Monday, February 18, 2013

HORROR BOOK Reviews

I wanted to put out a few reviews of horror books for those of you inquiring about good reading material besides Stephen King. True, the following are not entirely recent books, but I just finished reading them, and the opinions are still fresh in my head, so they’re recent to me! All of these following books may be purchased through any large book store or through www.amazon.com.

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REVIEWED: Haunted: A Novel
WRITTEN BY: Chuck Palahniuk
PUBLISHED: 2006

HAUNTED is a collection of short stories that, interrelated, compose the greater make-up of a full-
size novel, as each story is the flashback of one of the characters. Chuck Palahniuk is best known as the author of “FIGHT CLUB” which became the Fincher masterpiece movie in 1999. HAUNTED is often lauded on the “best of” lists of modern horror literature. Coupled with the fact that I’m a Palahniuk fan, and I was excited to jump into this. Unfortunately, this book just didn’t work that well for me.

The plot revolves around a group of writers who become locked inside an abandoned movie theatre by their mysterious benefactor. However, instead of trying to escape, they each decide that the more horrific they make their own circumstances, then the greater story they will have to tell (and, by proxy, notoriety) once they are rescued. Thus, they destroy their own food, sabotage the heating and plumbing, and invent villains amongst themselves, almost like a “Lord of the Flies” for adults.

Each character’s flashback is a short story of itself, and Palahniuk doesn’t hold back when going through the gambit of the most perverse and horrific scenarios one would dare to imagine. Indeed, in the book’s afterword Palahniuk details how on a book tour, there was a rash of people who fainted after he read excerpts of the stories.

Although the book is a satirical view of culture and human motivation, I feel the author sacrificed absorbing writing for shock and absurdity. It’s very intelligent, but also felt “preachy,” and though the characters represented all different backgrounds, they mostly were each cut from the same cloth: selfish, troubled, and redundant.

What else can I say? Palahniuk is a master, and the critics adore this book. I just found it too self-serving and not the escape into imagination that I usually seek when reading fiction literature.

Three-and-a-Half out of Five stars

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REVIEWED: Neverwhere
WRITTEN BY: Neil Gaiman
PUBLISHED: 2003 (first published as a miniseries script, 1996)

It’s really been a long time since I’ve read a dark fantasy book as absorbing as NEVERWHERE by Neil Gaiman. Suffice it to say, this novel was fascinating, exciting, funny, scary, and overall simply brilliant.

Whatever happens to the “people who fall between the cracks in society,” The homeless, the runaways, the forgottens? They literally fall into another “mirrored” world below, composed beneath the sewers of London and built with the magic and lost technology that is forgotten today. In “London Below” entire villages may have fallen through the world and people from all walks of life converge, in a world of shadows, conspiracy, monsters, angels, and crime.

Gaiman’s style of writing seems so effortless and natural. It’s very warm and conversational, as if he were telling the story to you in person while sitting at a county pub with a couple pints of suds. It’s smart and entertaining and satisfying. Gaiman has a talent for world building, and there are a host of background characters who are all just as fascinating as the main characters. This book has been made into a T.V. Series for both BBC and again for A&E and a comic series through DC Comics, so it’s really gotten around.

Highly recommended for lovers of adventure, dark fantasy, and light horror.

Five out of Five stars

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REVIEWED: The Terror
WRITTEN BY: Dan Simmons
PUBLISHED: 2009

Up until the ending, this book was flawless. Not to take anything away from the ending – it was okay – but just not as powerful as the rest of this book. And when I say powerful, I mean my-heart-was-racing-and-I-could-not–put-this-down sensational. This is really just one of the best books I’ve read in the past few years, which is no small amount.

The Terror is written from multiple points of view from the perspective of a crew of 126 sailors aboard two ships that are seeking the Northwest Passage in 1845. The ships become crushed by ice in an abnormally frigid ocean that keeps them prisoner for several years. Not only must the men fight the Arctic elements and starvation to remain alive, but an evil creature begins to attack the trapped vessels, picking off the sailors one-by-one.

Imagine the movie ALIENS or John Carpenter’s THE THING if set aboard sinking ships in the mid-nineteenth century. Then add in cannibalism, rats, years-long misery, murder, mutiny, lots of rum, mysterious Eskimos, rich mythology, and a demonic creature that can apparently move through the ocean ice. Yes, my fingernails were gnawed to the quick.

Dan Simmons has an amazing voice in his writing, able to transport the reader into the established rules and rigid beliefs of Victorian-era sailors. Not only that, but the author makes you feel the “cold” of the ice, the “hunger” of slowly starving to death, and the “fear” of being hunted by a creature that is only glimpsed.

As I mentioned, the ending was my only issue. Not that it was bad, just… a “change” in the writing perspective which made sense to the story arc but still left me somewhat deflated.

Warning for all: This book is tragic and depressing. It is an amazing story of exploration and survival, but readers who don’t like it regularly complain of its despondency. This is true – it is 765 pages of gut-wrenching despair although, also, told in such beautiful prose that it still covers the whole gambit of other human emotions.

Six out of Five stars (see what I did there?)


Midnight cheers,

Eric


Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Review of “American Horror Story: Asylum”

(Spoiler Alert=Minimal) I’ll try not to give too much away about the ending of this television show (for those of you with it saved in the “To Watch” queue), but by the nature of any review, discussing the positives and negatives of a work will hint at what to expect as well as to influence your opinion.

Now, with all that being said, my plain and simple review of American Horror Story: Asylum is that “I loved it so much I’m going to ask it to be my Valentine next week.” Okay, hokie hyperbole aside, this show was absolutely fantastic. It’s definitely not for everyone, so it you’re still talking about Gossip Girl episodes, don’t bother checking it out.

However, if you were a fan of such shows as X-Files, Twin Peaks, or Lost, I highly recommend you pull up a seat and invest some time in watching this show.

Plot synopsis: American Horror Story: Asylum takes place in 1965, inside Briarcliff, a Church-run mental institution for the criminally insane. It’s ruled by Sister Jude (Jessica Lange) who is an ardent follower of the church though, however, is not shy at pursuing her own ambitions by any ruthless means possible. Within this Institution all manner of horrors occur, most notably the addition of its newest inmate, Kit (Evan Peters), who is being evaluated after being (wrongly) found guilty of a series of grisly axe-murders. A journalist (Sarah Paulson) goes undercover to expose the atrocities occurring at Briarcliff, but then finds there is no way out. Add to this mix a parade of Serial Killers, Alien Abductions, Nazi Experiments, Demonic Possessions, Mutants, and Deranged Nurses, and you get a sense this show is not easily explained. Indeed, it has so many sub-plots woven through that what exactly is happening is sometimes so confusing you don’t know how much of it is real or drugged-out psychosis, imagined while confined in the Asylum.

This is the second season of American Horror Story, though it is a “stand-alone” show meaning it has nothing to do with the first Season. Each season is an inclusive story, though each season (and pending a third) is dark and twisted in its own way.

I really found every aspect of this show to be genius. It covers a span of decades from the 1960’s to modern day, though most of the show takes place in 1965. The production is stunning. Wardrobe, set style, and everything else technical works to place the viewer so deeply in the center of Briarcliff, you can almost smell the rot and foul bedpans.

The acting is amazing. Jessica Lange deservedly earned SAG and Golden Globe recognition for this. The show also stars or includes cameos by a number of incredible performances: James Cromwell, Zachary Quinto, Joseph Fiennes, Dylan McDermott, Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe, Lizzie Brocher√©, Evan Peters, Chlo√ę Sevigny, Clea DuVall, and many others.

This show is rightly categorized as “Horror,” however it truly encompasses a wide range of emotions which is one of the reasons why I think it was so successful. Not only is it nail-biting-scary and tragic, it’s also genuinely funny at times and even downright sweet. The story arc is impressive, and the last three episodes alone form an in-depth story of their own, providing epilogue closure for each of the characters.

As much as the array of plots fascinated me, my only criticism is that the Alien abductions subplot seemed a little “too strange,” even for this show. It was never explained satisfactorily as to why Kit and the women he impregnated were taken away; only that he was “open-minded.” Other than that, the craziness worked for me.

There’s really nothing else like this series on television these days: dark and bizarre, atmospheric and epic, and all around brilliant. So, again, American Horror Story: Asylum gets my five-star, two-thumbs-up, A+, and any other rating indicative of superior performance.

In other words, I recommend it.

Midnight cheers,

Eric