Review: The Devil’s Candy

 

 

 

Plot: When Jesse and his family buy an old farmhouse in rural Texas, they believe that they’ve finally accomplished the American Dream, despite there being a recent murder in the house. But as time goes by Jesse, a struggling artist who’s sole income is painting comissions for banks, etc, begins to have strange experiences in his home studio which result in some horrific paintings. As he struggles to understand why this is happening, a rather rotund and disturbed stranger begins to harass his young daughter both at home and at school.

The Good: What I immeaditely liked about The Devil’s Candy is that it featured an artist as its protganonist and it used his painting and heavy metal as a means to show the influence of something supernatural and sinister. It went about this in a serious way, rather than being satrical or cartoonish. Nor did it have an underlying message that these forms of creativity were ‘evil’ unto themselves, which some conservatives and Bible thumpers may have you believe.  Often in Hollywood you see metal heads portrayed as stoners/burn outs and artists as flaky and/or snobs or bumbling cliches. I liked the fact that Jesse was portrayed in a relatable manner as a guy struggling to support his family, raise his daughter and at the same time persue his passion of art. I could relate his overdue bills, rejections from galleries, and having to paint the perverbial, or in Jesse’s case the literal, butterflies to make some cash.

I also liked the fact that unlike the one thousand and one clones of Amityville out there, Jesse did not become the crazed lunatic possesed by the devil. I thought it was a refreshing change of pace from the archtype that the possession/haunted house movies usually follow.

The events of the movie do take a toll on the relationship between Jesse and his daughter, which I thought was a good approach. Sometimes movies or books show people bonding when experiencing horrific events, but I felt it was far more realistic to have a rift between Jesse and his daughter develop over the course of the plot. It also added complexity to the conflict that Jesse was going through. Not only did he wonder if he was going mad from all the weird experiences in his studio, but he also faces the peril of the stranger threatening his family and on top of it the self-doubt and anguish of not being able to protect his daughter and having her lose faith in him as a result.

The acting overall was well done, in particular there’s a short scene between Jesse and an art gallery owner that is super creepy. There’s nothing violent or grotesque about the scene, but it defintely fills Jesse and myself as a father, with unease.

The Devil’s Candy manages to tie together all the characters and subplots together at the end pretty well. It’s not going to hold your hand and tell you absolutely everything, but I was happy with the conclusion. In the end I felt that I had a good idea as to why Jesse was experiencing what he did, and that he and his family would never be quite the same afterward.

The Bad: There really isn’t anything that struck me as awful in this movie. However there is a scene during the final confrontation between Jesse and the stranger that just looks like really cheap or poorly done CGI. It did ruin the immersive effect the movie had up to that point, but in the end didn’t kill the ending for me.

Conclusion: The Devil’s Candy is far more psychological with bits of supernatural in it, but it does contain the kidnapping and murder of young girls as part of its backstory. If your sensitive to that type of subject matter your better off not seeing it.

The Devil’s Candy is not a gory movie and other than a few violent acts in the beginning and end, it’s not excessive. It’s far more psychological than anything else.

If you enjoy metal, then you’ll probably enjoy the inclusion of various metal tracks in the movie and the realistic portrayal of a metal head like Jesse and his daughter. The Devil’s Candy is a smartly written and well acted movie that’ll appeal to you if your idea of horror goes beyond ‘gorehound’ film and cheap scare tatics. If you’re looking for an interesting spin on the whole ‘Amityville’ type subgenre of horror then I recommend this one to you. I saw it on Netflix, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you can find it elsewhere.

 

 

 

 

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10 Rules of Success from Steven Speilberg

The Devil Comes At Midnight (Finished Drawing)

 

The Devil Comes At Midnight
The Devil Comes At Midnight – pen, ink, brush 2018 copyright Kevin Hurtack

Finished this up yesterday morning. I’m pleased with how it turned out, and after reading up and experimenting with GIMP I managed to get the tones just about right. I don’t think it’s possible to make them exact but I’m satisified with how it turned out as a scanned image.  I had a lot of fun doing this one.

My wife was the first one to see it complete and her words were ‘it’s insane, literally insane’. That’s what I was aiming for, so hopefully she’s not alone in her opinon.

 

WIP: The Devil Comes At Midnight

 

Started this drawing last weekend with the pencils. This morning I worked on the inking. I’m trying out some new materials this time and enjoying the results.  I’m using Dr.  Ph Martin’s Black Star ink and their Bombay red ink. It’s both terrific stuff. The Black Star is about as matte black as you can get and flows well when used with a crow quill pen.  I despise glossy inks so I am loving Black Star.

I’m also using Strathmore 400 Mixed Media paper which I haven’t used before. It’s made for wet and dry mediums and is supposed to not buckle/warp like other paper can. It’s a lot thicker and stiffer than the bristol plate I normally use. It’ll be interesting to see how well it holds up once I get into applying ink and brush as well as some some ink wash. I will say that it is nowhere near as smooth as the Strathmore 500 Bristol plate I use for most drawings, but it’s been working well enough.

The title ‘The Devil Comes At Midnight’ has been floating around my head for awhile now. The drawing started off as a rough sketch in my sketch book and evolved a bit from there. Actually, I’ve been doing several different sketches of this character in different scenarios. The idea original came about from the fact that the basement of my townhouse had a bunch of spiders in it when I first moved in. Throughout the summer I had to engage in a turf war with them.  Arachnids multiple eyes have always fascinated me, in a creepy way.

IMG_20180127_170112

Even Death May Die…

Played around with some video editing software this morning and made this quick video featuring some of my artwork for fun. Back when I was in college I took a video production class as an elective. This was back in the early 1990’s when video cameras were the size of brief cases and used VHS tapes. Just writing that makes me feel old. It was a fun class, and learned how to edit in an actual editing suite. Still remember a bit but it’s much easier/quicker doing it on my laptop.

Deep Down (New Art/Poetry)

Deep Down

 

DEEP DOWN

deep down

below the ground

the Eldritch lay

like forgotten gods

in their antediluvian tombs

calling out to mankind

across aeons of dust & grime

of fortunes untold

luring men fearless & bold

to their doom

in the eternal darkness and cold

The Alternate Reality of Art

The other day while driving home from work, I was listening to an interview with an author. At one point the interviewer asked her if she ‘mined’ her daily life for inspiration. The author’s response was that she did not, and that writing was an alternative reality for her.

As a creative person I could really relate to that idea. For me writing and drawing has always been about escapism. I’ve never really been one to draw upon my daily experiences and the people in my life when it came to sitting down at the keyboard or drawing table. I’ve known plenty of writer friends that will base a character on their ex-spouse or idiot next door neighbor, and subject them to a horrible fate. I understand the idea about doing such things, it can be theraputic I am sure, but I’ve never delved into it.

For me it’s far more appealing to create a world and characters that don’t remind me of the everyday.  A world where the fantastic and macabre can occur. Where the rules and rubbish of the real world do not hold sway over it. In a lot of ways it’s like when I was a kid playing with my action figures in the sandbox. It could be whatever I wanted it to be, and could evolve and develop according to my imagination’s whim. The moment something reminds me of the real world, it shatters the illusion of the ‘alternate’ reality.

I think that ‘alternative reality’ is a good label since whenever I’m fully immersed in a good novel, movie/show, art exhibit, play, music, etc, my life filled with working overtime and paying the mortgage and chasing my kids around fades away.  Whatever creative piece of art I’m partaking in does seem real and does trasport me to another realm. That’s the power of creativity in all its forms, and that’s what keeps me coming back to it.

 

Ron Marz on Coffee Stories …

Comics Writer Ron Marz On Coffee Stories And The Return Of Art

A great interview and insight about writing, art, and social media with Ron Marz. Worth listenting to for all writers/artists regardless of genre/format.

Stranger Things 2: My Review (Spoilers)

 

 

 

I’m a little late to the hyperbole and fanboying craze that surrounded Netflix’s hit sci-fi/fantasy series Stranger Things 2, but I recently finished watching it. I was a big fan of season 1, and looked forward to finally seeing season 2. In a lot of ways Dustin’s experience at the Snow Ball is a good analogy for my experience with the show.  The following review will contain some spoilers.

The Recap: Season 2 takes place in the small town of Hawkins, the same setting as the first one., about a year later. Will, the boy who went missing and ended up trapped in the Upside Down, is trying to get back to a normal life but soon begins to experience visions of an enormous monstrosity. At first its dismissed as post traumatic syndrome, triggered by the one year anniversary of his disapperance/abduction.  Of course things aren’t that simple in Stranger Things, and after a sluggish start the plot quickly picks up and things get much weirder. Unlike season one where Will and Eleven were in danger, the entire town of Hawkins is threatened by the Upside Down. Along the way Jacob and Dustin vie for the interest of the new girl in town, Max, and Eleven ‘finds herself’.

The Good: The original cast returns for season two, and not only does this give the show continiuty it also allows the characters to grow and develop new relationships.

The show is set in the year 1984, and it captures this era very well.  Whether its the clothing and hair styles to the music and cars, it feels authentic. I also like the fact that the setting isn’t there just for nostalgia. The fact that there aren’t any cellphones, gps, Google, etc.  the characters don’t have an easy out when they face danger. For example, when Hopper goes missing in the tunnels under Hawkins he would’ve been easily found today via his smart phone. Or when Dustin and Steve are in the junkyard they could’ve easily called 911 or other friends. Nancy and Jonathan could’ve gone on Google to do their research on the lab’s treachery, rather than actually going on a road trip that leads to them being captured. They would’ve talked to Murray via Skype, and this would’ve eliminated the situation that results in the characters finally acknowledging their mutual romantic interest in one another.

This season features bigger special effects, and they’re very impressive. From the visions of the shadow monster to the ‘demo-dogs’, the Upside Down has the feel of a Hollywood movie rather than a streaming online show. I really liked the visual effects used in the tunnels, it had a claustrophobic and creepy vibe to it.  The creature design used to show the growth/transpformation of Dustin’s demo-dog was fantastic.

What I really liked about season two was the development of relationships. Particularly, the partnership between Dustin and Steve was a great comedic and emotional pairing. The two actors have great chemistry together and it benefits their story arc. Although both characters come from very different worlds, it was believable and enjoyable to see them work together to fight against the demo-dogs as well as their final mission in the tunnels. At the end of season two the two characters have a friendship that goes beyond fighting the Upside Down which was great to see.

Steve is my favorite character in Stranger Things. I think he went through the greatest character development in the series. He started off as a selfish jack ass in season one and by the end of season two he’s become not only a total bad ass but also someone willing to stand up and defend those around him yet he never loses his snarky attitude completely.

Bob the Brain is a nice addition to the cast this season. He offers an emotional outlet for Joyce and gives the writers a chance to show a different aspect of her character rather than always being the fretting/paranoid mother. Bob also serves a purpose to the main storyline, both by figuring out the riddle of the tunnels and Hopper’s location within them, but also in the lab during the lock down situation.

I also liked the scenes involving Dustin and the ‘demo-dog’ he raises and tries to keep hidden from both his mother and his friends. Perhaps one of the darkest scenes is when Dart ends up eatting Mews, the family cat. It’s also an interesting development in Dustin’s character when lies to his mother about the cat’s sudden disapperance and sends her off on a fruitless search for the cat. Dustin’s bond to Dart also causes tensions with Jacob in particular which is an interesting dynamic to their formerly tightly knit group of friends.

Stranger Things 2 does a great showing how a traumatic event like the demogorgon in season 1 can put a strain or even destroy a friendship or romantic relationship, as in the case of Steve and Nancy. It’s much more realistic than having everyone live happily ever after.

The Bad: Although it is not the worst thing ever, Stranger Things 2 has a slower plot and isn’t as tightly written as the first season. This season felt like it had too much filler with Dustin and Jacob fixated on the new girl Max. It would be forgivable if Max played some part in the main story arc but she felt completely pointless in that regard and only served as an awkward pre-teen love interest/rivalary for Jacob and Dustin that was weakly written and felt completely out of place.  I guess the Duffer Brothers, who created Stranger Things, felt it necessary to remind us/show us that Dustin and Jacob are normal horomonal boys. There was a bit of a romantic interest between Mike and Eleven in the first season, but they also had major parts to play in the main arc. Every time I saw a scene with Max in  it this season I couldn’t help wonder what the hell the point of her character was. True, she drove the car in the last episode, but seriously I think any of the boys could’ve done that just as well, with the exception of Steve was recovering from getting his ass kicked.  And yeah, she may’ve finally stood up to her step-brother Billy, but it was too little too late in my opinion.

Speaking of Billy, seriously WTF was the point of this character? I mean besides being an asshole to everyone?  I understand that the Duffer Brothers wanted a human antagonist this season, but he never felt like that to me. He was just a dick who randomally showed up to be a dick and then leave. A utterly pointless character that annoyed the hell out of me. The scene between Billy and his dad only made me hate him more, and not in the sense of ‘hating’ a character because he’s a villian, but hating him because he’s such a godawful poorly written cliche of a character that should’ve never been in the show. The Duffer Brothers claim that Billy and his dad were a way to show that ‘evil’ can be taught by a parent, etc. That may be true but it did nothing for the overall plot and I really don’t need a morality play in the middle of a sci-fi/fantasy show.

Other than some rotting pumpkins and some creepy tunnels, there’s not much to the ‘villian’ in the second season. I understand that the so-called Mind Flayer was this ancient sentient evil creature but there’s never any explanation of what it is other than some half-assed Dungeons and Dragons reference late into the season.  I felt that the previous season with Papa and his cronies from the lab hunting down Eleven, the clear threat of the demogorgon were better written and were clearly understandable dangers. The most that the Mind Flayer did was possess Will, and send a few demo-dogs to Joyce’s house as well as rampaging through the lab.

It would’ve been far more interesting the Mind Flayer ‘possesed’ other people in Hawkins and used them against Dustin and the rest of the kids. It would’ve been great if the science teacher at the middle school actually got a chance to see Dart while he was still a ‘polywog’.  Instead it was yet again Will being the victim of the Upside Down which seems to be the default plot device. I think that the Duffer brothers missed a lot of opportunities to make the threat of the Mind Flayer and the demo-dogs much greater and much more tangiable.

Conclusion: Despite the things I disliked about it, season two of Stranger Things is still a fun show. Most importantly it has characters that I care about as a viewer and enough suspense and action to keep me watching it. The Duffer Brothers have created an entertaining fictional world in Hawkins and they have plenty of great characters and relationships to expand in a future season.

 

 

 

Spoiler Free Book Review: No Hero by Jonathan Wood

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Title: No Hero

Author: Jonathan Wood

Publisher: Titan

Publication Date: 2014

Pages: 384

 

The Basics:

No Hero by Jonathan Wood is the first book in his ‘Arthur Wallace’ series of urban fantasy/horror/weird fiction novels. The basic plot of No Hero is that Arthur Wallace is a top detective investigating a case that involves strange murders that occur at construction sites. During the investigation, Wallace is grievously injured by an attack from an unknown assailant.  When he awakes in the hospital he’s approached by a mysterious woman who offers him a job with the covert government agency MI12 which is responsible for protecting England and the rest of the world from supernatural and other worldly threats.  Arthur Wallace soon finds himself caught up in a mission to prevent a threat that would result in our very reality from being wiped out.

The Good:

Wood writes the novel No Hero in the first person perspective, which I am usually not a fan of since you only get their side of the story.  Plus, there’s nothing quite as bad being stuck with an annoying or boring character for a couple hundred pages or more.

That being said, Wood manages to create a clever and dry-witted narrative that makes for an entertaining read. Arthur Wallace has a knack for clever one liners that Wood manages to sprinkle into the narrative at the right moments without becoming too heavy handed or annoying.

Arthur Wallace is pretty much your typical ‘every man’ which helps immerse the reader into the narrative. He’s not some expert detective a la Sherlock Homes or a killing machine like Jason Bourne. But he is smart and his reaction to the bizarre encounters he has are believable. His struggles to develop relationships with his new coworkers and find his role on the team  should be relatable to anyone who has ever taken a new job or enrolled at a new school.

Jonathan Wood also has a knack for creating quirky characters that fill the world of Arthur Wallace. They run the gamut from pre-teen girls that live in a giant pool filled with squids and octopusses to a sword-wielding woman who posses uncanny speed and agility.  All the supporting characters in the novel are memorable in some way, whether they are one page for a chapter or the entire novel. I found Wood’s ficitional world to be an entertaining blend of contemporary reality mixed with the bizarre and fantastical.

The main conflict in No Hero is a bit of a homage of H.P. Lovecraft along with a splash of Mass Effect and every other sci-fi/horror plot line. It’s not the most original conflict, but it does fit the world Wood created, and it is entertaing. It also gives the characters clear motivation and direction.

The plot of the novel is fairly brisk without much time spent on exposition or back story or subplots. I felt that this is a good and bad thing, but in terms of conflict/plot it worked well to have a brisk pace. The way Wood writes his chapters, each one ends at a point where I literally didn’t want to put it down.  Wood tends to write his chapters so that they’re fairly short, but they all help move the plot forward. I never read one that I felt was merely ‘filler’.

The Bad

Wood is a pretty solid writer when it comes to the technical side of writing. I rarely, if ever, came across a passage where his word choice or grammar irritated me enough to break the immersion in the story.   But he did have tendacy to give certain characters the annoying habit of speaking in incomplete sentences and short choppy sentences.   I understand he was trying to convey the character’s social awkwardness, but after awhile I began to dread reading certain scenes.

Early in the novel, once Arthur Wallace has been recruited, I felt that there was a bit too much of exposition told through the proverbial ‘talking heads’. It made for a horribly dry read and was rather repetitive.

Wood is quite adept at writing action scenes in No Hero. They’re brisk, suspenseful and most importantly coherent. Unlike some writers’ action scenes, I was never confused as to who was doing what, or what was happening overall.  The first three quarters of No Hero, Wood demonstrates some marvelous action scenes, yet it doesn’t last.  Near the end of the novel there’s some major fights that simply drag on way way too long and become completely unbelievable. Characters that should be either comatose in a vegetative state were somehow able to function with just some minor pain and bloodshed. That coupled with the fact that it all seemed gratuitous toward the end really hampered my enjoyment of No Hero. It felt like Wood should have had an editor or beta reader tapping him on the shoulder during the later portion of the book when it comes to these action scenes.

The other thing that kept No Hero from being a great read was the utter lack of emotional connection I had as a reader with any of the characters in No Hero. I think that in part it has to do with the fact that the  novel is written in first person perspective so Wood does not have the opportunity to really develop his characters as deeply as he could if  he had written No Hero in third person perspective. If some time had been spent on giving insight into how the other characters felt and thought or what their personal lives were like, it woud’ve made them much more relatable to me as a reader. But since Wood did not do this his supporting characters seem rather flat and bland.  They’re more like plot devices rather than characters. Toward the end of the book there’s a major plot twist which shoud’ve been hugely impactful on me as a reader, but due to the lack of character development I really didn’t feel anything for it.  When certain characters die or come close to it, I really didn’t care.

The Ugly

The biggest problem I have with No Hero is the main character Arthur Wallace. Despite having some funny one-liners, albeit in the typical dry British humor that some readers may not get, and having the reptuation of being a brilliant detective, Arthur is the odd man out in No Hero.  By that I mean he literally sits back and lets his team mates doing all the work, be it fighting or doing research or even leadership. Arthur rarely does anything in the book to help his team. In fact it feels like he’s merely along for the ride. Early on in the book I thought he would bring his investigative skills to the team, but that never really happens. Even during the final showdown in No Hero, Arthur hangs back and seems to let everyone else do the fighting.

I get it that he’s not supposed to be an American style action hero cop, but his complete lack of action and passiveness irritated me as a reader. I was hoping that the death of a character midway through the novel would be the catalyst of his character developing in a different direction, but Wood never took advantage of the situation.

Another problem I have with Arthur Wallace is that I never learned anything about him during the novel. There’s no attempt by Wood to give him any type of backstory or personal life other than a very minor subplot involving his old partner  that ends abruptly  and has no long term effect on Arthur.  Like the other characters in No Hero, Arthur Wallace ends up feeling like a wooden piece of plot device. Even when Wood tags on a random sexual/romantic connection between Arthur and another character, it is lack luster and feels shallow.

It may be that the brisk plot keeps Wood from developing his characters more so, but I think a few subplots that are developed along the way that are unrelated to the main conflict would have done wonders for No Hero.

Conclusion:

No Hero is over all a fun read, that stalls out toward the later half. It works as a plot driven novel, but the lack of character development and a plot that’s not the most original leaves me as a reader wanting more. The character Arthur Wallace is a fan boy for Kurt Russel’s sci-fi/horror films and in a lot of ways No Hero is the equivalent of a ‘pop corn’ blockbuster, a fun diversion but easily forgettable.

No Hero is the first book in a series, so perhaps Wood will develop Arthur and the rest of the characters in more depth, although I’m doubtful that I’ll read another book in the series. There’s nothing about the characters or plot that make the series a ‘must’ for me.