Monday, June 22, 2009

Revenge of the Manitou by Graham Masterton

(pb; 1979: third book in The Manitou series)


From the back cover:

"Driven from New York by sorceries as powerful as his own, the Manitou has sworn to avenge himself upon his tormentors, Harry Erskine and the Indian shaman, Singing Rock. Three thousand miles form the scene of his most humiliating defeat, the evil sorcerer plots and schemes, marshaling his forces for a new attack.

"His weapons are nightmares of innocent children, dreams filled with terrors more deadly than even his four hundred-year-old-evil can create. Growing stronger and more powerful, the Manitou drains the children's lives, swallows their souls.

"Summoned to California, Harry Erskine and Singing Rock once again must face the Manitou's ancient Indian magic. The Manitou must be destroyed -- but if they strike at him, the children will die!"


Review:

Masterton's set-up, three books into The Manitou series, is familiar, as is the denouement, but he throws in enough variable elements (different setting, new characters, more spectacular horror/action sequences) to distinguish it from the first two Harry Erskine-based novels.

Revenge of the Manitou also reads like a transition work. The ending, which strongly echoes that of The Manitou, has a character-progressive element to it, promising that while there will likely be a sequel to Revenge, the nature of any future battles between Erskine and the Manitou will be notably different.

It's not as quirky as the first two novels: Harry Erskine and Singing Rock aren't the main characters in Revenge; Neil Fenner is, and he's less given to Erskine's kookiness and Singing Rock's wry humor, considering that his son, eight-year-old Toby, is in mortal danger.

Solid entry in The Manitou series. Like The Manitou and The Djinn, this b-movie novel can be read as part of the series, or as a stand-alone work.

Followed by Burial.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Chelsea Girl Murders, by Sparkle Hayter

(hb; 2000: fifth book in the Robin Hudson Mystery series )

From the inside flap:

"When a fire forces TV executive Robin Hudson to vacate her apartment, she and her cat, Louise Bryant, move into the fabled Chelsea Hotel, the bohemian hostelry where artists both famous and infamous have long lived in semipeaceful coexistence with countless hangers-on, wanna-bes, and rubberneckers looking for the 'real' New York.

"Then a smoky-eyed art dealer she's just met dies on her doorstep, drawing Robin reluctantly into a murder investigation. Is the murder related tin some way to the star-crossed and rather irritable young lovers who have appealed to Robin for help? Or to a deadly catfight between rival lovers of the dead man? And how do the cake-baking nuns of Immaculate Confection, Inc., figure in it?

"To sort it out, Robin must brave the whole downtown scene and more guerilla artists, jealous women, Zen bodybuilders, gouty widows, and befuddled tourists. It could make a girl crazy, having to dig deep into the history of the venerable hotel nicknamed (not without reason) 'the mother ship.' Oh, plus. . . one final, terrible complication: Robin seems to have fallen accidentally in love."

Review:

More wacky and eclectic kicks with Robin Hudson: by temporarily shifting Robin's home digs to the infamous Chelsea Hotel, author Hayter injects the series with fresh weirdness, and equally-funny characters and situations.

If you like the other Robin Hudson mysteries, there's an excellent chance you'll like this one. Less frenetic than The Last Manly Man and Revenge of the Cootie Girls, this is a more centered effort, less scattershot in its wild elements than those novels -- a fitting finale to Robin Hudson's book-bound investigations.

Hilarious series. Check it out!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Legion, by William Peter Blatty

(hb; 1983: sequel to The Exorcist)

From the inside flap:

"A young boy, a deaf-mute, is found horribly murdered in a mock crucifixion. The kindly, aging detective assigned to the case sees it not only as a crime -- one that calls for all his skill and intuition as an investigator -- but as part of a a larger and more baffling mystery: whether or not a good god can exist if He tolerates such monstrous evil. Is the murderer the elderly woman who witnessed the crime? A neurologist who can no longer bear the pain life inflicts on its victims? A psychiatrist with a macabre sense of humor and a guilty secret? A mysterious mental patient, locked in silent isolation?

"As Lieutenant Kinderman follows a bewildering trail that links all these people, he confronts a new enigma at every turn. Why does each victim suffer the same dreadful mutilations? Why are two of the victims priests? Is there a connection between these crimes and another series of murders that took place twelve years ago -- and supposedly ended with the death of the killer?"

Review:

Caveat: there may be possible spoilers relating to The Exorcist in this review.

Twelve year after the events of The Exorcist -- Regan MacNeil's little-known demonic possession; the murder of Burke Dennings; and Damien Karras's suicide on the steep M Street/"Hitchcock Steps" -- multiple homicides rock the Georgetown area.

The murders are beyond-bizarre weird in their one-killer-consistent M.O.s; a gleefully-macabre wit is at bloody work here. Even more bizarre, their M.O.s are almost dead-on replications of the Gemini (read: Zodiac) Killer, who died years ago.

The more Lt. William Kinderman (still ruminating long on Natural, philosophical and religious tangents relating to the nature of evil) learns about the murders, the more they become linked to the Dennings/Karras deaths, cases that were filed away, but never officially solved: these new victims were not chosen at random, it seems.

Father Joseph Dyer, a mutual friend of Karras and Kinderman in The Exorcist, indirectly aids Kinderman in his investigation.

As Kinderman closes in on the killer, the more dangerous -- and crazier -- his life gets, as do the lives of those around him.

Author Blatty once again has crafted a novel that is landmark in its execution. Interplays of warmth (especially relating to Kinderman's interactions with others) dispel much of the cold, alien darkness of the murders, past and present. A sly, macabre wit not only informs the killer's M.O., but the novel itself -- many dark-hearted chuckles emanated from this reader as he burned through this book.

One nit: Kinderman's ruminations run really long at times. True, Blatty mentions that as Kinderman has aged, Kinderman has grown longer in his verbiage, but at times it's distracting. These ruminations relate to the events of Legion, fully lending their points (and Kinderman's personality) to the mood of the novel, but more than a few pages of these ideas could've been trimmed, without hurting the overall effect of the novel.

That minor nit aside, this spin-off novel not only continues the story begun in The Exorcist, but fully mutates into its own, distinctive work -- an equally-excellent, equally-shocking-blow-to-the-plexus sequel that is, ultimately, a crime and redemption tale.

Novel-author Blatty directed and scripted the resulting film. Released stateside as The Exorcist III on August 17, 1990, this underrated film starred George C. Scott as Lt. William Kinderman. Ed Flanders played Father Joseph Dyer. Brad Dourif provided the voice for The Gemini Killer. Jason Miller, who played Father Damien Karras in The Exorcist, played Patient X. Nicol Williamson played Father Morning. Scott Wilson played Dr. Temple.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Last Manly Man, by Sparkle Hayter

(hb; 1998: fourth book in the Robin Hudson Mystery series)

From the inside flap:

"Overnight success, two handsome boyfriends, plenty of employees to boss around. . . Everything is suddenly going right in the life of newswoman and reluctant sleuth Robin Hudson. But Hudson's life is ruled by no law but Murphy's. It isn't long before a good deed for a strange man in a hat and a series of other seemingly random encounters lead Hudson into a bizarre murder investigation -- and a secret world of men she never knew existed. Hot on the trail of a mysterious chemical known as Adam 1, Hudson braves fistfighting goons, a testosterone-filled hunting expedition, libidinous chimps, and a convention of drugged feminists to solve her most challenging case yet. . ."

Review:

Social commentary/facts about testosterone and phermones, and their effect on gender roles infuses this deliriously-wacky and laugh-out-loud work with a distinctive tone, setting it apart from the other Robin Hudson mysteries. The bad guys aren't too hard to spot -- at least, they weren't for this reader -- but that's unimportant. The draw of reading this is just trying to figure out what the heck is going on!

Fun read, followed by The Chelsea Girl Murders.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Djinn by Graham Masterton

(pb; 1977: second/side book in The Manitou series)


Review:

Fortune teller Harry Erskine is attending the funeral of his godfather, Max Greaves, at Greaves' dilapitated Cape Cod estate (Winter Sails), when he gets drawn into a new supernatural mystery.

Greaves, who collected Arabian antiques, instructed his widow, Marjorie, to burn down the mansion, because of an ancient vase that was kept in a locked, sealed turret room. It seems that this dreaded, oddly-musical vase contains "the H-bomb of djinns," the djinn who made the evil Ali Babah as powerful and legendary as he was.

Later, the lights go out, and can't be turned back on. Strange shadows dart around the huge, creepy house, as if stalking Harry, Marjorie, and the secretive Anna Modena, "exported antiquities consultant".

Joined by Professor Gordon Qualt, "America's foremost expert in ancient folklore and Middle Eastern culture," Harry and his friends begin a battle which takes on forty-plus shades of malevolence.

Less succinct than The Manitou, this Erskine-based side-novel sports a familiar, Manitou-like set-up (three different "experts" battle an über-destructive, world-rending supernatural being). And, like Manitou, it has interesting micro-twists, with characters whose motives may not be what they at first seem.

Fun, chilling follow-up to The Manitou. You don't need to read this novel if you're into The Manitou series -- it reads like a stand-alone, character spin-off work -- but if you, like me, are fascinated by Harry Erskine's everyman character, it's worth your time.

Followed by Revenge of the Manitou.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Confessions of a Teen Sleuth, by Chelsea Cain

(hb; 2005; illustrations by Lia Miternique)

From the inside flap:

"America's favorite girl detective is back to set the record straight. According to our titian-haired heroine, she was not a fictional character, but an intrepid real-life sleuth who investigated some of the twentieth century's biggest mysteries. And the famous series she starred in was not cooked up by a team of writers, but plagiarized from her exploits by a nosy college roommate -- who, not surprisingly, got a whole lot wrong.

"Here are the daring escapes, brilliant hunches, and dependable stock characters, including interlopers from numerous other beloved series, that have delighted generations of fans. And here, also, are the details of teen-sleuth life that you never saw: the secret romances, reckless driving, minor drinking problems, political action, and domestic drama that have, up till now, remained hidden from these brave detectives' adoring public."

Review:

Funny, always smart first-person accounts from Nancy Drew's perspective, spanning 66 years: starting with the story "The Hidden Hardy, 1926" and ending with "The Secret of Carolyn Keene, 1992," Drew's recountings are as tightly-narrated and plot-/character-convenient as any of Carolyn Keene's fictionalized accounts of Drew.

More than that, they're slyer tellings than anything Keene concocted. Drew's intimations of sexuality (teen and adult), alcoholism, political dirty deals, marital affairs and homosexuality are cleverly, sometimes cattily, hinted at in the language of the stories' varying time periods.

Cain's reinvention of familiar characters, also era-transmorgified, is dead-on. The supporting characters include: Ned Nickerson, good "normal" guy, who later becomes Drew's husband; teen sleuths Frank and Joe Hardy (aka, "The Hardy Boys," who got their own series, thanks to author Franklin W. Dixon); and others.

Excellent, breezy, pop-subversive read from author Cain.

Check this out!

Friday, June 05, 2009

The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty

(pb; 1971: prequel to Legion)

Review:

Caveat: there may be possible spoilers relating to The Exorcist in this review.

Repeated, rhythmic tappings are heard in actress Chris MacNeil's Washington D.C. house, at first in the attic, later in different locations. A short while later, Chris's twelve-year old daughter, sweet-natured Regan, begins acting unnaturally rebellious and verbally abusive as if she were another person. (None of the many medical and psychiatric "specialists" who examine Regan can figure out what's wrong with her.)

Then Burke Dennings, Chris's current, raconteur-when-drunk film director, is found dead at the bottom of the steep steps leading up to Chris's house, a direct fall from Regan's window. It seems Burke died when his head was turned all the way around -- backwards -- on his body, then flung onto the steps: the steps couldn't have done that sort of damage...

Enter: the kind, middle-aged, garrulous, cinema-loving Homicide Detective/Lieutenant William F. Kinderman, who's investigating Burke's murder, but only knows that Regan is bed-ridden and "sick"; and Damien Karras, a middle-aged psychiatrist-priest who's wracked by doubts regarding his dual professions, and grieving for his recently-deceased, lonely mother.

Karras has been hired to try and help Regan, and when Regan shows many of the signs that indicate demonic possession (speaking in foreign tongues, telekinetic ability, wallowing in her own filth, verbal and physical abuse of those around her), Karras calls on an additional person to help them.

Enter Lankester Merrin, an old priest who once, in his younger years, exorcised the demon who has now possessed Regan.

The name of this feral-grinning demon is Pazuzu, and Pazuzu will take Regan, and those around her, anyway it can.

Compelling, intricate, landmark novel. Blatty's writing style is thick with facts and potentially-miasmic ruminations, but leavened with often-dark wit, everpresent humanity, and hope. The characters are distinctive, memorable, and the scenes of bodily waste and shocking blasphemy are equally so.

One of my all-time favorite horror novel, this. Check this out!



The Exorcist was released stateside as a film on December 26, 1973.

Directed by William Friedkin, and scripted by novel-author Blatty, the film starred Ellen Burstyn as Chris MacNeil. Max von Sydow played Father Merrin. Lee J. Cobb played Lt. Kinderman. Linda Blair played Regan. Jason Miller played Father Karras. Jack MacGowan played Burke Dennings. Reverend William O'Malley played Father Dyer.

Sequels and prequels followed:

...the had-interesting-elements/ideas-but-plotwise-it-was-a-mess Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977, in which Linda Blair returned as Regan MacNeil);

...The Exorcist III (1990, underrated film, based on Blatty's Exorcist novel-sequel, Legion, that's as excellent as -- and different than -- the original film, with The Exorcist's Lieutenant William Kinderman and Father Joseph Dyer as the main characters);

...Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist (shot in 2004, released in 2005: it recounts Lankester Merrin's first encounter with Pazuzu, when Merrin was a young man - directed by Paul Schrader, this interesting, worthwhile psychological thriller is less about blood n' guts, and more about interior darkness. The producers didn't like Schrader's trademark approach, so they scrapped the film, had it reshot with many of the same actors and a different director);

...Exorcist: The Beginning (2004, the Renny Harlin-directed, rescripted and reshot prequel - of the two prequels, this one is the lesser work; too many blood n' guts scenes in such a relatively short movie dull the senses, and make this viewer long for some psychological horror elements... it's not bad, exactly, but it's typical. Harlin can be an excellent action-flick director -- anyone who's seen The Long Kiss Goodnight and some of his other movies can attest to that -- but he was the wrong helmer for an Exorcist flick.)

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Haunted Heart: The Life and Times of Stephen King, by Lisa Rogak

(hb; 2008: biography)

From the inside flap:

"One of the most prolific and popular authors today, Stephen King has become part of pop-culture history. But who is the man behind those tales of horror, grief, and the supernatural? Where do those ideas come from? And what drives him to keep writing at a breakneck pace after a thirty-year career? In this unauthorized biography, Lisa Rogak reveals the troubled background and lifelong fears that inspire one of the twentieth century's most influential authors.

"King's origins were inauspicious at best. His impoverished childhood in rural Maine and early marriage hardly spelled out the likelihood of a blossoming literary career. but his unflagging work ethic and a ceaseless flow of ideas put him on the path to success. It came in a flash, and the side effects of sudden stardom and seemingly unlimited wealth soon threatened to destroy his work and, worse, his life. But he survived and has since continued to write at a level of originality few authors could hope to match.

"Despite his dark and disturbing work, Stephen King has become revered by critics and his countless fans as an all-American voice more akin to Mark Twain than H.P. Lovecraft. Haunted Heart chronicles his story, revealing the character of a man who has created some of the most memorable -- and frightening -- stories found in literature today."

Review:

Balanced, entertaining bio about a man whose name is, for many, synonymous with icky terror.

Normally, I'm wary of any bio that's written about an author who's still and alive and publishing, but Rogak, via her facts and interviews, shows King as a flesh-and-zombie-shake man, with demons (father abandonment issues, drug addiction) who still managed -- and manages -- to keep his priorities straight: writing, and taking care of his family (longtime wife Tabitha, daughter Naomi, and sons Joe and Owen).

Notable, portrait-supportive interviews with friends and family include: Peter Straub (who, among his books, co-authored The Talisman and Black House with King), Bev Vincent, and Rick Hautala (a consistently exemplary author and college friend of King's).

Good read, this. I'm not a big fan of most of Stephen King's post-mid-Eighties books. As a reader and writer, I'm a "minimalist," not a "maximalist" (phrases King used in his non-fiction book, On Writing). However, I've long admired what he's done, as a man and a writer, and this confirmed my feelings on the man, and his persona.

Check this out.

Monday, June 01, 2009

The Midwich Cuckoos, by John Wyndham

(hb; 1957)

Review:

Narrated in a straightforward, first-person voice by Richard Gayford, a young happily-married man, the tale runs like this:

On September 26th of an unspecified year, the sleepy little English town of Midwich encounters what later is called the "Dayout": an invisible, immovable force-shield (not gas) encapsulates Midwich, causing any living creature, man or beast, to drop instantly into sleep, should they cross that position-fixed boundary.

On September 27th, that strange sleep-shield disappears, allowing its sleep-denizens to wake up, and those outside the sleep-shield to pass into Midwich, without falling into a deep slumber.

Two discoveries relating to the Dayout are made not long after: the ground in the Grange (near the center of Midwich) bears strange markings, as if something odd-shaped and heavy -- now gone -- had briefly occupied that previously empty space; and, all fertile women who were caught in Midwich during the Dayout are pregnant.

Aside from that, as far physical and mental health is concerned, the Midwich-folk seem to be fine, as if the Dayout never happened.

The resultant "Children", born nine months later, are notably not like other, non-"daytouched" children.

The Children all look alike. They have golden eyes, a certain "lucency" to their skin, blond hair. They learn and grow at an acelerated rate (at one year old, they know and do things that a two-year old would; at age nine, they appear to be sixteen or seventeen).

These xenogenetic Children have a hive-like mindset: teach or tell a "Composite Boy" or "Composite Girl" something, and you don't need to tell the rest of the Children. Threaten one of the Children, and you threaten them all, causing them to retaliate with their mostly-held-in-check wills -- wills that allow them to mentally and physically crush or kill their victim instantly, with little or no effort on their part.

As the Midwichians, and military and scientific experts wrangle over social, tactical and moral niceties and possibilities, the clock is ticking, louder and louder. It's only a matter of time before the Children (aka, the "Cuckoos", named after cuckoo chicks who usurp a chicken-hen's nest) live up to their nickname...

Wyndham's prose is, as usual, spare, efficiently-paced and intellectually gripping. The characters are well-sketched and -fleshed; the moral, scientific and social arguments (often voiced by smart, locquacious Gordon Zellaby) are sound and timeless.

Classic, succinct work, this.

#

The resultant film, re-titled Village of the Damned, was released stateside on December 7, 1960.

George Sanders played Gordon Zellaby. Barbara Shelley played Anthea Zellaby. Martin Stephens played David Zellaby. Michael Gwynn played Alan Bernard. Laurence Naismith played Doctor Willers. Wolf Rilla directed, from a script he co-penned with George Barclay (aka, Stirling Silliphant) and Ronald Kinnoch.

#

A sequel, Children of the Damned, illuminated stateside screens on January 29, 1964.

#


A remake of Village of the Damned, bearing the same name, was released stateside on on April 28, 1995. Directed by John Carpenter, the updated screenplay built on the original film's screenplay, with additional input from David Himmelstein, Steven Siebert (who went uncredited) and Larry Sulkis (who also went uncredited).

In the remake, Christopher Reeve played Dr. Alan Chaffee. Kirstie Alley played Dr. Susan Verner. Linda Kozlowski played Jill McGowan. Michael Paré played Frank McGowan. Meredith Salenger played Melanie Roberts. Mark Hamil played Reverend George.