The Real Consorts with Shadows

Lessons in Speculative Fiction from The Twilight Zone

Anthology horror has crawled back from the dead to haunt your TV screens once again. It’s shifted into shows like American Horror Story and Channel Zero, where the stories are seasonal rather than episodic. It’s creeping back with more familiar programs like Black Mirror, Guillermo Del Toro’s 10 After Midnight, and in Jordan Peele’s upcoming Twilight Zone reboot.

In light of this, I’d like to take you on a journey to place where sights and sounds may astonish you, a place you’ve never been, a dimension of the mind, in the Twilight Zone.

I’ll be rewatching the original series and writing short articles about what makes the episodes work. The goal is to figure out exactly what made the classic show as good as it was and offer advice for other writers (really it’s my advice to myself) on how to make speculative fiction pop.

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Beyond the Cabin in the Woods: The Twilight Zone Movie

I was lucky enough to get invited onto Beyond the Cabin in the Woods: A Good Ghoul’s Guide to Horror. It’s a podcast where horror experts initiate new viewers into the genre. I love the show, regardless of whether they invited me to be their guest or not.

We chatted for quite a while about The Twilight Zone movie. You can listen to it here.

I’m also excited to announce that I’m starting a biweekly feature on this site called “The Real Consorts with Shadows” that looks at the story-telling craft between episodes of The Twilight Zone TV show. The first one will be up next Wednesday, so make sure to check back here!

Review: Island Zero Proves Not All that Starts Well Ends Well

Island Zero starts well. First time director Josh Gerritsen does good work making viewers afraid of a monster without showing them what it is from the start. The film opens with a very drunk man singing to his dog on their boat. Yacht Man (Paul Hodgson) leaves his dog on deck as he goes under to fix himself another martini. The dog passes by two open windows before it disappears behind a third closed one. It’s a great moment because Gerritsen manages to tip viewers off that whatever happened to the dog on the other side of that window wasn’t good.

That dread of knowing something is wrong but not being able to nail down exactly what it is really works in Island Zero. The fish have disappeared off the coast of an island off Maine. Sam (Adam Wade McLaughlin), a biologist chasing a previously undiscovered apex predator, explains, “The pattern is always the same. The sudden disappearance of fish. Local economic devastation. Then the fisherman start to die.”

Continue reading at Wicked Horror!

Review: Altered Perceptions? This Movie Doesn’t

In Altered Perceptions, three couples have a drug that is repeatedly compared to hallucinogens injected into a gland behind their eyes. The drug’s stated purpose is to give clarity, and according to one of the people administering it, it has the potential to resolve, “geopolitical conflicts around the world.” The couples—two straight, one lesbian—are on the rocks. For them, the drug is an opportunity to save their relationships.

The whole film is framed by a panel questioning the experimenters. Within two minutes, Walter (Mark Burnham), shouts, “Someone was murdered. Where does your unacceptable range begin?” From there the panel screens footage of the drug trial, with Walter interjecting as the film’s angry conscience. The test subjects have cameras set up in their homes and are required to post daily video diaries as well. Director Kate Rees Davies thankfully takes some liberty with her cameras. The scenes may all begin on a fixed camera, but once they start Davies let’s the cameras go to. It’s a good balance, reminding viewers of the found footage genre but giving herself the freedom to frame shots and to move with the characters.

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Review: Downrange’s Simple Premise Leads to a Simply Bad Movie

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Six stunningly attractive but vapid teenagers are driving through the middle of nowhere when they’re stopped by unexpected car trouble. In the case of Downrange, they get a flat tire. Three of them decide to sit leaning on the car while it’s jacked up as the dreamy Jeff (Jason Tobias) changes the tire. When he gets the flat off, a shell casing tinkles onto the road. The next shot kills him. The shooter takes out another teen before the four remaining get to cover. The rest of the movie follows them as they try to survive. It’s not very good.

It’s a familiar setup. The Texas Chainsaw MassacreThe Hills Have Eyes, and more than a few other great horror films start by trapping their characters in the middle of the nowhere with vehicle trouble. All of those movies do a lot of things better than Downrange. One is to characterize about the killer. Downrange obstinately refuses to give the audience anything more than a few shots of him drinking water, reloading, or point of view shots through his scope. The question of why he’s doing this isn’t ever answered.

Continue reading at Wicked Horror!

Ghost Stories Relies on Jump Scares to Spice Up a Preachy, Boring Riff on Dickens

Ghost Stories follows Professor Phillip Goodman (Andy Nyman), an atheist who has dedicated his life to debunking paranormal phenomenon. His hero, Dr. Charles Cameron, had done similar work before disappearing under mysterious circumstances. Cameron reaches out from close to the grave to give Phillip a message about life: Goodman should spend more time with his family. Also, ghosts are real and he has three cases that Goodman won’t be able to solve.

The first section is by far the scariest. Goodman meets Tony Matthews (Paul Whitehouse), a night watchmen, in a bar. Having the principal character as a guard is excellent because it satisfies the question of why that idiot is investigating the strange noises. Tony had to because it was his job. As he creeps through the abandoned asylum, directors Jeremy Dyson and Andy Nyman pepper the audience with jump scares to great effect and strange sets. It’s knuckle bitingly scary.

Continue reading at Wicked Horror!

Indie Horror Reviews

I’ve been reviewing indie horror films at Wicked Horror for the last two years. Here are three of the latest flicks I got to review with their scores.

Imitation Girl was the best of the three, by far. I scored it an 8/10. It’s not frequently enough that I get to write a review of a movie that I really loved, and I’m grateful to Natasha Kerami for letting me really be positive in my review of her movie.

My experience writing about Day of the Dead: Bloodline was a bit different. Limping in at 4/10, it made a good case for not remaking the late great George A. Romero’s movies.

Delirium wasn’t much better. It was capable, but didn’t take any risks creatively and was ultimately unsatisfying.