The excellent Sample Chapter podcast recently interviewed me about OUR WAR. In this interview, I talk about my fiction, creative process, and the inspiration behind OUR WAR, before reading a sample chapter. Check it out here:
David Moody brings his HATER series into a spectacular landing with CHOKEHOLD, coming out from St. Martin’s Griffin November 19, 2019.
I first read HATER back when David was self-publishing his zombie fiction in PDFs, and fell in love with it. In this apocalyptic novel, a dormant genetic switch flips in a third of humanity, making them terrified and hateful of the other two-thirds, resulting in a string of homicides that snowballs into an all-out war. The novel has a twist in the last act as powerful as the end of WOOL. After HATER was optioned by Guillermo del Toro, St. Martin’s brought the book to print along with a series that ended up spanning six books.
In the first trilogy, we follow a Hater, while in the second, we follow Matt, one of the Unchanged. CHOKEHOLD follows the fall of nuclear bombs that have turned the UK into a wasteland. In the ruins, the last Unchanged survive in a fortress, while rival armies of Haters head toward them for a final showdown. Matt must navigate all this hate and try to survive on his own until finally making a choice to try to help them all survive.
David gave CHOKEHOLD his best writing in the series, tying all the characters and plots from the previous books together into a satisfying conclusion. Throughout the series, the main characters had their choices made for them by rapidly changing circumstances. In this last episode, they make the own choices, right or wrong, for hate or redemption, and even those who don’t make it expire knowing their death meant something. And for all its bleakness and violence, the series finishes on a small note of hope.
I can’t recommend David’s work enough, whether it’s his groundbreaking HATER series of his powerful AUTUMN series. I’ve stuck with both over a decade, and now I can’t wait to see what David comes up with next.
Adapted from the 1998 book of the same title, LORDS OF CHAOS (2019) is a dark, fictionalized account of the 1990s Norwegian black metal band Mayhem, told from the perspective of the band’s founder, Euronymous. I found it a mixed bag, mostly flat but with some great scenes and acting, though it does a terrific job with its theme, which is that if you talk the talk enough, somebody’s going to walk the walk, and look for you to do the same.
The film runs through the rise of the black metal scene as Euronymous (Rory Culkin) and Dead (Jack Kilmer) find their voice in black metal and promote themselves by pushing satanism and onstage antics. After Dead kills himself, rumors spread of cannibalism and the band wearing pieces of his skull as pendants. Euronymous ends up running a record store and meets Christian, a fan. Christian walks away humiliated after Euronymous points out he’s a fan of Scorpion, which makes him a poser.
Christian comes back transformed as Varg, making his own music and fully dedicated to black metal. To push the envelope further, he starts burning churches. This sets him in conflict with Euronymous, who preaches doing just that but never did anything about it, as for him it was always about creating the aura of horror to promote the band, never actually creating it. Euronymous recruits Varg into Mayhem and begins taking credit for inspiring Varg’s actions. Eventually, Varg calls him out on being a poser, which brings it all to a head.
The film is pretty good. The suicide and murder scenes are disturbingly graphic, real, and take their time. The deep dive into the black metal music scene is fun and feels right. The theme is terrific: Does talking but not doing make you a poser, or does doing, just to one-up somebody else, make you a poser? On the other side, the film feels flat in a lot of places, the great music bits fall away after the first act, and the American actors and accents make the film feel Midwestern rather than European.
Overall, LORDS OF CHAOS was a fun watch for me. While I didn’t love it, I did like it.
Notable for its dark humor and solid acting and direction, READY OR NOT (2019) is a fun horror film that titillates even while it may not make you feel much.
The film opens with Grace (the delightful Samara Weaving, who was also great in MAYHEM) in her wedding gown. She’s about to marry the man of her dreams, an heir to a board game empire, at his family’s palatial estate. The product of foster homes, she’s always wanted a permanent family, and she hopes she can win over her strange in-laws.
On their wedding night, a ritual of acceptance begins. Grace must pull a card and play a game to be accepted in the family. Chess, checkers, any number of games.
She pulls “hide and seek,” the one card she shouldn’t pull. Once the game begins, the family will hunt her throughout the mansion until she’s dead or until the sun comes up. If she survives, the family believes, the family’s strange benefactor will come to claim them all.
This was a fun movie, providing plenty of violence, gore, and dark humor. The overall premise is great. Everything about it works and it was overall a fun ride, though for me it has an easily forgettable quality. This is probably because the protagonist has no flaw or meaningful misbelief and therefore achieves no real change, there’s an ending twist that isn’t surprising, and the film flirts with some form of social commentary but never makes its point.
Overall, READY OR NOT is a solid survival horror movie with an interesting premise and plenty of fun.
In THE CHANGELING (1980), a composer (John Russell, played by George C. Scott) grieving over the death of his wife and daughter relocates to Seattle, where he takes up residence in an old mansion. Soon, he discovers the house is haunted by an angry spirit that appears to be trying to communicate with him. Aided by an agent of the local historic society, Claire Norman (Trish Van Devere), he attempts to solve the mystery and help the spirit find peace.
I watched this film as a teenager and remembered being mightily bored. Watching it again now, I appreciated it far more. After nearly 40 years, the film holds up, though many of its conventions are by now very worn tropes, and some of its conventions don’t hold up–such as long moments of stage direction and the female lead being prone to hysteria. The result is a classic, old-fashioned, well-told ghost story wrapped around a mystery of who the ghost is and what it wants.
Back in 1980, film critic Roger Ebert wrote that despite the film’s craftsmanship, there isn’t enough of a sense of menace, and John Russell is so rational and unflappable there’s no sense he’s in any actual danger, giving the viewer too much confidence everything will turn out fine. Though the creepiness ramps up dramatically in the last act, I have to agree with that assessment. Despite some nice eerie elements, the ghost is rarely scary in this film, emphasizing mystery over horror.
Overall, I’m glad I revisited the film at an age I could appreciate it more, and found it to be a fine classic ghost story, well worth a watch, and a pilgrimage of sorts for genre fans.
GHOST STORIES (2017) is a solid British horror film with some great old-fashioned creepy scares, but tie together into a central story that ends in a fairly meh gotcha.
Written by Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman based on their 2010 stage play, GHOST STORIES stars Nyman reprising is role in the play as Professor Philip Godman, a TV host who debunks psychic frauds. When a hero of his, Charles Cameron, who had disappeared years earlier, contacts him to ask him to explain three inexplicable events, he sets out to investigate. Raised by a repressively religious father, Godman’s core belief is that everything can be explained, and that the brain sees what it wants to see.
What follows is an anthology of three creepy ghost stories told by a night watchman, teenager, and a rich financier (played by Martin Freeman). When each story is being told, there is a sense that everything is not quite right. Godman doesn’t investigate so much as simply hear the story out and do some poking around. Places are either empty or populated by mysterious figures. As for the stories themselves, that’s where things get really fun. The acting, situations, mood, and pacing perfectly build tension toward a great scare/climax.
At the end of the film, the stories tie together in a big reveal. They do, and it’s a nice twist on the theme, but it didn’t land for me with quite the same impact as the rest of the film, and felt too familiar even while it’s supposed to be edgy.
Overall, GHOST STORIES is one of those surprisingly engaging gems you find in the indie horror scene–fun, creepy, and engaging. While it didn’t come together in the end in a very satisfying way for me, I appreciated the effort, and I loved the ride getting there.