Tag: horror (page 3 of 15)

Flash Fiction: John Doe’s Journal

The Necronomicon
Courtesy istaevan

For Terribleminds’ Flash Fiction Challenge Five Ingredients Make A Story:


“I don’t have any idea where that storm came from.” Mark brought down the newspaper he’d been holding over Janet and himself when the squall began. They’re come back inside to get Janet’s oversized golf umbrella, which she tended to take with her to scenes during inclement weather. More than one intern had spent a good deal of time holding it up as one or both of them bent over a fresh body.

“Me neither.” Janet shook out her long, red curls and turned towards the lockers. “Let me just get the…”

Mark stepped into the morgue fully after her. “Umbrella? Is that the word you’re missing?”

Janet didn’t answer him. She reached back and flipped on the lights. The examination tables, trays full of tools, bloody sinks waiting to be hosed that prompted the suggestion of drinks, and storage doors both opened and closed became illuminated under the harsh florescent bulbs.

“Where’s our John Doe?”

Mark blinked, silently counting the corpses he could see. Then he counted them again.

“Did Steve or Andrea come in here?”

Shaking her head, Janet started checking the storage units. “Doubtful. They’d still be here scrubbing, I think. Besides, Steve went home early today. Something he ate.”

Mark ran a hand through his short dark hair, more as a habit of thought than in the pursuit of dampness. It was a habit he’d tried to break, considering how often his hands were covered in gore. He began pulling back sheets on the corpses on the slabs while Janet continued checking the doors. Minutes later, they looked at one another with the same expression.

“This is impossible.”

“You’re telling me.” Mark put the sheet back over Mister Falkner’s sweet old face. “Corpses don’t just get up and walk out of the morgue.”

“Unless the zombie apocalypse has begun.”

“If that were the case, wouldn’t more than one of our guests be ambulatory right now?”

Janet couldn’t stop smiling. “Maybe John Doe is Patient Zero. He’s already on the loose, ready to spread his curse and craving human brain.” She extended her arms, rolled her eyes back, and shambled towards Mark. “Braaaaains…”

Mark laughed. “Have you been drinking already? Let’s check the security footage before we call up the CDC and Norman Reedus.”

The terminal on their desk had no answers for them. Approximately three minutes after they’d left the room, the security cameras all registered pitch darkness. Even though they were designed to record even in low light conditions, neither mortician saw anything on the monitor. The other feeds throughout the building were normal.

“I’ll call up the security desk. We should check to see if we’ve been hacked.”

As Mark dialed the number, Janet looked over the desk towards the box of personal effects that had yet to be collected. She stood up and walked to the box, and after a moment’s examination, reached inside for the notebook. It was old, bound in leather and singed along two of its edges. Inside many of the pages were burned. She suspected that someone had held it over a fire for an extended period of time, perhaps to persuade the John Doe to do something in order to save it.

Mark hung up the phone. “IT is checking the server logs now.” He paused, seeing Janet poring over the book. “What’s in it?”

“Some of it isn’t even in English. I think it might be Latin.” She turned the pages carefully. “Where did they find this guy?”

“From what I understand he was a transient. Hung around the library and the surrounding area. A couple of college students found him on the steps.”

Janet nodded. She remembered examining the body: a pair of stab wounds to the chest had been the cause of death. More than likely, he’d been jumped and shanked by one of his fellow transients over food or territory. They’d found no possessions on him save for this notebook and a wooden cross on a string. Considering all of the inverted pentagrams and inscrutable runes throughout the notebook, she couldn’t rule out the fact the two items were related.

“Listen to this.” She put her finger on her place in the notebook. “‘Despite the supposed righteousness of man, especially those considered saved by the Gospel or some other means, evil continues to permeate the world. The descendants of the Nephilim either perpetuate or police that evil, struggling to maintain a balance between man’s salvation and annihilation. This is their task, their curse, and their burden, the high price of their power and immortality.’ That’s crazy, right?”

Mark shook his head. “Too much moonshine, or something.”

The lights went out. The monitor in front of Mark blinked out of existence. For a moment, neither mortician spoke. Mark slowly got to his feet, quite unsettled at how perfectly dark the windowless morgue had become.

In front of Janet, a line of light appeared. It was as if it was being drawn with an invisible finger, sketching the outline of a doorway next to the desk. When it was complete, light poured from the opening in the middle of the air. Mark glanced around, and felt Janet take his hand. In the darkness, illuminated by the portal, they saw yellow eyes, dozens of pairs of them, staring at them in silence.

A hand reached out of the doorway. It was dark-skinned, shot through with glowing blue veins, its fingernails sharpened into talons. It gently took hold of the notebook. Janet let go, and the hand retreated into the doorway. It winked out of existence, and a voice rang through the morgue.

TELL NO LIVING SOUL.

The lights snapped back on. They were alone in the morgue. Still holding his hand, Janet turned to Mark.

“I think we should go drink now.”

Mark didn’t take his eyes from where the portal had been, and the eyes that had watched them from behind and beyond it. He stepped back towards the door.

“Good plan. I like this plan.”

Movie Review: The Cabin in the Woods

This may be one of the most difficult reviews I’ve ever written. Not because the material is difficult or intentionally inscrutable (Antichrist) or highly subjective (Repo! The Genetic Opera) but because there are key aspects to The Cabin in the Woods that make me want to recommend it that I simply cannot tell you. I mean, I CAN… I’m physically and mentally capable of doing so. But I won’t. This review will be spoiler free, even if it will be hard to write as a result.

Courtesy Lionsgate Films

The Cabin in the Woods begins with about as stereotypical a premise for a slasher movie as you can get. Five college kids who superficially fit the broad archetypes of a thousand slasher movies before it head out for a weekend at the eponymous homestead and find sinister things in the cellar. The first of the movie’s many twists (which was already spoiled in the trailers so I can talk about it without breaking my self-imposed moratorium) is that those items, and in fact the entire situation, is being controlled and manipulated from another location. From surveillance equipment to environmental controls, every aspect of the scenario is aimed towards the doom of these kids. And that’s just the first ten minutes or so of the film.

It’s made apparent from the very beginning that this is not your average slasher flick. Outside of the outside influences manipulating the situation, our core cast is a bit more diverse and intelligent than you might expect. All five of our characters show measures of some depth or ingenuity, at least before they arrive at the cabin. Soon, though, all of them are falling into their roles, as prescribed by their archetypes, which is again a result of the controls being imposed upon them for inscrutable reasons. At least, inscrutable to them – we do discover the whys and wherefores of those in control, as the stakes continue to go up and the body count starts to rise.

Courtesy Lionsgate Films
Thor is unimpressed with your shenanigans.

The Cabin in the Woods was written by Joss Whedon. While there are some who will attack him for an apparent lack of character voice or other issues related to his projects, what sets this particular screenplay of his apart is the balancing act he pulls. There’s something fascinating about the harrowing experiences of the five young people in the cabin juxtaposed with the procedural, business-as-usual, even bland situations in the control rooms. And just when you think a pattern has been established, the pace changes and the situation escalates. This is definitely a credit to the writing, and to Drew Goddard’s direction.

In addition to the mix of the aforementioned elements is the surprising amount of humor in The Cabin in the Woods. Rather than relying on jump-out scares to keep the audience engaged, the trappings of the story abate any nail-biting and is either eliciting a laugh or provoking a question in our minds. Add to this mix a pretty decent and likable cast, a no-frills approach to design, and a third act that just explodes with potential and escalation, and you have a surprisingly good movie.

Courtesy Lionsgate Films
“I’ve got a 3 o’clock tee time, let’s start butchering teenagers.”

Stuff I Liked: The way the students interact at first, and how their behavior changes. The entire setup. The pacing of the reveals.
Stuff I Didn’t Like: The nature of the film makes it very difficult to write about. I can see where some people may object to Whedon’s writing. I wanted to know a little bit more about the controllers – how exactly does one apply for that job?
Stuff I Loved: Fran Kranz’s stoner. The atmosphere of the cabin and the minute details of the aspects controlled in it. All of the things I can’t talk about.

Bottom Line: I was surprised at how much I enjoyed The Cabin in the Woods. In my opinion it’s a better deconstruction of the horror movie than Scream. It’s fascinating, scary, funny, and a lot of fun. I highly recommend it.

Flash Fiction: The House in Miller’s Field

Courtesy buildinganddiy.com

Inspired by this scary story in three sentences I wrote for Terribleminds.


“How long has this house been here?”

Charlene shrugged. “‘Bout as long as I can remember. I used to pass it when I went jogging in the mornings.”

Sam was making his way up the overgrowth path towards the house. It was burnt out but relatively intact, sitting in Miller’s Field like a destitute hobo. The barn was also in need of some repair, but was somewhat intact. There’d been talk around town of tearing the house down and rebuilding, but nobody seemed willing to do that. Sam needed an Eagle Scout project, and doing what the adults were reluctant to do seemed like a good place to start.

“I’m sure there’s a reason nobody wants to touch this place.” Charlene was repeating herself, she knew, but Sam could be terribly stubborn sometimes.

“You don’t think it’s just less political than other stuff they want to do?” Sam picked his way forward carefully, avoiding the weeds and thistles that had burst through what had once been a paved driveway.

She rolled her eyes. “Believe it or not, not everything is politics to adults. Pick up the pace, would you? This isn’t how I want to spend my leave.”

He looked over his shoulder and smiled. “Okay. Sorry to drag you out here. Let’s just have a quick look around and get out of here, so I can write up my proposal.”

He headed right for the charred front door, which hung on a single hinge. Charlene moved to follow, but her toe caught on something and she dropped. Cursing herself for not looking where she was going, she pushed herself up from the blackened soil to see the skeletal hand that had tripped her.

Swallowing a mouthful of fear (you’ve seen bodies before, you’re okay, you’re okay), she gingerly turned fully to examine what lay half-buried in loose soil and persistent weeds. If she hadn’t stepped off of the former driveway, she would have never seen it. But there it lay, the bones charred and the skull’s mouth open in a silent, dirt-filled scream.

“Sam? I think we should leave.”

Looking up, she couldn’t see him. He’s already picking around inside. She dug around in the dirt a bit, finding an old Zippo lighter, a ring of keys, and an half-burned, torn, and decaying notebook. Charlene flipped through it; most of it was inconsequential stuff, grocery lists and reminders. Towards the end, as the burns got worse and worse, she found the first evidence something was really wrong.

They stay in the attic, just in the attic, we’re not sure why.

She turned back to see who ‘they’ might be, but there was nothing. She resumed reading forward.

They took my son, my son is not my son, his eyes are dead, why would they do this to a child?

Charlene’s blood ran cold. She turned to the last page.

I’m the only one left, I have to go, I have to leave, I know where the gas line leads out of the house, I’m going to finish this, for my wife, for my son, before they take me, before they take anyone else.

That’s when she heard Sam scream from inside the house.

“Sam!” She dropped the journal and ran into the house. The interior was blackened from fire, the kitchen worst of all as it had been the center of an explosion. She found the stairs, taking them two at a time, feeling them about to give under her feet, deciding not to care.

The attic door was a pull-down panel from the ceiling that revealed more stairs, she took those two at a time as well. The first thing we saw was Sam, backing away slowly from a corner, flashlight in hand. The attic was as burnt as the rest of the house, and little outside light came in through the slats in the walls and roof. His light was trained on the corner, and the figure crouching there.

It looked like a boy half Sam’s age, just over three feet tall, huddled there like it was frightened. It stared at Sam with milkly, colorless eyes, its skin ashen and covered in burns and black pustules. Charlene set her jaw. Is this the son of the dead man outside?

“Sam, back towards me. Slowly. I’m here, it’s going to be okay.”

“Okay.” He took a step back towards the stairs. The creature in the corner growled and moved in response, shifting from a huddling position to a crouch. Charlene felt her body tense.

“Soon as you’re on the stairs, we’re going to run. Okay?”

“Okay.”

Charlene angled her body, prepared to either bolt down the stairs or jump up into the attic. Sam’s left foot touched the top step on the drop-down panel. The creature hissed, and with a movement so fast Charlene would have missed it if she’d blinked, it leaped across the attic and pinned Sam to the floor.

Charlene was in the attic in the next heartbeat. Instinct and training had her grabbing the thing by its left shoulder with her left hand, while her right went to its neck and under its chin. Its putrid hands were around Sam’s neck, and he was choking, barely making out Charlene’s name. Muscles built from hauling 50-pound packs across Iraq and Afghanistan worked in concert, and while the creature was no longer strictly human, it was still the body of a burnt little boy. She lifted it away from Sam, and then moved her left and right hands in different directions until something snapped like a brittle, dry twig.

The blackened corpse went limp in her hands and she threw it away. Sam got up and put his arms around her, crying into her shoulder.

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, sis.”

“It’s okay, Sam. I’m here.” Charlene held him close. She felt a pain in her right hand, looked past Sam’s shoulder, and saw the angry red bite in her palm.

“Everything’s going to be all right.”

Movie Review: Prometheus

I liked the first two Alien movies, and would happily watch either one again given the chance. I’m also a fan of Ridley Scott’s work in general, especially his Director’s Cuts. Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba, and Charlize Theron are some of my favorite actors working today. And science fiction is pet genre of mine, especially when it takes itself seriously and doesn’t go straight for space opera or overdoes the camp of the pulp sci-fi of yesteryear.

So why is my heart not jumping bloodily out of my chest with enthusiasm for Prometheus?

Courtesy Scott Free Films

The year is 2094. The Weyland Corporation has sponsored a pair of dedicated archaeologists, Elizabeth Shaw and Charlie Holloway, to follow the evidence they’ve found that mankind was visited by alien beings in our ancient past. The starship Prometheus was built to find these aliens and discover what, if any, connection they have to our origins. Following star maps extrapolated from cave paintings, Prometheus sets down on an inhospitable moon and almost immediately finds evidence of the archaeologists’s fabled “Engineers”. They also find something that threatens all life as we know it, to say nothing of the crew of the ship.

Prometheus begins by introducing us to some very interesting themes, especially for a science fiction film involving starships and extra-terrestrials. The ‘chariot of the gods’ concept is becoming well-tread ground, from the Stargate series to recent things like Thor and Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull. Rather than just focusing on the aliens themselves, Prometheus sets its sights on the questions inherent with such visitations. Why did they visit us? What role did they play in our development? If they had a hand in creating us, why did they do so? From my standpoint, the focus of the narrative could have been maintained on these questions rather than pushing towards familiar Alien territory.

Fassbender in Prometheus

Despite the breathtaking visuals, haunting score, and fantastic use of 3D (even in home theater settings), Prometheus suffers first and foremost from an identity crisis. It simply can’t decide what it wants to be. A serious sci-fi film asking questions about faith, creationism, and the origins of life would be fascinating, the Alien franchise is desperate for a high-quality entry to redeem its dalliances with those wacky Predators, and Ridley Scott wouldn’t mind starting a new film series. Prometheus tries to do all of these things, admirably so, but fails in hitting the mark with any of them. The questions it wants to ask fall by the wayside when body horrors begin cropping up, the answers we do get tend to beget more questions, and characters, for the most part, behave more for the sake of advancing the plot than they do from their own motivations and personalities.

Consider David. Michael Fassbender is giving probably the strongest performance of the ensemble here, carefully channeling David Bowie into a soft-spoken android obsessed with Lawrence of Arabia. He doesn’t seem to be interested in being more human, regarding those around him with a detached curiosity rather than any longing, and it soon becomes apparent the Prometheus is something of a personal laboratory for him. However, his motives for his experimentation are tenuous at best, his methods make little logical sense, and what reasoning we do get seems to come in the form of throw-away lines and vague conversations on the relationship between creator and created. It’s cool that he has his own agenda, and he pulls of being a creepy facsimile of human life very well, but he, like much of Prometheus, is simply poorly explained.

Courtesy Scott Free Films

The biggest saving grace of the film is probably Elizabeth Shaw. Noomi Rapace is not just doing a send-up of Ripley. She’s also playing one of the few characters who acts in a consistent nature, uses their head on more than one occasion, and has an interesting arc complete with tangible loss, crises of faith, and a staggering amount of determination and survival instinct. It’s very difficult not to care about her after everything we see her going through, and like us, she’s still looking for the answers to her, and our, questions.

While Prometheus suffers from some pretty major problems, it’s still the best thing to happen to the series Ridley Scott started back in 1979 since Aliens. Scott does great work behind the camera and in terms of production, the actors I mentioned are all great, and the presentation is great, at times downright stunning. The problems with the plot and character motivations can’t be overlooked, though, so while it’s hard to classify it as a strictly bad movie, it’s also difficult to give an unqualified recommendation. Being a fan of this director, these actors, and this concept and its execution, I’d probably watch it again, as the parts I enjoyed outweighed those that left me perplexed or frustrated. Just be forewarned: I don’t think Prometheus is for everybody.

First Impressions: XCOM Enemy Unknown

Courtesy Firaxis Games

The road that brought the alien defense series X-Com back to us has been a winding one. Rumors of an update or remake were never far away, and at one point, a game with that title appeared but was something more along the lines of BioShock, with first-person shooter gameplay and heavy influences from Fallout, which did not endear the previous games’ fans to the notion of a remake. However, after years of subsisting on the original UFO Defense, it appears that Firaxis games have finally gotten it right with XCOM Enemy Unknown.

A playable demo is available on Steam, and after playing it through twice, I can say this is more than likely the game fans have been waiting for. The situation is the same as the original game: aliens are invading Earth, abducting or flat-out slaughtering human civilians unchecked. To stop them, a multinational council is formed to fund and oversee XCOM, an elite paramilitary force dedicated to preventing and investigating these attacks. With a handful of rookie soldiers, very little funding to begin with, and only a single base to protect the entire world, you as the Commander of XCOM start in a very unenviable position. Oh, and if you screw up, you may lose your funding, to say nothing of letting the world get conquered by malevolent extraterrestrials.

Courtesy MicroProse
Courtesy Firaxis Games
Old vs. new.

At its heart, XCOM appears to be hewing as close to the original formula as possible: go from broad real-time base-building and research to turn-based tactical isometric combat. Technology has advanced, of course, so XCOM employs the Unreal engine for its rendering. I’m sure there will be purists who miss the stylized, cartoonish art of the original game, and while I admit that style gave the original a lot of character, the new models and animations make it clear this is an XCOM game, not just another futuristic shooter dressed up as an old favorite.

The maps and character designs are colorful and varied, tossing out the grayish-brown aesthetic of certain other action games with guns. Instead of mucking about with time units, each soldier gets two actions, which can be used either for movement or for shooting. Some weapons, like the sniper rifle, require you to not move on your turn, while others allow you to shoot then move, or move before shooting. In addition to these basic aspects, each soldier now has a specific specialization, with assault troopers being able to “run and gun” while heavy weapons guys carry rocket launchers. The engine even breaks up the turn-by-turn movement with occasional dynamic zooms and pans, giving you a very “in the thick of it” feel for the action.

Courtesy Firaxis Games
Mary the sniper lines up a shot.

The demo doesn’t show much of the new base mechanics, but instead of an overhead view, we see it from the side, with soldiers relaxing or training in the barracks while scientists consult their research in the lab. Characters now have distinct voices and personalities, and the international nature of XCOM is emphasized. The promise being made, or at least implied, is that research and fabrication between missions will remain important, as your soldiers still only begin with the most barebones of equipment.

All that said, I think the interface is a bit dodgy in places. It was difficult, at times, to adjust the map properly to see where and how to move my soldiers into better firing positions. As neat as the dynamic events are during combat, once or twice the camera didn’t seem to fit into place properly and I ended up looking at the barrel of the gun instead of at my soldier as they fired. Finally, and this is purely an aesthetic thing, I can do without the initial assault rifles of the squad being roughly the size of a Smart car. They’re just ridiculously big.

However, playing the demo has definitely brought back good memories and whet my whistle for this newest iteration of XCOM. If the promise of the base layout delivers, and combat within the game evolves as it did in the previous titles, this is a sure-fire winner. XCOM Enemy Unknown releases on October 9, and can be pre-ordered on Steam.

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