Reviewed by Morgan Elektra
Written by Stephenie Meyer
Published by Little, Brown Young Readers
Reviewed by Morgan Elektra
Written by Stephenie Meyer
Published by Little, Brown Young Readers
There’s something you need to know about me. I’ve mentioned it before, but I feel I need to really impress it upon you now. I love words. And I don’t mean like, “I’m an avid reader” kind of love. I mean I regularly engage in a passionate affair with the written word. I love the way words look on paper, and the way they sound when spoken. When someone, anyone, strings them together in a way that pleases the eye, the ear, or the mind, I feel physical satisfaction. I’m not just a bookworm. Give me a dictionary and a thesaurus and I can occupy myself for hours. Talk to me about palindromes and synonyms and subtexts and I’m all a quiver. I’ve always been this way.
At the tender age of seven, in addition to reading my Nancy Drew, The Babysitter’s Club, and Encyclopedia Brown, this zeal led me to explore my parent’s extensive library – to pick up books like The Fall of the House of Usher (I barely understood it, but what a lovely sounding title!), The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and Pet Sematary. Thus began a lifelong habit of insatiable literary curiosity. It doesn’t matter if it’s a painstakingly crafted work of erudite art like Floubert’s Madame Bovary, or a children’s book like Dr. Suess’ The Butter Battle Book. Whether its poetry, true crime, fairy tales or romance novels, I’m willing to give everything a fair chance – and if it’s any good I devour it greedily.
I tell you this, because it’s this voracious inquisitiveness that has brought us to this place. Until my dear colleagues here at Dread Central began reporting on the upcoming “>Twilight movie, I was fairly unaware of the existence of the series. I’d heard the name mentioned in passing, but it had never been on my radar. And then we posted our first news item on it and I thought “Hmmm, a vampire movie. Interesting.” And that was about it. That is, until people started posting comments responding to the news. The rancor, derision, eye-rolling and mocking directed at the film news made me wonder – Young adult or not, was the source material all that bad? I had to find out for myself.
Book 1: Twilight
I was skeptical enough not to want to blind buy and spend $16 or more dollars on a book I might not like, so I added the first book in the series to the top of my Bookswim pool. (Bookswim is like a literary Netflix; it feeds my addiction beautifully.) Right off the bat, the reader is introduced to 17 year old Bella Swan, from whose perspective the entire story is told. Author Stephenie Meyer quickly establishes Bella as a unique character, both within the context of the fictional world she’s created and in the pantheon of young adult heroines, which was surprising.
Given the series’ explosive popularity with teenage girls, I was half expecting a heroine who fit in with her contemporaries, like pop icons Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. Or perhaps more fairly, like “Gossip Girl”’s Serena van der Woodson, or Disney’s Hannah Montana.
But Bella resembles none of these characters, real or imagined, in the slightest. Instead, she’s somewhat shy, sarcastic, self-effacing, intelligent, clumsy and introspective. She cares nothing for sports or fashion. She loves to read and listen to music; she’s smart but not overly nerdy. She’s just as squeaky clean as any Disney “it” girl – she does her homework, cleans her room, cooks dinner for her divorced father, and is loathe to skip class – but without the bubble gum, Crest white smile, super saturated color, saccharine sweetness that makes Disney fare so wincingly unappealing to grown ups. Bella’s often dry wit, self awareness and insightfulness are a pleasure, which is thankful, considering the reader spends the next 400+ pages inside her head.
Of course, the story that unfolds focuses on Bella’s recent move to the small town of Forks, Washington and subsequent romance with Edward Cullen, a boy in her class who just happens to be a nearly 100 year old vampire, the youngest (technically, he’s still 17) of a family of vampires. And though Edward hasn’t fed on a human in over 80 years, Bella’s blood smells to him like the rarest of fine wines to a connoisseur. So, apart from the normal trials and tribulations of young love, the pair must deal with his constant struggle to overcome his desire for her blood.
The potential for melodrama is incredibly high, but Meyer manages to avoid most of the pitfalls of teen angst. The writing is, on occasion, admittedly somewhat awkward but that lends itself to the environment of Bella’s mind rather well. And I was more pleased than I would have thought that Meyer remains true to that environment. We learn nothing that Bella doesn’t know, see nothing that Bella doesn’t see. This can be frustrating at times, but it allows the reader to feel the same tensions and exasperation Bella feels. And the reader learns a great deal about Bella’s character through her thoughts, deeds, and reactions. She manages to both be an admirable Everywoman and truly extraordinary in a way that has nothing to do with being a supernatural creature.
Speaking of the vampires, Meyer does interesting things with the vampire mythos, playing with almost all of the preconceived notions established fang-o-philes might have; expanding on some ideas, doing away with others completely, and creating several of her own unique characteristics. The vampires of Meyer’s creation possess preternatural speed, strength, agility, and heightened senses; have skin as hard as stone, no fangs and a venomous bite. The sun doesn’t hurt them, nor do crosses, garlic, or wooden stakes.
They do drink blood, though the Cullens have made the choice to only feed on animals. However, this is a rare trait, common only to them and one other small coven in Alaska. None of the other vampires you meet throughout the series share this preference – which in fact leads to the climax of this lover’s tale, and perhaps my biggest issue with this book. I don’t have an issue with climax itself, when a group of nomads stumble upon the Cullens during a game of baseball vampire-style (which, cinematically speaking should be a fun scene in the film, if done right) and one of the group (a tracker named James) gets a whiff of Bella’s yummy blood and decides to hunt her. It’s high octane, full of tension and emotion and a good dash of pain (though nothing overly graphic). My issue is that the last hundred pages feel fairly disjointed from the first 400.
The beginning four fifths of the book build very slowly. It works very well to establish the world the reader is going to inhabit (hopefully) for the next three books; the environment, the characters and their traits. A first time reader will likely only notice that the dialogue is generally snappy and often funny, and that the major characters have very distinct personalities. It’s only if you stick with the series that you realize how much of a foundation Meyer builds within that first book.
And that’s a great thing … but once the story progresses from foundation to action, it happens in a split second. It’s hard to switch gears from the experiences and hardships of young love to a life or death game of cat and mouse. For me, it took a bit of time to go from one speed to another. Though once I did I enjoyed the climax and denouement quite a bit. Aside from the swift change of tone and pacing near the end, my only other gripe would be the abundant over-usage of the word “incredulous” in all its forms. I ached to mail Ms. Meyer a thesaurus with the entry for the word highlighted.
But still, Bella is a treat to get to know and her and Edward’s story is amusing, sweet and exciting – in more ways than one. Meyer has been hailed because Bella and Edward’s relationship is chaste. And it is chaste, just not puritan. Bella is a passionate girl, and Edward doesn’t just lust after her blood. But given the situation, Edward’s strength and Bella’s tantalizing smell, even kissing is playing with fire for the pair. Still, it doesn’t stop Meyer from writing several steamy scenes of nuzzling, non-sexual touching, and kissing that one reviewer dubbed “the erotics of abstinence”. It’s a good term, and Meyer definitely proves you don’t have to have sex to be sexy.
I freely admit the book has its flaws. The writing is solid, but not exactly inspired. It’s occasionally awkward, and the wording somewhat naïve. There are also the pacing issues I mentioned. But I still enjoyed it much, much more than I ever thought I would. I was entertained thoroughly. Granted, this is very much for the ladies – although it’s not overbearingly girlie or lovey-dovey, so it’s not impossible that a guy could enjoy it. But I think those who love vampires would enjoy Meyer’s clever twists, and those who enjoy a good epic romance will enjoy Bella and Edward’s. Twilight is a strong opening piece that makes the reader want to know what’s going to happen next. And that’s never a bad thing. I’m still skeptical about the movie, but as for the book… like another recent children’s book series by a certain Ms. Rowling, I think if you write it off as mere kid’s stuff, you’re really missing out.
3 1/2 out of 5
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LIQUID SKY Blu-ray Review – You Don’t Need Acid For This Mind Melting Trip
Starring Anne Carlisle, Paula E. Sheppard, Susan Doukas, Otto von Wernherr
Directed by Slava Tsukerman
Distributed by Vinegar Syndrome
Succinctly summing up a slice-of-life avant-garde feature film can be difficult when the picture relies heavily on the audio-visual experience and not necessarily the story. Liquid Sky (1982) is an acid-fueled trip through the emerging New Wave movement, viewed through the vapid lens of the fashion world, where drugs and sex are a commodity to be frequently bartered. The film juxtaposes the grimy and gritty streets of New York City with liberal use of bright, flashy neon, creating an aesthetic that both revels in the post-punk subculture and looks forward to the eye-popping pastels that would come to define the ‘80s. Within this kaleidoscope is a story about androgyny, rampant drug use, pleasures of the flesh, sexual abuse, and tiny invisible aliens that subsist on the endorphins released when people either get high or get down. As director Slava Tsukerman states in the extras, the idea was to craft a unique visual palette, the likes of which cinemagoers maybe hadn’t seen before; in that respect, Tsukerman capably succeeded. This is true subversive cinema, not for the mainstream.
Margaret (Anne Carlisle) is an androgynous NYC fashion model, looking to get her big break into certifiable stardom. Her nightclub fashion shows bring out all the fringe of the city – drug users, sexual deviants, flamboyant personalities, and her rival, Jimmy (also Carlisle), who is a fiend for cocaine. Margaret’s girlfriend, Adrian (Paula E. Sheppard), is a coke dealer whom Jimmy constantly harasses for a quick high, despite the fact he never has any money. Sex is his usual currency, consensual and otherwise. For reasons unknown, though easy to glean, a tiny UFO has landed on top of the apartment building in which Margaret lives, the visitors here to feast on endorphins released by the brain during drug use… or explosive, orgasmic sex.
Jimmy has lunch with his mother, Sylvia (Susan Doukas), a television producer who he sees as little more than a blank check. Sylvia also happens to live across the street from Margaret’s building, making it the perfect vantage point for scientist Johann Hoffman (Otto von Wernherr) to observe the till-now undiscovered, minute aliens and their spacecraft. Margaret, meanwhile, finds herself in one compromising sexual position after the next, often against her will, though these (let’s be honest here and call them) rapes tend to end with her perpetrators dead, a thin crystalline sliver embedded within their skulls; brain removed. Margaret doesn’t quite understand why, but the frequent cause and effect makes her imagine she has unbridled power, able to kill anyone that has sex with her. Eventually, Margaret comes to use this “power” to destroy anyone who crosses or uses her, which as the film will show is a significant number of people. Little does she know, all this time her saviors have been invisible to the naked eye and living atop her building.
The above plot synopsis barely scratches the surface of the weird and insane places this film travels. The biggest takeaway here should be the ground Tsukerman was breaking, which feels very much in the vein of something Andy Warhol might have been behind. The cast is comprised of societal outcasts; populated by homosexuals, ambiguous individuals, gender-fluidity, heroin users, club cronies, kink, vulgarity… all things that in no way conform to societal standards of normality. Carlisle pulls double duty playing two characters – one reprehensible, the other vaguely sympathetic – yet both fall under the rubric of blurred lines; they embody qualities of both masculinity and femininity. Tsukerman embraces the abstract and absurd, delivering a film that is fiercely independent and wholly incapable of direct categorization.
Driving this tour de force is a cutting edge synth score that is constantly active and consistently weird. A trio made up of Tsukerman, Clive Smith, and Brenda I. Hutchinson composed the soundtrack, and it sounds alien and otherworldly while also capturing the essence of the New Wave. The electronic cues and deep bass beats are energetic and repetitive, often making use of bizarre time signatures. Large portions of it reminded me of John Massari’s stellar synth score to Killer Klowns from Outer Space (1988), as the synthesizer sounds are nearly identical in some passages. The grooves are infectious and wonderfully lo-fi, adding an audible assault to complement the visual feast.
Still, Liquid Sky is something of a challenging watch, especially a first-time viewing when expectations are impossible to calibrate. Because Tsukerman purposely made his film so esoteric and obtuse, it can be tough to settle into a comfortable viewing mindset because so much of the film is uncomfortable and unconventional. The acting quality is passable enough that viewers may find themselves watching the film less as a veritable feature and more a staged, lengthy piece of performance art, which it is in certain respects. Liquid Sky doesn’t lampoon the period or people associated with it, though it does offer an exaggeration of current trends. One thing is for sure, this is bespoke filmmaking at its core and a shining example of the marriage between emerging trends and psychedelic euphoria. Mind blowing stuff.
Vinegar Syndrome is consistently lauded for their A/V work and, boy, did they ever knock this one out of the atmosphere. The 1.85:1 1080p picture is pristine, making it almost impossible to believe this is a low-budget indie from ’82. The original 35mm negative has been given new life via a 4K scan, with the resulting image looking nearly flawless. Aside from literally two or three white flecks the picture is immaculate. Film grain has been smoothed out and minimized without the use of waxy DNR. Fine detail is exquisite, adding a sense of true life to these shiny and squalid environments. Colors are richly saturated and pop off the screen, just as eye-catching neon might do in real life. Color filters are used frequently, bathing the image in hues of blue or green or whatever color fits the intended mood. Skin tones are spot-on and accurate. There is nothing worth complaining about making this one of the finest images Blu-ray is capable of producing.
Although the audio is a single-channel English DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono track you’d never know it from the sonic quality. The synthesized score is catchy and constant, causing the film’s soundfield to be brimming with life at every moment. The aggressive mix and high levels cause a mild sensation of discomfort and unease for viewers, ensuring the picture is never viewed too comfortably. Dialogue is understandable and totally clean, with no indication of hissing or pops at any point. Subtitles are available in English.
An introduction is available before the feature begins, with director Slava Tsukerman giving viewers a brief greeting along with praise for Vinegar Syndrome’s new home video edition.
An audio commentary is available, featuring director Slava Tsukerman.
The disc also contains an isolated soundtrack, highlighting that groundbreaking score.
Interview with Slava Tsukerman is a recent chat with the Russian director, who touches upon his career, influences, and the legacy of his most endearing creation.
Interview with Anne Carlisle is a similarly themed chat, with the leading lady discussing topics ranging from her early beginnings to where her career has taken her now.
Liquid Sky Revisited is a nearly-hour long documentary covering all aspects of the film’s production, with Tsukerman delving into every bit of minutia behind the production, genesis, inspirations, etc.
Q&A from 2017 Alamo Drafthouse Yonkers Screening, featuring Tsukerman, Carlisle, and co-composer Clive Smith.
A lengthy reel of outtakes, alternate opening sequence, rehearsal footage, multiple trailers, and a still gallery complete the wealth of bonus features found here.
Additionally, the cover artwork is reversible allowing for display of the original key art or newly commissioned artwork.
- BRAND NEW 4K RESTORATION OF THE FILM from the 35mm original negative
- Brand new commentary track with: Slava Tsukerman (director)
- Video interview with Slava Tsukerman
- Video interview with Anne Carlisle (actress)
- Director’s introduction
- “Liquid Sky Revisited” (2017) – 50 minute making-of documentary
- Q&A from a 2017 Alamo Drafthouse Yonkers screening with: Slava Tsukerman, Anne Carlisle and Clive Smith (music)
- Isolated soundtrack
- Never before seen outtakes
- Alternate opening sequence
- Behind the scenes rehearsal footage
- Multiple theatrical trailers
- Still gallery
- Artwork designed by Derek Gabryszak
- Reversible cover artwork
- English SDH subtitles
Supremely psychedelic and infinitely eccentric, Liquid Sky was 1983’s most successful independent film and for good reason: it is impossible to categorize and there are few films that color outside the lines so vividly and uniquely. You can’t explain it or understand it; you just have to see it. Vinegar Syndrome have raised the bar with their impeccable a/v quality and wonderful selection of extras.
Zena’s Period Blood: Dying for a DEAD END
It can be difficult finding horror films of quality, so allow me to welcome you to your salvation from frustration. “Zena’s Period Blood” is here to guide you to the horror films that will make you say, “This is a good horror. Point blank. PERIOD.”
“Zena’s Period Blood” focuses on under-appreciated and hidden horror films.
How do you turn $900,000 into $77,000,000? Offer directors Jean-Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa the initial amount and give them the freedom to let their minds wander. In 2003, both directors accomplished this unimaginable feat with Dead End. Under the clouds of a small budget, typical poster and insubstantial trailer, most viewers forecasted one long stretch of boredom. However, 15 minutes in and I was as hooked as a pervert in a strip club with his tax refund money. In 83 minutes, the movie unravels and exposes intelligent craftsmanship with story, acting and location, introducing us to the Harrington family and their demise.
After 20 years following the same route, Frank Harrington (Ray Wise) decides to take his family down a shortcut to his in-laws home during Christmas Eve. Wife Laura (Lin Shaye) sings in the passenger seat, serving as the optimistic family unifier who is often ignored by her husband and children. Behind Frank is their oldest child Marion (Alexandra Holden), unnervingly sheltered under the arm of her soon-to-be fiancé, Brad. And forever mom’s favorite boy is Richard (Mick Cain), who rocks out to Marilyn Manson blaring in his headphones. After this brief introduction to the characters and their distinct personalities, we witness everyone fall asleep, including Frank, who refuses to let anyone else drive.
Several seconds pass before the Jeep Wagoneer veers into the opposite lane. Gradually, a honk pleads from an approaching car, startling the Harrington family and forcing Frank to fight with the wheel until he brings the Jeep to a stop. Wide-awake, the family begins to move forward, now entrapped on a new, never-ending road.
I could elaborate on so many scary details in the movie, but the never-ending road stands out the most. What makes it worse is that there are signs for a town called Marcott, with an arrow indicating the town is straight ahead. But the Harringtons never reach the town. This scares me because I believe that every human being has a mental list of things they are scared of or things they should keep an eye out for in certain situations. Unfortunately, this movie exists to expand that list. What sucks for me is that my husband likes taking back roads. Because I strive to have a happy marriage and a peaceful death, I usually fall asleep to avoid an argument and the grim reaper, both of which usually exist on these particular roads. However, I never imagined that a back road could become a never-ending road. Man that would suck!
Speaking of never-ending, the directors became devils of discomfort by never really showing the deceased’s mutilated body, leaving your brain struggling to piece together the unseen image long after the movie ends. Throughout the movie, the family and Brad are picked off one by one. We mainly suffer these devatations through the reactions of the family members that are still alive, sometimes witnessing them lift a severed ear or caress a charred hand. This movie taught me that I can still taste bile at the back of my throat when a mutilation is suggested rather than shown.
Directors Andrea and Canepa accomplished greatness in Dead End with little time and little money. It is a testament that imagination coupled with skill is the true combination to capturing a big budget feel. I hope that all the individuals behind this movie have a long, never-ending road ahead of them because they have delivered brilliance to the world. This is a good horror. Point blank. Period.
In addition to contributing to Dread Central, Zena Dixon has been writing about all things creepy and horrific for over six years at RealQueenofHorror.com. She has always loved horror films and will soon be known directing her own feature-length horror. Feel free to follow her on Twitter @LovelyZena.
Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 164 – THE CLEANSE
Wait no longer, boils and ghouls! Today is the day you’ve been waiting for; today is the day we sink our teeth into 2018’s The Cleanse! What’s that? You’ve never heard of The Cleanse?! Well, neither had we, but horror releases are slim pickings right now, so we take what we can get. At least we can all agree that we’ve been dying to see Johnny Galecki in something other than Big Bang Theory, right? No? Well, fuck. Here’s an episode about his new movie anyway. What are we even doing?
It was crazy of me to think I could help the police, but I’m going to keep researching, keep writing, there are stories that need to be told, so… here’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 164!
If you enjoy the show, 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 Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Twitch, and YouTube.
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