Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Black Ice

* This review contains spoilers. *

Britt and her best friend Korbie are spending their vacation hiking in the Tetons and staying in Korbie's parents' cabin. They could be lounging on a beach somewhere, but Britt can't afford it and Korbie wants to be supportive after Britt's breakup. On the way to the cabin, a sudden storm hits and they lose their way. They abandon their car and wander in the deep snow until they happen upon a cabin. Inside are two attractive men who seem nice at first, but it becomes clear they are involved in crime and possibly the disappearance of local girls. The men hold the girls hostage and force Britt to guide them through the forest to freedom. She has to comply with their demands or be killed, but she pieces together evidence and plots her escape at the same time. Hopefully she can survive long enough to bring the men to justice and return to her life.

I hated Hush, Hush and its sequel Crescendo, but I wanted to give Becca Fitzpatrick one more chance to impress me. Black Ice sounds like a fast paced thriller, which I typically enjoy. However, I underestimated how much I would not enjoy the overall story. Fitzpatrick's writing is actually engaging. The narrative flows well and somehow kept my interest despite the fact that the characters are awful and the main romance is based on Stockholm syndrome. Britt wants to come off as clever and intelligent, but is really just naive, immature, obsessive, and incredibly lucky she wasn't murdered, much like Nora from the Hush, Hush series. Even in life threatening situations, she can only think about her ex-boyfriend every second. Supposedly, she was training for her trip for months, but never showed any sort of real knowledge on how to survive in the wilderness. Korbie is awful just like Vee in the Hush, Hush series. Their "friendship" is all about one upping each other, putting each other down, and just generally being horrible. Who wants friends like that? I don't understand how both of these relationships Fitzpatrick writes about are never addressed as being incredibly toxic or why she even insists on writing the same characters in similar situations.

On to the "bad boy" Mason/Jude (who of course can't stick to just one name). He is not attractive or mysterious or sexy. He is a criminal who was an accessory to killing a two law enforcement agents, a hit and run, and a robbery. He also kidnapped Britt, threatened her, and held her against her will. I don't care how hot the guy is or how nice he is after that, he obviously is not a good or desirable guy. Apparently, Britt's brain turns to mush in the presence of moderately attractive guys and she just can't help but fall in love with them. The reader is supposed to be happy that he gets away with all of his crimes in the end, which is disgusting and crazy. The super fluffy happy ending was cringeworthy. Britt's ex-boyfriend Calvin is the bad psychopath of the piece and it's supposed to be the huge twist of the book. I saw it coming from miles away. His reasons for killing the girls were misogynistic and horrible, but the narrative seems to confirm his misogyny rather than dispelling it.

I read to the end because I love a good train wreck, but I won't bother to read another Becca Fitzpatrick novel. She seems only to be able to write about toxic friendships, abusive love interests, and vapid, shallow characters, which I am wholly uninterested in.

My rating: 1/5 fishmuffins

Monday, December 29, 2014

Princess of Thorns

Princess Aurora is a briar born child (the only one besides her brother) set to inherit the kingdom of Norvere were it not for an ogre inheriting it instead. Queen Ekeeta wasted no time after taking over to imprison Aurora's family and insinuate ogres into the castle. Freed and empowered with fairy gifts by her mother's sacrifice, Aurora and her brother Jor escape to prepare for the day they will claim back their kingdom and make it once again safe for humans. Unfortunately, close to the prophesied time, Jor is captured by the ogres and Aurora will stop at nothing to get him back. She poses as him and enlists the help of roguish Niklaas to travel and gather an army. Nothing goes as it should: her plans fall apart; allies betray her; and she finds support in unlikely places. Will Aurora reclaim her kingdom and defeat the ogres?

Princess of Thorns is not what I expected from a fairy tale retelling. The first two pages are confusing with two different prologues kind of smashed together and not well explained. It took me a little while to process that Aurora is not Sleeping Beauty, but Sleeping Beauty's daughter. Having this Aurora and the classic fairy tale Aurora share a name was confusing at first. The story plays out as a retelling and continuation of the Sleeping Beauty story along with dashes of Little Red Riding Hood, Rapunzel, The Swan Princes, and other fairy tales. Although drastically different from the original tale, Princess of Thorns retains the fairy tale elements and becomes a unique story. I loved many of these elements that were familiar, but changed for this retelling. Aurora's fairy gifts in the classic tale are benevolent and only serve to benefit her. Not so with this Aurora. While her gifts of enhanced strength, bravery, mercy, and a heart no man she loves can defy are pretty useful, they are also a curse. The strength and bravery are the most useful, but the mercy takes away her free will. She literally cannot be unmerciful even if it is essential to her goals. The last one is weird and really just a plot device, but the effects are devastating. Once she loves and kisses someone, even in a platonic manner, their entire existence is dedicated to serving her. They are a shell of their former self and lose any personality they might have had. I like this double edged sword quality of the gifts and the grisly way in which they were bestowed upon her (which was with her mother's suicide).

The romance aspects are pronounced, but develop organically. Aurora and Niklaas bicker, tease, and fight on their travels and develop a real relationship. Since Aurora is disguised as her brother and she knows the devastated effects of her fairy gifts, romance is the last thing on either of their minds. I found this so refreshing after so many boring instalove teen romances. I also loved the world in general. The ogres were especially interesting with their religious fanaticism and rise to power. Aurora's stepmother was a particularly interesting character because of her doubt ad her ability to think for herself despite being commanded to the contrary. Their religion advocates the destruction of all non-ogre beings as their heaven. I really would have loved to read more about how they rose to power, the intricacies of their religion, and how the stepmother came to her conflicted feelings. A lot of this is glossed over which is a bit more interesting than reading about romance. I could definitely see this one book expanded to at least two to accommodate more of the history of the word instead of those very awkward and confusing prologues.

Princess of Thorns is an enjoyable read that is filled with excitement, adventure, and chock full of fairy tales. I loved the characters, the twisting of fairy tale conventions, and the world. It could have been expanded to avoid awkwardness and show the history of the world and how it got there. The positives definitely outweigh the negatives and I look forward to other books by Stacey Jay.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Thousand Pieces of You

Marguerite Caine is an aspiring artist who happens to have physicist parents. These physicists have made groundbreaking discoveries, including inventing a device called the Firebird that can take a person into one of the infinite parallel universes that exist. Unfortunately, this revolutionary invention makes them a target for opportunists. Paul, a graduate student who earned the trust of the scientists and Marguerite, seems to have murdered Marguerite's father and escaped with their invention into on of the multitudes of universes to escape the law. Marguerite and another grad student have to follow Paul through these dimensions and bring him to justice.

Based on the description, you might assume that this book is an action packed thriller, but you would be very wrong. This is a romance through and through, which I don't have a problem with, but it would have been nice to know beforehand. Like a typical teen novel, a love triangle forms and troubles our heroine, but then turns into a love square. The romance isn't terrible. I like how the different romances develop, but not always how they end. The science fiction takes a backseat to the romance, but is still intriguing. Travel to the parallel universes is something that I don't read about often, so I was excited to see this author's take. When travelling to these other dimensions, a person takes over the body of the version of themselves in the universe. The traveler has no memories of their alternate life, so they have to find out more about their life and fake like they are the version that belongs there. (Although there are convenient inconsistencies that help forward romances.) This is an interesting take and takes away the confusion of having two of the same person in one dimension. I loved the different dimensions and looking at the different ways civilization, technology, and pop culture developed. Some dimensions aren't very different from this one. Others are drastically different. My favorite was the one that seemed to be a century behind due to slow development and alternate history.

I had numerous problems with the novel. A lot of technical questions are avoided because Marguerite is an artist with little to no knowledge of the science. This is a bit of a cop out and allows the author to create the science fiction without fleshing out specifically how or why it happens. I had a big problem with Marguerite assuming Paul killed her father on no evidence at all. Is it so much to ask that some characters have half a brain and ask some questions before jumping to huge conclusions? Also, Paul and Marguerite are in love in all of the dimensions they go to. It stands to reason that this would not be the case in all dimensions because one or the other wouldn't exist or might be evil or simply living in different parts of the world or one of them might be dead. However, they seem to be in love because they are fated to be together forever. I personally find fate incredibly boring because it doesn't bring free will or the circumstances I mention into account and also does not mesh with the scientific aspects of the novel. The true villain of the piece is revealed to be  an evil and young version of Steve Jobs. He's one dimensional caricature, practically twirling his mustache and tying a girl to some train tracks while he swims in his mountains of dirty money. This aspects was ham handed and boring to read,

The overall concepts were much more interesting than the actual story. Many aspects simply didn't mesh well together. There were a lot more things I had a problem with than I enjoyed. I enjoy Claudia Gray's work and will continue to, but this was a miss for me. I won't be continuing the series.

My rating: 2.5/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Gates of Thread and Stone

The city of Ninurta heavily relies on an extreme class system where the affluent people live in the beautiful White Court while the poor are forced to live where they can in the Labyrinth. The ruler and his army are the only ones allowed to have magic, but Kai, with the ability to manipulate time, hides in fear of punishment. Kai was abandoned as a child and adopted by Reev. Her adopted brother is her whole world and they make sure to tell each other their whereabouts and make sure the other is safe. One day, Reev disappears with no trace and Kai vows to save her only family. It seems that the Black Rider, the only opposition to their magical ruler, has kidnapped him taken him to the Void, a very dangerous place, surrounded by gargoyles and wilderness. Kai and her friend Avan venture there and find that their whole way of life is a lie. Will they ever find Reev?

Gates of Thread and Stone is richly imagined and vividly rendered. I could easily visualize all the parts of Ninurta: the Void, the Labyrinth, the White Court, the Districts, and the Outlands. Kai's hero's journey takes her into each place and it felt like I was there. Ninurta is a typical fantasy world with magic and without technology, but there are small signs that it used to be our world. The people used to worship gods before their ruler showed himself to have magical powers. They have defunct artifacts from the past that are our every day appliances. I wish this aspect was explored more, but it may be in future books.

Kai is a cool character because she is fiercely loyal and fights to the death for her loved ones. However, her personality is a little hard to relate to. It just took me a while to connect with her, especially when she seemed selfish and much too reliant on other people. I also wish her powers were explored a little more, but she spent most of the book hiding them to avoid detection. Avan is also a fine character and he spend much of the book hiding his motives, so he was also hard to get a read on. The most significant thing about him was that he is pretty. Their romance was cute and felt like an organic part of the story. For me, the most fully realized characters were the minor ones. Irra, the Black Rider, in particular had a unique speech pattern and I could see his character easily.

I especially enjoyed the ending even though revelation after revelation is just dropped on the reader. It left the story hugely open for more books and I can't wait to see what happens next.

My rating: 4.5/5

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Don't Touch

Caddie doesn't like to touch people and gets very anxious at even the prospect of people touching her. It started out as a game to play to cope with the turmoil in her family. Now that her parents have split up, it's an all consuming mantra. Maybe if she can keep from touching another person skin to skin, her dad will come back. She knows it sounds crazy and it probably doesn't effect anything, but she can't help it all the same. Despite the heat of the summer and the humidity, Caddie covers her whole body in clothing, even wearing evening gloves to school. Then things get tricky. She makes new friends and reconnects with an old friend that notice her weird quirks. Being cast as Ophelia in the school play won't make it any easier when she will be expected to interact and touch other actors, including Peter, her crush and the one cast as Hamlet. She wants to have a real relationship, but can't get the mantra out of her head.

Caddie has obsessive compulsive disorder, which is an anxiety disorder marked by fear or worry and repetitive behaviors aimed at lessening the anxiety. Her thoughts and fears may seem ridiculous to the reader and one might wonder why she doesn't just stop, but it's not that easy. I was very pleased with how the condition is treated in the book. Caddie does understandably work to keep it from everyone. She recognizes the behavior and thoughts are out of the ordinary and doesn't want her friends to think she's a freak. The condition affects everything in her life: her friendships, her crush, her school work, and her family. When it's revealed that she has this, her friends and family are accepting. They understandably feel a little sad that she hid it from them. I'm glad she wasn't demonized or mocked for having this disorder that she can't control and I'm glad she sought help from a professional in the end. The only unrealistic aspect was how fast the OCD was gotten over and her behavior returned to normal. It would have actually taken years in therapy and probably at least a few tries to get the correct kind and amount of medication.

The plot was fine and moved well. Her friends were an interesting group that didn't always get along, which I found realistic. I really hated Oscar because he would push people's boundaries and make them uncomfortable for fun. The romance was cute and a little frustrating. Whenever something wouln't go as planned, Peter would make random assumptions and the couple wouldn't communicate well. Other than that, I had no problems with the book. I felt it accurately portrayed the mental illness and wasn't judgmental or condemning. It's nice to see books like this because people can better understand and empathize with people who have mental illnesses.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Halloween Watch-a-Thon Mini Reviews 7

1) The Seasoning House (2014)

Deaf and mute Angel is forced to work in a brothel that specializes in young kidnapped girls. She cleans up the girls between customers, refreshes their makeup, and drugs them. When she befriends one of the girls who is later brutally raped and killed, she decides to exact revenge on the soldiers responsible. The Seasoning House is horror movie that depicts real life horrors of murder, rape, and human trafficking. I loved seeing the person considered the weakest destroy all of her abusers and exact revenge for herself and her friend. It was definitely uncomfortable to watch and very sad at points, but I liked it. Angel isn't the usual protagonist because she can't communicate well and the actress did well conveying her feelings through other means. Parts of it were infuriating because Angel is young and a bit naive and of course it's difficult to watch young girls being repeatedly raped while the rapists walk free and someone profits from it.

2) Chained (2012)

When he was 9 years old, Tim was kidnapped by a taxi driving serial killer named Bob along with this mother. His mother was murdered, but Tim was kept to serve Bob and help him maintain his home, cook his meals, and anything else he needs. When Tim is older, Bob educates him on anatomy and grooms him to become a serial killer. Tim must decide if he will follow in Bob's footsteps or if he will escape. This is surprisingly similar to The Seasoning House. Tim is like Angel, serving his captors and biding his time to escape. Both characters have to decide if they want to stay with that captor and help them commit atrocities or escape to an uncertain freedom. Vincent D'Onofrio delivers a disturbing performance as Bob. His nonchalant violence and the ease with which he abducts women is shocking and chilling. The film moves slowly and methodically to its slightly predictable ending. Slightly because I suspected but kept second guessing.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

3) Ginger Snaps II: Unleashed (2004)

* Spoilers * Definitely not as good as the others in the series, but interesting in its own way. Brigitte, who killed her werewolf sister while contracting the werewolf disease, tries to stave off the transformation for as long as possible. She passes out after an attack and gets put in a hospital for involuntary rehab. There are many of the same themes as in the original: lycanthropy as a metaphor for becoming an adult woman, viewing sexuality as monstrous, and the transformation being inevitable as it is a part of life. There were some Ginger and Brigitte conversations within Brigitte's head and I wish Ginger had been more included in the film. Brigitte is frankly not as compelling of a character and makes laughably bad decisions all around. I didn't like the look of Brigitte turning into a werewolf. Where Ginger in the first film looked oddly beautiful, Brigitte looks like a snaggle toothed junkie hobo. Ghost is one of my most hated characters. Tatiana Maslany portrays her well, but the character is morally reprehensible and disgusting. She won't hesitate to use anyone as she sees fit. Her true character was pretty obvious from the beginning, but seeing where she ended up was infuriating. I just don't think the ending made much sense because wouldn't Barbara tell people that Ghost killed her? How can Ghost make Brigitte as a wolf do what she wanted? It just doesn't add up to me and the ending pretty much sucks. The themes from the first film fit awkwardly with the rest of the plot, especially with Ghost's part.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Halloween Watch-a-Thon Mini Reviews 6

1) Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

The Lambert family is still haunted and they work to figure out why these ghosts won't leave them alone. This is a forgettable followup to a forgettable film. Besides a well done and unsettling soundtrack, nothing stands out. The family is bland. The plot is forgettable; the scares are nonexistent; and it's just horrible. The ghost is kind of interesting, but after revealing that ghost in life tried to castrate themselves, was forced to present as female through parental abuse, and is a transwoman, I hated the film. This is just another case of demonizing transpeople as horror has historically done and it needs to stop. This film and others like it present transgender people as mentally ill and worthy of fear and disgust. The film also attributes the person's trans identity to the abuse they experienced, heavily implying that to be transgender is to be brainwashed and the direct product of this abuse. It's very sad and disappointing that this trend continues today.

My rating: .5/5 fishmuffins

2) The Taking of Deborah Logan (2014)

This is the tragic story of a capable and inspiring woman with Alzheimer's who can't do anything to stave off the effects of this debilitating disease. A camera crew comes to her house to shoot a documentary about Alzheimer's and its effects on the family, but incidences start escalating in weirdness and danger, making it clear that more nefarious forces are at work. Alzheimer's is a scary disease. It strips you of your personality, your awareness, your logic, your memory, and essential what makes you you. The beginning of the film heartbreakingly illustrates what it's like to have a loved one go through this. At times, it's a simple forgotten trip to Germany, but it can also be a childish temper tantrum or even an attack because they've forgotten you. Centering a film around Alzheimer's is brilliant because it's something that can happen to anyone and it's a frightening prospect. The rest of the film is pretty good. It gets a little too steeped in found footage and possession film tropes, but it's well done and creepy. Jill Larson is amazing as Deborah. She seems to age drastically during the film and reflects that in her performance. She goes quickly from slightly confused but coherent woman to practically catatonic and appearing 30 years older. There are some unexpected moments, but the ending is predictable.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

3) Frankenstein (1931)

Most people are familiar with Boris Karloff's version of Frankenstein's monster with his flat topped head, heavy soled shoes, stiff arms, and heavy lidded stare even if they haven't seen this film. There are a lot of valid reasons why this is a classic film. The visuals are striking and well done. The acting is over the top, but effective. The part I am most impressed with is the scene with the monster and the little girl by the water. Killing children in film is still controversial today. I recently discovered that this scene was censored at the time and only restored to the film when it was rediscovered in the 80's. The scene is so important, so it's bizarre to think of the film with it. I also liked that they kept the creature gentle and innocent. He only became violent when tortured and abused, making the humans around much more monstrous than he is. Unfortunately, the story has been changed from the nature of man to a cautionary tale about playing god. It also reduces a very intelligent character to a shambling, ignorant mute. The soundtrack is nonexistent, only having music during the beginning and end credits. Music makes a huge difference and could have made a bigger impact with a full soundtrack. It's unfortunate that this version is much more famous the book, but it's still an enjoyable and enduring film.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

4) Bride of Frankenstein (1935)

This film picks up where Frankenstein left off. The monster somehow survived the fire and Dr. Praetorius wants collaborate with Baron Frankenstein to build the creature a bride. This film is more comical than the first and more cleverly written. We see much more of the creature's humanity: he seeks friendship from practically everyone he encounters and learns to speak. The cinematography is again memorable and striking. The soundtrack is amazing with a gorgeous, sighing theme for the bride and a theme similar to his characteristic growl for the monster. My favorite part is the bride. She makes her own decisions. Even though she can't speak and even though she was created for a specific purpose, the bride doesn't allow herself to be bullied. Baron Frankenstein's wife Elizabeth is even much more confident and doesn't allow Dr. Praetorius to control her. This is a complete change from the first film where she was merely a one dimensional weak waif and a damsel in distress. I love the film from beginning to end and it's a very early example of a feminist horror film.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Friday, October 17, 2014

Beyond the Pale Motel

Catt and Bree are hairdressers in LA. They've been friends for a long time and been through alcoholism, recovery, and over a decade of sobriety together. Catt's husband Dash suddenly leaves her for a rich, young starlet. This along with the Hollywood Serial Killer murders that seem to be closer and closer to her are shattering her world. She seeks comfort in many men, but all of them turn out to be using her. She sees a pattern to the murders and thinks Bree might be next, but is she right or is she becoming unhinged from reality?

Beyond the Pale Motel is Francesca Lia Block's newest adult novel. It's a bit more sexy and dark than her teen work, but just as lyrically written. I loved how the horror theme extended to unexpected areas of the story. Catt's salon is called Head Hunter and her gym is called Body Farm. Her blog is called Love Monsters and she has monster labels (vampire, manticore, zombie, or goblin) for the types of men there are. The story centers around Catt who has it together. She's been going to AA for years and her relationship with her husband is solid as can be. Her family consists of those she has chosen: Dash, Bree, and her son Skyler. Everything is idyllic and happy right up until it all falls apart. It was hard to read Catt's life just disintegrate. She is a sensitive person who needs people desperately and wants to be a mother above all else. Her need for people translates into hypersexuality after her husband leaves her and she invites man after man into her bed to fill the emotional void. This doesn't work out since they turn out to be scumbags. These encounters don't help her initial pain from her breakup, create more pain, and send her spiraling out of control, ending her sobriety. She also consistently had a horrible view of herself, thinking she was unworthy, ugly, fat, etc. This is unfortunately confirmed in one way or another by virtually all those around her. Her journey from solid to shattered was well written, but heartbreaking and hypnotic to read.

I have a lot of problems with the book that infuriated me. First, the way Catt's "friends" treated her when she was down. She made one mistake and her best friend just completely cuts off all contact and removes her from her life after over a decade of friendship. One mistake. Really? That is a sucky and unsupportive friend. I also couldn't believe how she was treated by her AA sponsors. They either weren't available for her to talk to during a crisis or wouldn't even "waste time on her" if she didn't redo some of the steps of the program. They along with the entire book were super judgmental about her sexual activity. There's nothing wrong with finding solace in sex as long as it's consensual. It didn't turn out to be good for her at all, but it's a better way to cope than turning to drinking or drug use. There was no understanding from anyone really. The horror element didn't figure as largely as I would have liked. It was really an afterthought to all the stuff that was going on in Catt's life. That element came into play during the last few pages and ended very abruptly. It just wasn't satisfying and just rubbed salt in the wounds.

Beyond the Pale Motel is well written and evocative, but the horror element isn't major enough and the people populating Catt's life are awful, selfish, judgy people. The writing kept me interested, but my grievances outweighed the good things about the novel.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Halloween Watch-a-Thon Mini Reviews 5

1) ABC's of Death 2 (2014)

So much better than the first installment! This anthology gets away from the weirdness and gross humor of the first and ventures into some real horror. I loved how the titles were showed after the segment instead of before so I went into each one without expectations of any kind. The standouts were: X is for Xylophone, Z is for Zygote, J is for Jesus, S is for Split, and Y is for Youth. X isn't too fancy, but very creepy with an always delightfully deranged Beatrice Dalle. Z is the best by far and was so creepy and involved for such a short film. It starts with a woman pregnant for 13 years and goes from there. J illustrates how hypocritical the religious look when they speak out against gay people in a very cool and creepy way. S is unexpected and filmed in 3 simultaneous points of view. Y is more strange than scary, but depicts the angry fantasies of teenagers very well. I had high hopes for the Soska sisters' T is for Torture Porn. The concept is top notch, but the execution is sloppy and uninspired.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

2) The Possession (2012)

A divorced man tries to make life normal for his two daughters, but one of them becomes obsessed with a box that's more than what it seems. This is a pretty basic possession movie. I like that it moved away from Christian faiths when looking for answers and exorcisms. It also lets go of most of the misogynistic elements I hate in possession films except for the fact that it seems only women are able to open the demon box. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is the quintessential sympathetic dad trying to move on after a divorce and you just want to give him a hug. Natasha Calis does well as the possessed child fixated on the box above all else. She gets very scary at moments, but doesn't go over the top. There's a little surprise near the end, but the ending is the basic open for a sequel ending. Ok overall.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

3) Fright Night (1985)

A teenage boy's next door neighbor appears to be a vampire and he struggles to prove it. It's a horror film with suspense, comedy, romance, and real emotion. The romance is a little clunky and unnecessary, but the rest of the film makes up for it. When Peter kills the wolf and he transforms, there is sadness and tenderness there. Chris Sarandon is great as Jerry: evil, suave, manipulative, and sexy. The effects are wonderful, especially the vampire makeup and the wolf transformations. The film feels like a grown up Monster Squad, which was one of the films I was obsessed with as a kid, so the nostalgia takes it to another level for me. It's a great movie all around and it's clear why it's considered a classic.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

4) Thirst (2009)

* spoilers* A Catholic priest wants to save people instead of merely praying for them, so he opts to be part of an experiment with a deadly virus. He is the sole survivor of 500 volunteers. Unfortunately the symptoms of the disease return unless he consumes blood. This is my least favorite Chan Wook Park film. It starts out well and is pretty unique with great cinematography and makeup effects. Unfortunately, it descends into predictable characters, silly visuals, and laughable CGI. It's also pretty misogynistic: the sex scenes where the woman appears uncomfortable or in pain; the only women in the film being two faced, abusive, and manipulative; Tae-ju seems perfectly fine with being abused by her lover and returns to him even after he almost beats her to death; then she turns into an immoral vampire who doesn't agree with his "humane" way of eating and he predictably abuses her some more when she makes her own decisions. Sang-hyun is reluctant and conflicted when he's sexually awakened, but Tae-ju is destructive and revels in it when she is. The film has a beautiful aesthetic, but is at its core disappointing and portrays a dated and disturbing view of women and their sexuality.

My rating: 1/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Lizzie Borden took an axe, gave her mother forty whacks and when she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one. This children's rhyme is only one of the indignities Lizzie Borden must bear. The murder of her parents was a sensational story in the town of Fall River. Even though Lizzie was acquitted of the crime, she is still the subject of scorn and suspicion. The town ostracized her and her sister Emma because they believe she is a murderer and they are half right. Lizzie did kill her parents, but in self defense. They were slowly becoming horrific creatures so unlike humans and forgot their human lives. The epidemic is spreading in Fall River, so Lizzie and Emma will do whatever they can to save their neighbors and prevent it from extending out into the world.

Cherie Priest takes two things I enjoy, Lizzie Borden and the Cthulhu mythos, and successfully mashes them together. Lizzie Borden is known now as the woman who killed her parents and got away with it. It wasn't too different during the time she was alive. Whether she committed the crime or not, she was ostracized for the remainder of her life along with her sister Emma after the trial. In the novel, she actually did commit the crime. but in self defense since her parents were transforming into fish-like, murderous monsters. Lizzie, while not the most educated person, does everything she can to protect her loved ones and even protect the town that so despises her. If even the weirdest and most obscure bit of superstition could work to keep the creatures away, she puts it into practice. She also built a way to get rid of the creatures' bodies and created an extensive lab with her sister (the more scientific of the two) in their house to further their studies on how to destroy the horrific creatures. Lizzie is deadly serious and only lets her guard down with Nance. I loved how Lizzie's history was incorporated into the story. Some may think it's in poor taste to make an infamous figure known for murder into a heroine, but I think it's interesting to imagine a different side to that unsolved mystery.

Each main character had chapters from their own point of view, which gave special insight and made each character stand out in their own way. This was especially important with characters like Philip Zollicoffer and, to a lesser extent Dr. Seabury. Both characters become irrevocably changed during the course of the book. Zollicoffer is sent a corrupted sea life sample that eventually changes him into a homicidal and delusional maniac. His mental state starts normally enough and descends into paranoia and serving whatever spawns the eldritch creatures of the deep. He was the creepiest character by far and  Seabury doesn't become like Zollicoffer, but his mind is definitely isn't the same after the ordeal. The novel  is comprised of journal entries, newspaper articles, and letters that give a varied reading experience and different points of view.

While I enjoyed the novel, parts of it marred the experience. The pacing was a bit odd and lots of pages were eaten up in various characters' introspection and similar ramblings. I simply did not like Emma Borden. I liked that she had a double life of sorts as a doctor that published articles in scholarly journals and corresponded with other doctors like Zollicoffer when she could. I didn't like the way she treated Lizzie, especially about her relationship with Nance, or how she treated Dr. Seabury. Emma was like a bit black blot on the page. She was angry and bitter, just bringing the book and the other characters down. Her animosity towards Lizzie over her relationship is based in reality: they eventually parted ways and never spoke to one another again over it. I just didn't like how her pain seemed so much more important than everyone else's. It's frustrating to be infirm, but her callousness and bad overall attitude went over the top. When Nance became afflicted, Emma was completely unsympathetic despite the pain Lizzie was in. I hope the next book follows the real story and Emma is absent.

Overall, Maplecroft is an enjoyable throwback to the Gothic novel with vibrant characters. I will definitely be reading the next book in the series and I hope more will be uncovered about the evil, Dagon-like presence in the ocean.

My rating: 4/5  fishmuffins

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Internet Awesomeness: Halloween Edition

Wonderful Halloween themed videos from the internet!

1) Actual Cannibal Shia LaBeouf by Rob Cantor

I've posted about this song before, but it's never been seen like this. The song is performed by Rob Cantor backed by a band, a full orchestra, a choir, and even a troupe of dancers. It has a new ending and a surprise twist after the song is over. The song as always is hilarious, but even more so with all the added performers and gravitas.

2) Modern Monster Mash by Key of Awesome

Everyone knows the Monster Mash, but this parody song introduces modern monsters such as Leatherface, Jigsaw, Hannibal Lecter, and Michael Myers. Poor Frankenstein just isn't prepared for the amount of carnage they provide. It's hilarious and catchy.

3) IKEA Singapore Commercial - The Shining

This fun IKEA commercial captures the creepy atmosphere of Stanley Kubrik's The Shining perfectly.

4) GEICO Commercial - Horror film

Ah, the hapless victims of horror films and their wonderful decision making skills. I especially like the killer's eyeroll and "Let's hide behind the chainsaws!"

Monday, October 13, 2014

Halloween Watch-a-Thon Mini Reviews 4

1) Stage Fright (2014)

Stage Fright is a fun and cheesy horror musical. It starts out with a starlet singing in the debut of The Haunting of the Opera (ripoff of Phantom of the Opera with completely original songs). She is then murdered in her dressing room and the rest of the story follows her daughter Camilla and her dreams of stardom. When she lands the lead role in a revival of the same musical, people start dying. I found this film adorable. It's kind of like Glee and Sleepaway Camp mixed together. The killer sings metal style songs while the rest of the cast sing music theater. The songs are pretty good and the acting isn't too shabby. Once the performance for opening night starts, the movie seems to stand still. It just wasn't well done at that point and took a long time to get anywhere. Other than that, it's a delightful horror comedy. I can see how fans of musicals would be repelled by all the gore and horror fans might be repelled by the music. I love both, so I enjoyed this fun mashup.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

2) Hell Baby (2013)

Hell Baby tells the story of a clueless couple who bought a decrepit haunted house by saving money on the house inspection. Vanessa is very pregnant with twins and it becomes clear that she's carrying a devil baby that puts them all in danger. This movie starts of great, successfully skewering the Rosemary's Baby-like movies and haunted house movies. Great moments include when Vanessa starts downing glass after glass of paint thinner and smoking like a chimney; Vanessa kills the obstetrician, forges a prescription for Valium, and then guilts her husband into not confirming it with the disemboweled doctor in the next room. There are great moments of horror-comedy, but it's overall too heavy on the comedy side. Some of the gags go on for way too long and many of them don't involve horror. I lost interest by the end, but I'm glad I watched it. You would enjoy it if you're looking for a sarcastic and very obvious parody movie slightly more elevated than Scary Movie, but not reaching the levels of Shaun of the Dead.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

3) Lords of Salem (2012)

Heidi, a radio DJ, receives a record labeled as a gift from the Lords. After she plays it on the radio, she experiences horrific visions and loses time. The incidents gets worse as time goes on and strange occurrences follow her. Is she going crazy or is something real happening to her? The Lords of Salem is a very visually interesting film. The images are striking, disturbing, weird, and very memorable. The colors are dynamic and Zombie mixes beautiful religious imagery with blood, demons, and the like. Unfortunately, the movie is sparse on plot and character development. Not much really happens while these visions are happening. Sheri Moon Zombie is beautiful, but doesn't hold up being the focus of the entire film. It's definitely very Rob Zombie and influenced by the 70's. It kind of plays out like one long music video. I'm a bit ambivalent about it. I love the images, but I would like a little more story to go with it.

My rating: 2.5/5 fishmuffins

4) Pet Sematary (1989)

*spoilers * An Indian burial ground has magic and can raise the dead buried there. This family is insufferably stupid. First, their child almost gets run over in the very busy road right in front of their house. Even though it seems these parents literally can't keep attention on two children at once,  this incident is an honest mistake. Then that same child dies because they were inattentive in that very same road. You'd think they would maybe build a fence or keep a better eye on their children since big rigs speed down the road all the time, but you would be wrong. Then the father brings the cat back to life because teaching kids that cats never die is so much better than teaching them about death. The cat is psycho and violent. So bringing the dead child back in the same way seems like an awesome idea. The undead kid is also psycho and the father kills both of the undead creatures. But those were totally just mistakes, so let's try it on the wife too. Really????? This guy is quite possibly one of the most moronic people in horror movie history. The movie is well made and has some admittedly cool scenes (especially the achilles tendon scene!), but nothing makes up for that horrible line of logic.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Dear Daughter

Janie Jenkins was just released from prison after 10 years due to evidence tampering. She used to be like Paris Hilton: rich, frivolous, promiscuous, and spoiled, until her mother was murdered. After years of people accusing her, Janie isn't even sure if she didn't kill her mother. So she dons a disguise and sets out to investigate for herself. Her efforts lead her to a small town in South Dakota chock full of its own secrets. It seemed like her classy mother would never be caught dead there, but her connections go deeper than she ever thought possible. Janie races to find the truth, trying to outrun the bloodthirsty press, the residents intent on keeping secrets, and maybe a murderer,

I was instantly drawn into Dear Daughter's story because of Janie's perspective. From the first paragraph, Janie's personality shines through whether you like her or not. (I did.) She's bitingly sarcastic, manipulative, and sometimes cruel. She has changed a lot from her charmed socialite days where her only concerns were fashions, partying, who to manipulate, and how to get her face in the media. Janie is less sure of herself and more prone to examine every angle of a situation. Despite her years in prison and the psychological toll it had on her, her quick witted and sarcastic inner monologue isn't worse for the wear. Janie is brave, but also reckless and eager to throw herself into dangerous situations.

I loved the different media clips and such between the chapters: newspaper articles, text message conversations, or online posts. It added a dimension and reality to the story. The one thing that bothered me about it was no one came out in favor of her. Even the most guilty and brutal killers have die hard fans and supporters. The TMZ writer who called for vigilantism to make her pay or her crimes was crazy and added an urgency to the story. He would report on any of her whereabouts and encourage people to deliver justice.

While the story is interesting and the protagonist is unforgettable, the pace of the book is off and the ending is a let down. Once she gets to the small town, the plot slows down a lot while she gathers clues and follows leads. The ending is abrupt and unsatisfying. The actual reveal of the killer was good, but everything else is trying to hard to be Gone Girl. I enjoyed most of it and I would read other books by Elizabeth Little.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Halloween Watch-a-Thon Mini Reviews 3

1) See No Evil (2006)

See No Evil is a typical slasher flick with a preposterous premise: two groups of male and female convicts help renovate an old mansion for a weekend to lessen their time in jail. There are so many things wrong with that sentence, but I suspend my disbelief. The kills are uninspired and the characters are incredibly boring. Jacob Goodnight could be an interesting killer, but it's just done very poorly. The only remotely interesting things about him were his abusive upbringing by his psycho religious mom and the way he collects eyes. He also kills in the name of religion to punish sinners and all that. I wasn't expecting much and it didn't deliver much.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

2) See No Evil 2 (2014)

Even though I hated the first one, the second was directed by the Soska twins, who I adore. I figured if anyone can breathe life into a lackluster franchise it's them. This one has a dead Jacob Goodnight come into a morgue and he somehow recovers and continues his reign of terror. I think there's only so much you can do with the subject matter. The actors are much better acted and portrayed, particularly Danielle Harris, Katharine Isabelle, and Michael Eklund (who is actually not a scary or deranged person for once). Jacob Goodnight has a cool new look and the movie is beautifully filmed. There's a slight unexpected twist at the end, but other than that, it's pretty predictable. Overall, it's much better than the first, but not anything spectacular either.

My rating: 3.5/5 fishmuffins

3) The Thompsons (2012)

The sequel to The Hamiltons follows the vampire family as they get into trouble and seek help from others of their kind. The first film is far superior, but the followup is fine. It's got a True Blood vibe with the excessive blood and some sex. The plot is interesting and expands upon the world outside just the family. We find there are at least 2 different types of vampires and one doesn't take kindly to the other. The family had no idea since their parents (now dead) told them nothing of vampire society. Some parts are very disturbing and unexpected, but others followed predictable tropes. It's a little disappointing considering the first film was very good. I enjoyed the film despite its flaws.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

4) Cabin Fever: Patient Zero (2014)

The Cabin Fever series hasn't let me down yet. It always provides fairly unlikable characters that I don't mind dying, gore, and just fun horror. This one features a bachelor party looking for a deserted Caribbean island for fun, but instead find a lab full of a flesh eating disease gone rampant. In true Cabin Fever fashion, it provides disgusting sex scenes when one person doesn't realize the other is so sick. It's a nice throwback to one of the most memorable scenes in the first film. The ending of this was completely unexpected and gave a great twist to their regular formula. Everything that happened is explained in flashback scenes during the credits. It blew my mind and completely changed how I viewed one of the characters. Very enjoyable.

My rating: 3.5/5 fishmuffins

Friday, October 10, 2014

Knott's Scary Farm 2014

This is the second year in a row that I've been to Knott's Halloween Haunt and it was a mixed bag this year. I went with my sister and we got the Fright Lane passes that allow you to bypass the lines for the mazes and the Skeleton Key pass that allows access to an extra scare room at the beginning of some of the mazes.

The Good

* The Tooth Fairy

This was my favorite maze of the night. The concept is freaky and that drill whine throughout the maze gets to you. The actors were much better when I saw it. The child's room with the giant mout door is genius. The room with the mouths lining the walls was different than anything I've seen there. Everything passed the children's room was rusty and dirty looking and deliciously creepy. There were figures on the wall with wings made of their own flesh and bone. Before the room with the cage, one of the characters was screaming at us to turn back and save ourselves, but of course we went forward anyway. I felt like a typical horror movie character ignoring warnings and running towards danger. Good maze all around.

* Forevermore

This is a repeat from last year. A murderer kills people inspired by the works of Edgar Allen Poe. It was good last year and it's good this year. The image of the nurse chained to giant raven wings with a bird mask is very striking and one of the most memorable of the night. The bird masks are way better than last year and evoke more discomfort in the viewer because they are victims instead of attackers. The tableau right inside the psychiatric hospital was well done and more eerie with the blinding lights. I love the recitation of the tales based on them. The only ones lacking were the Cask of Amontillo and The Masque of the Red Death.

* Black Magic

Infinitely better than last year! The Skeleton Key room is much creepier with an actual Houdini actor. The room with the women's faces all over was really creepy and well done. There was even an actor with her face removed in the room with impressively realistic makeup. The mirror maze is disorienting. The giant rabbit was weird, but not horrible. So many better choices were made to make the maze much scarier than last year.

* Voodoo

This one is brand new and had the best Skeleton Key room. You are led into coffins for a spell to protect you from demons. It's a little freaky and not for the claustrophobic. The atmosphere captures the hot Louisiana weather and vibe. This maze is actually a little bit longer than the others because of the trip through the cemetery. Most of the maze is outside, which is different than the others. The waters are filled with the dead and crocodiles that were a subtle touch that you really had to look for. One of the best of the night.

The OK

* Pinnochio Unstrung

This is another repeat from last year. I think I might have missed it last year somehow. The Skeleton Key room tells how Pinnochio became a real boy, but it was taken all away by the Blue Fairy because he told a lie. Now, he wants to kill her and wear her skin to become real his own way. The concept is very cool, but the maze is OK. My favorite room was the one where we enter Monstro's mouth and walk with his skeleton above us. I liked the overall puppet and circus theme and the last room with the giant Pinnochio is impressive. Other than that, the scares were a bit lackluster and the characters underwhelming.

* Trick or Treat

This one is a little worse than last year. The gothic, classic horror mood was missing except for the very first room with all the jack o'lanterns lining the staircase. The only new part I liked was the devil coming out from under the bed. The last room and the ghosts wearing sheets were particularly disappointing.

* Witch's Keep

Much better than last year. The Calico Mine Ride is more infused with the witch's story. It's a much better integration than last year, but the ride itself is still kind of boring.

* Dominion of the Damned

A little worse than last year. The paintings I loved are still there. The final room was disappointing. The overall air of sophisticated, cultured vampires was maintained. The Skeleton Key room was interesting since I was made to feed Renfield's "plants." The best part was the walls made of human flesh. Not sure what it has to do with vampires unless it's just their kind of decor, but it looked amazing. Very Hellraiser.

The Bad

* The Boo-fet

My sister and I went to the Boo-fet buffet before the park because it came with early access to the park. The event was way, way overbooked. We didn't get to eat at our time, rendering the early access useless since we were still eating when the park opened. They wouldn't allow us to just get our passes and go into the park to eat there. The food was cold and disgusting after all the waiting. Characters are in the hall to harass you as you eat. I just want to eat my food. We won't be making that mistake again.

* Gunslinger's Grave

Again, these are just cowboy bandits. Nothing supernatural about them. It's just not scary at all. Cowboys do not incite fear and neither do saloon girls. I wish they would have kept the Apocalypse maze from last year instead of this uninspired garbage.

* The Hanging

The Hanging is an uninspired show that parodies everything pop culture over the last year. It's crass, crude, and just immature. The only part that made me laugh was the Do You Want to Have a Hanging song to the tune of Do You Want to Build a Snowman. Everything else was shoddily done, horrible costumes, and a bunch of fake blood.

* The overall quality and condition of the park

The quality of the mazes, actors, and makeup are far inferior to Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios. I still enjoyed the event, but I was never scared. I enjoyed the sets and storylines of the mazes, but the actors seemed annoying to me and not a part of the attraction. They favored screaming (sometimes right in my ear) and making loud noises which quickly loses effect and becomes bothersome.

The park is not well kept. No one was picking up trash and it piled up over the course of the night. Many of the attractions were shortstaffed. On Jaguar, the guests were seating themselves which was chaos and made the line infinitely longer than it should. Some mazes had multiple rooms with no actors in them when there should have been based on repeat visits or videos online. Smoking and vaping are unfortunately allowed everywhere in the park. So many people were smoking everywhere that I couldn't get away from it. The smell saturated my hair and clothing and it was just gross.

Every little thing costs extra money. To get the VIP experience at Universal, it costs $200, but includes front of the line passes for mazes and rides, the VIP lounge, the all you can eat buffet, 2 alcoholic drinks, valet parking, a special Terror Tram experience, and a tour guide for the Terror Tram and 3 mazes. The Skeleton Key and Fright Lane pass costs about $100. The horrible buffet is an extra $30; the front of the line passes for the rides costs an extra minimum $35; and the parking alone was $20. That makes Knott's cost almost the same as Universal with nothing near the same quality in general.

The overall experience is far inferior than practically any other theme park in my area, so I may not bother with Knott's anymore. Next year, my sister and I plan to try the Queen Mary Dark Harbor event instead.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

I Hunt Killers

Jasper Dent or Jazz lives in the sleepy small town of Lobo's Nod and everybody knows him. It's not an egotistical observation. He is the son of a very prolific and infamous serial killer. His childhood was filled with crime scenes, murder victims, and the sick training of his father. Now, he works to go against his father's teachings and clings to things that are normal. Then a girl is found murdered in a field, extremely similar to his father's own first murder. And the bodies start piling up and of course people look to Jazz. Can he figure out who the real copycat murderer is and clear his name?

I love books about serial killers. I find their mentality morbidly fascinating and the books are usually delightfully twisted. I Hunt Killers looks into the nature vs. nurture debate on how serial killers are made the way they are. Jazz has obviously been nurtured practically to death to be a serial killer. His instincts are automatic to recognize people's weaknesses and he recognizes how to exploit them. He knows that he's attractive and uses it to his advantage when he can. His father has been in jail for quite some time, but people still see his father and the crimes when they see Jazz. He knows they fully expect him to be just like his father. However, he works against his own instincts. When he recognizes weakness, he doesn't always try to exploit it to the fullest and obviously hasn't killed anyone yet. He keeps close to his best friend Howie, a nerdy hemophiliac, and his no nonsense girlfriend Connie. They bring normalcy to his life and make sure he doesn't go down that serial killer path. He battles with his inner self constantly and it's a really fascinating read.

One of the best things about the book is that, like Rick Yancy's The Monstrumologist, it doesn't shy away from it's own subject matter: murder. Other YA novels tend to try to protect the reader because of the age group it's aimed at, but this one makes no effort to do so. The events are described in detail and Barry Lyga doesn't pull any punches. If you can't handle pretty gory accounts of horrific murders, turn back now. I appreciate that some YA books are super gory and graphic while others aren't, so people can choose for their comfort level. Despite the dark tone and subject matter, the book is actually very funny. Jazz's narrative is full of humor (mostly dark), making me laugh throughout the grisly plot.

I only had one problem with the book. His involvement with the police is a little unbelievable. At first, the police keep him out as they should because he's a high school student, but after the police get really desperate, they allow him to explore the crime scenes and involve him in the investigation. It's the only kind of meh part of a good book, so I overlooked it. I would definitely recommend this to teen and adult horror fans.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Monstrumologist

Will Henry is an orphan. His parents died in service of Pellinore Warthrop, a monstrumologist who studies the monstrous and seeks to kill them. While Pellinore is certainly competent and passionate about the subject, he's rather self absorbed and cold, too wrapped up in himself and his subject of choice to recognize what a growing 12 year old boy needs. One day, a creature is brought to them by a grave robber that is alarming in it's implications of others. The anthropophagi hunts in packs and are never alone. Pellinore and Will take it upon themselves to hunt these creatures down before they destroy New Salem and overtake the world.

The Monstrumologist has been on my reading list for a while. I had heard it's good horror, but YA horror tends to be watered down and underwhelming. This one is the exact opposite of my expectations: grisly, gory, nauseating, suspenseful, and terrifying. The anthropophagi are the start of it. They are headless, sharklike creatures with no heads, their faces on their chests, and a maw full of thousands of razor sharp teeth. Humans are their prey and they hunger. They can grow up to 7 feet tall and are faster and stronger than any human. We are knocked off the top of the food chain by these creatures. These creatures are not only physically superior, but fairly intelligent as well. Everything about them is frightening and the descriptions make them seem all the more real. The action scenes with them are unforgettable and savage. These are a creature I have not yet seen in updated in literature. I remember reading accounts of them in The Adventures of John Mandeville, The Travels of Marco Polo, and Shakespeare's plays The Tempest and Othello. I like that images of them appear in a variety of texts during different time periods because with this concept, it's easy to imagine stories within each one.

The other thing that brings in the creep factor is regular people. The first instance is in an insane asylum. The level of neglect and downright torture is shocking and unfortunately based in reality. The conditions a patient was left in is sickening and one of the most disgusting things I've ever read. The other instance is Dr. Kearns, an associate of Pellinore's. Kearns is a monster hunter and will do absolutely anything to achieve his goal. He has no regard for human life and will gladly sacrifice anyone (save himself) to kill the monsters. His view of the world is explored and is predictably insane. He doesn't believe in morality, merely in what is necessary for the situation. On his off time, he is a particularly infamous figure in British history.

The characters are wonderful in their flawed natures, particularly Pellinore Winthrop and Will Henry. Pellinore has major daddy issues and laser focuses on his work. Even necessities like eating and sleeping go by the wayside when he's in full swing. He's a selfish man who views emotion as weakness, but he has good intentions underneath it all. He cares for Will Henry in his own way (and rarely shows it), but when the situation is dire, he does all he can to protect Will. Will is only 12 and has enormous responsibilities thrust upon him. He feels loyalty to Pellinore because his parents believed in him and worked with him. He is intelligent and has no illusions about Pellinore's true feelings about him. His weakness is curiosity and staying with this incompetent guardian despite all evidence pointing to how dangerous it is to live with him.

The prose of the novel is reminiscent of the late 1800's, but is slightly simplified to make it easier to read. The descriptions are quite vivid and lush, which can be off-putting for some weaker stomached readers. (I personally loved it.) The dark gothic atmosphere is maintained throughout and calls to mind other works of such literature. When I imagine the book, I see it in black and white with splashes of red. I rarely get such vivid images from a book, but it plays out like a film. Even though the writing is descriptive, the plots moves very well. Not at a rapid pace, but a slow and steady one. I couldn't put it down. I read the whole first half in one sitting and was hungry for more. I will definitely be picking up the rest of the series.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


The Freelings live in Cuesta Verde, a planned community created by Steve's company. Diane is a housewife who takes care of her children Dana, Robbie, and Carol Anne. One day, objects just start moving by themselves in the family's kitchen. The family is delighted at first until a tree tries to kill their son and their daughter is missing. The Freelings employ the help of parapsychologists to get their daughter back. Who are these spirits and why do they want Carol Anne?

Poltergeist is the haunted house movie that I measure all others against. Very few have reached even close to its achievement, so I'm not a huge fan of most of them. Poltergeist, although made in 1982, isn't as predictable and steeped in tropes as many much newer films like The Conjuring or Insidious. So many of the scares come from out of nowhere: the tree almost eating the little boy, the face scene, and the ending (including that creepy clown and the spreading of the haunting to the entire neighborhood). The suspense is expertly sustained throughout the film and actually has occasional significant scares to justify the high suspense level (again, unlike many recent films). The practical effects have held up well over the years. So many moments are equally creepy to child me and adult me. I still can't believe the film is rated PG because I had so many nightmares as a kid and it is still a very memorable and scary film.

One of the main strengths of the film is the family. They have to be sympathetic or the plot just wouldn't work. The beginning establishes them as a normal, everyday family. They disagree and fight, but ultimately love each other. The happenings at the beginning start out as fun family events. Chairs and children are slid across the floor by some unseen force and it's all fun and games until Carol Anne, the angelic looking 5 year old, goes missing. The family stays united even as they mourn for their lost member. Their pain is poignant and the viewer can't help but feel for them. The scene where the parapsychologists first come to the house is perfectly performed. The family hears Carol Anne running from something and she ends up running through her mother, who breaks down with emotion because it's the first physical contact she's had since her child has been gone. JoBeth Williams is amazing and I can't watch the scene without crying. Heather O'Rourke isn't the best child actor, but her delivery of the line "They're here" will live on in horror movie history forever. Craig T. Nelson as Steve is more skeptical than his wife, but no less caring about his daughter. I like that Poltergeist takes the time to get to know the family because if we don't care about them, the film falls flat.

The ending is wholly unexpected. After rescuing Carol Anne, the house should be clean, but the spirits return with a vengeance, exposing the dead buried under the neighborhood. It's just another example of a corporation making shortcuts in their business and allowing the public to face the repercussions while they reap the profits. The company was surveying another cemetery earlier in the film, showing active planning to build another community without moving the dead. This theme has been in film for a long time and is still quite relevant today.

Poltergeist is the perfect haunted house film. It avoids a lot of common tropes and proves to stand the test of time. I was on the edge of my seat the entire film and it felt that anything could happen at any time. I love this movie and will definitely revisit it for years to come.

My rating: 10/10 fishmuffins

Monday, October 6, 2014

Halloween Watch-a-Thon Mini Reviews 2

1) Gone Girl (2014)

Amy Dunne is missing. No one knows if she's dead or just gone. Nick Dunne, her husband, makes bad decision after bad decision and looks extremely guilty to almost everyone around him. Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck are excellent portraying their flawed and mostly unlikable characters. David Fincher gives the film a suspenseful, icy, and precise style. The plot is deliciously insane and it's a near perfect adaptation from pages to screen. The foreboding builds up throughout the film and it's almost impossible to guess what will happen next (if you haven't already read the book). The only two parts lacking were the casting of Neil Patrick Harris (just no creepy enough) and the fact that Amy's personality came off super icy when she did have some humor in her own way. The rest is simply amazing. I had already read the book, but seeing my sister cover her face and hearing her gasp "oh my god" over and over was priceless. Highly recommended.

My rating: 4.5/5 fishmuffins

2) All Cheerleaders Die (2013)

There's something wrong with the cheerleaders. They actually died and were brought back to life by wicca Leena. Now, they need to feed on people to live, are connected magically, and are much tougher than usual. The football players that contributed to their deaths resolve to get rid of them once and for all. The first half hour of the film was so filled vapid and annoying characters that I struggled to continue. Once the cheerleaders die and come back, it gets more fun and a bit cheesy. The football players are appallingly misogynistic and make very on dimensional villains. The plot relies way too much on gimmicks and tropes while at the same time trying to unsuccessfully make fun of those same gimmicks and tropes. The acting isn't great and I didn't care much about any of the characters. This is one to watch a bloodbath and turn your mind off. It also stops in the middle of a scene and then lets the viewer know it's only the first part. I would continue the series if I was really bored and had nothing else to watch.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

3) Resolution (2012)

Michael finds his friend Chris after receiving a video of him. Chris has become a junkie, so Michael handcuffs him to the wall in the house where he stays to forcibly get him clean. Weird things start happening like finding a book full of creepy campfire stories and film slides purposefully left for him to find. The movie as a whole is ok. It starts off a bit slow. Besides the sense of unease, it seems like a drama about a guy just wanting to get his friend clean in a well meaning, but creepy way. Most of the threats are normal: the real owners of the house showing up and Chris's junkie friends demanding drugs and threatening them. The clues around seem peripheral to the main plot up until the crazy ending. It all culminates in an unexpected way and it's impressive.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

4) Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

Vampires Adam and Eve have been together for hundreds of years. They opt to live in obscurity with the things they love and create art separately. Adam is a musician living in Detroit and creates music he doesn't want people to hear. He's tired of existence and contemplates suicide. Eve is a bibliophile and lives in Tangiers, but reunites with Adam when she hears of his despair. They are blissful until Eve's wild little sister comes to visit. This film is a slow, languid tale of vampires in love after centuries together. This isn't teenybopper Twilight love, but love solidly built and sustained. The acting and cinematography are superb and I could watch Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston all day. They capture these characters so well that could have easily been run of the mill hipster, but are reflective and contemplative people whose love they can rely on. Music plays a big role and the soundtrack is amazing. Not a whole lot happens and what does happen does so slowly, but it's not a negative.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Butterfly Skin

Ksenia is manager of an online news website in Russia. She's very ambitious and professional at work, but in her personal time, her interests are much different, preferring to be dominated and harmed during sex. A serial killer is on the loose who rapes, mutilates, tortures, and murders young women. To further her career, Ksenia creates a site dedicated to the serial killer to address public interest that includes psychological studies, links to other websites, information on each murder, and message boards. At first it's just business, but she develops a fixation with the murders and even meets an online lover in the message boards who isn't who he seems.

The description of the book on Amazon is very misleading and this book shares almost nothing with The Silence of the Lambs. Every few chapters are from the point of view of the serial killer. He describes how he kills the women, his theories on how he came to be that way, his frustration (sexual and otherwise), his history, and his feelings. A few of the chapters are in a more poetic form and focuses on images (of the grisly variety) and feelings. It's grisly, rather descriptive, and  I liked these chapters and found them the most interesting parts of the story even though they were few and far between. You get right in the serial killers head and see what makes him tick. He's pretty abhorrent, but does realize what he is doing is wrong. The only other enjoyable part is the unexpected ending.

The majority of the book is populated by interchangeable characters that blur together. I didn't like the language used in these chapters because it was unnecessarily repetitive (which was a style issue) and it just felt stilted and unnatural (which may have been a translation issue). Some of the idioms didn't really make sense or seemed made up or just very dated. The characters have a lot of weird hangups about sex. Ksenia's preference for BDSM sex is labeled as abnormal and dangerous. Even "normal" sex is treated with a very repressed attitude by all the characters. There were a lot of abrupt and disorienting jumps in time from present to past and back again. These chapters were a slog to get through and dull as a whole. It only gets interesting when Ksenia and the serial killer's paths cross.

Butterfly Skin is disappointing and mostly dull. It might have been a translation issue, but the serial killer chapters were even written in a much more natural style. Not a big fan. I would recommend it.

My rating: 2/5

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Halloween Watch-a-Thon Mini Reviews

I'm participating in a Halloween Watch-a-thon and I'm vaguely aiming for 100 movies, even though it's unlikely I'll ever get there.

1) Detention (2012)

Detention is a horror comedy that starts out as a slasher film, but turns out to be a lot more. The plot is pretty convoluted and starts out withe head cheerleader and most popular girl in school being murdered by Cinderhella, the villain in a series of horror films. I thought it would be a textbook slasher film and it follows that formula up until the middle and then time travel, aliens, and other such weirdness get involved. The slasher story line is forgotten until the last moments of the film. It's a fun movie, but the continuity is completely messed up. If you don't attempt to look at it logically or think too hard about it, it's enjoyable. There were a lot of good ideas, but just jumbled together without working to make them fit together logically.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

2) Jaws (1975)

A shark wreaks havoc on resort town Amity Island. I love Jaws. Every time I watch it, I still jump and cover my eyes at all the same places. It's a well crafted film and it caused generations of people to dread going into the ocean. The soundtrack is so simple yet is responsible for the entire suspenseful mood of the film. The part most infuriating about the film is how the rich and powerful are more concerned with saving their profitable July 4th weekend than saving people's lives. They even influence the coroner to change the cause of death from shark attack to accidental drowning. Their shortsightedness and disregard for human life is disgusting and it's all powered by greed. The last half hour of the movie is amazing and super suspenseful. It ends pretty abruptly, but a longer ending really isn't needed.

My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins

3) Horns (2014)

Ig grows horns overnight and people tell him their darkest desires and urges. He uses the power to solve his girlfriend's murder, which everyone else blames on him. I was fine with the changes to the book. The flashbacks are pared down (thankfully) and the movie is more about Ig and Merrin's relationship instead of Ig and Lee's relationship in the book. Daniel Radcliffe and Max Minghella didn't seem to fit their respective characters well. The effects are great and it has everything I liked from the book. The ending is even fixed a bit, but it doesn't change the fact the two main characters just aren't captured right.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

4) Jugface (2013)

Ada lives in a backwater town away from society in a tight knit community. Their whole way of life revolves around a pit they worship and make sacrifices to. Ada finds out that she's pregnant and she is to be sacrificed to the pit. Trying to escape her fate makes others pay the price. The first half of the film is so awesomely creepy. Of course their society is misogynistic and the women are expected to stay virgins until their parents decide to give them to a man to have children with. Ada doesn't want any of it and is tired of blindly following her people. The movie had real promise. The performances are good and the creepy atmosphere is sustained. The soundtrack is perfect and captures the mood well. A cheesy element is featured way too much near the end. The ending is just disappointing.

My rating: 3/5 fishmuffins

Friday, October 3, 2014

Halloween Horror Nights 2014

For the first time ever, I went to Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood. I was a little nervous because the only other event like it I've been to is Knott's Scary Farm, which isn't as big or well funded. I went with my sister and we got the VIP experience, complete with a VIP lounge that had a buffet dinner and free drinks, unlimited front of the line access, a special VIP Terror Tram, and a tour guide to take us through the Terror Tram and 3 mazes. It was expensive, but super worth it since the attraction is only open for 7 hours and the line for Alien vs. Predator was always at least 2 hours long by itself. The event was amazing with 7 mazes, 5 scare zones, the Terror Tram, and the rides. Although 7 mazes isn't a lot compared to Knott's 11(of which 2 need separate tickets for access), these mazes are longer and much better quality with crazy attention to detail.

The Good:

Almost all the mazes had these little string things that hang in your face like spiders and that alone made each maze a bit scarier.

* Alien vs. Predator

By far the best maze ever. Best makeups I've seen for the actors with amazing attention to detail and animatronics. That room with the alien and predator on either side with the flashy lights scared the crap out of me. I love the chestburster room because the people on the wall are real and the alien queen animatronic is spectacular.

* The Walking Dead: End of the Line

The set for the Walking Dead is amazing. The outside looks like the prison the cast stayed in and it's huge. The zombie actors were awesome and there were so many! I loved the supermarket because of the super calm, serene music and the zombies stuck in the rubble, which was very unexpected. The set is the strength of this one and really transports you inside the show.

* An American Werewolf in London

Very unexpected maze. The train room was surprising and I loved the way the transformation scene was incorporated. It makes me want to watch the film.

* Terror Tram

It's basically a big scare zone, but it incorporates the crash site used in War of the Worlds. It's bigger and more involved than anything I've ever seen. The chainsaw guys were surprisingly scary. My only criticism is that it was really dark. My night vision isn't great and I would have liked to see more of the actors.

* Mask-a-raid and The Purge: Anarchy Scare Zones

The Mask-a-raid Scare Zone has a great concept: a cannibal cult in masquerade balls during preRevolutionary War France. The out of tune harpsichord music is perfect and it melds horror with high class aristocracy with morbid tableaux and cannibals. The Purge Scare Zone was fun because since many of the dressed normally besides a mask, it was easier for them to hide in the crowd and make the scares more surprising.

The OK

* Face/Off: In the Flesh

I love the show and I liked seeing the makeup up close, but the themes are all different. They didn't mesh well and ended up looking kind of confused. The music was pretty cool and made it creepier than it really was.

* Dracula Untold

Ok maze. Nothing special, but not awful. It doesn't make me want to see the movie when it comes out.

The Bad

* Clowns 3D

Not very scary. I liked the eerie music, which was written by Slash, but the maze was meh. Bright paint covered everything and became dizzying with the 3D glasses (which kept falling off my face). The actors lost interest right after the scare and it ruined the illusion for me. A lot of it was mannequins instead of people. Very unrealistic over all plus the whole maze smelled sickeningly like cotton candy. My sister is terrified of clowns and she was also unimpressed.

* From Dusk Till Dawn

Also not very scary. The set was still cool, but Dracula Untold was just so much better. I thought having 2 vampire themed mazes was odd, but this one dropped the ball.

* the dancers

Really? Were there dancers in The Purge? No. Please don't try to keep horror a boys' club. Half of the crowd is women and at least have some hot male dancers to include everyone if you really want to have them. It's just annoying when people still assume that horror is only targeted at men when it hasn't been for years.

Even with the bad stuff, I had a lot of fun. I will definitely be going next year. I can only hope that the Halloween/Michael Myers themed maze will make it here next year.