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Andre Farant (Ottawa, Ontario)
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Grace [Import]
Grace [Import]
DVD ~ Jordan Ladd
Price: CDN$ 5.00
26 used & new from CDN$ 4.88

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The sacrifices of motherhood, Sept. 29 2011
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Grace [Import] (DVD)
For the most part, female characters in horror movies are limited to speaking only with men or about men. Grace, however, is very much about women drawn together, for better or worse, by yet another female. In fact, the male characters in Grace are largely peripheral.

The majority of all interactions, including conflicts, are between women. These include Madeline Matheson (Jordan Ladd of Death Proof), Madeline's mother-in-law, Vivian (Gabrielle Rose of The Sweet Hereafter), Madeline's midwife, Patricia (Samantha Ferris of Supernatural), and of course, baby Grace.

Madeline and her husband, Michael, have been trying to get pregnant for some time. When Madeline becomes pregnant, she convinces Michael that they should turn to a midwife for help. Michael's mother, Vivian, is strongly opposed to alternative birthing methods and in no way afraid to voice her concerns, much to Madeline's frustration and Michael's dismay.

Following a car accident, Michael is killed and the baby is dead. Madeline insists on carrying her dead child to term and, upon being brought forth into the world, baby Grace opens her eyes, shocking all but her mother. But there are a few odd things about the child, such as her smell, the way she draws flies, and her unusual appetite.

Within fifteen minutes of starting Grace, my fingers were crimped with tension. There was no blood on the screen, no violence, but the scene--depicting horror of an almost mundane sort--had me holding my breath. The movie maintains a constant undertone of tension, one that is subtle but impossible to ignore.

I was surprised to learn that writer-director Paul Solet was a protégée of Eli Roth's (Hostel). Roth's work seems to revel in sadism, gratuitous violence, and misogyny, whereas Grace is clever, subtle, and peopled with fully-realized, intelligent female characters.

The women in Grace are well-educated (one is a retired judge, another is a doctor), strong, and firmly believe that they are doing the right thing. There is, essentially, no "bad guy" in Grace, just people reacting--to the best of their current abilities--to a highly unusual, high-stress situation. This is not to say that the movie is crammed with faultless Mary-Sues. To the contrary, each of these women is flawed, but they are all acting with the best of intentions--even if we do not agree with those actions or intentions in the least (and are not meant to).

But enough about the characters, their rarity in film, and their refreshing nature; Grace is a well-written film that trades not only on the more conventional horror movies tropes, but on the terrors inherent in personal drama and family conflict. It is an oddly human movie that does not rely on ghosts or zombies or vampires but on the often fearsome sacrifices of motherhood.

Despite Grace being what I (as a man) might describe as a "woman-friendly" horror movie, it might prove a difficult watch for many mothers--and especially those mothers who've suffered the loss of a child.

Overall, though, Grace is a smart, accessible horror movie that takes an original and far too rare approach to fomenting fear and discomfort through film.

The Door to Lost Pages
The Door to Lost Pages
by Claude Lalumiere
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.56
36 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars A dark, erotic fairy tale, Sept. 26 2011
This review is from: The Door to Lost Pages (Paperback)
My father is a professional storyteller. I mean that in the literal sense: he travels throughout eastern Ontario and western Quebec, stopping in schools, art centres and museums, to tell his stories. Most of his stories are told in French and can be traced back to the days when lumberjacks would trade tales around a campfire after a hard day's labour.

For my sister and me, these were our bedtime stories. Every night, for a half hour to an hour before lights out, we would be transported to rambling palaces and murky swamps, to the lands of murderous giants and talking unicorns.

Through my father, I learned that stories were to be shared, did not need to be rooted in the real world, and could be changed, altered or entirely made up. Stories exist because we love them and we need them.

Claude Lalumière's beautiful Door to Lost Pages harkens back to that structured chaos, to the kind of story that begged to be told, demanded to be told, even before the first syllable was either uttered or scrawled. It is about myth and dreams and how each must be shared.

More specifically (or generally?), The Door to Lost Pages is a love letter to books, book shops, and book sellers. Every book shop is a door to lost pages, to unending possibilities and undiscovered potential, but, likewise, every book is itself a door to unknown knowledge and structured chaos.

Upon deciding to write this review, I struggled in deciding whether or not to include a plot synopsis and, in the end, I decided against. The Door to Lost Pages isn't about plot (though it has one). It's about all those things mentioned above and more. Let me just say this: The Door to Lost Pages is a series of dark, erotic, urban fairy tales strung together like beads (beads of bone? beads of sweat?) on a necklace with a tiny, cluttered book shop as its clasp.

The Door to Lost Pages is worth reading if only because it will remind you of what it was to be a chid discovering new worlds through stories--the excitement, the terror--while never letting you forget that that sense of excitement, that fear is still--and will always be--with you.

Note: I should also mention that The Door to Lost Pages is a physically beautiful book. The people at ChiZine Publications have done a wonderful job. The stock is heavier, the ink crisp. The cover is subtly embossed, highlighting Erik Mohr's kaleidoscopic art and Corey Beep's design.

Falling Angel
Falling Angel
by William Hjortsberg
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 10.91
18 used & new from CDN$ 0.35

4.0 out of 5 stars Ranks up there with Blatty's Exorcist and Levine's Rosemary's Baby, Sept. 26 2011
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Falling Angel (Paperback)
Falling Angel was originally published in 1978. So why review it here and now? For one thing, it's an excellent novel that blends noire-style mystery with Exorcist-level horror. Secondly, the book's importance is criminally under-appreciated. For instance, a single edition of Falling Angels is available on amazon.ca, and delivery could take up to four months. On amazon.com, there are apparently no new copies available at all. Just think: know anyone who's read it? Had you even heard of it?

Fact is you probably do know of it, or have at least heard of it. In 1987, Falling Angel was adapted to the big screen as Angel Heart. The film was directed by Alan Parker, starred Mickey Rourke, Robert DeNiro, and Lisa Bonet, and, like the book, was about a private detective named Harry Angel (Rourke) hired the mysterious Louis Cyphre (DeNiro) to find a man who may have been involved in voodoo and the Occult. As it is with too many great novels, more people have probably seen the movie than have read the book.

So what if you have seen Angel Heart (and if you haven't--what are you waiting for)? After all, in addition to being beautifully shot and often disturbing (it is proof that not all horror films of the eighties were without artistic merit), Angel Heart is known for its shocking twists. If you know how the movie ends, is it still worth seeking out and reading the novel?

In a word: absolutely. The movie follows the novel's first third almost scene for scene but, past that, the book and novel are quite different. The surprises are the same, but Hjortsberg's tight prose and complex plotting go beyond a few twists and a shock ending. The book is worth reading because it is an excellent piece of horror lit. It ranks up there with Levine's Rosemary's Baby and Blatty's Exorcist. It is fast-paced, hugely accessible and sure to satisfy fans of mysteries as well as horror.

Along with the titles mentioned above, Falling Angel is a must read for lovers--and especially writers--of horror literature.

Hack / Slash Omnibus
Hack / Slash Omnibus
by Tim Seeley
Edition: Paperback
14 used & new from CDN$ 25.00

3.0 out of 5 stars What if a Survivor Girl took the battle to the Slashers, Sept. 15 2011
This review is from: Hack / Slash Omnibus (Paperback)
The premise of Hack/Slash is a simple but clever one: a typical Survivor Girl (the woman who is the lone survivor at the end of a slasher film--like Nancy in Nightmare on Elm Street, or Laurie in Halloween) becomes a hunter of Slashers (the supernaturally resilient killers in slasher films, like Freddy or Jason or Michael).

Hack/Slash approaches its subject and theme with humour and tongue often placed firmly in cheek. It is gleefully violent but stays away from sexual violence, though it does make light of the fact that most slasher films feature at least one scantilly clad woman. In fact, Cassy Hack, our hero, is often dressed in rather revealing garb, but she's more of the "empowered by my sexuality" class of woman and looks more like a Suicide Girl than a Maxim pinup.

For those interested in taking up the series, the Omnibus is a good place to start. You'll be introduced to Cassy's background as well as to a handful of her key recurring villains and antagonsits. You'll also learn about her sidekick, Vlad. The stories are, for the most part, well-written and often reward you for being a fan of slasher flicks specifically and horror films generally. There are some weaker stories, though. For example, the crossover with Evil Ed felt tacked on and forced (though the art for that particular storyline was excellent). Conversely, the team-up with Chucky (of Child's Play) was surprisingly good.

The art is also hit-or-miss, chaning from one issue to the next. This, though is a matter of opinion and taste.

Overall, an interesting series that doesn't take itself or its subject too seriously.

Starship Troopers (Bilingual)
Starship Troopers (Bilingual)
DVD ~ Jake Busey
Offered by vidco
Price: CDN$ 12.00
7 used & new from CDN$ 5.50

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One of the best war movie critiques I have ever seen, Sept. 15 2011
Starship Troopers is a strong action movie, a near-classic sci-fi movie, and an absolutely hilarious critique of war movies and war propaganda.

On the surface, Starship Troopers appears to be an ultra-simplistic sci-fi war movie in which heavily-armed space soldiers battle giant monsters. Delve a little deeper, though, and notice that so many of the scenes in this movie are recreations of old WW2 and Viet-Nam era propaganda taken to the extreme. Just as war propaganda (on both sides, mind you) always seeks to dehumanze the enemy, depicting them as savages or barbarians or simply "godless," here, the enemy actually isn't human. It is the ultimate "other," a monster, an animal, a BUG.

The training scenes are riddled with the clichees of war movie training scenes. But the overuse of clichees are not, here, the signs of bad screewriting, but an attempt to hilight and ridicule these tropes while forcing us to admit that, really, we kind of enjoy them.

Anyway, if you haven't seen Starship Troopers or have but think it silly or stupid, watch it (again) and pick out all those scenes that make light of classic war movies and old (and not so old)-fashioned war propaganda.

It's a fun, bloody, thrilling, and hilariously clever film.

The Jacket (Widescreen)
The Jacket (Widescreen)
DVD ~ Adrien Brody
Price: CDN$ 16.99
47 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Strange... in the best way, Sept. 15 2011
This review is from: The Jacket (Widescreen) (DVD)
The Jacket is a strange, fascinating ride that is part Slaughterhouse Five and part Twelve Monkeys, with a dash of Jaccob's Ladder.

Jack Sparks is injured--technically killed--in the first Gulf War and, after being sent home and following an altercation with a highway patrolman, finds himself in an institution for the criminally insane. While there, he is subjected to "therapies" that appear to send him forward in time.

The movie keeps you wondering about Jack's tenuous grasp on reality and his own sanity, while sucking you into what might be a delusion but, then again, might not...

The Jacket manages to play with reality and our own perceptions, manages to be weird and disturbing, without ever falling completely into the opaque, barely-comprehensible world of, say, a David Lynch film. Think of it as David Lynch-lite.

Fans of Donnie Darko or the films mentioned above should enjoy this one.

Pretty Little Dead Things: A Thomas Usher Novel
Pretty Little Dead Things: A Thomas Usher Novel
by McMahon
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 19.75
14 used & new from CDN$ 0.30

4.0 out of 5 stars Not just a man who sees dead people, Sept. 6 2011
Okay, after reading the following sentence, promise you'll stick around and keep reading: Pretty Little Dead Things is about a man who can see and communicate with the dead. I know, I know, you've seen this one and, in the end, Bruce Willis is a ghost, but, seriously, don't move and be still because this one is well and truly worth it.

As I mentioned, Pretty Little Dead Things is about a man named Thomas Usher. About fifteen years before the story begins, Usher was in a car accident. Both his wife and daughter died in the crash while Usher came out of it with a rendez-vous with the rehab specialist and the ability to see the dead. Following his accident, Usher began working as a sort of paranormal investigator slash psychopomp for hire. He rid homes and businesses of ghosts by helping those lost souls to the other side. Wherever or whatever that might be.

Now, though, Usher has been off the supernatural stuff for awhile and focusing on the living, which leads him to a brutal murder, the disappearance of a young girl, and right back to the realm of the dead.

Thomas Usher is an intriguing and sympathetic character. He is a sad, guilt-laden man who carries the names of those he's failed on his skin--literally. He sees and can communicate with the dead, but he cannot hear them. He reminds me of the supernatural equivalent of one of those black light gadgets used by the cops on CSI and Law and Order and such; able to see the violence and pain left behind. His role as a private investigator brings to mind Harry Angel of the movie Angel Heart (and book Fallen Angel), and of John Constantine of the Swamp Thing and Hellblazer series of comics.

In fact, the England in which McMahon has set his story tells of all the economic and social atrocities of which Jamie Delano warned while writing Hellblazer in the late Eighties and early Nineties.

But Usher has none of Constantine's arrogance and cockiness, but harbours at least three times the guilt. Usher is a man torn between what has been, what he is, and what will never be. Amazingly, McMahon manages to keep Usher from devolving into a sad-sack martyr, ensuring that he comes off as a fully realized character who genuinely wants to do good but knows that, given the circumstances in which he finds himself, he'll never be able to meet his own high standards.

As he did in The Concrete Grove, McMahon hints at a dark world hidden just beneath the surface of our own. In The Concrete Grove, the membrane between nightmare and reality is not just worn thin but punctured and haemorrhaging darkness. In Pretty Little Dead Things, he offers us a slower, subtler bleed. The kind you don't notice until your collar is soaked and your hair has begun to stick to the back of your neck. Pretty Little Dead Things is a more accessible read, not quite as heavily rooted in hallucinations and dreamscapes, but still painted with intense, highly effective and affecting imagery.

So, in the end, why is this particular tale about a man who sees dead people worth reading? Because a good writer can make anything new. Just as Sarah Langan made the haunted house story her own and Robert Jackson Bennett gave the revenge tale a new twist, Gary McMahon makes what seemed old and tired original and fresh.

Now, aren't you glad you stayed and read?

Audrey's Door
Audrey's Door
by Sarah Langan
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.89
40 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars A modern take on the classice haunted house story, Aug. 22 2011
Audrey Lucas has found the perfect New York apartment and, best of all, it can be had for a very un-New York price. This is especially good since she is currently living out of a hotel after having left her boyfriend. Of course, there is the possibility that unit 14B, the rent, and the building itself, known as the Breviary, are all too good to be true. For instance, the apartment could still be haunted by the ghosts of the five previous tenants--you know, the ones who died violent deaths.

Sarah Langan's most recent novel, Audrey's Door, is a haunted house story, one that readily acknowledges its roots to such classics of the genre as The Haunting of Hill House, Hell House, Rosemary's Baby and The Shining. Langan does so through plot and narrative, as well as with a brief intro listing those titles that most influenced her. Of course, to say that, as a reader, I was reminded of King, Jackson and Levine is no bad thing. It's like telling someone the meal they prepared reminds you of Christmas. It's meant as a compliment.

Like all great haunted house stories, including the ones mentioned above, Audrey's Door is actually about a haunted character. As it is in The Shinning and Rosemary's Baby, the supernatural elements in Audrey's Door can often, if not always, be chalked up to Audrey Lucas's troubled mind. Audrey and her instability are so well drawn, in fact, that if the supernatural aspects of the novel were stripped away, we would still be left with a solid portrait of a damaged individual not unlike that described in Lamb's She's Come Undone or even--though to a lesser degree--French's The Women's Room. In many ways, Audrey Lucas reminded me most of Mo Hayder's character, Grey, from The Devil of Nanking.

The strength of the characters in Audrey's Door is not limited to Audrey herself. Langan has created an engaging cast of supporting characters, each one well designed and developed, each one given their own arc. Audrey's boyfriend Saraub and boss Jill, in particular, are masterfully defined. In Jill's case, the reader goes from hatred to sympathy to dislike to respect and back again, from scene to scene. Saraub, as the main character's boyfriend, is given a far greater role than most horror writers tend to give a male protagonist's girlfriend.

Audrey also has a madhouse's worth of odd neighbours. These people would make for a great sitcom if they weren't so disturbing. Think Seinfeld if Kramer had been a diminutive red-head and Newman an old lady wearing a moth-eaten evening gown and a mask of facial reconstruction.

But in the end, every haunted house story must come back to the building and its history. With the Breviary, Langan has pulled out all the stops. This thing has it all, from a crazed architect to its role in a crazed cult and a history of crazed tenants. I pictured it as a cross between two of Manhattan's greatest architectural landmarks: The Dakota and the Ghostbusters firehouse. I apologize to the author if I was way off but, suffice to say, it worked for me.

I absolutely loved The Keeper, Langan's first novel, and in Audrey's Door, she seems less self-conscious, more comfortable, more at ease. The imagery she conjures up in Audrey's Door is no less effective than it had been in The Keeper, but here it seems more effortless. The Keeper was the work of a brave, bold new voice in horror literature, Audrey's Door, by comparison, is the work of a true craftsman who's found her groove and is just a few steps from joining the ranks of the horror masters.

Robopocalypse: A Novel
Robopocalypse: A Novel
by Daniel H. Wilson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 23.16
38 used & new from CDN$ 1.63

4.0 out of 5 stars An original take on an arguably tired theme, Aug. 11 2011
This review is from: Robopocalypse: A Novel (Hardcover)
Robopocalypse is very much Terminator meets World War Z. Like the Terminator series, it outlines a robot uprising and the battle to defeat the mechanized hoards. From World War Z, it borrows what had been a rather unique narrative structure, telling a wide-ranging story through multiple points of view and a variety of voices. The notable difference between Robopocalypse and these earlier works is in its use of character.

Wilson uses a narrative device that is similar to that used by Brooks, but one that allows for the more natural reappearance of recurring characters. Rather than jumping from one new character and POV to another throughout the novel, Wilson hops back and forth between a limited number of primary figurants, developing them not through single vignettes, but through their own novel-spanning storylines. It feels less like a series of connected short stories that, when placed end to end, tell a single story, and more like a single story with numerous sub-plots, all building upon the same foundation.

This foundation is provided by Cormac "Bright Boy" Wallace of the Grey Horse Army. Wallace narrates a prologue and epilogue which bookend Robopocalypse, but he also introduces and lends the occasional closing commentary to every chapter-long episode featuring and often narrated by other characters. Through Wallace, we come to know these characters and the role they played in the New War. As mentioned, the characters are well developed and distinct and even Wallace himself features in his own episodes so that we see how he has changed over the course of the War.

Unlike Terminator, Robopocalypse does not rely on the initial construction of and inevitable rebellion by military-grade robots. The machines in Robopocalypse were not designed to kill--though, like most power tools, these machines are well-equipped to kill. Wilson's description not only of the robots themselves but the use for which humans have built them are both inventive and believable. This is no surprise, given that Wilson studied robotics at Carnegie Mellon; the man clearly knows his stuff. He knows how these machines work, and knows exactly how we might put them to use (or are currently putting them to use). So he also knows how things might go wrong.

Robopocalypse is a high-tension, well-crafted and genuinely original take on a topic which, like zombies, had grown a little stale over the years. Wilson manages to breathe new life into this rusted frame, setting himself and his work apart from those who've come before him.

Dagon (Widescreen) [Import]
Dagon (Widescreen) [Import]
DVD ~ Ezra Godden
Price: CDN$ 16.44
19 used & new from CDN$ 8.97

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars I expected more from the meeting of Lovecraft and Gordon, Aug. 4 2011
This review is from: Dagon (Widescreen) [Import] (DVD)
Unfortunately, despite being directed by Sturart Gordon (Re-Animator) and based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft, Dagon proved deeply disappointing. I was hoping for a modern adaptation of Lovecraft's deep sea mythos, complete with an intriguing premise, interesting characters, and grotesque special effects. Instead, I got a tired pastiche peopled with flat, unlikeable characters and so-so effects. As the credits rolled, I felt unsatisfied and a little cheated.

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