Reviews: Movies, Books, and More – Updated 11/13

This corner of the blog is dedicated to my personal reviews of movies, books, television programs, and the occasional piece of music. Not everything is from the horror/suspense genre, so if that’s not your bag, you might find something of interest here.

My Rating Scale:

1 Scary Head out of 10 – Complete and Utter Nonsense. Waste of time.

2 Scary Heads out of 10 – Bad. Pure and simple.

3 Scary Heads out of 10 – There’s a redeeming quality here, but heck if I could find it.

4 Scary Heads out of 10 – Meh. I won’t revisit this anytime soon. If ever. Fair, at best.

5 Scary Heads out of 10 – It was okay. Average. Not great, not horrible.

6 Scary Heads out of 10 – Pretty good. Would probably recommend to the right audience. Enjoyable, but had issues.

7 Scary Heads out of 10 – I liked it. It was solid. I would recommend to the right audience.

8 Scary Heads out of 10 – Really liked it. Made an impression. Something I won’t soon forget. I would recommend to most people.

9 Scary Heads out of 10 – Wow! Incredible. I want to experience this over and over. I would recommend to strangers on the street, even if they run away screaming.

10 Scary Heads out of 10 – OMG. The Best. Not only will I recommend this to every single person I come in contact with, but I will probably gush about it openly for the next two weeks on social media.

 

 

 

Movie Review – Temple (2017)

Linky

Seven out of eight critics on Rotten Tomatoes gave this film a “rotten” score. At 13% (on RT), you might question why I spent 78 minutes invested in this disaster of a project. The best answer I could give is, I don’t normally check RT, IMDB, or Metacritic before viewing — I like to make my own decision without being swayed beforehand. Even if I had read the reviews, I probably would have given it a shot anyway.

The plot sounded like it had promise. Three Americans head over to Japan to scout out ancient temples. James and Kate are boyfriend and girlfriend and Christopher, Kate’s “friend”, who she pretty much treats like crap, is along for the ride because he can speak the language. Kate’s is supposedly working on her master’s degree, which is why she traveled to the ‘jungles of Japan’ — she wanted to see these temples firsthand.

On the outset, I was on board and willing to give it a chance. Ten minutes into the film, the interactions and dialogue between Kate, Christopher, and James had become so hilariously bad and poorly scripted that I stopped taking the movie seriously. Then, the overly-done tropes began — an old Japanese man relaying a cryptic message to Christopher about the temple’s curse — the three main characters separating in the dark forest — flashlights failing to work at the most inopportune times. And those were the good points.

Near the end of the movie (no spoilers, of course…not that it would make a bit of difference), Kate wanders aimlessly through an underground tunnel, searching for James. Instead of calling his name or shouting for help, all she does is say “Hello?” (and not very loudly might I add). This is one of those scenes that you just have to see to appreciate the hilarity of it. The intonation of her voice, barely above a normal level, repeating the word ‘hello’, like she was meeting someone at a dinner party…well, I simply can’t do the scene justice here – but trust me when I say it was the comic relief that the film sorely needed. That alone made me raise my rating a whole point.

If you want to see bad acting, worse dialogue, annoying characters, and one funny-as-heck scene near the end, watch Temple.

My rating: 2 Scary Heads out of 10

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Book Review – Mr. Mercedes (2014)

I’ve been a little out of commision, having recently had foot surgery. While I am doing better, it still makes for long days with having to have an appendage in the air while donning ice bags. Knowing this predicament, my sister gifted me with a few books to read while I recooperate, one of which was Mr. Mercedes.

This is Stephen King’s 62nd novel, and as he puts it “his first hard-boiled detective book”. Generally speaking, I don’t normally read crime and/or noir, but…Stephen King. It’s because of him that I chose to write in the horror genre. So, I went all in.

I have to say that I’m so glad I did so. I kept my apprehension at bay and kept an open mind. I had to remind myself on a few occasions that “this isn’t a suspense/horror novel”, but by the time I was a quarter of the way through, none of that mattered.

The main plot centers around a retired policeman who gets pulled back into a case that hadn’t been solved yet (at the time of his retirement). The story also follows the serial killer who hasn’t been caught. Between these linear plot lines, the pace is fast, furious, and full of intrigue. There was quite a bit of research on Mr. King’s part — it’s obvious he delved deeply into the real world of law enforcement as well as technology. But, that’s what he does and that’s why his stories are so great. They’re believable for a reason.

Ultimately, it didn’t matter that he veered away from his known genre. I think, as long as you know that before going in, you won’t be disappointed. If, however, you have any notions that this might just be a “subtle, less scary horror”, you will indeed be in for a let down.

So, why not a score of 10? Because as long as I have been reading books by Stephen King, I’ve never been “convinced” that the dialogue from children has been quite right. It often feels too adult, too forced. Anyone under the age of 18 (and there are a few characters who fit this description in the book), sounds like they’re about 30. It happens here too, in my opinion, but the rest of the book is good enough to give a few eyerolls after “the kids” talk, and get on with the chapter.

I highly recommend this. I firmly believe that whatever genre you are accustomed to reading, you WILL find enjoyment with Mr. Mercedes. It’s just that good.

 

My rating: 8 scary heads out of 10

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Movie Review – The Hamiltons (2006)

Linky Here

If you’re thinking of the musical, Hamilton, and you slip this into your DVD player (or stream it or whatever the popular kids are doing these days), you will be sorely dissappointed. This 86 minute film isn’t bad. It’s not good, but it’s not the worst thing you can do for an hour and a half.

Plainly put, four teen/young adults have to take care of themselves after their parents get killed…and they have a secret they need to hide from the rest of “society”. It’s not long into the film that the audience becomes privy to the reason they sequester themselves from nearly everyone else. (But no spoilers here) The problem with most of the screen time is…it’s boring. There’s lots of shots where people are thinking. Which is fine, if they were going to take action soon afterwards. But, no. Just more…thinking…and some looking. And when things really get moving, there’s a bit of screaming.

Even the “climax”, if you will, has been done before (and with more tension, I might add).  Samual Child, who plays the oldest brother, David, was either given the direction to overact and come across as a cardboard cutout of a character OR Mr. Child needs a few more acting lessons.

I’m going to assume that this film was geared for the YA crowd, because that’s really where it would fit best. It’s not scary and it’s fairly predictable, but again, if you’re a fan of teen movies and looking for something to play in the background without having to give your full attention to it, this might be for you.

My rating: 4 scary heads out of 10.

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Movie Review – The Circle (2017)

Linky Here

As soon as I saw the commercials for this film, I knew I wanted to see it. It looked exciting and different and I always like a good Tom Hanks movie. I will defend “That Thing You Do” (1996) as long and hard as I have to if need be. Linky

Anyway, The Circle follows a general theme that we as movie-goers have certainly seen before. A young woman gets hired at a somewhat new tech company. Everything seems perfect at the onset, until secrets begin to be revealed.

I can easily forgive a routine premise such as this one if the plot delves into new and unforeseen areas that haven’t been explored before. The first half of the movie did just this. No spoilers, of course, but the lead character (as well as the supporting ones) encounter some novel situations which lead to some rather questionable decisions.

I was on board for a good solid 45 minutes, but right around the halfway point, I found myself getting a little frustrated. By the time the credits rolled, I was past frustrated…I had officially rounded the curve to peeved.

The movie was good. The actors were solid. The concepts presented were really intriguing. But darn it all if the entire hour and fifty minute run time only skimmed the surface on most plot points. There was so much potential left unexplored. I don’t know if it ended up on the cutting room floor (if they even do that anymore!), or if James Ponsoldt and Dave Eggers (writers and directors) thought that they hit enough of the high points, nothing else needed to be addressed or wrapped up.

It’s really unfortunate because this could have been a WOW movie. The premise was timely and the ideas presented were spot on. They simply didn’t flesh them out or take them as far as they needed to in order to have audiences stay with them until the final scene. I think the 17% on Rotten Tomatoes bears that out. (and I know RT isn’t the be-all end-all on how good a movie is…but in this case, I find it rather telling).

 

My rating: 5.5 Scary Heads out of 10

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Book Review (of sorts) – Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Stories to be Read with the Lights On (1973)

Linky Here

I’ll be honest – this is not going to be a fair commentary for the simple fact that I did not finish the book. As a matter of fact, I didn’t even make it half-way through. So, as a critique, take this with a very large grain of salt.

I found this book a few months ago when I was up in the Rockford, Illinois area. This amazing store, Toad Hall Books and Records had everything…and I mean everything. We probably spent the better part of 3 1/2 hours in there and didn’t even see all that they had to offer.

Anyway, I knew that I was going to have foot surgery so I was looking for a number of books that I could read during all the down time. Among them was this particular Alfred Hitchcock paperback – a very old-school looking piece that I really thought would be up my alley.

I started reading it a few days ago. I got a few stories in…and had to really push myself to get that far. I jumped around a little, checking out some of the stories further in, but to me, they barely held my attention. After a few days of making some decent runs at it, I gave up. It going into the garage sale/next book drive pile. I simply couldn’t do it.

Now, you have to understand me. I’m not a big “crime thriller”/who-dun-it reader and I don’t care for generic mysteries. The closest thing that I would consider giving time to (in this vein) are old television shows like Columbo or Quincy, M.E. I’m partial to Law & Order: SVU, but not Law & Order: Criminal Intent. There’s a real divide for me as far as where my interests lie.

Alfred Hitchcock plays in two camps. Movies like Psycho and The Birds firmly comes down on the horror/suspense side. These are the types of stories I can get behind. I’m all in and enjoy most everything about them. However, Mr. Hitchcock’s other offerings tend to fall into the non-scary, non-creepy crime/robbery/cozy-revenge tales that are predictable and telegraph the outcomes almost from the beginning.

This second category is where I would firmly put this book – hook, line, and sinker. I was bored. However, if these kind of tales are something that others enjoy, that’s great, and fortunately for that reader, Alfred Hitchcock put out a number of these kinds of paperbacks. It’s just not my bag. At all.

 

My rating: 3 Scary Heads out of 10

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Movie Review – Jennifer’s Body (2009)

Linky Here

You know, I’m just going to come right out and say it. I’m blaming the fact that I was talked into seeing this movie on my lack of reasoning from taking painkillers for my recent foot surgery.

There.

Diablo Cody (pen name), the woman responsible for the film Juno, was also responsible for this dabble into “horror-comedy” about a high school cheerleader who ends up on the receiving end of a “body take-over” by something evil. This metamorphosis helps to set off a local killing spree of hormone-overloaded male teens.

Okay…I guess it “is what it is”, but if I knew ahead of time that it was going to be the epitome of cliche horror flicks, I would have taken a nap instead. Stereotypical characters? Check. Dialogue that was supposed to be “funny” (i.e. clever) but was not? Check. A plot that was so obvious it brought NOTHING new to the table? Check and double-check.

Horror-comedies that actually work are few and far between. Shaun of the Dead comes to mind, but to be honest, I don’t really consider that true horror. Apparently, An American Werewolf in London is filed under “horror comedy”, but I actually thought of that particular film as a rather tragic story.

Anyway…Jennifer’s Body is a lot of things. It’s a run-of-the-mill teen slasher that we’ve all seen before – far too many times. There’s nothing different that sets it apart, from say, Cabin in the Woods or Get Out, two recent films that more than just clever. If you are looking for a film to show at your teen’s Halloween party this year, this movie might be a decent selection. But for my money? Leave it for the Sy-Fy Channel and pick up something else.

My rating: 3 Scary Heads out of 10

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Movie Review – The Autopsy of Jane Doe (2016)

Linky Here

Let me be clear. If you are a fan of horror, suspense, thrillers, or just plain good movie-making, RUN, do not walk, to see this film. It’s creepy, chilling, and executed extremely well.

While the story is pretty straight-forward, there is much going on during the 86 minute run time. A small town father-son coroner team take on a “Jane Doe”, who is just one of a handful of victims during a strange and violent homicide. In order to move the plot forward, the police inform them that a COD (cause of death) is needed by morning, so, working on this unknown female is priority #1.  As such, Tommy and Austin (the father and son) begin their routine autopsy procedures on said cadaver.

Once we hit this juncture, the movie starts ramping and refuses to let up. Without going into spoiler territory, we, the audience, are hurled into one possible scenario to the next without as much as a breather in between. Yes, there are some minor jump scares (of which I am NOT a fan), but if you’ve ever seen a horror movie, they are pretty well telegraphed (although not in a bad way). They work. The atmosphere works. The character interaction works. The ending works. Everything about this cinematic wonderland works.

Not a spoiler, but there is an animal death. It’s brief, but biting. I didn’t like that part, although it wasn’t overplayed. I understood why they included it. But if you don’t like such things, you should have ample time to look away.

If you’re not a horror movie buff, you still might enjoy this one. It’s just done so darn well.

 

My rating: 9 Scary Heads out of 10

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Movie Review – Mountain of the Cannibal God (1978)

Linky Here

This Italian cult movie from 1978 probably has a following somewhere in the world. It’s not in MY world, mind you, but I assume that there are pockets of fans drooling over Ursula Andress and her handful of nudie scenes.

Ranked as one of the “video nasties”, I can certainly understand why it made the list. While it doesn’t have much of a plot (a small group go in search of lost family members on a cursed mountain through the jungles of New Guinea), there are far too many lingering shots of animals killing, eating, or disfiguring each other. I’m assuming these shots were of actual footage (according to Wiki) which doesn’t make it any better. As a matter of fact, I abhor these kinds of things on film – and I’m usually against censorship.

There are a number of gruesome human-on-human killings, but they aren’t necessarily done well. They don’t add anything to the plot and when a character dies, it really doesn’t matter all that much in the larger scheme of things.

The movie comes in at 99 minutes, a time that could be considered rather short if the film was entertaining in some way. In this case, it’s a long, drawn out, painful experience.

This isn’t one of those “good” bad movies, like Shark-nado, where you can sit back and make fun of it and have a good laugh. This is straight up a “bad” bad movie, and a host of unfortunate animals paid too high a price.

My rating: 1 Scary Head out of 10

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TV Show: Shark Tank (2009 – Current)

Linky.

Why am I drawn to this show? What is so special about this “reality series” that makes me want to tune in every Friday night (moving to Sunday for the new season!) and see Kevin O’Leary tell someone that they are “dead to him”? Or watch Mark Cuban roll his eyes at a con-artist trying to bilk the Sharks for three million dollars in exchange for 2% of some crazy concept?

It’s exactly those scenarios that make Shark Tank a fascinating show. While most reality shows rely on featuring scripted sophomoric behavior between barely-dressed 20-somethings, this show gained its popularity by presenting REAL people making actual business deals.

The Sharks (Kevin O’Leary, Barbara Corcoran, Daymond John, Robert Herjavec, Lori Greiner, and Mark Cuban) are real people, not paid actors. Their names and reputations are really on the line (as much as they would like them to be), and while it still is a television show, the basic arc of the program centers around actual products, current businesses, and people livelihoods. Sure, it’s still entertainment, but deals are made (or not) and futures of companies, no matter how small, are truly affected.

I think this is what makes it so compelling. I’ve actually seen some of these products in stores. I’ve bought the Scrub Daddy (it’s great, by the way). I’ve sent Wicked Cupcakes (they are quite good, too). I’m rooting for some of these folks, while, at the same time, rolling my own eyes when I see some business models walk onto the stage.

If you haven’t seen an episode, do it. Watch for one hour. You might see an amazing product. You might have a good laugh at some of the Sharks’ commentary. Or you might just roll your eyes. But in any case, I think you’ll enjoy time spent with the Sharks.

My Rating: 9 Scary Heads out of 10

 

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Movie Review – mother! (2017)

Linky Here.

Oh my. What does one say about a movie such as this one? Written in 5 days, Darren Aronofsky has done one heck of a job dividing social media into two categories: Love this film with every cell in your being OR hate it, cursing each second it takes up in the world. It really IS that kind of movie.

If you are anything like me (and that could be scary in and of itself!), watching the previews/tv ads had given me the impression that this was a horror movie; something along the lines of Rosemary’s Baby. The tone leads the audience to believe it is one thing…but in fact, it is very much NOT that. I will not spoil anything here, which is why I’m staying vague. But, a quick Google search WILL indeed spoil the whole “meaning” – so be forewarned if you want to go in “fresh”.

The set-up is fairly simple. A married couple living in a huge house (which the woman is painstakingly renovating) is bombarded by guests who, for unknown/random reasons, keep coming and refuse to leave. The visitors become more agitated as time goes on, creating problems for the couple, the house, and themselves.

Before the final scene, things get chaotic – and that’s putting it mildly.

This is NOT a movie for everyone. The problem is that, without spoiling it, most audience members aren’t going to know if they should see it or not. Is it horror? Well, no. But there ARE horrific moments. Is it a love story? Well, sort of. But don’t expect anything mainstream. Is it an art house movie? Well, in a way. There a great deal of atmospheric importance, as well as symbolism/allegory throughout.

You know, the more I think about it (and I just saw it yesterday), the more I think that I would have appreciated it more if I had read about it BEFORE seeing it. Yeah – even with spoilers. I think I would have tuned in to certain things more had I known X,Y, and Z. I will say this – it’s not a movie you’ll soon forget, whichever side you come down on.

My Rating: 7 Scary Heads out of 10.

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 Movie Review – Colossal (2016)

Linky Here

Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis lead this part sci-fi, part fantasy, part rom-com romp through New York City as well as Seoul, Korea. When I read the blurb on the Netflix envelope, my hopes were not high. I’m not partial to fantasy and I rarely like anything that comes close to rom-coms. (romantic comedy).

But, I have to say, I went in with my mind open, willing to give it a shot, and I was pleasantly surprised. It’s probably no spoiler to say that Anne’s character, Gloria, realizes that she’s the “monster” that’s terrorizing folks in Seoul. When it dawns on her that she’s causing havoc to innocent people, the real story begins.

There’s some humor, albeit not the driving factor here (at least for me). There isn’t anything  gory or horrific to speak of, even though it’s a pure “take-off” on the Godzilla movies of the past. The whole movie is more about the underlying messages – those of which I will not “spoil” here. But, if and when you see this, you’ll understand because it’s VERY CLEAR.

Overall, it’s not a bad way to spend an hour and forty-nine minutes. It’s a novel way to look at how one person’s actions can affect others.

My Rating: 6.5 Scary Heads out of 10

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 Movie Review – Green Inferno (2015)

Linky Here

I know I’m going to be the outlier here, but I thought this movie was absolutely incredible. I say that I’m alone in my thinking because whenever I mention my love for this film on horror websites/FB pages, I am made fun of and “harassed” 🙂 (in a good way).

The premise is simple. A group of college students head to the Amazon rain forest in order to protect the “unprotected”. What follows is probably not a big leap for most horror fans – things go from bad to worse and end up far more gruesome than anyone thought possible.

Now, if you know me, you know that I’m not one for gore and slashers. It’s not scary to me – it’s just pointless, grotesque and/or boring.

And yes, I’ve seen Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive (1993).

And yes, I hated it. I understand that it was supposedly the goriest film ever made (as well as a comedy, no less), and I can attest to the fact that it was, indeed, the definition of pure disgust. But did I find it entertaining? Humorous, like Shaun of the Dead? No. I found it to be a vile, putrid, mess of special effects filmed onto celluloid JUST for the sake of having the ability to do it.

But I digress – back to Green Inferno.

Some viewers might see this movie in a similar light. It certainly has some nasty moments and it doesn’t shy away from gory scenes. HOWEVER, and this is where I tend to part ways with the horror community, I thought the message, albeit somewhat obvious, was what drove the movie.

The fact that a bunch of first world students head into a third world country without knowing anything about the people or cultures they might encounter, yet remain stoically determined to “make their statement”, is an accurate thermostat of how our world is today.

There have always been people who feel their way, their beliefs, their process of doing things is the right and ONLY way, regardless of how other folks think, feel, believe, and live. Many times, the groups or persons who are being “bullied” or pushed to change are in a weaker position and can’t fight back (although that appears to be changing in our current climate).

However, The Green Inferno takes that concept and turns it around. The cannibal aspect is portrayed as the “scare factor” here, yet the actual act of consuming people (for a variety of reasons) is more common than one might think. (Cannibalism: How Stuff Works).

Without delving into a whole discussion on the Donner Party or how cannibalism has played a role in history, one of the key take-away points of  The Green Inferno is “don’t fix something that isn’t broke.”

The film was riveting, the message was on point, and the atmosphere was believable. It made me cringe. It made me think. And it made me like it.

My Rating: 8 Scary Heads out of 10

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 The Cure for Wellness – Linky

Movie Review – A Cure for Wellness

I had wanted to see this movie ever since I saw the commercials for it on television. It looked like a weird take on Dr. John Kellogg’s Battle Creek, Michigan’s sanitarium gone horribly wrong. And in a strange way, it wasn’t too far off. But, somewhere around the 90 minute mark, it managed to take a sharp left turn and never look back.

The plot, at its core, revolves around a young businessman who travels to the Swiss Alps in order to bring the company’s CEO back to America. Generally speaking, that part of the plot is just a ploy to get the main character into the “wellness center” where 95% of the movie takes place.

The great part about this film is that there is a VERY similar feel to Shutter Island (2010) with Leonardo DiCaprio. In fact, I found the lead in ACFW (Dane DeHaan) to resemble Leo on a number of levels. There’s a great deal of mystery and strange goings-on which creates a feeling of tension for much of the running time. And, like many solid movies these days, the actors and atmosphere drive the film. If anyone “phoned in” their performance, this 2 hour and 26 minute cinema feat would not have worked at all.

Which brings me to my main complaint.

It’s long. VERY long. I know some people won’t (or didn’t) have an issue with the length. That’s understandable. But for me, I would have liked to see this wrap up closer to the 120 mark, if not a little earlier. It’s not that the movie dragged, but I had the sense that the director was trying to put EVERYTHING he possibly could into it. Sometimes, it works. This time, it didn’t (again, for me…you’re mileage might vary).

And then, eels. Yeah…I’ll just leave that there.

My Rating: 6 Scary Heads out of 10.

 

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 The Blackcoat’s Daughter – Linky

Movie Review – The Blackcoat’s Daughter

Well, now. That was confusing.

Oz Perkins (Osgood) wrote and directed this 2015 thriller/horror. One might think that being the son of the infamous Anthony Perkins (of Psycho fame as well as a number of other films), the man would have some major tricks up his sleeve.

At its core, the plot revolved around two girls who have been left at a religious boarding school to wait for their parents. The older of the two is having pregnancy issues (and boyfriend issues as well), while the younger one is having some emotional crisis (which comes out through choppy nightmare scenes). Oh, and there’s an evil presence for some reason which is never really mentioned.

Cue the time jumps.

I basically waited the entire movie for “things to come together”. I’m still waiting. Yes, the cinematography is wonderful. The settings are artistic. The cast does a good job in creating a sense of dread.  But, for me, there was a LOT of down time – too many scenes showing pensive looks and people standing still. It’s more art-house than horror; more technical film-making than thriller.

There are going to be those that will LOVE this movie. The atmosphere alone will pull some audiences along. And that’s fine. It’s just not for me.

My Rating: 5.5 Scary Heads out of 10.

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11/22/63 Movie –  Linky

Movie Review – 11 / 22 / 63

Wow.

To be fair, I basically binged watched all 8 episodes from Netflix. So, no commercials, no breaks (unless I chose to pause the show). Personally, I think that’s a great way to see something like this.

The film, at its most basic level, follows the story of high school teacher, Jake Epping, as he bounces back and forth from 2016 to 1960, in order to prevent the assassination of JFK. There’s a love story. There’s a “team up with someone who might or might not turn on you” story. And of course, the big question of who REALLY shot the president, looms large throughout much of the movie.

To me, it was part thriller, part drama, and part romance. It wasn’t horror, although there are a few disturbing elements weaved throughout the plot lines. But if you’re going into this film after having seen Stephen King’s name attached and believe it to be another ‘Salem’s Lot or The Shining, you might be disappointed.

The actors did a great job, the characters were very believable, and the story never stalled. Having watched it in a very concentrated time frame was not a problem – it was that good. Having a thorough knowledge of the 1960’s or JFK conspiracy theories might lead you to enjoy it more, but going in cold won’t be an issue. The great thing about Stephen King material – he’ll walk you through the tough stuff so you won’t be confused as to what’s happening. Yet, at the same time, there’s no real spoon feeding either.

My Rating: 9 Scary Heads out of 10.