Witching Hour Theatre – Jonathan Janz

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The venue where we watch our favorite horror movies has metamorphosed through the years. We’ve went from old single screen movie theaters to drive-in theaters, to multiple screen multiplexes, and now many people have high quality electronics in their man cave that would give any theater a run for their money. For those of us that remember the older movie theaters, they were a magical place. The smells of popcorn and candy mingling with the sounds of the bustling crowds and the flashing bright lights of the marquee. Going to the theater was an event. But when the lights went down and the crowds dispersed, the theater could be a spooky place. This is the atmosphere that Janz captures perfectly.

Larry Wilson, an awkward loner and horror movie aficionado, doesn’t miss many of the Starlight Theaters Friday Midnight Matinees. He gets his popcorn and candy along with a large soda to wash it all down with. Tonight, he even got a future date with the cute girl behind the counter that he’s never had the courage to ask out. This night was shaping up to be one that Larry would never forget. Unfortunately, this was the last good thing to happen tonight. For this night, blood was going to spill and not just on the screen.

Witching Hour Theatre is a fun romp through familiar territory. Janz doesn’t try to do too much with this story. He lets it be exactly what it is – a B-movie tale told in an eerie familiar setting. He’s got all the right ingredients going – atmosphere, good characters, flawless dialogue and pacing, and oh yes, plenty of the red stuff. Come right in and take your seat. Don’t mind the stickiness on the floor. I’m sure it’s only spilled soda…or is it?

4 1/2 Slasher Flicks out of 5

 

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The House – Bentley Little

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So this was my first forray into a Bentley Little tale. I’d heard such good things about him and decided it was time to give it a go. I had a few of his sitting on my shelf staring back at me to choose from. I selected The House and, looking back, that my have been the wrong one to introduce myself to his work. It’s not that the house was horrible. Far from it. But it became a mess and the last 100 pages were an absolute chore to get through. The ending was completely “meh” and I found myself disappointed at what seemed like a really good story at the beginning.

Five different people from different parts of the country grew up in a house that gave everyone the heebah jeebahs. These five people “escaped” their childhood houses and had never returned as adults. Most of their recollections were vague and fuzzy about their childhood homes until they all started having strange things happen to them that seemed to be all pointing in the same direction. They needed to return to their homes and take care of some unfinished business. What that business was, they didn’t know.

So far, so good? Yes. I was digging Little’s writing style and even though the five characters kept having similar things happen to themselves, to the point where it was beginning to feel like he was describing the same scene five different times, I was still chugging along.

Then we find out that the same Victorian house is in five different parts of the country and it’s a gateway barrier to some alternate reality. The five people go to their respective houses and then things morph so that they’re all together in the same house, which is now holding them prisoner. Without going into too much more detail, things started getting weird. And I can get into weird, but this weird was the same thing told five different times, over and over and over and…well, you get the idea.

Even though this is my first story by Little, I can tell that he has the chops to be considered a very good writer. The prose is not done by an inexperienced hand. The problem is the story itself. It really just goes around and around without much of a payoff, aha moments of explanation, or any points of interest. With a writing style as good as his, I expect more and not the clunker that was The House.

3 Foul Mouthed Urchins out of 5

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Breathe. Breathe. – Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi

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Sometimes, I feel like I need to go outside my comfort zone with my reading and expand my horizons. Sometimes, I’ll pick up a historical non-fiction offering or begrudgingly open a classic that I resisted in my high school literature class. Most of the time, I can appreciate the different prose than what I normally gravitate towards. Such is the case with Breathe. Breathe. I tend to read poetry in a sing-song lyrical way. I don’t know if that’s how you’re supposed to read it, but I’ve never claimed to be an expert. With Breathe. Breathe., I had to read the first few poems over more than once to feel like I got what I read. That’s not saying the poems were lacking. In fact, they were quite powerful, but I had to to get myself in the right frame of mind to read poetry. Do you ever do that? Once I got into the groove, the power of the poems started to impact me. Erin’s prose is extremely heartfelt. Each one radiates with personal struggle, darkness, and perseverance. At times, it can be a bit overwhelming. The second half are Erin’s short stories. Again, lots of darkness and revenge ooze from the pages. My personal favorites are The Lighthouse Keeper’s Tale and The Madness of the Woodpecker. Give Breathe. Breathe, a try and see if it pushes your limits to the delicious edge.

 

4 Poisoned Cups of Tea out of 5

 

 

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Infestation – William Meikle

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Meikle really is a maestro of fear. He knows how to add just the right notes, when to increase the tempo, when to crescendo to a furious pace, all while captivating his audience with a perfect production. Infestation has everything I love in a read. A tight plot. Interesting and believable characters. Realistic dialogue that flows easily without feeling forced. All the right notes.

A Russian ship is reported being in the Arctic in waters where it’s not supposed to be. A Scottish special force unit is deployed to investigate. What they find is more horrific than they can imagine. Big beastie isopods have been released from the depths below…and they are hungry. They’ll eat through wood, metal, and FLESH!

Infestation is a fun, quick romp that you’ll furiously turn page after delicious page. Big beastie horror seems to be all the rage right now. Unfortunately, very few authors seem to know how to do it right. They need to take lessons from Meikle. He’s at the top of his class.

 

4 1/2 Fluorescent Green Veins out of 5

 

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Halloween Carnival Volume Three

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The third installment in the Halloween Carnival series. McBride’s is the anchor in this installment, but newcomers, Armstrong and Grant, give nice little additions as well. Let’s get right into them:

 

The Way Lost – Kelley Armstrong

Every year, in the town of Franklin, a child disappears. No one talks about it and everyone goes about their business. Dale Tucker knows what happens. Or does he?
A fun tale of small town legend meets reality.

4.5 out of 5 stars

 

La Calavera – Kate Maruyama

A roommate is a little too obsessive over her friend getting a boyfriend and moving on with her life. An okay story that you knew how it was going to end long before it did.

3 out of 5 stars

 

The Devil’s Due – Michael McBride

The small town of Pine Springs, CO has enjoyed over a century of prosperity. On Halloween, it’s time to pay for that prosperity. But this Halloween, Thom isn’t willing to pay the price. Great story telling that only McBride can do.

5 out of 5 stars

 

A Thousand Rooms of Darkness – Taylor Grant

Anne suffers from a debilitating phobia of Halloween. Her family members were killed in freak accidents, all on the October 31st. She decides to move to Colorado for a fresh start, but the holiday is fast approaching. Bad stuff starts happening and Anne is slowly consumed with dread. The story seemed slow until the ending which brought a whole new light to the tale. Loved it’s uniqueness.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

 

The Last Night of October – Greg Chapman

An elderly invalid anxiously awaits the nightmare from his past to visit his door on Halloween. Oh where to start with this one? Let me start by saying that I think this was a decent story. It had many elements that I would’ve enjoyed a whole lot more if the delivery was better. Let me explain. First, Chapman didn’t do his homework with his dates. If you’re going to do a flashback to a bygone era, get the information right. When he goes back to set up how Gerald’s loathing of Halloween came to be, he uses the year 1952. He then goes on to describe Gerald’s new friend wearing a Minnesota Twins hat. The old Washington Senators didn’t relocate to Minnesota and become the Twins until 1961. He then describes how the neighbor boys talked back and forth between their bedrooms with walkie talkies. Those types of wireless walkie talkies weren’t available until the 1960s. The ones from the early 1950s had wires that connected to them and didn’t use antennas. If it were only those two items, I’d still think the story was sloppy, but I could still overlook it. What I can’t overlook is the dialogue between the characters. In the beginning, Gerald and Kelli were at each other’s throats. Gerald was the crotchety old man that just wanted her out of the house. Then, once they’re trapped, he immediately calms down and begins talking completely calm to her which leads into him spilling his guts to let the reader in on the backstory. Again, sloppy delivery. There was such an abrupt shift in his disposition that my suspension of disbelief crashed and it could never get back on track. This was only one example of the many times this happened and it made what had the makings of a really fun story. To me, a story like this that has so much potential but doesn’t deliver is much more frustrating than a story that completely stinks with very little redeeming qualities.

2 out of 5 stars

 

Overall, a decent collection marred by a couple of clunkers. Still worth picking up, if only for McBride’s tale.

3 3/4 out of 5 stars

 

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The Girl Next Door – Jack Ketchum

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Ketchum was a man way ahead of his time. In 1989, he wrote The Girl Next Door. There was nothing on the shelves remotely like it by other authors. There was nothing as brutal, as gut-wrenching, or emotionally draining as The Girl Next Door. This kind of fiction wouldn’t see the light of day for another 10-20 years and no one has done it as well as Ketchum did almost 30 years ago.

Meg and her sister Susan’s parents are killed in an automobile accident. They come to live next door to 12-year old David. Ruth, a single-mom whose rough-around-the-edges demeanor always made her home inviting to David and his peers. You could sneak a beer, take a drag off a cigarette and she wouldn’t care. When the girls move in, David begins to have a crush on Meg. But as time passes, it is apparent that all is not well in the household. Meg begins to confide in David of Ruth abusing her. David can’t believe it. Ruth? The mom that was so fun to be around? Soon David discovers that the stories are true and they’re only the beginning of a long, downward spiral into horrific abuse and madness, and all he can do is watch it unfold in front of his very eyes.

The Girl Next Door is loosely based off a true story that took place in 1965. Just knowing that makes the world seem like a darker place. These types of stories weren’t told on the news back then like they are now. This was a time where skeletons were kept in the closet and people turned a blind eye from things they deemed to be “none of their business”. Ketchum’s story has a twisted, Lord of the Flies quality to it. Adults were trusted by children to always be right and do the right thing back then. Watching the children join in on Ruth’s madness towards the girls twists your guts with a chef’s knife. You can’t look away and just when you think it can’t get any worse…well, I’m sure you can finish that sentence yourself. The Girl Next Door is a story that will haunt me for the rest of my life. It’s that powerful.

 

5 Steel Doored Torture Chambers out of 5

 

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Episodes of Violence – David Bernstein

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I absolutely blew through Bernstein’s Episodes of Violence. I literally couldn’t put it down. There was just something about this tale that sickened me and rocked me to my core. After taking some time between finishing it and writing this review, I believe it’s simply that the story of these teenage losers going around and systematically killing for fun felt way too real. We all know kids like this. No, not necessarily first-hand knowledge that the scumbags across the street are offing random people. It’s more like that you could see these kids fly under the radar because people don’t necessarily notice them. They’re undesirables, loners, not someone that the masses pay attention to. Bernstein uses this to his advantage and paints a picture that hits a little too close to home. A little too real. A little too believable. That’s the beauty of Episodes of Violence. Be prepared to be uncomfortable when you read EoV. Be prepared to look at your neighbor kids across the street with a little more scrutiny. Are they just a bunch of misfit potheads that raise a little hell or is there more too them? You might want to make sure the doors are locked, just to be on the safe side.

 

5 Bashed Mailboxes out of 5

 

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