I'm still in a bookish mood (aka, my allergies are annoying the hell out of me and I'm pissed), and it's a rainy day at the end of May, so I figured I'd throw Susan Hill's The Woman In Black at you along with my offensive mood.  I picked up this book a few months back when partaking in another episode of my search for the scariest fiction ever.  People all over the world wide whatever have recommended this book claiming it was truly freaky.  I guess I'm freakier than truly freaky, because I put this book (on a scale of craptastic to awesome) at meh/good.  

WTF =  18
W = 7
T = 6
F = 5

The gist of the story is estate lawyer Arthur Kipps (in hopes that his ready ability to more or less kiss ass and take difficult jobs will land him a promotion) follows orders from his boss to go to this small town called Crythin Gifford to handle the affairs of the newly deceased Ms. Alice Drablow and her lovely property Eel Marsh House.  At the time of reading this piece, the names of characters and places didn't make me laugh, but in retrospect it does seem a little silly.  This is styled in kind of an Edith Wharton voice, so you have the prim and proper people besieged by the ghost of an undone woman, her tragedy, her vengeance, all told in prim and proper voice.

Anyway, Kipps soon gets drawn into the mess and ultimately pays his own price for assuming he can just doodle around with dead people's stuff, even though he's just trying to do his job.  I'm not ruining the story (you know I don't believe in spoilers), as the story is told in retrospect from an aged and shellshocked old guy who's had to rebuild his life since his time in the small haunted town.  Think of this as a really British Ringu.  

The story, in some ways, reads like it was written in the first half of the 20th century, and I think I probably would have been fooled if not for the silliness of a name like "Eel Marsh House" to check the copyright date and discover it was written in 1983.  That Hill received the W. Somerset Maugham award is also something.  There's something brave about her writing in a style that is not contemporary, bringing it back to the early 20th century in voice and in story.  But I also felt there was unreached potential for the story to be maddeningly frightening.

Perhaps it's the dialog, perhaps it's the character interplay.  I do not know.  And this is not to say that I don't like the ridiculous.  I do really like the description of the woman herself, her wasted face, how she lingers on the edge of sight like an illusion.  How people of the town shun anything to do with her out of total fear.  How the children die.  That's freaking awesome.  But I put the book down disappointed, not with the story but how parts of it seemed rushed, like they were holding out on being completely mindbending because unleashing more would be completely...un British?  I don't know.  That's mean.  But, I guess there's something to say for reading something that feels like there's a tennis racket wedged up your ass a little further with each new description of something that would normally drive a person batshit.  

Is this a case for more realism?  No.  This book is what it is.  And I'm being harsh.  But for one second, picture yourself in a bed in a dark abandoned house.  Outside the wind and sea beat against the land.  You have never ever before in your life been so alone and you are a young person.  You can hear what sounds like distant screaming but don't want to admit it to yourself.  Suddenly you hear movement, the opening of a door.  Footsteps.  Creaking stairs.  Tell me, just tell me you would not be more or less shitting your pants?  I mean, depicting shitting one's pants would probably ruin the mood of the story, but you get the idea.  You don't hold it together, rationalize it, or go to investigate.  You hide.  You run.  People are more or less creatures that run away when they are scared.  I'm not asking for realism: after all poop isn't really scary.  But cut the paint by number, "I doubted what I saw and so I calmed myself down and went for a flashlight and a cup of tea" and scare me.  This is the best I can do to describe why this book doesn't broach above a 20 on my scale.  I read it always wanting more (not in the good way), and ended it with an, "...oh."

There have been adaptations of this book.  One made-for-TV show that people claimed was scary but I had to laugh my ass off.  I've included the clip that people claim was so terrifying that if you put it in replay it's the most hysterical thing.    Another was a play adapted by this guy Mallatrat.  Have not seen the play, though there have been many good reviews and it is something I'd be interested in seeing adapted given that most theater doesn't really aim to scare.  It's just not the most common genre especially when you have so many idiots who want a fucking love story.  But then again, I am reticent as Broadway generally makes me want to barf into my playbill.  I've never seen a show that's good enough to convince me that the actual definition of a Broadway show (particularly musicals) is not the ritualistic translation of a story so that retards can understand it.  I know, I'm being cruel again.  I'm too sick to be politically correct.  In other news, this review is well-timed because in December 2011, I believe Hammer (could not wrong, too lazy to check, do it yourself) is coming out with another version starring what's his face from Harry Potter who has grown up to look like Uncle Jessie from Full House.  

 Am I wrong?  Ok, whatever.  I actually do plan on seeing this movie (though probably when it's available on Netflix because I hate spending 10$ so I can have feet sticky with old soda and listen to someone's snotty kids ask stupid questions - they should see the Broadway version!) when it's available.  My hope is that the directors will have picked up on that feeling of holding back that bothered me throughout the story.   My hope is that they will give the actual storyline behind the woman in black more clarity and connection to why she seeks revenge to others, why her spirit is so unforgivably malign.  For some reason or another, I think Radcliffe might be able to pull of the bumbling young Kipp, but we'll see.  We'll see indeed. 

Because it's so short and sweet, I would totally recommend reading this book on a rainy day like this.  It's not by any means a bad book.  Also when you check out this clip of the first TV adaptation below (totally not what happens in the book) watch the clip first, then go to 1:14 and keep replaying it a few times just for shits n' giggles.  I know I'm twisted, but do it and tell me how ANY director didn't see how her eyes were crossed and how this has all the makings for a great comedy scene.


LOVE LOVE LOVECRAFT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I have previously rattled on about how this guy is A 100% ACTUAL MASTER OF HORROR WITHOUT QUESTION, but only in agony at directors making craptastic crapflicks out of his stories.  This review is all about his fiction, which countless other authors and directors have circled around in hopes of raising its darkness from the bottom of the abyss.  You will have to trust me and take the time to read the insanely awesome works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft if you have any faith in any of the other horror stuff I've recommended.  It is not an easy read at first (especially for people who are not very literate  - we don't do much booklearnin' these days wen we gotz the teevee).  I've known several college-educated people who could not really understand his sentences, and while I might say "that's okay, it's just not your style" to help them save face, I will also say to my esteemed readership that this book is not for you if you are not past an 8th grade reading level.  At least.  Ok nuf said.

One vein of thought that I will repeat is that there are not many writers out there who have managed to invent their own mythology.  Lovecraft is one of them.  Ironically, what got me into Lovecraft was the FANTABULOUSLY twisted and kinky conspiracy-theory of all conspiracy-theory books Wilson and Shea: The Illuminatus! Trilogy (also not for the feint of reading comprehension).  I discovered in these two authors' heavily-layered fact-o-fiction the deep lures of many Lovecraft shout-outs, allusions I would later find in countless other books and movies and TV (X-files included, lol).  I now take a huge amount of nerdy amusement in identifying the embedded Lovecraftian images in sci-fi, horror, and fantasy.  After Illuminatus, I had to find out what all the fuss was about this guy, as isolated and tragic in his own way as Poe, and ever-surrounded by the mysticism that he helped create.  

I should say that I'm not a huge Poe fan.  I realize he was one of the greats to the audience that was his audience, and certainly a score for us American writers, but for some reason I never really bought in, much much much as I wanted to.  Possibly because he was one of many blunt instruments used by one or two overpaid officials of the American public school system to ram "culture" into my brain.  While I admit he was dark and creeptastic in his own pre-ghetto Bronx way, I always saw him as a tad bit of a drama queen.  More melodramatic than hardcore, getting his panties all in a bunch because of a metaphorical bird and such.  Yes, I'm dissing The Raven.  I did it. It is rare that I find myself looking to be frightened by metaphorical birds.  I can be saddened by metaphorical birds, but not necessarily frightened, and I guess that is one difference between the whimsical and the absolutely horrifying.  I wanted the nitty gritty details of what exactly scared you shitless, not your description of the conniption you had after being scared shitless.  I thought he'd do much better as a director of macabre theater in 1965 or something, curse my soul for saying it but it's true, as wondrous a wordsmith as he was.  But then came HP, and I was knocked backward and upside the head.    This was something that just felt intrinsically different than any genre of horror I had ever attempted before.  It was like I was finally finding this essential piece of my love of horror fiction that was missing all the while.  This was truly dark, as in dark under thousands of feet of black ocean current, dark as in dark beyond eons of cold glittering stars, dark as in the heavy metal lord of horror.  

WTF = 29
W = 10
T = 9
F = 10 

This was the kind of horror that had me up at night, feeling ill-at-ease.  Written by a guy who died before 1940, his work is still as wild and relevant as it was when it was initially printed in the pulp mags.  The eternal leavings of Lovecraft's self-termed "cosmicism" are items like the Necronomicon, and creatures like Cthulu, Dagon, and the Old Ones, including a language much more metal than Tolkein's elf talk that all those dorks buy rings with the inscriptions and such.  That being said, I have fallen victim personally to Lovecraftian merchandise (though nothing as lame as some locket with something an elf said, I'll give you that at least.)  For some reason I felt while reading all of this crazy stuff, that somehow, Lovecraft was basing his stories on some tangent of reality.  That it could very well be that aliens landed here long before humans ever populated the earth, and that their technology or aims were unimaginable to our feeble linear minds.  

While I continued to tell myself I was just reading epic and hysterically well-worded pulp fiction, I dug up the old X-Files phrase almost immediately, because I found I could not help but apply it to the pilots and scientists in the face of the "At the Mountains of Madness", or the poor fellow in "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", or the simple farmers in "The Color Out of Space".  There was nothing else but to admit it to myself loud and clear, assuming that perhaps this was what other writers and directors were feeling when they pulled imagery and relics out of Lovecraft's prose either as a lovingly-made allusion or a half-assed attempt to pass off genius as one's own:

"I want to believe." 

And oh did I ever.  I guess if the slew of other famous names of those who profess him to be a complete genius and an influence to create does not convince you to read this stuff, hopefully my testament that this guy managed to scare the living shit out of me while keeping me interested in not only his twisted, gnarled plots but also his characters will add to the ranks.  You may find at first that, like his drawn influence from Poe, Lovecraft's also a tad bit dramatic too with his lengthy flourish of language and multi-syllabic vocabulary, but when you are standing in the ancient dead hallways of a million-year old cavern built by all-knowing slumbering alien minds creating technology far exceeding anything humans could come close to imagining you just try not to have a panic attack.

As a new reader of Lovecraft stuff, I would start fairly simple.  Had I begun with "At the Mountains of Madness", I might not have gotten far with his work, though that is definitely the place to end it with a bang!  It seems all so archaic at first, like nothing out of the 20th century.  You will stumble at first with his writing style unless you generally read stuff from pre-1900, and this is to be expected I think even from the seasoned reader despite our desires to make others believe our brains comprehend everything instantly.  I'd advise starting with something like "The Colour Out of Space", or even "The Call of Cthulu".  I remember "The Curious Case of Charles Ward" was also one of the early ones I enjoyed.  There are several editions of Lovecraft collected short stories that are great, but I will suggest two sets that I have and quite enjoyed.  

I would suggest starting with this edition titled Tales of H.P. Lovecraft (selected and edited by Joyce Carol Oates).  This is a good little stack of Lovecraft stuff and a great way to get started before you go for the extended additions: Omnibus 1-3.  These books are super-chunky with a huge cross-section of Lovecraft's writing, including some of the less-stellar stuff, so you'll more or less have to do some sifting.  I don't care if Joyce Carol Oates or Jesus Christ did the intro for the book - the reason I picked this edition first is because the stories contained are good examples of Lovecrafty goodness.  I generally don't read introductions as a rule unless I'm bored and stuck on a plane with nothing better to do than pick my nose.  And even then, nasal spelunking is usually way better than the contents of most introductory material.  If the author you are reading is THAT good, their work should usually speak for itself and I find biographical stuff online. 

And here be the Omnibusssses.  All told, you have about a year's worth (at least) of screaming space madness the likes of which will creep you out indefinitely.  And while it would most definitely be one hell of an experiment to see what happens to your general mentality and life after one full year of reading nothing except Lovecraft...I probably would not advise it.  You would inevitably fall apart like the author did. 

I actually found that, as much as I loved his writing, I felt always a little sick when I read it.  This is the only stuff that gave my husband nightmares...he's the logical type that doesn't dream.  Possibly because the guy manages such an intense feeling of ominous foreboding that if you're into the stories you can't help but feel kind of ill with this dull kind of constant worry in the back of your mind.  It's maddening after a while and I discovered that what worked for me is to vary what I read and when I have a random rainy day where I can get away with a good hour or two's delve into something epic, I'll grab one of these and see what I find. 

Get into Lovecraft to get in touch with your ageless, slimier self, the part of you that wouldn't mind descending into a thousand-mile-deep oceanic abyss to learn the secrets of the Universe...and possibly be eaten alive by a creature four hundred times your size.  Lovecraft awakens in all of us, through the Cthulu mythos and his other tales, the sense that everything on earth and in the space around us is so much older than we can really fathom.  That we are at the brink of some insanely ageless magical violent and indifferent mystery.  I think what ultimately draws readers into this kind of writing is the realization that we humans know so little of the truth of what makes us sentient beings in what often appears to be endless dead space.  And so we ask: what else is there?

Heavy metal horror...


Nerd Alert: bought one of these cuties for my husband.  An adorable fluffy eater of souls :)

And lastly, some old Metallica (before they became a country band)...



Ay me.  I gotz me this book in good faith but all I gotz in return was some bad religion.  

WTF =  10...eek.
W = 3
T = 4
F = 3

I feel bad about buying Isolation and since this incident have begun a horror book trade with friends and scouring libraries so I don't feel like I'm wasting my funds on something I can borrow for free.  Let's get one thing straight first: I have no problem with this being a Christian fiction book or writer.  As I've said before, the only thing I don't really like is feeling like I'm buying into something smallminded, or that I'm being forced to listen to your shitty didactic ramblings on why your particular god is the only god or the better god, and the only other side of it is heathenism.  You might ask me why I thought The Exorcist was a good movie and the answer is because the exorcism and possession itself was more or less made a spectacle AND I did not feel like I personally was being lectured.  Many authors manage to hold fast to their beliefs and not shove it down the throats of others through their books.  

I had three main problems with this book.  The first was that I had difficulty relating to the characters because I did not like them and I think they were supposed to be liked.  I could not feel for their plight of living off of other people while they converted "the unsaved".  I hate it when this voice arises in me, but I found myself saying, "Sheesh.  Get a real job."  Which is at least a reaction to character, albeit a bad one (hence a 10).  Said family of missionaries has returned to the USA for a several month vacation following their many months "working" to "save" some brown people from Satan and such.  I do not mean to clump all zealots together, and I am not so ignorant as to suppose that many missionaries have not saved the lives of others through medical help, provision of food and clean water, better shelters, education, etc..  While I am very thankful that there are people who care that much, I'm equally annoyed that there are people who believe that in addition to improving the temporal conditions of the less fortunate, they also have to push the heavenly fortitude of their personal savior (whoever that may be - there are zealots in every belief system).  The lives of this particular missionary family abroad were more focused on the conversion factor though there was some mention of more conventional missionary work as well.  The village they were trying to "save" fell victim to a series of strange plagues and possessions (the kind that routinely fall upon people who are fanatics - not people who don't have a concept of the opposing religion).  So, in short, I wouldn't have been too bothered if this family had an untimely meeting with an axe-murderer, tribe of angry badger-men, or battalion of aliens with scalpels.  Not a good way to start a book if you're supposed to like the protagonists.

Father figure has trouble with his super strict faith, mother figure has trouble tolerating her family, and one of the children is basically a crudely-disguised rip-off of Danny Torrance.  Which brings me to section two of why I should not have paid 12 US dollars or whatever for this book: it's more or less The Shining with religious ho-hum and half-explained anti-satanist whatnot instead of a kid who can talk to a wise old chef without saying a word and a father driven insane by lingering evil.  The end of the book contains a whole diatribe about how Stephen King was a role model, etc..  I think it's okay to have role models, but a little strange when I felt like I was reading a less awesome version of Jack Torrance's Overlook adventures.  Thrasher had a goldmine of interesting points to go into as an author: the mysticism and facts behind possession amongst the highly suggestible, the creepy history of the house he chose to describe in such detail only to abandon at the last minute, the unsteady and kind of old-school 50's relationship of the mother and father figures.  There was a lot to work with that went untouched.  But their vacation home being unreachable in a snow-storm coupled with the son's special ability seemed only a dead giveaway.  

Which leaves us at my final qualm: the dead giveaway of the ending.  I don't do spoilers, but I will say that unless you are very inebriated while reading this, are deliberately trying not to read this, or have had a lengthy and painful operation to replace your brains with mashed potatoes, you will see this ending coming from about forty-seven miles away.  You will see it coming from so far away that you will be able to cleanly step out of the path to avoid a prosaic collision likened to when an elderly woman bumps into the salad bar at Wendy's and spills nothing but a few hard-boiled eggs.  If this book were some sort of tongue-in-cheek introspection of itself, I might have been interested.  Instead I was assuming it wouldn't be so obvious, and bewilderingly kept on reading, which only made me more angry when I finished it.  I love Stephen King's old stuff as you know and so far, I've found two authors who I feel were a little too close for comfort for me.  It doesn't astound me so much, because this is after all human behavior: to find someone really awesome and do like the monkeys.  But it's my hope that any author of any caliber would encourage all other writers to do what decent teachers all over the world advise their students to do: be yourself.  Embrace singularity over the conventionality of paint-by-numbers reading because it made millions for that other guy who doesn't even bother to imitate himself anymore.  If you want to yearn after the heyday of Stephen King with a book that at least has the guts to give a shout out to the guy, this text is for you.  If you have read Stephen King and would like to read another author, move on.



For a very long time, I have longed to rid myself of the addiction to reading Stephen King novels.  But we have history, Mr. King and I.  The first non-girl lit books I ever read were his horror novels.  I was eight when I started.  For me, horror novels symbolized my departure from reading what authority figures (aka Elementary school teachers librarians and my mom - ever hopeful that I'd grow up to be a graceful swan in a family of carnivorous Italian-Germans, eh...her intentions were good at least) told me to read.  With a little covert saving and spending on my part, I could finally put down Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, Gone With the Wind, and (urgg) Nancy Drew for good and move on having learned that if girls could be writers, plantation owners and detectives, they could bloody well also read horror fiction.  

This was long ago, when I was in fourth or fifth grade, back when the internet was considered by suburban luddites as a ridiculous ephemeral phase of technology that noveau-riche and tacky families added to jack up their phone bills and flaunt to their co-workers.  Little did they know how much the invention would take hold.  Little did I know, huddling under the flashlight in my bedroom reading about ghosts, vampires, monsters, etc.. how much of an impact this one writer would have on me - as is the case with so many other readers. 

Not my tat.  But not bad choice. 
All I knew was that I was not allowed to stay up to watch Stephen King movies and that aunts, uncles, older cousins, and schoolmates with more lenient parents had read his books and were delightfully frightened by the stories contained.  I wanted to be a part of that.  I wanted to be up at night with the covers pulled up to my chin.  So I saved my meager allowance of like five dollars a week to purchase several used copies of his books.  

When my mom finally realized I was more of a horror fiend than a women's empowerment book fanatic, it was she who bought me my first tattered copy of The Gunslinger from a 'throw out' pile of library books she raided.  Though she still does not know it, this was one of her greatest gifts to me.  Though I have read books by hundreds of authors and in just about every genre, the number one repeated name on my bookshelf is still Stephen King.  There's just no way around it.  Sometimes people are dumb lemmings, but sometimes the majority sees something awesome, and that this is the case with King's best work, I have no doubt.

Years later, I would be humiliated by my senior year AP English teacher in high school, who told me (in front of the class) when I requested a paper topic on the literary and commercial phenomenon of Stephen King, that I should pick "a real writer" as opposed to "trash".  Had I known that I could get away with telling a teacher to go fuck himself without significant damage to my chances of getting a decent college scholarship, I would've relished in the deed, but my respect for people in positions of 'responsible adult' still had a strong a grip on me.  Perhaps it was for the best that I did not, or else I would not have developed such a comfortably-seething hatred for the honored realms of lit crit's adherence to viewing books on the limited scale of a few scholars and philosophers rather than admitting that everyone has an opinion, and that a huge amount of those opinions have the capacity to be real and right.  My opinion then and now is that King is both a departure from the classics and a classic. 

That I was barred from writing anything academic about King did not deter me from continuing to plow though his novels.  If anything, it only sped up the process.  Being told not to do something is modus operandi enough for the adolescent mind.  Plus, I had just finished The Gunslinger the year before and was already drawn in to Roland's cause.  

In choosing which King book to write about first, I had a hard time.  There are just so many other books that he wrote that are more directly categorized as straight horror (Carrie, 'Salem's Lot, The Shining, Pet Semetary, Needful Things, IT, etc.) that The Dark Tower by comparison seems to fall more into the lines of Fantasy.  But I have to beg to differ on that one.  It definitely is a Fantasy novel series, but underneath it all, each book is guided by that otherworldly horror tone that King manages to place in an Americana layman's voice with ease.  When it comes down to why I like King's stuff, it's not only the stories he tells but his writer's voice.  Once you've enjoyed one of his books, the rest are not only tales of terror, but sources of comfort, like settling down to being told a story by your favorite uncle or something, the one who the whole family regards as a bit of a rebel and a dreamer.  There's familiarity and continuity in almost all of his books that keeps us reading...and buying...;)

The Dark Tower series begins with the epic The Gunslinger, of which I would advise readers to purchase the original cut version rather than the later version released.  The cut version actually struck me as more sparse and epic - more holes for the reader to fill in with their own imaginations.  It opens with a sentence I will never forget: "The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed."  At the time I was more terrified that I would be reading some country western novel and that I would suffer through three hundred odd pages of "draw yer gun, ya dirty dawg" and "who stole my cattle?!".  That fear quickly transformed into an affinity for stoic Roland, for the question of life itself, the nature of all of the realms of the universe, of ghosts and vampires and worlds laid to radioactive waste, and speaking demons and oracles.

Roland is on a quest for all answers, joined by a group of oddly-met friends in a world (or many worlds) dominated by the chaos of life and the neverending power struggles of those living life.  Yeah, it sounds familiar.  A bazillion other fantasy writers have gone there.  But there's something special about this otherworldly set.  The series is seven novels long, and some of the set are more engrossing than others.  Along those same lines, some characters are more captivating than others.  Like most series fiction, it has its ups and downs, but King himself sees these novels as a huge chunk of his life's work, written over the course of 30(?) some-odd years.  As an author, he's notorious for plugging his other books - there are direct links to 'Salem's Lot, IT, Insomnia, The Stand, and probably a buttload more that I am not remembering in the thousands of pages.  I've heard it called King's "uber-novel", one long narrative that links together other pieces of his life's work.  My suggestion would be to either read these books first and then read the other major books, OR (this might be more fun), read the others first, then start the series because you'll recognize the links more clearly.  

Evenually, Roland meets a young, displaced boy named Jake in an abandoned waystation.  The kid has no idea where he is or how he got there.  A city kid with a mind full of ideas and nobody to entertain them.  I love Jake.  He's a kid who is not afraid to ask questions, but at the same time feels awkward and jaded at a young age.  The kind every teacher worthy of the title wants in their classroom.  I felt linked to this kid because I was also always a nerd (though I kicked boys' asses if they called me that to my face, so there's a tad bit of a difference there), and I never quite fit in with the popularity-hound crowd, though I was voted "class clown" once, or the athlete crowd even when I was on varsity, and so on.  Jake is good at what he does but feels completely unappreciated.  In Roland's world, he finds his purpose, discovers it was always there but always unseen.  These characters make a good duo as they travel together to where the desert ends and the perilous mountains begin.  It is from Jake that we eventually get one of the famous quotes from the series (99% of which come from the first book): "Go then, there are other worlds than these."  As early as the first book, there is this sort of fantasy version of quantum physics.  The possibility of many existences happening simultaneously where all possibilities exhaust themselves.   

Likewise, the Man in Black is an equally, if not more alluring a character, always messing with Roland's mind; the reader never knows how much he is leading Roland on, or how much of what he says is truth.  

The book and the series continue forward (and backward) in the directions of good and evil and god and the devil and everything in between.  King is a bit Christian-y at times, but it doesn't get too preachy, and I'm fine with that - I'm not a Christian, but I respect everyone's point of view so long as they are not trying to convince me I'm a heathen (I already know that).  Some of my friends who have read the series are disappointed by it.  They either don't like some of the characters, or the occasional religious undertones, or the ending, etc..  While many of them have good points to the series' downsides, what kept me reading was the journey of it all, the voice, and the most of all the questions. 

Over the course of the series, you can't help but bond with some of these characters and their relentless quest through time and space.  At least I couldn't help it.  We are introduced to heroin addicts and split personalities, vampire hunters, soothsayers, witches, peasants with pitchforks, and the Crimson King himself (perhaps a shout-out to the beloved King Crimson?).  What I loved about these books was that I did not want them to end.  This is a rarity for me.  I'm one of those sadists who forces herself to finish books that are lagging, boring, full of plotholes, full of shit, etc.. because I feel that I am disrespecting the author by putting the book down and judging it without seeing the whole scope of the thing.  In my recent years, I've slowly developed some ability to say "this is shit!" and put it down, but not entirely...I still have a stack of books on my nightstand that are buried under books I want to read - a stack of books I feel guilty for not finishing.  I know.  I'm a dork. 

BUT!  When I find a book or series of books that motivates me to stay stuck in that world, to get hooked, I am appreciative.  This set is grounded in fantasy, but I argue that fantasy and horror are husband and wife.  They both ask the same "what if...?" questions.  The both posit the same outlandish situations.  The differences between them are primarily tonal, but both push the buttons of life and death, time and space, and The Dark Tower is exemplary of that marriage.   

This review must be written before Ron Howard goes and makes a movie out of it all so more Americans can be convinced that they don't need to read anything and people in general can continue to get dumber.  Why did you sell the rights, Stephen?  Did you need another marble indoor pool or something?  Ok, yeah, it might be great like Kubrick's The Shining, (but you yourself had some major issues with that and then ended up okay-ing a made-for-tv movie as if it would somehow rectify the situation).  Kubrick's version was pretty awesome-o, I'll give him that (even though Nicholson was as batshit in the beginning of the film as the end - was that one of your complaints too?)  I guess it had to happen and here's hoping it will rock as much as some of the other King books sold into celluloid.  

I will also note that the books have been made into graphic novels as well...HOT FRIGGIN DAMN can we knock it off with the marketing?  While the images in the graphic novel are kinda kickass.......Can't a book just be a book?  I have tried to get into them but find that watching the images and dialog bubbles corrupts my initial vision of the series, which I prefer to keep thankyouverymuch.  The magic of the original books in this set is exactly that: writer's voice and description met with reader's vision.  No amount of illustration and CGI can make up for that in books like these.

I suppose it's about marketing.  How else would people remember a writer's name?  But the originality of that first awesome journey across the desert and through the mountains blew me away - and that was a tattered, dogeared yellowed and musty used book - THE BEST KIND!!!!  From said tattered dogeared yellowed musty used book sprang these messed up and broken worlds that are not quite ours, but have pieces of our world hanging around, like "Hey Jude" playing in a piano bar of a desolate badlands town

Read these books because they are a colorful and weird journey, not because you expect Roland to do what you want him to do.  Read these books if you like anything King has done (at least the early novels).  Read these books if you like being sucked into a comfortable yet on-the-edge without being some wanky and heinously over-detailed alternate reality.  Read these books if you can handle some level of cheesiness for the sake of an earnest yummy yarn.  They are the the biggest lump in the life's work of one of the world's bestselling authors and while I think a lot of bestselling authors are full of shit, this is not so with King, who wrote through childhood and tough jobs and poverty and parenting and still makes sense.  It is a rarity for me to sink inside a book, or for a book to make me cry or feel anything semblant of real concern for a character.  But Roland and his wonder-horror journey won me over.  

WTF = 28
T= 9
F= 9   

Stephen King gives advice to those who want to be writers...



It had to be done.  And it was not an easy decision: in prefacing the many zombie movies to come into this collection I had before me several questions.  The first was - do I give my esteemed readership a classic or do I surprise them with something modern and hyper-real?  The answer, searching my ghastly heart of hearts, whispered...no shouted: CLASSIC!

Ah, but then I had to ask further: do I give them what they're expecting...which frankly is Romero?  This is not to say that I will not rant AT LENGTH about Romero's fabulosity and shortcomings at some point in the future.  What it came down to is picking the single zombie movie that had the most impact on me personally, and the answer to that complicated question is:

WTF = 25
W = 9
T = 8
F = 8

Yeah, yeah.  It may not be the scariest zombie movie out there, but in my mind, it's one of the most creative.  Fulci is a pro at this, so there are going to be a lot of readers in my readership that feel differently and that's ok.  Your opinion is valid.  And validly denied.  If I were to recommend a zombie film to someone who never saw a zombie movie before, I would tell them to see this - yes even before Night of the Living Dead - for the sole purpose of seeing zombies in their Italian-American overdubbed heyday.  I'd tell them to see Night...etc. to get the backstory of how it all sort of began, but only after seeing the cheesetastic and somewhat creepy creation of City of the Living Dead.  For the record, this is a decent story with hilariously horrific details.  

I'm talking about religious overtones.  For once, forget the science of zombies.  While (as I have said a'many times before) I quite enjoy it when directors/writers try to provide evidence-backed explanations for extraordinary plots, this is one movie where I kinda like the blurred meaning and the idiocy of the characters.

As is true to most Italian horror movies, the plot is really of no import.  But I'll give you a briefing.  In this case, we begin a creepy macabre priest who commits suicide on hallowed ground, thereby opening a portal to hell.  I love/hate it when that happens.  Sometimes you get an awesome splash of zombies battling humans to the last man.  Other times you get a Republican electoral win.  Saying that I prefer the undead is a blurry statement, so I'll be specific: I prefer the fictional outcomes and this is one film that by far exceeded my expectations.  After the priest hangs himself, you have a seance with a bunch of psychic mediums that gets broken up when Mary Woodhouse (aka Catriona MacColl) has some sort of a seizure and they have to call 9-11.  The paramedics pronounce her dead, and the police think it's a bunch of druggies in their investigation.  A psychic with a low voice and a white-girl-afro (a hilarious product of the 70's that I truly wish would come back into fashion merely so I could laugh at them all over again) claims that this is the end of the world or some psychic blibblab, and we are instantly launched into zombie fun, beginning with...

...Woodhouse's burial.  A snazzy scene.  For some reason or another the poor woman wakes up in her coffin (this is why cremation is kinda preferable to me) and is rescued by the cigar-smoking Christopher George playing Peter Bell.  I have to say that the coffin scene here is not to be beat.  Rather epic in terms of lighting, timing, and dare I say: acting! I'm not sure how little or how much of this film is overdubbed, but the lot of it is self-aware and awesome.  George rescues MacColl and they begin a fun adventure to finding this portal to hell so that they can close it before the apocalypse begins. 

In a fight between Columbo and Christopher George, I'd vote for George any day.  This guy is like a less stylish Lou Reed with a few really bad acting classes.  Just a joyride to watch as he tries to man up to Woodhouse in their quest up the East Coast to the source of the undead scourge.  He manages to smoke cigars for the majority of his speaking roles and to not appear actually affected by the majority of the whole 'rising from the grave' thing as is the trend in Italian zombie movies (until it's too late and such).  Once they make it to the town a whole series of weird happenings has already passed and people are beginning to suspect that something is seriously wrong.  Couples pick the wrong make-out spots.  A poor young girl dies too soon, leaving a little brother looking out the window for her to return.  Suspicious men in provincial bars begin to talk amongst themselves...somewhat Lovecraftian. 

By the time Woodhouse and Bell arrive, it seems already too late.  What follows is a series of powerfully awesome scenes of horror that you will not forget anytime soon.  Not in the sense that they are scary, but only in the sense that they are classic.  And in some cases - even by 1980 - classic rip-off material.  I think this is partially where Fulci rips off Argento (once you see the maggot scene, you might be somewhat reminded of my dear Suspiria).  This is a moment where you're like...uh...are these directors simply putting in flying maggots everywhere because they know people are grossed out by them?  It's definitely not scary, more like one of those TV extravaganzas they have in Latin countries where you have girls in skimpy sequined dresses speaking with lots of rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr's and fruit hats and crappy bands and dudes with false teeth and tuxedos (not much different than MTV, but at least MTV as a bit more tact and by tact I mean less fruit hats and more guys with gold teeth and shitty new pre-teen music releases that nobody over 14 and or over 110 IQ would purchase).  

But...again...I digress!  I will preface my next statement in stating that above all things in the world including pain, bleeding, breaking of bones, bending of ligaments and tendons beyond their natural capacities, etc.., my GREATEST MOST HATED THING IN THE UNIVERSE is puking.  I would rather have someone break my fingers one by one than deal with a stomach virus or food poisoning.  I hate doing it, and I hate hearing it, and MOST OF ALL I hate watching it.  BUT!  This movie quite possibly contains the #1 best and unbeatable puke scene ever.  An unfortunate couple drives up to some make-out spot and starts doing the nasty in the front seat of a car...which I never EVER understood as I do not find gear-shifts or consoles or dashboards, glove compartments and seats designed to fit people as snugly as possible conducive to lasciviousness. I mean, if you're going to drive all the way to some secluded spot, why not bring a sleeping bag or something?  Why get it on in the most uncomfortable way possible?  I do not understand.  But for some reason, it works on film and it always has worked on film, because you can simply stick a camera in the window.

The girl gets the creeps, the undead priest shows his face, and suddenly, slowly, with almost unbelievable ridiculousness, the poor girl voms out her entire internal organ system.  I feel SO SORRY for the actress who had to film this scene.  I'm not sure what they used, sheep or pig or cow or whatever, but I'm QUITE POSITIVE it was not worth whatever she was paid to do it for.  Anyway, because of the unique total grossitude of this one scene, I have to cite it as the most intense internal organ vomming ever to be filmed ever.  To date.  You may not find that an achievement, and to be honest, I'm not sure if I do either, but there you go.  The glorious part of this scene is (for those of you who share my phobia) the that vomming is so absolutely ridiculous and filmed in a horrid piecemeal of cuts where the model obviously had to shove various pieces of raw organs and fake blood in her mouth.  I think finally it got too much for the actress so they put an obvious dummy in her place for when she pukes up her own stomach or her liver or what-have-you.  It's too fake to trip the gag reflex, but too awesome to ignore.  

The remainder of the film is a mix of people teaming up to attempt to understand/counteract the series of evil events that has taken over the small town and its inhabitants.  Naturally the team of pure genius uses the old and unbeatable horror fuck up methodology to deal with said events:

Let's split up!

Aaaaahahahah!!!!!!!  Gets me every time.  Like any non-suicidal group of frightened human beings would EVER use that plan EVER in a situation where dead people were getting out of coffins and eating the living?  Who comes up with this bullshit?  Answer: directors.  On speed perhaps.  And on a small budget.  Further elaboration: because the movie would end too soon if they didn't split up.  Ah.     

But let us not dwell in the nonsensical ridiculousness of this 1980 production of cheesetastical zombificiation.  Instead we should rejoice in the nonsensical ridiculousness of this 1980 production of cheesetastical zombification!!!!!!  This is the timeless rhetoric of horror: whatever you hate about it can also be loved (unlike puking).  While this movie makes little sense in terms of a scientific explanation (biblical being the total opposite of scientific) of the scourge of the undead rising to claim the earth, this is a 93 minute joyride of zombie shenanigans that winds the viewers down and down into the catacombs to the end of the world.

There's something refreshing about zombie movies that does not request but DEMAND that you take them as they are, flawed plots and all.  I suppose that this is ultimately what I love and hate about zombie movies.  They are in various ways true 20th century creations in that they give us big fireworks - displays of blood and gore and maggots and intestine barfing and soundtracks worthy of Wesley Willis - with little explanation other than 'this is a reflection of ourselves!!! oooooo!!!'.  They are often poorly cut, acted, directed, overdubbed, and produced, but they are also often barrels of fun n' gore with a few religious/biological/social undertones here and there.  City of the Living Dead is among said barrels of fun that is not to be read deeply but definitely to be enjoyed as a preface to all that came before and all that followed.  It is what it is!!!



A tale of beautiful ugliness.  Or ugly beauty.  Whichever you prefer, A Tale of Two Sisters is worth the ride.  I didn't hope for much from this movie when I first watched it, annoyed in the beginning scenes with the typical "girl with hair over face" effect so common since Ringu and Ju-On.  My mind instantly screamed "Cash-in!!!"... but this exceeded my low expectations by leagues.  I was quickly won by the young girls, their 'evil' stepmother, and the unrelinquished ghosts in their house and in their memories. 

WFT = 25
W = 9
T = 8
F = 8  

Of course, it didn't take long to try and pull another smelly American remake of this beautiful Korean trip of haunted house psycho supernatural awesomeness.  Perhaps it's a form of flattery when a foreign director wakes up to discover his 'merkin counterpart has replaced his characters with sorority chicks and slapped a new title on it.  Here's hoping at least Ji-woon Kim made a hefty bundle off his plot.  So if you want a dumbed-down rip-off translation of this, go on and watch 'The Uninvited' and leave the big guns to Kim and his cast.

Like many horror creepfests, this flick has a slow lead-in.  You have to do the work for the first bit of the film, keeping attention on details you think you might not remember.  This is a bit of an atypical haunted house/psychothriller in the sense that you're not entirely sure when things are happening - or if they are really happening - until about the second half.  You're also not sure as to which details are significant to getting the story.  Just accept that the inevitable way you will start this film is in confusion and the inevitable way you will end it is with the urge to rewind with the purpose of putting the little pieces in place.     

Soo-mi is institutionalized and semi-catatonic, her doctor unsuccessfully trying to help her recall the details of some traumatizing event.  The next moment, she is being driven home with her sister Soo-yeon to a secluded but beautiful old house by the edge of a sunny lake.  The house is dark on the outside and on the inside, filled with rooms of half-light and drawn shades.  

In the entryway the sisters are immediately assailed by Eun-joo, their stepmother.  She is perfectly-manicured in her style of dress and her tacky smile, and she talks with an incessant cheerfulness that is a poor disguise for the disgust and annoyance at the girls' return home.  They barely respond to her because she scares them; they seem shocked to see her as she is (or at all) and they quickly escape upstairs followed by her dialog about how intrepid she is making this big dinner for them and how long it'll take.  

The minute Soo-mi gets to her room and returns her diaries to her desk, things begin to go more wrong.  The identical diaries she is returning to the desk are already there.  Her closet is filled with two sets of the same dress.  

Meanwhile, their father makes a phone call to someone.  He looks haggard and upset.  He does a great job at being both absent and present in the film as a male mired in a kind of over-domineering and warring female presence.  He seems to only half buy in to the idea that mothering should be left to a mother figure, but he's also obviously too helpless for whatever reason to do anything otherwise.  At dinner, he quietly places two little white pills next to his wife's plate before fleeing the scene.  

It's clear that Soo-mi and her stepmother are about to lock horns, with Soo-yeon staring on, dumbfounded and sullen at being forced to sit through whatever situation this is.  When Soo-mi leaves, evil step-mama sort of taunts Soo-yeon out of the room, saying she's expecting her to follow after her sister, insinuating she's more or less capable of doing nothing for herself.  Soo-mi quickly reassures Soo-yeon that if Eun-joo picks on her, she'll handle it like some kid handling a bully in a schoolyard.  

The soundtrack is sparse in this film, and I think this fits the strange atmosphere of the house and the broken family inside it.  And the colorization of the film (yes, by now you've figured it out that I'm obsessed with color - it makes all the difference sometimes!) and set are incredible.  There are parts of the film that seem totally grayed and faded out, or obscured by darkness, only to be offset by brilliantly color-rich scenes and it's hard to prepare yourself for the sporadic switch between the two perspectives.  Many of the scenes with the father are grayish, whereas the more high-tension parts are the reverse.  

The horror kicks in with the archetypal signs of the haunted house.   Footsteps, cold air, creaking doors, TV static, creepy shit in the fridge, and so on.  But what I like about this movie is how the plot escalates, getting more and more messed up as Soo-mi and the stepmother she only refers to as "that woman" exacerbate their rivalry that seems to be centered around the father's love or some old battle from the past.  Some of the scenes in this thing stayed with me for months after I saw the movie.  It's not that the ending is totally unpredictable (though it took me a while to put it together) or that this is some entirely new invention plotwise.  It's just how the events are sequenced, how they add up to the whole story's point, and how the characters are acted that makes this a fabulous reinvention of the haunted house ghost story.  

While all of the parts are well-played in this film, the two who stuck the most in my mind were the part of Soo-yeun and Eun-joo.  Soo-yeon is the fragile 'little sister' whose behavior is childish and erratic.  She scares easily, eats the plants outside the house before anything else when she first arrives, and stays close to Soo-mi in almost every scene.  Her character is victimized by the stepmother who Soo-mi claims uses her as a scapegoat
Eun-joo is the polar opposite.  She doesn't do a very good job at masking her inner freak show.  The suzie homemaker act dissolves delightfully about five seconds into her character's airtime.  It's plain that whatever gripes the sisters are suffering from, she is equally if not far more twisted than they are.  This becomes painfully apparent when her brother and his scared wife come over for dinner.  Eun-joo tells a funny story, and nobody at the table reacts or moves, as if they are frightened of her.  The girls are equally disturbed by her, mostly because they are a constant reminder of their real mother, who still has a say in matters - though not in a conventional way.  One particular scene of hers is especially "Mommy Dearest"; she yanks Su-yeon out of bed in the middle of the night, messes her around, and locks her in a closet.  If the director didn't use "Mommy Dearest" as a muse for that scene, it's one hell of a coincidence.  
The presence of the mother figure (the girls' actual mother) was extremely confusing.  What her history actually was, or how she came to be replaced by the stepmother is somewhat explained, but not completely.  I also wasn't too sure about the ending.  On the same vein, I got frustrated with what was or was not real, but I guess that's part of the point.  What comes across is that this story is more focused on memory than it is on any one of the three main female characters - though Soo-mi does probably have the most scenes.  Memory is elusive.  If we are good at lying to ourselves, we can convince ourselves that the past happened in another way.  We can paint ourselves and others in a completely different light because even though the past can't change, our reconstruction of it can be whatever we create it to be.

The infamous dinner scene...