Thursday, October 23, 2008

Halloween Horror - Books and Films

Sure, everyone is posting about spooky books, tales, and films this time of the year. So one more post isn't going to hurt. And, to add to the mix, I'll make a few more posts before Oct. 31st.

If for some reason you're out of things to read and watch for the season, and don't feel like reading Something Wicked This Ways Comes again, then let me suggest a novel from a few years back: Midnight, by Dean Koontz. Or, if you're in the mood for a film, then The Descent. These are not my only suggestions, they are just a starting place. More will cover over the next week or so.

Midnight - Dean Koontz

This is a classic horror/thriller novel from the days when Mr. Koontz did not have an "R" in his name. :) For those who have read Koontz, you'll know that he is skilled at blending genres, and can produce some tantalizing prose. This novel isn't filled with gore. Instead, Koontz works on producing chills. The opening is a grabber - a classical approach to horror fiction. And the pacing and mystery follows along with the best of any action thriller. The characters are likable, and while there is some use of technology that perhaps is an attempt to forewarn the reader about the promises of science, it still works. To prevent spoiling what is going on in the novel, I'll not reveal any more details (other than part of the copy below). This is a novel for readers and writers alike. It is even better if shared with someone else, or at least read when the night approaches the witching hour. As a bonus, fans of Koontz will recognize the setting of Moonlight Cove. Lastly, when reading, do a "Poe count." That is keep track of how many allusions Koontz makes to Edgar Allan Poe.


In picturesque Moonlight Cove, California, inexplicable deaths occur and spine-tingling terror descends to this "edge of paradise." Growing numbers of residents harbor a secret so dark it is sure to cost even more lives.

The Descent

In the mood for a film, then try this one. I confess, I didn't see this film at the theaters. The commercials portrayed it as something of a "gore festival." Then a number of people told me how great it was. I waited for it to appear on DVD, rented it, and then didn't watch it (because the cover yelled, "Gore!"). Okay, I have no problem with slasher films or splatter punk, but I must be in the mood for it. Those moods are rare, and seem to be more uncommon with each passing year.

Eventually, I re-rented the film and watched it. What a delightful surprise. Yes, there is some gore, and blood. But it isn't over the top. This film is well directed, and the acting works wonderfully. The basic premise is a group of gals decide to go spelunking. Okay, that sounds a bit hokey - something out of a typical horror novel: A band of females go into the woods and undress. Well, in the film, they go into the woods, and then into a cave, but there is no undressing. (The undressing is usually a prelude to death in horror novels and films).

As for the "gore" factor, you can see from the original cover (above) that this film use blood as a selling element. I don't believe it did well at the box office. This might be due to the fact that they attracted the wrong audience, and kept away the correct audience.

Instead, we have a cast of strong female characters who find themselves in a dire situation. In fact, it is a bit of a Lovecraftian tale - but not overtly so. This film is suspenseful, thrilling, and surprising. The cinematography captures the claustrophobic elements of exploring caverns, and the characters interact well - perhaps too well.

So what does that last remark mean? Ignore it the first time you watch the film. Just enjoy it and the surprises. But, once you're done, return to it, and examine the characters. Each person in the group can be connected to an aspect of the mind (Ego, Id, Emotion, Reason, Wisdom, Logic, etc.). So when you re-watch it, take that into account, and see if the film has the same ending. I'll say to no more for fear of spoiling things.

I've also included a shot from the film - one that captured the close quarters. This aspect is important to the tension, and it works upon the viewer quite cleverly. Even though I'm not claustrophobic, there are some scenes where I felt like I was in the tunnels, struggling to get out. Also, when watching the film, keep an eye on the background. The directors like to hide things here and there. It works well as they will pan across an area twice, once with something in the background, and then once without. This isn't pointed out to the viewer. It looks like a typical pan shot.

Lastly, I included what appears to be the new cover for the DVD. For me, this only confirms my thoughts about the secondary story in the film (and how the characters work together). Of course, you'll notice that the gore is missing, and in its place are a group of females (another target audience here?) However, I believe that an argument could be made about the cover. The poses resembles the shape of the human brain - and clearly a skull. At the least, we can say it's a head. :) But to avoid going deeper into that aspect, I'll just say the film is "THE Descent." Hmm, descent into what? Into a cave? Into madness? What could the caverns represent. Oh, Freud would have so much fun with this.


Rick said...

I'll actually go out and buy them both. They sound both highly entertaining and worth learning from, and besides that they will get me in the mood to torture trick or treaters.

Vesper said...

I think I've seen some scenes from this movie on The Movie Network but, at the time, it didn't appeal to me. Your reviews revealed interesting aspects of it. I'll go and rent it.
As for Koontz's Midnight, I'm not really a fan of his, but this book seems interesting...
Thank you!
I love October with all things horror...


William Jones said...

Rick - They are both good, but maybe take a look at one or the other before you buy both. Or just buy both. :)

Vesper - As I mentioned, I felt the same way about the film. At is has its moments with ooze - but I think it fits with the film.

As for Midnight, if you're a fan of Lycans, then you will probably enjoy the book. Hopefully that isn't saying too much.

Charles Gramlich said...

I liked Midnight very much. It's pretty much a tie with Phantoms for my favorite Koontz book. I also saw the Descent and thought it was pretty good. Great action sequences.

David Alan Richards said...

I've got to check Midnight out. I like Dean Koontz a lot.

I'm reading his The Darkest Evening of the Year, right now and really enjoying.

I thought The Descent was just some grade B horror shlock ride. I guess you can't always tell from the generic coming attractions. Now I want to rent it.

It's new box looks more interesting, by the way. Thanks for showing it!

William Jones said...

David - If you're a Koontz fan, then this book is probably a good fit for you.

And I very much shared your view on The Descent. It is well executed, filmed, and I think was a better film than the "film" the promotion presented.

Jeff Edwards said...

The "skull" art for THE DESCENT is actually the movie poster I saw when the film was released theatrically. This sounds like a candidate for the late, lamented Film Vault!


John Goodrich said...

The "girls making a skull" is a riff off the "Silence of the Lambs" film poster/cover. The one with the moth? The skull on the moth's back is composed in a similar fashion.

According to this website ( the image derives from a Dali sketch.

David Conyers said...

The cover for The Decent with the girls making up the skull is the cover they used to promote the movie in Australia from the start. It got good reviews here, and it was one of the few horror movies I saw in the cinema.

William, after your observations I'm tempted to watch it again.

When it was first announced I thought it was going to be an adaptation of Jeff Long's The Decent, but alas no. Still, a worthwhile film to watch.

Anonymous said...

I watched THE DESCENT on TV this past weekend (in May 2009). As a Lovecraft fan, I enjoyed the ghoul-type creatures, but unfortunately I didn't enjoy the film as much as I had expected. I know the women were clearly presented as athletic, but their shift into savage and effective killing machines seemed too abrupt.