Friday, June 4, 2010

The 1st Annual Black Glove Horrorhead Awards

To celebrate the first year of THE BLACK GLOVE, we picked what we consider the BEST of our first year in reviews for books, music, games and comics.
Who made the cut for the 1st Annual BLACK GLOVE's Horrorhead Awards?

Patient Zero
By Jonathan Maberry
St. Martin’s Griffin/Press
Review by Nickolas Cook

This is the BEST zombie novel I’ve read to date.
It even knocks Brian Keene’s classic take on the undead, THE RISING, out of its top spot.
Starring Joe Ledger, Maberry’s badass antihero--part Spenser, part Jack Bauer and all superbad—PATIENT ZERO starts fast and nasty and doesn’t let up for 400 pages. It is a hell of a thrill ride, folks.
Ex-police officer Joe Ledger thinks he’s going to join the FBI, but he’s soon being quietly drawn into a super secret government agency that reports straight to the President. His new boss, Mr. Church, is a cipher, cold blooded, without emotion. He sets Ledger up with a team of trained special ops killers to take down a vicious terrorist organization set upon loosing a nasty zombie epidemic on the world in the name of their god.
Maberry even uses the same narrative pacing device as the hit show ‘24’ by keeping strict time of the events, which take place mostly within a three day time frame. Maberry keeps the chapters short and full of character development and forward narrative thrust. He gives us the science we need, when we need, and doesn’t allow its complexity drag down the most important thing in the story: saving the world from a super virus that makes infectious living dead who rise and make more undead with their bite or scratch. Smartly, he borrows just what he needs from Romero’s zombie rules, but doesn’t turn it into another rehash of Romero’s undead world. He does acknowledge the classics- both modern and old- of the undead genre: ’28 Days Later’, ‘Dawn of the Dead’, ‘Night of the Living Dead’, etc., etc. And if you’re a true blue zombie fan, you’ll catch them all.
Another great device Maberry uses to his advantage is the switching POVs, from 1st to 3rd to keep it moving along, giving us exposition without sacrificing excitement for details.
But he also does something that isn’t so easy in a book with this sort of breakneck pace. He makes characters that leap from the page, even the villains. No one is left feeling like a cardboard cutout. Any of them could be someone you know. Well, that is if you know people who work for top secret government agencies that deal with undead on a regular basis.
But most importantly, Maberry treats his people with humanity. He acknowledges the fact that violence leaves an emotional mark, no matter how Charlie Bronson you think you might be. What makes Joe Ledger stand out is the fact that he has to switch from being a caring, loving person to a cold blooded killer with the ability to destroy with the pull of his trigger or the flick of his wrist. And he does not take that lightly. It gets to him, even though he knows the people he is killing will kill innocent people if given the chance.
Maberry knows his martial arts and his weapons. He should. The guy’s background reads a little like his antihero, Joe Ledger. He’s got extensive martial arts and combative tactics experience, along with personal knowledge of the weapons he writes about in PATIENT ZERO. He knows the work of terrorists and the tactics used by antiterrorists to prevent their violence on others.
In a word: realistic is what you get with PATIENT ZERO. A scary realism that leaves you disturbed at times.

--Nickolas Cook

Martyrs and Monsters by Robert Dunbar
Review by Nickolas Cook
Dark Hart Press

Robert Dunbar is best known for that neo-classic of the late 80s, THE PINES (Leisure), so when he announced its sequel THE SHORE (Leisure) his fans were justifiably excited. With it, he once again proved he is the master of the quiet horror novel.
Now he returns to the horror fold with a superior collection of short stories in MARTYRS AND MONSTERS, proving he also knows how to craft short stories that are as effective as his longer narratives.
There is an old world sense to his writing that few modern horror writers can match- a carefully cadenced phrasing makes the difference in how the story unfolds. It’s imbued with a trademark Southern Gothic sensibility that most genre authors are unable to capture. His editing is clean, razored down, for maximum pacing and stylistic impact and plays a large part in how well his storytelling works. MARTYRS AND MONSTERS is filled with hauntingly sensual imagery that touches a primordial fear center not unlike King.
And this is not the first time (and one can guess, not the last time) Dunbar has been compared favorably to King, even to Koontz. And this collection clinches it. He deserves not only the critical comparisons, but also the success his two more well known peers have enjoyed. Every story hooks the reader, pulling him along some rather unsavory paths and realities, spiced with a creeping sense of the dark come home to roost.
One of the best qualities about Dunbar’s work (and one that most critics and readers pick up on right away) is that he does not hold with the modern day penchant for torture porn aesthetic and gore described in clinical detail. His violence is implied- forcefully- and tends to disturb on an emotional level that is far more effective than the transient visceral ‘gross out’ scenes we see too much of in what is termed ‘modern’ horror. It haunts more than disgusts, and sticks like cold blood to your soul.
Dunbar’s cast of characters come from the disenfranchised populace- minorities and criminals (sometimes both)- struggling to survive in a cold world that has cast them aside because they do not fit. And that is what horror does best: speak for the lost souls of the world. But through his misfit cast he does not strive to denounce the injustice of the universe. Instead, as he does so well in ‘High Rise’, he attempts to find a heroic sense of acceptance of that injustice and its vagaries, the universe’s unfeeling machine like quality that digest all equally. Just because the hero doesn’t always live, doesn’t make him a loser in this game.
Each story is memorably, but a few that will stick with this reviewer for a long time to come (as do the old masters’ stories) are:

‘Mal de Mer’ is disturbing, as if Edith Wharton’s supernatural fiction met Lovecraft, creating an unnerving erotic pleasure, maybe one of the best of its kind, and certainly one that deserves nomination for a Stoker.

With ‘The Folly’ Dunbar once again provokes Faulkner’s ghost to tell the clever tale of a debauched Southern family (all named for Greek mythical personalities) who discover their own ‘Jersey Devil’ creature living in their swamp. One gets the sense that the author is poking fun at the industry wide perpetuation (a mistaken one, by the way) of his ‘one hit’ success with THE PINES and he does so with tongue in cheek.

‘Explanations’ is one for the horror fanboys gone wrong, with a ‘sharp’ punch line. If you’ve ever been to a fanboy convention, then you’ve no doubt seen hundreds of Jimmys and Wagners plodding from table to table to gush at aging actors whom they cannot differentiate from their characters. And if you’ve ever wondered what these socially challenged folks live like in the ‘real’ world it ain’t pretty…and it smells funky, too!

‘Killing Billie’s Boys’ is a deceptively intense story of urban black magic and betrayal that plays a razor edge of eroticism against our expectations and leaves the reader feeling dirty and excited.

With ‘Gray Soil’ and ‘Red Soil’ he tackles the ever popular zombie sub-genre and makes it his own.

It’s safe to say that Robert Dunbar can write anything to which he sets his mind. We are lucky to have such a wordsmith in our midst. Collections like MARTYRS AND MONSTERS don’t come along often (buy it now, while you still can, before it becomes an outrageously expensive collector’s item). And writers like Robert Dunbar don’t materialize in the writing community everyday- certainly not in the horror community. Let us give thanks for his continued attempts to bring professionalism and craft back to an ailing genre, and hope he is more widely published in the future.

--Nickolas Cook

Starkweather Dreams
by Christopher Conlon;
Creative Guy Publishing, 2009;
77 pages; Paperback $9.95
Reviewed by Karen L. Newman

Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate come alive in verse in Starkweather Dreams by Christopher Conlon. This outstanding poetry collection delves into the criminal mind of Starkweather and his fourteen-year-old accomplice with bare-bones horror. An example of the sharp, biting verse to illustrate Starkweather’s sharp, biting soul is best found in “Memory: Charlie”

He woke once to wind, to branches
clacking against the window
like the bones of dead men

Conlon uses both alliteration and consonance for the premonition of the staccato effect of a thrusting knife or a penetrating bullet. The visualization here is stunning as if the reader is there, under the covers, in the middle of a nightmare, the nightmare of Charlie. Conlon later uses this to explore Charlie’s sexuality in an effort to make him more than just a monster.

Caril Ann herself is portrayed as a sympathetic victim, a testament to Conlon’s immense talent. He accomplishes this by interweaving both Charlie’s and Caril’ stories and by exploring their dysfunctional relationship with each other and the outside world.

This book is history at its most interesting, especially if one compares today to the late fifties, the time of Starkweather’s serial killing. Today Caril wouldn’t have served that much jail time and perhaps school guidance counselors could have seen how troubled she was. Unfortunately, Charles Starkweather fits in, or sadly, isn’t as frightening as some serial killers now, yet Conlon still elicits real fear from the collection.

But what separates Starkweather Dreams from just another retelling is that some poems are from the victims’ points of view, thus adding to the overall terror, the best example being the poem “Countdown”

Or that in thirty-eight minutes
he’ll place the shotgun behind her head
and burst her brain like crushing an egg

This collection is dark historical poetry at its finest.

--Karen L. Newman

Zombieland (2009)
Review by Nickolas Cook

Director : Ruben Fleischer
Cast: Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Amber Heard, Bill Murray

Horror comedies, for the most part, tend to fall apart for me. Sure, there have been some great exceptions to the rule (Return of the Living Dead, Shaun of the Dead, Monster Squad, Night of the Creeps), but sometimes Hollywood forgets what makes a horror film funny is a hard to get tension between truly horrific and outrageous behavior.
ZOMBIELAND easily makes the grade.
From it’s opening of 80s like video montage, Metallic’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” in the background, this movie knows what horror fans, especially zombie horror fans, love best. In some ways, ZOMBIELAND works like a teen version of The Zombie Survival Guide (, but with a great subtext of antisocial behavior in a society that leans ever more towards an isolationist mentality. Hell, even the main characters avoid using real names, instead they take on the name of the city they come from.
Woody Harrelson (who is amusingly comfortable in the middle of a cast that wasn’t even born when he was playing Woody on ‘Cheers’) plays Tallahassee, a cynical survivor of the zombie apocalypse who wants only one thing: a good supply of Twinkies. Jesse Eisenberg plays Columbus, a nerdy antisocial teenager who finds new life in the undead world. When they decide to band together for safety’s sake, they meet a couple of grafter sisters who make them look like morons…well, more than usual anyway.
Music is a big part of what makes the film so funny; it’s used in sly reference in key scenes, so make sure to listen to the background music. It’s the little jokes like that which work best. At times the broad stuff doesn’t come together quite so well.
And there is a surprise cameo from Bill Murray that keeps you laughing to the end.
Twinkies and Bill Murray? How can this love be wrong, you say.
If you want some solid laughs and lots of gore, make sure to catch ZOMBIELAND at a theater near you. Might want to make sure it’s in a mall, just in case you need to hunker down for the end.

--Nickolas Cook

Mastodon- Crack the Skye (2009)

When I accepted the task of choosing the best album of 2009 I thought it would be an easy choice. Once I actually sat down and pondered which album deserved this title I realized I was in over my head in thinking it would be an easy. In a year that saw high quality releases from Eminem, Jay Z, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs it was tough to pick only one standout album of the year. I finally decided on the awesome well composed album from Atlanta rockers Mastodon. Their album Crack the Skye was met with nothing but praise from the rock community. While their sound is progressive rock, Crack the Skye has enough for everyone to enjoy. It’s hard and heavy enough for the metal heads, has enough progressive time and temp changes for progressive fans and has a somewhat pop sound for the radio friendly crowd. It’s something special when a band can create an entire album that takes you on a journey from start to finish. The greats such as Pink Floyd, Alice in Chains and Tool have done it and now you can add Mastodon to that list.

---Steven M. Duarte

SILENT HILL: SHATTERED MEMORIES, by Konami and Climax Studios; 2009; Rated M; Wii, PlayStation 2

I love the Silent Hill series. No other games are continually as creepy, atmospheric, and nightmarish. Even the last game, HOMECOMING, which got a lot of flak for being way too combat oriented, was still a fun, spooky romp. But yes, even as much of a Silent Hill fanboy that I am I have to admit that combat is the last thing that makes horror games good. Oddly enough the folks over at Climax Studios must agree with that because in SHATTERED MEMORIES there is no combat. That’s right, no guns, knives, hell not even a stick to whack the monsters with. All you can do is run, hide, and hope the nightmarish freaks chasing you don’t catch up or find you. Are you scared yet? Well you should be.
SHATTERED MEMORIES is a remake, or in today’s Hollywood-ese, a “reimagining” of the very first game, but with enough new things (like a completely different story) added to make old fans of the original sit up and take notice. First there are the technical updates, such as improved graphics, and thankfully some better voiceover work, but that’s to be expected. What wasn’t expected is just how well the designers of this game made it fit the quirky controls of Nintendo’s Wii. The game is largely set in the third person perspective and with one hand you control a flashlight, often your only source of illumination, and the other you use to walk around and interact with the world. And that trademark Wii interaction is perhaps handled better in this game than in any other Wii title before it. Unlocking doors, picking up beer cans, and finding clues just feel right. The only minor complaint I had was that sometimes when running from the monsters were just a tad off, but even then the controls were tighter than most games I’ve played on the Wii. All in all the game handles very well.
Before I get to the best part of this game, let me hit the few down points SH:SM has. First it’s really short, but it also has tons of replay value (more on that in a moment) so that’s a wash. Perhaps my biggest gripes with this game come from the “other world”. In previous SILENT HILL games from time to time your character would leave the “normal” scary world of the small town of Silent Hill and enter a nightmarish, filthy, dark, rusted, and diseased world where the real horrors lurked. This other world was captivating in its disgusting horribleness and gave the SH games a signature look and feel. In SHATTERED MEMORIES, the other world is represented by extreme cold. Everything just gets covered in ice and snow. While this game should get credit for trying something new, I have to say it wasn’t very effectively implemented. Making everything look like a winter wonderland on steroids does impart a lonely, isolated feel, but it’s far from freaky or creepy. Then there are the monsters, or serious lack of them. Now this game is not a combat game, and that’s great, but after just a short time playing you’ll come to realize that the critters only ever appear when you are in the frozen other world. The effect of that is that it lessens the fear factor of the game considerably whenever you’re not in ice world. In the other SH games, while the other world was seriously creepy and dangerous, even the “real” world had threats and that put you on edge because you never knew when bad things would happen to you. That is sadly missing this time out. But really, are minor quibbles at best. If those are the worst things I can come up with then the rest of the game has to be pretty good, right?
Oh yeah it is, and that’s largely due to the mind games. Let me explain. Right from the start you see a bright red warning screen that tells you that as you play this game it is also playing you. Before you can think too deeply about that, you are dropped into a first person viewpoint and sitting before a psychologist. He’s here to help you and as you continue through the game you’ll keep coming back to this guy for “evaluation”. The first test you must pass is a true or false quiz, asking such personal questions as, “I make friends easily,” “I enjoy role-play during sex”, and “I have never cheated on a partner.” This odd test is but one part of a unique game mechanic where the game will alter its self depending upon your answers and your actions while playing it. Whether you explore a room thoroughly or just rush through it, if you search the women’s restroom before searching the men’s, and how you react to threats and strangers all go into creating a game experience that will be very different from one play through to the next. Characters, monsters, even the geography of Silent Hill will all change based on your actions. For example in one game you might encounter a nice, comforting cop in a diner, but the next time you play the diner may be frozen solid and you’ll encounter the same cop at the local bar, but this time she’ll be dressed completely different and be cold, if not downright hostile towards you. This ever changing and evolving game play is easily the best thing about the new SILENT HILL game. It is a trick I’d like to see more games utilize.
I give SILENT HILL: SHATTERED MEMORIES 4 frozen, faceless critters out of 5.

--Brian M. Sammons

The 1st Annual Black Glove Horrorhead Award for Best Comic\Graphic Novel goes to Crossed, published by Avatar Press, written by Garth Ennis (Preacher, Punisher), and art by Jacen Burrows. Why Crossed? Because it regularly succeeded at disturbing me, especially issue after issue when I’m trying to anticipate and prepare for it. Don’t let the blood and gore fool you, it’s a damn fine comic book. Honorable mentions go to Image’s The Walking Dead and Locke and Key.

--Jason Shayer