Written by Alan Draven
Published by iUniverse
One of America’s biggest fears these days is a pandemic reaching its shores from some foreign country and wiping out thousands, or even millions, of its citizens. In his debut novel, Bitternest, author Alan Draven takes that scenario and turns it on its ear by bringing vampires and other supernatural beings into the mix — with surprisingly satisfying success.
Most of Dread Central’s other reviewers have reached the saturation point with vamp-fueled movies and books, but not this woman! So when we got an email from Mr. Draven asking if anyone would like to review his newest release, I jumped at the chance. Vamps and massive death and destruction from a viral outbreak? Sign me up!
Bitternest, Louisiana, is a fog-drenched town with 275,000 occupants and a dark history. Rumors abound of paranormal goings-on, but no one talks of them openly. The narrative begins with our two protagonists, Detectives Terry Graves and Miguel Vallejo, investigating a crime scene where the naked corpses of at least a dozen women have been left in a neatly formed pile. Most disconcerting is the fact that they all have two small bite marks on their necks and the bodies have been drained of blood. Graves is lured away from the area by an Asian man named Kozo who introduces himself as a vampire and requests that Graves accompany him to visit his leader, a centuries old bloodsucker named Cyrus, to discuss a situation that has put not only the human inhabitants of Bitternest but also the vamps themselves in grave danger.
A rapidly mutating strain of avian influenza, H5N1, is sweeping the world. Typically two thirds of those infected die from the disease, including Terry’s beloved wife, Tracie, whose death he has yet to come to terms with due to his heavy workload in the wake of the tragedy. Oddly, however, the death rate in Bitternest is well below the national average; less than a third succumb to H5N1. Meanwhile Graves and Vallejo are also contending with another crisis: Bitternest residents — including a disproportionate amount of children — are disappearing at an alarming rate for no apparent reason.
Adding insult to injury, the purpose of Cyrus’ meeting with Graves is to discuss a fast growing group of half-human/half-vampire hybrids known as blood mongers. These mutants came about as a result of the members of Cyrus’ Vampire Circle feeding on some of the influenza victims. Instead of dying, they became stronger and turned into vampire-like creatures that can survive in daylight. Their numbers are growing as they hunt down the pure vampires and turn more and more H5N1 sufferers into like creatures. By the time Graves meets Cyrus, his Vampire Circle has dwindled to six from its original thirteen. Cyrus proposes an alliance between his crew and Graves’ men to bring down the blood mongers, which Graves reluctantly agrees to in light of the fact that he basically has no other choice.
As if the influenza related deaths, bizarre disappearances, and blood mongers aren’t enough, Bitternest’s most notorious criminal, drug lord Tezano Cortez, is in the midst of doing battle with his underworld rivals in an attempt to set in motion a plan that will place him in a position of ultimate power over the city. Cortez has in his possession a book of spells that belonged to the previous owner of his mansion, a conjurer and master of the occult named Timothy Crane, and has unwittingly released an ancient demoness from hell whom the blood mongers worship. In addition, she has brought with her an army of vicious female children to prey on the remaining populace of Bitternest. Cortez’s story intersects that of Graves, Vallejo, and Cyrus in an ingenious way that doesn’t become clear until the novel’s final chapters.
Along with the detectives, the vampires (the most colorful of whom wears clown makeup), and the gangsters, we’re introduced to a diverse, likable group of individuals that include Terry’s scientist friend who is fiendishly working to come up with both a vaccine for the virus and an antidote for the blood mongers; a ragtag quartet of vampire hunters who balk at first at the thought of working with the Circle but then plunge right in; a foster child named Harmony whom Terry has taken under his wing and does his best to protect from the mayhem surrounding them; an attractive CSI captain who assists Terry and Miguel in the field and thankfully never becomes a “love interest” for either of them; a perfectly paranoid conspiracy theorist; and my favorite secondary character, Aldous Finch, who helps the detectives put some pieces together and about whom I definitely would love to learn more in one of Draven’s future projects. They all speak and act like real people would under the circumstances and greatly enrich the palette that makes up Bitternest.
Bitternest is a scarily timely tale that beautifully weaves its storylines together in a fast-paced, expertly written manner through the use of short chapters that keep the reader glued to the action and turning the pages as quickly as possible. It includes numerous passages of graphic violence and gore so that even the most hardened horror fan will remain engaged. Draven’s descriptions are just long enough without becoming overbearing. He is an author who understands that if you can’t get your point across in a few sentences, expanding it to a few paragraphs won’t make it any better. My only complaint — and it’s a minor one — is that I wish there had been a bit more fleshing out of the ancillary characters, especially Cyrus and Finch, both of whom seem worthy of development beyond what was provided.
For those of you who complain that vampires have become nothing more than mopey Goths who lay about wearing black leather and lace, whining about their condition, Bitternest provides just the antidote you are craving. Instead of only one type of vamp, it offers three diverse incarnations of the breed that are as cold-hearted and bloodthirsty as they come. Not only that, but their human counterparts are pretty darn interesting as well. If Bitternest is an example of what Alan Draven can do for this tired subgenre, then we are all fortunate indeed to have him already hard at work on his next offering!
4 out of 5
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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?
IAMX’s Alive in New Light Review – A Dark, Hypnotic, and Stunning Musical Endeavor
Recording eight albums is an achievement no matter the artist, group, or band. This is especially true for Chris Corner’s IAMX, his solo project after the trip hop group Sneaker Pimps, which has enchanted listeners since 2004’s Kiss + Swallow with its dark electronic aesthetic. There’s something fascinating about the music Corner puts out as IAMX. Perhaps it’s the underlying melancholy that seems to pervade the music, almost certainly a result of the musician’s battle with depression and chronic insomnia [Source]. Perhaps it’s the unexpected melodies that reveal themselves with each new measure. Whatever it is, IAMX’s music is a constant delight.
On Alive in New Light, Corner reveals that his eighth album was a product he created as a way of “…breaking free from demons that have long plagued him,” per an official press release. Strangely enough, this uplifting attitude may easily be overlooked but repeat listens unveil a sense of hope and wonder that are simply breathtaking. The title track echoes with almost angelic choir pads that positively shine as Corner exultingly cries in a shimmering falsetto, “I’m alive in new light!” This comes after the Depeche Mode-esque “Stardust”, which offers the first collaboration with Kat Von D, whose pure voice is a beautiful addition to the pulsating track.
The third track, “Break The Chains”, has an opening that immediately called to mind Birds of Tokyo’s “Discoloured”, which is meant as a compliment. It’s followed by the Nine Inch Nails influenced “Body Politics”, which meshes Corner’s crooning vocals with a 90’s industrial backdrop. “Exit” has an almost sinister progression lurking in the background that builds to an aggressive, in-your-face third act. The cinematic Middle Eastern flairs of “Stalker” mutate effortlessly into a heartbeat pulse that features back-and-forth vocals between Corner and Von D. The haunted circus vibe that permeates through “Big Man” is mirrored by its playful gothic aura, ghostly “oohs” and “aahs” sprinkled carefully here and there.
While the album has been a delight up to this point, it’s the final two tracks that took my breath away and left me stunned. “Mile Deep Hollow” builds layer after layer while Corner passionately cries out, “So thank you/you need to know/that you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow/and I love you/you brought me home/because you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow.” The way the song’s melodies back these wonderfully uplifting lyrics feels grand and epic, as though a journey is coming to an end, which is where “The Power and the Glory” comes in. Far more subdued, it’s a beautiful song that feels almost like a religious experience, a hymn of a soul that is desperate to claw its way to salvation and escape a life of pain and darkness.
What makes Alive in New Light so wonderful is how much there is to experience. I got the album and listened to it no less than five times in a row without pause. I simply couldn’t turn it off because each return revealed something new in the music. Corner also makes fantastic use of Von D’s vocals, carefully placing them so as to make them a treat and not a commonplace certainty.
While some may be disappointed that there are only nine tracks, each of the songs is carefully and meticulously crafted to be as powerful and meaningful as possible. It really is a stunning accomplishment and I’m nothing short of blown away by how masterfully Alive in New Light plays out.
IAMX’s Alive in New Light is a triumph of music. Full of beauty and confidence, it doesn’t forget the foundation that fans have come to know and love for over a decade but instead embraces that comfortable darkness with open arms. Corner states that this album was a way to break free from his demons. It certainly feels like he’s made peace with them.
The Hatred Review – A History Lesson Dug Up From The Depths Of Hell
Starring Zelda Adams, Lulu Adams, John Law
Directed by John Law
I don’t know about the scholastic interests the masses had (or have) that read all of the killer nuggets that get cranked out on this site, but when I was an academic turd, one of my true passions was history, and it was one of the only subjects that managed to hold my interest, and when the opportunity arose to check out John Law’s ultra-nightmarish feature, The Hatred – I was ready to crack the books once again.
The setting is the Blackfoot Territory in the late 1800s, and the pains of a lengthy conflict have taken their toll on the remaining soldiers as food has become scarce, and the film picks up with soldiers on the march in the brutal cold and snow covered mountainside. In tow is a P.O.W. (Law), and the decision is made by the soldiers to execute him in earnest instead of having to shorten their rations by feeding him, so he is then hung (pretty harshly done), and left to rot as the uniformed men trudge along. A short time later the group encounters a small family on the fringes of the territory, and when the demands for food are rebuked, the slaughter is on and the only survivor is a young girl (Adams) who prays to an oblivious god that she can one day reap the seeds of revenge upon those who’ve murdered her family. We all know that there are usually two sides to any story, and when the good ear isn’t listening, the evil one turns its direction towards those who need it most, and that’s when the Devil obliges.
The answer to the young girl’s prayers comes in the resurrection of the prisoner that was hung a short time ago, and he has been dubbed “Vengeance” – together their goal will be achieved by harshly dishing out some retribution, and the way it’s presented is drawn-out, almost like you’re strapped into the front-row pew of a hellfire-cathedral and force-fed the sermon of an evil voice from the South side of the tracks. It’s vicious and beautiful all at once, Law’s direction gives this visually-striking presentation all the bells and whistles to please even the harshest of critics (hell, you’re reading the words of one right now). The performances, while a bit stoic in nature, still convey that overall perception of a wrong that demands to be righted, no matter how morally mishandled it might be. Overall, I can absolutely recommend The Hatred for not only those wanting a period-piece with ferocious-artistry, but for others who continue to pray with no response, and are curious to see what the other side can offer.
The Hatred is a visually-appealing look into the eyes of animus, and all of the beauty of returning the harm to those who have awarded it to others.
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