It’s that time of the (new) year again. 2017 was a surprisingly strong year for horror flicks. Once you got past duds like the latest Resident Evil and Underworld installments, horror hit its stride with a slew of stellar releases, one of them already on most classics lists. Many of my favorites came out between January and April, which is not the norm. I had a hard time whittling my list down to 13, and some real quality movies just missed the final cut. Basically, I ranked movies based on how much they lingered with me long after the final credits rolled on. There are some controversial picks on here, so strap in and get ready…
#13 – CREEP 2
Mark Duplass is one hawk-eyed lunatic. I loved Creep and was anxious to see what he did with the sequel. Let me tell you, Creep 2 did not disappoint. Stakes were upped, strangeness got, er, stranger, and Peach Fuzz made a reappearance! Best watched in a hot tub with a serial killer.
#12 – ANNABELLE : CREATION
Watching this in the theater was the most fun I’ve had since the magical 80s. The crowd went wild with every jump scare. There was endless shrieking, nervous laughter, screaming at the screen and grabbing of arms. I’m not sure if it will hold up with a home viewing, but I’ll treasure the 2 hours of fun I had when it first came out.
#11 – THE DEVIL’S CANDY
From the director who gave us one of my favorite movies, The Loved Ones, this one was on my top 10 list for most of the year, getting bumped at the very end. Ethan Embry gives a stellar performance as a struggling artist caught between a rock and a devilish place. Filled with awesome metal guitar licks and psycho imagery, it’s a can’t miss.
#10 – GERALD’S GAME
2017 was inarguably the year of Stephen King. Unlike most people, IT won’t be on my list. But the adept direction of Mike Flanagan brought King’s most difficult book to life, anchored by the performance of the year by Carla Gugino. It also had the most cringe-inducing scene of the year, bar none. Netflix has knocked another one out of the park. I also suggest you head on over to Netflix to check out another King adaptation, 1922. It’s bleak and haunting, so have plenty of booze on hand.
#9 – SPLIT
Thanks to The Visit, I was chomping at the bit to see M. Night Shyamalan’s newest venture into horror. James McAvoy is brilliant, his multiple personalities putting us all on edge from start to finish. There’s not a wasted frame of film in this tight, suspenseful hostage drama with an ending that had people shouting “holy shit!” at the screen.
#8 – LIFE
I have to say, this one surprised me the most. When I saw the coming attractions, I was like, meh. Boy, was I wrong. Life is the best monster movie of the year. I tell folks it’s like Alien, only brighter and prettier. The creature in this space opera is terrifying and there are some super-sweat-inducing moments. Best of all, they nailed the ending. Life breathed life into the monster movie!
#7 – A DARK SONG
In any other year, A Dark Song might be my top pick. How can I describe it? Dark. Desperate. Bizarre. Creepy. A grieving mother hires a man experienced in the dark arts to bring her son back so she can talk to him one more time and get his forgiveness. You never know whether the shaman is full of shit or the real deal, and what he puts her through is truly torturous. A fantastic movie.
#6 – THE SHAPE OF WATER
Having known about this movie for some time, I had penciled it in as my favorite movie of the year way back in March. It didn’t quite make it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a beautiful movie to behold. Imagine a love story between the Creature from the Black Lagoon and a mute cleaning woman. It’s lush and dreamy and at times achingly beautiful, so much so that it’s on the fringe of a true horror movie. Guillermo Del Toro is a master storyteller and his visual aesthetic is this side of stunning. I’m pretty sure I’d love this movie even if the sound was off.
#5 – THE BELKO EXPERIMENT
Now, this is my kind of horror. We all think of the work place as one of the inner circles of hell. Well, your warren of cubicles and backbiting co-workers has nothing on Belko. It’s gleefully insane, bloody and gripping. I rarely watch a movie more than once in a year, but I’ve already seen it three times. The Belko Experiment takes no prisoners. Literally.
#4 – THE BLACK COAT’S DAUGHTER
I can’t say enough good things about this atmospheric, haunting tale by Oz Perkins (son of Anthony “Psycho” Perkins). With a miniscule but fantastic cast, this is one that will linger with you for a long while. The sense of isolation in this blizzard-wracked girl’s academy will leave you shivering. I have to admit, this one bothered me for days. I watched it again to see if I could dispel the feeling, and it only got worse! It also has one of the most realistic and brutal kills of the year. Watch it now!
#3 – GET OUT
Look, I know this is going to be #1 on 90% of lists you see. Don’t get me wrong, it deserves it. Get Out is an instant classic, a Rosemary’s Baby-esque romp into dark territory and creeping dread. I loved it. Jordan Peele knows his horror and has his pulse on the stuttering heartbeat of American society. It’s crackling smart and witty and will keep you guessing all the way to the end. Everyone who loves horror needs to watch this one.
#2 – MOTHER!
I’m not going to lie, this is the most controversial movie I’ve seen in a good long while. Is it horror? It is for me. The building tension and utter confusion had my heart racing for most of the movie. Jennifer Lawrence is simply amazing in her portrayal of a woman in love beset by people and events of Biblical proportions (there’s a hint for you). No movie has set my brain on fire more than Mother! – ever. Not to mention, there are a few scenes that left me breathless and wishing I’d averted my eyes. And that’s coming from an old, jaded horror hound. I can’t recommend this for everyone, but I feel in my gut it’s going to be the kind of movie people talk about and dissect for generations.
#1 – RAW
Yeah, I’m just as surprised that this French import has made the top of my list. Set in a veterinary school that looks like a post-apocalyptic academy run by MDMA-fueled lunatics, Raw was a punch to the gut. Again, we have a small yet killer cast (the Oscars never looking to the genre for best actors is just one of many reasons it’s a sham), off-kilter storyline and moments of incredible gross-outs that easily made it my movie to least forget in 2017. Subsequent viewings have only made it even better. Raw will be on my steady viewing rotation from here until I’m rotting and raw meat.
What do you think of the list? How does it compare to your own? How many have you already seen?
But wait, there’s more! Still looking for more horror movies to catch up on? Take a gander at my Final Guys podcast where I present a slightly different list, along with my partners in crime. Happy bingeing!
The miracle of Christmas from a horror writer’s perspective…
This time of year, I see a lot of signs and bumper stickers that declare we need to “put the Christ back in Christmas.” Even if you’re not a Christian, I’m sure you can agree that the birth of Christ is the true reason for the season. It’s just a matter of historical perspective. The secularization of the holiday has created a backlash, though it gets drowned out by frantic shopping, bright lights, and lying to children that elves on shelves and fat old men are watching their every move. We CAN put the Christ back in Christmas, if the Catholic church so desires. I’m going to propose a very unconventional way to go about it.
Faith seems to be in very short supply these days. It gets harder and harder to keep the faith as we are bombarded with more and more distractions. Our 24/7 news cycle is designed to only show us the worst of humanity and the unfairness of life. It’s not only depressing as hell, it also makes you question whether there can be a Creator God who would allow such things to happen to his (or her) children. Add to that an abundance of material and opinions on religious history and it gets to the point that you don’t know who or what to believe. So what do you need to pull your head from the orgy of Christmas excess to the true meaning of this time of year?
And like I said, faith is getting pretty hard to come by.
Even during the time that Jesus walked the earth (kinda like Kung Fu) and was performing miracles, there was a lack of faith. The Apostles and his disciples needed constant reminders of his divine origin. Remember good old Doubting Thomas?
From John 20:24-29 :
24 Now Thomas , one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Thomas, who was alive when Jesus was healing the lame, turning water into wine, and bringing the dead back to life, still needed concrete proof. His faith wasn’t strong enough, even though JC was in his midst doing what JC did best. Thomas needed that extra bit of proof.
So why are we expected to have so much faith two-thousand years and endless atrocities later? It’s nice to be blessed, but it isn’t easy to attain, even now, during what is supposed to be one of the happiest and most holy times of the year.
People need proof. And short of the second coming (which, if you believe the prophecy, will not be all wine and roses), we need concrete evidence of divine forces working here on earth. You might say “we need miracles!” and run to your book of saints, pointing out the oodles of miracles performed in their names over the centuries. Or the stigmata of Padre Pio, who was with us all the way until 1968, stunning believers and non-believers alike. Tales of angelic intervention and miracle cures abound.
But it’s not enough to cut through the noise. Not for us. Not for this world we’ve shaped.
We feed off the negative. I know it’s hard to say, but it’s true. If we didn’t, our newscasts would be vastly different, Jerry Springer would have been on the air for 25 days, not years, and civil discord would be the norm, not the exception.
So, in light of what we are and what we need, I propose this:
Show us an honest to God exorcism.
We have endless ways to document and record the fantastical feats performed by the possessed. From speaking in strange languages in bizarre voices, to vomiting objects such as nails, insects and small animals (people have been known to throw up frogs and mice), levitation, and so much more, these are things that will frighten us into belief. Imagine the visuals and audio of an exorcism, presented to us not just through tacit approval of the Catholic church, but also independent sources (especially if we can get an atheist on board, which shouldn’t be hard to find in the media).
I was told by a monsignor that had performed several exorcisms that true evil does exist. We all know that. We see it, and want to see it, everyday. What we need proof of is that evil exists as an entity separate from man. We may not be able to see the good around us, but if you take the time to show us the bad, people will take notice. Film a miracle and I doubt it will make the news (if it does, it will have X-Files music playing in the background). Show the terrors of an exorcism in living color, and it will be the headline story.
All of this says more about us (and me), than it does about God (or whatever name you want to hang on the entity that made us…if you believe). But as any parent will tell you, we learn through fear. Parents instill a fear of putting your hand on a hot stove, leaping off the edge of the tub, talking to strangers, taking drugs, and hundreds of other things. That fear keeps us safe. If you want the most incredible Christmas in history (okay, the second most), frighten us. Put the fear of God and the Devil in us. Prove to us what awaits a shallow, secular life and we will sing praises, open our hearts to love, and spread joy at Christmas. We will believe because just like Thomas, we will have been given proof. Maybe we won’t be as blessed as those who never needed proof, but we’ll be on the right path.
Sure, this won’t work for everybody. Nothing can. People will claim the proof is fake, or a ploy to get fannies to fill church pews. There’s no such thing as a cure all. But the impact will be seismic. Is it sad we have to cater to our base nature to elevate our souls? Perhaps. Or maybe we just have to accept what we are and find a way to improve our lot in life (and the afterlife), no matter how much it makes us cringe.
Maybe we’re the little Whos down in Whoville that needed proof of evil in the form of that nasty Grinch to strip away the distractions and noise and show us that we better get our acts together. His heart may have grown three sizes that day, but what impact did his evil have on them?
Something to consider.
And speaking of the Grinch, I’ll leave you with Dr. Seuss’s parting words:
“Welcome, Christmas, bring your cheer. Cheer to all Whos far and near. Christmas Day is in our grasp, so long as we have hands to clasp. Christmas Day will always be, just as long as we have we. Welcome Christmas while we stand, heart to heart, and hand in hand.”
With the help of some demented elves at Severed Press, I’m happy to announce the holiday release of my latest deep sea horror-adventure, FURY OF THE ORCAS! We wanted to make sure we got this killer whale of a tale out just in time to stuff your stocking (hope it can absorb all the blood).
They call them the wolves of the sea.
From marine parks to the deepest oceans, the world’s killer whale population has turned against man and beast alike. Orca show trainers are ripped to pieces before stunned audiences. Ships are capsized. Oil rigs are bashed without mercy. What has driven the apex predators stark raving mad?
Chet Clarke has dedicated his life to preserving the health and dignity of orcas in captivity. Along with orca trainer Rosario Benitez, he embarks on a whirlwind journey across the globe to witness unconscionable carnage and uncover the mystery for the sudden outbreak of mania. Is this the start of a catastrophic pandemic? Or do the clues lead to an enigmatic experiment in the wilds of Alaska and shadow operations in a Russian ghost town? Time is running out faster than the lives of those in the path of the orcas.
Put a little ho-ho-ho in your holiday and grab a copy today. Out in ebook with print to follow in the next few days. Click here to play with the orcas.
The new year, with all its resolutions, is just a few weeks away. I’m going to tick one of my resolutions off the list right now with this announcement that I’m starting an editing and writing coach business. If your goal is to have a completed manuscript or get published in 2018, we can kick some resolution butt together.
Writing is a lonely endeavor. Writers need support and encouragement (along with a stiff drink every now and then). Getting to THE END isn’t always easy. Neither is polishing that manuscript into a diamond. All successful writers have a stable of people with critical eyes dissecting their work well before you ever see it in print.
The big question is, why me? Well, aside from having written and traditionally published over 20 books in the past decade, I’ve also been senior editor for a trade magazine, have coached and edited several books for struggling authors and secured their first book deals.
I may have railed against the nuns in school who drilled grammar, spelling, reading, and writing into my thick head, but I thank them now. And so can you.
So, what kind of services am I offering?
- Setting goals and accountability to meet them
- Sounding board for ideas and turning them into action plans
- Feedback and editing
- Deciding whether to publish traditionally or self-publishing
- Agent and publisher searches
- Writing query letters
- Building author platforms across social media and blogs
- Creating fresh and consistent content
- Creating mail lists and vital newsletters
- Finding reviewers
- Curating sources of inspiration to keep you writing
If your goal is to become a working writer, you want help from someone who’s not only been there and done that, but is still doing it. My advice and expertise is current, which is vital in publishing since it has changed dramatically over the past five years alone!
Ready to take that next step? Let’s do it together. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free 30 minute consultation and let’s make those writing dreams come true.
I’m very proud to be part of prestigious UK publisher FLAME TREE PRESS’S debut horror line in Spring, 2018. Reunited with legendary editor Don D’Auria and my pals Jonathan Janz and John Everson, we’re ready to upend the world of horror.
The name of my book is CREATURE, and right now, Flame Tree Press is gathering a list of reviewers and bloggers to include on the extensive book tour. So, if you’re an established book reviewer (either on your own site, posting on other websites or print publications, or an Amazon verified reviewer) and want to be one of the lucky ones to get free advance reading copies and/or host an interview or article on your blog/print outlet, please reach out to me either here or email at email@example.com. I’ll make sure you get first crack at the book. 🙂
Here’s a little about CREATURE :
The monsters live inside of Kate Woodson. Chronic pain and a host of autoimmune diseases have robbed her of a normal, happy life. Her husband Andrew’s surprise of their dream Maine lake cottage for the summer is the gift of a lifetime. It’s beautiful, remote, idyllic, a place to heal.
But they are not alone. Something is in the woods, screeching in the darkness, banging on the house, leaving animals for dead.
Just like her body, Kate’s cottage becomes her prison. She and Andrew must fight to survive the creature that lurks in the dead of night
**Yes, I got my headshot to Flame Tree too late to make the press release. Oh well.
If there’s one holiday that’s been largely ignored by the horror genre, it’s Thanksgiving (hmmm, maybe I need to capitalize on that!). I mean, how scary can you make a holiday that centers around killing giant birds, indulging in unabashed gluttony, watching bloodsports on TV and recalling the calm before the genocide of a nation?
When it comes to movies, there are slim…and terrible…pickings. We’re talking scraps of meat on a turkey leg at best. You have THANKSKILLING, BLOOD RAGE, aaaand, well, not really much else.
However, if we keep with the land fowl theme, there is a little gem that is so bad it’s good – POULTRYGEIST : NIGHT OF THE CHICKEN DEAD. It’s brought to us by the fine, demented minds at Troma, the gang that brought us The Toxic Avenger and Surf Nazis Must Die.
When a fast food chicken restaurant is built on the site of an ancient Native American burial ground, the displaced spirits unite with the ghosts of exterminated chickens and transform into Native American chicken zombies seeking revenge!
So, if you’re tummy is full and you’ve had enough of football, settle down and get ready for utter insanity, comedy and gore with my Thanksgiving pick, POULTRYGEIST!
Horror vs. Terror: A Gothic Battle of the Sexes!
When Hunter first asked me to write a post for him to put up on his blog, I was thrilled, then terrified! Having read a lot of his work and knowing how well-versed he is in all things horror movie and book-related, what could I write about the subject that would interest him as well as his fans? While recently reading his novel We Are Always Watching, I began to compare it to one of my own upcoming novels. Both take place in rural Pennsylvania with the focus on an old, run down farmhouse and some pretty strange, slightly insane, people. The similarities end there. I couldn’t help but wonder if some of that is due to the fact that we are different genders.
Not long ago I was reading about the life and works of Ann Radcliffe. Ann was a pioneer when it comes to the Gothic novel, predating Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker by a hundred years. (Her premier Gothic novel, Mysteries of Udolpho, was published in 1794.) During my studies, I learned that in the late 18th century there was a distinction between the terms Horror and Terror, especially when being applied to literature. Horror was considered more to do with emotions and setting a frightening mood and atmosphere, while creating a growing tension. It was much more subtle and mysterious. Terror, on the other hand, ran more along the lines of physical displays of the grotesque and graphic depictions of torture, murder, and death. Women, like Radcliffe, tended to writer Horror and Ann was generally praised for her unique approach and is given credit for popularizing the Gothic genre, especially among women readers.
Men wrote things more along the lines of Terror. In 1796, Matthew Gregory Lewis released “The Monk”. It was considered quite scandalous, where “… scenes of grotesquery and horror abound”. It was said that Lewis “… had devoted the first fruits of his mind to the propagation of evil” and that he was “… a reckless defiler of the public mind.” Over the years the Horror of Radcliffe has blended with the Terror of Lewis and has become almost exclusively known as Horror. (As an aside, “The Monk” and Radcliffe’s “Mysteries of Udolpho” are also classified as Romance. As far as the Romance genre back in those early days, it was barely considered literature and was denied the prestigious label of being an actual ‘novel’.)
As a Horror fan, it all makes perfect sense to me. My favorite types of movies and books are of the Horror genre, as defined above, or what I’d label as psychological thrillers or psychological horror. In my yet-to-be released novel Dark Hollow Road, I took on the latter without even knowing that such a sub-genre existed. When I discovered the definition of Psychological Horror, I laughed. Wiki says this about it, “…a subgenre of horror and psychological fiction that relies on mental, emotional and psychological states to frighten, disturb, or unsettle readers, viewers, or players. The subgenre frequently overlaps with the related subgenre of psychological thriller, and it often uses mystery elements and characters with unstable, unreliable, or disturbed psychological states to enhance the suspense, drama, action and horror of the setting and plot and to provide an overall unpleasant, unsettling, or distressing atmosphere.” This is the type of atmosphere I tried to create with my ghost story, No Rest For The Wicked, also. Two of the ghosts are unstable and psychologically disturbed and they are definitely creating an unsettled atmosphere for the living who are trying to deal with them.
I’m not very interested in watching Terror and what I would equate with Modern-day slasher films full of random acts of mindless gore and buckets of blood, intestine-eating cannibals, exploding heads and the like. Once in a while, sure, I can really get into all of that and have found that I love one particular “Terror” writer when he’s taking on the many cryptids of the world. But for the most part, I’ll pass on that sort of thing – especially when it comes to a movie. Films like Saw, Candyman, & Scream aren’t my overall cup of tea.
I’ll toss in something gruesome every now and then for good measure into my writing, like, “Flies swarmed over the body of Sarah’s decomposing child, neatly cradled in the arms of the scarecrow.” or “The strings of coagulating blood had stretched from under the flattened portion of his brother’s skull, down to the blacktop, then snapped and dripped and oozed some more.” My goal is not to gross my readers out, at least not too much. A quote over on Goodreads states, “Horror writers shouldn’t play nice. Disturb & unnerve your reader. Make them uncomfortable, but not so much they stop reading.” The last thing I want for someone to do while reading one of my stories is to stop reading. Plus, I have no interest in writing what I wouldn’t enjoy reading myself. I’ll leave the Terror to those who enjoy it.
All this is not to say there aren’t some fine lady authors out there writing gruesome and bloody tales of terror or men who know how to be subtle and slowly heighten the suspense. But, is there a difference in what men and women enjoy more when it comes to Horror vs. Terror?
Who would you say wins this Gothic Battle of the Sexes? Do you want that slow, creeping horror that sneaks up on you and leaves you psychologically damaged for a time, or something more along the lines of images so terror-filled, gruesome and gut-wrenching you have to stop reading or reach for the puke bucket?