Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Review: The Haunting of Velkwood by Gwendolyn Kiste

The Haunting of Velkwood

The Haunting of Velkwood by Gwendolyn Kiste
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

About the book:

From Bram Stoker Award­–winning author Gwendolyn Kiste comes a chilling novel about three childhood friends who miraculously survive the night everyone in their suburban neighborhood turned into ghosts—perfect for fans of Yellowjackets.

The Velkwood Vicinity was the topic of occult theorists, tabloid one-hour documentaries, and even some pseudo-scientific investigations as the block of homes disappeared behind a near-impenetrable veil that only three survivors could enter—and only one has in the past twenty years, until now.

Talitha Velkwood has avoided anything to do with the tragedy that took her mother and eight-year-old sister, drifting from one job to another, never settling anywhere or with anyone, feeling as trapped by her past as if she was still there in the small town she so desperately wanted to escape from. When a new researcher tracks her down and offers to pay her to come back to enter the vicinity, Talitha claims she’s just doing it for the money. Of all the crackpot theories over the years, no one has discovered what happened the night Talitha, her estranged, former best friend Brett, and Grace, escaped their homes twenty years ago. Will she finally get the answers she’s been looking for all these years, or is this just another dead end?

Award-winning author Gwendolyn Kiste has created a suburban ghost story about a small town that trapped three young women who must confront the past if they’re going to have a future.

*    *    *

I won an uncorrected Advance Reader Copy of this book from Saga Press, via Goodreads Giveaway--thanks so much! Here are my thoughts:

I congratulate Kiste on conjuring a unique type of haunting--not a house, not a thing, but a whole dang neighborhood! And I don't know whether "Talitha" has ever been a common given name but I suspect that its appearance here, when it was famously used in the gospel passage in which Jesus brings a dead girl back to life and says, "Talitha koum," (“Little girl, I say to you, arise!”), is not coincidental. (Please note, however, that this is not a religious story.)

From page one I was engrossed and creeped out. The build-up toward the protagonist's return to her abandoned phantom block was suitably worrisome and nerve-wracking. Her arrival there is heartbreaking and utterly chilling, as are the consequences of that and repeated visits. The mood is somber throughout which, coupled with how difficult things become for the protagonist the more time she spends in the shadowy realm, ratchets the tension up exponentially.

I felt the pacing was somewhat sluggish in the second act. As well, I found the writing style a bit immature in places--I know this is an uncorrected copy but I think the author uses a certain kind of repetition for emphasis, or to snare the reader emotionally, and this not likely to be "corrected." (And maybe it's not something requiring correction but just something not to my taste--whatever the case, those moments took me out of the narrative.) I will say this, though: the climax of the story is so violently satisfying that I cried, and I honestly can't remember the last time a book affected me that way.

"The Haunting of Velkwood" engaged me so strongly that I practically inhaled it over the course of four days, and I'm definitely interested in reading more by this author. Recommended for fans of the Channel Zero series (which, if it hadn't been cancelled, would've been an excellent adapter of this story.)

The Haunting of Velkwood is due to come out on March 5, 2024.

Friday, December 4, 2020

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965)*

One frigid December night, about three years ago, I exited the office I worked in at the time, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It was waaaaay past quitting time, and I was wiped out and starving, and I just wanted to get my commute over with so I could get home and collapse with copious quantities of comfort foods, already. But across the way, something caught my eye. I went toward the colorful motion and about a long block later found myself in front of the ABC building. The ground level lights were all off. In one glass wall was mounted a monitor and speakers so passersby could enjoy whatever ABC was currently airing--and in that moment, it was about ten minutes into A Charlie Brown Christmas. For the next twenty minutes I stood outside in the freezing cold, smiling through the program and the memories of when I was a kid watching it on CBS. (OK, and maybe I sniffled a little during Linus' monologue near the end.) The only thing that could’ve made that night better would’ve been the right man’s hand holding mine as we shared those chilly twenty minutes...and maybe some spiked hot chocolate.

Well, there probably isn’t a “right man” for me, and ABC no longer holds the rights to the special, so it won't be airing on network TV this year. But I can make myself a spiked hot chocolate whenever I want (I've concocted a fabulous recipe), and you can click here to learn where you can tune into the magic of Christmas (spoiler alert--PBS for the win!).

*This is a slightly expanded crosspost from my tumblr blog.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Spook Out! Day 31-ish ~ Stayin' Spooked

Youse guys, I had a blasty-blast doing the blogfest this year--I hope you enjoyed exploring the new, the old, and the outright bizarre with me.

But I just hate saying goodbye to Spook Out! So long, have a nice year, maybe see you next October, if I survive till then. Wham, bam, spook off, ma'am. So callous, so cruel. Can't bear it. So here are a few other fun things that can help keep you feeling spooky after all the Halloween candy's gone...

On the Netflix
I wasn't too impressed with Netflix's movie offerings, but they've got some great series for horror fans. In no particular order, I highly recommend:

Hannibal (2013 - 2015) ~ "This drama series focuses on the early years of the relationship between FBI criminal profiler Will Graham and homicidal cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter." Among the prestigious of prestige TV, this 3 season series is a masterpiece and veritable feast for the eyes. But some images may prove disturbing to more sensitive types.

Dracula (2020) ~ "An unconventional nun helps a tormented lawyer piece together the details of his doomed business trip to Count Dracula's castle." Brought to you by the same twisted minds responsible for the Sherlock reboot, this is not your dad's Dracula. With three feature-length episodes, this cheeky adaptation goes in some interesting directions. It's been a while since I've watched it, though, so I'm not sure how gory it is...although, vamps, so there's likely to be a good amount of blood!

The Order (2019-2020) ~ "Out to avenge his mother's death, a college student pledges a secret order and lands in a war between werewolves and practitioners of dark magic." With rule-lovin' snarky witches and hard-drinkin' wiseass werewolves, two seasons of The Order make for a fun supernatural romp. Yes, I said romp!

Crazyhead (2016) ~ "Bowling alley worker Amy and nonconformist Raquel kick some serious demon butt while also facing their inner demons as they navigate their early 20s." There is, alas, but one season of this horror comedy, but don't let that stop you from watching it! Girl powah!

On Hulu
The Huluween collection provides hours and hours of frightful fun, including my following faves:

What We Do in the Shadows (2019-2020) ~ "A look into the daily lives of four vampires who've been together for hundreds of years; after a visit from their dark lord and leader, they're reminded of their purpose in coming to New York City over a century ago." These two seasons are a spinoff of the excellent mockumentary film of 2014 and funny af.

Zomboat! (2019) ~ "Sisters Kat and Jo realise there's a zombie apocalypse in Birmingham, but gamer Kat has a plan: zombies can't swim - water is the safest option, and narrowboats move just marginally faster than zombies." It's utterly ridiculous and a ton of fun! As well, it stars one of the leads from the aforementioned Crazyhead, who seems to keep getting herself into these fixes...Whatevs--more girl powah!

Stan Against Evil (2016-2018) ~ "172 demons have been unleashed on the residents of Williard's Mill as payback for a massive witch-burning hundreds of years ago. Evie, the new sheriff in town, needs to work with the former sheriff, Stan Miller, who was forced to retire." Starring the incomparable, irascible, and irrepressible Dr. Cox John C. McGinley, you've got three seasons of wackadoodle demon-killing to dive into, so what're you waiting for, an engraved invitation???

Bob's Burgers ~ Given the year we've all had, sometimes you just want jump into your jim-jams, cuddle up with your pillows, and enjoy some very light-hearted scares. And this animated series has about eight Halloween specials for your pleasure (not including this year's, which has yet to air as of my writing this post):
  • Full Bars (S3E2)
  • Fort Night (S4E2)
  • Tina And The Real Ghost (S5E2)
  • The Hauntening (S6E3)
  • Teen-A-Witch (S7E3)
  • The Wolf Of Wharf Street (S8E3)
  • Nightmare On Ocean Avenue Street (S9E4)
  • Pig Trouble In Little Tina (S10E4)

OK, I reckon that's enough to keep you entertained for now. If you've already seen any of these, or if you think there are some shows I might enjoy that aren't mentioned here, please let me know in the comments!

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Spook Out! Day 31 ~ Zombieland: Double Tap (2019)

Amazon Says...
"Through comic mayhem from the White House to the heartland, four slayers face off against new kinds of evolved zombies and new human survivors."

I Say...
And how!!!!!

Horror Type...
Zombies, Horror Comedy, Post-Apocalyptic

Main Players...
Woody Harrelson as Tallahassee (Gnarly Elvis Lover)
Jesse Eisenberg as Columbus (Puppy Dog Rule-Maker)
Emma Stone as Wichita (Bad-Note-Leaver)
Abigail Breslin as Little Rock (Restless Teen)

I liked...

  • the shoot-em-up opening credits, that really set the tone for the rest of the movie
  • the laughs, the gags, the bits, the throwaways, the visual jokes--man, this mfr was even funnier than the first Z-land flick, but also,
  • the zombie scares, which are played straight and, in some scenes, legit scary
  • the new zombie classifications
  • how relationships, both romantic and familial, are explored and developed
  • the doppelgängers! (so to speak)
  • the specTACular zombie battle in the third act, DANG!

The Meh...
The only "meh" for me is that I don't know if we're getting another movie in this franchise. PLEASE OH PLEASE LET THERE BE ANOTHER ONE!!!!!

Would I recommend it...?
HECK to the YEAH! Lah-lah-lah-LOVE THIS MOOOVEEEEEEE! For me, it's the perfect combination of action, romance, comedy, and horror, with exactly the right amount of violence and gore to give it some Halloween bite (pun intended!). Not sure if sensitives will mind the aforementioned violence and gore--IMO, it's not gratuitous (for the kind of movie this is) and while it has scary moments, they're not terrifying, just...pleasantly chilling. (That's a thing, right? Pleasantly chilling?) (Well, it is for me...)

  • I've gotta shout out Zoey Deutch (Madison), Rosario Dawson (Nevada), and Luke Wilson (Albuquerque) for their work here--bravi, y'all!
  • Watch the end credits all the way through. Trust me on this.

My Grade: A
Rotten Tomatoes Scores: Tomatometer=68%, Audience Score=88%

Details, Schmeetails...
I Watched Zombieland: Double Tap on Amazon (the Rotten Tomatoes page linked above provides links to other streaming platforms)

This concludes Day 31
(and indeed, the blogfest!)

Thanks to all who joined me
on this year's journey,
and please do come back next year...


Friday, October 30, 2020

Spook Out! Day 30 ~ The Wretched (2020)

Hulu Says...
"A rebellious teenage boy embarks on a gutsy crusade to stop the terrifying evil he suspects has possessed his neighbor in this bone-chilling occult thriller."

I Say...
That's about right.

Horror Type...
Supernatural Horror, Creature Feature

Main Players...
John-Paul Howard as Ben Shaw (Troubled Teen)
Piper Curda as Mallory (Sassy Teen)
Zarah Mahler as Abbie (Neighbor From Hell)

I liked...
  • how the scares start coming from the jump, and keep on coming
  • the artfully articulated Wretch in all her gory glory
  • how some character-types who are traditionally left unharmed in other horror movies enjoy no special protections here (which is to say, I didn't enjoy what happened to them, but I was impressed by how the directors dared to break through established conventions)
  • that the dad of the piece eventually listened to his son, though Ben gave every indication of being a very unreliable narrator indeed
  • the Sixth Sense-like twist in the third act. Nicely done, youse guys--I suppose I should've seen it coming, but I totally didn't...

The Meh...
  • I'd have liked more intel/background on what, exactly, that Wretch-beastie is (she's referred to as a witch, but she strikes me as something different, something...more)
  • It's got some '80s brat-pack movie tropes (a hot girl who's kind of a bitch, rich guys who're dicks to the protagonist, an embarrassing moment in a swimming pool, etc.) which contrast weirdly with the heavier themes of the film and detract from its intensity 

Would I recommend it...?
Yeah, it's got loads of great scares with gruesome effects for Halloween, takes some risks, and does some things I haven't seen horror movies dare to do, of late. It's not for the faint of heart. Trigger Warnings for: babies, kids, and animals in peril, lotsa violence, and did I mention the gore?

The Wretched was released to VOD and drive-in theaters during the Covid 19 pandemic and has been "...the closest thing to a box office hit this summer." Bravo, y'all!

My Grade: B+
Rotten Tomatoes Scores: Tomatometer=74%, Audience Score=45%

Details, Schmeetails...
I Watched The Wretched on Hulu (the Rotten Tomatoes page linked above provides links to other streaming platforms)

This concludes Day 30 of

Thanks for reading and come back tomorrow...