Monday, 16 March 2020

The Invisible Man | review by Douglas J. Ogurek

What’s worse than a stalker? An invisible stalker. 

There seems to be a trend in recent fiction and film: an attractive, financially successful male attempts to control a female. Perhaps it started with Christian Grey. B.A. Paris’s 2016 novel Behind Closed Doors spawned Jack Angel, a sadistic psychopath who makes Grey look like Mr. Rogers.

Now, The Invisible Man, directed by Leigh Whannell, introduces Adrian Griffin (Oliver Jackson-Cohen). This optics genius controls where wife Cecilia (Elisabeth Moss) goes, what she eats and wears, and even what she thinks. Then Adrian dies (supposedly) and leaves Cecilia a fortune, contingent on her maintaining mental stability and staying out of legal trouble. The widow, however, believes that Adrian is not only still alive, but has also discovered a way to make himself invisible. And now he is doing his best to terrorize her and ostracize her from friends and family members.

The film slathers on the tension from the opening scene (in which Cecilia attempts to sneak away from the sleeping Adrian) to the wily conclusion. Indeed, the story concept has tension built into it: if Cecilia’s suspicions are correct, then Adrian could be present at any moment in any room. The filming technique, with the camera panning or simply focusing on an empty room, reminds one of the Paranormal Activity series. Oppressive music and creepy sound effects add to the atmosphere.

Moss deftly portrays Cecilia as she navigates her own reality and the reality that others impose on her. The viewer identifies with her outrage when someone accuses her of sending a nastygram, or feels her helplessness when her life spins out of her control. During one especially poignant scene, Cecilia spreads coffee grounds across a floor (to see Adrian’s footsteps), then diagnoses her marriage’s faults to an ostensibly empty room. Also impressive are the scenes in which the camera lingers on the face of Cecilia, who appears to be on the brink of a smile.

During this sci-fi/horror film in which a meal can morph into a catastrophe or a moment of bonding can derail into a misinterpreted affront, you’re unlikely to experience a moment where you find yourself tuning out. You’ve got to see The Invisible Man.—Douglas J. Ogurek *****

Saturday, 7 March 2020

A Cold Silence by Alison Littlewood | review by Stephen Theaker

A Cold Silence (Jo Fletcher Books) is the sequel to the author's first novel, A Cold Season, reviewed in Black Static #27. At the end of that book, Cass wondered how much she should tell her son Ben about it all. It seems her decision was to keep it a secret, but years later the mysterious death of a childhood friend takes him back to Darnshaw. Visiting the apartment where she died brings back the memory of himself as a boy, sitting on the floor of an abandoned apartment, covered in rats. Jessica had been playing a gamed called Acheron immediately before her death, which can supposedly grant wishes in return for the gamer’s soul. Ben worked for the company that made that game, and his sister has been playing it too. Ben is thus persuaded to lead an expedition into the company’s London headquarters in hopes of getting to the truth: are people really selling their souls, and if so to whom?

Of the author’s six novels so far [mid-2017], this is the one definite misfire. As a sequel it’s admirable in that it doesn’t try at all to retread the very successful first book, but it reads like the novelisation of a play or a television pilot. The bulk of it, well over two hundred pages, is pretty much one or two very, very long conversations, with a couple of changes of location to break things up. That makes it a quick read, though, and it is good on sibling relationships, and the way families mess each other up, and it’s interesting to see the long-lasting consequences for the survivors of the previous book. The method by which the game arranges for people’s wishes to come true is fascinating, an excellent idea rich with the potential for stories, but unfortunately that all happens in the backstory, in the dialogue and the revelations, rather than being part of the action of the book. ***

This review originally appeared in Black Static #60.

Monday, 2 March 2020

UNSPLATTERPUNK! 4: Extreme horror short story and cover art submissions open

Gore at the fore, virtue in the wings: increasingly (un)popular extreme horror anthology to become a “goretet.” Writers encouraged to dredge up more carnage, more debauchery, more controversy . . . all while incorporating a positive message.


During one protest, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. saw a photographer put down his camera to help a protestor who had been knocked down by the police. The photographer’s job, said King, wasn’t to help people – it was to photograph the violence.

What the great civil rights leader understood, like Christ and Gandhi before him, was that spreading his message of universal brotherhood required packaging it in violence. Bloodshed gets attention.

Keeping this in mind, Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction (TQF) is seeking submissions for its fourth anthology in the UNSPLATTERPUNK! series. Unsplatterpunk stories wrap a positive message in typical extreme horror fare: over-the-top violence, grossness, and taboo subject matter. It’s a concept that one Goodreads reviewer calls “absurd, but fun all the same”. Think of Mary Poppins and her sugar that eases the distastefulness of medication. Only instead of sugar, we’re using faeces, viscera, and vomit.

With each UNSPLATTERPUNK! installment, the barbarity escalated and the depravity got nastier, but the ethical underpinning remained.
This time, we’re asking writers to take it all to the next level. We’re open to ultraviolent humour, backwoods perversion, raw realism, and massacre with a literary bent. We’ll take vile fantasy, gruesome sci-fi, and grossmance . . . anything so long as it defies contemporary sensibilities, repulses us, and integrates a virtuous message.

Artists: we’re also looking for cover art that captures the unsplatterpunk theme. Contact us at TQFunsplatterpunk@gmail.com.

Tips for Writers

Unsplatterpunk submissions get rejected for two main reasons:

  • Not controversial enough – We’re not looking for a rehash of the latest popular horror film or TV series. If it’s not cringeworthily gross or offensive to the average Joe, then don’t send it. 
  • No positive message – If the story doesn’t attempt to deliver a moral, then it’s not unsplatterpunk. What about all those writing instructors who advise that authors should never start with a theme or strive to impart a lesson? Ignore them.

Other advice:

  • Make your story as attention grabbing and shocking as death metal at a piano recital. 
  • Avoid stories in which the sole “moral” element is revenge exacted on a terrible person—that is not a positive message. 
  • Don’t impress us with your writing style, your vocabulary, or your philosophical treatises. . . . Impress us with your story.
  • Please, for the love of all that is holy, don’t write your story in a chatty style full of colloquialisms. You’re writing to your reader, not your BFF.  
  • If someone asks what your story is about, your ten-second response should be enough to make their jaw drop. 
  • Read UNSPLATTERPUNK!, UNSPLATTERPUNK! 2, and UNSPLATTERPUNK! 3 to get an idea of what we’re looking for.

Submission Requirements

Send stories of up to 10,000 words (no poetry, please) to TQFunsplatterpunk@gmail.com. Put “UNSPLATTERPUNK! 4 submission” in the subject line. In your cover letter, include a bio and tell us about the positive message that your story conveys.

  • Deadline: October 31, 2020
  • Word count: 500–10,000
  • Reprints: No
  • Multiple submissions: Yes
  • Simultaneous submissions: No – We’ll get back to you within a couple weeks.
  • File format: .doc (preferred) or .docx files only
  • Payment: This is a non-paying zine. However, free epub, mobi, and pdf files will be available to everyone.

After publication, you are free to reprint your story elsewhere, but please credit Theaker’s Quarterly Fiction for original publication.

See the TQF standard guidelines for additional information on rights and legal matters.

Change via Nausea

What’s wrong with the world? How do you want to change it? Here’s your chance to spread your virtuous message (smothered in butchery).

Crank up your degeneracy dial. Make sure your readers walk away nauseated and shocked, but also morally enlightened. Make the grossest of it.