Review: A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

When fourteen year old Marjorie Barrett begins to display the signs of acute schizophrenia, her family’s life begins to fall apart. The doctors are unable to stop her illness spreading, and when her father loses his job the family is soon running out of money, patience, and hope. Soon they reach out to the Catholic Church for help, and agree to participate in a reality television show in order to fix their worries.

Fifteen years later Merry, Marjorie’s littler sister, recalls the events she lived through as a child. As she does so, painful memories and forgotten secrets begin to surface.

I enjoyed this book. I just didn’t love it. There’s nothing wrong with it. The writing is good. The characters are solid. The structure is interesting and the ending, while not mind blowing, is at least interesting and well set up.

The exorcism is a old an favourite sub-genre in horror. Tremblay is aware of that, and works it into the story. He is skilful in the way he makes the reader aware that he knows this isn’t a groundbreaking premise. It’s just that after he’s done this he doesn’t then add anything new.

I went into this book expecting more of the conflict between Marjorie’s illness and the lengths the family went to cope. How both religion and the media seemed like the only options available to them, despite how obvious seems that neither was going to help. In the end it felt as if Tremblay didn’t commit enough in either direction. It needed to commit more to this, or throw itself fully into the standard exorcism plot.

It’s still a solid read, and you could find a lot worse out there. Tremblay is a good writer – aside from some very clunky dialogue in the ‘present day’ sections – and I’ll probably keep an eye out for his other work. I was just left a little underwhelmed by the plot.

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!

Yes, it’s finally here. Whether you were out partying all costumed and made up, or curled up at home with a scary movie I hope you all have a great weekend.

And so what have I picked for this, the final day of my Halloween Countdown. It’s a little different to the other entries. It’s also not new. The first episodes of this series have to be at least a decade old now. But if you’re looking for something to creep and unsettle you this Halloween, to get under your skin and truly leave an impression of dread, then you’re not going to find anything better than David Firth’s Salad Fingers.

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I know a lot of you will have seen these videos before. Like I said, they’ve been out some time now. Firth’s animations are pretty famous, or at least cult, in the social groups in which I count myself as a member. Whether, like me, you absolutely love them, or if you watched them once and swore never again, if you were around the internet ten years ago you would have run into David Firth.

So why pick Salad Fingers? Because horror isn’t all about jump scares, and it’s not all about being situations you can picture yourself in. Horror can creep under your skin and make you physically uncomfortable. Images and sounds crawling from the twisted nightmares of childhood. This is what David Firth creates. I’ve never found anyone who’s been able to get under my skin quite so well. He use of sound and images gives his work such texture that you can almost feel the videos as much as see them.

So get over to his channel, take an hour and watch your way through all 10 episodes. You can do it in one sitting if you like – I would – or you can also find the individual episodes as well if you feel the need to space them out.

Enjoy. And Happy Halloween!

 

Also, if you’re interested, the Film Theorist did a very interesting couple of videos (here and here) looking into the meanings behind this series that I never considered where there. Once you’ve watched the originals, I recommend giving these a watch as well.)

Halloween Countdown: 3 Days

It’s 3 days to go in the Halloween Countdown. It’s also a Saturday, so you should really settle in and devote ten minutes of your day to watching the absolutely beautiful Geist from Giant Animation Studios.

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This is the first fully animated short on this list, but just a couple of minutes into it and I knew it had to be included. Aside from the animation being beautiful, the tragic story it tells is just so well sculpted. Washed up on the shore in a storm after barely surviving the wreck of his ship, a fisherman seeks refuge in a nearby house. While at first, it appears to be deserted, quickly he finds that something appears to be there with him.

The thing about this film is its atmosphere. The use of light and sound is pitch perfect, selling the entire thing with almost no dialogue at all. While there are scares, in Geist these are merely part of the entire thing rather than the punchline or only mechanic.

Oh, but don’t expect a happy ending…

And don’t forget, if you’ve not done so already head over to Amazon to download your free ebook of The Serpent’s Eye. This offer’s only open until Halloween, get make sure you get yours soon.

Halloween Countdown: 4 Days

Can there only be 4 days left to go? 4 days until Halloween is upon us once again?

And as we’re so close I think it’s time to move away from jump scares and quick shocks and share with you something a little more… creepy. A tad more Twilight Zone-eque, if you will.

I present to you Closet Space.

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It’s also the final entry on this list from David S. Sandberg. Yes, I know, I’ve talked about how much I love his work already, but I think I haven’t yet mentioned his actress/collaborator/wife Lotta Losten. One thing that researching for this list has shown me is that acting in horror shorts is apparently hard to do convincingly. There are a lot of videos out there where the main actor comes across as not scared or far too scared than the situation warrants. Losten always comes across naturally, in a way you would expect in these situations. And she gets more do in this film, with more agency than just being simply cornered and scared.

 

And don’t forget, from now until Halloween night you can get your hands on a free copy of The Serpent’s Eye  over at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. Grab this Halloween Special Offer while you can!

Halloween Countdown: 6 Days

With just 6 days to go in our Halloween Countdown, let’s have a look at dangers of everyday technology.

Erdal Ceylan’s Selfie from Hell shows that you should always be careful because no matter how much you trust the person you’re sending the picture to, there might be something else out there you need to be careful of.

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I’m a big fan of everyday technology being used like this in horror. There’s something about the mundane items of our lives turning against us that will always be a staple of horror. Taking something as simple as a selfie, something that’s become such a part of the background of our lives we don’t even think about it anymore, something everyone does without thinking, and turning it against you.

And keep your eyes open for a special Halloween offer coming soon, as well as more from the Halloween Countdown…

Halloween Countdown: 9 days

We have 9 days left in our Halloween Countdown, and as it’s a Sunday and we all hopefully have a little more free time today I thought I’d suggest something a little longer; Vicious by Oliver Park.

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There’s so much going on in these 13 minutes, but without any superfluous padding or spelling out of the story. A girl comes home one night to find her front door open. After a search of the house turns up nothing she settles down to sleep, only to be woken first by nightmares, and then something more.

I was surprised by this one. I usually find that the ideal length of short horror films is between 3 and 6 minutes or so. Once they go over that length they tend to lose the tension. Either the core idea gets flabby and the audience loses interest, or it just feels like there is too much going on and they need more time to set every up.

A lot of this goes to Rachel Winters, who manages to pull off the exact balance of terror and proactivity needed to keep us. Another cardinal sin I’ve noticed over and over again researching this list is characters acting scared because they are supposed to, but when there is no reason for them to. (Note to directors, a call coming in with a blocked number at night isn’t scary in itself. Stop thinking it is). Here, the protagonist acts far more like someone might actually react in the situation, rather than acting scared because the film requires it.

So make yourself a cup of tea, turn out the lights and give it a watch.

Halloween Countdown: 11 Days

11 days to go in my Halloween Countdown, and it’s time to introduce you to ‘The Smiling Man’, from A.J. Briones

I hadn’t seen this one before doing research for the countdown. It does do the one thing that usually annoys me in horror films – both long or short – by lingering on the monster, but here they manage to make it just about work. I’ve been watching quite a few short films for this list, and so many of them fail to be effective because the director lets the camera linger on the monster. You can tell they’re so proud of the makeup – often justifiably so – that they want to show it off, but if you have time to look you realise it’s just a person in a costume.

But it can be done well. The Smiling Man itself manages to hold on to its sinister feel, despite the lingering gaze. And I do love the creepy, primeval clown motive they create.

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Halloween Countdown: 12 Days

It’s my birthday! I’m 33 years old today, with all the wisdom of those years settled like a mantle about my shoulders.And it being my birthday means that we’re only 12 days away from Halloween. So, in honour of the season, I thought we should mark the remaining days with a daily taste of horror!

Yes, it’s time for a Halloween Countdown! Each day from now until Halloween itself I will be posting up a link to a short horror movie for you all to enjoy. Something short enough to watch during a lunch break or on your way home. That way, no one will have an excuse not to sample some of the excellent horror creators out there. Come on. Live deliciously.

To start us off we have a short a lot of you will already have seen when it went viral a year or so ago; ‘Lights Out’, by the amazing David F. Sandberg. Be prepared to question whether it’s worth turning off the lights before bed tonight.

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Sandberg is the poster boy for YouTube success stories, as this short led to him being offered a deal to direct a full-length movie based on the premise of his original short. There will definitely be more of his stuff on this countdown, don’t worry.

So, switch out the lights and turn up the volume for… ‘Lights Out’