Tag Archives: Horror

A Review of Dollar Tales from the Morbid Museum: Creatures

Dollar Tales from the Morbid Museum- Creatures by James Pack book cover. Image on cover is of two lights shining in a dark forest. Are they eyes or headlights? Title: Dollar Tales from the Morbid Museum: Creatures

Author: James Pack

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: April 23, 2019

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

Length: 49 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 4 Stars

Blurb:

Welcome to the Creatures Exhibit. Visitors to the Morbid Museum seek the dark and twisted corners of the world. They are both terrified and intrigued by the unknown. Tales of killers, monsters, and madmen are curated by the Master of Death, Mr. Siris Grim. Mr. Grim collects the darkness that everyone attempts to hide and displays it within the corridors of his gruesome gallery. Who will be next to purchase a ticket and walk the halls of the Morbid Museum?

Review:

Horror fans, I have something special for you today!

As I mentioned in my review of An Imperfect Crime, Mr. Pack excels at taking perfectly ordinary characters and throwing them into situations they never could have anticipated. I love that plot device and was excited to see what he came up with this time.

There were a few tags I left off of this post for spoiler reasons. None of them were things that are commonly known to be sensitive topics, but I’ll happily discuss them privately with anyone who wants to verify if this is the right book for them. There were four stories in this collection, so I’ll give each one it’s own chance to shine in this review.

“The Harpy of Miller Road” began with a 911 call about a naked woman down the middle of a road. The fascinating thing about this emergency was how the 911 operator reacted to it. There’s so much more I want to say about this tale. It really captured the author’s writing strengths beautifully, especially when it comes to expecting his audience to do some of their own legwork to put all of the pieces together.

A man named Peter was questioned by the police after accidentally killing a stranger in “Disengagement.” I’m not normally the sort of reader who sympathizes with murderers, so it came as a bit of a pleasant shock to me to see how much I liked him and hoped the detective in charge of this case would somehow exonerate him. Did the facts seem to be turning against him quickly? Yes! Did that matter? No, not at all. Finding out what really happened and if Peter was as innocent as I hoped he would be made it impossible to stop reading this.

There’s honestly not much I can say about “The Hearing” without giving away the plot twists in it. Obviously, it’s about a hearing that will decide someone’s fate. David, the man in the centre of it all, was one of the friendliest folks you could imagine. The discrepancy between what he was accused of doing and how he behaved reminded me of “Disengagement.” There were so many similarities between the two that I did wish they could have been split into separate collections to keep readers from comparing them, especially since they were right next to each other in the page count. They’re both good stories. I just found it a little tricky to think about them without comparing them.

I’ll admit to being confused by “The Fall of the Foot” at first. There were a ton of characters running around in it and I didn’t immediately catch the cultural reference that was embedded in those scenes because it wasn’t something I knew much about growing up. That quickly changed once I caught up and realized just how cool it was to see these characters in a whole new light. Oh, how I wish I could tell you all who they were. Let’s just say that you’ll probably recognize them much faster than I did and that their adventures were well worth checking out.

If you enjoy this collection, I definitely recommend checking out the rest of the Dollar Tales.  Everything that I’ve read so far from this universe works perfectly well as standalone stories, but they’re even better when understood as a group.

Extraterrestrial Discovery: A Review of Life

Ryan Reynolds, Rebecca Ferguson, and Jake Gyllenhaal in film poster for Life. All three actors are dressed in space suits. Content warning: blood and death of an animal. I will make one brief reference to the former and will not discuss the latter at all in this post.

Life is a 2017 American science fiction horror film about a six-member crew of the International Space Station that discovers the first evidence of extraterrestrial life on Mars.

Unlike Europa Report, this film makes very few assumptions about what its audience already knows about NASA, space flight, or what life might be like on other planets. This isn’t a criticism, but I’d classify it as something closer to the horror or thriller genres than hard science fiction.

Characters

Jake Gyllenhaal as Dr. David Jordan.
Jake Gyllenhaal as Dr. David Jordan

 

Dr. David Jordan was from the USA and was the ISS medical officer.

He was so focused on his job that it sometimes negatively affected his physical and mental health. While his bedside manner was impeccable, I think I’d want him to have a nap and a hot meal before he treated me for anything more serious than a sprained ankle.

 

Rebecca Ferguson as Dr. Miranda North
Rebecca Ferguson as Dr. Miranda North

 

Dr. Miranda North was from the UK and was the CDC quarantine officer.

She was the sort of person who would double-check even the most mundane of tasks after completing them. This was sometimes a source of mild annoyance to her coworkers, but it’s exactly the sort of behaviour I’d want to see if I were working with an alien life form!

Ryan Reynolds as Rory Adams
Ryan Reynolds as Rory Adams

Rory Adams was from the USA and was the ISS engineer.

He was the jokester of this mission. His teasing was good-natured but could sometimes push the envelope a little bit too far because of how impulsive he could be.

Hiroyuki Sanada as Sho Murakami
Hiroyuki Sanada as Sho Murakami

 

Sho Murakami was from Japan and was the ISS systems engineer.

He was a warm, kind man who truly cared about his fellow crew members. Out of everyone on the space station, he seemed to be the person who was most strongly connected to his loved ones back on Earth.

 

Ariyon Bakare as Dr. Hugh Derry
Ariyon Bakare as Dr. Hugh Derry

 

Dr. Hugh Derry was from the UK and was the ISS exobiologist.

He was a trusting man who assumed the best in himself and everyone around him. One of my favourite moments in this tale happened when he shared a story from his childhood that I can’t repeat here without giving away spoilers. It was fascinating.

Olga Dihovichnaya as Ekaterina Golovkina
Olga Dihovichnaya as Ekaterina Golovkina

 

Ekaterina was from Russia and was the ISS Mission Commander.

She was professional and shared almost nothing about her personal life or backstory during the course of this film. One notable thing I can say about her is that she took her crew’s safety quite seriously.

My Review

Raise your hand if you love imagining what life on other planets might be like!

I don’t know about all of you, but I never grow tired of picturing what we’ll see on our screens if NASA ever calls a press conference to announce that they’ve found life on Mars, Europa, or some other place in the galaxy.

So of course I had to watch and review Life when I found out about it. While the discovery in this story isn’t of a little green man, it’s still something pretty spectacular. The trailer at the bottom of this post will give you a glimpse of it. For the sake of avoiding spoilers, I won’t go into much more detail about it other than to say that just because a creature is small doesn’t mean it’s harmless.

Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal in Life (2017)One of the things that I would have liked to seen done differently with this film had to do with how physically dark it was. While the plot was thematically dark, too, that’s not what I’m talking about here.  I would have loved to see more lighting in the scenes, especially in the beginning. I ended up needing to turn off the lights in my house in order to properly see what was happening in the opening scenes as the characters introduced us to their work environment and gave us the first glimpse of the little alien.

Speaking of the plot, the horror themes were strong in it even though the main storyline was definitely science fiction. The scenes involving blood were brief and only happened occasionally, but this is still something I’d only recommend to people who like horror in general because of how much it affected the way the plot unfolded.

I was pleased with how much thought the screenwriters put into how the International Space Station would realistically react to the discovery of life that isn’t from Earth. While this would obviously be an incredibly exciting discovery, it could also be possibly dangerous. We have no way of knowing ahead of time how such creatures would react to us, if they pose a threat to our health, or if we might pose a threat to their health as well.

So it was nice to see the astronauts take this discovery seriously. They talked extensively about the precautions they took to avoid unnecessary exposure to this alien until they knew more about what it was and how its body worked.

As someone who has seen countless horror and science fiction films, I was able to figure out the twists in it pretty early on. It would have been nice to have more surprises thrown in along the way, especially when it came to how the astronauts reacted once things began to go horribly wrong for them. Their reactions were pretty predictable once the pacing sped up.

With that being said, this was still something worth watching. I liked all of the characters and thought their camaraderie was written into the script nicely. They obviously didn’t have much time to do non-work activities, especially once they made their big discovery, but I did come away from this story with a sense of satisfaction. I got to know them just well enough to genuinely care about what happened to them, and that’s always important in this sort of tale.

If you love horror, outer space, or thrillers, this film might be right up your alley!

Life is available on Netflix.

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

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

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