Horror Reviews with C.M. Saunders

Film Review: The Void (2016)

By C.M. Saunders

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It isn’t often a horror movie leaves me feeling as emotionally drained as this one did. Other worldly cosmic horror, body horror, splatter horror, this film is a mash-up of every kind of horror you can think of, and probably some you cant. It’s hard to know where to start talking about it. Dismemberment? Check. Pyramids? Check. Demon babies? Check. Hospital-cum-gateway-to-hell invaded by knife-wielding devil worshipers in hoods? Check. You get the picture. Possibly.

          It all starts innocently enough when sheriff’s deputy Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole, who excelled in 2012’s The Conspiracy) stops one night to help what he assumes is a drunk dude crawling down the side of the road. When it transpires drunk dude isn’t drunk at all, but severely traumatised, Deputy Carter takes him to the hospital where his ex-wife works. There, whilst going through the administration procedure, he finds one of the nurses cutting her face off and stabbing a patient in the eyes with a pair of scissors. She then attacks Deputy Carter who shoots her dead. Not a regular occurrence. But his shift gets worse when he goes outside to his patrol car to call in the incident and is confronted with the aforementioned knife-wielding devil worshipers in hoods. Back inside the hospital, things take an even more disturbing turn when the dead nurse transforms into a slithering, slimy, tentacled creature, which is the last thing anyone needs, and matters are compounded when a gateway to Hell (aka, the void) opens. There are numerous twists and turns along the way, which I won’t spoil for you, ensuring the plot moves along with pace. The downside of this is the fact that of you blink, you are liable to miss something important.

            A lot of reviews compared The Void (favourably) with the low-budget horror flicks of the 80s. I don’t see it myself, though there are certain similarities with Josh Carpenter’s The Thing. Some of the cartoon violence comes across as a little bit gratuitous and the cosmic horror aspect adds some trippiness to proceedings, but the package works well. I love the return to ‘real’ special effects, rather than an over-reliance on CGI which has become the norm these days. The Void made quite a splash on 2016’s festival circuit and currently holds a 76% approved rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which is remarkably high for a film of this type. Definitely not one to aVoid. Sorry.

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Filling Your Niches

 

by Renee Miller

Many of us here at Deviant Dolls write in what are called “niche” genres. A niche genre is one that appeals to a small, specialized reader base. So, unlike something like romance, which has thousands and thousands of loyal readers, our genres attract a fraction of that number. And traditional publishers don’t go gaga over such books. Yeah, they want you to write something original and new, but not too original or new. They need to have somewhere to put it. If they can’t find the shelf your book belongs on, it’s a marketing problem. Plus, a fraction of thousands is not as good as thousands. It’s risky. Publishers are businesses, so this is understandable. Frustrating, but sensible if you’re looking at things from their point of view.

Just wish they’d stop asking for all this newness if they don’t want it. *grumbles*

I’m joking. Mostly. So, why would we choose to write in genres with such limited sales potential? Well a number of reasons.

First, a niche genre doesn’t mean you won’t sell just as much as someone writing in a popular or “commercial” genre. I mean, consider how many authors are out there writing the popular stuff in the first place. Spread those many readers out across those many authors, and the numbers aren’t so staggering for individual authors.

Second, I’ve found that these niche genres have the most loyal readers ever. This means, if they like what you’ve got, they’ll keep coming back, because it’s hard to find what they like. And they don’t mind paying. There are a lot of readers out there who’ve grown accustomed to the freebie. They expect it. Nothing wrong with that. We writers have created that expectation, so it’s our own fault. However, fans of niche genres like bizarro, erotic horror, absurdist comedy, slipstream and the like, know that it’s tough to find well written books that appeal to them, so they see value in it. When a reader sees what you’re offering as valuable, the freebie thing becomes less important.

Third, it’s fun. The most exciting part of publishing today is that we can bend and break genre lines. There are a bazillion sub-genres out there, and authors are creating new ones every day. Are they going to be bestsellers? Probably not. I mean, selling is the really tough part of publishing. However, it doesn’t mean they won’t sell. You can experiment. Have fun with your settings, themes, characters, etc. This experimenting helps us learn and evolve, and eventually, find the genre (niche or otherwise) where we excel.

I love writing weird stuff. If it’s strange or uncomfortable, I’m your girl. I also love writing sex scenes. Is that weird? Probably. I love writing about themes that are uncomfortable and using bizarre characters or situations. The more “WTF” or “OMG, no!” a story is, the more fun I have writing it. I’m not much for the butterflies and rainbows or the happy ending. What I’ve written previously that includes such things was a chore to write. I struggled to make it be what I was told it should be to “fit.” Sometimes I love writing tried and true stuff, but my “muse” is only truly satisfied when I’m going to an extreme of some kind. I like being a little uncomfortable with what I’m writing. Makes me more productive.

At Deviant Dolls, we chose to embrace genre straddling (and genre breaking) authors, because we believe in fiction that challenges the reader to think in new ways. We believe entertainment is valuable and so is allowing the reader to escape into a world that asks only that they buckle in and enjoy the ride. We love readers who beg to be scandalized, horrified, and/or tickled until they wet themselves. Niche genres make it easy to do this. Maybe, one day, these niche genres will become part of the norm. (Exciting) It’s more likely they won’t. That’s cool too.

Because we’re always looking for new ways to keep our readers happy, we’re curious: What’s your favorite niche and is it being filled? (Pun intended, because puns area great.)

Would the ‘Real’ Stephen King Please Stand Up?

 

By C.M. Saunders

 

 

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I don’t know if you’ve noticed (okay, people with actual social lives probably haven’t) but there’s been a storm brewing over on Amazon for some time now. It concerns the prolific writer Stephen King, who has sold somewhere in the region of 350 million books since his first novel Carrie came out way back in 1973, and another writer, also called Stephen King, who hasn’t sold quite that many.

The thing is, he’s sold a few. Probably a few thousand. Mainly to people who think they are buying books written by the other Stephen King. The famous one. Or, as they like to call him, the ‘real’ one. People are upset. Some call bullshit, others throw words like ‘fraud,’ ‘charlatan’ and ‘fake’ around. Some have even alluded to some kind of Amazon conspiracy geared to selling more books. As if the ‘real’ Stephen King didn’t sell enough for them as it is. The vast majority of these readers feel they have been duped and leave scathing reviews mostly centred around the fact that they didn’t receive what they thought they would be receiving, i.e. a book by the right Stephen King. Some sample review headlines include: Buyer Beware! NOT the real Stephen King! Beware of Imitation! Why Try and Fool the public?! Fake! Outright Lie! And my own personal favourite… Muck from a Loser!

I think it’s fair to say this guy is really suffering at the hands of the buying public. There have been masses of complaints, a lot of discussion, and it’s a hot topic on various forums and message boards. Even one on the ‘real’ Stephen King’s website, which was forced to issue a response. 

It’s also a common topic on fan sites, and personal blogs, where people, quite simply, be losing their shit…

Even other well-known writers are having their say. 

It probably doesn’t help that when you search Amazon for Stephen King books you get a selection from both blokes, and a lot of the ill-feeling seems to stem from the fact that Amazon ‘recommend’ books by both blokes to readers, based on their buying and search history. This begs the question, would you buy a Morris Minor just because it had a Rolls Royce badge on it? Of course you wouldn’t. Unless you either wanted a Morris Minor with a Rolls Royce badge on it, or are just dumb as fuck. Amazon as an organization are very strict when it comes to fraud and other such matters, and rightly so. You can bet after they received the first batch of angry complaints they investigated the issue thoroughly.

Now, here’s what I think happened…

Amazon approached the ‘fake’ Stephen King and demanded he prove his identity. And you know what? He did. Because his name really is Stephen King. It’s quite a common name, believe it or not.

I might be in the minority here, but I can’t help feeling a bit of sympathy for the guy. Imagine his delight when his book suddenly started selling by the proverbial truckload, then his dismay when he realised most, if not all, those people who bought his book did so accidentally. And then blamed him for their mistake. It’s hardly his fault he was given the same name as one of the greatest writers on the modern age. It might not even be his intention to try to ride the ‘real’ Stephen King’s coattails. We don’t know, because he hasn’t broken his silence yet. He’s probably in hiding because of all the people who want to string him up by his balls.

Of course, he might just be trying to make a fast buck. Maybe he doesn’t even like writing. Judging by most of the reviews, he isn’t very good at it. In which case he deserves everything he gets, but let’s err on the side of caution and go with ‘innocent until proven guilty.’

I can’t help thinking most of the fault lies with the people who allowed themselves to be ‘duped’ then kicked up a storm over it, probably because they are angry with themselves. I mean, any release by the ‘real’ Stephen King is big news. You hear about it all over the mainstream press. His books don’t just slip into the Kindle Store unannounced. And if people had enough common sense to do the most basic research before hitting the ‘click to buy’ button, none of this would have happened. How about checking the ‘real’ Stephen King’s website, or doing a quick Google search to see if there are any new releases?

The more savvy might note that the ‘fake’ Stephen King’s books aren’t put out by Simon & Schuster, the ‘real’ Stephen King’s publisher. Or, indeed, any publisher. On top of all that, the covers are amateurish. At least, they aren’t what you’d expect from a major publishing house. And any self-respecting ‘real’ Stephen King fan should be able to smell a rat just from reading the book description. To make it REALLY easy for the dullard consumer, Amazon even post a disclaimer next to fake’ Stephen King’s books.

Please Note: If you are looking for books by Stephen King, bestselling author of Doctor Sleep and The Shining, please visit his author page.

Yet, ‘fake’ Stephen King still has three books in the Amazon #10 at the time of writing. That’s more than the ‘real’ one.

Isn’t it ironic?

 

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Our Obsession with Darkness: Serial Killers

by Renee Miller

 

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It’s no secret humans have a sick fascination with death. As an extension of that, we are enthralled by serial killers. A twisted mind is intriguing. Inspiring even. I devour shows like The Following (LOVED Joe Carroll’s character), How to Make a Murderer, and Dexter—Oh. My. Fucking. God. Be still my little writer heart. What is it about these horrible, sick people that takes hold of a person’s mind and won’t let go? Well, I’ve pondered that a lot.

I write a lot of murder scenes. In my Milo Smalls series (Mind Fuck), the MC is a homicide detective with a nose for serial killers. So it follows that my Google searches are interesting to someone. How to get away with murder, mistakes killers make, weirdest way to kill a person… It’s all just research. Honest.

Maybe you’re like me, and your interest lies in what makes such a mind tick or why we’re drawn to them. Perhaps it’s the danger that attracts us. I don’t know. Fiction plays into this in a big way. Readers love that evil genius, who is borderline insane, strangely attractive, and desperately wants to get caught. But not all serial killers are geniuses, nor are they men, as many people believe. We imagine them as white males of higher than average intelligence, because it’s what we see in the media. Many of the killers who’ve become infamous are white men; Gacy, Rader, Bundy, Dahmer, etc. Finding a female serial killer is rare. You probably knew that, though. Is it because there are fewer women out there murdering than men? Perhaps. Statistics say that only one in six serial killers are female.  When I see that I think “Well, only one in six who are caught.”

And most of the time, I believe they do whatever they can to avoid getting caught. They don’t want to be locked up. They don’t want to stop. So they become experts at manipulation. They become adept at being invisible. They’re often pretty damn charming too. Sure, they might be a little weird. Creepy, even, if you get close enough to catch them with their guards down. But who would want to get that close? Not this girl. However, most of them know how to read people. They’re able to manipulate victims into situations they might usually avoid, after all. I mean who would expect this guy,

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Would turn out to be this guy?

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Who else is a little turned on right now? Just me? Moving along then.

Many serial killers are on the fringes of society. They may appear to be part of everything, but inside they’re not wired the same as us “normals.” And they know it. So they watch. Make notes. They use this information to blend in, to behave in a manner that keeps suspicion off them.So next time you’re all aflutter over that stranger’s winning personality and bedroom eyes, remember there’s no way to know who among us is harmless and who just got back from a skinning session. It’s not like they have a particular trait or physical characteristic that warns us. Many psychopaths are very much in touch with reality, and understand right from wrong so they do whatever they have to do to keep their activities a secret. They move around below our radar. Most are not reclusive, social weirdos. They don’t act strange and aren’t easily identified. They have families, jobs, and can be upstanding members of their communities, and do whatever is necessary to ensure they’re overlooked by law enforcement and victims.

And this leads me to another disturbing fact: It takes a lot for a serial killer to grab our attention these days. Sure, law enforcement is VERY interested, but the general public is all “Oh, you shot fifty people? Did you eat any of them? Make a skull headboard? Skin lamp? No?”

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“Ugh. Move along, Mr. Lunatic. We’re done with you.”

If a serial killer these days wants to be famous, or has a desire to be remembered, he’ll have to up the ante. Terrifying thought, but there it is. We reward the vilest deeds by almost fangirling them. It’s fascinating, thrilling even, to know every detail of their crimes. To stare at their images from the safety of our homes, look into their eyes for evidence of something, anything, that makes them different from you or me, and hypothesize what went so wrong this person would enjoy taking lives.

A sort of consolation prize for getting caught, I suppose, is that everyone learns who you are and what you did. Thanks to the constant bombardment of horrific images we see in movies, games, television shows and news reports, we’ve all become kind of blind to the stuff that used to keep us up at night. It’s almost like now they’re at our mercy if they’re seeking infamy. We need them to be truly horrific monsters. That way, we can rest easy believing Average Joe next door would never break in and wear our skin as a cape or fry up our liver.

What have we become? Relax. It’s normal to feel or think all of these things. Getting a thrill out of these stories doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you pretty average. I mean, what makes a gripping story? Action, danger, dread, mystery, a hero and a villain… All of these things are present in serial killer stories, real or imagined. No wonder we’re captivated. We get to see the disturbing details of their lives, pick them apart, figure out what went wrong. We can determine how they kill, what they look for in a victim, and maybe, just maybe, protect ourselves from becoming another name on a list in some documentary about a serial killer.

And don’t feel bad for getting hooked by the “what if” factor either. You’re human. It’s normal to wonder (if only once) what it would be like to do whatever we wanted, society’s rules be damned.

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After saying all of this, I admit, I sometimes wonder if writers are guiltier of romanticising serial killers than the rest of the public. Maybe. We do like to dig inside the heads of people who live life on the fringes. But then, if readers didn’t love it so much, we’d be forced to find another way to grab their attention. Lucky for us, there’s always sex.

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For the foreseeable future, serial killers will hold a place in the dark recesses of our minds and hearts. We will continue to watch and wonder when one is caught. We’ll continue to obsess over those who got away. And some of us will still be here to write about all of it.

 

Quantifying Creepiness

by C.M. Saunders

Creepy: Causing an unpleasant feeling of fear or unease (Adj.)

We all have a thing. Something that creeps us the fuck out. I know a girl who is terrified of dwarves. Even worse than that, there are people who walk among us, looking all normal and shit, with a profound fear of cheese. Yep, it’s true. The condition even has a name, Turophobia.

My thing is creepy crawlies. Not very original, I know. But my bug fear has a weird little twist. The more legs they have, the more repulsed I get. Dung beetles? Cool. Centipedes? Forget it. There’s also something intrinsically creepy about lobsters and crabs. It’s those pincer things. Therefore, despite being about half an inch long, earwigs put the fear of God into me. ‘Cos they have lots of legs AND pincers, see?

Yep, it’s irrational. On paper it looks damn stupid. But it’s something I can’t control. With humankind being a race of such disparate and complex individuals, anything is possible. What might freak one person out might make another get his freak on. One man’s poison, etc. It’s one of the things that makes our lives so colourful. Imagine how boring this would be if we were all the same.

So is quantifying creepiness even possible?

Apparently so. There’s a wealth of material on the Internet to prove it (so it must be true, right?). Everything from academic papers to sketchy articles like this one. After digesting some of this information, a few points become evident. Some things are almost universally creepy. Clowns? Creepy. Spiders? Creepy. Serial killers? Creepy. Using those indicators, it would be fair to assume that serial killer clowns like John Wayne Gacy would push the creep factor through the roof. It wouldn’t be a complete surprise to discover he had a thing for spiders, too. He was just that kind of guy. Some people make it easy for the rest of us to judge them by ticking every. Fucking. Box. Or at least one box too many.

Usually, though, it isn’t so straightforward. Some boffins (smart, scientific types) have decided that people’s jobs should be taken into account. Apparently, the job with the highest ick factor of all is funeral director, while things like morticians also rank highly. Basically, anything involving death. Does that mean we find death itself creepy? Possibly. On the other hand, according to the statisticians, your friendly local weatherman is about as scary as a poptart. But guess what? That doesn’t mean a weatherman can’t be a serial killer. You just wouldn’t expect him to be, so you’d be even more horrified when sneaks up behind you and stabs you in the throat. Tellingly, a writer friend of mine disagreed with the first assumption because the funeral director she knows was ‘Hot, has amazing abs, and rides a Harley.’ So it turns out, when someone is pleasing to the eye, we’re willing to overlook a lot. Who knew, right?

It’s obviously wrong to pre-judge anyone on what they do for a living. Just like it’s wrong to judge them on where they come from, the colour of their skin, or what music they are into. The only thing that really matters is what people are actually like. You know, their personality and shit. And here, a Reddit user by the name of Saigonsquare has helpfully attempted to produce a handy formula to help us decide how creepy the people around us really are.

Creepiness = (Awkwardness x Forwardness / Attractiveness) ^ Persistence.

See the role ‘attractiveness’ plays? It’s right up there, which means my friend with a thing for funeral directors isn’t such a freak after all. Apparently, if you are considered charming and/or good-looking, you can get away with murder. Just ask Ted Bundy.

Of course, this all breaks down when you enter the murky world of the Internet and you can’t actually see who you are talking to. Or, perhaps more accurately, who is talking to you. Sure, they might have a hot profile pic, but how do you know it’s not fake? I was happily chatting away to a hot chick online recently who’d sent me a random friend request a few days before. Things were going pretty well, until ‘she’ sent me a picture of ‘her’ dick. Yup.

Every item in that formula is subjective. Take ‘persistence,’ for example. Everyone likes it when someone shows a romantic interest in them. It makes us feel wanted, valuable, even a bit special. We also like a bit of persistence. The keener the admirer is, the more they must like you. But too much persistence? Nope. Then you’re heading into potentially dangerous stalker territory. So where do we draw the line?

Same goes for ‘forwardness.’ Someone who displays just the right level of confidence is a real go-getter, right? Which can only be a good thing. They probably have a well-paying job, a nice car, prospects, ambition, all that good shit. Nobody wants to go out with a slacker. But there’s a fine line between ‘confident’ and ‘cocky.’ And after ‘cocky’ comes ‘pushy,’ which is an obvious turn-off.

This brings us to the ‘Awkwardness’ part of the equation. Some things just feel wrong. We don’t know why, they just do. It’s instinctive. It’s entirely possible that whatever causes us to lose our shit is linked to some primal condition buried deep within us. A legacy, perhaps, of the time when we crawled around on our bellies in swamps. But obviously, that doesn’t explain what the fuck clowns have to do with anything.a