge Simon (Elektrik Milk Bath Press)

For more information on the Bram Stoker Awards, please visit the Horror Writers Association blog at http://www.horror.org/blog/.

If you are interested in learning more about Bram Stoker, for whom the awards are named, please see my post of May 21, 2013, at wallsofnightmare.blogspot.ca/2013/05/master-of-horror-bram-stoker.html.


The 2014 World Horror Convention and Bram Stoker Awards presentation will be held in Portland, Oregon, in May 2014.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Book Review of Night Chill by Jeff Gunhus

Behind the Walls of Nightmare is pleased to review Night Chill by Jeff Gunhus, who is also the author of the Middle Grade/YA series The Templar Chronicles, as well as numerous motivational career guides. To learn more about him, please visit his website at http://www.jeffgunhus.com/.

 Book Summary

Jack Tremont moves his family to the quiet mountains of western Maryland hoping to leave behind a troubled past and restart his life. Instead, he finds himself caught up in a nightmare when his daughter Sarah is targeted by Nate Huckley, a mysterious and horrifying stranger driven by a dark power that will stop at nothing to possess Sarah. When Sarah goes missing, suspicion falls on Jack and he must uncover the secrets of the small mountain town of Prescott City and face the evil secret hidden there. As he digs further, he learns the conspiracy reaches more deeply than he could have imagined. Finally, he will have to face the question, What is a father willing to do to save his child? The answer? Anything. Anything at all.


Our Review

Night Chill is an engaging novel whose subject matter will appeal to readers of both medical thrillers and horror novels. It moves quickly with an interesting storyline and numerous plot turns. At the heart of the novel are the themes of love and redemption as a father, Jack Tremont, tries to save his abducted daughter, having earlier killed a young girl in a car accident that still haunts him. These themes are paralleled in the sub-plot as his friend Max tries to find redemption by saving his own young daughter from a ravaging illness.

Gunhus also introduces the character of Lonetree, whose initial focus is on seeking revenge on behalf of his family, but who gradually develops a close relationship with Jack and becomes his ally in the quest to save his daughter Sarah.The relationship between the two provides a form of comic relief in the novel as Lonetree, the ex-Navy Seal, tries to coach Jack as to the proper methods of rescuing someone.

Night Chill is a suspenseful read, full of villains, especially the chilling Nate Huckley. The novel's ending also hints at more to come. After all, does evil ever really die?



Tuesday, 11 June 2013

The Winchester Mystery House

Haunted houses are a popular feature of horror novels and films, and the stories behind the Winchester Mystery House are especially intriguing. The house was built without a master plan by its owner, Sara Winchester, who was the heir to the Winchester Repeating Rifle Company fortune. According to popular (but undocumented) belief, Sara Winchester consulted a medium after the early deaths of her child and husband and was advised that she needed to move West and build a house for herself and the spirits of those killed by the Winchester rifle. The construction had to be non-stop: otherwise she would die. Another version of this story is that the medium advised her to build the house in order to thwart the evil spirits that killed her husband and child. This version of the story might account for the maze-like construction of the house and its many dead ends to trick the spirits and keep them from finding her.

Mrs. Winchester moved to California from Connecticut and purchased an unfinished farmhouse in northern California. Work began immediately on the house by 13 workers, who labored night and day for almost 38 years. Construction only stopped upon her death at the age of 83.

Today the house is a major tourist attraction. Among its features are the following:

  • 160 rooms
  • 47 fireplaces
  • 10,0000 windows
  • 17 chimneys

There are stairs and windows opening onto walls, as well as a staircase leading to a ceiling, and doors and staircases leading nowhere. The number “13” (perhaps intended to ward off spirits) is prominent in the design of the house. (The newsletter for the mystery house is called The Thirteenth Hour.) As well, there is a sĂ©ance room with one entrance, three exits, and an eight-foot drop through a secret door to a kitchen below. Visitors are warned to stay with the tour group or risk getting lost for hours in the labyrinth of the house.

Visitors have reported cold spots, and one of the long-time restoration workers reported seeing an apparition inside the house. One psychic stated that he could hear ongoing sawing and hammering by the 13 dead laborers in the other world as they continued to build the house.

For the website of the Winchester Mystery House, see www.winchestermysteryhouse.com/, which provides a detailed history of the house, as well as an explanation of the “13” numerology in its design.‎ For a YouTube video by the Travel Channel on the world's creepiest destinations, visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7dy0TnZ_vpk. (Both sites, as well as Wikipedia, were used as sources for this post.) There are numerous photographs and other YouTube videos online for you to explore.

Happy touring (but don't get lost)!



Tuesday, 4 June 2013

What's New in the Queue

If you are interested in following up on my Bram Stoker post of May 21, 2013, you might enjoy a new book by historian Jim Steinmeyer entitled
Who Was Dracula? Bram Stoker's Trail of Blood.
The author discusses the people and stories behind the Transylvanian legend of Count Dracula, considers the sources influencing Stoker, and depicts the life of Stoker and his development as a writer.


                                                                       
  Joe Hill's latest novel NOS4A2 features a young girl named Victoria McQueen who is the only victim ever to escape from the notorious Charlie Manx. He is rumored to have kidnapped dozens of children, taking them to a place called Christmasland. When Manx dies after years in prison, his body disappears. He is once again on the road hunting—and this time he has McQueen's child whom she must rescue.

 


While awaiting the release of Doctor Sleep, you might want to investigate Stephen King's Joyland, due to be released in early June. The prolific horror novelist has created a crime fiction thriller in Joyland. The novel is set in a small-town North Carolina amusement park in 1973, and it tells the story of the summer in which college student Devin Jones comes to work as a carny and confronts the legacy of a vicious murder.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

It's Raining . . . Frogs

It may rain cats and dogs only metaphorically, but there have been numerous documented cases of frog and fish rainfall. Cases of such rainfalls, often associated in the popular mind with Biblical curses, have been reported frequently in modern times.

Here are some examples:
  • In 1977, thousands of frogs fell from the sky in Brignoles, France.
  • On June 7, 2005, thousands of frogs rained on Odzaci, a small town in northwestern Serbia.
  • At the end of February 2010, residents of Lajamanu, a small Australian town, saw hundreds of spangled perch fall from the sky.
  • The United Kingdom is especially prone to falling frogs, having experienced a number of episodes, the most recent being in Bromley, England.

Many scientists believe that tornadic waterspouts—a tornado that forms over land and travels over water—may be responsible for frog and fish rainfalls. Other scientists theorize that any unusually powerful updraft could lift small organisms or organic material into the sky during a storm. (An updraft is a wind current caused by warm air from high pressure areas near the earth rising into cooler, low-pressure areas in the atmosphere.)

Of course, if you are Stephen King, the frogs have teeth and appear in an annual rainfall to prey upon their skeptics... (See his short story “Rainy Season” in Nightmares and Dreamscapes.)

If you're interested in taking a look at frog and fish rainfall, there are numerous YouTube videos on this subject.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Master of Horror, Bram Stoker

Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula

This is the third in a series of posts featuring masters of horror. In this post, I'll discuss Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula.


 Bram Stoker's Dracula

Although Bram Stoker was not the first Victorian-era writer to deal with the vampire theme, his 1897 novel Dracula is recognized as a classic in terms of its pervasive influence on the horror genre. Stoker was a prolific short story and novel writer, as well as the business manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London. He was also a member of the literary staff of London's Daily Telegraph.

Prior to writing Dracula, Stoker spent several years researching European folklore and mythological stories of vampires. Like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Stoker's novel is epistolary in form, using a series of letters and different points of view to recount the story of Count Dracula, who attains immortality by draining the blood of his victims. Dracula also deals with the themes of man's desire for immortality versus the transitory nature of his existence; his lust for forbidden knowledge; and the epic battle of good versus evil. 

The Legacy of Dracula
The legacy of this novel has been immense. The vampire has become synonymous with horror in the popular imagination, and the concept of the “Undead” (which was the original title of the novel), an evil entity that cannot be destroyed but rises up again and again, is central to the horror genre. There have been over two hundred films based on the Dracula character. In literature, the novel has influenced such diverse writers as Stephen King and Anne Rice. The Horror Writers Association bestows the Bram Stoker Awards each year for excellence in horror writing.

Internet Resources

 If you would like to [re]discover Dracula, please see the Bram Stoker website at http://bramstoker.org/ for copies of his works, as well as biographical information. Dracula is in the public domain and is available for free download through various sites on the Internet.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Of Ghost Ships and Unexplained Disappearances

The existence of ghost ships missing their crews but otherwise undisturbed has been the subject of interest and debate, inspiring innumerable horror films and novels. I was amazed to discover, however, in an article in The Guardian that these ghost ships are continuing to haunt the sea even into the 21st century.

Perhaps the most famous of ghost ships is the Mary Celeste. On December 5, 1872, the ship was found drifting in the Strait of Gibraltar. The cargo and personal belongings of the passengers were found intact, but none of its passengers was ever found—dead or alive. The last entry in the ship's log was dated 11 days earlier. Researchers discovered that the Mary Celeste had previously been named the Amazon and had been renamed to discourage superstitious talk about the ship being haunted. (The new name doesn't seem to have helped much!)

In 1921, the Carroll A Deering washed up on a beach in North Carolina. Despite exhaustive investigation by various U.S. Government departments, there was never any official explanation for the disappearance of the crew, although it is commonly thought that they mutinied. Eerily, the next day's meal was being prepared at the time of the ship's abandonment.

The merchant vessel Joyita was discovered abandoned in the Pacific in 1955 with no sign of its 25 passengers and crew members. A subsequent inquiry found that the vessel was in a poor state of repair, but determined that the fate of the passengers and crew was "inexplicable on the evidence submitted at the inquiry". 
 
In 2006 the tanker Jian Seng was discovered off the cost of Queensland, Australia. Its crew was missing, and investigators could not determine the origin of the vessel or its owner. A quantity of rice was found on board the vessel, but there was no sign of human activity or indication that the vessel was being used illegally for poaching, carrying drugs, or people smuggling. 
 
In April 2007 the catamaran Kaz II was found near the Great Barrier Reef. Its sails were up, the engine was running, a meal was set to be eaten, life jackets and survival equipment remained on board, but there was no sign of its three-man crew.

In 2008 the Taiwanese fishing boat Tai Ching 21 was found drifting in the Pacific Ocean near Kiribati. There was evidence of a fire aboard the ship, but no mayday call was received, and a search of 21,000 square miles found no trace of the captain or 28 crew members.

Various reasons have been cited for these disappearances, and in some cases the ships have been in obvious distress, and life rafts have been missing. The most intriguing cases are those involving ships like the Mary Celeste in which nothing appears to be out-of-order . . .and yet the ships are devoid of life.

For the full text of The Guardian article reporting on these various disappearances, see http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/shortcuts/2012/mar/26/ghost-ships-oceans-japanese-boat.



Sunday, 14 April 2013

The Subtlety of Good Horror

It is interesting to note that films which receive mediocre reviews at the time of their release often, at a later date, come to be viewed as classics. I'm thinking of Stanley Kubrick's The Shining in relation to this statement, but there are many other examples. What is it in a film that has received middling reviews at time of release that makes it appeal to subsequent generations of horror fans? One of the elements for me is the subtlety of its horror. I will go out on a limb here and nominate the 1998 film Fallen as a future classic in the horror genre. Only forty percent of the reviews of this film were positive, but I think it is an unpolished gem in the realm of horror movies. I have seen this film at least three times, and it still sends chills up my back. 

The basic premise of the movie is that evil does not die, but instead can be transferred from one carrier to another with the innocent victim's body used as a host. There are no slasher scenes or gore in this film. The horror is conveyed through the senses: the singing of the Stones' “Time Is On My Side” as an indicator of infection, or the chance touch of a stranger on the sidewalk. A passerby or your closest friend is suddenly your enemy.

If you haven't seen this film, give it a look and tell me what you think. . . .

Monday, 8 April 2013

The Haunted Legacy of Alcatraz

The Spanish first explored the island which was later to house the infamous prison. The name “Alcatraz” is an English adaptation of the Spanish word for “pelicans”. The island passed into U.S. hands with its acquisition of California from Mexico following the Mexican-American War. 

In 1850 the U.S. military took over the island of Alcatraz and used it to house long-term prisoners until 1934 when it became too costly to maintain. In 1934 it became a federal prison which was intended as a place of last resort for inmates who were considered troublemakers in other federal penitentiaries. Among the most notorious of its prisoners were the racketeers Al “Scarface” Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Alvin “Creepy” Karvis, and Arthur “Doc” Barker of the Ma Barker gang.

The prison was intended to be escape-proof. Until it closed in 1963, there were fourteen separate escape attempts by thirty-four men. In almost all cases, the men were killed or recaptured. The last escape attempt was depicted in the 1979 film Escape from Alcatraz starring Clint Eastwood. The fate of the three men involved in the escape was never determined: they were never recaptured and were presumed drowned.

The prison on Alcatraz, often referred to as “The Rock,” was known as a cruel place with its notorious “holes”: a series of cells that were used to punish non-complying inmates by keeping them in complete isolation with minimal or no clothing, bread and water for sustenance, and no toilet facilities—sometimes for up to nineteen days.

Alcatraz was closed as a federal prison in 1963 by Attorney General Robert Kennedy due to the costs of its upkeep and the deterioration of its buildings. It was placed under the National Park Service in 1972, and was opened to the public the following year. Since that time it has become extremely popular as a tourist attraction with regular tours of the facilities.

Alcatraz has captured the popular imagination as the subject of innumerable books and movies, and a television series in 2012.

It has been fifty years since Alcatraz was closed as a prison. To listen to the memories of a former prison guard and a former prisoner, as well as to see photographs, please visit the NPR website at http://www.npr.org/2013/03/31/175847684/living-memories-from-the-last-days-of-alcatraz.

Is Alcatraz haunted? Clanging sounds, footsteps, voices, sobbing, and screams have been reported by both park employees and visitors. Perhaps one of the eeriest stories is the report of the sound of faint banjo music coming from the shower room. Al Capone spent hours strumming his banjo there rather than exercising in the yard and facing assaults by fellow prisoners.

If the evil that men do and the misery they suffer lives after them, Alcatraz is a natural haunting place.