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Masques V (Book)

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Masques V (click for larger image)Edited by J. N. Williamson

Published by Gauntlet Press

476 pages


Know what I love about Valentines’ Day? Those big boxes of chocolate, the kind with different varieties and a little diagram on the underside of the lid that shows you where the coconut creams and pecan clusters are. Of course, there’s always the danger that you won’t like 1 or 2 flavors… Who am I kidding? It’s all chocolate, and I love chocolate in almost every guise.

Big collections of horror short stories, like Masques V, are a lot like those Valentine’s Day chocolates, and this isn’t one of those cheap $3 boxes either. It’s filled with 29 stories by various authors, from big names like Richard Matheson, Poppy Z. Brite, Jack Ketchum, and Ray Bradbury to up-and-comers like Kealan Patrick Burke and Ron Horsley. Each story is prefaced by a brief introduction from the editor, the late J. N Williamson, to whom the volume is dedicated, with a little biographical info and a bit about why he chose the particular story. Williamson also contributed one of the best stories in the whole collection, “The Outcry,” a truly chilling tale of a very particular and unique type of haunting.

From the very beginning Masques V stands out from other short story collections. It begins with a piece by Poppy Z. Brite that Williamson calls “an incantation to the spirits.” I’ve read some of Brite’s work before, though only her short stories, and enjoyed it, but this is something else altogether. Brite writes in a sort of no nonsense way about fantastical things like ghosts and zombies that seems like it wouldn’t lend itself well to our genre. But here, in “Wandering the Borderlands,” she uses that to craft a sort of essay about not the bizarre but the mundane. There are no monsters or ghouls, but she still manages to give chills through a “routine” drowning and some speculation as to why we fear the dead.

The caliber of writing across the board in Masques Vis top notch, even the stories that aren’t quite to my taste. It says something that these lesser known writers can hold their own next to big guns like Matheson and son and Bradbury. Williamson was a savvy editor, and luckily, in those little intros he gives you websites and other info on where you can find those authors if you really like their work. And I don’t doubt you’ll find something to like. The stories here aren’t brutal, except in the sense of what they’ll drag out of you, and they’re not gory, though quite a few of them will make you shudder. The horror here is more in the circumstance, even when the circumstance is that of ghosts, monsters, and murderers … of which there are plenty. I was reminded of old episodes of The Twilight Zone, the ones that were heavier on horror than sci-fi, or Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

There are a ton of stories here, and going into detail about what each one is about would make for a laundry list review that would no doubt bore the crap out of you. But there are some stand-out stories I definitely recommend you check out, and those I will list.

“The Black Wench” by Ray Russell is a chilly Gothic tale of Elena, a young American woman who inherits an old English manor and travels to England with her small-minded husband, Bud, to claim her inheritance, which turns out to be haunted. But this isn’t just your basic haunted house story that we’ve all read a thousand times before. When Elena learns the truth behind who The Black Wench of Mainwaring Hall really is, both she and Bud are shocked … and you might be too.

“FYI” by Mort Castle is another chilling and disturbing tale, told with a sort of off kilter sing-song cadence that is very unsettling, but not nearly as unsettling as the punch packed in the last few lines. Jack Ketchum pairs with P. D. Cacek for a delightfully twisted cautionary tale of love in the Internet age called “The Net” that is so plausible it could practically be a newspaper clipping. “Stirrings by Kealan Patrick Burke is one of my favorites. It’s a nice, subtle story that’s both haunted and haunting with a nice twist on the old ghost story (there are a couple of those in here … fresh takes on old standards). “The Sheets Were Clean and Dry” by Lucy A. Snyder is a dark and violent story — probably the most violent and gory in the bunch — and extremely powerful. It’s another one of my favorites.

“Moths in Damp Grass” by Tracy Knight is so simple and so bone chilling. It’s about a young boy — a very special boy — whose mother, a nurse, is trying to find him a new daddy using rather unconventional methods. Knight’s writing is strong and evocative, putting the feelings and emotions of the main character right into your hands. It was heartbreaking and terrifying at the same time. I loved it. Ron Horsely’s interesting “In the Empty Country” is very Twilight Zone-y with a nice little feminine twist that I appreciated.

Richard Christian Matheson. If you don’t know the name … well, where the hell have you been? There is no doubt this man is a genius, an amazingly talented writer, and a master of the genre; and his contribution to Masques V just backs all that up further. And how! “Making Cabinets” may be one of the most fabulously well written short stories I have ever had the pleasure of reading. The man packs more story into two brief pages than some of the others do in twenty or more. But beyond that it is one of the most deceptive and horrifying stories I’ve ever read as well. I think it will stick with people long after they’ve put it down.

And there it is, folks, the best of the best … and the rest ain’t bad either. Really, you can’t go wrong with Masques V. Out of 29 stories, there wasn’t one I hated. There were some I liked less than others, but that’s about it. And considering how much I liked the ones I liked (seriously, if you don’t listen to anything I say but one thing … read the Richard Christian Matheson story), I’m willing to forgive a lot. And I think you will too.

4 out of 5

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American Psycho Meets Creep – Strawberry Flavored Plastic Review

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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.

Until then, check out the film’s trailer HERE, and follow the movie on Facebook.

  • Strawberry Flavored Plastic
3.5

Summary

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.

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Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 148 – Inside (2017 Remake)

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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!

If you like what you hear, please consider joining our Patreon subscribers. For less than the cost of a beer, you get bonus content, exclusive merchandise, special giveaways, and you get to help us continue doing what we love.

The Who Goes There Podcast is available to subscribe to on iTunes right here. Not an iTunes user? You can listen on our Dread Central page. Can’t get enough? We also do that social media shit. You’ll find us on FacebookTwitterInstagramTwitch, and YouTube.

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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

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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.

  • Film
2.0

Summary

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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