book and movie reviews

Hell House LLC (2015)

I’ve watched this movie a few times now, and it never gets old. It’s always just as heart-pounding as the first time I saw it.

Hold on. Much like the movie, I’m starting at the end. Let’s back up.

Hell House LLC is an incredibly believable mockumentary/found footage flick directed by Stephen Cognetti. It follows the crew of the haunted house company dubbed Hell House LLC as it prepares for its opening night in a new location. The bulk of the movie attempts to explain why, on opening night, there was a “malfunction” that killed 15 people, including most of the crew.

That’s it. As Gordon Ramsey might put it, “It’s simple, but fresh and done bloody well.”

Let’s look at the simplicity of the film for a moment. Some might argue that it’s too simplistic, but I think that’s the genius of it. The filmmakers take the thrills back to basics with lighting, editing, and point of view. For example, in one scene, the character of Paul is filming the testing of the lighting in one room of the house. There are several freakish dummies in the room, but as the lights go out and come back on, one dummy appears to have moved. Paul can’t be sure until they test the strobe lighting. This is a super simple scene that creates suspense with lighting. Anyone can do it, but it’s effective. This is a great example of how the entire movie is set up. With this flick, its simplicity is not a negative aspect, but a positive one.

I wasn’t going to discuss anything other than the above in this review, but I got to looking online at what others thought of this flick. So, this leads me to want to talk about the characters real quick. I have heard that a lot of viewers didn’t think the characters were fully realized. The characters in this movie aren’t supposed to be full, multi-dimensional characters, and here’s why:

The characters are facilitators. They have no purpose except to move the story along. The house is the real protagonist (and antagonist, actually). It’s the house’s story that you’ve come to watch. This is why none of the characters seem to have any qualities that make them stand out (except for Alex, but the house manipulates him, so one can still argue that it’s the house that’s giving Alex a forceful personality.) In my opinion, there’s nothing wrong with the characters; They are doing exactly what they were meant to do.

Spook-O-Meter

👻👻👻👻👻

I’m going to give this film five out of five spooks. I think what I like most about this movie is that it taps into our innate fears. The fear of the dark, of danger lurking in the shadows, ready to pounce. This is an ancient fear ingrained in all of us. The simplicity of the movie’s set up creates a believability that most movies don’t have. The suspense created with lighting, editing, and point of view is effective, and don’t worry about the characters, they’re not meant to stick around anyway.

Standard
book and movie reviews

The Whisper Man (Alex North, 2019)

Imagine moving to a new town for a fresh start, only to find out that your child has become the target of kidnapping.

It begins when 7-year-old Jake Kennedy hears whispers outside his bedroom window. Tom and Jake Kennedy have moved to Featherbank after Jake’s mother dies, thinking they will start over and eventually forget the awful events of the past year. What they don’t know is that Tom and Jake have moved into a town that is battling demons from its own past, the “Whisper Man.”

Let me start by saying there isn’t much I don’t like about this book, but the elements I don’t like about it sincerely bug me. Overall, this book is written well. There’s no doubt about that. The issue I have is with the point of view and pacing. The pacing is a little slow for my taste, but the use of several different points of view really bothers me. I don’t mind a change in point of view in a novel. It gives the story depth. However, in this book, we get a minimum of four different points of view throughout its 300 plus pages, and it ruins the suspense of the story. The change in point of view always happens at a logical point and at the beginning of a chapter so the reader doesn’t get confused, but it slams the breaks on any suspense the story had built up thus far. By the time the reader finishes the very long chapter(s) and gets back to the previous point of view, any sense of foreboding or suspense is gone. This continues until the very end of the book. I find it frustrating.

Now for what I absolutely love about this novel. I love the characters, especially the seasoned police detective Pete Willis. All the characters are well rounded and are likeable, even when some have moments of serious un-likeability (I know this isn’t a word, just go with it). Although I wouldn’t classify this novel as horror or thriller, there are some genuinely creepy moments throughout the story, mostly involving Jake and his imaginary friend (the creepiness of the imaginary friend is shot down by the end of the story, but I don’t want to put spoilers here so give it a read to see what I mean) or the whispers he hears outside his bedroom window. It is definitely worth the read for the police procedural subplot alone, though.

Spook-O-Meter

👻👻👻👻

I’m giving this book four out of five spooks. This is a fantastic read with interesting characters. It’s more on the family drama end of the genre spectrum, but there are some chills to be had throughout the story. If you’re not a fan of frequent change in points of view, though, I’d leave this book alone.

Standard
Legend Tripping

A Christmas Story: Terrifying Christmas Traditions from Around the World (pt. 2)

“He’s making a list, checking it twice. Going to find out who’s naughty or nice.”

It’s official. Santa Claus is coming to town this week. While excited children await presents and candy in the United States, in some parts of the world, children remain vigilant as they wait for their treats. These children have been told ghastly tales of frightening characters in an attempt to scare them into being good. In the first part of this list, we delved into Krampus, Pere Fouettard, and the Kallikantzari. Part two will focus on Frau Perchta, Mari Lwyd, the Yule Cat, and Hans Trapp. So, get ready. Things are about to get spooky in part two of A Christmas Story: Terrifying Christmas Traditions from Around the World.

Frau Perchta

Originating in Austria and Bavaria, the legend of Frau Perchta is that of a witch who goes to the homes of children to see if they’ve been naughty or nice. Like with Santa Claus, nice children receive gifts or candy. Naughty children are subject to a terrible fate. Legend states that Frau Perchta disembowels naughty children and fills their bodies with straw. That’s one way to make sure children will behave in the future.

Mari Lwyd

The tale of Mari Lwyd originates in Wales. This infamous figure is more of a New Year’s character than a Christmas one. Said to have a horse’s skull and wearing a long cloak, Mari Lwyd travels from home to home with a chanting group trailing behind, wishing everyone a happy new year. This creature is not responsible for punishing naughty children or rewarding good ones, as with the other characters on this list. Mari Lwyd may be fearsome, but is quite harmless.

The Yule Cat

The Yule Cat is an Icelandic legend. This Satanic cat stalks towns, peering into children’s bedrooms, looking for naughty children to devour. The only way to save yourself from the Yule Cat is to leave visible the clothes you got for Christmas (it was said that if you got clothes for Christmas, you had been good all year). If you do not receive clothes, you make sure to leave out old clothes and hope they pass muster because if you don’t, the Yule Cat will come for you.

Hans Trapp

Perhaps the most terrifying character on this list is Hans Trapp. Originating in France, Hans Trapp is said to have been a man known for his nastiness and greed, along with many deals with Satan to become wealthy. After being excommunicated by the Catholic Church, he lost everything and took to roaming the countryside dressed as a scarecrow. While stalking the countryside, he cooked a shepherd boy over a fire and was about to cannibalize him when Trapp was killed by a lightning strike. Hans Trapp sometimes comes back around Christmas, searching for tasty children that have perhaps wandered too far from home.

Those were four of the most terrifying Christmas legends from around the world. For those of you who like some scares with your holiday cheer, I hope you enjoyed this list as much as I enjoyed researching it. Happy holidays and keep it spooky!

Standard
Legend Tripping

A Christmas Story: Terrifying Christmas Traditions from Around the World (Pt. 1)

Everyone in the United States is familiar with Santa Claus. He’s the big, jolly guy with rosy cheeks and a white beard dressed in red that breaks into your home via a chimney (or window if you don’t have a chimney) on Christmas Eve to leave you presents under a slowly dying pine tree. If you’re good, he’ll give you what you want. If you’re bad, you’ll get coal. This is the tradition followed in the United States, but in other parts of the world, naughty children have much worse to fear during Christmastime. Here are some terrifying Christmas traditions from around the world that will make you think twice about misbehaving.

Krampus

Feared in Northern Italy, Croatia, Austria and Slovenia, Krampus is the dark companion to Saint Nicholas. Krampus is a demonic monster, half-goat, half-human, who carries a whip and a sack to whip bad children, sometimes kidnapping them is their negative actions call for it. You can tell Krampus is near when you hear rattling, dragging chains.

According to the legend, Krampus is the son of the Norse god of the underworld, Hel. Krampus was originally thought to have been a part of the pagan rituals for the winter solstice. When Christianity began to spread, Krampus was adopted into Christian tradition as the negative counterpart to Saint Nicholas.

Now, on December 5, children await Saint Nicholas and his demonic companion Krampus. If children have been good, gifts are left for them by Saint Nicholas. If they have been naughty, Krampus whips them, taking the worse children straight to hell.

Pere Fouettard

Popular in Switzerland, France and Belgium, Pere Fouettard, or Father Whipper, is a fearsome figure and reminiscent of Krampus. As the story goes, Pere Fouettard was a butcher. He robbed, kidnapped and murdered wealthy children, carving up their bodies and hiding them in barrels. When Saint Nicholas discovered what Pere did, he brought the children back to life, and now forces Pere to accompany him on December 5 to punish naughty children.

While this story is fanciful, thought to date back to 1150, this is most likely just a folk story. The true inspiration for Father Whipper dates to the Siege of Metz. The fighting lasted eight long years. During one festive period, the locals burned and dragged through the streets an effigy of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. They created the Father Whipper story based on the appearance of the burnt effigy.

The Kallikantzari

Originating in Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey and Serbia, the Kallikantzari are goblins with horns and tusks, usually male, who spend most of the year underground, trying to bring about the apocalypse. During the winter festivities, they terrorize humans, spreading their evil and making general mischief.

As the story goes, these goblins spend the year gnawing at the tree that supports the Earth in order to destroy it and, presumably, the world. However, every year around Christ’s birth, the tree renews, seriously angering these goblins. In their rage, they break ground and wreak havoc on human society during the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas.

Those are the first three terrifying Christmas legends from around the world. In part 2, I will be discussing Frau Perchta, Mari Lwyd, Hans Trapp, and the Yule Cat. That list will be out closer to Christmas day. I hope you enjoyed some Yule Tide scares and stay tuned for more!

Further Reading

“Kallikantzari.” The Free Dictionary.

“Le Pere Fouettard: The French Christmas Cannibal Who Serves Santa Claus.” All About History.

Basu, Tanya. “Who is Krampus? Explaining the Horrific Christmas Beast.” National Geographic. Dec 5, 2018.

Standard
Mysterious Occurrences

Voodoo Death

Can a curse kill you?

According to Walter B. Cannon it can, and we can see the evidence of this all around us if we look hard enough.

It’s called Voodoo Death, and it is a very real phenomenon.

The term Voodoo Death refers to the sudden and unexplained death that is a result from a curse, typically a Voodoo curse. Essentially, this is a death caused specifically by a threat.

I can hear you already. “Bullshite!” You say. I know. I said the same thing, but it is real.

According to Cannon, in his 1942 article “‘Voodoo’ Death”, there is a scientific explanation for death caused by a threat. It’s all psychological. It has been proven since Cannon wrote his article proposing this that emotions are closely linked to physical illness. Therefore, as extreme as it can be, intense fear can cause death, and this is precisely how a curse works. Believing you will die because someone said so with such conviction seems preposterous, but there have been cases of this around the world.

For example, in his article, Cannon describes an African man who ate wild hen against the orders of this tribe. The consequence for this action was death. Panicked and feeling helpless, this man died less than 24 hours later.

A more recent example, and something that happens all the time, is when a doctor gives an individual a diagnosis of terminal illness. Often, when diagnosed with terminal illness, the patient can die much sooner than a patient who has not been told that their life is in danger. Believing that you will die shortens your life span. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

A curse is not just a plot device, nor is it fictional. Curses are very real and can induce actual harm, even if it is just psychological. The scary part is that curses can come from the unlikeliest of places, even your own doctor. Be careful out there.

Further reading:

Barber, Nigel. “Voodoo Death I.” Psychology Today.

Sternberg, Esther M. “Walter B. Cannon and ‘Voodoo Death’: A Perspective from 60 Years On.” American Journal of Public Health. v.92(10), Oct 2002.

Standard
announcements

Book Sale!!!!

I have exciting news! Revelations: A Horror Anthology is 50% off just in time for the Holidays! It will be on sale until November 12, but I only have 50 copies available at the sale price. You’ve got to act quick to get this great deal!

Click the link below for the special sale price.

Revelations: A Horror Anthology 50% off on Smashwords!

*Within the week, look for my other book You’re Next: A Short Novel Inspired by True Events, which goes on sale on Amazon November 5!

Standard
Fiend Fest 2020

Fiend Fest 2020: The Murder of Laetitia Toureaux

For our final obscure unsolved mystery of Fiend Fest 2020, I present to you the double life of Laetitia Toureaux.

Laetitia Toureaux was an Italian woman who moved to Paris when she married. A few years later, her husband died, leaving her penniless. Taking a job at a glue factory to make ends meet, Laetitia spent her days at the factory, and spent her evenings carousing on the streets of Paris.

On the evening of May 16, 1937, Laetitia boarded the Paris Metro. She sat in an empty train car. When the train reached its next stop 45 seconds later, the passengers who attempted to board the car Laetitia was seated in ran out immediately, screaming. Laetitia was dead; A dagger plunged into the back of her neck.

Authorities found that no one had entered or exited the train car in the 45 seconds between the two stops. Because of the angle of the dagger in Laetitia’s neck, it was impossible for her to have done this to herself. It was a true murder mystery.

Who would want a seemingly unassuming woman dead? Authorities later speculated that Laetitia was a spy. Shortly before her death, Laetitia was working as an attendant at a dance hall with a seedy reputation. To make matters worse, she worked there under a false name, all the while discreetly visiting the Italian embassy. Some even speculated that Laetitia was hired to infiltrate the violent political group La Cagoule.

Laetitia Toureaux’s case was dropped at the onset of World War II. It is still one of Paris’s most baffling unsolved mysteries.

Standard
Fiend Fest 2020

Fiend Fest 2020: Halloween (1978)

I always save the best for last…

In honor of Halloween week (not to mention the last week of Spooky Season), I watched John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) for the millionth time. As with all the other times I’ve watched, it didn’t disappoint.

If you’ve never seen Halloween, the story goes like this… Laurie Strode is a babysitter in the small town of Haddonfield, IL. When escaped mental patient Michael Myers travels to the town, Laurie finds herself and her friends being stalked by the silent menace.

This is a straight-forward suspense flick. It’s categorized as horror, and although it has horror elements, I don’t feel that it’s a horror movie. It’s not your typical slasher, in my opinion; There’s so much more going on here.

The haunting score immediately puts you on edge. As the film progresses, the use of silence during pivotal scenes intensifies the suspense. Then the score kicks in again, the moment gaining momentum until it crescendos. This is one of the things that makes the film terrifying.

Let’s talk about the use of suspense. The fiend Michael Myers stays in the shadows. He watches and waits. With his featureless white mask, silence, and patience, he is the most terrifying villain put to screen. The film plays with light and shadow in a way that cannot be rivaled; Myers can be seen hidden in the background of most shots in the second half of the movie if you look closely. This puts the viewer on the edge of their seat, or cowering inside their hoodie.

I don’t really have to say much more, do I? Halloween is a simple film that does a couple of things extremely well. Those things are what makes this movie a classic of the horror genre. I have watched it a million times. It never gets stale, and it never fails to scare me.

Standard
book and movie reviews

The Mortuary Collection (2020)

The Shudder Original The Mortuary Collection is a delightfully dark and funny movie much in the vein of the classic Tales from the Hood.

In need of a job, Sam visits the local mortuary to answer an ad for an assistant. Now, this mortuary is abnormally dark and creepy, the mortician in charge is called “creepo” by the local children. When Sam is being interviewed for the job, she asks what all the books in his office contain. Monty the Mortician explains that they are stories of how people died. This is how the movie segues into the anthology format.

Each of the five stories in this collection are definitely dark, but I don’t think I would call them scary or terrifying. I like a certain amount of suspense with my horror, and the stories explored here just don’t give me enough of that critical element.

I think the stories aren’t suspenseful for me because they are so far-fetched. I’m not going to get into spoiler territory, but these stories are presented with a heavy dose of fantasy. I did enjoy the movie, just not in the way I expected to.

Spook-O-Meter

👻👻👻👻

The stories are entertaining. I laughed out loud during the second story, so if you’re into that kind of thing, this movie is definitely for you. For me, though, I can’t suspend my disbelief that much. I prefer something more realistic. Because of this, I preferred watching the interactions between Sam and Monty. I think there could be a great story there.

Standard