Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Reactions to The Killing

A half-dozen quick thoughts on "Six Minutes"...

*The episode, charting the last day of Ray Seward's life, was downbeat but undeniably powerful.  It featured terrific interaction throughout between Linden and Seward: I loved how Linden used her own trials as parent to try to convince Seward to see his son Adrian.

*And still the obtrusive smoking continues (e.g. a puffing Holder outside the prison, with Adrian).  Forget Joe Mills--the real killer this season might be Joe Camel.

*Nice twist involving the prison guards during Seward's execution: at the moment of truth, the hitherto-hardassed Becker crumbles, and Henderson has to step up and take the lead.

*Maybe it's just me, but I found the scene where Holder pats down Adrian's hair (using liquid soap as pseudo-gel) uncomfortably creepy rather than touching.

*Given the show's established atmosphere (cf. the tragic circum-stances of Rosie Larsen's demise last season), Seward's doom seemed inevitable.  But that in no way undercuts the work of Peter Sarsgaard--an incredible, multifaceted performance (one which I suspect will be appreciated even more upon second viewing, after the full storyline is known).

*Seward has gone to the gallows and died for a crime he most likely did not commit, but why?  What ultimately has he been holding back from Linden?  Has he taken the rap to somehow protect his son, keep him from falling into the jailbird existence that has plagued generations of the Seward family? Has he been set-up by one of Seattle's finest?  Thankfully, the answer to such tantalizing questions will be provided by next week's season finale.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Dark Passages: Exit Kingdom

In Exit Kingdom, his 2012 prequel to The Reapers Are the Angels, Alden Bell once again proves himself a true poet of the post-apocalypse.   Valuing the sublime over simple blood-and-guts horror, the author composes unforgettable tableaux, such as this arresting scene of a zombie imprisoned in a frozen pond:
They gather around the cleared patch and look down.  The ice is clear, and caught under it, like some kind of horrible fish in an aquarium, is the face of a dead man staring up at them.  His body has gone soft and bloated from being underwater for so long, his eyes milky, his flesh gone pale, nibbled at by fishes, his skin peeled off and floating around him like a nest of seaweed.  They could have thought him just straight dead if it weren't for the fact that his eyes are blinking up at them sluggishly.  As they watch, the dead man raises a hand to them, his movements slow, made almost ghostly by the freezing water in which he is entombed.  He places his palm against the undersurface of the ice.
Moses knows it to be a grasp of hunger, but because the dead man doesn't seem to be able to bend his stiffened fingers, the outspread palm looks like a gesture of greeting or welcome.  The eyes continue to blink, slowly.
It is pathetic and awful, the slug trapped underwater and undrownable--like a man staring up at them from the void, waving his goodbyes as he descends, floating down peaceful into the great black.
There is a darkness to nature--the unhurried ways of birth and death.  (146-7)

Work Cited

Bell, Alden.  Exit Kingdom.  London: Tor, 2012.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

KIngly Trivia

Match the item on the left with the King novel in which it appears as a section title.

___ 1.Oz the Gweat and Tewwible            A. It

___ 2.Gaiten Academy                                 B. The Dead Zone

___ 3.June of 1958                                         C. Carrie

___ 4.Grand Opening Celebration            D. Salem's Lot

___ 5.Wreckage                                                E. The Wind Through the

___ 6.Starkblast                                               F. Cell

___ 7.The Wasp's Nest                                   G. Desperation

___ 8.Winding the Deathwatch                  H. Needful Things

___ 9.The Wheel of Fortune                         I. Insomnia

___ 10.The Deserted Village                        J. Pet Sematary

___ 11.The American West:                         K. The Shining
               Legendary Shadows

Correct answers appear in the Comments section of this post.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Reactions to The Killing

Some bullet points regarding episode 9, "Reckoning":

*Holder has some great lines at the start of the episode, none better than when he gets a look inside Danette's storage unit: "For being broke as shit, Danette sure has a ton of it."  For three seasons now, Holder's wit has provided much-needed comic relief to this grim-themed show.

*Carl Reddick is looking guiltier than ever to me: he's the one who allegedly discovers Joe Mills's box full of victim's rings, and the placing of Bullet's body inside the trunk of Mills's cab could have been part of the same frame job.  Suspicion hardly alleviates later in the episode when we learn that Reddick received a call from Bullet earlier that night she was slain.

*The scene where Danette and Mills face off across the table in the interrogation room was played wonderfully by both actors, and accentuated by the deft use of alternating close-ups.

*The episode throws a couple of wicked curve balls: first, with the seeming Jesus freak Dale's cruel manipulation of Seward, and then with the shooting of Annie's lover.  How darkly ironic that Francis Becker Sr.--a man whose profession involves executing killers--now has a murderer for a son.

*Speaking of wayward children: something just smells funny about Adrian Seward.  I wonder: could he have been involved somehow in his mother's death, and Ray has taken the rap in order to protect him?

*Perhaps apropos of its tile, "Reckoning" was an extremely physical episode, with several of the characters suffering vicious beatings.  But grueling emotional experiences--from Ray's Death-Row desperation to Holder's devastation over Bullet's death--easily overpowered the overt violence.  Kudos to The Killing's writing staff for scripting such hard-hitting drama.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Conjuring (Movie Review)

The Conjuring (New Line, 2013.  Directed by James Wan)

Admittedly, I was one of the few people who wasn't enamored by Insidious.  So I proceeded cautiously to the theater today, despite all the buzz James Wan's latest frightfest has generated.

I needn't have worried.

The Conjuring is a smart horror film, one that doesn't force its players to make repeated stupid decisions just to facilitate its scares.  It is also well aware of its genre heritage, paying homage to a slew of venerable movies: The Amityville Horror, Poltergeist, The Changeling, The Shining, The Exorcist, even (amidst its climax) a certain Hitchcock classic.

There are enough startle moments crammed into The Conjuring's two-hour runtime to fill Val Lewton's entire oeuvre, and the film is permeated by unremitting creepiness.  It doesn't stoop to reducing its cast to anonymous, interchangeable visitors to some haunted attraction (although the five young daughters of the paranormally-plagued Perron family can be hard to keep straight at times), taking the time to develop its characters.  Real-life husband-and-wife Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga) don't come across as superheroes of supernatural investigation, but rather a family with a unique, and sometimes debilitating, profession.  Meanwhile, Lily Taylor shines as a housewife tormented by the dark history of her new abode, so much so that she actually overshadows
Farmiga (whom I suspect will emerge front-and-center in the
inevitable sequel).

Perhaps the biggest star of the film is the eerie Rhode Island farmhouse that forms its primary setting.  Drenched in sepia tones and sporting myriad murky nooks, the place is foreboding even without anything going bump in the night.  As if the rooms themselves weren't creepy enough, the action also delves behind the walls and under the floorboards.  One almost wonders if H.H. Holmes was the architect of this locus of American Gothic, a house harboring its foul share of secret passages and sinister compartments.

The Conjuring is the most effective movie of its kind since the first Paranormal Activity; at its suggestive, atmospheric best it even approaches The Haunting (the original, not the wretched remake coincidentally starring Taylor).  With its autumnal aura (perfectly captured by the movie poster), Wan's offering is quintessential Halloween-season fare, but mid-summertime viewers will relish its treats nonetheless.  When goosebumps erupt all over the audience's skin, it won't be because the cineplex's air conditioning has been cranked up too high.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Reactions to The Killing

Some thoughts on the past two episodes, "Hope Kills" (3.7) and "Try" (3.8):

*One quibble I had with the first few seasons was that the show was a victim of its own mystery format.  A suspect made to look extraordinarily guilty at a certain point wasn't likely to prove the killer, because then the plot would be resolved before the run of episodes had completed.  I didn't have the same problem with these two most recent episodes when the wavering finger of suspicion pointed squarely at Pastor Mike.  First off, there's the question of how the present crimes connect with the old Seward case, so I had to consider that the show was prepared to reveal the teen girls' killer with several episodes left to go.  Secondly, I appreciated what the writers did with Mike's character, revealing how the man's good intentions backfired on him and how his unfortunately-checkered past has come back to haunt him in the present (leading him to the desperate act of abducting Linden).

*The scenes where Linden is forced at gunpoint to drive around the city were incredibly tense (and very well acted by both players).  What I loved most of all, though, was Linden's reaction (collapsing exhaustedly to the ground) the instant the situation was resolved.  It seemed a very realistic response to a prolonged experience of stress, and reinforced just how hard Linden had worked to hold herself together during the ordeal.

*I've still got Carl on my radar.  Was a subtle clue offered when Det. Reddick is the one seen hauling Pastor Mike--the last prime suspect--toward the squad car (and then later sitting across from him in the interrogation room)?

*That hangman's scaffold constructed for Seward gave off a definite In Cold Blood vibe.  Also, the scene where the cuckolded Becker gives his son a tour of the execution apparatus (hoping to impress the boy and earn his respect) was quite good, working on several levels at once.

*It's interesting to see how a more-than-just-professional relationship between Linden and Holder is starting to develop (a perhaps-natural outgrowth of everything the two have been through together while working their cases).  I wonder: are Linden and Holder heading down the same road that Mulder and Scully traversed in The X-Files?

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Arachnid Activity

Holy Shelob!

Last night I discovered this thread-shedding monstrosity hard at work hanging a web outside on the glass of my front door.  The industrious bugger must've heard how I like to decorate early for Halloween...

Yessiree, there's always something interesting going on here at Casa Macabre.

He wouldn't sit still for a photo, but I tried to capture some footage of him going round and round (with my limited technical abilities, I could only get the video to play at an accelerated speed):

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Joyland (Book Review)

Joyland by Stephen King (Hard Case Crime, 2013)

A reputedly-haunted amusement park spookhouse ride that was the sight of a grisly, unsolved murder years earlier?  One ticket, please.

In Joyland, Stephen King immerses the reader in the world of carnival life (circa 1973): the vibrant sights, the sounds of delight, the distinctive smells of fried dough and cotton candy, the trade lingo wielded by colorful (yet complex) characters. With its intimations of the supernatural and extended behind-the-scenes peak at carny-type existence, the novel recalls Carnivale (is it coincidental that the main character here, as on the HBO series, is dubbed "Jonesy"?).  And Ray Bradbury naturally casts an atmospheric shadow.  King acknowledges his literary precursor in clever, allusive ways, such as by casting a sinister "Tattoo Man" as the villain of the book.  As a bittersweet coming-of-age tale, Joyland no doubt travels the same circuit as Something Wicked This Way Comes.

The novel isn't a perfect fit for the Hard Case Crime mold (yet is nowhere near as incongruous as King's previous effort with the publisher, The Colorado Kid).  Devin Jones, the book's amateur detective narrator, has no trouble waxing sarcastic, but his most memorable lines tend toward the insightful rather than the inciting (e.g. "When it comes to the past, everyone writes fiction.").  Given its nostalgic tone and retrospective viewpoint, Joyland is more reminiscent of King works such as "The Body" and Hearts in Atlantis than a hard-boiled (and darkly carnivalesque) Bachman book like Thinner.  The murder mystery element here is relegated to the background for the first two-thirds of the novel, as King focuses on building his characters and establishing his setting.  But all the pieces of what proves to be a carefully developed plot fall into place in a frenetic and frightening climax (that takes place on one of Joyland's iconic structures in the midst of an October squall).  The subsequent tear-jerker of a denouement serves as a final, poignant reminder that this narrative ride has been designed to move in surprising ways.

In the end, Joyland stands not just for the eponymous amusement park but also for the place to which King transports readers via his incredible storytelling ability.  This book, I assert without any
hesitation, is the best one the author has gifted his audience with in years.  With its seaside mise-en-scene, Joyland forms a quint-essential summertime read, and it's easy to imagine fans eagerly returning to it come autumn.

Monday, July 8, 2013

QuickList: Cryptkeeper Wit (Season Two)

[For the Cryptkeeper's best lines from Season One, click here.]

Some more bone mots from the host who puts the dead in deadpan...

Tonight I've chosen a fiendish little tale from my hold of moldy oldies.  We've been invited to an anniversary celebration of holy deadlock.  You know: to love and to perish, for richer or horror, in sickness and in stealth, 'til death do us part.  This is one anni-versary the husband will never forget.
--intro to the episode "Three's a Crowd"

[reading Playdead, which has a scantily clad cadaver posed on its cover]  Oops. Looks like you caught the old Cryptkeeper checking out one of his ghoullie magazines.
--intro to the episode "The Thing from the Grave"

Contents: one ventriloquist's dummy...Hacme Novelty Company, Battle Shriek, Michigan.  Oh, goody.  Watch this, kiddies.  You won't see my lips move.  You know why? I don't have any!
--intro to the episode "The Ventriloquist's Dummy"

Poor Donald, you can't really blame him.  He was only trying to give his marriage a shot in the arm--and in the leg, and in the head!
--outro to the episode "Judy, You're Not Yourself Today"

Cryptkeeper here, kiddies.  And speaking of kiddies, tonight's sickening saga should be subtitled 'A Tale from the Crib.'  Yes, dear fans, I've got a real nursery crime for you this time.
--intro to the episode "Lower Berth"

Well, maggot-meisters, how's that for a cheeky little tale?  Frank sure picked a deadly time to sever all thighs with his [Siamese twin] brother.  And poor Eddie suffered the unkindest cut of all--a real split personality!
--outro to the episode "My Brother's Keeper"

Well that's all for now, kiddies.  As one cow said to the other as they headed off to slaughter, 'Till next we meat!'
--outro to the episode "The Secret"

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Universal Monsters in Our Midst

Apparently, not all cookie monsters emanate from Sesame Street...

I just stumbled upon a great post to the Middle Earth Collectors blog from a couple of years back.  "Universal Monsters: The Merchandising Oddities of the Early 90's" serves as an entertaining survey of some of the myriad (and occasionally bizarre) ways the legendary monsters have permeated American culture.  Bona fide monstrophiles will definitely enjoy reading this piece.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Reactions to The Killing

I just caught up with episode 5 ("Scared and Running") and 6 ("Eminent Domain") of The Killing.  Some random thoughts:

*The bond between Holder and Bullet is growing more apparent with every interaction between the characters.  I wouldn't even be surprised to see him try to adopt her by season's end.

*Is it just me, or has Linden's character become a lot less likable this season?  Part of the problem might be that we no longer get to see her in the role of caring mother to Jack.  Plus the writers are laboring to show Linden's worsening obsession with the Ray Seward case.  Still, Linden's gruff demeanor and badgering of witnesses are hard to take at times.

*Enough already with the scenes of characters lighting up cigarettes and brooding (there has to be a less clich├ęd way to indicate a state of stress).  Pretty soon the show will need to air a Surgeon General's warning with the opening credits.

*Actress Amy Seimetz, as Kallie's flaky mother Danette Leeds, is rapidly emerging as the most impressive performer in Season 3.  Her character swings intriguingly from negligent to concerned parent, and Seimetz's highly expressive face is capable of a range of convincing emotion.

*The list of suspicious characters is steadily mounting (Joe Mills, Pastor Mike, Becker), but I'm sticking with Det. Carl Reddick as the perverted perp.  Did he accidentally or deliberately allow potential witness Angie to escape from his watch at the hospital?

*The first half of Season 3 has lacked pizazz, but The Killing is
gathering momentum now that the various plotlines are beginning to converge (and more information is being revealed about Seward's past).  I'm hopeful for a strong conclusion to the show's current mystery.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Grave Tales (Review)

The long-delayed Grave Tales #7 has finally arrived, delivering a Tales From the Crypt-ic triptych of ghoulishness.

The issue's cover could be a bit misleading, suggesting an adaptation of a story by Joe Hill.  Hill actually is responsible here for doing the script for Peter Crowther's story "Rustle."  The piece offers an intriguing, quasi-Lovecraftian premise (a suspected serial killer's "victims" disappear when stepping through a door that mysteriously appears in the middle of his apartment), but builds to a fairly predictable conclusion.  Also, the sound effects ("hisss,"
"scuttle," "shiffle...shaffle") blazoned across the final page prove
more silly than sinister.

Much more impressive is Ed Gorman's "The Jungle" (art and adaptation by William Renfro), the tale of a hard-boiled drifter who tracks a werewolf to a hobo camp in Depression-era Nebraska. 
Readers are presented with an engrossing tale (one that features a nice plot twist) in a distinct setting.  Renfro's artwork is sharp (hobo beard stubble is rendered with pointillist precision), his black-and-white drawings well-suited to this horror-noir narrative.

Ray Garton fills up the issue's "Epitaphs" slot with a work of flash fiction entitled "Tub."  The story is short and anything but sweet.  Let's just say that Garton does for hot-tub bathing what Jaws did for swimming in the ocean.

The latest edition of Grave Tales won't go down as an all-time
classic, but with a price tag of only $5, the issue will surely satisfy those looking for some cheap thrills.