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Special Edition: Bad Biology!

I have been doing this blog for almost six months now. Some might say I’ve got a couple screws loose, a beer short of a case, a little light in the belfry. All those things are true.

Observe.

That’s me at my day job…as an accountant. But I digress.

There is one thing I got going on, folks. I have a degree in biology with a specialization in sharky stuff. So I know shark anatomy. I know what it is and what it ain’t. In 99% of these sharksploitation films…it ain’t.

Let’s explore the bad biology of shark movies, shall we? Allow me to play as fast and loose with latin scientific names as the filmmakers do with science-y shit.

Continue reading Special Edition: Bad Biology!
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Redemption and Healing in Lucas Mangum’s Engines of Ruins

(This review may contain spoilers.)

I should have hated “Ghost Music,” the first story in the Engines of Ruin collection by Lucas Mangum. I wanted to.

It brought back so many conflicting memories from my childhood/teenage years.

I grew up surrounded by people that were very similar to the main character and his friends. It was the 80s—and it seemed that those “super-cool” social misfits had it all—music, friends, adventures, passion. I was just a regular, boring, nerdy misfit—nothing cool about me. And, as much as I loved the subculture scenes that surrounded goth and punk, of which I became part of myself in the early 90s, my first experiences with it were also ugly and frightening. I was both drawn to it and in love with the scene, and I hated it at the same time.

But once I got past that faintly nauseating, skin-crawling, too-many-memories-coming-at-you-at-once feeling I had when I started reading this story, I experienced something else.

I felt a new sort of darkness take over, replacing this muddled mess of blackness I’m existing in right now.

I felt clean. Centered. In control, even though I could still feel that skin-crawling, nauseous sensation nibbling at the edges of my mind.

I realized (remembered, actually) that’s what’s so valuable about horror.

There’s tons written about how horror can bring you face to face with the things that most terrify you, but it’s what becomes written psychologically through real-life horrors that’s most terrifying. The things that aren’t even that scary on the surface stay with you, for years.

Even into middle age, sometimes without you even knowing they are there.

And, when I read this story, it reminded me of the way that horror can became healing. It quieted those complicated memories from my love/hate relationship with the subculture scenes of the 80s and 90s. I felt closure. Ironically, even Mangum incorporates closure into one of his stories, later on.

And the story “Ghost Music,” perhaps also oddly enough, provided a sort of redemption. A release from my past, just like the main character was released from his, in a manner of speaking. 

I’m glad that “Ghost Music” came first—then I could read the rest of the stories with delight and even laughter, as I usually do with horror.

I laughed my way through “Hell and Back”—such a darkly comic romp.

And “Our Lady of the Sea?” It might as well be subtitled “The life of every writer”—especially when our worlds on paper become so immersive and emotionally demanding, and it’s hard to face the real world. Unfortunately, I was thrown out of the story a little by the type of animal used for the purported sacrifice. It didn’t seem to fit who they were sacrificing it to, or why, given that the animal chosen seems to be symbol of Christianity, and this church is something else entirely. Also, the whole story talks about how it’s winter, and blizzarding, and, although I’m not a farmer or rancher, it doesn’t make sense from that perspective, either. Generally, baby animals are born in the spring. Or so I thought.

But then there was the story “Worlds Colliding” to draw me back into the book. I’m not even going to give away any spoilers on this one…it’s just awesome. Even more delightful was the twist at the end of “Worm Magic.” That one I read more than once, just for the ending.

A couple of times, his female characters crossed over into something too stereotypical and cliché for my tastes, like in “The World Asunder” and “A Killing Back Home,” but I thought it was interesting to have the character of Percy appear in the story “A Killing Back Home,” as a child who is mentioned as being somewhere on the autism spectrum.

But I had Fern to make up for some of the too-typical women characters—Fern, in “Waters of Ruin”; whom I’ll liken to a modern, all-grown-up version of that other notable Fern I also loved in the classic Charlotte’s Web. Fern who breaks down doors to save the one she loves.

It was a lingering, and perfect, finish to the Engines of Ruin collection.

I’m looking forward to reading more from Lucas Mangum, and his demons he’s shared with his readers (the ones he refers to in his closing essay, “The Last Easy Rider.”)

Review by Willow Croft

https://willowcroft.blog

Twitter @willowcroft16

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What Makes a Wandering Monster?

If you aren’t regularly getting your ear-holes tickled by Madness Heart Radio, you are missing out! Madness Heart Press is, after all, a multimedia affair. In addition to books, Madness Heart offers audiobooks and podcasts, including interviews with authors (including yours truly) and a new weekly podcast called Wandering Monster that I am proud to co-host with fellow Madness Heart madman John Baltisberger and Austin-based playwright and author Lemons Clemons. Wandering Monster is available on Apple Podcasts, I Heart Radio, Spotify, and wherever else fine podcasts are podded and cast. Every week, John, Lemons, and I discuss the coolest and dumbest monsters from gaming and pop culture and then pit them against each other to determine which would triumph in a fight. It’s silly, NSFW fun, and I hope you subscribe and leave us a rating to help others find our show.

There are a lot of questions about monsters that are fun to debate and discuss, many of which are related to taxonomies: what does or does not fit a particular category of monster and why or why not, and the question that underpins the whole affair: what, exactly, is a monster?

Continue reading What Makes a Wandering Monster?
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A Dream of a Different World: The Old One and the Sea

Willow Croft’s Review of The Old One and the Sea by Lex H. Jones

This book is for the kids who wished for that one special friend.

Some friend who wasn’t imaginary, but different enough as to seem to be from another world.

A magic world.

A world deep under the sea.

Or even from a world way out in space.

Anywhere, really.

It didn’t matter where.

Only in finding that one true friend who taught them they weren’t alone in this world. And this little void inside that whispered to them they would never fit in; never find a place in this world, would be filled. Filled with love.

And that friend would show them that even this boring too-real world could still hold mysteries and miracles, and a safe place where kindness would win out over cruelty and hate.

In that light, the Old One and the Sea reminded me of what it was to be that kid. It took me right back to a time when the world was confusing and scary and so, so lonely; a place where only my imagination made this world bearable and filled with impossible possibilities.

But, unlike me, and so many other once-children out there, this kid—Howie is his name—discovers the impossible is real when the stars have changed.

And through those fantastical moments spent with what the majority of the world sees as a monster, he is given a gift. The gift of who Howie is meant to be. And while Howie is protecting the monster with his words, his mother Sarah is protecting and nourishing Howie’s newfound gift with her own version of love and kindness.

And that’s enough to break the reader’s heart with the memory of that little hope for something more in this world.

And it’s my hope, now, the children that read this tale will hold onto their own dream of magic made real, with all their love and heart and soul.

Before it’s too late for them, and this world.

Until then, I’m going to recommend Jones’ The Old One and the Sea to everyone I know at/from the day job: fellow teachers, students’ parents, school librarians.

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/48490406-the-old-one-and-the-sea

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Old-One-Sea-Lex-Jones/dp/1912578158

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Reed Alexander’s Horror Review of ‘Event Horizon’ (1997)

Not given enough respect by its director

I’ve always wondered to myself why Event Horizon isn’t higher on my list of top 10 horror movies. It’s not that I don’t firmly stand by my current position for it at #7. It’s just that I never considered why it wasn’t better as I haven’t bothered to go back since I started reviewing movies. So, by this day, November the 14th, year of our lord 2019, eight years after having started my career as a movie critic, I returned to one of my all time favorite movies to give it a closer look.

It’s here I figured out what’s wrong with this movie. The directer phoned it the fuck in. He had something special, but it was delivered by trash studio Dimension Films who lost their cred and simply didn’t take production seriously. There is so much about this movie that was flat out lazy. Paul Anderson must have been siting on his fucking thumbs, blowing bubbles the whole time. Or maybe he was just always a hack. Look at his track record. AvPMortal CombatResident Evil. This man is the king of shameless cash grab, trash films. I feel like the only time he got anything right, it was by accident. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that everything he’s had a hand in almost has a signature sense of over processed laziness.

And it’s a damn shame too because this movie was fucking amazing regardless of how carelessly it was handled. The cast was epic. I mean, Laurence Fishburne, Sam Neill, Kathleen Quinlan, Joely Richardson? There were fewer names I didn’t know than names I did know. The acting was just fucking marvelous. Not quite award winning but damn good all the same. The set and FX were amazing, the atmosphere stunning, and again, I really don’t believe the director was even trying. Thank fucking god his set crew was. The design and attention to detail was every bit as impressive as Alien (1979). I wish they’d used more modeling as apposed to CGI, but it was still really fucking good. The ship Event Horizon, was constructed with agonizing care that you can seriously feel. And the story is just fucking griping.

I have a feeling writer Philip Eisner is a Warhammer 40k fan. What’s presented by the design and function of the gravity drive for the ship is in many respects similar to the gravity drives in the 40k universe. It’s not a new concept, one that was even used by the TV series Babylon 5, but one that isn’t used often and certainly never to this degree. More on that in the spoilers.

This movie was something truly special. Everything came together perfectly like the stars were fucking aligning or something. Sadly, it was largely overlooked by audiences when it came out. But again, it was Dimension Film. Hellraiser: Bloodlines had come out the year before and largely destroyed their reputation. Bloodlines was a highly anticipated film in a beloved franchise that turned out to be an obvious thoughtless cash grab which deeply disrespected the fans. For that reason, fans largely spurned Dimension Films, and rightly so. I almost didn’t see Event Horizon in the theaters because I took one look at it and wrote it off as the ‘new Hellraiser in space.’ I was dragged by a friend and good damn thing too. I did not regret it the way I expected to.

Like I said, the fact that it was a hit seemed like almost an accident. When I watched it this time, it was like every scene I found myself saying “That’s the take you went with?” Not that it was bad but the cutting just didn’t have the same level of care as the acting, the FX, the design, the set, or the writing. It just felt like the director didn’t give a shit. Like some of the forced comic relief from two of the characters. Like the director confused the concept of good horror, and ‘So Bad Its Good’ horror. Like Richard T. Jones who played the role of Cooper. He seemed like he was supposed to be a stand in for Ice Cube from the movie Anaconda. He did an amazing job, which is significant, because his role was nigh embarrassing, completely irrelevant to the plot, and mostly existed for comedic filler. But he’s one of my favorite characters from the movie because he owned that role and made it work.

But I digress, even with the director seemingly making no effort in this movie, it’s #7 on my all time top 10. That’s a feat in of itself. Had there been proper care put into this movie, it could have been #2 or #3. Everything about it was right. So much so that it didn’t matter it wasn’t perfect.

This movie is a must watch AND required viewing for Horror Heads. It delivered on something Dimension Films clearly had no intention on delivering ever again and haven’t sincen.

SPOILERS!!!

It was such a fascinating concept which easily spans both horror and Sci-Fi. The idea that, if there is a point in space beyond space, what is it and what’s in it? As I mentioned before, the concept was touched on in the Warhammer 40k back in the 80s. A concept that was simply called ‘The Warp.’ The bridge between points in folded space was another dimension altogether, and in every respects, what we call hell. Only the Event Horizon doesn’t have the special field to protect it from the demons in the warp like the ships of Warhammer 40k. The ship becomes possessed, seemingly alive, with its own persona and motivations. It appears to have killed its former crew and is back for another one.

Anyone it can kill on the ship basically becomes a part of its retinue. It uses their guilt to control and manipulate them while they’re alive. It can mess with their minds in deep and meaningful ways. The crew of the Lewis and Clark aren’t killed by the Event Horizon, so much as they systematically get themselves killed due to their frantic missteps and hallucination. The only crew member that the ship directly attacks is Justin, when it sucks him into the gravity drive’s gateway. Even still, Justin goes mad from his encounter with ‘hell’ and tries to kill himself. You could argue that the ship possessed him to do it, but ultimately, Justin blows himself out an airlock.

It finally gets hold of Neill’s character Weir, and has him go on a killing rampage. As a mater of fact, only one character dies before Weir starts killing the rest. The rest of the blood and gore is mostly cut scenes and video scrambles; setup for the rest of the movie.

I really do recommend this film. Its special almost because it was nearly destroyed and still managed to be amazing. Imagine that I’m this harshly critical of this movie and yet it’s still #7 on my all time top ten. Absolutely watch this.

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