Blog Tour: Up The Creek by Alissa Grosso (Review/Giveaway)

Up The Creek (Culver Creek #1)
By: Alissa Grosso

Expected Publication Date: January 12, 2021
Genre: Supernatural Thriller

SYNOPSIS

An unsolved murder. Disturbing dreams. A missing child.

Caitlin Walker hasn’t had a dream in nine years. But now nightmares torture her son Adam and awaken in Caitlin buried memories and a dark secret. Her husband Lance has a secret of his own, one that his son’s nightmares threaten to reveal.

In Culver Creek newly hired detective Sage Dorian works to unravel the small town’s notorious cold case, the grisly murder of a young girl.

How are Caitlin and Lance connected to the horrific crime? And how far will they go to make sure their secrets stay hidden? Find out in this riveting thriller.

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REVIEW

Being the first book for an upcoming series, Up the Creek sets a good foundation. Up The Creek is well-paced and executes the story back and forth between its characters. In this case, it involves 3 main characters: Caitlin Walker, her husband Lance Walker and the new detective in Culver Creek Sage Dorian, who has been hired to take a look at the cold case. As a thriller, it also is executed quite well to slowly give the reveal of what is the secret with Caitlin and Lance that links them to the disappearance of their child and the cold case. It also sets up the story so that the finale delivers a question that makes you think whether all this could have been avoided if one person’s decision had been different and whether some secrets are best exposed.

One of the best elements of Up The Creek is the character design/development. The three characters each have their own connection to the past that brings up some flashbacks and through various conversations with the new situation that comes up reveals their secrets little by little. With that said, the characters are fairly complexed and suitably so for a thriller. Caitlin’s secret is probably the easiest to piece together: the reason that she takes medication for her dreams and the quick reveal of her tendency for nightmares pieces together easily to see her deal. However, this ends up connecting to her young son Adam that eventually goes missing and no one truly knows who took him and what happened. Lance Walker is probably the character with the most secrets from what seems like every day habits to slowly see that he has a much stronger connection to the case. His character is actually rather fascinating as he unveils and everything comes into place. That leaves Sage Dorian which probably starts to feel like the balance for his part is a little smaller however he is a key part as he pulls the cold case with the new missing child case together. At a certain point at the end, it is fairly clear how it all pieces together however, there isn’t an issue for this character to draw the conclusions clearly. As a side note, while this isn’t mentioned but there seems to be one connection that probably will come into play at the end in future books as it may connect to Sage Dorian that wasn’t addressed.

As a first book of a series, Up The Creek leaves a lot to look forward to for future books set in Culver Creek. Already by the end, there still is the issue of Sage Dorian’s own family mystery that hasn’t been addressed yet and only mentioned that gives his character some foundation. Writing good thrillers are very difficult and something that I mention quite a bit. Up The Creek does a great job to make it both gripping and thrilling to watch from beginning to end with decent pacing and execution. Up The Creek is a great thriller and well worth a read.

Score: 4.5/5

Where to Buy
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alissa Grosso is the author of several books for adults and teens. Originally from New Jersey, she now resides in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. You can find out more about her and her books at AlissaGrosso.com.

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Blog Tour: The Haunting of Gallagher Hotel by K.T. Rose (Review)

We are thrilled to share this amazing new novel by K.T. Rose! The Haunting of Gallagher Hotel just proves that ghost stories are perfect any time of the year!

Read on for an exclusive peek and an amazing giveaway to enter!

The Haunting of Gallagher Hotel
By: K.T. Rose

Publication Date: November 5th, 2020
Genre: Supernatural Horror/Paranormal

SYNOPSIS

Pride and greed infect the soul, anchoring the dead to Gallagher Hotel.

When Chris, a master thief, and Riley, a contract waitress, get mysterious invites to an exclusive party at the haunted Gallagher Hotel, they discover that there is more at play than simple celebrations.

Hidden truths are revealed, and all hell breaks loose. But the “party” has just begun.

Now, Chris and Riley face their demons as they fight to survive a hellish nightmare full of spoiled secrets, carnage, and vengeful spirits lost to the hotel dating back to the turn of the 20th century.

Will they survive the night? Or will their souls be devoured by the most haunted building in Michigan?

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EXCERPT

Chapter One

She’ll never forget the day she died.

Torches lit up the town square, illuminating scowling and shouting faces. The townspeople launched stones and spit, pegging Trudy’s arms and face as she trudged through the abhorrent mob. She cringed when a pebble struck her cheek. Pain erupted, shooting through her face like lightning striking the earth.

Deputy Hill yanked her arm, leading her through the narrow path the townspeople created. Fists balled, Trudy groaned as the rope around her wrists dug into her skin. Her bare feet picked up glass shards and debris from the cobblestone path as she shuffled along.

She glared around at the angry faces and recognized the men, women, and children of Holloway. She’d done more for them than any God before her. Many of those people owned the very businesses that lined the stone slab she marched across that night. Building and financing the rows of wooden businesses lining the town’s square accounted for half the things she’d done for Holloway. She fed the hungry, made clothes for cold children, and taught woman’s independence. The ever-growing list of the townspeople’s wants was endless. At one point, she didn’t mind the busy work. Fulfilling dreams of the once poor town kept her boisterous and distracted from her bitter reality. Trudy was Holloway’s personal shepherd, making the people her needy sheep.

Hands snagged at her lavender tea gown, adding dirty prints to the blood drops and grime from the beatings in that putrid cell. She glared at the bare-faced man towering over her. The brim of his deputy hat cast a thick shadow, hiding his dark eyes and pale face.

Deputy would miss her. She was sure of it. He got off on the assaults that bruised her face. His heavy fists pounded her bones and scraped her skin until she confessed. And even after her confession, he continued with his evening visits, slamming her body into cinder block walls and passing off open-handed blows to her nose, cheeks, and eyes.

Trudy sighed. A bath with lavender and Epsom salt sounded good for the swelling. She didn’t realize how bloated and purple her once beautiful, fairly smooth skin had become until she passed by the picture window in front of the town’s jail just before they began her walk of shame. Her dark hair matted to her forehead, washed by sweat and blood. Her plump lips were chapped and bloated with bruises.

Even then, her face pulsed with intense hurt. Pain shot through it whenever she winced.

The sea of convictions roared, growing louder as she drew closer to the opposite end of the square.

“Adulterer,” yelled a woman.

“Traitor,” screeched a boy.

“Murderer,” said a pot-bellied man.

Their accusations sent a sickening jolt through her bones. She watched the path underneath her slowing feet, fighting back the tears.

How could they turn on me like this?

REVIEW

The Haunting of Gallagher Hotel is a decent horror story packing in both elements of haunted house (well, in this case, its a hotel) and the ugly side of humans which is what gathers this “elite” group of invites for an overnight stay at Gallagher Hotel, a place not only known for being haunted but with a lot of history. The story itself follows some key characters, jumping between Riley, a woman specially requested to work there who has suffered quite a bit of loss; Chris, a young man who is part of a thief ring however wants to use this as his final job before leaving town and Trudy, the woman who haunts this hotel.

The story itself does pack a lot. There are a handful of characters which all have their own character build and past which determines why they were invited to the hotel. As each of their motives get revealed and perhaps their ugly side, its where the story is at its strongest especially since it reflects on how they essentially get ended. Those scenes are well-executed and in vivid description. However, the main characters do have these disjointed storylines jumping back and forth. It spends a lot of time with each of these characters separated from each other for most of the story however, its almost like a mystery as the group goes through their own visions that pop up to haunt them from their past. At the same time, Trudy’s storyline fills in the blanks with the history of what lead to her death and how she came to be haunting the hotel and how this world of evil works. The balance between executing the lore and the haunted house was where the pacing started to go off in the middle section.

With that said, the story itself blends bits and pieces from stories told mostly in movies and TV. The element of being invited in, a key book to the story, the hotel resembling that of The Shining, some haunted house elements that give off the vibe of that from the recent Haunting of Hill House. Its not a bad thing to pull certain elements and add their own twist. In fact, it has a certain level of creativity as all these elements and atmosphere do blend well together. Its more an observation than a criticism.

Overall, The Haunting of Gallagher Hotel is decent. Horror novels don’t normally scare me and this one wasn’t a pure horror novel. It has some horror elements from the death scenes and how that was described but it is mostly mild (of course, that differs to the reader but I do watch a lot of horror so my tolerance is fairly high). There are some pacing issues in the middle parts but if anything, this is a rather ambitious story as it does try to build its own lore and history to the hotel while adding in this group of characters and exploring their darker side.

Score: 3.5/5

Where to buy: Amazon

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

K.T. Rose is a horror, thriller, and dark fiction writer from Detroit, Michigan. She posts suspense and horror flash fiction on her blog at kyrobooks.com and is the author of a suspenseful short story series titled Trinity of Horror, an erotic thriller novel titled When We Swing, and A Dark Web Horror Series. She also writes supernatural and paranormal horror novels and short stories.

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BITS 2020: The Return (2020)

The Return (2020)

The Return

Director (and co-writer): BJ Verot

Cast: Richard Harmon, Sara Thompson, Echo Andersson, Marina Stephenson Kerr, Erik Athavale, Gwendolyn Collins, Zoe Fish, Kristen Sawatzky

After the death of his father, a brilliant college student returns to his family home where he learns that the horrors from his childhood aren’t as dead and gone as he once thought. – IMDB

There’s no doubt that based on the synopsis above that The Return sounds like a unique horror experience. However, The Return isn’t quite as generic as it makes it out to be. In fact, its one that starts off with a general horror tropes seen in ghost stories. Creepy dolls, jumpscares, slamming doors: the basic elements of a haunted house, right? Its all wrapped up a college student going back to his childhood home after his father passes away in a questionable manner. With his girlfriend and best friend in tow, they go to the funeral and sort through the house when his long return dredges up something else and eventually bringing him to dig up some things in the past that he has forgotten.

The Return’s first part although fairly predictable in its scares actually manages to build a decent atmosphere. However, the first part is also the weaker part of the film. Not only are the scares fairly familiar haunted house tropes but its really the pacing of revealing this “ghost/monster” (whatever you want to call it) to quickly that messes up a little of the turning point/twist. With that said, it also tries to pack in too many scares in a short amount of time that decreases the scare element. At one point, the “monster” revealed itself over and over again in quick frequency and anything in frequent amounts tends to dull the effective of what its trying to achieve. With anything lurking in the background, the mystery of how its executed is incredibly important and somehow that seems lose a bit of that in the first half, even though the set up was done well enough story-wise.

The second half is much stronger as it consists of a clever twist and at the same time, it has a lot more action of the characters actually being in some kind of peril. The threat is in action a little more. While some reactions were a little silly, the search for what happened to the main character and his lost memory along with connecting all the dots to why his childhood home is haunted does add a lot to making it much more unique and adding in some of the mixed genre elements, in this case a bit of science fiction and time travel.

The Return is one of those movies that might not be really at first glance or even the beginning segment as the setup does feel a little been there done that in horror films however, once the past of the main character becomes more clear and and the things start to build up along with a clever twist, it does add a lot of charms to it. Its not exactly a pure horror film however, its unique because of this and adds a lot of extra points when those other elements come into play.

BITS 2020: Anything For Jackson (2020)

Anything For Jackson (2020)

Director: Justin G. Dyck

Cast: Sheila McCarthy, Julian Richings, Konstantina Mantelos, Josh Cruddas, Yannick Bisson

A bereaved Satanist couple kidnap a pregnant woman so they can use an ancient spellbook to put their dead grandson’s spirit into her unborn child but end up summoning more than they bargained for. – IMDB

Kicking off this year’s Blood in the Snow Festival is Anything For Jackson, a horror film that revolves around Satanism and supernatural possession and an unexpected pair of grandparents in lead roles. Anything For Jackson is a unique horror film. While Satanism is almost never my first choice in horror premise, this one is rather intriguing. Perhaps it has to do with the two awkward grandparents and it might that the expected becomes a little unexpected by the end.

Sheila McCarthy and Julian Richings lead this movie as two grandparents who seek out this ancient book that can hopefully bring their grandson back. The movie starts as they execute the first step of the plan which not only giving us two unknown characters but also throwing the viewers into the story right away to gradually learn about them as they interact with the pregnant woman that they kidnapped. The two are truly incredible to watch their roles progress as things inevitably turns out to be more than they bargained. The change in tone right from the start especially on how the two elderly couple breaks out of the expected mold of what grandparents feel like being warm and friendly turns into this other side of them. Turning the known premise on its head right from the start.

Anything For Jackson is more than that. It moves between the present of what they are trying to achieve and the little hiccups along the way and giving a parallel of how they came up on this idea and how they planned the whole thing. As the final act comes into play, the set of their relationship with this kidnapped girl and how it takes a rather different supernatural turn of events as well as the Satanism ritual all pulls in different characters that all come into play. The movie subconsciously takes the viewers for a ride from the structure of one event of the next and each one making it feel more intense and dangerous than the previous time. As more people get added to the equation, the chances of being revealed becomes much more pressing. Its the clever execution that adds so much to this horror film.

Anything For Jackson is a hidden gem. It twists the story right from the start with its leading characters and is probably one of the quickest film to set up its main plot. It only features a handful of characters but the way its filmed and the structure of the story and progression all works out smoothly. Its not exactly a jumpscare sort of film but more of a tension building sort of atmosphere from the cinematography to how the whole thing gets slowly out of the control more and more. The type of movie that’s right up my alley. Let’s face it: there’s no way that its unexpected that things will go out of hand because if they didn’t, there wouldn’t be a movie but it still manages to keep it very engaging. Coming from someone not really into the Satanism angle in horror, this one was a pleasant surprise!

Double Feature: Truth or Dare (2017) & Truth or Dare: Extended Director’s Cut (2018)

Next up in the double feature is a pairing of 2017’s Truth or Dare and 2018’s Truth or Dare. The latter is an Extended Director’s Cut because that’s all Netflix has. Let’s check it out!

Truth or Dare (2017)

Truth or Dare 2017

Director: Nick Simon

Cast: Cassandra Scerbo, Brytni Sarpy, Mason Dye, Alexxis Lemire, Ricardo Hoyos, Luke Baines, Harvey Guillen, Christina Masterson, Heather Langenkamp

Eight college friends head to a “Haunted Rental” for Halloween. But when they replay the game that made the house infamous, they awaken an evil spirit intent on stealing their souls. – IMDB

2017’s Truth or Dare is direct to video supernatural horror film which plays along the concept of a supernatural being in a house that gets unleashed when friends go there that chases them down for 3 rounds of Truth or Dare before leaving them alone. With a rather ambiguous sort of ending and a cast of part frustrating and part decent characters but some rather intense dare executions, Truth or Dare is an okay offering. Sure, there’s a lot of bad dialogue and one of the characters in particular were especially annoying to watch but there is an undeniable sinister vibe and a cameo of Heather Langenkamp as a previous survivor of one of these games.

Truth or Dare did have a pretty imbalance pacing. The beginning half was a lot of setting up the situation and getting the crew into this location which they soon realize is part of this “scary rentals” site which is never a good idea but they still go along with it. things spiral out of control really fast when their first dare is to make out with another girl or a truth about a secret, which brings up a whole lot of questions that they don’t seem to ask, and things from that point jumps up in intensity really quickly. Its all kind of a ridiculous sort of set up in story progression since the only thing that the previous survivor does is state the obvious but gives them pointers on how to make it out alive, which still leads to arguments about what needs to be done.

As much as it sounds like I’m hating on Truth or Dare, I’m honestly not. The characters are a little annoying and frustrating particularly the character Jessie and the dialogue in general is a tad uninspiring but the movie is sinister and the tension is effective enough plus some of the dares and how they need to be smart about sharing the dare to stay alive has some decent execution. Overall, some good some bad so an okay watch.

Truth or Dare: Extended Director’s Cut (2018)

Truth or Dare 2018

Director (and co-writer): Jeff Wadlow

Cast: Lucy Hale, Tyler Posey, Violett Beane, Hayden Szeto, Sophia Ali, Nolan Gerard Funk, Landon Liboiron, Sam Lerner, Tom Choi, Aurora Perrineau

A harmless game of Truth or Dare among friends turns deadly when someone – or something – begins to punish those who tell a lie or refuse the dare.  – IMDB

Let’s put it out there right away that I haven’t seen Truth or Dare’s theatrical release but I did do a little research on the differences to the extended director’s cut which is the version currently on Netflix. Extended Director’s Cut includes a lot more of the rated scenes that was removed to fit a PG-13 rating. I’m sure that it does add to the experience since Truth or Dare is its best when its in the process of the truth or dare segments. One part of it I’m not a big fan and it’ll be talked about later.

Taking a quick moment to compare (seeing as I did watch this back to back), Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare is definitely a bigger budget with a lot more familiar faces like Lucy Hale (Pretty Little Liars), Tyler Posey (Teen Wolf), Landon Liboiron (Hemlock Grove), Hayden Szeto (The Edge of Seventeen) and Violett Beane (The Flash) and a story that gives this Truth or Dare a deeper lore to discover. There are more concrete rules and a set sequence for them to follow. It jumps between Mexico and US and a lot of different backstories and secrets from the characters. All of these things having their pros and cons.

The flow of the story is decent and the truth and dare segments are pretty decent as they have that cringe and tension of when its going to drop. It has a sequence of how the truth and dare rounds go and the mystery of whether the previous person went which gives the viewers more knowledge than the characters. The only issue with those segments is the possession phase where the characters all change into these creepy smiling faces with kind of distorted voices which for one, isn’t as scary as they think it is and second, gets overused so becomes more frustrating and predictable than effective by the end. At the same time, the jumping from Mexico and US is a little crazy because its like a trip to the grocery story with their frequency, not to mention at one part they have a gun and can cross the border, which seems absolutely ridiculous. The next point is some illogical scenes that just don’t really make a ton of sense. I know these movies aren’t meant to be dug into detail and watched really for their face value but some things are hard to ignore.

The only thing I do have to say that really made up for the 2017 is that the characters here are much more bearable. Maybe its the cast and it has to do with the characters while still being fairly one dimensional still have a certain level of back story even though its fairly easy to figure out who is going to die and whatnot. Plus, the ending is a kind of a fun opening for a sequel or something.

As a final note, for myself, I’m pretty done with Truth or Dare concept. It seems like after back to back years of Truth or Dare premise, it can be tucked away and really doesn’t seem like they can do anything more unique since both of these carry the same kind of execution of some possessed and cursed game where the characters pretty much have a slim chance of getting out. But who knows, right? Someone out there will find a twist for it somehow. It always seems to happen at some point.

That’s it for this Truth or Dare double feature!
Have you seen these two? Which do you prefer?

Double Feature: Wish Upon (2017) & Slender Man (2018)

We’re running at the final third of this Halloween Movie Marathon month and as much as planning as I try to put into it, plans change and I started changing my movie selections around and that’s how I’ve randomly ended up doing a Joey King horror double feature for Wish Upon and Slender Man that wasn’t really on top priority watch but hey, why not give spontaneity a go, right?

Let’s check it out!

Wish Upon (2017)

Director: John R. Leonetti

Cast: Joey King, Ryan Phillippe, Ki Hong Lee, Mitchell Slaggert, Shannon Purser, Sydney Park, Elisabeth Rohm, Josephine Langford, Sherilyn Fenn, Alice Lee

A teenage girl discovers a box that carries magic powers and a deadly price for using them. – IMDB

Wish Upon has a decent plot and has a cautionary tale of things will never be perfect and the universe always finds a way to balance things out. In this case, you wish for something and there’s a price to pay for it like a blood price. There’s a lot of things moving really fast in this one as the viewers see more of whats going on that the character herself who doesn’t realize or is being ignorant about connecting those dots. Using cursed items as a centre of horror is a decent premise. In this case, the Wish Upon music box has a cool design and has all these ancient Chinese symbols on it and some interesting mechanism and such. As the origin gets dug up, things start piecing together and while the story itself is fairly basic, it does help the movie a little which for the duration of the film has been going through a fairly generic path.

Wish Upon isn’t completely a bad movie. It is predictable for the most part but it has that sort of atmosphere that pulls in this long wait of whether the bad thing that will happen will happen and at what moment. Its not always bloody but the anticipation of what might happen does have this grueling effect as in some scenes, it does linger especially after realizing what the key element and it being this complete waiting game that the anticipation creates the horror because it gives time for the imagination to run a little as to how the scene will be executed (maybe I overthink the scene but that’s an overactive imagination is how I find horror scarier than it might be in some situations).

The cast itself has some familiar faces. Joey King is the leading role who is also the person who is in possession of the box. She does her role okay but its rather the character that is written that has some frustrating elements. At the same time, Ryan Phillippe plays her father which always has this off feeling but its a lot about the character itself who has these sudden plot point jumps as their life situation gets better but is never questioning it. It makes the character almost feel useless. I do like Ki Hong Lee as an actor which it seems he pops up at the most random places. His role is decent here as his involvement digs up the connection to more information to reveal the dangers of making the wishes, which of course is ignored or else there wouldn’t be a movie.

Overall, Wish Upon isn’t horrible. Everything just feels a little flat and generic. It concept of having this cursed music box is not a bad idea as it can add in sinister music and a decent backstory to it which it does have but there’s a lot of illogical decisions made and predictable moments and it offers nothing too different. The good part is that it doesn’t rely on a lot of jumpscares but more on building up the tension. Unfortunately, there are some plot point issues and the movie does jump around fairly quickly and feels like its a little awkward in pacing.

Slender Man (2018)

Director: Sylvain White

Cast: Joey King, Julia Goldani Telles, Jaz Sinclair, Annalise Basso, Alex Fitzalan, Taylor Richardson, Javier Botet

In a small town in Massachusetts, a group of friends, fascinated by the internet lore of the Slender Man, attempt to prove that he doesn’t actually exist – until one of them mysteriously goes missing. – IMDB

I have no idea how and when Slender Man became on Internet creepypasta meme and I only knew about it because of the Slender Man games. Suffice to say, this one was brushed off really quickly as it didn’t seem like it would turn out to be anything significant. Turns out, first instincts are always the right one. Slender Man is an unexciting movie.

Looking at the characters, mostly centered around the group of girl friends who summon Slender Man. It all dials down to belief at the end of this to make this movie work for the viewer and for myself, getting caught in potentially cursed situations is usually something that I’d avoid even when I was a teenager, I didn’t mess with tarot cards or Ouija so automatically, these characters have lost appeal, no matter how ridiculous watching a video and summoning Slender Man feels. Plus, they all also have this different teen element of them of being on different sides of the spectrum with Joey King’s character being more rebellious and Julia Goldani Telles’ being this quiet and introverted smart and pretty girl and so on which makes you wonder how they all become friends in the first place. It almost feels like some kind of Pretty Little Liars round-up of characters (which was better than this crew).

Slender Man has a lot of issues. In reality, creepypasta could be a good premise to use if executed properly but this one just feels overly predictable and nothing too scary about it. Its lacking in jumpscares or atmosphere. There’s something that just didn’t seem to land really well in execution.

That’s it for this double feature!
Have you seen these two films?

TV Binge: The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020)

The Haunting of Bly Manor (2020)

Creator: Mike Flanagan

Cast: Victoria Pedretti, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Amelia Eve, T’Nia Miller, Rahul Kohli, Tahirah Sharif, Amelie Bea Smith, Benjamin Evan Ainsworth, Henry Thomas, Carla Gugino, Alex Essoe, Roby Attal, Kate Siegel, Katie Parker, Martn McCreadie

After an au pair’s tragic death, Henry hires a young American nanny to care for his orphaned niece and nephew who reside at Bly Manor with the chef Owen, groundskeeper Jamie and housekeeper, Mrs. Grose. – IMDB

After the success of The Haunting of Hill House (review), Mike Flanagan helms his next mini- series with another haunted house story called The Haunting of Bly Manor. The Haunting of Bly Manor takes some of the execution style of Hill House but is essentially its own story. After the Hill House experience, its hard to go into this one with a little more alertness and always on the lookout for whats hidden in the background (at least for us, it had that effect for at least a few episodes). Its unfair to compare the two even if there are a similar cast returning from Hill House in mostly supporting roles and being helmed by Flanagan as a creator but less this time as director. In fact, Bly Manor is a different beast in itself with Bly Manor being a new haunted house that comes to life with new characters and backstories and some new ghosts to discover which makes Bly Manor a creepily fun time and its has children so add in a little of the unsettling creepy children element.

Using the same execution of breaking down the episodes to discover the backstory of each of the characters on the past and present is a clever way to do this. In some ways, it gives it this feeling of peeling layers of an onion before every piece fits together and one twist/ secret gets revealed after the next while also getting to know each of the characters more to give them greater connection. Other than that Flanagan takes on the main role of writing which is what gives this piece a lot of style and atmosphere. He only takes the director’s seat for the first episode which sets off the story in a great direction in terms of setting up the proper atmosphere however, even in the hands of other directors, the TV series does still manage to keep a certain atmosphere that is always rather unsettling and creepy but in this one, its definitely more about the mystery and suspense built from what is actually happening.

With that said, the characters are the true star as each of their story comes to life. Victoria Pedretti plays a great role as the American au pair Dani who brings on some change to Bly Manor as she tries to dig into what is causing those abnormal things to happen whether with the children or the inexplicable things she sees or experiences. At the same time, the baggage she carries does brings on a few twists as well. The cook Owen (Rahul Kohli) is also a really fun character especially with some hilarious puns like Al-Cohol You Later (one that we have a lot of fun right now saying randomly). One of the best characters and possibly the one with one of the best episode is for the housekeeper Mrs. Grose (T’Nia Miller) who delivers a hell of a performance. Not to mention the kids deliver some great performances by Amelie Bea Smith and Benjamin Evan Ainsworth as Flora and Miles respectively. Then you have some comeback roles with one or two episodes as some decent characters with Henry Thomas as the uncle, Carla Gugino who is the narrator and Kate Siegel as a key character to the past of Bly Manor to just name a few. There’s a whole lore of how the ghosts and spirits work that becomes a very nice twist.

Bly Manor brings its own setting by itself. The grounds and the manor itself all comes to life with all the stories that slowly comes to surface. The cast brings quite a lot to the story just like the first one as they all have a great deal of depth and its never solely a ghost story but much more than that which is what makes The Haunting of Bly Manor so good. Its something of a love, revenge, family, drama with supernatural elements. There’s some heartwarming moments and some comedy and then there’s a lot of creepiness and fantastic eerie atmosphere at times that’s pretty well balances. Its the not the same as Hill House but different in an equally good way.

Double Feature: #Alive (2020) & The Bridge Curse (女鬼橋, 2020)

Next up in the Halloween movie marathon is an Asian film double feature with South Korean Netflix zombie film, #Alive paired with Taiwanese horror film, The Bridge Curse, both on Netflix fittingly for this themed month.

Let’s check it out!

#Alive (2020)

#

Director (and co-writer): Il Cho

Cast: Ah-In Yoo, Shin-Hye Park, Bae-soo Jeon, Hyun-Wook Lee

The rapid spread of an unknown infection has left an entire city in ungovernable chaos, but one survivor remains alive in isolation. It is his story. – IMDB

There’s no doubt that there is no shortage of zombie movies out there. I mean, we’ve covered a ton of them here but after the success of Train to Busan, its hard to write-off what South Korean cinema has to offer. #Alive is a little different. In many ways, its about survival during the zombie apocalypse (which movie isn’t) but its more than that as its about two characters self-quarantined during this post-apocalypse. As much as there’s zombies, its about a guy and a girl both in their own apartments in the same complex surviving in their own way. Its a different angle because its also very character-oriented. #Alive is structured in a good progression from a focus on the guy and his survival to realizing he isn’t “alone” and then reuniting the characters to survival together. Its a little far-fetched in some scenes when they reunite and plays upon how lucky they are to beat a ton of zombies but it does work pretty well in terms of the tension and atmosphere.

In reality, there is where #Alive stands out and that’s the two characters. In reality, the zombies are a definite threat but they are less scary than the desperate situation that the two characters are caught in. With their wits and their own know-hows, they end up being quite a team of helping each other out and each having their own story and unknowingly saving each other in some subtle moments that clues in on their individual characters that the other doesn’t learn about. Zombie movies at this point are the best when they are entertaining to watch which #Alive is absolutely there. Sure, it doesn’t give anything new with the zombies or the post-apocalypse situation and maybe even the characters but the angle and the premise or making it more character-oriented and a lonely quarantine probably lands even better because its released during the current landscape in our own reality and at least made me question my own preparedness at home for whatever survival needs that I might be lacking.

The Bridge Curse (2020)

Director: Lester Hsi

Cast: JC Lin, Vera Yen, Summer Meng, Ning Chang, Ruby Zhan, Yi-hung Hsieh, Cheng Ko

University students, planning a bravery initiation test for their fellow classmates, choose a campus bridge rumored to be haunted by a vengeful female ghost. – IMDB

I’ve always been pretty skeptical about Chinese horror movies in general. As much as they try, it all turns out to be fairly generic and full of horror tropes. With that said, I’ve only started going through some horror stuff sporadically from Taiwan (prior it was mostly Hong Kong horror) and The Bridge Curse is one of those that recently landed on Netflix. The Bridge Curse has some strong vibes of Dreadout, the game and not the film adaptation, which was decent enough. Actually there are some scenes that almost replicate that of one or two cutscenes from the game. The Bridge Curse plays on a lore about a female ghost haunting a bridge where at midnight, the steps leading away from the bridge will mysteriously have one extra step and if the person walking the steps counts to the extra step and turns around then they will see the ghost and be haunted. The story itself is fairly generic and it does have some creepy moments but most of it is rather expected. Where it does fall flat is that the surprise in the finale is a bit lackluster and it has to do a lot with the execution. In some ways, it may have benefited from being either a full found footage film instead of bouncing back and forth between that and the normal film structure. It might actually have worked better as the former.

The Bridge Curse’s structure is a parallel of bouncing between the past where the university students perform this initiation set-up/demonstration for their juniors and the story progresses at the same time as the present where a reporter is on location investigating the details of it to get to the bottom of this Bridge Curse and whether there was something more to the case. The structure is pretty good as it pairs up the two parts from one side reaching a certain room and then bouncing back to the present being in that room. The pieces of clues that she finds and how she connects it together also works well logically.

As much as that, the university students has their own little issues and some of the parts and the dialogue is not scripted that good, making these characters a little empty as well. At the same time, the scares are all fairly predictable even if some of the execution did turn out a little creepy although the ghost reveal did happen a little too early and the scares at times happened a little too frequent which made it lose its effectiveness by the end.

That’s it for this double feature!
Have you seen these two Asian horror films?

Double Feature: Insidious: The Last Key (2018) & Fantasy Island (2020)

Moving on track with the next double feature on Halloween Movie Marathon month! We’re wrapping up the Insidious franchise with the 4th film, Insidious: The Last Key and I didn’t know what to pair it with so I went to this year’s release, Fantasy Island! I sure seem to be going on a Blumhouse trip with my movie choices so far in the movie marathon.

Let’s check it out!

Insidious: The Last Key (2018)

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Director: Adam Robitel

Cast: Lin Shaye, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson, Kirk Acevedo, Caitlin Gerard, Spencer Locke, Josh Stewart, Tessa Ferrer

Parapsychologist Dr. Elise Rainier faces her most fearsome and personal haunting yet, as she is drawn back to her ghostly childhood home, where the terror began. – IMDB

The Last Key is pretty much the direct prequel of the Insidious movies. It takes place right before the events of the Lambert family call from the first movie. In this one, Elise Rainier explores her past as she investigates with Specs and Tucker to her childhood home and the memories of what she believes that she unleashed from a hidden door that she unlocked. As she confronts her brother and his family as well as the spirit that may be haunting the current owner of the house.

The Last Key honestly just banks on the love for the character of Elise Rainier played by Lin Shaye as well as Specs (Leigh Whannell) and Tucker (Angus Sampson) and rightfully so because they are truly the best part of the movie. While the story does have a few twists and turns, The Last Key has dropped another level from its previous 2 sequels and reduced itself to almost going through the same type of story. The Further might still have a few lores to offer but all we’re getting from the scares are jumpscares. They are effective a few of the moments but the horror is nothing that lingers.

As much as it doesn’t sound like The Last Key is a lot of fun (and it was okay since I’ve been rather jumpy in general so it got me on a few jumpscares), the issue I have with all these Insidious sequels is how necessary it all is. Sure, its great to give the starting point of how Elise Rainier discovers her powers and then links up her past with her present and then brings on this lovely ending and rounds back to the beginning, its all some clever writing on that point but its wandered a little far from what made Insidious good at the beginning. The monsters and spirits and whatever is hiding in The Further is alright for this one but something seems missing and I can’t quite pinpoint what it is whether its the lack of lingering fear or the atmosphere and tension not being balanced well enough or the “twist” happening a little early.

Fantasy Island (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Jeff Wadlow

Cast: Michael Pena, Maggie Q, Lucy Hale, Austin Stowell, Jimmy O. Yang, Portia Doubleday, Ryan Hansen, Michael Rooker, Parisa Fitz-Henley, Mike Vogel, Kim Coates

When the owner and operator of a luxurious island invites a collection of guests to live out their most elaborate fantasies in relative seclusion, chaos quickly descends. – IMDB

Fantasy Island plays on the concept that rides between supernatural and a virtual reality escape room sort of deal. Each character that arrives on this island comes with their own story and baggage which gives them their own story arc and what happens to them on the Fantasy Island. Its main lesson is about how fantasies when you play them out to their end might not be as perfect as in the imagination, emphasizing the point that nothing is perfect in life. While the concept and premise is alright, perhaps one of the issues is in its execution and how it all plays out. Sure, there’s some cleverness to how the story meshes from one character to the next as things become clear quicker than for others, but it all comes together in this rather bland experience and when the dots connect, its not too hard to guess what the twist is.

Push aside how this movie was rather disappointing and not very exciting to watch with some scenes that seemed to be pulled out of Pretty Little Liars blended with Saw especially for Lucy Hale’s character, Melanie. While the casting is pretty alright with Maggie Q, Lucy Hale and Michael Pena and the setting of Fantasy Island is beautiful and there are a few surprising bits, the movies suffers the most at being at its supposed to be. If we talk supernatural, the lore and whatnot isn’t really covered too much and if you talk horror, its not scary or creepy and if you look at its thriller aspect, the twist wasn’t exactly hard to guess. As a one time viewing, its alright. The beginning with the introduction of the characters and how they all fall into their own fantasies and the mystery of it is more fun to watch than the second half when things start to come together. I seem to be hating on this a lot. In reality, its more that I’m indifferent towards it. Some of the fantasies were pretty fun and some just didn’t really do anything for the character. It just feels like Fantasy Island could have been more than what was delivered here.

That’s it for this double feature!
Have you seen these two movies?

Double Feature: Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013) & Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015)

Years after watching the first movie of the Insidious franchise HERE, this year’s Halloween marathon is going to wrap up the rest of the movies. For starters, lets move on to the Chapter 2 and Chapter 3.

Let’s check it out!

Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013)

Insidious: Chapter 2

Director (and co-writer): James Wan

Cast: Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne, Ty Simpkins, Lin Shaye, Barbara Hershey, Steve Coulter, Leigh Whannell, Angus Sampson

The Lamberts believe that they have defeated the spirits that have haunted their family, but they soon discover that evil is not beaten so easily. – IMDB

Continuing on from the first movie, the Lamberts are dealing with the aftermath from the first movie and realizing that things are quite over as the danger still looms in the distance. While Insidious was something of an atmospheric sort of movie with a little more tension build up and having some decent jump scare moments, it all fitted together really well to give some lasting fear. Insidious: Chapter 2 is more of a familiar horror story. It plays its a cards a little too early and a little too obvious. Sure, it still has some decent jump scare moments but none of it is very lasting in the horror department as its more of an anticipated move and an unexpected time being done. The tension build-up definitely doesn’t play as well.

The same cast of its first film and the characters are still here. To be fair, they all come back into their roles in a good way. The story gives it more backstory as well as drawing more details into The Further’s lore and how it all works (in a non-chronological way). The backstory focuses on the past of the father character Josh when he was a boy and had his encounter at one point which is where the movie’s story pivots most of the time and the key of how he gets caught up in The Further.

In reality, Insidious: Chapter 2 isn’t exactly a horrible movie just it falls frequently in the predictable bit. I’m just not sure whether its because its first film pulled out a lot of the scary tricks that it set up the world in such a complete way that its sequel just couldn’t match up. For myself, it was more of a disappointment than it was a bad movie overall.

Insidious: Chapter 3 (2015)

Director (and writer): Leigh Whannell

Cast: Dermot Mulroney, Stefanie Scott, Angus Sampson, Leigh Whannell, Lin Shaye, Tate Berney, Steve Coulter, Hayley Kiyoko, Corbett Tuck

A prequel set before the haunting of the Lambert family that reveals how gifted psychic Elise Rainier reluctantly agrees to use her ability to contact the dead in order to help a teenage girl who has been targeted by a dangerous supernatural entity. – IMDB

It feels like most franchises need to head backwards in time to give itself into a deeper sense of the lore that before those previous movies, this The Further business still exist. Usually, I’m not totally behind it as most of the time, its just an excuse for studios to bank on good movie ideas to drag it out. I can’t say that Insidious: Chapter 3 wasn’t doing that but I happen to also love Lin Shaye’s character of Elise and its a backstory of how she starts working with Specs and Tucker. Elise, Specs and Tucker really are a huge highlight of Insidious who brings a little of comedy to the whole thing plus the three characters seem to build up the best. It could be that Leigh Whannell does act in the role of Specs while this time around being both the director and the writer so really bringing to life something that he envisioned.

With that said, Insidious: Chapter 3 does have a lot of the same issues as the second one. Its essentially a collection of predictable jump scares. There are some eerie moments and figures/shadows in the background. Its just the story of teenagers wanting to bring dead parents back to life isn’t exactly an original concept and of course, summoning something worse. On the upside, the way the film is structured does work to build a little more tension than Chapter 2. It has to do with the story focusing around a teenage girl who ends up bedridden and unable to walk, making her incredibly vulnerable. Nothing like vulnerability to make things more intense, right?

Between Chapter 2 and 3, I fluctuate a lot about which one I think is better even if they both are far from being as memorable as the first one (even if you break down Insidious, it might not hold up as well as the first viewing, which is why I’ve never gone back for a second viewing). After this double feature, I definitely feel like Chapter 3 pulls ahead a little.

That’s it for this double feature!
What’s your thoughts on the Insidious franchise?