Reincarnage: Maximum Carnage by Ryan Harding and Jason Taverner

If you can imagine the natural outcome of the much-maligned ninth installment of the Friday the 13th series, Jason Goes To Hell, you’ve got some idea of what you’re in for with Reincarnage by Ryan Harding and Jason Taverner.
With the titular Agent Orange, Vietnam Veteran turned slasher extraordinaire, we have a masked, seemingly immortal serial killer who routinely returns to slaughter people who make the mistake of venturing into his territory. The government knows he exists, and they know they’ve found no way to stop him in his murderous rampages more than temporarily. The only solution is to evacuate the region and build a fortified perimeter around the region Agent Orange inhabits. Patroled by military personnel tasked with killing him, again and again, to keep him contained within the walls, the perimeter isn’t perfect but it’s all that separates Agent Orange from the outside world.
Taking a page from Arkady and Boris Strugatsky’s Roadside Picnic, Harding and Taverner imagine a culture of “stalkers” developing; brave or insane souls who venture into the kill zone for memorabilia, or for the sake of saying that they survived crossing into Agent Orange’s territory. At the point when Reincarnage takes place, Agent Orange has become as much a part of pop culture as Charles Manson or Jason Voorhees. Books, video games, and collectibles of all sorts proliferate the world the authors introduce us to.
When eleven people wake up in an otherwise abandoned hotel, it doesn’t take long for them to realize they’re on the wrong side of the walls, with no idea how they got there or why they’ve been deposited in the last place any of them would want to be. Conspiracy theories abound, but answers are harder to come by. Maybe, if this band of survivors could find the time to catch their breath and think things through, they could discover why they’re in the ghost town of Morgan and who would want to leave them there; but the number of survivors is steadily diminishing, and staying still for too long only invites disaster.
Will anyone stay alive long enough to discern the truth?
Will anyone escape?
You’ll have to read it to find out.
This edition of the book includes additional material focused on another group of survivors venturing through the kill zone simultaneously, with no better fortune favoring them.

You can obtain this edition of the book by going to http://www.godless.com or by downloading the Godless app to your mobile device of choice. The link is below:

A Contest For the Ages

Because my blog receives traffic that doesn’t necessarily overlap with my other social media accounts, I would be remiss if I didn’t share this here.
Because I’m an absurd human being, I’ve decided that I want to reward readers/reviewers of my December 2021 short story, When You’re Here, You’re Fatalities, available exclusively through http://www.godless.com
You’ll want to pay attention to this!

Sadly, this is only valid for individuals located in the United States. If I could extend this to other countries, I would gladly do so, but the logistics involved are just too much of an issue.

Initially, the plan was that if I could sell 250,000 copies of the story, I would randomly select five winners from those who have reviewed the title at Godless. Those five individuals would need to provide me with their contact information–including the physical address–as well as a time frame that would work best for them. I would then plan a road trip with my girlfriend (and possibly my teenage daughter) to travel to that reviewer’s location. We could spend the day hanging out, doing touristy things, or whatever. To conclude the evening, I would take the winner and their immediate family (or significant other and whatnot) to dinner at the nearest Olive Garden location.
I have modified the plan slightly since the original goal is altogether ludicrous. Of course, the adjusted step goals are also ridiculous, but you shouldn’t expect anything different from me.
Upon selling 100,000 copies of the story through Godless, I will select two winners who have posted reviews of the story, to Godless and/or Goodreads.
After another 100,000 sales, I will select another two winners from the remaining reviewers who had not won.
And, if I happen to sell another 50,000 copies of When You’re Here, You’re Fatalities after that, I will select one more lucky winner from those who have not already won.
Assuming every buyer leaves a review, that’s a 1 in 50,000 chance of winning a family dinner at Olive Garden with a horror author who wrote a short story that takes place in a fictionalized version of an Olive Garden restaurant. For only fifty cents to get your name in the drawing, it’s probably a better deal than many raffles and drawings in which one might participate. But there’s always the fact that many people still won’t leave reviews, and that improves the odds in your favor.

The title can be obtained by going to the following link at Godless:

You would also post your review there.

Additionally, I will accept reviews posted to Goodreads at the following location:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/59777373-when-you-re-here-you-re-fatalities

You have nothing to lose beyond fifty cents and a little bit of time.

Spread the word far and wide!

The sooner we reach those sales numbers, the sooner you’ll have a chance to sit down for dinner with me.

Halloween Kills (2021)

Halloween Kills picks up on the action only minutes after Halloween (2018) rolled credits. As Dylan Arnold’s Cameron walks home, upset with himself and wallowing a bit, he comes across Will Patton’s Officer Hawkins where he lies bleeding on the pavement as he’d been left to die in the final third of the previous installment. Though Hawkins appears to be dead at first, he is soon revealed to be clinging to life.
We are treated to a surprisingly well-produced return to Halloween (1978) in a flashback that shares the concluding events of that night from the perspective of a younger Hawkins and his partner. In this, we discover that Hawkins has cause to feel no small amount of guilt over the events of that night 40 years before.
We witness further events of that night, encountering children having an altercation before being sent home by police roaming the streets in search of Michael Myers. One of those children will be a familiar character to discerning viewers of the older Halloween.
We meet up with Tommy Doyle (now played by Anthony Michael Hall), Nancy Stephens’s Marion (returning to the character for a fourth time in the series, though only the second in this internal timeline), and Kyle Richards’s Lindsey (reprising her role from the 1978 classic) at a bar where open mic night is in full swing. While I would have enjoyed seeing a nod to The Curse of Michael Myers, with Paul Rudd returning to portray Tommy Doyle, I was nonetheless pleased to see so many performers returning to roles they played in 1978 and 1981 respectively. This includes Charles Cyphers returning to take on the mantle of Leigh Brackett yet again.
As emergency services race toward Laurie Strode’s burning home, Jamie Lee Curtis’s Strode shouts a desperate plea that they let it burn. If they had heard her and heeded her request, the movie would have turned out quite differently. A single firefighter falling through the floor into Strode’s trap basement provides the means for the still breathing Myers to remove himself from his imprisonment below the house.
Carnage ensues in a scene that pits Michael against a group of firefighters, in which the killer’s prowess is displayed to be anything but diminished. This is something we experience more than once in this movie that has rarely, if ever, been incorporated in a slasher flick. In Halloween Kills, we are treated to one-against-many conflicts that are typically antithetical to the slow, methodical stalker and prey relationships we often expect from such stories. The Michael Myers of this movie is more a force of nature than we’ve come to expect, capable of bursts of intense violence directed, rather than toward singular targets, at groups of people. An economy of brutality is on display with murderous efficiency, as Myers dispatches multiple opponents with expedience and ruthlessness.
I went into Halloween Kills with the expectation that it would suffer from middle movie syndrome, being the second of a planned trilogy of sequels following the events of Halloween 40 years before. What I experienced was more like The Empire Strikes Back than The Two Towers, a self-contained narrative that–while it is designed to carry the plot between beginning and end of the trilogy–manages to satisfy my needs as a standalone experience.
The performances are spectacular, the kills are savage and visceral, the soundtrack/score was superb, and the story unfolding for the characters as Michael makes his way through Haddonfield toward his natural destination is a vivid enough assortment of threads as to make for a worthwhile tapestry. The sheer brutality of Michael’s murders is almost enough to distract the viewer from the underlying theme of fear spreading through a community primed for terror and harboring a certain tension just beneath the surface for nearly half a century. This explodes in a predictable fashion as the residents of Haddonfield create the conditions wherein Michael is able to thrive and flourish, feeding–as he seems to–on the very anger and horror being amplified by the mob mentality spreading like wildfire throughout the movie.
A bit of dialogue near the end of the movie manages to sum things up nicely. When Hawkins expresses his regret at having made this possible by not letting Michael die back in 1978, Laurie Strode corrects him and explains that this is her fault, that her fear of Michael’s return has been allowed to spread and fester like an infection in the otherwise quaint community.
I know that I am certainly looking forward to the release of Halloween Ends next October, and I truly hope a whole lot of you are as well.

My Heart Is a Chainsaw by Stephen Graham Jones

After The Only Good Indians last year, Stephen Graham Jones set the bar higher than most authors could dream of achieving. I say that because The Only Good Indians was easily one of the best novels I’ve had the pleasure of reading, regardless of the genre…ever. My Heart Is a Chainsaw isn’t likely to leave quite as profound of a lasting impact as that book, but it’s a different sort of beast altogether. And boy, is it a beast.
Jade Daniels is a walking, talking archive of all things slasher-related, or even slasher-adjacent. She’s a socially awkward outcast who speaks to others in slasher genre shorthand. To her, everything in life can be easily compared and contrasted with plot points of one or more of her favorite movies. Every occasion has an appropriate quote from the slasher genre. As a person, she’s equal parts aggravating and endearing to the reader–assuming the reader, like me, is a hardcore slasher fanatic.
Finally, her dead-end life in a dead-end Idaho town appears to be heading toward a fantasy come true. With the arrival of Lethe Mondragon, the final piece falls into place as Jade determines she’s located the archetypal “final girl” for the real-life slasher horror to play out.
Is Jade another Cassandra, doomed to warn everyone of the impending nightmare and tragedy, only to be dismissed as all youth are in the movies she so adores? Is she simply a troubled girl who has lost the capacity to differentiate between fantasy and reality, on the verge of returning to the institution from which she’d only recently been released? You’ll have to read the book to find out. If you’re familiar with Jones as an author, you should know you won’t be disappointed.
As you reach the halfway point of this novel, everything begins cascading out of control with a feverish pace and such a dizzying assortment of horrors that you’ll hardly see the next twist coming–and there are indeed twists.
The novel is so much more than a slasher story. I’d love to tell you more, but I’d be giving too much away. My Heart Is a Chainsaw is also a coming-of-age tale about an indigenous girl haunted by her past and fixated on the haunted history of the mountain town she calls home. This is a story of friendship, a dysfunctional family, and an even more dysfunctional community.
My Heart Is a Chainsaw should assure any readers that Stephen Graham Jones is–I say this without a doubt in my mind–perhaps the single greatest writer currently active in the horror genre.

Clown In a Cornfield by Adam Cesare

It was going to be challenging enough for Quinn Maybrook to adjust to the transition from Philadelphia to Kettle Springs, MO, under the best of circumstances. Unfortunately for Quinn and her father, Kettle Springs isn’t simply another small town in the rural Midwest. Kettle Springs is suffering from a terrible pressure building up just beneath the surface of the seemingly prosaic day-to-day rustic community.
Cesare lets the tension build as we familiarize ourselves with the mostly quaint environment of Kettle Springs. Dedicating the first half of the novel to a character study and framing the narrative as a coming-of-age tale that we anticipate taking a darker turn makes the latter half of the book more potent. The tension gradually builds, punctuated by scenes that guarantee the reader is in for more than just a fish out of water tale long before the party in the cornfield transforms into a nightmare. While I understand that this is ostensibly a young adult novel, it never pulls punches or treats the reader like they won’t be able to handle the visceral one-two punch once the violence kicks off.
At its core, Clown In a Cornfield is a story of intergenerational conflict. We’re forced to face the ever-present conflict between youth and adulthood or tradition and novelty. When we join the story, we’re an ancient god and a charismatic child away from this book going the route of Children of the Corn. Similarly, we’re government sponsorship away from the story turning into Battle Royale.
As the tale evolves from coming-of-age drama into slasher horror and finally into something altogether more ominous, we’re carried along by Cesare’s masterful storytelling.
This is a young adult novel that is far more suited for adult readers than the books in the Harry Potter–and not solely because Rowling is a TERF and a bigot–or The Hunger Games series. Don’t let the YA categorization push you away from a fantastic dark tale for all ages.

Fear Street Part Three: 1666

The final installment of the Fear Street trilogy from Netflix had some weaknesses, but it was an overall satisfying conclusion to the story. In a sense, it was like two movies in one.
As Deena restores the skeleton of the witch, Sarah Fier, she finds herself transported back in time to the colonial community of Union, where she experiences the final days of Sarah Fier’s life through her own eyes. We discover that the history everyone had taken for granted throughout the previous two installments is not the reality of what happened during those fateful days in 1666.
Sarah and Hannah Miller–much like Deena and Sam in 1994–are lovers in a time when it was most certainly less socially acceptable than it is today. Jealous men of the village spurned in their advances, use this forbidden love as justification for cries of witchcraft and devilry. It just so happens that there is witchcraft afoot, but Sarah and Hannah are, of course, innocent.
There was a satisfying moment in the story when Sarah determines that she will bring the devil down on the citizens of Union in a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. Already condemned for practicing witchcraft, she feels there’s nothing to lose. Instead, she discovers the truth of who is behind the apparent curse afflicting the village before she is captured and hanged by the overzealous Union residents. It’s this discovery that brings us back to the present of 1994–and the latter half of the movie.
Deena, Josh, and Ziggy–along with the custodian, Martin–craft a desperate plan to bring down the real witch and end the curse that’s afflicted Shadyside for more than 300 years…hopefully, saving Sam in the process.

Fear Street Part Two: 1978

Where the first installment of the Fear Street trilogy paid homage to the pivotal slasher flicks of the 1990s, Fear Street: 1978 devotes itself to crafting a tale reminiscent of classic films like Friday the 13th, The Burning, and Sleepaway Camp.
Desperate to save Sam’s life–and perhaps her soul–Deena and Josh turn to one of the only survivors of the massacre at Camp Nightwing, hoping to discover any clues that might assist them. To discover what–if anything–can be done, they experience the tale of that horrible July as shared by the traumatized sister of one of the victims.
The filmmakers did an excellent job of capturing the summer camp slasher aesthetic throughout this installment of the Fear Street series. It felt both authentic and immersive. I was impressed.
We discover more of the mythology associated with the witch and the curse afflicting Shadyside, and there is some fantastic creepiness in the caves beneath the camp itself.
Young campers and camp staff are slaughtered left and right, and there’s no skimping on the violence except where the killing of some of the younger children is concerned. I don’t know if I can claim to be disappointed by that, as it was sort of expected that Netflix wouldn’t go the whole hog on slaughtering children.
It sets the stage nicely for the final installment of the trilogy, and I certainly can’t pretend I wasn’t immediately interested in seeing Fear Street: 1666 and discovering just how this tale will end.

Fear Street Part One: 1994

Loosely based on the young adult horror books written by R. L. Stine during the 1990s, the first installment of the Fear Street adaptation achieves a good deal of success in capturing elements of Stine’s writing while gearing the production for an audience now well into adulthood. Though likely to draw a new audience unfamiliar with the source material, this movie was produced to appeal to those who might have grown up reading Stine’s books for younger readers and young adults. While the Fear Street books were more violent and gory than a lot of Stine’s writing geared toward a younger audience, this movie amplifies that element quite nicely.
A killer is on the loose in Shadyside, but this isn’t the first time. In a town with a history of mysterious plagues of madness and murder, can Deena and her brother Josh hope to discover the secret behind these horrors before they–and all of their friends–are slain?
On the surface, it’s a color-by-number slasher flick complete with Shadyside High School students as fodder, but more backstory and mythology is forming the substrate than is typical in slasher fare. With an obvious fondness for the slasher flicks of the 1990s, one can’t help but see ample homage to such borderline classics as Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Urban Legend. Fear Street: 1994 goes beyond the superficial slasher characteristics, however, and incorporates a tale of witchcraft, and a town cursed for centuries into the narrative, setting the stage for the subsequent two volumes of the series.
The deaths are often fantastic, brutal, and gory–I doubt anyone will look at an industrial bread-slicer the same way again–and the story flows nicely at a fast pace, balancing suspense and jump scares as well as one could hope for.
The characters don’t consist solely of two-dimensional ciphers, as has become the meme for these types of movies, but they almost couldn’t be if the series is expected to span three movies. I found them largely likable and sympathetic.

Bobcats by Matthew Weber

Matthew Weber’s Bobcats succeeds as a coming-of-age horror tale not altogether unlike Ketchum’s Hide and Seek and King’s IT. In fact, if one were to mix those two books together with a dash of the King novella, The Body, and just a smidge of Deliverance for flavor–as well as a touch of Friday the 13th–one might have a good starting point for the story that Weber’s put together.
Joey and his four compatriots in the Bobcats–a small fraternal outdoors troop not altogether unlike BSA–plan to hike The Gauntlet, a trail that weaves through the wilderness of Black Oak Mountain. The adventure is the boys’ plan to honor the legacy of Joey’s father, the foundation of The Bobcats, who recently died of cancer. More than that, it’s a rite of passage into manhood for the five adolescent boys.
As a powerful thunderstorm rolls into the area, the expedition becomes true to its name, becoming more a gauntlet than it already might have been. Sadly, nature is only the beginning of the challenges the boys face.
Black Oak Mountain is home to more than the expected wildlife, and for the Bobcats, it’s one of the inhabitants of that dark forest that changes their lives forever. The Cleaver soon has the five boys in his sights, and no amount of preparation and survival training could have adequately qualified the Bobcats to deal with an inhuman monster who makes his living slaughtering people for money with his cruel, handcrafted blades.
Weber does not shy away from the harsh reality of precisely how an encounter like this would turn out. Bobcats is not a feel-good story with a tidy, cheerful ending replete with plot armor and reliance on suspension of disbelief. To learn how it ends–or whom it ends–you’ll have to read it for yourself.
Matthew Weber deserves additional points for hinting at a history of mysterious occurrences on and near Black Oak Mountain without delving into them and erasing the mystery. It seems like a sequel could be in order, as there’s plenty more to fear in the night than solely The Cleaver.

Freaky (2020)

Freaky succeeds in being the perfect response to the Wheel of Fortune before-and-after puzzle, “Freaky Friday the 13th.” My personal favorite before-and-after remains my brother’s “Zyklon Bea Arthur,” but that would make for a far less interesting movie when you think about it. That’s neither here nor there.
If you enjoyed Happy Death Day, The Hunt, and other Blumhouse productions with a horror/comedy bent…there’s nothing disappointing about this one. A mousy, grieving high-school girl swaps bodies with a notorious local serial killer after he fails to kill her with an ancient sacrificial dagger. I mean, what could be wrong about that?
In a strange sense, it’s a coming-of-age tale about mourning and family…only with self-aware stereotypes and meta commentary on the usual slasher tropes. There are some interesting and gruesome kills throughout the movie, beginning with a play on my favorite kill from a slasher movie prior to this one, which was the wine bottle scene from Sorority Row (the 2009 remake of 1982’s House On Sorority Row).
Vince Vaugh was spectacular as both the killer and as the high-school girl trapped in an adult man’s body. Seriously, it’s the best performance I’ve seen from him. Kathryn Newton was pretty impressive as well, transitioning from being a virtually invisible teenage girl to being a bloodthirsty murderer in a young woman’s body.
As much as I enjoyed this one, I will say that it doesn’t tread any new ground and there’s nothing particularly surprising about it (beyond the quality of the performances and the graphic nature of some of the kills). It’s a fun movie for the sake of being a fun movie.