Reviewed by D.W. Bostaph, Jr.
Written by Chuck Palahniuk
Published by Double Day
Chaucer this is not. Cautionary all the same, but with different sins for different times. The yarn that is spun here recalls the distinct odors of those long past themes: Humans are bad, bad to the bone, and if given the opportunity, we will quickly devolve into something monstrous, bored, and destructive. Why? Because this seems to be a human quality from which we cannot escape. Chaucer used the deadly sins to illustrate our innate sense of misdeed and flaw, and now we come full circle to Chuck Palahniuk’s Canterbury, the novel Haunted.
Haunted’s premise is a writer’s dream come true and then gone horridly awry. An advertisement is put up for authors seeking to “get away.” Sign on for a writer’s retreat, three whole months to do nothing but work on your masterpiece. Just sit and write and perfect that one thing you love to do more than anything else. Easy, no mess … right? It should be. The selected individuals are instructed to only bring one piece of luggage, and they mostly comply – but only in a physical sense. The brain is a storage compartment that holds many, many boxes of things we need not relive in our lives, and none of these can be checked at the door.
Essentially made up of the 23 stories that are written during the retreat and wrapped up in a surrounding blanket, quilting out the psyches of the authors, Haunted offers a glimpse into each person’s head and past. It then gives you the real story behind the people we are trapped with in the bindings of this book, people with fitting nicknames such as Saint Gut-free, The Reverend Godless, and Miss Sneezy. All of these monikers have their own meanings, and trust me, even the most innocent of them have a background that will leave you gasping for breath.
I found reading this book to be a bit like watching an episode of the television show LOST. Each character is mentioned in the larger surrounding story, and we get more in-depth development about the place where they are being kept in the flashes between each new revelation. This allows for cliffhanger-type intrigue that will have your hands fumbling for the edges of the page as each story unfolds and the retreat begins to change and focus on things that have less and less to do with writing and more to do with … well … you just need to read it.
My biggest fear was that I would fall in love with the stories but then find the encompassing tale a bland creature. When reading previous books with a similar setup, I have found myself skimming through the big picture to catch the glimpses of brilliance showcased in the stories, the real backbone of the work. Thankfully, nothing could be further from the truth here. Palahniuk has forged a solid structure in the wraparound from which meaty story muscles can hang and fully flesh out the beast. And this story is ALL about the flesh. Eviscerated, boiled, and putrid, the pages leak with Palahniuk’s matter of fact prose, which provides descriptions of hideous acts, hilarious and nauseous experiences – all of them odd, weird, arcane, or just plain really, really, really sick.
My only other experience with Chuck Palahniuk was David Fincher’s Fight Club, which I feel is the machismo classic for all penis-carrying members of the male species. A beautiful epithet of what it means to be a man in this confusing day and age. Haunted is more of a slow stewing meditation on what it means to be a human. Yet, readers be warned: This spiral has nowhere to go but down … way down..
It is about time someone did an exploitation novel like this, a grisly cooker of a book that revels in a sick Salo-like world filled with Frankenstein creation nods, cooked flesh, exposed entrails, fucking, fetishes, cannibalism, penis mutilation, female and male and ???? humiliation, yetis, aswangs, werewolves, third degree burns, fourth degree burns, kiddie porn, anatomically detailed dolls, invisible monsters, and a really good reason not to listen to older boys when it comes to new techniques in self-pleasure.
I stood up at least three times while reading this book. It shocked me that much. I just could not believe where it was going and what it did. I do not want to call Mr. Palahniuk a mainstream writer, but with Haunted sitting on the New York Times Best Seller List, it is hard not to. Kudos to the author for making such a fringe thing as gonzo exploitative horror a must-have.
I get more of kick out of this than I should. You see …
I love exploitation and sick, sick films that would cause me to lose my job if people knew I owned them. With all the legislation and legal intervention over content and decency as of late, I find a happy place swelling in my heart when I read a book like this and then realize that it could be “THE” book to buy this summer. And each time I see a bloated middle-aged soccer mom – the same one who looks down at me (and all of us) for having piercings, wearing black, and taking my five-year-old to see Hellboy – sitting on the beach and clasped within her pale white suburban hands is this book, the eerie cover glinting between her finely manicured nails, the sick, shocked smile on her face reveals her hypocrisy. And then, my friends, this horror loving heart of mine will grow three sizes too big at that moment. All I can hope is that between the covers she will glimpse the truth that Mr. Palahniuk has splattered clearly for us all to see our mythology and what it really means to be human.
5 out of 5
American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review
Starring Aidan Bristow, Nicholas Urda, Andres Montejo
Directed by Colin Bemis
Recently I wrote up an article here on Dread Central which was basically an open letter to anyone who was listening called “I Miss Found Footage.” Well, it seems like someone WAS listening, as I was then sent the link to an all-new found footage film called Strawberry Flavored Plastic from first-time writer-director Colin Bemis.
The film follows the “still-at-large crimes of Noel, a repentant, classy and charming serial killer loose in the suburbs of New York.” Basically, you could think of the flick as American Psycho meets Mark Duplass and Partick Brice’s Creep. That, or you could think of it as “Man Bites Dog in color!” However you choose to label Colin Bemis’ psychological thriller, just make sure you check out the film once it hits in the future.
As I alluded to above, the film is basically a found footage version of American Psycho. But that said, the film sports a twist on the charming serial killer subgenre that I have yet to see play out in any of the above-mentioned classics. I’m not going to go into spoiler territory here, but I will say that the film introduces an element to the tale that spins it into much more of a character drama than a straight horror film. Not that there is anything wrong with that!
Truth be told, the film’s turn from serial killer flick into a layered character study might have been its kiss of death, but this slight genre switch is rendered a minor issue as the film’s central narcissistic antagonist is played by Aidan Bristow. Bristow is an actor you may not have heard of before this review, but you will hear his name more and more over the years to come, I promise. The guy gives (no pun intended) a killer performance as the film’s resident serial killer Noel Rose, and time after time surprised me with how chilling, charming, or downright vulnerable he chose to play any given scene.
Bristow’s performance is, in the end, the major element the film has going for it. But that said, as a fan of found footage, I was smiling ear to ear at first-time director Colin Bemis’ understanding of what makes a found footage suspense sequence work.
In Strawberry Flavored Plastic director Colin Bemis is confident and content to allow full emotional scenes to play out with the camera directed at nothing more than a character’s knees. Why is this so important? Because it keeps the reality of the film going. Too many found footage directors would focus on the actors’ faces during such emotional scenes – no matter how contrived the camera angle was. In this film, however, Bemis favors the reality that says, “If you were really in this emotional state and holding a camera, you would let it drop to your side.” I agree, and it is small touches like that which make the film feel authentic and thus – once the shite hits the fan – all the scarier.
On the dull side of the kitchen knife, the film does feel a bit long even given it’s short running time, and there doesn’t seem too much in the way of visceral horror to be found within. Again, graphic blood and gore aren’t a must in a fright flick, but a tad more of the old ultra-violence would have gone a long way in selling our main psychopath’s insanity and unpredictability. But all the same, the film does feature a rather shocking sequence where our main baddie performs a brutal home invasion/murder that puts this film firmly in the realm of horror. In fact, the particular POV home invasion scene I’m talking about holds about as much horror as you’ll ever wish to witness.
In the end, Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic is a must-see for fans of found footage and serial killer studies such as American Pyscho, Creep, and Man Bites Dog. I recommend giving it a watch once it premieres. If only to be able to point to Aidan Bristow in the near future and tell all your friends that you watched (one of) his first movies.
Lead actor Aidan Bristow turns in a star-making performance in Colin Bemis’ Strawberry Flavored Plastic, a found footage film that plays out like Man Bites Dog in Color before introducing a new element to the charming-serial-killer subgenre and becoming more character study than a straight horror. Think American Psycho meets Creep.
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 148 – Inside (2017 Remake)
We’ve all heard the old saying, “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Well, I’m here to tell you that’s only partially true. It seems there is a third certainty that had been omitted from the original quote, “It is certain, if you enjoy a movie, at some point someone will remake that movie.” Now is the time when one of my favorite movies gets reimagined, “for an American audience”.
In the late 2000’s an explosion of “French extreme” horror films was released. Martyrs and or High Tension can often be found on any number of lists of the “most fucked up horror movies ever”. Unfortunately, the vastly superior Inside is often forgotten (as well as Frontier(s), but that’s a whole ‘nother rant). Now, ten years after it’s initial release, Inside has been Americanized. Don’t worry, we watched it so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.
Mommy says you’re not dead. Is that true? It’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 148!
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Totem Review – It’s Not Always A Bad Thing To Look Up From The Bottom Level, If You Like That View
Starring Kerris Dorsey, James Tupper, Ahna O’Reilly
Directed by Marcel Sarmiento
Following the untimely death of a family’s matriarchal figure, a young woman finds out that managing to hold all of the pieces in place becomes increasingly more difficult when otherworldly infiltrators make their presence felt. We’re going to have to work our way up this Totem, as
17 year old Kellie is the leading lady of the home following the passing of her mother Lexy, and with a needy father and tiny tot of a baby sister, she still keeps things in working order, regardless of the rather large hole that’s been left in the dynamic due to the death. Kellie’s dad after a while decides to ask his lady-friend to move in with the family, so that everyone can move onto a more peaceful existence…yeah, because those types of instances always seem to work seamlessly. As fate would have it, Kellie’s sense of pride is now taking a beating with the new woman in the mix, and her little sister’s new “visitor” is even more disturbed by this intruder – only question is, exactly who is this supernatural pal of sorts? Is it the spirit of their dead mother standing by to keep watch over the family, or is it something that’s found its way to this group, and has much more evil intentions at hand?
What works here is the context of something innately malicious that has found its way into the home – there are only a couple moments that come off as unsettling, but the notion of having to weave through more than half the film acting as a sullen-teen drama is rather painful. The presentation of the “broken family” is one that’s been done to death, and with better results overall, and that’s not to say that the movie is a complete loss, it just takes far too much weeding through at times stale performances and even more stagnant pacing to get to a moderately decent late-stage conclusion to the film. Under the direction of Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl), I’d truly hoped for something a bit more along the lines of a disturbing project such as that one, but the only thing disturbing was the time I’d invested in checking this one out. My best advice is to tune into the Lifetime channel if you want a sulky teen-melodrama with a tinge of horror, or you could simply jump into this one and work your way up…but it’s a LONG way to the top.
Sulky, moody, and ridden with teen-angst buried in the middle of a supernatural mystery – SOUNDS like a decent premise, doesn’t it?
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