The journey continues through the 26 books and movies I challenged myself to read and see for Halloween. Featured here are my week 4 picks: Those Across the River, Hex and The Haunting at Hawke’s Moor, “III – The Ritual”, “The Black Room”, and “The Girl With All the Gifts”. See last week’s post for my other reviews from this list!
For really great lists of books and movies that inspired a few of my selections, check out these Buzzfeed articles: 39 Books That Are Actually Scary and 31 Underrated Creepy, Disturbing, and Downright Scary Films You Can Watch Throughout October.
The Diviners – Libba Bray (2012)
Those Across the River – Christopher Buehlman (2011) [My Rating: 2/5]
“I wanted to lie down with the dead. I wanted to be numb and blind and without memory. But that’s not what happened.”
Some time after the Great War, Frank Nichols and his wife move to a sleepy Georgia town so Frank can write about his family’s old estate, the Savoyard Plantation, and the horrors that occurred there. But there’s a presence in the ruins across the river that has been waiting for him to arrive. This debut novel by Christopher Buehlman is actually really well written. You almost feel compelled to keep reading, even when what’s happening is so awful you want to look away. The characters are really well defined, and the growing sense of tension and dread artfully drives the story to the horrific climax. One of my issues with this novel is the language that the author chose to use. Yes, it’s set in Georgia in the 1930’s, but I’m not sure that that makes phrases like “an affable Negro” necessary to print. Mostly I felt let down by the supernatural aspect of the novel. Again, I’m not sure it was necessary. Sometimes the stories that are the scariest are the ones where you realize that the monsters are human. Overall, just not my cup of tea.
And Then There Were None – Agatha Christie (1939) [5/5]
The Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie (1934) [5/5]
The Roanoke Girls – Amy Engel (2017) [4/5]
Horrorstör – Grady Hendrix (2014) [4/5]
Hex – Thomas Olde Heuvelt (2013) [My Rating: 4/5]
Whoever is born here is doomed to stay ‘til death. Whoever settles never leaves.
This translated Dutch novel tells the story of the town of Black Spring, where the ghost of a 17th century witch with eyes and mouth sewn shut terrorizes townspeople. When some of the town’s teenagers flout the safeguards carefully set out by the elders, they set in motion terrible events that threaten to destroy the entire town. The whole premise is delightfully creepy – this ghostly broad just walks around town with her face all sewn up, randomly popping into people’s homes and standing next to children’s beds in the night. Meanwhile everyone collectively just tries to stay out of her way, tracking her whereabouts with a frigging phone app named “HEX” to help them do so. And every citizen follows strict rules, like not removing her stitches or revealing her existence to outsiders, to maintain a careful peace. But how can you hope to maintain such a huge supernatural secret in the digital age? It’s a really unique premise, very well executed in an English translation that includes modified location names for better North American readability. Sadly, I have to deduct points for one-dimensional characterization which kept me from really connecting with any of the characters. Still worth a read, if for no other reason than I bet you’ve never read a book like this before.
The Stepford Wives – Ira Levin (1972) [4/5]
Pretty Monsters – Kelly Link (2008)
Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening – Marjorie Liu (2016) [3/5]
The Haunting at Hawke’s Moor – Camille Oster (Kindle) (2016) [My Rating: 3/5]
When Anne Kinelly is left disgraced and destitute in Victorian London after her divorce, she is saved when her lawyer discovers the existence of a bleak and abandoned house on the Yorkshire moors that she can call home. But before long, Anne begins to realize that the locals may be right – she and her maid do not live there alone. This paranormal romance was a good read, but could have really benefited from a more rigorous editing. It wasn’t until about 60% of the way through that this book got really interesting for me. Coincidentally right around the time the “romance” part of the paranormal romance started picking up steam. Before that point, there were some reasonably creepy moments with the ghostly influences in the house, as well as some decent world building with the locals. But also a lot of lamenting on Anne’s part about how hard done by she is. Anne is a tough cookie, though, and gets her hands dirty trying to return the old house to a livable state as well as planting vegetables and turning the grounds into a workable farm so that she and her maid can be self-sufficient. And the romance, when it finally happens, is very steamy. Albeit a little too “instalove” to be entirely convincing. Bottom line: it’s a decent book, and you really root for Anne to come out on top, but it’s not ground-breaking.
Borrower of the Night – Elizabeth Peters (1973)
I Remember You – Yrsa Sigurdardóttir (2010) [2/5]
III – The Ritual (2015) [My Rating: 3/5]
The closer to the bottom of the ocean, the darker it gets…
A small European towns falls ill to a strange disease that takes many lives, including the mother of sisters Aya and Mirra. When Mirra falls ill, Aya seeks the help of the village priest to save her. I watched this film with Russian audio and English subtitles, which was both frustrating and effective. Frustrating because I like doing other things while I watch movies, and subtitles force you to pay close attention. Effective because not understanding the language just heightens the “wtf” factor that the film already does a good job of creating. This movie has a very “Silent Hill” vibe that I really liked, and which pairs well with the premise of having to wade through someone’s nightmares to save them. This is made all the more disturbing and disorienting because the dream aspect means that it’s not always spelled out what’s going on. I kind of struggled with rating this movie as a 2 or a 3 because I feel like this film actually could have been longer to develop a little more of the pre-illness story of the sisters. Also I definitely felt like there was some sexual tension between Aya and the priest that either needed to be explored or removed from the film because it just kind of sits there. I finally decided 3/5 was appropriate because I didn’t actually expect the ending to this movie, which has been rare this month.
The Axe Murders of Villisca (2016) [1/5]
The Babadook (2014) [2/5]
The Bad Batch (2016) [1/5]
The Black Room (2017) [My Rating: 2 wangs down]
Where evil is seductive
Oh. My. God. I don’t even know where to start. This movie was absolute garbage. It’s the story of Paul and Jennifer Hemdale moving into their dream house, only to have their marriage put to the test under the influence of the incubus living in the black room in the cellar. I feel like this movie was trying to be campy, but for me it totally missed the mark. It just felt like something a bunch of horny teenage boys who watch too much hentai porn would dream up. Or, alternatively, what someone who only has experience directing bad porn might create if he decided he wanted to branch out into B-movie horror. Or, wait. Is there a movie category below B? From the intro that looks like it was made on someone’s laptop, to the terrible acting and unfunny punchlines – this movie was just plain bad. I WANT MY 91 MINUTES BACK, ROLFE KANEFSKY!
The Bye Bye Man (2017) [2/5]
Gerald’s Game (2017) [4/5]
The Girl with All the Gifts (2016) [My Rating: 4/5]
Our greatest threat is our only hope
A virulent fungus turns humanity into zombies, but second generation infected individuals are curiously evolved. When their military base is overrun, a band of survivors flees with Melanie, a second gen zombie child who may hold the key to a cure. This film is based off the book The Girl With All the Gifts (2014) by Mike Carey, who also wrote the screenplay. I love when authors have a hand in the adaptations! I read this book when it first came out so I’m not sure if the stuff that seemed unfamiliar in the movie was new to the story, or I’m just fuzzy on the content. The zombies in this film are the creepy “28 Days Later” kind that don’t just shamble around slowly, but will fucking chase you down. Also like “28 Days”, there is no slow transition when you’re infected – it’s immediate and irreversible. Between the sprinting zombies, the creepy af infected children, and the sense of hopelessness and defeat that builds as the movie progresses, this is definitely a disturbing film. That being said, apart from the disease presenting in fungal form, and the zombie children behaving mostly like your average child, there’s not too much here that you probably haven’t seen before.
It Follows (2014)
Mercy (2014) [1/5]
Rings (2017) [1/5]
You’re Next (2011) [4/5]
Read/watched some of these yourself? Let me know what you thought!
Want to follow along? These final few days (October 29-31) I’ll be reading The Diviners, Pretty Monsters and Borrower of the Night, and watching “It Follows” and “XX”. Join me!