horror

TV Review: Supernatural Season 12

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Source: Wikipedia

Spoiler disclaimer: This post will discuss some spoilers from Season 12 of Supernatural, so if you haven’t watched the season finale yet or aren’t caught up, skip this post and come back when you’re caught up. 

After I watched the final episode of Season 11 of Supernatural, I did the equivalent of throwing a book across the room in reaction to the set-up for yet another season of the long-running (and I mean long) CW drama. But I recently got around to watching Season 12 to see if it would pique my interest in the show again, and I can honestly say that I was surprised at how interested I was in each episode. Some fans have lamented that the series has gone on for this long, and cite Season 5 as the true ending of the show for them, and that’s fine, while others have stuck around to see what else the show has to offer. Although I was ready to throw in the towel after the somewhat uninspiring and lacklustre Season 11, I’m glad I gave Season 12 a chance because it’s the most interesting that the show has been for years.

This is the first season in a long time where I found myself actually genuinely interested in each episode and I think it was because even in the episodes where there was a “Monster of the Week,” it somehow related to the current drama that was going on with the Winchesters and their involvement with the dastardly British Men of Letters or with the Lucifer subplot.

To be frank, I was surprised that the show had never done a “Lucifer is going to have a baby, we have to stop that thing from being born” narrative before, but I think the writers and/or showrunners considered it would be a good angle to pursue since so, so many others shows and films and books have explored that territory before. Although it remains to be seen in the upcoming “lucky” Season 13 what the consequences will be of such an event, it’s safe to say that Castiel’s visions of sugarplums and rainbows probably won’t be it. I will say that the mother of this child, Kelly, annoyed me to no end, I did prefer it when Lucifer chose the vessel of the fictitious former Hair Metal Glam superstar, ably played by Rick Springfield, which was a very cool addition this time around.

I’m not going to spoil the ending of the season finale, but I will say that I’ll be interested to see whether the two (wait, make that three) characters who we are convinced are dead actually are in fact dead, because as we know on this show, the concept of death and being gone can be fluid and not exactly absolute. Lucifer’s schtick is starting to wear thin on my patience, and I wanted to see a deeper, more personal subplot with Crowley where they really get into the meet of the feud as opposed to just skimming the surface. Still, it provided for a good looming threat in addition to the mostly stuffy British Men of Letters. Speaking of which, most of them did a good job getting on my nerves, especially Lady Bevel (I preferred the actress’s turn as Valerie on Season 7 of The Vampire Diaries), but I thought Mr. Ketch deserved more characterization and more exploration as to why he became the way he did. And of course, with Mik (sp?), at least there was an interesting layer of knowing that the British Men of Letters were definitely up to no good but that there was some grey characterization mixed in so it wasn’t all black and white.

With the return of the boys’ mother, Mary Winchester, nee Campbell, who used to be a hunter in her own right, I know there have been some mixed reactions with some fans being not too keen on her involvement, but for a show that has been on as long as this one has, and that keeps on chugging along, the writers constantly need to be doing something new, and I think this was definitely interesting territory to explore at times. I was expecting the whole time for something to go horrifically wrong–she would be yanked away from Sam and Dean as quickly as she had come back, that it would be a demon in disguise playing a cruel joke, that it would be like a clone or not really her, that she would turn against them at one point. I don’t think she answered enough about her involvement with Azazel, but nonetheless, it’ll be interesting to see what happens to her in the next season.

The episode in which Dean is hit by a memory spell and as a result starts to forget everything about himself, including his name, could have gone a very schlocky route but I thought it was a nice turn that allowed Jensen Ackles to show more of his acting chops, and although the cause was supernatural, it turned from comedic to very serious as the affliction mimicked the effects of watching a loved one go through dementia or Alzheimer’s, and it was very painful.

Two other things I really liked about this season were the plotlines involving hunters all across America becoming the hunted thanks to the British Men of Letters, and the introduction of more Princes of Hell, including Dagon and Remiel. I’m not gonna lie–I was totally panicking at first and thinking, “Wait…but they killed Azazel! How can this be?” for a moment or two. The introduction of the cool lance as a weapon which had very real consequences made me wish it would stick around. Speaking of weapons, although I did like seeing the Colt in action again, I thought that with the Alpha vampire episode, it served a very good purpose and the tension was real, but in the following episode with the God Pan, it felt like overkill and like the weapon was getting kind of overused by that point.

And of course, there’s the question of a certain beloved character who we saw again in the final episode when Castiel discovers that the impending birth of Lucifer’s son created a rift between earth and some sort of Bizarro world alternate dimension. It begs the question of how the two worlds will co-exist or function alongside one another, similarly to the sections we saw of Limbo when Dean was stuck there a few seasons ago.

This season’s big plot hole: So, since Castiel killed Billie, aka the Reaper, aka Death, who took her place as Death? Last time the Winchesters tangled with the first version of Death we saw on the show, there was a time when the dead weren’t going where they were supposed to go and it was creating huge problems. I expected the characters to address this plot hole in the following episode, but it wasn’t really mentioned in a big way since then. Theoretically, shouldn’t Castiel become the new Death? Or shouldn’t another Reaper pop up to take Billie’s place? I hope they’ll address that in Season 13, because it’s a pretty big plot hole.

For those who watched Season 12, what did you think? Overall thoughts? Ideas for what will happen in Season 13? What did you like or dislike the most about this season? Sound off below!

Book Review: Yes Trespassing by Erik T. Johnson

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Yes Trespassing
by Erik T. Johson
Written Backwards Press
April 2017
436 pages
*** Review disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. ***  

I hadn’t heard of Erik T. Johnson before reading Yes Trespassing, but after reading the glowing endorsement from horror writer John F.D. Taff, whose work I do respect and admire, it set up the short story collection for me in a good way. Rather than give a story-by-story breakdown, what I will say is that Johnson is a writer who knows how to play with the reader’s expectations. One story, “The Black Tree’s Box,” in particular, was well done. It used various elements, including a possibly unreliable narrator, to spin a pretty good yarn. It also plays with chronology of the characters and of events in a very interesting way.

Rather than suffering from the fate of some short story collections that have stories that are all too similar or thematically not very different or make the reader question whether they’ve just read something very similar recently, Johnson’s collection offers a wide variety of stories on different themes and keeps the reader guessing as they make their way through the collection. In addition, the use of hand-drawn illustrations made this book reminiscent of House of Leaves or other books that have creatively incorporated hand-drawn notes and marks to give the overall design a feel as though it has been written down on lined paper, similar to a student’s notebook.

It is fitting that Michael Bailey and his press, Written Backwards, is the publisher of this superb collection. Johnson’s work has appeared in other Bailey anthologies, including Qualia Nous and the recently launched You, Human as well as Chiral Mad 2. From a print culture perspective, this collection makes an interesting use of marginalia or readers’ commentary and annotations as part of the text, not necessarily on the main pages of the stories, but in the front matter and the end matter as well as for the story and chapter titles, which uniquely uses typographical elements and creates a dynamic overall aesthetic element that runs as an undercurrent throughout the book.

If you prefer the type of slipstream or Weird horror, you will thoroughly enjoy Johnson’s short story collection. If you’re looking for a horror collection that features the standard tropes of vampires, werewolves, zombies, ghosts and so on, then you should likely look elsewhere because you’re not going to find anything cliched or overdone, or “been there done that” about these stories. Instead, you will find originality, good storytelling, and a compelling collection of tales.

Book Review: The Final Reconciliation by Todd Keisling

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Todd Keisling

The Final Reconciliation 
by Todd Keisling
Crystal Lake Publishing
Release Date: Feb 3, 2017
*** Review copy received from the publisher in exchange for an honest review***

Description

TAKE OFF YOUR MASK. Thirty years ago, a progressive rock band called The Yellow Kings began recording what would become their first and final album. Titled “The Final Reconciliation,” the album was expected to usher in a new renaissance of heavy metal, but it was shelved following a tragic concert that left all but one dead.

The sole survivor of that horrific incident was the band’s lead guitarist, Aidan Cross, who’s kept silent about the circumstances leading up to that ill-fated performance—until now.

For the first time since the tragedy, Aidan has granted an exclusive interview to finally put rumors to rest and address a question that has haunted the music industry for decades: What happened to The Yellow Kings?

The answer will terrify you.

Inspired by The King in Yellow mythos first established by Robert W. Chambers, and reminiscent of cosmic horror by H. P. Lovecraft, Laird Barron, and John Langan, comes The Final Reconciliation—a chilling tale of regret, the occult, and heavy metal by Todd Keisling.

Review: I’m not sure why, but a good chunk of horror readers, myself among them, tend to be big fans of heavy metal music. Years ago, I reviewed a fantastic anthology called Living After Midnight: Hard and Heavy Stories edited by David T. Wilbanks and Craig Clarke, which was put out by Acid Grave Press, and each of the stories had the name of a heavy metal band, like Judas Priest or Iron Maiden, and they were amazing. You can imagine my excitement, then, when I discovered that Todd Keisling’s new release from Crystal Lake Publishing, The Final Reconciliation,  is another book that combines metal and horror.

Aidan Cross is an aging former rock stair who was in a band called The Yellow Kings. A producer is speaking to him about the band’s history, something we are told from the get-go is a rare phenomenon, and it’s all to do with something horrible that happened years ago to Aidan and the rest of his bandmates. He has spent most of his life after this incident trying to reconcile what they all went through. It doesn’t take long for us to discover that whatever it is that has happened, Aidan is the only one who walked away.

Interestingly, I thought that this story would have been set in the 70s as it started off with that kind of a vibe, but The Yellow Kings are a relatively recent band, which Keisling suggests by including names of other more recent metal acts, such as Mastodon and Opeth (two of my very favourites!) Aidan speaks about how the band’s music consists of 15-minute epic rock journeys, which is something that has not been popular for a long time. In spite of this, the band gets word  that they’ve received funding to go on tour.

Another name for them is King Crimson 2.0, which I found interesting because the other vibe I got from The Yellow Kings is that they would be British (like King Crimson), but they’re from Texas as it turns out. Aidan paints an interesting portrait of his bandmates, including the lead singer, Johnny, whom he describes as being the sort of fellow that would have become a creepy horror writer if he had not picked up a guitar in his youth.

One of the best things about this book is the authenticity factors–Keisling has a very good knowledge of band experiences, details of being on tour, as well as the dynamics between bandmates. When the band gets its first dose of success, the “groupies” are not far behind, including one memorable girl in particular, Camilla. Aidan sets her up for the reader as the reason why everything went downhill for the band, and it was certainly interesting to see how it all unfurled. I had some theories about whether she was a succubus or a siren or another vixen type of mythological creature, but regardless of that, she makes it clear that there is a dark master the band can help her serve, and it doesn’t take long for things to spin out of control after that.

The lead-up builds to a high crescendo at a concert, the results of which are devastating and highly impactful. So, if you’re a huge fan of the King in Yellow mythology and stories or if you’re craving another hit after watching the first season of True Detective, then pick up Keisling’s book. It’s a phenomenally well-told story delivered in the form of a quick but memorable read, and it’s something that horror readers will enjoy even if they’re not huge fans of metal. With each release, Keisling gets better and The Final Reconciliation is no exception.

About the Author

todd-keisling

Todd Keisling is the author of A Life TransparentThe Liminal Man (a 2013 Indie Book Award Finalist), and the forthcoming collection, Ugly Little Things.
He lives somewhere in the wilds of Pennsylvania with his wife, son, and trio of unruly cats. Visit his website, and connect with him on social Facebook or Twitter.

Book Review: The Eighth by Stephanie M. Wytovich

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the eighth stephanie wytovich book cover

The Eighth
by Stephanie M. Wytovich
Dark Regions Press
November 2016
***Review copy received from publisher in exchange for an honest review***

Description: After Paimon, Lucifer’s top soul collector, falls in love with a mortal girl whose soul he is supposed to claim, he desperately tries everything in his power to save her from the Devil’s grasp. But what happens when a demon has to confront his demons, when he has to turn to something darker, something more sinister for help? Can Paimon survive the consequences of working with the Seven Deadly Sins-sins who have their own agenda with the Devil—or will he fall into a deeper, darker kind of hell?

Review: Having been a fan of Stephanie Wytovich’s poetry, I was very excited to see her prose in the form of her novel The Eighth, recently released by Dark Regions Press. The author is known as an amazingly gifted poet, so it was no surprise to me that right away her word choices and descriptions struck me as vivid and magnificent.

Although I was a bit confused as to the fact that the main character, Paimon, is, in fact, a demon (some of the initial descriptions suggest a monk or priest with a flair for sado-masochism), it quickly became apparent that our setting was Hell, described as having a “chilled embrace,” which I thought was neat.

Paimon punishes himself because he feels it is the only way he can atone for his sins. He serves none other than the Devil, Lucifer, but is at a point where he is conflicted about that, having done it for so long. He doesn’t particularly like doing assignments on mortal ground, i.e. Earth, so when his next assignment is there, we know it will be a bumpy ride for him.

He is haunted by the death of a woman, Marissa, and more about this mysterious relationship is revealed as the book goes on. His fellow demons don’t make things easier for him either, getting quite gleeful when he is in pain. I liked the incorporation of Greek Mythology in the form of making the ferryman, Charon, a character.

Essentially, Paimon is a soul collector, and he specializes in women who come from troubled backgrounds. The demonic clan he belongs to also demands a certain number of souls for him to harvest per year.

We then meet our other main character, Rhea, a human woman, who is dealing with a boyfriend she suspects is cheating with her best friend. Anyone with depression will recognize that the voice she hears in her head is the inner critic that torments and pesters at our brains daily.

One part of Paimon that was challenging to sympathize with was the fact that he comes from a background of having been rejected quite a lot by women when he was human. He uses that as a justification of taking pleasure in exacting revenge on the women whose souls he harvests. His dialogue was a bit too informal at times, as well, so while more consistency would have made his speech stand out more, his lines are wonderful for the most part.

Another minor quibble I had was the detail about how Rhea had supposedly never been intimate with her boyfriend after a relationship of seven years. Nonetheless, Paimon uses this point as one of the chief things to mess with Rhea’s head and it’s good ammunition.

Paimon wonders why women are so blind to seeing when they’re being manipulated, but one of the big reasons he points to in order to account for this is his view that they trust too much and fear too little. I wish the author had gone even deeper with conveying Rhea’s pain and showing more of how destructive her depression is.

“The girl was so desperate for affection that she’d turned to a complete stranger for help.”

Switching gears, I want to talk a bit about the demons of this universe. They have fangs and sometimes act more like vampires, but there are definitely interesting and distinct ones among them. One of the more unique demons apart from Paimon was Arazel, a female demon of lust that I took a shining to. She wasn’t over-the-top or mean for the sake of being mean and although we meet her midway through the book, she ended up being one of my favourite characters.

In this version of Hell, there is also a group of demons called The Seven. They are “keepers of the deadly sins”, as in the seven deadly sins, Paimon says of them: “You need to fear them more than the Devil,” which is interesting because at a few points in the novel, he also refers to Lucifer as his saviour so there’s an interesting duality to their relationship.

Speaking of the Devil, he’s a no-holds-barred kind of representation–jealous, vengeful, violent, angry, manipulative. Basically, all the things you would want to see in a Devil. I also enjoyed the tongue-in cheek reference to Virgil, citing the Pit as one place in Hell that not even he knew about.

Dante’s Inferno is, of course, one of the clearest influences on this novel as well as Milton’s Paradise Lost so take those two texts and mix them with a Barker-esque twist and you’ve got The Eighth. This novel also reminded me of The Monk by Matthew Lewis with some interesting parallels there, as well. If you love any of those books or just love horror novels about hell and demons, definitely pick up The Eighth.