Book Review: The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

“Let me tell you something….there’s nothing nice about Southern ladies.”

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Release Date: April 7, 2020

Publisher: Quirk Books

Price: $15.29 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

Patricia Campbell’s life has never felt smaller. Her husband is a workaholic, her teenage kids have their own lives, her senile mother-in-law needs constant care, and she’s always a step behind on her endless to-do list. The only thing keeping her sane is her book club, a close-knit group of Charleston women united by their love of true crime. At these meetings they’re as likely to talk about the Manson family as they are about their own families.

One evening after book club, Patricia is viciously attacked by an elderly neighbor, bringing the neighbor’s handsome nephew, James Harris, into her life. James is well traveled and well read, and he makes Patricia feel things she hasn’t felt in years. But when children on the other side of town go missing, their deaths written off by local police, Patricia has reason to believe James Harris is more of a Bundy than a Brad Pitt. The real problem? James is a monster of a different kind—and Patricia has already invited him in. 
 
Little by little, James will insinuate himself into Patricia’s life and try to take everything she took for granted—including the book club—but she won’t surrender without a fight in this blood-soaked tale of neighborly kindness gone wrong.

Grade: B+

Review:

Vampires are hands down, my favourite undead creature there are. But because they’re my favourite, I also tend to be very picky when it comes to books or films that feature them. If I hadn’t previously read Grady Hendrix before and thoroughly enjoyed his books, I probably wouldn’t have given this one a chance, simply because I am that picky with the vampire genre. However, I am glad that I dove into this vampire novel, as I loved the crazy journey. The horror doesn’t immediately begin, and James Harris is a very enigmatic but handsome vampire. Perhaps it’s because the novel begins in the 80’s but I got a very Fright Night vibe from it. I do like the protagonist Patricia, a housewife and voracious reader of true crime novels. I know a lot of people have complained about the women in the novel being housewives and that Hendrix shouldn’t have written them as though it were the 1950’s. But…having grown up in the 80’s, I can only think of one mother I knew of what worked, all of my other friends’ mothers were housewives as well as my own mother. So for me, that part didn’t seem that far-fetched from reality.

If you’re read other Hendrix novels, then you’ll know he’s got a morbid fetish with rats causing havoc and blood. The book spans many years (it ends in the late 90’s). My only issue with it, is that the vampire per se, isn’t very visible. Sure, the protagonist obsesses about him (she’s convinced he’s a vampire but knows how absurd that notion is to share with her family and friends), but after the initial introduction, we rarely have moments with James Harris, and that’s a shame, because in the very beginning he was charming and interesting and I would’ve liked to have known more about him.

The only downfall the novel had was when the women banded together to take down the vampire. In some regards, the vampire appeared almost a weakling that the reader can’t help but think, if it was THAT easy to take him down, why didn’t they do it before?

Apart from that, the novel provided an interesting take of the genre, but I can’t say it’s my favourite vampire novel.

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Top Ten Body Horror Films

Body horror is one my of favorite sub-genres. There’s nothing more terrifying than something unexplainable happening to your body whether it’s caused by supernatural elements, a disease, or someone’s distorted mind, something that causes a physical change in our bodies that we’re unable to control is always horrifying. Sure, films like The Human Centipede exalt the extremely gory aspect of body horror, but what is the change is more subtle, such as in The Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Both are equally scary. Many times, body horror movies are also presented as coming of age, because adolescents are already going through so many changes they cannot control, so what best way to explore coming into your own than to also throw some creepy body change you wouldn’t normally expect? Jennifer’s Body explored some of those themes. I’ve decided to share some of my favorite body horror movies below.

All of them pose the question: What do you do when your own body has turned against you?

BLUE MY MIND

Mia, a 15-year-old, is facing an overwhelming transformation. Her body is changing radically, and despite desperate attempts to halt the process, she is soon forced to accept that nature is far more powerful than her.

TEETH

Dawn (Jess Weixler) is an active member of her high-school chastity club but, when she meets Tobey (Hale Appleman), nature takes its course, and the pair answer the call. They suddenly learn she is a living example of the vagina dentata myth, when the encounter takes a grisly turn.

TUSK

A U.S. podcaster (Justin Long) ventures into the Canadian wilderness to interview an old man (Michael Parks) who has an extraordinary past, and the American learns the man has a dark secret involving a walrus.

THE FLY

When scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) completes his teleportation device, he decides to test its abilities on himself. Unbeknownst to him, a housefly slips in during the process, leading to a merger of man and insect. Initially, Brundle appears to have undergone a successful teleportation, but the fly’s cells begin to take over his body. As he becomes increasingly fly-like, Brundle’s girlfriend (Geena Davis) is horrified as the person she once loved deteriorates into a monster.

CONTRACTED

A young woman (Najarra Townsend) begins bleeding, shedding maggots and hallucinating after a stranger date rapes her at a party.

POSSESSOR

Tasya Vos, an elite, corporate assassin, takes control of other people’s bodies using brain-implant technology to execute high-profile targets.

GINGER SNAPS

The story of two outcast sisters, Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) and Brigitte (Emily Perkins), in the mindless suburban town of Bailey Downs. On the night of Ginger’s first period, she is savagely attacked by a wild creature. Ginger’s wounds miraculously heal but something is not quite right. Now Brigitte must save her sister and save herself.

AMULET

Terror strikes when a former soldier takes a job to help a young woman and her housebound mother.

THE RUINS

Amy (Jena Malone), Stacy (Laura Ramsey), Jeff (Jonathan Tucker) and Eric (Shawn Ashmore) look for fun during a sunny holiday in Mexico, but they get much more than that after visiting an archaeological dig in the jungle. Carnivorous vines try to ensnare the friends in their tendrils, forcing the group to fight for survival.

SPLINTER

When their plans for a nature trip go awry, Polly Watt (Jill Wagner) and boyfriend Seth Belzer (Paulo Costanzo) decide to check into a motel. On their way, they’re carjacked and kidnapped by low-rent crooks Dennis Farell (Shea Whigham) and Lacey Belisle (Rachel Krebs), who take the victims and their SUV to a nearby gas station. Along the way, they encounter an increasingly terrifying horde of parasites, and if any of them intend to survive, they’ll have to outsmart the deadly organisms.

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Book Review: The Remaking by Clay Chapman

Inspired by a true story, this supernatural thriller for fans of horror and true crime follows a tale as it evolves every twenty years—with terrifying results.

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Release Date: September 15, 2020

Publisher: Quirk Books

Price: $9.99 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

Ella Louise has lived in the woods surrounding Pilot’s Creek, Virginia, for nearly a decade. Publicly, she and her daughter, Jessica, are shunned by her upper-crust family and the local residents. Privately, desperate characters visit her apothecary for a cure to what ails them—until Ella Louise is blamed for the death of a prominent customer. Accused of witchcraft, Ella Louise and Jessica are burned at the stake in the middle of the night. Ella Louise’s burial site is never found, but the little girl has the most famous grave in the South: a steel-reinforced coffin surrounded by a fence of interconnected white crosses.

Their story will take the shape of an urban legend as it’s told around a campfire by a man forever marked by his childhood encounters with Jessica. Decades later, a boy at that campfire will cast Amber Pendleton as Jessica in a ’70s horror movie inspired by the Witch Girl of Pilot’s Creek. Amber’s experiences on that set and its meta-remake in the ’90s will ripple through pop culture, ruining her life and career after she becomes the target of a witch hunt.

Amber’s best chance to break the cycle of horror comes when a true-crime investigator tracks her down to interview her for his popular podcast. But will this final act of storytelling redeem her—or will it bring the story full circle, ready to be told once again? And again. And again . . .

Grade: B

Review:

The novel starts off with an exciting premise, two witches, a mother and a daughter duo are burned after a herbal remedy gone wrong and endangers the life of one of the villagers. Now, the town of Pilot’s Creek, Virginia is haunted by the ghosts of these two witches. The novel begins to be very repetitive when it introduces us to Amber Pendleton, the young girl that is going to play Jessica Ford’s ghost in the making of the horror movie, Don’t Tread on Jessica’s Grave. Initially, I found the repetition annoying, but once I realized that the author was purposely using repetition as a means to express the spiraled cycle that began with the witches and continues with Amber even as an adult, it made artistically sense and I wasn’t as annoyed by it. The author was trying to create the feeling of an ouroboros with the cycle going on and on, without a break.

I really enjoyed the first few chapters when we get to know Ella Louise Ford and Jessica Ford, the two witches. I love urban legends, so a town that is haunted by this legend (whether it’s true or not) was really fascinating. I also enjoyed the social commentary the author made about child stars and actresses in horror films.

Overall, this was a spirally horrific ride that’s just what anyone needs right now for the Halloween season.

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Quirk Books for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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5 Awesome Vampires You Can Sink Your Teeth Into

There’s something sensual about a vampire that has always followed the night creature since its very origins. Maybe it has something to do with the manner in which they kill their victims (usually the sucking of blood from the neck) and nothing is more intimate than a death that mimics a kiss, right? Although vampires wouldn’t have the same appeal today if it hadn’t begun with Bram Stoker’s Dracula who managed to capture both the predator and the gentleman within the night creature, I wish to share some of my favorite night crawlers.

Lestat de Lioncourt: He’s the most memorable vampire of Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles. He’s a sexy ex-noble Frenchman with a penchant for expensive clothes and rock music. He’s both feared and loved, since he both tortures his victims but acts doting towards those he loves.

David: The only vampire that I’m aware of that dons a mullet and leather jacket while causing raucous with his rebel gang of undead pals as they zoom around in awesome motorcycles. When he’s not busy seducing unsuspecting young girls and boys, sleeping upside like a bat, or cruising the Santa Carla boardwalk, he can be found headbanging at rock concerts.

The Girl: One of the most badass vampires on this list, The Girl is a skateboarding vigilante that doesn’t think twice about plucking a man’s life if he dares to disrespect women. We could all benefit from having a gal like her in our corner.

Zachary Quinto as Charlie Manx – NOS4A2 _ Season 1, Episode 5 – Photo Credit: Zach Dilgard/AMC

Charlie Manx: He’s not your typical vampire, but like most vampires, he comes with a set of impressive wheels. Charlie Manx’s powers are somehow linked to his beloved Rolls Royce Wraith, that he uses to abduct small children so that he can consume their energy to remain perpetually young, but also to help populate his nightmarish Christmasland.

Carmilla: Predating Bram Stoker’s Dracula by 26 years, Carmilla is the charismatic protagonist of the novel by its own name. She’s predatory yet sexy, and one of the few queer representations during the 18th Century.

What are some of your favorite vampires? Let me know!

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Book Excerpt: “Baby Teeth” from Midnight in the Pentagram

“I had to do it,” I say. “I had no choice.” I pick at a hangnail, watch the blood pool beneath my thumb and press it against my mouth to suck on the blood. The taste of copper comforts me as I try to ignore an itch at the center of my palm. I adjust myself on the seat, although the handcuff on my right-hand keeps me tethered to the chair.

“I know you’ve said this before, Melissa. But I’m finding it difficult to understand.” The prison psychiatrist stares at me over her black rim glasses. Her dark hair is pulled back in a tight bun at the base of her neck. She sighs, tapping the pencil against her notebook, reading over the arresting officer’s scribbled notes about me. “It says here that you killed your daughter.”

“You’re not listening to me. I had to do it.” My voice is cold, unfeeling. Ana wasn’t my daughter. At least, not anymore. Something had taken possession of her. Something evil.

***

Excerpt of my short story, “Baby Teeth” out today in Midnight in the Pentagram, out NOW!

The other amazing authors:
Brian Keene
Graham Masterton
Jason Parent
Catherine Cavendish
James Newman
Tim Curran
Allan Leverone
PD Cacek
Todd Keisling
William Meikle
Chad Lutzke
Laurel Hightower
Owl Goingback
Tony Tremblay
Tim Meyer
Shannon Felton
Brian Moreland
Kenneth W. Cain
Armand Rosamilia
Charlotte Platt
Wesley Southard
JG Faherty
John Quick
Edward M Erdelac
Cameron Ulam
Kenneth McKinley
Michael Patrick Hicks
Bob Ford
Mark Towse
Mark Steensland
Amanda Niehaus-Hard

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5 Horror Movies To Get In The Mood For Halloween

Spooky month is upon us and as always I’m looking forward to viewing a ton of horror movies (especially this year since I’ve finally caved in and decided to subscribe to Shudder). Usually this time last year I would’ve been at Shriekfest, Comic-Con LA, visiting haunts, costume parties, and such, but since none of those things are happening this year (due to the still-raging global pandemic), I’ll take comfort in getting to view some seriously awesome horrors. Below are five of my current faves:

HAUNT

On Halloween, a group of friends encounter an extreme haunted house that promises to feed on their darkest fears. The night turns deadly as they come to the horrifying realization that some nightmares are real.

Why It’s Cool: No CGI and all the effects are practical effects.

HOST

Six friends accidentally invite the attention of a demonic presence during an online séance and begin noticing strange occurrences in their homes.

Why It’s Cool: Found footage in Pandemic times.

THE BEACH HOUSE

College sweethearts on a romantic getaway struggle for survival when unexpected guests exhibit signs of a mysterious infection.

Why It’s Cool: Sci-fi horror blend, The Mist meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

SPRING

An aimless young man (Lou Taylor Pucci) takes an impromptu trip to Italy and becomes involved with an alluring genetics student (Nadia Hilker) who harbors a transformative secret.

Why It’s Cool: Body horror meets love story.

STILL/BORN

When a woman gives birth to twins, only one child survives. She begins to suspect that something supernatural has chosen her remaining child, and it will stop at nothing to take it from her.

Why It’s Cool: Demonic possession or post-partum depression?

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Film Review: Host





I’m not a fan of the found-footage sub-genre in horror. In fact, I didn’t like The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity (two films famous for being ground breaking for the sub-genre). So I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy Host, since it’s a found footage movie directed solely via zoom during the COVID-19 pandemic quarantine. I’ll have to admit that Rob Savage managed to create a very suspenseful and scary movie with the limited resources he had available.

The whole premise of the movie is that a group of friends decide to engage in a séance guided by a medium through zoom. But this being a horror movie, things obviously go wrong. The first fifteen minutes you’re wondering if anything is going to happen and when, but soon strange things begin to happen and the chill-factor rises exponentially.

This film was best made to be viewed using your phone or tablet (although I used my notebook), it won’t have the same claustrophobic chilling effect on a large screen TV. I really enjoyed Host, and at only 56 minutes it doesn’t overstay its welcome by trying to hit the 90-minute mark, which is something many horrors should do instead of trying to fill the last 30-minutes with filler.

Host managed to make me reconsider the found-footage subgenre, and I am curious what Rob Savage will come up next now that he has scored a three-movie deal with Blumhouse. The scariest is yet to come.

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Book Review: Unboxed by Briana Morgan

unboxed

What would you do for fame?

Release Date: July 25, 2020

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Price: $9.99 (paperback)

Plot Summary:

Greg Zipper is a paranormal vlogger whose livelihood relies on his online popularity. When a fight between him and his girlfriend goes viral for all the wrong reasons, Greg purchases a dark web mystery box in hopes of restoring his audience’s faith in him and hitting one million subscribers. But when Greg opens the box, he gets much more than he bargained for, including a Boxer who’s determined to stop him from taking his loved ones for granted. Now Greg must do all he can to stop the Boxer, or else he’ll lose his livelihood—along with the woman he loves.

Grade: A

Review:

I’ve previously read other works from Briana Morgan, but I strongly believe that she excels as a playwright. Unboxed has everything you’d want a traditional horror movie to have, the anticipation of dread, creepiness, and an overlying lesson meant to be learned the hard way. Although this is a play, I can see it becoming a movie in the vein of many Blumehouse movies (putting this thought out into the universe cause you never know if wishing about it will make it happen!).

First of all, I’m not well-versed in the world of the dark web, but I enjoyed how Zipper explained it in the play to his girlfriend. I enjoyed the fact that the dialogue felt very realistic to how people speak and weren’t clunky or awkward at all.

The premise of the play is that a paranormal vlogger is so obsessed with reaching 1 million subscribers that the decides to film himself unboxing a mystery box bought from the dark web. Everything you can imagine about what could possibly grow wrong does in this play. It was a dark and twisted, but also packed an emotional punch where the protagonist had to learn a very difficult lesson, and would he be willing to lose everything he cared about for fame and fortune?

I enjoyed this very much and I don’t usually reach out to purchase plays, but the premise was intriguing and I wasn’t disappointed in the execution. Pick this up if you want to spend 45 minutes exploring the dark and twisted realms of the supernatural and the underbelly of notoriety.

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Film Review: Amulet

amulet

Romola Garai is my spirit animal when it comes to writing because the wild, vindictive story she weaves in Amulet is one that I could’ve easily penned myself. Maybe it’s because I write feminist horror, but I found myself knowing exactly what direction the film was going in and to figure out exactly what dark secrets the protagonist Tomaz (Alec Secareanu) was withholding the whole time.

Amulet is Garai’s directorial debut, but audiences have seen her onscreen many times mostly in period dramas like Atonement, The Crimson Petal and the White, Emma, or on TV with the short-lived The Hour, although American audiences know her mostly for having been wooed by Diego Luna in Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. Having been a fan of Garai as an actress I’ve seen her demonstrate a lot of range and in a perfect world, she would be embodying June in The Handmaid’s Tale because I think she would be perfect. But I digress.

amulet3

The film begins with Tomaz, a philosophy reading soldier guarding an outpost in the middle of the woods. At some point, he uncovers a strange looking amulet, that horror aficionados can easily envision it being a harbinger of bad omen. And ultimately, the amulet in question does bring bad luck, especially for Tomaz.

Flash forward to the present and now Tomaz is homeless living somewhere on the streets of London. A nun (Imelda Staunton) discovers him and soon gives him a new place of employment in exchange for food and a room free of charge. The gesture could almost seem lifesaving if the home Tomaz is asked to live in weren’t a decrepit looking slaughterhouse ala Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or if we didn’t find out that Sister Claire pressed the issue for him to remain at the home to help a young woman, Madga (Carla Juri) and her ailing mother, by withholding the wad of money he had been religiously saving up from odd jobs.

From the very get-go, we know this arrangement is bad. And I’m particularly suspicious of the food that’s served, maybe because the young woman who prepares it never seems to take a bite herself of the huge chunks of meat.

The film is a slow burn horror ala Hereditary with its own interesting mythology surrounding it. But there’s enough creep factor to keep the viewer feeling rightly unsettled. Kudos to Garai for using albino bats in the most terrifying manner possible. The setting and style evoke feelings of dread and you can’t help but draw parallels with the Grimm Fairytale, Red Riding Hood, because we’ve always been taught from a very young age that the woods are never safe for girls of all ages.

This film isn’t for the faint of heart and will surely leave a lot of men feeling very uncomfortable. And for that alone, I applaud it.

Amulet dares to press the issue that “moving on” simply isn’t possible depending on the severity of the crime. And for that reason, the wrongdoer has to pay for their sins in the most horrific ways. If there’s one thing that I walked away from this viewing is that Garai doesn’t want us to forgive and forget. Rather she wishes for us to remember, and enact sweet, sweet revenge.

Amulet can be found to rent on Amazon, iTunes, and Google. Check out the trailer here.

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Book Review: The Living Dead by George A. Romero and Daniel Kraus

the living dead1

We had to devolve to realize we’d never really much evolved.

Release Date: August 4, 2020

Pre-Order on Amazon!

Publisher: Tor Books

Price: $27.99 (hardcover)

Plot Summary:

George A. Romero invented the modern zombie with Night of the Living Dead, creating a monster that has become a key part of pop culture. Romero often felt hemmed in by the constraints of film-making. To tell the story of the rise of the zombies and the fall of humanity the way it should be told, Romero turned to fiction. Unfortunately, when he died, the story was incomplete.

Enter Daniel Kraus, co-author, with Guillermo del Toro, of the New York Times bestseller The Shape of Water (based on the Academy Award-winning movie) and Trollhunters (which became an Emmy Award-winning series), and author of The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch (an Entertainment Weekly Top 10 Book of the Year). A lifelong Romero fan, Kraus was honored to be asked, by Romero’s widow, to complete The Living Dead.

Set in the present day, The Living Dead is an entirely new tale, the story of the zombie plague as George A. Romero wanted to tell it.

It begins with one body.

A pair of medical examiners find themselves battling a dead man who won’t stay dead.

It spreads quickly.

In a Midwestern trailer park, a Black teenage girl and a Muslim immigrant battle newly-risen friends and family. On a US aircraft carrier, living sailors hide from dead ones while a fanatic makes a new religion out of death. At a cable news station, a surviving anchor keeps broadcasting while his undead colleagues try to devour him. In DC, an autistic federal employee charts the outbreak, preserving data for a future that may never come.

Everywhere, people are targeted by both the living and the dead.

We think we know how this story ends.

We. Are. Wrong.

Grade: A+

Review:

It’s no secret that George A. Romero was pretty much the progenitor when it comes to the zombie genre. First in the films and then even in comic books and novels. If you’re a fan of George A. Romero, then you’re well aware that the iconic director’s zombie movies aren’t merely a gore fest. Instead, Romero uses the zombie genre to explore the human condition or reveal the incompetence of government or lack of empathy in humans. Ultimately, the real monsters in Romero’s movies are rarely the zombies, but rather the humans. We’re deadlier than the undead because we’ll turn on our own when the going gets tough. Unfortunately, Romero passed away in 2017 and never was able to complete the novel himself, so his widow asked Daniel Kraus to complete the novel using Romero’s notes. The end result isn’t disjointed nor can the reader tell where Romero begins and Kraus takes over. The writing style is seamless throughout the whole novel and doesn’t change.

Now, I don’t know how much Romero had completed before his death, but this novel is a horror saga (it’s over 600 pages!) but it doesn’t mean that there’s ever a moment of dullness, because there isn’t. There are so many diverse characters in this novel, much like how Max Brooks’ novel World War Z was fashioned. Third person omniscient works superbly as there’s so much ground to cover that we need to know what’s happening to everyone at any given time. Sure, there are some characters that I favoured over others, but the fact that Romero always managed to create characters that we cared about means that even when we know that most of them will face dire endings, in our heart of hearts we can’t help but hope that there’s another way out. But this novel isn’t about comfort, this novel is brutal. I don’t read many zombie books but since I am a huge fan of Romero’s zombies, I knew that I had to read this novel and I’m not disappointed. If you’re going into this book thinking it’s going to be full of zombies, you are correct. But you’re also going to walk away with a feeling that ultimately the book wasn’t about zombies, but it’s about us, and how much humans CAN be both resilient and full of heart.

For a book about the undead, you’ll depart the novel with all the feels. You’ve been warned.

livingn dead

*Thank you so much to NetGalley and Tor Books for the digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!

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