“The Last of Us” S1E1 – Spoiler-Free Review

Oh. My. God.

A video game adaptations that DOESN’T totally suck? Is this real? For so long, the dreaded curse of adaptation has plagued video-games-turned-movies (and, for that matter, shows). There are many examples, but the most notable failed video game adaptations have been Resident Evil (almost every iteration, from the too-long movie franchise to the Netflix series), the messy Uncharted movie, and Doom.

Happily, I’m here to tell you the Good News: the curse has been broken. The Last of Us is a shining example of what an adaptation should be all about: honoring the source material while adding fresh elements that work.

For the uninitiated, The Last of Us was a highly successful 2013 action-adventure video game following a mismatched duo as they trek across post-apocalyptic America to deliver a cure for a pandemic that’s destroyed the entire world. The game swept award after award and raised the bar for other game developers, offering an emotional character-driven story that never strays too far into the action elements nor becomes too much of a soap opera.

Much like the game, HBO’s The Last of Us delivers all the hard-hitting emotional moments visual masterpieces. I think this success owes a lot to the fact that this is a television series rather than a movie, which might’ve eschewed some of the poignant character moments in favor of spending more time on the crowd-pleasing action-adventure moments.

My favorite aspect of the show, so far, is the fidelity paid to my favorite moments from the game. There’s a scene early on that absolutely ripped my heart out, and it’s pulled almost shot-for-shot from the video game. You’ll know exactly what scene I’m referring to if you watch the show, trust me. And there are plenty of fan-favorite moments like this, which I think is enough to calm the fear that this adaptation will stray far from the near-perfect source material.

I can’t say much else about the premiere episode of The Last of Us without going into spoiler territory, but I intend to write a full review of the show after the finale airs in Spring ’23. I would be remiss, however, not to mention the actors who made the first episode work so well.

Bella Ramsey, of Game of Thrones fame, absolutely shines as Ellie, one of the protagonists. Her body language, her sarcasm, her quieter moments…they all perfectly mirror the source material (which is funny, because Ramsey claimed in an interview that she’s never actually played the video games). I was skeptical about this casting choice at first, but I’m delighted to say I was wrong to be worried. Ramsey totally kills it.

Fellow Game of Thrones alumnus Pedro Pascal plays Joel, the jaded hero and main protagonist. From the very first time he appears on screen, he’s 100% the Joel we all know and love from the games. He’s a man who’s been through some truly horrendous events since the apocalypse, and his heavy grief practically bleeds out onto the screen regardless of what scene he’s in.

There are plenty of other great casting choices, but I’ll explore these further as the show goes on, since much of the first episode highlights the acting abilities of Ramsey and Pascal. All I’ll say for now is that I’m very pleased with the casting department, and I can’t wait to see how these characters develop as the show goes on.

I give the premiere episode of The Last of Us a solid 9/10, and I recommend it to anyone searching for an emotionally satisfying series premiere that doesn’t buckle under heavy expectations of fans of the source material.

Check it out!

“The Menu” – Movie Review

“Do not eat; experience.”

The Menu is a black comedy that lives up to the hype and then some, offering biting social satire, witty commentary on consumerism, and a visual feast for foodies amongst us.

The film follows a group of socialites invited to dine at an exclusive restaurant located on an island. The group is largely comprised of the most unlikeable types of people: name droppers, cheaters, self-proclaimed experts in their fields, and guys who unironically say things like “You know who I am, right?” in order to get what they want. The chef, played by the legendary Ralph Fiennes, offers his guests a dining experience like no other…but it comes at a high cost.

Just as describing every intricate detail of a dish at a fancy restaurant may spoil the experience for the uninitiated, there’s not much I can say about the plot of The Menu without ruining your experience. All I can say, above all else, is director Mark Mylod really took me by surprise with this one. I went in expecting another disposable “elevated horror” film (God, I’m sick of that phrase…) and what I got was so, so much more.

In fact, it can be argued that the events within The Menu are a commentary on the state of filmmaking and the modern audience. There are many among us who fancy themselves “experts” on film, and they eagerly tear apart each and every moment of popular films rather than simply experiencing them for what they are. Likewise, the guests at the exclusive restaurant all think the world of themselves due to their “expertise” in fine dining, and they snobbishly judge the food they’re served and demand their money’s worth, asking for alterations to the menu, larger portions of certain dishes, and an entirely different experience altogether.

Perhaps it’s a reach, but I think Mylod is criticizing our universal tendency to want rather than to experience. Honestly, can you think of the last time you truly experienced a movie for what it was? I sure can’t; I’m always longing for more of certain elements, thinking to myself what I might’ve done differently (oh, expert filmmaker I am!), and eagerly awaiting the moment the movie’s over so I can talk about what I liked and disliked via various social media. In short, the experience of simply being at a movie and taking it for what it is is often lost on me. We’re hungry people, us moviegoers, and at times we can be quite insatiable.

There’s a moment in the film when the chef is explaining to the protagonist, Margot (played wonderfully by Anya Taylor-Joy), that in life there are the creators and the consumers: those who slave over their art, whatever it may be, and those who consume it.

But, theories about “the message” aside, The Menu also stands on its own as a highly entertaining film filled with dark comedy, suspense, and a fantastic score that I absolutely adore. Every element of The Menu works, and whatever you go into the film expecting, Mylod finds a way to subvert those expectations and offer a unique experience you won’t soon forget.

There’s plenty more to say about The Menu, but a lot of it’s already been said in other reviews, so I’ll eschew the fluff and skip right to the meat of the dish: Go see it; it’s two hours you’ll positively savor.

This is only the second film I’ve seen in 2023, and I know it came out last year, but I can already tell this will be a highlight of this year’s film viewing experience.

Also, upon watching The Menu, you’re likely to flinch every time someone claps their hands together from here on out.

8/10

“MEGAN” – Movie Review

Well, hot damn! Now THIS is how you properly start off a year in horror movies!

Megan, directed by Gerard Johnstone and produced by James Wan, is a horror-comedy that works on both levels, filled with black humor and some truly fun action sequences.

Megan tells the story of a young career-driven woman named Gemma, who’s thrust into parenthood after her brother and sister-in-law are killed in a bizarre accident that leaves her niece orphaned. Gemma works in the toy business, and her secret groundbreaking project is an A.I. doll that’s fully communicative and able to foster realistic companionship with the child it’s “paired” with (much the same way your iPhone or household A.I. “pairs” with you and gets to know your various likes and dislikes). Gemma decides the prototype, named M3GAN, would be the ideal friend for her niece and also take some of the weight off Gemma’s shoulders when it comes to parenting. Needless to say, this doesn’t end well for Gemma.

I went in blind with this movie, no expectations whatsoever. Honestly, I assumed it was going to be a rip-off of the Child’s Play remake (which left a sour taste in my mouth, but we won’t get into that here). James Wan’s attachment to the project was the only reason I wanted to see Megan, since he tends to hit home runs with every movie he’s attached to, even–in my humble opinion–2021’s Malignant.

But Megan took me by surprise. It wasn’t nearly as gory as some other horror films with Wan’s name attached, nor was it particularly scary. It was just…fun; from the first frame to the last, I was sucked into the world of the movie and turned into a believer.

The gore effects, when present, worked incredibly well, mostly because Johnstone opted for minimalism rather than over-the-top carnage that leaves nothing to the imagination. There are some very dark moments throughout the movie, and these moments work well because they’re almost always punctuated by dark humor. Not just one-liners, either; the framing of the shots, the quiet moments between dialogue, and the idiosyncrasies of characters all lend themselves to full-on belly laughter.

Megan also works as an exploration of parenthood and responsibility to kin. As mentioned above, Gemma uses her A.I. prototype to avoid learning parent skills while also furthering her career by testing the humanoid companion on her niece. The film does a nice job of asking whether or not Gemma’s intentions were pure in the first place or if she’s simply manipulating her niece’s need for companionship for her own ends.

Also, I would be remiss not to point out how well the sinister A.I. doll M3GAN is played by the young actresses Amie Donald and Jenna Davis. The physicality, the voice, the subtle changes in the doll’s tone and demeanor…it all worked extremely well when it might’ve otherwise failed with lesser actresses. My favorite part happens about two-thirds of the way through the movie, and it involves an old school paper cutter blade and a fantastic dance sequence. You’ll know what I’m talking about when you see it, and I’d be very surprised if you’re not as happy with the scene as I was.

Overall, Megan is a great comedy-horror film that’s sure to please anyone looking for something fresh to start their 2023 theatrical experience. You won’t be particularly frightened, but you won’t leave the theater disappointed, either.

7/10

State of the “Caedes-verse”

Long time no see, I know. How are you? I’ve been good. Good and busy.

Welcome to 2023 (which is hopefully, in many ways, better than 2022), the year of some changes both inward and outward.

Since I don’t tend to release numerous projects throughout any given year–typically just one book per year, plus some short stories here and there–I’ve decided to start posting some book and movie reviews, since that’s something I’ve always enjoyed, and since I no longer write for any horror news websites that give me a proper outlet to do so. I’m seeing M3gan tomorrow night, so that will probably be the first proper review I post. On the book front, I got through many, many books in 2022 (or is 89 a rookie number? I dunno) and I intend to start posting reviews for some of those books here. If you dig reviews, subscribe and keep an eye on this page.

2022 was also a big year for The Family Fright Night Horror Podcast, a biweekly show where I talk to various artists about their favorite horror movie for a while before delving into questions about their creative process and philosophies. I had 67 episodes in 2022 (whew!), and from the looks of my calendar of interview dates, 2023’s looking like an even bigger year for the show. You can find all episodes on Spotify, or any other podcast hub out there. If you dig the show and want to support it, you can purchase t-shirts here. If you’re not into snazzy t-shirts that all the cool kids are wearing, you can also support the show by a) telling your friends about it, b) sharing episodes on social media to boost the signal, or c) message me with guest requests or to tell me what you’d like more of on the show. I’m hoping the podcast stays for fun everyone, so I’ll do whatever I can to cater to listeners’ tastes.

On the writing front, I’m currently working on multiple short stories for upcoming anthologies, which means taking a break from upcoming novels (including the final draft of Parasitic Host). The good news is, you can find short stories of mine in a few new anthologies, including Tales from the Monoverse by Last Waltz Publishing, Road Trip God from PsychoToxin Press, and a few others than I’ll announce when the time’s right and the ink is dry on the contract. I’ve always been a fan of short-form horror, and I hope that appreciation for fast and furious storytelling bleeds into my work a bit.

Now, onto what’s coming in 2023:

First and foremost, I’ll be releasing a new novel called Coronation sometime this Summer. This novel’s been teased for a few years now, but trust me, it’s worth the wait. Fans of Birthday Girl, rejoice. While this book’s not nearly as gory as my Ash Crowlin work (it will be published under my own name, not my pseudonym), it’s a heartfelt story about sibling love and how far a young girl will go to save her older brother.

I also intend to release a short story collection sometime in 2023, maybe in time for Scares That Care’s Authorcon II in March/April. News on that later.

Looking far, far ahead at late-2023 and early 2024, I should have another novel coming out that takes place in what I call “The Caedes-verse,” which is the fictional town in which Moving Through takes place. I’m not announcing the book yet, because it’s still in early stages and I’m a known liar when it comes to release dates. All I can say is I’m having a blast revisiting old characters and seeing them grow into new stages of their lives.

I will also be updating my “tour” schedule for 2023 later this week. So far, there are only a few stops that I’m committed to, but I tend to rack up another ten or so before Summer begins. I will definitely be at The Texas Authorcon in July and at Scares That Care Authorcon II in March/April.

Movie and book reviews coming later this week! As always, stay healthy and keep reading.

(Insert Title Here)

I’m at my hotel in New Orleans, and I’ve finally gotten a two-hour-or-so nap in after 24 hours awake. I wish I could say I’ve spent all those waking hours writing and finishing up on projects that have been haunting my calendar for far too long, but it was mostly spent preparing for a work trip, packing, driving, and hanging out at airports. But, all things considered, I made it here alive, and that’s a pretty cool consolation prize.

I’ll be in Louisiana all week on a business trip. Although I’m planning to cut back severely on travel in the coming few months, this leg of my travels has always been a favorite of mine. New Orleans has its own vibe, and the energy here is great if you can understand it and endure it long enough. Also, part of an upcoming novel of mine takes place in NOLA, so it’s not far from truth to call this trip “research.” I’m currently “researching” how many liquid hurricanes the human body can take.

Aside from coming up with titles for a few new projects (something I almost always postpone until the last minute), things have been going great on the writing side of things. I wrote part of a new bizarro story last night before departure, and I’ll probably wrap it this week along with a dark sci-fi/horror short story I intend to submit to a magazine.

I was at Scares That Care VIII last weekend, and I had an absolute blast. Although I didn’t have the energy to do much else other than sling books at my table and attend a few discussions, I loved the overall energy of being around so many other creative people. A highlight for me was being on a panel with author Kristopher Triana, one of the most creative names in splatterpunk, and reading a snippet of my 2018 book Birthday Girl in front of an audience. I was WAAAY overcaffeinated by that point in the day, so I was shaking visibly while reading, but the words came out well and the audience seemed to enjoy the chapter. Granted, I was also pretty nervous, since this is the first live reading I’d done in three years, and attendees included the man/myth/legend himself Ronald Kelly (my guest on an upcoming episode of The Family Fright Night Horror Podcast!)

The topic of story titles came up during a panel discussion, and I was surprised to hear from another author that he doesn’t even begin a story until he knows both the ending and the title. I certainly don’t write that way, but I’ve heard this from several authors during the recording of my podcast, and it’s always a surprise. I like hearing about the various methods employed by other writers, and sometimes trying things their way helps.

So, for now, the title of my bizarro horror story is “Toe Babies.” I’ll leave the premise to your imagination but, suffice to say, it’s a gross one 🙂

Until next time, keep smiling and keep on keeping on.

300! (A Reboot)

I’ve been on a roll lately, at least in terms of keeping to a nightly writing schedule. While I was keeping a good 5,000 words per day (roughly 20 pages) schedule for a week or so, I’ve found my sweet spot is writing in 300-word increments, which allows me to fit writing into my busy schedule. I can write 300 words first thing in the morning, another 300 later in the afternoon, and then 1,000 or so later at night. Although this is far less ambitious that my previous writing schedule, it’s a good way of preventing burnout, which is inevitable if you’re pushing yourself too hard, no matter how professional you are or how much love you have for your craft.

As King Leonidas would say in Zack Synder’s movie 300, “Tonight we dine…at our work desk!”

I’m currently dividing my writing time pretty evenly between editing Parasitic Host and polishing up my next Ash Crowlin book…which I’ll talk more about as the release gets closer. I’m putting some time into my Moving Through sorta-sequel Clive, but I’m dedicating myself too heavily to it just yet, since I don’t want to get distracted from the task at hand by “shiny objects.” I’ve spoken to many other writers about this exact issue, getting distracted by excitement for your next project (and there’s ALWAYS a “next project”), and they’ve all told me the same thing: finish the book you’re currently working on, take notes for the one you’re excited to get cracking on, and don’t allow yourself to get easily distracted.

Speaking of conversations with other authors, there are a ton of of new episodes of The Family Fright Night Horror Podcast available for you to check out. The show’s been a lot of fun to work on, and it’s been a great hobby for me. I hope you enjoy it!

That’s all for now. I’ll be on the road in Memphis, Louisiana,Alabama, and Mississippi all next week, but I’ll find time to hop on when I’m not sneaking in writing time in 300-word increments.

Livin’ la Vida Clive

Typed 1,500 words in the Moving Through sequel, currently titled Clive, last night after a long walk. It was a weird day and I hadn’t typed anything new for a while, so getting it out in one uninterrupted session really did wonders for my mood. I’m pretty sure most authors can relate to the feeling.

Clive isn’t what I would call a direct sequel, but all the characters from Moving Through are in it. Some of the book pertains to the third act in Moving Through, but it’s not a situation where you’ll feel lost if you haven’t read the first book in a while or at all. As Trey would say, sequels and reboots are typically godawful, so I’m keeping Clive as much of a standalone story as possible. I feel like it’s a story that needs to be told, and it gives so much more character to everyone’s favorite high school smartass.

Clive probably won’t be out for at least another year, as I like to really take my time with edits in the second-through-fourth drafts. But once I hit draft four and have notes from my beta readers, then things move like lightening and I’m flying through edits.

More news on the convention front:

-I’ll be at Scares That Care VIII Weekend July 29-31st in Williamsburg, VA.

-I’ll be at The Mid-Ohio Indie Author Book Fair August 13th.

-Finally, I’ll be at The PA Horror Con, courtesy of Gloomhouse Publishing, August 20th and 21st.

I’m pretty excited about all the great things that are to come. I don’t want to get carried away with announcing upcoming projects, since I typically change dates when burnout inevitably sets in, but 2023 is going to be a HUGE year….both for myself and for a certain Ash Crowlin.

That’s it for now. See you next week!

Weddings, Writers, Interviews, and Sequel(s)

HAPPY 4th of JULY!!!

It’s been a good week. Although I didn’t accomplish my writing goal meant for my retreat (100 handwritten pages in 5 days; 20 pages per day), I got about 60% of my goal while also visiting family and having a great time in my hometown. Also, who needs goals when you’ve got home-cooked meals every night of the week? Love you, Dad!

My cousin’s wedding was yesterday. Although I wasn’t able to make the ceremony due to previously scheduled obligations, I was able to attend most of the reception, which was pretty fun. Admittedly, I was pretty damn cranky the entire time because A) I was tired as tired can be, and it showed, and B) I’m really not much for weddings, mostly because of social anxiety and the pressure to participate and dance. I love revelry, and I’m always happy for people who find love and get married, but I’m much more comfortable watching everyone else have fun and dance the night away while I just sit and enjoy a beer unnoticed. I don’t think I’m an introvert, but I definitely have introvert tendencies like that.

Author Ty Roth was at the wedding. He did a great interview with me this week for his blog, which you can find here. Ty is a family friend and an amazing writer, and I’m always grateful for the time he makes to teach me things I may not already know about the industry, being that he’s been through the ringer and back with publishers.

Yesterday morning I had my sales table set up at an art show just off State Route 53 in Lakeside Marblehead. Although I didn’t sell many books, I was surrounding by chickens, which made me smile like a little kid the whole time. I tried to catch one and pet it, and I’m happy to report it’s just as hard as the movie Rocky has led us to believe. Fast little creatures.

I also found out earlier this week that I’ll be in the same reading/Q&A block as author Kristopher Triana at Scares That Care VIII at the end of July. Triana is one of my favorite horror authors, and I got to hang out with him on my podcast recently. You can find his episode here. I’m VERY excited about this!

I started a Patreon page for The Family Fright Night Horror Podcast. This is a great way for listeners to get involved with the show while helping to offset hosting fees for the podcast (which add up FAST) and help me purchase updated equipment for better sound quality. If you’d like to check out the different reward tiers and share the page with friends who might also be interested in the show, click here.

Exciting stuff is happening with Moving Through and its sequel, Clive (working title). The hardback edition of Moving Through is coming out in October, and I’ll probably have one or two other things ready to share by New Year’s Eve.

See you again soon!

Books and a Break

This week’s been everything I’d hoped for. Although I was supposed to be in the Virginia woods this week on a writing retreat, I instead decided to drive to my hometown of Coshocton, Ohio to surprise my older sister before she leaves for two years to Chennai, India! She and her husband are diplomats, and they’ll be away overseas with my nephew for way too long for me to pass up an opportunity to see them for a full week, so I made a last-minute change of plans and went back to my roots, singing “Country Roads” at the top of my lungs the whole way (yes, I got a few weird stares from passerby, but it’s what I’m here for, isn’t it?)

Fortunately, being home hasn’t hampered my ability to get some serious writing done and dusted. I’m nearly finished with a new short story, which I’ll give details about at a later date, and I’m pre-writing Clive (the pseudo-sequel to Moving Through) while putting the finishing touches on Parasitic Host, my upcoming comedy-horror novel. I’m also journaling every day again, which has been nice, and I’m reading a few helpful books on technique and self-editing. I pride myself on always learning, both from past experiences and from people who’ve been doing what I want to do much longer than I’ve even been alive.

Speaking of journals, you can now buy copies of my Moving Through inspired journal here on my Amazon page. They’re a good place to vent…and I’m pretty sure I’d be snapping 24/7 if not for that outlet. Mostly joking.

I’ve gotten a lot of reading done this week as well, and though I’m currently working on proper review for these books to post on Amazon, here are some brief thoughts on what I’ve been reading.

Bishop by Candace Nola

This book is engaging for so many reasons. Not only do we get a werebear fighting a proper wendigo (one that true to the original mythos), but we also get fully-developed characters who make smart decisions and aren’t simply slaves to the plot. This is a character-driven novel, and I had a blast reading it.

Midnight In the City of the Carrion Kid by James G. Carlson

Oh boy, now THIS is my type of book! Part “Silent Hill,” part Naked Lunch, 100% weird the entire way through! It doesn’t let up even once throughout it’s rather brief length, and it packs a real wallop that should make any bizarro horror writer envious.

Rotten, No One Survives, and The Survivor by Buzz Parcher

I was recently at an indie writers convention in Northeast Ohio, and while I didn’t sell too many books, I did meet probably my favorite new indie horror writer, Buzz Parcher. He and I have very similar tastes in the splatterpunk subgenre, and I’m absolutely certain his name is one you’ll be hearing plenty of over the next few years. These books are brutal, funny, fast-paced, and they push the envelope in every sense of the phrase. You can watch my TikTok review here.

I’ve been pretty active on TikTok lately with book reviews, and new episodes of The Family Fright Night Horror Podcast are airing 2-3 times weekly, so there’s plenty of new content while we wait together for Parasitic Host to hit bookshelves. I have a lot of great news I wish I could share, but I don’t think now’s the best time to do so, since things change sometimes. But when the time comes…you’ll know what I’m referring to!

‘Til next week, adios!

Upcoming Shows!

As of today, I’m officially a vendor at The Punk Rock Flea Market on Sunday, October 9th!

You can catch me there with a few new horror books, and you can also find several other writers, artists, and all types of creative folks slinging their wares.

I’ll also be announcing a few more shows for the remainder of 2022 soon.

Hope to see you there!

Oh, and P.S.,

I announced this week that the sequel to my Ash Crowlin splatterpunk novella Birthday Girl will be out later this year. Not one for the squeamish…but definitely one I’m proud of 🙂