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Fire Spirit
Fire Spirit
by Graham Masterton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 19.39

3 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars damp squib, 22 May 2011
This review is from: Fire Spirit (Hardcover)
I would give 2 and a half, to be fair, if I could, because if you don't mind some of the elements of the story, as I did, then you'd probably find those scenes effective. You'll see what I mean by the elements I don't care for.

The ideas behind this tale of haunting and murder are so confused and convoluted that the 'guy who knows' is explaining things right up to the end, and it doesn't make for a smooth read. It's as though Masterton is inventing a mythology to suit the things he wants to have happen, and having to re-adjust, fine-tune and re-think all the way. And it still doesn't fit.

Four ghoulish figures are attacking and setting women on fire after sexually-abusing them (AND FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, CAN'T WE LEAVE THE SEX-ABUSE OF WOMEN TO REAL-LIFE TRAUMA AND NOT KEEP INCLUDING IT IN HORROR FICTION? I REALLY DON'T WANT TO READ ABOUT TEENAGE GIRLS BEING RAPED, THANK YOU. RICHARD LAYMON IS DEAD, GUYS. LET'S LEAVE ALL THE PRURIENCE-PASSING-FOR-HORROR THERE, SHALL WE?), although there's no earthly reason that this element had to be included in the horror. There's a difference between what we understand as entertainment 'horror' and just plain unpleasant. Terrifying doesn't have to be ugly. And if Masterton really wanted a rape element, why couldn't men have been the victims? It would have been a more original ORIGIN, if you excuse the pun, for the haunting, and yes, guys, it does happen to men sometimes.

Anyway. So there's the murdering figures, one of whom seems to be supernatural but very corporeal. An arson investigator and her daughter find themselves caught up in the mystery, and in danger.

That's where all the tangled ideas start. It's all about Hell (although at least one of the damned doesn't seem to belong there, only being a child in his mom's car when it caught alight - how would that consign him to Hell?) but I won't spoiler. Suffice it to say that the explanation is very confused and nonsensical. Really - it doesn't make any kind of convincing sense.

Also unconvincing are the characterisations. Masterton never seems to get into his characters' heads, which surprised me, his being such an experienced writer. It's as if he's more interested in having them serve his convoluted story than in being real people. I didn't feel even one of them truly come alive, and it's partly to do with their reactions.

For instance, the woman who sees her dog burnt to death in front of her. OK, if you're going to say that she 'found it as devastating as if she'd seen her own child burn to death', then you have to commit to that. She'd be almost catatonic, wouldn't she? Not this lady. There's nothing about her reactions or subsequent behaviour that makes you think she's been through such a terrible experience. If you can't follow through on such hyperbole, don't use it.

The climax is hilarious. First of all, the three menaces are dispatched in such an ordinary way. The fourth in a way that is so silly and prosaic and ridiculous that you have to ask yourself how much of a threat could he really have been? Why didn't they just do this before? Then the real threats are swept away by a means that could only make me giggle.

All in all, a damp squib of an effort.


When Evil Wakes
When Evil Wakes
by August Derleth
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars ...You, also, might not get too much sleep., 1 Jan 2011
This review is from: When Evil Wakes (Paperback)
This anthology is from the sixties, so it doesn't do splatter or torture-porn. It mostly relies on our fear of revenants, of things that should be in their graves, whether they are ghosts, zombies, vampires or Old Ones, or nasty little creatures in-between. The few stories whose antagonists can't be traced back to such origin do nothing to jolt the menacing tone.

I first read this book when I was a teenager, and recently rediscovered it in a cellar (yes, really). I remembered it as being one of the best horror anthologies I had read, and was pleased to find it stood the test of time.

The collaboration between Derleth and his hero, Lovecraft, 'The Shuttered Room', stayed with me weeks after I'd read it, and still strikes a cold chill. I'm not a huge Lovecraft fan - I find his works both hysterical and distant and agree with the (mis?)quote I heard once that he 'writes all the scariness out of his stories.' But this story is involving and believable and in fact reminds me of Stephen King's work.

Many other tales are also a fiendish delight, without being overly-anthologized. In fact, one of the wonderful things about the collection is that you won't see the stories raising their bad selves up in every second anthology, but not from lack of merit.

The creeping dread of 'Moonlight-Starlight', the sly nastiness of 'The Tsanta in the Parlour', the haunting horror of 'Canavan's Back Yard', are all to be treasured as gems in any horror aficianado's collection. 'The Feasting Dead', the tale of a boy under the influence of an evil being, and his father's frantic realisation of what he's up against, is truly disturbing. The final scene played itself across my mind for weeks. 'A Thin Gentleman with Gloves' and the much more well-known, 'The Triumph of Death' are also chilling.

On the negative side, some of the stories have that sixties-pulp feel about them ('Thin Gentleman', 'The Lips' and, arguably, 'The Kite'), and I can't stand, 'The Eye and the Finger', but apart from that, I would gladly recommend 'When Evil Wakes'.

Authors include Lovecraft, Wakefield, Robert Bloch and David 'The Thing in the Cellar' Keller.


The Harrowing
The Harrowing
by Alexandra Sokoloff
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.99

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Oh, please., 27 Nov 2010
This review is from: The Harrowing (Paperback)
What was I thinking? When I see a movie on the SyFy or Horror Channel, with the description beginning, 'Five college students...' I know not to go near it. This load of rubbish is about five college students and is every bit as bad, complete with stereotypical characters and tired plot, as aforementioned films. And guess what, the author writes horror scripts (none of which have been made so far, so we can't blame her for the Horror Channel's poor content). She has a nice turn of phrase, sometimes, and that's all 'The Harrowing' has going for it.

You know what, when established writers and bodies such as Ramsey Campbell and the Bram Stoker Awards lend their support to rubbish like this, I want to write to them and challenge them to defend their stance. Well, I will certainly not take their recommendations again.

I'm so bored of bad horror books.


Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things [VHS]
Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things [VHS]
VHS

0 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Puerile, 29 Oct 2010
Puerile nonsense, complete with bad acting, exploitative representations of women and clumsy execution. Low budget may well be to blame for some of it, but not all. I can never understand how, when so many non-name but good actors are out of work at any given time, directors can manage to amass such poor casts. Must be their mates. Pity they can't take their craft more seriously. Unfunny and unentertaining fare.


Great ghost stories
Great ghost stories
by Herbert Van Thal
Edition: Hardcover

2.0 out of 5 stars Umm...where are the ghosts?, 21 Oct 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Great ghost stories (Hardcover)
Huge disappointment. The ghosts are missing in action in at least three of the stories (The Story of Mary Ancel, The Squire's Story and A Terribly Strange Bed). They are gothic, macabre or grand guignol, but ghostly - no. it really annoys me when ghost anthologies do this, and three tales out of ten is way too much. Bad Herbert van Thal. Bad, bad, Herbert.

The other seven tales range from the classically brilliant to the classically stodgy, by Lytton, Edwards, Dickens, Blackwood and others. There are some nice chills to be had amongst these, if you haven't read them before.


Doghouse [DVD] [2009]
Doghouse [DVD] [2009]
Dvd ~ Danny Dyer
Offered by DVDBayFBA
Price: 3.93

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Mad cows and Englishmen zombie out., 5 Sep 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Doghouse [DVD] [2009] (DVD)
Ah, Danny Dyer. Bless him, he'll do owt to pay the mortgage.

Actually, this little zombie offering wasn't half as bad as it could have been, thanks to some strong actors and the producers resisting the opportunity to replace plot with a lot of naked birds running around. Best line: 'Neil, now is not the time to stop objectifying women!'

Stephen Graham is the newly-divorced sad lad whose 'glory days' are behind him and who is taken off to Noel Clarke's nan's village on a cheer-up mission. Little do the boys know that there's a bit of a problem with the women in said village...

It's slight fare, of course, but I can easily imagine what a nightmare some of the producers whose work pops up on the Horror Channel would have made of the 'women gone mad, men fight to survive' premise (and I don't mean 'nightmare' in the good sense). Don't expect too much and you might have fun.


Well [DVD] [1951] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Well [DVD] [1951] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
Dvd ~ Gwendolyn Laster

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Two halves, one good., 1 Sep 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
If you're expecting a torrid tale of bare-chested men clasping pointy-chested women to their tanned torsos and unfeasibly high trousers, you're going to be disappointed.

The company can only have released this cover hoping to trick an audience into false expectations, which is a pity, because the story is actually a very good one. Well, the first half is.

A little black girl goes missing and a town whose racial relations are at a delicate balance gets all crazy. This part of the story, where accusations are zooming around and long-hidden resentments and suspicions are bubbling up like acid from a sour stomach, with disturbing consequences, is good and solid and engaging. If only the makers had continued along this road.

But once the girl is found to have fallen down a well, all tension falls flat. Now it's just about getting her out, and the director, or possibly the writer, strings this out tediously. It actually becomes the dullest part of the film.

In the end, this feels like two films, only one of which succeeds.


Death Sentence: The inside Story of the John List Murders (Signet)
Death Sentence: The inside Story of the John List Murders (Signet)
by Joe Sharkey
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Utterly gripping, 1 Sep 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I'd seen a couple of TV programmes about this horrific true crime, and wanted to fill in the blanks. This book did that admirably.

With tight, imaginative writing and full research, it tells the story of the appalling murderer John List, who killed his entire family and went on the run for twenty years. The murders were to save them from the world's evil, he excused himself; nowadays, we would rightfully tag him as a 'family annihilator', a man who sees himself failing as the family provider and decides what he has no right to decide for anyone else - that the family would be better off dead.

I have to admit here that my copy of the book had a really bad publishing mistake. Near the end, instead of concluding, it repeated the preceeding few pages. Therefore, I didn't actually get to finish it.

But hey, I've given up on books that I knew were not going to get any better by this point, and I'm pretty sure this one, having not put a foot wrong by now, would carry on its strong work. I'd recommend this any time.

Just make sure your vendor checks the copy.


Until the Twelfth of Never: Deadly Divorce of Dan and Betty Broderick
Until the Twelfth of Never: Deadly Divorce of Dan and Betty Broderick
by Bella Stumbo
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Exemplary true-crime book, 1 Sep 2010
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Got a friend who's going through a nasty divorce? Send her this book. (Men, if you're the guilty party, you might want to sit this one out, or sleep with one eye open.)

This true-crime tale sweeps us along on Betty Broderick's journey from hopeful young bride to embittered murderer. It would be trite to sum up her story as 'woman scorned'. There is so much more to it than that.

There's Dan, the husband whose infidelity, lies and unfair judicial advantages set the whole thing in motion. There's the usurping wife whose insensitivity and lack of remorse didn't help. Then there's the judicial divorce system, lending a cold, hard hand to its favoured son.

It's a credit to the writer that she manages to find a balance and does not come down wholly on one side or the other. In the space of one page I could veer from wanting to shake Betty to wanting to push Dan under a bus. In a relief from the usual 'victim-as-saint' slant of most true crime books, Linda, the new model wife, also is presented pretty much warts-and-all.

The depictions of the various locations of San Diego (one of my favourite places on earth) and its wealthy legal community swept me right out of rainy England to the beautiful oceanside settings and I could almost smell the perfume of the women who were once Betty Broderick's friends.

With fine writing, thorough, well-presented research and the base ingredient of an incredible story, 'Until The Twelfth of Never' is heart-breaking, chilling, infuriating, shocking and funny by turns, but never less than a fascinating read, heads and shoulders above most of the true-crime books I have read.


Cappawhite
Cappawhite
by Gerald J. Tate
Edition: Paperback

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Appalling work, 26 Aug 2010
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Cappawhite (Paperback)
'My first thought was that if this book really won an Editor's Choice award, then it's a bitter irony that I felt myself reaching for my red pen from Page One.

I know there's a bit of a debate on the bad review of this book (how I wish I'd taken more note of that review), so I'll give examples of what I find so appalling about it.

First of all, I find it very hard to get through books that have incorrect grammar and punctuation, mistakes and, unforgiveably, words used wrongly. It jolts me out of the story and makes me disrespect the author and distrust that he's equal to the task of entertaining me; I believe it's the basic duty of a writer to get his tools in order before he starts his work.

Examples of these errors: 'distant relative's' instead of 'distant relatives' (a plural does not take an apostrophe); commas left off before direct addressing, ie, 'Well, as you know Mick', instead of 'as you know, Mick' (it reads as though the speaker's commenting that the person knows Mick. Lack of clarity does not help a story whiz along); phrases that should clearly be hyphenated ('a never bend the rules policeman' should be 'a never-bend-the-rules policeman'); 'adopt' instead of 'adapt'; 'he seen' instead of 'he saw'; 'rumbled' instead of 'rummaged' (in a better-written book, I'd have presumed this to be a rather good conceit, but I'm afraid I presumed error in this one); 'with whom I had come through the ranks with' needs no explanation; only a host and not a guest can be 'inhospitable'; a woman who was 13 six years ago is preparing for her NINETEENTH birthday, not her 18th.

That's only the tip of the iceberg. Worse still is the clumsiness of the writing. If a writer takes us into a character's thoughts, there is no need to add, 'he felt'. This author is addicted to doing so. Many such redundancies choke the flow of the book. It's an amateur's trick to over-use adverbs and dialogue tags. The author WAY over-uses 'loudly', for instance. Worse, he seems to use it as a substitute for emotion. Dialogue written with skill does not need all these adverbs and tags. In one passage alone, I saw, 'informed him', 'laughed', 'answered', 'replied' and 'asked', when 'said' would do. And this is with only two characters - we're not stupid, we can work out who's speaking in a duologue! Oh, and at one point, it's 'Otis belched'! He burps his speech????

In fact, sometimes this book feels as though it was written for children. The intrusive pointing out of things that should be obvious, ie, 'Sarah could sense...disapproval of her being married to a black man and this made her feel angry'. Really? Wow, what a surprise. I can think of a hundred snappier ways of conveying this - off the top of my head, 'Sarah choked down her anger at C's plainly racist disapproval.' The priest runs into the man who caught him in adultery and is 'ashamed'? We've already seen his ashamed dialogue and his ashamed reaction, why do we need to be told this again? Just get on with the damn story! Once more, like writing for children.

Let's return to the dialogue, because it's dreadful. There is one line that is so close to parody that I almost burst out laughing: 'Damn you, Otis, you crazy headstrong fool!' WHO TALKS LIKE THAT? Outside of an Armstrong and Miller skit, I mean? (Hey, but at least he gets the addressing commas in, for once).

The story itself is hamstrung by unbelievable behaviour and inconsistencies. A one-eyed, scarred, huge black man turns up in a little Irish village, and no-one even does a double-take? Not until Otis meets the priest, halfway through the book, do we see anyone reacting to the startling sight he must be. And when Kathleen warns Otis and Sarah about the Doyle house, there's no reaction from them. (Not even hysterical laughter, which is what it would have got from a normal human being hearing the line, 'strange things going on up there, things you shouldn't meddle in'. Scooby-Do, anyone?). Otis and Sarah don't even comment on it! So a chance to build up scary tension - squandered. Amazing for a horror tale.

Even in the first, action-laded chapter, there are fatal errors. Right in the middle of peril and horror, the author sticks in a useless paragraph about wine! No, actually TWO useless paragraphs about wine! It's beyond me why the author thought that this was the time to tell us a boring backstory about why the captain has a bottle of wine, where it's hidden, who gave it to him, how long ago, why he has never drunk it and why he's drinking it now.

Another thing that irked me was the irritating lack of comprehension of what lying is. In one passage, Otis seems to confuse deliberately 'making things up' with having hallucinations, in another, with re-telling a myth. Does he really think his Native American friend is in a position to authenticate a story that's meant to have happened before white people came to America?

And what on earth does 'her new friend Francis, who she met' mean? No, the phrase doesn't go on 'at a party/at the playground/at anywhere else', it's just 'who she met'. I can't be the only one who sees what's wrong here, can I? (Quite apart from the fact that 'Francis' is a boy's name, the female being spelled 'FrancEs').

With all these calamities getting in the way of story, this book has no chance of building up any kind of atmosphere, let alone one of terror.

I'm amazed at the good reviews Cappawhite has generated here. There are plenty of wonderful writers who sweep you into their world on well-crafted sentences, evocative phrasing and coherent story-telling. We don't need to get so used to this kind of bumbling writing that we can't see it for the under-par offering it is.

I have no axe to grind, other than a love of good writing, worry about the future of publishing if this is the kind of nonsense not only being published but garnished with prizes from a professional body that should know better and being majorly vexed at having spent money on this pile of incompetence.

I've spent a lot of time on this review because I am not joking, I really was appalled by the level of amateurism I saw in this work. I'm actually angry.'
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 7, 2010 7:40 PM BST


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