Cabin Fever: Patient Zero

Cabin Fever Patient Zero Poster

I was not excited about Cabin Fever: Patient Zero. Why the hell would I be? The franchise, such as it is, is in shambles. Matter of fact, calling it a franchise is like calling Twilight a vampire movie.

Eli Roth’s original Cabin Fever is an explosive juggernaut of gore, humor, titties, and teenagers making fabulously bad decisions. You know…all the things that make an unserious horror movie seriously fantastic. And Roth did it up right. It’s a magnificent flick that you can watch repeatedly and have a great time. Any genre fan that doesn’t like Cabin Fever is a goddamn communist trying to sodomize your freedom, eat your pets, and abolish your rights of inheritance.

But then came Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever, which made Paranormal Activity look like The Exorcist, and Paranormal Activity was as painful as diarrhea with teeth. Don’t watch Cabin Fever 2. Or Paranormal Activity.

And now Cabin Fever: Patient Zero is the prequel none of us have been waiting for. It was supposed to have been filmed back-to-back with the fourth installment, Cabin Fever: Outbreak. That one got scrapped because now the original film is being remade with the same script and different actors because fuck everything. Eli Roth isn’t directing – since he’s already done that exact thing with this exact movie – but he is the executive producer. No one has been able to explain to me why this is happening.

Anyway, Patient Zero. It actually started off sort of promising. Not the sort of promising where you get your hopes up. More the type where you feel you might not have to dump Jagermeister in the DVD tray to get that taste out of its mouth. There was Sean Astin, whom I always enjoy in an I-fondly-recall-The-Goonies kind of way. He’s the titular patient being held captive by “scientists.” One of them is an extremely attractive young lady in a short skirt, high heels, and a low cut top. She’s a scientist because she’s also wearing a lab coat. There’s some witty dialogue constructed mostly of sexual innuendo, which is always a plus. The main characters are sailing their buddy to a tropical island for bachelor festivities. Said island is naturally the one where Astin is being studied as a possible cure to the flesh-eating fun that will erupt in the first Cabin Fever. So…spoiler, I guess? They don’t cure it? Whatever.

Overall, this thing just drags along pointlessly. There isn’t much new stuff here, although there are a couple moments of sincere awesomeness, like an oral sex scene that ends in high-pressure vomiting. I was ecstatic about that situation. Also, a fist fight between two rapidly decaying chicks? Yes, please. Let’s get sloppy.

Not worth it in the long run, though. The story isn’t really a story and, while that was forgivable in the original, we’ve moved on. The second sequel can’t rely on what the original film did. Despite The Hangover people deciding to make the same movie three times in a row, it’s not a good formula.

Other than Astin, the cast is a forgettable bunch of hot nobodies. Ryan Donowho is one of them. His entire bio on IMDb reads “Ryan is famous in the streets and subways of Manhattan as a bucket/drum player. His nickname is Focus.” Sweet. Another, Jillian Murray, starred in the gems Wild Things: Foursome, and Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown. So she’s a veteran of movies that have colons in the title.

Obviously I’m a fan of horror films that are so bad they’re good, as well as those that are traditionally good. This one is neither. It’s right in the middle which is the worst place to be. If you were planning to see it just so you’d be able to keep up with the direct-to-DVD fourth installment, don’t worry about it. Actually, if you were planning to see it at all, just don’t.

Brent’s Halloween Memories

Once upon a time, I didn’t like spooky stuff.  I was a skittish little kid and I avoided everything that scared me. Unfortunately, everything scared me. It wasn’t just horror movies or novels, although I kept away from those. Fucking E.T. made me lose my shit when I was six. Why didn’t anyone else realized that tubby, squealing, waddling brown thing was a monster? Jesus.

Fireworks. I definitely didn’t like fireworks. They were airborne catastrophes happening right over our heads. There was no reason to be standing around watching those massive, loud explosions tearing open the sky. We needed to be running for cover.

But I was really terrified of anything in a suit. I don’t mean like a coat and tie, I mean a costume. It didn’t matter if it was Scooby Doo or Michael Myers, they might as well have been a life-sized Godzilla. Also, fuck Godzilla, because that was obviously a guy in a suit.

Seriously, it was bad. My parents quickly learned that once I hit a mall Santa’s lap they had about ten seconds before I detonated into full hysteria. Ditto the Easter Bunny. They wisely kept me away from Disney World until I was older because that would have been my Armageddon.

For some reason though, I loved Halloween. Not the scary parts, mind you; that was some horseshit. But I dug everything else: the cooling weather; colorful, earthbound leaves; that unique autumn smell in the air. There’s just an inexplicable feeling that permeates October for some of us. It folds us up in its chilly arms and tickles all our happy places. I’ve always been one of those people.

I also liked dressing up and trick or treating, though my costumes were usually super heroes rather than ghosts or vampires. I was Batman or Superman or Spider-Man, who gets a hyphen for some reason. From behind my shoddy, no-doubt toxic mask, things weren’t quite as intimidating. I could mingle with the hordes of other kids – blithe and comfortable in their own costumes – and be just another fearless, frozen plastic face in the crowd.

The magic of the mask was an easily-forgotten placebo. Whatever dilapidated factory in China that forced ten-year-olds to produce those masks wasn’t much concerned with ventilation. The eye-holes were just big enough to barely see out of; the nose-holes were pin pricks and the mouth had just a tiny slit. You know…for air. Trick or treating in those things was like slowly suffocating to death in your own little breath-powered sauna.

So in between houses I would push it up onto the top of my head and get a few decent breaths in. Sometimes I forgot to slide it back into place and my dad would remind me. Occasionally, he forgot too and I would just happily ring doorbells mask-free. People were like “Oh, how cute. It’s Batman. Mostly.”

One Halloween, my parents drove me to my aunt and uncle’s house so they could ooh and aah at me. I don’t remember what cheaply-fabricated junior hazmat suit I was wearing that year and I also don’t remember just how old I was. Maybe four or five. Many of my memories from that night have been modified or erased by terror.

When the car stopped in my aunt and uncle’s driveway, I hopped out and toddled up to the front door. My folks hung back so I could feel like a big boy going up there alone. I rang the bell like any self-respecting trick or treater and stepped back politely, my orange plastic pumpkin held out and ready for candy.

The door swung open and a fucking monster lunged out. Its face and head were covered in tangled fur and about a thousand fangs stuck out of its misshapen, snarling mouth. A roar of delight tore from its throat. Delight, no doubt, at finding such a tasty kid-morsel on its front porch. Handy that dinner was being delivered to it this evening.

I might as well have been wearing a Flash costume because I tore out of there so fast I broke the sound barrier. The only things left on the porch were a me-shaped puff of smoke, my abandoned plastic pumpkin, and one surprised monster about to go hungry.

My parents didn’t seem concerned when I got to them in .2 seconds. Why weren’t they starting the car? I hid behind them and screamed like a banshee in case they hadn’t noticed the danger yet.

Eventually I had to pause for a breath so I could keep screaming. In that interval I heard my name being called from the porch amid snorts of laughter. There were no treats up there. This was a trick. No fucking way I was falling for that.

My dad had to carry my dumb ass back to the porch. I didn’t fight much because I figured he knew what he was doing but I wasn’t happy about it. I pressed my face against his shoulder and considered wetting both our pants.

When he finally pried me loose and made me look, I saw my dipshit uncle standing on the porch with a rubber monster mask in his hand. Son of a bitch. I’d been had. Who thought that was funny?

Everyone else, apparently. My dad still tells the story. However, my aunt divorced that guy soon after so who’s laughing now, motherfucker?

End of Summer: Book Review

End of Summer Cover

End of Summer by J. Tonzelli is a book that tries really hard. It wormed into all my comfortable places and I wanted to like it. The thirteen short stories it contains are centered on Halloween, which is a soft spot for most of us in the scare industry. Cool weather, changing leaves jumping off trees, longer nights, kids in costumes: all these things warm our jagged little hearts. This is my favorite time of year and I read End of Summer hoping it would evoke seasonal feelings in me.

The introduction was promising. Tonzelli tries to explain his own love of Halloween and falls a bit short, though in an admirable way. For those of us who love this holiday, the reasons are often ineffable. There are some concrete things, of course, but for the most part, we just fucking adore Halloween. It speaks to something inside and, as clichéd as it is, if it requires explanation, you’re probably not going to get it. Tonzelli captures this perfectly in his intro and I read on optimistically.

Turns out that was my favorite part. Everything after that felt like it was a rehash of an existing story, idea, or theme. Nothing felt original and many of the stories were the same tired old critters we drag out and pet on Halloween.

The opener, “Stingy Jack,” features a typical smooth-talking, tantrum-throwing Devil trying rather lamely to corral the soul of a drunk. Despite being the Devil, he seems at a loss to outsmart the drunk, tripping over a couple of tricks older than apples. Will he eventually win out? Probably. We’ve read these things before.

The final offering, “Dumb Supper,” is a generic Halloween yarn. It’s the sort of thing that appears in every collection of dark tales and would be right at home on the YA shelf. It takes place in the kitchen where a wife is reluctantly hosting her dead husband’s grumpy, asshole spirit for dinner. He can only come once a year, they have to be quiet and sneaky, he’s obviously escaped some dark force for the moment…you know the drill.

The eleven stories between these two are equally exhausted and worked over. It’s material that needs a fresh angle or wide streak of novelty to be interesting again but we don’t get that. Instead, it’s just business as usual. We’ve got our regular-ass, plain old haunted house. There’s a reluctantly evil couple sacrificing their young niece to ensure a bountiful crop. Let’s see, a man who killed his hated wife but is tortured by ghostly visions of her. Oh, and there’s the guy that watched his best childhood chum burn to death on Halloween. He didn’t set the kid on fire himself but he was sort of indirectly responsible and he’s been plagued by guilt ever since. That guy gets revisited by his friend’s smoky spirit every year on Halloween at exactly 12:37am.

While it seems obvious that Tonzelli wants to pay affectionate tribute to the motifs of Halloween that we all love, he seems unconcerned with breathing any fresh life into them. They remain as they were: antiquated; trite; worn at the seams; ready for retirement. Tonzelli turns a few innovative phrases occasionally to spice things up but these are few and far between.

End of Summer certainly isn’t the worst thing you could read this month. If you like curling up by the fire with a warm glass of cider, listening to your spooky sounds CD, and relaxing into comforting familiarity, this is your book. However, if you’re looking for something outside the box, go ahead and skip this one.

Wrong House: A Short Story

Dave and Susan were making love when their home was invaded. They heard a kick that splintered the front door and then another that knocked it wide open. It smashed loudly against the wall.

Susan was on top and she looked down at Dave. “I think you should check that out.”

Dave pushed her off. “Probably. Stay here.” He stalked out of the room naked.

Two men in black ski masks met him in the hall. Both carried pistol grip shotguns and had Glocks riding their hips. It didn’t look like their first time.

The taller of the pair pressed the barrel of his shotgun into Dave’s bare chest. “Where you headed, tough guy?”

“I thought I heard a noise,” Dave said.

The shorter one laughed. “That’s pretty funny.”

“Yeah,” said his partner, and jabbed Dave with the barrel. “You’re hilarious. Why don’t you back your comedic ass up into that bedroom?”

Dave started to turn around but Tall Guy hit him in the face with the shotgun. “I said back up, shit head.”

Blood was running briskly out of Dave’s nose. Without wiping it away he walked backward toward the bedroom. The two men followed, shoulder to shoulder, filling the hallway, their weapons never wavering.

When Dave got to the doorway, Tall Guy hit him again, this time in the belly. Dave folded up and Tall Guy shoved him into the bedroom. He tumbled in on his back and Susan yelled “What the fuck?”

The shorter man followed Dave in. He stayed low and moved fast. In a moment, he was at the edge of the bed with his shotgun in Susan’s face. Tall Guy was covering him from the doorway.

“Don’t move, doll,” Shorty said.

Dave got to his feet. “You stay right there,” Tall Guy told him.

Shorty backed into a corner where he could cover both Dave and Susan. “I’m good,” he said.

“Excellent,” Tall Guy said. “Let’s do this.”

“OK,” Shorty said, and twitched the shotgun at Susan. “Let’s have you get up slowly and head over there beside your man.”

Susan got out of bed naked and walked to Dave’s side. “You OK, babe?”

He smiled through the blood. “I am.”

“Why don’t you put some clothes on, pal?” Shorty said. “I’m tired of looking at your dick.”

Dave pulled on a pair of sweats that were draped at the foot of the bed. Susan reached for the t-shirt she’d tossed on the floor earlier.

“Nope,” Shorty said. “Just him, doll.”

Susan turned to face him. Sweat from their love-making still gleamed on her tits. “Really? Jesus Christ.” She didn’t move to cover herself with her arms, just glared at him.

“Let’s go,” Tall Guy said. He moved out into the hall, his gun steady on them.

“Follow him,” Shorty told them. “Very slowly. He’ll be in front of you the whole way. I’ll be behind you. You’re locked between us and any movements we find overly interesting will get you fucking shot. Understand?”

“Not entirely,” Dave said. “If he’s in front and you’re behind us, won’t you hit each other if you have to shoot?

“Holy fucking shit,” Tall Guy said. “Are you still being funny?”

“It’s more logistics than comedy.”

Shorty took a quick step toward them and laid his shotgun barrel against Susan’s ear. “You have two choices. Shut the fuck up and she lives. Keep yammering and she dies. Pick.”

Dave eyed Susan. “Let’s keep her around.”

“Then shut your yap and move.”

The four of them went down the hallway, Dave and Susan walking between the invaders. They were herded into the kitchen. Tall Guy gestured at the table in the middle of the room. “Sit down.”

Dave and Susan pulled out chairs and sat.

Shorty drifted to a corner again. His shotgun remained threatening. “Make them comfortable.”

Tall Guy unzipped a black duffel bag that was lying on the floor. He pulled out a handful of stuff and went to work.

Dave’s ankles were individually zip-tied to the legs of the chair. His wrists were fixed to the arms the same way. Tall Guy did the same thing to Susan then he showed them a roll of silver duct tape. “I can do your mouths but that’s dangerous. You could suffocate. But you seem like reasonable folks. If you promise to keep quiet we don’t have to worry about this.”

“We’ll be quiet,” Susan said.

Tall Guy looked at her tits. “You say that now. We’ll see.”

Shorty had relaxed. He leaned against the wall, the shotgun loose. “I’m sure they’ll be fine. Get to work.”

Tall Guy picked up the duffel bag and disappeared into the house.

Susan looked at Shorty. “So. After you guys get done I’m sure you’re just going to let us go, huh?”

“If you cooperate.”

She shook her hair out of her face and her breasts jiggled. “You don’t have any other plans?”

Shorty slid off the wall and stepped up to her chair. He let the muzzle of the shotgun hit the seat between her legs then he shoved it forward till it was snugged against her labia. His free hand plucked her right nipple until it stiffened. “Oh, I have plans. That’s why we brought the duct tape. You look like a biter, not a screamer.”

Dave laughed. “Indeed.”

Shorty looked at him. “You don’t seem particularly concerned here, friend.” He put the shotgun on the table and walked behind Susan’s chair. He leaned over her and cradled a breast in each palm. He slowly circled her nipples with his thumbs. “I’d be concerned if I were you.” He put his nose in Susan’s hair at the nape of her neck and took a deep breath. “I’d be all kinds of concerned.”

Dave was wearing a smile under his bloody nose. “I am a little concerned. For you, little guy.”

Susan jerked her head around and snapped her teeth at Shorty’s face. He recoiled just in time. “Goddammit!” he yelled, and snatched the shotgun off the table. He reversed it and slammed the butt into the side of Susan’s head.

She didn’t move an inch. Didn’t even appear to have noticed he’d hit her. She wiggled her tits at him. “Come on back, baby. Come back one more time.”

Shorty backed across the kitchen, the shotgun trained on her. Dave laughed.

Tall Guy popped up in doorway and said “What the hell’s going on in here?”

Shorty jumped. “Nothing’s going on. What have we got?”

Tall Guy tossed the duffel on the floor. It made a heavy thud. “Jewelry. Cash. A few antique-looking things. Couple laptops.  It’s getting a little loud in here. Do we need the tape?”

Susan smiled. “You might need it for your buddy, there. Tape his fingers to that shotgun. When he puts it down he tends to stick his hands where they don’t belong.”

“Is that right?” Tall Guy looked at Shorty. “I told you no flirting till we’re done.”

“Fine,” Shorty said. “I’ll finish up. You keep an eye on these assholes.”
“Both eyes,” Tall Guy said, and put them on Susan’s tits. She smiled at him.

When Shorty was gone Tall Guy smiled back at Susan. “Did you scare my pal? He seemed a bit jumpy.”

“I wasn’t trying to scare him,” Susan said. “I thought he wanted to play.”

“We don’t normally play with folks, you know. We get in, get the stuff, get out. Clean and simple. But you, doll.” He shook his head. “Whew. You are a piece. And you being already naked when we arrived…I dunno. It just seems like fate.”

“You can’t argue with fate,” Susan said, and stood up. The chair came apart around her, pieces of it still zip-tied to her.

Tall Guy snapped his shotgun up but she was already there. She yanked it away from him with one hand and slammed him against the wall with the other, her palm over his mouth. He made muffled grunts, eyes wide.

“Now I’m going to play with you,” she whispered. “And my man over there is going to play with your little partner.”

“Tie him to a chair,” Dave said.

“Good call.”  Susan, her hand still clamped over Tall Guy’s mouth, maneuvered him into one of the other chairs. “If I take my hand away, are you going to yell?”

Tall Guy’s eyes were still bulging. He nodded. Then he shook his head.

Susan laughed. “Which is it, dummy?”

He squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head no. “Excellent,” Susan said and removed her hand.

“What the fuck?” he whispered. “What the fuck is happening?”

Susan fished through the duffel bag and pulled out more zip ties. She trussed him up exactly the way he’d done them. “There you go, doll,” she said. “All snug and tight.”

Dave looked at his new companion and grinned. “Nice work.”

“What the fuck?” Tall Guy said. He was shaking. “How did she do that?”

“Be quiet,” Dave told him. “I hear your buddy coming back.”

Susan slipped into the far corner of the room and went still. When Shorty walked in he said “I can’t find anything else. I think you got it all.” He stopped when he saw Tall Guy sitting next to Dave. “What are doing over there?”

Tall Guy flicked his eyes toward the corner where Susan waited but Shorty didn’t get it. “Seriously. What the fuck are you doing?”

Dave jumped up. His chair exploded and showered Tall Guy with splinters. Shorty was faster than his partner. He almost got the barrel of the shotgun into Dave’s chest but Dave sidestepped him and wrenched it free.

Shorty backpedaled and slapped for the Glock on his hip. Dave smacked him in the face and he went down. Shorty tried to crawl away but Dave scooped him up and tossed him onto the kitchen floor next to Tall Guy.

“We’re running out of chairs,” Susan said from her corner.

“That’s alright,” Dave said. “We’re about to run out of bad guys.”

Susan picked Shorty up from the floor and cradled him in her arms. “I want this one.”

Dave smiled. “Of course you do.” He watched Shorty struggle like a kitten trying to escape a toddler.

Susan said “Shhh” and patted him on the head. Her mouth grew jagged shark’s teeth and gaped open wide. She nuzzled the side of his neck and then bit deep into it.

Tall Guy didn’t notice his bladder let go but he did notice Dave suddenly standing beside him. Dave’s mouth had gone all huge and sharklike, too. “Hi, there,” he said.

The Ritual: book review

The Ritual

The Ritual by Adam Nevill is 240 pages of bad ass horror awesomeness. Unfortunately, the book is 418 pages long.

The premise is simple: four friends head into the remote Swedish woods for a vacation and encounter something dreadful. You know…primordial forest, ancient evil, derelict shacks, profane rites. That stuff. It’s an overdone horror formula and I was worried this was just another shortcut-gone-gruesomely-wrong story.

Balls to that, dear reader. Mr. Nevill has put together some spooky shit here. Yes, the characters are wandering around lost. Yes, they’re low on food and water. Yes, the tension between them is predictably rising. And, yes, something monstrous lurks in the woods. We all know this story. But the atmosphere of this novel is just overpowering. The picture Nevill paints of the forest made my spine prickle. Constant rain, barely a glimpse of sky through the thick canopy, dense trees forcing the characters deeper in – it was fantastic. After just a few pages I felt damp, cold, lost, nervous, and utterly isolated.

Then it got scary. Hey, look! An abandoned house! Let’s stay here, fellas!

Fuck that house. Nevill wove all the standard threads together: creepy shit on the walls; evidence of pagan partying; horrible dreams; hey, don’t go up the stairs. But he did it so deftly it was like I’d never seen the formula before. The author shocked me back into horror virginity.

“Oh, no. Don’t go upstairs, Phil.  Don’t go upstairs!”

And then Phil went upstairs and it was awful. That ambience from the forest was still going strong. Nevill consistently made the old standards terrifying. I was reading this in bed and, when those guys were in the house, I was too freaked out to get up and pee. It was nerve-wracking.

Fine. The author has taken typical, somewhat worn-out themes and invigorated them. Could he keep it up? Could he make me uncomfortable all the way to the end? If you read the beginning of this review I’m sure you suspect the answer is “no.”

The wheels abruptly flew off in the second half of this book. And the vehicle the wheels were attached to crashed into something mildly tragic, like a busload of mimes. I didn’t even know what to do with this thing. It was like a different book that was partially related to the first one. Sort of like the food you eat is related to the poops you take.

It’s not even that the second half did things badly that the first half did well; it didn’t seem to do anything. The story it told was flat and lifeless and just didn’t fit with everything that came before. It had none of the chilling, oppressive darkness that seeped into my bones from page one. The opening whisked me right into the nightmare and I wanted desperately to know what was going to happen. Once the second half started, I had no idea what was happening and I no longer cared.

The front end of The Ritual is a precise tale crafted with true mastery. It showed there aren’t any tired old ideas, just tired old authors. Adam Nevill blew the dust off several of horror’s most banal themes and filled them with black, evil life. A simple story about a monster in the woods made me cower just a bit, under my covers. I semi-cowered. And I loved it.

The second half meandered off to nowhere in particular and I just wanted it to end. But it wouldn’t. In addition to being pointless, it was also overlong and drawn-out. It shuffled along like a zombie in an obstacle course, confused, obviously trapped, but tirelessly in motion. I finished it out of spite.

I cannot recommend the first 240 pages of this book enough. Read them right now. But, whatever you do, don’t read any further. Just turn out the light, pull up the sheets with your trembling hands, and let your imagination finish the story. I guarantee it’s better than what actually happened.