Dec 022015
exists movie poster

Wow! What a great surprise!

I was skimming through the movies available on ShowtimeAnytime the other day and noticed the poster for Exists so I clicked on it to read more info and it said:

When a group of friends on a camping trip have an accident on a desolate country road, they unwittingly unleash a bloodcurdling force of nature.

That was generic enough, so I decided to take a look on and and saw two things that were immediate "points off" for me. First, it is a "found footage" type movie and apparently involved a "killer Sasquatch". However, I also noticed it was set in the Big Thicket of East Texas (although actually filmed in Bastrop County near Austin). The Big Thicket is a perfect setting for a movie like this because there are still areas of it that are largely unexplored and extremely hard to navigate.

The movie is only 80 minutes so I figured worst case scenario I would get to give a bad review of a piece of crap and would have only wasted 80 minutes of my life and been able to save 80 minutes of someone else's (kind of a humanitarian effort).

Instead, I was pleased to find the movie was very, very enjoyable. Sure, it won't be winning any academy awards but there are no parts of the film that deserve real criticism. 

The actors are, for the most part, unknowns and they do an admirable job. Their reactions are what you would realistically expect from someone encountering the situations they encounter. Annoying at times, hysterical at times, I only saw one instance that struck me as being unrealistic (right before the rocks) and most of us know someone that we would believe any one of these characters was portraying.

While the camera work was done as well as could be expcted considering it is "shaky cam", the true mark of a good crew on this type of film is the sound and that was excellent.

As far as the director, this film was done by Eduardo Sanchez, the same director who did The Blair Witch Project and so if anyone had the ability to pull off a found footage movie it should be him. I didn't realize he was the director until I started writing the review, although I had throught to myself while watching that someone was copying his style.

The story itself is pretty vanilla, but "fits". Without getting into spoilers, two brothers (one of which is the obligatory "videos everything" character) invite some friends to their uncle's cabin. They've heard that their uncle doesn't let anyone visit there because of a Sasquatch but they didn't believe the story.

From the initial incident with the creature (which is an interesting twist) the story is pretty predictable and many of the "jump out at you" bits are expected but they still succeed in making you flinch.

The ending wasn't unexpected but fit nicely into the overall film. 

Overall, I'd give the movie a solid 7 out of 10. Amazon reviewers gave it a 4 out of 5 stars and IMDB reviewers have it at a 5.2 out of 10. I've noticed that IMDB reviewers often give non-gory horror films a lower rating, and I think that this movie is a good example of the tendency. 

As a side note, the movie also did a good job of using parts of the wooded area around Bastrop that had suffered a devastating forest fire a few years ago. The use of this almost alien looking landscape in places set a tone which would have required some contrivance to achieve except for the act of nature which was already placed it there, waiting to be used.

Dec 012015
Bazaar of Bad Dreams cover

The first Stephen King book I read was a paperback copy of Salem's Lot, back before 1980. I think the copy I read was the one with the great cover, all black with white writing and a raised impression of a girl and a single drop of red blood coming from the corner of her mouth.

I had always been a horror fan but before Stephen King, the books and movies were different. You have to remember, Halloween had been released at the movie theaters in 1978 and VHS tapes were still a ways off so if you didn't catch it at the theater you had to wait for a heavily edited television release. Halloween and then Stephen King redefined horror.

Over the years I've read everything King has written, with the exception of the The Dark Tower series (I've only read a couple of those for some reason). While some critics think King is a hack, I emphatically disagree. He has the ability to create a character and then is spot on at the dialogue his character uses, probably one of the more difficult tasks for a writer and one which few do well.

While some novels have been phenomenal and some just pretty good, I think Stephen King's real forte is in the format of short stories and novellas.  While The Mist comes immediately to mind, from the book Skeleton Crew, that collection also included greats such as The Raft, The Jaunt, and the little known Survivor Type as well as many others. If you haven't read Skeleton Crew that should definitely be your next horror purchase.

When I heard King was releasing a new book of shorts I immediately signed up for it to be delivered to my Kindle on release and as soon as I woke up on November 3, I turned the device on and a few second later it was there waiting for me.

First, the bad news. If you buy Kindle singles when they are available then it is likely you already have a couple of the stories in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. Mile 81 and UR are the ones that come to mind. However, that is where the bad news stops.

In my opinion, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams is not as good as Skeleton Crew or another collection, Night Shift. However, it is still excellent and as King is wont to do, is packed with gems and even surprises. My favorite story in the book, Drunken Fireworks, couldn't be described as a horror story using any definition of that term.

I've read other reviews of the book and many people are disappointed in this one but I suspect it is because they are under the notion, as many seem to be, that King's best work is behind him. While it's hard to imagine he will ever be able to craft another novel as great as The Stand or The Shining, I think that has less to do with his skills degrading as he ages and more to do with his audience changing. Simply put, it takes more to horrify us now that it did in the Reagan years (although if we had only known what was really happening in the world many of us would have been too scared to leave our homes).

There is one thing that seems to be a little different in this collection than in the others. The stories (and poems) are more concise, some even appearing to have been edited just a tad too much, leaving you feeling as if the author actually had another page or two that should have went into the tale but it was either chopped out by an editor or he just never got around to writing it.

All of the stories are a quick read and so there is never a need to set the book aside because you don't want to get too far into it and have to leave before a tale is completed so it's a perfect way to knock out a yarn while waiting for the bus, or while you're waiting for your next television show to come on, or, as with this writer, waiting for your wife to come out of the grocery store. 

There is no connecting thread between the stories, each is its own little tale, neatly tied up into a package with no need to know anything other than what King tells you. There are occasionally some overtones you'll recognize, including King's brush with death by van some years ago, and a continual fear of the end of the world as we know it (TEOTWAWKI), a common theme in this period in publishing and self publishing with the apocalypse covered in so many ways. 

As I said, Drunken Fireworks is my favorite story but has nothing to do with horror. The writing is just so good in that one and King's ability to draw you into his world in the oddest way, a bugle in that particular story, is really the sign of a master.

His last story in the book, Summer Thunder, is the darkest of the tales, fitting since it is an end of the world saga. The story is another example of King's mastery of the both the genre and the short story format. Many books dealing with the apocalypse are serious but, at the same time, the authors have an inability or make a decision that they don't want the work to be any gloomier than necessary. Other books and authors, and the best example of this is Cormac McCarthy's The Road, are able to portray a world as one utterly devoid of brightness, and the darkness of their writing is almost a character in and of itself. Other than The Road, Summer Thunder is the only tale I have ever read which had the ability to make me feel drained of hope. I assume this is what J.K. Rowling was trying to portray as the result of a dementor attack but McCarthy actually does it in his book and the fact that Stephen King can do it in so few pages truly shows the level of his skill.

This is the first review of a collection of stories I have ever written and I am only now, in the last few sentences, realizing that a review of this type is completely different than with a movie or a novel since you really can't review each story in and of itself and keep the post down to a reasonable level. 

All you can really do is to let the reader know whether you feel the book is worth buying, it absolutely is, and whether it is the type of thing that will have a long term effect on them, and I think a few stories from this one will. Just as I remember the details from several of the stories in Skeleton Crew, I suspect that if I am still around in another ten or twenty years I will be able to tell you what I liked and disliked about any of the stories in Bazaar of Bad Dreams  that you would like to discuss.

If you do decide to pick the book up and give it a read, please feel free to let me know what you thought by dropping me an email. I would particularly like to know what you thought of Drunken Fireworks since it is so outside the genre.