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.
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.
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.
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.
Content Warning: Blood and a dysfunctional family. I will be briefly mentioning these things in my review.
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.
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.
Tom was Max’s loving and devoted father.
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.
Beth was Max’s exasperated older sister who was dreading spending the holidays with her rowdy and uncouth relatives.
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.
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.
Linda was Sarah’s sister. She and her husband were overwhelmed by their four unruly children.
Howard was Linda’s husband and Max’s uncle. He loved hunting and making off-colour jokes.
Rosie was the Engel family’s dog. She was a friendly pooch who was always in the market for a nibble of human food.
Krampus was the demon Max accidentally summoned.
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.
This month I’m participating in the Scifi Month challenge that was created by the bloggers at One More. Click on the link in that last sentence for more information or to sign up yourself. There is still time to pick a few of their prompts and join in if you’re interested.
Today’s prompt was “What can possibly go wrong.” The notes for it mentioned plot twists, so that’s the approach I’m taking with this post.
I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t very good at predicting how plots would turn out when I was younger. While this is something I’ve gotten better at over time, there were still some notable moments when I didn’t figure what was going to happen ahead of time despite all of the hints the storytellers threw my way.
Let’s see if I can talk about these films without giving away spoilers. I know most of this stuff came out years ago, but I’d rather let other people discover the plot twists for themselves.
The Sixth Sense (1999)
The protagonist of this film was a child psychologist named Malcolm whose newest client, Haley, was struggling to open up to him.
There was something strange going on in Haley’s life, but all the boy will say about it is that he sees dead people.
It was up to Malcolm to find out what Haley means by that and why he was so reluctant to go into detail about what’s bothering him.
The foreshadowing was incredibly well done, and there were a lot of hints about what was happening with these characters. I have no idea how I missed the twist in this film the first time I watched it!
The Others (2001)
This is one of my all-time favourite ghost movies. It’s set in 1945 and follows a young mother, Grace, who was raising two special needs children on her own in a large, isolated mansion while her husband was off fighting in World War II.
The children’s health problems made it dangerous for them to be exposed to any form of natural light, so Grace had her hands full looking after them and protecting them from harm. Grace hired a few local people to help her keep the house and grounds running smoothly.
The interesting thing about her new hires was that they dressed like they lived in the late 1800s and seemed to know a lot about her home. There were strange things happening in the house that made Grace’s children wonder if it was haunted. She scoffed at that notion, but her employees had other notions about it.
Once again, this film gave plenty of hints about what was really going on in Grace’s life. I loved the ending, but I also should have seen it coming in advance.
Unlike the other films in this list, this one didn’t have any paranormal themes.
Sam, the protagonist, was an astronaut who had signed up to spend three years alone mining helium-3, a new source of fuel, on the far side of the moon. He chose this isolated job in order to make money to support his pregnant wife.
A couple of weeks before his term ended, there was an accident. When Sam went out to investigate it, he found something that should have never been possible: another living human being.
That plot twist was the least surprising of them all in this film. I only wish I could discuss the rest without giving away spoilers!
While I did figure out one of the plot twists ahead of time, there were so many more that I didn’t see coming. This is the sort of film I recommend to everyone from hardcore science fiction fans to people who brand new to this genre and hesitant to give it a try. It truly had something for everyone.
What plot twists in films, books, or TV shows did you never see coming?
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… Read More
I’ve written about the winter, spring, and summer worlds I’d like to visit, so today I’ll wrap up this series by talking about the autumn worlds I’d spend some time exploring if I could. Some of these settings weren’t necessarily the safest places to visit, but I’m going to use my authority as the author of this… Read More
Title: The Raven and Other Tales Author: Joy V. Spicer Publisher: Self-Published Publication Date: 2019 Genres: Fantasy, Paranormal, Historical Length: 132 pages Source: I received a free copy from Joy Rating: 4 Stars Blurb: A raven appears on a cold winter’s night. An old woman helps a stranger find his way home. A young… Read More
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
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