Monday, September 23, 2013

Book Review: The Soft Whisper of The Dead. By Charles L. Grant

Whenever I start to get bored of the horror genre, or start to lose my faith in stories about things that go bump in the night, I go to my bookshelf and pick out a Charles L. Grant title, and lo and behold, I am a believer again. The Soft Whisper of The Dead is no exception.

Grant is a master of atmosphere, smooth yet artful prose, and well-rounded characters. His plots, if not always very sophisticated, get the job done, and his mastery of pacing is a marvel. All of Grant’s strengths are showcased here, in this tight, little story about vampires taking over the small town of Oxrun Station, and the attempts of two lovers, police officer Ned Stockton, and Pamela Squires, of foiling the vampires’ plans. The main villain, Count Brastov, is cleverly kept in the shadows throughout most of the tale, only to come out at the right moments to deliciously unnerve readers.

Even though there’s nothing new here in terms of plot, it is the storytelling that gets you with its freshness and style. Highly recommended.

N.B. Long out of print, the book is now available as an e-book in various stores.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Book Review: R. L. Stine's Fear Street Sagas: The Hidden Evil. By Wendy Haley

Remember back in the late 80's - early 90's when the Fear Street books were all the rage among tweens and young teens? I wasn't one of those, I am afraid, as I am a little too young to have been the right age at the right time. But I did discover R. L. Stine and Fear Street about a decade ago (my own novel, Beware The Night, was partly inspired by them), and, I have to admit, I found many of the books enjoyable, light, and occasionally very silly reads. But there's a reason why Stine is one of the most successful authors of all time, and that is his formula for an unputdownable book: Short sentences, short paragraphs, short chapters, cliffhangers at the end of each chapter, and plots that don't tax the  reader's brain. The Fear Street books are brain-candy at its most fun.

Among the many off-shoots and spin-offs of Fear Street published were the "Fear Street Sagas", which recounted the adventures of the original Fear (or Fier) family. Most of these were written by other authors, and The Hidden Evil was written by Wendy Haley.

The Hidden Evil is unlike any other Fear Street book I've read, with the story being a cross between the darker Fear Street books and Henry James' The Turn of The Screw. This is an entertaining Gothic Ghost Story set in 19th century Boston, about a young governess (who has a terrible secret of her own) who takes charge of two young boys, one of which seems to be a homicidal maniac who hears his recently dead mother talking to him at night. What ensues is a slight tale, of murder, ghosts, and secrets, with an effective twist ending.

This isn't literature, folks, but it sure is one entertaining, little book, that is perfect for those nights when you feel like reading something, but don't feel up to reading something heavy. After all, that's what all of R. L. Stine's books are made for. To pass the time.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Film Review: The Possession (2012)

The only reason I watched this movie was the involvement of Sam Raimi and his Ghost House company. That's not to say that Raimi and his production company have a great track record (Boogeyman, anyone?) But any horror film that involves Sam Raimi must have something to offer, right? Well...

As far as demonic possession/exorcist films go, The Possession is nothing very special. The first half is moody and well-paced, with the family drama, about a family going through a divorce, serving as an effective backdrop for the slowly building supernatural shenanigans. But the second half, where all the spooky stuff takes place, is of the been-there-done-that variety. Director Ole Bornedal (Nightwatch) knows how to create stylish visuals and get good performances from his cast, but the plot offers almost nothing new, aside from exploiting the Hasidic side of exorcism rites (instead of the usual Catholic imagery audiences usually associate with this kind of film).

Overall, this is a mildly entertaining horror film, with a couple of memorably scary sequences. But the plot is cliched, the turn of events familiar, and the final scene especially ho-hum. And did anyone else notice that a crucial plot device is lifted from Ruby Jean Jensen's novel, Death Stone, about a young girl getting possessed by wearing a cursed ring? 

Book Review: Space On My Hands. By Frederic Brown

Back in the 1950's and 60's, Frederic Brown was considered a master of suspense and dark fantasy, mainly because many of his stories were made into episodes of Hitchcock Presents, and other popular anthology shows. I've always found him to be a master of the short story, with most of his tales having a nasty bent to them, a brooding atmosphere, as he had a knack for nihilistic, dark endings that made his stories linger in the memory. That's not to say Brown is another H. P. Lovecraft. Not at all. Many of his stories, especially his most well-known ones, are light, snappily-plotted ones, but as many are dark and complex.

The collection Space On My Hands a collection of mainly Sci-Fi tales, is a mixture of both. You have the lighter ones (Pi In The Sky, a brilliantly sarcastic tale about advertising; All Good Bems; Nothing Sirius; Crisis, 1999, a clever sci-fi/detective tale involving hypnosis; and Star Mouse), and the darker-toned ones (Knock; Something Green; and the closing tale, Come And Go Mad, a masterpiece of psychological horror).

So if you are looking for some vintage mystery/Sci-Fi from the Golden Age (this collection was first published in 1951), Space On My Hands is a good choice.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Book Review: The Monk. By William H. Hallahan

William H. Hallahan is hardly a prolific author. In the past forty years, since the start of his career as an author, he has written a dozen books (fiction and non-fiction); the most well-known is the supernatural thriller, The Search For Joseph Tully, considered by some to be a minor masterpiece of atmospheric horror.

The Monk, published in 1983, is another of what Hallahan calls his "occult novels", books which feature demons, psychics, astral projection, and epic battles between forces of Good and Evil. The Monk tells the story of a young man with a purple aura, a supremely benevolent human being destined to end the war between Satan and God's angels, led by fallen angel Timothy. Across thousands of years, the battle has raged on, with Satan and his minion, The Black Hawk, managing to kill each and every one of the children born with  purple auras, before Timothy and his familiar, a dog named Repentance, could get to them and complete the ceremony required to win the war against The Devil. What ensues is partly a chase novel, partly a metaphysical/mystical thriller, about a young man trapped between two warring cosmic forces that both want him for their own.

The Monk is a bizarre book. It is a sprawling and somewhat disjointed story, jumping from the creation of Man, to Heaven and Hell, to present day New York, to set-pieces featuring demons, banshees, and devils, to a love story between the book's protagonist and his lover, to a monastery which houses a possible Satan-worshiper! That is not to say that The Monk is a bad book, or even an average one. Far from it. This is an endlessly compelling story, energetically told. But Hallahan's straightforward prose occasionally is too flavorless for its own good, while the novel's first part is so convoluted that I almost gave up on it before getting to the good stuff, about halfway into the book.

But what Hallahan has going for him is the sheer readability of the book. No matter how strange and disjointed the story gets, one just can't stop reading! Which, I guess, is a sure sign of a good book, or, at least, a hell of an entertaining one.

Although flawed, with the climax being especially disappointing, this is one fun ride, with scenes of brilliantly conceived suspense, and a hypnotic, dreamy atmosphere. Recommended.