The first weekend of July marked what was a wonderful, career-building experience as a writer: Westercon.  As you can probably tell from the last three letters of its name, Westercon is a convention, specifically for writers and artists of sci-fi and fantasy.  Because of the endlessly strange stigma attached to the word “horror” in the publishing world, my writing falls under the sci-fi/fantasy umbrella, so it was only natural that when I caught wind of this convention I bought a membership.  I had been eager to go to my first writing convention for some time.

I showed up at the convention sign-in booth early on Thursday July 3rd and chatted with another writer in line who writes under the name Thomas Fawkes (he told me about some of his fantasy projects and it sounds really cool, you should check him out).  Being of similar interest and experience, we decided to become con buddies for the day.  Adorned with our name badges we set forth.

The first Westercon event we attended was the release party of Shadows Beneath: The Writing Excuses Anthology.  As I’ve mentioned before I am an avid listener of the Writing Excuses podcast.  It honestly as been a bigger help to my writing than the sum of instruction I received relative to my creative writing degree.  I’ve said this before, but it warrants repeating: if you are an aspiring writer of genre fiction that is serious about your craft, then you need to listen to the podcast.  It has improved my approach to writing.  Anyway, Shadows Beneath

The Writing Excuses Team

The Writing Excuses Team

is an anthology with a story from each of the podcast’s main contributors: Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Howard Tayler.  Varying from most anthologies, this book has their stories up front and the deconstruction of the writing process of the stories (early drafts, notes, line edits, brainstorming, outlining, et cetera) in the back.  So this book serves as almost a textbook of the writing process– or just a good collection of short stories by great writers.  At the release party the Writing Excuses team all spoke briefly, then copies of the book were sold (of course I purchased one), food was eaten, signatures signed.  As I’ve posted before, I had met Brandon Sanderson previously at a signing, but I got him to sign my copy of The Way of Kings and chatted with him about Shardblades at the party.  I had brief interactions with Howard and Mary (primarily because I am not so familiar with their work) and then moved on to Dan Wells, who is one of m

Yes, Dan Wells is wearing a wizard's hat and cloak

Yes, Dan Wells is wearing a wizard’s hat and cloak

y personal heroes.  After all, the man has fulfilled what I want to accomplish– to make a living as a horror writer while being active LDS, religiously.  We chatted several times throughout the con (as shall be chronicled throughout this post), but the first interaction was quite funny as, after I told him a little about myself, he joked about being one of a tiny handful of Mormons who write horror.

After the party there was a two-hour recording session of Writing Excuses, which was great to be there for.  There was a Q&A episode, which I asked a question at (about creating frightening, unique creatures), which I will hold as bragging material with my writer friends when that podcast airs.

Most of the rest of day one was spent perusing booths at FantasyCon across the street (my Westercon badge got me

The FantasyCon dragon

The FantasyCon dragon

in for free), though I did jump back over for what ended up being one of the most productive things I did at the convention.  It was a class put on by Mary Robinette Kowal, Sandra Tayler, and the chairman of Westercon.  It was Schmoozing

101, intended to give some tips as to how to most productively interact with pros at conventions.  In a post soon to come I’ll give you a transcription and summary of this from my notes– it was very valuable.

I ended my first night for a guest of honor panel for Dan Wells in which he talked about his upcoming second John Cleaver trilogy (I love the first books– delightful supernatural horror), read from a book about cloning that he’s currently negotiating with Tor (I’m excited for it), and answered some audience questions.  The Q&A was very helpful to me because somebody asked where Dan goes to for his research on mental illness (something that has played a significant role in his books) and he recommended the self-help section books on mental illness intended for the loved ones of those afflicted.  I have been doing research on mental illness for Dark Art (the protagonist has severe PTSD) and until that suggestion, I had been wading through medical jargon and military transcripts.  Gathering the books he recommended has vastly improved my research.  Beside that, the best moment of that panel was when Dan, while discussing music he listens to in order to get him in the writing mode, mentioned She Wants Revenge and asked if anybody had any idea who he was talking about.  I alone raised my hand, to which he joked, “Of course, only the only other horror writer in the room knows that band.”

Day two began with more Dan Wells as I attended his release party for Next of Kin, his new John Cleaver novella.  It was cool to hang out, get a copy, get it signed, and eat pizza Dan bought for the event.  Then, another round of Writing Excuses recordings, during which I met my writing compadre (we critique each others’ stuff), J.A. Trevor, in person.  After that we hung out for a while in the dealer’s room where I bought a Cthulhu fish for my car (because what horror writer doesn’t want a dark Lovecraftian deity on their car?).  Later that day I attended a horror panel.  My attendance to that probably made Mr. Wells believe that I was stalking him.  Promise, his events just had the most appeal to me as a writer.  Really hope I didn’t seem creepy.

Me with Dan.  Be jealous.

Me with Dan. Be jealous.

Finally, day three of the con.  Bright and early, I headed in to a workshop that I had paid and submitted for in advance that was done by Kathleen Dalton-Woodbury, who moderates Orson Scott Card’s writer’s workshop on his site Hatrack River, and LDS writer Dave Butler.  They read “Charlestonian Monsters” and gave me some terrific feedback.  Their reaction was very positive to the quality of writing, which brought me great pride, and the majority of their concerns were around making the piece more cohesive in terms of theme and tone.

After that I went to FantasyCon, where I went to one episode worth of another Writing Excuses recording session.  I ducked out early for a panel with Simon Pegg, which was hilarious and awesome.

After that, I attended my final Westercon panel– one on worldbuilding that was led by Brandon Sanderson.  Considering how intricate and wonderful the worlds of his creation are, the fact that it was awesome really goes without saying.  During and after that panel I chatted with another aspiring writer, Aaron Hoskins, who I met during Dan’s guest of honor panel.  We became friends and it was cool to see how our exchange was mutually beneficial– I had more writing experience to share while he has attended more cons that I have.

So, in summary, Westercon was a blast.  I learned a lot, interacted with professionals and had a ton of fun.  So, writers, get out to a writing con!  It was worth far more than its cost.


The Delectable Second Season of NBC’s Face of Hannibal Lecter

Just a heads up: this post is going to contain quite a few Hannibal spoilers.  If you haven’t watched through season 2, I don’t recommend you read this.  Instead, watch every episode.  It’s so good.

Last week I watched the season 2 finale of Hannibal.  Incredible.

As you already know, I really enjoy the books and films that feature the character Hannibal Lecter, and I have a particularly passionate love for the television series.  After watching the first season I felt that it was easily some of the best television I’ve ever seen– some of the best television ever to have aired, honestly– and it was with great excitement that I watched the second season, excited each week when Friday brought both the advent of the weekend and a new episode.  I felt that it brought a very wonderful new direction to Thomas Harris’s characters.  I find Hugh Dancy to be a wonderful Will Graham, Lawrence Fishburne to be a powerful Jack Crawford, and of course Mads Mikkelsen to be an absolutely incredible Hannibal Lecter.  I’m on the verge of just giving in to my temptation to say that he’s better as the character than Anthony Hopkins was.

Blasphemous, I know.  But he’s so good.

On that matter my wife says that Hopkins is a better Hannibal, but Mikkelsen is a better Dr. Lecter.  A very good way to look at it.

Okay, so in my last “Faces of Hannibal” post I basically just said that the series is a piece of art.  Let me dig a bit deeper this time around, because I’m writing this more for people who already have a great appreciation for the show rather than to give a teaser of what makes it different from the other iterations of Dr. Lecter.

For starters, I just want to gush over the story for a little while.  Hannibal-season-2-posterThe arc of the first season felt very full– we see Will Graham kill a serial killer– the Minnesota Shrike– become a surrogate father for the Shrike’s daughter alongside Hannibal, and then get framed by Hannibal for that daughter’s death, which is done in a way that Will himself questions his own innocence.  So we see a good man be forced into madness– or at least what appears to be madness– by Hannibal.  The characters are very vivid, as are their motivations.  Will has a very powerful, very real sense of empathy.  This makes him an extremely sympathetic hero to cheer for because his life is full of pain and compassion for the monsters he hunts.  Hannibal Lecter is a monster in the truest sense, viewing his own power as making him a god– a power that he exerts as both a slayer and one who gains influence as others give it to him.  He is controlling and manipulative, and he loves nothing more than to set horrible things in motion to see what happens, or to set things in motion to get outcomes that change people to being monstrous.  He takes this monstrosity as a sort of worship.  (I’m sorry this is coming out in a rather stream-of-consciousness sort of way, but I have to jump from idea to idea because every element– plot or cinematic– of this show is so perfectly crafted to form a cohesive, powerful piece of art).  So, in the framing of Will Graham we see Hannibal finish the first season by showing just how powerful he truly is.

The second season then begins with Will Graham being incarcerated in the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, a place familiar both from previous episodes (such as the involvement of Eddie Izzard’s brilliant character, Abel Gideon) and from all other things Hannibal as where Will Graham and Clarice Starling eventually stand outside of the cell of Hannibal Lecter to get his advice in dealing with the Tooth Fairy (Red Dragon) and Buffalo Bill (Silence of the Lambs).  It is rather shocking to see heroic Will laid so low.  The first section of the season then deals with the evidence and legal proceedings against Will while he rebuilds his own memories and realizes who is responsible and how the framing was done.  Will begins to become darker, going to any lengths to try to bring down Hannibal– and in so doing he starts to become a monster himself.  This idea of his empathizing with the serial killers is taken in the direction the show has been hinting at from the beginning: that to defeat the monsters you must become one of them.  The show continues to deal with other killers, but from the first episode of the season these are clearly less significant to the story, in spite of how compelling they are.  Things get very intense as Jack Crawford’s assumed-dead protege is found alive and has been psychologically programmed to point the finger of blame for the Ripper murders on the head of the Hospital, Dr. Chilton, who has been framed in other ways as well.  She even pulls the trigger on him– which surprised me very much because Chilton plays a significant role in Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs.  This was the first major break from the established Hannibal Lecter canon (other than the premise that Will and the FBI all know Hannibal before he is caught).  Finally, Will is set free as it becomes clear that he was not responsible for the murders and Hannibal steps up his game, putting Will in monstrous circumstances and trying to mentor him to become what he is.  So, all of this is sublime, and then the stakes get heightened as Alonna Bloom begins sleeping with Hannibal as Will meets one of Hannibal’s other patient’s, a character familiar from the novel Hannibal, whose twisted brother is the key force trying to bring down the titular character in the novel.  We see the introduction of many major elements of that book– obviously the Vergers, and the man-eating pigs, but they are done in a way that is much more compelling than the novel that they’re based off of.  Then things get really crazy as it appears that Will has murdered the ever-annoying Freddie Lounds (even featuring a nice tribute to Lounds’ death in Red Dragon) and brought a cut of her to enjoy with his new mentor.  The conclusion of that episode left me really shocked, struggling to believe that the show was going in such a midnight-dark direction.  It was interesting, but it wasn’t anything I expected.  Of course, the next episode revealed her death to have been staged, all part of an intricate plan between Will and Jack to take down Hannibal.  Finally, Hannibal and Will try to force each other into killing Mason Verger but Verger escapes very damaged but alive (as he is familiar in Hannibal the novel/film) and Will unconscious.  Will and Jack try to force Hannibal into attempted murder in an entrapment sort of situation, but that plan gets shut down leaving the desperate men to proceed without a SWAT backup.  Of course, this leaves the pair bleeding out in Hannibal’s house with Alonna Bloom broken after being pushed out a window and the twist that Abigail Hobbs was alive but has just had her throat slit by Hannibal.  Cut to black, return with Hannibal drinking wine in a plane next to his psychologist, who previously fled an attempt on her life.

What?  How did all that happen?

Okay, so this show is very complex.  There are a lot of interesting threads that come in, leave the show for a while, then turn up later as very important to the story (example, Jack’s cancer-riddled wife).  I’ve never seen a show where every line of dialogue, every character, every detail turn out to be so important.  It’s phenomenal storytelling that really demands the audience’s attention at a level that no other show I’ve watched has done.

The filmography of the show is just beautiful.  The way that every shot is framed, the camera effects, everything furthers the story and gives the series a very powerful tone.  It contributes to the piece rather than just being the way that the story happens to be captured.  It really deals with filmography in such a serious, artful way that is rarely matched in the finest of cinema let alone in television.

The special effects are unbelievable.  The CGI stuff with the stag and the horned man are really cool, but the murder scenes are both beautiful and horrifying.  tumblr_inline_n3mke3fY0Y1rnite0Take the tree murder– it is both terrible and lovely.  It’s the kind of thing that can give you nightmares because you just can’t stop thinking about it.  The same applies to almost all of Hannibal’s kills.  It’s no wonder that Stephen King joked on Twitter, “After watching two seasons of HANNIBAL, I think a new license plate motto is in order: MARYLAND, HOME OF EXOTIC MURDER SCENES.”

I really just can’t gush over this series enough.  It’s killing me that I don’t know what day season three will begin (if anybody knows, please comment), though I love that it has been officially renewed.  I honestly think that between Hannibal and the upcoming Constantine series, NBC is becoming my new favorite network.

Transcendent and Terrifying Collective Storytelling – A Love Letter to the Bioshock Series

Anyone who has been in my house can tell you that I have a great love of video games.  There are four consoles plugged into my TV, several handhelds floating around my apartment, and there are video game characters incorporated into decor.  This love for video games has spanned much of my life– initially on a very limited basis through playing games at the houses of friends and relatives, and expanded as I bought my first handheld, the GameBoy Pocket.  In spite of years of owning it and its more advanced brethren, it took a good deal of persuasion to get a plug-into-the-TV console in my home.  My first was the GameCube, and it kindled my already-sparked love of Nintendo’s franchises.  In years to come, I acquired more consoles as I could afford them on my own, though I tended to be about half a generation behind, buying consoles such as the PS2 just as the PS3 was about to come out.  So, I continued to enjoy the newest games at friend’s houses well into college.

At the beginning of my senior year of high school, I was hanging out at a friend’s house.  I arrived late to find gaming in progress, though it was a little abnormal: it wasn’t a multiplayer shooter being played.  Because I didn’t know what it was, I ignored the screen in favor of socializing.  After a while the controller was passed over to me, the game restarted.

I only played for ten or fifteen minutes, but it was one of the most incredible gaming experiences I had ever had.  I then didn’t have any way to continue to play it on my own, but it was regardless placed very high on my list of games to play.

The game, which should be obvious by the title of this post, was the first Bioshockbioshock1The brief brush I had with its rich world, buried under the sea in a city called Rapture, triggered a great deal of curiosity on my part.  While perusing its Wikipedia page I saw a reference to a book called Atlas Shrugged, which I had seen in libraries and homes for years.  I had long been curious to find out what it was, so learning it was connected to Bioshock was all I needed to pick up a copy.

Now, before I go any further, I want to state that I do not subscribe to Objectivism.  I find its principles and implications fascinating the same way that I find anything intellectually challenging fascinating.  I can see where Ayn Rand is coming from, but I feel that her perspective is far too radical to possibly achieve anything.  I feel that her philosophy stems from a bitterness toward communism more than from an honest worldview.

That said, I found cde8619009a083d7b5fe5110.LAtlas Shrugged to be a surprisingly compelling read, especially considering the fact that there is a monologue that exceeds a hundred pages that honestly just restated (and then restated again… and again) the points that everything prior to it in the novel had already made with abundant clarity.  Okay, I skimmed that part.  But regardless, the ideas were fascinating and the Objectivism-minded characters were fairly interesting.  The most important thing to glean from the fact that I read the novel is that I became quite familiar with Rand’s philosophy that praises selfishness as a virtue, endorsing the idea of a totally free market where individuals succeed based on their ability and nobody is carried on the back of another.  My proper interaction with Bioshock had that background, and I don’t regret that it took so long because I had built up my understanding of the groundwork of its universe.

I got to play through Bioshock properly because a friend lent myself and a mutual friend (my first college roommate) his Xbox 360 and a number of his games for about 9 months– he was going on his LDS mission.  Bioshock was fortunately among the games, and was the first to be consumed by both myself and my roommate.

Simply put, Bioshock is a masterpiece.  It brilliantly paints a city beneath the ocean’s waves that is built on the principles of Objectivism.  Rather than to praise this selfish ideal, we see that the city that its citizen hoped would be a paradise, their Rapture, has instead become a crumbling dystopia.  It has advanced rapidly in terms of science, art, medicine and has done so because there is no conventional governmental, social or religious morality placing restrictions and slowing growth.  The most notable advancement is the one from which the game draws its’ title: genetic modification.  The scientists of Rapture have created, by using a chemical found in sea slugs, ways to modify the human body to make it more powerful.  Now, by modification and subsequent injection of EVE, the slug byproduct, a person can perform amazing feats, from telekinesis to pyrokinesis, from creating electricity to growing bees from your own flesh.  Of course, these slugs are extremely valuable and rare, but a process was quickly developed to allow them to grow much more rapidly: my introducing them into the body of a human host.  Suddenly, there are little girls growing slugs inside them, guarded by biologically altered supermen in diving suits, and attacked by an increasingly dependent population of genetic splicers who will do anything to get a fix.  Throw in an all-out war in the streets between two masters of commerce, Andrew Ryan (note the Ayn Rand anagram) and Frank Fontaine, and we have the setting for the game.  The viewpoint character, simply known as Jack, explores the city as an outsider, with the confusing bits filled in over a radio by a man, begging for your help, who calls himself Atlas (also no coincidence there).  On top of it all, you are forced to make moral decisions yourself as you come in contact with the Little Sisters because you, too, quickly become a splicer to survive.  Do you save the slug-host children or do you harvest their bodies to boost your power?

There’s a lot there.  There’s even more to it than that.  That’s just the background.  Suffice it to say that Bioshock is one of the most well-written (yet refreshingly subtle), scary, action-packed, and brilliant video games ever.  It made bold strides for the medium to receive its rightful inheritance as an art form, not just mindless entertainment.  And that’s a point that I want to make here: video games are art, particularly when they are approached so masterfully as with the Bioshock series.  This actually was the subject of a college art-appreciation class project I did my first semester at Utah State.  Any video game is packed in with storytelling (in an interactive medium, which has such incredible implications!), characterization, visual design, landscape and architectural design, music composition, and much more.  The Irrational Games team (so unfortunately no longer in existence as of about a month ago) took their medium very seriously and made a masterpiece of video gaming.  I am very glad that the game received the acclaim it did– it really deserves it.

It was a few years before I had another chance to interact with Bioshock_2_boxartthe Bioshock series.  The first sequel came out while I was on my LDS mission, so I had to wait until I got home to play it.  Fortunately, shortly after I returned I purchased a laptop that was part of the “get a free 360” deal, so I quickly had the means to play it.  Also nice for me was the fact that Bioshock 2 dropped in price very quickly.

I’ve heard statements that Bioshock 2 is a crappy game.  I’d like to offer a contending opinion: though it is not as mind-blowing as the first one (primarily because it, logically, continues to explore the world the original set up) it is very good, and it’s equally stimulating on an intellectual level.  It’s no surprise that it has a smoother control and combat system, though those are the biggest boasts for the game.  I love the premise of the game, though– you are playing as one of the earliest models of Big Daddy, defender of Little Sisters, looking for a specific former-Little Sister who you are very close with, trying to free her from her socially powerful mother (who the ex-Little Sister, Eleanor, does not want to be with).   Eight years after the events of the first game’s good ending, Rapture has been reshaped, with some of the Little Sisters who escaped returning as young adults as Big Sisters working for the Rapture Family, run under the direction of a woman known as the Lamb, which is essentially the political backlash of the Objectivist ideals the city was founded on (and crumbled beneath).  Basically, the Family is communist, which really is about as far from Objectivism as any political ideal can be.  The Family has goals to totally eliminate the idea of the self, trying to become a totally united, internally selfless unit.  So, just from that brief description of the plot premise (it gets more complicated but all works quite nicely), it’s clear that Bioshock 2 is a very complicated game.

I loved revisiting Rapture in such a different context.  I loved being a Big Daddy, and thought that the powers and challenges of filling that role in the game were quite balanced and fun.  I loved the sections in which I had to defend Little Sisters as they harvested as they provided a unique challenge for the series to that point– defense and not offense.  When I finally became fully powered near the end of the game, I loved the waves of difficult enemies that I was able to face, though I had to often think outside of the box.  I think that’s what really shined Minervasden1with this game as opposed to its precursor– instead of just using a couple guns and plasmids in combat I had to come up with ways to make use of my full arsenal.  This wasn’t a chore, it was a blast, and really showed off what the game designers had in mind for the players in terms of creativity.  I love that they expected me to play with my brain, not just accuracy and a quick trigger-finger.

There is DLC for Bioshock 2 called Minerva’s Den.  It’s a unique Bioshock story that I’ve heard referred to as the best part about Bioshock 2.  I, unfortunately, am yet to play it.  I’ll make sure to update this post (and draw attention to the fact that I have) in the future when I have played it.  It’s high on my list, I just have a 360 with a small hard drive and limited gaming time in general.  I figure it’s safe to assume that it’s kick-awesome in every way, like the rest of the series.

Next up in the parade of amazingness is Bioshock Infinite.  Let me state this simply: it isOfficial_cover_art_for_Bioshock_Infinite easily one of the best video games ever made.  It’s in my top three of all time.  Depending on the day, it sometimes tops the list.  It’s up there with The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time and Chronotrigger for me.

It’s so, so good.

Okay, so I’ll give you a bit about this pinnacle of glory.  It is set in 1912 in a city that flies above the clouds called Columbia.  The protagonist is a man named Booker DeWitt, a private detective who is a veteran of the Boxer Rebellion and of the Battle of Wounded Knee.  He has been sent to the mysterious city to find and retrieve a woman known simply as Elizabeth, who is locked up in a tower and guarded by a creature called the Songbird.  Elizabeth, by the way, has supernatural powers that allows her to interact with alternate dimensions and other periods of time.  The game also features more widespread powers, quite similar to plasmids of the earlier games, called vigors.

Columbia is a fascinating piece of work, very unlike Rapture in many ways.  It’s based on the historical Columbian World Exposition from the 1890s.  It is built on principles of hyper-patriotism (having left the United States because the US wasn’t American enough) and religious leadership.  Essentially, Columbians worship the founding fathers of the US and are ruled by their prophet, Zachary Comstock, who receives revelations about everything from politics to industry to race relations.  Though initially seemingly quite paradisiacal, the rotten underbelly quickly is manifested with rampant racism and an angry, rebellious working class uniting as the Vox Populi.

I really don’t want to ruin the magic of this for you at all if you haven’t played it.  The world is breathtaking in terms of beauty, game mechanics, theoretical science, and philosophy.  The characters are compelling and their journey is difficult and wonderful.  The story ties to the other games in the series very well and in unexpected ways.  The tone is less horror than the others, though it’s scary moments are even more terrifying (when you get to the Boys of Silence you’ll understand).

Also, a pro tip– look for the more modern songs adapted into older styles throughout the game.  They’re wonderful.  [NON-PLOT MILD SPOILER] For example, while first walking the streets of Columbia you can hear a barbershop quartet singing for the festivities of the day…[END SPOILER]

IBSIDLC-Burial_at_Sea_Episode_One_KeyArt cannot recommend it highly enough.  But play the others first.

Then, there’s Burial at Sea.  It’s DLC for Infinite, in two episodes.  Using a rationale that works perfectly in the series (but that I won’t explain for the sake of avoiding spoilers) the story features the two protagonists of Infinite but is set in Rapture years before the first game, just before an event that started the all-out war between Fontaine and Ryan.

The episodes have a very different feel from Infinite, or from the Rapture games.  The visual and storytelling style is very film noir, which is likely apparent by the image to the left.  In episode 1 you play as Booker, who is a fedora and trench coat-wearing private detective.  A femme fatale Elizabeth knocks on your door and hires you to find a little girl– a little girl that you lost.

It’s fascinating as the first half of the episode shows Rapture at its highest point– brilliantly lit shops, parties, abstract art.  You interact with characters from previous games and see them as what they once were, before the war and splicing drove them into the darkness.

Just from the perspective of having played the other games, it was really interesting.

The second half took a turn toward the darkness that is more familiar in the series as you travel to an area of Rapture that Ryan has separated from the rest of the city as a prison for traitors to his ideals.  You fight men going mad as you seek out the child, a Little Sister, who you lost.

I’m not going to go any further into what happens, but suffice it to say that it is brilliant and made me really want the next episode when I finished it.

Episode 2 CN3gnwPis incredible and somehow managed to tie together everything in the series very neatly and very unexpectedly.  I thought that the story already worked pretty well, but Episode 2 really drove it home.  It’s a masterpiece.

This game is quite different from all of its precursors.  Rather than being action-horror the gameplay shifts to survival-horror.  You play as Elizabeth, who, due to having significantly less upper-body strength and less ammo than Booker or Jack or Subject Delta, has to sneak up on enemies to kill them or often has to flee.  It changed the way I saw plasmids and the arsenal it gave me and made for a very fun and challenging playthrough.

I don’t dare tell you anything about the story other than that it amazed me, scared me, and gave me a strong desire to give everybody at the now-defunct Irrational Games a high-five.  I didn’t expect anything that happened to happen, but everything was perfect.

Just perfect.  It made me fall in love with the series yet again.  It made me appreciate little things in all of the games that came before it.

So, the question I’m left with: what is to become of Bioshock in the future?  Irrational Games has been disbanded (I’m assuming that after finishing Burial at Sea they had to disband as a sort of “drop the mic” sort of thing), but the franchise is officially owned by 2K, who has stated that the series will be continued under different management in the future.  Is that going to be a good thing?  Can such a thing really work, with the story so perfectly completed in Burial at Sea episode 2?  Those who have completed the series, let me know in the comments what you think about the idea of future Bioshock games without Ken Levine and Irrational involved.

Finally, let me state again just how incredible a piece of storytelling this series is.  And the best part is that I was able to play a role in the telling.  I made decisions and experienced the story.

I love it so much that the guy in these pictures is me:



Now I guess I just need to get around to playing Minerva’s Den, and then move on to Bioshock‘s spiritual precursor, System Shock

Paranormal Activities

Warning: This post contains spoilers.  I tried to keep plot points fairly light but found that I wasn’t saying anything interesting.  So, I’m going to delve into the plot a fair bit.  If you want just my general thoughts on the series, stop reading this post in two paragraphs.

A couple months ago I promised I’d write a comprehensive post on the Paranormal Activity series. Paranormal_Activity_poster  It’s one of the biggest horror franchises right now, and due to some surprisingly effective scares brought about from the earlier entries in the series, there is soon to be a sixth entry.

In very broad strokes, I quite enjoy this series.  No, it’s not a masterpiece of horror, but it’s very effective with its light, minimalistic approach to the genre.  Many successful horror films rely on a heavy budget for special effects and costuming, but this series features primarily ordinary people in situations that would genuinely scare anybody given they were in the same scenario.  For the most part, the found footage really works to the series’ advantage and brings very realistic scares to the screen.

The first film is very sharp.  The very small cast is very believable– Katie and Micah are very real-to-life and their reactions to the mysterious and frightening events are believable.  The story unfolds very organically– we see a couple in their 20s living together who start setting up cameras around their house when some weird things start happening.  My wife and I did something similar to figure out how our cat kept getting underneath a couch he shouldn’t fit under.  Then, the weirdness escalates.  It goes from weird noises and things being misplaced to more violent acts– furniture being thrown about by an unseen force, doors flying open.  There is clearly a malicious, angry incorporeal creature in the house.  Micah goes from curious– setting up the cameras and using an Ouija board– to angry– openly challenging the entity, which just worsens the problem.  Katie goes from curiosity to denial to fear.  I also like that the mystery is also very natural– for example, when we see the burned picture of young Katie and her sister, we are as confused as the characters, and their discussion of it isn’t campy “What does this mean in the context of this current situation” dialogue.

Because the film does so little to give the typical polish that most film has, the found footage style works very well.  I felt like I could believe that this would be real footage– there’s no subtle score, the dialogue flows naturally, awkward pauses and broken sentences and inappropriately timed outbursts.  But, as I’ve touched on, the terror is real.  We can see it in how the characters move, how they speak.  It’s visible in their faces.  We have the blind rejection of what happens, we have the stupid curiosity, we can see the desires to run and the desires to fight back.  That is what I feel elevates this film over many other horror films: I believed their reactions.  I almost never yelled at the screen, “Run, idiot!” or “Stab him!”  Admittedly, Micah’s challenges to the being are pretty stupid, but when as pissed off as practically anybody would be in that context, stupid tends to happen.

Paranormal_Activity_2_PosterI’m also just going to throw out there that one of the alternate endings (no, it obviously doesn’t work to continue the series) is just exceptional.  Watching Katie stare at the camera, slowly smile, then slit her own throat… Haunting.  For some reason the version of the film I first watched actually had that ending, and it still sticks with me.  If it had somehow worked in conjunction with the remainder of the series I would have loved for that ending to stay.  Instead, we have Katie’s possession and murder of Micah, followed by fleeing to do… something.

The second film was also quite good.  It isn’t nearly as scary as the first– we know what sorts of horrible things to expect, after all– and we spend most of the film wondering how on earth the story is going to connect properly.  After all, it’s the story of Katie’s sister’s family being haunted by a demonic presence, presumably the same one that haunts the first film.  The story is clearly a prequel, and even though I was satisfied by how the connection to the earlier film ended up working out– it’s quite clever, actually, and quite dark– I feel like my first viewing’s confusion resulted in me being distracted by what I thought was inconsistency (even though, it turns out, it wasn’t).  This film also just moved at a slower pace, which took away from some of the scariness.  The characters also just didn’t interest me quite as much.  The baby was really the only family member that made me care about them at all.  I didn’t love Katie and Micah, but I sympathized with them more than I did with Kristi, Daniel, and Ali.

Essentially, we have the same formula again.  This time, instead of just weirdness it appears that there was a break-in– something was angry and destroyed a bunch of the family’s stuff– that leads to the filming.  The filming this time is primarily through security cameras set throughout the house, so that really does work quite logically.  Then we have things slowly get weirder and weirder in the house, from strange noises to furniture being suspended on the ceiling and then being dropped all at once.  So, a few new tricks mixed in with the old ones.  We also have another affirmation that whatever is happening is demonic in nature as the Hispanic housekeeper is very superstitious and states that she senses the devil in the house before the bigoted Daniel fires her for lighting religious candles.

So, it’s not to say that the build-up is boring, just familiar and a bit slower than ideal.  It still is quite compelling, though.

The final act of the film is very good.  The scares quickly brought up to a higher level than we have in the first film.  Watching Kristi getting dragged away by an unseen force, her nails scraping against the walls, is truly frightening.  As with the first film, what happens off camera relative to demonic possession is terrifying because we don’t know what happened.  There is so much that is left unseen, but unlike Greek tragedies, this just makes the unseen things all the more disturbing.  And it makes it harder to stop thinking about.  Also, to see what the events of this films lead the characters to do (and to a member of their own family) is shudder-worthy: they move the demon that is possessing Kristi to the home of Katie and Micah, which leads to the events of the original film.  The final scene was very well done, definitely making me want to continue to follow the story, as we see weeks later the results of Katie’s possession as she walks in, swiftly kills Daniel and Kristi, and kidnaps baby Hunter.

That is an effective ending when there are sequels to be had.

Paranormal Activity 3 is my favorite of the series.  ParanormalActivity3PosterAdmittedly, the constant cameras does feel a little forced by this point in the series, but I felt that the inventiveness in how the cameras were used made up for that.  This was especially true of the camera attached to the rotating fan mount, which really made for some powerful scenes.  Also, the story significance of this addition to the series was particularly interesting and important.  Once again, we have a prequel film, this time set back in the childhood of the sisters.  We have a good deal more context provided to us as to why there are angry demons haunting this family throughout their lives, and the reason is refreshingly believable: a coven of witches.  Yes, the later films kind of make the coven less interesting, but to get just the snippets Paranormal 3 provides is pretty awesome.  Simply, as a deal to gain more evil power, the coven of witches made a deal with some demons that they would sacrifice the bodies (for possession, presumably) of the firstborn males in their lines.  There is a lot of implication that the daughters are raised to be brides and worshipers of the demons.  So, we have a lot there to work with.  We are given the context for why the demon needs to stay in the family and keeps getting involved, and we have why Katie, possessed by a demon, steals Hunter.

Part of what made the third film so great besides filling in interesting and important plot points is that everything about the production is true to the era in which it is set.  No, it’s not like the 80s is super difficult to reproduce, but I loved that the quality of film and the technology available and the clothing and toys the girls play with all are very much true to that decade.  Also great is that the involvement of children in the peril is really interesting.  How the girls react to the scares and to the imaginary friend persona the demon initially tries to perpetuate, Toby, is very compelling to watch because it is so different than how adults do.  Also, with this film you care about the family quite a bit more than the families in the predecessor films because we have the mom, Julie, who is trying to do her best for her children, a live-in boyfriend, Dennis, who genuinely cares about the girls as well, and of course Katie and Kristi, who have lovable personalities.  Dennis’s quirky friend is also pretty fun on-screen.

The “Bloody Mary” scene is the film’s biggest gem.

The only downside to the film is that it fails to fill in the fire that is referenced several times in 1 and 2 and the trailer for 3.  I wanted to get a little more context for that.

Unfortunately, after 3 came 4.Paranormal_Activity_4_Poster

Ugh, what an awful movie.  The film isn’t scary, interesting, or even consistent.  It makes the coven seem cheesy and makes the writers for these movies seem like drunken buffoons.  I was honestly bored through most of my watching of the movie.  I’m kind of surprised I managed to get through it.

The titular activity in the film was stale at best.  The scariest scene was when the audience knows there is a knife in the ceiling but the character in the room doesn’t so we think it’s going to drop on her and kill her.  Turns out, it falls when she isn’t under it.  Booooooring.

The found footage aspect kind of stopped working this time around as well.  Instead of normal video cameras, we have webcams and an Xbox Kinect.  Having most of the creepy things happening in the context of stupid Skype conversations of a teenage girl with her boyfriend was almost painful to watch.  The Kinect had a few cool ideas (night vision on it which let us see all of its projected dots which sometimes moved where nobody was) but overall just felt like an interesting gimmick rather than a believable method for capturing the events.

Oh, and the story?  We’re in for a turd!

Basically, seven or so years after the end of Paranormal 1 and 2 we have a family who has a lady (Katie) who moves across the street from them who has a weird little boy.  We are to assume this is Hunter until otherwise informed (which happens later in the film).  Said lady gets mysteriously ill and calls to ask if the family who has the annoying teenage girl and a young son of their own if they can keep an eye on the little boy for a few days.  Then, weirdness begins, but all of it is tame in comparison to the previous films.  Also, the weird boy teaches the family’s son to draw weird symbols and crap.  Then, the boys go to play across the street at Katie’s house, the teenage daughter follows (still Skyping for some reason– and presumably with long-range wi-fi) and Katie is home from the “hospital.”  The house is creepy and totally undecorated, which wouldn’t seem that weird were it not for the fact that it’s the size of most grocery stores.  Katie says something odd about the girl’s brother– that he looks just like his mother.  We quickly learn through forced revelatory dialogue that it’s weird for two reasons: one, because Katie never met the mom of the family, and two, because the boy is adopted.

Yeah, the boy in the family is Hunter.  Because apparently the demon’s course of action immediately after kidnapping the baby was to put him up for adoption, wait seven years, then put things into place to steal him again.  I guess it’s the thrill of the hunt that motivates it, not actually getting what it wants.

Head in Hands

Anyway, after a day or two Katie sneaks in, kills the mom and steals Hunter (deja vu?).  The dad and the teenager run across the street, dad gets killed and the film ends with the whole coven with demonic faces coming at the girl.

Notice I didn’t bother with names at all with that family?  That’s because I didn’t care.

Then finally we have Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones.  This film Paranormal_Activity_-_The_Marked_Ones_2014_posterwas overall pretty okay, definitely a step-up from number 4, but still nowhere in the league of 1-3.

This film is a spin-off of the main series.  The story follows an 18-year-old boy, Jesse, and his friends.  Jesse’s downstairs neighbor, who had long been rumored to be a bruja is murdered, presumably by a mild-mannered classmate.  Then, weird things start happening to Jesse and he starts to become darker in personality.  There is an unseen force that is protecting him– keeping him from falling, pushing away street thugs– as he gets more and more violent and meanspirited.  Then, after a couple of thrillseeking forays into the crime scene apartment, the family chihuahua disappears.  Somehow it gets into the trapdoor basement of the crime scene apartment, and Jesse follows the barking down to discover the chamber where there is pictures of both himself and the boy who killed the witch throughout their lives.  Suddenly, a dark figure appears and the film switches to focusing on Jesse’s friends, who are trying to make sense of Jesse, whose dark moods have intensified to the point of pushing everyone in his life away.  He then murders his grandmother, making it look like she fell down the stairs.  The friends do some research in the life of the boy who killed the witch, who I failed to mention later commits suicide, and see clues that lead them to get in contact with Ali, the daughter in Paranormal 2.  She tells them that the coven is making an army of possessed young men, and tells them where the final ritual takes place.  They get in contact with the witch-killer’s brother, a Mexican gangster, and head to the location Ali gave them.  It’s Kristie and Katie’s grandmother’s house, where the final act of 3 took place, where they proceed to look for Jesse.  The place appears empty, but they are quickly attacked by the witches who, disappointingly, show now sort of powers but instead just come at them with knives.  After taking out a number with shotguns Hector, who has done most of the filming, follows a demonic Jesse through a magical door that transports them through space and time to the final scene of Paranormal 1.  Presumably Hector is killed by Jesse.

Okay, so that’s a lot of stuff to take in.  In some ways, the idea of an army of possessed young men takes the edge off some of the more annoying plot elements from 4.  It appears that most of the young men are kidnapped as children and placed into families in close proximity to witches in the coven.  It still doesn’t fix the problems with 4, but it is moving things toward the right direction.  The last scene was a bit much, ending up in a different time, and for no apparent reason.

My biggest critique is that the entire film being found footage was quite forced.  The characters seemed to be filming for the sake of there being a spin-off to the series, not because they feel like filming is logical.

I did particularly like one element of the film– communicating with the demon via a Simon game.  Pretty good stuff.

I don’t know how I feel about what the future holds for the series.  They have announced Paranormal 5, which is coming out in October of this year, and I had some hope for it in the past (it had been stated that the director/writer of the first film was returning to the series for it, which later was amended to the series’ editor being the new director), but now I do not know how to feel about it.  I figure I’ll go see it, but set my expectations low.  I am glad that they’ve stated that there is an end-game coming, but it sounds like that’ll be in Paranormal 6 or 7.

Locke & Key

I love the idea of horror in the comic book medium.  It used to be quite prevalent, but has in recent decades mostly faded to the backdrop of the industry, so it is quite refreshing to have recently read and enjoyed a horror comic series.  This is particularly the case with how disappointed one of the most popular horror comics made me.

I first caught wind of Locke & Key the way I Joehilllockekeyfind out about a lot of things– through Wikipedia, specifically on Joe Hill’s page.  I fairly recently read several of his books– to date, I’ve read all but his most recent book, N0S4A2— and really enjoyed the strong writing.  I was very pleased to see that his writing is very strong and was worthy of publishing on his own merits and not his father’s (Stephen King).  He was scary, funny, sad, and compelling.  His characters were vibrant, his plots unexpected and exciting.  As a side note, I particularly recommend his collection of short stories, 20th Century Ghosts, especially the titular story from that collection.  Anyway, I was curious if he had done even more good writing for me to enjoy, and when I saw that he had written a comic series, my interest was piqued.

A few months after that I stumbled upon the first four collections in the comics section at my local library.  I was looking for Batman (which the library satisfied my craving for) but also came home bearing a stack consisting of far more comic titles than The Dark Knight’s adventures.  Volume 1 of Locke & Key was actually the first graphic novel I picked up from the stack, and I consumed it very quickly and was glad that I had brought home the second volume as well.

The idea of the Locke & Key is fairly easy to explain without lockekey_vol4tpbany notable spoilers.  Basically, it’s the story of the Locke family who, in the wake of tragedy, move to their father’s childhood home where they find numerous keys with magical powers that can do everything from changing a person into an animal to lifting off the top of their head to put in knowledge or remove unwanted memories of character traits.  So, much of the story is the adventure of discovering more keys and their purposes.

But, as I said before, this is a horror comic, so it isn’t all a big whimsical fantasy adventure.  There  is also a dark force at work in Keyhouse, who seeks to serve their own vile purposes through manipulation and force and, of course, the keys.

Pretty much everything about the series is very strong.  All the characters are very well thought out, dynamic, with believable motivations and powerful action.  The story careens in unexpected ways at a breakneck pace.  The dialogue is strong and drives the story forward.  The art– well, actually, I didn’t care for the art while reading the first couple of volumes of the series, but over time it grew on me.  Gabriel Rodriguez definitely paid a great deal of attention to details, and it really shows while you read it.  He very meticulously planned out the house, the grounds, the appearance of the keys and characters.  He really filled the world and vividly breathed life into Joe Hill’s scripts.

One thing I also LockeKey_KeystotheKingdom05loved is that the details of the plot spanned over generations, and was presented very seamlessly– the storytelling and presentation of key concepts is subtle, and subtlety is a rare commodity in comics.   We have the magic explained historically and as the characters learn about it through trial and error.  Each character’s personality is shown through sections of the comic– for example, there was a tribute piece to Bill Watterson that showcased the perspective of the youngest member of the Locke family, Bode, flying around as a sparrow that was drawn in Calvin and Hobbes style.  We get a feel for Bode’s humor, innocence, personality, and vibrancy with how that piece was presented, all while it very interestingly furthered the plot.

To get to the point, I highly recommend the series.  It was recently completed and the first 4/5ths of the story is available in graphic novels.  It’s a great series for lovers of comic and/or horror fantasy.

Doctor Sleep + Three Faces of The Shining

This post is going to contain spoilers for The Shining.  The book is 37 years old, and the Kubrick film of the same title is 34, so deal with it.  I’m not going to go crazy spelling out every little plot detail, but just expect that some major elements– including the story’s conclusion– are going to be mentioned.  And I’m not going to wait until I get to the Three Faces of The Shining section of the post to start spoiling.  Any spoilers for it’s sequel, Doctor Sleep, are as minimal as I could manage in a review.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a Constant Reader of Stephen King.  I’ve read almost everything by him (I’m probably just a few months away from having read all of his books, at which time a big post will inevitably result).  Like a good portion of his readers, one of the first books I read by him is inarguably one of his most famous– The Shining.  I enjoyed it a great deal (as will be detailed later in the post).  It’s lingered for years in my mind as one of King’s scariest works, which, wanting to write horror myself, has meant that I’ve tried to break down what makes the story so unnerving, which has actually been quite tricky to do.  It’s a very impressive, well-crafted amalgam of supernatural and psychological horror.

While perusing the Stephen King Wikipedia page a few years ago, trying to decide which of his works to read next, I noticed a blurb about upcoming books, specifically that on his site he had voting for what book to do next– either an intermediate Dark Tower book (a series which I love dearly) or a sequel to The Shining.  With how often I had ranted about how beautifully unusual The Dark Tower is, I was surprised to find myself being more enthralled with the idea of the latter book.  The listed title was particularly alluring: Doctor Sleep.  Thus, I was pleased to see that the vote slightly favored Doctor Sleep.

It turned out that The Dark Tower: Wind Through the Keyhole ended up coming first in spite of the election of the other novel (not that I was too disappointed, it was a compelling yarn).  I made myself content by reading another slew of his other books while waiting the additional two and a half years to find out just what happened to Danny Torrance, and what kind of man he had become in the years after his father tried to kill him and his mother with a croquet mallet in a haunted hotel.

As a reader, it was easy to see how special of an experience it was for Stephen King to revisit one of his earliest novels.  It’s unusual for a writer to write a sequel so many years after an original work (the only other example I can think of being Joseph Heller’s Closing Time following up Catch-22), and it makes for an especially wonderful treat as a reader (particularly an avid follower) in that it is clear to see how the writer has matured and grown with the character, even though the character has only been living in the back of their writer’s mind.  It’s been fun to see how King has revisited some of his other characters by way of The Dark Tower series, but this was something altogether different, something more.

For starters, I’m going to just give my basic, back-of-the-book sort of synopsis so people who haven’t read this excellent book have some idea what I’m talking about.  Essentially, Doctor Sleep is a novel about Daniel Torrance, who we knew as the little boy in The Shining, who now is an adult, a recovering alcoholic who works in a hospice, using his “shine” to help patients at the close of their lives.  It’s also about a little girl who has an incredible amount of the shine, and a group of creatures who feed on psychic energy.

So, not quite as cut-and-dried as its predecessor, and it really helps to know the original pretty well, especially making sure one has a grasp of the whole idea of what the titular shining is.  Let me just say that if you haven’t read the original, don’t touch Doctor Sleep.  Pick up The Shining (and no, watching the Kubrick film doesn’t count– I’ll get to why later in the post), and then pick up the newest King book.  You haven’t earned it yet.

The first element of the book I want to get into is Dan.  386px-Doctor_SleepIt was fascinating to see a character that I previously only knew as a child now as a middle-aged man.  It was actually quite impressive, because King transitioned the character into the present day very seamlessly.  I felt like his choice to begin with a young Danny, a few years after the events at the Overlook Hotel, eased the transition (while also helping to re-cement in my mind a plot element that had been muddled a bit by the film– specifically that a character did not die in the book).  Then, I loved that Danny, who I thought was fairly lovable in his youth, grew up in a way that showed a great deal of complexity.  I loved that we could see his emotional scars as he first resented his father and his alcoholism, then mimicked it.  We see Dan at the lowest of his lows, but can’t help but identify with him, sympathize with him, ache in our hearts to see a character of innocence turn into a broken man– and, as the novel progresses, a good man who is haunted by ghosts, literal and figurative, from his past.

I do take issue with one element of Dan in this novel, however.  It by no means ruined anything, but I had a hard time getting a solid grasp as to what he exactly he does as “Doctor Sleep.”  I got the gist of it, but I didn’t feel like the things that were described in the novel were enough to warrant the title being Doctor Sleep.  It’s certainly a catchy title, but the book’s main story wasn’t about Dan’s “Doctor Sleep” actions.  I just needed more of Doc and Azzie.  It’s really my one complaint with the novel, particularly as a real-life version of Azzie the cat, which knew when people were about to die, is what inspired King to revisit The Shining characters.

King described Doctor Sleep as “a return to balls-to-the-wall, keep-the-lights-on horror.”  Though the book was quite scary at moments, I actually felt like this wasn’t quite an accurate description of the feel of the book.  It’s certainly a horror novel, but I didn’t feel as though it was anywhere near as frightening as some of King’s older works, such as The Shining, Misery, or Gerald’s Game.  I would even go as far as to say that his implication that his more recent work isn’t as scary as it doesn’t even apply– I felt like the darker sections of Duma Key (my favorite King novel) were notably more frightening.  That said, I do feel like the monsters of this novel– The True Knot– are very chilling, especially because in that outside of their supernatural element they are just as horrible– and quite plausible.

As with most of King’s works, his writing shines for a variety of reasons.  Most notable in my mind for this particular book is his characters.  The two most notable characters are Dan (who I’ve already discussed so no need for more) and Abra Stone, the little girl who also has the shining.  Even though the story is told in blocks of time that move forward in a way that almost seems haphazard (though that is the wrong word, really, because King gives us the snapshots of time with a master’s hand) he deftly paints the characters through the years the novel fills, giving the reader a love of their personalities and genuine concern for who their well-being.  Rose the Hat, the main villain of the piece, is terrifying yet very graspable– the reader can see and believe her motivations, even while reviling her.  The remaining cast, all of whom are comparatively minor characters, are all very alive in the piece.  His dialogue definitely has always been the key to bringing his characters to life, and it is very apparent here as most of the gaps in time are filled very seamlessly with the words spoken by the characters.

King’s prose, as usual, is wonderful, filled with language that somehow manages to be awful and beautifully perfect at the same time.  His storytelling is tight, excellently paced.

And, as usual, there are some of the ever-fun connections to his other works.  Mostly just references to places, and interestingly enough there also are references to Joe Hill’s book NOS4A2 (Hill is his son).

It’s really just a wonderful read (but again, make sure you’ve read The Shining first, otherwise you’ll spend much of the book wondering what is being referenced).

And now, onward (and backward) to the three faces of The Shining.  Properly, I’ll now begin with the beginning– the novel.

I’ve already revealed some of my feelings about this book.405px-Shiningnovel  In fact, I feel like this section of the post isn’t going to be too horribly long, as I’ve already had to cover a fair bit of the material I wanted to.  Also, I apologize, but I’m apt to repeat myself a bit.

The Shining is potentially one of the best books you could pick up if you want to start reading Stephen King, or if you just want to read a good old-fashioned scary story.  It’s King’s third published novel, and, as I’ve stated probably too many times already, it’s one of his most frightening.

As I stated at the beginning of the post, this book is very strong at bringing the scares because King doesn’t rely on just one or two tricks to keep his readers cowering.  Instead, there are layers upon layers of scares.  There is the horror of the broken (or inevitable-to-break) family, of alcoholism, of child and spousal abuse, both verbal and physical.  There is the terrible difference between perspectives of individuals.  There is isolation, the fury of nature.  There is the darkness of a place that has been filled for years with selfishness and depravity.  There are ghosts and things with teeth (the topiary animals scene is my favorite).  There are lies, secrets, and love that isn’t shown in return.

So, something for everybody.  Hopefully lots of things for each reader.  Having so many diverse scare tactics creates a very interesting tone in reading the piece– simply, I felt overwhelmed by it all.  And that was a good thing.  With a situation as overwhelming as the events of The Shining, the fact that my reading experience imitated that is a very good thing.  It shows that Stephen King knew what he was doing.

And he really did.  The alcoholism of Jack Torrance is by far one of the most prevalent elements of the story, and King was (unfortunately) writing from a position of personal experience.  The setting, too, feels so very real because King spent time researching the novel in the Stanley Hotel.  This, I feel, serves as a testament as to what good research can do for a novel.  Especially hands-on research.  It’s something that I want to be able to replicate for my own writing in the future (to clarify, good research, not alcoholism).

The are (and had to be) strong.  With only three characters filling most of text, each had to be well-developed, and it was clear that Mr. King was very well-acquainted with each of them.  I definitely felt that Jack was the most powerfully written of the family, but that worked for what happened in the story.  I felt Danny was a very realistic child, though I did want even more of him as the book was named after his talent.

So, all-in-all, one of King’s better novels.  Probably not quite in the top ten, but only barely missing that mark.  I’m sure that I’ll make a list of my favorite Stephen King books in order when I get around to that exhaustive post in a few months.

I have very split feelings about the Stanley Kubrick film adaptation of The Shining.  Part of me sees the masterful filmmaking, the iconic moments, and Kubrick’s deliberate, beautiful detail, and wants to love the film.  The_Shining_posterAnother part of me– one that is much louder and passionately opinionated– really can’t help but hate how unfaithful it is to the source material.

As a piece of its own, it is wonderful.  It is on almost every list of the greatest films of all time, after all.  There is no denying that Stanley Kubrick is one of the most talented filmmakers of all time.  Every moment of every scene has been constructed, framed, acted, and filmed according to his precise instructions, and his work really shines (no pun intended).  His set is beautiful and unnerving.  In Kubrick’s hands, the film is meticulously filled with themes and idea that are furthered by everything in the film– from barely visible props and scene dressing in the background to the dialogue.  He also is very talented at creating iconic moments that are unforgettable– especially the big wheels scenes.

There is no denying that Jack Nicholson’s performance as Jack Torrance is brilliant.  He really captures the complexity of the character, from the man who wants a fresh start to the axe-wielding drunk maniac.

The effects in the film are also very good.  It’s a scary film in how it shows you the monsters of the Overlook Hotel.  I felt like Danny’s encounters, such as with the iconic twin girls at the end of the hallway, or the woman in room 237, were particularly powerful.  In terms of making the supernatural elements of the story very realistic and frightening to viewers, Kubrick did a great job.

But, as I said, I still don’t feel like the film was a faithful adaptation of the novel.  In fact, Stephen King shares the same feelings, having openly reviled the work numerous times since its release.  It’s almost funny in a way– in terms of general quality it is far from the worst adaptation of one of his stories, but it seems that he has a special store of venom set aside for it.  I’ve puzzled over what it was that made it seem so off to me, and it actually took watching part of a documentary, Room 237 (it’s terribly putRoom_237_(2012_film) together, with no semblance of editing– at one point one of the people voicing their ideas actually has to pause to kick their noisy kid out of the room), that discusses a variety of interpretations of the film for me to be able to place what it was that I didn’t like.

The film version of The Shining isn’t about the same things that the novel is about.  The themes are totally different.  As my viewing of Room 237 showed to me, the movie was possibly actually about early American treatment of the Native Americans, or the Holocaust, or the authenticity of the moon landing– but it wasn’t really The Shining at all.

Additionally, I really hated Shelly Duvall as Wendy Torrance.  Wendy Torrance was never supposed to be the happiest character in fiction, but she just made her seem like a contestant in the misery olympics, even when things weren’t going to hell.

There were also some changes to the story that didn’t seem to have any logic, such as the death of Dick Hallorann.  What did that change possibly contribute to the film?

And, most disappointing of all, Stanley Kubrick replaced the wonderful, chilling topiary animals with a hedge maze.  I wasn’t sure what exactly he was doing with it, but it was clear that it was to pursue one of his off-the-wall themes.

Also, I actually don’t like the “Heeeere’s Johnny!” line.  I acknowledge that I may be the only person who has seen it who doesn’t, but it totally threw me out of the movie.  This may be in part because it is so iconic, but it felt unnatural in the scene.

I think when I want to enjoy Kubrick’s talents, I’ll go a different route, maybe 2001, A Space Odyssey.  He worked with the author on that one, and it shows.

I’m only going to briefly touch on the latest iteration of Stephen_King's_THE_SHINING_(mini-series_intertitle)The Shining— the 1997 TV miniseries.  Honestly, I’m actually fairly limited on what I can say about it, because I haven’t gotten myself motivated to watch the second and third episodes because it suffers very badly from pacing issues.  It’s definitely very thorough in its presentation of the story, and quite accurate for the most part (King wrote the teleplay, so that kind of goes without saying), but the director was definitely squeezing sections for all the time he could.  The acting was pretty mediocre (though I did like the guy who played Dick quite a bit).  The effects are really bad (and I hadn’t even gotten to any of the big supernatural scares).  The choice to portray Tony– Danny’s imaginary friend that serves as a sort of manifestation of certain elements of the shining– seemed a poor idea, and was even poorer in execution in that it was played by a guy who was either in his late teens or early 20s.

I’ll probably sit down and force myself through the remaining three hours soon (if I could get through The Stand miniseries I can get through just about anything) and I’ll update to have my evaluation to be more exhaustive, but for the time being my biggest thought is that the miniseries by no means served as a redemptive filmed version of the book, though it at least shared the same story and themes as the original.  It’s just hard to do justice to a book as complex and subtle as The Shining.

Insidious+Chapter 2

I’m just going to get this out of the way now– this post has a lot of spoilers for Insidious.  I made a point to mark the spoilers for Insidious Chapter 2.  I need to spoil things for my review to really work at all.  If you don’t want it ruined at all, then go watch it first– but not that my saying so is really a recommendation.

Two and a half years ago, I sat down with a group of my friends, dimmed the lights, and turned on a horror film insidiousnamed Insidious.  I didn’t know too much about it in advance– several friends had told me they loved it, and I had seen a teaser ad with a line, spoken in ominous tones, stating “It’s not the house that is haunted–” so I was really excited to find out what it was about.  Furthering my excitement was that several of my friends who usually did not watch horror with me were able to share in the experience with me– these friends have a personal rule about avoiding R-rated films, and this was in the clear.

I immediately liked the direction the film was going.  From the beginning, there was a lot that made it genuinely unnerving and scary.  A spectral child danced to Tiny Tim.  A Manson-like figure hulked over a baby.  And most creepy of all, a little boy wouldn’t wake up.

I liked the characters pretty well.  I felt like I really believed in the familial relationships of the main characters, and I felt like the panic of Josh and Renai seemed very true-to-life as Dalton lay in bed, unable to be awoken in spite of medical and less-conventional attempts to rouse him.

The first half of the movie really drew me in.  I was quite certain that I was watching what would become one of my favorite horror films.

And then, it happened.  Lipstick-Face.

I wish I was making that name up.INSIDIOUS_still3_large.ashx_  I really do.  I actually thought that it was a ridiculous nickname my friends gave him for a very long time.

From the moment the demon that seems the love-child of Darth Maul and a salamander lizard-crawled away from Dalton’s bedroom, I stopped being able to take the movie seriously.  The first half of the movie was riveting, scary, and just generally excellent.  I laughed out loud when he appeared on the screen (getting glares from several friends).  Each subsequent time this key villain in the film appeared, I just had to roll my eyes.  When his lair was revealed,  complete with “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” blaring on a record player (which threw me off– the song seemed to be tied to The Dancing Boy up until that point) and a vanity mirror, I was wincing.  He really killed things for me.

Well, that, and the astral projection stuff.  Don’t get me wrong, astral projection is a fascinating idea, and really could work very well for a horror film, but it didn’t quite make sense in the movie.  From my understanding of it, astral projection involves sending one’s self to other places while asleep.  Now, that happened in the movie, but it seemed to be that the projector was either right outside their body, or in a weird nightmare world.  There didn’t seem to be anything else to it.  I think I would have bought it if Dalton’s projection was captured someplace while he was out, flying through the world in search of dream adventures, but when everything in the astral realm seems only to be hellish– well, I think just about anybody would hang out by their sleeping body, not explore further and further out every night.  Just sayin’.

It’s unfortunate that the second half of the movie is such a downgrade from the first in that I actually think the characters that were introduced for that section of the film, Elise, Tucker, and Specs, were all pretty well done.  The latter two were fairly silly characters, but they were fairly believable and all three weren’t the typical hyper-overdone medium team that most haunting horror films tend to feature.

Another thing I didn’t like about the second half of the movie was how the direction went from very natural scares to jump-scare tactics.  The showing of the story of the family of the Doll Girl was all jumps (and didn’t seem at all conducive to the plot).

I guess I just felt like the second half was just a poor attempt to tie how varied the spookiness of the first half was, plus, all new to horror movies, astral projection!

The conclusion, with its quick introduction to Josh’s past and some creepy old ghost-woman and Elise being killed, felt very sloppily thrown together to keep the audience gasping.  For me, it seemed the punchline of a bad joke.  Plus, there existed a very sizable hole– allegedly, Lipstick-Face had to break down some sort of barrier to be able to possess Dalton, hence a lot of the weirdness that made the first half of the film great.  This explanation brought two big issues– firstly, why are these other beings helping Lipstick-Face, when apparently everything in that realm really wants physical bodies?  There is clearly a big connection between all of these creepy things and beings and the demon, so what are they getting as minions?  If it offered some sort of explanation, I’d have been okay with them working for him– maybe he’s enslaved them because he took their bodies in the past or the like.  I’m okay with mystery remaining in the conclusion of a story, but sometimes it just leaves questions bigger than the sense of resolution, which I see as a problem.  The second issue with the idea that Lipstick-Face had to break down barriers is that when Josh is in the Further for a very short period of time, it is clearly at great risk of being possessed– his body is actively assaulted, and the conclusion leaves us unclear as to if it is truly him in his body or if it is something else.  So, why is there even a risk of him being possessed?  Dalton is unconscious for much, much longer than Josh, and his body remained quite secure from possession still.

I made fun of it to my friends, throwing in some jabs at those who thought it was still scary, and called it a night.

Then, earlier in the year I caught wind of Insidious Chapter 2.  Initially I just shrugged indifferently, remembering my dislike of its predecessor but realizing that the genre is riddled with bad sequels, especially with bad sequels to bad movies.  For some reason, the most mediocre of horror movies still sell, particularly when released in October, but that’s just the way of the world.  After all, I couldn’t force myself to get through A Nightmare on Elm Street, and that film spawned near-innumerable sequels and remakes (I might be able to get through it eventually, but I have my doubts as my threshold for awful acting in things I’m supposed to be taking seriously is very low).  But, as time went on and the film made its way from theaters to Redbox, I decided to give it a shot.  After all, I already had pretty low expectations for it, so I doubted it would manage to disappoint me.

Well, I’m pleased (okay, pleased it too strong of a word) that it didn’tInsidious_–_Chapter_2_Poster disappoint me in that respect.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was a good movie, but because the first one did get me accustomed to the universe’s ideas of astral projection (disappointing and internally inconsistent as they may be), I was able to find some enjoyment in the movie.

I did like a lot of the elements that carried over from the previous film, notably the story of the old woman specter featured at the end of the film.  Learning the context for the old woman and the desire to possess Josh was very interesting, and learning about the character in life was quite compelling.

I will say, before I go any further, that it continues to be littered with internal inconsistency.  The beginning of the film furthers the contradiction that bothered me at the end of the first one.  We see a young Josh, who was endangered by his astral projecting and who is made safe by forgetting about his ability.  Now, this provides some nice plot patching about his ability to go to retrieve his son in the first film, but it also re-affirms that there should have been no risk of his being possessed.

[SPOILER] And there’s the biggest problem for this film, right up front.  Because eventually we find out that he is possessed by the “old woman” that haunted him in his youth, and he is still trapped in the Further. [END SPOILER]

Now, the film has two main stories going on– one following the main family members trying to figure out why there is still weirdness happening around them, and one of Josh’s mother and Elise’s paranormal investigation team trying to figure out the nature of Elise’s death.  Out of these plots, the latter is far more compelling.  It is unfortunate that they overplayed the comic relief element of Specs and Tucker, but thankfully it wasn’t to a point that it detracted too much from the film.  Their investigation process and the things uncovered and really interesting and quite creepy at points.  The other story did keep me questioning what was happening– in part because I was so resistant to accepting that the writer’s would contradict themselves so much, though.

The conclusion of the story, all the plot elements converged, bothered me again.  [SPOILERS] I didn’t feel like the inclusion of Elise’s ghost really made sense.  We have a feel that the Further is a place for tormented souls, yet she is there as well, traveling freely with power and authority over the dark spirits.  It was a kind of feelgood element of the film, but I had trouble following the line of logic behind it beyond tonal lightening.  Also, Josh’s body being freed from Parker Crane’s possession made no sense– why would knocking out his mother boot him out?  How does Parker Crane have multiple entities– the child him and the old man– at the same time?  Also, I’m willing to accept that time travel is possible with astral projection, but it does seem quite… advanced… for a person who has only been doing so for a few days. [END SPOILERS]

So, as a whole I enjoyed the second film more than the second half of the original, but it still fails to live up to the expectations the first half of the first film.  It was fun, but nothing to really be taken too seriously.

Silent Hill Sillies #1

Silent Hill Sillies #1

“Working the Streets: Pyramid Head and his Leggy Hos”

While playing Silent Hill 2, a friend and I noticed that it seemed to always be on the street corners that the mannequin leg monsters were hanging out.  Speculation as to the reasons for this resulted in this.

Sharknado and the Joys (and Pitfalls) of B Horror

Over the past few years, I have developed a great love for B horror films.  Not the occasional gems that are actually just a good film wrapped in a small budget (though I tend to really like those for the obvious reasons– that they’re good— and I must admit that I’m actually quite surprised and how many pleasant, spooky surprises I’ve found while expecting junk food movies), but rather the kind that are weakly plotted, with monsters that elicit laughter instead of screams, and acting so awful it warrants a standing ovation.  The sort of film that Mystery Science Theater 3000 made money making a mockery of.

So, when I first heard the title of Sharknado, I immediately opened up YouTube in my browser and watched the trailer.  I knew, as I caught my first glimpse of a shark inside a tornado, that it was Sharknado_postergoing to be something one typically only finds in dreams.  I immediately added it to my watch list on IMDb.  I couldn’t help but laugh aloud at the tagline “Enough Said!” feeling that so true of words were rarely printed next to such bad CGI graphics.

Unfortunately, the movie was still several months away from its premiere on Syfy, so I let thoughts of whirlwind-borne sharks slip to the back of my mind.  This, combined with a lack of cable television in my home (Netflix is much more viable on a college budget) resulted in me being unaware of the first airing of wonderful swirly, bitey destruction, or even of its two encore showings (which, I understand, grew in ratings each time).  No, I didn’t think of my brief zeal for the idea of the film until one day, while looking through new additions to Netflix, I spied the marine predators that can be seen above and gasped with joy.

Now, my first reaction was to immediately hit the play button and begin my revelry, but I knew I had to constrain myself.  Films like Sharknado are not the sort you watch alone.  You have to have friends, and you have to be ready to bask in craziness.  I had to save it for the perfect time.  I’m glad I did.

One evening, a couple of weeks ago, a group of some of my funnest friends and I were trying to come up with a good movie to watch.  It was proposed that we watch a horror movie, so we began looking through the applicable section on Netflix.  The group was busy laughing and chatting and barely paid attention to the titles that scrolled past on the screen, so when I saw it, I knew the timing was perfect.  I insisted, and we hit play.

From the first cheesy line delivered I knew that the film was gold.  We laughed harder and harder as the plot went from a storm pushing thousands of sharks into a frenzied swarm to tornadoes hurling the razor-toothed beasts through Los Angeles.

The characters have weak back stories and are acted with as much cheese as anybody could dream for.  One of the characters is Australian, and had an accent we all mocked incessantly– until the IMDb app on my phone informed me of the fact that he was, in fact, actually from Australia.

And then this, one of the greatest things in all of film, happened.  Click on that link.  You won’t regret it.  I tried to include it in the post, but for some reason the GIF didn’t work.

Sorry for the spoiler, this is was just good to not share.  I laughed.  A lot.  We all did.  I laughed so hard that I almost shed tears.

Yes, that’s a man, a character the writers unabashedly named Fin, cutting a shark hurled at him from a tornado in half with a chainsaw.  And this was just one of many wonderful spectacles in the film.

The group’s solution to the sharknadoes is simultaneously delightfully whimsical and hysterically funny.

It’s just a magical film.  I love it.  If you like B horror movies, or if you want to find the right one to get you into the, this is likely the right one to watch.

And, for me, it also managed to avoid what I consider to be the biggest pitfall of B horror movies– lots of sex and nudity.  This had none.  Which is good, because I wouldn’t have watched it if it had any.

Most B horror movies seem to have gratuitous amounts of nudity and sex.  Especially many of the more contemporary ones.  Often, they seem to be made with just the tiniest hint of plot as an excuse to show a bunch of naked people (who have no discernible amount of acting ability whatsoever) running around, and also, gore.  Let me be clear that I have no interest in those kinds of B movies, no matter how alluring they would be to me otherwise.  For example, I was deeply saddened when I learned that another movie that is clearly very much in the same vein as Sharknado was about half sexual content: Mega Piranha.  A film with giant piranhas jumping out of the ocean to explode upon impact with skyscrapers (which is a scene I have viewed) seems to be right up my alley.  It’s a real shame that only a half hour or so of the movie was such bliss.

I suppose that, from the responses I’ve gotten to this post on Reddit, I should go a little further into my desire for B movies to not have sex and nudity.  Part of this does come from a moral standpoint– I am very religious and feel as though inclusion of such is immoral and generally degrading to the human body.  Many do not share my views and are welcome to disagree with me on from that standpoint.  However, there is more to it than that, from perhaps a more widely-accepted perspective.  Simply, I feel that the inclusion of such both fails to contribute anything more than the most base of thrills– and not of any level of fear.  Surprisingly, making low-budget horror effectively entertaining seems to be quite tricky to accomplish, so the inclusion of naked bodies tends to show a total inability to keep the audience’s interest any other way.  Simply, it’s cheap, and seems a desperation move.  I’ve had the fact pointed out to me that nakedness does bring an added element of exposure and weakness of a character, especially when confronted with something dangerous or frightening.  This obviously can be quite true– hence the “shower scene” idea that has been used almost constantly since Psycho (and maybe before).  I agree that nakedness– or any sort of physical exposure– can bring a powerful element of frailty and weakness, but it has to be done well.  If it truly being used for heightening tension and scares, it must be done with a careful hand.  Unfortunately, many films that may be defended in such a light are only making the weakest of excuses for sexual reveals of their actresses or actors.  It seems to me that B movies are almost universally quite ham-handed in their use of the exposed human form.

So, to get my fix of the silliness in spades I have come to love, I often have to turn to black-and-white era horror films, such as cult classic The Giant Gila Monster, which could also feature the “Enough Said!” tagline, though mayhap with “Also, A Scene Where Some Kid Badly Plays a Song on His Guitar and Sings That is Like Three Times Longer Than It Should Be!” tacked on, as well.  One of my personal favorites (much better than The Giant Gila Monster) is the 1959 film Att220px-Giantleechesack of the Giant Leeches.  The titular leeches were so tremendous in size, of course, as the result of radiation, but then again, what huge movie monsters wasn’t that way because of something nuclear in that era of Cold War paranoia?  I suppose that I launch into a discourse on how horror movies and books tend to reflect the biggest social fears and issues of their times, but I suppose I should save that scholarly of discussion for a post that doesn’t include a GIF of a man cutting a flying shark in half with a single swipe of a chainsaw.

The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is another notable monochrome film that just screamed to be watched.  A mad scientist keeping a brain (and assorted other dismembered body parts) alive, a mutant, telepathy, picking victims at a burlesque bar– what’s not to love?

And how about The Killer Shrews, which featured dogs as the shrews and lots of terrible racial stereotypes that were fun to mock incessantly.  For example, the Hispanic servant on the shrew island pretty much only said “Si senor,” the one black character seemed the model for Jar-Jar Binks in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, and was, as what almost seems to be a law in horror movies, the first to die.  The female lead did an exceptional amount of swooning and fainting.  Fun for everybody.

KillershrewsIt’s no surprise, with the MPAA regulations being so strict in the 50s and 60s, that this era brought out so many of the B horror films that I’ve come to love, but I am sad that it is such a rare thing to find comparable horror films that are worth my time (as a time-waster) now.

A note– one of the most famous B horror films of all time is Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space.  I tried to watch (and mock) this with friends, but it was just too bad and too weird to even come up with sarcastic quips about.  Pretty much anything we said during the film instead was “What is going on?” or disinterested chitchat.  It’s something about aliens, zombies, and a murder (I think).  It was really hard to follow.  I really, really wanted to love it, but it was just awful.  I know many other B horror lovers have a passion for it, but I felt like it was really just unwatchable.  So, I guess a lot of these older films are just as intolerable as many new ones, just for less promiscuous reasons.

At least I can have some hope for the future of B horror films because I happily just found out that Sharknado 2: The Second One is going to coming out next July.

So, what are your thoughts about B horror movies?  Which ones do you like, which ones do you hate, which ones changed your life?  I would really love to get more comments from my readers, make this blog more of a forum of horror (or whatever else I post about), rather than just my thoughts.  I would love to watch some great B movies from what you have to share– especially modern ones that fit my criteria for a good B movie.

“Charlestonian Monsters” and the Horrors of Nature

The following is a horror short story called “Charlestonian Monsters.”  I originally wrote it for the advanced fiction writing class I took my last semester at Utah State.  It is (as the name implies) set in Charleston (well, North Charleston), South Carolina, where I spent the first few months of my LDS mission.  This piece was an attempt to encapsulate some of the “monsters” I came in contact with during that experience– racism, abuse, neglect, poverty.  It also deals with two monsters that I heard numerous stories of– Hurricane Hugo, which destroyed much of of Charleston in 1989, and the hag, which I’ve had several friends who have personal experiences with.  It’s something that scares the crap out of me.  My interpretation of said hag is a little more… twisted than the accounts I’ve heard, but I had a lot of fun with it.

This story is also up on my deviantART, if you’d rather read it there.

If you aren’t in the mood for some horror fiction, skip down to the bottom to read a guest post about the typhoon in the Philippines– and how it, like Hurricane Hugo in the story, is one of the horrors that nature sometimes brings to us.



“There are moments when even to the sober eye of reason, the world of our sad humanity may assume the semblance of Hell.”

–Edgar Allan Poe

“I still get nightmares. In fact, I get them so often I should be used to them by now. I’m not. No one ever really gets used to nightmares.”
―Mark Z. Danielewski,
House of Leaves

Not so long ago, there was a family with a mother named Cherry St. John and two little girls, Aree and Krista, who weren’t sure if their last name was St. John or McCleod, but they were too afraid to ask because the name “McCleod” always made Cherry upset. Even though Aree was only four and Krista was six, the girls were well-versed in what upset their mother. The number one thing was any reference to their “worthless shit of a father,” Mark McCleod. They knew the “worthless shit” had taken off in 1985, just two months before Aree was born.

When their mother was drunk she would tend to lecture the girls (or anybody else who would listen) that she was glad she had never married the bastard and that she wished she could hunt him down and make him pay every cent he owed her for child support. “If I got all that money from him,” she would say again and again, “I would be a rich woman.”

Instead of being a rich woman, however, Cherry St. John was quite poor, living primarily off of a monthly welfare check in project housing in North Charleston. The St. John family was one of only a handful of white families in the area. The clear majority was black, and there was a moderate number of Hispanics as well.

Life was never too bad for the St. Johns– Cherry had a taxing but steady job in a chicken processing plant. The projects were filled with children, so the girls always had many playmates. Even though the area was full of crime their home was never broken into and the family had never been hurt or threatened. The family always had to be careful with their money, but they never had any real problems outside of day-to-day squabbles–

Until the night in the last week of August that Krista got hagged.

Krista awoke late into the night. She awoke sharply, eyes wide, a scream in her throat.

She couldn’t make a sound. Her vocal chords wouldn’t move. No muscles besides those mobilizing her eyes would budge. She was frozen in bed, staring out into the darkness of her shared bedroom.

The only light came from the crack under the door lit by a night light plugged in the narrow hallway to illuminate the path to the bathroom. There were no windows– the room was in the center of the apartment. As the six-year-old’s eyes adjusted to the light, she could faintly see the outline of a dark figure standing at the foot of her bed, gently swaying forward and back.

The girl tried to say the word “Mom,” but her lips and tongue wouldn’t move.

As her eyes adjusted she felt strangely glad that she hadn’t called the figure her mother. Her mother wasn’t that dark– no person she had ever seen was. The figure was the darkest dark, the shadow of a shadow.

The thing continued to rock back and forth, watching with midnight eyes. Krista could make out no face, but felt convinced that it was smiling. After minutes like hours, the swaying increased in scope– when it leaned FORWARD it moved CLOSER then CLOSER. More minutes, and it swayed FORWARD at an inhuman angle, leaning over Krista as if it wasn’t restricted by feet like it were a dense, dark mass and was somehow flat, two-dimensional at the same time.

Then it LEANED to a suspended state just a breath above the little girl– and PRESSED DOWN against her slowly with all of its awful WEIGHT.

Krista felt the breath being crushed out of her lungs as her body was pressed down into the flesh of her mattress an inch, two inches, three. She couldn’t see– the darkness pressed against her face, every inch of her body, like some unstable form of intimacy and then she thought she heard a VOICE as the darkness filled her ears that told her that it LOVED her, BREATHED oh I AM SICK with how I LOVE you

And then the little girl rasped an empty-lunged scream and the darkness was gone.

She cried and cried and her mother, Cherry St. John, swept her into her arms, but the little girl had no words to describe her fear, so her mother thought it was just a terrible dream.

It wasn’t until the second time that Krista was visited, two nights later, that her mother figured out what had happened. The second time was almost as bad as the first. The only difference the second time was that Krista knew what to expect.

That, and when the thing pressed down against her its VOICE gushed, OHHH you smell DELICIOUS I just could EAT you up. For some reason, that didn’t seem as bad to the little girl.

Krista didn’t cry until her mother came into her room. When the dark figure disappeared, the girl was overtaken with exhaustion and quickly fell asleep.

The next morning she tried her best to describe the incident to her mother. Her calmness in describing the manner unnerved Cherry and so she listened to Krista’s account with an attentiveness she normally only held for alcohol. Cherry bit her lip the whole time and offered no solutions.

Later, Aree reported to her big sister that Mom was talking on the phone with Meemaw and told their grandmother “Krista got hagged last night.” When Krista asked Aree what else their mother had to say her little sister shrugged and said “Nothing, she just starting talking about her mean boss at work.”

Krista didn’t know what to think about that. Was her nightmare monster really only worth a passing comment? And what did her mother mean, “hagged?” Was this something that had such a simple name? Did this happen to others?

The child wanted to ask her mother questions, but was hesitant to. Would Cherry even answer?

Would Cherry even care?

On Saturday, the girls were playing on the small, graffiti-covered playground that featured an assortment of gang signs, obscenity, and phrases like “Kill Honkies” and surprisingly, “John 3:15.” Krista was playing with Shakena, a six-year-old girl who lived in the apartment next to theirs, and while pushing her on the small park’s lone swing asked, “So, you find out what ‘hagged’ means?” The girl had set her friend into investigation mode the day previous.

The dark-skinned little girl looked at her friend with a frown. “My mama says to not talk about the devil.”

“The devil? What do you mean, the devil? Is being hagged seeing the devil?”

Shakena shook her head, the small, colorful beads braided into her her rattling. “It think it happened to my cousin, ReVonne. I don’t think it’s the devil, not exactly, but I don’t think I should talk about it. My mama might knock my head.” She bit her lip. “I think she might knock my head, anyway. She’s told me that she doesn’t like me playing with you.”

Krista stopped pushing Shakena. “Why?”

“Mama said that I should just keep to the black girls, that your ma is crazy and you’re gon’ be crazy, too. ‘Specially if you are goin’ ’round talking about the hag.” The girl paused. “She said it’s not good for Christian discussin’.” Shakena hopped off the swing. “I’m going home, I’ll see you tomorrow after I get home from Sunday School.”

Krista looked down. “Yeah, git on.” As her friend departed she walked over to her little sister, who was climbing a ladder leading to a short metal slide. “Aree, do you want to play princess?”

Aree paused on the penultimate step and grinned. “Uh-huh!”

A sharp noise cracked through the air, and a puzzled look spread over the younger girl’s face. “What was that, Krista?”

Her older sister shook her head. “I dunno. Let’s go see.”

Aree had blood on her hand. She had been the first to get to the source of the noise– a man who sat slumped against the wall of one of the apartments. The four-year-old had gently prodded him to see if he was awake. When he fell limply to the side, smearing blood across the wall he was against, she screamed sharply for a short, shattered moment, then fell silent. She raised her hand, and stared at the blood the man’s corpse had left on it.

Krista was at her sister’s side briefly all-adult, covering her sister’s eyes with her hands, moving the child to face their own apartment in the maze of clay-brown buildings. As she pushed Aree forward, she began to cry the kind of tears that she had shed the first night of the hag. Aree didn’t shed any tears, her face blank and pale.

The last time Cherry had felt truly afraid was when she had come home from a doctor’s appointment for her second baby in her stomach, finding a lack of Mark in the apartment. It wasn’t the lack of her boyfriend that necessarily troubled her, but rather the lack of his possessions– and Cherry’s TV– that triggered the fear.

While she had been at the doctor’s office, the receptionist had laid out a payment plan for the medical bills that came with birthing Aree. Cherry had mapped out some ways that her income combined with Mark’s would be able to make it work, to make them work–

And he was just gone. That day, Cherry sat on the floor of her tiny kitchen and cried, not stopping even when her infant awoke in her nearby removable car seat, squalling for attention.

As Cherry St. John looked into Aree’s eyes on that Saturday afternoon as her daughters rushed into their apartment, Krista weeping and Aree silent, she felt like just sitting and crying again.

Just crying until everything bad ended.

Police lights flashed through the windows twenty minutes later. Cherry did not go to speak with them. She still was crying with her daughters.

Other than the person who made an anonymous phone call letting authorities know about the body, nobody in the project housing spoke with them. The handful of doors the officers knocked on went unanswered. It was an unsaid rule of the neighborhood.

The hag didn’t visit that night. There was already enough darkness that day.

On Monday, before sending her to school, Cherry casually asked Krista if she had more problems the previous night. Her daughter didn’t say anything definitive either way, and didn’t look at her mother during the brief conversation.

That evening, LaRainne, Shakena’s mother, knocked on the St. John’s door. When Cherry answered, she simply handed her a note and walked away. It read, Your Krista is scaring my daughter with her bad stories and questions. I don’t want her coming around her anymore. -L

When Cherry asked Krista about it, her daughter just shrugged and continued to draw with crayons. “Don’t you want to see your best friend?” pushed Cherry.

Krista continued drawing. “No’m. It won’t matter soon.”

“The hell do you mean, matter soon?”

Krista refused to say anything further.

Meemaw called on Wednesday. Aree answered, and tried to hijack the conversation with her grandmother, but Meemaw demanded Cherry, insisting it was really important.

“Yes, ma’am?” Cherry answered when Aree finally handed over the phone. “A storm? When? What are they saying?” She walked out of the living room, where the phone was mounted on the wall, into the kitchen to get away from her daughters. The phone cord stretched to accommodate the movement. “That bad? Are you serious? What are y’all gonna do? Us? Only if the governor calls for evacuation, but I doubt that’ll happen.”

That was the first Cherry St. John heard of the storm.

On Thursday, early morning, Krista awoke just after 3:00 to the darkness already beginning to PRESS against her. She was startled, and almost felt a scream successfully pass her lips only to be caught with a rasp in her throat. Her eyes darted side to side and she saw Aree sitting up in her bed across the room, eyes wide.

Aree screamed in the place of her sister.

The dark figure FROZE and Krista felt its physicality tense. Its VOICE was a WHISPER yet a SHOUT in Krista’s ears, Oh my PRECIOUS LITTLE ONE, oh my LOVE I love oh I LOVEANDNEED you. FOUR days oh FOUR DAYS ohno four DAYS to LOVEYOU.

The dark figure jolted up to standing position, turning toward Aree, and lunged at her, the darkness converging into a single sharp point that passed through the little girl and through the wall.

Cherry ran into the room, the door slamming against the wall as it was flung back to admit her. “What is it?” she hissed.

“Uh–” said Krista.

Cherry snapped on the light and the girls could see that she was holding a broom. “What?” Aree began crying. “What is it, babe?” The child shook her head. Cherry looked up at her older daughter. “You know what it is?”

Krista slowly nodded. “It was it again. The thing. That– ‘hagged’ me.”

Cherry clenched her teeth. “Again? Are you serious?” Krista nodded. Cherry muttered what sounded to Krista like a series of words that she had her mouth washed out by Shakena’s mother for saying, then, “I can’t believe it. I’ve never heard of it coming so much to anybody. Usually just once.”

Krista closed her eyes. “Aree saw it. I think she scared it away.”

“Oh?” She dropped her broom and sat on Aree’s bed, taking her in her arms.

“Yes’m. And–“

Cherry looked up. “What?”

Krista shook her head. “I don’t know.”

“What, Krista?”

“It– it just talked to me again.”

Again? It’s been talking to you?”

Krista looked down, feeling ashamed. “Yes’m. It says bad things to me. That it loves me.”

Cherry cursed.

“This time it said something about four days.”

“Four days what?”

“Four days to love me. I think. Does that make any sense?”

Cherry frowned, but didn’t respond.

That night Cherry slept on the floor of her girl’s room. She had found in herself a sense of maternal care that she had thought had left with Mark.

The morning after Aree saw the darkness Cherry stepped outside to check for mail. She found a note attached to her door that stated in cold block letters:


Cherry screamed as she tore up the note, hurling each chunk away from her cracked cement porch. “No,” she shouted out into the mostly-empty complex of government-built apartments. “Nothing is going to touch me or my girls. Nobody.”

Cherry slept on the floor of her girls’ room that night, and the night following. The night of Thursday evening all three slept until morning without any incident. The following evening, Krista briefly awoke just after midnight and saw a dark figure standing in the corner of the room. It made no move towards her or her family members as she watched it, and eventually sleep retook her. When she woke the next morning to the sound of the phone ringing in the next room, the thing was gone.

Cherry inhaled sharply and slowly opened her eyes as Krista tried to step over her to get to the phone that continued to ring an abnormally long number of times. “Don’t worry about it, honey,” she mumbled, “I’m sure they’ll call back later.”

Krista shook her head. “It just keeps ringing.”

Cherry blinked deliberately to clear sleep from her eyes. “How long has it been going?”

“At least a minute.”

Cherry slowly stood, knees cracking loudly. “I’ll get it, just lay back down. Or go eat some cereal.”

The phone was still ringing when Cherry finally answered it. It was her mother, who skipped hellos by immediately demanding, “What the hell took you so long to answer?”

Well, why the hell are you calling so early?” Cherry retorted.

Look, you need to start packing. Right now—“


Shut up and listen to me, Cherry. Pack anything valuable or useful. Clothes, some food, money, anything you really care about. Blankets, pillows. Have it ready by three, I’ll be there then, heaven willing that the roads aren’t too busy to let me get there.”

What, the storm?”

Hugo. Yes, Cherry Valerie St. John, the hurricane. The news reports are saying a nightmare of a hurricane. They named it Hugo, and make jokes that it’s huge-o. You understand me? Why in the name of the Almighty did you not watch the news after I warned you?” Her voice was growing shrill.

Cherry’s voice grew tired. “Because, ma’am, I have been dealing with shit you wouldn’t believe, and because, mother, I know I have you to do the worrying for me. So, they’re calling for an evacuation, then?”

What ‘shit’ could be more important than the safety of your daughters?”

Aree, who had just wandered into the room to see who her mom was shouting at, fled at the sight of her mother’s scowl. “You listen to me, Ma, and you listen to me good. I am trying to take care of my daughters’ safety. I have been sleeping the last three nights on their floor to keep them safe, so don’t tell me that I don’t care about them. If I didn’t need your car to get us out of here, I’d tell you to go to hell, because your face is the last I want to see right now. Three o’ clock,” Cherry spat, and slammed the phone against its receiver.

She spun toward the kitchen, shouting, “Krista, eat your corn flakes like the devil’s on your tail, because I need your help.”

The family loaded key possessions into Meemaw’s car when it pulled in at 5:45. Cherry’s mother had to fight traffic and then argue with a police officer to allow her to drive toward Charleston. The bullish woman had sworn that if the man didn’t allow her to take care of her grandbabies then she would take his gun and shoot him with it.

They drove inland in thick traffic all through the night to reach the South Carolinian capitol, Columbia, which meteorologists had said should be safe from the worst of the storm. They parked the car in a field filled with other refugees and slept, ate the food they brought, and waited. Mid-day Sunday, it began to rain. Krista read picture books to Aree, and Cherry told Meemaw about the events of the prior week and rain fell and fell.

The radio told the family of large temporary shelters that had been erected, some around the governor’s mansion Sherman had burned down during his march to the sea. They moved there, and ate emergency supplies while they waited for the storm to pass.

They didn’t go back until two weeks after the following Friday, when they heard the roads had been mostly cleared enough to allow for travel. They passed hundreds of downed trees as they returned to the coast, and as they got to the city, they saw what Hugo’s thousands of tornadoes had done.

When they reached their section of the projects in North Charleston, they found only rubble, the series of drab brown buildings reduced to crumbling walls. The St. Johns cried, and Cherry screamed profanities into the sky at Hugo, which had gone on to ravage states to the north, but soon, sitting on a pile of bricks that had once made up their apartment building, they came to find peace as they realized that the hurricane provided them an opportunity to be free from their other Charlestonian monsters.




Sometimes zombies, ghosts, and demons are not the only thing we have to fear. Sometimes our fellow humans have to suffer through the horrific reality that is Mother Nature. Many families and individuals have been torn apart by the recent typhoon that struck the Philippines. While many of us do not have the means to fly over and help  in person, we can give aid to those who can. Here are some trustworthy places to donate:

LDS Philanthropies Humanitarian Aid – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints does great humanitarian work. It’s non-profit, so every cent goes towards the relief effort. I also read that they are currently teaming up with Roman Catholic efforts, so your donation will probably help with the Catholic relief effort as well.
The American Red Cross and the UK Red Cross – One of the most trustworthy and efficient organizations.
The U.S. White House – The President of the United States has also asked for donations through their website to aid the U.S. volunteers.

Thanks for your time, bloggers!

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