The Christmas Chronicles (Dir: Clay Kaytis), Review by Case Wright


Netflix is known for taking risks and “The Christmas Chronicles” is no exception. There are six felonies in this film: 2 Grand Theft Autos, a kidnapping, money laundering, attempted murder, and whatever they did to that partridge in the pear tree.  Yet, it worked! I will admit that I am of the Y-Generation and Kurt Russell remains forever cool in my book, but this movie had some good story writing, great acting from veterans like Kurt Russell and Stevie Van Zandt, but great performances by up and comers Judah Lewis (The Babysitter) and Darby Camp (Big Little Lies) as well.

Clay Kaytis had his directorial debut with this film.  He is famous for being an animator for a panoply of films that you have taken your daughters to see: Frozen, Tangled, and Mulan…etc.  Clay was a pretty good choice considering the amount of animation that is in this film.  Honestly, it was a family movie that would have been a HUGE box office draw.

The film begins with a series of home movies featuring a classic nuclear family enjoying Christmas over the years…until 2017.  We learn that the father was a fireman who lost his life saving a family, leaving his family grieving and without the spirit of Christmas.  The mom is now taking extra shifts as a nurse, the daughter is REALLY into Santa, and the son is now a no-kidding degenerate car thief.  There are enough dark scenes in this film to classify it as Film Noir.

The family is trying to live as best they can and the daughter Kate is trying to reconnect with the memory of her late father by watching old home movies.  In one of the films, she sees a mystery arm delivering a package.  She convinces her brother that it could be Santa in the film and they decide to set a trap for him…..and IT WORKS!!! Not only do they catch Santa on film, they stow away onto his sleigh and cause Santa to crash.  He loses his sleigh, reindeer, bag of toys, and his magic hat.  The main ticking clock for the film is that Santa needs to get his presents delivered before christmas is up or christmas spirit will tick down to zero and it will be like the Hills Have Eyes or something.  The rest of the film is spent helping Santa retrieve these lost items and busting Santa out of jail to prevent the After Times.

And yes, Santa ends up in jail, charged with multiple felonies, and does a pretty amazing blues number with the E Street Band.  Yes, the E Street Band.  I know that a lot of this movie is starting to sound like a Christmas fever dream, but it works and my 7 and 9 year old girls were riveted and didn’t hurt each other for the duration of the film.  Thank you, Clay Kaytis…THANK YOU!

I would recommend this film and for you to subscribe to Netflix.  Otherwise, how will you understand half of my reviews?!!!!!

Merry Christmas!

 

Horror Book Review: Night of the Living Dead: Behind The Scenes of the Most Terrifying Zombie Movie Ever


Where would modern horror be without George Romero’s 1968 masterpiece, Night of the Living Dead?

Well, it’s hard to say.  Perhaps another film would have come along and influenced thousands of future directors and writers.  Maybe another film would have popularized zombies or mixed social commentary with horror.  Perhaps another film would have popularized the concept of body horror.  You never know.

Still, it’s hard not to think that modern horror would be a lot different if not for Romero’s low-budget, independent film.  So many movies have been influenced by Romero’s Dead films that it’s difficult to keep track of them all.  Even if you could discount the influence of Romero, what about the Living Dead films that were later made by John Russo?  Even if they don’t get as much attention as Romero’s films, their combination of comedy and horror continues to be influential to this day.

The 2010 book, Night of the Living Dead: Behind The Scenes Of The Most Terrifying Zombie Movie Ever, not only tells the behind-the-scenes story of Night of the Living Dead but it also examines the film’s lasting influence.  While the majority of the book is taken up with the production and reception of Night, it also discusses Romero’s subsequent Dead films, Russo’s Living Dead films, and all of the unofficial sequels and remakes as well.  Author Joe Kane interviews not only several of the people who worked on Romero’s film but also filmmakers like Danny Boyle, who discuss how Romero’s vision influenced their own.

Finally, the book also contains the original script of Night of the Living Dead!  Written by John Russo, the script makes for an interesting read.  Night of the Living Dead is often described as being some sort of “accidental” masterpiece but the script reveals that many of the film’s themes were there from the beginning.  At the same time, it also makes you appreciate not only the directorial skill of George Romero but also the performances of Judith O’Dea, Duane C. Jones, and even Karl Hardmann.  (If you thought Harry was bad in Night, reading the script will show you just how much Hardmann actually humanized an inherently unlikable character.)

This book is must have for horror fans like you and me.

Book Review: Room to Dream by David Lynch and Kristine McKenna


It’s been a few months since I read Room to Dream and I’m still thinking about it.  It’s definitely one of the most fascinating and frustrating Hollywood memoirs that I’ve ever read.

It’s fascinating because the book is not only about David Lynch but it’s also by him.  Lynch, in his own words, tells us about his childhood, his time as an art student, his struggle to complete Eraserhead, and all the rest.  He tells us about directing some of the greatest British thespians of all time in The Elephant Man and also shares with us the frustrations of directing Dune.  He tells us about Twin Peaks and how Mulholland Drive went from being a rejected pilot to being an award-winning film.

All of the familiar stories are here.  He tells us about the time when he was a child and he saw a naked and bloodied woman stumbling down the street.  (This image would later reappear in Blue Velvet.)  We hear about how he was essentially homeless while directing Eraserhead and how, during the casting of Blue Velvet, Dennis Hopper called him up and announced that he was Frank Booth.  Not surprisingly, Lynch writes extensively about the importance of meditation in both his life and his art.

At the same time, there’s also a lot of new stuff in this book.  Did you ever want to know who Lynch believes to have been behind the Kennedy assassination?  Well, it’s right there in the first chapter.  Want to know how Lynch actually feels about using drugs as a creative aide?  It’s in there.  Did you know that among the films that David Lynch has been offered (and turned down) were Return of the Jedi, American Beauty, Tender Mercies, and The Ring?  You do now.  He writes about his occasionally difficult but very real friendship with actor Jack Nance.  He writes about some of the legendary actors and producers that he’s met and what’s interesting is that he rarely has a bad word to say about anyone.  Even when he writes about how difficult Anthony Hopkins was on the set of the The Elephant Man, Lynch still allows that Hopkins may have just been dealing with stuff in his own life.  Lynch comes across as being as generous, artistic, and eccentric as you would hope that he would.

Clocking in at over 600 pages, the book has an interesting format.  The book is divided into sections, each one dealing with a different period of Lynch’s life.  Each section opens with Kristine McKenna discussing what was happening in Lynch’s life at the time and interviewing Lynch’s friends and collaborators.  It’s only after McKenna has given us the facts of what was going on in Lynch’s life that Lynch then gives us his interpretation and recollections of the facts.  It makes for a challenging but often interesting read.  One thing that immediately becomes clear is that Lynch is far more comfortable talking about his art than talking about his relationships with other people.  Lynch comes across as being the epitome of the artist who spend almost of all of his time in his own head.  Room to Dream gives us a chance to see the world through Lynch’s eyes and he tends to remember most of the events of his life as if they were just another atmospheric scene in one of his movies.

Lynch discusses his work with such enthusiasm that it’s impossible not to get carried away with him.  At that same time, this is not the book to read if you’re expecting Lynch to explain what’s going on underneath the surface of some of his more surrealistic films.  If you’re expecting Lynch to explain why Bill Pullman turns into Balthazar Getty in Lost Highway, you’ll be disappointed.  If you’re expecting Lynch to explain what’s real and what isn’t in Eraserhead, Mulholland Drive, and Inland Empire, it’s not going to happen.  And if you’re expecting to understand the finale of Twin Peaks: The Return after reading Room to Dream, you’re out of luck.  If anything, Lynch seems like even more of an enigma, albeit an incredibly likable enigma, after you read Room To Dream than before.

And yes, it can be frustrating but you know what?  That’s okay.  In fact, it seems appropriate.  The brilliance of David Lynch lies in the mystery.  When I first heard about Room to Dream, I feared that Lynch would reveal too much and the mystery would be lost.  Instead, it’s even more fascinating than ever.

Halloween Havoc! Book Extra: DARK DETECTIVES (Edited by Stephen Jones; Titan Books paperback 2015)


cracked rear viewer


Back in September, I was browsing at the local Barnes & Noble (as I frequently do, given the lack of independent bookstores around here) looking for something to review this Halloween season. I’d just finished with Stephen King’s REVIVAL (Pocket Books paperback, 2017), and while it’s good, everybody does King this time of year, and I wanted something different. I wandered through the fantasy section, and waaaay up on the top shelf I spotted a title that caught my interest. DARK DETECTIVES: An Anthology of Supernatural Mysteries, combining two of my favorite genres, horror and detective fiction! Curiosity piqued, I grabbed the book and bought it (along with the great James Lee Burke’s latest novel, ROBICHEAUX).

DARK DETECTIVES, first published as a limited edition in 1999, features ten short stories, some old, some written especially for the anthology, by authors I’m familiar with (and I assume you are too, if…

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Book Review: Eaten Alive, edited by Jay Slater


If you were to ask me to recommend one book to someone who is looking for an introduction to the world of Italian horror, Eaten Alive is the book that I would recommend.

That’s largely because this book was my introduction.  Way back in 2006, I came across a copy at Recycled Books in Denton, Texas and I bought it.  I bought it because, at the time, I was already into horror movies.  However, after reading the reviews and the essays in this book, I discovered that I wanted to learn much more about Italian horror.  Outside of Suspiria and a few giallos like Blade in The Dark, the first Italian horror movies that I specifically tracked down and watched were the movies that I read about in this book.  If not for Eaten Alive, I would never have seen the wonderfully macabre and disturbing Beyond the Darkness.  This was book was also my first real exposure to Lucio Fulci.  If not for this book, I never would have seen Zombi 2.  I never would have discovered the Beyond trilogy.

In fact, considering that Arleigh and I first bonded over Italian horror, it’s doubtful that I would be writing for this site if I had not made that decision to buy Eaten Alive.

As for the book itself, it’s a comprehensive overview of Italian cannibal and zombie cinema.  Along with containing information about every Italian cannibal and zombie film released in the 20th Century, it also features interviews with stars like Ian McCullough, Catriona MacColl, and GIovanni Lombardo Radice.  (Radice even reviews one of the films himself.)  The majority of the films are reviewed by Jay Slater but there are also contributions from writers like Ramsey Campbell and Lloyd Kaufman.  (In fact, Kaufman writes a rather stirring defense of one of the more controversial films to be found in Eaten Alive, Cannibal Holocaust.  Campbell, meanwhile, thoroughly destroys Nights of Terror.)

Seriously, if you’re interested in learning more about Italian horror or if you’re already a fan, this book is a must!

Book Review: The Beast Within by Edward Levy


Way back at the end of August, in anticipation of the TSL’s Horrorthon, I went down to my local Half-Price Books and I explored their collection of old horror paperbacks.  Among the books that I pulled off the shelf was the 1981 horror novel, The Beast Within by Edward Levy.

The book opens, in the 1920s, on the Arkansas farm of Henry Scruggs.  Henry is a cruel religious fanatic, one who views fornication as being such a sin that he refuses to even have sex with much younger wife, Sarah.  (Sarah, for her part, was practically sold to Henry by her father.)  One day, an Englishman named Connors shows up at the farm.  He’s a traveling bible salesman who specializes in seducing farm girls.  When he attempts to do just that to Sarah, they both end up getting caught by Henry.  Henry sets his wife on fire and then chains up Connors in the basement.  That’s where Connors spends the next 20 years, while Henry prays for his soul.

By the time Henry dies and Connors manages to escape, Connors is no longer human.  He’s been turned into a savage beast, who lives in the woods and eats anything that he comes across.  The beast eventually attempts to catch a snake and ends up getting a poisonous bite as a result.  However, before it dies, the Beast rapes Carolyn McCleary.

When Carolyn subsequently gives birth to a son named Michael, both she and her husband, Eli, convince themselves that Michael is Eli’s child, even though there’s no physical resemblance.  As a child, Michael has a terrible temper and is sometimes violent.  He has terrible dreams and sometimes wakes up covered in the blood of other animals.  After Eli and Carolyn are forced to resort to extreme measures to control Michael’s impulses, it seems as if Michael has recovered.  He grows up to be a relatively normal boy.

But then puberty hits….

The Beast Within is a grim, dark, and occasionally depressing little book.  It’s also compulsively readable.  Though many of the scenes between Henry, Sarah, and Conners verge a bit too much towards the cartoonish side, the book picks up once Henry’s out of the way and the focus shifts to the McClearys.  You find yourself hoping the best for Eli, Carolyn, and Michael, even though you know it’s doubtful that this story is going to have a happy ending.  The Best Within is short, sordid, pulpy as can be, and undeniably effective.