Book Review – They Rise by Hunter Shea

They Rise
by Hunter Shea
Courtesy of Severed Press
Release Date: January 4, 2016

they rise

The ocean is a magical place for me, and I’ve loved it ever since my first visit when I was eight years-old. So, it’s probably no surprise to discover I love horror stories set on or in the ocean, particularly those that deal with monstrosities from the depths. Last year, my favorite oceanic horror novel was KRONOS RISING by Max Hawthorne. This year, however, author Hunter Shea puts himself in the running early on with his latest release, THEY RISE. And regardless of whether you’re an avid beach-goer or a newbie to the coast, I guarantee you’ll think twice about getting into the water after reading this book.

If you are not familiar with THEY RISE, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Severed Press:

Some call them ghost sharks, the oldest and strangest looking creatures in the sea. Marine biologist Brad Whitley has studied chimaera fish all his life. He thought he knew everything about them. He was wrong. Warming ocean temperatures free legions of prehistoric chimaera fish from their methane ice suspended animation. Now, in a corner of the Bermuda Triangle, the ocean waters run red. The 400 million year old massive killing machines know no mercy, destroying everything in their path. It will take Whitley, his climatologist ex-wife and the entire US Navy to stop them in the bloodiest battle ever seen on the high seas.

I’ve said this before, but I’ll reiterate it again: Hunter Shea’s imagination is amazing. The guy comes up with some crazy concepts, but then writes them into believability. This aspect is a big reason I consider him one of my favorite authors.

THEY RISE is written well and flows nicely. It is relatively short, clocking in at just short of 160 pages, but there’s a lot of intensity crammed into this little book. I found the length of the book fitting, as it didn’t draw out any unnecessary sub-plots or try to be something it’s not.

The characters are once again vibrant and realistic. Shea has a knack for creating likable, every-day-guy kinda characters, which is another reason I enjoy his work. This quality shines here.

The story in THEY RISE is unique and original. The action is intense, and the horror is top-notch. Shea uses his trademark writing style to impose foreboding and dread on the reader as the story progresses. And when the end arrives, no character is safe.

THEY RISE is another big win for me, and I suggest giving it a look. Don’t let the shortness of this book fool you, either…it packs a solid, gut-busting punch for being so small. I loved the storyline, and I could definitely see it as a Syfy Channel movie (Roger Corman should produce!). THEY RISE is available now in a variety of formats.

MSB

Movie Review – Martyrs (2015)

Martyrs
Directed by The Goetz Brothers
Courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment
Release Date: February 2, 2016

martyrs

With this review, I decided to look at the merits of this remake by itself and not compare it to its foreign predecessor of the same name. In doing so, I feel this will give a more objective opinion of the remake as a whole.

After watching this version of MARTYRS, I decided to see what others were saying on the Internet. Surprisingly, much of the hype is negative. Most compared it to the other film, and as a result, they did not like the remake. I, personally, enjoyed this version, although I will attest it is not as good as the original. Still, this toned-down version has plenty to enjoy, and I recommend giving it a look.

If you are not familiar with MARTYRS, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Anchor Bay Entertainment:

Ten-year-old Lucie flees from the isolated warehouse where she has been held prisoner. Deeply traumatized, she is plagued by awful night terrors at the orphanage that takes her in. Her only comfort comes from Anna, a girl her own age. Nearly a decade later and still haunted by demons, Lucie finally tracks down the family that tortured her. As she and Anna move closer to the agonizing truth, they find themselves trapped in a nightmare – if they cannot escape, a martyr’s fate awaits them…

The brutality of the original film still haunts me. It is much more difficult to watch, as the filmmakers leave little to the imagination. This is especially true toward the end, when things REALLY go from bad to worse for Lucie. But this remake also has some haunting scenes, and horror fans might just find themselves entertained nonetheless.

MARTYRS is shot well and looks good onscreen. The production value appears fairly high, particularly in regard to the special effects. Granted, the film does not have nearly as much gore as the foreign version, but what we get still looks impressive (and is very effective as well).

The acting is great, with Troian Bellisario and Bailey Noble in the leads. Bellisario gives a chilling performance as Lucy, while Noble backs her up as best friend Anna. Both women do a great job in their roles, and I hope to see more of them onscreen in the future.

The special effects in MARTYRS are very good, and they create some memorable scenes that will linger with you long after the film is over. One in particular, when a guy peels some of Lucy’s skin from her back, made me cringe. Again, the visuals are not nearly as graphic as the original, but they do pose some striking imagery you won’t soon forget.

The story is my primary complaint, as it was with the original film. I like the concept, however it is not fleshed out well enough to provide a solid explanation for what is happening. And, if the clues we are given actually do explain the rationale, it is a lame reason for torturing this girl. I would have hoped for more.

Still, MARTYRS is a great film, and I recommend it to fans of horror. If you liked HOSTEL or similar films, chances are you’ll like this one, too. The film hits store shelves on Tuesday, so make a note.

MSB

Book Review – The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert

The Children’s Home
by Charles Lambert
Courtesy of Scribner (an imprint of Simon & Schuster)
Release Date: January 5, 2016

the-childrens-home-9781501117398_hr

I’m a big fan of Shirley Jackson and Neil Gaiman, so when I heard THE CHILDREN’S HOME was comparable to their work, I knew I had to give it a look. I’m happy to say I did because this quirky, fantastical fairy tale is full of mystery and wonder. And although it’s not perfect, it’s pretty close to being so. If you’re in the mood for something out of the ordinary, give this book a try.

If you are not familiar with THE CHILDREN’S HOME, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Scribner:

For fans of Shirley Jackson, Neil Gaiman, Roald Dahl, and Edward Gorey, a beguiling and disarming debut novel from an award-winning British author about a mysterious group of children who appear to a disfigured recluse and his country doctor—and the startling revelations their behavior evokes.

In a sprawling estate, willfully secluded, lives Morgan Fletcher, the disfigured heir to a fortune of mysterious origins. Morgan spends his days in quiet study, avoiding his reflection in mirrors and the lake at the end of his garden. One day, two children, Moira and David, appear. Morgan takes them in, giving them free reign of the mansion he shares with his housekeeper Engel. Then more children begin to show up.

Dr. Crane, the town physician and Morgan’s lone tether to the outside world, is as taken with the children as Morgan, and begins to spend more time in Morgan’s library. But the children behave strangely. They show a prescient understanding of Morgan’s past, and their bizarre discoveries in the mansion attics grow increasingly disturbing. Every day the children seem to disappear into the hidden rooms of the estate, and perhaps, into the hidden corners of Morgan’s mind.

The Children’s Home is a genre-defying, utterly bewitching masterwork, an inversion of modern fairy tales like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Golden Compass, in which children visit faraway lands to accomplish elusive tasks. Lambert writes from the perspective of the visited, weaving elements of psychological suspense, Jamesian stream of consciousness, and neo-gothic horror, to reveal the inescapable effects of abandonment, isolation, and the grotesque—as well as the glimmers of goodness—buried deep within the soul.

The plot synopsis does this story a fair amount of justice, but it still cannot quite capture the breadth that the book encompasses. Despite its simplistic overtones, there’s much more going on inside the tale than the reader is first led to believe. And when everything comes full circle at the end, things go from odd to surreal very quickly.

THE CHILDREN’S HOME is written very well and flows smoothly as the story unfolds. I never ran across any “dry” areas where the story fell short, nor any slow spots that made the plot drag. Instead, the book moves deftly along at a nice clip.

The characters are realistic and engaging. I particularly like how Morgan is written. We are quickly given many reasons to like him despite his circumstances, and his interactions with the children are sometimes humorous. The children themselves are also interesting, nicely fleshed-out individuals with personalities as diverse as any group of kids anywhere.

But the plot of THE CHILDREN’S HOME is where this book shines…and yet, it is also part of the downside as well. Rife with creativity and imagination, this story is one you won’t soon forget after the book ends. But at the same time, there’s no solid resolution to the tale. We are given hints here and there as to what might be, but the reader is left to decide the truth for themselves. While this is not necessarily a huge negative, I would have liked more clarification.

Still, THE CHILDREN’S HOME is a win, and I recommend it. The story yanks you in from the start, and it never relinquishes its hold until the last word is read. I am going to mark down author Charles Lambert as an author to watch out for; I can’t wait to see what he does next.

MSB

Check out the trailer for the upcoming thriller ‘Artifice’

I just watched the trailer for ARTIFICE, and I am super stoked. This film looks very intriguing, and I am hoping I can review it for you soon.

According to director Steven Doxey, “It’s a nitty-gritty, psychological thriller that follows an actor’s preparation for a terrifying role. As the line between reality and fantasy blurs, he finds himself lost between both worlds.”

Check out the trailer here:

Click here to check out the Artifice Film’s Official Website
Click here to visit the Artifice Film Facebook Page

MSB

Movie Review – The Assassin (2015)

The Assassin
Directed by Hou Hsiao-Hsien
Courtesy of Well Go USA
Release Date: January 26, 2015

the assassin

I’ve enjoyed almost every film I’ve reviewed from Well Go USA. The company seems to have a firm grasp on importing top-notch films from overseas, and they even dabble in a few titles domestically as well. But today’s film, THE ASSASSIN, is the first of their titles I’ve had to struggle to get through. And when I say ‘struggle’, I mean it…I had to resist the urge to stop watching this film several times throughout its duration. Not because the film is terrible, but simply because it is boring, with a capital ‘B’. If you’re looking for artistic cinema with beautiful landscapes and long (LONG!) dramatic pauses, this is the film for you. But if you’re looking for action or thrills, you’ll want to skip this one completely.

If you are not familiar with THE ASSASSIN, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Well Go USA:

Celebrated Taiwanese Master Director Hou Hsiao-hsien’s long-awaited return to the screen tells the story of Yie Ninniang (Shu Qi), a General’s daughter, kidnapped as a child and trained by a nun in the deadly arts- only to be sent home on a bloody mission of revenge, with her betrothed (Chang Chen) as the target.

Prior to watching it, I was all set to love this film. The title alone was enough to snare my interest, and when I saw the cover, I was certainly hooked. I am very disappointed to report it falls way short of my expectations.

THE ASSASSIN is shot very well and looks beautiful onscreen. The cinematography is a nice blend of artistry and function, highlighting stunning landscapes and lustrous sets. Unfortunately, this is the only positive I can mention.

The acting is very lackluster, with many wooden performances. A couple of articles I read about the film stated the director wanted this type of acting, as it added more realism to the plot. I disagree. The lack of emotion only punctuated the degree of boredom that was playing out in each scene.

And speaking of boring, THE ASSASSIN has pretty much nothing going on through 90% of the film. There are long drawn out scenes where nothing happens, yet the camera remains stationary and focused on the non-action regardless. This gives a great view of the scenery, but it made me start nodding off around 35 minutes in. The few fight scenes we get to see are decent but nothing to write home about. A couple of complex, intensity-filled battles might have helped save the film, but alas, we are not that lucky.

As a result, THE ASSASSIN falls flat for me, and I can’t recommend it…unless you are looking for an artistic (albeit bland) foray into history. If so, the film hits store shelves next week, so make a note. Otherwise, spend two hours on a more interesting film.

MSB

Book Review – Sacrificing Virgins by John Everson

Sacrificing Virgins
by John Everson
Courtesy of Samhain Publishing
Release Date: December 1, 2015

sacrificing-virgins

John Everson is a force to be reckoned with in the horror fiction world. I’ve reviewed two of his books, and I put both in my Top 5 Best Books for each corresponding year. Everson has a terrifying and vivid imagination, and the tales he spins are gripping and enthralling. So, it’s no surprise to discover he is a master of the short story as well. SACRIFICING VIRGINS is a collection of twenty-five horrifying and visceral shorts that even the heartiest of horror fans will have a hard time putting down.

If you are not familiar with SACRIFICING VIRGINS, here is the book’s synopsis courtesy of Samhain Publishing:

Tales beyond the darkness! If you could bring your daughter back from the dead…should you? If you could forget the worst event in your life…would you?

In this collection of twenty-five dark tales from Bram Stoker Award-winning author John Everson, you’ll meet a host of provocative characters. Learn the secrets of the man whose pumpkin carvings look strangely, disturbingly real. Visit a small town where the tavern game isn’t about shots, but sharks. Meet the woman who finds an ancient sex toy-and a salacious spirit-entombed beneath her garden. From quiet tales of ghosts and cemeteries to extreme tales of erotic horror, Sacrificing Virgins will take you to the bleeding edge…and beyond.

Probably the greatest aspect of this book for me is the diversity of subject matters in the stories. Everson covers everything from ghosts to witches to the Devil. If you’re a fan of any horror sub-genre, chances are you’ll find a story about it in this book.

Each story in SACRIFICING VIRGINS is written well. Everson’s prose is tight, and he conveys much in just a few words. This is another reason I love his work; he does not bog down the narrative with unnecessary exposition. Instead, his sentences flow and blend, creating a cohesion that allows the reader full immersion into each tale.

One of my favorite stories is the titular one. In this tale, a rock star makes a deal with the Devil for fame and fortune. But it comes at a horrible price. And when he fails to make a payment, the Devil collects. I love the shocking imagery that accompanies this story. It haunted me for quite a while after I finished it.

SACRIFICING VIRGINS is a major win for me, and I recommend it. If you’re a fan of short stories and horror, this is a Must Have collection for your library. It is available now in a variety of formats.

MSB

Blu-ray Movie Review – Subspecies 3: Bloodlust (1994)

Subspecies 3: Bloodlust
Directed by Ted Nicolaou
Courtesy of Full Moon Features
Original Year of Production: 1994
Blu-ray Release Date: May 21, 2013

bloodlust

I sometimes wonder if certain directors can read my mind. These directors seem to have a direct link to my brain because they know exactly what I want in terms of movies. Director Ted Nicolaou is one of these fabled few. He is responsible for one of my favorite corn-ball, horror gore-flicks from the 80s, TERRORVISION. But he’s also the mastermind behind the SUBSPECIES series, a gothic vampire tale that is actually shot in Transylvania. And if you have lost faith in vampires, give Nicolaou a try. I doubt you’ll be disappointed.

SUBSPECIES 3: BLOODLUST is the most recent Blu-ray release in the series, and the fine folks at Full Moon Direct have done a marvelous job of bringing it to life in HD.

If you are not familiar with SUBSPECIES 3: BLOODLUST, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Full Moon Features:

Radu (Anders Hove) has been destroyed, and Michelle (Denice Duff) has been captured by Radu’s vile mother, Mummy. Mummy uses sorcery to bring Radu back to life, then magically transports them back to Castle Vladislas to escape their mortal pursuers: Michelle’s sister Rebecca (Melanie Shatner), Mel Thompson of the U.S. Embassy (Kevin Blair), and Lt. Marin of the Bucharest police (Ion Haiduc).

Radu’s obsession with Michelle undermines his power over her. She manipulates him into teaching her the secrets of vampire existence and how to harness her vampiric powers. Once she learns to survive on her own, she intends to destroy him. But Michelle’s plan is thwarted when Rebecca storms the castle with the help of a CIA operative armed with an arsenal of silver bullets. Driven insane by Mummy’s demands and his weakening hold on Michelle, Radu makes a fatal mistake that leads to a climactic standoff on the high walls of the castle.

I am again impressed with how this film picks up literally just minutes after SUBSPECIES 2 ends. The continuity is superb, although they probably shot these two films back-to-back to preserve that aspect. Still, it makes for a great film experience.

SUBSPECIES 3: BLOODLUST is shot well and the HD transfer looks great onscreen. Great care seems to have been taken in the restoration of the film; I saw a DVD version of this a while back, and the picture quality was nowhere near as good as this. I tip my hat to Full Moon for their efforts.

The acting, again, is great with Anders Hove and Denice Duff reprising their roles. Hove continues to shine as Radu. The man has an amazing ability to act and sound the way I imagine a centuries-old bloodsucker would.

The special effects are very good as well, and we get more gore than the previous film. I have to brag about the stop motion effects used for the little demon-imps. For being a lower budget picture, the effects look awesome, and you can hardly tell it is stop motion.

SUBSPECIES 3: BLOODLUST is another big win for Full Moon, and I recommend it. The Blu-ray is available now. To see it and the rest of Full Moon’s massive catalog, click the link below.

Full Moon Direct website

MSB

Movie Review – Queen of Blood (1966)

Queen of Blood
Directed by Curtis Harrington
Courtesy of Cheezy Flicks
Original Year of Production: 1966
DVD Release Date: March 15, 2011

queen_of_blood_poster_01

Fifty years ago, director Curtis Harrington helped usher in a new era of terror by combining horror with space. He did not invent the genre, but he indeed helped shape it. Despite his minimal budgets, Harrington still managed to draw big names into his films. And although his name is associated with several classic low-budget films, I would wager QUEEN OF BLOOD is probably one of his most notorious. Crammed full of top-notch special effects taken from a lesser known Russian film, QUEEN OF BLOOD is still a visionary foundation on which future films like ALIEN and LIFEFORCE would be based.

If you are not familiar with QUEEN OF BLOOD, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Cheezy Flicks:

It’s the year 1990 and scientists receive a distress call from an alien spaceship that has crash-landed on Mars. Dr Farraday (Basil Rathbone) decides to send a team of astronauts, including Allan Brenner (John Saxon) and Paul Grant (Dennis Hopper), on a rescue mission. On the planet, they discover just one survivor. This green-skinned alien is brought aboard, but when one man is attacked and drained of his blood, the survivors are soon racing home, before they too become victim to the bloodsucker.

The name of the Russian film from which the special effects shots were taken is MESHTE NASTRESHU. I would love to give this film a look, as the effects appear truly excellent onscreen. Yet, my efforts to track down a copy of the film have been unsuccessful. Still, it’s evident to see why Harrington chose to use them for his film; they are a beautiful accent to the plot.

QUEEN OF BLOOD looks great from a cinematography aspect, however I wish I could watch a restored HD version of the film. The landscapes and painted backdrops are lush and vibrant, yet watching a low-resolution DVD on an HD television just makes them dull and grainy. Still, you cannot deny what Harrington achieved here, and the results could be breathtaking if restored properly.

The acting is actually quite good, with a cast made up of some well known names. Basil Rathbone is probably one of the most recognized names in the history of Hollywood, while John Saxon and Dennis Hopper have both made their marks as well. The rest of the cast does a fine job, better than many of the B-grade movies I’ve seen from that time period.

QUEEN OF BLOOD is a great film from yesteryear, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I recommend giving it a look, if anything to see some great performances from some of Hollywood’s older elite. The film is available now.

MSB

Book Review – Down Solo by Earl Javorsky

Down Solo
by Earl Javorsky
Courtesy of The Story Plant
Release Date: December 9, 2014

down solo

When it comes to walking cadavers, they are not always zombies in the traditional sense. How do I know this? Because I read DOWN SOLO, an inventive and fun book from author Earl Javorsky. Chocked full of colorfully crazy characters, mystery, and scads of entertainment, this book is hard to put down. If you’re in the mood for entertaining suspense with a twist, give this one a look for sure.

If you are not familiar with DOWN SOLO, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of

Things haven’t been going well for Charlie Miner. His work as a private investigator involves him with an endless roster of shady characters. His ex-wife is borderline crazy. And he hasn’t been getting to spend anywhere near enough time with his teenage daughter Mindy, the one person in his life who truly matters to him.When he wakes up on a slab in the morgue with a hole in his head, though, things get even worse.Just before the shooting, Charlie was investigating a case involving fraud, gold, religious zealots, and a gorgeous woman who seemed to be at the center of everything. Even with a fatal bullet wound, Charlie can connect the dots from the case to his attack. And when his daughter is abducted by someone involved, the stakes get exponentially higher. Charlie needs to find Mindy before the criminals do the same thing to her that they did to him.After that, maybe he’ll try to figure out how he’s walking around dead.Irreverent, circuitous, and surprisingly touching, Down Solo introduces a crisp new voice to suspense fiction.

I am impressed with how quickly this book reads. It logs in at 200 pages, but it’s a story you can finish in almost a single sitting. And you’ll probably want to; this engaging tale will keep you captivated.

DOWN SOLO is written well and flows at a smooth pace. The book starts off with a bang, and it never lets up. I love the opening sentences; they yank the reader right into the protagonist’s head and beg for the rest of the book to be read:

“They say once a junkie, always a junkie, but this is ridiculous. I haven’t been dead more than a few hours, and I already need a fix.”

Once I started reading, I tore through the story in just a couple of days. This is a testament to the talents of the author; to create such an engaging story in so few amount of pages is not an easy feat.

The characters are diverse and well fleshed-out. I particularly like the “hero”, Charlie Miner. He’s irreverent and crass, but he gets the job done…despite being dead. He sometimes made me laugh, but consistently impressed me as well.

DOWN SOLO is a great book, and I highly recommend it. This is not traditional suspense fiction, but more of a crime/thriller/surrealistic hybrid. But regardless of how it’s classified, the results are fun and entertaining. Check it out for sure.

MSB

Book Review – Barsk: The Elephant’s Graveyard by Lawrence M. Schoen

Barsk: The Elephant’s Graveyard
by Lawrence M. Schoen
Courtesy of Tor Books
Release Date: December 29, 2015

barsk

Science fiction literature has many staples within the genre, but few concepts are considered “groundbreaking” these days. Seems like most everything has been done or written about already. I’m a sucker for good sci-fi in any form or fashion, but when a book can hold me in awe because of its scope and depth, I consider it a truly amazing feat. BARSK: THE ELEPHANT’S GRAVEYARD is one of these rare gems, a unique and original story that captivates as much as it enchants. Filled with exotic worlds, vibrant non-human characters, and an enthralling plot, this is one book you MUST read to fully grasp. I will go even further and state this is the first Must Read Book you should put on your list for 2016.

If you are not familiar with BARSK: THE ELEPHANT’S GRAVEYARD, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Tor Books:

The Sixth Sense meets Planet of the Apes in a moving science fiction novel set so far in the future, humanity is gone and forgotten in Lawrence M. Schoen’s Barsk: The Elephants’ Graveyard

An historian who speaks with the dead is ensnared by the past. A child who feels no pain and who should not exist sees the future. Between them are truths that will shake worlds.

In a distant future, no remnants of human beings remain, but their successors thrive throughout the galaxy. These are the offspring of humanity’s genius-animals uplifted into walking, talking, sentient beings. The Fant are one such species: anthropomorphic elephants ostracized by other races, and long ago exiled to the rainy ghetto world of Barsk. There, they develop medicines upon which all species now depend. The most coveted of these drugs is koph, which allows a small number of users to interact with the recently deceased and learn their secrets.

To break the Fant’s control of koph, an offworld shadow group attempts to force the Fant to surrender their knowledge. Jorl, a Fant Speaker with the dead, is compelled to question his deceased best friend, who years ago mysteriously committed suicide. In so doing, Jorl unearths a secret the powers that be would prefer to keep buried forever. Meanwhile, his dead friend’s son, a physically challenged young Fant named Pizlo, is driven by disturbing visions to take his first unsteady steps toward an uncertain future.

I loved everything about this novel, and I cannot wait to see what author Lawrence M. Schoen offers us next.

BARSK: THE ELEPHANT’S GRAVEYARD is written very well and flows at a smooth, pleasant pace. I like Schoen’s writing style, as it is simplistic and yet chocked full of artistry. His prose and dialogue both reflect an intelligent mind and a firm grasp of world-building.

The characters, although non-human, are fleshed-out well and rife with realism. I am impressed with how well Schoen imbues them with humanistic traits, while at the same time making them alien in several aspects. This human element makes them relatable to the reader, but the alien components make them intriguing.

The storyline in BARSK: THE ELEPHANT’S GRAVEYARD is a major win, and it is a huge part of what makes this book so entertaining. I can say with most certainty I have not run across anything like it before. I tip my hat to Schoen for creating such a rich and diverse universe in which to base his story. The author is a major talent, and his imagination is bursting with fresh and innovative ideas.

BARSK: THE ELEPHANT’S GRAVEYARD is an excellent read, and I highly recommend it. The book is an overflowing cup of captivating storytelling and unique concepts, and it is very difficult to put down. It is available now in a variety of formats, so make a note.

MSB