My Haunted Library

All things spooky. Your source for paranormal and supernatural book and movie reviews, strangeography, Halloween crafts and a little cozy fall baking.


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Review: House of Bathory

House of Bathory – Linda Lafferty, 2013. Rating 4/5

In this intriguing historical mystery, an Aspen psychiatrist discovers that the brutal legacy of torture and death begun by the Blood Countess, Elizabeth Bathory, remains alive hundreds of years later.

Practicing Jungian psychiatrist Betsy Path is doing her best to keep her spirits up despite her father’s death, her mother’s distant disapproval, and her own divorce.

Betsy makes a strange connection with one of her patients, teen Goth girl Daisy, and suddenly too many occurrences of Jungian synchronicity––meaningful coincidences—start to ring her intuitive warning bells.

When Betsy’s mother disappears in Bratislava oddly close to Countess Bathory’s castle, and to where Betsy’s father died, and to where Goth girls are mysteriously going missing, Betsy and her ex-husband set out to find her.

In a separate but parallel storyline set four hundred years in the past, we follow the arrival of a handsome young horsemaster, Janos, to the tainted Cachtice Castle. He vows to end the Countess’ sick and deadly games with help of the pox-marked ladies’ maid, Zuzana.

There is a lot to unpack in this book. Dark history. Jungian theories. Dreams and coincidences. Magic and superstition. Madness and family legacies. Yet it all works.

The jumps between centuries are not jarring, because the same themes weave through both stories, converging in nail-biting endings. We are quickly caught up in Betsy’s search, but even more so with the macabre events in the Countess’s castle. Lafferty writes with rich—and at times graphic—historical detail, bringing daily life in 1610 vividly into our present.

House of Bathory is a darkly satisfying mystery with just enough supernatural suggestion to keep the pages flying.

rating system four crows


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Movie Review: Train to Busan

Train to Busan Directed by Sang-ho Yeon. Written by Joo-Suk Park and Sang-ho Yeon. Rating 5/5

What? A perfect rating for a movie about zombies on a train? Absolutely. And it’s coming from a person who’s a devoted fan of both.

I’ll watch any train movie from classic to campy: Silverstreak. The Cassandra Crossing. Breakheart Pass. The Midnight Meat Train

Same with zombie movies: Rec, Pontypool, Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse

Some are good. Some are bad. Some are great. Train to Busan is great.

When heard about Train to Busan I was excited, but also fearful that zombies on a train would fall into a mediocre slot at best. Boy, I was thrilled to be proven wrong: Train to Busan combines the absolute best of both genres. It is like an even more amped-up version of 28 Days Later meets Unstoppable.

The story is set and filmed in South Korea, with a South Korean cast. The version I watched was dubbed in English but don’t let that put you off. Any initial weirdness you may feel about the voice-overs vanishes almost immediately as you’re sucked into the story.

Seok-woo, (Gong-Yoo) is a young father and a stock trader who is a little too absorbed in his business. He neglects his little daughter Soo-an (soulfully played by Su-an Kim). Realizing he’s been a jerk, he gives into her birthday wishes to see her estranged mother in Busan. Together they board the train to Busan amidst ominous signs of unrest in the city around them.

Things go badly, bloodily wrong from there. A leak from a bio-research facility has resulted in violent, instantly reanimated, extremely fast zombies. The outbreak spreads rapidly through the country—and on board their train. Seok-woo and his daughter band together with a husband and his pregnant wife, a high-school baseball player and cheerleader, and a few other unfortunates. They battle for survival as the train barrels along to Busan.

Several things set this movie apart and above other train and zombie flicks. For train buffs: this film does some highly original, over-the-top train action that I’ve never seen before. I won’t give it away, except to say it ramps up in second half of film: I was electrified.

The same goes with the zombie action. I know you’re thinking, “ah, seen one fast zombie, seen ‘em all.” Not so. The film does some clever camera work: teasing you with things barely seen and hitting you with things very graphically seen that makes these zombies truly frightening. Equally frightening is the film’s creative use of the sheer overwhelming mass of zombie attackers. And, additional kudos: these zombies are deeply alarming without exorbitant makeup.

Finally, the acting is excellent. There are bona-fide tear-jerker moments. Out-loud “oh no!” moments. The father-daughter pair is heartwarmingly portrayed. There is even character growth—in a horror thriller! Nice.

Train to Busan is impressive. It screams along, leaving you feeling pumped-up and in a weirdly positive mood: kind of like you just survived the zombie apocalypse yourself. I watched it last night. I’m ready to watch it again. Don’t miss this one: you’re in for a great ride.

rating system five crows


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Review: The Red Hill

The Red Hill – David Penny, 2014. Rating: 3.5/5

The favor of a sultan can be both a blessing and a curse, as English surgeon Thomas Berrington discovers when he’s tasked with finding a killer in this historical murder mystery.

Women of the harem, including one of the sultan’s favored wives, are being slaughtered by what appears to be a scimitar-wielding djinn. Despite his effort to maintain his independence and keep his own battle-haunted memories in the past, Thomas cannot refuse the sultan’s request. Together with the eunuch, Jorge, Thomas picks up where the previous investigation left off—with everyone associated basically missing or dead—and the two are soon plunged into palace intrigue and perilous political plots.

Penny does a neat job capturing the spirit of time and place of late 15th century al-Andalus. It is 1482, and the Muslim empire there is on the verge of crumbling to Spanish rule under Ferdinand and Isabella. This leaves the noble and wealthy jockeying for future positions and provides us with lots of suspects.

The Red Hill is an engaging mystery. Occasionally, the use of blatantly overlooked clues becomes a little frustrating, but the detailed setting and unusual storyline carry us over those slips. Characterization is solid. I did have disconnects a few times, when dialogue seemed at odds with the characters’ emotions, and I felt that explanations of their motivations were at times repetitive. That said, both Thomas and Jorge are unique and intriguing figures. Supporting roles such as Lubna, the sister to a treacherous concubine, and Yusuf, the Sultan’s young son also have great potential. I look forward to seeing the further development of all of Penny’s characters. The Red Hill is the first book in a series, and the second is already on my to-read list.

rating system three and a half crows


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Review: The Others

The Others – Jeremy Robinson, 2018. Rating 4/5

Willingly suspend your disbelief and you’re in for a crazy-fun ride along the 37th parallel with PI Dan Delgado and his ragtag team on a quest to find a missing child.

Along with his elderly office assistant, a gun-toting pastor, and a fast-talking young Uber driver, Delgado travels to Colorado City, AZ following the trail of an abducted girl. The question soon becomes…abducted by whom…or what?

And Delgado isn’t the only one searching. Some heavily-armed and very skilled paramilitary teams are now after him.

The Others is a conspiracy theorist’s wet dream. A brainwashed polygamous sect, UFOs, cattle mutilations, empaths, nanites, greys, government cover-ups, a secret underground base…The Others has it all.

We’ve got plenty of shoot-outs and alien encounters. A righteous cause. Truly funny bits. Characters with just enough depth to save them from being cartoony: Delgado, for instance, is dogged by a personal tragedy that ultimately strengthens him. By the end, hearts and minds alike are opened.

The Others is good-humored and good-hearted. When you pick it up to read the next chapter, you get a weirdly upbeat, anticipatory feeling, like you’re about to eat a plate of your favorite cookies while watching an old-time, action-packed T.V. show from your childhood. Like, maybe the A Team. And that’s a good thing.

rating system four crows


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Movie Review: Dead Silence

Dead Silence 2007. Directed by James Wan. Written by James Wan and Leigh Whannell. Rating 3.5/5

“Beware the stare of Mary Shaw / She had no children, only dolls. / And if you see her in your dreams / Be sure to never, ever scream.”

With a deliciously creepy legend, disturbing ventriloquist dolls, and a vengeful ghost who rips out tongues, Dead Silence delights viewers with classic chills. It reminds me of the horror comics I read obsessively as a kid: Fun. Retro. Atmospheric. Just enough scares.

Jamie Ashen (Ryan Kwanten) left Raven’s Fair long ago, but when his wife (Amber Valletta) is horribly murdered minutes after the arrival of mysterious package containing an old-school ventriloquist dummy, Jamie knows exactly where he needs to go for answers. Home.

We get echoes of Phantasm as Jamie drives his ’71 Olds Cutlass Supreme through his dying hometown to the old mortuary. There, the elderly mortician Henry (well-played by Michael Fairman), offers warnings and a few clues. Along with a seedy, Colombo-esque cop (Donnie Wahlberg, providing dry comic relief), Jamie confronts the ghost of Mary Shaw.

Wan indulges us with some beautiful classic horror imagery: spiraling staircases in a cavernous mansion, long halls with blowing curtains, a fog-swamped cemetery, a decaying theater filled with creepy dolls. The ominous use of sound–and silence–complements the spooky ambiance and ratchets up the suspense ahead of some effective jump scares. Charlie Courser’s eerie music-box score is equally goosebump-producing.

Dead Silence isn’t cerebral horror, here: it’s not Black Swan, or It Follows, or the original, awesome Suspiria, or Get Out. I love all of those. Dead Silence is a different beast, and I like it, too. Think: Harlequin romance vs. Jane Eyre. Both are enjoyable. It just depends what you’re in the mood for. Feel like some fun, old-school scares? Try Dead Silence.

rating system three and a half crows


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Review: Helltown

Helltown – Jeremy Bates, 2015. Rating 3/5

“Hell is other people,” wrote Jean Paul Sartre, and in Helltown, that’s pretty much a literal truth.

On Halloween night in 1987, a group of self-absorbed young twenty-somethings take a road trip to Boston Township in Cuyahoga Valley National Park, aka Helltown, looking for spooks and hoping for nookie.

Legend and rumors run rampant about this isolated, densely-wooded part of Ohio. Helltown is purportedly home to a mutant python, scores of abandoned homes, a toxic chemical spill, a group of Satanists who worship in a church that is covered in upside down crosses, a crybaby bridge, ghosts that sit waiting for you in the cemetery, a road that leads straight to hell, and a haunted school bus: no kidding! Helltown has it all.

Vainly handsome Jeff gets a little cocky, decides to play chicken with a hearse, and ends up in a colossal car wreck. The group splits up (how is this ever a good idea, people?) Some stay with the badly-injured Jeff, while others attempt to take Jenny to a hospital. All become the prey of a handful mentally-challenged backwoods rednecks. These disturbed and disturbing folks intend to kill the “bucks” and rape the “does,” sacrificing them to Satan in a black mass. They succeed admirably: Helltown has a staggeringly high body count.

This is book three in Bates’ The World’s Scariest Places series and the first of them I have read. I was excited to pick it up because my grandparents lived in Peninsula—smack in the middle of Helltown—and I’ve traveled around the area since I was small. The above rumors and legends still circulate about Helltown today.

Bates remarkably manages to incorporate most of the weird tales about the real Helltown into his narrative, but there is nothing supernatural going on. The horror in Helltown is the gross desires and amorality of the men cheerfully hunting down and brutalizing their human prey. Bates shifts between characters’ perspectives to maintain tension and keeps the story moving along with plenty of violence and graphic descriptions. Characterizations are solid, if stereotypical. Fortunately, I didn’t care too much about any of the characters, so I wasn’t really upset to see them systematically and explicitly dispatched. On the positive side, I guess you could say there’s a happy ending for the scant few survivors…

Maybe my hopes were a little too high, or more likely it’s my fault not researching a bit more about the book: I’m not personally a big fan of this horror subgenre. I was hoping for a spooky read, over a violent one. All that said, I was engaged enough to finish the entire thing. If you enjoy the Wrong Turn movies, then Helltown is right up your alley. I live in the same neighborhood, just up a different alley.

rating system three crows


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Treat with a Trick: Jalapeno Peanut Brittle

This delicious and easy candy will spice up your Halloween. The jalapeños aren’t hot (unless you want them to be!) but instead give more of a warm, mellow flavor to this sweet brittle. If you do want to spike the heat—and go for more of a trick—add extra jalapeños right at the end.

Ingredients:

¼ cup jalapeño pepper, finely chopped. No seeds, no white part. Chop extra jalapeño to add at the end for more heat

1 cup peanuts. I use lightly-salted, dry roasted peanuts, because that’s what I usually have on hand, but raw nuts are classic

2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, divided. Plus more for buttering the pan.

¼ cup light corn syrup

1 ¼ cups granulated sugar

¼ teaspoon vanilla

¼ teaspoon almond extract

Green food coloring (optional) if you want things to look a little creepier for Halloween

½ teaspoon baking soda

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How to Make It:

Butter a 15 x 10-inch jellyroll pan. I have a silpat, so I use that instead for zero stick/cleanup problems. They’re a bit expensive, but truly worth it. Here it is on Amazon if you’re interested: Silpat Premium Non-Stick Silicone Baking Mat, Half Sheet Size, 11-5/8″ x 16-1/2″. Put the silpat on a cookie sheet.

In a skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the jalapeños and the nuts and cook over low heat until the peppers are soft.

In a medium saucepan, combine the sugar and corn syrup. Bring it to a boil over medium heat. This looks bizarre. It will liquefy, don’t worry. Meanwhile, have all your other ingredients at hand and ready to go.

When the sugar mixture is boiling, add the jalapeños and the nuts. Stir well and cook until the mixture reaches 290 F on a candy thermometer. This is the soft crack stage. Trust me, it is good to have a candy thermometer.

Remove from heat.

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Stir in the butter, almond, and vanilla extract, a few drops of green food coloring if you’re using it, and any extra jalapeño, if you’re adding any. Stir until everything is mixed in.

Sprinkle the baking soda over the top of your cooked mixture and stir until the mixture is foamy. Immediately pour it onto your buttered pan or onto your silpat. Use the back of a spoon to spread it out into a thin layer. Work fast, but be careful! The stuff is like napalm at this point!

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Let it cool on the pan until it is brittle and cool enough to handle, then break it into pieces. Store in an airtight container.

Happy Halloween!

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