Tim Pratt
SF and Fantasy Writer

WhiskeyHorror: Horns

October 9th, 2014

Last night, we drank Glenfiddich 12 (I am not a sophisticated scotch drinker; I like smooth and mellow. I  hope someday to develop a taste for scotches that taste like arson in a peat bog, but haven’t yet), and watched Horns, the new film based on my favorite Joe Hill novel. (Except when N0S4A2 is my favorite. I go back and forth.) We also split a Shallow Grave porter from Evil Twin, which was super tasty. (And, you know, horror-movie thematic.)

Avoiding spoilers goes against my nature, but I’ll try as the film is so new. The basic premise is: Small-town radio DJ Ig Parrish is accused of murdering his longtime girlfriend while he was blackout drunk. He’s *pretty* sure he didn’t do it, and everyone else is pretty sure he did. One morning he wakes up with devil horns growing from his head, and people begin confessing, and indulging in, secret desires in his presence. He uses his new weird powers to try to figure out what really happened that terrible night.

I still love that setup. It’s so bizarre and leads to so many fun scenes. The bit in the doctor’s office when he goes to try and have his horns removed is fantastic, as is the reporters’ brawl.

Daniel Radcliffe does a great job as Ig, and was recognizably the same character from the book — basically well-meaning, but kind of a fuckup, with some weird baggage and personal issues. Ig’s more of a loser in the movie than he is in the book, but it works.

(Katrina and I, of course, couldn’t resist the occasional Harry Potter joke. “It’s like if Harry Potter grew up and started using meth!” “Why doesn’t he just talk to the snakes? He’s a Parseltongue.” But mostly he inhabited the character.)

Heather Graham is fun in a bit part as a waitress/witness hoping to use the murder trial to get famous on TV. The actor playing Ig’s best friend/lawyer Lee Tourneau didn’t impress me much at first, but he won me over at the end when a bit of manic laughter broke through the character’s calm facade, making it clear how much of a facade it was the rest of time.

The film isn’t as rich and strange as the book, but it would’ve been hard to get all the Treehouse of the Mind stuff into the movie in a way that made sense, the speech to the snakes in the foundry from the novel would’ve stopped the pacing dead, and it’s natural that the characters are simplified. If you like the movie (or hate it!) I do recommend reading the novel, especially for how it sheds more light on Lee’s character and motivations.

WhiskeyHorror: Dread

October 6th, 2014

A somewhat belated WhiskeyHorror report, as I was too busy to write about it: last week we drank sazeracs, and watched Dread, the 2009 adaptation of one of Clive Barker’s more memorable stories from The Books of Blood.

The film has something of a slow start, and is almost mumblecore as it begins, with its pretty-people-in-messy-clothes staring at distant objects and muttering at each other about philosophy and fear and “the beast.” (Which is not a literal beast, but, uh, something to do with fear.) About five minutes in I said, “So, we’ll give it ten more minutes and see if it gets good?”

And it got… better, at least!

The film keeps the story’s basic premise: college student Quaid is obsessed with fear, co-opts a weaker-willed student named Stephen into helping him study fear, and then goes way over the line, confronting people with their extreme fears in life-destroying and traumatic ways.

The bits with young Quaid being menaced by an axe-wielding lunatic genuinely troubled me (again, I have the “parent of a first-grader” weakness when it comes to horror movies), and there were several actually-horrific moments. (As opposed to many horror movies, which are atmospheric, or startling, but not actually horrifying — there was a lot of horror here.) I was afraid it would go into Saw territory, with increasingly elaborate and improbable “fear traps,” but it stayed quite plausible, limited to the kind of stuff a charismatic weirdo like Quaid could actually organize in his own house.

The film was mostly best when it followed the contours of the original story: the strict vegetarian locked in a room for days with nothing to eat but a raw steak, until she’s entirely broken psychologically and calmly devours the rotten thing, remains the most striking image from the story and the film both. (The deadpan line about letting her out afterward and cooking her some potatoes, lifted direct from the story, was good too.)

In contrast to the usual tendency of films to combine characters from prose fiction, this one splits up some characters, weirdly stealing the climactic moment away from the accomplice-turned-enemy Stephen and giving it to an exceedingly minor character instead — and it’s not like they gave Stephen anything better to do, so it was a weird choice.

The ending diverges wildly from the story, and while I kind of liked the final moment (which was super gross entirely by implication, with no onscreen gross-out required) even if it was logistically a bit flawed, it’s more disturbing to me because the ending of the film seems to validate Quaid’s insane theories about dealing with fear. Which is also pretty horrific, now that I think about it, so. True horror movie!

It’s always fun to see actors from big movies appear in tiny horror movies, and Katrina recognized Stephen from his role as a vampire in one of the Twilight movies (where he presumably had much cleaner hair).

If you had to pick between the story and the movie, I’d say, read the story, but fortunately life is seldom so viciously binary: if you like genuinely tense and disturbing moments and evil bromance amid gross stuff, it’s worth a look. Among the second-tier Clive Barker-inspired movies I’d place it below Midnight Meat Train but above Rawhead Rex. (The first tier, of course, includes the first Hellraiser movie and Candyman, with Lord of Illusions somewhere down at the bottom of the tier, while the king of the second tier is Nightbreed. This is known.)

Phantasm Japan Reviews

September 19th, 2014

I have a story, “Those Who Hunt Monster Hunters,” in new anthology Phantasm Japan. People seem to like the book, and the story.

An early reader, Cecily Kane, called my story  “One of the best feminist stories ever in SFF. I am inarticulate with ‘!!!!!’ Like I cannot believe a dude wrote this. I am stunned.” That was nice to see.

Here’s a review from Skiffy and Fanty (and I’ve excerpted the flattering-to-me bit below):

My favorite story… It’s funny; I’d asked the editor for a review copy of this just as I’d uncovered an unconscious bias of mine, which is that I almost never read books set in Japan. It took about twenty seconds of critical self-analysis to realize that such a reflexive avoidance is probably because Japanese women are so frequently fetishized, particularly in the West. Tim Pratt’s “Those Who Hunt Monster Hunters” addresses this objectification, in which a neckbearded “douchebro” is the antagonist. It’s a revenge tale that should be delightful for women who’ve had some grossly entitled dude become their problem. (Uh, I expect it’d be all of us that fit into that category.) It isn’t just entertaining from the intersectional feminist perspective, though; it’s funny and devastatingly sad at once.

(It’s a rave for the book as a whole too.) I am happy.

 

WhiskeyHorror: The Bay

September 18th, 2014

WhiskeyHorror report:

We drank Bulleit rye manhattans, and sipped some Buffalo Trace bourbon. Also had a couple of delicious coffee milk stouts (which my friend Christy brought over to share last weekend and forgot to take home with her — I claimed salvage rights!).

The film was The Bay, which people said good things about on twitter, and you know, it was pretty good, though in the end I admired and respected it more than I liked it. (I feel the same way about The Lord of the Rings, so it’s in good company.)

It’s a found-footage horror movie (I like those) but done documentary style, putting together lots of footage from newscasts, personal cameras, video chats, security feeds, etc. surrounding the outbreak of a horrible disease/infection/infestation in a Maryland beach town one fourth of July.

Things I liked: some impressively gross effects, some really handwavy science that nevertheless made a valid point about just how fucked the environment is in so many ways, some CDC guys with reactions that amusingly ranged from deadpan to “Uhhh…. WHAT?”, the acting was mostly good, and they didn’t go the “parasites turn people into zombies!” route, which was a nice change.

Things I didn’t like: well, basically I like character-driven movies, and this one had a whole bunch of short snippets of characters we didn’t get to learn very much about at all, who mostly just died. (I like to care a lot about a character before they die!) So there’s that. I thought it was nicely put together, but I won’t be making it annual Fourth of July viewing or anything. (Whereas I make a point of watching Trick ‘r Treat, a less ambitious film that makes up for it by being charming and fast-moving, every Halloween. Speaking of, that’s coming up, maybe I’ll watch it early this year.)

I will say, watching a film about murderous isopods with someone who has a background in marine biology is pretty entertaining. It’s just like how I yell at the screen during movies that involve the publishing business when they get stuff wrong.

WhiskeyHorror: Sinister

September 11th, 2014

WhiskeyHorror report:

Sazeracs with Bulleit rye (and I finally got some orange bitters in the house — sazeracs are fine with spiced cherry bitters, but so much more right with orange). Then we moved on to the Buffalo Trace bourbon, sipping some straight, though I had an old fashioned, too.

We watched Sinister, which is one of the more genuinely disturbing horror flicks I’ve seen, mostly because of all the children-in-jeopardy stuff, which never used to bother me much until (surprise) I became a parent myself. The snuff films were hard to watch, too, I think because they mostly looked so realistic: dirty, low-light, not impeccably staged. (The iconic hanging scene was an exception, perhaps because we saw it in slow-motion before the title — still disturbing, but so much better lit and composed than the other messy dirty shots. Which, to be clear, I found more effective because they looked so plausible.)

There were some early moments when the main character showed intelligence, like his first impulse to call the cops, which he did only moments after we started yelling, “Dude, call the cops!” at the screen — sure, he thought better of it and hung up, but at that point, such a reaction was reasonable. Later on, when he knew for a fact that a very bad person was occasionally entering his house — and had no reason to think it was inescapable supernatural shenanigans, but just a mortal murderer — I couldn’t believe he didn’t round up his obviously beloved family and get the hell out. I understand the justification the screenwriters had in mind, that he was obsessed and not sleeping and had tunnel vision about his project, but as a father myself I just couldn’t believe he wouldn’t flee sooner. (That could be more about Ethan Hawke’s performance than a failure in the script, which novelist C. Robert Cargill mostly wrote… or just a quirk about where my own suspension of disbelief fails to be suspended.)

I can nitpick some of the procedural elements (a true crime writer wouldn’t be a little more careful handling previously undiscovered evidence?), but the writing-related bits about the main character mostly rang true (again, novelist scriptwriter), there were some effective scares, no more idiot plotting than you see in most movies,  a convincing and wrenching husband-and-wife argument, lots of powerful creepy imagery with the kids, a couple of “I can’t watch this because it’s too horrible” moments (which is not a bad thing in a horror movie, necessarily), no sexual violence (a real dealbreaker for me in movies involving kids — I just can’t handle it as the parent of a first grader), very few stupid jump scares, just enough occult nonsense to make it all stick together, and an ending that you see coming from some distance away, but with mounting dread, not boredom. I’d recommend it, if you can stand stories about awful things happening to children.

Dark Fantasy Story Bundle

September 9th, 2014

My novel Bone Shop is one of nine (9!) books you can get from the Dark Fantasy Story Bundle, a collection of DRM-free e-books available on a pay-what-you-want basis (minimum $3).  It’s got books by Steven Savile, Marie Hall, Craig Schaeffer, Harry Connolly, Susan Illene, and our impresario Joseph Nassise. You can choose to give a portion of your payment to charity, too.

Basically it is a great thing and if you people buy a bunch of them I’ll be able to take my kid to Disneyland and/or buy a lot of alcohol. It’s available until September 17, so get clickin’.

 

WhiskeyHorror: Triangle

September 4th, 2014

WhiskeyHorror report:

Manhattans with spiced cherry bitters, and later we had gimlets (not whiskey, I know, but it was warm in my house and we wanted refreshing). 

The film was Triangle (2009), and it was good! There are enough axe attacks, point-blank shotgun blasts, scary burlap sack murder hoods, environmental terror, contained nightmare, existential crises, and literally PILES of corpses (human and avian) that I think it’s unquestionably a horror film, but it’s not all that *scary* so much as it’s twisty psychological stuff, with some very good time-loop underpinnings. I might quibble a tiny bit with some of the time-loop mechanism but mostly it’s logical and self-consistent and satisfying. Starring Thor’s buff younger brother Liam Hemsworth and Melissa George (who was so familiar it drove me crazy and I finally remembered, she’s the gubernatorial ethics enforcer on The Good Wife) and I’m assuming a bunch of other Australians pretending to be from Florida.

Flytrap 12

August 28th, 2014

We’re doing a Kickstarter for issue #12 of our ‘zine Flytrap! The funds will go to paying artists and writers and printing and so on. Prizes include print copies (so pretty) and postcards and prints by our issue #11 artist Aislinn Quicksilver Harvey. If we get funded, we’ll open to fiction submissions in October. (We tend  to solicit non-fiction, poetry, and art.)

The issue is about one-sixth funded with 19 days to go, a rather slower start than we had last time; perhaps our potential backers are wearing body paint and feathers and tripping balls on the playa at Burning Man? If you can help spread the word, or donate, we’d appreciate it. You can read issue #11 online here.

WhiskeyHorror: Devil’s Pass

August 7th, 2014

WhiskeyHorror report:

I made this, basically: http://www.rachaelraymag.com/recipe/bourbon-and-peach-sweet-tea-punch/

Only it was extra-fruity because I used mango ceylon tea. Oh, and brown sugar simple syrup as sweetener, because the brown sugar goes well with bourbon. There are THREE CUPS of bourbon in that stuff, out of nine total cups of liquid. I had a glass, and Heather had a glass, and we were in the backyard going all WHOOOO. It is subtle but powerful. Katrina had some catching up to do when she arrived. (Even after drinking all night, I’ve got a couple cups of the stuff left in the pitcher. That’s an afternoon nap in liquid form.)

The film was Devil’s Pass (2013), a found-footage movie inspired by the Dyatlov Pass Incident (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dyatlov_Pass_incident), which has always interested me as a student of the inexplicable and the weird and the Fortean. It was a great improvement over Wrong Turn 2.

Pretty snowy mountainous locations, and a clever plot, even if it doesn’t entirely hold up under scrutiny. I am happiest when a story does something I don’t expect, but the unexpected thing has to reasonably grow from the premise and arise organically from what came before in terms of character, milieu, etc. — random incomprehensible non-sequiturs are surprising but not satisfying. This one, for me, went in directions that were unexpected but made sense, and so I was a happy horror viewer. The acting was pretty uneven, but you can get away with some of that with a found-footage cast of twenty-somethings. The special effects, when they arrived, were not fantastic, but there was good use of scuttling in the darkness, always a favorite of mine, and lots of creepy tunnels. And mysterious doors. I’m a sucker for mysterious doors.

We also watched the antepenultimate and penultimate episodes of American Horror Story season 2 — I’d forgotten how much time they devote to falling action/tying up loose ends/resolving the frame story, but I rather like it.

Next week: I dunno. Maybe The Last Exorcism? And I was thinking of buying some single malt…

WhiskeyHorror: Wrong Turn 2

August 1st, 2014

WhiskeyHorror report! (Why am I doing a WhiskeyHorror report, when I usually don’t? I don’t know. I feel like it.)

We drank bourbon and cherry vanilla cokes, and manhattans.

Wrong Turn 2 was… well. The writing wasn’t as good as in Wrong Turn, which is saying something. Everyone’s favorite mutant cannibal hillbilly, Three-Finger, doesn’t even hoot in this one, and his hooting was the best thing about the original. (He was played by a new actor in this one; perhaps that actor lacks the original’s hooting prowess.)

There were far too many very clear shots of the cannibal mutants (wait, are they cannibals if they eat non-mutated humans? I guess so, I don’t think their differences amount to a difference in species), in very clear light, rather than brief shots in shadow, so they looked less menacing and more like…. people in prosthetics and make-up. (Mostly, they looked like The Saddest Possible Ferengi.)

I don’t think there was a single plot development that either I or Heather or Katrina didn’t call in advance. I mean, we’re all pretty good plot predictors, but I like there to be something that’s not totally foreseeable.

The mutant baby was pretty impressively disturbing. Henry Rollins was fine, though he mostly seemed to be inhabiting an entirely different movie. (I kinda would’ve preferred to see that movie.) Making fun of it had entertainment value. But generally I prefer a movie that’s less entirely mockable. I don’t think I’ll be chasing down future installments in the franchise.