Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Halloween List: The Lobster and The Killing of the Sacred Deer

Jump Back To: Office, Unfriended: Dark Web, and Calibre

Finally I’ve gotten around to seeing the works of Yorgos Lanthimos! I’ve heard about the Greek director for what feels like a decade, but never got my hands on his movies. Today we’re taking in a double feature of his two most recent works from A24: The Lobster and The Killing of the Sacred Deer. They manage to feel strongly like they have to be A24 movies, while also not being quite comparable to any other A24 movies. My biggest takeaway was a need to see a third Lanthimos movie just to get a grasp on his style.

The Lobster (2015)

In the midst of a dystopia, people who don’t love anyone are shipped in droves to hotel-like centers for re-education. They are given 45 days to fall in love or else they will become animals. For more than half the movie we don’t know what the outside world is like, and wonder if the entire planet is a series of dystopic hotels like this, split up by farms of former humans.

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Halloween List: Office (Korean), Calibre, & Unfriended: Dark Web

Previously: Ghoul and Erased

Office (2015)

From now on whenever someone asks me whether I prefer the British or American Office, I’ll answer, “The Korean.”

Hong Won-chan’s Office is a movie holding a massive beef with corporate culture. Before the title card we get a deliberate pairing of scenes: a mentally shattered office manager going home for the evening and murdering his family, followed by a temp worker breathlessly sprinting to work the next morning to check in on time. That’s Office’s thesis statement: fear for your job is stronger than fear for your life.

Friday, October 12, 2018

The Halloween List: Ghoul & Erased

Previously: Thelma, Annihilation, and The Endless

We're taking a brief break from movies today to spotlight two Horror miniseries. One is from India, about terrors occult and governmental. The other is an anime that brings terror into Time Travel. Need something to binge this Saturday?

Ghoul (2018)

In a dystopic future, India has divided into multiple states, some secular, and some religious, cracking down with strict censorship rules. It’s all intended to reduce terrorism and general violence. It has all failed, and the fascistic government continues burning children’s books and searching random civilians to send to black site prisons. Ghoul takes place at one of those black site prisons, where the latest prisoner and interrogation subject has more than knowledge. He’s possessed by a demon that wanted to get in.

It feels like an overdue topic for Horror, which prides itself on grasping reality’s sharp edges. Black sites are real nightmares, scarier than any serial killer. The prospect of the torture crew that runs such a place being mentally toyed with and haunted by an invasive presence could carry its own movie. The tensest scenes are brilliantly constructed, like a power outage during which one worker tries to see around a torture chamber with the minuscule illumination of a blow torch. The show has ample tricks to fill up its few episodes, building to an ending that had my little group cheering.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Halloween List: Thelma, Annihilation, and The Endless

Previously: Pyewacket, The Meg, and Hold the Dark.

Today I have three winners for you. Helping get the taste of Hold the Dark out of my mouth are three masterfully made movies, and two of the best Cosmic Horror films ever made. After years of people wishing for anything close to In the Mouth of Madness, we got both Annihilation and The Endless in the same year. And yet I'll come across as ungrateful and say that as much as I enjoyed them, it's Thelma that stuck with me the longest.

Thelma (2017) 

Somewhere between Carrie and The Omen lies Thelma. This Scandinavian movie follows a young woman who’s going off to university for the first time and discovering herself – and discovering that something is wrong with her. Over the course of a superb slow burn we learn about strange events that happened during her childhood, and how her parents insisted on quietly doing nothing about them. It seemed to work at the time; those events seemed to stop.

Those events aren’t repeating, and with them seemingly safely in her past, Thelma has a chance at a life. She goes out to party, meets a girl she immediately crushes on, and starts to become an independent person. There are hours of class, and she has to deal with jackasses for the first time, but she’s adapting. It’s the beginning of a promising life, one interrupted by sudden seizures and nightmarish delusions. These things are starkly different than what we learn happened in her childhood.

Monday, October 8, 2018

The Halloween List: Pyewacket, The Meg, & Hold the Dark

Previously: Nicholas Cage's Mandy, A24's Slice, and Summer of '84.

Talk about three intensely different movies. Today I've got a demon summoner, a giant shark, and a veteran-turned-Slasher. And surprisingly, The Meg is not the worst movie I watched for today.

Let's dive in, starting with the overlooked gem that is Pyewacket.

Pyewacket (2018)

I’ve been giving more IFC films a look since they released Devil’s Candy. Pyewacket had a very quiet premiere in March – so quiet that I only heard about it in a random thread on Dreadit.

It follows a single mother and daughter handling the trauma of the father’s death. The two are driven far apart by their pain, and the daughter seeks comfort in cheesy occultism. After a particularly horrible fight with her mother, she performs a ritual asking for her something to happen to her mother, but no lightning strikes. It’s a bit of runtime later when she starts hearing strange noises around the house. Whatever listened to her prayer seems to have followed her home.

The atmosphere of Pyewacket approaches A24 levels of tense authenticity. It’s shot in a real house bordering real woodland in Autumn, and the shots feel cold enough to make you put a jacket on. It’s edited with enough quiet, and a strong balance of soft, eerie sounds against sharp and abrupt ones. The actors couldn’t ask for a better indie production to walk into. These surrounding details earns confidence much faster than the plot.

Friday, October 5, 2018

The Halloween List: Mandy & Slice & Summer of '84

We started off October with A Quiet Place and Hereditary, two of the biggest Horror hits of the year. Today I'd like to talk about three of the smaller indie hits that barely got "Limited" theatrical releases. Instead they got their buzz on VOD, a space I'm overjoyed to see become a garden for off-beat Horror. Just because Netflix and SyFy don't want you doesn't mean you're doomed.

Mandy (2018)

Mandy is an exquisite train wreck. It is a movie that takes forever to do anything, then soaks the screen in torrents of gore. Just when you feel like you’re wasting your time, it provides a shot or a quote or a devastating smile that leaves you flailing. When my friends and I finished the movie, we were in shock not because of the chainsaw fight or the skull crushing, but because of the devastatingly silly final image.

Mandy is a retro Grindhouse movie, layered in effects to mimic the feel of trippy, ultraviolent revenge movies of the 70s. There’s a little Evil Dead, and a little Hellraiser-- actually there’s a lot of Hellraiser; the demonic biker gang look like they’re from Pinhead’s high school class. The fig leaf of a plot is that Nicholas Cage plays a lumberjack with a Metal-head girlfriend. The local cult leader decides he likes that girlfriend, and summons his cult and a local gang of demons to abduct her. Cage must go on a journey for gory revenge without ever once wiping his face.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

The Halloween List: A Quiet Place, Emelie, and Hereditary

I'm kicking off The Halloween List this year with one of my favorite hidden gems, and two of the biggest Horror movies of 2018. 2018 has been so long that it's easy to forget A Quiet Place even came out back in April, right?

All three of these films attack the family in very different ways. A Quiet Place is about family surviving in a country that's destroyed; Emelie is about a family that thinks it's safe until they hire the wrong babysitter; and Hereditary is about a family haunting itself. Each is powerful, but which kind of conflict is the most effective on you?

A Quiet Place (2018)

I have been waiting a damned long time for A Quiet Place. Horror has a troubling history of relegating disabled characters to the roles of villains. I wrote about that phenomenon for Fireside Magazine last year. You can take solace in the well-meaning portrayals of Wait Until Dark and Silver Bullet, but those are moves with abled actors cripping it up, and screenplays that pander. They could never get beneath the surface.

Millicent Simmonds is a deaf actor, and she’s the emotional core of this movie. She plays Regan, the oldest child in one of the few families to survive an invasion of monsters. The monsters hunt on sound; they can hear a toy space ship from miles away, and be there in seconds. Regan has saved the family, because since they all know ASL, they know how to communicate and live without speaking. They walk into town to scavenge on paths of sand to quiet their footsteps. They have adapted.

Monday, October 1, 2018

The Halloween List for 2018

Happy October, everyone! This is my favorite month of the year. The leaves are turning, the air is fresh, and pop culture is overrun by spooky things. Today I'm hanging a ghost named Gus on my front door, and revealing this year's Halloween List.

The Halloween List is my annual blogathon reviewing scary movies. The rule is that every movie has to be a first-time viewing for me. I spend most of the year saving these films up. Each year is packed with interesting scary movies between Hollywood, domestic indies, and international film, but I'll also try to cover some things from Horror's past, like Kwaidan and the original Haunting. It all kicks off on Wednesday with some titles you probably recognize.

Wednesday, October 3: A Quiet Place & Emelie & Hereditary

Friday, October 5: Mandy & Slice & Summer of '84

Monday, October 8: The Meg & Pyewacket & Hold the Dark

Wednesday the 10th: Thelma & Annihilation & The Endless

Friday the 12th: A break from movies for two special miniseries: Ghoul & Erased

Monday the 15th: Unfriended: Dark Web & Office & Calibre

Wednesday the 17th: The Lobster & The Killing of the Sacred Deer

Friday the 19th: The Evil Eye & What Have You Done to Solange? & Tragedy Girls

Monday the 22nd: Upgrade & Suicide Club & Short Night of Glass Dolls

Tuesday the 23d: Blumhouse's brand new Halloween (2018)

Wednesday the 24th: Prom Night

Thursday the 25th: My Friend Dahmer & Suicide Club

Friday the 26th:  Kwaidan & The Haunting

Monday the 29th: Veronica & Veronica, the strange case of two movies from the same year with the same title and nothing in common.

October 31st, Halloween itself: The Mummy (1932), The Mummy (1959), The Mummy (1999), and The Mummy (2017). A special four-part feature on all four iterations of the classic Mummy franchise.

What looks good to you? What are you watching this October?

Click here for Day One, with A Quiet Place, Emelie, and Hereditary!

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Never Drown Alone: A Story of The Ring, Friday the 13th, and True Love

I'm busy enough that I don't write much fanfic anymore, but this summer I made a secret pact with Ryan Boyd. Pursuant to our pact, I wrote a story idea that I've been thinking about for years. It's a crossover between two Horror icons that requires you be fairly weird to enjoy it. 

Friends, I love being fairly weird. 

Ahead of all the Horror movie blogging I'll be doing in October, I want to share this with you. I call it...

Never Drown Alone

She was like the revenge of all the snarls of hair stuck in all the drains in all the world. There was more hair than skin, swirling out at all angles as she darted through the chlorine-reeking pool. Unlike the other students, she went lap after lap without ever coming up for air. Jason never saw her face.
A voice behind him taunted, “You haven’t done your laps.”
Jason knew better than to turn around, and he still did it. It was a reflex.
There was nobody there – not corporeally. How he hated ghost bullies. A red balloon floated in front of Jason’s eyes.
Pennywise chided, “What’s wrong? Do you need your mommy?”
Another voice said, “Don’t you know? He can’t swim.”
That one was Paimon. Pennywise and Paimon, the new popular kids in school. The popular kids always hunted in packs. You never knew when the next attack was coming.
They were both invisible, save for the balloon that drifted closer to Jason.
Jason held up his hands, and tried to swat the red balloon away. It burst, the sound echoing throughout the swimming pool, and he lost his balance for a moment. Someone shoved him hard and he stumbled toward the pool, careful to keep from falling in.
Pennywise asked, “Afraid you’ll drown again?”
Paimon said, “We’ll help you learn.”
Jason barely braced before the next shove came in a gust of fetid air. It was harder than any shotgun blast he’d ever felt, and sent him sprawling through the air. The humid warmth of the pool sprang up even before he hit it. Then he was underwater, that chlorine sting in his eyes, and up his nose, and filling his lungs. The water always got in Jason’s lungs.
This was drowning, and he thrashed, and in his idiot reflexes, tried to stab the pool. Pools didn’t bleed, and waving his arms, he barely got his nose above water, the stuff streaming through every hole in his mask. His eyes were muddied, and he couldn’t even see the invisible figures that blinded him.
Pennywise said, “Looks like you’re short another lifeguard.”
Their voices always sounded the same, harmonizing into laughter. He reached for them, and all he got was a handful of balloons. They didn’t float down here.
Paimon shouted, “What’s she doing?”
“Hey, fuck you—”
The world filled up with the sounds of bursting balloons, and Jason thought he went under again, but he was lifted up. Something caught his hand, like a thousand steely strings wrapping around his fingers. He sprawled forward onto the edge of the pool, groping for whoever had caught him, ready to ring Pennywise’s neck if this was another game.
There were no clowns, and no invisible ghosts laughing. There was only the sloshing of the water, and something dripping to his left.
Hair was tangled around his hand, and it writhed free, going back to its owner. It had pulled him out of the drowning. The figure of hair that had been swimming laps paused at the edge of the pool, and inside it, eyes darker than coal bored into him. It was like a power drill to the mind. It stung and was nice at the same time.
He was used to staring. He stared back. It was all he knew how to do to thank her.
The girl and all her hair dove back into the deep end without a word.
That was for the best. Jason had never been good at banter.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Expendable Disabled Heroes of Marvel's Infinity War, live at Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction

It's my honor to have a piece in the Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction issue of Uncanny Magazine. Between Lightspeed and Uncanny Magazine, Disabled People Destroy has allowed voices from multiple marginalized communities to speak openly about the stories that matter most to us and the fandom community. The issue is packed with excellent stories and essays by the likes of Fran Wilde, Merc Rustad, and Nisi Shawl. I've been waiting for this issue for years.

My essay is about the representation of disability in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, particularly as it appears in Infinity War. Infinity War is the biggest nexus for MCU characters to date, and has a number of disabled characters in its cast: War Machine, Nebula, Bucky Barnes, and Thor are a few. Yet they're handled carelessly, either marginalizing them based on their disabilities, or seeking to erase those disabilities from view. It speaks to how few disabled people work on the Marvel films, how few write them and act in them, and it's time for that to change.

Marvel is celebrating their biggest box office hit and ten years of blockbusters. It's time for Rocket Raccoon to stop stealing disabled people's prosthetics.

You can read the entire essay for free right here.

You can buy the whole issue right here.

Thanks for reading! I have more good news for y'all coming soon.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

New Story: "Fascism and Facsimiles" live at Fireside Magazine

I have one more story for you this summer! It's been a busy few months and I've capped them off with a new story at Fireside Magazine.

"Fascism and Facsimiles" is a superhero story about henchpeople. The world is about to learn that Captain Democracy isn't a great hero, but a sleeper agent for the evil organization Kommand. It might possibly be a parody of something, not that our heroes are aware. Two underlings at Kommand are startled to learn the guy who's been kicking their heads in for years is actually a co-worker. They're more surprised to learn just how evil their employers are. It's a story about work friendships and about the struggle to refuse to be complicit.

This is my third story at Fireside, following "Bones at the Door" and "A Silhouette Against Armageddon." I'm so happy to have another story find its home with them again.

You can read the story for free by clicking here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

My Readercon Schedule

I'll be in Massachusetts this coming weekend for Readercon! I've attended for years, but this is my first time doing programming with them. They have a long history of compelling conversations, and I'm excited to participate. This will also be the first convention where I've done a public reading! Come by for the worldwide premiere of my next short story.

4:00 PM
Room: Salon 5
The Bureaucracy of Fantasy

  Phenderson Clark, Alexander Jablokov, Victoria Sandbrook, Kenneth Schneyer (M), John Wiswell

Authors such as Daniel Abraham, Max Gladstone, and Ken Liu have received attention for incorporating bureaucratic concepts into their fantasy works, but fantasy frequently has bureaucratic underpinnings that escape notice because they're so familiar: the nuances of who inherits a title or a throne, the specific wording of a prophecy, detailed contracts with demons. Why do some bureaucracies feel more incongruous in fantastical contexts than others? What are some tricks for making dry, nitpicky topics exciting and comprehensible?

3:30 PM
Room: Blue Hills
John Wiswell Reads Flash Fiction and Short Stories

I'll be bringing a couple of my favorite flash pieces, as well as a short story I've never shared in public before. It's a comedy about people dying on furniture. Hopefully the seating will be comfortable.

12:00 Noon
Room: Salon 5
It Takes a Village to Raise a Protagonist

Andrea Corbin (M), Scott Lynch, Nisi Shawl, Graham Sleight, John Wiswell

Conflicts in speculative fiction often tend toward hyperindividualist solutions, but there are other ways to build those stories. Gene Roddenberry and Ray Bradbury both often wrote stories of cooperation in which the community is the protagonist. In Cory Doctorow's books, long sequences are devoted to the process of achieving consensus. What other stories center collaboration and cooperation, and what are some best practices for writers who want to explore these types of stories?

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

My 4th Street Fantasy Schedule

This weekend I'll be at one of my favorite cons, 4th Street Fantasy in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I love the location, the conrunners, and most of all, yelling about books with smart people on the panels. I'll be moderating on Friday afternoon, and being a mild-mannered panelist on Saturday. Come say hi!

4:00 PM
All the Things We Do That Aren’t Smashing Things 

Mary Robinette Kowal, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Chelsea Polk, Abra Staffin Wiebe, John Wiswell (M)

A discussion of all the ways we tell stories about building lives, civilizations, and legacies using anything but the edge of the sword. Why do we so often truncate our experience/expectations of fiction to revolve so firmly around the linked concepts of heroism and violence when there are so many other crucial aspects to being human? How has the fantasy genre dealt with this conundrum, and how have specific fantasists tried to approach it? How do we keep the discussion from degenerating into a prudish or performative rejection of the abstract concept of “violence” altogether, while affirming that there are other common and crucial ways of getting things done?

3:30 PM
Complicity and Consequence in Interactive Narrative: Press ‘D’ to Feel Guilty!

Max Gladstone (M), Scott Lynch, Cat Manning, John Wiswell

A panel discussing the challenges and implications of attempting to inspire feelings of guilt, responsibility, or complicity for fictional activities/decisions in players of games and interactive fiction, also touching on the concept of vicarious responsibility when experiencing a more traditional narrative (if one laughs along with Corwin of Amber being a total bastard, does that make one a bad person?). Why do this? When is this a useful frame-breaking learning tool? When is it a cheap trick? Can we truly use fictional spaces to make people interrogate the decisions they make and the circumstances they dwell in? What are the practical and ethical limits of this sort of exploration?

Monday, June 4, 2018

New Story: "Tank!" is live at Diabolical Plots!

Are you ready for a new story? Because I've got a fresh one, just for you. "Tank!" is free to read over at Diabolical Plots.

This is the story of a sapient tank going to their first nerd convention. Comics books, anime, movies - most of us love them and want a community. The tank wants a community. More than anything, the hulking piece of military technology wants to make some friends.

The story is the result of a conversation I had with Max Gladstone at one 4th Street. I have to thank him for beta reading it, as well as my other beta readers, Paul Starr, Cass Williams, Merc Rustad, and Alison Wilgus. Their support helped me believe in a story that, so far, is touching a lot of people. Maybe more of us have been the tank than we admit.

Click here to meet the tank!

Friday, May 25, 2018

New Story Live at Robot Dinosaurs!

I'm thrilled today to announce the publication of "Buyers’ Remorse and Seven Slain Cause ‘Adorable’ Robot Dinosaur Stock to Plummet Tuesday."

It's part of a series of stories on the theme of robot dinosaurs edited by the wonderful Merc Rustad. My story follows a company that promises to turn unwanted electronics into adorable baby robo dinosaurs.

Naturally, nothing goes wrong.

You can read the story for free by clicking here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Eight Tips for Better Conventions

Convention season is almost upon us. Later this week I'm flying to the Nebulas, and 4th Street and Readercon are right behind it. I'm excited to hang out, be on panels, and to see panels. Conventions are a source of joy, but also a source of anxiety. Over the years I've compiled a few tips on how to handle cons. They could help us all have a better time when we nerds congregate. Please consider, and thanks for reading!

Instead of: interrupting the panelists with what you think are insightful comments...
Try this: ...spend this time writing down your question so that, when the panel opens to audience interaction, you have something clear to say and don't ramble. People will remember a succinct question.

Instead of: walking ten feet outside the panel room and continuing your conversation in the middle of the hall, blocking everyone else trying to get to their next destination...
Try this:...invite your chat-buddy to an empty row of seats, or the bar or cafe, or to walk out of the hall and find a nook elsewhere that won't block traffic. Then talk to them for as long as you like as everyone else passes.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Convention Schedule for 2018

I've just booked my travel for this year's conventions. I can't believe all that travel is just a couple months away! I've got an exciting slate of destinations this year:

Nebula Weekend
May 17-20
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

4th Street Fantasy
June 22-24th
St. Louis Park, Minnesota

July 12-15
Quincy, Massachusetts

World Fantasy Convention
November 1-4
Baltimore, Maryland

Please come join me if you're at any of these areas! I love meeting new people, and doubly like to meet long-time readers.

At present it looks like I'll be doing panels at half if not all of these conventions. There's a rumor I might be doing my first convention reading as well, which is exciting. Is there a story of mine you'd most like to hear me read, if you could be there?

Monday, March 5, 2018

Bathroom Monologues Movie Awards 2017

It's almost March 2018, so of course we're all talking about the best movies of 2017. Naturally I disagree with some of the Oscar winners. More naturally, I don't understand what some of the categories mean. But nothing shall dissuade me from telling a democratic body of people who devote swaths of their lives to film that their mass conclusions were wrong. So here we go!

The Robbed Award
Going to the movie that got no play last year
and is just as good as whatever won Best Picture

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Bathroom Monologue: The Do's and Don't's of Being a Host

NO: "I'm sorry the house is a mess."

YES: "Thank you for coming so late!"

NO: "I'm sorry I'm turning again. It's a full moon."

YES: "Thank you for gathering the rags that were once my clothes."

NO: "I'm sorry that I'm devouring you."

YES: "Thank you for being delicious."

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Stories Our Games Tell Us at Uncanny Magazine Today!

I have an article in the new Uncanny Magazine. What a way to start out the year.

It's one of the most positive articles I've ever written. Explaining why awesome things are awesome is one of my favorite pastimes, and here I've selected seven videogames released in 2017 to illustrate how great the medium has become for storytelling. Thanks to the tireless efforts of so many geniuses, we're seeing mental illness portrayed with new depth, player choice expanding, and stories that could never have been told in any other medium. This doesn't diminish my love of literature or film. It excites me to see this medium grasping more of its potential.

I'm too excited to share a table of contents with so many writers I admire, and to have published with Uncanny, one of my favorite magazines in the world. Let me know what you think of the article.

The new Uncanny is for sale right here.

You can read the entire article for free right here.

Friday, December 29, 2017

My Best Reads of 2017

If there's one last thing I write this year, it should be about the books I loved reading. These are our inspirations to tell more and fresher stories, and sometimes these are the only things that make us want to see tomorrow. True to my brand, most of these didn't come out in 2017. Some of the authors are actually dead. But I read them this year, and damn it, Kindred is incredible.

Join me for the love of words.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

John's Publications in 2017

This was the best year of my publishing career, and I couldn't be more grateful to all the editors who've worked me with throughout it. I've already lined up a few exciting things for next year and promise to keep working as hard as I can. Despite my syndrome and depression trying their hardest, this was the best year of my publishing career. I sold more stories to pro markets, and was solicited for non-fiction more times than any other year. One of my old stories was even adapted as an Audible short! As a kid clinging to audiobooks for dear life at thirteen, I never imagined that would happen.

So I've rounded up all my publications this year in a handy guide below. Please let me know if anything particularly touched you, and as always, thank you for reading.


"Under the Rubble" at Pseudopod, May 26

"A Silhouette Against Armageddon" at Fireside Magazine, August 1

"You Can Adapt to Anything" at Daily Science Fiction, September 15

"The First Stop is Always the Last" at Flash Fiction Online, December 1


Indie Videogames of 2017 in Glittership, Winter 2017 Issue

Evil is Not a Disability: 10 Cloverfield Lane, Donald Trump, and Don't Breathe at Fireside Magazine, June 15

BFFs in the Apocalypse at Uncanny Magazine's Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction Kickstarter, July 29


"The Terrible" reprint at Flash Fiction Online in April

"Foreign Tongues" on in February

Monday, December 4, 2017

"The First Stop Is Always the Last" is live at Flash Fiction Online!

Good news! I managed to sneak one more story into 2017. This is a short story about time loops plaguing a certain city bus, its driver, and its single passenger. It's one of my favorite things I've written all year, and hopefully will bring a little light to your December.

You can read The First Stop Is Always the Last for free  by clicking right here.

I want to thank Leigh Wallace and Cassandra Williams for beta reading this, and the staff at Flash Fiction Online for their warm reception. This is actually my fifth story at FFO. I never thought I'd show up there so often!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Superman Movie Outline - Written in 30 minutes

"He's boring."

"He's invincible."

"There are no good Superman stories."

I tire of people slagging this character. Superman is
a dated concept, and yet one that's quite appealing with how preposterously cynical our culture has gotten. I'm exhausted with all the claims that there's nothing left to do with him except kill him. If hope is boring, then you're telling the story wrong.

his led to me joke around on Twitter last night about a Superman movie that wasn't so gloomy. Something truer to the vision of Superman a lot of us hold. Things got out of hand.

Back in 2013 I played a little game: I was given thirty minutes to write as much of a Wonder Woman movie as I could. People liked it. Allan Heinberg and Patty Jenkins certainly nailed their vision this year, and if there is a good Wonder Woman movie in existence now, then why not move onto the world's most famous and least popular hero?

Here comes a Superman movie written in thirty minutes. Because these stories are *so impossible* to write.

Up, up, and away.

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Halloween List: Stranger Things 2!

It's been fifteen months, but Netflix's most popular show is back. It sounds like we may not get another season until 2019, so savor this while you can. If you've watched the first season a dozen times, I recommend going into this one with moderate expectations. The second season cannot match the surprises of the first because we all love it now. Stranger Things 2 is more Stranger Things: more creepy crawlies preying on the small town, more lore of the Upside Down, and more character development for one of TV's most lovable ensembles. It's another order of that fun meal you had last time.

The season puts its weakest foot forward, taking about four episodes to really get in motion. It’s a hard contrast to the first season, which in one episode set up everyone’s motivations and half of the major plot threads. The difference is that now the Duffer Brothers know exactly how much pop culture loves their kids, and so they don’t mind having them hang out, slowly get into needless conflicts with each other, and lather up in 80s references. The slower early episodes are thickly decorated in Punky Brewster and “vintage” and KFC product placement.

In both seasons, Stranger Things is at its best when it uses its influences quietly. The first season was highly influenced by Spielberg’s E.T. and Stephen King’s Firestarter. It honored its influences by doing things like the bicycle escape scene where Eleven used her powers to save them – flipping a van rather than making the bicycles fly.

At its best, this season handles its influences in the same way. One particular episode dives deeply into visual queues from Alien and Aliens, but no one brings it up, and the outcomes are very different. In another plot thread, Dustin tries to adopt a little monster of his own, promptly feeds it after midnight, and the synth-heavy soundtrack echoes notes from the theme to Gremlins. These are homages embedded in the plot without derailing it. It’s much defter, say, than when the kids scream at a Dragon’s Lair arcade cabinet, or watch a vintage commercial for Oreos and The Terminator.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Halloween List: Stephen King's 1922 and Creep 2

Stephen King’s 1922 (2017)

After the shocking hit of Gerald’s Game, I had to watch Netflix’s other big King adaptation. I am a huge King fan. A decade ago I began limiting myself to reading one King book per year so I wouldn’t run out. Yet I honestly don’t remember this novella from Full Dark, No Stars. Even by the end of the movie, nothing shook loose.

It is certainly a King story. A loveless farm marriage threatens to break up when the wife wants to sell a large chunk of the land that’s legally hers. The husband (Thomas Jane) bides his time, then kills her and dumps the body in a nearby well, covering his tracks and manipulating their son into being an accomplice. The law wants to know where she was, and while the father keeps them away, rats have started climbing out of the well and following him.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Halloween List: Sadako Vs. Kayako (AKA: The Ring Vs. The Grudge)

Sadako Vs. Kayako (2016)
If you were expecting reviews of two modern classics, I've got a surprise for you! This isn't contrasting the two films. It's a review of the much-overlooked movie in which their monsters actually fight. This is a real movie that really happened.

This is a campy and totally amusing crossover that’s almost as perfect as Freddy Vs. Jason, and has very similar sensibilities. If you enjoy the two franchises, it’s a blast to see people thrust through the paces of both hauntings, trying to survive both having seen the haunted tape and trespassed in the forbidden house.

Some people said Sadako (Samara in the U.S.) and Kayako aren’t in much of the movie, but both show up early on, and neither franchise has ever been about the two being lingering on-screen presences. They are slow hauntings that lead towards huge catastrophes. What our heroes have to do is cross the streams – to get both ghosts to follow them, and clash, in the hopes to destroying each other and sparing the living.

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Halloween List: Dog Soldiers and Area 51

Area 51 (2015)

This is the part of October where I defend Found Footage movies. This is a niche of Horror that I continue to enjoy. Sometimes one is truly awful (see: The Pyramid), but somewhere amid making the camera part of a character, letting us see the environment in ways we otherwise couldn’t, and the tease of where antagonism will come from, this approach to filmmaking gets past my defenses in ways even excellent traditional film can’t. Googling around, it seems Area 51 is universally reviled. But I had a surprisingly good time.

Yup. It’s another case of John liking an unpopular Found Footage flick!

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Halloween List: The Bird With The Crystal Plumage, Bay of Blood, and Blood and Black Lace

The Bird With The Crystal Plumage (1970)

These movies have been my first exposure to Italian Giallo, a sub-genre that feels like an evolutionary link between Murder Mysteries and Slasher Films. The Bird With The Crystal Plumage follows Sam Dalmas, an American writer living abroad in Italy, who one night stumbles across an attempted murder inside a museum. Although he’s trapped in the antechamber, he manages to call the police, and then has to wait, just feet away from a woman he can’t help further.

Shockingly, the victim survives passing out from her injuries. More shockingly: she isn’t the only assault victim to live through the movie. The Bird With The Crystal Plumage doesn’t view death like a contemporary film. People survive reasonable injuries, and people like the writer are haunted by what they see. Death isn’t easy to achieve, and it’s also too weighty to shrug off. Sam can’t forget the horrible imagery, and spends the rest of his time in Italy trying to track down the attacker where the police have failed.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Halloween List: Final Destination and "Death Note"

Final Destination (2000)

This is a series I utterly missed out on in the 2000s because I was stuck-up. How lazy was it to ditch a proper Slasher killer and use an invisible hand of Death itself?

Not lazy at all, actually. The movie follows a teen whose vision of his flight exploding causing him and a few friends to leave. The plane does explode, and our teen becomes a suspect of the bombing. Meanwhile, the teens begin to die in a series of ludicrously complicated coincidences. The first features a kid slipping on water from a leaking toilet, falling into a bath tub where his neck catches on wire, and spilling shampoo under his feet so he can’t stand up. It quickly becomes apparent that Death itself is after the survivors, seeking to fix what went awry in its plan.

It’s a fun idea that fits right into the classic Slasher formula with one major change. Slashers historically thrive on either having a killer with a strong personality, or on having the identity of the killer be a mystery. Here instead we have a killer that is as absent as it is present, and one that uses entirely unconventional.

A friend called it “Rube Goldberg’s Death Traps,” and that’s apt, because the fun lies in trying to guess what things in a room are going to wind up being dangerous. Is turning on the record player going to lead to her demise? Is the electrical outlet going to short out at the right moment?
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