Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Interview with Zombie Author Scott Kenemore

Over the past four years of blogging, I have discovered an untold amount of movies, filmmakers, books, and authors that I probably never would have before. One of my favorite discoveries has been Scott Kenemore, the expert and auteur of everything zombie. All of the eight books he has penned have been about zombies.

I'm most familiar with his three novels - what are coming to be known as the "Zombie State" books because they all take place in different states during the same zombie outbreak. Following Zombie, Ohio and Zombie, Illinois is Kenemore's latest novel, Zombie, Indiana which will be available in just a short time - May 6, 2014.

Scott was kind enough to be the subject of this blog's first official interview (!) in honor of the release of Zombie, Indiana.

First of all, a fairly obvious question: why the obsession with zombies?

Zombies have always been my favorite monster because they seem the most pragmatic. The least pretentious. Blue-collar. Dead bones and ligaments come back to life, ravenous. And... that's it. Full stop.

In a zombie story, there aren't going to be long, handwritten invitations on delicate uterine vellum to exotic, crumbling castles deep in the Carpathian Mountains. Zombies are impersonal and universal. Teeth-gnashing death is suddenly going to be everywhere, and it's going to impact everyone. That's a different sort of feel entirely. In a way, I think, one could make the case that zombies can bring us the closest to cosmic horror of any traditional monster, because, in a zombie story, it's not just about creating a fear that a monster might hurt one, particularly likable protagonist. Rather, the presence of zombies (usually) posits an entirely new reality that can be scary in all kinds of ways. (And that scariness arises apart from whether or not the protagonist is particularly endearing or charming.)

What made you choose the states that you have so far for the Zombie State books? What makes them special?

The short answer is that I've lived in them. I've lived for two or more years in Indiana, Illinois, Iowa Ohio, and Michigan. Perhaps because of this, I think I'm able to detect small regional differences that other people might overlook. (To folks in New York City - where I have also lived, by the way - the states in the Midwest can seem identical or interchangeable. My experience tells me that there are subtle - but nonetheless real - differences of character and temperament that separate Iowans from Illinoisans from Hoosiers, and so on. These differences are, at least to me, fascinating.)

What further plans do you have for the Zombie State series? Do you have an ending or bigger picture in mind?

No comment.


What kind of research did you do on each of the states before you started writing?

Each of my novels has some connection to my actual life. The first, Zombie, Ohio, takes place entirely in Knox County, Ohio where I attended Kenyon College for four years. (My class year at Kenyon, 2000 [I'm old], was ridiculously good for writers. John Green is the bestselling author of my generation, but we also had Dan Torday, Scott Carney, Ben Keene, and Chris O. Cook - who aren't slouches either.) With Zombie, Ohio, I was interested in using zombies to explore the tensions in the "gown and town" relationship, and how it might be impacted by a disaster like an undead outbreak.

Then in my late twenties and early thirties, I worked in community development on the south side of Chicago. Zombie, Illinois was my way of thinking about the forces that I saw impacting our poorest communities, and wondering how those forces would change with the onset of a zombie plague. Would corrupt local politicians become more corrupt, or less corrupt? Would the preachers and ministers I worked alongside in community development become more pious, or less pious? Zombie, Illinois was also an attempt at a study of neighborhoods, which is sort of a tradition in Chicago writing. (For folks who do it right, read James T. Farrell, Nelson Algren, and Mike Royko.)

My new novel, Zombie, Indiana, was inspired by two things. The first was my own boyhood in the Hoosier state. Many (perhaps most) of the finest men and women I've ever known have been from Indiana. Greg Foote, my English teacher at Brebeuf High School, to whom the book is dedicated, is just one example. Yet despite the ability of the Hoosier state to foster top-notch people of remarkable character and perspicacity, growing up in Indiana there was often this feeling of stern humorlessness that seemed to underlie everything. Have fun, but not too much fun. Be creative, but not too creative. you were given the sense that the way to succeed was to put your head down, work hard, and never question what you were told. Do whatever the basketball coach said. One of the protagonists of Zombie, Indiana is someone who succeeded in that environment; he's a former basketball star who always obeyed his coaches and bosses without question. I was interested in how someone like that would fare in a violent zombie outbreak where authority figures would suddenly be either useless or nonexistent, and some very original thinking would be called for.

The other inspiration for Zombie, Indiana was watching Mitch Daniels's response to the State of the Union address on television back in 2012. The inner psychology of such a man is a riddle for the ages. I sought to plumb its depths with Zombie, Indiana, but - alas! - in my 300+ pages, I fear I have only scratched its surface.

What movies, books, TV shows, etc. have been your biggest influences for creating your zombie stories?

My favorite zombie movie of all time is Dan O'Bannon's Return of the Living Dead. It uses zombies to create a rollicking sense of fun, while still delivering the gore and chills that horror fans demand. (And I think James Karen gives the flat-out best performance of any zombie movie ever.) I also really like George Romero's films - especially the criminally underrated Survival of the Dead - and the "Homecoming" episode of Masters of Horror.

There are too many good zombie writers working right now for me to name them all. (We're in a golden age!) But some of my favorite contemporary books and stories have come from David Liss, Joe McKinney, and Kelly Link. Terry Pratchett's zombies are pretty cool too, especially Mr. Slant.

In addition, I like a lot of writing that is not explicitly zombie-related... but still feels very zomb-ish. H.P. Lovecraft never, to my knowledge, uses the z-word. But the Louisiana swamp rituals in "The Call of Cthulhu," the animal-head mummies in "Under the Pyramids," and the burying-ground ghouls in "Pickman's Model" all feel very zomb-ish to me. (I'd put lots of Clive Barker's stuff in that category as well.)

Reviewers seem to love the humor in your books. How do you create something that is so universally understood and hilarious?

I think zombies are inherently funny because they don't see their own limitations. (It's like how a dumb guy is sort of funny on his own, but a dumb guy who thinks he's really, really smart is hilarious.) Zombies don't understand that missing limbs, illiteracy, and a top speed of two miles per hour ought to be humbling handicaps for a monster. That's the charm.

Zombie, Indiana doesn't have the same kind of nihilistic feel that most zombie stories do - rather, it is uplifting and hopeful. Do you think this is really possible if such a thing were to happen?

I don't find a lot of creative inspiration in nihilistic zombie stories. (Other writers can have that real estate.) Personally, I think almost all stories are stories of someone hoping for something good to happen, and then trying to make it happen. I think if there were ever a real zombie outbreak, I would stay pretty hopeful.

You are from Indianapolis (right?). Is Zombie, Indiana more personal than your previous books?

I identify as being from Indiana because I went to middle school and high school there.

I don't know if Zombie, Indiana is more personal than my previous books, but it's definitely unique. It covers more square footage, too. You see a lot of the state.

What do you hope readers learn or get out of the Zombie State books?

Well, obviously, I hope they enjoy themselves. But maybe I also hope that it makes readers think about how they could use a narrative device like the walking dead - or whatever fantastic element they find interesting - to tell the story of their own part of the world, in whatever creative medium they choose.

For example, sometimes I'll be talking to an aspiring writer, and they'll say something like: "I feel like I want to write a novel, but everything's already been done before. Every story's been told."

And I'll be like: "Yeah? Where did you say you were from, again? Oglesby, Illinois? Never heard of it. I have no clue what that place is like. I can't picture it on a map. I can't picture the landscape. I have no idea what the people there are like.. but you do. So tell me that story. How would Oglesby react if it was tested by zombies, or werewolves, or trolls, or unicorns. Tell me about that. That's  your story."

I want to thank Scott Kenemore so much for this interview. He really is the kind of author that I think all horror fans would love and instantly cling to because of his obvious love for the genre.

Again, his new novel Zombie, Indiana will be released on May 6, 2014. Be sure to go out and get your copy!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Movie Review: I Spit on Your Grave 2 (2013)

I'm a fan of the original I Spit on Your Grave in the sense that I respect it and the filmmaker for what he was trying to do. I respected it enough to be more than a tad disappointed at the 2010 remake, which was fantastically brutal, but I felt it focused too much on inventive revenge rather than the victim's feelings. Though I didn't really have much interest in I Spit on Your Grave 2, I knew I would eventually watch it because my sick mind loves movies like this. And what did this little sequel hold for me but a big surprise.

Katie is an aspiring model who visits a photography studio one day to have some pictures taken. She immediately leaves after refusing to pose nude, but when one of the men follows her home, things only turn more and more horrific as Katie is kidnapped, and brutally raped and tortured by several men. They bury her alive but Katie miraculously survives, and hashes out a plan to get her bloody vengeance on all those responsible for hurting her.

Again, I'm really surprised at how much I liked this. I thought I knew exactly what I would get with a straight-to-DVD sequel to a remake of a controversial 70s exploitation flick - but I ended up being wrong in some aspects. The sequel definitely cashes in on the gritty reputation of the series, as the rape and revenge scenes are very graphic and disturbing, but somehow the feel of the story is different. I think it was the side story with the priest and the police officer that made everything a bit easier to deal with for me. It was actually wonderful to see, for once, in a rape-revenge movie that not all males are evil - that most of them would be appalled to know of the things that happened to this girl.

Jemma Dallender is absolutely wonderful in the lead role of Katie, a role that is incredibly difficult on several levels. She had to go from being a happy, normal woman, to one going through unthinkable pain and suffering, to one made almost crazy and violent by what she has been through. Her voice, especially when she is screaming, is almost child-like but at the same time so raw with emotion that it hurts to listen to her cry and scream. When she has to go into hardcore killing mode for the revenge, she excels. They also gave Dallender the same basic look that Camille Keaton made famous in the original ISPOYG - with the long, long hair parted down the middle - and I really like that as a nice homage or common thread between all the movies. The title also appears on the screen in way similar to the previous entries and that was nice to see as well.

I do question the character of the police officer in Bulgaria a little bit. He really does fuck-all to help Katie when she first escapes, or at least doesn't seem all that experienced in dealing with rape victims. He says her story is implausible and that she seems to be on drugs, which is why she doesn't want to go to the hospital. Okay, a couple things about that. Has he never heard of the international sex slave trade where women are drugged and taken to other countries? Does he not know that a lot of rape victims refuse medical attention because they don't want to be violated again? I'm not saying that he wasn't sympathetic toward what happened to Katie, it's just that his thoughts did not match his actions.

The violence is disturbing to say the least - at one point I even questioned if they had gone too far. The first rape is a long and graphic scene, and things only get worse from there. Katie is pissed on by one of her rapists after asking for water to drink, she is violently beaten about the face for no reason, and endures several shocks to the body and genitals by a cattle prod. Her kidnappers sell her to a disgusting, fat sadist to do whatever he wants to her for a while, and though you never see what he does to her beyond the cattle prod, it is probably most shocking to see her in the aftermath, lying on the dirty mattress in the fetal position with a huge amount of blood on the insides of her thighs.

This is all so messed up that I was somewhat pissed off that cattle prod asshole did not get the worst of Katie's revenge. Again, she does things to the perpetrators that are similar to what they did to her. The guy who pissed on her gets drowned in some more piss and shit, and that was probably my favorite one because for me, the pissing on her was almost worse than anything else that happened. As weird as that sounds, it just seems absolutely disgusting and the ultimate humiliation - a show of the character's complete lack of respect for others. Cattle prod asshole should have gotten what the leader of the rape pack got in the end - a brutal and uncut scene of his balls getting smashed in a vice. Now, how all this was accomplished by a girl living with nothing in the sewers of a foreign country is hard to believe at times, but if you're worried about that stuff by this point, you're watching the wrong movie.

I absolutely love revenge films and I have to say that I Spit on Your Grave 2 is surprisingly a nice entry into the genre. It is ultra-violent and difficult to watch, like these movies should be, but a wonderful lead actress carries the film well, and the shift in location and circumstances bring something new to the series. It is definitely not one for everyone, though, so watch at your own risk.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Movie Review: Contracted (2013)

This movie was making the review circuit on some of the blogs that I read, and I became more curious about it each time I saw a new review pop up. With that icky looking poster and a plot that promised some equally icky body horror fun, I thought I should give the indie movie Contracted a watch. But while the movie does deliver on the gross-out side, it has some plot and character problems that made me not completely love it.

Samantha is a young twenty-something going through a difficult period in her life. She has a strained relationship with her mother, made even worse by the fact that she had to move back in with her, and has to deal with the blase attitude of her girlfriend Nikki. Everything comes to a head when Samantha contracts what she thinks is a sexually transmitted disease from a one night stand that wrecks havoc on her body and her mind.

The introduction to the story is fantastic - the movie opens with some disturbing shots of a morgue worker having sex with a corpse, which we're lead to believe is the catalyst for Sam's STD. We then get a quick introduction to most of the main characters and get a glimpse into the many relationship problems that Sam has, then Sam meets up with BJ, the man from the opening. I like how the filmmakers never fully show BJ - his face is always off-camera or out of focus - because he's not really important to the story. Revealing him would only make him the villain of the movie and make the audience focus too much on who he is. He and Sam have sex in his car, and the title, "Contracted," pops on the screen in a quick cut, almost as if at the moment Sam gets the disease.

The movie does a great job of showing the progression of Sam's illness, as more and more nasty things happen to her body. She has horrible vaginal bleeding and a scary rash on her side, her eyes get all bloodshot, her hair falls out in clumps, etc. Probably worst of all is how maggots fall out of her crotch. MAGGOTS. That's just wrong. This progression is amplified by title cards that announce the number of days since Sam's contraction, the best one being when "Day 3" turns into "Day 3 of 3," so you know that shit's about to go down soon. The makeup work on Sam is genius, as she just starts to look worse and worse with each new thing she finds that is wrong with her. They also enhanced the look of the veins on her face and neck which was very creepy and unnatural.

However, plot and character problems abound within this insane story. First, like many before me have said, none of the characters are all that likable. Samantha is probably the least likable of them all, as she just seems like a whiny, self-centered bitch. She's obsessed with her girlfriend Nikki, who actually is incredibly sexy, even though Nikki is obviously over her and doesn't even hide the fact that she is annoyed with her any time they are in the same room together. Sam is also the object of affection for two other characters in the movie, Alice and Riley, and it's a little unbelievable how so many people could be in love with this childish chick who obviously doesn't appreciate what she has. The actress tries to play Sam as sweet and innocent sometimes, but it never comes off right and you just end up hating her all the more.

It is also a little bit unbelievable how Sam and other people deal with her disease. I know that it's not really pertinent to the story, but damn did that shit get frustrating after a while. Samantha at first ignores her symptoms thinking that she just has a hangover and her period, but when blood practically gushes out of her and cramps send her to her knees in pain, she finally goes to the doctor. This doctor is a goddamn genius, let me tell you. According to him, vaginal bleeding equals... a head cold? Riiiight. So he's obviously no help. Even after she gets continually worse, though, Sam's focus is on hiding her symptoms rather than finding out what the fuck is wrong with her because, and this is the dumbest reason ever, she doesn't want Nikki to find out that she got sick from sleeping with a man. Maggots in your va-jay-jay!!! I think I would be worrying more about that. It also got almost a little funny to me how everybody was still whining about their relationship problems and talking about how much they loved Sam, even when she looked like she does on the poster up there. Please shut up about your lesbian fantasies and make this girl seriously go to the hospital or something. Sam also used to use drugs, which is her mom's explanation for what is happening to her. Which is probably why her mom is not a doctor because that stuff is obviously not from drugs.

So while Contracted is definitely great at grossing you out and making you never want to have sex again, it loses some points for having the whole cast be unlikable and for having a ridiculously unbelievable plot at times. The actors' performances are nonetheless outstanding for what they have to do. Contracted is a great little indie flick that is impossible not to take notice of, simply because of the subject matter. It's worth a look.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Short and Sweet: "Torturous"

So the Sony network or server or something is and has been down for the past week... so then my Netflix is down... so then is my blog and all the reviews I had planned. BUT! I shall not give up, and I do have a few things to fill the lack of usual posts.

Like this fantastic short film that was sent to me from creator Angus Swantee - "Torturous"!

Unbelievably genius, undeniably funny - That is the short film "Torturous" in a nutshell. "Torturous" has played at just about every festival imaginable it seems and there is no reason to question why - it has a simple premise and fools you into thinking that you know what you are going to see, but you really don't. Perfect comedic timing by the actors and a professional look give this short film all the credibility it needs to get you to watch it in the first place, and then after the first minute you'll be falling in love with it. The ending is amazing and will have you laughing your ass off, I can almost guarantee it. Watch it now!

Torturous from Angus Swantee on Vimeo.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

"Birth of the Living Dead" - All-New NOTLD Documentary!

Check out this awesome, my blog buddies - coming May 12, 2014 (only a few weeks away) is a brand new documentary about the making of Night of the Living Dead!

From the press release from Maven Publicity: "In 1968, a young college drop-out named George A. Romero gathered an unlikely team - from Pittsburgh policemen, iron workers, housewives, and aroller rink owner - to create a low budget horror film that would revolutionize the industry, and spawn a new flesh-eating monster the endures to this day... that film was "Night of the Living Dead."

This brand new documentary, "Birth of the Living Dead," is the story of how Romero managed to pull off the greatest guerrilla shoot of all time. With a whole host of exclusive new candid interviews including the godfather of zombie films George A. Romero himself, as well as exclusive brand new animations from Gary Pullin, "Birth of the Living Dead" gives a fascinating insight into this revolutionary film and is an absolute must-have for any horror fan!

Enter the original Zombie Universe, but remember, 'They are coming to get you, Barbara!'..."

Again, that's May 12, 2014 on DVD and VOD! I personally think it sounds smashing. Want a glimpse of how it's going to look? Watch the trailer!   

Which actually reminds me of some news I've been wanting to share with all of you: It is FINALLY convention time again, which means I'll be heading to Dallas, Texas in two weeks for Texas Frightmare Weekend. One of the guests? GEORGE ROMERO. You guys. I AM GOING TO MEET GEORGE ROMERO. If I don't come back from my trip, it'll probably be because I died and went to heaven.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Movie Review: Big Ass Spider! (2013)

There's really no introduction needed for today's movie. It's called Big Ass Spider! (exclamation point included) and whatever crosses your mind when you imagine a movie with that title, you're probably right. But don't be thinking anything bad, though, because Big Ass Spider! is actually pretty great and a movie that is incredibly fun to watch.

Exterminator Alex is a guy who ends up being in the right place at the wrong time when a body shows up at the hospital carrying a spider that is bigger than anything he's ever seen. With the help of a hospital security guard, Alex starts tracking the spider, along with the military, through the city as it continues to grow to epic proportions, the result of some accidental interaction with alien growth hormone.

As the title implies about itself, this movie understands what kind of movie it is and plays to that expectation every chance it gets. Right off the bat, the movie hides nothing from us, as it starts with a flash forward to the end when the enormous spider is fighting off helicopters at the top of a skyscraper (hm, I wonder what that is a reference to), all with some sweeping slow motion and a ballad playing over it that has nothing to do with what is happening on screen. After that the fun really starts, even as the movie goes through the usual motions of meeting the characters and setting up the plot. Though it's not exactly laugh-out-loud funny, the movie keeps up a constant humorous tone throughout, even through some of the more mundane scenes. I know I had a smile on my face practically the whole time I was watching it.

Alex Mathis is my kind of everyday nice guy, played adorably by Greg Grunberg. Lombardo Boyar plays his enthusiastic sidekick Jose, who is responsible for most of the comedy. Other important roles are Ray Wise as Major Braxton and he expertly delivers each line like only an awesome B-movie actor could. Clare Kramer (wahoo for a Buffy reference! She was the Big Bad in season five, Glory) is Lieutenant Carly Brant, the requisite hot chick in a power position role. I saw in Buffy that she has a knack for comedy so I was a little disappointed that they didn't use that much of her full talent here. My only real problem with the movie is that the requisite love story between Alex and Carly felt so incredibly forced, and nothing about it was believable. These two characters had hardly any interaction with each other and by the end, they are in love and kissing. It's like the filmmakers felt like they had to give the nice guy a girl at the end, so they just kinda said, "yeah, these two totally like each other! Don't you see it?" Eh, not really.

Being the horror nut that I am and given my usual reaction to movies like this, my favorite part of the movie has got to be when the spider rampages the park. We get an excellent introduction to this scene by none other than Lloyd Kaufman himself, who plays a random jogger that falls victim to the spider. After that, utter chaos ensues as the giant arachnid plows its way through as many park-goers as it can. It grabs people with its web and quickly eats them (I'm not sure that's biologically correct, but I am so over such trivialities at this point in the movie), and uses its legs to stab several people through the chest. What makes this scene even more hilarious is the gaggle of girls who provide the TandA of the film, as they are playing volleyball in a family park wearing practically nothing.

The poster really says it all, people - Big Ass Spider! is exactly what you'd want; it's hilarious; it's a great time at the movies; and yes, it is even surprisingly clever. It doesn't always take the obvious plot turns when you think it will and its great cast help make the unbelievable seem believable. Big Ass Spider! is definitely one to pick up for a fun movie night.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Book Review: "Zombie, Indiana" by Scott Kenemore

Zombie author Scott Kenemore continues to cut a swath of undead destruction through the American Midwest with this third novel in his "Zombie State" book series. Zombie, Indiana again takes readers to the capital of the titular state - this time Indianapolis - where we follow several different characters during the first 24 hours of a zombie outbreak. And even though this is his third book with the same basic storyline, Kenemore manages to again make things different and interesting by having the book take on the personality of the state itself.

Scott Kenemore - this man loves himself some zombies
The story starts when a high school class goes missing while touring some nearby caves. Special Sergeant with the Indianapolis Police Department James Nolan is called in to investigate because there was a very important person on that tour - the governor's teenage daughter, Madison. Nolan finds the class decimated by a zombie attack but does manage to save one survivor, 15-year-old Kesha Washington. Together, they escape the caves and search the surrounding area for Madison, avoiding zombies and people that wish to do them harm. Meanwhile, Governor Hank Burleson is obviously hiding something from the people of his state and those closest to him.

While Kenemore's first two Zombie State books (Zombie, Ohio and Zombie, Illinois) were at times literally laugh-out-loud funny, I found myself experiencing some different emotions with Zombie, Indiana - emotions one does not usually find in this kind of story. By the end of the novel, there is an undeniable feeling of hope and togetherness not only amongst the main characters, but also amongst the people of the whole state. I was actually made to believe that some good could come of a zombie apocalypse, and believe me, that was a welcome relief and change. When you are so used to zombie stories being about the evils of man in a societal breakdown, I loved reading a story with a more than positive ending, where good people still existed - existed, and prevailed.

This comes about not only through the characters of Nolan and Kesha but also through the people that they meet as they make their way to the heart of Indianapolis. The common theme with these strangers is that they are not at all how they first appear to be to Nolan and Kesha. The first people they meet instill a sense of foreboding for any future encounters - a blind farmer and his wife seem like the nicest and least threatening people you could hope to meet. But their religious zealotry and racist comments immediately put off our characters and they quickly get away from them. After that, though, the Hoosiers start to show us who they really are. Carnival workers, popular high school girls, and a motorcycle gang are all people who at first seem rather untrustworthy but prove themselves to be just the opposite.

Though Kenemore does give examples of bad people who take terrible advantage of the zombie outbreak to commit crime, they are not at the forefront of his story. Even the evil governor is in the minority, as the people around him actually want to help the people of Indiana, and are obviously reluctant to go along with his plan of "do nothing." I don't know much about Indiana myself (though I do have an aunt that lives in Indy) but Kenemore seems to want us to know that Hoosiers are honest, good people - the kind of people that you would want to rally together with during a zombie apocalypse, or any crisis really. Even when they find out that the governor has created a barricade around the capitol building that only protects a select few and doesn't let in the rest of the populace for protection, they do not immediately storm the place and cause chaos. They set up camp and wait for the  help that they are sure is coming, because the good in them makes them believe in the good of other people, even if they turn out to be wrong.

But if it's zombies you're really looking for, fear not. Readers are once again treated to several memorable scenes of zombie attacks and destruction in all new locations. Though I personally don't think he can top the awesomeness of the coal tunnel sequences in Zombie, Illinois, Kenemore tries by giving us a great introduction to the outbreak in the very cool location of an underground river in a cave where the high school students are taking a tour. I was disappointed that we didn't get to spend that much time here because the images coming to my mind through the descriptions were very creepy and unsettling. And again, all types of zombies make an appearance in Zombie, Indiana - from the blackened and disgusting bodies in the caves to even a little toddler zombie in a farmhouse. The author sure knows how to push the readers' buttons and show us things that we never wanted to see, if only in our minds.

Scott Kenemore has once again proven that he is an amazingly gifted writer who brings to the genre tales that are equally humorous and thought-provoking, gory and inspiring. Zombie, Indiana is just the latest in a string of highly entertaining zombie stories that every horror fan should get their hands on right away. It is a fast-paced novel with great characters and an even greater message. If Kenemore ends up writing 47 more books to cover every state in the union, I will gladly read every last word.

Zombie, Indiana will be available in May 2014.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Movie Review: The Conjuring (2013)

I've had a couple different readers now make the comment to me that they wanted to know what I thought about The Conjuring and said I should do a review. I actually did see the movie when it was first released many months ago, but I didn't do a review then for some ridiculous reason. Now I've rented it again and my feeling is still the same as that first creepy time in the theater. You all know I love ghosts, so fo' sho', I was all over The Conjuring.

In 1971, Roger and Carolyn Perron move their five daughters into what is seemingly the perfect house in the country. But ever-escalating strange and scary occurrences lead them to believe that a very dark spirit haunts their land, and they bring in renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren to help rid them of this evil presence before it is too late.

On my first go-round with The Conjuring, I actually missed most of the beginning of the film with the Annabelle story because whoever was driving got us there late. So instead of safe in a theater with 100 other people, I had to first experience the creepiness of the Annabelle doll by myself at home. Why do people (especially James Wan, who seems to have a strange obsession with dolls) need to keep reminding us that dolls are terrifying? We know this. But anyway, there's some good stuff in this scene and though it doesn't have much, if anything, to do with the main story, it was a good way to introduce the film and set the tone. I also loved that wonderful swelling music at the beginning, and how the title scrolled on the screen - big as life - after the text background information on the Warrens.

One thing I really liked about the movie is that it dually told from both perspectives of the people in the Perron family and the Warrens. Ed and Lorraine are just as interesting characters (and real life people) as the Perrons, so it was nice to see some of what they were really like as people away from their job. This also let the audience know that they were serious about what they do and not in any way fakes or charlatans. Perfectly cast as Ed and Lorraine are Patrick Wilson - one of my favorites ever since Hard Candy - and Vera Farmiga. Roger and Carolyn are played by Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor, and though each of the daughters gets a little moment in the spotlight, it's hard to keep them all straight, either character-wise or actor-wise. Let's just say they're all good. I like them. In a movie like this, I think the acting is always really key, and knowing that all these people were hired for their talent and their ability to actually play these real people instead of for their looks or current popularity was wonderful to see.

James Wan's direction is the main reason for the film being so successful at the spooky parts. Wan knows exactly where to put the camera in each scene to get maximum results from the audience, and how long to hold a shot before finally delivering the scare. Some stand-out sequences I have to mention are things like the fat woman holding Rory in cellar where her face is just out of focus; the extremely creepy shot of the hands coming out from between the clothes in the closet and clapping; and the scene that scared the ever-loving shit out of me - when the clapping hands appear next to Carolyn's face out of the dark. I also really enjoyed Wan's use of camera movement here. There are a couple of great zoom shots, and one really perfect sequence where the camera shot is upside down to match the POV of the girl looking under her bed, and then the camera flips up and around with her as she gets up. Really nice to see a director actually use some of those unconventional moves to keep things interesting.

On my second viewing, though, I still didn't like the ending. After all the craziness of the climactic scene and the wreckage of this awesome house, I was again left with a heavy feeling of "that's it?". When Carolyn is stopped from killing her daughter by remembering how much she loves them all and then pukes out the spirit of Bathsheba, it was really touching and a good moment, but I had to think: did that really get rid of the spirit forever? It just felt like things were taken care of a little bit too easily and like the demon wasn't really exorcised or whatever. I'm no professional ghost hunter, though, so I could be wrong.

Touted by many movie-goers as one of or the scariest film(s) ever made, The Conjuring was not only a huge financial success, but also one that actually delivered the goods it promised. I think it respectfully portrays part of the real story of the Warrens while still doing its job of being creepy and unsettling. And with a sequel and a spinoff movie on the way, we'll see if lightning can strike three times.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Movie Review: Night of the Living Dead (1990)

There are lots of movies on my horror movie "must-see" list. The remake of George Romero's Night of the Living Dead was always on that list, moreso just in a completist way rather than something really mandatory. Well, I ended up being immensely surprised at Tom Savini's feature film debut as a director, not only for its respect of the original but also for its respect of the zombie movie in general.

The plot is basically the same and starts out with brother and sister duo Johnny and Barbara arriving at the cemetery to visit their father's grave when they are attacked by a strange, shambling man. Barbara escapes to a nearby farmhouse and there meets up with several other people. Together they all try to fortify the house and survive the night as the hordes of the reanimated dead gather outside.

I'm honestly really impressed with NOTLD90, and for several reasons. Despite the fact that it is almost a shot-for-shot retelling of the story from 1968, the remake feels fresh and new. Savini's directorial eye is different than Romero's - where Romero used lots of interesting angles and took advantage of the shadows created from using black and white photography, Savini's approach is rather simple. He doesn't detract from the action with crazy camera movements or anything, and instead just makes something that looks professional and well thought out with what's on screen. It's simply a good movie telling a good, simple story and the simplest stories are always the best to me.

Another reason for the remake's success is the casting. It was nice that they kept all of the original characters and, for most of them at least, their personality traits and relationships are the same. The only big change is the character of Barbara - the shock stricken mouse of the original is replaced by a woman who removes her emotions from the situation to truly take charge and kick ass. Veteran Tony Todd takes on the iconic role of Ben, a role he seems to have slipped into with real ease and grace. It helps that he does physically resemble Duane Jones but mostly it is Todd's take-charge demeanor coupled with his sympathy and genuine care for the other characters (eh, most of them anyway) that again makes Ben one of the best characters in horror history.

The other thing about the remake that I was pleased with was the tone of the film. Though the dialogue is at times overly crazy when the characters are fighting, it never once goes through your mind that this is a cheesy remake with no redeeming quality. NOTLD90 is serious as a heat attack throughout and it was something that I really enjoyed and appreciated. It would have been too easy to go the route of the zom-com with hysterical female characters and zombie jokes.

Roger Ebert and I don't usually agree on much but it seems in regard to NOTLD90 that we both had something to say about the ridiculous amount of hammering that occurs in the film. That's a nitpick, I know, but seriously, watch it again and really focus on the amount of time that almost all the actors spend hammering wood into the walls to barricade the windows. Move on to something else, please. Other than that, the only thing that slightly disappointed me was the fact that there was far less gore than I was expecting. Just slightly though, because again this lack of excessive bloodshed also helped in keeping the serious tone of the movie.

In a strange way, I did find myself missing the horrible and ironic ending of the original film when lone survivor Ben is mistaken for a zombie and shot. This is replaced by a scene just as poignant - when Barbara returns to the house to find Cooper alive and shoots him immediately, letting the good 'ol boys add him to the fire of other zombies outside. I loved how this was a nod to the beginning of Dawn of the Dead and didn't mind the change in ending one bit because it was the right ending for this version.

All in all, NOTLD90 is a very solid remake, one that makes changes in the right way and for the right reasons, while still keeping all the elements of the original that worked. It's a remake that should be mentioned more often as one of the most successful ones out there.

Also, did anyone else notice how strange it was that Barbara lost her glasses at the beginning of the movie but it never seemed to bother her the rest of the time? And that she was still a pretty good shot?Just food for thought.