In our first installment of “AtoZ”, we are spotlighting one influential science fiction author for each letter of the alphabet.
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)
Twentieth Century Fox
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is the highly anticipated sequel to Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011). I saw the movie before reading Todd McCarthy’s review in The Hollywood Reporter, where he sums it up with: “Dawn is to Rise of the Planet of the Apes what Empire Strikes Back is to Star Wars.” In fact, I was thinking this the whole time I was watching the movie (when I wasn’t so engrossed in the story and the action that I forgot that I was supposed to be thinking about a review).
So what makes this such a damn good movie? Characterization. And story. Since this is part of a prequel series to the original Planet of the Apes (1968), it is intriguing to see how the apes start to organize, form a civilization, and speak. The first encounter between apes and humans is jaw-dropping. The plot is pretty straightforward and a bit contrived in places – is this particular dam really the only way to restore electricity to San Francisco? Sociologically, it seems plausible: a series of unfortunate misunderstandings and a bit of deceitful mayhem by an angry few blow up into a major feud with no forgiveness possible.
Overall the special effects and action scenes are excellent and the 3D animation is subtle but effective. You feel the intensity and the pain and anguish of the characters, something that many latter day movies lack in the overly CGI world.
Andy Serkis as Ceasar is incredibly convincing. He’s not playing a human in an electronic apesuit – he’s playing an ape that is becoming more and more aware of what it means to be an ape. The result is by turns wonderful and chilling. The entire cast deserves credit for bringing the full range of primate emotions to life with nothing spared.
There is a lot to ingest in the subtext and in the nods to previous films and great works of science fiction. Every scene has at least a hint at some sociopolitical commentary — whether about guns, racism, animal welfare, religion, or the atrocities of war — and many embedded references to past masters to keep geeks happy. Even the music invokes parallels by incorporating themes from the original Jerry Goldsmith score and elements from classics like 2001: A Space Odyssey (who could forget those choruses when the apes encounter the monolith… and Strauss swelling during the hog kill scene?)
The movie succeeds in pulling heartstrings. You want to love the apes, but you feel for the humans, and in the end, we realize that we are all the same, but it is no a happy realization. Like the first Star Wars trilogy, this is setting things up for an epic showdown. Let’s just hope the third installment doesn’t have any ape-woks.
The Best of the Horror Society 2013
Edited by Carson Buckingham
2013, The Horror Society Press
350 pages, ISBN: 978-1490597683, $18.95
The Best of the Horror Society 2013 rounds up twenty-eight tales from contributing members, eight of which are reprints, but representative of the fine skills that the society has to draw upon. Founder Scott M. Goriscak explains the genesis of the organization in his Foreword as an effort to bring together artists of all walks to facilitate collaboration in the horror field. Editor Carson Buckingham sums up what horrifies her in the Introduction: “After you have passed from dread to terror, horror is wreckage left for you to deal with emotionally and psychologically, and sometimes physically…”
“Ceremony” by the legendary William F. Nolan is a bona fide classic (originally printed in The Year’s Best Horror, 1985) in which an unsuspecting traveler to Providence, Rhode Island is detained by a broken-down bus in a small town whose inhabitants are gearing up for a very special celebration – one in which our waylaid visitor is named Guest of Honor. Unfortunately, it literally sucks to be him.
Kevin A. Ransom proclaims that “Tendrils Never Lie”. In this tale, a latchkey kid becomes the caretaker of a strange plant. Ransom keeps it creepy in this one. Although the plot is a bit predictable, it’s not easily forgettable.
There is no shortage of stories and novels concerning Venice and the timeworn mask that will not come off the doomed wearer. That said, “The Mask” by Lisamarie Lamb is a welcome addition. It is haunting and just as beautifully written as a Venetian Waltz.
Editor, Carson Buckingham offers “Lemminaid” for thirsty readers, and it is a sweetly sour treat. This one comes across like a Rod Serling childhood-memory-gone-wrong Twilight Zone episode, but much, much darker. The surprise ending actually works its magic quite nicely.
“Central Coast” by Jason V Brock (a reprint from Brock and Nolan’s The Bleeding Edge), is a story about cursed wine – a component which recurs in a few of Brock’s stories. The plot of the story is laid out starting in the present, going to the past, and then to the future. The flavor of Southern California is really captured, from wine tasting to the characters’ involvement in the porn industry. The gruesomeness (ever stepped on an eyeball?) is all the more shocking when contrasted with the superb character development.
What is it about Wisconsin? Weldon Burge’s story, “White Hell, Wisconsin” is a thriller. There’s nothing supernatural – it’s all very natural, and creepy. A plow driver stuck in an unrelenting snowstorm is terrorized by a group of sick little bastards. Although written well before the “Polar Vortex” of early 2014, it struck a nerve as I was reading during this time of year; it will chill you to the bone. It was originally printed in Burge’s collection Broken: Stories of Damaged Psyches.
Richard Thomas’s brutal “Victimized” (a reprint from Murky Depths #15) horrifies with grit and intensity. It builds in tension perfectly as the protagonist plots and exacts her revenge. Thomas leaves nothing to the imagination and the thoughts of the main character are so real that you can nearly taste the blood and feel your heart quicken as you experience it with her.
“Normal is Relative” or so Dan Dillard would have you believe. A short entry, but still effective, about a man, his fiancée, and his brother who barges in to nearly ruin his plans for the perfect evening. At least only two of them die.
“The Horror Society’s 2013 Igor Award Winner” is emblazoned proudly above the title for Doug Lamoreux’s “The Procedure” setting high expectations for the story. Fortunately, it doesn’t disappoint. Medical horror is fun, and this one is great. One might also wonder if Lamoreux has had some bad experiences in doctor’s offices with ditzy assistants.
Shapeshifting, tequila, and desert hijinks abound in Joe McKinney’s “The Little Church of Safe Crossing”. Now we know what those border patrols are up to on Christmas day: No good! This one originally appeared in Help! Wanted: Tales of On-the-Job Terror.
When a doll shows up in a horror story, you know it has to be evil. “Madeleine” is a gift from a strange great aunt to a little girl plagued by nightmares. The aunt promises that the little doll is magical and can take away bad dreams. Julianne Snow pulls off a new take on this one, primarily by integrating repetitive dream sequences in the prose and by deftly capturing the essence of a six-year-old girl.
Christian Larsen is a fun guy. Well, you would think so from this humorously gross story about a deadly mold: “It Has Teeth”. No one will want to see anything moldy after this crazy tale.
“Masquerade” (originally printed in WATCH anthology) by Dave Jeffrey offers a surreal point of view story in which a trapped soul turned to the dark side witnesses a similar seduction of another.
Rose Blackthorn’s “Black Bird” has a great set up where a woman is stalked by a bird. Unfortunately, the payoff isn’t as good as the beginning and the plot leaves much to be desired. Blackthorn’s writing is convincing and suspenseful and perhaps other stories would be better realized.
“Adjoining Rooms” by Scott M. Goriscak is a curious entry in this book of otherwise stronger stories. The first sentence has a dreadful comparison between elevator doors and a “snail crossing a leaf”. The last sentence, “It was Dante’s Inferno,” accurately describes how a professional envisions hell: trapped having to read a never-ending stream of writing like this.
In “The Clown”, Henry Snider manages to put a different twist on the scary clown trope.
Nicholas Grabowsky brings us “The Inspiration & Horror of George & Hugh” where some horrible thing born of the lowest scum of society goes on a rampage. Unfortunately, there is a printing error in the story – the text is printed in a lighter greyish tone that doesn’t match the rest of the book. Strangely, his bio in the back of the book is in the same weird grey font.
“Moving Day” by Mark Onspaugh picks up the pace again with a fun, modern take on a poltergeist yarn.
Charles Colyott was a name unfamiliar to me, but after reading “Soft Like Her” I will be looking for more. I loved this piece. Set up as a suicide note from one-half of a conjoined twin, it is even better than it sounds. Colyott evokes just the right feeling and believability without being trite.
Abuse is a difficult subject matter. In “Black Mary”, Mercedes M. Yardley illuminates the mind of an abducted girl whose has been terribly violated and held captive for years, but she does so with a deftly delivered unreliable narrator style which is never exploitative, but still conveys the appropriate fear and confusion.
“Ellen” is the object of obsessive affection for Harold, the alter-ego of a deranged killer. Although Harold proclaims “I am not evil,” writer Lee Pletzer convinces us by the end of the story that the real protagonist is.
Ian Rogers offers “The Luminous Veil”, a freshly expressed suicide story that is a bit cold, but in a way that suits the snarky teen protagonist. It was a little long, but with excellent vocabulary and interestingly told. It was first printed in Bare Bone #11.
“Daddy” by Aaron Dries is weird. Good weird. Grown-man suckling a baby doll on his naked teat weird. A nod to The Shining and Psycho, but still original and freaky. A minor printing error (apostrophes replaced with greater-than symbols) didn’t prove too bothersome to detract from the content.
T. E. Grau tickles the reader with “Beer and Worms”. Anyone who grew up in rural American will recognize these characters. Spot on and well told fishing tale. Even though you can see the end coming from a country mile, you are rooting for it.
There are elevator rides that last longer than Robert S. Wilson’s “The Boy in the Elevator” but it is still terrifying. It’s an idea that leaves a lasting impression, something that William F. Nolan calls “the echo effect” where the reader will keep imagining what could happen next long after the reading is over.
“Weird” threw me for a loop. I thought for sure that I had read it before. I even checked the front matter of the book to see if it was a reprint. Dean M. Drinkel freaks me out, man. Loved it.
L. L. Soares starts off “Venus” with a jaded couple visiting a rundown carnival freak show and ends with all senses engaged in a delightful horror. A little bit “Little Shop of Horror” and a little bit Nolan’s “The Pool”, this one harkens back to the classics.
“Hotties” (a reprint from Unnatural Selection, 2001) by Mort Castle is a fitting end to the anthology. It is told via a clever presentation of teen Internet posts interspersed with historical accounts of arsons and bombings. It’s a fun piece of work, but it is unfortunately marred by formatting errors which seem to be rampant throughout the book. This entry’s unique format suffers greatly from the haphazard “search and replace” attempt to standardize all the texts resulting in issues like newsgroup names having extra spaces in them, a single comma underlined where no other underlines were present, and an orphaned signature at the end of a letter.
Overall, the content of this book is quite strong, but the formatting errors were rather distracting at times. One story underwent seemingly random breaks in paragraphs, even mid-sentence. And in addition to the errors already mentioned, some stories’ paragraphs had first line indents out of whack, and other sections had punctuation replaced by totally wrong characters all together.
Despite these issues, editor Buckingham delivers on her vision for the book. It is recommended reading for a cold snowy night or a warm summer day back in the woods; an enjoyable showcase of horror.
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