Archive for October, 2013

Possible Return to Angel Hill 3C. Dennis Moore and I are hard at work on our work in progress, RETURN TO ANGEL HILL.

This is a novel in which my “slightly psychic” detective Will Castleton travels from my haunted town of Green River to Dennis’ downright evil town of Angel Hill. Yes, Green River has more than its share of malevolent ghosts and corrupt small-time criminals, but in terms of pure, soul-shattering demonic wickedness, Angel Hill is like Green River on steroids.

Will’s in for some harrowing times…

In RETURN TO ANGEL HILL, Will’s psychic friend Mazie, whom readers will remember from DEATH SIGHT and THE CASTLETON FILES, calls on Will to accompany her when she’s forced to return to her ghost-infested hometown of Angel Hill, Missouri – a town she fled decades before, having nearly been psychologically shattered by a harrowing vision in the woods.

A death in the family pulls Mazie back to Angel Hill, but soon after stepping foot on her native soil, she and Will are caught up by spectral forces that twist a ghastly crime from the town’s past into an all-too terrifying present…

We’re hoping to wrap up RETURN TO ANGEL HILL in time for Christmas…

The prologue to the novel tells why Mazie left Angel Hill all those years ago…

RETURN TO ANGEL HILL

PROLOGUE

by David Bain & C. Dennis Moore

These were days that would never fade from memory, no matter how many years or how much distance was put between them.  Mazie had never doubted the reality of the supernatural world.  Spending one’s formative years in a place like Angel Hill, Missouri, it was hard to deny the existence of things like ghosts.   And if ghosts, why not more?  Why not demons and angels, why not unnatural forces, why not living energy whose only purpose in the world was to cause harm?

As her powers began to develop in her teens – she sometimes sensed impressions, sometimes whole stories, from the past after touching someone or something – the older and stronger she got, the worse the energies and the harder they were to shut down.  And if the psychic energies constantly bombarding her brain weren’t enough, the town, as an entity unto itself, was sometimes just plain mean.

A week before Mazie left town for good, nine-year-old Ryan McKay vanished.  In the rest of the world, suspicion would lean toward abduction:  Someone has taken Ryan McKay and now the search for him begins.  Hopefully he’ll be found alive, scared, but unharmed, maybe in the passenger seat of someone’s old pick-up, looking longingly out the window as they pull up to some gas station or a fast food place where Ryan’s abductor can hide the hand holding the gun behind his door.  Ryan may look at the cashier with a plea in his eyes but he won’t say anything and that cashier will think “That kid looks weird.  But familiar.  Where have I seen him?”  Then it’ll click and the cashier will tell the manager who will call the police and Ryan will be returned safe and sound.  Or, in the worst case scenario, Ryan was abducted and murdered and his body will be found a few days later in a ditch or in someone’s basement or back yard.

But this wasn’t the world.  This was Angel Hill.

At nineteen, Mazie was hot shit.  Her abilities to read objects and people had grown over the last six or seven years and she was starting to enjoy doing it.  She kept them to herself, only her grandmother and an aunt knew what she could do, and only because they shared the same gift.  So, when it worked, Mazie used her abilities as a no-fail lie detector, uncovering the bullshit boys fed the girls, or the lies girls told their friends, and always calling people out for it.  It quickly began to alienate those around her, and she feared that telling the few friends she had left about how she did what she did would just drive them away too, and no one wanted to be alone – not in a town like Angel Hill, because, here, sometimes the shapes one saw in the shadows moved.

But then this business with Ryan McKay happened and everyone knew something was up, but in a town like this, where secrets are the order of the day and where there are some things you just don’t talk about . . . people kept quiet.

Ryan had last been seen near a wooded area off the highway, a place kids went to play and live out their fantasies.  These woods served as Tarzan’s jungle, or the woods surrounding Camp Crystal Lake for the more daring role players.  For some it was the perfect place to live out their recent action movie star fantasies.

Mazie went out there one rainy afternoon.  She had no trouble finding it.  She felt the vibrations as soon as she got out of her Chevy Nova.  The walk through the woods was tense and her stomach was in knots.  She’d never felt anything this strong before.  It simultaneously pulled her forward while trying to hold her back.  To go toward it was a compulsion she didn’t think she could resist now that she was actually here, but something inside her, an inner voice she would come to trust with her life in time, tried to tell her to turn back and get as far away from this place as she could.  And quickly, at that.  But she couldn’t do that.  Because Ryan McKay, a little boy she had never met, had never even heard of, was missing, and Mazie knew that if she could shed any sort of light on this subject at all, if her gifts could be used in the slightest way to help get him home safely, or at least provide some answers if returning home was no longer a possibility, she couldn’t, in good conscience, deny that responsibility.

The ground was slick with mud, and not easy to cover with twigs and rocks and hills to contend with.  She grabbed a root growing jagged out of a hillside and hauled her bulk over a slick hill, then had to hold herself steady against a series of trees to get to the bottom without falling on the wet ground.  Even though she’d never been here before, it wasn’t hard to find with her head acting as a divining rod as those vibrations rattled her brain.  The closer she got, the less she wanted to do this thing.

Finally her gifts told her this was the spot, that something powerful had happened here.  She looked all around, trying to find a scrap of shirt, a broken twig he may have snapped during a struggle, anything she may be able to pick up some information from.

Silvery mist swirled about the trees as a breeze whispered in. The rain brushed her face like an unwelcome suitor, making unwanted advances. The sun was a distant cold whiteness behind the wall of dark gray above.

She walked slowly forward, cautious, expectant.  Her heartbeat pounded in her ears, almost as loud as the warnings she felt to leave this alone, turn around, go back to the road, get in the car and get far away from here.  But she couldn’t do that.

Her stomach felt like she hadn’t eaten all day, like it was about to consume itself and she realized she had to pee.  Her shoes were soaked, as were her socks, and she hated that feeling between her toes.

Finally she stopped in a spot she felt was the spot.  Whatever the was, it was here.  And she felt it coming to a boil in her veins, in her brain, deep in her gut.

She steeled herself against what might happen, what might have happened to Ryan McKay and, in effect, what might happen to her when the visions came. Then she reached down her wet hand and laid the tips of the first two fingers on her right hand on the ground.

Mazie fell to her knees and cried out as lights and colors filled her head, a sensation of falling forever made her vision swirl and her balance was for nothing.  She lay writhing in the wet leaves, her fingers stuck to the ground, trying to shake off these feelings of pain and confusion.  She saw nothing of Ryan McKay and everything of an eternity spent in darkness.  She felt lonely.  She cried.  She wanted to scream but something inside made all of her muscles suddenly seize and she froze on the ground, her back arched, stomach up, legs curled back with her right arm twisted backward over her shoulder and her fingers still pressed into the dirt.  Her head cocked dangerously to the left.  Her mouth hung open and she spilled drool down her cheek.  A sound came from her throat in a voice she knew wasn’t hers.  Her left arm was so tense the muscles shook and twitched.

Everything inside her was violence and hurt.

Then it passed through her like a wave, starting at her toes and rising up her body, making her pee her pants, churning her gut, issuing another scream from her throat, making her vision go dark for a moment. Her head felt like her skull was cracking, and finally it went out through her raised fingertips and back into the ground and Mazie lost contact and quickly scurried back from the area, then fell weeping in the leaves and mud, crying out every ounce of shame and loneliness she had felt since her powers first emerged.

“No good,” she said, tears streaming down her face.  “It’s no good.  I didn’t see him.  I don’t know.”

She had feared coming away from this trip with nothing to offer the parents of Ryan McKay, and that’s exactly what had happened.  But it was even worse because she knew now there was no way she could continue to live in Angel Hill with a presence like that in town.  And while the idea of leaving the only place she’d ever known terrified her, the idea of ever coming into contact with something that strong again filled her with a hopelessness she knew would never be overcome.  So the decision, really, wasn’t even something she had to consider.  Mazie had to leave Angel Hill as soon as possible.

Click for info on other Will Castleton books and stories

Click for info on other Angel Hill books and stories

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 novelsThe Ghosts of Mertland and The American Way 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 large newspaper. Together Dennis and I have co-written a short novel called Band of Gypsies and the priced-to-sell $.99 full-length (80,000-word) story collection Terror Is Our Trade. Right now we’re working on a new Will Castleton novel called Return to Angel Hill, which combines my and Dennis’ series. 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. Dennis chose this week’s review challenge: TRIP WITH THE TEACHER.

Buy TRIP WITH THE TEACHER at Amazon.

TRIP WITH THE TEACHER

by David Bain

One out of five stars

Ick.

That’s how I felt, watching the second half of this film.

ZalmanIt’s about some teenage girls in the seventies who are on a field trip when their bus breaks down. They encounter a trio of bikers, one good, one bad, one less bad, all of them stupid. The bad bikers, brothers and ex-cons,  aren’t going back to prison, man, but the girls have seen them behaving badly, so what’s a psycho to do but lock the girls up in a cabin and intimidate, harass, rape and murder them as they put up, meh, some resistance here and there when they’re not too busy being a sixth-grade boy’s idea of attractive high school girls – that last bit is as much a part of the ick factor as the rape and murder.

The thing actually starts out kind of promising, as far as B movies go. Zalman King (who went on to direct all sorts of sexy schlock like Two Moon Junction and Wild Orchid) stars as Al, the badder of the two bad biker bros, and he’s genuinely creepy, wearing thuggish, vaguely sci-fi wrap-around shades for the first third of the flick – imagine Bono with an even uglier mug, a giant(er) schnoz and black Robert Plant curls. King’s effectively loathsome, snickering to himself, acting all disaffected and, oh yeah, killing a good ol’ boy mechanic who didn’t like the bikers’ looks.

This last happens unbeknownst to the other bikers – but we, the audience say, “Ah-hah! This Al guy’s a crrrrazy stone killer!”

Adds suspense and whatnot.

Boo, hiss, bad Al!

So, fine, we’ve got our innocent damsels on the bus, talking about boys and school, and we’ve got some menacing types inevitably closing in on them, with a good biker thrown into the mix to potentially save them.

A perfect set-up for fun and tension.

So how could this turn out to be almost unwatchable?

Yes, it’s a B movie from the ‘70s, so you expect bad acting, stupid dialogue, dumb plot twists, second rate music and an obviously stoned cameraman. That’s part of what we came for. All that’s forgiven before the fact.

The problem with Trip with the Teacher is the girls, on a couple levels.

The first is their acting. They’re wooden, all of them. They deliver their lines as if programmed, as if there’s a teleprompter just off screen and they’ve never read the script.

But the main problem is the way the females are presented. No wonder their acting is wooden – the script and the filmmakers expect them to be nothing whatsoever but their age and their gender.

Watching ‘70s exploitation in our era, you can’t help but wonder what Tarantino would do with the same material. (I’m serious – just try to watch a forty year-old cheap movie without QT popping into your head. Can’t be done, I tells ya!)

So WWQTD? Well, for one thing, he’d give the girls something to work with – they’d each have a distinct personality. Oh, there’s something approaching a miniscule afterthought of effort in this direction – one’s a slut, one’s quiet, the older one’s a teacher and reads some stuff out loud from a pamphlet about where they’re going and reminds them how lucky they are for the experience, yadda, yadda.

But I’m sure there were other girls than these and I remember absolutely nothing about them.

So then, Al gets mean(er) once he has the girls in captivity. There are degredations galore. There are escape attempts resulting in merciless death, which the camera watches for way to long, just as there are rapes the camera doesn’t shy away from soon enough.

One could argue realism. Hell, it probably would go down something like this except for the women of wood and the moronic, predictable dues ex machina ending.

I’m not that squeamish when it comes to film. Nothing wrong with realistically portraying victimhood. Sometimes it sucks being a human and sometimes it sucks having a brain and blood and flesh and nerve endings. And every now and then a suspense or horror movie reminds us of this in a way we can’t deny or look away from. There are good movies which make anyone civilized cringe – a recent trip to the dentist reminded me of Marathon Man, for instance, and its legendary dental torture scene. I’ll vociferously defend that scene to any and all detractors.

But Trip with the Teacher was tough to watch because, first of all, Zalman King is no Laurence Olivier, but mostly because, while I did care that a woman was being humiliated, killed or raped, I wasn’t allowed to care about an actual person with achievements, aspirations, a life behind and possibly ahead of her.

And the teacher and surviving girls seem tearfully happy at the end of it all, hugging in the sunshine, apparently forgetting there are less of them now than when they set foot on the bus, wistfully wiping away the humiliations, the molestations, etc., along with a tear or two.

The problem with Trip with the Teacher is that the movie unintentionally sees its female cast the same way its antagonists do –weak, depersonalized, just waiting to be victims.

Anything else in the film – the motorcycle chases, the girls’ out-of-the-blue rescue … sigh, you’ve seen it before. Not particularly worth tuning in. The first twenty minutes or whatever are worth a look at King in those amazing shades, but after that Trip with the Teacher ’s nothing but trash and ickuninspired trash and not a good kind of ick.

Buy TRIP WITH THE TEACHER at Amazon

TRIP WITH THE TEACHER

by C. Dennis Moore

Three out of five stars

There are so many things about Earl Barton’s 1975 masterpiece TRIP WITH THE TEACHER that utterly confound me, that I don’t even know where to start.  Maybe with the plot.

Miss Tenny, a teacher, I’m assuming, has brought along four teenage girls, presumably four of her high school students, on a field trip to the middle of the desert to study Navajo ruins and whatnot.  They’ve rented a short bus with a goofy driver, Marvin, and are going to be gone for a couple of days. I know it was 1975, but the notion that just one teacher is in charge–even if it is only four students–with this slimy bus driver who is obviously a predator, out in the middle of nowhere, on a very small bus, for days at a time . . . I don’t think so.  That’s one permission slip that’s not getting signed.

Then there’s Jay Andrews, motorcycle enthusiast, who comes upon two other biker boys along the side of the road.  One of them, Pete, has a flat tire while Pete’s brother, Al, lounges on the ground by the side of the road to catch some zzzz’s.  Jay’s got a hot patch kit and a hand pump and he helps out his fellow aficionados, then offers to ride with them into town where Pete can get his tire fixed properly.  When Al wakes up before they take off his first comment is, “What’s he still doing here?”

That would be my cue.  See ya, Pete, good luck with your handful there.  But Jay’s a bit of a dim bulb, and is WAY too happy to be out on the road eating dust and bugs.

The bikers eventually run into the school bus and follow it to a gas station where the bikers flirt with the high school girls before the bus takes off again.  Meanwhile back at the station, Al kills the service station attendant who smarted off to him.  Jay and Pete don’t know what Al’s done, and the three hop back on their hogs (does a Kawasaki dirt bike qualify as a hog?), and hit the open road again.

Down the road, the bus has broken down.  Could be a clogged fuel line or a bad fuel pump.  Marvin the bus driver can’t fix it, but when the bikers arrive on the scene, maybe one of them can.  Pete offers to take a look while Al tries to make time with Bobbie, the slut of the group.  Pete admits he can’t fix the bus and Miss Tenny asks if they’ll call someone to come help them out once the guys get to the nearest town.  And this is where the movie really stops even trying to make sense.  Instead of just saying “Sure,” Pete tells her “It’s okay with me, if it’s okay with him.”  Him being Al.  Why exactly does he need to check with his brother, who is obviously a sociopath, before agreeing to help five women stranded in the middle of nowhere?  And why not just ask Jay, who’s clearly a decent guy.  Better yet, why did Jay not just offer to go for help himself?

So Al says sure, I’ll get you some help.  If you let me take Bobbie into the hills on the my bike and give her what for.  Um . . . probably not, dude.  Then Jay gets the bright idea to tie some ropes to their bikes and tow the bus.  How would that even work?  I mean, if you saw the bikes these guys were riding, there’s no way.  And then, instead of towing it to town, they tow it to an abandoned shack even further in the middle of nowhere.

Marvin tries to stand up for the girls, but he gets a broken neck for his troubles, and again, at this point, Jay could have gotten away.  He even says to one of the girls, “If one of us can get away, they’ll run.”  Dude, you’ve got a motorcycle.  You’re like the prime candidate for running.  WTF?

So instead of getting on his bike and going for help, Jay winds up in the shack with the rest of the girls, sitting against the wall while the brothers sit and drink bourbon.  And again, the plot makes no sense.  They’re in this run down cabin with broken boards and loose pipes laying all around.  It’s six to two and all the brothers have is Al’s little pocket knife.  They couldn’t gang up and overpower these dudes?

Anyway, Miss Tenny is raped, Jay escapes and is run over a cliff by Pete, one of the girls escapes, and is killed by Al while the other three girls and Miss Tenny sit idly by under the watchful and drunken gaze of Pete until Al returns hours later.  Al then rapes Bobbie and everyone falls asleep.

The next morning rescue comes, the brothers are killed, and everyone lives happily ever after.  Except Miss Tenny and Bobbie who will spend the rest of their lives in therapy, not to mention a couple of hefty lawsuits I’d say from some very angry parents.  Despite her smiles and hugs with the girls at the end of the movie, I have a feeling Miss Tenny’s teaching career is over.

Yeah, I think writer/director Earl Barton didn’t bother to think about that part of the continuing story when he ended on that note.  Maybe that’s why TRIP WITH THE TEACHER was the only movie he wrote and directed?

Taking obvious cues from Wes Craven’s LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, which was released two years earlier, Barton’s created a pretty unforgiving villain in Al, easily the equal of Craven’s Krug in terms of sheer insane evil.  Zalman King (of ZALMAN KING’S RED SHOE DIARIES) eats it up as the sociopathic Al, to the point I had a hard time watching just because there is a point at which the top has been gone so far over you just can’t stomach anymore.  In normal circumstances I understand giving yourself over to the character is a plus, but when that character has absolutely no redeeming qualities whatsoever, well, it’s tough to watch.  And not in a good way.

The rest of the cast is pretty much just there to say their lines and go back home, no one else really has much to do in the face of Al’s commanding presence.

The quality of the movie is pretty poor.  The colors are washed out and the sound is nearly incomprehensible at times.  I certainly hope I didn’t miss any important plot points in the muddle. The movie is 89 minutes, and for the first 60 it feels much longer.  The last 20 minutes speed by like nothing, though, and then the credits take up the change, but for the first hour I was checking the time constantly.  The pace was sluggish as hell and I feared it would be one of those movies where nothing happens and we’re just supposed to assume the tension and feel something for these characters.  Well, it’s hard to feel anything for the characters when they could clearly save themselves if they stopped being such victims and learn to count!

The plot is a well-used one, even well-done in the right circumstances.  I’m thinking now of the 1986 tv movie “Fortress” starring Rachel Ward about the field trip teacher and her students who are kidnapped and how they fight back.  It’s a great movie; I only saw it when it first came on TV, but I’ve never forgotten it.  So this theme CAN be done right,  TRIP WITH THE TEACHER just doesn’t happen to be one of those cases.

Buy TRIP WITH THE TEACHER at Amazon.