Michael Hartford

writer, photographer, programmer, dad

Author: Michael Hartford (page 2 of 10)

Rooms by Lauren Oliver

Family members converge on a house in Upstate New York upon the death of Richard Walker, their secrets and disappointments mingling with those of the ghosts of two of the house’s former residents, and of a girl who has gone missing from Boston.

It took me about 100 pages to get into this book because the characters were initially so sad, defeated, and in some way repulsive; there was a great deal of moping and whining, a fair amount of self-destructive behavior, but not in any way that seemed interesting or enlightening. After the initial slog, though, the story and interest started to pick up with the arrival of a mysterious teen-aged girl, and of a third mysterious ghost; surprising convergences in the characters’ histories started to arise, and their various stories began to come to a more dramatic head.

The final coincidences were a bit much for my normally pretty forgiving suspension of disbelief, and a few things were tied up just a bit too neatly, but there were some thought-provoking ideas and a handful of interesting character moments that made this book worth finishing.

Baskin

Five Turkish police officers answer a call for backup, and find themselves inside an abandoned police station that is a portal to a strange and terrifying hell.

This is a visually striking film, bathed in red light, buckets of gore, and terrifying images glimpsed at the edge of the screen and lurking in the shadows. The Grand Guignol horrors on display are more than a little over the top, with manglings and mutilations and torture galore, and the story quickly becomes weirdly allegorical while also insanely bloody. It’s definitely nightmare fodder, but stunningly executed all the same.

The Void

A police officer finds a blood-covered man crawling along the side of the road, and rushes him to the hospital. Soon after he arrives, something starts to transform the patients and staff into monstrous and blood-thirsty creatures. When the survivors venture into the hospital’s mysterious sub-basement, they find that much is amiss.

This movie has some great body horror effects going on, and some impressive gore. It teeters between horror and science fiction, with some Satanic cult action tossed in, and that gets to be a bit much, but it delivers some good scares and cringes.

Cold Skin

On the eve of the First World War, a young man travels to an isolated Antarctic lighthouse to serve as a meteorologist. He discovers that the previous meteorologist died under mysterious circumstances, and that the lighthouse keeper with whom he will share the island is keeping a strange amphibious humanoid as a kind of pet/sex slave. Every night, hordes of the humanoids rise from the waves and attack the lighthouse, and the keeper and meteorologist must fight for their lives.

I expected something a little more like “Shadow Over Innsmouth,” but this feels a little more like “Avatar” (albeit quite a bit darker and gorier). There are some gorgeous scenes of the stark Antarctic island, and the underwater scenes are impressive, but the large-scale battles feel clunkily animated.

The Canal

An archivist becomes obsessed with a 100-year-old film that documents a crime that occurred at his home. Meanwhile, his wife has gone missing, and it comes to light that she was having an affair. He begins to lose his grip on sanity, believing that there is something in the house that can only be seen through an old movie camera that is responsible for both the long-ago crime and his wife’s disappearance.

This is a good atmospheric movie, with a few scary moments (particularly when the archivist’s young son is threatened by the ghosts) and some good plunging-into-madness hysteria from the lead actor. And the ending is nightmarish and unsettling, a final dive into insanity. Overall a nice little ghost story.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

When Nancy entered a mysterious door in the basement, she found herself in the Halls of the Dead, where stillness and silence are valued above all else. Now returned to the noise and bustle of our world, she has been sent to Eleanor West’s school for children who were “lost” in various fairy lands, skeleton kingdoms, and realms of magic. All of the students (and their teachers) long to return “home” to those magical worlds, while struggling to learn to live in the mundane. As if that weren’t enough of a challenge, though, there’s also a killer stalking the school.

This is a short but rich novella, with a fascinating underlying theory of portal worlds, described along axes of Nonsense and Logic, Virtue and Wickedness. All of the characters traveled to different worlds, and are shaped by the experience in unique ways; their stories are only briefly sketched, but tantalizingly. And though the book is able to stand alone as the story of Nancy’s role in bringing an end to the murders at the Home for Wayward Children, it also launches a collection of stories exploring the other worlds that are hinted at here.

Another Planet by Tracey Thorn

Tracey Thorn’s “Another Planet” blends teenage diaries, historical sources, and contemporary musings to make sense of her youth in the London suburb of Potters Bar. She describes discovering boys and music, and makes interesting observations about the things that we reveal to others and conceal even from ourselves. The strangeness of suburbia, both isolated from the city yet entirely dependent upon it, is at the heart of this memoir.

As a long-time fan of Everything But the Girl, I found it interesting to see what music she was consuming in the years leading up to those great albums of the ’80s and ’90s. There were equal parts disco and punk noted in her diaries, a fascination with the top pop hits as well as interest in the edgy and underground.

The Demon Lover

When his followers abandon him over a Satanic sex ritual, occult practitioner Laval Blessing conjures a demon to exact his revenge. Can Detective Frazetta crack the case and stop him before it’s too late? (Also, there’s a really awesome bar fight, and one of the cult members looks like Frank Zappa.)

Over the top horrible and campy, but also strangely fun and engaging. This was clearly made on as little budget as possible, and with an incredibly sparse script, but it leans into its subject and isn’t afraid to take the most asinine premise with utmost seriousness. Set your expectations low, and you’ll enjoy this little romp.

Let’s Scare Jessica to Death

Recently released from a psychiatric hospital, Jessica, her husband Duncan, and their friend Woody move from New York City to a bucolic New England village. They find that the farmhouse they bought is occupied by a transient, Emily, but they invite her to stay. Soon Jessica starts to see and hear strange and disquieting things; are they a recurrence of her psychosis, related to the strange stories of the farmhouse’s past, or a plot to drive her mad?

I believe I saw this movie on television at some point; my mother was a horror fan, introducing me to Stephen King, “Harvest Home,” “The Hearse,” “Motel Hell,” and many other gems, so it’s the sort of thing that would have been must-watch-TV if it showed up late at night. It has a languid, dream-like quality, with its late summer setting with a hint of menace just beneath the surface. We hear Jessica’s inner monologue throughout, and it’s easy to conclude that she is indeed going mad, but then there are enough actual creepy events–the strange mute girl, the ominous old men in the town, Emily’s seductive ways–to suggest that there is something evil afoot.

Zohra Lampert’s performance is a tour-de-force of psychic fragility and gradual descent into madness; it’s much subtler than Edwidge Fenech’s in the somewhat-similar All the Colors of the Dark.

Huge thanks to Shudder for making this hard-to-find classic available!

Personal Shopper

Maureen is working in Paris as a personal shopper for a celebrity model and waiting to receive contact from beyond the grave from her recently dead twin brother. She starts to receive mysterious text messages from an unknown sender, encouraging her to become someone else.

This is an interesting movie that tiptoes back and forth over the ghost story genre line, as much a story about grief as about entities from the afterlife. It’s subtle and ambiguous, and though there are some truly scary moments (the scene in Kyra’s apartment is wonderfully tense) it’s one of the quieter ghost stories I’ve seen.

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