Reviews

Wicked Wednesday: “Into the Drowning Deep” by Mira Grant (2017)

It’s the final week of Women in Horror Month. That’s a whole decade of celebrating the women who contribute to the horror genre.

For the last couple years, I’ve solely focused on contributions to film. But this week I thought I’d chat about the novel Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant.

Grant, who also published under her real name, Seanan McGuire, is a bit of a legend. She’s won the John W Campbell Award for Best New Writer. But she’s also won a Nebula, Hugo and Locus for her work in fantasy. Her Wayward Children series is impossibly popular on the likes of BookTube. Her names are ones I know, but somehow have never gotten around to reading. Until this month, that is.

Into the Drowning Deep is a horror novel set on a ship. But think more Jaws than Ghost Ship with added killer mermaid-like beasts. It’s about what happens when we discover that we are the prey, not the predators. “Did we really think we were the apex predators of the world?”

In 2015, the entertainment company Imagine sent a ship full of scientists and film crew to the Mariana Trench to discover mermaids. The company, headed by its very own Roger Corman-figure (weird how he keeps coming up this month), sought its next biggest hit. Imagine Entertainment thrived on cheaply-made sci fi and horror movies in the past, but found more recent success with a string of “mockmentary”-style horror films chasing mythical beasts.

But unfortunately the crew of the Atargatis, they found what they were looking for.

The boat is eventually found empty. All that Imagine Entertainment have to go on is the found footage of the incidents on the beach. When some of that footage was leaked to the public, a debate started about whether or not the footage was faked or real.

Years later in 2022, a second team sets sail to find out the entire truth of the doomed Atargatis. On board the Melusine is scientist Tory, the sister of one of the crew lost on the Atargatis. She and several other scientists seek the biggest scientific discovery of their generation.

But like the voyage before theirs, the mermaids quickly find the soft, tasty humans waiting on their tin can. When the mermaids start to attack, it’s up to Tory and both the scientists and its crew to band together and discover how to save themselves.

Much of Into the Drowning Deep focuses on the science much of the passengers are working on. But between those scenes, Grant fills the pages with eerie, slasher-movie-like scenes with the “mermaids”. The suspense is built victim by victim, growing a sense of dread and impending doom.

This is a pretty long book, and it was certainly a struggle to get through the first 200 pages or so (this comes to pretty heft 484 pages). Horror is best when it’s snappy and succinct. I found the moments of action incredibly readable. And the gore was splendidly described. I love a bit of face loss!

Like a slasher movie, you can pick out which characters are going to die first and which one’s you’d like to see have a painful death. Many of the characters do silly things, as horror characters often do. It prompts a similar reaction to when their screen counterparts do idiotic things on screen.

I personally didn’t enjoy much of the science nonsense. And unfortunately for me, it was about 80% of this book. It’s too much detail and long-winded scenes reiterating previous ones. Accord to many reviews, the science is very inaccurate anyway.

But regardless of the accuracy, Grant still manages to drive home her message: “Humans had the potential for good, although they did not always make the effort.” We are shown the what-cold-be’s of global warming and the destruction caused by changing the once-balanced ecosystem of the ocean. In fairness, killer mermaids are probably what we deserve.

In the Drowning Deep is certainly an unsettling book at the best of times. I’m certainly not in any rush to get on a cruise ship. If there’s something waiting in the ocean for us, I’d like for it to keep waiting, please.

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American of London’s summer horror reads 2017

I know that summer is typically when people consume garbage books, but summer doesn’t have to equate to the mind-numbing. Life is too short to read shit books on purpose.

Increasingly I’ve found that I’ve enjoyed reading horror novels in the summertime, especially when I go home to Wisconsin. There is something unknown about the forest around my parents’ house that fills my imagination with spooky ideas.

As August is giving us its final, dying breath before autumn mania takes over, I thought I’d chat about the horror stories I’ve read this summer.

1. My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix

This was one joyful read. A glorious throwback to a horror golden age. It surprised me, made me laugh aloud but most all — creeped me out quite a lot. In My Best Friend’s Exorcism, Gretchen and Abby are the best of friends. They’ve been together through their fair share, but they meet ultimate test when Gretchen becomes possessed.

I’ve never read anything else from Hendrix, but his book Paperbacks from Hell: The twisted history of ’70s and 80s paperbacks is out in September, and that’s a definite “yes please” from me. Hendrix built such a great, convincing story around his main characters’ friendship, that I think I’ll be reading anything he writes from here on out.

And quick note, this book sat on my TBR shelf for nearly a year until I saw the paperback edition and had to buy it immediately. I mean, look at it – it’s incredible.

2. Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan

This is a bite-sized thriller about a group of kids who accidentally kill their English teacher (spoiler alert). Like many of Duncan’s novels, the teens have to learn to accept responsibility for their actions or deal with what happens to you when you’re a nasty little liar.

I mentioned this in my review of the made-for-tv adaption, but I picked up this Lois Duncan novel in a used book store. I’ve been interested in reading Duncan’s novels for a while and I quite enjoyed this. Duncan was fantastic at building up feelings of suspense and guilt. A disturbing little read.

3. Frozen Charlotte by Alex Bell

It’s rare to get excited about any books that come through our office at work, but when I heard co-workers talking about creepy dolls and needles stuck in a boys’ eyes, I knew I had to get my greedy little hands on this book. It took almost two years to do it, but I finally read it!

Frozen Charlotte isn’t likely to blow anyone away who’s familiar with the genre, but there is plenty of atmosphere that is rather chill-inducing. It follows the story of Sophie, a girl who goes to stay in Scotland with some family after the supposed suicide of her best friend. It’s immediately clear to Sophie that not all is well with her family or the weird dolls she finds everywhere.

There’s a prequel novel out in September. The first novel was good enough for me to gladly read the second.

4. “The Willows” by Algernon Blackwood

I listened to Algernon Blackwood’s short story “The Willows” on Chilling Tales for Dark Nights’ YouTube page, which you can listen to here. Peter Bishop does a fantastic job with the narration. They do a number of stories on their page, and its well worth a visit if you enjoy audio books.

“The Willows” follows two men as their make their journey down the Danube. They stop for the night on an island filled with willow trees. The men begin to have explainable supernatural experiences as their situation becomes increasingly dire. It’s a story that slowly unfolds, and dramatically. Blackwood was absolutely fantastic at creating a chilling story.

I definitely want to read more of this man’s stories in the future.

5. The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchison

Not strictly “horror” this one. The Butterfly Garden is more thriller, but the two often go hand-in-hand. This book, to me, is in the same realm of something like The Silence of the Lambs, which also treads the line between thriller and horror.

The story follows two FBI agents as they interview a girl who has been held in a greenhouse known

as the Butterfly Garden for years. Her captor is the Gardner, a twisted man who mutilates his victims by tattooing them with butterfly wings. The story changes POV between the interview with the girl, Maya, and Maya telling her side of the story.

I found this a difficult one to rate. In many ways, it’s very good – I felt scared, I cried, I was sickened. But also, I think Maya was meant to feel like an unreliable narrator but I believed everything she said. There’s no real twist here. It’s either guessable or given away by the synopsis. Not exactly what you want in a thriller.

6. The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer by Jennifer Lynch

It’s been a rather Lynch-filled summer. With the return of Twin Peaks I’ve been living in the Lynch World since April (when we started re-watching the original show leading up to the The Return). So I was very pleased when I got this book for my birthday from my co-workers.

And…wow. What a saucy book.

Laura Palmer’s diary is certainly very shocking. Unfortunately, Jennifer isn’t anywhere as good as her father in building characters, but she does know how to write terrifying and sickening scenes. One day I want to sit with all of the pieces of the Twin Peaks puzzle and see if I can put any of them in place.

7. The Witching Hour by Anne Rice

I’m a very slow reader. So when I received my copy of The Witching Hour in the mail, I nearly wept. IT IS SO LARGE. I managed to read this beast in about 24 days, but boy I’m still not certain if it was worth it.

The Witching Hour is an epic in every sense of the word. While there is one main plot line, much of the story is filled with the history of every Mayfair Witch. For the first 400 pages, I was so into it. Rice has such an alluring style of writing. But the lady cannot be described as brief. Do readers really need to know every detail of a house? And when I say every detail, I mean I could draw you a picture of this thing.

Despite it being simultaneously devious and tedious, I found myself actually wanting to read the other books in this series (of which there are two more). Damn you, Anne Rice.

Dynamite has a new Nancy Drew comic and no one told me

Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys: The Big Lie
Writer: Anthony Del Col
Artist: Werther Dell’Edera

Colourist: Stefano Simeone

If there’s one thing I love, it’s a good mystery. I love puzzles. Growing up, I was desperate for a good mystery to happen in my own life – I only ever got as trying to pick the lock on the wardrobe in our Door County hotel room.

But at least I got to live vicariously through Nancy Drew. She’s a super-cool super sleuth that has managed to stay relevant for decades. So a couple weeks back when I saw Dynamite Comics was coming out with issue #2 of their Nancy Drew and Hardy Boy series, I felt bewildered that I had let this pass me by.

Well, the good thing anyway is being able to read to issues back to back with the third arriving already in early May. I like mysteries, but I’m pretty greedy and impatient with them, too.

Bayport not as sunny as it used to be.

Frank and Joe’s dad, Fenton, is arrested for police corruption for taking bribes from criminals. Though those charges ended up being invented, and their father released, the damage had been done.  Depressed, their father shot himself.

But the police aren’t convinced and bring the boys in to be questioned for the murder of their father. They disappeared for an hour during a party the night of their father’s death, leading to suspicion that they killed their father themselves.

That premise leads the boys into their next mystery. One filled with classics: clocks, secret stairwells and a girl named Nancy Drew. Only this story is quite a bit darker from the days of the blue and gold hardback books. The Big Lie is darker than the old stories, but it certainly is attention-grabbing.

And the style done by the team at Dynamite is absolutely spot-on for creating that crime noir feel. I mean, look how gorgeous these covers are! I really enjoy that the comics switch between all three names, being told in mostly voice-overs.

In issue two, it’s revealed that Carson Drew is the prosecutor in Fenton Hardy’s case, making Nancy’s position difficult. But the girl begins to do her own digging to help out the boys. And I love it.

I really hope this series continues with a great mystery, because I could use a good mystery to get wrapped up in. But so far, two issues in, Del Cole and Dell’Edera are doing a fantastic job.

The Hunger #1 one-shot

 The Hunger #1
Story by Frank Tieri

Art by Michael Walsh
Colours by Milchael Walsh and Dee Cunniffe
Variant cover (as pictured) by Robert Hack

I make it no secret that I love the Archie horror comics, but they have the most irritatingly slow and irregular release schedules. There are months at a time in between issues and new ones are constantly being pushed back.

So when I saw a horror comic would be included with Archie comic’s release of one-shots was a really welcome announcement. Jughead: The Hunger is a both a throw back to classic werewolf movies like The Howling and a nod to Juggie’s enormous appetite.

It’s that hunger that gets the gang kicked out of an all-you-can-eat buffet. Well, more like begged to leave. But Jughead’s eating habits gross out Reggie a little bit too much and the two boys get into an argument. After they’re separated, Jughead vows that Reggie will “get his one day”.

But before it can get worse, Fred Andrews arrives and tells the kids that Miss Grundy has been killed by the Riverdale Ripper – the fourth victim.  Shaken up by the news, the kids split up to head home before dark.

On his walk, though, Jughead begins to feel ill when he is approached by Dilton. His heart begins to speed up and the next thing he knows, he wakes up that morning in his bed, covered in blood. Oh and with Dilton’s arm in his bed.

Knowing he can depend on his friend, Jughead runs to Archie for help. Though before he can admit anything, Archie says that already knows his friend’s secret when he saw the attack the night before. As they talk, they’re approached by Betty, who begins to kick the crap out of Juggie.

The bad ass Betty even pulls out a gun to end the boy when Archie stops her and demands an explanation. Betty tells him that lycanthropy runs in the Jones family, and the Coopers were always there to hunt the Jones’s that turn. Her friendship with the gang only happened because she pretended to be a peppy, lovesick teenager.

Archie discovers that there might be a way to save Jughead. The three head to the Riverdale Botanical Garden to find wolfsbane. A cheery Jughead consumes some. He immediately transforms into full-on werewolf but before he can attack his friends, he crumples to the floor – seemingly returned to human form for good.

Or is he?

Man, this one-shot was a lot of fun. The opening of the book shows poor Miss Grundy’s death. Remember in Archie vs Predator when the Predator enjoyed pull teen’s skulls and spines out of their bodies? Well, not to be shown up, we get a beheaded Miss Grundy here. It’s bloody, and it’s even a bit funny: The Hunger fits seamlessly into Archie Horror’s style. And seriously, Michael Walsh’s art in this is SO good.

Badass werewolf-hunting Betty is my favourite. Can we please get a full comic series of her as a werewolf hunter? Like Buffy, but hairier.

Lady Killer 2 Issue #4

Lady Killer 2 Issue #4
Story & Art: Joëlle Jones
Colours: Michelle Madsen

Boy oh boy has it been a long time. And no, it wasn’t me just being really behind (as usual). Issue number three arrive in shops back in November. This is getting to be at Archie Horror-level of excruciating waits. It’s not really shocking, though, considering that Jones has signed with DC as an exclusive creator this past summer. The lady has been busy turning out plenty of art for the publishing giant.

But nevertheless, the return of everyone’s favourite 1960’s killer-for-hire is a very, very welcome one.

Last issue, Josie was given a “gift” by her partner, the increasingly-shady Irving. The gift was the corpse of Josie’s husband’s idiot boss, whom Eugene was struggling with. Josie threatens Irving’s life, but eventually lets him off with a stern “piss off.”

At work, Eugene is questioned on the disappearance his boss, Mr George Robidoux, after other employees told the investigators that Eugene didn’t get on with George. And it doesn’t help that with George out of the way, Eugene’s path to George’s job is clear.

Despite Josie wanting to part ways with Irving, he certainly makes difficult for her. When Josie is caught trying to kill off a “dancer,” Irving appears and shoots the other woman. But the gunshot gives the pair away. Before Josie can leave, Irving asks her why she doesn’t leave her suburban delusion and to stop pretending who she really is.

It clearly shakes Josie up a bit to be reminded that she’s a killer, and things quickly go south for her yet again. When she returns home again, she gets her ear chewed off by Eugene. But before the couple can get into it, they hear the dog barking. Poor Duke is severely injured and their windows are shattered.

Mother Shuller sends the girls off with Eugene as he heads to the vet, leaving both ladies to pick up the pieces of their past mistakes with Irving.

I say each issue that Jones kills it with her art, but it needs constant reiteration: this woman is a boss. She has a great eye for angles and details (both of which are greatly enhanced thanks to Madsen’s colours). The story, though, is really taking off. It’s a much smaller story than the previous 5-issue story arc, which makes me think this series 2 is really a great improvement.

Issue 5 won’t be out until end of May, according to Dark Horse’s website. It’s another excruciating wait, but let’s just call it a great building of suspense.

Jem: The Misfits Issue #1

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Jem: The Misfits issue #1
Written by Kelly Thompson
Art by Jenn St-Onge

Colours by M. Victoria Robado

People love villains. A really good baddie that people love to hate can turn a story into something great. I mean, it can be pretty hard to root for your hero if they don’t have much interesting to go up against.

One of the most classic and well-loved group of baddies has to be The Misfits from Jem and the Holograms. A sassy, bad-to-the-bone band of ladies who love to make life hell for the Jerrica Benton’s band (and their record label… and even sometimes their fans).

What Kelly Thompson has done with the original Jem and the Holograms comic series for IDW is really flesh out contemporary personalities for each of its characters. While it’s been fun to watch The Holograms grow, the other part of the fun has been watching The Misfits get into lots of trouble and totally implode.

Which is why Jem: The Misfits works so much as a series. The Misfits are so good at being evil, it’s kind of fun to watch them suffer because of all their nasty deeds (and makes rooting for them even better).

The first issue of the new series opens up with the Misfits on holiday after being dropped by their label 5×5. While at Pizzazz’s beach house, Eric Raymond delivers the news to her that literally no label is willing to take on the Misfits due to their reputation for creating trouble. Though he does tell them that they have one option (or two – kind of): either make a Misfits reality show or be booked as entertainment on a cruise.

Pizzazz is immediately not on board with the reality show idea, “We’re musicians. We’re not some talented hacks that just want 15 minutes of fame.” Her defiance is also a look into her younger years which is totally illuminating. Readers even get a Misfits origin story, both of which we never got much of in the original cartoon.

And while sure, the Misfits are technically the baddies, you can’t help but root for them a bit. Pizzazz “lost” her original family, made she managed to make a new one with the girls she chose herself. And really, there’s a lot that hits homes about the sentiment.

It’s because of Pizzazz’s fierce dedication to her band that she ultimately decides that the Misfits need to do the reality show, especially when the only other option would be to disband. Sometimes sticking together is a bit more important than your dignity (or something).

Jem: The Misfits manages to be silly, delightful and sweet as Thompson continues to dominate with her writing for the franchise. She’s done just a fabulous job with the main title, it’s great to see her work her magic with the Misfits as well. When Pizzazz tells her band that they’re doing a reality show (note: not asking) – their reactions are totally priceless. Jenn St-Onge is perfection at bringing each of the girls to life.

It really is fun watching the band rise and fall and rise again – even if they are supposed to be the villains.

Issue two of Jem: Misfits will be in shops on the 1st of February.

Ash vs Evil Dead Season 2 Episode 10 “Second Coming”

ash6

Boy what a season.

It was a fairly inconsistent season of Ash vs Evil Dead. Trying to think back on the season’s ten episodes (just barely five hours) absolutely exhausts me. Remember the possessed car? The Pink Fuck? The asylum/dream bit? Oh and that awful Sheriff Emery? For such a relatively short show, the crew behind this show really packs everything it can into the suitcase, then tries to sit on it and hope it closes.

To say seasons two was big is understating things quite a bit.

But “Second Coming” was a fairly solid ending to a rather hectic season. The episode tirelessly tries to keep its viewer on its feet, and pretty much achieves just that. Though it did feel like there was a whole lot that was needed to fit into the small thirty-minute time slot (this was a longer episode than previous weeks), and I sort of wish the show took a breath while filling us in.

Last week left Ash alone in the cellar at the cabin with a student and a rather enlarged Mrs Knowby. Right before Ash attempts to shoot her, she tells him “No one escapes their destiny.” Then she, er, eats the student and finishes off her husband.

When Ash escapes from the pits of history, he comes face-to-face with a blonde Ruby. This is 80’s Ruby. 80’s Ruby is a total, immortal bitch who still has ideas of ruling with the Necronomicon in one hand and patting the heads of her babies with the other. Unfortunately, Ruby (the regular one) shows up with Kelly.

And it’s Ruby vs. Ruby while Ash gets sent off to deal with the Deadite in the cellar. The effects are a notably entertaining mix of CGI and practical. Mrs Knowby’s head gets all stretched and long like one fat deadite worm…neck beast. Oh and breast milk. Eeeergh.

Being mortal, Ruby tries to talk 80’s Ruby out of her Master Plan. After it slips that Ruby killed off her babies, 80’s Ruby is pretty unwilling to like her future self. Since she’s the sort of all-knowing scholar of the show, Ruby keeps insisting that 80’s Ruby can take a different path (sound familiar?), then she’s killed.

Yep. Present day Ruby bites the dust. So that makes the Ghost Beaters, what, 40% off?

As Kelly and Ash take their opportunity to run for the hills, Ash’s hand grows back – proving that the team have successfully changed the present. They open up the trunk and find Pablo whole again. The reunited team hop into the Delta, seemingly heading back home to sunnier days in Jacksonville.

Though – twist again – Pablo is Baal, which is one of the cruelest thing you can do to a fan base that has been mourning the loss of their favourite Honduran demon fighter. Kelly and Ash are attacked and dragged back to the cabin yet again – it’s always that damn cabin.

When Ash wakes up from being knocked out, he witness the book “giving birth” to Baal and Ruby’s children. If you’re a clever view, you’d have sensed that something wasn’t right in the previous episode when Pablo told Ash to go back in time. And well, that’s because Baal had attached himself to Pablo’s body during the original attempt to get rid of him. Going back in time allowed Baal to posses a body that would eventually become alive again… or something.

Then there’s a fairly lengthy bit of Ash asking Baal to a one-on-one fight using no demon powers. Of course Baal agrees to it, but bends the rules to his own will. Ash fends off Chet (and loses a hand), runs from Cheryl, then drowns Brock – who yet again attempts to tell Ash something important – in a bathtub.

Thanks to 80’s Ruby being a total self-serving demon, she changes the rules of the “battles of egos” herself. This works to Ash’s advantage, and he finally finished off Baal with his own weird overgrown nail.

The cabin begins to split in half, seemingly to open up to the pits of hell and eat up Baal and the cabin with it. Ash and Kelly get the fuck out and watch the final destruction of the cabin as it burns (incidentally, the original cabin in the first film burned down as well). From the ashes emerges a rather phoenix-like Pablo.

In the present day (I think, since the show skips over any scene of travelling), Ash is hailed as a hero of Elk Grove. Pablo and Kelly share a long hug. Linda beams on lovingly in a white outfit. It all feels too good to be true. And it most likely is. As 80’s Ruby turns on her heel and marches away out of the crowd, it’s pretty certain that season 3 isn’t going to be easy going for the Ghost Beaters. 80’s Ruby seems a whole lot angry than the present day option.

So that’s it for the Necronomicon, right? In a rare post-credits scene, an unseen girl grabs the book from the ashes. “Look what I found!” Oh big trouble is on the horizon for the team. Then again, with Ash in tow, when is it not?

The finale left me with notes filled with words in all caps, and plenty of ???? every other line. It moved so fast, and constantly changed direction at every opportunity. So where does Ash vs Evil Dead go from here?

Hopefully, it regroups and slides things back to a smaller scale. The best part of this show for me is the three core characters. I can do without Ruby (even though Lucy Lawless is a true queen). There’s magic that happens between Pablo, Kelly and Ash. Seeing them together and group-hugging-it-out just felt really right.

Ash vs Evil Dead spent ten episodes showing off what it can do: genre hopping, slapstick comedy, great acting and even better effects. But maybe, just maybe the show can tackle something a bit more manageable. It certainly wouldn’t bore me. At this point, there’s too much good stuff built into this franchise for it to be anything but entertaining.