The Girl Next Door is an emotionally-powerful kick in the teeth
This was the first Jack Ketchum book I ever read, and wow, did it make an impression.
Since then I’ve read a few Ketchum books. He has a talent for gore and disgust. By way of analogy, I love watching “Who’s Line Is It Anyway?” where great comedians ad-lib various funny situations. But over time I’ve found that if they can’t make you laugh because it’s funny, they’ll just do something that embarrasses you. Laughing because you’re embarrassed to them is just the same as laughing because you think something is funny. It’s kind of a cheap trick (but one many comedians use, and to great effect).
Likewise, some horror writers try to disgust you instead of scaring you. They try to think of the most awful and insensate acts of evil, then play them out for you on the page. Ketchum to me is one of these guys. That’s not saying he’s a bad writer, just that his style is like that. If you like that thing, you’ll probabaly like all of his books.
But every now and then the writer’s style and the material move together such that the writer’s character and the character of the story merge. In The Girl Next Door, this is what happens. It’s a story about a typical suburban neighborhood around 1958. Ketchum does a great job of describing this world. It made me feel like I grew up in the 50s. Due to an accident, a couple of girls move in with the family next door. At this point the story slowly drifts from being a slice-of-life story to something much, much darker. It becomes a meditation on how people treat each other, especially how people treat outsiders. The Other. Basing it on a true story only adds to the punch.
I won’t go into details. I don’t want to, even if you’ll never read the book. I find them disturbing to recall. The entire book moves from a warm, lighthearted suburban drama to a dark tale of vile horror. In short, it was a great book! Left me thinking about it a month later, and that’s always a sign of a good read. Many of the books I read and review here I have to review right after I read them, otherwise I forget a lot. Not The Girl Next Door — it stays with you a long, long time after you’ve finished.
Gone for good is great, page-turning intrigue
It’s gotten so that anytime people use the word “intrigue” you think of boring spy novels or something involving complicated plots. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Gone For Good is a great little page-turning novel where as each secret is exhumed and decisions made, the universe shifts into a new way of looking at things. Massive changes in the reader’s model of reality can easily be overdone, though. Coben doesn’t go too far.
Starting off sounding a lot like a crime novel, we begin with the death of a next-door neighbor that is pinned on our protagonist’s brother. The brother was never found, though, and our guy lives day-to-day wondering whether his brother is alive and knowing in his heart that he didn’t commit the crime. The plot gets moving with the death of a close relative that causes our hero to begin a search, and a mission, that can only end in a big old bucket of suspense and surprise.
I enjoyed this book a lot, especially after reading some splatterpunk horror. It’s nicely told, and the author doesn’t miss a beat. It would have been easy to make a book like this too complicated, or too busy, but Coben balances the story-telling just right. To me a sign of a good book is when you are reading a part and thinking “Why the heck am I reading this? Is it important?” only to later realize “Wow! That was really important!” Very cool when it’s done well. He also nails dialogue. There were a few times when characters made snarky remarks where I caught myself laughing out loud, which I rarely do. And several other times characters said things as I nodded, thinking, yep, that’s exactly what he’d say.
As I understand it, Coben usually writes in a serial format. You know, the same hero doing something a little different each time at bat. I don’t blame modern authors for doing this — it seems to be the only way to make a buck at writing. But I’m glad he took some time out to write Gone for Good; it’s a wonderful little book.
A nice, easy, scary-as-hell horror story. Just like they should be.
Some of the best scary stories are told over campfires. The storyteller stands up, or leans forward, and with his voice and emotions takes the entire group on a trip through fear. There’s no rushing these stories — the best storytellers take their time, make sure you get a real, nice feel for the characters and the situation, then slowly knit up the story.
This is the first Richard Laymon book I’ve ever read. Looking at the reviews, it seems he did a lot of sex and gore in the past. I didn’t know that starting this book, and I think it made for a better read. A bunch of teenagers? Some kind of traveling vampire show? What was this, a Scooby Do episode? And like a great storyteller, Laymon takes his time, showing us each character and slowly building the suspense until the heart-pounding ending.
I don’t want to give too much away in this review, but it’s fair to say it’s about an experience one summer that changes the lives of our main teenage characters forever. Laymon has a way with character development. Over the course of this book I really felt like I got to know the major players very well. It made me want to read another book with those same characters in it!
It does build slowly, however, and I had to buckle down a bit to read it. The last 25% or so is when things really heat up, and by the time I finished I was impressed at the great story I had just been told.
I’m not sure I’d call it a horror novel, at least not in the sense most horror novels are today. This one was much more subtle — and because of that will leave a longer-lasting impact. If you’ve got some time on a trip or vacation and want a nice scary campfire story to read, The Traveling Vampire Show is a sure bet.
Aliens attack the North Pole! Who will save Christmas?
Let’s be honest here, Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is not alone. There are lots of bad movies in the world. But every so often a movie comes along that is so bad, well, it’s kinda cute. It’s lovably bad.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is one of these movies. For years it has almost gotten to our list of movies we have to watch every year for Christmas. Who can forget the song “Hurrah for Santa Claus”? Or the stupid hats the martians have with all the antennas sticking out? Or Santa’s weird laugh he does, often for no reason at all. Perhaps it’s a nervous tic? To be honest he seems kinda lewd. Not the normal Santa. Maybe a sequel is in the works, Lewd Santa does Vegas.
In this 1960s classic, the kids on Mars are all glued to their TVs, watching news about Santa. But Santa doesn’t dome to Mars, so obviously steps must be taken. After consulting with one of the elders, a ship is launched which kidnaps Santa and a couple of kids. As you can imagine, it all ends with Santa winning the day, and happiness for all the Martians and their kids.
If you’re a collector of really bad movies, this is one for you! Get it and put it in your collection. If you’re just a fan of bad sci-fi, it’s still definitely worth watching. The Mystery Science Theater version of this is also good. After all, you have bad acting, bad plots, campy characters, a catchy tune, aliens AND Santa! What more could you want? There also a package on Amazon consisting of both the movie and a book about Santa Claus Conquers the Martians that might be worth checking out.
Unspeakable Horrors From Outer Space Paralyze the Living and Resurrect the Dead!
Where to begin? If you’ve never heard of Plan 9 from Outer Space, and you like bad sci-fi, you are in for a treat. This is the uber-mother kahuna of bad sci-fi movies. It’s regularly ranked as the worst, which is kind of odd because until 1980 or so most people had never heard of it. I guess you could call it a sleeper stinker.
First, the star of the movie, Bela Lugosi, seemed like a great choice. The Hungarian actor was world-famous for his portrayal of bad guys. But that was back in the day, and by the time Director Ed Wood found Lugosi, he was a heroin addict and suffering miserably. Wood could work around this, though, and captured a lot of stock footage of Lugosi in preparation for several movies. But Lugosi died in the middle of Plan 9, so in parts of the movie the bad guy is played by Lugosi and parts of the movie the bad guy is played by some other guy who looks nothing like Lugosi.
If this wasn’t bad enough, the special effects were, well, “extra” special. Like pie plates being used for UFOs, or cardboard props that are obviously fake. The plot-line is ridiculous, the acting bad, and the ending makes no sense. Other than that? It was a really bad movie. Amazon has a pretty good deal on the DVD, and there’s a BluRay available. For those who collect really bad sci-fi, this one is definitely a keeper!
Plan 9 From Outer Space is so famously bad that there’s a documentary about it and even a movie about Ed Wood’s life directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp.
Off Season was Jack Ketchum's first novel
This was my third Ketchum book to read, although it was his first to write. Last week I read “The Girl Next Door”, followed by “The Woman”
Ketchum has a way with readers. He doesn’t like them. Or rather, he enjoys setting up situations where his characters can be tortured, raped, mutilated, and generally overwhelmed with the futility of life, then he takes us on a slow tour through hell.
It’s not that Ketchum is a bad writer. Far from it. He knows his craft and takes his time setting up his stories. And I think if you have a taste for this sort of genre, you’ll like him a lot. Personally, I was amazed at first with his work but then became slowly dulled to it. After so much disgust, it all kind of runs together. I guess Ketchum was doing torture porn long before Saw came around? I must say he does it a lot better.
Off season is a good read if you have the stomach for it.
They'll Scare Your Pants Off!
Released in 1967, with the DVD coming out in 2000
A couple of Country and Western singers and their manager are on their way to Nashville when car trouble leads them to a mysterious house. There’s ghosts, spies, and a secret rocket fuel formula. What’s not to like? It’s got blondes, iron maidens, sing-a-longs, and a plot right out of Scooby Do. Surprisingly, it’s a sequel to the also-unheard-of Las Vegas Hillbillies. I would say I didn’t like the movie, but it’s so innocently hackneyed that I can’t call it terrible. Really bad, yes. But not terrible. After all, how many other Country Spy Sci-Fi musical movies are there? And of course, if you’re going to be an evil villain, you should have a pet gorilla (man in a bad gorilla suit). Doesn’t everybody? Definitely in Plan 9 territory.
Monster A Go-Go. Must be seen to be believed.
Monster a Go-Go.
Psyched by the 4-D Witch.
1965 (Original), 2002 (DVD)
This is a actually a double-feature, back from the old B-movie sexploitation days. A crackpot oddity told almost entirely in psychedelic effects, this is like a combination of one of Ed Wood’s last few films and a REALLY intense, bad acid trip. Every few seconds you will ask yourself “WHAT WERE THEY THINKING!” One of the best parts is all the odds and ends stuck between the two features. Sexploitation weird and bad sci-fi b-movies at their best.