Wednesday, December 21, 2016

PET: The Murder/Torture/Romance/Shocker of the Year

Pet is a movie where a creepy stalker man kidnaps a girl and keeps her in a cage.
If I had read that sentence earlier, I probably wouldn’t have watched this movie. This kind of torture-heavy, woman-in-danger stuff isn’t my horror subgenre of choice. I prefer scary movies that are funny (Return of the Living Dead), meta (Scream 4), and over-the-top (Leprechaun 3). Movies with super-realistic gore and Hostel-levels of torture just really don’t appeal to me.
So if you’re like me—if you were immediately turned off by that first sentence—then forget it. Go into Pet without any knowledge of what to expect. Trust me. It will surprise you with its weird plot twists and reversals. To say that the movie veers off into uncharted terrain is an understatement. Pet starts as one movie, blows your mind at the half-way point, and then spends the last twenty minutes freaking you out. At different times, this movie is a stalker drama, a jet black comedy, a slasher, and a profoundly twisted love story. To say anything more would ruin the fun.
Such a Frankensteinian lump of genres could easily go off the rails, and it’s only thanks to our two leads that the movie is as cohesive as it is. Dominic Monaghan is the sad sack stalker, and he’s the saddest, sackiest stalker in cinema. Depending on your genre interests, you might know Monaghan as Charlie from Lost, or perhaps as your third favorite hobbit from the Lord of the Rings movies. He’s tiny and unassuming and his facial expressions bounce between creepy and sad with regularity.
Ksenia Solo stars as the girl in the cage, and she is an actress to look out for. She’s mostly known for TV stuff that I’ve never seen (Lost Girl, Orphan Black), but hopefully she’ll try a few more horror films in the future. She’s got the scream queen chops, for sure.
Aside from the acting, the make-up effects are top-notch, the music is wall-to-wall tense, and director Carles Torrens (this is his first full-length English movie) somehow manages to film this tiny cage from all the most interesting angles. If I had one complaint, it would be that the first third of the movie doesn’t quite play fair. Once the mid-movie twist happens, a few earlier moments seem like cheats. The broad strokes make sense, but a few acting choices felt off. Perhaps a rewatch would make me change my mind, but I don’t think I have the stomach to watch this movie again. At least not for the next few days.
Despite all its twists, Pet is at its core a two-person drama. It may splatter you with blood, but there’s a surprising amount of empathy beating under the surface. If you are at all a horror fan, you should give this one a watch. It’s captivating.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Straight from the Toybox

Listen to our fearless editor Dorothy Davies give an introduction to Toybox:

The toybox awaits... full of delights, a variety of toys which, in reality, are killing machines...

Indulge in a gory read as Thirteen Press authors each choose one individual toy with which to cause mayhem and sometimes murder.

You won't look at toys the same way again...

I feel quite lucky to have my short featured among the other blasts of creepiness in this anthology. And ten points if anyone can guess which toy I chose for my story...

I'll wait.


Okay. I give up. It's a rubber snake!

Check it out on Amazon

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Remembering the Forgotten (and Insane): A Bone Chillers Retrospective

Did you read Goosebumps as a child? There are three possible answers to that question.

ONE) No. I’m older than thirty-five.
TWO) No. My family was really religious.
THREE) Yes. Of course.

Aside from Harry Potter, no children’s book series has captured the public’s imagination like Goosebumps. And like Harry Potter, there were plenty of imitators along the way:
Spinetinglers (by M. T. Coffin).
Graveyard School (by Tom B. Stone).
Deadtime Stories (also a TV series).
Spooksville (also a TV series).
And, of course, Bone Chillers.

Bone Chillers was hands-down my favorite off-brand Goosebumps series. Their covers were trashy perfection…
(and weirdly 80s)
Their plots were goofy, cliffhanger-heavy nonsense…

And some of their premises were so freaking strange that they almost felt like spoofs of other children’s books.

I tell people that Goosebumps was my favorite childhood series (and it is), but I think Bone Chillers hewed closer to my own personal quirks. In this series, there was an evil lunchlady who force-feeds people bugs so that she can turn them into bugs (or something).

There was a girl who loves horses and finds out that she has some connection to the queen of gargoyles. (There's also an evil painting of a horse, just because.)

There was a zombie turkey, for crying out loud.

Listen, these books are not good. They don’t follow the same (deeply satisfying) format of Goosebumps, or offer the immersive world of Spooksville, or key in to the real sense of danger in Strange Matter. (All three of those series are probably better written than Bone Chillers, which often felt like the first drafts of a crazy person.)

But God, you have to give series creator Betsy Haynes points for weirdness. And even better, the series was adapted into a short-lived Saturday morning show on ABC, one of the most gloriously inappropriate children’s shows in history. (More on that in a later post.)

It saddens me to think that the world has completely forgotten about Bone Chillers. Goosebumps has managed its own nostalgia-based Renaissance recently, but the same can’t be true for its less popular imitators. Some of the titles have been rereleased in ebook form, but they don't have the classic covers, and I doubt that new readers will stumble onto them without some sort of marketing push from the publishers. But you never know. Stranger things have come back from the dead.

(much better than the first one, honestly)
For now, all I’m left with are the fading memories of toilet monsters, magic pet shops, and doomed babysitters. Rest in Peace, Bone Chillers. I pray for your resurrection.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Ready. Set. Love.
Love not only captures your heart but tickles your funny bone in these five fabulous romantic comedies. My story Waking Up to Love leads off the set, but there are four more novels that are just as funny and just as romantic. Check 'em out.