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: The Deep

The Deep – Nick Cutter, 2015. Rating: 3.5 / 5

Great big gobs of greasy grimy gopher guts…I’m pretty sure Cutter’s writing playlist for The Deep includes this classic campfire song. Well, except Cutter’s rodent of choice isn’t a gopher. There are lots of other pertinent adjectives that start with “g” that also describe The Deep: Gruesome. Gory. Gut-churning. Gross. Gag-worthy. Gooey (in a slimy, icky way; not a happy-saccharine way). Graphic. Grim.

This is not a surprise to me. I know this about Cutter’s writing. Take Little Heaven. Awesome. Very, very graphic. So, I had to steel myself for this one. (I failed.)

In The Deep, the modern world is falling prey to a disease called the ‘Gets. People forget how to do everything–including breathing. Dr. Luke Nelson, a compassionate veterinarian, is summoned to a research station eight miles down in the Mariana Trench by his estranged genius of a brother, Clayton. Along with two other scientists, Clayton is investigating a mysterious substance that might cure the ‘Gets.

Luke and Naval Lt. Commander Alice Sykes descend into the deep and dock at the Trieste, where very, very bad things have been happening to the scientists. Luke and Alice discover that the station seems to have slipped out of time and out of reality. Things quickly go pear-shaped. In a visually explicit, profoundly visceral way.

Have problems with claustrophobia or insects? The Deep will push those buttons to your breaking point.

Animal lover and/or fond of children? No spoilers, but this not a safe book for you.

That is my personal problem with The Deep. I can’t stand animal suffering in real life, and I can’t handle it well in fiction. It is ratcheted up to an extreme in The Deep and compounded because we like and relate to Luke, a good guy who also truly loves animals. Witnessing what he does is torture for Luke, as well as for us. So readers get a double-whammy of distress. Honestly, in a few scenes I had to sort of slide my eyes past some passages I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to mentally unsee.

But, The Deep is a compelling, unputdownable story. You’re pretty sure things can’t possibly end well, but you’re not sure exactly how they will end, so you’re stuck for the duration. Luke’s character is masterfully fleshed-out (!) with flashbacks and traumatic childhood memories: personal demons that ultimately manifest. The end gave me chilly, fatalistic echoes of Hellraiser. The Deep is a darkly engrossing read.

My next book? A palate cleanser. An Amelia Peabody mystery, maybe: a nice cheerful mélange of mystery, history, romance, and archaeology. Up in the sun. Far away from Cutter’s deep.

rating system three and a half crows


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Review: Blood Kin

Blood Kin—Steve Rasnic Tem, 2015. Rating 3.5 / 5

A snake-handling preacher delivers more than scary sermons to the folks of this rural Appalachian town.

Michael is the last of a Melungeon bloodline as ancient as the Virginia hills themselves. Following an accident, he returns to the small town of his birth to recover and to take care of his dying grandmother, Sadie. But Michael has a special hereditary talent—or curse. He can make empathetic connections with people to the point of feeling their emotions. As Sadie shares stories of her Depression-era childhood, Michael lives them.

As young girl on the cusp of womanhood, Sadie deals with a litany of horrors in her small town: evil and prejudice from regular folks and an unholy supernatural power in the hands of her twisted preacher-kin. Things everybody knows, and nobody talks about. Together, Michael and old Sadie must confront the evil she put to sleep decades earlier.

Like the best of storytellers, Tem engages us effortlessly, immersing us in the slow southern pace and insular lives and secrets of townsfolk young and old. He builds an extraordinary family saga that is layered with beauty and ugliness, good and evil, and transcendence and worldliness. The contrast between young Sadie and the elderly, infirm Sadie is deeply affecting.

Blood Kin’s unique storyline and characters had me riveted right up to the very end. Then there seemed to be a gear change, or disconnect, with the pacing. All the thoughtful story and character build-up leading up to the finale rushed to what felt like an abrupt, slightly unsatisfying end. But that’s me, and I’m just being picky. I enjoyed Blood Kin. I’ll be reading others by this author.

rating system three and a half crows


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Review: Earthcore

Earthcore – Scott Sigler, 2017. 4/5

A bloodbath ensues when a mining company drilling in the remote Utah mountains unearths way more than it signed up for.

Connell Kirkland, once a nice guy, now a cutthroat asshole, assembles a high-tech team to bore a record three miles down and extract a mass of pure platinum. The haul will be worth a world-economy-changing amount of money.

But Connell has a lot of problems. He’s saddled with a puerile tech genius and his oversized ego. A psychopathic ex-NSA operative who lives for the wetwork. An aggressively unpleasant anthropologist. Oh, and folks who’ve gone into the mine have historically disappeared or been massacred. Then add in the fact that Connell and a handful of others get trapped at the bottom of that impossible shaft, and Connell’s literally in deep.

This is Sigler’s newly-expanded version of Earthcore. According to the author himself, it boasts 50% more words, more violence, and more character development than the first version, which was originally written in 2002, and first published in 2005.

There is an extensive build up before anyone even enters the mine, which is, frankly, frustrating, but Sigler keeps enough suspense going to hold your interest, and the delayed gratification is worth it. From there, the storyline races ahead with a few surprises along the way. My biggest beef is that there are not many likable or relatable characters, and most of the nice guys may as well be wearing red shirts. Kudos to Sigler for expanding those characters from the first version—and several do have personal epiphanies at the end—but, with a few exceptions, you don’t care much about them.

Sigler gleefully delivers plenty of “blood and nastiness,” and the…creatures…in the mine are creatively unique. But, maybe because I didn’t like the humans in the story that much, I ended up finding the monsters less terrifying, and even felt a little bad for them.

All that said, I flew through Earthcore and I’ll undoubtedly read the promised sequel. Sigler writes well, and this was a fun read. For some top notch sci-fi horror try Sigler’s Infected series.

rating system four crows


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Review: The Silent Companions

The Silent Companions – Laura Purcell, 2017. 5/5

Here’s a hackles-raising, creepy little gem of a Victorian gothic that you won’t soon forget. Thank you, The Silent Companions, for getting my 2019 off to a horrific (in a good way) start.

I’m not easily scared. I want to be, badly. My problem is I get too excited about dissecting why and how something is scary. In a haunted house, I’m dancing around the guy with the chainsaw busily admiring how they strung the fishing wire to make it feel like spiderwebs brushing your face. I know. Lame.

I can honestly say, however, The Silent Companions raised actual goosebumps and made me say ooooh out loud. That’s huge. Purcell has crafted an uncommonly disturbing story. It will sneak up on you. And maybe make you put your Dutch paintings in the basement.

I’m going to keep the plot summary brief. I want you to come to The Silent Companions with as clean a slate as possible for maximum impact. In short: It is 1865. Elsie Bainbridge is newly married to and abruptly widowed from the handsome entrepreneur, Rupert. She is now heir to Rupert’s fortune and his crumbling family estate, The Bridge. Pregnant and looked at with some suspicion in London because of her sudden wealth, Elsie travels with Rupert’s mousy cousin, Sarah, to the family seat. The mansion is in disrepair, the servants are inept and contrary, the village is a muddy hovel filled with superstitious and hostile inhabitants. Strange noises, mysterious accidents, and off-the-charts macabre appearances of life-like cut-out paintings are enough to drive one mad.

The Silent Companions is beautifully layered story. With menacing subtlety, Purcell closes a series of traps around the two women: their class, gender, Victorian norms, self-doubt, and past history, each combine to render them more and more powerless against the real evil in the house.

Purcell’s writing is brilliant. Tension builds exquisitely as we readers share Elsie’s confinement in the remote locale and her increasing fear and claustrophobia. Purcell further surprises us by exploding Victorian gentility with rudely shocking events.

The Silent Companions is a deceptively quiet, chilling, stunner of a read. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

rating system five crows


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Best of 2018

There’s a little something for everyone in this year’s top five. Er, six. O.k., maybe seven. (I had to throw in the UFO thriller. And the movie.)

But these are my favorites. We’ve got a western, a Gothic mystery, demonic possession, cryptids, a freakish carnival…Some of these reads are hauntingly, existentially mind-blowing. Some are just great fun. Some will trick you. They’re all magnificent. Text links are to my extended reviews, image links take you to Amazon. Really, all of these books I’d read again, and the movie I’ll definitely watch again. So, yes, I’m glad I own them. You would be too.

Train to BusanFilm directed by Sang-ho Yeon. 2016. You’re in for a bloody and deadly ride on this train when a viral outbreak turns folks into savage, fast zombies. Awesome action sequences and even a little bit of tear-jerking make this South Korean film a gem.

A Head Full of GhostsPaul Tremblay, 2015. An unforgettably disturbing tale of a 1980’s working-class family that deals with the demonic possession of their oldest daughter by letting a reality tv show document the teen’s paranormal behavior and exorcism. But there’s so much, much, more to the story… Multiple narrators, (sort of) make us question the reality of our memories. Profoundly chilling.

Devil’s CallJ. Danielle Dorn, 2017.  Pregnant Li Lian pursues her husband’s killer from New Orleans across the badlands of South Dakota in typical revenge-western style. The difference? She’s a witch. And the killer she’s after isn’t exactly human. Great genre mash-up with a fierce female heroine.

Those Across the RiverChristopher Buehlman, 2011.  A college professor discovers that ending a southern small town’s odd ritual has horrifying results. You can almost feel the slow southern heat and the simmering malevolence of the sinister folks across the river in this sensual, evocative, surprising novel.

A Brush with ShadowsAnna Lee Huber, 2018. It is 1831. Lady Kiera Darby and her inquiry agent husband, Gage, are summoned to the ominous family manor to find Gage’s missing ne’er-do-well cousin, last seen on the perilous moor. A deliciously spooky atmosphere, ominous dreams, and whispers of witchcraft combine with some solid character building to make this Gothic mystery my favorite in the series so far.

The Rib From Which I Remake The WorldEd Kurtz, 2016. Midnight showings from a travelling picture show bring black magic, madness, and murder home to folks in a small 1940’s town. It is up to a hotel detective, Jojo, to unravel the truth. But what he finds makes him question both the very nature of reality and his own existence. Brilliantly written and deeply creepy, this is a stunner of a read.

The OthersJeremy Robinson, 2018. PI Dan Delgado takes on almost every conspiracy theory known to man—UFOs, subterranean bases, polygamous sects, cattle mutilations, the 37th parallel, nanites, empaths—in his quest to find an abducted child. I had to add this to the list just because it is sheer over-the-top, action-packed, good-hearted fun.
   


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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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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