Monday, May 31, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: The Freakshow by Bryan Smith

I love creepy carnivals in fiction so I decided to make The Freakshow my first Bryan Smith novel. I've accumulated a few of his books though the Leisure Horror Book Club and decided it was time to try one of them.

Mike makes the biggest mistake of his life when he decides to check out the traveling carnival and freakshow, along with the rest of the citizens of the small Tennessee town. Soon he's running for his life from a freak on slits. Meanwhile, Heather returns to her hometown to find out why she can't reach her mother. She walks in on her mother shooting a hideous clown. Mike and Heather realize that this carnival isn't about fun, games and candy floss, this one is all about grotesque freaks, torture and gore.

The novel tells the two main characters' (Mike and Heather) stories in alternate chapters, ending each one with a cliffhanger worthy of R.L. Stine.

There isn't much of a plot. Basically it's just freaks killing people in gruesome ways and the main characters trying to escape with a few twisted sex scenes thrown in. But the idea of alien freaks using a carnival to take over the world, one small town at a time, is unique and creepy.

Despite its lack of plot, the novel manages to hold your interest with its quick pace thanks to lots of gruesome action. That is, until the halfway point when I became bored of plotless gore scenes and struggled to finish reading it.

The poorly developed characters didn't help. I can't tell you anything about Mike or Heather's personalities because they don't have one. They're just the usual characters you would see in a slasher film: the average guy and the pretty (but dumb) girl. I didn't care about them so I wasn't interested in reading about their escape from the freaks. But the villains - the freaks - are interesting and their disgusting mutations are described in detail.

If you enjoy non-stop action and gore, and don't mind one-dimensional characters, check this one out. But if you're like me and can't get into a novel without intriguing characters, then skip it.

Rating: 3/5

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Witching Hour Theatre by Jonathan Janz

I love horror movies. I love horror novels. So when the two are combined - as they are in Witching Hour Theatre - I become very excited. And this story not only featured a movie theatre as a setting and several horror film references, but it was also very spooky.

Larry Wilson never misses Witching Hour Theatre, the horror flick triple feature shown at midnight on Friday nights at Starlight Cinema. This week's films include new teen slasher, Death Mountain, the classic, The Omen, and a B movie Wilson has never heard of, Veil of the White Temptress. Being a horror fanatic, Wilson doesn't expect to become so frightened by the last film. Or to be alone in the dark theatre with a mysterious stranger....

Witching Hour Theatre is a novella and a mere 47 pages, making it a quick read - I finished it in less than an hour. But despite its length, the novella still manages to pack a punch. The villains "Longface" and "Pumpkinhead" are undeniably creepy and Larry's first encounter with the former gave me goosebumps.

It's easy for horror movie fans to identify with the main character, Larry, who is a diehard horror fan. But his love interest isn't developed enough for me to care about her. Also, since Larry didn't know her well it made me question why he would risk his own life to save her.

The horror movie references make this a fun novella. Janz really articulates how it feels to watch a horror flick on the big screen - or any film in general. The taste of the buttery popcorn and sugary Twizzlers, the sounds of other moviegoers groaning and cheering, the sight of the blood being splatted onscreen, etc. His descriptions make me want to venture to the theatre immediately and experience those feelings again.

All horror movie fans should give Witching Hour Theatre a read. The Kindle edition is only $5.00. If you don't have a Kindle, you can download a free Kindle application for your computer, Blackberry, iPhone or iPad here.

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, May 23, 2010

R.L. STINE BOOK OF THE WEEK: Give Yourself Goosebumps: Escape From the Carnival of Horrors



From the back cover:


Late one night you and your friends visit the old fairgrounds. They're putting up rides and booths for the annual carnival. But this year things look really different. Really odd. Really scary.

The place is lit up by a hundred fiery torches. And spooky music is coming from the main tent. Then you meet Big Al, the creepy carnival manager. He's invited you to test some of the rides.

Will you brave the terrifying Supersonic Space Coaster? Risk the horrors of the Reptile Petting Zoo? Slice through the oily waters of Booger Bog? Or confront the evil Snake Lady?

The choice is yours in this scary Goosebumps adventure that's packed with over 20 spooky endings!

My thoughts:

Give Yourself Goosebumps is Stine's variation on Choose Your Own Adventure books. This is the only one I've ever read. When I first started reading it, I was having so much fun I wondered why I never read more of them as a child. After my third trip through the book I realized why.

Give Yourself Goosebumps books are like a video game that you're not good at. It's fun at first, but when you keep losing it becomes frustrating. I had fun for awhile but when I kept trying to make it to a happy ending and failing, I got frustrated and gave up.

Plus I'm not much of a gamer either. And if I play a game I would rather not do it by reading a book. If I want to read, I want to read a whole book, not five pages until I reach an ending.

But I like how if you read other Goosebumps books, it helps you in this one. If you know the words to bring Slappy to life, it could help you, or if you know which slide is the Slide of Doom. Monster Blood also makes an appearance as a prize from the midway.

I'll give Escape From the Carnival of Horrors a 3 because I had fun while my first trip through the book lasted.

Rating: 3/5

PG gore: You reach out slowly and touch the red card.

To your amazement a 3-D heart magically appears and rises from the flat surface. Then it starts to beat! Tha-dump, tha-dump. It must be some fancy optical illusion. You lean closer to figure out the trick.

"Yowwwww!" you screech and jerk back to avoid the warm red liquid that nearly squirts in your eye. Is it blood? It looks like blood.

Next week: Goosebumps: Welcome to Dead House

Thursday, May 20, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW: Wages of Sin (Horror Collector's Set Part 4)

The last film left on the Horror Collector's Set, Wages of Sin, makes me think if something this awful could get made, I could make a movie too. I could just write down gibberish and call it a script, grab my friends - or even random people off the street - get my camcorder and there's Wages of Sin 2. I really wish I didn't waste my time watching this garbage.

A young woman who was adopted inherits a farmhouse from her biological family of whom she knows nothing about. But she quickly learns they were bible thumping psychos and now haunt the house.

Wages of Sin features an outstanding number of cliches. There's the creepy farmhouse, an Ouija board, ghosts, possessions, crazy Christians who punish "sinners," etc. And these cliches equal zero scares and zero gore.

I loathed the characters, especially the main couple's two friends. If I had to spend a weekend with them, I would go insane. They were ridiculously immature compared to the other couple, especially the blonde guy, who was also the dumbest character I've ever seen. Oh how I wanted him to die.

Remember how much I hated Bloody Mary? Well, Wages of Sin is much worse. Probably the worst movie I've ever seen. Trust me on this, never watch it.

To sum up what I thought of this Horror Collector's Set, Memory was the only descent film of the four, and that's probably not even worth $5. I would pass on this DVD, even though it's a ridiculous's that cheap for a reason.

Rating: 1/5

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW: Memory (Horror Collector's Set Part 3)

Memory is more of a thriller/mystery film than a horror film and I don't know why they chose to include it on a horror collector's set. Plus it's not a bad film and doesn't deserve to be lumped together with the other crap in this collection (that I've watched so far...still keeping my fingers crossed that Wages of Sin won't suck).

Dr. Taylor Briggs (Billy Zane) has dedicated his life to curing Alzheimer's for his mother, who is afflicted with the disease. While giving a presentation on the disease in Brazil, he encounters a substance used in ancient tribal rituals to evoke memories of ancestors. This substance enables Briggs to relive memories of his ancestors in dreams. In particular, he sees young girls kidnapped and murdered, becoming obsessed with solving the mystery of the killer's identity - and of his own ancestry.

This film includes the requisite thriller features:
  • Gaining information through Google searches/old newspaper articles
  • The doctor friend who can get his hands on coroner's reports
  • Breaking into houses to find more information
  • Realizing the killer is onto you
  • Confrontation with the killer, but getting away unscathed
  • A twist ending, complete with a big showdown with the killer
Although it follows the standard thriller conventions, the main plot idea is unique. Even if it's far-fetched, the thought of reliving your ancestors' memories is interesting. It makes you wonder what you would see if that were actually possible. And just the thought of one of your ancestors being a killer who was never caught is chilling.

It's pretty slow in the beginning and takes a long time for Memory to grab your interest. I didn't really start paying attention until at least 1/4 into the film, but once it grabbed me, I was very engrossed in trying to figure out the identity of the killer. Unfortunately, there weren't many characters to suspect. But somehow the identity of the killer and the twist ending still took me by surprise.

The characters are a little bland (especially the Dr.'s love interest) but I empathized with Briggs since Alzheimer's runs in my family. Plus, I just love Billy Zane (especially as the bad guy in Demon Knight). Dennis Hopper, Tricia Helfer and Ann-Margret also have roles in the film.

Memory is a thought provoking thriller albeit slow and by the book. I wouldn't go out of my way to watch it. Check it out if it's on T.V. or you can grab it cheap enough.

Rating: 3/5

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW: Mortuary (Horror Collector's Set Part 2)

Alfalfa (Bug Hall) from The Little Rascals movie (1994) plays a punk/zombie in Mortuary, which excited me because I adored that movie when I was growing up. Unfortunately, that is the only excitement I felt during the film. I don't know what happened to Tobe Hooper, but he is no longer reliable as a horror director. From now on I will proceed with caution on all his projects.

Leslie Doyle and her two children, Jonathan and Jamie, move to a small town so she can take over as mortician at the Fowler Funeral Home and cemetery. But there's a town rumour about the Fowler family and their son, Bobby. As the story goes, Bobby is horribly deformed and supposedly murdered his parents. Now he lives in a tomb, only coming out at night. Soon the Doyles realize that the story isn't just town gossip.

There were a few so-bad-it's-good scenes in the film, but not enough to make it good, so it's basically just a bad film. Seeing the mortician mother onscreen was usually good for a laugh. Especially her attempts to embalm dead bodies while consulting her medical text.

The plot is the same old zombie plot with a few weird quirks - such as zombies puking on people to turn them into other zombies.

The acting isn't bad. The film features a few horror movie veterans like Denise Crosby (Pet Sematary) and Lee Garlington (Psycho II & III).

Mortuary is pretty awful, but at least it's not as bad as Bloody Mary.

Rating: 2/5

Monday, May 17, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW: Bloody Mary (Horror Collector's Set Part 1)

The Easter Bunny left this DVD in my Easter basket this year. And he left the Wal-Mart sticker on it, so I know it only cost $5.00, which I think is a steal for four films...well depending on how good they are.... The DVD is called "Horror Collector's Set" and it includes Wages of Sin, Mortuary, Memory and Bloody Mary. This week I plan on watching and reviewing all of them. There are several other DVDs in this series of 4-pack horror films which you can view here.

I watched Bloody Mary first because I wanted to see how it compared to Dead Mary, another film that borrows the Bloody Mary legend, which I watched last week. It is much worse, which is saying something because I didn't enjoy Dead Mary much.

When Natalie's sister, Nicole, disappears, she starts her own investigation leading her to something called "The Mirror Game," which supposedly summons Bloody Mary. Could it have something to do with Nicole's disappearance?

The plot of Bloody Mary is cliched and dull. I don't know why they keep making movies with the Bloody Mary legend, because it has already been done so many times. If you're going to make a film using Bloody Mary, at least give it an original spin, like Candyman or the Biggie Smalls episode of South Park.

The only character I could keep straight was Natalie (maybe because she was a brunette), all of Nicole's friends were blonde sorority girls and they all looked identical to me. And the acting is atrocious. Usually I don't even notice bad acting thanks to a lifetime of B movies, soap operas and teenybopper dramas on the WB, but I could barely stand to watch these people "act." They show no emotion.

But the worst part of this film is the gratuitous nudity. I'm not new to horror movies and I know they all show naked women, but in Bloody Mary the reasoning behind it is just absurd. I already mentioned how the girls play "The Mirror Game," but I never explained what it entails. The girl in question has to strip buck naked and then repeat "I believe in Bloody Mary" in the mirror. Why do they have to be naked? "Because that's how it's done," explains Blonde #1. But I have a better reason: because they needed an excuse for them to get naked.

The gore is the only descent part of this film, featuring gouged eyeballs and mirrors exploding in people's faces. But I never watch a film just to see gore, so I would recommend skipping this one.

Rating: 1/5

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Is the roller coaster really haunted?

From the back cover:


I mean, The Beast was one awesome ride! My cousin Ashley and I had never been on anything like it. And then we heard about the ghost that was supposed to ride it at night after the park closed. A ghost on a roller coaster? Yeah, sure. I didn't believe it, of course.

Then one night after the park closed, we found ourselves on The Beast. Was I shocked when it started to move! But that was just the beginning. Because, you see, we weren't alone...and the guy with us wasn't exactly human!

My thoughts:

I thought One Day At HorrorLand was a huge letdown, but compared to this Stine book it's worthy of Stephen King because The Beast is horrendous.

Years ago when I spent the weekend at my cousin's house, she had this book lying around and I read the first few chapters, but I was too busy to finish it. So I've been looking forward to reading The Beast all these years. Judging by the cover (I know, I know, I shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but you do when you're a kid) The Beast looks terrifying. It shows a ghost, claws (from the coaster's logo) and a roller coaster (I've been scared of amusement park rides my whole life and didn't go on my first roller coaster until I was almost 19). Even the title "The Beast" sounds freaky. But it isn't even the slightest bit creepy.

What the back cover doesn't tell you is that the ride on The Beast sends the two kids back in time, to 1931. But they don't even change anything in the future! In all time traveling books/movies, they always change something, for better or worse (just look at Back to the Future or The Butterfly Effect). But these kids don't affect anything, which makes the entire book pointless.

And nothing even remotely creepy happens. The ghost is friendly and most of the book is comprised of the kids trying to figure out how to get home. The carnival freaks were a little unsettling, but they're only in the book for one chapter (three pages).

The Beast also somehow spawned a sequel, but I probably won't be reading that. Next week I'll continue with my carnival/amusement park theme and read Escape From the Carnival of Horrors.

Rating: 1/5

PG gore: He wrapped his cold, slimy hand around my hand. His arms and legs felt soft and rubbery, like jelly. His grinning face was inches from mine. His breath smelled sour.

"I'm the Jelly Boy," he chanted. "I'm a good boy."

"Nice to meet you," I choked out. "My friend and I - we're leaving now."

I tried to slide my hand free. But he held on. His hand was so wet and cold, I had shivers running down my back.

"I'm the Jelly Boy. I'm the Jelly Boy." His grin never moved.

Published in: 1994

Evident by references to: Day-Glo orange shorts

Next week: Give Yourself Goosebumps: Escape From the Carnival of Horrors

Thursday, May 13, 2010

MOVIE REVIEW: Attack of the Vegan Zombies

If a zombie had the choice between a human's delicious flesh or a glass of wine, you would think that it would choose the former. Not the zombies in the hilarious indie horror flick, Attack of the Vegan Zombies, who only have a thirst for wine. But when they run out of wine and you've been drinking - watch out!

Dionne and Joe, a couple who own a vineyard, have a dismal year for their grape crop, so Dionne enlists the help of her mother, who is a witch. Together they perform a ritual to ensure better crops next year, taking some of Joe's blood for the potion while he's asleep. But Joe's blood has wine in it and makes the plants hostile (i.e. drinking people's blood and turning them into zombies). These zombies aren't your average zombies, instead of having a hankering for brains, they crave wine. And when all the wine is gone, they're so desperate that they resort to drinking human blood, which has alcohol in it.

The concept of "vegan" zombies turned the usual zombie film into a unique experience. The killer grape plants being the reason for people becoming zombies was refreshing compared to the standard infectious disease.

The pace is a little slow, taking time to establish the characters, which I didn't mind because I was entertained by the funny characters. And even though the zombies don't make an appearance until near the end of the film, I was too interested in the killer plants to care. When the zombies popped up it was just a bonus.

The characters are the best part of the film. While Dionne, her mother and Joe are normal, the people they hired to pick grapes (two nerds and two cheerleaders) are hysterical caricatures. Especially the nerds who are even nerdier than the gang on The Big Bang Theory.

Attack of the Vegan Zombies is the perfect film for a horror fan looking for a zombie movie with lots of laughs.

Rating: 4/5

Sunday, May 9, 2010

R.L. STINE BOOK OF THE WEEK: One Day at HorrorLand

Enter if you dare....

From the back cover:


The Morris family got lost trying to find Zoo Gardens Theme Park. But that's okay. They found another amusement park instead. It's called HorrorLand.

In HorrorLand there are no crowds. No lines. And the admission is free. It seems like a pretty cool place.

But that was before the heart-stopping ride on the deadly Doom Slide. And that terrifying experience in the House of Mirrors.

Because there's something weird about the rides in HorrorLand.

Something a little too creepy.

A little too real....

My thoughts:

I was planning on reviewing this last Sunday since it was the season opening of Canada's Wonderland, but my computer was getting fixed, so I'll just post it now.

I love horror books and movies that use amusement parks or carnivals as the setting, so I was looking forward to reading One Day at HorrorLand. Also, I remember this one being one of my favourite Goosebumps books when I read it when I was younger. But also, as a kid Howard the Duck was one of my favourite films, so I would say my judgment back then was questionable at best. Actually I haven't seen that movie in years, so maybe I should give that another shot too....

Anyway, this book is dull. During their day at HorrorLand, the kids spend most of their time looking for their parents and only go on four rides. None of which are the least bit frightening, at least compared to Stine's other books like The Girl Who Cried Monster and Night of the Living Dummy.

The Horrors (monsters who run HorrorLand) are kind of creepy. And I liked the twist ending. But overall I'm pretty disappointed, especially since I had high expectations from usually enjoying books with amusement park settings. Funland by Richard Laymon better not let me down....

Next week I'll review another R.L. book featuring an amusement park as a setting: The Beast.

Rating: 2/5

PG Gore: Another Horror walked past carrying a very real-looking human head. He grasped it by its long, blond hair and bounced it up and down, sort of like a yo-yo, as he walked.

Next week: The Beast

Saturday, May 8, 2010


Oh how I love to watch movies on TV. Instead of wasting 1 hour 40 minutes on a crappy film, I spent 2 hours 20 minutes watching Dead Mary on Dusk, a channel which has a commercial break every 10 minutes. Definitely not worth my time.

A group of old friends - a recently broken up couple, a new couple, a married couple and a single friend - reunite to spend a weekend at a remote cabin in the woods. One drunken night they decide to play Dead Mary. Dead Mary is a game which is basically a clone of Bloody Mary, except as they explain in the movie, "Bloody Mary is the lame version." They take turns repeating Dead Mary in the mirror three times and go to bed afterward, only to be woken up in the middle of the night by screaming. One of them is dead and one of them is a killer. But what would possess someone to murder one of their friends? Or who?

As you can see, the plot is fairly cliched and unoriginal - except that instead of having a ghost/demon/ghoul/zombie summoned from the repetition of her name in the mirror, she possesses one of the friends and the film becomes a sort of whodunit, with the group trying to figure out who the killer is. But too much of the film concerns a dull subplot about who has been sleeping with who, which drastically slows the plot, having murders interspersed with heated arguments about cheating.

Dead Mary has only one setting and very little action, so I looked to the characters to immerse myself in the film, but not a single one was likable. They were all cheaters or self-centered or weak or stupid. Actually they were all pretty stupid (let's wait for 24 hours and when it's nighttime, everyone is almost everyone is dead and it's pouring rain, we'll go for help). The unlikable characters made an already weak film almost unbearable.

And the ending gave no answers, or even a resolution. There was no explanation of who Dead Mary was, how the legend started or why she possesses and kills people.

But for all my complaints Dead Mary has some redeeming qualities. A few scenes are atmospheric: walking through the pitch black woods in the middle of the night, hearing strange noises barely audible over the sound of crickets, but knowing that something is out there and then: BAM! it jumps out of nowhere. Although that scene gave me chills, the whole film isn't worth watching just for it.

Rating: 2/5