GUEST MOVIE REVIEW: Paul M. Feeney

When it comes to deciding what horror movie I am going to watch next (and even when I’m looking for book choices), Paul is my go-to guy. And he has been spot-on every single time. He has given us quite a few below… and I can’t wait to watch the ones I have not seen yet.

Halloween Horror Gems

Halloween is, of course, the spookiest of days and the month of October the spookiest of ‘seasons’ (though there is a valid argument for the Christmas period as an appropriate time for ghost stories, but this is a Halloween article, so…), and as such, it’s absolutely appropriate for the horror fan – or, indeed, anyone – to sit down to any number of horror films (and books) and give themselves a delightful fright. Now, it’s a known fact to those who know it that the horror fan will watch scary and horrific films all year round. But there’s just something extra special about viewing them around Halloween. An added frisson, a more delicious atmosphere.

What I want to do here, is highlight a few films that might have slipped under some people’s radar. They’re not specifically Halloween, and they won’t be completely unknown – especially to the hardened scare seeker – but I think, perhaps, they maybe don’t pop up on other people’s lists as much as I think they should. I also want to look at films that are wholly appropriate for the ‘season’, not just horror films but ones with that Halloween atmosphere; again, not specific to the holiday, just ones that have that certain shiver-inducing tone.

So, let’s dive in…

The Stylist – 2020, Dir: Jill Gevargizian.

I watched this recently – and it’s a recent film – and absolutely loved it. Claire, a talented and highly regarded hair stylist is socially awkward, insecure, alone and lonely, and unsure of her place in the world. She’s also a killer, taking the scalps of her victims to try on whilst quoting them as though trying to take on their personalities, too. When Olivia, a client she’s dealt with many times before asks for an emergency wedding hairdo, Claire reluctantly agrees.

What starts a tentative, budding friendship, inspiring Claire to try and give up her murderous ways, devolves into obsession, rage, and more killings. This film oozes atmosphere and class. Despite showing some rather brutal murders, it’s deeply sympathetic towards Claire’s plight. The horror here is mainly of the human variety, showing how painful and difficult it can be for some to move through spaces others do with ease. It’s sensuous, shocking, and an absolute delight of tension and dread.

Ghost Stories – 2017, Dir: Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson.

Despite being lauded on its release, this British anthology frightener seems to have largely passed many by. A shame because it’s utterly chilling. A debunker of mediums and spiritualists meets his childhood hero, a man who’s been missing, presumed dead, for many years. He challenges Phillip to examine three cases he himself couldn’t explain, cases which made him come to believe in the existence of the supernatural…

With a framing story that becomes more relevant as it goes on, the three tales here are all, in their own ways, completely terrifying. Even if some of the trappings of the original stage play are still evident, it doesn’t matter because this film is dripping with chills, infused with terror. The opening story detailing a night watchman’s last shift in an old, abandoned mental asylum is a masterclass in ratcheting tension and expectation. It’s worth the price alone. But don’t worry – the other two tales are just as affecting. A truly skin-crawling experience for those cosy, dark nights.

The Changeling – 1980, Dir: Peter Mendak.

Now to a classic from 1980, one which many younger horror fans may not be aware of. George C. Scott plays a man grieving the tragic loss of his wife and daughter. He moves to a secluded mansion hoping to find inspiration to compose again and process his bereavement at the same time. Whilst there, he comes to believe the house is haunted, and his investigations open up long buried, dark secrets.

Though made over 40 years ago, this movie is easily the equal of modern chillers such as The Conjuring or Sinister. It oozes dread and atmosphere, and some of the set-pieces are years ahead of their time in execution, creating tension and foreboding. It looks beautiful, makes full use of its setting, and adds an element of the occult detective through Scott’s determination to find the truth. A deserved classic and one that should be perfect for Halloween.

Come True – 2020, Dir: Anthony Scott Burns.

Another recent film and another that seems to have gone mostly unnoticed. Sarah, a teenager – an incredible performance by Julia Sarah Stone – prefers to sleep in local parks, on the street, or on rare occasions at a friend’s, rather than at home. She suffers from awful dreams, and her disturbed rest prompts her to take part in a sleep study that should give her weeks of uninterrupted slumber. But she and the other participants begin to share nightmares of a similar architecture, and of the same figure.

This is a fantastic, low-budget effort from Canada. It manages to make excellent use of its small-scale production, looking like a far more expensive picture. The designs are pleasingly retro at times, recalling some of the interiors of the spaceship from Alien, and both David Cronenberg and George A. Romero are referenced, the former through thematic elements, the latter with names. The dream imagery is stunning, monochrome and darkly beautiful, like an Andrei Tarkovsky SF feature, and the whole thing mounts steady dread till the nerve-shredding end. Slow-burning, artistic, experimental, with no easy answers, but absolutely worth your time.

Kairo (Pulse) – 2001, Dir: Kiyoshi Kurosawa.

Ah, now for something truly dread inducing. Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation to Akira) takes on the then booming, so-called ‘J-Horror’ phenomenon and both deconstructs and enhances that loose ‘genre’. Various people are dying in strange circumstances, apparent suicides, mysterious disappearances, and these deaths seem to be connected to strange phenomena on the internet or on recorded devices. A theory arises that spirits are returning to the world to be with the living and bringing with them unparalleled despair.

Like much of Kurosawa’s work, this film is baffling on first viewing. It doesn’t follow traditional or established narrative structure, it doesn’t spell out its plot; instead it unfolds in various seemingly unconnected scenes. The tone is also one of almost passivity, much like the characters themselves. Yet this serves to add to the atmosphere rather than distract. From the opening moments to the very end, Kairo is infused with dread, both existential and supernatural. It permeates every moment, making the viewer believe the events unfolding might actually manifest through their own screens, like Sadako in Ringu. No-one does this kind of thing quite like Kurosawa, and the sheer terror of this confounding film is something to behold. Check out Cure and Creepy by the same director for more mind-bending chills.

El Cuerpo (The Body) – 2012, Dir: Oriol Paulo.

Something a little bit different now, and here we have a horror/thriller from Spain, a country which has produced many an exceptional horror film over the years. A police inspector investigates the disappearance of a woman’s body from a morgue after the nightwatchman is found unconscious. Through the course of the investigation, many strange events occur at the morgue that suggest the possible supernatural, but the inspector is bound to pursue his all-too human investigation despite the mounting dread.

This was another film that seemed to fly under the radar for many. Moody, atmospheric, and full of twists and turns, this is a movie worthy of Hitchcock. Though it’s very much in the vein of a police thriller/procedural, there’s more than enough creepiness to push it into the realms of the supernatural – strange noises, unexplained goings-on, the missing corpse giving rise to some thinking the dead woman has come back from the dead or is a ghost. And when it resolves itself at the end, it does so in the most satisfying way. Definitely up there with the best of Spanish horror, such as The Orphanage, Julia’s Eyes, or Sleep Tight.

So there you have it. A bunch of spooky, dread-filled horror films to watch over a few nights in October, or binge on All Saint’s Eve itself. These movies are more about atmosphere and tone rather than out and out blood-fests, though a couple do have their violent moments. They are diverse, original, and dedicated in their intent, which is to unsettle, to scare, to terrify. But one thing binds them together – they are perfect Halloween fodder. Happy watching.


Boo-graphy:
Paul M. Feeney was born in Scotland, has moved all around the UK, and currently lies in Aberdeen. An avid and passionate fiction reader – his first love being horror and all things dark – he started writing in 2011, was first published in 2014, and has a number of short stories in publications or forthcoming. He has also released two novellas so far – The Last Bus (Crowded Quarantine Publications, 2015) and Kids (Dark Minds Press, 2016). In 2020, his novelette, Cursed, was released by Demain Publishing, the second published story featuring his shape-shifting PI Garrison Wake. Under the name Paul Michaels, he writes the occasional review or horror website This Is Horror, as well as writing less genre-oriented stories. He is currently working on his first novel, as well as numerous other short stories and novellas.

The Last Bus
We’ve all been there – the dreaded early morning commute.

The surly driver; the obnoxious teenagers; the guy who just has to invade your personal space; the awkwardness as everyone avoids any kind of social interaction with anyone else; the frustrations of snarled-up traffic and tail-backs.

For most of us, the trip on public transport is about as bad as it gets.

For these passengers, it’s about to get a lot worse.

Jonathon, Justine and Hanna don’t know each other but they’re about to be thrown together as a simple journey to work turns into a race for survival when a mysterious object falls from the sky, initiating an alien invasion. Mutated monsters, trigger-happy soldiers and personality clashes abound on:

The Last Bus.

Kids
Matt and Julie head to her parents’ big, remote house in the country, with their children Kayleigh, Carol and Robert, for a day out with friends and family. They intend spending the warm, summer’s day doing nothing more strenuous than engaging in light, casual conversation, eating lunch and drinking tea, while the kids play in the background.

At least, that’s the plan…

The kids disappear, only to return utterly, fundamentally changed. Something bad has happened to them, something very bad.

The day becomes a pitched battle between the adults and the violent psychopaths their children have become. How can the adults survive against such an enemy, how can they even fight back, when the very thing they have to fight against is their own flesh and blood?

Cursed
Garrison Wake, a shape-shifting PI, exists in a world where all the supernatural and paranormal stuff is real, albeit mostly hidden from humanity. He investigates a case where a woman believes she’s been cursed through a DVD (a la The Ring), but not all is as it seems…

Writing about Garrison Wake, author Paul M. Feeney said: “He lives and works in Detroit, with feet in the worlds of the supernatural, the criminal, and the human, but swearing loyalty to none. He’s kind of an anti-hero, vigilante, who hates injustice but operates outside the law most of the time. He believes himself to be ‘lost’, to be already damned, so doesn’t mind getting his hands dirty…I like his cynical, sardonic approach to things, but also share his sense of justice (though perhaps not the methods, something I touch on in this story and want to explore more in further tales). He’s big, six-and-a-half-foot tall, and looks like a cross between Keanu Reeves and Brandon Lee in The Crow; he also tends to dress like the latter character, though without the clown makeup. He’s older than he looks by a few decades, and has a shady, petty-criminal past (though I’ve yet to fully investigate that myself). And he’s a loner, though people have become almost friends with him over the years, and he has a good circle of close acquaintances…”

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Ricky Fleet

For those of y’all who don’t know, me and Ricky have… history (haha). I met him at a Scares That Care event a few years ago… and it was an experience… such a great experience that I have made sure to invite him back to the blog every year since so that everyone else can experience the amazing Ricky Fleet… though, if you ever get the chance to experience him in person, I tell you it is SO much better. Super talented. Read all of his books. I know what you’re going to tell me – they’re zombies – but don’t hold that against him. They are GOOD.


Meghan: Hey, Ricky! Welcome back. It’s always a pleasure to have you on the blog. What is your favorite part of Halloween?

Ricky: My favourite part about Halloween is the knowledge that at no other time of year are the two realms, the living and those passed on, any closer. As someone who has lost family members, I like to think of them visiting us to see how we’re doing. Not to mention the vampires, werewolves, mummies, mermen, and assorted other monsters who come out to play.

And, of course, the innocent mischief of the makeup; sharing the night with ghouls and goblins, fairies and princesses.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween tradition?

Ricky: We’ve never really had the money to go all out on the decorations, but there will always be a few creepily carved pumpkins on our doorstep, inviting the unwary to knock on our door. My kids are all grown up now, but I’ll never forget the joy of walking them from street to street, taking in the displays from the more creative neighbours. We even had Anubis jump out on us one Halloween, nearly earning the wearer a right hook from a surprised dad.

Meghan: If Halloween is your favorite holiday (or even second favorite holiday), why?

Ricky: It would be my second favourite, simply because NOTHING beats Christmas. The nights are finally cold, and you get to wrap up warm and have the fires blazing. You can glut yourself on all manner of sweet treats without the calories counting (I’m sure that’s been scientifically proven). The kids are filled with a healthy dose of excitement and nerves, wondering what really lurks in the night.

Meghan: What are you superstitious about?

Ricky:
I salute lone magpies.
I don’t walk under ladders.
I try not to step on cracks in paving.
If I spill salt, I toss some over my shoulder.
I don’t open umbrellas in the house.
I’m cautious on Friday the 13th. Always.

However, I don’t mind black cats crossing my path and I don’t believe in the luck of a rabbit’s foot. They should be left attached the owner of said foot.

Meghan: What/who is your favorite horror monster or villain?

Ricky: Anyone who knows me knows the answer: Zombies! I freaking love the crumbly, rotting little horrors. They have to be, of course, the Romero type. They just fill me with a primal dread. Remorseless. Ever hungry. Never tiring. Runners are fun and all, but they just don’t stir the same passion. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Dawn remake, and, although they’re technically just infected, 28 Days Later. But nothing, simply nothing, compares to the feeling I had when I first saw the shambling zombies in the original Night of the Living Dead.

Meghan: Which unsolved murder fascinates you the most?

Ricky: Not so much a murder, as a disappearance that I believe is a murder. It’s a horrible one, but it’s Madeleine McCann. There’s so much wrong with the case, not least the fact that they left their children unattended to go out for dinner and drinks. It would never enter my mind to do what they did. Yes, they’ll pay for that mistake for the rest of their lives, but do you know who I care more about? Maddie!

Meghan: Which urban legend scares you the most?

Ricky: We’ve not really got any urban legends in our area. One mystery/myth that has always fascinated and scared me was the Bermuda Triangle. Knowing that people have been merrily bobbing along, and then suddenly, BAM, they’re gone without a trace. Where did they go? Did a whirlpool open, sucking them into the darkness? Did something unknown emerge from the unknown depths of the ocean to feed? I’d love to know. Or would I?

I tie these kinds of disappearances into my Infernal series.

Meghan: Who is your favorite serial killer and why?

Ricky: I think about what these types of people did and I’m of the opinion they should be questioned, studied, then put to death. If I lost a loved one to their barbarity, it’s the least I’d demand.

So, when it comes to my favourite, I look to films and books because the suffering is always pretend. Acting. And no two individuals sum up the pervasive evil of a soulless killer better than Norman Bates and Hannibal Lecter. The first because he is an awkward, shy individual and the truth of his transformation and murders shocked a generation. There are few musical scores that can instantly transfer someone to a scene than the discordant strings of Hermann as the knife fell. The second is the polar opposite of Norman: educated, cultured, refined. The cannibalistic depravity hiding behind the suave face of Dr Lecter is absolutely terrifying to me.

Meghan: How old were you when you saw your first horror movie? How old were you when you read your first horror book?

Ricky: There are two that stick in my memory. One was a film when I was very young, but I have no idea of the plot or story. All I can remember was that I was scared to death, and someone had a massive bell drop on them. That’s it. The second was Return of the Living Dead. I was a year or two older, six or seven. I made it to the bit where they started to cut up the first zombie after burying a pickaxe in its skull before I bowed out. Now I look back and laugh as I LOVE the movie and its sequels, but at the time I had nightmares for weeks.

My first horror read was Salem’s Lot that I “borrowed” from my mum’s dresser. Barlow was in stark relief on the front cover, the vampirized townsfolk stretching off into the distance. I’ll never forget the words in those pages. A love for reading horror was born that day.

Meghan: Which horror novel unsettled you the most?

Ricky: I’ve never really felt “scared” while reading. Maybe I just haven’t found the right books. I can honestly say that two authors who can make my stomach churn are Matt Shaw and Aron Beauregard. Masters of extreme, graphic horror.

Meghan: Which horror movie scarred you for life?

Ricky: There are two notable movies that have left a lasting impression on me. The first is Drag Me to Hell. As a comedy horror, it worked really well. I was laughing along with the best of them. But that final scene… damn. That has never gone away. There you have the boyfriend who never really bought into the whole doomed soul story, watch as the minions of Hell literally drag his girlfriend to an eternity of suffering. I mean, how do you come back from that? I’d be crazy in five minutes flat. Justin Long’s face captures that emotion perfectly as he leans over the side of the platform. Knowing that my lover was forever out of reach, being tortured over and over again without respite. A padded room would swiftly follow.

Number two is Event Horizon. (You’ll notice Hell is a key feature of both films). The rescue shuttle gets stranded and the gate to another dimension opens. Except the other dimension is not another part of our universe, but Hell itself. The sense of isolation and the steadily increasing terror thrilled me. Once again, I asked myself, what could you do? In other films like Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, etc, they were in peril but there was always a slim chance they could get away. Where could the team who found the Event Horizon go? Pop the airlock and run out into space. Nope. They were trapped from the moment they set foot aboard the vessel, and that stuck with me too.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween costume?

Ricky: I’ve never been a fancy-dress kind of guy. I did go as Hannibal Lecter to one party. Meg as the Slutty Cat in Family Guy was pretty good. I think I’d have rocked that costume.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween-themed song?

Ricky: It’s gotta be Michael Jackson’s Thriller, no contest. Closely followed by the Monster Mash.

Meghan: What is your favorite Halloween candy or treat? What is your most disappointing?

Ricky: I’m not a massive sweet eater, but if I had to choose, it would either be lemon bonbons, or Lemonheads. Oh, or Maoam Sours. Anything fruity like that with a bit of kick.

Meghan: Before we go: Top Halloween movies and/or books.

Ricky: I’ve not really read any “Halloween” books that spring to mind, so I hopped over to Goodreads. They state that Sleepy Hollow and Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark are two that make the list, so I’ll pick those.

As for Halloween films, the entire Halloween franchise, even the crap ones. I really enjoyed the recent remake and look forward to Halloween Kills later this year. The Craft. The Nightmare Before Christmas. Sleepy Hollow with Mr Depp. Night of the Demons (original and remake) Monster House the animated film. The Monster Squad (is that set on Halloween?). And lastly, one of the best films ever, The Crow.


Boo-graphy:
Ricky Fleet has been a lifelong horror fan. One dark night, many years ago, he ‘borrowed’ a copy of Salem’s Lot from his mum’s bedside table. Sneaking it into his room, the terrifying visage of Barlow gazed out from the cover. Doomed townsfolk stretched into the distance, and in bold, silver font was a name – Stephen King. The story contained within those pages spawned an appetite for horror that has yet to be sated. Masterton, Lumley, Koontz, Laws, Herbert, Hutson, Laymon, Barker, and many more have influenced both his life and his writing.

His career took him into the plumbing and heating sector, keeping Britain’s homes warm and watered.

Born and raised in the UK, cups of tea are a non-negotiable staple of the English life and serve as brain fuel for his first love – writing.

With the Hellspawn series being enjoyed across the world, the growing saga has a dark edge that begins to explore the true horror of a world without rules. A nod to the master, George A. Romero. The only thing running on his zombies are the fluids of decay. What they lack in velocity, they more than make up for with utter remorselessness and insatiable hunger.

Infernal: Emergence is the first in his new demon series. A tale of conspiracy, untapped powers and the vast armies of Hell who yearn to tear our world apart. Only one man stands in their way; he just doesn’t know it yet.

His latest series – Devoured World – takes a new and terrifying look at the question ‘Are we alone in the universe.’ It appeared to be a gift; it was, in fact, a terrible curse. Nuclear Armageddon. A dead world. Billions of mutants roaming the darkened wasteland. These are the least of the survivor’s problems. The aliens are coming, and then the true war will begin.

Devoured World: Volume 1
A gift from the stars crashes to Earth, ushering a golden age of human cooperation. The genetic secrets in the pods eradicate Cancer, HIV, even the common cold with a single pill. The jubilation is short lived when the horrific truth reveals itself. The cellular changes wrought by the treatment continue, and degenerate. Global efforts to halt the rapidly mutating victims fail. Breaking free, the creatures spread their contagion with teeth and claws; tearing, ravaging, devouring. Nuclear Armageddon is mankind’s only hope to hold the infected back. Decades later, the radioactive dust has settled, and the survivors leave their bunkers. Woken from an endless sleep, Andrew Burton must choose his destiny within the Sovereign Guard army. Using advanced weapons and technology, they’re humanity’s last line of defence. Billions of monsters lurk in the wastelands of a dead world, but they’re not the only threat. Across the vastness of space, the aliens are coming, and with them, the real war will begin.

Devoured World: Volume 2
Following the devastating mutant attack on the mining facilities, humanity’s continued existence hangs in the balance like never before. Lacking the essential elements to power their advanced weaponry, it’s only a matter of time until the infected legions overrun the weakened defences of the fortress cities.

Empress Verena, ruler of the Divinity Alliance, is faced with a stark choice; trust G with full access to their most sensitive systems, or accept the extinction of every remaining human on Planet Earth. What secrets lie behind his sarcastic, cheeky façade? Will the newly created AI be a saviour, or only hasten their doom?

Appraised of the dire situation, Hardie is tasked with bringing an offer of cooperation to the band of Scavs. Taking Andy and the new recruits out into the wastelands, things aren’t what they seem. What they discover will shatter everything they thought they knew of their dead world.

Devoured World: Volume 3
The die is cast; G has been fully integrated into the Divinity systems. With the snarky AI in full control over every aspect of the Alliance territory, Verena can only pray she made the right decision. Will G’s cheery mask slip? Will the unknowable motives harboured by the newly created intelligence be their end?

Rocco arrives at Tempest City for Devastator training, but doubts begin to surface about his choice. A fleeting glimpse of something that could not possibly be sends him down a rabbit hole of danger and discovery.

To the north, Hendrick’s cowardly act sees Hardie and the team put in peril like never before. Facing the hordes of infected is one thing. What waits to greet them beyond the rotting totems is far, far worse. Secrets long buried will begin to surface, shattering the soldier’s belief in the system they fought and died for.

Meanwhile, out in the cold wastes of a barren world, something long dead begins to awaken.

Devoured World: Volume 4
The countdown begins for the critical attack on the corrupted mutant bastion of Fort Hope. With the trust of Verena, G works with the hardened battle commanders to minimise the casualties of his adopted people. Will the plan of attack be enough to turn the tide in mankind’s favour?
Out in the bleak wastelands of the old world, Rocco and Hyde race against time to discover the fate of their missing friends. Their search will lead them into the rocky Appalachian mountains and discoveries beyond their wildest nightmares.

In Toronto, maniacal troops search frantically amidst the abandoned streets of the ruined city. Andy moves like a ghost, hunting the hunters, working ever closer to his imprisoned team. A chance meeting will alter the course of his mission with catastrophic consequences for everyone.

The arena awaits. If they thought the infected were bad, they have nothing on what the dark minds of humanity can create.