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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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book and movie reviews

In Search of Darkness (2019)

in search of darkness horror movie documentaryI have been looking for this movie everywhere. I found it two weeks ago online somewhere (I forget the website) for $2,000. Yeah. I didn’t want to see it that bad.

But then I found it later that same day on Shudder. I couldn’t believe my luck. After a year of looking, I finally have easy access to it. When did that happen? “All right.” I thought. “Let’s go.”

In Search of Darkness is one of the few horror documentaries out there. Directed by David A. Weiner, this flick focuses on the horror movies of the 1980s. There are only a handful of others like it, such as Nightmares in Red, White, and Blue and Horror Noir (Both fabulous documentaries that I highly suggest), but In Search of Darkness goes deep. I’m talking four hours deep.

This movie takes things “first date” slow. Going through each year individually, then focusing on two or three movies within that year, In Search of Darkness is stuffed with talking head interviews from all of your favorite horror film directors, actors, and special effects artists. These interviews recount personal experiences on each film and how that film or subgenre affected our society. These interviews certainly have room to explain and theorize the horror genre. While these interviews are gold to a horror fan, it borders on overload.

I’m going to make this easy. I’ll list the pros and cons of this film below.

PROS

Nostalgic – Great 80s graphics and use of individual films’ original trailers or ads.
They interview all the greats for this – John Carpenter, Greg Nicotero, Joe Dante, etc.
The interviews are inter-cut generously with scenes from the movie being focused on.

CONS

This film is four hours long. I had to watch in between two sittings.

Okay, so there’s only one bad thing about this movie, and it’s the running time. I get it. A filmmaker needs space to put in all that information, but after a while, it tires the viewer. I loved every minute of my two-sitting viewing, though.

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I give this documentary 4 out of 5 spooks. I love the 80s vibe and watching people close to my favorite films talk about them on such a personal level. What I didn’t love is the running time. If it could have been cut in half, maybe make it a two-part film, it would have been better. Despite this, though, I definitely recommend it for horror-lovers and film buffs alike.

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book and movie reviews

Host (2020)

      Ah. Quarantine movies. They’re everywhere now, aren’t they? But this one… This movie combines the quarantine narrative with found footage to attempt to scare me. Color me intrigued. 

Host is a 2020 found footage horror movie directed by Rob Savage. It is a story about five friends inviting a medium to join their Zoom meeting for a little seance excitement during COVID-19 quarantine. When Gemma claims she is touched by the spirit of a deceased friend named Jack, candles begin to flicker and strange noises can be heard. 
When the paranormal activity increases to more dangerous levels, Gemma reveals to the medium that Jack isn’t real. She improvised the “spirit touching” for laughs. The medium then tells the group that this was a dangerous thing to do; That evil spirits or demons can hide behind the “mask” of an invented spirit. Gemma made a mistake. Now, she and her friends are going to pay for making light of the spirit world.
Based on it’s premise alone, I found this film to be quite gimmicky. In the vein of movies that came before it, such as Unfriended, Host takes place entirely within a Zoom meeting. To add to the gimmick, the friends are using Zoom because of the newly-instated social distancing rules due to COVID-19. I can’t help but think “convenient.” 
Host leans heavily on its format for scares, nearly ignoring plot. The story as a whole is simple and the characters are one-dimensional and stereotypical, but the scares are great. When this movie was over, I couldn’t help but think that all this film was was a vehicle for creative kills to entertain the masses (sort of like the Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street franchises were toward their ends), and I wasn’t mad at that. I was definitely entertained. I admit, I jumped at a few well-placed jump scares. I 
smiled when it was over. 
Did it make me scared to go into the bathroom right after watching it? Yes. 
Did it make me think, or did it linger in the back of my mind to scare me until morning? No.
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Host is… Dare I say it… Trendy. It’s a product of its time. Ten or twenty years from now, it will look dated and dull, but right now, it’s creative use of the Zoom platform is unique and fun to see. However, this novelty is all this movie has going for it. The plot is nearly non-existent and the characters are interchangeable. So interchangeable, in fact, I couldn’t keep the characters’ names straight and there’s only six of them.
If you’re looking for an entertaining night in front of the T.V., Host is definitely worth the watch. If you’re looking for a fleshed-out plot or interesting characters, you’re going to have to look somewhere else.
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book and movie reviews

Hunted (Darcy Coates, 2018)

Is anyone afraid of getting lost in the woods?

I am.

How about if the stakes are raised? Like… Your friend is lost in those woods, possibly hurt, and you must go in to try to find them?

Definitely.

That’s the premise of Darcy Coates’s novel Hunted. Having no faith in the police, four friends go into the woods where one of their crew has disappeared on a solo hiking expedition. In doing so, the group discovers that someone, or something, is following them. This creature sees them. This creature has set traps. This creature is causing the group to become more lost the further into the woods they go.

What would you do?

This book conveys the type of story that niggles at our innate fears. The fear of the dark. The fear of the unknown. The fear of the “other”. These fears are ingrained in us from birth as survival mechanisms. This is precisely what makes this story so compelling.

I have always had a fascination with how fear plays on our psyches and what roles those fears play in our survival. Darcy Coates taps into those fears while we are sitting comfortably in our homes or in a coffee shop. The most frightening part of the story is that these incidents happen all the time. The story provokes the reader into considering what we might do in the same situation. The decisions are not comfortable, nor are they safe. However, a path needs to be chosen either way, and a person’s survival depends on that choice.

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I love this book. The story grabs you and doesn’t let go. The pacing is spot on, and the various subplots converge into a maddening crescendo. This book is definitely worth the time as makes you ask yourself…

What would you do?

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book and movie reviews

Jynx (Simon Corn, 2020)

I’m traveling outside my comfort zone a little bit. Okay, a lot. Usually, I’m a serious mystery/horror/thriller reader and watcher. I haven’t had much love for comedy in any sense, even dark humor, because rarely is it done right.

So, I’ve left it alone. Until now.

Jynx, written by Simon Corn, is a delightfully dark comedic mystery. The story follows Jynx, a germophobic man who generally keeps to himself and harbors an eerie secret. Jynx’s secret? Death inhabits his body from time to time and forces Jynx to watch Others die. When Jynx meets Chelsea, Sea for short, Jynx’s small, quiet world gets turned upside down. He becomes involved in the biggest mystery/scandal the small town of Hazyview has probably ever seen, and Mister Death is a part of it.

I just want to start out by saying I adore this book. It’s not straight up horror or thriller or comedy. It’s a combination of all three genres. After the first page, I was hooked, and I’ll tell you why.

The character of Jynx is very special. Jynx is an intensely germophobic man who can be self-conscious about the scars on his body from a car accident when he was a child. Jynx is one of those quirky characters that you don’t understand at first, but begin to love as you read on. What I love most about Jynx is that he has a biting wit that serves him well throughout the novel (and it makes for good storytelling in general).

The character of Sea is Jynx’s foil. She is an attractive, brash, and, in Jynx’s mind, unsanitary woman who gets Jynx involved in the mystery in Hazyview. Sea’s intentions are good, but she gets them into a lot of trouble. Because I like the character of Jynx so much, it is difficult to like the character of Sea. But much like Jynx, I tolerate her because for all her faults, she has a charm about her that is easy to love.

The novel is written in first person, from Jynx’s point of view. Because of this, I identified with Jynx’s character the most. Jynx addresses the reader directly throughout the novel, reinforcing that bond that keeps the reader reading. In a way, Jynx and the reader become friends; Whatever Jynx does, I found myself generally supporting his decisions. Whatever Jynx thought, I found myself agreeing more often than not. You get the idea.

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I give this novel five out of five spooks. Jynx is a well-crafted novel that refuses to let go. The mystery, thriller, and comedy elements are expertly balanced throughout the story. The characters of Jynx and Sea are also perfectly balanced, making them the perfect team. The first-person narrative hooks the reader, investing the reader in the story for the long haul.

Finally, dark humor done right.
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book and movie reviews

Lake Mungo (2008)

This. Movie. Was. Amazing.

Okay. That’s not all I have to say, but that’s the main point.

After a few years of hearing about this film – It’s good points and bad points – I finally decided to give Lake Mungo a try. Well, I tried to give it a try in the past, but could never find it (I suspect that because this is an Australian independent film, it was quite scarce in the United States). But now, thanks to more prevalent streaming services (and in particular Tubi), I was finally able to watch this gem.

Written and directed by Joel Anderson, Lake Mungo is a mockumentary that tells the story of a grieving family who has lost their daughter, Alice, due to drowning. After her death, the family experiences inexplicable supernatural events, or so they think. In reality, it is the family’s son creating ghostly photographs and video, claiming the ghost is his sister. In the only genuine piece of “evidence”, the “ghost” turns out to be a neighbor who is looking for something in Alice’s bedroom. Without going too much into spoilers, the creepy neighbor and his motives propel the story forward, and we find out the truth about Alice and Lake Mungo.

I was outraged when it was revealed that the “ghostly” evidence was not ghostly at all. Only Mathew grieving in a strange way. I felt duped. I felt dumb that I didn’t catch it before. But this is not the end of the story. I initially failed to realize that there is 20 minutes left of this movie when it’s revealed that Mathew faked the evidence. I continued to watch.

I’m not going to go into what the rest of the movie holds because I’m hoping that if you haven’t seen this movie, that you go watch it post haste. One tip I’ll give you… Watch the closing credits. You won’t be disappointed. (But if you are, it’s not my fault.)

There’s not much I want to say about the cinematography or the score or anything like that. All of that was pretty average. However, what I do want to say is that the acting is incredibly believable. The characters are what pulls you into this story, and without the phenomenal acting, this film wouldn’t be as great as it is.

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I was looking into dark corners and watching shadows all night after watching this film. It’s rare that a movie does that for me anymore, and for that, this film gets five out of five spooks.

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book and movie reviews

The Rohl Farms Haunting (2013)

I have always loved found footage. There is something about this sub-genre of horror that I can really get into. I’ve seen a lot of bad found footage throughout the years, but there are some independent gems out there. One of these gems is The Rohl Farms Haunting.

The Rohl Farms Haunting is a 2013 found footage horror flick directed by Cordero Roman. The film details the making of Cordero’s documentary of life on his friend Luke’s farm. While filming, Cordero manages to capture strange knocks at the door and things around the house being moved. This happens at the same time every night, leading the friends to believe that the farm is haunted. However, something more sinister than a ghost is visiting the Rohl Farm.

Cinematography and Authenticity 

It is set up early in the film that the character of Cordero is an amateur filmmaker currently in film school. This is evident in the way Cordero uses the camera and articulates everything he is doing while adjusting it. There are times throughout the second half of the film when the presence of the camera seems to be an afterthought. For instance, the camera bounces, shakes, and is unfocused when Cordero is running or otherwise frantic. This creates an authenticity that many found footage films just don’t have anymore.

While watching, I never once asked the question many always ask while watching a bad found footage film: “Why are they still filming?” I was so engrossed in the content of this film this question never entered my mind. This is probably because the film answers this question for the audience in the way Cordero utilizes the camera through the tense times. For example, when Cordero is chasing someone or something in the milk house, he uses the camera’s light to see in the otherwise pitch black building, accounting for the “inadvertent” filming. Many times during tense moments, Cordero simply puts the camera on a table, “forgetting” to turn it off, therefore capturing the action for the audience. These techniques work well to maintain the film’s authenticity and allow for the audience to become almost like a part of the guy’s group.

Pacing and Acting

For me, the pacing was perfect. There are some found footage films that fill the beginning of the movie with trivial banter between the characters just to pad the run time (I’m looking at you The Final Project), slowing the pace to the point where you can’t even watch far enough to get to the spooky stuff. This is not one of them. After establishing the location and the reason for the documentary, spooky stuff begins to happen right away. Much like The Blair Witch Project, the spooky incidents start small and steadily build as the movie progresses. Each night, the spooky occurrences become worse until they come to a head in the climax. This is how any movie should be paced.

The acting was decent. I did believe that Luke Rohl was a tired, rugged farmer who didn’t believe in the supernatural. I did believe that Cordero was an ambitious amateur filmmaker who may be just a little high-strung. These characters’ personalities played well off of each other, even clashing at some points, making the friendship and situation that much more authentic. There were times when Cordero seemed a bit over-the-top in his reactions, but who am I to say how another would react in that type of situation? I’ll give him a pass.

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I give this film four out of five spooks. While this is one of the best found footage films I have seen in a while, there are things that could have been improved. The location, pacing, and authenticity were wonderful, but the acting could have been a bit better. Overall, this movie is definitely worth the watch.

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