Horrorstör Review: Read. This. Book.

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Horrorstör Cover

Some may recognize Grady Hendrix as the former film critic who ran Variety’s superb Asian movie blog, Kaiju Shakedown. I bemoaned when Variety finally shuttered his corner of their site, but if I’d had any idea that closing that door would eventually lead to Hendrix opening the door to the fiction side of his career, I’d have sent them a bottle of whiskey, because Horrorstör is a must-have in this world.

Here’s the basic, Amazon-level pitch: Three employees of an Ikea-esque store called Orsk are tasked with working late one night in order to figure out who has been moving objects and leaving behind disgusting messes and weird graffiti in the middle of the night. They suspect it’s a homeless man or a weird shopper; we, knowing this is a book called Horrorstör, suspect it’s a ghost.

That’s an accurate description of the setup, but here’s an even better way to pitch it: Imagine if in the middle of the night, when no employees were around, Ikea turned into Silent Hill. Now imagine you were just some average nobody who hated their job at Ikea, were forced into working an overnight shift by your socially inept manager, and ended up having to fight your way out of the increasingly twisted hellscape that emerges within. That’s Horrorstör.

And I do mean increasingly twisted. Hendrix opens his novel by letting us get to know our main gal Amy, who is a totally normal, relatable woman who probably could have done something exciting in life if she put her heart into it, but who ended up doing nothing in a boring day job because that’s a whole lot easier. We get to meet her dorky manager, Basil, and the three other employees who wind up in the store after hours, and it leans in to a cheeky setup about how a suburban heaven like Ikea is really a bit of a nightmare on the inside, with all that it represents being a little soul-rotting at its core. And that’s amusing, but it’s pretty surface level stuff.

Hendrix knows this, though. He knows that simply saying, “What if an Ikea was haunted? Wouldn’t that be kinda funny and kinda freaky?” can only carry you so far. And so about half-way through the book, he cranks the horror knob to 11 and never dials it down. From then on it becomes a gripping, imaginative, subversive story that doesn’t necessarily zag when you think it’s going to zig, but it makes damn sure that each zag and zig is coated with razor wire and consequences.

But what’s particularly striking about Horrorstör is how contemporary of a horror story it is. These days I find horror to be largely voiceless. Most, be it a movie a show or a book, don’t exist in the moment. They have nothing to say about the world around us, they simply put people through the grinder to revel in the sausage getting made. But Hendrix isn’t that cynical. There’s a bolt of optimism that runs through Horrorstör as it tests the temerity of a young woman who has been disenfranchised in life purely of her own accord.

Amy is a typical millennial. She was told the future was bright, so she put on sunglasses because she was too cool to look into it. And now she’s stuck holding the bag on her own life because of it. She’s got no one else to truly blame, and so it’s either deal with the overwhelming horde around her or get swept away by the river of time. And the craziest thing about it all, is that once the shit really hits the fan, part of you (and Amy) starts to wonder if it might indeed be better for her to just fade away than fight to matter in the world. There’s actually a logic to letting her become complacent and just another dead-eyed worker bee.

Having you root for a hero one second only to later think “You know, the Warden of Hell she’s facing raises some good points…” is deceptively complex and clever writing, and it shows that Hendrix has what it takes to tell a horror story that will stand the test of time. It’s not just gory. It doesn’t just cash-in on a popular trend. Horrorstör gets inside your head and takes you to a world where this nightmare makes total sense. And like a trip to a real Ikea, it’s a beautiful, punishing hellscape I’d gladly submit myself to again.


Buy Horrorstör here. I recommend the paperback, which is shaped like an Ikea catalog and even has appropriate furniture product pages at the start of each chapter. Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that this book just flies by. I tore through it in two sittings, which is exceedingly rare for me these days. 

Blu-ray Review: ‘A Virgin Among the Living Dead’ (1973)

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I may be coming around to Jess Franco. My experiences with the director have been limited to his entries in Kino’s Redemption series of Euro-horror Blu-rays, and the first batch (Oasis of the Zombies, Female Vampire, Exorcism) were tired, dull little numbers, far more cheap than artful. Now with The Awful Dr. Orlof and A Virgin Among the Living Dead arriving on Blu, I can finally start to see what Franco’s appeal is all about. The disc for A Virgin Among the Living Dead is an interesting case, as it presents two different versions of the same film. Franco’s cut is Christina, Princess of Eroticism and the title version, A Virgin Among the Living Dead, is that same film with added zombie footage shot by Franco’s friend, director Jean Rollin.

Blu-ray Review: ‘The Awful Dr. Orlof’ (1962)

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After giving Jess Franco films a fair shake and coming to the conclusion that they just weren’t for me, along comes The Awful Dr. Orlof on Blu-ray to make me reconsider dismissing a body of work based on the half-dozen titles I’d seen previous to this one. Hey, The Awful Dr. Orlof is pretty good! Many of the Franco films I had seen were amateurish schlock, with extended stretches of lazily photographed nudity framed with the barest outline of anything you could call a plot. I didn’t get the impression Franco was much interested in these films either. They felt like junk to turn a quick buck, not misunderstood mini-masterpieces of intentional erotic horror. In the special features on the disc, we find that Franco had seen a cinematic passion project stall out for being too political, and, inspired by Hammer’s Brides of Dracula, Franco directed his energies toward producing something that could compete with the chillers of the time. The result was Spain’s first horror film, The Awful Dr. Orlof.

Blu-ray Review: ‘Hands of the Ripper’ (1971)

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I didn’t know much of anything about Hammer’s Hands of the Ripper when sitting down to watch it. I knew it was Hammer’s stab at a Jack the Ripper story, but that was it, and honestly? Going in blind is probably part of the reason I got so absorbed in the film. I didn’t realize it wasn’t really a Jack the Ripper movie at all, but an unusual blend of Hammer period horror and slice-and-dice slasher with the historical Ripper only showing up briefly in a pre-credits sequence.

From there, the film follows a little girl who witnessed the murder of her mother at the hands of the Ripper, now grown (Angharad Rees), and under the care of a charlatan fortune teller. She seems sweet enough, but goes catatonic with the sight of a specific visual cue and is compelled to kill in gruesome Ripper fashion. The girl can’t help it. Eric Porter plays a psychiatrist who takes the troubled woman in, fascinated by her urges and whether or not the girl is truly evil or just broken.

The Pros and Cons of the Zombie Apocalypse

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You see yourself standing at the crest of a hill, overlooking the empty streets of your next obstacle. It was once a town; not too large. Likely a simple place, where everyone knew everyone else. There was never any crime; never any reason to lock your doors. That is, until the dead came to walk the earth. Shambling corpses roam the landscape. A single bite, a single scratch, and it’s all over. You started out alone, but a small group has come to look upon you as their leader. You are the bravest. You are the best slayer of the dead. And that cute group member of the opposite sex has been eying you recently with a hunger greater than that of the hoard. And now, they are entrusting you to lead them through this newest obstacle. Chamber a round. Aim for the head.

Just who the hell do you think you are?

From the Shadows: Disney’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’

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What is horror? I could sit here and read the definition out of the dictionary, but what would that really mean? I could conjure images of monsters, specters, and behemoths with chainsaws, but what one may fear, another may laugh in the face of. So, what is horror? To me, horror is anything that makes me uncomfortable. Not the uncomfortable from sitting in a theater seat, but the uncomfortable that makes my stomach squirm. That gives me that sinking feeling in my chest. That form images in my head so disturbing, I fear for my own sanity. And yet, these mental monsters are not limited to the horror genre. So where else does horror bare its lethal fangs?

Movie_alice_in_wonderland_flowersHere is something you may not hear from too many horror fans. I love Disney. That’s right. Mr. They-Haven’t-Made-A-Scary-Horror-Film-In-Years still hangs out with the Mouse. Don’t judge me. He and I have held back the wrath of the Ancient Ones more times than I care to recall. And my wife and I have quite the collection in the homestead. Not just blu-ray, but we even have a decent collection of original Disney VHS tapes. The other night, my wife decided to pop in a film I had not seen in twenty years. She re-exposed my psyche to Alice in Wonderland.

The amount of material I could recall of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland animated feature would have been just enough to fill a boring Vine video. I may be able to recall the greatest one-liners in movie history, but twenty years is a long time. Surely I had simply forgotten everything, right?

Turns out, I had suppressed it.

Blu-ray Reviews: ‘The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine’ & ‘Cold Eyes of Fear’ Arrive in High-Def

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I’m woefully ignorant of nunsploitation films, and The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine (available now on Blu-ray) ended up being my first dip into the unholy waters of the genre. Here’s what I expected from it: nudity, sacrilege, torture, and lesbians. And wouldn’t you know? The Sinful Nuns of St. Valentine has all of those things (though light on sacrilege)! Surprisingly, it doesn’t have any one of those elements in excess, and it surprised me most as being a capable romantic adventure, light on sleaze…well, relatively speaking.

Blu-ray Review: The Grapes of Death (1978)

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dFJlhHCHere’s one for zombie completists – Jean Rollin’s The Grapes of Death aka Les Raisins de la Mort, so much better at being a zombie movie than his actual zombie movie Zombie Lake (reviewed here). Some bad, bad grapes are producing some bad, bad wine, making anyone who drinks it into a rapidly-decaying murderous psychopath. Elisabeth (Marie-Georges Pascal) gets on the wrong train at the wrong time and finds herself stranded in the French countryside, defending herself against wine-crazed villagers. It’s simple, and for Jean Rollin, certainly more on the accessible side than many of his dreamy, sexed-up, cheapie chillers.

I can’t help but think it has some subtext too, just going off of French stereotypes as a people obsessed with wine. I don’t know how regularly Rollin drank, but a strong case could be made that The Grapes of Death has a message about how drinking to excess transforms us into monsters. In a country where table wine is as ubiquitous as water, The Grapes of Death may have had more meaning and weight than its lurid monster movie approach would suggest. As an American, I can only guess at it, without providing any deeper thoughts than, “Huh. That’s interesting.”

Blu-ray Reviews: ‘Zombie Lake’ (1981) and ‘Oasis of the Zombies’ (1982)

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I don’t know where horror fans got the idea that “you can’t go wrong with Nazi zombies.” In my estimation, there’s one decent one – 1977’s Shock Waves – and everything else is bunk. Case in point, the one-two punch of Zombie Lake and Oasis of the Zombies (aka Treasure of the Living Dead), staples of many a public domain DVD horror set, now brought to life in high-definition on Blu-ray by Kino. These are the best discs possible for a pair of clunkers that are of interest only to zombie aficionados and Jess Francophiles.

Blu-ray review: ‘White Zombie’ (1932)

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I assume that anyone reading a White Zombie Blu-ray review in 2013 is asking themselves one question, whether they’ve seen the film or not, “is White Zombie worth owning on Blu-ray?” The scrappy film has survived the ages through public domain proliferation and for providing the name for the band that made Rob Zombie famous. It has almost never looked or sounded good in the years since its release, so the job falls to Kino Classics to make White Zombie a relevant purchase when you could just as easily nab a crappy DVD version for a few bucks or stream it on YouTube for free.

Top 10: Horror Film Bloodbaths

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A great horror film doesn’t have to have flowing blood and the splatter of guts, but it certainly helps. The twisted minds of screenwriters and directors have brought some memorable moments of bloodshed to the screen for our retinal pleasures. Sometimes, they carnage is spread over the entire film, and sometimes, in one glorious fountain of red. Sometimes, the body count is high. Sometimes, it’s just the horrifying manner in which our victims meet their demise. And so, I bring you my Top 10 Horror Film Bloodbaths.

Interview: Jon Love, VP of House of Torment

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Last week, we brought you our review of the horrors that lurk beyond the doors of the House of Torment in Austin, Texas. But, mighty Cthulhu demanded more. I got the opportunity to sit down with Jon Love, the Vice President of House of Torment to answer some of the Ancient One’s burning questions.

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