The Void (2016) Film Review

This was the main movie I decided to go with this Halloween. I usually pull out a couple of horror classics or films which I really like, that way I can be sure not to be disappointed. This year I thought, no I’m going to watch one or maybe two fairly new horror flicks for a change.

Now I had heard and read quite a lot of good things about this new movie over the last year or so. I had heard that it actually had practical special effects-okay this does happen, but often they just turn out looking terrible. In this case the feedback was that these effects worked really well. Surprise there, plus I grew up on 80’s horror movies where it was all about lots of latex and animatronic effects clear to see and buckets of blood and gore all over the show so this appealed to me.

It also seemed to have a fairly distinctive and original concept and mysterious idea in the story which seemed to make it stand out from a number of recent horror movies. I’ve been waiting for something to come along which was brave enough to offer up a new mythology, a fully formed world of terror instead of yet more twenty-somethings running around with some masked killer on their trail.

So this movie seemed mysterious and confident, just what I wanted. Halloween, get ready for this in my dvd player.

If you haven’t seen it yet I won’t let out too many spoilers or I’ll try not to do so. The story takes place in and around a small town hospital with a young police officer observing a number of shocking and creepy events connecting up around him and the small set of main characters. They become trapped in the hospital as they soon notice a large number of what seem like hooded cult members surrounding the building while it is soon enough clear that something not of this world is trying to take them down…

This movie does have a strong 80’s vibe and several films come to mind while watching it such as Assault of precinct 13, The Thing, Hellraiser, Phantasm and others. It is often quite claustrophobic and intense. Considering that the directors had only previously made shorter spoof parody genre movie, with this movie they conjure up genuine serious cinematic terror all the way.

It was good to see a new horror film which soon enough moves at a quick pace and has a cast of good enough actors which help build up the panic and hysteria of the story around them. Some have said that the plot gets quite confused or disjointed as it goes on. There may a couple of plot holes but the main issue has been that many felt it was quite derivative of some of the classic 80’s horror films I have mentioned. Also there are two strands of terror coming in to attack the main characters and yes, in some ways these two elements may not exactly make totally logical sense.

I can assure you though that the film does have a bunch of really impressive set pieces, a load of blood and gore spilling out all over the place. Some of the acting may be a little hit and miss at times but generally it works well enough. Ultimately this is a genuine bold new spectacle of a horror movie. It all builds and builds toward a final head-trip of an ending.  It might be good to see some kind of sequel to this movie if the directors would be interesting in the idea.

So if you are a fan of some of the most bloody and creepy 80’s monster movies with a sharp supernatural twist this could be the one you have been waiting for right here. Dare you enter the VOID?

James E Parsons is author of two SF novels-Orbital Kin & Minerva Century. His first horror novel Northern Souls has been published this Halloween. All three are available from all good bookshops or online now.

 

 

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Northern Souls-A New Horror Novel

My first horror novel has been a long time coming. With science fiction on the back burner for a while get ready for something to ruin your sleep and make the shadows at night feel much more uncomfortable.

The story focuses on Eric after his girlfriend has passed away unexpectedly. Police are not yet sure how she died but some think Eric may have been involved. He feels the danger and extreme sorrow crushing him. But she returns…

What does she have to tell him? Is he confused? Delusional? If a ghost came to you how would you react? Would you act on the message of a dead loved one?

Northern Souls is published in October in paperback and ebook in all good bookshops. James E. Parsons has two SF novel available now- Orbital Kin & Minerva Century-paperback, ebook, hardback.

Northern Souls- Tyneside Terror

What would you like to know about my first horror novel published very soon? Will it be banned? Have I gone way too far? What twisted scenes of terror around the North of England have I imagined?

In less than one month now my debut horror novel will be available in print for all to read. I’ve published two SF novels up to now but all the while I had been writing a few horror short stories here and there and this large horror tale had been taking shape.

Why is it set in and around the North East of England? Well this is my home area, it is where I was born and grew up. I left Newcastle around my early twenties but I do feel very much connected to it. It is me and I am North East in body, history and soul.

Northern Souls imagines a new secret dark tale below and around the streets and Newcastle, Byker, Gateshead, Wallsend and other local areas. It is a supernatural tale, a struggle against ancient evil as it rises and controls the land in various horrific ways.

Dare you read it?

Northern Souls is published in October in paperback and ebook from all good bookshops. Fear the North…

Northern Souls- Death will tear us apart…

It has been written for a while. My new and first horror novel has been in the works through all of the time I had been writing my first sci-fi novel Orbital Kin and I have been redrafting it a few times in the last couple of years.

What is it about?

You may have seen some photos on my social media, read some short hints about the story. I will tell you a little more now-

In the North East of England a young man named Eric has recently had to deal with the death of his girlfriend Grace. It has shaken his life unbelievably but some things about her death don’t add up or just don’t make sense.

He does see Grace again and it is her message which really starts the story of this book.

Besides this lamented and tragically ended romance there are others dying and disappearing mysteriously around the North East. Bloody trails and rumours circulate along with fears and talk of ancient local myths and legend.

You may have heard of some of the most famous Northern legends about monsters or ghosts such as the Lambton Worm, Tam Lin, The Witch of Seaton Delaval, the White Lady of Blenkinsopp, the death of Cuthbert and others. How much of these old local tales are entertaining fiction and how much of them contain some element of truth?

There may be ghosts, there may be abominations as Eric and his friends move around the North East hoping to save souls while the blood spills, flesh is torn and supernatural forces rise around them.

Northern Souls is due to be published late September/early October 2017 in paperback in all good bookshops.

James E. Parsons has previously published two SF books- Orbital Kin & Minerva Century available now.

 

 

Blair Witch (2016) film review

Did horror fans think the Blair Witch franchise would have returned to the big screen earlier than this? With the infamous original film released in 1999 and the largely disappointing rushed sequel a couple of years later it has been a very long wait for some else linked to that story.

Has the wait been worth it? Could this next sequel be a much of a controversial intense rush as the first film?

As I understand we have had to wait such a long time for another sequel due to the problems relating to the directors of the original and what bigger studios wanted to do next with the story. Obviously, they have learned from the mistake of the original sequel which disposed with the handheld found footage format and was shot just like any other regular Hollywood horror flick mostly. It made sense to return to the original format which caused such a stir back in the late 90’s but there was the challenge of how to make something new with that this time around…

The story for Blair Witch seemed fairly obvious of course-younger brother of main character of Heather from the original decided to go looking for her in this new sequel or to at least find out what exactly did happen to her and her friends around twenty years ago. With a couple of concerned but supportive friends he travels back out to Burkittsville and they meet with two young and strange people who posted some intriguing information online. Together the group go back into the woods and encounter another series of unexplainable and terrifying events.

So then we have a new set of young people, in the same place of the original film. Do they get spooked? Of course they do. Is it confusing, terrifying, nerve shaking stuff?

Well remember…in the years since the original Blair Witch Project we’ve had very many films which had looked similar or used the ‘found footage’ technique. So worked, so didn’t. I remember going to see the original after seeing the repeated tv trailers which showed many traumatized cinema goers after coming out saying how freaked out they were and clips of them in the cinema almost jumping into the air in apparently genuine fear at what was on screen.

This was not really the case. The filmmakers really knew what they were doing with promoting and marketing their very extremely low budget movie, selling it on mystery and fear as a supposedly real documentary and collected footage of young filmmakers who really did disappear in the woods.

Years later of course, we know all of this and so we will watch any new similar sequel with a large amount of  skepticism. But if you’re a horror film fan, you might go along with it all. From the trailers and early pictures it seemed that the new filmmakers this time really wanted to take what the first film had and push it up to eleven. Do we get that?

Okay so it does feel very much like the original but how could it not? It is shot hand-held, it is a group of young twentysomethings going into the woods looking for signs of unusual activity. What we have this time almost twenty years on, are much better CGI special effects which are added into what still looks like a very realistic low budget movie. Like the original, it does take a good while for anything disturbing to actually happen, and even then it isn’t much. Eventually though the witch leaves her mark and then things get shaken up for the group.

Even though this time around the young characters have better internet, smart phones, even drone cameras at their disposal it all feel so much like the original until the last hour or so. This is where it goes full ‘haunted house’ spook-show. All out confusion, panic and fear is before us, the characters are lost, terrified plucked off one by one. We do get to see much more of what could be the actual legendary famous Burkittsville witch this time. I suppose that it does all work very well, and is pretty terrifying right in this last twenty minutes. If you’ve seen the original, probably just constant de ja vu. If you have not seen the original, I think this film really will probably work very well.

I would I like to have seen them do something very different with this sequel? They could have gone somewhere else with the story, looked elsewhere into the legend of the witch and Burkittsville maybe. We’ve had the first sequel Book of Shadows which most people really hated (wait for it…I kind of like some of it somehow…I know, sorry). Is this the sequel we should have had back in 2000? Maybe it is for a number of reasons it didn’t happen back then. Should we get another sequel soon? I would go back to Burkittsville but dig around for something else next time…

James E. Parsons is author of SF books Orbital Kin & Minerva Century both available from all good bookshops now and online. His first horror novel Northern Souls is published this October.

 

Frankenstein (2015) Film Review

There have been so many films over the decades based upon the hugely influential and famous book by Mary Shelley. This new version I watched a week ago does change things around just a little and because of this does bring some new things to the story.

This Frankenstein film is directed by Bernard Rose (most famous for directing the first Candyman movie) and starring Carrie-Anne Moss, Danny Huston, Xavier Samuel. The begins right away with the ‘birth’ of the monster, this time called Adam (played by Xavier Samuel). We see that he is created in secret by married scientists Carrie-Anne Moss and Danny Huston. They run tests, try to teach him skills, and he starts life much like a naïve simple child. He does though possess a dangerous increased strength and eventually this almost has him terminated. After struggle, Adam escapes and runs away alone.

After this it moves along in similar fashion to the original story-the monster/Adam meets and accidentally kills a small girl, runs from police officers, blood is spilled as he runs on alone, confused and desperate.

The film is told from the point of view of the monster/Adam and set in our modern world. This does make it fairly more believable and more tragic in some ways. This does contrast in my mind with the large scale, big budget mid-90’s film version starring De Niro as the monster, with huge sets and costumes and set way back around the time that the original book was written.

Adam soon meets a friendly homeless blind-man on the streets who tries to give him advice and help him to understand people and how the world around them works. If you know the story, you can expect that eventually it all does again fall to pieces with increasing death and destruction around Adam. The end is more different to how the tale usually winds up and is trying to say something through the eyes of the monster this time.

Bernard Rose is a very talented director and while this film has a fairly low budget he does take care in crafting a very thoughtful and poetic film, while it does not shy away from explicit bloodshed and gore fairly frequently. It is probably one of the more bloodsplattered versions of Frankenstein on film but this does not ruin the film. Another director doing the same thing, with same levels of blood and gore may have put out a much more simplistic disposable movie. With this version of the classic tale, Rose opens out some different thoughts on man creating man or life in our modern technologically advanced times, but also how such an artificial being would exist, feel, struggle against our fearful, aggressive and shallow world.

James E. Parsons is author of SF books Orbital Kin and Minerva Century both out now in paperback/ebook/hardback in all good bookshops internationally and online from Waterstones, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and others. His first horror novel will be published toward the end of 2017.

Neon Demon Film Review

This very gorgeous looking film was released only around a year ago and it has just come up on Netflix. I had read about the film being very unusual, maybe challenging. It looked very erotic, stylized and unreal. I expected something kind of psychedelic in a dark and disturbing way.

This is what I got in some round about way. Quite obviously from the start it is heavily inspired by film directors such as David Lynch, Brian De Palma, and European art house films from over the decades. There is also a very strong debt to Italian horror director legend Dario Argento. But did it concentrate too much on the visuals and forgetting about story? I will have to say yes.

I am a big fan of David Lynch and this film plays out very slowly, with very consciously crafted images which do remind the viewer of Blue Velvet, Mulholland Drive and more. It also made me think of Black Swan, the ballet film starring Natalie Portman. Like that film it focuses on a young insecure woman trying her best in a field of work which places strong emphasis on looks and body image.

The story is really very basic from the start-very young teenage girl goes to the big city for top modelling job. She is very naïve and meets a number of characters who may or may not want to help her on her way up.

It does seem to desperately want to be a great Lynch film. Like some of his films, this one mostly goes at a very slow pace. In films like Mulholland Drive, Lost Highway, Blue Velvet that is usually fine as Lynch sets a number of things up for the audience to watch for in the story. With this film not too much is really set up at all to care much about. The start of the film looks fantastic and then most of the rest of it really drags along. Keanu Reeves plays an obnoxious and out-of-character motel keeper. Jena Malone is often quite interesting and seems to pull the film along. Sadly at the end she seems to let us down (after a couple of very crazy scenes.)

This is not any kind of bloody horror film if you may be expecting that at all. It could be labelled as psychological horror, yes and does have a handful of horrific moments which are quite surreal. I do think that I could probably watch it again and get more from it but generally I think the director did not really put on screen what he really may have been after which is a shame because I can seem that it could possibly have been something very good.

 

James E. Parsons is an author of science fiction novels Orbital Kin and Minerva Century both available from all good bookshops internationally now. His first horror novel is due published later in 2017.

Hemlock Grove: Season 3 Review

This is the end beautiful friend. The end.

Yes after a couple of months, through all of the crazed hellish gore and melodrama I have reached the very end of this prickly dark show. Was it worth watching all three seasons on Netflix? Was it much better than American Horror Story?

This was the last season, it was due to all end, all various parts of the tale wrapped up and put to an end. Given the nature of the show, of course I did expect that to be a possibly offensive to some, gruesome and tragic ending.

Many people held very mixed views of the show-some seemed to really like it to begin with, others did not really take to the style of it all. Televised at the same time as the American Horror Story was on a successful high through the second to third series, this show is different enough to warrant your time if you are a horror fan.

The second season of Hemlock Grove ends with a very unexpected almost Lovecraft inspired finale, raising the stakes and demands of the final seasons much higher. Did it manage to rise to that challenge?

More of the original main characters (played by the high profile actors such as Lili Taylor and Dougray Scott) had been killed off, with a handful of new characters added to the story. New stranded love interest Miranda is kidnapped at the end of season two and this sets young troubled vampire Roman and his gypsy werewolf friend Peter on the task of finding her and defeating the monster whom stole her and the baby Nadia.

At the start of the season it does begin with Miranda in some distant snowy winter lodge held captive by the very enigmatic (and entertaining as an actor) Doctor Spivak. Soon enough to focus returns to Peter and Roman back in Hemlock where Peter’s cousin Destiny is due to marry her new fiancée Andreas. After two or three episodes the story settles on the unfolding criminal problems of Andreas and tensions between him and Peter. Destiny is still a very good character played by the great Kaniehtiio Horn as she has some regular visions and help for the young supernatural pair on their quest. Most of the series does lack in either vampire or werewolf action or set pieces, relying on what we have seen before and might hope to expect toward the season end. The tragic young sister Shelley is fought over by Roman and Olivia, who becomes more and more insane and manipulative than we’ve seen her yet in the show.

Also in this final season Doctor Johann Price gets more focus as he himself has some kind of personal breakdown probably does to trying to help both Roman and Olivia and seeing some much continual bloodshed and killing around his research work at the Godfrey institute. Around halfway into the season almost all of the expected horror elements seems to have gone and we are left watching a Johann and Olivia individually loose their minds, and below par urban crime heist plot and Roman shagging around yet more woman until he sucks their blood in desperate confusion.

The plot for Shelley opens up and can be read as a new exploration of the Frankenstein’s monster theme. She is torn between the sides of her nasty and selfish family, runs away and finds a short term happiness living on the streets.

Eventually more of the vampire/vargulf myth is built upon and opened up, backstory explored as a new young mysterious lady comes to change the dynamic of events, which does gradually help to maintain an original and interesting direction for the horror aspect of the show.

Now of course I have been watching this series with comparison of American Horror Story and also Penny Dreadful in the back of my mind. Hemlock Grove mostly focuses on younger characters and has a more youthful energy and terror through it. The other major thing which kept it separate from those shows is that it largely stays with the same group of character over all three series. Penny Dreadful also keeps and builds upon the same characters but is set in a very different time period.

So again like the two previous seasons of this show, it does dip slightly half way, and possibly doesn’t offer as much full out horror on screen as many viewers might hope to see. It is however an interesting exploration of a set group of characters, often very Shakespearean with the OTT drama. Also being one of the very first Netflix produced shows, I think that they maybe didn’t really know how far they could take the show, how they would best balance the story all the way through. It could have been better in some ways, it could have done others things differently but it does all conclude in the end.

This is a small screen horror series with some obvious flaws but it does have enough things to make it worth watching I assure you if you are a fan of classic gothic horror such a Dracula, werewolves and old legends with a modern setting and plenty of gallons of blood and dead bodies falling to the floor.

James E. Parsons is author of the science fiction books Orbital Kin and Minerva as paperback, ebook and hardback both available from Waterstones, amazon, Barnes & Noble, WHSmith and all other good bookshops internationally now. His first horror novel is published in 2017.

 

Hemlock Grove:season2 Review

Yes it did take me a while to get down to watching all of season one of this horror show but it has pulled me in and I am heading right on to the very end now.

A few days ago I finished up season two of the show. This is where I try not to drop in any spoilers for those of you yet to watch the show-I’ll try my best. Actually best not read this post until you’re done with season one.

So at the end of the first season a few main characters were killed off, in fact it was surprising just how many continued to be maimed, chopped down, slaughtered in quick succession. There were a few mysteries left to keep us curious and wanting more such as the secret experimental project of doctor Johan and what happened to the baby and where Peter and Roman ended up soon after.

So while the infamous werewolf transformation scene may have been extremely bloody and graphic (plus physically implausible) there was actually very little monster wild wolf action. The focus was mostly on the aftermath of the wolf attacks around town, the tensions between the schools pupils and their suspicions of Roman and Peter, and the tensions between Olivia Godfrey and her brother-in-law Norman. Many secrets to hide while the blood spills and bodies pile up.

With start of the second season and new character in her twenties called Miranda comes to stay with Roman in his new plush house after her car is hit on the near roadside. She soon meets Peter who is working at the car repair place, and they spend time together. Eventually she brings them back together. Peter’s mother Lynda Romancek has been jailed by authorities and so Peter and his cousin Destiny begin to make use of her supernatural gypsy skills and his wolf powers in an attempt to free her. Roman meanwhile finds his own problems as his family history changes him, and his desire for blood makes him desperate.

The two characters of interest in this second season are new girl Miranda, who finds herself trapped  at the home of Roman and curious about what he is hiding and the link with him and Peter. Next we find that Roman’s sister Shelley is alive and on the run, hiding from all and moving in the shadows until she takes refuge in the basement of an abandoned house where a friendly young little boy meets her. Over the season Shelley opens up as a character much more, and she becomes more than the simple vague monster image she had previously been.

There is a shift on tone in this season, and in some ways it works better but only so far. The wicked love triangle of Miranda, Roman and Peter is interesting especially toward the end of the season when all the macabre craziness arrives.

As this show was basically competing with American Horror Story, it wanted to set itself apart with a distinctive style that was not seen in AHS. This is of course the times where Hemlock goes very bizarre and quite Freudian with the horror elements and the family tensions. It remains often very soap opera and camp but this is part of the charm in all honesty.

It is great to see Destiny get a lot more screen time as she really is good fun and could probably even lead her own show. Toward the end of the season it is almost like David Lynch is directing Hammer House of Horrors. It becomes even more ludicrous and funny (intentionally all of the time? This could be debated). You know that this is an over the top macabre and melodramatic show, and if you want just that then that is what you get and it goes up a few more notches.

James E.Parsons is author of the science fiction books Orbital Kin and Minerva Century both available from amazon, Waterstones, Barnes & Noble, WHSmith and other good bookshops internationally. His first horror novel is published in 2017.

Hemlock Grove: Season 1 Review

Yes this OTT bloody small screen show has been finished a while now from 2013 until late 2015, but thanks to Netflix I am binge watching it all over a few weeks. I had started with the first series on dvd a while ago but writing put a stop to it. Well now I’ve got right to the end of this series.

I would think that this series got to go ahead due to the huge success of American Horror Story which began in 2011 showing that what could be done with a long running small screen horror series with a decent budget. An audience is there for this kind of thing, and in big number it would be revealed.

And so along came Hemlock Grove a couple of years later as the first real competition to that show. Whereas AHS for the first couple of seasons was really fairly serious and intense, Hemlock Grove was more of an opened up story, with a variety of characters and tones. It reminds me of a number of horror novels I have read, possibly like some Stephen King or Graham Masterton. The show was executive produced by horror director Eli Roth (he of Hostel, Cabin Fever and recently Green Inferno ) a youngish director always pushing at boundaries of taste, censorship and extreme terror on screen. This gave us some suggestion of the kind of show it might be and also how it would possibly differ or be even more shocking that AHS.

From early on, in trailers and promo publicity we learned about the infamous (and kind of physically impossible) werewolf change scene near the start of the series. This was made out to be one very over the top and gore filled show. Is it more that just that?

Adapted from the book by Brian McGreevy (who also developed and helped write the show) it follows the young gypsy Peter Romancek who moves to Hemlock Grove with his mother. They have some family past there from a long time ago, and soon after started at the local school Peter connects up with spoilt rich kid Roman Godfrey, heir to the Godfrey estate. The research building and company with the Godfrey name works on various kinds of biological research and experimentation. Local teens begin to be found dead more and more as Peter and Roman learn of the secrets each holds from the community around them.

The show looks really great. This was one of the very first made exclusively by Netflix, and it has great cinematography, sets and locations and costume design. The influence of shows such as Twin Peaks and the Hammer horror films can be seen regularly. As it focuses largely on the two teen characters of Peter and Roman, it has a more jaded, melodramatic feel but that also goes for the show in general. The mother of Roman, Olivia is played by Famke Janssen is often acting high camp like a light headed Morticia Adams. It can often feel like The Breakfast Club meets a number of classic modern horror films.

I did feel that the show started slowly, but keeping on with it past the third episode I did get to like what was going on and whole feeling of the show. Yes sometimes the acting may be a little hammy and overdone but it has a number of great genre elements and eventually they explode all over the screen with bloody vitriol.

This first season deals with the hunt for a mystery serial killer of teens, while many at the school suspect Peter, even as a werewolf (which he really is) but he and Roman unite to connect up the clues which reveal a much deeper terror. Other characters come into the show to help and hinder their search.

The show also follows the interconnected tensions and troubles between the two main families and how the past is setting up the present for them.

There may have been a few times after the half way mark when it was getting repetitive but it was still the kind of show that I had wanted to see on television and which is very rare. It can be more like a soap opera than AHS but also it is in some ways more emotional and dramatic, as there are characters that the viewers does empathise with as they attempt to stop the werewolf on the loose and the deadly plans of the Godfrey research empire.

James E. Parsons is author of Orbital Kin and Minerva Century-both available from Amazon, Waterstones ,Barnes & Noble, WHSmith in paperback/hardback/ebook and from other good bookshops. His new horror novel is due in 2017.