Posts Tagged ‘Horror


Differentiating between scary and gory — ontheedgeofeverything

Some interesting thoughts on the nature of horror stories. (Comments disabled here, please visit the original post.)

I’m a self-proclaimed horror movie buff. You likely already knew this based on how often I review scary flicks and discuss the supernatural realm in general, but in case you forgot I thought I would subtly remind you yet again. Since we’re conveniently on the topic now, I’d like to draw your attention to the […]

via Differentiating between scary and gory — ontheedgeofeverything


13 Great Horror Games

Tis the season to be spooky; in that vein, I thought I’d share some of the games I love playing at this time of year, as well as some upcoming games I’m particularly excited about. 13 of them, to be exact; what better number could there be? If you’re a gamer who’s into the season, I think these are worth checking out… assuming you haven’t already.

Go on; try a few of ’em. What are you? Chicken?

Silent Hill 2

Of course this starts the list; the granddaddy of psychological horror, frequently touted as one of the best in the genre. While I’m not 100% certain of that claim, I do call it my second favorite game of all time (#1 is Metal Gear Solid 3), and think it still holds up today. As a bonus, unlike a lot of games on this list, it can be played on modern consoles (it’s available in HD Collection format for PS4 via PS Now, and the 360 version is backwards compatible with Xbox One) so there’s plenty of opportunity to check it out.

If you’re unaware of the basics, James Sunderland is a man grieving for his wife who died three years ago. Then one day he gets a letter from her, claiming she’s waiting for him in their “special place” – Silent Hill. With nothing better to do, James heads out to see what in the world is going on. If you’ve somehow gone this long without the twist being spoiled, do yourself a favor and play through the game without looking it up; the emotional punch when you find out is amazing.

Resident Evil 7

Resident Evil has had a few bad years, admittedly. While I don’t hate 5 and 6 as much as some folks – I think they’re decent action games, just not very good Resident Evil games – 7 serves as a properly terrifying title, switching out a lot of genre and series staples for a first-person view and a much more small-scale terror. The boss designs are properly disgusting, and the level of characterization behind the Baker family is amazing.

The DLC leaves a bit to be desired, but given the Gold edition with all of it included runs pretty cheap – and is frequently on sale on both the PSN Store and Xbox Marketplace – you might as well pick it up.

Alien: Isolation

Serving as a far better part of the Alien series than Prometheus or Covenant could hope to be, Isolation follows the troubles of Ellen Ripley’s daughter as she makes a trek to a soon-to-be-closed mining station that has picked up the flight recorder of the Nostromo. Looking to find out just what happened to her mother, Amanda soon finds that the flight recorder isn’t the only thing that’s made its way onto Sevastopol, and what follows is 20+ hours of hide-and-seek against possibly the best AI opponent ever seen in gaming. The game is truly tense and frightening, and one frequently is sympathetic to Amanda’s heavy breathing and desperate demeanor as you see the xenomorph’s tail dragging across the floor inches from your position, praying that it doesn’t notice you and move in for an appropriately cinematic and gruesome one-hit kill.

The other great thing about the game is that it absolutely nails the retro-futuristic look of the original trilogy, something the newer films can’t seem to handle. It’s available on damn near everything, last gen and next, and tends to run under $20, so there’s no real reason to miss out on it.

The Suffering

What happens when you take a bog-standard third person shooter, then inject it with heavy-duty horror elements and some of the best lore in horror gaming short of Silent Hill?

Magic, that’s what. The Suffering isn’t great on the mechanics scale, though it isn’t bad, either; its just average. What sells this title is the monster design – in the original, they’re all based off of methods of torture and execution used in the prison setting, while The Ties That Bind applies the concepts of inner-city death and strife – and the characters. Dr. Killjoy is both menacing and hilarious, and Horace manages to be horrific, threatening, and sympathetic all at once. The sequel falters a bit, but is still a decent game; still, if opportunity presents itself, check it out. One hindering factor is the game isn’t playable on any current systems; the PS2 version hasn’t made its way to PS Now, and at last check the Xbox copy doesn’t work on Xbox One, but if you’ve got a BC PS3 or an original Xbox lying around, check it out.

Fatal Frame III

The Fatal Frame series has fallen on hard times, it seems; the fourth installment was never released in the west, while the fifth is only available as a download on the ill-fated WiiU. Given the trend of WiiU games getting ported to Switch, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a compilation, but in the meantime I still have the original trilogy to keep me busy.

Fatal Frame‘s premise is simple enough: enter a haunted locale armed only with a camera (and maybe a flashlight. Sometimes.) Try not to die, figure out why it’s haunted, and try to complete whatever ritual went wrong to seal all the hellbound souls back where they belong. Fatal Frame games do a great job of emphasizing the helplessness and isolation that makes psychological horror work, the ghost designs are all unique and suitably disturbing, and the locales all give off the appropriate level of “Hell naw.” Of the three, Fatal Frame III does it best, while also offering multiple characters and giving you “breathing room” segments in the “normal” world. At least until that turns hostile, too… You can snag it (and the first two) from PSN on PS3 for pretty cheap; sadly, the PS2 and Xbox physical copies tend to be pretty pricey, though not terribly difficult to run down if you take that route.

Mary Skelter: Nightmares

Mary Skelter is a little difficult to explain. It’s primarily a first-person dungeon crawler, but it also incorporates some elements from dating sims, management sims, and visual novels. The basics are that you’re essentially trapped in a living dungeon – with moods and appetites that you can go against or attempt to sate, changing the layout and encounters – attempting to climb to the top and find a way out. Along the way you’ll recruit a band of twisted fairy tale princesses, who have a nasty tendency to go berserk, turning into ultra-powerful (but psychotic and just as liable to murder each other as the monsters) Skelter forms. That gives it an interesting risk/reward mechanic and requires a lot of planning to balance battles, giving it a more strategy vibe that doesn’t seem immediately apparent… at least until the first time one of your party members goes berserk, kills everyone else, depowers, and then gets one shot by the boss you were fighting.

The difficulty and style is very similar to early Persona or Shin Megami Tensei titles, so if you’re into those, check it out. The graphics and music/sound are beautiful dark fantasy fare, and each party member has a special skill used to deal with environmental puzzles. Only downside is it’s for Vita, so everyone may not have a chance to check this out, but a sequel just came out in Japan (and includes the original as a bonus) for PS4, so hopefully they’ll hop across the pond.

Dead Rising

Dead Rising isn’t an intellectual, scary, deep, or serious game. But it is a very entertaining one. The basic premise (of the first three entries, anyway) is “Here’s a big place full of zombies and random stuff. Grab the random stuff and bash zombies. Have fun.” The sheer number of outfits, items, weapons, food and potential combo weapons, along with the size of the environments mean there’s plenty of variety in the zombie-bashing, and if you feel like following the plot, helping the survivors and fighting the deranged psychopaths, there’s even more entertainment to be had.

That being said, try to stick to Dead Rising 1, 2, and Off the Record. 3 and 4 aren’t bad games, but they lack some of the charm of the first three, and are much more linear and pressing you to move forward instead of just having fun. With the exception of Dead Rising 3, you can get them on just about every system, both last and current gen, and except for Dead Rising 4, they generally are less than $10.

The Binding of Isaac

Just for clarification, I include Wrath of the Lamb, Afterbirth, Afterbirth+, Rebirth, Antibirth and all the other mods and DLCs under this heading. At the core, they’re all Isaac, and they’re all great. Take the mechanics of Zelda and Rogue, spray paint it in blood and poop jokes, and wrap it up in a story that deals with religious zealotry and child abuse, and you have Isaac. Very much a “just one more try” sort of game, the randomized items and runs – as well as the insane variety of modifiers and items, not all of which are beneficial to the player – provides an almost infinite amount of replay value. I’ve spent almost as much time on Isaac as I did in World of Warcraft or Diablo 3, and more than on my old PS2 Star Ocean 3 perfect save file on the quest to 100%, and I’m still playing it even after “completing” the game.

Isaac is fairly inexpensive, running under $20 in most cases, and is available for just about every platform, so there’s really no reason to miss out.

The Darkness

Jackie Estacado is a mafia enforcer possessed by (or possessing) The Darkness, a primal force of chaos, hunger, and evil. When his uncle makes the mistake of trying to kill him, it leads Jackie on a bloody rampage of revenge, putting his hell-granted powers to good use as he literally tears his way through the local Mafia.

What gets it on this list? The game captures the visual style of the comic book incarnation, drenching everything in a sense of nihilistic hopelessness and will to surrender to chaos. It also has some surprisingly well done emotional moments between Jackie and his girlfriend Jenny, which turn the dials to 11 when the inevitable happens. Jackie is a monster of a man, even without the Darkness, but it does an excellent job of humanizing him in some ways… and the moral quandary when a remorseless hitman begins questioning his own actions is fascinating.

The sequel is also worth playing – and the art style, voice acting and gameplay are better in many ways – but the story and presentation of the original – plus watching television with Jenny – push it a teensy notch higher in my opinion.

Deadly Premonition

Do you like Twin Peaks? Do you like murder mysteries, ghosts, insanity and delusions hiding beneath a goofy (and poorly executed, in many instances) exterior? Then you need Deadly Premonition.

It takes a lot of heat for the bad B-movie voice acting, the bizarre behavior of protagonist Agent Francis York Morgan, and absolutely atrocious controls, but if you can get past all that, you will find yourself embroiled in a surprisingly entertaining and engrossing tale of supernatural horror that’s frequently just as focused on day-to-day things like putting gas in the car and remembering to shower and change clothes so people will actually be willing to talk to you as it is on the zombie blasting.

Whether it’s a “so bad it’s good” game a “rough but good” game or just an oddity, Deadly Premonition is still something worth playing. Try to grab the Director’s Cut for PS3 or PC if possible, as control tweaks make it a lot more playable than the 360 original, but give it a look either way.

Honorable Mentions

Didn’t want to go into too much detail, here, but some other suggestions to put you in the mood: Alan Wake, BioShock, Prey (the 2016 one), Splatterhouse, Still Frame, Perception, Dementium: The Ward, and Alone in the Dark (1, New Nightmare or Inferno. Avoid the others.)

I also said I’d throw in some upcoming titles that I’m looking forward to, so here we go!

Death Mark

Billed as a psychological horror visual novel, everything I’ve seen so far looks intriguing. Plus it’s coming out on Halloween! I’m getting conflicting reports on whether this is going to be cross-platform or not, but its definitely on Vita and there may be a PS4 version floating about.

Call of Cthulhu

There was an old FPS on Xbox called Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth that was pretty decent, but from all reports this has little to do with that game outside of being based in the Mythos. Supposedly drawing more from the pen-and-paper game and focusing on semi-open world exploration and multiple solutions to problems at hand and with a sanity system that is supposed to finally top Eternal Darkness‘, Call of Cthulhu is looking good, and also lands on Halloween. That just leaves me the dilemma of if I’ll be huddled in the corner with the Vita or glued to the PS4 on that lovely day.

Ghost Theory

This is a lesser known title. A Kickstarted indie adventure title, Ghost Theory claims its going to be a more “authentic” ghost hunting game, based on allegedly real haunted locations and with “true to life” investigation methods and tools. It looks to be taking a less sensationalized and more grounded view, which could work against it – leading to an ultimately boring title – but I have high hopes that it will do well at instilling atmosphere and creeping dread.

Sadly, Ghost Theory isn’t going to make it in time for the holiday; current target release is December. But still, looks good and I can’t wait.

What about you folks out there? What spooky games do you think celebrate the reason for the season? What horror titles are coming up that you’re looking forward to? Let us know down below!

Like my content? Want to help me keep making it? Drop by my GoFundMe or Patreon! All support is greatly appreciated!

Flash Fiction: Cold

I hear my daughter, calling me to her room. She says she’s cold.

She died in the fire three years ago.

Enjoy my work, and want to help me keep making it? Stop by my GoFundMe or Patreon! It’s certainly appreciated.

Three Blue Hearts – Part 1

You know those little roadside shrines, the ones they put up when some kid gets hit by a drunk driver or drug into the woods and murdered or decides to take a leap off some mountainous hard curve? Everybody’s seen at least a few; battered homemade crosses, always planted too shallow and cocked to one side. Half the time any writing has been so weatherbeaten that you can’t read it anyway, and there’s usually the tattered remains of streamers dangling off it like stringy hair and a faded Polaroid of someone who could be anyone stapled to the middle.

Sometimes there’s other decorations; usually old toys or maybe votive candles if the area isn’t too dry. But there’s on decoration that, if you see it, you should walk away from.

Three blue hearts.

They look like gemstones, at first. If you make the mistake of touching them – like a lot of people do, more than would probably admit – you’ll find out they’re just glass. They’re strung in a line from a piece of twine, always looking clean and shiny and new regardless of how old the shrine is and how poorly kept up it is. They’re heavy, too; they’re solid glass, the size of a fist, and if you prod the bottom of the heart you’ll notice they’re plenty sharp. Sharp enough to draw blood.

You’ll find out. I did.


Goodreads Review: I Met A Demon

I Met A DemonI Met A Demon by Petronela Ungureanu

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The premise? Young man, away from home, suffers a terrifying encounter with something beyond the pale and lives to tell about it.
The delivery? About 8 pages of rambling, presented in a journal-like format, wherein he moves into an uncomfortable room, gives cheesecake to an old woman, complains about the lack of mod-cons, kidnaps a stray dog and names it Silly, and sees a large, black fuzzy thing that he rants at for an unknown time before walking out.

While I am not averse to short fiction, whether purchased individually or wholesale in a collection, I have to get hooked, fast and hard, for me to care; this failed in that endeavor. Primarily due to our narrator. He goes to great lengths (spending almost an entire page) discussing how he is thoroughly a modern man of his time (the 70s), but constantly breaks that “character” as his language seems designed to impress or ape an almost Victorian style. There was a great deal of setup involving his childhood and recurring nightmares that he supposedly suffered, put to rest by the blessing of a priest – which, to be fair, was a potentially interesting hook – that ultimately ends up feeling like just a lame attempt to foreshadow the coming encounter, and casts it in a senseless light. (If he was blessed as a child and the incidents stopped, why is he then vulnerable to the “demon” now?)

The other “spooky” events – sounds of crying, things stomping and scurrying in the attic, neither of which are ever really explored or explained – only seem to be tacked on as the standard tropes one needs before a spectral visitation, but don’t seem to have any ultimate relevance to whatever-it-was that appears to our narrator.

The inclusion of the dog and the narrator’s friends seems silly, unnecessary – especially because ultimately the friends smoke, drink and go home rather than engaging in the “rat-hunt” that was planned, and have no interaction with the beastie, thus serving no purpose to the tale, and the dog sits outside, eats, and howls a little when the “demon” arrives, but otherwise is equally irrelevant. Also, he gets abandoned when the narrator flees, which just isn’t cool, man.

Then we finally get to the “demon.” It’s a… giant… black… furry… thing. I guess. With no nose or mouth. But it’s got big burning eyes (the better to see you with?) and can apparently cough (ahem-ahem, as our narrator puts it.) And it… stands there. And perhaps I’m made of sterner stuff (and have had my own “experiences” far worse than this), but I didn’t find this frightening or ominous at all, especially since it does nothing but stand and stare.

Yes. That’s all it does. It stands there. While our narrator discusses the “million years” he stands before it, starting with prayer, moving on to begging, cursing, more prayer, “loses his mind,” “nearly dies,” begs it to tell him what it wants, demands the same, prays some more and curses some more. Then our narrator walks through it with an “Our Father.” The end!

Well, not quite. Then we’re treated to a bit of purple prose about how he abandoned all his stuff (Poor Silly…) and how he’s quite sure that there must be angels, because he met a demon.

I just… I don’t know. I really don’t. I suspect with a proper edit job (paragraphs would be nice) to make it look less like a Facebook post on a ghost-hunting site would do wonders. If it’s attempting to be fiction, expansion on the “rats,” Auntie’s background, our narrator’s past, nightmares and blessing, and the “demon” itself, while trimming back or fleshing out seemingly irrelevant nubbins like the dog or the friends would be helpful; if it’s intended as non-fiction, turning it into a more essay-like format (or including the text as-is, then adding in a “research paper” type portion afterward) might make it better in my eyes. If it lies somewhere in the middle, then any or all of those suggestions could help.

As it currently stands, however, the premise shows promise, but ultimately falls flat. As a blog post or something similar, relating a brush with the supernatural? Maybe. As a Creepypasta or Crappypasta? Might be okay. Though I’d still want to see some severe editing. As a bit of short fiction, though, I felt it was a huge letdown.

View all my reviews

KA Spiral no signature


Goodreads Review: Dolor

DOLOR: Books I-VDOLOR: Books I-V by Rick Florino

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Rick Florino’s Dolor reminds me a lot of Silent Hill. A very terrible place that you’d never want to visit. But – again like Silent Hill – I find myself drawn to it, and insist on poking all the mysteries and unpleasant secrets that lie beneath the sleepy little town exterior; my sense of warped and morbid curiosity just won’t let these sorts of things lie still.

Dolor: Books I-V is a compendium of the first five books of Dolor (as if that wasn’t apparent enough from the title.) This is true in both the literal publishing sense, and the in-story sense, as each tale is presented as a journal of someone touched by the strangeness, madness and danger that lurks in the city. Each presents a different main character, a slightly different oogity-boogity causing the ruckus, and an appropriately grisly end (though often with a sunshine-and-rainbows “What just happened”) as the wraparound story – an FBI agent exploring the remains of a burned-out house and discovering the journals – grows steadily more bizzarre. It’s got an interesting framework and some good concepts going for it, I’ll say that much.

On the good side:
The wraparound story makes for good presentation – though what’s contained in this volume feels like only half the story, I’d certainly like to hear more – and there’s a certain dreamlike etherealness to the whole affair that seems to suit the mood well. Again, echoes of Silent Hill, with the multiple layers of objective/subjective reality and leaving you wondering just what the hell is going on and how much of it’s real. The feeling that, despite the varying nature of the supernatural threats (including possessed teddy bears, cthonic entities, demon babies and vampires), there’s some link between them and ultimately a singular explanation for the terrible things that happen there is omnipresent. The descriptions of the gore and violence are well done and vivid (a scene where a character is run over by a car left me wincing quite a bit) and the characters, when presented properly, are reasonably entertaining stereotypes of the folks you’d find in a small town that’s still big enough to have class divides and bureaucratic corruption.

On the downsides:
This may be a quibble rather than a genuine downside, but it feels unfinished. The wraparound story has no real resolution, and while the other tales seem to be building towards a final revelation and potential showdown (or at least an apocalypse) it never arrives. It’s possible there are more books of Dolor out there, but I’ve yet to find them, thus giving the impression that this is unfortunately as complete as it’s going to get. If I’m wrong on this count, feel free to point me at the others and I’ll remove this “grr” moment. 🙂

The characters I found to be interesting in concept, but lacking a little in execution. Most seemed to be a little wooden, their speech a little off and “too scripted,” if that makes sense. The recurring character of Caleb feels a little too “Knight in Shining Armor,” naturally immune to all forms of corruption or frustration (at least until the teddy bear starts talking). The “Satanic” characters feel just a little excessive in their stereotypical portrayals (one has pentagrams tattooed all over him, does tons of drugs, participates in orgies and sacrifices infants and children for seemingly no reason other than “just because.” Don’t get me wrong, I like a crazy villain, and crazy cultists are always go-to options, but he felt like a caricature of every parent’s nightmares during that whole “Satan’s Sacrifices” media blitz/scare from fifteen years ago or so.)

The language and technical aspects of the writing felt like they could use a little tuning up; too many run-on sentences, repeated phrasing and repetitive description for my tastes. It doesn’t hurt the overall feel too much, and I still found it enjoyable, but I think if a good editor reamed through this, it could easily have gotten up to four stars.

Lastly, the characters and the town suffer from what I call Sunnydale Syndrome. If the murder and violence rate is so high, and creepy/weird things keep happening, why are these people still here? Sure, the cultists/Satanists might enjoy it, but the normal folks stick around for… what? The rent-controlled housing?

Overall, if you like creepy reads and have an afternoon to spare, Dolor is a decent choice and worth poking at; it left me with more questions than answers and the desire to know more, which is always a positive. With some edits, some tweaked dialogue and a more believable villain, the score could be higher, but don’t take the 3 stars as an indication of “trash.” It’s still fun. Or as Stephen King might put it: “It can be set aside with a smile, and called trash. But not bad trash.”

View all my reviews

KA Spiral no signature


Goodreads Review: Rakasha

Rakasha: Legend of the Hindi Tiger DemonRakasha: Legend of the Hindi Tiger Demon by Robert Davis

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Most people who know me suspect there’s something deeply wrong with me. When given the choice between reading an uplifting tale of hope and love, or reading something terrifying and/or blood-splattered, I’ll take the ghosts and gore nearly every time. That’s somewhat problematic of late, as the pickings have been slim for such content. Then I was exposed to this.

A series of short pieces dealing with the rakasha, a tiger-demon that makes its home in the jungles of India – though the stories themselves cover a much wider hunting ground – Rakasha connects early with the unfortunate end of a foul-mouthed, drug-dealing biker on the run. Despite the short length of the pieces, each of the characters felt as fleshed out, if not more so, than those appearing in much longer fiction. From our unnamed biker friend who serves as our introduction to Jeff the church-appointed monster-slayer, every one of them had some amusing dialogue snippets and at least one aspect to love them for (or love to hate them for, in the case of the Rakasha her/itself.) The settings were interesting and varied, and the description sold me on the oppressive claustrophobia of the jungles and the aura of mistrust and poverty surrounding the small villages where the rakasha hunt and play.

The book as a whole was very vivid and visual in nature, providing some great “mental movies” as I cast actors and considered what it’d be like to see it on the big screen. Most of my reading time is spent fretting about dialogue and individual connections, the intangibles that often end up difficult to translate into film or television, but Rakasha felt almost like a screenplay, begging to put in an appearance on late-night television or on the silver screen.

There’s really not much negative to be said about this one; it’s certainly one of the more enjoyable things that have crossed my reading shelf in some time. If anything, it’s that I want more. Further expansion on the mysterious monster-hunting order, more background on Jeff and his priestly pal, perhaps the continued exploits of the younger Rakasha. Not that it doesn’t feel complete as is, just would like more. There’s a couple of awkward sentences, but overall they fit the “voice” of the book, and the meaning is still clear so no major worries there.

Overall, if you’re a fan of old Clive Barker and Bentley Little (think Books of Blood/Hellbound Heart, or The Return) or had a love of the more gruesome aspects of Lumley’s whamphyri, or are just looking for a good gore-soaked romp, do yourself a favor and check this one out. I suspect you’ll be pleased.

View all my reviews

KA Spiral no signature


Goodreads Review: Food Therapy

Food Therapy (3:53 a.m. #2)Food Therapy by Nocomus Columbus

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Have a hankering for some immensely disturbing and disjointed peeks into a fractured individual (or three)? Then this is for you. As with his previous effort (3:53 a.m.), Food Therapy introduces us to some incredibly fractured individuals and lets us spend some time in their heads… until they get their just deserts, that is.

Speaking of deserts, Corey, our first new friend, loves them. As he tells his mother, why he’s only had two cases of Oreos today! Having been a hefty lad from the start, Corey ballooned up to over 800 pounds following the loss of his father, and has since taken up residence in the living room, reigning over his mother like a petty, piggish despot; his implement of rule? The backscratcher, his mighty scepter. Corey proves to be both vile and sympathetic (occasionally both simultaneously) as one eats their way through the pages (pun most definitely intended) and witnesses the tyrant’s rise – and eventual fall – while he obsesses over the pizza delivery girl, makes friends with a former solider, and talks to the ashes of a preacher’s son.

Then there’s his mother. Though we’re rarely allowed directly into her head, her actions convey the implication that she’s just as warped as her son… if not more so. From the moment she informs him that she’s opening a new business – a massage therapy center, to which exclusively male clients come, hmmm… – one has to wonder what’s going on in her head. When Jim, perhaps the only friend Corey has ever made, proposes they begin dating she only grows worse, culminating in her actions in the epilogue of the piece.

Lastly, there’s Jim. With “salvation” and “redemption” tattooed on his arms, he’s seen – and done – some terrible things. Before the tale is done, he’ll add at least one more to his count. With a clever callback to 3:53 AM, Food Therapy is tied up in a tasty bite sized package, leaving the reader wanting more.

View all my reviews

KA Spiral no signature


Goodreads Review: NOS4A2

NOS4A2NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh, NOS4A2. I will miss you so, now that our time is done.

I have to say, I enjoyed this immensely; I came to it with a bit of trepidation, motivated mostly by curiosity, given that the author is Stephen King’s son. Snatched up alongside Heart-Shaped Box, I think NOS4A2 must now take its place amongst my favorite books. Whatever magic King found in his own youth could quite possibly be genetic, as it shines out in his son’s work as well.

The basics are easy enough: Vic McQueen (known to her father as “The Brat”) goes looking for trouble, and finds it, in the form of Charles Talent Manx. Vic has a knack for finding things; gifted with psychic abilities that draw her to the place where she can find what she wants most – so long as she is astride her favorite bike, at least – she’s found bracelets, a lost kitten and other objects. This time, it puts her in the hands of a psychotic who is also capable of traveling hidden roads. Manx – and his car, a vintage Rolls Royce with the ironic license plate of “NOS4A2” (say it phonetically) – has a habit of kidnapping children, draining whatever it is that makes them human, and depositing them in Christmasland, a wonderful amusement park where the fun (often in the form of games like scissors-for-the-drifter or bite-the-smallest) never ends. Besting Manx – with the assistance of an overweight bike mechanic and a few onlookers at the local general store – Vic proves the only victim to ever escape that fate.

Twenty years later, Manx is back. The years have taken their toll on Vic, and the psychic damage incurred by her too-frequent reality-bending trips through the “Shorter Way” on her bike have left her broken, half-psychotic, and barely able to care for herself, let alone her lover and son. When Manx steps in to take her child as vengeance, Vic has to rediscover her childhood talent to bring him back… before Wayne joins the other monstrous children in Christmasland.

All in all, a remarkable book, entertaining on multiple levels. The dialogue is spot-on, from Manx’s creepy (and vaguely bigoted) Southern Gentleman style to Tabitha (the FBI agent helping to look for Wayne)’s no-nonsense geek-girl authority. The characters are all entertaining and compelling, leaving the reader with definite ties towards each (and emitting a silent cheer each time one gets their just rewards, or mourning when things end poorly.)

What I found most interesting about the book were the callbacks – both deliberate statements and in general tone – to some of King’s work. This was perhaps made more obvious to me by my reading of Doctor Sleep not long before, but in many ways the two novels seem to have some mirrored themes… but while I felt Doctor Sleep missed a few boats and was entirely too tidy, NOS4A2 chimes properly. The pain of growing up and the sacrifices we have to make during the process; the loss of childhood wonder (and what too much of that wonder can do); the destruction of innocence and the consequences it holds later in life; growing to understand your parents, even if you can’t forgive them. All of those, plus the typical “we have to pretend this isn’t in any way autobiographical, so we’ll wrap it up in a story about psychic powers and freaky vampire-things!” remind this reader strongly of early King, and do it well. The children of Christmasland, and the disturbing thoughts they bring to mind – especially the discussion regarding “pure fun” essentially being “pure evil” – are some of the best “vampires” I’ve seen lately, and Manx and Bing make suitably gruesome antagonists (all the more so because they truly believe themselves to be doing good.)

Overall, I’d recommend the book to anyone who has a taste for horror but has been sadly starved of late, old-school King fans, someone looking for vampire themes without the glitter, and anyone who read Doctor Sleep and liked the ideas – child psychic atoning for the sins of the father and the self – but didn’t care for the execution.

View all my reviews

KA Spiral no signature


Goodreads Review: Doctor Sleep

Doctor Sleep (The Shining, #2)Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ooooh, Doctor Sleep. What do I say about you? I suppose I should mention that The Shining was never one of my favorites, despite my rabid love of most things Stephen King. It had moments, sure, but for the most part I could have lived my life quite happily without input from Danny Torrance and his drunken, abusive father and milquetoast mother.

Of course, thirty-ish years later, I’m still shelling out to buy the sequel, so I suppose that says something, doesn’t it?

The premise? Danny Torrance isn’t coping so well. Despite plenty of sunshine, love from his mother and a bit of psychic assistance from his pal Dick Halloran (who, as longtime readers may remember, saved little “Doc”‘s bacon back in The Shining), he’s become exactly what he despised. A washed up drunk who thinks it’s totally okay to steal from a single mother, so long as he can keep enough antifreeze in his system to keep the psychic voices quiet. Of course, that doesn’t make for much of a compelling character nor a Stephen King plot, so after finally discovering he’s hit rock bottom, Danny gets himself into the program, finds himself a nice quiet town, and all seems to be coming up roses at last.

Except for the guilt, that is. And the occasional psychic flashes of a young girl (Abra) who’s going to need his help, and of something terrible waiting ahead, a woman in a top hat who is not to be trifled with.

Doctor Sleep leads us down some interesting byways about redemption and the responsibilities inherent to the guilty and those with power, and prods at the idea of the abused-becoming-abuser (whether it be a child or a substance) concept, and does most of it fairly well; the prose is as clean and quick as King’s usual fare, and the True Knot are certainly an interesting take on vampires. Rosie the Hat makes for a suitably crazy villain, and despite the sappiness of the blossoming relationship between Abra and Danny (that has more than it’s share of echoes and callbacks to Doc and Dick in the original book, deliberately so), it works well enough, with the possible exception of one little plot twist regarding Abra’s heritage that comes up in the last few pages; most readers will see it coming, and dread it, and when it’s finally confirmed, it’s facepalm worthy (and a coincidence of the sort that only happens in Stephen King novels, to paraphrase one of his other characters from another series) but you can mostly ignore it and continue on.

Then you get to the ending. Had the book just stopped as Danny and his friends prepared to saddle up and ride down to the Overlook (because of course the ghosts of the past have their hands in the troubles of the present; if there’s one thing this book is about, it’s that one cannot escape the past; surprisingly, it manages to convey this theme without becoming completely heavy handed about it, and half the callbacks will only ding the “aha” moment later, or if you go back and reread the first one), I think I might have liked it better. Had the finale played out a little differently, or had the ultra-sappy reunion scene not been forced upon us (and this seems to be a trend with Mr. King of late; see also the end of 11/22/63 or Joyland) it might also have remained fairly well regarded. Alas, with the War of the Worlds-esque defeat of the True Knot and far too much handholding in the epilogue, I was left with a bitter taste in my mouth.

Now, that nastiness aside, there’s things to like here; most of the characters are interesting and well fleshed out (Rosie the Hat in particular is quite a joy to read, for me; that probably says something about my warped state of mind, but oh well.) and the plot moves along at a decent clip without skipping around unnecessarily. Personally, I would have liked to see more development for the members of the Knot, more background and detail on their escapades (actually, a whole novel on the main crew in this book coming together would do well on my wish list, methinks), but for who we get, King does well.

Overall, if you’re looking for a good redemption story, or if you just have to know what became of Danny, Wendy and Dick after the events of The Shining, it’s worth a read; otherwise, it’s probably safe to pass it up. You aren’t missing much. Except the opportunity to look with morbid curiosity every time an RV full of old people on vacation drives by you on the freeway…

View all my reviews

KA Spiral no signature

Show your support

Adopt an Artist

Take pity, and eternal gratitude will be yours; helps keep this site running and the words flowing.

PayPal Donate Button


Follow Insomniac Nightmares on