Tag Archives: Horror

A Review of Beyond Death – Tales of the Macabre

Beyond Death - Tales of the Macabre by Sophie Duncan and Natashan Duncan-Drake book cover. Image on cover is of silhouette of woman's face at dusk. She's standing in front of a house that has a few lights on in it's ground floor. But the second floor is dark. Title: Beyond Death – Tales of the Macabre

Author: Natasha Duncan-Drake & Sophie Duncan

Publisher: Wittegen Press (Self-Published)

Publication Date: 2019

Genres: Fantasy, Horror, Paranormal

Length: 27 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the authors.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

Two tales that look past death into the terror beyond.
The Cup Runneth Over by Natasha Duncan-Drake
You have been tempted into places unknown and there are things lurking in the shadows.
The Promise by Sophie Duncan
When a person makes a commitment, they should stick to it. Carol is determined to stick to hers no matter how scary it may become.

Review:

Content warning: Blood. I will not be discussing it in my review.

February is the perfect time to read something scary.

“The Cup Runneth Over” followed an unnamed narrator who was given a few odds and ends as a reward for helping their aunt pack up boxes in anticipation of a big move. One of the items they took home was an antique gold-inlaid book. The plot twists from this point forward made it hard for me stop reading. I was intensely curious to find out what the narrator had found and why it was so out of the ordinary.

It’s hard to discuss what happened next without spoiling anything. What I can say is that Ms. Duncan-Drake kept me guessing until the end. There were a couple of different times when I thought I had the next scene figured out only to be surprised by what actually happened. The author was certainly aware of the tropes in the genres she was writing in, but she used them sparingly in the very best sense of that term.

One thing I would have liked to see done differently in this tale had to do with the identity of the narrator. Not only was their name hidden from the reader, all other other identifying details like gender or race were skirted around as well. It would have been nice to know at least one or two of these facts about them. It was obviously impossible to imagine what they looked like in the absence of any details about their physical appearance whatsoever.

Carol made a promise while handing out treats at a Halloween party to the children of the community she’d recently moved to in “The Promise.” I thought it was quite interesting to see how the narrator juxtaposed the innocence of a children’s party with the darker hints about what was happening in this community. It was easy to leap from logical explanations for all of these weird coincidences to theories that required a strong belief in things that science can’t explain.

While I did come up with a fairly accurate guess about where this story was going, I still had a wonderful time following Carol’s adventures as she chaperoned the children. She was genuinely concerned about making a good impression on her new neighbours and helping the little ones have a spooky – but not too scary – Halloween. I liked her quite a bit and didn’t want it to end.

This was a short but satisfying collection that horror aficionados should try for themselves.

Haunting Secrets: A Review of The Lost Ones

Book Cover for The Lost Ones by Anita Frank. Cover shows white outline of woman at top of staircase. There is a large picture window behind her and stylized leaves decorating the rest of the cover.

Title: The Lost Ones

Author: Anita Frank

Publisher: HQ (Harper Collins)

Publication Date: 2019

Genres: Fantasy, Mystery, Gothic, Horror, Paranormal, Historical

Length: 400 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Blurb:

Some houses are never at peace.

England, 1917
 
Reeling from the death of her fiancé, Stella Marcham welcomes the opportunity to stay with her pregnant sister, Madeleine, at her imposing country mansion, Greyswick – but she arrives to discover a house of unease and her sister gripped by fear and suspicion.

Before long, strange incidents begin to trouble Stella – sobbing in the night, little footsteps on the stairs – and as events escalate, she finds herself drawn to the tragic history of the house.

Aided by a wounded war veteran, Stella sets about uncovering Greyswick’s dark and terrible secrets – secrets the dead whisper from the other side…

In the classic tradition of The Woman in Black, Anita Frank weaves a spell-binding debut of family tragedy, loss and redemption.

 

Review:

Content warning: Death of a child. 

Some secrets refuse to stay hidden.

As the blurb and the content warning mentioned, one of the subplots of this tale involved what happened to a house in the years following the sudden death of a child there. That child’s identity and reason for death were things that were revealed much later on in the plot, so I won’t go into any detail about them here. What I will say is that this tale spent a great deal of time exploring how grief not only changes over time but can stick with someone long after their loss. The family who experienced this loss weren’t the only ones who were grieving. I loved seeing how the other subplots involving grief were interwoven with this one. Not all of them were quite as dramatic, but they worked together beautifully.

What made me give this book a 3.5 star rating was the behaviour of the characters, especially Stella. She’d been intelligent enough to qualify as a nurse in World War I, and yet she continually made choices that I struggled to understand even while knowing that she’d suffered a terribly tragedy while abroad. Her lack of common sense astounded me at times, especially when it came to how she responded to phenomena that had no rational explanation. The occasional lapse of judgement is totally understandable, but there were times when I found it hard to take the plot seriously because of how often she rushed into dangerous situations without thinking things through first. This was a flaw that was repeated with some of the other characters as well, including ones that had lived at Greyswick long enough to that there was something dangerous lurking there.

The treatment of the female characters was handled nicely. We’re still a long ways off from ending sexism, but it was much more insidious in 1917. Women from every social class dealt with it, and there were very few laws to protect them from harmful stereotypes about what they were capable of and how they should be treated if they stepped outside of a narrow range of acceptable behaviours. This isn’t something that a lot of gothic novels address, so I was pleased to see it get so much attention here even though I also cringed at the way women’s hormonal states or “feeble” minds were used as an excuse to avoid getting to the bottom of what was causing so much havoc at Greyswick. It was historically accurate, though!

Despite these issues, The Lost Ones was a deliciously chilling read that I’d recommend to anyone who loves Gothic literature or haunted houses and doesn’t mind suspending their disbelief for a while.

Creepy Christmas: A Review of Krampus

Content Warning: Blood and a dysfunctional family. I will be briefly mentioning these things in my review.

Krampus film poster. It shows the demon standing on the roof of the home the main characters live in. Krampus is a 2015 dark fantasy horror comedy film about a young boy named Max who has a disappointing Christmas with his argumentative, dysfunctional relatives and accidentally summons a festive demon to his home as a result of it.

In Central Europe, Krampus has been known historically as a  “half-goat, half-demon” creature who punishes naughty children at Christmas time. Some folklorists think he might have been invented long before Christianity existed!

He is generally described as a creature with cloven hooves, horns, fangs, and a thick pelt of black or brown hair covering his body. Think of him as a contrasting figure to Santa who rewards good children with presents, but stories about him probably existed in Central Europe long before Santa did.

I was vaguely aware of the legends surrounding this mythical figure before watching this film. It was fascinating to learn more about him both by watching it and doing some research about where this legend came from and how it has evolved over the years.

As always, my descriptions of the characters are written in the past tense to avoid giving away spoilers.

Characters

Emjay Anthony as Max Engel. He is licking an envelope in this scene.
Emjay Anthony as Max Engel

 

Max was the main character. He still believed in Santa when this film began, and he accidentally summoned the Krampus after having a fight with his cousins about the existence of Santa among other sensitive topics in this family.

 

Adam Scott as Tom Engel.
Adam Scott as Tom Engel

 

Tom was Max’s loving and devoted father.

Toni Collette as Sarah Engel
Toni Collette (left) as Sarah Engel

 

Sarah was Max’s perfectionistic mom. She wanted all of her relatives to have a nice time over the holidays and spent weeks preparing for Christmas to help this come true.

 

Stefania LaVie Owen as Beth Engel
Stefania LaVie Owen as Beth Engel

 

Beth was Max’s exasperated older sister who was dreading spending the holidays with her rowdy and uncouth relatives.

 

Krista Stadler as Omi Engel
Krista Stadler as Omi Engel

 

Omi Engel was Tom’s mother and Max’s grandmother. She only spoke German, but she did understand English. Several of her relatives were fluent in German and could translate for her. Much of her time was spent baking sweet treats and brewing hot chocolate for her family.

 

Conchata Ferrell as Aunt Dorothy
Conchata Ferrell as Aunt Dorothy

 

Aunt Dorothy was Beth and Linda’s passive aggressive, prejudiced, and mean-spirited aunt. No one wanted to invite her to Christmas festivities, but no one could bear to turn her away either.

 

Allison Tolman as Linda
Allison Tolman as Linda

 

Linda was Sarah’s sister. She and her husband were overwhelmed by their four unruly children.

 

David Koechner as Howard
David Koechner as Howard

 

Howard was Linda’s husband and Max’s uncle. He loved hunting and making off-colour jokes.

 

Thor as Rosie the Dog
Thor as Rosie the Dog

 

Rosie was the Engel family’s dog. She was a friendly pooch who was always in the market for a nibble of human food.

 

Luke Hawker as Krampus
Luke Hawker as Krampus

 

Krampus was the demon Max accidentally summoned.

My Review

Yes, this film is part of the horror genre, but with the exception of one brief scene it was not gory. There’s a lot a storyteller can do to freak out an audience without showing anything graphic. The people who worked on this project did a great job of finding the horror in anticipation instead of bloodshed.

The buildup to Krampus’ arrival was well done. I felt like I had plenty of time to get to know the characters before their lives were turned upside down. It was also nice to see the juxtaposition between the sentimental approach to the holiday season at the beginning of this film and the darker turn it took later on.

Krampus was a wonderfully scary villain. It was rare for the audience to see his face during the course of this story. Somehow, that made him even more frightening than he would have otherwise been. Hearing heavy boots clomping on the roof or seeing the quickest glimpse of his long, sharp fingernails put my imagination into overdrive. Picturing what he might look like was far  scarier than actually seeing him, and I’m saying that as someone who thought that the film makers did a great job of bringing this creepy legend to life.

I liked the way the character development was handled. The younger Engels had good reasons for dreading another visit with their relatives. While the extended family wasn’t abusive or anything like that, they did have some pretty unhealthy communication and behavioural issues. Spending time with Aunt Dorothy or the young cousins looked exhausting. Nothing satisfied them, and they seemed to change their minds about what they wanted from one moment to the next. It was pretty interesting to see how the Engels dealt with this and what happened when Max in particular reached his breaking point with them.

As mentioned in the content warning, there was one scene involving blood in the storyline. It happened quickly and was important to the plot development. The rest of the film relied on jump scares, psychological horror, and other non-gory means of frightening the audience.

There was a plot hole that was never resolved. It involved what one of the characters knew about the legend of this demon creature and what they did with that information. This was something so surprising that I was pretty surprised to see the plot brush over it so quickly. It sure would have been nice to explore this more in depth.

With that being said, I still had a good time watching Krampus. It was the first Christmas horror film I’ve ever seen, and I thought it did a nice job of combining imagery from both types of storytelling to come up with something unique.

If you’d like to try a Christmas movie that doesn’t have the slightest whiff of sentimentality to it, I’d recommend starting here.

Krampus is available on Apple TV.

Glimpses of Horror: A Review of Regretfully Invited

Book cover for Regretfully Invited by Jan L. Mayes. There is a skull, books, candles, a quill pen, and a page filled with writing on the cover.Title: Regretfully Invited: 13 Short Horror Stories

Author: Jan L. Mayes

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: 2018

Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Paranormal, Historical, Contemporary

Length: 86 pages

Source: I received a free copy from Jan.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Blurb:

Find out the answer to this question and more with this 13 story bundle of creepy, horror micro-stories and flash fiction.

No zombies, vampires, or werewolves.

Delve into disturbingly haunting quick tales of murder, madness, and mayhem. Contained in a menacing atmosphere where all is not right in the world.

Included in this bundle:

Double Vision
Based on real events, where midnight visitors could be sinister or a quirk of vision.

Tubsy & The Trauma of Oz
Based on real life hideously shocking consequences of letting a girl’s favourite dolly perform in the school play.

The Grave of Gelert
Based on a visit to the real Gelert’s Grave in Wales, a tribute to the memory of when hasty deadly action brought sorrow.

Mary Annette
Based on the most terrifying teleporting real life marionette ever rejected by a child.

Tinnitus Study 421: Rotary
A 50 word flash fiction experiment that inspired the optimistic psychopath Doctor Bell.

Regretfully Invited
When an audiologist knows too much about Doctor Bell’s tinnitus cure experiments, he takes an unorthodox approach to eliminating them as a witness.

Disembodied
Inspired by real events where left feet keep washing ashore in the Pacific Northwest, but police have no idea who they belong to or where they came from.

Dreams of Debbie
Based on real events after the death of a sister, when a dream may be more than a dream.

Eye Eclipse
A father uses a rare solar eclipse for revenge, inspired by real events when a bystander videos a fatal accident instead of trying to save the child.

Ladykiller
Based on nightmares of an alien apocalypse, where oversleeping has deadly consequences.

Dad’s Death Bells
Based on real events after the death of a father, who might have ghosted back to give a murderous message or last good-bye.

Cofveve Pie
A Mom’s desperate plan to prevent her daughter’s wedding by serving the fiancé a “special dessert”, inspired by real events and the mystery of what cofveve means.

Napkins
Inspired by a big brother who decides to take things into his own hands to protect his sister from Mother’s abuse, but things don’t turn out exactly as planned.

Review:

Book content warning: Murder, torture, cancer, and death of a pet. 

Sometimes it only takes a moment for someone’s destiny to change.

Since I wasn’t familiar with the legend that “The Grave of Gelert” was based on, I went into it with no pre-conceived ideas of what might happen next. This was one of the shortest tales in this collection, and yet it was also the most satisfying. It had a clear beginning, middle, and ending. The fact that the dog, Gelert, was the only character whose named was mentioned only made me more interested in finding out what happened after the king who owned him noticed that the infant prince was missing.

One of the things I noticed happening over and over again in this anthology were that many stories spent precious little time explaining what was happening in them. While I do understand that flash fiction and very short stories in general need to get straight to the point in order to stick to its word counts, there were several times when I had trouble understanding what happened in a scene or what an ending was supposed to mean because of how briefly everything was described. I loved the concepts behind all of them, but this confusion was what ultimately lead me to choose a lower rating than I would have otherwise gone with. This was something that was most noticeable with “Tinnutitus Study 421: Rotary” and “Tubsy & The Trauma of Oz.”

My favourite tale in this collection was “Dreams of Debbie.” It happened shortly after a woman named Debbie died from an aggressive form of breast cancer. Her grieving relatives were struggling to come to terms with her untimely death, and their healing process was not going well. I deeply enjoyed seeing how the plot developed from this point. It was simultaneously satisfying as well as something that made me desperately wish for a sequel.

If you love being scared senseless, Regretfully Invited: 13 Short Horror Stories may be the perfect book for you.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Free Horror Stories

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

Happy (almost) Halloween to everyone in the Top Ten Tuesday community!

This is my favourite holiday of the year by far, so the end of October always has a few posts on this topic on my site.

If you feel the same way about this season, here are some free horror stories you can read online to get into the spirit of Halloween.

1. The Bongcheon-Dong Ghost” by Studio Horang

This is a comic strip about a ghost looking for her baby.

2. Candle Cove” by Kris Straub

Everyone has a favourite childhood show, but not all of them are as unique as Candle Cove.

3. The Bog Girl” by Karen Russell

Is anyone else in the TTT community fascinated with bog bodies? I read as many non-fiction articles and books about them as I can find, but fictionalized accounts of them are interesting, too.

4. “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates

There are some disturbing themes in this tale, so click carefully if you hate violence (implied or actual). But I loved the character development in it, especially once the protagonist realizes just how few choices she’s been left with.

Potion in the foreground. Skull and lit candle sitting on a book in the background. 5. “Redcap” by Carrie Vaughn.

If you like dark fairy tales, definitely give this one a try.

6. Hello Moto” by Nnedi Okoafor 

Anything in life can be turned into something frightening if it’s described in the right way. In this case, it’s wigs!

7. “Shiva, Open Your Eye” by Laird Barron

The writing in this short story was simply beautiful. I also enjoyed who the author chose to be the protagonist. Let’s just say it might not be who you’re expecting.

8. Glashaus” by Madeline Gobbo and Miles Klee

There’s nothing scarier than an old-fashioned haunted house.

9. A Guilty Conscience” by Nicholas Gordon 

If you get scared easily, this is the best thing on my list to read. It’s much less intense than everything else I recommended.

10. eyes i dare not meet in dreams” by Sunny Moraine

Finally, this tale should only be read by people who don’t get scared easily. And, yes, the title was not capitalized on purpose. That’s how it’s supposed to be written.

 

An Imperfect Crime: A Review of The Ghosts Inside

Title: Dollar Tales from The Morbid Museum: The Ghosts Inside Author: James Pack Publisher: VaudVil Publication Date: 2019 Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Contemporary Length: 40 pages Source: I received a free copy from James Rating: 3.5 Stars Blurb: These Dollar Tales feature one or two short stories from the forthcoming collection of fiction by James… Read More

What It Means to be Human: A Review of Let’s Play White

A few months ago, Apex Publications invited me to be part of their Back Catalogue Blog Tour. I chose to write a book review for Chesya Burke’s Let’s Play White as my contribution to it. Other participants will be sharing author interviews and guest posts throughout this month, so click the link above to check… Read More

Unlikely Allies: A Review of Pads for His Throne

Content Warning: Blood. This is otherwise a spoiler-free review. Title: Pads for His Throne Author: Olli Crusoe Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: 2016 Genres: Science Fiction, Horror, Humour Length: 33 pages Source: I received a free copy from Ollie. Rating: 5 stars Blurb: A regular night at the office changes Louise’s life, when a running gag… Read More

What to Read If You Liked The Walking Dead

Since the first post in this series was about a book published almost forty years ago, I thought the second post should feature something more contemporary from the speculative fiction genre. I try not to make assumptions about what my followers already know about any book or graphic novel I blog about, so I’ll summarize… Read More

Don’t Make a Sound: A Review of A Quiet Place

Earlier this year, I blogged about my to-watch list of science fiction and fantasy films. Since then, I’ve been periodically reviewing certain films that I enjoyed and thought you all might like, too. Previous instalments in this series include Into the Forest, Annihilation, Coco, Winchester, and The Little Stranger. Content warning: death of a dog and… Read More