Well, we’re in holidays. Are you looking forward to eating some fabulous holiday food as much as me? I’ve already lost ten pounds so I can gain it all back—and more. Yeah, the holidays.
Currently, I am doing rewrites on Book Two in the Sarah Greene Mysteries series per notes from my editor. I hope to send the manuscript to the copyeditor by Thanksgiving. I had planned on having the book out by Christmas, but I think January is more likely.
In the meantime, here is a sneak peek of the cover for House of the Shrieking Woman. Let me know what you think.
The book signing in Burbank went pretty well. I am in the middle of trying to schedule future ones, and I am now expanding to Vroman’s Bookstore. Be sure to check out my Facebook page for news on future events.
Recommended Reading and Viewing
If you’re looking for something creepy that isn’t exactly a ghost story, be sure to check out The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. It’s a wonderfully written novel about a stately home infested with an evil you cannot quite put a name to. You can read my review here.
And if, like me, you are a fan of J-horror, check out the Ringu collection on Blu-ray, available now at Amazon. I’ve been waiting for these movies to be available again, and now they are. Each is presented in Japanese with English subtitles. Prepare to be terrified.
I’ve been a fan of Jim Jarmusch since forever. What I love most about his movies is, he doesn’t waste time and money. His stories are lean, character-driven pieces that get to the point quickly. Films like ‘Stranger Than Paradise,’ ‘Down by Law,’ and ‘Broken Flowers.’ No boring backstory, no big government conspiracy. Just people dealing with everyday shit they have no control over.
Not Every Zombie Story Has to Be the Apocalypse
‘The Dead Don’t Die’ is the director’s latest film, and it’s a hoot. We’ve got Bill Murray as the police chief of a small town who, by his own admission, should’ve retired two years ago. Adam Driver as an officer, who seems to be the only person in Centerville that seems to know they are all in a Jim Jarmusch movie. And other wonderful actors like Chloë Sevigny, Tom Waits, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Tilda Swinton, and Selena Gomez.
The script is smart and low key. Lines are repeated by different characters, giving the film an almost Sartre vibe where everyone is caught up in an existential nightmare that won’t end. Here’s an example, which each character varies a little:
What the heck was it, a wild animal? Several wild animals?
Oh, and there’s the dead. Yeah, they’re coming out of the ground like in the original ‘Night of the Living Dead,’ with at least one of them reeking of cheap chardonnay.
When the Dead Start Rising, That’s When You Know Who Your Friends Are
As things go from bad to worse, people act out in different ways. Hermit Bob keeps an eye on the proceedings from a distance, making comments like this gem:
Cliff and little Ronnie. Warriors. Among the dead. Zombies. Remnants of the materialist people.
Officer Mindy continues to freak out with each new horror. Meanwhile, Hank and Bobby have banded together to try and save the hardware store—and themselves. And good ol’ Farmer Frank goes it alone with his gun and deep-seated prejudices as he discovers all his cows and chickens have vanished. Tilda Swinton, who is always mesmerizing, is perhaps the only one who confronts the danger head-on, using a razor-sharp Katana to behead the invaders.
And some are just clueless, like the three out-of-town hipsters staying at the local motel. For some reason, Cliff and Ronnie have decided they are from Cleveland.
If You’re Going to Die, You Might as Well Have a Good Theme Song
Just so you know, everyone—and I mean everyone—in this thing dies at the end. I think Officer Ronnie said it best:
If you ask me, this whole thing is going to end badly.
Well, okay, maybe not Hermit Bob. I mean, someone has to survive to tell the story, right? But here’s the thing. If you’re going to make a movie about zombies taking over a small, peaceful town and ripping everyone to pieces, then you’d better have a good theme song.
And this movie does. The song “The Dead Don’t Die,” written and performed by Sturgill Simpson, is perfect. In fact, for those who might be squeamish about seeing so much blood and guts, you might want to purchase the tune so you can at least feel you were a part of the experience.
Fun fact: According to the credits, someone got hired as a zombie movement consultant. What a country.
The Greatest Zombie Cast Ever Disassembled
The peaceful town of Centerville finds itself battling a zombie horde as the dead start rising from their graves.
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Writer: Jim Jarmusch
Stars: Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tom Waits
Rated R for zombie violence/gore, and for language
‘The Rite’ is a wonderfully produced movie from 2011 starring Anthony Hopkins, perhaps the only actor alive today who could drop you simply by leveling his trademarked death-stare. I saw the film a few years ago, then recently read the nonfiction book that has to do with real-life exorcist Father Gary Thomas. In that work, the journalist Matt Baglio faithfully records what happens to the Northern California priest as he attends a series of exorcisms in Italy as part of his training. If you are interested in what happens during these rituals, I suggest you take a look at that book.
But I’m here to talk about the movie, which was suggested by the book. After watching it again, three things struck me that I’d like to share.
There’s Plenty of Evil in the World When the main character, Michael Kovak, first meets Father Lucas, the exorcist he is to observe, he encounters a young woman who has been suffering from demonic possession for a long time. It turns out her predicament is not her fault. She was raped by her father and is now carrying his child.
We read about stuff like this all the time, and what it demonstrates is, as humans, we don’t need demons making us do bad things; we are perfectly capable of being evil all by ourselves. Nevertheless, when a tragedy like this occurs, it can open the door to something even worse. As proof, you can check out the scene where the poor girl coughs up black oxide nails.
Demons Are Real—and They Have Names In 1973, ‘The Exorcist’ showed us that demonic possession is real and that the entities doing the possessing have names. Apparently, they also have ranks. Now, as a reminder, these creatures are pure spirit; that is, they never walked the earth, and they are as old as time itself. They’re also smart, so good luck engaging in wordplay with them.
As a matter of fact, this is precisely what the young seminarian does against the priest’s orders—he tries parrying with the demon possessing the girl. Big mistake. As a result, the beast begins toying with him, getting under the young man’s skin.
Without Faith, You Are Lost Here’s something interesting that was hinted at in the movie but is prominent in the book: many Catholic priests do not believe in the devil which, when you stop to think about it, is messed up. Have these people not read the New Testament? Anyway, just because these are modern times, that doesn’t mean the old truths don’t apply.
What’s interesting about Michael is, on the surface, it’s not so much about his lack of faith in God as it is about his refusal to believe in evil during these exorcisms. It’s almost as if it’s the demon’s mission is to prove to Michael that he exists. And of course, once the seminarian can accept that, he can then be confident in the belief that God exists.
Wrap-Up I am a huge fan of this movie. I’ve said often that my all-time favorite horror movie is ‘The Exorcist.’ But this film is a close second. It’s intelligently written and beautifully acted and directed. And it doesn’t hurt that it was shot in Italy. If you enjoy horror that makes you think, watch ‘The Rite.’
Movie Details American seminary student Michael Kovak (Colin O’Donaghue) travels to Italy to take an exorcism course.
Director: Mikael Håfström
Writers: Michael Petroni, Matt Baglio (book)
Stars: Colin O’Donoghue, Anthony Hopkins, Ciarán Hinds
I finally got a chance to catch ‘100 Bloody Acres,’ a hilarious horror movie from Australia that was released in 2012. As of this writing, it’s free for Amazon Prime members. If, like me, you are a fan of ‘Motel Hell’ and ‘Delicatessen,’ then you might enjoy this madcap take on the hitchhiker horror trope that features three millennials headed to a music festival and two sketchy brothers who manufacture a special blend, organic fertilizer. Pardon the reference, but here’s some food for thought.
Never Accept a Ride When the Back of the Truck Smells Funny This is a given. Yet, three hapless travelers, whose car has broken down, decide to accept a ride from Reg Morgan, who is “making a delivery.” That’s right, air quotes. As in most horror movies, Sophie, James, and Wes ignore all the signs and merrily plod on. Usually, this is a hallmark of a plot-driven story. On the other hand, if they didn’t just go with it, the movie would have ended right after the opening credits, and we’d miss all the fun.
Nevertheless, know this: if you should find yourself on a lonely, backwoods road, and a guy offers you a ride in his truck that happens to have a dead animal (and possibly something else) in the back, take a pass. No good ever comes from roadkill. And for crying out loud, if you do decide to brave it out, do not for the love of all that is good and holy take acid to enhance the experience.
Knocking the Bad Guy Out Never Works One of the oldest movie tropes—and this doesn’t just go for horror—features the hero knocking out the bad guy with a gun or a club, then gleefully running away. Repeat after me: this never works. If you don’t have the stomach to finish off the villain, then at least tie him up so he can’t wake up and come after you again.
And as long as you’re being thorough, take his weapon away. The characters who do not follow this advice once again betray a plot-driven movie, but in this case, the story is so comical, I didn’t mind. I suppose you could argue that when in a situation like this, you’re not thinking straight. Well, of course, you aren’t—you just took acid, you moron!
Surprise! Love Conquers All To add to the hilarity, ‘100 Bloody Acres’ features a love triangle between Sophie, James, and Wes. Apparently, the girl is searching for something more in a relationship and, though she is technically “with” James, she’s been carrying on with Wes on the sly. But even that dalliance isn’t enough for her.
I won’t spoil the ending for you. Suffice it to say that love—or lust—really does conquer all. And speaking of endings, the interplay between all the characters sets this movie apart. Now, go watch. Hey, does anybody notice a weird smell in here?
Logline Reg and Lindsay run an organic fertiliser business. They need a fresh supply of their “secret ingredient” to process through the meat grinder. Reg comes across two guys and a girl with a broken-down vehicle on their way to a music festival.
By the time I reached my twenties, I had seen a number of Mexican films, many of them produced during the Golden Age of Mexican Cinema. My favorites were those directed by the incomparable Spanish director Luis Buñuel—titles such as ‘Subida al cielo,’ ‘Ensayo de un crimen,’ and ‘Nazarín.’ Recently, I saw ‘Roma’ by Alfonso Cuarón, the talented director of ‘Y Tu Mamá También,’ ‘Children of Men,’ and ‘Gravity.’ And, like those great films of the golden age, I was thrilled to see Cuarón had decided to tell his story in black-and-white. Here is the film’s logline:
A story that chronicles a year in the life of a middle-class family’s maid in Mexico City in the early 1970s.
Doesn’t sound all that compelling when you put it that way, right? Well, this film has depth, my friend. And tragedy, suffering, and love. But it is also a celebration of the everyday lives of women who must go on, no matter the obstacles. For me, three things stood out.
A Woman’s Plight Is Universal When we first meet the maid Cleo, we see her washing down the enclosed patio of the family’s home in the city. The director starts and ends the movie with water. Water washes, it breaks—signaling birth—and it almost kills in the form of an angry ocean.
Cleo is sweet and beloved by the family. As she goes about her daily duties, her mistress Sra. Sofía is coming apart as her marriage crumbles before her eyes, her husband having decided to leave the children and her for another woman. Then, after repeated sex with her boyfriend Fermín, Cleo finds herself pregnant. When she informs him, his churlish response is, “What’s it to me?”
Unlike the heartless men in this story, the women band together. Upon learning of her condition, Sra. Sofía doesn’t hesitate to assure Cleo that everything will be fine and that she must remain with the family. As time goes on, she even sends Cleo and Sra. Sofía’s mother to the furniture store to purchase a crib.
There’s really nothing new in the situations these women find themselves in. But it’s their response to misfortune and their determination to carry on that’s so moving. Toward the end of the film, Sra. Sofía tells Cleo, “No matter what they tell you, we women are always alone.”
Violence Is Easy, Love Is Hard ‘Roma’ takes place in the early 1970s against a backdrop of violence. Protesting students are shot dead in the streets by the police. The Tlatelolco massacre, during which nearly fifty civilians were killed at the hands of the police and the army, had actually occurred in 1968. I’m curious to know whether the violence continued into the 1970s as the film suggests. What struck me most about those chaotic scenes was, one minute the cops are sitting around smoking, and the next they are firing into the crowd.
Speaking of violence, Fermín’s answer to his miserable upbringing is to better himself through martial arts. Though he has the talent and the discipline for it, he has none of the maturity. He’s still as angry as ever and, after hearing he is a father, he threatens to beat up Cleo—and her unborn child. Then later at the furniture store, he joins in the street violence, shooting the innocent.
Family Is Everything Overall, aside from the doctor who attends Cleo at the hospital, men don’t come out looking too good in this thing. They are, for the most part, corrupt, self-centered, and brutish. In the final scenes, it’s the women and the children who are left behind to get on with their lives.
Cleo loves the family so much that, when two of the children are carried off in the waves of a turbulent sea, she goes in to rescue them, even though she cannot swim. In the end, she doesn’t have Fermín, and she doesn’t have her child. But she has the family.
After reading S. R. Mallery’s new novel, I am under the impression that nothing much has changed in Hollywood since the 1920s. Of course, movies are in color now. And people actually talk. But corrupt cops, substance abuse, and mistreatment of women are pretty much what you can get now. Which reminds me. How, with prohibition, is there so much freaking alcohol? Wow, I guess the politicians didn’t really think that one through.
One thing I love about this author’s work is her attention to period detail. For example, who knew that actors had to wear blue makeup and yellow lipstick in front of the camera? Fascinating! And she didn’t neglect details like having to crank your stupid car to get it to start—even when you were trying to catch a bad guy. I love that kind of world building.
This is an unusual Hollywood story. Sure, you’ve got the wannabe starlet through whose eyes we see the story evolve. And the hard-boiled detective, the earnest boyfriend, and a cast of crazy characters literally out of the movies—Clara Bow, Douglas Fairbanks, and Mary Pickford! But you also have a sweet story about Rosie, who just wants to be happy. And despite the filth and corruption she seems to encounter at every turn, this girl just might have a shot.
Book Description Hollywood, 1926. Where actors’ and actresses’ dreams can come true. But do they? While silent screen movie stars reign supreme, a film producer is gunned down in cold blood. Enter Rosie, a pretty bit-player, Eddie, her current beau, and Beatrice, her bitter stage-mother. As real celebrities of the time, such as Clara Bow, Lon Chaney, Gloria Swanson, and Rudolph Valentino float in and out, a chase to find the killer exposes the true underbelly of Los Angeles––with all its corruption.
I read the previous books in this series, and for me, In a Dark Place is the most disturbing by far. By all accounts, the Snedeker family did nothing purposeful to invite the evil that came into their lives and almost destroyed them. It was there lurking in that funeral home long before they showed up, waiting for a chance to assault the living.
In past books, Ed Warren talked about the three stages of demonic activity: infestation, oppression, and possession. Or did that come from ‘The Conjuring’? Now, we find that there are actually five stages: encroachment, or permission, infestation, oppression, possession, and death. Happy endings are never guaranteed, I guess—even after an exorcism.
Although the book makes it clear that no one in that family was trying to invite anything in by way of Ouija boards or Tarot cards, Stephen, the teenage son, was very susceptible to suggestion due to his illness and eventually agreed to let the demon “show him things.” So, in essence, he granted permission. From there, everything proceeded as expected, except that what the demon did to individual family members is both chilling and repugnant—especially for the women. And what made things worse was the fact that both parents continued to deny what was happening.
Several months ago, I saw the film ‘The Haunting in Connecticut,’ which is loosely based on the book. In that story, the boy—now named Kyle—is a hero who frees tortured souls. No such gloppy Hollywood ending happened to the Snedekers. I recommend reading In a Dark Place to anyone interested in better understanding the demonic. Then watch the movie as pure entertainment.
The story of the most terrifying case of demonic possession in the United States. It became the basis for the hit film The Haunting in Connecticut starring Virginia Madsen.
Shortly after moving into their new home, the Snedeker family is assaulted by a sinister presence that preys one-by-one on their family. Exhausting all other resources, they call up the world-renowned demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren—who have never encountered a case as frightening as this…
No one had warned the Snedekers their new house used to be an old funeral home. Their battle with an inexplicable and savage phenomena had only just begun. What started as a simple “poltergeist” escalated into a full-scale war, an average American family battling the deepest, darkest forces of evil—a war this family could not afford to lose.
Books by Ed & Lorraine Warren also include Graveyard, Ghost Hunters, The Haunted, Werewolf, and Satan’s Harvest.
I believe there were two events in the twentieth century that established the era of the post-apocalyptic zombie. The first was the publication of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend in 1954; the second was the release of the 1968 film Night of the Living Dead. Now, purists might argue that Matheson’s creatures were actually vampires, not zombies. Correct. But what he envisioned was a monster born of some global catastrophe not unlike the events depicted in World War Z. In previous decades, zombies were mainly slaves of the Haitian voodoo variety. And there weren’t a lot of them. There is nothing more nightmarish than having the entire planet swarming with the infected.
I have only ever seen Night of the Living Dead on television, and still, it made a lasting impression. The line “They’re coming to get you, Barbara” is forever burned into my brain—a brain that those pesky ghouls probably want to munch on. I hadn’t realized that John Russo, one of the screenwriters, had turned this iconic film into a novel. Having read the book, I can certainly see why.
Where the movie shows us the horror of being devoured by flesh-hungry ghouls, the book delves into the inner life of a few characters trying to survive something they simply don’t understand. I’m pretty sure that if something like this happened today, we would be more prepared than those innocent folks, having been brought up on The Walking Dead and Z Nation. But in the book, these people are clueless. And they cannot fathom the idea that the dead are shuffling around, not to mention the fact that they are pretty damned hungry.
Try not to be jaded when you read this book. Remember, times were very different. The AIDS crisis hadn’t happened yet, or swine flu, or any of the other horrible outbreaks we’ve experienced in recent decades. The people in Night of the Living Dead were living small, ordinary lives. Then hell arrived.
Newsweek calls NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD a, “True Horror Classic.”
Why does NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD hit with such chilling impact? Is it because everyday people in a commonplace house are suddenly the victims of a monstrous invasion? Or is it because the ghouls who surround the house with grasping claws were once ordinary people, too?
Decide for yourself as you read, and the horror grips you. All the cannibalism, suspense and frenzy of the smash-hit are here in the novel.
This is the ORIGINAL novel by John A. Russo based on the screenplay by John A. Russo and George A. Romero.
Through scenes of political upheaval and protests in South Korea, spirited conversations in cramped dumpling houses, and the quiet moments that happen when two people fall in love, A Small Revolution is a moving narrative brimming with longing, love, fear, and—ultimately—hope.
‘Arrival’ (2016) Director: Denis Villeneuve
Writers: Eric Heisserer (screenplay), Ted Chiang (based on the story “Story of Your Life” written by)
Stars: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker
Drama | Mystery | Sci-Fi | Thriller
Log Line: When twelve mysterious spacecraft appear around the world, linguistics professor Louise Banks is tasked with interpreting the language of the apparent alien visitors.
Boy, did I need to see this! 2016 was a tough year for many reasons, both generally and personally. It’s not often I watch a movie twice in a row, but after seeing ‘Arrival’ the first time the other night, I couldn’t wait to put it on again. I’ve always been a huge Amy Adams fan—two of my favorite movies of hers being ‘Enchanted’ and ‘Julie & Julia.’ She’s one of those rare actors who can exhibit both vulnerability and strength at the same time and break your heart in the process. And as a professor of linguistics trying to solve an impossible mystery, she is at the top of her game.
I won’t recount the story here—you can watch the trailer for that. But I will point out a few things I felt made this film—nominated for eight Academy Awards at the time of this writing—brilliant. First off, the writing. The story by Ted Chiang is filled with a profound sense of human longing—a longing to connect with something bigger. Many people interpret this as a search for God in our lives, and I happen to believe that. But I think, in general, people want to feel a part of something outside ourselves. Something that gives life meaning and us a purpose. The screenplay, based on that story, captures this feeling beautifully and reinforces it throughout so that by the time you arrive at the end, you can see.
The direction and cinematography were perfect for this kind of storytelling. Everything that happens is seen through Louise’s eyes, and we unravel the mystery with her. As if things weren’t difficult enough trying to decipher an alien language, she is always surrounded by strangers—army personnel and CIA operatives—whose purpose she can’t fathom and who seem to be in opposition to what she’s trying to accomplish. Inside the massive floating spacecraft, we lose our sense of direction. And the playing with time itself throughout is hypnotic.
Of course, any good movie has lots of conflict, which in this case is presented in the form of people’s paranoia about the aliens. The armies of the world all want to know what the aliens’ purpose is in coming here and, judging from their actions, they are all on a hair trigger. The director Denis Villeneuve captures this intense struggle with simplicity and clarity. And to balance things out—because not everyone in the military can be bad—we have the character of Colonel Weber, who is just trying to understand. Oh, and that soundtrack! Pay attention to the horns every time we see the aliens.
In the wrong hands, ‘Arrival’ could have turned into ‘Independence Day.’ Thank goodness cooler heads prevailed! No doubt, I will see it again.
You can find this review at IMDb. Now, check out this featurette.
More Reviews Did you enjoy this review? Check out my other movie reviews here.
‘The Keeper of Lost Causes’ (2013) Director: Mikkel Nørgaard
Writers: Jussi Adler-Olsen (novel), Nikolaj Arcel
Stars: Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Per Scheel Krüger, Troels Lyby
Crime | Mystery | Thriller
Log Line: Chief detective Carl Mørck and his assistant Assad become involved in a five-year-old case concerning the mystery of politician Merete Lynggaard’s disappearance—a journey that takes them deep into the undercurrent of abuse and malice that lurks beneath the polished surface of Scandinavia.
Okay, so I’m late to the game. I had no idea Nordic Noir was a thing. I’ve been enjoying dark Scandinavian movies like the Millenium Trilogy (‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,’ etc.) for years and am thrilled someone decided to actually categorize them. Yeah, thrilled. Anyway, I caught another one on Netflix the other night—a Danish film with what is probably the worst title ever—‘The Keeper of Lost Causes.’ I don’t know, maybe it sounds better in Danish.
Don’t let the crappy title fool you, though. This is an outstanding film. And like a Nordic winter, it’s cold and spare, with a protagonist who is as dysfunctional and people-averse as they come. I’m not prepared to reveal any spoilers here. Let me just say that, as police procedurals go, this one really stands out. The main character, Carl, is himself dark and unapproachable. But in the best tradition of antiheroes, he is driven to seek out Truth—no matter what that may mean for his languishing career as a homicide detective.
This film features the usual cast of Scandinavian loonies—especially the blonde and creepy Lasse—with a wonderfully empathetic performance by Carl’s sidekick, Assad who, when asked why he isn’t following orders, claims his Danish isn’t that good. Nice touch!
I can highly recommend this film. Though there’s little on-screen violence, it’s creepy as hell as sucks you in like a Scottish peat bog. And here’s the best part: Netflix also has the two ‘Department Q’ sequels, ‘The Absent One’ and ‘A Conspiracy of Faith,’ both which I plan to catch very soon.