Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay

disappearance-devils-rockBook – One night late in the summer, Tommy’s mother Elizabeth is woken up in the middle of the night by a call from Tommy’s friend Josh asking if Tommy came home. They’d been hanging out at Split Rock in the nearby park, and Tommy took off and never came back. Now Tommy’s missing, and as the whole town turns out to search for him, Elizabeth is looking for answers. Why do pages from Tommy’s diary – one she didn’t even know he had – keep turning up on the living room floor overnight? Why are Tommy’s friends calling it Devil’s Rock, when no one’s ever used that nickname before? Who was the adult man hanging out with the boys during the summer, and where did he go? And what really happened to Tommy?

I like horror novels for their ingenuity and visceral power, but it’s not often that I’m really, genuinely scared by them. I was terrified of this book. Tremblay walks the fine line of suspension of disbelief in a way that feels so much more realistic than any other horror writer. Is Elizabeth really being haunted by her son’s ghost, or does she just want to see him again so badly that she’s imagining things? We’ve all experienced things we can’t entirely explain, and Disappearance at Devil’s Rock has that same feeling: we’re pretty sure that there’s a mundane explanation for everything, but all the same…

Tremblay pulled off a similarly tricky balance with his exorcism novel, Head Full of Ghosts, but I found Disappearance much, much scarier. Read it with the lights on, and make sure your kids are safe in bed before you start.

The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle

indexBook – Pepper’s never been in serious trouble in his life. Sure, a couple of fights here and there, but nothing big. But now, out of nowhere, he finds himself incarcerated — not in prison, where he would have a right to a lawyer and a phone call, but in a mental hospital, where he’s told he’ll be held indefinitely, since he signed those papers they gave him after they gave him the Haldol. The food is terrible, the view nonexistent, and his roommate won’t stop pestering him for spare change. And the Devil lives at the end of hallway four.

Although this is billed as a horror novel, and it kind of is, I’d say it’s not scary so much as disturbing. LaValle does a terrific job of shining a bright light on the systems that dehumanize people, making them nameless and disposable That’s not just the way the police can have someone institutionalized when they don’t feel like processing the paperwork to arrest them, but also the way people desperate to keep their jobs learn to cut corners and avoid speaking up about problems, and the way people are put into categories that make them easier to ignore. And with his wonderful characters, Pepper and Dorrie and Coffee and Sue and all the others, he makes us see them as people again.

The Forest (2016)

9149Movie–Identical twin sisters Sara and Jess have always been very close, brought together by their parents’ death when they were children. Sara is nothing but supportive when Jess, who has struggled with suicidal thoughts in the past, decides to go teach English in Japan to get a fresh start. Sara is stunned, though, when she receives  a call from Japanese authorities that her sister is missing and was last seen entering Aokigahara Forest at the base of Mount Fuji. Aokigahara Forest, as the characters in the movie love telling Sara in as spooky a manner as possible, is a popular destination for those contemplating suicide and is full of yuurei, vengeful Japanese spirits that try to get you to stray from the forest path and give you hallucinations to prompt dark thoughts. Naturally, Sara decides to plunge right into the forest to find Jess, whom Sara is sure has not yet succumbed to yuurei. Accompanied by a guide and a new acquaintance, Sara is making headway towards finding Jess when she makes the predictably terrible, horror-movie-protagonist decision to stay in the forest overnight.

This movie excels in its first two thirds at building suspense. It has a lot of well-composed shots that will stick in my memory and makes the audience care about Jess’ fate through Sara’s eyes. However, as is often the case with horror movies, the last third is a bit of a muddle. The protagonist makes a series of seriously poor decisions and the money shots of vengeful yuurei are a bit too direct and silly-looking to inspire real terror. The unique setting and great first two-thirds, however, are enough to make the movie worth a watch.

 

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

BmTk6UbnC1k.movieposter_maxresMovie – The zombie apocalypse has come! Or is it an alien invasion? A terrorist attack that wiped out the US government? Either way something bad has happened to the country and civilization is descending into anarchy! Or is it?

In 10 Cloverfield Lane, Howard (John Goodman) has prepared for the worst. He has a bunker and everything he needs to survive an event of catastrophic proportions. While out Howard finds Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) on the side of a road. She has been in a car accident. He takes her to his bunker to save her life. Michelle wakes up to find she is chained to a wall in a bare room and has injured her leg in the accident. Howard explains what happened and that an apocalyptic event has made the world up top uninhabitable. Michelle is unsure and does not want to believe him. Howard unchains Michelle and allows her into the common area. There she meets Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.). Emmett reassures Michelle that everything Howard has told her happened. Emmett is also hurt like Michelle. As the movie progresses Michelle discovers something which points her to think Howard lying and begins to doubt his story once again.

The film has a slow pace at the beginning and viewers with little patience might give up. But if you stick with it, it picks up quickly and the ending is something worth seeing. When the film first came out many speculated whether it was a sequel to Cloverfield (2008). All I will reveal is that I don’t know if it is or not. Viewers who like movies with a short character list, a good soundtrack, and suspense will enjoy this one. Patience is a must, though.

Harrow County: Countless Haints by Cullen Bunn and Tyler Crook

indexGraphic Novel – Although she’s about to turn eighteen, Emmy hasn’t seen much of the world. She lives alone with her father on their farm somewhere in the South and dreams of seeing more – until the night of her birthday, when everyone in town turns on her, even her own father, and she’s forced to flee for her life before she even knows why, or what it is about her that the spirits in the forest gather to protect her…

This is a terrific little Southern Gothic ghost story, just eerie enough to be disturbing if read too late at night, but without the excess of gore that you see in so many horror comics. The art is beautiful, done in a soft watercolor that adds to both the comfortable mundanity of Emmy’s home and the otherworldly feel of the haints and spirits. Emmy is a great character, struggling not only with her newfound power but with what it means about her and her place in the world. Fans of Welcome to Night Vale and Penny Dreadful will enjoy this series.

Devil (2010)

devilMovie- Five people at an office building enter an elevator. Only one gets out. Devil combines a locked room mystery plot with the trappings of a horror movie. The five people trapped in the elevator all have guilty pasts and every time the lights go out in the broken elevator, they go back on to reveal that someone else is injured or dead. Police and security guards are watching through the security camera, comparing the sign-in sheet at the front desk to the elevator passengers and researching them and their histories to try to figure out who’s doing it. In true mystery fashion, just as they begin to suspect one passenger especially, that is the next passenger to die. Those watching from the security station are split on whether they are watching a horrific supernatural event (one security guard is superstitious and convinced that the Devil is roaming the Earth) or a bunch of frightened people acting irrationally (one of the police officers is determinedly cynical and irreligious due to personal tragedy). The audience, however, is not left wondering at the end of the movie. We get to see the big scary payoff scene of the Devil speaking through/being one of the passengers, and it is sufficiently creepy.

Devil will appeal to fans of both horror and mystery movies.  While it is not the cleverest movie ever, it has some good surprises and I did not predict too early which one of the people in the elevator was the culprit.

The Babadook (2014)

babadookMovie- Young widow Amelia has struggled to raise her difficult 6-year-old son Sam alone since her husband died the day Sam was born. Sam is a very stressed out (and stressful) kid–he brings homemade weapons to school, fears imaginary monsters, acts out constantly, and generally runs roughshod over the listless, colorless Amelia. Things intensify, though, when Amelia reads him a bedtime story from a creepy storybook that has appeared on his shelf, Mister Babadook. Both Amelia and Sam are disturbed by the monster in the story, who Sam quickly becomes convinced is stalking them. The presence of the Babadook becomes slowly more pervasive throughout the movie until it finally takes over.

I was particularly struck by how quickly one’s perceptions of the characters change. I was initially annoyed by Sam but by the end of the movie felt quite protective towards him. The settings in the movie are excellent as well:  they are claustrophobic and oppressive, especially inside Amelia and Sam’s house. The Babadook will appeal to people who typically aren’t fans of horror movies. It is mercifully short on scare chords, cheap made-you-jumps, and gore, but still plenty terrifying on a psychological level and full of suspense.

Splice (2010)

4271Movie- Geneticist couple Elsa and Clive have successfully spliced together the DNA of different living animal organisms and created a pair of hybrids named Fred and Ginger, a scientific breakthrough that promises to yield great medical benefits. However, they are not satisfied, and wish to create creatures with human genetics. Against the wishes of their employer, they clandestinely create a human hybrid with DNA from all kinds of animals. Elsa treats the creature like a daughter, putting it in dresses, teaching it language, and naming it Dren. As Dren begins to get older (and more aggressive), Elsa and Clive move her to Elsa’s abandoned childhood home, a farmhouse and barn with plenty of room to hide Dren. Meanwhile, the Fred and Ginger experiment goes horribly, publicly wrong, with disturbing implications for Dren that earn this movie’s R rating.

Dren’s character design resides squarely in the uncanny valley, by turns beautiful and ineffably creepy. Without spoiling anything, the relationships among the characters in this film are really twisted and the movie’s end is quite graphic. I enjoyed the suspense and quiet build-up of the earlier half of the film more than the series of increasingly unpleasant events that make up the latter half of the film, though I suspect many who typically enjoy films in the horror genre will relish the ending. Splice will appeal to fans of other films with genetic experiments gone wrong, such as Jurassic Park and The Fly.

 

The Boy (2016)

boyMovie – Dolls, dolls, dolls!  A favorite playtime toy of many little girls and boys. But when nighttime falls, all dolls must be put away. Look away from those baby cheeks, especially the eyes, which threaten to sparkle, to twitch, or worse, to blink. Tuck them in tight.  Lock the closet doors. But don’t bother checking in on them after bedtime; they are already out to play.  And so begins the typical horror tale of a doll.

The storyline of The Boy intrigued me: A woman named Greta takes a job as the nanny for a young boy in a secluded mansion. She travels all the way from America to England for the job.  Interesting. Once there she finds out that the boy is actually a life-size doll, a doll that the parents treat as their real son. It is revealed that their son, Brahms was killed in a fire when he was eight years old, a long time ago. The parents reiterate to Greta that she must complete every task on Brahm’s list of rules and be good to him. Greta simply assumes the family is bonkers. She soon learns that bad things happen when Brahm’s rules are ignored, leading her to believe this doll is a real boy.

The lead in this film is Maggie from The Walking Dead! Obviously the doll was creepy as heck, but even more so because of its size. The story plays out in typical horror movie fashion, with jumps and scares and of course the soulless eyes of a doll. But there were a few twists and turns that I really enjoyed. Even though there were many questions left unanswered, I did enjoy this film. If you’re like me, be prepared to sleep with the lights on for awhile. But hey, that’s probably just a me thing. Happy viewing!

Day Four by Sarah Lotz

imagesBook – The first three days of the Beautiful Dreamer‘s cruise are perfectly normal. It’s a budget cruise line, so sure, there are some problems, but nothing to draw anyone’s attention. And then, on the fourth day, things start to go wrong. A usually cantankerous psychic becomes generous and welcoming, even to people who haven’t paid her fees. Security covers up the fact that they’ve found a young woman dead in her cabin; the man who’s killed her tries desperately to pretend that everything is normal. A housekeeper sees a boy who couldn’t possibly be there. A fire breaks out in the engine room, stranding the ship at sea.

And then things get weird.

I absolutely adored Lotz’s debut solo novel, The Three, so I shouldn’t have been so surprised that Day Four was so good, but I was. A good horror novel can be hard to find, but Lotz has a deft touch with atmosphere and she never lets the plot slow down. She doesn’t let you get too attached to the characters, though – which can be a good thing in a story like this, where you almost wish she’d start killing people off just to relieve the tension.

Day Four is technically a sequel to The Three, but the connections are thin; you wouldn’t miss much if you haven’t read the first one. (You should read it anyway, of course, it’s excellent.) If you’re looking for a good, disturbing, plot-driven horror novel, give Day Four a try. But if you’ve got a summer cruise planned… maybe wait until you come home.