How Early Is Too Early?

Rushing the Holidays

By Melissa Minners

            When I was a kid, I looked forward to the beginning of the holiday season.  Just a week or two prior to Thanksgiving, my teacher would have us draw paper turkeys, using our hands as guides.  Holiday specials would begin to appear on televisionSnoopy and the gang would celebrate a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving while we sat mesmerized in front of the television set.  The Thanksgiving Day plays would be rehearsed and performed a week before the holiday.  All of us waited in eager anticipation for the Macys Parade on Thanksgiving Day.

            The next morning, typically known as Black Friday, the day when retailers get their accounts in the black, would mark the start of the Christmas shopping season.  The holiday ads would have appeared on television all week before the Friday event.  The day after Thanksgiving was also known as the day when folks would start to pull out their Christmas decorations and deck the halls – some out of merriment and some out of a sense of neighborhood competition.  Christmas television specials would appear and we would all prepare our Christmas lists for Santa Claus.  We would either visit him at the local department store, or we would mail the letters out to the North Pole.  If we saw Santa at school and in the department store on the same day, our parents would just tell us that one or the other was Santa’s Helper.  I was amazed at just how many Santa’s Helpers there were!

            Once Christmas was over, preparations were made for New Year’s Eve, usually celebrated around the television with host Dick Clark.  Then, you would wait some months and prepare for Easter.  There was a set order and a set time for each holiday.

            Times have changed.  Commercial interests have taken things to the extreme!  Don’t get me wrong – these holidays have been commercialized for years.  But things seem to have gotten out of hand of late.  Growing up and becoming of working age, I found myself employed in a famous retail chain.  The chain, which now no longer exists, prided itself in getting the “jump” on the holiday season.  For us, Thanksgiving items were on sale weeks prior to the date.  The same was true for other high profile holidays.  However, we tried to keep things tame – never ridiculously early…just a week or two.

            Since leaving retail, I’ve been noticing that the retail holiday season has begun earlier and earlier each year.  I can see the desire to get the shopping started earlier.  I, myself, begin to do my shopping in early fall simply because I loathe standing in line during the holiday rush, but lately, things are getting ridiculous.  This year, I saw Christmas toy commercials in early October, way before Halloween!  I found this mildly annoying, but the icing on the cake was yet to be seen.  I was in a mall a couple of days after Halloween.  What should I happen to see smack-dab in the center of the mall?  Not an advertisement announcing the markdowns of Halloween candy, I can assure you.  It was Santa Claus!!!  I couldn’t believe it!  At first, I thought that they had simply set up the scenery for the “Take Your Picture with Santa” display, but, no!!  There were his elves, handing out order forms to parents so they could get their kids’ picture taken with the jolly man himself.  Now, I must commend that particular mall on hiring a Santa Claus that looks and acts the role so well, but that’s not the point!  The mall was completely skipping Thanksgiving and going for advertising the higher-grossing holiday!

            And it’s bad enough that Christmas displays were set up in department stores weeks before folks were preparing to sit at their Thanksgiving Day tables, but do the neighborhood light shows have to start that early, too?!  One particular house in my neighborhood was adorned with a tremendously bright and active display of Christmas lights on the first week of November.  One almost wonders, with such an elaborate display, if the owner hadn’t set up the lights before Halloween, completely bypassing two holidays.  And it’s not just happening in small neighborhoods either.  This year, both Lincoln Center and Rockefeller Center are lighting their trees on the last week of November.  Every year prior to this, the tree lightings took place on the first or second week of December!

            One week before Thanksgiving Day, I turn to 106.7FM to discover that they have begun playing 24 hours of Christmas music!  A whole week before Thanksgiving!  Unfortunately, I soon discovered that they were not the only station doing this.  Now, don’t get me wrong – I love Christmas music and I am happy to discover a station that plays a variety of Christmas music for 24 hours.  But, can we wait until the appropriate holiday?  Can we at least wait until Black Friday?!

            This mad rush to get the highest retail-grossing holidays begun earlier and earlier is a tad scary.  I have no doubt that even before the last Christmas present is placed under the tree, stores will be setting up Valentine’s Day displays.  When did the holidays become all about retail spending?  Why are we rushing things anyway?  Aren’t people going to spend the same amount whether the displays are up early or not?  People know when Christmas is – it’s not like they can forget with all the advertising.  But must the advertising start so early and be so overbearing that it becomes more like stuffing the holiday down people’s throats?  Must we commercialize the holidays so much that people forget the true meaning of them?  And I’m not talking about religious meanings here, although to those of the Catholic religion, Christmas is about the gift they believe the Lord bestowed upon His people, not about how much He spent at the local department store.  No, I’m talking about the goodwill bestowed upon one another by acts of kindness conducted over these holidays.  I’m talking about togetherness – people coming together and enjoying each other’s company.  Yet, the folks in retail nowadays have chosen to make light of a holiday in which we give thanks for all of our perceived blessings and instead place emphasis on a holiday that never really had a dollar sign attached to its true meaning in the first place.

            What does this mean for future generations?  Folks my age and older remember what it was like to look forward to this time of the year with eager anticipation – for the goodwill it brought out in people, for the happiness and joy of the season.  But much of the younger generation only pay attention to what material possessions they can glean out of relatives.  When asked to donate to a charity, you’ll find that many of these people would rather spend $600 on a Playstation 3 than on one small toy for the Toys for Tots program.  Thanks to all of the hype, people in department stores are literally trampling each other for the best deals, running right past the Salvation Army donation pot without a second glance.  When you ask a kid what they are thankful for, they are more likely to say their I-pod, Playstation, cellphone, digital camera or some other such material item.  Then, they might add a family member or friend as an afterthought.  People are so intent on thinking about how much money they have to spend on someone to make them happy that they are too busy to be thankful for all that they have in life.  To these people, the holiday season is something to be endured, not celebrated.  They’ve lost the meaning of it all, because they haven’t been given time to notice it.  Goodwill is substituted with pushing, shoving and glares – especially if you happen to pick up the last Tickle Me Elmo doll off the shelf.

            Am I advocating picketing retail chains or boycotting holiday sales in an effort to get the stores to ease up on the rush-job?  No.  If I even thought that these things would serve to cause retail chains to rethink their “rush-the-holiday” policy, I would be highly deluded.  Plus, good sales aid the economy.  Instead, I advocate taking the time to enjoy each holiday and passing down to future generations their true meaning.  Teach them that Christmas means more than the skewed retail idea that giving with a high price tag will elicit happiness.  Teach them to take time to think about all they are thankful for – not the material possessions, but the people and places that make you feel blessed.

The World According to Star Wars

Written By: Cass R. Sunstein

Published By: Dey St.

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

               When I first read the description of Cass R Sunstein’s The World According to Star Wars, I thought it sounded cute.  According to the description, the author discusses lessons learned from the Star Wars universe in relation to fatherhood, redemption, politics, etc.  I asked for and received this book for my birthday.  I couldn’t wait to read it.  And then I chose the worst possible time to read it – while I was studying some rather heavy subjects.  This book was not the lightest read I could have chosen at the time, but I stuck with it…and learned something along the way.

               I should have realized that a Harvard professor, who is the founder and director of the Program on Behavioral Economics and Public Policy and also happened to work in the White House, would probably not write a light and airy book full of tongue in cheek references as to how Star Wars affects our every day lives.  Instead, The World According to Star Wars is an in depth look at how one can relate the themes and characters of Star Wars in various happenings in our daily lives – the big and the small.  I was surprised when the author discussed how Star Wars began and the many incarnations of the origin story George Lucas has told over the years.  I also found myself nodding my head every time the author pointed out Lucas’ white lies when it came to how many films he had actually planned to make, how he had planned out the story of the Skywalkers and etc.  I was finding common ground with this author as I have pointed out the same fibs over the years.

               And then we got down to the nitty gritty.  This wasn’t just a comparison as to how the Skywalkers’ relationships presented us with the dos and don’ts of fatherhood.  No, this was much more than that.  I found myself reading how you could look at Star Wars as a cautionary tale against technology, how the Jedi might have been Jihadists, how Star Wars is steeped in Christianity, how it is steeped in Buddhist teachings and more.  We uncover predictable biases in the series and discuss why the bad guys are so likeable.  We delve into the economic aspects of Star Wars.  And, of course, we delve into the political aspects: the ways in which democracy can become so complicated as to beget rebellion and/or dictatorship…told you this book was heavy.

               There are some lighter discussions, such as the Star Wars vs. Star Trek comparison, which is the best film out of the series, and in which order should the movies be watched.  But for the most part, this is not a lighthearted read.  No, this is a book for those thinkers in the Star Wars fandom who can see deeper into the storyline and come up with comparisons in our everyday lives, looking at our government’s actions, our family lives, the world’s economy and more and seeing meaning or a relationship to things that happen in the Star Wars films. 

               Not always an easy read to be sure, The World According to Star Wars is actually a refreshing one.  It reminds us that most science fiction geeks are deep thinkers and can find scientific, sociological, philosophical, and psychological meaning in the Star Wars series we love so much.  Not an easy read, but a great one in my opinion and one I will recommend to my fellow thinking Star Wars fans out there.

Buy The World According to Star Wars at Amazon.com!

#CommissionsEarned

Though the Odds Be Great or Small

Written By Terry Brennan and William Meiners

Published By Loyola Press

Reviewed By Melissa Minners

I’ve been following Notre Dame football for years…ever since watching the movie Rudy as a matter of fact.  There have been good years and bad years, but I’m a student of the game and understand that there will be ups and downs as players graduate and coaches change.  So, when I saw a book that was about one of their comeback seasons, I decided to check it out.

               Though the Odds Be Great or Small is said to have been written by Terry Brennan and William Meiners, but when you actually get into it, its more a book written by Meiners with some insight from Terry Brennan.  The book starts off with Terry’s prowess on the field as a player while a college student attending Notre Dame.  Then it goes on to discuss Terry’s tenure as the youngest Notre Dame coach.  It gets a little confusing from there. 

               The book is supposed to be about Notre Dame’s 1957 comeback year, but it doesn’t really concentrate on that.  The book does show how Brennan took a team that was destined to fail thanks to Notre Dame’s football recruiting or lack thereof.  It does show how they came back to get a bowl game in 1957.  It also shows how Brennan was fired the following year in hopes that the man to replace him, an NFL coach, could raise the team to greatness.  But in between is a muddle of comparisons between older teams and newer teams, coaches from before Brennan and after compared to his style of coaching and more. 

               All of this extra added comparison takes away from the focus of the book, which should have been how Terry Brennan, the school’s youngest football coach, took that 1957 team to greatness despite the college’s focus on academics over football after his former coach was forced to leave.  I was bored with this book a couple of chapters in and forced myself to finish, which took a lot longer than it should have.  You might want to read this if you are a die-hard Notre Dame football fan, but I doubt it.  Not worth the time and effort.

Check out Though the Odds Be Great or Small: Notre Dame’s 1957 Comeback Season and the Year That Changed College Football at Amazon.com

#CommissionsEarned

Hail Mary

The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League

Written by Britni de la Cretaz and Lindsey D’Arcangelo

Published by Perseus Books

Reviewed By Melissa Minners

               Women love sports just as much as men, but we don’t see enough women in organized sports leagues.  Thanks to a little movie called A League of Their Own, we learned that there was a Women’s Baseball League.  The WNBA is the well-loved Women’s National Basketball Association, though they don’t receive enough recognition.  We have the Women’s Soccer League whose USA team constantly dominates in the Olympics.  However, has anyone ever heard of the National Women’s Football League?

               In Hail Mary The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League, Britni de la Cretaz and Lindsey D’Arcangelo take a look at an idea, started in 1967 as a gimmick by a businessman that took off into something he never could have imagined.  It turned out that Sid Friedman never realized that women might truly want to play the real game.  Title IX had just been passed but women really didn’t have much choice as to the types of sports they could play in…until that businessman took a chance on his gimmick that turned into something real.

               In this book, the authors seek to tell their readers about the beginnings of the league, its attraction to women and its eventual downfall.  It wouldn’t be easy as there isn’t much written about the National Women’s Football League.  Thus, the authors conducted interviews with the players and coaches, providing readers insight into what it was like to be part of a hard-hitting game thought to be beyond the capabilities of that “frail” species known as woman.  They offered the readers quotes from news articles that both praised the league and mocked it.  And in the end, they offered us a well-rounded look into what it was like to play on the team and why it would eventually fold thanks to lack of financial support.

               What I found most interesting was the dedication of the women that played.  These women would play with numerous injuries, often traveling long distances by bus to arrive at their games and get paid next to, if not nothing, for their troubles.  All for the love of the game.  I also loved learning that these women came from all walks of life.  Too often, women who play tough sports are thought to be lesbians looking for a rough and tumble good time, but the women of the National Women’s Football League were housewives, working women, college kids, married, single, gay, straight, you name it – all they wanted was to play in a sport that had been denied them so long.

               I wonder what could have been had the National Women’s Football League received the funding it needed.  If it had the backing of the National Football League, would it have gone as far as the WNBA thanks to backing from the NBA?  The WNBA, though successful, still doesn’t get as much advertising play or promotion as the NBA, but they have survived and very few teams have folded due to financial pressures.  I was happy to learn that some of the former players are trying to get a new league going again.  Maybe this book will help gain them some momentum.

               Hail Mary is an awesome analysis of the rise and fall of the NWFL, but it also serves as a dedicated place for the former players and coaches to tell their stories, so they won’t be forgotten.  It was a fast, easy and informative read that I would recommend to all young women interested in sports.  It just goes to show that a woman can do anything if she sets her mind to it!

Buy Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League at Amazon!

#CommissionsEarned

It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

Distributed By: Warner Home Video

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

                I’m a huge fan of Peanuts and have been since I was a little kid.  I’ve watched every animated feature, the animated television series, read the comic strips and compilation books, but I can’t seem to get enough of the animated holiday specials.  One of my favorites is I’ts the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.

                In this half-hour animated holiday special, Halloween is fast approaching and the Peanuts gang are preparing for the big day.  Everyone is getting their costumes ready…everyone, that is, except Linus.  He’s getting ready for his annual tradition of sitting in the pumpkin patch waiting for The Great Pumpkin.  You see, according to Linus, The Great Pumpkin shows up only once a year – on Halloween.  On this date, he looks for the most sincere pumpkin patch and showers gifts upon those he finds waiting for him within. 

Most of the gang think he’s crazy, but Charlie Brown’s sister, Sally, has a huge crush on Linus and this gives her pause.  Though this is the first year she is allowed to go trick-or-treating, she decides to stay with Linus in the pumpkin patch, hoping that his stories about The Great Pumpkin are true.  While the rest of the gang go trick-or-treating with mixed success (Charlie Brown keeps getting rocks), Snoopy goes out on an adventure all his own.  He is the World War I flying ace out looking for the Red Baron.  Unfortunately, his Sopwith Camel fighter plane gets shot down behind enemy lines and he must find a way to get back to his men.

Fortunately, he finds a quaint chalet where he can partake in food and drink.  Of course, his quaint chalet is actually the site of the gang’s Halloween party, where the kids are partaking in some party games, like carving a pumpkin using the back of Charlie Brown’s head to figure out just how they want their carved pumpkin to look.  Karma comes in the way of Snoopy as Lucy bobs for apples and comes up with the same one as the dog

By the end of the night, Sally realizes her folly in staying with Linus and missing out on all the fun and adventure to be had on Halloween night.  But, though Linus’ faith falters for a second, Linus remains in the pumpkin patch, hoping for a miracle.  Lucy eventually heads out to bring her sleeping brother in for the night.  One would think that Linus would understand his folly, but he is more convinced than ever that The Great Pumpkin exists and he vows to prove it next year.

Now, I love watching It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown – I have watched it every year since I was a little kid.  But there are some things that bug me about this cartoon.  For one thing, I can’t understand why Charlie Brown keeps getting a rock while the other kids get terrific treats.  I’ve always been told it was because he had too many holes in his ghost costume, but I beg to differ.  Why couldn’t anyone see the genius in this boy’s costume.  After all, how many kids his age would thin to go trick-or-treating as the Holy Ghost?  And if Sally has such a crush on Linus, why does she tell him she is going to sock him if he holds her hand?  And why can’t Linus figure out his folly in mixing up The Great Pumpkin with Santa Claus?  This is supposed to be a really book-smart kid – where could he have possibly read about The Great Pumpkin?

All kidding aside, I love watching this cartoon with all of its funny moments and clever dialogue.  Besides the Christmas special, it’s the one Peanuts holiday special I refuse to miss.  I even bought it on DVD so as to make certain I never miss it, just in case the television networks air it on a bad night or decide not to air it at all.  It’s one of those childhood traditions that I will always carry on with every family member or child I babysit.  Everyone should watch It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown at least once in their lifetime…or maybe a hundred times.  For some reason, for me, this cartoon never gets old!

Get It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (Remastered Deluxe Edition) at Amazon!

Reflecting on Halloween

By Melissa Minners

            Ah, Halloween, the eve of All Hallows’ Day (aka: All Saints’ Day), a day of religious festivities celebrated by many as the one day of the year on which spirits can make contact with the physical world.  As kids, all we knew was that on October 31st, we got to dress up in costumes after school and go from house to house, saying “Trick or Treat!” and walking home laden with goodies.  If we were lucky, Halloween fell out on the weekend – twice the time to go Trick-or-Treating meant twice as many treats.  As Halloween roles around again this year, I begin to reminisce on Halloweens past.

            I remember my mother never wanting to buy us a Halloween costume like we saw all the other kids wearing – something you could pick up at the local Woolworth for $5.00.  True, the costumes were cheaply made and my mother had a point about the masks being dangerous, but we always used to grumble about wanting to buy a costume rather than make one.  My mother, not knowing how to use a sewing machine, used to make us costumes out of whatever we had around the house.  Some costumes were pretty cool.  My mother was pretty good at making mustaches out of eye liner and clown faces out of everyday make-up.  We had some pretty cool stuff around the house.  I had a plastic derby and a plastic cigar, thus, I was Charlie Chaplin and Groucho Marx for a Halloween or two.  I had a cowboy hat and a pair of cap gun pistols and a cute cowgirl outfit was improvised out of everyday clothing making me Annie Oakley one year.  The hat and pistols were used again years later and along with some eye pencil, I became a cowboy.  Some costumes were cool, others, such as the garbage bag for a cape vampire costume…well, not so much.  But we always had a costume which is more than I can say for some of the kids I see Trick-or-Treating these days.

            When I first started Trick-or-Treating, I was confined to one street.  My mom took me in the beginning.  Later, when I was deemed old enough, I took my brother door to door on Halloween, I carrying my plastic pumpkin and Jon with his Casper bucket.  Eventually, the Trick-or-Treating adventure went from one block to our block and across the street.  Soon it was around our block and across the street.  Then it extended to around the block and around the next block.  Eventually, our sister Justine joined us on our trek.  Sometimes, we’d get very little candy.  Other times, we’d have to go back to the house a couple of times to empty out our respective buckets.  It usually depended on the day of the week Halloween fell out on.  No matter how big the score, we were always sure to be left with only half the loot as soon as our mom got through culling out the bad stuff.  “Bad stuff” usually meant haphazardly wrapped candies, unwrapped goods, apples, etc.  Years later, we would be daring enough to eat stuff we were sure our mother would push to the side as rejects.  Sometimes our mother could be a bit more protective than we liked, but we always had our fair share of candy corn, M&Ms, Three Musketeers, Snickers, Hershey’s, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Almond Joy, Mounds, and other assorted miniature candy treats.  My parents would always bring home something from Entenmann’sHalloween cupcakes or cake.

            Of course, we always had to be in by a certain hour.  After 8pm or 9pm, there were other activities afoot other than going door to door with costumes on begging for treats.  Some of the kids enjoyed the “Trick” stuff more and you were bound to see droves of them in the street having egg and shaving cream wars, toilet-papering houses, pumpkin-smashing and more.  For the most part, we stayed away from that stuff.

            When we weren’t busy with Trick-or-Treating, there was always something fun to do.  One year, we bought a huge pumpkin and tried our hand at carving it into a scary face.  I don’t remember him being all that scary, but I remember eating the pumpkin seeds my mother roasted from the innards.  Years later, when I was working at a local store, I would take one of the foam pumpkins we were selling, put a hat on his head and stuff a fake cigarette in his mouth.  Now this was a pumpkin who was fully enjoying his Halloween, proudly displayed on the counter for all to see.

            Leading up to Halloween, one could always count on scary stories being read at school.  Who doesn’t remember the tale of The Teeny-Tiny Woman?  The teeny-tiny woman and the voice from the Teeny-Tiny cupboard that said, “GIVE ME MY BONE!!!!”  Teachers would always read a version of Washington Irving’s spooky tale, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  There would always be tales of ghosts, haunted houses, zombies, witches and vampires to scare the living daylights out of us.  One year, we read Edgar Allen Poe’s creepy poem, The Raven.  And one year, I decided to freak myself out by reading Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart.

            Television and the theaters always had something in the works for Halloween.  Since I was a kid, the Charles Schultz classic, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown has always been something we watched on television.  As I remember it, the 4’o’clock movies on ABC for that week were usually horror flicks featuring Vincent Price, such as The Fall of the House of Usher, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Raven, The Conqueror Worm and more.  And you could always count on the voluptuous Elvira: Queen of the Night to star in a tongue-in-cheek Halloween special.  The movie of choice in the theaters back when I was in elementary school was Halloween, a horror flick about a serial killer named Michael Myers.  Years later, kids have their pick of movies to choose from – dozens of versions of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (aka: The Headless Horseman), the multitude of films in the Halloween series, Friday the 13th series, Nightmare on Elm Street series, and more. 

            Nowadays, I’m a tad too old to go Trick-or-Treating, though I’ve been known to wear a costume or two on Halloween.  The house is always decorated with pumpkins, ghosts and vampires.  There’s always a bowl of treats awaiting munchkins in costume – my favorites are the poor babies who have no clue why they are wearing such cute bulky costumes and who are way too young to eat the candy they are receiving.  One day they’ll resent the fact that Mommy or Daddy dressed them up as a huge pumpkin and pushed them around in a stroller all night.  After all, who is really going to eat all that candy when the Trick-or-Treating is done, huh?  Certainly not baby who hasn’t even grown in teeth yet!  Most of the time around Halloween, I sit myself in front of the television and watch a bunch of scary movies and wait for Trick-or-Treaters to arrive.  I’m always a bit generous with the candy when the kids are bashful.  Lately, most kids will just stuff their hands in your candy bowl and make off with handfuls of candy.  But it’s the one or two bashful kids who mumble “Trick-or-Treat” and are polite enough to wait for you to give them their candy who get the most goodies from me.  They remind me of me and my siblings at a different time patrolling the neighborhood, always aware that politeness got you the best treats.

            Happy Halloween, everyone!  May your treats be many, your tricks be few, and may your parents not dress you in something that no self-respecting Trick-or-Treater would ever be caught dead in! 

A very special thanks to http://www.hellasmultimedia.com/webimages/ for all of the terrific graphic art images used in this story.

Kellie’s Diary

Author:  Thomas Jenner and Angeline Perkins

Published By: Survive Entertainment

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

                When I first heard word of this horror novel written through the eyes of a nine year old, I was intrigued.  A zombie novel written in the form of a child’s diary – interesting.  The fact that I could download Kellie’s Diary #1 by Thomas Jenner and Angeline Perkins for free made it even more inviting.  I decided to check it out.

                We meet Kellie during the beginning stages of an outbreak.  Kellie describes having just returned from her grandparents’ home, but it doesn’t really explain why she had been staying there (long enough to have been attending school apparently).  We learn that a mysterious outbreak, possibly the flu, has been spreading throughout Kellie’s school.  Kellie is scared, but she believes that this is just a really bad cold.  She has no idea what’s in store for her.

                After a couple of days, Kellie realizes that there is more to this spreading illness than she could ever have imagined.  She finds herself hiding out in a school bathroom while classmates and teachers alike become “monsters,” taking bites out of one another.  Incredibly resourceful for a little girl, Kellie somehow finds her way to the cafeteria and loads up on food supplies before making a break for it and trying to get to her home.  But if and when she gets there, what will she find?  After all, it has been days and she hasn’t seen one member of her family.  Are they still alive, or have they turned into monsters like everyone else?

                Kellie’s Diary #1 is quite an interesting read.  I’ve read zombie tales written in the first person as seen through the eyes of the victim, I’ve read zombie stories written in the first person, I’ve even read zombie stories written in the first person as seen through the eyes of a zombie, but I have never read a zombie tale written as having been seen through the eyes of a child.  I loved the diary format of this novel.  Reading the entries by Kellie in the scrawl of a child with all of its spelling errors and grammar issues gives the readers a sense of youthful innocence.  It actually makes the tale that more disturbing as you find yourself thinking, “What can this little nine-year-old girl do against a horde of flesh-eating zombies?

                Thomas Jenner and Angeline Perkins have really achieved something new here – a zombie story as seen through the eyes of an innocent child.  Writing it in diary style makes the tale that much more real and that much more disturbing.  Their writing draws the reader to the character, making them care about Kellie and hoping against hope that she survives.  My only complaint is that the book was so short – I finished it in a matter of a couple of hours!  I have to get hold of the rest of the Kellie’s Diary series – I need to know what happens to this poor, loveable little girl.

Check out Kellie’s Diary at Amazon!

The Beast House

Written by: Richard Laymon

Published By: Leisure Books

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

            There are stories about the Beast House; stories of horrifying dismemberment; stories of murders so violent that they could only have been performed by some hideous creature.  The Beast House is a tourist attraction in Malcasa Point, a tourist attraction of the most macabre kind, with wax statues recreating some of the most hideous murders to have occurred in the house.  When he first hears about Beast House, controversial author and con-artist extraordinaire Gorman Hardy sees dollar signs.  With exclusive information about the house, Hardy plans to write a new bestseller.  Tyler Moran and Nora are in Malcasa Point to find Tyler’s old boyfriend – the one that got away.  They, too, are directed toward Beast House and what they find there is more shocking than either of them imagined.  Together, Hardy, Tyler and Nora with the help of some newly found friends, will uncover the secrets behind the murders at the Beast House.  They’ll soon discover that some secrets are better left undisturbed.

            The Beast House is one disturbing horror novel.  When it comes to the kingdom of horror, author Richard Laymon reins supreme.  His writing style is infectious – once you start reading, you can’t put the book down until it is done.  Laymon’s idea of horror is two-fold.  This is not a man whose sole idea of horror is bloody death.  No.  This man gets into your head and plagues you with a beast so monstrous that it would normally be beyond imagination.  Unfortunately, Laymon is so descriptive that he actually creates an image in your mind’s eye – one you’ll wish you never saw.  As I said, this book is rather disturbing.  Although the deaths described in The Beast House are horrific, the description of the anatomy of the creature who is committing the brutal murders makes for some of the most disturbing reading I have ever done. 

            What’s a horror novel without some gripping action, right?  Well, The Beast House is definitely no slouch when it comes to that category.  We’re talking edge of your seat, white-knuckled, wonder what’s going to happen next action scenes.  And when it’s all said and done and you think that the mystery has been solved and the story is over…guess again!  Laymon writes the ending in such a way as to leave things open for a sequel. 

            I must say that I was quite unprepared for The Beast House.  I was expecting a creature to be the killer – after all, the word BEAST is a part of the title.  However, such a monstrous creature with such an insatiable appetite for lust and death?  This took me by surprise.  The Beast House will sit proudly on any horror fan’s book shelf as a step above the rest in the macabre category.  But don’t take my word for it.  Check it out on a dark, gloomy night and see how freaked out you feel afterwards.

Check out The Beast House at Amazon!

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The Walking Dead: Compendium Four

Writer: Robert Kirkman

Penciler and Inker (Issue 193): Charlie Adlard

Inker for Chapters 25-32: Stefano Guadino

Distributed By: Image Comics

Reviewed By: Melissa Minners

               The Walking Dead comic book series has long been completed and the television series based upon it is coming to an end.  All I wanted to know was how the comic series ended.  Thankfully, I received the final compendium of Walking Dead comics for my birthday.

               In Compendium Three, we watched as our favorite zombie apocalypse survivors faced off against Negan and the Saviors.  When the Savior war was over, we flashed forward a couple of years to witness a consortium between Alexandria, The Hilltop, The Kingdom, The Saviors and more.  The compendium ended with a big fair attended by all and an introduction to a new enemy, one with a strange affinity to wearing dead people’s skin and deadly intentions toward anyone who crosses their perceived borders.

               Compendium Four picks up where the last left off with our heroes coming across the heads of their loved ones upon stakes delineating a border left behind by The Whisperers.  Our consortium now finds themselves at war with a strange enemy who not only clothes themselves in dead skin, but also lives among the dead, mingling within the herds and manipulating them against their enemies.

               From there, we move on to the discovery of the new and largest group of survivors Rick and his people have ever come across.  The Community features quite a bit to offer – a home in which dining out is an option and living their lives as they once did before the dead came back to life is the norm.  The big question: should Rick and company join The Community, or are the flaws of those in leadership roles too great?  Can the world really go back to the way it was before it all fell apart or is it time to try something new?

               This is the finale of The Walking Dead, so we get to flash forward a couple of decades in the end to see what our favorite characters are doing in the future, a future that has finally begun to move forward from the zombie apocalypse.  The ending ties up all loose ends and we learn what happens to Rick’s family, Maggie’s family and more.

               Just when you thought that you were used to the surprise injuries/deaths floating around in Kirkman’s imagination, you get hit with something shocking, some mouth-dropping, Oh S#$@! moment that leaves you shaking your head in amazement.  There are plenty of these in Compendium Four.  It was as if Kirkman was saving his best for last in that department.  This compendium had me shouting out loud.

               I loved the huge jump forward in time.  We get to see how the world changes and what our favorite heroes are up to in the future.  I love that Kirkman didn’t just have things go back to normal in the future.  There is still some technology like electricity and HAM radio, but there is an almost western/Pony Express sort of feel to the new world order that makes us realize it’s going to take a while to get things back to the way they were…and maybe that’s not such a bad thing after all.  The final comic book in the series ended exactly the way it should have.  You couldn’t drag out the apocalypse forever, but you can’t fix everything in those last few pages.  Let the readers wonder how things will eventually turn out as more survivors find one another and recreate society.

               I thought it interesting that the entire Walking Dead comic book series revolved around Carl when the television series killed him off years ago.  Then again, I have always said that the television series was Kirkman’s ultimate “what if?” to his comic book series.  He could tweak the television series to see what might happen if he didn’t let this one live, if he added a character like Daryl and more.  I think some things worked better in the comic book series and some worked better in the television series.  After all, who can’t deny the great add in Daryl or the badass character the television Carol became.  Andrea’s survival in the comic books was definitely a plus and the way Negan’s people took out Abraham is different, but similar to the death of another character on the television series.  Just like Stan Lee’s “What if…?” series, Kirkman makes us see the possibilities in both worlds.

               I think the best thing about this comic book series is that it has always been in black and white.  Keeping it in black and white didn’t take anything from the horror aspect – I still cringed and moaned when I saw Rick bite someone’s jugular to kill him (yes, he does it in the television series, but it happens much later in the comic book).  However, it does make certain that the story is the most dramatic thing on the page.  The gore is secondary to the horror of the lack of humanity present in the zombie apocalypse.  That has always been this comic book’s main selling feature – the dramatic tale of how horrible mankind is to one another after an apocalyptic event, when all the rules and laws go out the window and all that is important is survival. 

               The Walking Dead reminds us just how cruel humans can be to one another and the most horrific realization coming from reading the comic book series is that it is true.  If we look at the recent pandemic, much of the response equates – people attempting to leave whatever area was affected as if they could outrun it, people hording goods, price gouging, holing up in homes and attacking others seeking help, the paranoia and suspicion.  That, unfortunately, is mankind at its worst and The Walking Dead comic book series shines a light on that reality and then some.  One day we’ll look back at this series and wonder why we haven’t learned anything from it…and I’m not talking about survival skills.

Buy The Walking Dead Compendium Volume 4 at Amazon!

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The Amityville Horror

Distributed By: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.

            I have watched quite a few horror films in my lifetime.  Some of these films left me scratching my head wondering how they could have ever been placed in the horror genre.  You know the type – the films that make you laugh more than cringe.  Some horror films caused terrifying nightmares.  Those are the horror films that have done their job – they’ve scared you so much that your subconscious is still not finished with the subject matter.  Thinking back to all of the horror flicks I have watched over the years, none has scared me more than The Amityville Horror.  I’m not talking about the various sequels and remakes of the film.  I’m talking about the original version of the film that first appeared in theaters in 1979. 

            The Amityville Horror was based upon a novel by Jay Anson that claimed to be the true story of the Lutz family, a family driven out of their home at 112 Ocean Avenue, Amityville, Long Island, New York by paranormal activity.  The movie starred James Brolin as George Lutz, Margot Kidder as Kathleen Lutz and Rod Steiger as Father Delaney.  The story has been long disputed by paranormal researchers and laymen alike, but one thing holds true – it makes for one heckuva scary film.

            The movie opens innocently enough, with the Lutz family purchasing a home in Amityville for a steal of a price.  The family seems normal enough, with just a small amount of friction, the result of George Lutz adjusting to the role of father after marrying into a ready-made family.  All seems well in the beginning, but there is a reason the Lutz family was able to purchase the home on 112 Ocean Avenue at such a low price.  It would seem that a year ago, a troubled young man had gone on a murderous rampage in the home, killing his mother, father, sisters and brothers.  Knowing the home’s history, Kathy Lutz enlists the aide of a Catholic priest to bless the home.  Unfortunately, the house is not happy with Father Delaney’s attempts to rid the home of evil.  It’s also not very happy with its new occupants.  A series of supernatural events take place which eventually forces the family to move out of the home only 28 days after its purchase.

            Now, of course, the story of a haunted house will sound familiar.  You’re probably saying to yourself, “This has been done so many times.”  However, this haunted house tale is supposedly based upon a true story.  That gives the viewer pause – hmm, I wonder what sort of malevolent history my home has.  When that door slammed shut, was it just the wind as I always tell myself, or was there some other force behind it.  People always say that old homes creak, but are the noises I hear just the house settling, or something more.

            Many horror films employ a great many special effects in an effort to terrify the audience.  The original version of The Amityville Horror does not.  Yes, there are some special effects used, but you must remember that this film was made in the late 1970s.  Special effects were not as sophisticated as they are today.  Instead, the film makers relied on other things to raise the scare factor.  One of the major tactics used was the music.  Supplied by composer Lalo Schifrin, the soundtrack of The Amityville Horror gives me the willies every time I hear it.  The major theme of the film begins innocently enough with children singing a tune.  Laaa-la, laaaa-la, la, la, la, la, la, laaaaaa.  This is repeated over and over, the background music at first reflecting the innocence of the voices, but soon becoming dark and unsettling as the high-pitched voices drone on.  If you can listen to this theme without chills running up and down your spine, you’re made of a hardier stock than most.

            Facial expressions are a big part of the scares in this film.  The audience reacts to the reactions of the characters as they are terrorized by the demons of the home.  We certainly feel the horror expressed by Father Delaney as he vainly makes several attempts to rid the home of evil spirits.  But facial expressions in this case aren’t enough.  James Brolin’s character begins to act strangely – more sullen and angry as the movie progresses.  A happy, handsome face is transformed by the movie’s end into an enraged, pale mask of its former self thanks to some make-up and the talent of James Brolin.

            Darkness, rain and lightning are factors used in many films and The Amityville Horror is no exception.  It’s human nature to fear darkness – to not be able to see what’s in a room or around a bend strikes fear in any heart.  Thus, darkness is used throughout the film to elicit an uneasy feeling in its viewers.  Stormy nights are also a good tool – who doesn’t jump at a sudden flash of lightening or crash of thunder?  Noises – a large part of what makes a horror film unsettling and therefore scary.  But in this film, it’s the unity of sound and visual effects that cause the viewer to become jumpy.  When the horde of flies attacks the priest, the audience is properly disgusted by the sight of so many flies in one place at one time.  It’s simply gross to the viewers, but the sound of those flies buzzing – that’s very unsettling.  If you just heard the sound and never saw the flies, you would still be unsettled, but seeing and hearing them is enough to make you want to climb the rafters.  Windows suddenly slamming shut – the sound may cause you to jump, but the fact that the window slams shut on a young child’s hand, crushing the fingers is what makes the viewer cringe and perhaps cry out.  The scritch-scratch noise of the dog as he whines and yelps, digging at the one section of wall in the basement of the home is grating.  A dog’s whining is often associated with fear and when man’s best friend is fearful of something in the basement, we’re fearful of that hidden basement presence.  And that voice – that malevolent voice screaming at the home occupants and the priest to “Get out!”  Yikes!

            For weeks after watching the 1979 version of The Amityville Horror, I was jumping at every creak and groan of the old apartment we lived in, staring at the cracks in the paint on the walls and half expecting them to erupt with that dark ooze that came out of the Lutz’s walls…the ooze I associated with the deep, dark color of dried blood.  This movie seriously freaked me out the first time I saw it and has had the same effect on me every time I’ve seen it since – I become incredibly jumpy and cognizant of any noise in the house…and that music – yikes!  I’ve seen the 2005 version of the film and I have to say that it pails in comparison.  It doesn’t leave enough up to the imagination and relies too much on special effects.  Sometimes less is more and this is proven by the original 1979 version of the film. 

            I recommend you turn out the lights on Halloween night and pop the 1979 version of The Amityville Horror starring James Brolin and Margot Kidder into your DVD player.  If this film doesn’t send chills up and down your spine from the opening moments until the closing credits, I don’t know what will.

Get The Amityville Horror (1979) at Amazon!

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