Archive for August, 2013

My frequent collaborator C. Dennis Moore and I are doing weekly … or at least something approaching that… reviews of whatever one challenges the other to review that week. I’m the author of the novels Gray Lake and Death Sight, the first novel in my Will Castleton series. Dennis is the author of the novels Revelations and the Amazon #1 horror bestseller The Third Floor. His new novelThe Ghosts of Mertland just came out. Dennis has written more than 1,000 reviews, many of which are available in a series of books . I used to write reviews for the entertainment section of a newspaper. Together Dennis and I have co-written a short novel called Band of Gypsies and the priced-to-sell $.99 full-length story collection Terror Is Our Trade. Right now we’re working on a new Will Castleton novel called Return to Angel Hill. Each week (or whatever) Dennis and I will post both our own and each other’s reviews of the subject at hand to our respective blogs – you can find Mr. Moore’s blog over here. This week, my pick was The Teacher.

Buy or rent THE TEACHER on Amazon
Watch THE TEACHER on Netflix


by David Bain

Four out of Five Stars

The Teacher (1974) is like an episode of The Brady Bunch gone horribly, horribly wrong. Similar hairstyles, similar music, a similar teen, similar cars, but now imagine Peter Brady coming home and announcing he’s just got it on with his “groovy” new teacher and he isn’t quite sure how to feel about it.

And, oh yeah, Peter mentions, Bobby got knifed while we were exploring an abandoned factory where it turns out Greg, who I just found out is a peeping Tom and cruises town in a hearse , has a creepy shrine to the teacher I just made the beast with two backs with.

Creepy is the operative word for this movie – and not in the usual Gothic, ghostly or even suspenseful meaning of the word, though there are indeed a few of those moments. Your skin crawls because, well, cradle-robbing. And because Anthony James is in it. James is about the oiliest, most cadaverous, most lecherous-looking character actor I can imagine next to maybe Angus Scrimm. (If you don’t know who he is, you’ll recognize him. He’s played every creep on TV, ever.) Even when James isn’t playing a stalker, as he does in The Teacher, you know he’s the type who’s going to be hovering over his computer in his parents’ basement, his hot breath fogging the screen as he stares at your Twitter account, waiting for you to announce what you had for dinner so he can buy a dozen cans of the same thing and reshape the Chef-Boy-Ardee wrappers into a collage which, in his imagination, looks just like your Facebook icon, and leave it on the front seat of your car for you to discover on your way to work the next morning.

If you haven’t guessed yet, the plot, in a nutshell, is Hot Young Teacher seduces Sexually Awkward Student over summer break. Creeper with Hots for Teacher doesn’t like this, and if he can’t have her, can’t no one have her. Bare skin and tensions sexual, situational and suspenseful ensue.

Which is to say The Teacher , for all its kitsch, is not a bad movie. To the contrary, once you get past the flared pantlegs, funky print shirts and every adult male’s muttonchop sideburns, it’s good, sleazy fun. We care about the teen protagonist, Sean (Jay North – formerly Dennis the Menace!).  And we are certainly reviled by the mere presence of James on the screen – I mean seriously. It doesn’t matter if the man overacts in this. They could just include pictures of him sitting in a chair and the audience would release a collective “Ewww.”

And maybe it’s because, like every male of my generation, I had this Marcia Brady thing going on as a pre-adolescent, and she bears more than a passing resemblance to the young Maureen McCormick, but if tawdry Seventies eye candy’s what your male gaze is looking for, you’ll find every bit you’ve ever asked for in Angel Tomkins, the titular teacher.  (Get your mind out of the gutter – “titular” means “denoted by the title,” not … well, okay, maybe in this case it does.)

A caveat – and maybe a little bit of a spoiler – but the ending is a bummer, man. And I mean a major bummer, dude. The cheaper aspects of the movie- budgetary and ethical – its relative good cinematic intentions, its comparative competence despite its cheesiness, all of these make it an enjoyable little flashback thriller with a decent drive-in aesthetic. You’re smirking to yourself, in B-movie contentment if not exactly bliss, when the ending punches you in the nose … and suddenly the popcorn doesn’t taste so good anymore.

It remains a worthy indulgence nonetheless. You wouldn’t see this movie made today. These days “The Teacher” would be all sex farce or all stalker/slasher, no middle ground. All about them demographics, dontyaknow? It’s a popcorn and beer on a late Saturday night kind of movie – just be sure to finish the popcorn before that final scene.

Buy or rent THE TEACHER on Amazon
Watch THE TEACHER on Netflix


by C. Dennis Moore

Four out of Five Stars

Holy crap was that ever the 70s.  I mean, I don’t know if it’s possible to be any more 70s than that.  I didn’t even know any one thing could, all on its own, be so much the 70s.

In 1974, Howard Avedis’s tale of lust and murder was a thing to behold.  It’s a classic story.  Boy meets girl (she was his teacher for 3 years before he graduated high school, which makes me wonder how the hell do you have 1 teacher 3 times in high school?  I took 5 years of high school and never once had that kind of overlap), boy falls for girl (he’s 18, she’s 28 and a knock-out, you do the math.  And, to be fair, she DID pursue him), boy is threatened by girl’s psycho secret admirer who blames boy for the death of his brother.

You could practically write the script yourself.  But you didn’t.  Unless you did, in which case, you need some new material.  But if you didn’t, and you’re relying on THE TEACHER to be your conduit into the seedy underworld of barely legal 1970s action, then you’d better grab your platform shoes and hang on cuz it gets pretty wild.

Lemme give you the skinny.

Sean and his friend Lou sneak to an abandoned building on the edge of town, just off the water (Lake? Ocean?  River?  The world may never know) so Lou can show Sean his (Lou’s) brother’s binoculars, because in the 70s, no one had ever seen so strange and exotic a gadget as binoculars, and they merited the special after school trip.  What they find when they look through the strange magical glasses is Sean’s old teacher, Diane, sunbathing topless on her boat.  Well, that just won’t stand, Jack: peeping on Diane is Lou’s brother Ralph’s gig, you dig?  When Ralph jumps out at them from the shadows of his shrine to the lovely Diane, he screams, startling his brother who falls to the ground several stories below, dead!

“You killed my brother!” Ralph yells at Sean.  “You pushed him!”

But Sean’s all like “Whatever dude, catch you later,” and he takes off, booking it back home.  Ralph shows up at Sean’s crib that night, peeping in his bedroom window, telling him if he spills anything to the fuzz, Ralph will cut out his tongue with a bayonet.  Sean’s tongue, not Ralph’s.  So Sean does what any self-respecting 70s wuss who didn’t grow up on a healthy diet of KARATE KID and DEATH WISH movies–and since “Starsky and Hutch” was still a year away, Sean was really SOL–does: he says right on, and he shuts the hell up.

Enter Diane.  Diane the former teacher is not only a good friend of the family and a neighbor, she’s also a lonely, lonely woman.  Her husband is a vagabond biker who can’t settle in one place, and he’s been gone for a while.  So Diane decides she’s divorcing him and getting herself a new man.  Who better than the 10-years-her-junior son of her friend Alice?  Because the dating scene in the early 70s, it was rough out there, man, what with your Watergates and oil crises.  And since Sean is not only a virgin, but a very very incredibly naïve and cowardly virgin to boot, all the better.  He’ll be putty in her hands.

The two embark on a whirlwind affair, complete with 20-second petting sessions in Diane’s boat that leave them both, somehow, breathless and spent.  She gives Sean free paneling from her garage to use in fixing up his van, and even takes him to dinner at a fancy restaurant where she orders a bottle of wine (Coke for Sean), then gives him some in his water glass, making sure no one sees.

Things are looking pretty groovy for Sean.  But there’s still Ralph to deal with.  And Ralph will have his revenge, dammit!!!

THE TEACHER is one of those movies you watch simply out of morbid curiosity, because there’s nothing about it that sounds the least bit interesting, but once it gets going and you see just what a train wreck it is, it’s already too late and you can’t NOT finish it.

If there was a narrative arc, I missed it.  To me, the bulk of the movie was just Sean and Diane’s affair, with the last 15 minutes finally spent on something resembling a climax.  Then again, considering some of the other “climaxes” featured in this movie, I already knew not to expect fireworks, or even smoke for that matter.  And I was right to expect disappointment.  Hey, it’s okay, it happens to all writer/directors once in a while, right?

And while I understood, mentally, that it was 1974, probably didn’t have a very large budget, and that the main character, Sean (Jay North), was being played by Dennis the Menace of more than a decade earlier, there was just so much wrong with this movie in ways the boggled the mind.

For one, there was Ralph, played by Anthony James (Skinny Dubois from UNFORGIVEN) who, while he played the role of pervert so well I had to register my copy of the DVD with the State, I think a big part of acting is knowing when to dial it down.  Holy God that dude was creepy!

Angel Tompkins (of the “Fall Guy”, “Knight Rider”, “Knots Landing” and “Hardcastle and McCormick” Angel Thompkinses)  played Diane.  She was a pretty good seductress, but she was hardly subtle and, at times, I just felt bad for the couple.  Diane obviously wanted good loving while Sean was totally in over his head and not ready mentally or emotionally for the responsibilities of an adult relationship  Then again, Diane’s character had all the markings of a grown woman who married too young and now just wants some juvenile fun.

Avedis’s direction is fine, for the most part.  It was the 70s, and everything about the camera work declared that loud and clear.  There was no action, no effects, and the few instances of something resembling a “fight” going down were obviously choreographed by a man with no depth perception, a drinking problem and a limp.

What I’m saying is, this was a BAD movie.  And I still dug it.  Because a movie like this is the very epitome of cheese.  If I’m going to be watching a bad movie, this is the kind of movie I want that bad movie to be.  So for me, THE TEACHER is a terrible movie in all the right ways.  If a movie can’t be high quality, the least it can do is be entertaining.  And by God, and despite every single thing about it, this movie does that.

Buy or rent THE TEACHER on Amazon
Watch THE TEACHER on Netflix


Ghosts Gray Lake cover FINAL I have a new, very short story up on Amazon, “Ghosts on the Way to Gray Lake.” It’s only $.99 to begin with, but it’ll be totally free 8-30 through 9-3. The story adds a little to the mythology of my dark little town of Green River, Michigan, where many of my stories are set, with specific focus on the environs of my book Gray Lake: A Novel of Crime and Supernatural Horror.

The blurb for this story: Gray Lake is full of ghosts. Johnny and Dennison know all the stories. Eerie stories about drowned girls, lost specters, murderers and more. But tonight, as they drive toward the lake through the worst fog of the year, the tales start creeping in on them like the mist itself.

A little more background on the tale: This is story was written on J. A. Konrath’s “8-Hour Book Challenge“. Joe’s challenge was to write something with substance, format the book, create a cover, and publish it within eight hours.

This spooky little story had been knocking around in my head for ages. I’d always known it would be very short – but hopefully effectively chilling – so I thought this was the perfect opportunity to finally get it done. It serves as a nice introduction to the larger milieu of Green River and its various ghosts – and while this story doesn’t focus on them, you’ll also find a good amount of small-time criminals there as well.

I hope the story’s good for a short little shiver – you can find lots more in my novels and story collections!

My frequent collaborator C. Dennis Moore and I are doing weekly … or at least something approaching that… reviews of whatever one challenges the other to review that week. I’m the author of the novels Gray Lake and Death Sight, the first novel in my Will Castleton series. Dennis is the author of the novels Revelations and the Amazon #1 horror bestseller The Third Floor. His new novelThe Ghosts of Mertland just came out this week. Dennis has written more than 1,000 reviews, many of which are available in a series of books . I used to write reviews for the entertainment section of a newspaper. Together Dennis and I have co-written a short novel called Band of Gypsies and the priced-to-sell $.99 full-length story collection Terror Is Our Trade. Right now we’re working on a new Will Castleton novel called Return to Angel Hill. Each week (or whatever) Dennis and I will post both our own and each other’s reviews of the subject at hand to our respective blogs – you can find Mr. Moore’s blog over here. This week, Dennis chose Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil!

Buy or rent Dale & Tucker Vs. Evil on Amazon

Watch Dale & Tucker Vs. Evil on Netflix


by David Bain

Five out of five stars

People hear about my horror habit and think I’m … well, a literary hillbilly at best.

A friend once, in all earnestness, gave me a paperback copy of the novelization of Friday the 13th Part III for Christmas because he “thought you’d like it … thought this is the sort of stuff you’re into.”

No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no!

If you think my literary preference is the novelization of any horror movie, you have it utterly, completely, totally, devastatingly, numerous other negative adverbs wrong.

The problem is I tend to, in casual conversation, call horror “horror”, forgetting horror’s just fine – as long as we call it something else.

In academe, for instance, my area of reading and research is often couched in language such as “Gothic” or “The Dark Fantastic” or “Popular Fiction” – I’ve been guilty of employing several of these terms myself, publish or perish.

We’re talking, on one level, about a genre which subverts and literalizes the tropes of…

Oh shut up, Bain.

The truth is we’re just talkin’ ‘bout good ol’ horrah!

But that doesn’t necessarily mean quickly-written, mass-media, B-movie tie-in sludge.

Hell, yes, I own copies of early for-hack-pay schlockwork churned out by  eventual masters like Dennis Etchison (The Fog, Halloween I-III), Tom Perrotta (R.L. Stine’s The Thrill Club) and David Morrell (creator/novelizer of the Rambo series – the first book being a rip-snorting, positively devastating, absolutely wonderful, completely literary original, written long before the first Stallone effort, but Morrell novelized the Hollywood-envisioned sequels in order to maintain a modicum of control over the media monster he unwittingly set into motion).

Even in these relatively stellar examples, we’re talking, for the most part, material these authors would likely rather forget, the novelization paycheck long cashed.

To be absolutely clear: I’m loathe to actually read such work – even though, okay, yes, full disclosure, in all the aforementioned cases, I have.

But if you think this sort of dross is what I actively search out and am primarily inspired by, you should be taken out and … well, if I say what should be done to you, you’d probably say I’ve watched one too many bad horror movies.

And you may be right.

Which is why Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil is such pure joy.

From start to finish.

I’m surprised this 2010 film isn’t a franchise yet.

Totally serious.

It’s absolutely begging for sequels.

And so am I.

Despite my enthusiasm, the plot’s pretty basic. Tucker and Dale are two endearing, just-smart-enough, downright sweet and loveable hillbillies. Dale, a trivia savant with a third-grade education, even has problems hurting the fish the ever-so-slightly more mature Tucker makes him catch. And as for Tucker, he just wants to drink a few Pabst Blue Ribbons and tend to his newly bought, severely dilapidated fixer-upper of a cabin in the woods.

The wrinkle: due to various horror movie clichés – such as a cabin in the woods – a vacationing group of wayward college students perceive the harmless, innocent, innocuous backwoods duo as creepy, scary, sadistic, and most likely cannibalistic.

Slapstick mayhem – eventually involving gorily impaled, weed-whacked, burned and wood-chippered college kids– ensues. The accidents get so bad that blameless Tucker and Dale suspect the college kids of having a suicide pact, actively attempting to kill themselves.

This flick’s hardly for kids – there is, in fact, gore galore – but Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil is a hell of a lot funnier than even the above summary might suggest.

For instance, there’s a brilliant scene where the role-reversed protagonist and antagonist are forced to sit down face to face in, of all things, an impromptu therapy session – the most congenial of the college kids is a psych major, natch.

Which serves to illustrate this is one smart movie.  It knows exactly what it’s doing every step of the way – in terms of script, in terms of cinematography, in terms of presenting its characters – and it pulls it off with elegance, aplomb, panache, pick your pretty word. It’s so smart, in fact, that it makes us feel dumb for knowing what it’s so smart about; it’s a wonder a film so aware of itself works this well – Tucker and Dale make the Scary Movie parodies look like they were written by … well, before I get too snarky and offend too many people who’ve made way more money than I have in a medium in which I distantly dream my work may someday be presented, let’s just say Tucker & Dale is a complete equal of, say, Cabin the Woods.

In summary, in conclusion, in closing, and in every other term I tell my students not to conclude an essay with, Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil is exactly everything a bright horror fan seeks – it sends up every  formula of its genre and yet the film remains scary and riveting in its own right. It makes us laugh while offering frights and thrills of its own.

Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil should simply be a joy for any horror aficionado to watch, nothing more to say.

Note: It ‘s been a challenge for me throughout this review not to refer to this movie as Dale and Tucker Vs. Evil. I believe I’ve referred to it all over the place and to all sorts of intelligent people with the title characters switched. Despite Tucker (Alan Tudyk)’s many heroic traits, Dale (Tyler Labine) is by far the more prominent, more loveable, more memorable character, and I have no idea how many horror fans I’ve sent searching for the reversed title. Given, Google and probably even Netflix’s search engines are smart enough to fix my mistake, but it’s nonetheless small technical errors like this that make us horror fans look like cinematic hillbillies in the first place…

Buy or rent Dale & Tucker Vs. Evil on Amazon

Watch Dale & Tucker Vs. Evil on Netflix


by C. Dennis Moore

5/5 stars

After a lifetime of horror movies, most of them dumb as dirt but entertaining nonetheless, it’s refreshing to find one that’s actually intelligent.  Wes Craven’s SCREAM movies get a lot of credit for their “smart, new” approach to the slasher genre, but for my money the smartest slasher movie out there is BEHIND THE MASK: The Rise of Leslie Vernon.  Well, finally, there’s a new contender on the block for most intelligent horror movie.

2010’s TUCKER AND DALE VS. EVIL was written and directed by Eli Craig, and it takes a very unique and fresh approach to the killer hillbilly story.

What starts as a typical camping trip for 9 college kids, quickly turns into a battle of good vs. evil when they run into a pair of backwoods hillbillies in the woods and, before they know it, their friends are dropping like flies.  One is impaled on a tree branch running away from a chainsaw-wielding redneck, one gets a spear in the throat, another is fed through a woodchipper.  And then, just when they get the cops on the scene and the kids think they’re in the clear, the cop gets a board full of nails right in the skull.

Chad tried to warn them of the Memorial Day Massacre that took place in these very woods twenty years earlier.  Luckily for them, he knows an opportunity to destroy evil when he sees it, and Chad is determined that no more of his friends will die.  Not by a Weed-Eater to the face, not by turpentine thrown on a fire and not by a gunshot to the face.

And this is the genius of Craig’s movie.  Because, while all of this is true, when you get down to it, things in TUCKER AND DALE VS. EVIL is really a matter of perspective.

It’s hard to review this movie without giving away too much.  I had read before seeing it that it was important to see the movie with no prior knowledge of the story, so that’s what I did.  But I usually do a little research into the movies I watch before I see them, in case there’s anything particularly interesting I want to keep an eye out for.  However, for TUCKER AND DALE, it was the right call.  But with that in mind, how do I write a review and still manage to keep things fresh for new viewers?

I can mention that Eli Craig’s script is smart and funny without a single line of dialogue wasted.  Everything serves to either move the plot or develop the characters.  The acting was spot-on for this type of movie.  It’s not often I meet a character in a movie and immediately hope he gets an ax to the face, but this is definitely one of those times.  The effects were just graphic enough to be interesting, but not gratuitous and certainly not overdone.

I’ve been a fan of Tyler Labine since seeing him in “Invasion” back in 2005 (it’s not everyone who can look so intimidating but still inject so much heart into a role), and Alan Tudyk is, simply, one of the great unheralded geniuses of Hollywood, and while Craig’s script and direction made this movie work, it was the timing and compatibility of Labine and Tudyk that made it great.  I don’t know if these guys were friends off screen, but they have a chemistry that can’t be faked, I don’t care how good an actor you are.

TUCKER AND DALE VS. EVIL is, finally, a movie made by a cast and crew who not only care about what they’re making, but are smart enough to do it right, and to make it entertaining and, while the story isn’t necessarily original, they’ve made it feel brand new in their take on the subject.

This movie is a wild ride with twists and turns you think you see coming, but at the last second Craig veers left and the bottom drops out and suddenly that course you thought you were predicting is no longer relevant.  This is the kind of movie that makes you love movies again, simple as that.

Buy or rent Dale & Tucker Vs. Evil on Amazon

Watch Dale & Tucker Vs. Evil on Netflix


Posted: August 19, 2013 in Uncategorized

Thank you all for an absolutely fantastic free run of my novel GRAY LAKE!

GRAY LAKE was free for five days on Amazon this past week and we gave away more than 10,000 copies!  (The final tallies were 9829 in the U.S., 123 in the U.K., 46 in Germany, and dozens more in other countries worldwide.) It spent most of its time in the top free 100 Amazon chart, peaking in the high 20s!

(If you didn’t pick it up during the free run, GRAY LAKE is only $2.99 (or its international equivalent – ten or more hours of entertainment for less than the price of a Big Mac meal…))

We also saw great success with THE CASTLETON FILES, the only short story collection (so far) from my Will Castleton psychic detective series  – the collection is only $1.99 or its international equivalent right now! The story is continued in DEATH SIGHT, the first Will Castleton novel! We should, before the end of 2013, see two more Will Castleton novels – RETURN TO ANGEL HILL (co-written by C. Dennis Moore) and PURGATORY BLUES, a direct sequel to GRAY LAKE, DEATH SIGHT and Daryl Burns’ short Green River novel WEED.

Five out of five stars.

This is one of the darkest Breaking Bad episodes yet.

And that’s saying something.

There is no joy in Albuquerque.

And there’s not much light either, figuratively or cinematically. Most of last night’s episode took place in shadows or confined quarters – the diner at sunset, the White home at curtains-drawn-baby-nap-time, the interrogation room at single lightbulb, the playground at single streetlight, the underground lab at underground filthiness time, the freaking bathroom from episode two fer Chrissakes!, etc.

A nice touch, illustrating the darkness torque-ing in on…




And a lot of it took place without words.

Does Jesse say a single word in this episode?

Does Skyler ever really confess to anything? I mean verbally? Her body language gives everything away, yes, but she sure as hell shuts the F up to protect her family

– and, in a wonderful example of what we all do when the pressure’s on, she’s suddenly all about Walt again!

Marie, Marie, Marie. I’m worried you’re unraveling every bit as much as Hank. Kidnapping a baby? Really?

Hank, Hank, Hank. No lawyer for Skyler? Really? I’m worried you’re unraveling every bit as much as Jesse, despite your imminent interrogation room showdown with him, in which you seem to have all the advantages…

Jesse, Jesse, Jesse. I’m worried you’re going to be our first ever “I’m not quite buying this” Breaking Bad character. Sorry. Honestly. Yes, we’ve seen you despondent and silent before, but never to the point of, well, stupidity of this level. Still, the show has a way of subverting smug characters like Hank as they walk, way too confident, into situations they don’t completely grok.

Junior, Junior, Junior – where the f**** were you? Why weren’t you home? What’s your problem, wayward palsied youth?

Here’s a way-out prediction: My prediction of Walt’s downfall was utterly wrong. Walt wins. The money in the desert isn’t found. After hiding out w/ Skyler and Junior  and baby in New Hampshire for a year or whatever he kicks Hank’s, Lydia’s or whoever’s butt … and walks away, coughing up blood, with the “Buried” – what a great ep title, given the context – money in tow.

Could be. (Prolly not.)

Wait. Let’s looook at that ep title. I so love and hate that TV is becoming downright literary. I guess Shakespeare would be writing for TV these days – theater is the fringe niche now – but still. We have the buried money, the buried meth lab, and everyone being buried by the moral, legal and situational trenches into which they’ve dug themselves. Even Saul, of all people, seems squeamish, without solid solutions, no way to talk his way out of this!

And how did I not even mention Lydia’s massively in-denial reaction to her take-down of a major bad-ass side-arm of her methlab crime op yet?

Screw you, Breaking Bad, you are simply too good!

You know what? Enough said. I’ll shut up now. I was going to give this four out of five stars – I didn’t feel the same ecstatic, buzzy thrill I get, in the immediate sense, from most eps of Breaking Bad directly after watching. But thank God for writing and analysis.

Long live … Walt? Hank? Skyler?

Well, no. I’m not cheering anyone in this show anymore.

And that’s somehow a positive thing.

Long live the writers, directors, cinematographers of Breaking Bad.

From this point, where sanity no longer has a particular reference point, let the characters implode or succeed as they may!

I’m along for the ride, whatever happens…

My frequent collaborator C. Dennis Moore and I are doing weekly … or at least something approaching that… reviews of whatever one challenges the other to review that week. I’m the author of the novels Gray Lake and Death Sight, the first novel in my Will Castleton series. Dennis is the author of the novels Revelations and the Amazon #1 horror bestseller The Third Floor. His new novelThe Ghosts of Mertland just came out this week. Dennis has written more than 1,000 reviews, many of which are available in a series of books . I used to write reviews for the entertainment section of a newspaper. Together Dennis and I have co-written a short novel called Band of Gypsies and the priced-to-sell $.99 full-length story collection Terror Is Our Trade. Right now we’re working on a new Will Castleton novel called Return to Angel Hill. Each week (or whatever) Dennis and I will post both our own and each other’s reviews of the subject at hand to our respective blogs – you can find Mr. Moore’s blog over here. This week, I picked Pontypool.

Buy Pontypool on Amazon

Watch Pontypool on Netflix


by David Bain

Five out of five stars.

I’m going to start my review of Pontypool, a 2008 Canadian zombie movie that’s more about language than it is about zombies, by telling readers about my short story “Under an Invisible Shadow” – stick with me, there’s a method behind my hucksterism.

I wrote the story – all of about 2,500 words – circa 2002. It’s about what happens when, after a dozen-year reign, the zombies start dying off. It was first published in DEAD BUT DREAMING, an anthology of Lovecraftian fiction – yes, a zombie story in a book of Lovecraft homages. A few years later it was reprinted in THE UNDEAD: FLESH FEAST, an actual zombie anthology. I really want to turn this short story into a big, sprawling novel someday, if I can knock quite a number of other projects out of the way first. In the meantime, if you want to read the story, you can dig it up in print in the two aforementioned collections (both great) or in my own print chapbook FOUR STORIES. It won’t be available in ebook format until a little later this year, when my collection DARKER CORRIDORS comes out.

While I can’t ever resist a chance to pimp my own work, there’s another reason I brought up “Under an Invisible Shadow”. People seem to love or hate the thing. I mean, two different editors wanted it in their books, and my fellow reviewer C. Dennis Moore, who probably actually reviewed Pontypool and didn’t use his review to tell you about a story he wrote ten years ago, insists it’s one of my best tales. It got a Year’s Best Horror honorable mention. Other reviewers, however, both professional and amateur, have blasted it, angered that it’s a zombie story without blood or gore, that it’s a Lovecraft story where the big boogieman remains undefined and mostly offscreen. One detractor railed at me for “leaving out the best parts,” namely the cascading guts and the big oogity-boogity.

But that was my intention with the story, really. Horror doesn’t have to be in your face. It can be about ideas. It doesn’t have to be about the immediate, strictly visceral thrill.

The best horror can leave you thinking – actually thinking – for days or weeks after.

Which is why Pontypool is a beautiful little zombie movie. I watched it several days ago and I’ll be thinking about the closing monologue and several of its ideas for quite some time.

And, like my little horror story, horror fans will either love it or hate it. There’s some blood – it’s projectile, even – but the film nonetheless leaves out most of what that one reviewer would have considered best in a zombie movie. The tale mostly happens in a claustrophobic basement radio station with the zombie attack being literally phoned in – we mostly get only audio of the atrocities until the final reel.

For me, this only heightened the sense of paranoia. For one thing, as a fan of old time radio horror shows, I’m well aware that what our brains can imagine from a story we only hear or read can be much worse than what a film can show us. But more importantly when it comes to Pontypool, we are utterly restricted in point-of-view, confined with characters who are not sure what is real, what isn’t. They don’t know the parameters of this thing and, for various reasons, the truth is not readily forthcoming from any of their limited sources.

Another reason I enjoyed Pontypool is that I love language and the power of language. Stephen McHattie is brilliant as disgraced shock jock Grant Mazzy, who has a deft control of and love for both expressing the truth as he sees it and the spoken word itself. He and his producer, Sydney Briar (played by McHattie’s real life wife Lisa Houle), soon begin to understand that the virus affecting the citizens of the small Canadian town of Pontypool has something to do with language – might even be caused by language – those afflicted begin repeating words or sounds, stuttering, losing the ability to think clearly, quickly degenerating into a zombie-like state. Their grapplings with and solutions to the problem are both brave and brilliant, making for a number of tense and surreal scenes.

I’m giving the movie five stars despite several flaws – partially because I suspect the screenwriter, novelist Tony Burgess, a semiotics and linguistics expert adapting his own novel, might have intentionally included several of them. For instance, there’s A Doctor With An Accent Who Figures Stuff Out – while the plot does indeed need him to have an accent, he (quite literally) slips into and out of the plot a little too effortlessly, too conveniently. There’s also an obituary reading which, though poetic in its own twisted way, couldn’t realistically happen in quite exactly the way it does. Plus a television in the studio or Skype on someone’s cell phone might have changed things significantly, etc.

But these are minor quibbles, and, like I said, given the eventual theme of the film – that language and expectations can be used to make zombies of us all – Burgess and director Bruce McDonald’s not sticking to a strictly linear cinematic logic might have been a completely conscious decision.

Note: Dennis emailed me to watch while wearing headphones and to stick with it all the way through the credits. I’m glad I did both.

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by C. Dennis Moore

4/5 stars

It’s no secret how I feel about zombies, so I won’t rehash it here.  I will, however, reiterate: they’re friggin lame.

You think about 95% of the zombies books or movies you’ve encountered and you can break them down into 1 story.  A bunch of people holed up somewhere waiting out the inevitable while the zombie hordes wreak havoc on the world.  Sometimes there’s a relative they have to brave the outside to find, but in the end it all boils down to the same damn story.  Yawn.

2008’s PONTYPOOL, starring Stephen McHattie as DJ Grant Mazzy in the small town of Pontypool in Ontario on Valentine’s Day, however, is a different breed of zombie movie.  How?  First of all, it’s good.  Second, the zombies in here are much closer to the actual definition of a zombie than anything Romero, Keene, Brooks, or any of the other “popular” zombie “creators” have come up with–that’s because those versions of the zombie you know and love so well are actually closer to ghouls, but, whatever, that’ll be our secret.  Now, granted, I have only read maybe half a dozen zombie novels in my time (cuz they’re lame), and I admit to never having read Keene or Brooks, but if you rise from the grave and you eat human flesh, you’re a ghoul.  Look it up.  The antagonists in Pontypool, however, are, to quote from wikipedia, closer to “a hypnotized person bereft of consciousness and self-awareness, yet ambulant and able to respond to surrounding stimuli”.

This is where the genius of this story, originally from the novel PONTYPOOL CHANGES EVERYTHING by the movie’s writer Tony Burgess, comes in.

The story starts simply enough.  It’s 6:30 on a COLD winter’s morning and Grant is starting his day at work.  His producer Sydney is there (played by McHattie’s own wife, Lisa Houle), along with assistant Laurel-Ann (Georgina Reilly), recently returned from a tour in Afghanistan.  The suspense begins when their “eye in the sky”, Ken Loney, reports a mob outside a local doctor’s office.  The crowd grows and soon the building erupts with a tide of people spilling out into the street. Helicopters show up and Ken beats a quick exit, leaving Grant and the ladies wondering what’s going on (Ken’s later account of hiding out in a grain silo are downright chilling).

They continue their day, but more and more reports continue to filter in until soon there’s mass hysteria about town and Dr. Mendez–the doctor whose office was attacked earlier–sneaks in and takes refuge in the radio station, which is housed in the basement of an old church.  It’s a virus, he tries to explain, but it’s not transmitted by blood or bites or anything else.  It’s the English language, he says.  Our words are infected.  Something happens to the brain when it snags on a word and, as Dr. Mendez says, UNDERSTANDS that word.  The word becomes infected and the person, referred to by author Burgess not as zombies but as “conversationalists”, then have to transfer that infection to someone else.  They begin to hunt for victims, eventually “suiciding” when they find one.

Grant has a duty to relay what’s happening to his listeners.  After all, people have to be warned.  But it’s not a specific word that’s infected, so to speak at all is to risk the madness that comes with it.

As a writer, as someone who works every single day with words, I love this story.  I love the concept.  And believe me, it’s a million times more ominous to think something like this could happen, and my suspension of disbelief works a whole lot more with this idea than it does to think my grandmother might one day return from the dead and fight her way out of the grave to seek living brains to feast on.  For one, my grandmother’s in a mausoleum, and she’s about 30 years dead.  But you get my point.  As someone who has OFTEN found himself with a word stuck in his head, repeating it over and over until it loses all meaning and then I start to wonder if that’s even the word I was thinking of because by this point it sure as hell doesn’t sound like anything I know, it’s just a weird sound I keep making with my mouth…yeah, I’d put more stock in this story taking place than the living dead.

Director Bruce McDonald uses Grant’s job as a DJ to relay the important information to the viewer without a hurried and obvious info dump scene that takes you out of the movie, and he uses the single location of the radio station to build suspense and create a sense of claustrophobia that few other movies of this genre can match, especially when Grant, Sydney and Dr. Mendez are on the floor in the sound booth while the conversationalist hordes are beating on the glass.

But it’s Stephen McHattie who makes this movie really work.  He’s taken Burgess’s words and given them a cadence and a tone that brings the character of Grant Mazzy to life.  I see McHattie and I know he played in 300, I know he was Hollis Mason in WATCHMEN.  I can see him in both of those roles clear as day, but it’s like they were played by an entirely different person because this guy on screen, that’s not an actor playing Grant Mazzy, that’s Grant Mazzy.  This guy has a history, he’s got a moral code that has caused him to be tossed around on occasion and a set of rules he lives by that help him get through each day.  This isn’t a part, Grant Mazzy is a person, and McHattie sells him so well.

It’s not all sunshine and roses, though.  For me, the last act of the movie begins to fall apart at the precise moment Sydney gets caught up on the word “kill”.  Mazzy hits upon a way to counteract the virus, and I guess on paper it makes perfect sense, but something about the execution here left me scratching my head and thinking “Really?  That?”  I really hate great movies with crappy endings.  And I won’t even get into the post-credits scene that, to me, makes no sense at all.

Still, I have to say, McHattie’s delivery and Burgess’s script, man, they keep me engaged from the first frame.  I’ve seen this movie three times now–twice in the last week–and I would have no problem seeing it again tomorrow.  For 2/3 of it’s 94-minute running time, PONTYPOOL is a brilliant movie.  Not only brilliant, but it’s the kind of movie I very rarely see: it’s a horror movie for writers.  Now THAT I can dig.

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Check out my friend Michael K. Rose’s new YA novel – DARKRIDGE HALL!

An evil lurks in the depths of Darkridge Hall, and Andy, a new student at Kransten Academy, is about to meet it face to face.

When threatening, shadowy figures appear outside his dorm room window, Andy decides to solve the mystery of just who or what they are. But those same shadows may be responsible for the strange deaths that have been occurring in the town of Bethlehem, Maine over the past several decades.

As Andy, his teacher Mark Harris and police chief Charles Buck struggle to put the pieces together, they soon realize that the answer may come too late for them to stop the malevolent power behind it all.