Top 13 Favorite Horror Films Part 666: Sci-Fi Horror

Okay, I decided to do one more week of Halloween Horror Lists, and do a top 13 list because, well … spooky.

This week’s list details my favorite sci-fi horror features. Enjoy, and feel free to post your favorites in the comments section.

Please be aware that I tried not to have any repeats on these lists, so if you see something missing, it might be elsewhere.

Previous Halloween Horror Lists:

Part 1: The Classics

Part 2: Books

Part 3: Slashers

Part 4: Zombies!

Part 5: The Obscure

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13) Hardware

Lucky number 13! This little sci-fi indie is not only related to the Dredd universe, it’s also pretty terrifying. The effects are terrific, and the atmosphere of the picture is both mesmerizing and haunting. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s damn cool. Honorable mention: Killer Klowns from Outer Space. I classify this one more as comedy than horror, but it’s a visual delight, and just as wacky and awesome as Hardware.

12) Forbidden World

This sleazy Roger Corman Alien knock-off is actually pretty inventive when you cut past the film’s inherent goofiness. There’s a sly sense of humor portrayed here that really works to the film’s advantage, pumping up the scares and adding an extra sensation to all the sexual exploitation. Plus, that scene with the doctor smoking a cigarette as someone else cuts into his gut to remove a cancer … yeah, it doesn’t get much better than that, folks.

11) Critters

This delightful Gremlins ripoff is actually petty damn scary (and the sequels are fairly fun, too). It’s got great effects, plenty of chills and some truly kickass bounty hunters. Plus it’s got Billy Zane in it. It doesn’t get much better than Zane, folks! Oh, in case you might have been wondering, I didn’t put Gremlins on this list, but don’t fret. It’ll make another horror list in a few months. Just you wait. Another honorable mention: Night of the Creeps. This one is more of a zombie film, with sci-fi elements, but it’s just as awesome as Critters, and it’s got some fantastic one-liners.

10) 2001

Stanley Kubrick seemed to enjoy horror, as quite a few of his films explore the concept, from 2001 to A Clockwork Orange, The Shining, Full Metal Jacket and Eyes Wide Shut. Okay, so 2001 doesn’t really turn into horror until about the 70-minute mark, give or take. But once it does, oh boy is it a ride. And that finale, while gorgeous … so creepy. 2001 is a breathtaking sci-fi masterpiece, though it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But for those who enjoy a slow brew, this film is a tour-de-force of awesome. If you haven’t seen it, check it out.

9) Videodrome

Pretty much every David Cronenberg movie could, on some level, qualify as horror. My favorite is Videodrome (and The Fly, but that’s on another list). The film is a mixture of wild ideas that focus on our consumption of both television, and the extreme. What’s so brilliant about the film is just how invested you get into the mystery. By the end you almost feel as though you are part of the whole story, a piece of the puzzle. The film is dated, sure, but the ideas are not. Also check out eXistenZ, a kind-sorta sequel.

8) Event Horizon

I initially hated Paul W.S. Anderson’s jump-scares-in-space opera, but when I revisited the film on Blu-ray a few years ago, I found myself enthralled by the crafty visuals, the chilling story and the trippy sci-fi elements. Plus, watching Sam Neill fly off the deep end (again) … worth the price of admission right there. Also in the Sam Neill Madness Trilogy: Possession and In the Mouth of Madness.

7) Invasion of the Body Snatchers

The original Invasion is pretty good. The other two remakes aren’t too terrible, either. But I prefer the 1978 remake. I love the groovy ’70s vibe. The effects are cool, Leonard Nimoy is there, and Donald Sutherland … and Jeff “Mother Fucking” Goldblum. I mean, come on. Plus the film is freakin’ scary as hell. It’s an unrelenting sci-fi/horror thriller about paranoia at its absolute scariness. Also, pay close attention for the human dogs. My god … nightmares people. Nightmares.

6) Galaxy of Terror 

Another Corman masterpiece of bizarre sci-fi/horror. This one is largely fueled by James Cameron’s visual design, which bares a strange resemblance to his work on Aliens, which came just a few years later. The story itself is actually quite genius, baring a modest resemblance to several episodes of Star Trek (including The Cage), but with more amped-up gore and scares lurking around the corner. This film is basically A Nightmare on Elm Street in space, which is funny considering Robert Englund is featured in both films.

5) The Thing 

John Carpenter rocks. That is all. His 1982 sci-fi/horror redo is a landmark in that it’s one of the few times the remake matched or even surpassed the original film. Everyone should follow his lead. The Thing is a spiraling sort of horror mystery, where the monster is never same twice, and you’re always on edge, waiting for what’s next. Also give They Live and Prince of Darkness a gander.

4) The Mist

Another Stephen King adaptation from Frank Darabont. This one’s about monsters from another dimension who invade our world. But that’s just the surface. There’s a lot more going on than meets the eye. And that finale … damn. That’s really all I can say. It’s easily the most beautiful, emotionally wrecking finale I have ever seen. And everything that comes before it, well, it’s scary as all hell.

3) Jurassic Park

Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Michael Crichton’s terrifying novel doesn’t get much credit for being horror … probably because it HAS Sam Neill, but he DOESN’T go mad (to Spielberg’s credit, Neill had only done Possession at the time). But you know you’re lying if you say you weren’t pissing your pants when good old t-rex came storming past his iron gates, heading for the kids and the sniveling lawyer. Nope. You were scared. You were also scared when the raptors invaded the kitchen. Yes, Jurassic Park is a horror film. It’s a sci-fi slasher … with dinosaurs.

2) Sunshine

Danny Boyle’s space drama starts off moody and tense, and never seems to quite. Some have complained about the film’s more Alien-like slasher third act, but that’s part of what I love about Sunshine. It’s a film that explores the very real and the very surreal, life and afterlife, god and man, and it does so in such a dazzling, memorable fashion.

1) *tie* Alien/Aliens

Ridley Scott’s slasher-in-space is not only the best sci-fi/horror film out there, rich with tense set pieces, great characters and chilling effects, it’s also one of the best, most brilliantly designed sci-fi masterpieces ever made. In some ways, this one tops Star Wars and Star Trek for me. The attention to detail that Ridley Scott and crew put forth is simply staggering. This film doesn’t feel like a movie. It feels real. There’s an unprecedented authenticity to this picture, and that’s what makes it so damn scary.

James Cameron’s Aliens takes a more grindhouse approach to the series, with a blend of cheesy military tropes giving the film a war-like military action film motif. It’s not as scary, but it’s also a masterpiece in its own way, and one of the best sequels ever made, so don’t miss it.

Next up: A new season, a new series of Lists! Check back to find out more…

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If you own a Kindle (or have the free Kindle app on your phone), check out my thrilling short stories, The Stray Cats and The Horror. Both are just .99 cents. CLICK HERE to buy your copies today! And be sure to follow me on Twitter.

The Dark Knight Rises – A Deeply Personal Film Christopher Nolan Didn’t Want to Make

Welcome to Different Perspectives, an essay series designed to offer a new, more positive perspective on a piece of entertainment that viewers may not have considered.

Warning: Spoilers for Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises ahead.

“I started out trying to make the greatest film in the world. I’m now halfway through and all I want to do is get the thing finished.”
-Francois Truffaut

I’m going to put this bluntly. Despite how much you might have wanted it, Christopher Nolan didn’t want to make The Dark Knight Rises.

Now, before you all light up your torches and sharpen your pitchforks, or take to the internet to fire off dozens of articles, quotes and interviews my way that may speak contrary to my words. Hear … me … out. That’s not to say Nolan and crew didn’t eventually get enthusiastic about the project. They did.

However, the death of Heath Ledger left a dark spot on the franchise, one that Nolan couldn’t quite overcome. Evidence of this is in the finished product. “Out of respect” for Ledger, Nolan doesn’t mention The Joker. Which is odd when you consider he was likely rotting away in Gotham prison when Bane lets everyone loose. You’d think someone would, at the very least, say something like “What about The Joker? Did he get loose?” and someone else would say “No, the inmates killed him.” or “No. Even Bane knew not to mess with a mad dog” or something to that effect.

Naturally, one could slough this off by saying The Joker was in federal prison. But without one single line of dialogue to indicate such a thing, it remains a mystery. One might also not consider this a plot hole. Technically, it’s not. It’s an omission, one that feels directly tied to Harvey Dent and the Dent Act. It seems only logical, within the film’s universe, that a character might bring up The Joker. I mean, we refer to our tragedies by name. It’s hard to talk about 9/11 without discussing Bin Laden.

Even more potent would have been a line toward the beginning of the film – something to punch home the idea that Gotham law enforcement had established its own form of vigilante justice. The exchange between Matthew Modine’s Foley and Brett Cullen’s congressman could have easily contained a line like this:

“Our first step toward the Dent Act happened the night Dent died, when we took justice into our own hands and did what The Batman failed to do. We killed The Joker.”

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Audiences could read that the SWAT team who found The Joker dangling on a wire simply shot the maniac in the head, thus ending his legacy and beginning a new, tainted era for Gotham. Hell, they could have even pinned the murder on The Batman if they wanted to. Why not? He’s a wanted masked murderer after all. This probably would have made Gordon even more distraught over lying about Dent’s death.

Instead, The Dark Knight Rises contains not a single Joker reference, thus leaving an enormous plot hole for fans to munch on. Is The Joker free to roam the streets of Gotham? Will the new Batman have to face off against The Joker for his first assignment? Talk about a tall order! Wayne was emotionally destroyed by The Joker, and Batman nearly died trying to stop him … and he had almost a decade of hardened training and skills behind him. That won’t be the case for poor little John Blake.

At times it also feels like Ben Mendelsohn’s Daggett was meant to be The Joker, albeit heavily altered to fit the financial/economic subtext of the plot. I imagine a different version could exist where Daggett is the assistant (who’s on the board at Wayne) and the Joker is the real enemy behind the curtain – the man who brought (not hired) Bane to crush The Batman (and the city). As it stands, it’s Daggett and a useless assistant.

Daggett even slithers his tongue in a few scenes, just like Ledger’s Joker. It’s hard to imagine how much more intimidating Bane would have been if The Joker was the man responsible for bringing him to Gotham. The exchange shared before Daggett’s death would have been far more terrifying.

Daggett: “You’re pure evil!”

Bane: “I’m necessary evil.”

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What a potent end to The Joker’s reign. The mad dog brings in what he thinks is another mad dog, and he loses at his own game. It’s not a hero that defeats The Joker, but an enemy of pure, unadulterated “necessary” evil.

I could go on and on about other issues, plot holes and mistakes The Dark Knight Rises brings to the table, but you’ve read all the little reports. You’ve probably watched the tremendously funny “Everything that’s wrong with TDKR” video (seen below). It’s all been done. But of all the essays, interviews, videos, reviews and blogs about The Dark Knight Rises, I’ve never actually seen one that dissects the deeper commentary that the film might be metaphorically suggesting.

The Dark Knight Rises is about Christopher Nolan’s reluctance to return to Batman.

Some context. Shortly after The Dark Knight took audiences by storm, Nolan expressed interest in shooting an epic but intimate romance completely in the IMAX format. He also pressed forward with a Howard Hughes biopic. Not much has been spoken about the IMAX romance since the release of The Dark Knight, but the Howard Hughes biopic stalled.

So what is The Dark Knight Rises? It’s a couple of things. For one, it’s both the epic romance and the Howard Hughes story tucked into the Batman template. But it’s also a film about Nolan’s journey to making this third and final Batman film.

Evidence of the romance/Hughes plot should be obvious. The shoehorned romance between Miranda Tate and Bruce Wayne, followed by the brutal betrayal of that affair feels pretty damn epic, yet intimate, to me. And the Howard Hughes references in the film are even more obvious, with Wayne living in seclusion following his stint as Batman. Even Nolan himself confirmed the Hughes influences in TDKR to Empire magazine saying, “Luckily I managed to find another wealthy, quirky character who’s orphaned at a young age.”

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But these two elements of The Dark Knight Rises are not simply the whimsical dreams of an acclaimed artist. Rather, they represent Nolan’s own frustration with making a third Batman film. Allow me to break the plot of The Dark Knight Rises down, explaining each element and how it relates to Nolan’s career decisions.

The film starts with Wayne in seclusion, wrecked after losing Rachel Dawes (despite death being Wayne’s catalyst for becoming Batman, but I digress). He’s bagged Batman and cut off communication with Gordon. When Bane shows up, Wayne decides to dust off Batman once again. It seems like more of an obligation (or a death wish) than anything else. His best friend and mentor Alfred, a character formally quite fine (even encouraging) of Batman, now seems to have a deep contempt for Batman, claiming he never wanted this life for Bruce.

The opening of the film is where Nolan is, mentally. He’s lost a good friend in Heath Ledger. He no longer sees a happy ending for the world of Batman, or at least the ending he had always wanted. To him, there’s no reason to return. But, Nolan is constantly bombarded with questions about a third Batman and can’t seem to escape the shadow of the franchise. He’s tied to the series. So, he returns to Batman, even in the face of relaunching Superman, a project he seemed curiously more invested in right before working on The Dark Knight Rises (hence why Wayne is hard at work on a secret energy project at the beginning of the film). Alfred likely speaks to what Nolan’s closest friends were telling him. “If you don’t want to do it, why return? You’re an artist. This isn’t the life we wanted for you.”

With this metaphor in mind, Bane represents the fans, sorry to say. Bane is a tyrannical mercenary whose plan is simply to bring about the destruction of Gotham, and Batman. He claims he wants what’s best for Gotham but his real motives are to destroy the city. And deep down he’s doing it out of blind love and affection for a character tied to Batman Begins.

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Bane represents the force of nature that is fandom, which starts slow and mostly silent, but quickly the fire rises and the heat from clamoring fans is intense and occasionally brutal. Don’t believe me? Take a look at how fans are shaping the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Is Coulson still dead? Nope. The fire has certainly risen.

In the case of TDKR, fans fell in love with Batman Begins and have driven the franchise to great financial heights since then. This is woven into the narrative of TDKR, hence Bane’s secret love for Talia al Ghul, a character that’s tied directly to Batman Begins. In other words, without that picture, and the fandom born from it, Bane does not exist.

Also, fans don’t just want another Batman. They want the best damn Batman film that Nolan can give them … or else. The fight sequence between a worn out Batman and Bane is evidence of Nolan’s struggle to give audiences a good sequel. And Bane literally breaks Batman, mocking him for being old and worn out … or unoriginal and derivative.

Even stranger is Bane’s goal to steal Wayne’s fortune. This seems less like a metaphor for our current financial crisis and more Nolan commenting on the sometimes negative financial influence of moviegoers, who often steal a director’s artistic desires and dictate what films and franchises survive and what art eventually gets made with their money. Wanna make that Howard Hughes biopic? Hell no! The fans want Batman 3. And Batman 3 is what they get.

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The tools and tech of The Dark Knight Rises also play into this metaphor in clever ways. The Bat is an excessive and completely needless tool for most of the picture, only conveniently serving the plot in the final minutes of the climax. For the rest of the film it feels like an accessory ripped straight out of Transformers or GI Joe.

Nolan’s third Batman film arrived on the heels of yet another Transformers picture – a series that has elevated its action, tech and tools tenfold since the first chapter. And moviegoers have eaten this sloppy junk food right up, fat and all. Since Nolan already sees his audience as aggressive and hungry, like Bane, and he’s got a studio breathing down his neck (acting much like Daggett), asking for something bigger and better with this third film and trying to steal the series out right from under his nose, he ends up mocking audiences and studio heads with The Bat – an admittedly slick little tool that serves no other purpose for most of the picture other than to be cool. In fact, it’s easily the most traditionally “comic book” piece of tech in Nolan’s entire series, and feels better suited for a mindless popcorn yarn than a Nolan Batman film.

Oddly, even the narrative template of The Dark Knight Rises is borrowed from Transformers 2 and 3, with Bane controlling a city and threatening its citizens with doom. I can only hope Nolan is mocking this plot device. If not, he’s stealing from Transformers: Rise of the Fallen. And no one wants that … or do they? After all, the Transformers series has made a few billion since it was launched in 2007. The fans have spoken, sadly, and they love their junk food!

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Which brings us to the middle of the picture. Wayne if left crippled by Bane and forced to live in a tomb, watching Gotham crumble at the hands of Bane (and to a lesser extent, Daggett). This is Nolan in his own mental pit of sorts, watching fans and studio heads hijack TDKR, a film he never wanted to make. The studio wanted it big. The fans wanted it bigger. And now it’s about to consume itself.

And it’s in this place that Nolan finds peace.

He finally accepts his fate. Christopher Nolan was always meant to direct The Dark Knight Rises. It was, after all, his own damn story. And he can do with it as he pleases. But he can also provide the slam-bang action bravado this generation of Transformers-loving fans crave while placating studio desires for a bigger, better picture that can sell more toys and other merch while also wowing the audience.

But he’s gonna do it his way, dammit!

Nolan opts to shoot the film almost entirely in IMAX, a slap in the face against current digital filmmaking trends. He even becomes vocal in the press about his disinterest in digital cinema, favoring classic film over the digital age. He writes in the epic romance and the Howard Hughes subplots to serve his artistic interests.

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And Nolan crawls out of the tomb, free of constraints. He’s not answering Bane’s call anymore. He’s taking control of his actions while using the film to slyly mock his critics, studio heads and his fans.

When Batman returns to the city, he’s able to defeat Bane quite easily. But he’s nearly undone, though, by Miranda Tate, who’s actually the daughter of Ra’s al Ghul – the man who influenced Batman in the first place. This serves as a reminder that the franchise circle is now complete. Ra’s al Ghul begets The Joker begets Bane begets Talia al Ghul.

Reclaiming the narrative, Nolan now has control over Batman’s fate. But he has a mess of a film on his hands. The picture opens with a disjointed Hughes hybrid story that makes little sense if you break it down, a wonky love story that switches love interests halfway through the film with little coherence, and a Michael Bay-inspired narrative arch that also makes little sense in spots. It’s time for Nolan to do the right thing. It’s time to kill The Batman and end things on his own terms.

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So Nolan’s film quite literally apes a scene from Batman: The Movie, with Batman carrying a bomb away from the city, saving the day. “Some Days, You Just Can’t Get Rid of a Bomb!”

The only real difference is that, on the surface, it looks like Batman died saving the city. The fans get what they want, yet the vocal minority is defeated at the same time. Batman is no more. Nolan is free. Everyone is happy, disappointed, sad and curiously satisfied.

Then there’s the Ocean’s 11 twist.

Things were not what they seemed. Batman didn’t really die. And stranger yet, Robin has been in the picture this whole time, we just didn’t know it! Joseph Gordon Levitt plays John Blake, a cop who figures out who Bruce Wayne really is by, umm, looking at him once. This leads to some quick mentoring, a few lazy lessons about hiding your identity and then Blake receives the mantle of The Dark Knight.

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Glorious ending, right? Nope!

The ending feels energetic, exciting and emotionally stirring. But Wayne has just damned Blake to a world he hated so much he had to fake his own death to escape it. He’s just damned him to a life with no ending, with no love – a world of regret. And worse, Blake doesn’t have the money or resources to take on the mantle of Batman. Hopefully Bruce gave Blake some contacts at Wayne R&D and a few bucks to hold him over.

Rather, Blake represents the next Batman director. In this case, it represents Zack Synder, who will take on Batman in his own still untitled Superman sequel, currently being billed as Batman Vs. Superman, a cheeky title I hope does not stick. When Blake rises from the water and the film fades to black, Nolan is quite literally handing the franchise off to the next director, damning them to a difficult but potentially rewarding journey.

Now, I’m not saying this was Nolan’s literal intention. I don’t know Christopher Nolan. I have no idea what his struggle was really like. There’s an old saying I like to remind myself of nearly every day: “There’s the way people think Hollywood works, and then there’s the way it really works.”

The Dark Knight Rises might actually be Nolan’s commentary on how kittens are cuter than puppies for all I know.

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But I love Nolan’s films and I find him to be one of the most fascinating filmmakers working today. And you can’t deny some odd correlations about the narrative and Nolan’s career. Some of the decisions feel more subconscious than anything – something that was swimming in the back of Nolan’s head when he jotted down the story and screenplay of The Dark Knight Rises with David S. Goyer and Nolan’s own brother, Jonathan Nolan. But maybe not.

I’ve long contended that TDKR is a messy movie that could have used one really good rewrite before they started shooting in order to tie up all the loose ends and terrifically wide plot holes that exist within the narrative. However, I find the film mysteriously entertaining. I like it … a lot. I have this desire to watch The Dark Knight Rises over and over again. To consume the movie bit by bit. I loathe the picture for delivering a somewhat disappointing final chapter in Nolan’s Batman saga, but I love watching the film regardless. And I think it’s because The Dark Knight Rises gives me an inside peek into who Christopher Nolan really is, and as a huge fan of his, that’s a real treat. Nolan is an artist, pure and simple, who was tossed into the Hollywood machine and has faced incredible odds to maintain his dazzling artistry.

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The Dark Knight Rises is possibly messy on purpose. It’s what happens when too many people offer their hand. When fans influence a director negatively. When you don’t want to make a film that everyone wants you to make. And the ultimate conclusion is Nolan’s own. He takes back the picture, restores his artistic integrity and hands Batman off to someone else.

It’s no shock that the final image of The Dark Knight Rises is one of the most memorable. Nolan has reclaimed his art form. And he’s moving past Batman into the next, exciting stage of his career. And like Bruce Wayne, who found love in the end, perhaps Nolan will finally get to make that epic IMAX romance, or whatever film he wants … and make his friends (and hopefully fans) smile once more.

But the truth of that final image is also indicative of the contradictory message of The Dark Knight Rises. Nolan has continued to slap his name on both Man of Steel and the untitled Batman Vs. Superman project. He’s still around, lurking in the darkness like Bruce Wayne. It makes one question … could the real Batman really stay away?

Perhaps Batman isn’t just a name, but the man who embodies him.

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Different Perspectives series:

Rob Zombie’s Halloween II: The Sequel That Gets No Love

Movie 43 Isn’t That Bad

Curse of Chucky Indeed

Fright Night II: New Blood- A Deserving Sequel

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Check out more of my work at Permanently Geek. And be sure to follow me on Twitter.

Top 11 Favorite Horror Films Part 5: Obscure Horror

My Halloween Horror Lists continue with my 11 (not 10) favorite obscure(ish) horror films. I began this series with the most obvious horror films, now let’s explore the strange, the obscure … the hidden gems.

Be sure to comment and let everyone know what your favorites are. Please be aware that I tried to not have any repeats on these lists, so if you see something missing, it might be elsewhere.

Previous Halloween Horror Lists:

Part 1: The Classics

Part 2: Books

Part 3: Slashers

Part 4: Zombies!

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11) House

Do you want something completely wacky? House is the film for you! No, this isn’t the Sean S. Cunningham film, this is the obscure Japanese horror film that must be seen to be believed.

10) Splinter

An engrossing, character-driven slice of horror that freaked me the hell out when I first saw it, and still scares me to this day.

9) Demons

A rapid-fire horror film with tons of gore and a great premise: demons are released in a movie theater. The sequel is also worth a look. It basically remakes the first film in an apartment complex.

8) The Funhouse

Tobe Hooper’s eerie mood piece about a group of kids trapped in a carnival. Haunting and scary as hell … this film almost plays like a sequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

7) Prison

Hands-down, the best Stephen King story that Stephen King had absolutely nothing to do with. Plus, you get to see a young Viggo Mortensen. Plenty of creepy chills and thrills. And the new Blu-ray from Scream Factory is pretty great, too.

6) Possession (1981)

A slow-brewing sliver of horror that continues to escalate until it’s almost impossible to look away. Toss in some fantastic performances and riveting direction and you’ve got all the ingredients for a horror classic.

5) Vamp

A trippy vampire film that almost feels like a sequel to the 1985 cult classic, Fright Night (which is a masterpiece, and should be required viewing for any horror fan). This one boasts a chilling atmosphere, weird characters and a hypnotic tone similar to Martin Scorsese’s After Hours.

4) Murder Party

A hilarious little indie that my wife and I try to watch every other year. It’s not very scary, but it’s a clever, fun ode to horror and the macabre.

3) Brain Damage

Writer/director Frank Henenlotter is a strange filmmaker. His films are never what you expect, and are feel like an exposed nerve to the weary and unknown. His Basket Case series is simply a trip. And exploitation gems like Bad Biology and Frankenhooker are just divine. But Brain Damage is Henenlotter firing on all cylinders, delivering a haunting tale of murder, violence, sex and seduction. Crazy stuff.

2) Crawlspace (1986)

Nobody does it better than Klaus Kinski. I could rattle off a slew of horror gems he’s appeared in, but this one is my absolute favorite. That finale in the vents is the stuff of nightmares. Honorable mention: pretty much everything Kinski has ever been in.

1) Alone in the Dark

And here’s the real reason I did this entire series of lists. Alone in the Dark. No, not the Uwe Boll film. This random slasher features Jack Palance, Donald Pleasance and Martin Landau. It’s a proto-punk splatter picture with a very clever premise. I won’t spoil it here. Just watch and enjoy!

But wait … there’s more! No, I’m not done just yet. I’ll be back with another Horror Favorites list next week! This time it’s Horror-Sci-fi!

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If you own a Kindle (or have the free Kindle app on your phone), check out my thrilling short stories, The Stray Cats and The Horror. Both are just .99 cents. CLICK HERE to buy your copies today! And be sure to follow me on Twitter.

That Awkward Moment When You See a Ghost

SCARY SHIT #1: In this series, I will spotlight stuff that, well … scares the shit out of me.

Zombies may be all the rage on television and in books, but at the end of the day, a zombie apocalypse is (probably) not very likely. So you can rest easy. However, the very real reality that you may run into a ghost, a spirit, a demon, or some kind of paranormal entity — those odds are a little more likely. Even some of the most hardened skeptics have been swayed, so it’s not outside the realm of reason that you may, at some point in your life, encounter a haunted spirit or some kind of mysterious, strange, impossible-to-explain occurrence that might just be paranormal in nature.

So here’s something that’s pretty freaking terrifying:

Here’s the story behind this video: This video was submitted to us by the hotel security manager who was standing watch on September 14, 2003 at a WINGATE HOTEL in Illinois. His voice can be heard in the background of the recording.

According to him, people staying at the hotel began calling in noise complaints to the front desk with reports of loud screaming coming from the 2nd floor–particularly room #209. There is no known history to the room according to our investigation. However, upon further review, we found that over the years, multiple complaints of “strange noises” were reported to be coming from the room. This is the only known recording of it.

Note to (Youtube) comments:
It’s funny how people think this video is edited/fake. The audio is a mix down between the security camera audio and a separate recording from inside the office (which is specifically there to record in case of robbery to the hotel). People will always come to there own conclusions why a video is fake (like cameras pointed at the door). What they don’t realized is that there are about 80 cameras in the hallways around the hotel, all pointing at doors and hallways.

I’m not a skeptic, but yeah … this video is fake. The setup is vague. The camera angles seem too perfect, and they’re presented in HD 16×9, not bad for 2003. The execution is also a bit too flawless. All the right foley, the dialogue is tight, and that little electrical flare at the end is too obvious. That said, the idea scared the shit out of me so I thought I’d share it with you, dear readers. And fear not (or fear yes), even if this video is fake, I have other videos I’ll be sharing in future installments of Scary Shit.

If you had to ask me, I would suggest that demons, and ghosts for that matter, are actually not spirits, at least not in a Biblical sense. Rather, their existence is perhaps more scientifically rooted than we would like to admit. There’s a lot we don’t understand about other dimensions (there are said to be 10 dimensions) that surround us, and if I had to venture a true explanation of what paranormal activity is in our realm, I’d suggest it’s fourth dimensional beings that have punched through, into our own world.

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Some of these entities can only manifest as cold gusts of air or as electrical interference, possibly even orbs in photos. While others are capable of moving, shaking and disturbing our dimensional realm. Some might even have the ability to manifest themselves, manifest other things, or to possess a three-dimensional entity (such as yourself) for its own nefarious (or possibly scientific) purposes.

You are welcome to discredit all of that if you would like. I love skeptics, so go right ahead and explain away. But there’s a logic to ghosts, demons and other apparitions being fourth dimensional entities. And it’s also entirely possible that the very concepts of God and religion were both the manifestation of these creatures, hence their devotion to one side or the other. The fact remains that we have no damn clue what ghosts are, or why they exist, if they exist at all.

But just ask nearly any person, in any region of our great planet, and they have at least one story to tell.

Here’s one of my own true ghost stories: I was eight years old and playing an innocent game of hide and seek with my sister. I chose to hide behind my parents’ living room table, just in front of the backyard bay window. As I sat there, I had a strong urge to look out the window. It was late (relatively speaking for an 8-year-old), probably 10 or 11PM. Either way, it was dark outside. I peered through the window and saw a woman running. She was wearing a wedding dress and appeared absolutely terrified. What was even stranger was that in the absolute black of the backyard, she almost seemed to glow, as though a heavenly light were shining down on her.

I ducked my head back down and waited for a few seconds, scared and shaken. Finally, I gathered the courage to pop my head back up, and there she was again. This time, however, there was a man roughly twenty feet behind her, wearing a tuxedo and a menacing grimace. Like her, he seemed to glow a greenish hue, similar to the ghosts from Ghostbusters. This frightening man charged after her, chasing her with what looked like a knife. I stared on in utter horror, my mouth wide open. I vividly recall locking eyes with the woman, who turned and started to run toward the house.

Panicked, I ducked down again. At this point, my sister found me. She joined me on the floor … probably to endlessly annoy and tickle me, as was the case when you found someone in our game of hide and seek. I tried to explain what I saw, but my young mind couldn’t comprehend it. She peered out through the window and quickly shot back down. She refused to look out the window again.

I managed to muster the confidence to look one more time. As I did, I saw the woman run toward our house again, almost as though no time had taken place in between the images. In other words, the scene seemed to pause when I wasn’t looking.

The woman was running toward our house, but there was an obstacle in her way … our neighbor’s metal fence. She ran, holding her dress in her arms. The angry man in the tuxedo followed behind, his knife in the air. He looked at me for a brief moment, and smiled. The very thought of his expression now sends chills down my spine, as though he is still with me. He was enjoying having a voyeur. It seemed to empower him.

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I assumed the woman would stop and turn as she approached the fence, but she didn’t. She kept running and running, barreling toward the fence at ramming speed. I gasped and nearly screamed when the woman traveled straight through the fence, followed by the vile man chasing her. They both came about ten feet from the house, but banked away and trailed past a large tree in the backyard. As they did, they disapparated right before my eyes.

I have no idea what happened that night. I could argue that it was just kids in our neighborhood giving me and my sister a fright, but that doesn’t explain their disappearance, or how they got through the fence. That scene has stuck with me over the years. Not one day goes by where I don’t spend at least a good minute thinking about it. Who was the man in the tuxedo? Who was the woman in the wedding dress? Were they scorned lovers? Or was the man a demon chasing an innocent spirit. What happened to me when they looked into my eyes? Was the man not as evil as I perceived? Maybe he was justified in his attempts to kill the woman. Perhaps she is the evil spirit, who has forever trapped the man. It’s impossible to know, and I’ve never seen her (or him) again (yet). This isn’t the only strange event I’ve had over the years, though, and somehow I feel as though all those bizarre occurrences connect to this one day.

Perhaps I’ll never know what happened. Maybe that’s for the best. But, from that day on, I have been terrified of ghosts, ghouls, demons and the like. They may not be out to get me or you or anyone, but I feel they are there … whatever “they” may be.

Have you seen any ghosts, demons or freaky shit? Share your story in the comments below!

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If you own a Kindle (or have the free Kindle app on your phone), check out my thrilling short stories, The Stray Cats and The Horror. Both are just .99 cents. CLICK HERE to buy your copies today! And be sure to follow me on Twitter.

Top 10 Favorite Horror Films Part 4: Zombies!

This week’s list details my favorite zombie features. Enjoy, and feel free to post your favorites in the comments section.

Please be aware that I tried to not have any repeats on these lists, so if you see something missing, it might be elsewhere.

Previous Halloween Horror Lists:

Part 1: The Classics

Part 2: Books

Part 3: Slashers

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10) House of the Dead

Yup, you read that right. Uwe Boll’s camp “masterpiece,” House of the Dead, made the list. Why? Because I laughed my ass off the entire film. Plus, it’s gory as hell and unabashedly strange. I kinda love the big shootout in the middle of the film, not to mention the hilariously awful flashback to the big shootout that happens not five minutes after the scene is over. So bad it’s good, folks.

9) Warm Bodies

This is a newbie so it’s ranking a little lower, but I can see it rising in the coming years. Warm Bodies takes zombie conventions and spins it in new, refreshing direction. It’s a tender, sweet and clever film that shouldn’t be missed. For another new(sih) zombie film, check out ZMD: Zombies of Mass Destruction or the Canadian hit, Dead Before Dawn.

8) Cemetery Man

A trippy piece of Italian cinema that’s required viewing for any zombie lover. This one is quite strange. I highly recommend checking it out in the middle of the night, when your mind is ready to travel elsewhere.

7) Day of the Dead

George A. Romero’s Day of the Dead isn’t a masterpiece, but it’s damn close. The effects are incredible, and Bub is probably one of zombie cinema’s finest creations. If you like him, also check out Fido. Also give Land of the Dead a look. It’s grown on me over the years, and while I wouldn’t rank it as one of my favorites, it’s well worth a midnight screening.

6) Braindead (Dead Alive)

Here’s a film that starts out slow and unsuspecting, but quickly escalates into the absurd, the wacky, and the positively gonzo. The finale alone is worth the price of admission. I wonder where director Peter Jackson ended up with his career? Also check out Re-Animator for something equally gory and off-the-wall.

5) 28 Weeks Later

I loved 28 Days Later, but I found the sequel a far more riveting, character-driven film that took the genre in a new direction. Plus, 28 Weeks Later was Jeremy Renner’s first memorable role, ahead of The Hurt Locker and a little thing called The Avengers.

4) Zombieland

Of all the zombie comedies, this one is my favorite. I could pretty much watch it every day. It never ceases to entertain. The cast is awesome, the gore is great, and the story is clever as hell. VERY honorable mentions: Shaun of the Dead and Dead Snow. Both almost made the list, but they weren’t quite my favorites.

3) Zombie

Zombie vs. shark. Eye vs. wood shard. Zombie barn battle. These are the reasons why this one ranks so high. There’s a scene where a zombie fights a real shark. Yup. The film’s epic finale, a showdown of man vs. zombie, is positively one of the best ever put on film. This one is a masterpiece of zombie cinema, and one of the best Italian “Dawn of the Dead” knockoffs out there.

2) Dawn of the Dead

Dawn of the Dead is probably one of the very best horror films ever made. It is everything that we know and love about zombies all tied up into a fun package filled with gore, horror, comedy and brilliant characters. The remake is also pretty great, and well worth a look. And, of course, the original cult classic, Night of the Living Dead, deserves some love, too.

1) The Return of the Living Dead

Hands-down my favorite, go-to zombie feature each Halloween. It’s clever, funny and that middle act switch from comedy to flat-out horror is simply fantastic. But don’t start here. Watch Night of the Living Dead first, then watch this. Skip the sequels (okay, watch the second one). Also, check out Night of the Creeps.

Next week: My top ten favorite obscure horror films! We started with the most obvious horror choices (The Classics), let’s finish with the obscure.

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If you own a Kindle (or have the free Kindle app on your phone), check out my thrilling short stories, The Stray Cats and The Horror. Both are just .99 cents. CLICK HERE to buy your copies today! And be sure to follow me on Twitter.

Different Perspectives: Movie 43 Isn’t That Bad

In early 2013, Movie 43 was unleashed upon audiences. Don’t remember it? Really? It starred pretty much ALL of Hollywood, even the likes of Hugh Jackman, Halle Berry, Emma Stone, Seth MacFarlane, and Oscar darling Kate Winslet … among dozens of other accomplished, likable stars and up-and-comers. In fact, there are so many stars in the film, I could spend an entire blog post just listing their names.

No, you don’t remember Movie 43.

Well, maybe you do, but most people don’t. The film came and went in a matter of weeks. It was trashed by pretty much every living, breathing critic, and forgotten by most audiences. Even some of the cast wanted little to do with the film.

Curiously, Movie 43 actually did make some bank. According to Box Office Mojo, the film cost roughly $6 million to produce, and grossed close to $30 million worldwide, with a mere $8 million of that coming from the U.S. But it was still a moneymaker, kind of. And it’s more than likely made money on home video, the rental market, and through TV distribution deals.

Still, there isn’t a whole lot of love for Movie 43. For just a moment, let’s focus on the hate. The film ranks a dismal 4.4 out of 10 on IMDb, a 4% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a 19 out of 100 on metacritic, and a 26% approval audience rating on Flixster.

In less words, people don’t like Movie 43.

But I have a confession … I kind of loved it.

No, it’s not a flawless film. And there are plenty of things to complain about. For example, the film is annoyingly flat. There are more misses than hits in this one. The sketches tend to end on weird notes, and most of the jokes aren’t much different from what you can get for free on sites like College Humor, Funny or Die, or even Youtube. In truth, you could probably collect ten or twelve of the best shorts from any of those sites and put together a better, funnier sketch anthology picture.

But I still dig Movie 43.

There is some rather potent, and oddly subversive, humor in the film. I get a sense that the picture was meant to spoof blander-than-bland anthology comedies like New York, I Love You, Valentine’s Day or New Year’s Eve. It was sold to comedy lovers as a “Kentucky Fried Movie” for the modern age. While Movie 43 hardly ranks as high as that wonderful cult classic, it’s clear that a great many people involved cared deeply about this project and wanted it to succeed, even when actors like Richard Gere allegedly tried to vacate the film at all costs.

For a detailed, and rather sordid, look at the history of the making of the film, check out Movie 43’s Wikipedia page. It’s an interesting read.

I struggled to put a finger on what I loved about the film, but I do love it. I admire the writing. There’s a lot going on under the surface of this disturbing, crass little picture. A great many of the film’s more impressive metaphors seem to have gone over people’s heads. That’s probably because most focused on the obvious gross-out aspects of the humor. This was certainly not a film for everyone’s taste, in that regard.

A great many of my absolute favorite actors, writers and filmmakers worked on this project. And the project itself is so wacky, crass and gonzo, I relish in watching the actors involved go to the extremes to find a laugh. And while many of the jokes don’t always work, I love watching actors dare to be different. It’s refreshing and enticing.

For example, there’s a sketch in which Stephen Merchant and Halle Berry go on a date and end up competing in an EXTREME game of “truth or dare.” The sketch isn’t all that funny, but watching Halle Berry mock her picture perfect persona by doing something crass, and even a little vile, felt almost … human.

Allow me to explain. Our stars strive to create images for themselves. Brands of painted perfection. They are flawless. Their skin is perfect. Their hair is trend setting. Their clothing is staggeringly beautiful. And their personalities are ones that everyone strives for.

But that’s not who people are. That’s all an image. All spectacle. Actors are real people. That sounds absurd to even write, but so many fans honestly forget that. It’s especially noticeable when someone asks an actor to recite a line from a movie they did 25 years ago, like they’re some kind of trained puppy doing tricks.

When I watched Movie 43, I saw the people behind Hollywood. I saw human beings having a fun time exploring the comfort zones of their image, and taking audiences along for the ride. I saw a film where Hugh Jackman wasn’t afraid to put a prosthetic pair of balls on his neck just to get a rise from his fans. Or a sketch (writen and directed by Elizabeth Banks, mind you) in which Chloë Grace Moretz has her first period, and the men all around her act like … well, the fools who control women’s rights in congress. It was a gross sketch, but there was something deeply revealing about it, too.

And here is a look at one of my favorite sketches in the film:

There is a lot going on in this scene outside the beaten-into-the-ground joke. Did you catch the real point of the skit?

Movie 43 is not a win by any stretch, but it’s a fascinating look at the edges of comedy, where the crass, disturbing and subversive meet and do some rather dark, rather bad, and rather wonderful things. There is a lot more going on in Movie 43 than people give it credit for. There’s a hidden theme in nearly every sketch, a hidden message — a metaphor that went unnoticed. And that’s where the film’s strength derives. Movie 43  is not a masterpiece, but it is a work of controversial art. And like all works of that style, it has its haters and it has its fans. Count me as one of the latter.

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Shameless plug time! If you own a Kindle (or have the free Kindle app on your phone), check out my thrilling short stories, The Stray Cats and The Horror. CLICK HERE to buy your copies today! And be sure to follow me on Twitter.

The Horror is Out Now!

My latest, terrifying novelette, THE HORROR is now available on Amazon Kindle (BUY HERE).

NOTE: You don’t need to own a Kindle device to read the story. All you need is the Kindle app, which is available on your desktop, laptop, phone or tablet.

TheHorrorCoversmaller

Synopsis: 

What if the horrors of a seemingly innocent and fun haunted house attraction were real? What if someone were inside with you, stalking you and feeding on your fear? What if every corner of the maze were deadly? What if you couldn’t get out?

The Horror tells the story of Lisa and Alan, two college teens visiting a theatrical haunted maze themed after local urban legends. Once inside it becomes clear that the macabre sights are not just smoke and mirrors, and gallons of fake blood, but the gory work of a deranged psychopath who is inside the house, hunting them. The two lovers must attempt to escape before this crazed lunatic tracks them down and completes his grisly ritual.

Background:

With The Horror, I wanted to craft a special short story for the Halloween season, and I wanted this story to be something “balls to the wall” scary. Ultimately, The Horror was inspired by one of my wife’s worst fears: that someone inside a haunted house might have nefarious plans for the guests. While the core story of The Horror has been swimming around my noggin for close to a decade, the plot began to truly form this September, when my wife and I visited the haunted houses at Universal Studios.

The result is a haunting, atmospheric ride through a terrifying, nail-biting narrative that simply doesn’t let up. But it’s also a story designed to make you think. The Horror explores the nature of trauma and death through brutal metaphor. It examines what we really fear and how our culture deals with disaster. The story is a response to those who criticize horror as exploitation or entertainment, all while fueling a reader’s fears through thrilling set pieces, unnerving suspense, vivid description and meaningful characters.

I hope you will enjoy The Horror as much as I enjoyed writing and editing it. Keep in mind, the story is quite scary, so I would definitely recommend this one to hardcore horror readers, especially lovers of the slasher genre.

Happy Halloween!

Top Ten Favorite Horror Films Part 3: Slashers

In honor of my latest slasher-themed novelette, THE HORROR (click HERE to buy your copy), my Halloween Horror Lists feature continues with slashers!

I tried to go a little obscure(ish) with this list so we won’t see any repeats from other lists.

Please be aware that I change my mind often. The ability to change one’s mind on any subject is paramount for our culture’s growth and development. With that in mind, don’t be surprised to see another version of this list next year, with totally different books on it … what can I say, I absolutely love the genre.

Be sure to comment below and let everyone know which films are your favorites.

10) Midnight Movie

A surprisingly clever spin on the slasher genre. A similar premise to Demons (which may appear on another list). This low-budget indie manages to succeed where so many other recent indies have failed. Honorable mention: the Hatchet series.

9) The Prowler

A freaky slasher from Joseph Zito, who would go on to direct the best Friday the 13th film in that franchise. The final jump scare is a memorable one!

8) Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers

This hilarious slasher send-up doesn’t offer much more than some base thrills, but it’s a comfort food of mine. Pamela Springsteen is just awesome. I wish she would have done more horror films.

7) Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan

Friday 8 doesn’t get much love. It actually gets no love at all, which is a shame because it’s really quite good. It sports the best direction of the bunch, with clever set-ups and great pay-offs. The finale is a bit of a letdown, but that scene between Jason and the punk kids in Times Square makes it worth it.

6) Slumber Party Massacre

Not what you’d think from the title, Slumber Party Massacre is actually a pretty subversive, somewhat funny pro-feminist slasher, that also happens to be an exploitation flick. The first sequel is also worth a look, but don’t expect a film that’s anything like the first.

5) The Burning

Had Jason not taken off, The Burning would probably be the slasher everyone remembers from the 1980s. There’s a ton of great actors in this, and it features some fantastic gore effects, courtesy of Tom Savini.

4) The Hitcher

The original film, not the shitty remake. I’m not exactly sure this film meets the title of slasher, but I’ve always loved The Hitcher for its intense, moody narrative, and nail-biting suspense. Rutger Hauer is easily one of my all-time favorite screen villains. Great stuff, with a dream-like atmosphere that will surely get under your skin.

3) A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge

I must confess, I absolutely adore A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, if only for the awesome pool party scene. But also for all the not-so-subtle sexual references and equally not-so-hidden homoerotic subtext. It’s a genre classic in its own way, and a great second outing for Freddy, critics be damned.

2) Black Christmas

This 1974 hit was the first real slasher, outside Psycho and Peeping Tom (both worth watching, BTW). Black Christmas is the perfect film to watch during the cold winter months. It was also the inspiration for John Carpenter’s Halloween.

1) Scream

Looking back, this series has probably influenced more than any other slasher out there. I just love it. Wes Craven crafts a perfect blend of horror and clever comedy in this send-up of the slasher genre. Ignore Scream 3 and 4 and stick with the first installment and the underrated sequel.

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Next week: My top ten favorite zombie films! So grab some brains and head back here next week.

Review: Kindle Fire HDX

I just wanted to share my thoughts on Amazon’s latest flagship reader, the Kindle Fire HDX, ahead of its Oct. 18-28, 2013 US release date.

I’ve been a lover of Amazon since the site launched. Their service is cheap, easy, intuitive and their customer service is typically excellent (from my experiences). I have been a Prime member for more than four years (get Prime, seriously) as well. So, naturally, it wasn’t difficult to fall in love with Amazon’s tablets when they launched just a few short years ago. My wife owns the original Fire tablet and I have owed the Fire HD. They are wonderful products for reading, for internet and for most games and tablet uses.

Since buying the Kindle, I find myself reading more than ever before. As a writer, I love Amazon’s text-to-speech function (and its many awesome voice options), as it quickly helps me find mistakes, grammar issues, spelling and other problems in my stories as I read along. In brief, the device is handy, portable, fun, efficient and enormously easy to use.

The new HDX isn’t a major improvement over the Fire HD, but it’s a worthy upgrade, especially for potential new buyers.

This new device is significantly faster than the previous version thanks to a quad-core Snapdragon processor. Internet browsing is vastly improved and games run a little smoother as well. The screen resolution has also been upped to 1920×1200, and looks gorgeous. And, as before, the tablet’s Dolby audio is absolutely astonishing.

The HDX is fairly customizable, so for more information regarding specs and details, feel free to hop over to Amazon, where you’ll find photos, videos and more.

The tablet’s redesign is quite spiffy. Simply moving the power button away from the volume buttons was a big improvement (power is on the opposite side now). With the old device, I continually found myself pressing the power button when I meant to press the volume buttons. That is no longer an issue. The tablet is also a little easier to hold than before, thanks to the squared design.

One negative of the new model: the mini HDMI port has been removed. But Kindle’s OS now allows users to flip what they’re watching on their tablet to your home device (like a PS3) using Amazon’s Video app. Netflix also allows users this ability. So the mini HDMI port is a bit of a wash, though I imagine some will be disappointed by this missing component.

The best aspect of the redesign is the weight. The Fire HD wasn’t a particularly heavy tablet, but for those who binge read (like me) you probably know that the tablet can wear you down after a while. The new HDX is about 30% lighter than the Fire HD, making it an easier tablet to hold for long hours. It’s also a tad smaller, too, while retaining the same 7-inch screen size.

My only major gripe with the HDX thus far has been a persistent blue border that surrounds the vertical sides when there’s a white screen present. I’m guessing it’s a reflection of the white against the black plastic surrounding the glass, but I do find it a bit distracting — far more distracting that the previous Fire or Fire HD. I’ll have to check out another HDX at Best Buy soon and see if they have this issue, too. If not, it could mean I have a defective screen. I’ll update this article as soon as I know for sure.

UPDATE 10/22/13: Amazon has now officially addressed the blue border. Here is their explanation: “We want you to know… The Kindle Fire HDX 7″ has perfect color accuracy (100% sRGB), and we wanted to share more details around our display design decisions that helped us achieve this.

You may notice a very narrow, faint blue tint around the edge of the device when looking at items with a white background, such as books or web pages. All displays have some level of light emission around the edges, and the light on the Kindle Fire HDX 7″ is blue due to the technology used to render perfect color accuracy. Most LCD displays use white LEDs, and then apply filters to extract the desired color. The result is oftentimes a compromise to tone and color accuracy, or—if attempting to address these compromises—an increase in battery consumption and, thus, device weight.

We’ve taken a different approach. To achieve the perfect color accuracy on Kindle Fire HDX 7″ at the lowest possible battery consumption and device weight, we used blue, not white, LEDs. Blue LEDs allow for a much more accurate  and rich representation of color and result in an up to 20% improvement in power efficiency.

So there you have it. It sounds like a logical response, and the reasoning is sound. Blue LEDs were used to save weight and improve battery and color accuracy. It could also be total BS, that I am not sure. I imagine we’ll hear more as the tech community dives into this statement and dissects Amazon’s reasoning. That said, I have gotten used to the screen over the past few weeks. The image display truly is remarkable, even with the blue or purple border distraction.

Back to the original review:

The HDX also includes a charger. For some inexplicable reason, Amazon opted not to include a wall charger for the Kindle Fire HD last year. Instead, they sold the charger as a separate accessory, which felt a little cheap. The HDX rectifies this problem, but creates another – the plug is too damn cumbersome, taking up two plug spots instead (on a surge protector) and nearly taking up two slots on a wall socket. It’s not a bulky plug, either. In fact, the plug looks quite similar to the Apple wall charger, except it’s larger all the way around, instead of perfectly square with a wall socket. Here’s what they look like side-by-side:

plug

It’s not a major issue, but it’s a silly design choice that’s sure to piss off some buyers.

I can’t wait to see what comes next with the Kindle readers. I’m hoping to see a tablet that has an HD (maybe 3D) screen on one side, and e-ink on the other. Perhaps that’s a pipe dream, but I’m hoping it’s coming in the next year or two. We’ll see.

For those looking for a great electronic reader that’s also useful and effective for portable gaming, media playback, video chatting and tablet uses, the Kindle Fire HDX is certainly a great option, second only to Apple (and catching up). Build quality is outstanding, the processor is quick and the redesign is great. And there’s plenty of value to be found with the tablet, like customer-friendly goodies such as Mayday, a live video customer service chat line. (I did not get to test Mayday, but it seemed quite functional.)

UPDATE 10/24/13: Mayday review … I finally had a reason to try Amazon’s latest customer service app, “Mayday,” last night. After a rather brief 30-second wait, I was connected with a rep who walked me through how to access and use Amazon’s pre-installed Officesuite. I thought the app was something you would just open, similar to other apps like Silk or Amazon Store. Rather, Officesuite has been integrated into the Kindle, which proved somewhat confusing to configure and use.

The CS rep guided me through the whole process in a timely, efficient manner. He seemed to know what he was doing and was able to give me the tutorial with ease, though he did seem a little annoyed. I’m sure this is one question he gets a lot; that and “why is my screen border blue?” I placed my Mayday call in the middle of the night, so the service may not run as smooth during the day, but I can’t knock the experience yet. It was smooth, easy to use and kinda fun. Thumbs up, Amazon. I wonder how long until Apple follows this groundbreaking system of customer service.

Back to the original review:

The HDX is not an iPad killer, but it is a pretty great competitor that stacks up well in many aspects, especially when it comes to cost and ease of use. If you’re in the market for a tablet, give it some consideration. And if you’re on a budget, I’d definitely check out the previous Fire HD. It’s still an awesome tablet.

Shameless plug time! If you own a Kindle (or have the free Kindle app on your phone), check out my thrilling short stories, The Stray Cats and The Horror. CLICK HERE to buy your copies today! And be sure to follow me on Twitter.

Why I Write: The Benefits of Short Stories

 

WHY I WRITE #1 – Welcome to the first entry in this ongoing blog series designed to offer my perspective on the subject of writing. I also hope to inspire and aide fellow writers and readers to explore their creativity in new, exciting ways, and to help others achieve their goals and get their work published.

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“Why are you writing short stories?” I’ve gotten this question plenty of times from friends, fans and family. Some might blindly assume I’m either too afraid to write a full-length book, or simply too lazy. The reality is unequivocally neither. I’ve written three full-length books and two screenplays this year alone, and I plan on releasing six or seven short stories by year’s end, with about a dozen or more slated for 2014. All told, I probably write, or work on writing, for about 50-60 hours a week, if not more.

In truth, I just can’t stop writing. I write every single day, be it a blog entry, tweets, a screenplay, a book or a short story. Writing is like air to me, I can’t live without it. It doesn’t help that I’m an idea machine and I’m always jotting down stories, film and book ideas.

But why short stories? Well, my real goal with shorts is to create a base of writing samples that I can share with new readers, fellow writers, fans and potential agents and publishers who might be interested in reading or buying my work.

But also, my decision to focus on shorts is intentional beyond those motives. We live in a very busy time. Our attention is more divided than every before. There is so much content to consume, and more entertainment options. And, as much as some might argue to the contrary, we are also living in an economically depressed climate. It might not be labeled as such by the powers that be, but trust me, we are. If you’re in the middle class, or lower, you are likely feeling the damning effects of this on nearly every single aspect of your life. You are working hard to pay bills, pay off debt and still have enough coins to have some kind of fun on the weekends. In some cases, people are working two or even three jobs to pay for what little free time they have.

Between having no money, and having so many entertainment options, many have little-to-no time for things like books, or even movies or television. Taking this into consideration, I decided I would focus on bite-sized stories that can be read in a matter of hours.

This, I feel, is satisfying to readers because they get that sense of accomplishment from finishing a story. But also, a shorter story fits into our cramped schedule much better than a longer one. And, let’s be honest, not many people know who I am just yet. That will certainly change, but for now I’d prefer to give new readers a tasty bite of my writing abilities before asking them to indulge in a full-length book. I’ve also found that many readers feel the same way. They want to know if they even like my style, or the genres I’m working in, before they take the big plunge and dive into one of my books.

If you’re a fellow writer, I highly recommend trying your hand at a short story. If nothing else, it’ll get you writing every day and it’ll get you exploring your boundaries. Try a new style of writing, a different perspective, a type of character you aren’t familiar with, or even a different genre. When you’re finished (editing included – this is important), you can sell these stories for cheap (about a buck) on Amazon, and they’ll help your career in the long run. Binge readers can quickly enjoy your entire body of work, and the stories may lead to bigger things, like an agent or possibly a publishing contract. If nothing else, it allows you to have a body of work for sale on Amazon that readers, fans, friends and family can explore and enjoy.

And yes, you can charge for your work. Don’t be afraid of this. Even though I’m speedy and efficient, I spend around 80-120 hours (at least) prepping just one short story, from writing to editing to building the Kindle file to designing a cover and promoting the title. People work hard at their jobs. There is no reason you should not get paid for your hard work, either. But keep your stories cheap, please. I prefer the price point of $1. Anything more than $2 is excessive for shorts.

That’s essentially why I write short stories. I plan on publishing my books in the near future, but I am still in the very long, very taxing process of searching for agents and publishers. But, in the meantime, I am building an incredible body of work that will only help me achieve my goals. And I’m having a blast writing and sharing all my stories and ideas with you. So thanks for reading and please, if you publish a short, share it in the comments section below and I’ll be sure to promo the hell out of it to aide you in your own personal goals. Good luck!

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On the next, WHY I WRITE, I will discuss creating book covers for Kindle Edition books. Stay tuned!

–Also, if you haven’t already, check out my first short story, The Stray Cats (BUY HERE)!

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