Monday, March 31, 2014

Celebrating SIX Years Of Fear: Marie's Six Favorite Directors

~by Marie Robinson

Behind every great movie there is a great director. Sure, there are actors and a script, which are obviously huge variables in a quality film, but the director is like the conductor who orchestrates these elements into a visual symphony. I could easily choose top 50 of my favorite directors, but in honor of Fascination With Fear’s sixth birthday, I took the challenge and picked my top 6.


The remaining five directors are in no particular order, but be assured that Mr. Lynch is my number one man. I believe the first film his I saw was Mulholland Drive and I was immediately hooked. His films are surreal, poignant, heartfelt and disturbing and speak to me in some indiscernible language that I somehow understand. While I may not always “get” his films, I adore their intricacies and enjoy unraveling them slowly and lovingly. FAVORITE FILM: Lost Highway 


The Baron of Blood. I scolded my friend who had me watch Videodrome when I was in high school, but I’m thanking him now for giving me a first look at the wonderfully weird realm of David Cronenberg. His nightmarish imagery is unparalleled and unique, his worlds are frightening and fascinating; Cronenberg knows the darkest regions of the human heart, and portrays that haunted place unflinchingly. FAVORITE FILM: Naked Lunch 


I covet and adore this man’s beautiful and expansive imagination. A talented artist, writer, and director and a die-hard Lovecraft fan; his scripts read like dark fairytales and his films flow like poetry. He combines classic clichés with innovative new visions of old tropes. Del Toro is a master storyteller who brings legendary creatures to life for all of us dreamers to revel. FAVORITE FILM: Pan’s Labyrinth.


He has such sights to show you… When I was in middle school I read Barker’s illustrated young adult novel Abarat and loved it. It only excited me more when I later put two and two together that he was also the filmmaker I adored! Since this discovery I have lapped up every form of media that Barker has spat out, be it books, movies, or artwork. He perfectly pairs the elegant and grotesque, and is one of the bravest storytellers the world has known. FAVORITE FILM: Nightbreed 


If you weren’t raised on the Master of Suspense I am sorry for youuuu! Okay, that sounded mean, but seriously, I feel so fortunate to have grown up watching Hitchcock films. From The Birds to North by Northwest, he has created so many classics that have shaped the mystery genre. One of my most beloved books as a young girl was a book of ghost stories penned by Hitchcock that I found at a yard sale, which I have since lost but will always remember clutching close on many a rainy night. FAVORITE FILM: Rear Window 


The man might have questionable character but he has been through hell and back. If surviving the Holocaust isn’t enough, he also had to endure the brutal murder of his pregnant wife at the hands of the Manson family, and it’s no surprise that his films are highly psychological and often disturbing. No matter what you think about the man, you can’t deny his status as a master director who crafts truly mind-bending and immersive films. FAVORITE FILM: Rosemary's Baby

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Sunday Bloody Sunday: Wrong Turn Edition

Ahh, those mutant backwoods freaks do love the red stuff.  Lots of gory shots from the film series to check out:

Friday, March 28, 2014

Celebrating SIX Years Of Fear: Six Films That Wowed Me With Violence

Well, Fascination with Fear is six years old this week!  So in lieu of writing a post thanking everyone that ever lived (because I've done that before and those people know who they are), I've decided to do some lists.  This will come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis (yes, all seven of you!), because lists are one of my favorite things to do!

Over the course of the next few weeks, I'll bring you some favorites in categories ranging from "violence in film" to "movies that made me stop and think"
Six will be the magic number here.  It will be difficult to keep any list of mine down to six items, but I'm going to give it a whirl.

First up, I wanted to get down and dirty.  Here's six films that wowed me with violence. I've seen a lot of violent horror films.  A lot of gore.  A lot of ferocious brutality.  And that's all well and good.  But what I am talking about here is a violent film that had a plot.  Something that made me think and not just sit on my couch like a lump while someone's head was removed.  Here's my six picks for favorite violent flicks. (Hey, that rhymed!)

This is one of my favorite films anyway, but it fits here so nicely.  Like The Hunger Games after it, Battle Royale pits children against each other in a battle to the death.  Also a book first (same title, by Koushun Takami), it depicts a society gone awry, with the Japanese government each year forcing a class of students to fight to the death on a deserted island.  Its focus remains on a couple that want to stay together and find a way to escape their fate.  I prefer this film to THG for a few reasons. It is less flashy and decadent, it is raw and brutal, and I saw this movie first, so it holds a special place in my cold little heart.

 Words can't describe the first time I saw this film.  Well, I guess they's my reviewISTD is such a great revenge flick, and some may say there isn't much plot.  But I beg to differ.  There is a ton of raw emotion here, with Lee Byung-hun capturing my heart during his heartbreaking performance of a man on a mission to find, torture, and kill the maniacal serial killer that brutally killed his fiance.  And Choi Min-sik could possibly be my favorite villain in all of horror.  Astounding.

 A film I just saw and reviewed, The Seasoning House gets under your skin even though you cannot imagine how it accomplished it.  A young girl torn from her mother's arms is forced into a horrific life at a house of horrors where women are held captive as sex slaves for the use of soldiers on break.  At once a gripping, gut-wrenching tale, it boasts heaps of violence in the form of brutal assaults and rapes and living conditions the likes of which you'll never see.  But the heart of the tale lies with Angel and her quest for freedom from such tortures. Surprisingly effective. Surprisingly affecting.

MARTYRS (2008)
The French are well known for their violence, and I could have added any number of films from there onto this list (Inside, Frontiers, High Tension), but for a movie that reached down into my gut for a visceral reaction, Martyrs takes the prize.  Full of brutality and bloodshed, it tells the tale of Anna and Lucie, two girls that suffer in such unimaginable ways it's hard to wrap your head around it.  Controversial as hell, it compels the viewer to keep watching, as the somewhat complex plot (at least for a horror film) delves deep into the heart of darkness.  And it's very hard to dig your way out. Not for the weak of heart (or gut!).

Sam Peckinpah was known for controversial films, but maybe none as much as this particular 1971 thriller. Dustin Hoffman and Susan George star as David and Amy Sumner, a couple who move to her native England to escape the violence in America.  Instead, they get in over their heads with a group of locals from the small village where they make their home.  Part of the controversy was a scene in which Amy was gang raped and appeared to enjoy it.  Other dubious violence occurs in the final scenes, in which David gets his revenge, shooting up the villagers like it was free.  But no one will argue when I say it is a truly excellent film.

I couldn't leave my main man Dario Argento off this list.  While Argento is often lauded for his "beautiful death" scenes, there can be no doubt they are violent.  And though many of his films would qualify for this small list, I'm going with my favorite (and most likely the one with the most cohesive plot). An American writer on a book tour in Europe finds himself embroiled in a murder mystery that seemingly echoes the plot of his latest novel.  Boasting copious amounts of the red stuff, Tenebrae is actually what I would consider to be a near-perfect example of a giallo film.  A fine example of a film, period.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Dark Arts: Spotlight On Aeron Alfrey

~by Marie Robinson

Welcome back to “Dark Arts”, our new ongoing feature on the visual splendor of nightmares.

Today’s celebrated artist is Aeron Alfrey, who I first became familiar with through his incredible blog, Monster Brains (, which—like this feature—showcases artists who have a taste for the macabre. I was absolutely delighted when I discovered that he is an artist himself, and a passionate one as well.

Like many others, he was originally inspired by the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, and his paintings have been featured in exhibitions and books, such as Artists Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft (published by Centipede Press). His work has recently been featured on the cover of a reissue of Noctuary by Thomas Ligotti (released by Subterranean Press); he has also worked on another Thomas Ligotti cover, Grimscribe (Subterranean Press).

Not only is he important to the world of weird fiction, he is also a hell of an artist who creates dismal, disturbing landscapes that exist in the realms of Lovecraft, and the darkest corners of your mind.

 Visit Aeron Alfrey’s blog here (

Cover for Thomas Ligotti's Grimscribe

The Last Known Picture of Joseph Merrick

Baba Yaga

Illustration from The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities

The Mist

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Seasoning House (2012) : A Brutal Yet Compelling Debut

For at least ten days, THE SEASONING HOUSE sat on my coffee table, waiting to be watched.  For some reason, I kept putting off watching it, thinking I just wasn't in the mood for a film I had heard was intensely violent and difficult to watch.  But after a particularly bad day at work, I thought a little brutality might just be the ticket.

Directed (and co-written) by former special effects wiz Paul Hyett, THE SEASONING HOUSE wastes no time getting right to it.  A young girl is brought to a house of horrors in which teenage girls are forced into prostitution to service soldiers on break from war in the Balkans.

Viktor (Kevin Howarth) is their pimp, the owner of the brutal brothel, and he takes a special interest in the girl he names Angel.  Angel (Rosie Day) is a deaf mute, and has an unsightly port-wine birthmark on her face, making her seemingly too unattractive to present to the militia.  Instead, he forces her to be his personal sex slave, though he does seem to genuinely care about her in his own warped way.

In flashbacks, we come to realize Angel has been ripped from her home, having watched her mother be shot and killed right in front of her by soldiers who then round up all the young women in town and bring them to Viktor.

Angel has the unenviable task of doping up the restrained women, making them less likely to fight during their assaults. She paints their faces with makeup beforehand, and afterward she cleans them up and empties their waste buckets. 

One day one of the captives, Vanya (Dominique Provost-Chalkley), realizes Angel is deaf and makes a connection to Angel by using sign language.  Angel is shocked to see someone who knows how to sign, and the two are able to strike up a friendship.    Angel spends time with her friend but doesn't allow anyone at the house to know they are close.

Angel has a habit of sneaking around the house by exploring between the walls, and knows its secrets inside and out.  She's able to sneak in to see Vanya without anyone being the wiser, but with this friendship comes the capacity to love, and Angel ends up an unwilling witness to the violent rape and brutal beatings that her friend has to go through, at one point her pelvis is broken during the sex act. Viktor explains this ferocity away by announcing that the men pay more to use the girls more "extensively".

As if things couldn't possibly get any worse, the band of soldiers responsible for her mother's death come calling.  They are there for a rollicking good time and won't be deterred by Viktor, who seems uneasy at their arrival.  The leader of the pack, Goran, is played by none other than Sean Pertwee, whom I love in anything and everything.  He plays a convincing ogre in this film, a baddie from the word go - but he's extraordinarily fun to watch, even as an evil tyrant.  Once Angel recognizes that this is the man who is directly responsible for her mother's death and for giving her and the other girls the horrific life they are living, a plan begins to form in her mind.  A plan made even clearer once a beastly hulk of a soldier set to have an unrelenting and brutal interlude with her friend goes too far.

I didn't want to like this movie.  I wanted to hate it on principle.  I shouldn't like a film that brutalizes and perpetuates violence against women.  Something that shows in inhumanity of people should not be a fun time. But hot damn, this is a decent film.  Rosie Day as Angel is the center point and everything revolves around how it affects her.  The depth of emotion with which she plays her forlorn and bereft character is astounding, she's that good.  I had no choice but to become completely immersed in her world and her desperate situation.  I felt it in my gut when things were at their worst, and reveled in her triumphs as she attempted revenge.

Hyett doesn't hold back here.  He's telling a story that in some parts of the world is all too true, and the gritty sets and design tell a bleak tale all on their own. It's both appalling and riveting.  It made me sick to my stomach, yet compelled me to watch onward.  It was like an exquisite train can't take your eyes off it.

 THE SEASONING HOUSE shouldn't be disregarded as yet another "torture porn" or exploitation-type of film, as it has a bigger, more harrowing tale to tell.  You'll be thinking about it long after it's over.  I know I still am.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Contracted (2013): Just Say No To The Red Solo Cup!

In the fourth feature from director Eric England, CONTRACTED is a tale of caution, yet another warning to watch who you get too cozy with.

Obviously it's never a good idea to get utterly trashed at a party, in particular when there are people there you don't know who are jonesing to get you into the sack.  Or, in Samantha's (Najarra Townsend) case, the back seat of a car.

Sam, already distraught because her and her lover, Nikki (Katie Stegeman) are on the outs, does multiple shots at a party hosted by her friend Alice (Alice Macdonald) and in the worst move of the century, accepts a drink from a stranger.  Soon after the romp in the car, Sam starts to feel a bit under the weather.

Her relationship on the brink of break-up, she is back living at home with her concerned mother (Caroline Williams), who has seemingly put up with a lot in the past from her daughter.  Drug abuse is inferred, as is her mother's disdain in her romantic choices.

In truth, Sam is not a particularly likeable person.  She rolls her eyes and whines a lot.  She's catty and dismissive with her two closest friends, Alice and Riley (producer Matt Mercer) - who for some unknown reason both still want to sleep with her. She holds down a job at a restaurant but isn't a very friendly waitress. She's cruel to her mother, more or less a spoiled child with a bad attitude.

So it's rather hard to feel any true sympathy for Sam's situation as it grows increasingly worse as the film goes on.  She wakes up the day after the encounter feeling out-of-sorts. Her eyes are unusually bloodshot. There is copious amounts of blood on the sheet under her.  Hangover? Bad period?  I think not.  But she takes it all in stride, just dismissing the problem with a tampon and a squirt of Visine.

At work while waiting on customers she experiences auditory problems, and one of her eyes is completely red (yes, the pupil too!).  In the restroom she notices a problem "down there", so begs off her shift and heads to the doctor.   Assessing her situation, which includes a strange rash in the nether-regions, he explains he can't treat her until he gets the results of some blood work.  He tells her it is most certainly viral but basically sends her on her way.  (This distressed me the most.  Because I work for a doctor, I'm well aware that this physician should have done some vaginal cultures as well as labs, at the very least. Anyhoo....)

Things only go downhill from there.  No reason to spoil all the fun by giving anything else away, but please note that the body horror expands to disgusting proportions in Contracted's short 78 minute running time.  Sam's fingernails, hair, and teeth start to fall out.  She develops sores.  Her mind starts playing tricks on her. Maggots fall from her crotch. (Not joking there, kiddos!)

Just what has Sam contracted??

My only complaint is that to be honest, in addition to Sam, not one of the other characters was remotely likeable either.  You certainly felt Sam's plight, but as stated, she is a truly annoying person. Her friends were all rather irritating and vapid as well. Add to that the fact that everyone had a crush on Sam (except her girlfriend, ironically) and I just didn't care much about anyone in the cast at all.  That did not, however, ruin the film for me.  Perhaps it was the gross-out factor (running overly high here, especially at the end) that kept me interested, but I just couldn't wait to see what the outcome was going to be.  I had ideas of what was going on from the get-go, but as it unfolded I became increasingly intrigued about how far they would go.
And they went all the way.

Eric England (of Madison County fame) is one to watch. Independent film has really come to the fore-front of horror, with interesting ideas that are perceptive to what horror fans are seeking.  Practical effects, decent scripts, and honest acting is all I ask of a film.  This film has all of that, and I'll be watching closely to see what England does next.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Ten Questions With....... Horror Author James Newman

Over at The Crypt, I run a feature called "Ten Questions with....", which gives me the opportunity to interview some of the rising stars of horror - in particular indie directors, writers, producers, actors, and sometimes even the already famous and well-respected (such as Larry Fessenden). It's a great gig, and the best part is getting to know heaps of great people in the horror community.  

Before The Crypt was even in existence, it was my great pleasure to get to know author James Newman.  I first discovered his work when I happened across his 2012 homage to 80's pulp horror, THE WICKED.  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and struck up a friendship after I posted a review here on the blog

James is also the author of such books as UGLY AS SIN, MIDNIGHT RAIN, ANIMOSITY, and the recently released 666 HAIR-RAISING HORROR MOVIE TRIVIA QUESTIONS. He is currently working on his next hair-raising novel, but since he's such a helluva nice guy, he took the time to answer some questions for us horror nerds.  Enjoy.

1) First, tell us a little bit about yourself.  How did you get into horror?
     I've loved this stuff for as long as I can remember.  My dad has always been a fan of sci-fi and horror, so I can remember him renting monster movies all the time -- the cornier the better!  Sometimes, though, he would accidentally pick up something with quality, something that left an impression on me.  I can remember seeing John Carpenter's original HALLOWEEN at the drive-in when I was just five or six years old, and not long after that THE EVIL DEAD scarred me for life.  That's a good thing, BTW.
     My mom says that since I was old enough to write, she remembers me drawing monsters and making up little stories to go along with my illustrations.  Not long after I learned to read I discovered those SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK books, and it was all downhill from there!

2) What makes someone want to write about the darker side of life?
     I wish I knew the answer to that. More intelligent folks than yours truly have written entire books about it.  You've heard it all before:  how we invent vampires, zombies, and werewolves to help us deal with the "real" monsters like terrorism, poverty, and disease.
     I do find the psychology behind it all rather fascinating.  But I don't know. 

3) Your book from 2012, THE WICKED, knocked my socks off.  What was your inspiration for such a dementedly wonderful novel?
     THE WICKED was my ode to those "evil in a small town" novels that were all the rage in the 80s.  You know the ones -- more often than not they had an evil kid on the cover, and the plot was usually about sinister goings-on thanks to an old Indian burial ground.  With THE WICKED, I wanted to pay tribute to those old books I grew up with -- the good and the bad -- but hopefully do a little better than those titles that have been forgotten over time simply because they weren't that good.  I wanted to create in (THE WICKED's protagonists) the Little family a group of real, three-dimensional characters with real relationships, real modern-life problems that the reader could relate to.  Once a writer is able to pull that off, the reader is willing to suspend disbelief when the demon comes along.

4)  I was raised in a small town and could always relate to novels such as THE WICKED, which always seemed to give small towns a bad name. The town of Morganville was so well fleshed-out that it felt like home to me, which is rather scary. Do you hail from a similar town?

     Yeah, for the most part.  I live in Hendersonville, North Carolina, which is a lot like Morganville in many ways.  I'd classify my hometown as a "minor city" more than a "small town", though.  It's a good place to live, a beautiful area, and nothing at all like the hotbed of demonic activity that is Morganville.  Thank God!  (laughs)

5)  I could really feel the vibe of 80's pulpy horror fiction in THE WICKED, which I loved.  Brought me back to my teen years staying up late reading into the night.  Who were some of your writing influences?
     Stephen King was the first, definitely.  From that era I also loved Graham Masterton's stuff (still do).
     Believe it or not, though, the more I've thought about it I've realized that the BAD novels of that time, with their gaudy foil-stamped-and-embossed covers, might have influenced THE WICKED more than the good ones (I'm sure the folks who don't care for my work are emphatically nodding right now!).  Those garish paperbacks from the 80s -- how could you not love that stuff?  It's like watching a Troma film.  You know it's not a "good" movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it's so much FUN! 

  6) Your 2013 offering, UGLY AS SIN, boasts nothing but 5 star reviews on Amazon and has gotten a boat-load of good press. As much a story about redemption as it is horror, it's a book that can step into other genres. Was this your intention?
      Absolutely.  Like MIDNIGHT RAIN (my first novel), UGLY AS SIN really isn't a horror story at all, per se.  And I didn't mean for it to be.  I've been calling UGLY "white trash noir", or a Southern thriller with a streak of pitch-black humor.  I liked to read stories in that genre, so naturally I enjoy writing them too.  That said, everything I write will always be very dark.  I don't think I could turn that off if I tried!   

7) Tell me a little about your other titles: ANIMOSITY, MIDNIGHT RAIN, and PEOPLE ARE STRANGE.
     ANIMOSITY is my "love letter to the horror genre", my most "personal" novel to date.  I'm really excited to see its release in trade paperback and audiobook next month.  ANIMOSITY is about a horror writer who finds the body of a murdered child while he's out walking his dog one morning.  Because of what he writes for a living, his neighbors start to turn on him, until eventually his life is in danger.  I think ANIMOSITY says a lot about how the "normal people" view those of us who dig this stuff, and asks the question, "What if your love of 'things that go bump in the night' put your life in danger?"
     MIDNIGHT RAIN is a coming-of-age thriller in the vein of STAND BY ME and Robert R. McCammon's BOY'S LIFE (my all-time favorite novel).  It was my first, and still holds a very special place in my heart.
     PEOPLE ARE STRANGE is my first -- and only, to date -- short story collection.  All of the stories in this one are about the crazy things people are capable of, no supernatural element at all.  I tend to write about that more and more these days -- how WE are the monsters -- because I think people can be the most terrifying fiends of all, sometimes.

8) Your latest, 666 HAIR-RAISING HORROR MOVIE TRIVIA QUESTIONS is an awesome compendium of horror trivia which will delight and stump even the most knowledgeable genre fans. What made you want to write this book?
     I've loved horror movies as far back as I can remember.  And I love trivia.  I also love being a huge show-off film nerd.
     I've been working on this project off and on for several years.  Finally, it came to be!

9) I've seen so many reviews and comments in which readers simply can't wait for your next novel. I happen to be in that crowd as well, so fess up: what are you working on now?
     At the moment, I'm about 3/4 of the way through a collaborative novella -- which actually might be a short novel by the time we're done with it -- with my good friend Mark Gunnells.  It's a coming-of-age horror novel called DOG DAYS O' SUMMER.  We're having so much fun with it, and can't wait for folks to read it.
     I've also been slowly but surely getting started on a follow-up to UGLY AS SIN, a new book featuring disfigured ex-wrestler Nick "The Widowmaker" Bullman. 

10) Ordinarily I would ask what some of your favorite horror films are, but in this case I will ask you about favorite horror books and/or authors.  Any lesser-known favorites to recommend?
     My favorite books:  the aforementioned BOY'S LIFE by Robert R. McCammon, LIGHTNING by Dean Koontz, CAGE OF NIGHT by Ed Gorman, THE GIRL NEXT DOOR by Jack Ketchum, and CHRISTINE and THE SHINING by Stephen King.
     My favorite writers:  King, Joe Lansdale, F. Paul Wilson, Richard Matheson, Ray Garton, Bentley Little, Thomas F. Monteleone, Robert R. McCammon, and the short work of Nancy Collins.
     EVERYONE should be reading Gillian Flynn.  She makes me murderously jealous, she's so damn good.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Sunday Bloody Sunday: Frontier(s) Edition

As per usual, the French do not back down from violence and excessive gore.  Case in point, 2007's Frontière(s).