The Cabin in the Woods

Editor’s Note: Being that the DVD for this little gem is dropping… well… today, we thought it was probably about time we introduce you to Kendra, and finally post the piece she wrote when the damned movie was in theaters. Have at it, Kendra.
– Colum

“This movie is fucking awesome.  Go see it.”

The above was my original review.   I felt that it really got the point across, especially considering that it’s best you know as little as possible about this movie before going in.  But, as it turns out, the powers that be here at Dreadful Tales actually expect more than that.  Well damn.  I think this may be some sort of hazing ritual wherein the newbie gets handed something totally impossible to review, and everyone else sits back to watch them go down in flames.  But what the hell, I’ll give it a shot.  I’m going to try my best not to spoil anything major, but honestly, if you’re touchy about that sort of thing, go see it, and then come on back!

For starters, full disclosure: I am a total Whedonite. A Browncoat. I live in the Whedonverse.  Whatever you want to call it, I love Joss Whedon and would totally have his babies.  As such, I was probably predisposed to like this movie.  But I fucking LOVED this movie, and even if you aren’t usually a Whedon fan, you will too.

The Cabin in the Woods was written by Joss Whedon (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog) and Drew Goddard (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Lost, Cloverfield), and was also directed by Goddard.  The premise seems simple enough:

Five friends go for a break at a remote cabin in the woods, where they get more than they bargained for. Together, they must discover the truth behind the cabin in the woods. (IMDb)

This movie was actually shot in 2009, but was shelved until its world premiere at SXSW in March 2012.  Originally, the studio wanted to convert the film to 3D before its release, which Goddard and Whedon strongly opposed (thank the gods!). Following that, MGM delayed the film indefinitely as the studio went bankrupt, and the rights were eventually sold to Lions Gate in 2011.  Personally, I had assumed this film was destined for straight-to-dvd obscurity, until Chris Hemsworth grabbed a hammer (no, not that one) and Whedon suited up to direct The Avengers. Then they got a little more cred with the new studio, and here we are.

So, in the film, we have five friends (played by Kristin Connolly, Anna Hutchison, Jesse Williams, Fran Kranz and a pre-Thor Chris Hemsworth) who take off in their RV for a cabin located, you know, in the woods.  After ignoring the creepy ramblings of the local gas station owner, they proceed to settle in to their new digs, in typical swimming/drinking/sexytimes fashion.  Partway through the drunken festivities of the first night, they discover a cellar full of creep, and things go downhill from there.  One quick incantation read aloud from an old journal and their idyllic weekend is completely ruined by the appearance of zombies hellbent on killing the gang in blood-splattery ways.

But that’s about as much plot as I want to give away. The best part of this movie is how it manages to surprise you…especially when it goes completely balls-to-the-wall insane.  I really wish I could give away more; I think I could manage to convince anyone who is on the fence to go see this movie tonight, but doing so would probably take away from the overall experience.  Not that the movie is necessarily scary, but it does pack some solid jump-scare moments, along with a decent amount of gore.  I think the 18A rating has finally allowed these writers to throw in all blood and guts that they have been wanting to use for a long while. I am left feeling cheated that Buffy didn’t air on HBO; it would have been extra awesome!

The acting was pretty stellar all around.  The group of friends has an easy, believable camaraderie that made me want to party with them (although, probably not at this particular cabin).  They are obviously covering the necessary stereotypes of the genre, but they manage to add a little more depth: Hemsworth is a little smarter and less douchey than the average jock, Hutchison is funnier than the usual pretty slut, and Williams’s washboard abs are not the mark of a typical nerd.  Whedon has always written both his female leads, and their comic-relief friends, particularly well, and Connolly and Kranz are no exception.  Connolly shows the necessary vulnerability, but also brings in a fierceness that keeps her from being the annoying damsel-in-distress. Kranz’s stoner was definitely my favourite character, and fans of Dollhouse will not be surprised.  Picture Topher, except even less professional, and a way bigger fan of the cush.  Both of these actors put in standout performances. Surprisingly for this type of movie, you aren’t rooting for the death of any of these characters…although, it’s pretty kick-ass once the bear trap starts a-swingin’!

The direction is pretty remarkable, especially considering this is Goddard’s first time behind the camera. The camera work and cinematography are outstanding, perfectly setting the tone for what’s to come.  Obviously the writing is fantastic, full of trademark Whedon wit (including my new absolute favourite euphemism for a boner – husband bulge!).  This film managed to not only be one of the best horror movies I’ve seen in awhile, but also one of the best action flicks, or comedies.  Overall, it was the most fun I have had in a theatre in ages.


So, this movie is fucking awesome.  Go see it.

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Untraditional Beasts – Panel FoF 2012

One of the last panels of the 2012 Festival of Fear was meant as an homage to literary beasts, spoken of by some of the best writers in the genre today. Monica S. Kuebler once again moderated, this time joined by Kelley Armstrong, Sephera Giron and Greg Lamberson.

Cemetery Club by JG Faherty

A different ‘club’ and a different author, Journalstone Press editor Christopher C. Payne sent me a copy of JG Faherty’s Cemetery Club which is totally unrelated in storyline to Gregory Bastianetti’s Jokers Club. From the website:

20 years ago, four friends awoke an ancient evil living beneath the town of Rocky Point, NY. Now it’s back, and only the Cemetery Club can stop it before everyone ends up dead. Or worse.

This book has a little bit of everything: zombies, paranormal entities, gore-galore and just a hint of B-movie juiciness. On top of that, the plot flows beautifully and the major characters are easily worth your emotional investment. I’ve seen some reviews of the book comparing it to King’s It, but I just don’t see it. Yes, a group of friends reunite after time apart, but after the first few chapters you’ll see that Cemetery Club stands on its own.

The plot centres around Todd, John, Cory and Marisol – the Cemetery Club – who would meet up in the local cemetery every day to do all the things that teens hiding from their parents do. The story takes place in present day, with Faherty expertly weaving flashback chapters masterfully throughout, giving the reader a little bit more insight as to what his characters went, and will be going through.

There are three types of monsters that are encountered: paranormal, physical, and human. You might think that ‘physical’ and ‘human’ are the same, I assure you they are not. Not only is the town under siege, but the people in charge of the town are some of the more unsavory characters in the book. This might seem cliche, but once you discover the hidden connections between the personalities, the human monsters and their actions seem that much more despicable.

By glancing at the cover, you can probably guess what I mean when I say ‘paranormal monsters’. I’d like to point out that even with such an overt clue, Faherty does a great job of keeping the mystery of the monsters alive by having many of the townspeople weigh in, thus involving the reader in the mass hysteria being experienced in the book. I’d be giving too much away by saying more, but I will say that the physical monsters are the kind we know and love, with an entertaining spin on how they came to be.

Getting back into the characters, I must say that the effort put into creating the four protagonists is very much appreciated. I CARED about them: I felt sorry for the alcoholic, worse for the abused spouse, sympathized with the disturbed person (don’t judge me) and wished (for the most part) that my life mirrored that of the lawyer. That’s enough of a teaser for now.

Cemetery Club is a well-crafted read, Journalstone and JG Faherty impressed me with this one. To pick up your copy of the book, visit the Journalstone store. For more information about JG Faherty, you can visit his website.

13 Drops Of Blood – James Roy Daley


James Roy Daley gathers 5 of his favourite published works and adds 8 brand new short stories to give readers a thorough cross-section of his work with 13 DROPS OF BLOOD. What awaits those who search for Blood? From the website:

From the author of THE DEAD PARADE comes 13 tales of horror, suspense, and imagination. Enter the gore-soaked exhibit, the train of terror, the graveyard of the haunted. Meet the scientist of the monsters, the woman with the thing living inside her, the living dead… James Roy Daley unleashes quality horror stories with a flair for the hardcore. Not for the squeamish.

The synopsis doesn’t note the science fiction or dark humour stories that await, choosing instead to focus on Daley’s preferred genre while leaving two surprises for the reader’s discovery. The book is divided into 5 sections: Horror, Monsters, Zombies, Sci-Fi/Fantasy and Dark Humour. On first glance, those might seem redundant but upon reading, one begins to understand Daley’s methods.

HorrorThe Exhibition begins the book with a with resounding visceral, almost torturous feel. The story is told from two points of view, which converge in a bloody climax.
The Confession is a more cerebral ghost story in a noir setting, with a decent (albeit foreshadowed) twist.

MonstersBaby is a love story with a monster thrown in. The premise is good to begin with but loses momentum with too many twists and turns.
A Ghost In My Room gives nearly everything away in the title. The premise isn’t anything new, and the ending is telegraphed.
Jonathan vs. The Perfect Ten creates a Wild-West feel in a dirty small town. Jonathan creates monsters, the monsters create havoc. This piece ends the section very well.

ZombiesThe Hanging Tree is another Wild-West period piece. The sheriff is shot, somebody must pay for the crime. Red (the new sheriff) and Doc carry the deed out, but their curiosity regarding a curse on the Tree proves to be their undoing. An enjoyable piece.
Thoughts Of The Dead is a first-person narrative from a zombie’s point of view. The government has found a way to cure the disease, and the narrator must now type everything he has experienced. The slow-burn that the character experiences is quite well done.
Summer Of 1816 is rooted in history, as it’s the fictionally altered tale of Mary Shelley’s conception of FRANKENSTEIN. The story is good,and though the ending is once again foreshadowed, the research Daley put in is quite noticeable and gives the story an authentic feel.
Fallen takes us inside the mind of a man no longer willing to live with the zombie apocalypse. He gets his wish, though I credit Daley for taking an unconventional route.

Sci-Fi/FantasyThe Relation Ship A child is tempted aboard a ship where he remains until his temptress no longer fancies him. This read like a YA romance and is probably the weakest story of the 13.
Suffer Shirley Gunn creates an Earth where dogs are more intelligent than humans. Shirley’s dog is able to communicate with words, and warns Shirley of her imminent suffering. While fantastical, the concept is solid though the ending again is foreshadowed.

Dark HumourHumpy And Shrivels are two out-of-luck drunks who choose to test the rumour about the haunting at their local cemetery. This one’s quite droll.
Curse Of The Blind Eel teaches the reader numerous witty synonyms for both “shit” and “taking a shit”. It also educates the reader on exactly how to avoid being bitten by a vampire (hint: it involves shit). Daley ends the collection by showing off his abilities with wordplay and his rather peculiar sense of humour.

Genre fans will enjoy the Horror, Monsters and Zombies sections, as Daley’s output here ranges from good to great. The Sci-Fi/Fantasy section may be for some, but definitely doesn’t fully showcase Daley’s talent. Dark Humour should only be read with a strong stomach and morbid curiosity.

For more on James Roy Daley, visit Books Of The Dead Press.

Zombies Don’t Cry by Rusty Fischer

Rusty Fischer and Medallion Press have offered up a new take on zombies with this wonderful piece of fiction. What, at first glance, looks like your “run of the mill” YA zombie novel, turns everything you thought about the sub-genre on it’s head, and whollops you with a very important, and impressive example of how YA should be written.

Maddy Swift is just a normal girl—a high school junior surviving class with her best friend and hoping the yummy new kid, Stamp, will ask her out. When he finally does, her whole life changes.

Sneaking out to meet Stamp at a party one rainy night, Maddy is struck by lightning. After awakening, she feels lucky to be alive. Over time, however, Maddy realizes that she’s become the thing she and everyone else fear most: the living dead.

With no Heartbeat and no breath in her lungs, Maddy must learn how to survive as a zombie. Turns out there’s a lot more to it than shuffling around 24/7 growling, “Brains”. Needing an afterlife makeover is only the beginning of her problems. As Barracuda Bay Haigh faces zombie Armageddon, Maddy must summon all of her strength to protect what matters most – just as soon as she figures out exactly what that is.

Busting out of the gate with an explosive (and hilarious) intro, Fischer sets the stage for a fun romp through the life of a young, accidently zombified, teenage girl; and leads you to believe that this is going to be something reminiscent of the scores of other YA horror novels out there. But you, the intelligent reader, can see something else in there. Behind the facade of a teenage-angst-ridden zombie story, Fischer has presented something fresher and more vivid than the decaying corpses littering the YA section of your favorite book store (or web-store *sigh*).

Fischer brings a massive amount of entertainment to this piece, not only poking fun at most teenage stereotypes, but also poking fun at the genre itself – in some places. Written from the perspective of the main female character, the author tends to lay heavy on the funny to dispell most of the serious situations, but dips into some seriously hardcore emotional territory with others. The brilliance of this situation is that he is able to make you laugh, think, and possibly even cry…all within the same sentence. To say that Fischer understands the teenage mindframe would be an understatement. He lives it in this novel, and that is what makes this book so different from the rest of the pack.

Now, in what is possibly my favorite move with this novel, Fischer whips out a whole new bag of tricks in regards to the zombies themselves. The constantly shuffling, groaning, and…well…slow moving zombies are eschewed for a more intelligent and brutal breed of walking dead. Not only are they completely sentient beings, but they’re also capable of planning and other sorts of menacing behavior. Even the manner of becoming zombified is completely different from most traditional ways. Fischer has introduced the potential for lightening to be a crucial factor in the zombification process, but hasn’t completely done away with the “zombie-by-bite” method. In fact, two different types of zombies can be created using the two different styles of…well…zombie creation, which is a much needed breath of fresh air in the sub-genre.

The whole book is written beautifully, combining so many different emotions and enough pop culture references to make any nerd’s head explode. Fischer has a tight grip on all things modern, and it really shows throughout the entire story. This novel will appeal to all ages. No exception. Hopefully Fischer has it in mind to write a follow up, as this is one story that I can really see becoming bigger and more detailed.

A great introduction to a truly unique world, Zombies Don’t Cry sets the bar high for YA horror novels.

C.

Book Review: Johnny Gruesome by Gregory Lamberson

Welcome to Dreadful Tales and the inaugural review on this 1st of July. It seemed fitting to open with a Gregory Lamberson novel and in particular his 80’s slasher, EC comic inspired revenge from the grave novel Johnny Gruesome. Lamberson is one of the Dreadful family’s most beloved authors. His literary talent and fascinating supernatural worlds have captured our imaginations and have even in part inspired this website. For all the disappointments horror fans face at the box office, Lamberson makes up for in the pages of his novels by opening up new realms of possibility. Whether his reimagining of the werewolf mythos in The Frenzy Way or a supernatural twist on crime noir with The Jake Helman Files series, Lamberson is redefining the horror genre and solidifying his place as master of the action / horror mashup. Oh, and when I say “reimagining,” I don’t mean an anemic version of something you once loved, which is what that word seems to mean in the world of film. Fans of horror fiction can rejoice in the fact that there are authors reinventing classic tropes to entertain the modern audience with their own unique style, passion for the genre, and a fearless attitude. Lamberson is one of the most talented among them and his revenge from the grave tale Johnny Gruesome is a great example. Here is a novel that proves Lamberson is just one of the monster kids and lucky for us, talented enough to recreate the experiences that made us horror fans to being with. Enjoy!

Gregory Lamberson originally formed his Johnny Gruesome story as a screenplay some 23 years or so before the release of this novelized version. Long before I Know What You Did Last Summer and the stalk-and-slash teenage revenge films that followed, Lamberson had created the heavy metal “headbanger from hell” Johnny Grissom. Revisiting his original screenplay in the wake of these films posed a problem for Lamberson. How do you keep your story fresh when there is a stream of popular teen slashers with essentially the same storyline? Lamberson’s Johnny Gruesome succeeds in originality in a couple important ways. One way Lamberson keeps this corpse fresh is by drawing inspiration from his stomping grounds growing up. Instead of a cookie cutter town in Anywhere, USA, Lamberson brings the town to life by including details from his experiences as an adolescent. Whether it’s Johnny’s over the top personality or up close and personal look at the art of autopsy, Lamberson takes time to expand on certain aspects of his novel proving Johnny Gruesome has more meat on his bones than the average zombie.

The plot to Johnny Gruesome is pretty simple. A coked out Gary, jealous of Johnny Grissom, kills him during a late night cruise with friends. Johnny’s girlfriend Karen and childhood friend Eric are forced to help him cover up the murder. Johnny returns from the grave seeking vengeance, mayhem ensues. This is an exciting EC comic-inspired yarn with a charming central character that brings a lot of laughs, some gross outs, and quite a few scares too. Just like the slashers that inspired it, the reader more or less knows who will die but the fun is in finding out how Johnny will do the deed. Lamberson is able to indulge in the kills in ways that wouldn’t be possible on his small budget films, which makes Johnny Gruesome a rip-roaring good time you won’t be able to stop until it’s finished.

The meat on Lamberson’s bare bones plot is the colorful cast of characters, especially our hellion from the grave Johnny Grissom. Johnny is a likable anti-hero who enters as Eric’s savior from a failed attempt at swimming thus solidifying their friendship. Johnny is Eric’s inverse, an anti-establishment teen rebel who “wore the regalia of a heavy metal warrior,” yelled “Fuck you, Father Webb!” every time he rode past the town church in his 2-door Cutlass Supreme – also known as The Death Mobile – and takes on the high school jocks. It’s hard not to be charmed by Johnny’s badass heavy metal persona and fearless attitude. He’s the hero of misfits and social outcasts. You’ll cheer him on as those who have wronged Johnny each get their comeuppance.

Johnny’s supporting cast is just as engaging. Eric is the opposite of Johnny. He aims to defuse conflict rather than engage in it, is more conformist than his heavy metal counterpart and less outspoken and confident. Eric is a sweet, unassuming version of Johnny. Conversely, Gary is rebellious like Johnny, but without the same heroic purpose. He is reactionary always for selfish reasons whereas Johnny, the hero of misfits, is fighting to restore balance between the haves and have-nots in his high school hierarchy. The reader will be charmed by both Eric and Johnny, Eric for his pathetic circumstance and Johnny for his unbreakable spirit and sense of humor while Gary plays the despicable villain you love to hate. While these are necessary archetypes, Lamberson’s Johnny, Eric, and Karen have heart and aren’t the disposal teen wastoids you would find in an I Know What You Did Last Summer or Urban Legend.

Drawing inspiration from actual people from his hometown, Lamberson populates the Johnny Gruesome world with believable characters, some who are just as important and integral to propelling the plot as the main four. The reader will care just as much about the High School English teacher and her husband the cop as our protagonist and the friends who wronged him. By drawing from personal experiences growing up, Lamberson breaths life into the town of Red Hill giving it distinct personality.

While Lamberson’s Johnny Gruesome has enough personality to stand out among the crowd, it still has the stalk and slash staples fans of the genre love, like creative kills. The great slashers of yore wouldn’t be quite as memorable if its creators didn’t come up with new and inventive ways to kill off victims. With all the resource material available, Lamberson still manages to come up with his own unique scenarios of murderous mayhem that will stay in the reader’s consciousness long after the book is finished. The kills are sick, twisted, and often ironic. This is where Lamberson pays homage to old EC comics like Tales from the Crypt by playing around with the doomed characters and offing them with tongue planted firmly in cheek.

This love letter to horror, especially the golden age of 80’s horror, is a must read for its dedicated followers. In a market dominated by living dead fiction, Lamberson offers a gritty, tongue in cheek entry that is both humorous and touching at times. Johnny is such a cool cat, one of kind killer who is not just another one for the fire.

Pick up Johnny Gruesome in trade paperback format from Medallion Press and be sure to check out all the other Johnny extras via Lamberson’s website http://www.slimeguy.com/gruesomeindex.htm.