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Flash Friday: Guerilla

Empty grocery store aisles beckon, he knows it’s a trap. It’s always a trap. Somewhere in the confines of that darkened storefront, things wait to make an easy meal out of fools looking for an easy meal. All he has is a machete, and his hunger to drive him inside.

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Reed Alexander’s Review of ‘The Ruins’ (2008)

Then Something Eats Your Face…

You know, I don’t know why I like this movie so much.  Maybe because it’s not just horror, but survival horror.  It has that “brink of madness, human limits tested, sense of dread” that I love so much about zombie movies (when they’re done right).  Kind of like The Road.  That wasn’t horror, but it’s just an epic long, grueling march, right into the grave. It’s just fucking brutal. *cue Nathan Explosion*

Continue reading Reed Alexander’s Review of ‘The Ruins’ (2008)

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Reed Alexander’s Horror Review of ‘Pet Sematary’ (2019)

And the Award for Creepiest Child Actress Goes to…

Jesus fucking Christ, Jete’ Laurence is fucking creepy. Can we take a minute to appreciate, that at no point, did she fuck this role up with a Silent Hillmoment? That speaks volumes for her talent as a little actress. Hope she carries it.

Speaking of acting, what a fantastic fucking cast. John Lithgow, Amy Seimetz, fucking forget about it. Those two alone could have carried this movie with their performance. Throw in Jete’, and it’s just acting overkill.

So the lingering question, that I’m sure has been on all you filthy mutant’s fucking minds… Is it worth the remake? Is it better? Well, no, not better, just different. Look, we can’t talk about this movie without bringing up the original, and we can’t talk about the original, without admitting to ourselves that it was kind of fucking cheese. Look, the original has a soft spot in my heart (that could be necrosis), but it was cheesy as fuck. The acting was cheese, the atmosphere was cheesy, shit, the creepy little Gage was kinda cheesy. But, that’s why we loved it. It was cheesy, creepy, and fun as all fucking hell.

This one was just more serious, and that’s where it is both better but also kind of fails to be better. Serious is good, if you can really nail it home.  Now, as mentioned before, the acting was just spectacular and really fucking drives it home. The dialog was also just fantastic and the emoting by the actors in the dialog was fucking gripping. However, it was a bit over the top. It was like everyone was just fucking crying all the damn time and it did get a bit draining.

The atmosphere, for the most part, was fucking solid. The problem is, when they breach the barrier into the Wendigo swamps, it gets really fucking cartoonish. Here’s the thing, they must have known they fucked it up too. If you saw the previews, you’ll notice the swamps look gritty, dark, and forbidding. But, when you watch the movie, they’re just fucking cartoonish. They don’t feel real, or even surreal, they just feel fake.

What pisses me off about this is how solid, real, and fucking creepy everything else feels, but then you get to the swamps and it’s like they phoned it the fuck in. Now, this isn’t the only thing they fucked up, but I can’t get into the rest outside the spoilers. Here’s the thing, I mentioned in an interview with Madness Heart Press, that the directors were little known and I was really familiar with anything under their belt. Frankly, they were too green and they made some rookie mistakes. 

So, is it better than the original? No, it’s not better or worse, it’s just different. Is it worth watching? Yeah, I highly recommend this to general audiences. There’s enough good movie here for even casual viewers to enjoy. Not a must watch by any means, but definitely worth watching if you give it a chance.

SPOILERS!!!

I’m not sure if the motivation of Victor Pascow really tracks. Also, does “black guy dies first” count if the actor gets to live on as a ghost? I mean, they gave Obssa Ahmed plenty of screen time, but why have a black actor if you just pigeon hole the guy into the same ol’ horror stereotype. And this is the second place they phoned it in. Not by killing him, but by giving him shit dialog and crappy FX. This was the second thing that felt cartoony in this movie. It’s like they didn’t even try with the FX. Worse, it was practical FX, and that’s not something a major Hollywood production has any excuse fucking up. It’s a rookie mistake, once again proving the directors just weren’t ready.

You know what I did appreciate in this remake that I feel was missing in the original? They really got solidly into the motivations of each character. While Jud from the original was just like, “Every kid should have their animal raised from the dead at least once in their life,” this Jud was like, “I wanted to make the kid happy, but it plays on your emotions, calling you back, using it against you.” Now that’s really deep stuff. Not to mention they just layer on the history with Rachel Creed’s sister. And, MY FUCKING GOD, that is jut some brutal portrayal of abuse. It got me straight up shook. Good body horror too with the FX on her sister. So, please fucking explain to me how they got that right, but fucked up Victor Pascow?

All in all, outside of its failings, it was a pretty solid movie and I’d recommend it to anyone.

If you like Reed Alexander’s Horror Review, consider stopping by Horror.Media and donating by hitting the ‘Tip’ button. You can also support Reed by sharing his reviews on Facebook and Twitter.

https://horror.media/authors/reed-alexander

New reviews posted Wednesday, here on Madness Heart!

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Vampires and the Beautiful Grotesque

We reach for it with trembling fingers outstretched, filled with contradictory impulses. We are repelled but captivated, our attraction stronger than our repulsion – stronger than our common sense, our decency, even our instinct for self-preservation. It’s a story as old as stories; the beautiful grotesque, the alluring monster, the object of desire that offers us sweet harm. The theme is reflected in horror fiction is multitudinous ways; many are doomed and romantic visions of the beautiful grotesque, cast as love stories or cautionary tales or (often) both. Viewed through one specific facet – the vampire story – the evolution of the beautiful grotesque over the last century can offer us a few interesting glimpses of sex, death, and aristocracy.

1897’s Dracula gave us the modern vampire, and 1922’s motion picture knockoff Dracula, Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens, gave us a glimpse of the DMCA-plagued future. While Bram Stoker’s masterpiece borrowed many things – many parts of the vampire legend itself, the actual person of Vlad Țepeș – Nosferatu was such a copycat that in 1929 a judge ruled that all copies of the film were to be destroyed. The ruling almost drove a stake through the heart of one of the greatest horror films of all time, but a few unlicensed and unauthorized prints of the film (which was itself, remember, a copy of Dracula) survived. I find this to be an amusing example of life imitating art; Nosferatu survived and became immortal through the same parasitism that spawned it in the first place, and which any creature of the night worth its canines would appreciate.

Stoker’s description of Count Dracula does not line up with the monster given us in Nosferatu (indeed, the genealogy of that creeping, noisome thing might lie in the folktales of Eastern Europe, but it doesn’t reside in the popular Romantic or Gothic conceptions of the vampire as expressed in works like John Polidori’s The Vampyre or Le Fanu’s Carnilla, both of which preceded Dracula). The Count is described as an old man, yes, but one with profuse hair and eyebrows and whose ruddy lips “showed astonishing vitality in a man of his years.” This description of Dracula lines up fairly closely with the Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee versions from 1931 and 1958, respectively, but what happened on Dracula’s 1922 journey to Germany that metamorphosed him into Orlok?

It’s an intriguingly German phenomenon that was repeated in Werner Herzog’s uneven 1979 film Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht. The film was conceived of as a remake of the 1922 Nosferatu rather than a direct adaption of Dracula, and while Klaus Kinski’s Count Dracula (no hiding behind “Orlok” or other changed names this time around) is a bald, toothy monstrosity, even Herzog’s Dracula is not as terrible a vision of living death as the 1922 film’s monster.

Modern iterations of the vampire have taken several forms, from the familiar vision of debauched aristocracy presented in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles (a vision given a brilliant metaphorical twist through the slaveholding American South – the most parasitic, vampiristic political economy imaginable) or the Kate Beckinsale Underworld movies, to the Nosferatu-esque nightmare of Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s Strain novels, but for my money the most telling modern iteration of the story can be found nestled in the foggy Pacific Northwest, in a YA horror-romance series you may have heard of called The Twilight Saga.

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In 2006, I started reading Twilight. Now, bear with me for a second here. My excuses for this behavior are threefold. First off, I’m a big old horror nerd and (like most horror nerds) a voracious, omnivorous, and opportunistic consumer of reading material. I’ll rarely turn down an excuse to sample something novel and interesting, and a soft-romance YA vampire novel was (for me, in 2006) an exercise first and foremost in novelty. I am – when it comes to horror – down for whatever. Second, circumstances were just right. I had just joined a pool of administrative assistants at a standard-issue, biz-cas cubicle labyrinth, and the other admins were ravenously gobbling up the Twilight books, and it gave me something to talk to them about. Lastly, as a purely anthropological exercise, I felt like I had to read at least the first book. After all, while my family are not Mormon, I grew up in Davis County, Utah, and am thus a product of the same basic political-theological stew that produced Stephanie Meyer (and, thus, Bella Swan).

Has the supposedly grotesque ever been so beautiful, so – forgive the pun – defanged? What is Bella’s first impression of Edward Cullen, our hundred-year-dead walking corpse, the embodiment of that which must feed on the blood of the living to perpetuate its own unnatural life?

“I stared because their faces, so different, so similar, were all devastatingly, inhumanly beautiful. They were faces you never expected to see except perhaps on the airbrushed pages of a fashion magazine. Or painted by an old master as the face of an angel. It was hard to decide who was the most beautiful – maybe the perfect blond girl, or the bronze-haired boy.”

But this is merely a vampire’s seductive glamour, right? What horrible truth lurks beneath Edward’s beauty, what skulking Orlok does our heroine eventually unmask?

“Edward in the sunlight was shocking. I couldn’t get used to it, though I’d been staring at him all afternoon. His skin, white despite the faint flush from yesterday’s hunting trip, literally sparkled, like thousands of tiny diamonds were embedded in the surface.”
Much rather snarky hay has been made of the sparkly vampire presented by Meyer, but I’m curious what deeper lessons we can draw from the popularity of Twilight. After all, Meyer’s bloodless (pardon the pun) vision of pretty, polite vampires was tremendously successful, spawning four books and five films and earning Meyer more than $120 million. Her vampires are noble, yes, but not just in the pecuniary sense of the word. They don’t really have to avoid the sun, don’t drink human blood (not the good ones, at any rate), and don’t have sex until marriage. That these tepid, sickly satires of a genre I love were so popular still hurts me a bit – I rarely wish to yuck on anyone’s yum, but other than Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ Left Behind books, The Twilight Saga were the worst books I’ve ever read.

They represent not the beautiful grotesque, caught in a delicious tension between death and love, sex and the grave, but rather the grotesquely beautiful – boys (and girls) so breath-taking and exquisite that the pain they cause is for us to gaze upon them and ache with longing. Theirs is not a chilling or even interesting contemplation of what lies beyond death and what we might be willing to sacrifice for a voyage into eternity. They represent a glorification of abstinence – a gross and outdated moral viewpoint almost as repellant as Twilight’s gender politics.

Perhaps the journey from creeping Orlok to a more dark-and-handsome, widow’s-peaked Dracula to a sparkling, vegetarian Edward Cullen is less the expression of a straight line than a series of unrelated lamp posts strung along a winding path in the dark, providing illumination of their immediate cultural surroundings but not necessarily suggesting a linear progression. If anything, the meteoric rise of the zombie – that more overtly rotting, clotted, grungy cousin of the vampire – suggests that our fears regarding the grave haven’t evaporated.

If anything, perhaps they have become pronounced enough – gnawing enough – that the delicious tension represented by the beautiful grotesque has become difficult to maintain without something breaking.

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Reed Alexander’s Horror Review of “Splinter” (2008)

Not Just Another Zombie Flick

Kicking off body horror month in celebration for Madness Heart Press’s release of “Trigger Warning,” a Body Horror Anthology.  We begin with an excellent and little know body horror film called Splinter.

Forget the 30-Minute Rule, this movie is face-first in the action just about a minute and a half in.  Mr. Wilkins (director), I could fucking kiss you… This movie drops you right into the middle of the plot, and expects you to figure shit out like an adult.  No expositions, no god damn character building; 90 seconds in and there’s mutant roadkill eating a gas station attendant.  Another 10 minutes to introduce the four victims—and they pretty much just introduce them—and wham, mutant gas station attendant eats one of them.  Not really a spoiler, you’ll figure out who’s going first pretty quickly.

Now really, my only problem with this movie is that it’s pretty much just a generic zombie flick at first.  That’s okay, but I’m just bored with fucking zombies.  Don’t get me wrong, still love them, still love the classics, still go to zombie crawls in my local city, but it’s just been so fucking overdone.  There’s just no new material to throw at the genre.  The horror industry needs to give it a rest for a while, like it did with werewolves before The Howling was released.

So, at first I was a little displeased with what I got, as it seemed to be a generic zombie movie.  It made up for that assumption later, but at first that’s all you get.  The acting was pretty good, and pretty good for movies in general, not just good for horror. The characters were well developed and not too tropey. The atmosphere was pretty fucking dark for a movie that takes place in a gas station.  Yeah, even if this movie didn’t get playful with the generic zombie movie at the end, it would have still been okay.

SPOILERS!!!

So, a while back I complained that Last Days on Mars was just ZOMBIES IN SPACE!  My biggest complaint is that they  didn’t do anything with the idea of a mutative virus infecting the crew of a base on Mars.  Generic zombies, in a generic isolationist setting, and the only thing special about it, is that it takes place on Mars.  Big fucking deal… This movie, however, went full Cronenberg with it’s mutant zombies.  As the zombies fed, they sort of just piled their pickings into a mass.  At the end, one of which was a collection of limbs, heads, and bones.  There were several others that were just leftover bits crawling around.  While it didn’t have the intelligence or mimicking capacity of John Carpenter’s Thing, it did have the same basic organic dynamics.  This organism was just more primitive.  It hunted by heat and used any means of mobility it could create to fling itself at that source of heat.

I mean, there were some problems with this, of course.   Such as, why it didn’t instinctively attack both the cars.  It attacked the one that was overheating first, sure, but the other one had just been running, and it pretty much just ignores it.  If the organism goes after the hottest body around, why didn’t it keep attacking the fireworks and instead go after the one fellow once his body temperature started to rise?  I mean, these are the sorts of things I nitpick about, but it doesn’t really detract from the movie. There are a few really brutal scenes devoted to the organism that shows it slowly taking over one of the victims arms.  At one point, just by twitching itself around, it snaps his finger.  You think that’s bad, but then at another point the fucking thing breaks his arm twice from the inside, forcing them to amputate it with a box cutter and a cinder block.   Fuck me, that was rough.

Above all, I can appreciate this movie for one thing: it lets the story happen.  It never drags the plot kicking and screaming, the characters flow naturally with the story—some of the suspense was a little forced, but no one’s perfect. Yeah, overall it’s a pretty good movie.  I highly recommend it.

If you like Reed Alexander’s Horror Review, consider stopping by Horror.Media and donating by hitting the ‘Tip’ button. You can also support Reed by sharing his reviews on Facebook and Twitter.

https://horror.media/authors/reed-alexander

New reviews posted Wednesday, here on Madness Heart!

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April Fools’ Day, Horror, and the Double Audience

SCSThe only consensus surrounding the origin of April Fools’ Day is that the holiday’s roots run very deep and most likely have something to do with the Northern Hemisphere’s vernal equinox. One theory holds that the origins of the holiday lie with Roman worship of the Phrygian patron goddess Cybele through a celebration called Hilaria Matris Deûm that paid tribute to the resurrection of Cybele’s son, Attis, from the dead. The Hilaria culminated on the “Day of Joy,” which involved games, public sacrifices, and a masquerade, during which it was common for revelers to imitate magistrates or other authority figures (a form of satirical imitation and the inversion of authority figures shared in common with the Feast of Fools celebrated in France during the Middle Ages, although the Feast was usually held on or around January 1).

A little over a millennia later, the first version of what we would recognize as a modern April Fools’ Day developed as France made the change from the Julian to Gregorian calendars in 1582; as part of this transition, the new year was celebrated on January 1 rather than April 1. Those who refused to adopt the new calendar were mocked for their stubborn, conservative ways – often (and quite inexplicably) by having paper fishes surreptitiously affixed to their backs like “kick me” signs. Those so marked were then referred to as “April Fish,” based on the belief that such young fish are more naïve and easily caught – a belief, I suppose, as logical as any other component of the tradition. Over the next few centuries this April celebration spread throughout the United Kingdom and proved particularly popular in Scotland, where it was broken into two days; one day devoted to “gowk hunting” (a practice that survives to this very day and would be extremely familiar to any rube who has ever been talked into hunting the elusive snipe) and “Tailie Day,” a day devoted to pinning signs and other hilarious accessories to other peoples’ rear ends. Clearly, the Scots appreciate the finer, subtler forms of humor.

Modern pranks have run the gamut from the low-key, low-impact and goofy (for example, this classic 1957 prank in which the BBC reported on “the spaghetti harvest” in Sweden, complete with ridiculous footage of farmers harvesting noodles from trees) to the annual tradition of pranks that end with someone dead – while springtime human sacrifice many no longer be de rigeur, a certain amount of blood in the name of comedy seems to be a perpetual requirement for the smooth functioning of human society. How else to explain the ocean of news reports on hijinks that end in mayhem, mutilation, or the morgue?

Whether we’re sticking paper fish to people’s backs or accidentally setting massive fires, a prank’s essential appeal lies in a few factors. First, let’s get it right out in the open: pranks rely on our human capacity to comprehend and enjoy the suffering of others. After all, a prank in which we don’t understand what we are doing to the prankee is just an accident, and one in which the victim enjoys the prank is more of a pleasant surprise, yes? And there’s nothing in this that we should necessarily feel entirely ashamed of – after all, a little suffering never hurt anyone and adds spice to a life that might otherwise seem bland or boring.

Secondly, a prank shares one absolutely vital trait with its cousins irony and horror – that of the “double audience.” As with irony and horror fiction, a prank has one audience for whom the surface is intended, and a second audience for whom a hidden, deeper meaning is intended. The surface meaning – the set-up – is directed at one audience, while the second audience – with a much more complete understanding – is privy to the prank. The sweetness of the prank lies in the distance between these two knowledge-sets.

In exactly the same way, great horror fiction provides us – the second audience – with a glimpse of the danger that lies in wait behind the cellar door, the fate that our hapless victim is about to encounter. Our advantage over the on-page or on-screen traveler in darkness can consist of a large quantity of information or a small one, a total set of facts as to what is going on or simply cues, suspicions, and a feeling of dread, but it is in this distance, this gap in knowledge, that we also find one of the many pleasures of horror. We can only tense up – can only yell “don’t go in there, you fool!” at the screen – because, just as with a prank, we know something they don’t know.

And while that may be a cruel pleasure, spring is a time of cruel pleasures – and always has been.

The First Shred DLW

  • The first novella of the Shredded trilogy, and the debut work by author DLW. A grim fantasy novella, enter a world where deaths can be taken, and the faelie wear the dead like skin. Where killers can turn their victims into rains of blood. Follow the path of three would be saviors, but remember; Here, no one is meant to be a hero. PRAISE FOR THE FIRST SHRED: "I couldn't put the damn book down. I needed to know what was going on. I read it more than once. That's a more impressive feat than keeping the interest of an adult with ADHD" --Reed Alexander Horror Reviews
  • Madness Heart Press
  • March 5, 2019
  • 80 pages

Shards of Shattered Sentiments John Baltisberger

  • Poetry in one form or another has been around almost as long as language. We have used it to communicate our joys and heartbreaks, our victories and our losses. But fear has also been a constant companion, and our ghost stories and monsters stretch their claws back into history as far as the eyes can see. It’s with this in mind that we begin our journey through various poetic forms, from traditional Japanese Haiku to more modernist takes such as The Bop. Exploring the rules that create these literary creations all while bending their use to telling scary stories. Heavily inspired by the American pulp horror writers of the 1930’s, this chapbook explores themes of madness and forgotten monsters. Haunted houses that demand sacrifice and sunken cities waiting to be rediscovered. 25 poems, each using different forms dive into the chilling and often deranged world of horror.
  • Madness Heart Press

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MHR 002: Pranks, Pranks and Amazing News

The First Shred DLW

  • The first novella of the Shredded trilogy, and the debut work by author DLW. A grim fantasy novella, enter a world where deaths can be taken, and the faelie wear the dead like skin. Where killers can turn their victims into rains of blood. Follow the path of three would be saviors, but remember; Here, no one is meant to be a hero. PRAISE FOR THE FIRST SHRED: "I couldn't put the damn book down. I needed to know what was going on. I read it more than once. That's a more impressive feat than keeping the interest of an adult with ADHD" --Reed Alexander Horror Reviews
  • Madness Heart Press
  • March 5, 2019
  • 80 pages

Creeping Corruption Anthology

  • From the slow degradation of society to the rotting of holy places, corruption touches everything. Featuring stories from new and upcoming horror authors, the first anthology from Madness Heart Press represents the best and most horrifying of corruption stories. Inside you'll find corruption in all of its forms. Diseases and parasites that eat away at the flesh, madnesses, and phobias that destroy minds and degrading acts that peel away the soul. 16 stories by some of the freshest and best horror writers working today. Dig in, and feast on the corruption.
  • Madness Heart Press
  • January 31, 2019
  • 204 pages