Coffin Hop Day 9: The Winners!

Welcome for the last time, Hoppers. A little sad that the whole thing is over, but I had a blast this year. Thanks for the visits and thanks for the great blog posts. I hope you had as much fun as I did. I know you’re probably not here for the kudos or whatever, though, so let’s get on to the REALLY fun stuff…

I thought eight prizes would be more than enough for folks to have a good shot, but I didn’t anticipate the sheer number of entrants. In the end, I had over 60 entries. To be fair, I assigned each comment entry a unique number identifier and fed those identifiers into the random.org random number generator. Some folks only qualified for one or the other prize package (for fairness’ sake, I disqualified members of TESSpecFic from winning that prize pack and members of my family and friends from winning my own pack).

Now, without further ado…our winners. First, the TESS prize pack!

Congrats to BN100, A.F. Stewart, and Sue O’Reilly! I’ve either emailed these folks or will be emailing them shortly to get information about their preferred formats, etc. Thanks a lot for showing up and participating.

Now for the winners of my own personal library (four books and counting)… This includes:

  • The Kayson Cycle
  • The Corridors of the Dead
  • The Station
  • Room 3

I have five of these to give out, and the winners are Aniko Carmean, E. Arroyo, Penina, Penelope Crowe, and James Garcia Jr. I’ll be contacting these folks as well!

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That covers the Coffin Hop for this year. Hope you had fun. I know I did, and I’ll be doing some more features similar to these throughout the year.

Next week we begin the big creep toward Room 3’s release on 11/12 with Room 3 Week….which will technically be a little over two weeks. Hey, I get to make the rules here. See you then!

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Coffin Hop Day 8: Old Versus New: Halloween

Happy Halloween, Coffin Hoppers! I can’t believe the day is finally here. Today I want to try something new…

I have to give my wife credit for the concept. “Why not compare something old to a remake?” she suggested, and I thought, yeah, why not? Why not do it on Halloween, in fact, and about Halloween, since I seem to be one of the few people on earth who enjoys Rob Zombie’s take on the franchise (at least, the first movie, the less said about its sequel the better). I’m going to be breaking it down in several categories to declare the winner, but I’d like to say a word or two about the remake, as I know it’s a controversial topic.

The original Halloween is a touchstone film for me; in many ways, it defines what I consider a horror movie. I’ve been a Halloween fan for as long as I can remember, since I saw the movie as a very young child. I’ve seen just about every Halloween movie that there is to see (save Resurrection, I couldn’t bring myself to go there). I say this to establish my fan “cred” and to underscore why I had reservations when I learned that Rob Zombie had been brought on board to reboot the franchise. I had enjoyed Zombie’s first movie, House of a Thousand Corpses, in the same way that you might enjoy a goofy, fun haunted hayride. Sure, it was silly, but I had a lot of fun with it. His second movie, The Devil’s Rejects, had a decidedly different tone and I just found the whole thing mean-spirited. I never made it through the movie despite numerous attempts. This led to my reservation with the Halloween remake.

Still, it looked good enough that I would give it a chance. After all, hadn’t I sat through a screening of the Curse of Michael Myers? I figured I owed the remake at least that courtesy.

And…I found that I actually enjoyed it. A lot. And then was further surprised to learn that so many people disliked it, especially the long-time Halloween fans. I heard their criticisms and saw their point of view, but I wondered if some people had missed what made Zombie’s version compelling for me. Let’s talk some about that today. We’ll start with…

Characters/Acting

We’ll look at the major characters and actors first.

Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis/Scout Taylor Compton). I’ve heard people say that the new Laurie is a little too world-wise, a little too aware of sexuality and related “mature” topics, but I think that’s a reflection of the different eras in which these films were created. By today’s standards, Zombie’s Laurie is a relative innocent; the original Laurie would be completely unrealistic if created today. I think the Zombie version manages to stay close to the essence of the character while respecting generational differences. Still, I give Jamie Lee Curtis the edge here. Her performance is a genre-definer, while Compton’s solid performance is simply “enough”. Winner: Carpenter

Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance/Malcom McDowell). I like Malcom, even if he’s made some huge missteps in his career. His version of Sam Loomis has some positives, but he also has the advantage of showing us his transformation from someone who genuinely wants to help Michael into someone who’s horrified by the monster that leaks beneath Michael’s facade. Pleasance didn’t have that, and yet he still managed to outshine McDowell’s Loomis. My problem with the latter-day Loomis is one of credibility. I simply didn’t know what to make of his behavior. Was he just out for publicity, or did he really care about Michael? What motivated him to chase down Michael that night – was it guilt or a desire to put himself into the spotlight? Ultimately his sacrifice spells it out for us, but Pleasance’s Loomis plays it much straighter, and I think his role calls for that. Winner: Carpenter

Michael Myers (Will Sandin, a cast of thousands/Daeg Farche, Tyler Mane). This is a tough one. It cuts right to the heart of the differences between the films. John Carpenter believed that no person should ever identify with Michael Myers, while young Myers in the new version is at times sympathetic. A lot of long-time fans felt this was a betrayal of the character, but I think if you’re going to do a remake right, you have to add new touches and examine the concept from a different angle. Otherwise, why even bother? In a lot of ways Carpenter’s take, while well-done, is the safer choice. You can sidestep some of the thornier questions of characterization and turn the character into more of a force of nature, something that drives the plot along. It works really well in the original, and I wouldn’t downplay it in the slightest. Zombie, on the other hand, attempts to make Myers into a more rounded character, if not entirely human. He doesn’t completely succeed, but he does make the effort. In the end, I feel that this is a push between the two – it’s just too different to declare a flat winner. But boy, wasn’t young Myers a lot creepier in the original? Look at that vacant stare and imagine seeing it stabbing you. Brr. Continue reading

Coffin Hop Day 7: Five Great Horror Video Games #coffinhop

Welcome once again Coffin Hoppers! Thankfully Hurricane Sandy neither washed away nor blew us away (heh), and we still have power, so I’m back and ready to go for the last few days. I have a couple of fun posts left in me, and want to share them with you.

I mentioned a few days ago that, after writing, music is one of my great passions. Video games come a close second, though it took me years to figure out just why. The medium offers something that so few other artistic experiences afford: agency on the part of the viewer. True, sometimes that agency can be an illusion, but even then it draws the viewer/player deeper into the work itself. Games are still trying to find their identity as a medium, but there have been some sterling examples of where it could go in the future. This post is dedicated to those horror games that have found a voice.

I’m aware that some of you may not be gamers out there, so I’m going to be approaching this post from that angle, rather than solely appealing to the hardened gamers amongst us (you know who you are). I’d love to hear the viewpoints of core gamers, though: have I missed a great horror game that I should be experiencing? Please, let me know!

First, for core gamers, Amnesia and System Shock 2 just missed this list. Maybe next time. Now, my top five scary games:

5. Limbo (PC, Xbox 360, PS3). At first blush, Limbo does not seem like a scary game, and is certainly not in the same vein as the games below. It’s a 2D puzzle platformer, for starters – for you non-gamers, this means that you need to perform both well-timed jumps and must figure out certain environmental clues to avoid death and progress to the next section of the game.

Sometimes you just need to run like hell from a giant spider.

Limbo is an indie game, which means that it doesn’t have the cash or the horsepower to go toe-to-toe with the major releases below. It still manages to make this list by making up for its technical deficiencies with a charm and atmosphere that is difficult to surpass. The game also manages to tell a story without a bit of dialogue, spoken or written. As the story progresses, you learn that this is a dead boy on the very edge of hell, chasing after his sister, who may or may not be dead herself. The environment also tells of subplots, such as a place where the children have turned upon one another. The whole thing is a very spooky affair, and well worth your time and frustration with solving the puzzles. Continue reading

Coffin Hop Day 6: Hurricane Sandy is here!

As most of you folks in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast know, Hurricane Sandy is blowing through our area. Things are already very cold and windy here, with the situation due to rapidly deteriorate tonight. I live on the 15th floor, so the already-dangerous 70 mph wind gusts are likely to be more like 80-85 up here. With that in mind, we’re currently focused on just riding this thing out, which means I probably won’t be updating much for the next few days. I do have one last fun post saved for Halloween day and am going to do my best to get it up. If not, I’ll have to post it once we have power.

Here’s what things look like from our balcony as of 10:30 this morning:

Not exactly the end of the world yet, but not great. I intend to keep on photographing as long as I can, so I can update here when time and power permits. Our thoughts are with the folks in the really dangerous part of this storm, though; the part with the dangerous surges and flooding. Stay safe.

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Coffin Hop Day 5: The Haunted Places of the World (Fact) #coffinhop

Welcome once again, Hoppers! I’m square in the crosshairs of Hurricane Sandy at the moment, and things are a little tense in the Washington, DC Metro area, so we’ll see if I get to finish out the next few entries for you guys. If nothing else, I might be able to drag out some abbreviated versions of the longer posts I had planned. At the very least, I’ve hit the minimum-five-posts goal that I had set for myself. Just warning you in case there’s radio silence for the next few days.

Let’s get on to today’s topic: the REAL haunted places of the world. While the list of fictional places was fun, this is the stuff that I live for – the places that I like to visit when possible. I could probably write a list of 20 places; narrowing it to five was almost impossible.

5. Kolmanskop (Namibia). The discovery of diamonds in southern Namibia in the early 1900s led to a diamond rush not unlike America’s gold rush of the 1840s/50s. There was just one catch: much of southern Namibia is a desert. It didn’t deter the more courageous, greedy souls, who built small and company towns in the area; Kolmanskop was one such town. Founded in 1910, the town once boasted a school, a hospital, and even a casino.

The Kolmanskop Casino.

Kolmanskop flourished for a few years, but hit troubled times when diamond sales dropped after the first World War. As prices continued to trend downward, the town slowly emptied out, at last losing its last residents during the 1950s.

That’s when the desert began to reclaim the town.

Before long the gardens, streets, and even houses were buried under sand. Doors and windows creaked as the desolate wind pushed through them, and shattered windows stared out into the desert.

The desert may be reclaiming the place, but visitors claim that ghosts still haunt the town. They have reported hearing whispers and footsteps, seeing apparitions, and even experiencing ghostly physical sensations.

I’d love to visit the place.

4. Stanley Hotel (Colorado, USA).You may know the Stanley Hotel as the Overlook Hotel from Stephen King’s The Shining. Continue reading

Coffin Hop Day 4: The Haunted Places of the World (Fiction) #coffinhop

Happy Saturday, you Coffin Hoppers! Having fun with the Hop so far? I know I am. I’ve already discovered some great authors on this hop, and hope to find more as the days progress. As always, you can scroll down to the bottom of this post for more information on the Coffin Hop, but for now, let’s take a look at the…

This is a two-day event. On the first day, we’re looking at some of my favorite fictional haunted (or mystical) places. Tomorrow, we’ll look at five real, legendary places. I know the title is Haunted Places, but I don’t necessarily mean “haunted”, I just mean those places that get under your skin and stay there.

One of my favorite fictional subjects, as evidenced in Abby the Hero, is the forgotten places of the world – the places where reality and myth merge. You’ve probably encountered one or two of these places in your own life; places that touch a nerve within you, without you even understanding why. I grew up near a lake that covered a submerged cemetery, and let me tell you, that place has never left my imagination. That’s the kind of place I’m talking about.

Now on with the list…

5. Haddonfield, Ill (Halloween). This one was an obvious choice; Haddonfield, in my mind, equals horror. Haddonfield is located in Livingston County, Illinois 3.5 miles northeast of the county seat of Pontiac. This north-central Illinois community is known for its Haddonfield Harvest Festival and high school football team, the Haddonfield Huskers. Haddonfield is also a town haunted by the events that took place on the Halloween nights of 1963, 1978, and 1988, at last banning the celebration of Halloween after another massacre in 1989.

Haddonfield had its ghosts, though; by the time Michael returned to town in 1978, the old Myers place had a reputation as a haunted house, and rightfully so, for Michael took up residence there almost as soon as he returned.

Haddonfield was named for real-life Haddonfield, New Jersey, co-writer and co-producer Debra Hill’s hometown. The second film also establishes that the murders of Laurie’s friends took place in the northwest section of Haddonfield on a street called Orange Grove. The real-life addresses for the houses used for the Doyle and Wallace residences are on Orange Grove Avenue in West Hollywood, California (credit to the Horror Wiki for these facts). Continue reading

Coffin Hop Day 2: My Top Five Horror Soundtracks

Welcome back to Coffin Hop 2012 on Shaggin’ The Muse. If you’re here for the prizes, scroll on down to the bottom until you reach the banner with the book covers. You can check them out, I don’t mind. Go on, I’ll wait.

Back? Cool. Now listen, I’m a complete and utter music junkie. This is the sheer, unvarnished truth; I’m enough of a junkie that I’ve been dubbed the “Song Robot” when it comes to knowing songs by a few notes. I got into the whole mess because I find a strong link between music and writing – the right music can make such a difference in how well the words flow. It only made sense to make my second Coffin Hop entry revolve around music. This time we’re looking at…

Horror movies have long been defined by their soundtracks, dating back to at least Psycho, with its iconic theme that played such an important role in building tension and suspense. If a horror movie is doing its job well, the story sucks you in to the point that you’re less aware of its soundtrack/score as something attached to the story and more of the music as a “part” of the story. That’s what I’m trying to identify here: what movies used their music to such an extreme effect, and do they stand up to listens without the movie?

So, let’s have some fun. I’d love to see what movies you’d include that I haven’t listed here. There are so many that just didn’t make the cut – I’m sure lots of you can identify which ones you like the best. For now, here’s my list.

Oh, and just a note, I didn’t include Psycho for a number of reasons (in my mind, it walks a fine line between thriller and horror), but I have to at least include the shower scene as an honorable mention. Notice how Hitchcock weaves the soundtrack even as Janet Leigh’s character sits at the desk, dropping it away as she goes to the bathroom and then bringing it back in full-force with the attack. I’m so envious of this technique; I wish writers could do such things.

Awesome. Especially when you consider the state of the art at the time.

5. Suspiria. The Italian prog-rock band Goblin could quite easily fill most of these spots, and that’s saying something, given my general attitude toward progressive. Goblin is best-known for scoring films for Italian filmmaker Dario Argento, who is best-known for films such as Inferno (a personal favorite that I feel gets far too little credit), Phenomena, and The Mother of Tears. None of Argento’s films, however, are as well-known or beloved as Suspiria, and for good reason. The movie itself is about a ballet dancer who travels to Germany to enroll at a dance academy. While she’s there, she discovers some shocking secrets that I’m not about to give away. Just check it out if you love horror, seriously.

Argento is also known for his effective (albeit somewhat bizarre) soundtracks, and Suspiria might have the best of them all. Like Hitchcock, he does an effective job of weaving the soundtrack into the film, and the stuff stands up on its own, in a “what-the-hell-am-I-listening-to” way. Tracks like Sighs sound something like the soundtrack to Hell. Give this a listen and just imagine waking up to it in the middle of the night:

4. The Omen. Not many movies scared me as much as the Omen when I was a child. The idea itself sent shivers down my spine; there’s something primal about the innocent child who turns out to be not just a bloodthirsty killer but the harbinger of doom. Something about the idea of such innocence turned on its head really gets my creative juices flowing. Continue reading